Sumatra - Day 7 - Sianok Canyon Walk & Japanese Tunnels
Jun 24, 2012
|Today we did a 7km trek into the Sianok Canyon just outside of Bukittinggi. A wonderful sunny morning aided our journey into the high walls of the karsts limestone mountains. The walk down into the valley was filled with noise from passing and honking motorists, many of them motorcycles that had modified exhaust pipes, needless to say the vibrations and echo's from these beasts were a bit much to take at times. The fumes were another whole ball of wax to deal with as well but once you rounded a corner that opened up into the Sianok Canyon, you soon forgot about everything and stood in awe at the wonderful views.
We crossed a small river bed, made our way up a hill, taking a few sharp corners and finally making our way onto a hidden path that led to up into the jungle and into the hill villages. Upon our ascent we came across two local men cutting up huge pieces of bamboo. One of the men spoke broken English, but we managed to carry on a conversation with him, understanding that he was going to make money from selling the bamboo which in turn he would be able to feed his family. He asked where we were from, if we were married, if we were happy and then kindly showed us the way up the hill to the villages above.
Once we got to the top of the hill, we found several graves laid to rest in amongst the grass. Directly above us in trees were several macaques. We continued on into the first village, plenty of fresh laundry just hung out to dry on lines, banana trees and cocoa plants were just out of reach off the path and huge jungle leaves offered shade from the hot days sun. Butterflies, dragonflies, birds and tiny lizards greeted us at every bend in the path.
We ran into one elderly village woman who greeted us and welcomed me in to see her small garden just outside of her house. I choose to believe the small green plants in her garden, all lined in a row were pepper or bean plants. She pointed out three graves just off to the side and just to the left of them were three large rocks, each containing a round smooth circular indent, which to me meant they were old grinding stones - like those we saw in Australia located within the Aboriginal sacred sites. We gave our thanks, she smiled and we said our good-byes. What a wonderful experience even though there was a very apparent language barrier, we still seemed to understand one another - I appreciated every minute of it, as did Jason who captured a wonderful photo of us discussing her garden.
We continued walking and came upon a family raking their rice drying in the hot sun. We chatted for a while, laughed over the things both parties did not understand and waved our good-byes. We made it to the second village which is known for its silver making. We stopped in a few shops, took a look around, tried a few rings and bracelets on and in the end came out with nothing. We made a pit stop at the 'Amai Setia' souvenir center which had a lovely display of silver goods and a museum upstairs which housed many examples of traditional Indonesian clothing styles, as well as shoes and some furniture.
The views of the valley were amazing, as you are taking photos you realize that no picture could ever capture just how you are feeling at that particular moment. What your thoughts were, what the smells were like, how at peace or at ease you are and just how beautiful this place really is. It's true, a photo is worth a thousand words, but isn't it better to accompany it with words? I believe it to be true. (Jason actually came up with an idea to invent "Scratch n' Sniff" photos!)
We finished our trek off with a steep walk down the canyon wall, onto a small path which lead to a bridge over looking the river. We met an old village man who was "collecting" donations for keeping the path clean. (sight would tell you it wasn't being cleaned very often, although leading to his place seemed a bit cleaner) He offered us a purchase of tea or coffee, we kindly declined, happy with that he showed us a nut which bares fruit inside they use in the famous Rendang dishes. He grabbed us two, cut them open and helped us dig out the nut for a taste, it was quite good. We thanked him, he supplied us with a toothless smile and we were off.
We ran into a group of Macaques on the road just before we got to the entrance of the Japanese tunnels. Apparently they were up to no good, one tried to grab the skirt of a passing Sumatran girl, she screamed and manage to escape its terrible grasp. We walked by the "gang", always cautious about where they were and what their next move may be. Safety first - we made it!
Inside the Japanese tunnels lie a ghastly reminder of the cruel Japanese occupation of Sumatra: a network of subterranean tunnels built with the lives of many unlucky Indonesians. (These tunnels were secretly built and were only discovered accidentally by a local villager in 1946, a year after independence) Locals simply call it Lubang Jepang (Japanese Hole). During the Japanese occupation of Indonesia in World War II, Bukittinggi city was the headquarters for the Japanese 25th Army, the force which occupied Sumatra. The headquarters was moved to the city in April 1943 from Singapore, and remained until the Japanese surrender in August 1945. A plaque at the entrance shows the network of tunnels, at least 70m below the ground and extending kilometers into the earth. It’s a self-contained bunker, a township if you will.
The tunnel passages were hacked through using rudimentary hand-tools, forced labor was brought from outside Sumatra (mainly from Java and Kalimantan) to do the dirty job. The tunnels had access compartments such as offices, living quarters, dining rooms, kitchens (one which was fake so the prisoners wouldn’t find the real one) ammo dumps, medical centre, jail, etc. A hidden escape route opens into Sianok Canyon down at the end of one of the long tunnels, when we happened upon this dead end we were wondering what it was used for, I only found out after some research when we got back to our hotel. The entrance we came in was another secret opening the Japanese used to kidnap hapless villagers traveling by to Bukittinggi, robbing them of their possessions (esp. farm produces) and killing them.
The original tunnel walls still carries marks made by the forced workers. The large vertical grooves have two-fold functions: echo breaker, so that noise inside the tunnel is suppressed, and to place torches. Detention compartments were used to keep the wretched prisoners, left inside to die. Japanese visitors to Bukittinggi refused to see these tunnels, reasoning was “bad memories”. Dead bodies were dragged through a narrow tunnel located down at the end of a hall, into a hidden opening above the river below, where they were dumped. No records account for how many died, but it is said to be easily in the thousands. Prisoners were fed only one rice porridge meal a day, they had no chance of surviving these tunnels, never to see daylight again. Many died due to malnutrition, diseases and systematic torture. More people died in these tunnels than during the Dutch occupation.
We made our way out and back to the Orchid Hotel, had a shower and went out for supper. We ate at a local hawker cart (every night at 6pm several carts, serving different dishes are setup along side the road) manned by two men who whipped us up a dish of Indomie Goreng and Martabak. Both were delicious and cost us a measly $1.50 Canadian - well worth more than that. Bellies full and satisfied, we walked back to our hotel and called it a night.