Surfing with bulls on Sumatra

We are landing in Padang in western Sumatra. The kamikaze driver provides a quick transfer from the airport to Bukittinggi.

Three hundred thousand rupees and less than two hours later we’re (safely!) in place. We stop in the slightly forgotten Rajawali Homestay. There is no bedding or running water, but there is ‘still water’ in the tank to use. There is also a nice rooftop overlooking the area. In the morning we set out to explore the Harau Valley.

The people who live in the valley are occupied with various professions. Some of them cultivate cassava and rice or grow spices such as chilly peppers, cinnamon or vanilla. All these ingredients are often used for baking chips, which are the flagship local product. Especially these with the extra addition of fish are consider delicacy. After trying a few variants, we decide on a packet of roasted sticky rice.

We also meet one of the Sumatran babushkas who shows us her house. It is the traditional style of Minangkabau people.

We roam the rice fields, cocoa farms and coffee plantations to reach one of coffee processing facilities along the trail. It’s a small but well organized company. To assemble a roaster, all you need is a few rotating barrels, a makeshift mill and a few people to make the simple production line operate smoothly. The last stage is handled by a team of local babushkas, who carefully pack and arrange everything so it is ready to be sold.

In the colonial times, the Dutch took coffee beans with them and left the inhabitants of Sumatra with just coffee leaves. The locals used these leaves to make an infusion that tastes like “coffee tea”. Traditionally it tasted from coconut shells.

The landscape of the valley is made up of massive granite rocks emerging at the end of green rice fields. It’s an interesting area with numerous waterfalls and places to explore.

We stop at the Istano Basa Pagaruyung palace. In this place we will learn about the culture and customs of the Minangkabau people living in western Sumatra.

This lady is shooting monkeys who are stealing products from her market stand

Today’s highlight of the day is the pacu jawi festival in the province of Tanah Datar. This tradition has been practiced for several hundred years to celebrate the end of rice harvest. At first glance, the event resembles bull racing, but it’s more accurate to call it bull surfing on the mud. The owners of bulls demonstrate the strength of their animals by trying to cross a few hundred meters track as quickly as possible while being harnessed and towed by an animal. The stronger the bulls, the bigger the sale price owners could potentially get. Bull prices range from 20 – 60 million rupees (1500 – 4500 EUR).

It is an extremely muddy and exciting spectacle that is particularly thrilling when you find yourself just in front of the charging bulls being bitten at their tail by a rider.

On the way back from the festival we come across a traditional Indonesian wedding. After a series of selfies and photos with a couple of newlyweds, the organizers invite us to the table for a buffet with an extremely spicy food. I feel that the amount of mud and chilli peppers will last for at least several days.