Friday, 20 November. We knew we more than likely not be able to paddle that day and somehow I was the first one of the westerners awake. After breakfast I began to fill in my journal but then we had to dress up in long pants and closed shoes and leave quite quickly. The weather was not ideal for this type of clothing but we had to because we were meeting with the government and would be filmed too.

We arrived at a really beautiful building with a view back onto Mount Kerinci and settled into what could be called a conference of sorts. There was a photographer, a chap with a very large video camera for national television and quite a few people who we had no idea how they fell into the puzzle. Maybe they didn’t either know. Because English is not spoken by everyone there was also a translator. Andrew was nominated as our speaker and did a sterling job. Celliers sat there, possibly close on death. He had some nasty food poisoning and I really felt sorry for him. It was the worst condition to be in to attend something like this. Eventually it ended, everyone seemed satisfied with our mission to promote the area for kayaking, rafting and tourism and positively welcomed and encouraged us. It’s almost a shame that in 10 or 20 years from now this area will be swarming with irritating tourists. I recommend you visit now before it changes, but I guess everyone is different and is not like me so maybe some of you can wait until the 5 star lodges get set up.

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1385_E1 copyCelliers Kruger at the conference, feeling at the bottom of world after some food poisoning!

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1388_E1 copy

Andrew Kellet, far left. And Toto Triwindarto next to him. The chap with the hat was a very important and respected man but I could not get his name and on the far right is Yul Amri, the man who made a lot of this trip happen in conjunction with Toto! West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1393_E1 copy

Andrew talking with Toto looking on. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1399_E1_CR copy

The beautiful government building we went to. Just awesome! West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1404_E1_CR copyA local smoking it up. A LOT of Indonesian people smoke. Maybe because they don’t drink.

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1406_E1_CR copy

The 3 little bats outside my room under the roof of the chicken coop opposite to my room. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1410_E1 copy

The outside of our house. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1415_E1 copy

My equipment being hung up for the day to dry. We left all our gear outside all the time. This is open to the main road through this region not 20m from here with no fence. NOTHING was stolen. Welcome to West Sumatra.  West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1420_E1_CR copy West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1422_E1_CR copy

This was the first time I saw the skinny little cat I called Lucky. I didn’t mention him in the text but I will later again. He was so, SO thin. My heart really went out to this little bugger. I fed him some of my food when I saw him and noticed a big difference within the time I was there. Letting him sleep on my clothes on the floor at night. I wonder what happened to him. Hopefully he stayed lucky.  West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1432_E1 copyThe King’s house. He wasn’t there, but we walked around, inside and out. Very cool house.  

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1441_E1 copy West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1442_E1 copy

Beautiful plants around the house. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1453_E1 copy

Inside the house. You leave your shoes outside whenever you visit anyone’s house here… West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1465_E1_CR copyMe, sitting in the King’s house, like the King, of course! ;-) Photo by Puji.

Once back at the house I lay down and had an awesome sleep, waking up at 14:30. We then had lunch which consisted of chicken with two different types of delicious coatings and you guessed it, rice! I returned back to my room, filling in my diary of the days’ events. Looking out my window were three bats huddled close together under a corrugated roof sheeting, staring unblinkingly back at me. We waited for some traditional dancers who were supposed to arrive but they never did. Eventually we met a new character, Nofrins Napilus. He is the owner of ( ) Nofrins took us to the King’s house to have a look later that afternoon. The Solok Selatan regency is unique in that it has four kings. I have no idea how that works but somehow, it does. The King’s house was a similar construction to the one we were staying in, just very lavishly decorated in fine detail, it was quite different to anything I had seen before. We then made our way back to the house, and later Nofrins took all of us out for a great dinner! It was an excellent example of the fine hospitality that the Indonesian people showed us. I thought to myself, what an awesome guy. He doesn’t know any of us and yet here he is, taking us out, with nothing to gain but good conversation and an interesting time. We returned later and at 22:10 I hit the sack.

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1471_E1 copy

Random house. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1473_E1 copy

The road outside the King’s house. Same road past our house. Only road through this region! West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1476_E1 copy

Locals wait for a wedding to begin!!! West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1480_E1_CR_BW copy

An old man waits patiently too. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1484_E1 copy

One the little bridesmaids.  West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1491_E1 copy

The couple to be, dressed up to the nines.  West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1494_E1_CR copy

Local bus! West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1495_E1_CR copy

The back of that bus. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1511_E1 copySunset that evening. 

Saturday, 21 November. My eyes opened at six and I felt tired. At least we would get to paddle that day! Our mission was to first descent the Batang Sangir, on one of the upper reaches – this is exactly what we did.

On arrival back at the bridge to observe the water level we noticed it had dropped a little. It still looked like it was going to be a wild ride into the unknown though. There appeared to be zero pools and the rapid just turned right around the corner and out of sight. Judging by the thick jungle on the sides, portaging, if we had to, would be extremely unpleasant, or not even possible – I felt a little nervous. Everyone climbed into the river, except Celliers, who was still not feeling too good. The river was very fast and the action non-stop. It reminded me of the Molenaars a bit but better and longer. Because it was a first descent we obviously had no clue what we were in for and paddled down a touch on edge. Andrew often went ahead to film and because we were short of Celliers I stayed with Hugh and the other guys to keep things safe – no point in me getting out to take photos as well, because then we’d be a man down. Things went really well and the rapids were of an excellent quality. In fact, the river was really mind blowing and just didn’t really let up and just carried on dropping. While nothing would scare an experienced kayaker as the average flows it’s just pure fun and a river I will always think back to with a smile. At high flows I’m sure it’s a beast.

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1522_E1_CRP copy

Me at the put in. OK, OK! So the flag is the wrong way but who cares. It’s the South African flag in case you didn’t know. Photo by Hugh (I think). West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1525_E1_CR copy

Our driver Johnny, and me.  West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1526_E1 copy

My boat, ready to hit the water.West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1528_E1 copy

Looking upstream at the quick moving water. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1530_E1 copy

Looking downstream at the even quicker moving water… 

IMG_1042 copyUs getting ready. Photo by Andrew Kellet (Andrew’s camera) 

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1534_E1 copy

Random rapid somewhere along the line. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1543_E1 copyAndrew Kellet in the same as above. 

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1564_E1 copy

Andrew Kellet heading downstream a long but easy rapid. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1569_E1 copy

No scouting, no portaging – this was pretty easy stuff but a nice view.  West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1572_E1 copyHugh du Preez in 7th heaven. Look at that smile! :-) Brings a smile to my face – good times!!!

IMG_1052 copy IMG_1053 copy IMG_1058 copy IMG_1059 copy IMG_1060 copyAndrew mainly took video, but took a few shots of me too. Photos by Andrew Kellett (Andrew’s camera) The video will be just awesome – won’t be stuff like this above really. Can’t wait!!!! Andrew, that’s another hint. 

At one particular rapid we slowed down to check things out, making relatively sure of the next visible eddy and watched as Andrew avoided a pourover and paddled down to get out and video. With him safe, Hugh went down to just in case things got ugly, going straight through the pourover (on purpose) and I made sure to explain to the other guys that this one was supposed to be avoided.

I thrust the camera back into its waterproof box and watched Puji peel into the swift flowing water. He knew to avoid the nasty, recycling pit of water known to us kayakers as a pourover, so I climbed back into my boat but kept a beady eye on him anyway. As if with some sick fascination, he headed straight into it.

IMG_1065 copyOur group, at another random spot. From left: Puji, Adrian, Hugh, Agus (hiding at the back), Toto and Billy. And some local chap on the far right. Photo by Andrew Kellett (Andrew’s camera)

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1585_E1 copy

Looking upstream from where we came. It’s amazing I actually got so many shots. When I wrote the article I forgot how many I took. But I think we took a lot of cool video footage too at different spots. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1586_E1 copy

The rapid where Puji came short.  West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1590_E1 copy

Andrew avoiding the pourover and heading down. West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1592_E1 copy West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1593_E1 copy West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1594_E1 copyNo problems, Andrew made is no problem.

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1599_E1 copy West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1600_E1 copy West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1601_E1 copyHugh heads through the pourover no problem and carries on.   

The setting was lovely with a hot air temperature and warm water but the river was fast and continuous as it thumped its way through the thick jungle surrounding us, indifferent to its passing guests. With no calm pools and many, strenuous rapids, this was no place to swim. I sealed off my boat with my spray skirt and sprinted downstream to catch Puji, who had received a surprisingly short beating and had now flushed, and was swimming. He managed to swim behind a rock where Andrew was stationed with the video camera and he seemed frightened but ok. Hugh was chasing after the boat alone so I had no choice but to join him to back him up. It was scary charging into the shadows of the next rapid as it curved around a right bend but there was little time for fear. As we had not scouted and were now in a big hurry we had to react to everything around us with speed and a certain confidence. With luck, the river eased off and Hugh managed to get onto some shallow rocks and we got the boat out.

West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1603_E1 copy West_Sumatra_Nov_2009_1605_E1 copyWith luck, we arrived at a super easy spot to get his boat out, after paddling some 500m or more through rapids, with the us chasing the boat and eventually Hugh getting it. 

But Hugh was very stressed this particular trip and I didn’t blame him, but there wasn’t much point being overly stressed because it obviously rubbed off on me and the other guys too. And it didn’t help when poor Puji took a second swim. Hugh managed to clip into the boat, right above a really serious rapid. He headed for the left bank in a very swift flowing pool but could not make it. There was no choice but to commit and looking back he should have released from the boat but did not. Hugh now had a boat, full of water, attached to him. Down he went through the maelstrom and into another pourover which capsized him. Somehow he managed to roll up quite quickly and we headed for the left bank. Just above the next rapid he managed to beach himself onto some shallow rocks and only had enough strength to maintain his position. I jumped out onto the rocks and grabbed the boat threatening to pull him backwards into the next rapid. We sat there, smiling and laughing and trying to get our breaths back from the strain of the last eight hundred metres. A butterfly came down to rest on my boat, the river roared on next to us and the jungle sang its perpetual song. It felt peaceful to be there. It was one of those moments when it just reinforces in my mind why kayaking is so special and the only means to get to these beautiful places - pure bliss. This was soon broken up with making sure no one paddled beyond us!

Click HERE for part two of this article!!