Sumatra - Day 8 - Harau Valley Cow Races
Jun 25, 2012
|We grabbed a motorcycle rental and put tire to pavement just a little after 10am. Getting out of Bukittinggi was difficult, hords of traffic polluting your every breath, horns going off in all directions, mosque speakers blaring, motorcycles zig zagging in and out of every available piece of open road just to get ahead of the line - it’s mass chaos. Finally after over an hour of fighting our way out of the city we had success.
The views to Harau valley were not disappointing. Rice paddies dotted with workers adorned with cylinderical sun hats, vibrant pink freshly made taro chips drying in the sun, cloves laid out to dry alongside the road (Indonesian cigarettes are famous for the cloves they put inside), large trucks carrying overweight cargo, mountain valley views - what more could you ask for, it doesn’t get better than this - or does it?
As we arrived in Harau valley it was just past 12:30pm, we were greeted at the national park gates by a young boy who took us into ‘Abdis’ homestay. This is where we would call home for the next three days, two nights. We were introduced to Ikbal, the owner of Abdis homestay. He set us up with a brilliant small bungalow that provided a double bed with mosquito net, large private bathroom and a porch that supplied us with amazing views of the valley and of course the decision maker on the room - a hammock! Ikbal poured us two cups of coffee, gave us the run down on the place and left us to settle in and relax. He ordered us beef rendang with rice for lunch from a local restaurant within the valley for us.
Soon enough Ikbal came back and sat down to chat with us. He’s owned Abdis homestay for three years now, he used to work for Echo retreat just down the road for over 10 years before starting his own place. He speaks excellent English and has a pretty good head for business. His wife Noni makes all the meals, which includes breakfast and supper. He has two children, a girl and a boy. He asked us if we had any children, we said no and Ikbal laughed. He said maybe we make one here and we name it, ‘Harau Abdis’ after this place. Soon enough a second guest arrived, Neil Althouse from Switzerland, the German part. He grabbed a bungalow and came to sit with us to have some lunch together.
After we ate Neil went for a nap, Ikbal convinced us we needed to do something this afternoon so he arranged for his wife’s brothers to take us to see the nearby waterfalls (4 to be exact) by motorcycle. We agreed to meet up in an hour and head out on our first adventure in Harau valley.
Soon we were off, it was a lovely drive through the valley where we came to a dead end where the waterfalls began. We took a short trek through the jungle forest to get to waterfall #4, which is less busy with tourists or locals. It is now holiday season and the locals are out in full force, snatching up real estate at waterfalls 1,2 and 3.
We crossed over several small streams with plenty of slippery rocks, Jason submerged one of his running shoes into the river giving it a good soak. When we arrived we were the only ones there. So peaceful and beautiful, the cascading waterfall fell into a small pool at the base of its end. The water was clear and slightly warm. The boys thought we were going in for a swim but sadly I forgot my swimming gear at the hotel in Bukittinggi and both Jason and Neil decided not to go in.
We left and made our way backwards, from 3 to 2 to 1. All waterfalls supplying different views and beauty. Both 2 and 1 were busy with local vacationers, the waters stirred up by their activity creating murky pools. My favorite scene was the 2nd falls which catered to the more young of age, the waters edge surrounded by colorful blown-up rubber duckies and tire tubes painted in lavish colors. A man with his wife and two kids walked up to us and asked if the family could have a picture taken with Jason, they didn’t have a camera so we used ours - they just wanted to see the end result of the photo and were very happy we obliged.
We got back to Abdis around 5pm, Ikbal informed us that in town there was a local “cow racing” championship taking place. We jumped back on the bikes and made our way into the city to see the races. Upon our arrival we quickly noticed we were the only foreigners there and soon enough we took away the locals focus on the races and turned it on us. During the entire event, each of us had school children approach us and ask us questions. Eventually the small talk ended with, “Can we have our photo taken with you?”, cute kids. An older woman grabbed my arm and smiled and proceeded to gift me with handfuls of freshly boiled peanuts, she wouldn’t take ‘No’ for an answer. Happy I accepted, she just stood beside us and watch the festival of question, answer and photo period.
The cow races, yes let’s get back to why we were here. Back home in Calgary every year we have the stampede and this includes bull riding, etc. We have never seen such a thing as this. In a watery, muddy rice field, local racers bring down their cows down a steep bank into the paddy. They walk to the end, setup their cows with a make-shift wooden something or rather harness and get ready to race. Most times the cows are stubborn, they go at their own speed down to the start line and will not settle down for the race until they are good and ready. One cow was too obstanant and they kicked him out of the race completely after 15 minutes of trying to get him harnessed and ready.
There is no bell, no whipping to get the cows going but a flag on the other side of the paddy is manually waved down to start the race. Before you know it, without any warning they’re off. Mud and water flying every which way, all you can see is the racers knees coming up and down to their chins, some with their mouths open, others with their eyes closed and others smiling as they race through the paddy. The cows go at full speed, never slowing down. As fast as it started, it’s over. What a bizarre event. We watched three races, each taking on average 10 to 15 minutes in-between each race, which can cause a temporary lapse into a coma. Satisfied from seeing this crazy local tradition, we exited and made our way back to our bungalow with our sweet hammock.
When we arrived back to Abdis, we were greeted by another couple staying in the bungalow beside us, Lee (from Perth, Australia) and her husband, Ekky (from Indonesia), they currently live in Medan and have a little baby girl who is 9 months old. They were also at the races, somehow I managed to miss them.
Tired and dirty from the days events, we bucket bathed and settled down on our porch to take in the serene quiet and wonderful views as the sun set its time in Harau valley. At around 7pm Ikbal came around with his wife Noni and they delivered us supper. By lamp (there is no electricity in our bungalows) we ate a vegetable curry dish, spooned over steamed rice and had a dish of fried tofu with greens beans and chilies.
We ended the night off chatting with Neil, drank some hot tea and watched the gecko’s take turns eating bugs on our table. We went to sleep with the sounds of the 50 meter waterfall nearby slightly splashing down and the sounds of frogs croaking just outside our door.