Rafflesia arnoldii - The world's biggest flower

Indonesia - Flower Power

This morning at nine Roni picks me up on his motorbike. I want to see a few things around Bukittingi with him today. I have my own helmet with me and am well equipped for a motorcycle tour. Roni suggests that we don't do a cultural program today, but look at the largest flowers in the world, some varieties of which grow in the area.

On the Trans Sumatra. We drive about 15 kilometers on the highway in the rain to a village and stop next to a small mosque. In the house next door everything revolves around the Kopi Luwak. This is a type of coffee whose berries are eaten and then excreted by the Luwak, a species of civets. The coffee farmers then collect these excrements, wash them and roast the coffee beans fermented in the luwak's intestines over a cinnamon wood fire. It grows everywhere around here and is left over when the cinnamon bark is extracted. A few years ago, when I was traveling through the Vietnamese Mekong Delta on my motorbike, I came across the Kopi Luwak on the menu in a Saigon café and I tried it. I am not a coffee drinker and have not been able to gain any impressive sensory impressions from the specially obtained coffee. The Kopi Luwak is a lot more expensive than the conventional types of coffee because of the more complex manufacturing process.

Defecating Luwak
Defecating Luwak

Kopi Luwak - a different kind of coffee enjoyment

The coffee I drank in Vietnam was certainly from Luwaks who are kept in captivity and fed coffee beans. But the coffee producers I'm currently visiting in West Sumatra use the excrement of free-ranging civets. They are happier that way and you can taste that in the coffee, explains the guest advisor at the coffee house. Today I have even more cold than in the last two days and I can't taste anything. The ice-cold ferry ride and the overnight bus ride brought the cold to the breaking point. I sit there in damp clothes and they explain to me that you can pour the coffee twice with the same intensity of taste and then use the coffee grounds for an anti-wrinkle facial treatment. I decline this offer with thanks. I am sure that the altitude is particularly important for the taste. I learned that the year before last when I visited a coffee plantation in the Colombian Andes. The higher it is grown, the less acid the coffee bean develops.

The excrement of the luwak is the raw material for the kopi luwak
The excrement of the luwak is the raw material for the kopi luwak

When I feel like everything has been said about the coffee and I've expressed enough how good I liked it, I put on my motorcycle helmet again, thinking that we're going to move on. But now I'm obviously going to see a flower. Roni can't keep up and a villager in flip flops starts walking and gestures for me to follow him. I have no idea what flower it is and how far we have to walk to get there, but my new guide makes a side note that I'm wearing the right footwear with the hiking boots. The path first leads us through idyllic rice fields, where we hike on the dams in between and occasionally have to balance on boards over small watercourses. In some places it is also quite muddy, which I see as the explanation for the required sturdy shoes.

Jungle Climbing to the World's Largest Flower

But then we leave the plain and climb slippery steps up the slope. The path is overgrown and not without it. To the left, if you misstep, you would fall deep into the jungle. My guide doesn't seem to have any worries about this. Several times we have to cross a stream through the water and I imagine I can feel the bites of the first leeches again. The climb is so steep that I'm immediately out of breath again. Already during the jungle trekking in Malaysia a few weeks ago I quickly fell behind on the steep passages. Because it rained, the ground is muddy and we won't climb the mountain on the right path anyway. Luckily there are roots washed up in many places that I can use as handles. I also use lianas to climb. However, among these climbing aids there are also many false friends. Dead wood that snaps off immediately and offers no support. I always have to think of the Indiana Jones film where someone reaches for what they think is a liana and gets a snake. But apart from ants and butterflies, I don't see any animals.

First, the path leads us through tranquil rice fields
First, the path leads us through tranquil rice fields

Now we have to climb up a bit in the middle of the stream and step from stone to stone. If I get the wrong one here, my carefree journey will be over and the cold will be the least of my worries. With this in mind, I set my feet very carefully, not caring that my guide has disappeared from my field of vision far ahead. I see him waiting for me upstairs with his hands clasped behind his back. Now it's even bolder up the slope and the gradient is probably 45 degrees. The guide in the flip-flops climbs lightly while I can hardly find my feet safely. I put my feet on roots and then pull myself up with my hands on lianas. Sometimes my feet slip and I just hang on the lianas. I'm not particularly proud of my performance, but I can't help it. My pants are full of dirt and mud up to my knees.

But I literally shimmy through, because now I can see our target about ten meters up the slope: the giant rafflesia (Rafflesia arnoldii). Its flower can weigh up to eleven kilos and be up to one meter in diameter and is said to be the largest in the plant kingdom. I climb further up to get a look inside the calyx. It is said to emit the smell of carrion to attract insects for pollination. But again I can't smell anything because of my cold.
I hold on to a liana with one hand so as not to slip down the slope, and with the other I try to take useful film and photo recordings. My cell phone and my camera also look very adventurous against the earth.

I can't imagine that many tourists will manage the path to this flower. I've only ever met a western face in Sumatra, but in Bukittingi in West Sumatra I haven't met anyone at all. In the Kopi Luwak village, however, a Frenchman and his Indonesian partner came to drink coffee. But they didn't go to the flower.

When I went on this trip with a motorcycle helmet, army cargo pants with heavy hiking boots and a buckled leg bag from the military outfitter, it seemed a bit exaggerated, as if I was making a costume out of it. But in the meantime, equipment has been used several times and while others in shorts and sneakers risked inflamed skin abrasions and broken ankles, I was on the safe side. I will soon have to take the time to go into more detail about my experiences and knowledge of the right or superfluous equipment for such backpacker adventure trips in another article.


Publish modules to the "offcanvs" position.