Lake Maninjau is a fairly short bus ride from Bukittinggi. I took an angkot (minibus) to the bus terminal (Rp.2000) and from there caught the bus to Maninjau (Rp.15000), or rather I boarded the bus and then waited for an hour while it filled up with passengers before departing. Lake Maninjau is, like Lake Toba, the result of a volcanic eruption, a lake in a crater. The last part of the journey took us straight down into the crater via a series of 44 numbered hairpin bends on the narrow road. Having picked a seat near the front so I didn’t feel sick, it was terrifying watching the bus so nearly going off the side of the road as it slowly turned the tight corners. I was glad I wasn’t driving!
Alighting in the town named after the lake, Maninjau, I walked down the main road and out of the town towards the area with homestays. Maninjau itself seemed a fairly unremarkable small town, with some traditional Minangkabau shaped rooftops. Many of the houses were built from wooden planks, with little window panes, and the typical corrugated metal roofs. I liked seeing these quaint houses.
After looking at two homestays which did not impress me, I saw the turning to Cafe and Homestay 44, a small path leading down from the main road to the edge of the lake. I followed the path and came to a series of wooden bungalows and a cafe. The beach area was kept as a grassy garden with palm trees and some steps leading down to the water’s edge. This was a beautiful peaceful setting. I got a simple but nice wooden bungalow for Rp.40000 per night. The bathroom was shared with two other rooms but there were no other guests while I was there.
The woman who ran Homestay 44, named after those hairpin bends, was very friendly. She and her husband, who had since passed away, set up the cafe and homestay in the early 1990s. They were always busy with guests. Then, in 1998, Krismon, the massive economic crisis, hit Indonesia, and their business and others in the area suffered terribly. Since then the local tourism industry has never fully recovered. Now the homestay is run by her grown-up children as well. I ate meals at the cafe and found them always delicious, with ample portions. Whether Indonesian or Western food, the flavour was just right. One of the sons told me he had spent a month learning to cook Western food from a Dutch man. It was also wonderful for me to stay in a place where I could relax without people trying to sell me things. I hope places like Homestay 44 manage to survive.
Lake Maninjau is much smaller than Lake Toba, but still impressively large, and having seen Lake Toba just a few days before, Maninjau is the second largest lake I’ve ever seen. Lake Maninjau is also more peaceful than Lake Toba. The only boats I saw were fishermans’ canoes, and down at the edge of the lake there was hardly anyone around. I spent time just watching the clouds move up and down over the hills on the opposite side of the lake, about 8km away. Sometimes it was possibly to clearly make out houses over there, and at other times it was like looking out to sea, with everything completely hidden by cloud. I paddled and looked at the pebbles on the lake floor. I had been told that the water is not so clean these days, and there were a few pieces of rubbish floating in it, so I declined to swim.
Unfortunately I could only spend two nights in this beautiful place, and even worse, it rained almost all the time. When it rained heavily on my first night I was told that it hadn’t rained for weeks before that. The next day I had a little walk around the area, still admiring the quaint wooden houses. Yose, one of the sons who runs the homestay, told me that some of these houses were around a hundred years old. He pointed to one large metal-roofed house in particular and explained that it was so big because in the past it would have been the home for several families, as in traditional Minangkabau houses. In this area the Minangkabau shaped roofs are rare but the traditional lifestyle did exist. Nowadays that house is inhabited by just one family, and people no longer live such a communal lifestyle as in the past.
Then the rain started again, and it rained for the rest of the day and nearly all night. What with the clouds and the rain I didn’t do various things that I might have, like climbing Lawang Top, the hill from which you can see a full view of the lake on a clear day, or going to the hot spring nearby. But I enjoyed spending time at Lake Maninjau and getting to know people there. The next day, still raining lightly, I left for Padang, the final stop on my Sumatra trip.