We started our trip with a climb of Gunung Singalang. This is a volcano on the other side of Gunung Merapi. The Merapi is to active, and people got killed by flying rocks some weeks before we arrived. Both mountains are a couple of hours drive from Padang, a larger city in the middle of Sumatra.
From the small shelter at 1490 meter where we stayed overnight
it is a short walk to the first nepenthes at around 1680 meter.
The path is a hollow track, made by water running down the slope.
The first pitchers we saw were definitely
n. gymnamphora, starting of with young, difficult to identify plants and continuing with older plants hidden in the shrubs. The colour is deep red, despite the fact that the plants are hidden from the sunlight. At 1705 meter we find two - three plants which we cannot directly identify, so just take a couple of pictures and hope for the best. The plnats are localised on the side of the path and occupy a space of not more than 10 by 2 meter. (Later, Jo Nerntz says they are the "true" n.bongso.). There is not enough time according to the guide (one of the students from Padang University) to reach the summit and go back down the same day, as we lose time taking pictures and looking for plants.
So down we go and catch one of the local busses back to Padang
Next day we shop for food for the coming trip and bus to the foothills of Gunung Talang. This proves to be a ride deep in the inlands, over Solok and Batu Bajajang. The last bit of the road is wild, and the overloaded bus has to negociate bridges without surface, so the planks are taken from behind the bus and installed in front.
We stay the night with the local seismologue who supervises the volcanic activity of the Talang (most of the mountains in Sumatra still have volcanic activity).
Six in the morning we break camp, and walk through the rice fields towards the mountain. We see vapours rising out of crevices on the slopes. The forrest is different from what I am used in Borneo. There is a lot of grass and trees are much rarer. Is this because of the large population, and the eed for agriculture and fire wood? The first nepenthes appears at 1800 meter, obviously n. gymnamphora, followed at 2000 meter with something that could be a hybrid. Then we find what we think is n. bongso (later named n. talangensis) with enough variation to look different at 100 meter height difference. The foreest becomes high savannah, with grass that is man high. Small paths cross, but they are to covered in vegetation to be used by humans. We see a single n. inermis growing in a canyon, far enough from the path to be difficult to photograph. The ridge continues and goes all of the sudden very steep. At the windswept summit we find a couple of small, weather stricken nepenthes which could be a variety of n. talangensis but look like miniature n. rajah (right). We camp on a small windswept plateau, there is a pool with water and the whole night the stormy wind treatens to take our tent away. Next morning our guides claim that tigers appeared at night. In fact, the site of the n. inermis had this weird smell hanging around, and almost every mountain in Sumatra has a tiger population.
After the descent we continue to Bukittingi. We are in the middle of Minjangkabau country, and we tour around to see the land and the people. The houses are typical, and mimic the buffalo which is the major life chilli and a lot of spices. However, we also manage a short trip in the Harau valley and find n. ampullaria. In the canyons around the city itself grows n. reinwardtiana, hidden in the ferns. The region is covered with fields and plantages, we find pepper, coffee, thea, sugar cane, cilli and a lot of spices.
Next stop is Sibolga, a city close to the sea. There on the roadside (remarkable how many nepenthes seem to grow just at the side of the road. As soon as the vegetation is cleared the exposed cliffs seem to be colonised with nepenthes and ferns.) we find what was called n. treubiana (picture right) and something which looks like n. alata. (picture left) There are plenty of n. ampullaria and n. gracillis as the side of the road is steep and has a lot of small streams coming down the mountain..
We continue by bus (always busses in Sumatra, the country is very densely populated and it hard to be alone for more than half a day, contrary to the Borneo country side where you can disappear in the rain forrest for days and weeks) to Prapat at the shores of Lake Toba. And yes of course, at the city limit we find n. tobaica.
Near the town is a small complex of mountains, one of them Gunung Pangulubao. The ascent is straightforward: straight ahead. Tha flat is oocupied by bamboo and long grass, but as soon as we have crossed this there is a steep path which follows the ridge. We start at 08.30 hrs and reach the "summit" at 11.30 hrs. It takes from 1100 meter to 1700 meter before we find n. rhombicaulis, hidden in the moss. Next we see n. spectabilis hanging over the path, and when the path becomes less steep n. ovata appears (picture left). It is surpisig how much this species resembles n. veitchii, especially when the peristome is not yet fully developped. Also the upper pitchers (picture right)are totally different from the lower ones, and one would think there are traces of n. maxima to be seen there....At the summit we see what could be n. pectinata with teeth around the peristome.
The surroundings of Lake Toba are interesting, both because of the Stone Age remains and the Batak culture with their own funeral rites and monumental reburials. The open spaces are covered with burial sites doing honour to the deceased, and the practise is to only erect the monument after a long period of reflection by the family. The Bataks have managed to keep their own culture against colonial occupation and subsequent take-over by the Central Indonesian State. They are a Christain island, still rooted in their matriarchal traditions, in the middle of a staunch muslim country.
The island of Samosir (a mountain the fell in Lake Toba when the volcano blew it's top) has of course n. tobaica growing in a multitude or forms and colours, and in a pond we find utricularia australiensis
The next stop is Brastagi, a busy town at the foot of Gunung Sibayak. We climb the volcano, but the summits are so covered in clouds that we cannot find the path to the secondary summit where n. spectabilis grows. The sight of the old crater, with jets of steam and smell of sulphur is however impressive enough to compensate for the failure.
The villages around Brastagi are still build in the old traditions, and worth a visit. We then continue to Medan (an impressive descent of the cliffs by bus) where we catch the plane to Singapore. All in all a tour with an impressive amount of nepenthes.