Friday, October 9, 2009


Mon 14/09
Our newest ferry friend says he’s seen us on TV. That’s a new one. We’re still trying to work out which one of us is Ewan McGregor and which one is Charlie.

Later that afternoon on Sumatran soil, walking up the road to Kalianda’s mini mart, it doesn’t take long before we’re reminded of what life is like for a goldfish.

Hello Mister. Becak Mister. Ojek Mister. What Is Your Name. Where Are You Going. Where Are You Come From. Honk. ...sterrrr... Honk. Good Evening. Good Morning. Good Afternoon. Honk. What Is Your Name....

That’s just the first 50 metres.

The thing is: goldfish have eency weency little brains, so really aren’t bothered by the whole world gawping at them or giving the glass a bit of a tap. We, on the other hand, were fed up with it in Flores six months ago. We’re a billion times more fed up with it now. Its harassment, pure and simple.

Tue 15/09
Getting to Krui the next day would have been simple if we’d wanted to take the highway. Or we hadn’t taken a wrong turn in Bandarlampung. But we didn’t and we did, and the GPS map of Sumatra really sucks, so it takes us most of the day, at the end of which its raining. We’ve only had to ride in the rain a handful of times this year and between us have only one good tyre, so take it pretty easy, even though we’re busting to get there and off the bikes.

We’re not even entirely sure why we headed up the west coast road in the first place. Maybe its because we’re from Oz, so when in doubt naturally head for the beach.

Wed 16/09
The coastline in this part of the world is some of the most beautiful we’ve seen, with little fishing villages wedged between palm fringed beaches, all backed by a tropical forested hinterland.

But the roads live up to Sumatra’s reputation, with potholes easily big enough to swallow two large motorbikes. Be afraid. Be very afraid... of Indo cops who pull you over in the middle of Nowhereville, Sumatra. Somehow we dodge another voluntary donation to the police social club (our luck’s gotta run out eventually). Or maybe it just throws him when one of us lets loose with the classic line “Is there a problem officer?”

Because its bucketing down coming into Manna that afternoon, we dive into the first hotel we find just to get dry. This turns out to be a big mistake, because just as we’re dumping our stuff in the room, the mosque over the road (which we’d failed to spot) lets rip with an Allah u Akbar loud enough to dislodge a filling. Maybe that’s why the hotel bathroom is a crumbling mess of broken tiles.

Thu 17/09
Or maybe its all the tremors they get around here. Sitting on the bed the next morning, still feeling grumpy from being woken earlier by the ear-splitting air raid siren (seriously) at 4.30am, things start to shake and rattle for about 10 seconds.

Its raining again as we ride into Bengkulu around midday. Apparently the English were here in the 17th century, but eventually traded it to the Dutch for Melaka because they got sick of the weather. How’s that for a damning indictment.

Indo Insight No. 42: The Indonesian Mentality

We’ve just arrived at a hotel in Bengkulu (which is being renovated) and have dumped our bags in the room. The bikes are parked around the back, so we wander back there to get the last bits and pieces, where three workmen now sit, gawping. This isn’t unusual. Everyone gawps at us and the bikes. But as Lucas goes to remove the luggage straps from his bike he notices a big white mark on the seat. “What the ...? That looks like paint.” He turns to look at the workmen. “Which one of you morons did that?” A split second later realising the one on the end has white paint all over his hands. “It was you wasn’t it?” Pointing. Incredulous that the idiot is still sitting there. “Get that shit off the seat you idiot.” Mr Painty gets up. “You’re an absolute fucking moron aren’t you?” Practically yelling now. “Stupid!” Pointing to his head. Mr Painty nods silently. He doesn’t need a translator.

Let’s examine the situation. This brain surgeon has just spotted a bike, the likes of which he may only see once in his lifetime. Its worth as much as his house. He’s got paint all over his hands, but he can’t help himself. He has to touch it. So he leans on the seat. At some point, what passes for a brain registers the fact that the paint, which was once on his hands, is now all over the seat. So he rubs it a bit. But he hears the two buleh returning to the bike. So he sits there a few feet from the scene of his crime with a gormless look on his face, hoping the big buleh won’t notice his handiwork.

Afterwards, when we try to explain what’s happened to the manager (who speaks some English), she simply can’t comprehend what’s happened or why we’re upset about it. For us, this is the final icing on the idiot cake, and it takes all of five minutes to load up our stuff and leave.

Fri 18/09
And so, sitting on the front porch of the old Dutch villa (now a wisma) the next morning, we wonder how we’re going to get out of this country. The shortest route is Dumai to Melaka, but there aren’t too many who do it that way round, and the process (and the pain) of shipping cargo from here to Malaysia is a different prospect to coming back the other way.

Later, on Bengkulu’s main beach (which is remarkably clean for an Indo beach), we contemplate the tried and tested Medan to Penang route instead. Ok, so you’re really just sticking the bikes on an onion boat, but plenty of people have done this and have published all the details on the web. However it means riding all the way to Medan, which is right up near Aceh, entering into the north of Malaysia at Penang, and then backtracking all the way back down the west coast.

But do we have anything better to do? And why are we asking you, anyway?

Sat 19/09
Its bucketing down again, and water drips from the peeling plywood ceiling into hastily arranged buckets which sit on the tiled stone floor. Ann contemplates plugging the reading lamp into the cheap Indo triple adapter, but is sensibly wary of the electrickery coursing through the old villa’s wiring. “Oh give me that.” says Lucas, impatiently shoving the plug into the socket. Phfffzzzzzt bang! Darkness. Ann looks at him with a mixture of fear and an I Told You So expression. We hear A’an in the next room get up from the TV and flick the fuse back on. This is all pretty normal.

Sun 20/09
Hnngh mmm huh?
Oma!..... Oooohmaaaa!!!
For god’s sake. What’s the time?
Shit, what’s the emergency?
Oma Oma Oooohmaaaa!!!

Its the end of Ramadhan today. The end of fasting. Today friends, family or just people in your street come by for cake and to say hello. And if, inexplicably, you’re not around to greet them at 4.30 in the morning, they’ll just stand on your doorstep and yell until you show your face. Or until a bleary-eyed, unshaven buleh comes out to kill them.

Hilda or Oma!, the lady who owns the wisma, seems a little bemused by all this. She’s originally from Manado in Sulawesi, so only keeps up local traditions out of respect for her neighbours. She’s a lovely feisty old lady who’s led an interesting life, and its wonderful to be able to just sit and talk over a coffee.

Mon 21/09
Indo Insight No.43: Water on the Brain

Its the second day of the holidays and we’re down at the beach. Which, in hindsight, is probably a dumb place to be but anyway; we’re down the quiet end. The other 500,000 are down the other end, obeying their natural herding instinct. Still, there’s a constant stream of people on motorbikes up and down the beach, most of whom slow or stop to have a good gawp at us or ask for a photo. These people are irritating beyond the realms of human endurance, but we stubbornly put up with them for a couple of hours. But that’s not the point.

There’s a little sandy track from the beach out to the dirt access road, and several people are trying to ride their bikes up through the soft sand to get to it. But because the bikes are street 125s, and because they’re carrying a pillion (usually a girlfriend), they get bogged. So they sit there revving the nuts off them, digging a big hole in the sand. But that’s not the point either.

The point is: every single one of the girlfriends just sits on the back of bike. They refuse to get off. It never seems to occur to them that the reduction in weight might play a part in their state of boggedness.

Our limit of endurance is reached when a group of kids, who have been hanging around for the last hour but have only just borrowed someone’s camera, crowd around us to take photos.

We’ve now reached the point in Indonesia where we almost don’t want to even leave the hotel. Its only due to our natural stubbornness that we’ve gotten this far. We’re two independent people with different personalities, but it’s not like one of us is dealing with this any better than the other. But in situations like this its usually Lucas who loses his cool first, and true to form he jumps up and bellows at the kids, sending them scattering in all directions.

Tue 22/09
If it weren’t for the time of year and the fact that we just want to get out of the country, Bengkulu is somewhere we’d like to hang around a bit longer. Hilda’s been great and is the sort of person who makes us feel guilty about loathing the other 250 million Indonesians. A former army wife, she loads us up to the gunnels with food for our expedition to Mukomuko, and while we joke about it at the time, are incredibly grateful 5 and a half hours and 275 gruelling kilometres later.

Wed 23/09
The ride to Padang the next day is pretty uneventful until, out of nowhere, in the middle of nowhere, we find ourselves in the midst of the Traffic Jam From Hell. Its so unexpected, that over an hour later, still stuck in the midst of a million bikes, sweat pouring off, literally barging other bikes out of the way in response to the stupidity and rudeness of the locals, the overall feeling is of disbelief. In fact we’re not even going to try and explain how this sort of thing feels.

Much later in Padang, sitting on the side of the road at the night markets in the middle of town, fresh from checking into only our 2nd posh hotel since leaving Oz, we can barely talk about it ourselves. All we will say is that we’ve both been harbouring a growing sense of anger towards these people and their stupidity, and we’re now busting to get out of here. It’s the only reason anyone would be silly enough to travel during Hari Raya. Everyone says you shouldn’t, and they’re right. We’re just choosing to ignore them.

Thu 24/09
Bukittinggi is 90ks from Padang. The roads are good, and because we’re on bikes it only takes us 3 and a half hours. The cars are doing it in 7. You do the maths. This is Hari Raya. This is Sumatra. We kid you not.

This is not the result of too much traffic. This is a by-product of selfishness, stupidity and a useless police force. This is Sumatra.

Fri 25/09
The power flickers and dies in Pekanbaru. We passed a hydro station on the way here which is supposed to supply the city, but for a few hours a day it seems like a hundred thousand gennies keep things running instead. This is an oil town; the area has the biggest reserves in Indonesia. So maybe it makes sense in a perverse sort of way, but all the oil money for the new power station goes back to Jakarta anyway. Tomorrow we’ll be following the pipeline all the way to the port of Dumai.

Sat 26/09
Dumai, our final Indonesian destination, looks like its fallen on hard times. Supposedly its the main port of trade between Sumatra and Malaysia, but it doesn’t look that way. The road in from Pekanbaru is diabolical. We won’t bore you with the details, because we’ve discovered on our travels that there are infinite varieties of diabolical. But it adds to the feeling that Dumai is a town that’s had its heyday.

We have the name of a shipping agent, but after some help from one of the locals trying to find him, discover that he’s gone out of business. This kind of leaves us floundering, but after a visit to the ticket office of the people ferry, find ourselves at customs to see if they can help. Its not really his job, but Andre bends over backwards to help us out and hopes to have someone for us by tomorrow. But for now all we know is that we can forget Melaka. Maybe there's someone who can take the bikes to Port Klang (KL) on Monday. Maybe.

So we go on the hunt for a hotel, but after riding up and down looking for this non-existent hotel we stop out front of a carpet shop of all places to ask directions. It turns out the hotel has gone bust (we’re sensing a common theme here), but an older guy who we get chatting to astounds us by offering a room at his house. “Are you serious?” Yes, I’m serious. He replies “How serious?” Very very serious. Grinning. So we follow him back to his place in the burbs of Dumai, thinking the whole time there's a nice hotel with breakfast and WiFi just up the road, what the hell are we doing?

His sister has a restaurant out of town, and so after getting settled at Amzadri’s place we all troop off there for a meal. There are big fish ponds out the back, complete with a monster Komodo dragon prowling around. We make two discoveries here. One, that Gourami tastes really good. Seriously, this is the most unbelievable tasting fish we've ever eaten. And two, that you can use Vics Vaporub as a mozzie repellent. Believe It... Or Not.

Later that night we find ourselves going to sleep with the thought that today sums up our entire experience with this country. The whole time we’re feeling down on these people, despising them really to be brutally honest, simultaneously we’re feeling guilty because we know there are people like Amzadri and his family who are prepared to take in two strangers and feed them. Honestly, it really does our heads in.

Sun 27/09
The next day is spent mostly organising the bikes. Andre has found us an agent who, after meeting with us and negotiating a price to Port Klang (KL), leads us out to see the boat. The big old wooden “onion” boat sits there at the dock. Who knows how old it is. If you’ve ever seen one of those illegal fishing boats torched by Oz customs on TV you get the picture. This one actually has a one-tonne crane to load the bikes, which thankfully means we’re spared The Wooden Plank Of Death this time round.

Turning our backs we say a silent goodbye to the bikes, suppressing thoughts of pirates, rickety old onion boats, and a dodgy looking onion boat crew. Tomorrow we’re outta here.

Mon 28/09
The next morning after saying goodbye to Amzadri, without whose help the last two days would have been much more difficult and whose generosity we can probably never repay, we begin the process of shipping our bodies from Dumai to KL. And it is a process. A process that we don’t recommend. Unless you enjoy the crush of The Big Day Out or football crowds, and the feeling you’re about to be trampled and killed under a mob of homo sapiens with the collective IQ of a peanut. Or unless nothing else matters except that stretch of water between you and Malaysia.

Because that’s all that matters to us. As things turned out, us and Indonesia. We simply weren’t compatible.

Actually no, that’s not really being honest. Ann probably summed it up best the other day when she likened Indonesians to rabbits, and made the observation that if reproduction wasn’t simply a hormonal response, where the males had to actually think about their erections, they’d be extinct within a few years.

In fact there are several things we’d rather do than ever wind up here again. Things like having our private parts smeared with sambal and deep fried in palm oil for instance. Or having pointy little bits of wood shoved in our eyeballs. Or being forced to watch old episodes of The Flying Nun, Hey Hey Its Saturday or Coronation Street. Or being strapped to a chair while The Best Of The Proclaimers is played on endless repeat.

Und ah wood wok fie hundred mahls... just to avoid having to return to this godforsaken country... Dah da da dah. Dah da da dah.....

1 comment:

  1. OK point 1 : did you get the paint off of the bike seat. And point 2 ; hey hey its Saturday is back on TV as a reunion < on Wednesdays> hehe . Don't know for how many times though .
    OOOOOO yes I have opened up skype again so hopefully will get to speak to you both soon
    Love N