WEST SUMATRA - West Sumatra, other than being known for its cuisine and shopping thanks to its delicious rendang (beef slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices) and beautiful songket (intricately patterned fabric), is also home to an international-scale sport event: the Tour de Singkarak.
Held annually for the past five years, the Tour de Singkarak is an international cycling race that has attracted professional athletes from around the world.
And for cycling enthusiasts, emulating the route of the race is an alternative way to enjoy the destination.
The Tour de Singkarak is held in this province for good reasons. The beautiful, dramatic landscape of West Sumatra presents challenges for the cyclers. Yet it can be enjoyed at a slower pace.
Travelers can take a closer look at beautiful landscapes scattered with lakes, mountains and hills and dotted with the traditional concave-rooved houses known as rumah gadang.
At a more feasible pace and with more emphasis on safety, cycling in this part of the world can cater to adventurous as well as active tourists.
From a bike, travelers can observe life happening with a backdrop of the grand landscape of West Sumatra. Take for instance, "Kelok 44" or the 44 turns of Maninjau Lake.
Even in the comfort of motorised vehicles, many of us shudder faced with the sharp and snaky turns, let alone on bikes.
However, life on a steep hillside presents itself when passing at a slower pace; farmers walk these slopes on a daily basis to tend to their rice paddies, children walk to and from school, graveyards are slipped among the bushes of the roadside and people sure are willing to help out a girl on a bike up the scarped slope.
The roads around Harau Valley are just too narrow and humble for cars and motorcycles to enjoy. The rising karst rocks form a vast, yet intimate, enclosure that demands to be drunk in at a relaxed pace.
Pushing the pedals between the tight rocks and views of lush green rice paddies might be the best way to enjoy Harau Valley. Also, it's a relatively flat terrain, making a cycling trip less of a fitness session and more of a healthy vacation.
Singkarak Lake, after which the Tour de Singkarak was named, is another scenic location. Main roads stretch by the lakeside, whence blows a gentle breeze to cool a sweaty cyclist.
On the other side of the road are train tracks spanning from Sawahlunto to Padang Panjang, with a service only on weekends. When the water is calm, usually during the mornings, the lake shows a perfect reflection of the mountains.
But the lake is as enjoyable during uneasy waves; it's as relaxing with the sound of splashing water as a background. Indeed, the vast lake with a mountainous backdrop is enjoyable in all conditions.
Given that these roads are made for an international race, they boast smooth continuous asphalt that meets safety standards.
These high-quality roads are found along the route of the race, which runs through Bukittinggi, Padang Panjang, Harau Valley, Singkarak Lake, Sawahlunto, Solok and Painan City, south of Padang. There are also many more alternative routes and much area to cover.
Completing parts of the race can bring appreciation for athletes and what they can accomplish.
Anyway, after all the Minang cuisine and rendang you'll have eaten, you'll need to do a few miles on a bike to burn off the calories.