West Sumatra's natural beauty has long had regional cachet, even dating back to the early 1900s during the Dutch Colonial era.
It abounds with mountains, valleys, rivers, springs, caves and forests. One regency in the province, Solok Selatan, or South Solok, has them all. Recently we traveled through Solok Selatan for five days to see for ourselves how the natural beauty was standing up.
Our rental car set off on smooth asphalt roads from the Minangkabau International Airport leaving West Sumatra's capital Padang behind us. Just past the Bung Hatta Nature Park, we began the first real adventure: twisting and turning roads with plenty of rocky roadbed. But we had no excuse to worry: The lush vegetation and clean, fast-running streams caught our attention from both sides of the car.
The rain caught up with us when we made a stop at Kayo Aro Lubuk Selasih restaurant for lunch. It was still a long way to Solok Selatan. Another stop we made was at Di Atas Lake before reaching the border between Solok Selatan and Solok. Before dusk we arrived at Wisma Umi Kalsum lodging in Muaro Labuh where we stayed the night. We fell on a happy coincidence for we got the chance to enjoy rarely seen traditional performances like Rahab and Saluang Panjang after dinner, staged for some well-heeled guests staying at the modest inn.
A tourist observes a stalagnite at Bukit Sungai Mintan.(JP/Adji K)
Botang Liki river (JP/Adji K)
Our first full day was devoted to exploring the awe and fun of the region's fast waters. Our first destination was the 15-meter-high Imbulun Sangir waterfall on the Batang Liki river located at the village of Lubuak Gadang, 161 kilometers from Padang. Then we ventured on to another waterfall 10 kilometers further upland, the Tansi Ampek in Sungai Lambai village. This waterfall is unique because it sits smack-dab in the middle of a tea plantation. To reach it, we had to walk single file along a narrow 100-meter path. Its waters feed at least 10 rivers in Solok Selatan, three of which have top-notch rafting spots. Tempted by the currents, we eventually tried this sport at the most famous of the three, Batang Liki. Lunch was served riverside once we finished rafting that watercourse. We continued on to Batang Sangir which had stronger currents. Generally speaking, Batang Sangir is rated five out of six for difficulty, six being most challenging. The last stage of the rafting session put us on the famous Batang Hari river, 79 kilometers from Padang Aro, the capital of Solok Selatan. This river marks the border between the West Sumatra and Jambi provinces.
The next day we shifted our attention from rafting to hiking. The Mitra Kerinci tea plantation was our starting point as we set out to climb Mt. Kerinci (3,805 m) the highest mountain in Sumatra. Most climbers ascend via the Kresik Tuo (old route) starting from Kerinci Regency in Jambi, but we had heard about a new approach. Upon arriving at the tea plantation, we spent half an hour just admiring the breathtaking scenery of the sea of tea bushes against the backdrop of Mt. Kerinci. Then it was time to drive to the base camp to start our climb. We met Hedi who recently led an 18-member team to open up the new route. "We've opened this new route called the North Route. Water supplies are more accessible from this route compared to the old way up from Jambi."
"Just 100 meters before reaching the peak we will cross the conventional route, the Kresik Tuo."
We returned to our lodge before gearing up for the next adventure; going inside the Earth, or caving. Our destination this time was Bukit Sungai Mintan cave in Sangir Batanghari district. We drove close to the cave, then pulled off to the side of the road. Inside the cave we found underground rivers with moderate currents and many stalagmites and stalactites. There were even columns where the two formations had joined, in the cave's depths. Except for villagers, few people have explored this cave, apparently, which may account for its pristine condition.
Having roamed the cave, we returned to our lodgings and rested up. Our plan was to visit the hot springs Panas Sapan Maluluang in Nagari Alam Pauh Duo, 23 kilometers from Solok Selatan's capital. The spring, deep inside a rubber tree plantation, was accessible by car or motorcycle.
Legend has it Sapan Maluluang and its small pond about five by 10 meters square formed after a volcanic eruption. Billowing steam and the pungent smell of sulphur welcomed us as we approached. Too hot for a dip, the waters are said to be 100* Celsius. To test this, we took some eggs, put them in a plastic bag and placed it in the pond. Voila! In less than 10 minute, our boiled eggs were ready to eat.
Solok selatan residents hold a ritual to greet new planting season. (JP/Adji K)
Our next treat was a walk to Ngalau Indah and a rubber tree and coffee plantation. Several smaller caves in this village were worth the visit. Though as not as pretty as the first caves, these were interesting because residents were using them to breed swallows and sell their highly prized nests.
Over so soon? On our way back to Padang, we did the math. Five days were too few. Along the way we got the feeling we had glimpsed only a small sampling of Solok Selatan's beauty.
If You Go...
Solok Selatan is the youngest regency in West Sumatra. Home to more than 130,000 people, it is accessible with ground transportation from the Minangkabau International Airport in Padang.
You can take a public minibus or rent a car at the airport. The minibus usually charges Rp 50,000 (about US$5) and a rental car will cost you Rp 450,000 per day.
It takes 3 hours to get to Solok Selatan from Padang. If practicality and security matters, most travel agents in Padang can set you up with a tour package.* ***