The Sumatran Sojourn: Life on the Street in Lubuklinggau

Most tourists to Indonesia flock to the azure blue waters and sandy beaches of Bali and Lombok, its most famous islands. There is much in this vibrant and diverse country, however, that extends beyond the wandering eyes of the outside world. It is amongst the Indonesian roads less traveled that I have found the most rich and rewarding experiences.

Welcome to Lubuklinggau.

Nestled in the southern region of Sumatra two thousand miles from the sand and surf of Bali, Lubuklinggau is not likely be featured in Lonely Planet guides or Travel Channel excursions. There are no world-class resorts, pristine beaches or famed monuments. It is instead a working-class city filled with shopkeepers, mechanics, mill workers and miners. Look beyond the dust and grit, however, and you will find a vibrant community filled with some of the most welcoming, generous and joyful people anywhere on earth.

Lubuklinggau demonstrates that a destination can often be defined by its people. The life and character of Lubuklinggau is visible on every face, in every child playing in the street, in each moment of hospitality and gesture of respect. It is warm, generous, and inviting. Lubuklinggau is wonderful because its people are wonderful. And that may be the best compliment any community can receive.

Intrigued? Let’s hit the streets ...

Much of life happens on the streets in Lubuklinggau. There is action on every corner and in every alley. With so much to see and experience, you quickly learn to slow down, to pay attention, to be intentional. After only a few days, it had already become one of my favorite street photography destinations.

While we are comfortably packed into office buildings, modish coffee shops and air-conditioned shopping malls, ordinary life in Lubuklinggau happens on the streets. It is here one can find vendors with tasty treats, mechanics, cobblers, and even residents set about their routine chores.

It's not all work and no rest, however. There is also a fair bit of conversation on the streets as well. Here a few women take a quick break to enjoy some time together.

With adults busy preparing street snacks and working their stalls and shops, kids find ways to help out or entertain themselves. Life happens on the street, for everyone.

Where there are kids, there are balls. Everywhere you look, children are finding time for sport, and futbol [of course] reigns supreme. Every Sunday morning, kids can enjoy a paved pitch together on the main road in town, where the entire community has gathered for exercise and fellowship.

I love the vibrant colors that adorn the [often rugged] architecture throughout the Asia-Pacific. The lively colors and dynamic contrasts are often a splendid depiction of the culture that painted them.

Mopeds are king on the roads of Lubuklinggau. There is seldom a street scene without one. With so may mopeds, repair shops are on every corner, and expert mechanics (and drivers!) come in all ages.

But it doesn't have to be all work and no fun. Two men take a brief break from their mechanical duties to share a cigarette and a smile.

The central market in town is bustling and full of color, competing aromas and plenty of smiles. Here you can find it all, from clothing and trinkets to vegetables, meats and street food (such as the lontong I inhaled for breakfast: compressed rice served with tofu and peanut sauce).

The market also displays the gritty side of food. A fishmonger’s block is a vivid reminder that not all meals are destined for the gourmet plate. Food often reflects a wide spectrum of class and societal status.

As the streets get hot and steamy, locals find reprieve in the nearby rivers and waterfalls. Here, two women find a cool spot under the falls as the afternoon heat reaches its highest.

Life on the street doesn't end at sundown. In fact, this is a perfect occasion to indulge in a little [or large] nighttime snack. My street vendor tour included a few of the culinary mainstays: risoles (potato and egg wrapped in dough and fried), sate ayam Padang (barbecued chicken skewers), mie ayam (chicken with noodles) and spicy sambal sauce generously heaped over it all. 

A little bit of rain doesn't bring an end to life on the street. And that's despite the fact that, when it rains, it pours, in Lubuklinggau. In a fitting conclusion to the trip, we found ourselves caught in a momentary monsoon. But that certainly didn't impede the food-stall-hopping. The quest for bandrek (a ginger drink with sweetened condensed milk) is paramount!

There is so much to see and experience in Lubuklinggau that I am left with the feeling that I may never fully capture the energy and essence of life on its streets. There are still images haunting my memory of photographs missed and stories untold. Hopefully, this photo essay provides a glimpse of this amazing community, and the vibrant and exciting life that happens on its streets.

Thank you, Lubuklinggau. We will meet again soon.

If you enjoyed my sojourn in Lubuklinggau, check out some beautiful faces of the people that live there in my previous post, Indonesia and the Portrait of a Thousand Faces!