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What have we been up to? There can hardly be a short answer, since we haven't posted anything is more than a month. On August 7 we were in Lake Toba, Sumatra and now we are in Kuala Lumpur, about to observe the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorists attacks.

Our main reason for not posting anything in these five weeks is that we've been too busy. Was that a guffaw? Yes, too busy. Because we have to be in one place long enough to first see the sights and then, in our last day or two report on them. In our month on the beaches of Thailand there weren't a lot of sights and there was a lot of time. And voila: lots of web postings.

After our last posting at Lake Toba we stayed on another four days, enjoying more of the cool air and view of the lake and mountains. Then it was off by an overnight bus ride to Bukittingi, another mountain town. (The overnighter was our first one since the Berlin-Paris trip in late March, 2005. We also took an almost-overnight ferry from Santorini to Crete. We got on at 4:00 a.m.) In Bukittingi we enjoyed a few museums, a walk to the previously Dutch village of Koto Gadang where we enjoyed the architecture, there being many examples of Dutch Colonial homes and some very nice, though limited in number, Maningkabau traditional longhouses.

From Bukittingi we went 40 km west over the sides of an ancient volcano, to spend four days on the shores of Lake Maninjau, situated in the ancient crater. We got in a second day of bicycling, another exercise of ancient muscles not so long after having gone around Tuk Tuk at Lake Toba. We just hit Indonesia's celebrating of its independence and were treated to a parade composed primarily of school kids marching along, sometimes in traditional costumes and sometimes in costumes borrowed from American high school marching bands.

By this time our 30-day Indonesian visa had but a week left. We planned to spend four of these days in the Harau Valley and made reservations there at the Eco Lodge. Unfortunately the place was having its problems: smoke from seasonal fires to prepare for the next crop filled the valley with an annoying haze. A water shortage meant the showers in the Lodge didn't work. So after one day we left (see photo of our departure). We went to Pekanbaru, a city of a million that could be nice but we experienced it in an even worse haze. By this time, the accumulation of air pollution was having its effect on our health, both of us had developed coughs. For that reason, we stayed just long enough, three nights, to catch a ferry to Malacca.

The trip to Malacca took four hours down a "jungle river", or that is what it would have been a hundred years ago or if we let our imaginations ride freely. On our trip we saw plenty of oil installations and barges of wood scraps being towed to paperboard factories. In the next (and last) 90 minutes we actually crossed the Malacca Straits. Our trip ended with a transfer to a smaller boat since the tide was low and our main ferry couldn't go up the mud-filled mouth of the Malacca River.

Gerry in bejak, leaving Harau Valley
Gerry in bejak, leaving Harau Valley, Sumatra

Malacca was fun and an eye-opener. We stayed in the Baba House, an ersatz traditional Chinese hotel, actually opened in 1990 or so and with most creature comforts. We visited the old Stadhuys, once the headquarters of the 250 year long colonial occupation by the Dutch, and learned much about Dutch colonial history. A walk around town took us to Bukit Cina (or Chinese Hill) which 500 years ago was the home of a princess come from China and for the last few hundred years has been home to one of the largest Chinese cemeteries in the world.

We'd come to Malaysia just to get another visa for Indonesia, so we thought we should get on with it. After five nights we left the comforts of Baba House and took a three hour bus to Kuala Lumpur. We got there on the eve of Malaysia's celebration of its Merdeka or Indepedence, gained August 31, 1957 (without a fight, unlike Indonesia, which also celebrates the day its leaders declared independence, although it could have chosen to celebrate the end of its four year independence war). Our first evening we went to Dataran Merdeka (Independence Park) and celebrated a bit with mostly locals; we had a Malaysian flag popped into our hands, which now decorates our hotel room.

Our first full day in KL was a holiday and it was only the next day, Friday, that we got ourselves to the Indonesian Consulate to get a 60-day visa. We left empty handed. Indonesia is happy to let you — us — in for 30 days without proof via a return ticket that you'll leave, but not so for a 60-day visa. Since we always buy cut-rate airfares, which means no changes, no refunds, we were in a catch-22 situation: Without a ticket we couldn't get a visa and without a visa we weren't going to buy a ticket.

We left the Indonesian Consulate and started our exploration of KL. We went directly to Putra Jaya, a newtown about 30 km south of Central KL. There we saw the broad ceremonial avenue lined with imposing and uniform Malaysian government ministries and saw the pretty Putra Mosque (to which we were refused entry since we weren't Moslems) and the outside of the Prime Minister's office, situated on a hill and reminding one of the US Capitol and its Capitol Hill.

Since then we have sort of drifted, never exactly deciding to stay and stay in KL but never deciding to just go to Indonesia for another 30 days. We've been pretty much all over the center of the city and like it. The town is clean, the weather is okay although hot and very sweaty, and in general very livable. We've been up to the Sky Bridge of the Petronas Towers, to the National Museum and the Islamic Museum of Art (great) as well as to the Bird Park (also great; we've never seen so many hornbills).

Now every day we think "we'll go to Indonesia tomorrow". In fact, it is every-other day, because we have what the Malaya Hotel calls a Backpackers Package, a true misnomer. In our package we get a very nice room, a newspaper delivered to the door each morning, an hour of internet service every other day, and a coupon good for lunch everyother day.

Today we'll use two hours on the internet to post this. Maybe tomorrow we'll be off. Or more likely after just one more package.

September 10, 2006