Friday, March 6, 2009

Back in the Mountains

I’ve travelled back into the mountains to revisit the sites at Takengon (4000’), then on to new territory to the town of Blangkejeren (3100’), and then on to a town in a river basin (Kutacane). The driving has been spectacular. The one and only road winds its way along the mountainside and I swear, over the last 300 miles or so, I saw less than 1 mile of straight road and less than one mile of flat road. We were continuously winding left to right or heading up and down. From Takengon to Blangkejeren we had to cross over two mountain passes at 6000’ and 6200’ and between Blangkejeren and Kutacane we went back over 4200’. The road is paved but has rough patches where landslides have taken away the road bed, and in some places parts of the road! Along the way you pass through small villages strung out along the roadside which at first look idyllic with the streams and mountain vistas but the reality is that life here has to be very tough. The primary source of income is farming where fields are cut out of every conceivable piece of arable land. I’ve even seen a few small corn fields – nothing like Wisconsin. Try to run a John Deere down a 45 degree slope!

In the Takengon area they grow a particularly fine coffee bean which is the prime ingredient of the Aceh coffee I’ve mentioned before. One of their main customers is Starbucks, so if you order a cup of Starbucks Sumatra coffee, this is where it comes from. And Starbucks, if you’re listening, I can buy a cup of that same coffee here for about a quarter.

Yesterday, on the mountain roads, we passed through two roadblocks set up by the police (or whomever) and we were waved through – having large Red Cross and Red Crescent signs all over the vehicles works like a charm. There is a respect shown to the Red Cross. Anyway we didn't know what they were looking for until we got down into Kutacane and saw a drug bust in progress – we didn’t stop! It seems, along with fine coffee, the mountains are also a great place to grow marijuana. I didn’t get a price on that!

One last comment – I think the first two words taught to Indonesian children must be, “Hello Mister!” If we slow down anywhere children are present, or pass by children walking on the street, especially in the more rural areas, we almost always hear, “Hello Mister!” along with a wave and a smile.

The trip is going very well. We’ve taken care of business in each of the above mentioned towns, and later today, after some wrap-up work here in Kutacane, we’ll be heading towards the most south-west part of Aceh province to a town called Singkil.

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