Exchange course at the time of travel: 9000 Indonesian Rupiah to 1 Dollar
Reduced travel budget of 11 dollars during the Indonesiah trip
I flew out of KL to Medan at 5 pm. I also arrived in Medan in Indonesia at 5 pm since there was one hour time difference between the two. I met an English guy, Kevin, who was also travelling. We went to find a cheap room in Medan. After some initial trouble finding the right place (only mild misunderstandings between the becak driver (who spoke excellent English) and me and Kev) both Kev and me set out to find an ATM, followed by food. I did indeed find an ATM but when I got asked by the ATM to input the amount I wanted to withdraw, I put in two hundred thousand rupiah instead of two million (about 200 dollars) so I wasted 6 euros (what it costs me to pick up money from anywhere but with the Deutsche Post) on barely 200.000. Ah, it could have been worse…
After eating some food and teaching Kev rudimentary Indonesian (I have mastered quite a bit of the language), we set out for a walk around Medan. It proved to be a complete waste of time. There was nothing to see apart from the palace shown in the picture below.
Kev wanted to go and have a beer. There we met some Indonesians with whom we had a good evening chatting away. However, Kev had ordered already by then three beers and was well on the road of being pissed and the Indonesians tried to make him drink more and more (beers are really expensive here). Then they were talking about going to a club (which I was really doubtful that such a thing existed here in Medan on a Monday evening) and getting girls (usually means buying a prostitute...). This, as well as the fact that they were urging Kev to drink more and more and being wary around me because I hadn’t drunk that much at all, got all my alarm bells ringing. I was tired anyway and really doubtful of that club anyway, so I left for going to sleep (I tried to encourage Kev to come but he was drunk...). As soon as I was tucked in, in came Kev. He told me that he had left them because they only wanted to get his money. Again, I was convinced that it is good to heed the call of my alarm bells.
Left Medan at around twelve after waiting for hours for Kev to wake up. Initially I was thinking of going to Danau Toba with Kev (which wouldn’t have been such a good idea because of the geographical location of the places that I wanted to visit) however, it was getting too late for my taste to go to Danau Toba so I told Kev that I would meet him in a couple of days in Danau Toba. I went to Bukit Lawang instead. I payed 15.000 Rupiah for the bus to it (that’s about 6000 to 8000 per hour of travel- A normal price. As the economy of Indonesia will grow in the coming years these prices will rise slightly). Also they vary between island to island with touristy Bali being the most expensive with Java following close behind and then all the non-touristy parts of Indonesia. Irijaya (Papua) though is the most expensive because of the lack of actual roads and the frequent only means of transport being the small airplane).
When I arrived, a friendly local who I spoke Indonesian to (he couldn’t speak English) then showed me a place where I could stay for 20.000 rupiah per night (roughly 2 dollars). It was perfectly acceptable, the missing mosquito net somehow concerned me, however I had mosquito coils with me so I was not unduly worried. It afforded a view over the high mountain peaks surrounding Bukit Lawang and its jungle, for which it is famous. The Geuser National Park is also of the last refuges for the dying out East Asian Orang-utan. The photos show best what I mean here.
In the afternoon, I had a walk through the town which was really far too touristy for my liking with tourist souvenir shops set up everywhere. It had a part (rather towards the entrance of the town) that was a lot more Indonesian, which is exactly what I am looking for in my travels. That afternoon I met a really friendly Indonesian (at the tourist information center…) who I talked to for about two hours. After using the excuse of me being really tired, I went back and actually slept for while (a thing unheard of me), I went back to the tourist office where I had met the Indonesian. He was with his mates, who spoke Indonesian to rapid for me to follow (though I was really getting better at it). The friendly Indonesian then proposed to drive me around for a bit to show me the town. All that he did without asking for a favour, just out of friendliness.
Here is an anecdote that he told me that I found really interesting. I am telling it here to show that the friendship I had struck up with the Indonesian was more than merely a tourist officer trying to make a quick buck of somebody.
As I was doing the tour with him on his motorbike, I started to relax and just chat with him really amicably in English/broken Indonesian about his life here in BL. He then started to tell me that it was going better but that his working place was situated right near the flooding area and that he did not like it too much while others got houses further up the mountain. After some questioning, it turned out that BL was visited by flash floods not long ago (about 5 years ago) so bad that the whole town was flooded away in minutes. Loads of people died, it was a human catastrophe of quite some scale. The new town up in hill where the majority of the Indonesians lived was built up in the hills, with funds given by the EU. That guy, whose name I have forgotten, was really grateful towards countries like the EU and was really pissed off with the Indonesian government as it furthered the harvesting of palm oil which furthers floods like these. For his quite open critic of Indonesian government, he could have landed in deep problems.
The next morning, I left early in the morning to go and see the Orang utans.
Bukkit Lawang is also home to a conservation project, which involves wildering out Orang-utans that have been kept as pets by people. However, once they are released into the wild, their skill at finding food is often not good enough yet to survive in the wild. This is why the conservation center still feeds orang utans that are unable to find enough food for themselves (usually it is pregnant females or females with a baby thatcome). The meal that they are served does not taste very well for the orang-utans so they choose only to come to the feeding place if they are really hungry and cannot find any other food. When walking towards it, I came past several guesthouses that had better location than the one I was currently staying at. I decided then that I would go and change places. Either way, when I came to the conservation center, I had to pay a slight entrance fee (20.000) as well as nearly three times that amount for taking a camera into the park (50.000).
When I then went to the feeding place, we got very lucky. Out of the estimated 5000 to 6000 Orang-utans living in Sumatra, we were able to see about 20 that came to the feeding site. It was quite an exhilarating sight, considering that these animals are so rare. My camera died (again), however I still managed to have a couple of good photos (unfortunately not as many as I wanted).
When I walked back, my sandals broke. I had to walk the rest of the way barefeet. While I was walking, an Indonesian proposed to let him repair my shoes. Gladly I accepted. His job was to make out of coconut shells jewels. I watched him at the task and then asked him if I could try it out. Since the guesthouse where I wanted to stay (30.000 rp per night) was right next to where the guy (called Del and his colleague with whom he was working was called Dong) worked, I asked if I could try it out as soon as I had moved guesthouses. He agreed and after I had moved in I was working for the rest of the afternoon at making a jewel out of a coconut. In the evening, I met a group of three French girls travelling together and I stayed and chatted to them (where I was questioned because of my knowledge of Indonesia and Indonesian).
I left relatively early in the morning to explore the bat cave. On the way, I came across a rubber plantation where I first realized that my previous assumption that rubber trees were palm like trees was shattered. They are deciduous trees.
Further along the way, I met the Dutch people I had met already in Cherating. We met up again at the bat cave, which was a lot less impressive than I thought (actually quite a bit disappointing). I saw only very few bats, although the photos I shot of them were quite impressive.
In the afternoon, I worked again on the jewel and finished it that day. Knowing that I wanted to move on the next day, I said goodbye to the guys I was working with and then headed for a quick evening meal. There I met a couple of French tourist who were also travelling and have been travelling around the world (the women was working at the post and the man was retired). Both of us wanted to go to Berastagi the next day. Afterwards, tired I went to bed.
I left Bukit Lawang relatively early and took the bus to Medan. From Medan, I had to take a further bus to Berastagi. After arriving in Berastagi, I went straight to the Tourist information center where I met the French couple again. We arranged to go and climb the volcano the next day.
When I finally found an accommodation (60.000 at Wisma Simbayak), I went, after some chilling, to asmall hill which afforded a superb view over the valley in which the small town of Berastagi was. Unfortunately, the sunset was covered by clouds so I returned early. By then it had turned really cold and I had to walk around, here in equatorial climate, in long trousers and a sweat-shirt. The reason is that Berastagi lies quite high and the temperatures drop incredibly in equatorial climate with rising height. Be prepared to be amazed at how much the temperature drops with the height…
Got up at 6 to meet the French couple outside of the tourist center at 7. I realized there that I had forgotten my money. Luckily, the French couple was able to borrow me some money (which I repayed them later). The trek was really quite scenic, involving views of the volcano. I had never seen one, so for me it was really beautiful to see the volcano with its sulphur fumaroles (sulphur boiling up to the surface). When reaching the harsh environment that surrounds the craters, I was fascinated by the fumaroles (around which it stank of sulphur- a smell that is not unlike rotten eggs) which kept spewing water vapour and sulphur into the air, while roaring like an aeroplane engine.
After we arrived at the crater edge (2095 m), a spectacular view presented itself of the surrounding land. Sumatra lies, as the volcano indicates, on the edge of a tectonic plate. This has resulted in the rising of numerous mountains. This could very well be seen from up there.
The crater was, well, a crater with a massive fumerole at the base. The crater lake was totally clear and nearly inexistent (probably because it had not rained in ages), however the view made up for everything.
The way down was a lot less nice than the way up but we stopped at a hot spring (which had been built to a swimming pool). The water was very sulphury (it stank) but definitely worth a stop there. We lazed three wonderful hours there. After getting back at around 4, I gave the money I had borrowed back to the French couple and went to speak to Swiss-german couple that had just arrived from Danau Toba. I spent the rest of the evening with them (as well as the people they had met before at Danau Toba who were all staying at the same guesthouse). Tired and completely strung out from my last days getting up early and not getting enough sleep I went to bed early.
Got up really early just to find the sky completely overshadowed. I waited half an hour and then took an angkot to Kabanjahe (small car very much like the sawngtheaw that I had encountered in Thailand). The driver, when I was paying for my journey, then gave me the wrong change, like so often here in SE Asia, however I managed to get back my money after some haggling. It is always a big pain in the ass if they do that. Get used to it, it is normal when travelling third world countries. The people here live, unlike Westerners, only in the present as well as the immediate future. They do not think about the long-term consequences of their actions (this statement here refers to the tourism industry as well as industries catering for tourism) ie the losses they incur due to tourist getting pissed off with their inflated prices for tourists versus cheaper for locals.
Here are the reason for this: They see the average salary per month that people from EU get in dollars. They then take that salary, convert it in their local currency and then think how much they could buy in their own country with that salary. However, their little knowledge of world affairs (due to lack of education and corruptability of their government) they do not know about how high the living costs are in the west, showing a totally skewed version of the living conditions in the western world.
Although the reaction of inflating prices at the sight of westerners is perfectly understandable, considering the education of third world country inhabitants, it is very annoying. The best thing to do in those cases is to inform oneself of the prices with locals and then bargain for these prices (and leave if the prices stay inflated.)
Either way, when I was in Kabanjahe, I took a further bus to Mt Siposi-posi (the driver of the next bus had seen me haggling for the price beforehand with the other bus driver therefore gave up on inflating the price and immediately gave me a normal price). This place has been warmly counseled to me by a couple of backpackers that have been staying for a couple of days in Berastagi (Backpackers are an incredible wealth of information for beautiful sights and things to see or do and are often more accurate than guidebooks). And it was true, it is beautiful down there. After leaving my backpack at a local shop and asking them to look after it (my bag was locked and Siposi-posi is a small town where a whole reputation can be destroyed by thievery (not that there were any valuables in my bag), hence it doesn’t occur), I took a becak to the 120 m waterfall (obviously the man at the entrance asked for 2000 rp entrance money and 1000 rp for himself, actually expressing himself “Pay 2000 + 1000 Rupiah for entrance”… which in itself was not a lie).
Ok yes it was a beautiful, however, I have seen a lot of other waterfalls. So I just took a couple of pictures and turned myself to what was really interesting, the view over Danau Toba (or Lake Toba). The place where I was afforded a superb view over a part of the lake, clearly showing that Danau Toba is a crater lake. The mountains on the side of the lake could clearly be recognized as belonging to a massive crater since they stretched all the way around the massive lake (which is several times bigger than the Lake Geneva). Near the waterfall stands a small hill (well relatively speaking, it stands at 1500 m over the sea) which was actually my main aim. Knowing that I had only little time to reach the summit, I soon pressed onwards to reach the street that leads to the summit. After some asking around, I found the tarmacked “street” that leads up to the top of the hill. The view that it allowed from the top was really worth it.
One could overlook the whole Danau Toba up to Samosir island. The crater shape of Danau Toba was also properly visible from up here. It was one of the best ideas I had to go up the top of Bukit (meaning “hill” in Indonesian) Siposi-posi. It was superb. Unfortunately, I had to go back after about an hour and a half of climbing the mountain because of time pressure to come on time for the ferry to Samosir island.
The bus ride to Sianpar was also very interesting. The Indonesian bus drivers all seem to practice a skill game that has as main aim to fit as many people into the smallest places possible. The bus driver of the bus that I hailed from Siposi-posi seems to have been a master at this game. The bus was overfull, so I mentioned to the bus driver that I could put my luggage on the top of the bus so that I would still fit in the bus. The driver misunderstood and before I could think, I found myself on the top of the bus, wedged in between rice bags and other goods destined for the market. It proved to be an awesome way of travelling because it allowed a full round panoramic view of the surrounding landscape (ok when the bus went over bumps, it did not have any noticeable suspensions whatsoever, it was a bit less comfy)). When I saw that the bus was so overfull that the bus fare collector had to hang on for dear life onto the open door of the van with barely place to put one foot onto the bus, I was quite glad that the bus driver had misunderstood me…
However, at the end of the bus journey, I had a pretty strong sunburn… The rest of the travel (from Siantar to Parapat and onwards with the ferry to Tuk-tuk) was rather uninteresting, apart from that I met an Indonesian, who was trying to sell me his guesthouse room. After telling him that I usually look around for prices and cannot afford more than 25.000 Rupiah for accommodation, he told me that indeed he had a room for 25.000 (yes, sometimes it does pay off to haggle with hawkers who try to sell you their goods. However, this should only been done when experienced with travelling, the Asian style of making business and the knowledge to always add ‘getting out’ clauses like “I will have a look at it, but usually I walk around to look at different locations, I cannot promise anything’). Indeed, the room that I got was really nice; a quiet double room with balcony, an own bath (a complete luxury when travelling on a tight budget of 11 dollars a day) and enough room to have a sofa as well a settee.
When looking for a nice and cheap restaurant later on, I stumbled across Kev who I had met at Medan in the company of two Norwegian girls (Anna and Mari) who I struck up a friendship with over the next week). The evening was spent in lovely company, however, tired I went to bed early.
I woke up early in the morning and did a tour of the island walking. Tuk-Tuk is really a tourist village. Although I do hate these kind of places, this one was different. Danau Toba was a long time ago a tourist hotspot. It drew an enormous amount of tourists. However, with the rise of Thailand as tourist destination, Danau Toba has been slowly forgotten. This is why most of Tuk-Tuk is actually now a ghost town, with its small population of Indonesians as well as a handful of tourists who make their way to this absolutely beautiful spot of Indonesia. I estimate that during my stay here, not more than 40 boule (white; pronounced boulé) tourists were present on the whole island, and only a small fraction of these were travelers. Therefore, most guesthouses that I came past were either shut or looked empty. It was quite eerie, however allowed the really sleepy and chilled out atmosphere that is particular to Tuk-Tuk.
After lunch, I met Kev as well as the girls at Kevs guesthouse and spent the afternoon with them. The girls had met the day before an Indonesian guy who had invited them to come and drink the local drink Tuak (a palm wine that comes out of the palm already fermented and alcoholic) at a local Tuak drinking station (these cannot be called bars since they only serve self-made Tuak). The girls wanted at no cost to go alone with that guy since he was always talking of sexy time and seemed to be quite intent on trying to dissuade them to have sex with him. So the four of us (Anna, Mari, Kev and me) went to this drinking station quite far away from Tuk-Tuk (the guy and his friend took us on motorbike and Kev had his own bike). Once there, we tried Tuak, which was absolutely revolting, as well as chatted to the Indonesians who proved very friendly. Afterwards the locals at the drinking station brought out a guitar and the whole company sang Batak songs (the tribe around Danau Toba are called Batak) .
This was a really good evening, finished off with an hour of talking in the local bar, as well as a round of pool at the local “club” (which was completely dead). The only inconvenience, which nearly ruined my evening, was the constant, and unanswered, advances of the horny Indonesian, as well as him wanting to get more and more money out of us. I have a pet hate against such behaviors which are really insulting. After a while, I had enough of this behavior (hell, he followed the girls when they wanted to go home trying to convince them to come out and party and have sexy time with him and when that did not work, he tried to get me and Kev to pay for his drinks and food). Tired, I went to bed.
The morning was spent writing up my diary.
The day before, I had arranged to go trekking with the girls up to an isolated town called Dolok and to sleep there for one night, followed by further trekking to the other side of the island. The girls woke up late so we did not leave until 2.30.
First we walked along the road to Ambarita, a small Indonesian town that is not as tainted by tourism as Tuk-Tuk. The walk down there was leeding across really beautiful landscape as well as very Batak architecture (although they are Christians with half-half Christians and Protestants, it has a unique culture so very different from European culture; a wonderful mixture of animistic and Christian culs, that is unique and well worth for its own sake a visit to Danau Toba). The best way to understand what I am talking about is to see the photos that I made of the Batak houses and churches that are everpresent in this part of the world.
Amabarita is a town that has been only slightly tainted by tourism. Souvenir shops are also present, however these form a minority amid the really Indonesian shops (which sell everything, in German one would say “Tante Emma Laden”. Although this German expression does fit the nature of the shops, they do not describe the unique experience that it is to go and shop in these tiny little shops which are so much more confusing and interesting than any Western shops).
From Amabarita we ( Anna, Mari and me, Kev had decided to follow us by motorbike through another way to Dolok) went through small roads to find ourselves in the midst of chili fields, without knowing where to go. After a while we found a local who indicated the right way to Dolok to us. However, it turned out to be a small path, which we managed to loose after 5 minutes. We then followed for while really small and overgrown animal treks through the wilderness and were getting more lost by the minute. I was of a mind to just keep on pushing upwards with the intention of stumbling across the trek further upwards. Luckily a local, who was also travelling up to the mountains in order to “collect magic mushrooms” (we thought he rather went to his own hash plantation, a plant that is consumed en masse here in Sumatra...) who called us over to the path that led up to Dolok (which we agreed we would have difficulty to find on our own because it was so overgrown). However, we had lost precious time in trying to find this path and it was 1.30 hours till darkness. Therefore we raced, accompanied by the local, to the top of the mountain. The path was so overgrown at some points that we nearly lost it. We arrived at the top of the mountain, just as the sun was setting. From there, it was a leisurely (as compared to the incredibly steep running ascent of the mountain) walk until we came to a quite well done road (well rather a dirt path by European standards), when we saw a sign “Jenny’s guesthouse, 200 m”. Exhilarated at having made it before darkness, we marched on. After these 200 Indonesian meters (which were 2 European kilometers) we saw another sign saying that it was only 200 ft to Jenny’s. Meanwhile, the sun had set and the moon had come out but was hidden behind clouds, and it was totally dark. Although the lead person did have a flash light (something to always remember is to have a flashlight with you wherever you go, in emergencies like these as well as for the frequent electricity cuts). After a while we finally made it to the tiny village of Dolok (even village is exaggerated, Dolok consisting of only 6 houses without electricity or running water), where we were welcomed warmly. (Jenny's guesthouse is the third one from the right in the photo below)
Staying in the guesthouse up there was a superb experience. The only electricity available came from one small solar panel on the roof and was barely enough for two light bulbs. The cooking and heating was still done using woodfire, the food collected either from the surrounding farmed animals (like eggs, goats milk, pork meat etc…) or had to be strenuously transported up by foot from Tuk-Tuk along the steep path we came along up here (hence the food was expensive, although I do not believe that was the sole reason for the food being expensive…). The houses here were made of wood and really creaky, not isolated and loud, however the atmosphere was absolutely superb.
Although the food took ages to cook, it was one of the best Nasi goreng (Fried rice) I had ever eaten. All three of us were thoroughly enjoying us up there. When Kev also finally arrived in Dolok, the party swelled even more. The night was spent shivering in the absolutely tiny but cheap rooms that the guesthouse had available (the nights up there in the mountain are really cold).
I woke up early and had a walk around the village and was admiring its isolated spot of earth. When Kev woke up, I agreed with him that I would like to stay here for longer than one night (which was not possible since I had only my day bag filled and we wanted to move on the next day. During breakfast, Bart, who I had met first in Cherating, walked by the guesthouse. He had started walking at 8 oclock and showed up at 10 at our guesthouse (he is a lot fitter than the girls). Anna, Mari, me and Bart then left after having had a superb tasting breakfast and happily footed the bill for the night. Kev wanted to stay for a bit and chill out at the guesthouse and then continue his tour of the island on bike (the previous day he had been driving for over 6 hours to do three quarters of the tour of the island.).
The walk led us past really isolated hamlet where we were greeted really friendly and, after I enquired in Indonesian since none of the people there spoke English, were shown the way. It was a superb day allowing insight into the real Indonesia outside of the cities which is still reduced to a very close knit community and largely without much travel. The roads were so bad that only very slow travel was possible and the distances reduced travel to a very lengthy journey, lasting around 3 to 4 hours to go to the next bigger town, hence the reduction in mobility of the Indonesians. What was also apparent was the prominence of the Batak houses as well as the traditional graves. I have taken superb photos of these.
We did look for the lake that is situated in the middle of the island , however we missed it. We must have missed a turning of the road and ended up taking the wrong road to the coast. We ended up in Buhil, a town with one road, a tiny shop as well as five or six houses. Here we split up with Bart, who went back to Tuk-Tuk while Anna, Mari and me continued to Pangururan (even 3 days later, I still have problems pronouncing the name of this town correctly).
Pangururan is a quite large Indonesian town. The population barely speaks any English because this is not a toiuristy town. However, it does have its own charm, consisting of the small shops, crowded streets, crumbling houses and clogged streets. This town would be interesting to work in, however, although it has got charm, it hasn’t very many visitors attractions. Furthermore, it only seems to have 2 hotels, which are, compared to the accommodation I currently stay in, really quite expensive (66.000 rupiah for a double room, which, travelling alone I would have had to take) however, luckily we were three people today so the room cost 30.000, which is still an ok price.)
After taking a room, we went to go to the hotspring by becak (mototaxi). Indonesia being a very muslim country (although the region around Danau Toba is very much Christian), man and woman pools were separated. It was quite weird at first because the man pool was completely empty. However, I just relaxed and later on a couple of Indonesian came as well and I had a nice conversation with them in Indonesian. After an hour, all three went back and tired from our long day and the hotsprings, we went to bed at 8.30pm.
I woke up early again so instead of disturbing the girls sleeping, I had a nice walk through Pangururan. When the girls woke up, we went t restaurant to eat breakfast (Indonesian breakfast consists usually of fried rice (nasi goreng), nasi kuning (yellow rice with spicy sambal), or actually any other dish that will also be eaten for lunch and dinner). We left at around 11.30 to Simanindo to look at the Batak museum. It turned out to be just a small house stuffed full with old Batak relics. We did not go in however, we decided to come back the next day to see the Batak dancing that was the highlight of the museum. Therefore we boarded the next bus (after having stayed only a couple of minutes in Simanindo) back to Tuk-Tuk.
The rest of the afternoon was spent sleeping a little bit as well as washing my cloths. In the evening after a big meal of nasi goreng, I met Kev, the two dutch people (Bart and Sim), the two norvegian girls (Anna and Mari) as well as two new arrivants (an English girl called Charlotte as well as a Finnish guy called Joel) at Bagus Bay. After some talking, we went out to Roy’s Pub where a live band was playing. The evening was then spent happily with the live band playing. I did play “Little Angel” that night, however the problem was that the bass was really quite bad (string action was far too high) so I played often the wrong notes, hence my singing was out as well. All in all an awful performance. After playing, I had a talk with the bassist and promised to lower the string action of his bass the next day. All in all I really enjoyed the night.
I had arranged with the others of the group to rent bikes and go the Batak dancing that we had missed the day before as well as to Lake Sidihoni that we had missed the day before as well. I was set to drive with Charlotte. It is important to know that Charlotte is quite a small and petite girl, while I was the heaviest bloke (although I barely top 70 kg now) of the group.
At the start, I was driving with Charlotte on the back. That was not really a problem, I was just a tiny bit slower than the other ones but as I had told my passenger, I prefer to arrive somewhere late than not at all. However, just before we arrived in Simanindo, I went onto the passenger seat and let Charlotte drive. It was, lets say so, rather interesting. One of the best examples to describe Charlottes example is when I was already sitting on the back of the bike and she clambered on at the front, said that she always had problems starting the motorbike and then with the motorbike at standstill PUT UP HER LEGS ONTO THE FOOTRESTS. Luckily, I had the quick reactions to put my legs down otherwise we would have crashed even before we started… The driving was at the start similarly chaotic. During the start maneuvers, I frequently yelled “More gaz, more gaz” after Charlotte accelerated really slowly out of stand still. I had to drag my feet alongside the bike in order for it not to fall over… After a short while we arrived at the museum (I had to park the bike because Charlotte was too unused to dragging the heavy bike around) and went into the Batak dance show (we were the only tourists in the show).
The show was instructive as that it showed how the Batak use dancing to betray meaning to important events in their lives (the growing of rice, the use of water buffalo as work animal) however the music was rather not to my taste and I did not comprehend the rhythm of the dance. However, it is totally normal for a westerner with a totally different upbringing not to understand the traditional and tribal dances of indigenous Asian tribes.
Afterwards, we had a look at the tiny Batak museum which was really not impressive and then moved on the bikes to start for Pangururan. Charlotte was driving the bike and we had again the same starting problems, however afterwards everything went smoothly (although Charlotte and me always changed over driving seats when we hit a rough spot of the road where loose stones and packed earth were more frequent than tarmac (Charlotte tended to take every pothole that was reachable without slowing down…). After lunch in Pangururan, Anna travelled on the back of Charlotte’s seat while I went onto Joel’s. Apparently I was too heavy for tiny Charlotte.
We then went up to Danau Sidihoni (the lake in the middle of the island). The road was very bad, consisting most of the time of only stones. The going was slow (Charlotte was struggling and changed over with Anna) and when we finally arrived at the lake, it was a rather small lake with muddy water. Kev was the only one to go for a swim.
We then went down again and to the hotsprings. A brilliant way to end the day. The drive home was nothing short of adventurous in complete darkness. We took about two hours to come back (on the way there we only took one).
We arrived back in Tuk-Tuk at around 9 and I spent the rest of the time with the girls. At around 1, I said good bye to them (they were leaving the next day) and went to bed.
Did not do anything during the morning apart from chilling out, writing up this diary (which took me hours) and reading. In the afternoon, I went to repair Roran’s bass (the bassist from Roy’s pub) as well as to practice a little bit. I must say I cannot wait to have my own bass in my hands again and to do some real practicing while having my effect panel as well.
In the evening, I went to the live band at Roy’s pub which was also fun.
Didn’t really do anything but chill out and recover from the hangover. I was planning to leave the next day already because I started to get bored in Tuk-Tuk. In the evening, I met in Bagus Bay a nice girl called Mia, a really quite stunning Indonesian. We talked for a short while and then I watched a video with Kev.
Didn’t really do anything apart from chilling out and watching a movie with Kev. In the evening, Kev got to know one of the girls of Bagus Bay. They did understand each other well, however it all seemed to go wrong when we hit “the club” afterwards. The club turned out to be nothing more than a bar that played loud and extremely (!) shit music. I danced with a couple of girls but they were all kinda shit dancers. At the end, Joel and me walked deceived back from the club (and no this is not some seedy language).
Again a day of doing nothing. I was getting bored here in Tuk-Tuk. Although I had tried to leave the previous day, I had not been able to leave this beautiful place that is Tuk-Tuk, but it was unavoidable. I was getting bored, especially since I got used to always have a thing to do for my hyperactivity while travelling; there really has not been a lot of time to chill out (although I have done it a couple of times I got bored after only a short while, without having anything to do… It will probably get better once I decide to settle down and have a work; although if I settle down at some time, I never will want to give up travelling back-packer style). Either way, this evening I went out with the girl that works in Bagus Bay (Lauren), Kev and Joel. At Roy’s Pub, where the live band was playing, I met Mia again. She was a superb dancer, and we danced for a while and talked as well. However, I was really tired so I left early (which was probably a mistake). However, Mia made me promise that I would see her again the next day.
A morning of doing nothing. At three I tried to leave, however I decided in the last second to stay in Tuk-Tuk (the thought of Mia probably did its thing…). In the evening, Sam the Finn, had organized a Happy Birthday party at Roy’s Pub. I was invited to it so I showed my face. There it was that I met Mia again. And it is true, we talked for quite some time and understood each other well. And damn, she was looking real attractive that night. And yeah her dancing was as attractive as the last time. ..
However, that did not matter because she went to bed early because the previous night, she had a night of absolute debauchery (to conserve her honor, I will not retell here the story that Kev told me about what she did drunkenly the previous day…).
I think a lot of things have triggered my decision to leave this day. I was bored of this place, I wanted to move on and explore Indonesia, I wanted to avoid getting tied down in a place for a longer time (hell I had already been 10 days in Tuk-Tuk, longer than I have ever been in place at any point in my travel), I feared that Mia, like a lot of Indonesian girls, just liked me because of my money, I definitely did not want a long term relationship, to which this definitely would have been leading, I had planned to travel for a whole year at least and will not be budged from that plan, virginity is highly valued in Indonesian woman and less serious relationships are not possible, I do not want a long term relationship that would get in the way of my plans to travel the world for a whole year etc… However, I think the thing that has helped me decide the most was that I am still thinking quite often of Louise. Don’t understand me wrong here. I totally accept that me and Louise split up even before we were properly together, and I somewhat understand the reasons why she decided to do the split (although I do not agree with them at all…), however I can’t help thinking of her. Maybe I am foolish (and yes, I know that I am very likely an idiot in thinking that…), but in the end I think I made the right decision. I left that day.
I wanted to go to the Danau Toba festival that night in Parapat (the settlement on the mainland, where the ferry from Tuk-Tuk departs) however it was not to be. The bus that was supposed to leave at 9 towards Bukkittinggi was already full (I would have gone to the festival while waiting for the bus) and all I got was a place at the back of the 5 oclock bus (It was already 4). Disgruntled, I accepted that I wouldn’t have the time to watch the festival. When I arrived back at the bus station, I met a German couple that showed me their new lonely planet. It showed that the ferry for Pulau Siberut did not leave until Monday. I was livid. I could have stayed in Tuk-Tuk, had some fun time with Mia and left in 4 days time… The bus was then 2.5 hours late. As soon as I got in, I realized what bad deal I had made when I agreed to sit at the back… it was a tight fit… On the way, we had a flat so the tire was changed. Indonesians are pretty quick about it because tires blow up all the time. They are used here until all profile has been lost and the tire is rolling on the inner chamber.
Here another word of warning is appropriate. We travelled on the Trans Sumatra Highway. However, the Indonesian definition of highway is a totally different than the western one. Half the tarmac was missing, with potholes that were bigger than a trucks wheel and as deep as well, some time no tarmac was there at all and we had to drive over mud and one time, all passengers of the bus had to get out and walk up a part of the Highway because the bus was not strong enough to go up fully loaded the steep and muddy incline of the Highway (at this particular part of the “highway”, no tarmac was visible at all…). Either way, I fell asleep until about 6 am. Weirdly enough, the bus was still not moving. Indeed, as it turned out, it had not moved an inch in the past 6 hours because the traffic jam was due to the road having been washed down the hill during the rain and several trucks having gotten stuck in the mud and completely blocked the road. What was even more depressing was that the bus directly behind us was the bus that left Parapat in direction of Padang at 9 the previous evening, ie 4 hours later than ours was supposed to leave… WELCOME TO INDONESIA AND ITS MARVELLOUS AND ADVANCED ROAD SYSTEM.
At around 10,30 the trucks that had blocked the Highway had finally been shoved away (I was really regretting by then that I had left Tuk-Tuk) and we were off again. At around 7.30 pm, we finally arrived in Bukkittinggi… After some walking around, I found an accommodation for 40.000 (all the other accommodations I had found were more than 60.000, which, considering that I have a budget of 100.000 a day is a bit much). After getting some food, I collapsed exhausted on my bed.
In the morning, I looked at the guide book I had, and decided from that information that I did not want to stay in Bukkitinggi. I therefore decided to go to Danau Maninjau. After some routine tasks, I took a bus to Maninjau. Like in the rest of asia, the terminal in Bukkittinggi was big and unorganized. It took me a long time to find a bus company that does indeed go to Maninjau. 13.000 did seem quite expensive for 1.5 hours of travelling, so I looked around for cheaper. However, it was weird, no cheaper existed (and after 10 min, I couldn’t be bothered to look anymore) and I came to the conclusion that some routes are more expensive to travel than others. This probably had to do with fuel consumption since I knew that the route would take us through mountainous terrain.
Next to me on the bus, an older woman sat. As it turned out, she spoke really quite good English, which she learned while travelling for the office of export and imports in Jakarta (where she lived) and had come to Maninjau to visit the son of her sister (cousin??). She invited me to come to her place for some time. She told me that I reminded her of her son. Either way, I agreed and went to sister’s son place (he lived right outside of Maninjau). Unfortunately, the family where I went did not speak English (apart from the woman I just had met) so communication was quite difficult. However, after some time I understood that he was a fish farmer in Danau Maninjau. After they had offered me some food (knowing the customs here, I accepted, since an invitation although often offered, is an insult to reject. The offering and sharing of food here is the custom and again a rejection is considered somewhat of an insult. It is normal in Indonesia to eat on your own, without the people who invited you, as a mark of respect. Now imagine to refuse the food. In that case, the Indonesian custom would dictate that nobody eats in order not to insult the guest). After some time, I started to realize that the older woman who I had talked to either had a very bad memory or was starting to show the first signs of Alzheimer’s. Either way, after some time, I left because it was starting to get dark and I still had to find a place to sleep. The house owner of the place where I was invited to was so nice as to drive me to some hotel just down the road. It turned out to be too expensive for what it had to offer. After another try at a guesthouse further down the road, I met the owner of Lili’s pad in Bayur. For 40.000 per day she agreed. Lili’s turned out to be a relatively run-down (but clean) in an absolutely superb location. It is located in the small village of Bayur (a collection of a couple of houses). Through a couple of rice paddies and Laksa (small fish that are dried and served with rice… definitely not my taste but very popular in Indonesia) farming ponds, about 400 m down the main road, lies Lili’s pad, a couple of small huts with their own private “beach” to Lake Maninjau. Superb!
I did not do anything interesting that day apart from managerial tasks, just chilled out, read a book and went swimming in Danau Maninjau. Tried to catch some ducks for roast dinner. Didn't work out. Also, I learned that toilet paper was called tichu (tissue) in Bahasa Indonesia.
Didn’t do anything again apart from chilling out, wandering around the lake and in general having a quiet time, enjoying the view. Basically the same as the last day.
Left the next day for Padang via Lusuk Basung. In order arrive at Lusuk Basung, I took an Angkot that drove me all around the lake, through really scenic passages of nature interspersed with houses built in the Maningkabau (local tribe is called that) style (arched roof, decorated panel under roof and sometimes in the case of long building arched roof ends in the middle of the roof… very pretty). Arriving at L Basung, I took a bus for three hours for 15.000 rp (5.000 rp per hour, quite a good price…) to arrive at Padang. There I tried to find an intercity Angkot (usually between 2.000 and 3.000 rp per entry driving you wherever is convenient for you) to drive to the pier. Obviously the Indonesian did not know where the pier was. The second one then finally knew something and he drove me near the pier at Bungus. This boat was to leave for Pulau Sikakap (where a day later the tsunami occurred). I was of a thought to take this one, however decided otherwise on the account that pulau siberut was far less developed and more likely had the indigenous tribes that I wanted to visit. After taking a third Angkot, I finally arrived at the port where I took the boat to Pulau Siberut.
On the ferry, I met a German, Philip, who was, like me, travelling to Pulau Siberut with the intention of going into the jungle and living with the indigenous people. At dinner before in Padang, I had met an indigenous Mentawaian (wearing normal cloths) who told me he lived in Rokdok. Since he had told me that it was relatively isolated, I decided to take this as a starting point for more interesting expeditions.
I arrived in Mentawai in the morning at 7 am. Shortly after arriving, one of the Indonesians told me that in the morning there was a strong earthquake in Muara. However, as we found out, the town had suffered only minor damage. From the harbor, Phil and me hitchhiked our way to the main settlement, Muara Siberut. There we first went to eat and ask locals about the prices to go to Muara Siberut. According to a Mentawaian, the price for transport was 700.000 rp one way. Obviously we did not believe that. Over breakfast, we asked a local and he told us that the cheapest way to go there would be to ask a pongpong (a kanu with a small 5 horsepower motor) that is going anyway in that direction to take you and then you pay a bit extra. However, the bit extra would, obviously, because we were white (and according to Indonesian, all white are rich for reasons explained before). We decided to go for a maximum price of 100.000 rp for both of us. We had found out by then that Rokdok can only be reached by boat over a river. When we went to the river harbor, we tried to get a pongpong, however were told immediately 500.000rp. No way were we going to pay for that. So instead, we decided to wait at the harbor for a pongpong that was going to Rokdok. We waited for a while only to be introduced to a friendly Indonesian who spoke good English and was just passing by, and guess what, turned out to be a guide… We talked with him for a short while (Phil formed a strong dislike to that guy which we were to find out had reasons, while I was only a little bit disturbed). The guy said that his cousin had a pongpong and that he was driving anyway to Rokdok. He then left. Shortly afterwards, we met a group of other people who introduced themselves and were guides. After a long bargaining, we finally arranged ourselves to a price of 100.000 rp for both me and Phil.
The travel down to Rokdok was just scenic. We went past isolated settlements all along the river, places only accessible by boat. The scenery was also amazing. This is best described by the pictures since it would take up too much time to describe here.
We had agreed to stay at one of the guides houses for 50.000 for both (he was not actually living in Rokdok but one of the neighbouring settlements). This was an OK price, knowing that this is the money usually asked for a homestay in these settlements. The pongpong deposited us as at Rokdok and then we marched on to Madoba. We were introduced there to Mama, mother of Sulai (the guy where we were staying at). She was a nice lady, however did not speak a word of English or Indonesian. On her body we could see the different tattoes that were a tradition in this part of Indonesia. It seemed that all the older persons were tattoed. Some older people in the village still wore the traditional loincloth, and that, as well as the tattoes, was an interesting contrast with the younger generations of the village that were not tattooed and wore western cloths (T-shirts). The photos that I have taken will have a better impact here.
The settlement down there was a normal Indonesian village settlement with small shops and chicken running around. However, on the contrary to other villages, none of the roofs of the settlement were covered with metal plates but with palm leaves (Sago leaves). The shop did not have as much to offer as shops on the mainland and everything was a little bit more expensive than on the mainland due to transportation costs. All the locals, when we met them were carrying machetes. We were living very isolated.
In the evening, we tried Sago for the first time. This is the main food of the locals and two sorts exist. One roasted in Sago leaves (which tastes a bit like bread but is rather tasteless) and boiled in bamboo (which was absolutely disgusting). After cooking for the whole family some potnoodles, Phil and me went to bed (which only consisted of a hard floor, a pillow and a mosquito net in Sulai’s room).
As an additional item of interest that cannot be chronologically classified is that the adults all smoked Taro leaves. These plants are slightly hallucinogenic as well as addictive (probably contain nicotine, however I don’t know. I will update the blog as soon as I have done some research into this area). However, the adults had developed a taste for tobacco. Tobacco was not freely available and was relatively expensive, especially for the locals down there. Also the tourists which sometime come through the town all seem to have cigarettes. The locals therefore got used to asking them for cigarettes. Both me and Phil had bought a small stock of cigarettes as barter and currency up there in the jungle, as I had heard from the polish girl I had met in Sulawesi that this was the most important item for barter (jungle tribes do not have any use for Rupiah). Therefore we did at first what every tourist did; we gave them cigarettes if they asked us for it. This was a mistake that we only realized the next day.
The previous day we had asked Sulai how to go to the Jungle settlement. He had tried to convince us repeatedly that we would need a guide to go there, however we had repeatedly told him that we did not have the money to hire a guide. In the end, he showed us a map of the towns that were present around Rokdok. On it, we saw that there was a path that lilnked all four villages (Rokdok, Madoba, Ugai and Butui). Sulai also told us that we had to cross into the forest in order to find the small village situated in the middle of the forest.
When we woke up the next morning, both me and Phil were stiff from lying on the hard ground. However, we quickly got up (at 6) and made fire to cook the rice as well as the Maggie-like taste additive that we had bought the previous day in the little shop. Again, it became clear now why the women at the restaurant Anna and me had found in Don Det did take so long to cook the food. Cooking on wood does take ages…
Anyway after we had eaten our breakfast of sago (Mama had given them to us since we had supplied her with some cigarettes ) and disgusting rice, Sulai was getting ready and was annoyed we had to tell him that he was welcome to come with us, however we did not have any money to hire him as guide. He looked disgruntled but he soon understood.
The cemented road that we had taken to walk from Rokdok to Madoba continued to the next town of Ugai. On it, we passed some sago producing stations. The sago palm is cut down (it litteraly grows everywhere) and pieces cut off it. The sago palm is then reduced to rough filings using a very rough file (basically a piece of wood with nails in it that files the soft palm wood). These filings are then washed on in a net and the run off water collected. Unfortunately, here is all I was able to glean from the food making process. Also I did not get any photo from the filing process because the Mentawaian demanded that we pay a price for taking photos. We were so pissed off with the older locals always asking us for cigarettes, that we just said no and walked off. It turned out that some adults, instead of welcoming us would say “sigaret, sigaret”. It was quite disgusting. For those interested to learn more about sago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sago
In Ugai we asked for the road to the village of Butui (later on I was to realize that Sulai had given us the wrong name and that the village in the jungle did not have a name; Butui was the government built village at the end of the cemented road). The locals indicated that we had to continue on the cement road for 30 minutes (which would have been right if we wanted to go to the government village). So we walked on.
I had taken an approximate compass bearing for the village that was lying in the jungle (as indicated by a local). From it, I rightly guessed that we had to turn off the road to walk through the jungle. I did indeed find a small trail shortly after Ugai that led in the jungle. We decided to walk along it. After a couple of meters, we came across an Indonesian. I started to ask for the way to Butui in Bahasa but he kept on saying that we had to return to the road. I thought that I did not understand him, however, looking back and realizing that Butui was the governmental village, it makes sense. In the end, we met an Indonesian that came by wearing onlya loincloths. Luckily, he could speak quite well Bahasa Indonesia (the prevailing language in Mentawai is Mentawaian) and I was able to understand that he came from the village that lies up in the jungle. Again the same confusion existed when we said that we wanted to go to Butui, however after a while we made it clear to him that we wanted to go the isolated village. He then started speaking in rapid fire Bahasa of which I only understood the word mud. I assumed, rightly so, that it would get a bit muddy. Well, it did…
On the way to the settlement (which took us about two hours), we had to wade through some mud parts. I sank in to the knees and very soon gave up keeping any part of my trousers clean or my shoes dry.
The walk was quite interesting, leading through pretty much untouched jungle.
At the end, the Indonesian (whose name I have forgotten, however for simplicity I will call him John here) lead us to a place where he had felled the previous day a large sago palm. He had blocked off the cut off end so that no animals (all herbivorial animals seem to eat the inner meat of sago palms) could eat the plant. After removing the barrier, John hacked off an about 1 m long piece of sago. Interestingly, as soon as John had hacked through the outer hard bark of the sago palm using the ax that he had left the previous day next to the sago plant, the wood seemed incredibly soft. To the touch, it was comparable to a slightly harder version of the interior of a cactus. After splitting the woodpiece in two, John used his everpresent machete (even the 4 or 5 year old children already handle the machete) to cut down a small sapling. He bit off the end, thereby peeling off a small bit of the bark all along the 1.50 m piece of wood. By then breaking the wood in the middle, he was able to remove the bark in one piece. The bark was then used to tie sago palm bit to his back. We then went back to his place where he fed the two pigs he had with the pieces of sago he had retrieved.
After a resting a while in his house, we asked John to conduct us to the next uma. An uma is a traditional house. It serves as the socializing house of a whole family. At the house, we met two other Indonesians. One of them, Adrian (invented name), could speak quite well English. He explained to us that the whole village did not have any name and consisted of five uma’s. In the village, they stilled lived traditionally from eating sago as well as the farmed pig and what they could shoot in the jungle. This was probably the moment when I realized the peaceful life that these people live. The jungle provides everything for them. They do not need any novelties like electrical gadgets, running water or else. They did have everything, and they did not, or barely, need to work to live. If they were hungry, they just felled a sago palm and had enough food for more than a week. For the meat (which they did not eat that often), they just slaughtered one of the very few docile pigs that they had or went for a small hunting tour into the wood.
There, I also understood why these jungle people were so technologically back. They did not need anything to survive there or to make their life any easier. They already had everything. The food was practically growing into their mouths and they did not have to fight for their food.
We had a nice talk with Adrian during which he explained to us his distaste for the hassles of the modern world as well as the crowdedness of the modern world. After sharing some food with them (pig and sago)we shared the rice with them that we had brought with us. They were quite happy about it because they never get to eat it (no place to grow rice in the jungle).
Also what I found interesting was that the women over there were not afraid (like western women) to show their breasts. It was rather part of the traditional dress. Woman wore sarongs without a top on. One woman just started breastfeeding a child right in front of us. What the “developed world” thought as shameless was just a normal thing over there.
At around 2, we left. John was again our guide to the village of Butui. We came across the other 5 uma that were in the village and we stopped at the last one.
John was talking to one of his friends over there, while we got a brief introduction into the art of tattoo making by the shaman present in this uma (the shamans had the most complex tattoos as well as the right to wear to a red loincloth. They acted as medicine man in the town, however, we did unfortunately not see them practicing...). The tattoos are made by impregnating bamboos spines with soot and carefully placing them on the skin. They are then hammered into the skin (apparently a very painful process and, according to Sulai, a lot of times more painful than modern tattoos). Shortly afterwards, John brought us to the village of Butui and the road leading back to Madoba.
When we arrived back at Madoba, Sulai told us about the tsunami that had happened on the Mentawaian island of Pagai Utara and Pagai Selatar. Both of these islands are part of the Mentawai island chain. He also told us about the severety of it. I felt very lucky that I did not go to Pagai as I nearly would have two days previously.
Obviously, both me and Phil were thinking of calling our parents. However, Madoba (and all the villages in the vicinity), did not have internet or phone (they did not even have electricity apart from the odd generator). Also there was no portable phone connection at all (signal only in the early evening when the signal is carried slightly further from the tower in Muara, probably due to the lower humidity of the air at 9 pm(?) and no signal during the next 3 days because the tower was damaged during the earlier earthquake).
We didn’t do very much that day since we were both still tired of the previous day. The village we were staying at was pretty much the same as the other villages along the road, just a bit bigger. We walked all of the three roads that it had. The previous day, Liki (an annoying guide that was just after money) told us that the brother that we had agreed with that he would drive us back on Friday suddenly wanted us to charter the whole boat for 7 times the price that we paid for coming here. So we had told him to go and screw himself and wanted to go to Rokdok in order to find a new boat that would take us at the money we had said. Sulai, fearing his loss of income by us not sleeping at his place anymore as well as shame at the greediness of Liki, organized a boat for us for 50.000 per person. In the end, he organized his sisters uncle to drive us to Muara the next day. However, we still went to Rokdok and had a look at it. It was basically the same as the other towns, a scenic mixture of normal Indonesian architecture (what Europeans would refer to as ramshackle huts) and architecture as seen in the jungle (sago palm leaves).
29.10.10 / 30.10.10
Said good-bye to Mama, the Sulai’s brother and Sulai and went back to Muara. In Muara, we got told that the ferry was not coming this day and that the only one that would be going would be the one next week. This was pretty bad for me seeing that I had to take the flight on the Tuesday (the day that the ferry would be leaving from Mentawai) and on Wednesday my visa would run out. There was only one way to make the deadline and that was to take the "speedboat" for tourists. I calculated it through and then came to the conclusion that I could only afford 500.000 as contribution to the speedboat if I was to find people who would take me (that was taken out of my emergency budget). I did find people to take me, a couple of Czech people who seemed to want to make the best of their holidays and didn’t mind spending money. Seeing that I was the only person who could speak Indonesian, I arranged all the prices for the boat. It was at the start 6.000.000 and I brought it down to 5.500.000 (not much but at least a little bit...).
We got told that the boat was to be prepared (apparently they loaded 400 l of petrol (which I just can’t believe)) and we should have been ready at 10 to go if the weather was alright and it didn’t rain. It didn’t rain and still we only started at 12. When we left, it was not raining, however as soon as we left the protected harbor, it started raining.
The boat was a small boat with about 5 m length, two 40 horsepower motors, a short roof over about 1.5 meters of the boat and 4 seating places under the roof. It also sported a short splash water protection screen, which proved to be largely insufficient. As soon as we left the harbor, the wind speed picked up and the motors drove the “speedboat” (nothing compared to the 500 PS boat in Malaysia but still fast) pretty hard into the waves, meaning that water was spewing over the side of the boat a tiny bit on the screen but mostly on me and the other guy sitting in front. We got given then thick tarp sheets that we used to cover the entrance. My side, because it was the side that the wind came from, did not hold on its own and I had to hold it up during the whole time.
After half an hour of moderately high waves (I would guess 1 to 2 meters), the wind started to pick up quite drastically. We were shaken from side to side in the boat, the boat sometimes leaning heavily over on its side, scaring us to death. The Indonesians then quickly responded to that and tried to escape the waves with how Indonesians conquer any danger: more speed. It went wrong. Everybody was shaken from side to side of the boat. We crashed into the walls of the boat repeatedly, bruising our already hurting members. The boat leaned so far over that one of the windows at the side of the “cabin” was already under water and allowed a transsectional view of a wave. At the same time as spotting the transsection of the wave, I heard the loud wup-wup-wup that is significant of the helix getting out of the water. I thought we were going to die.
I was dead worried, especially when I herad one of the motors started misfiring and slowing down. If a boat is caught without any speed on the water during high waves, the loss of the boat and the passengers is nearly a certainty. The boat is not steerable anymore and is completely in the influence of the waves. Furthermore, the concave shape of the boat allows the boat to become more stable when travelling at a high speed. The loss of the motors at this point would have been the end of my life. In normal English, one would say, I shat myself with fear. Luckily, after 2 minutes of utter fear, the Indonesians then got the motor working again and we set off again. However, now the Indonesians were trying with even more speed. They gunned the boat forward at full speed. The water was spraying into the cabin at full force; using the tarp sheet as drum skin, it drummed an inhuman and deathly rhythm, the motors were roaring at full power against the relentless force of the waves trying to eat up the small boat. Then we jumped (literally jumped: both helices of the motors came out of the water at the same time) and caught the next wave full on. The boat slowed in no time and everybody was thrown forward and then we suddenly heard a mighty crack… I feared that this was the end. The boat was going to go down and I knew that everyone in the boat had the same fear. However, we still were floating and the Indonesian seemed to have learned his lesson. He was going slowly. Due to the slow speed, the stench of petrol was slowly spreading in the tiny cabin. I just had to open a small air slot in the tarp sheet. I took the time to look out. I wish I had not done this. The boat was about 1.5 m high. When I looked out, we had just hit the bottom of a wave. I could not see the top of the wave!!! The wave towered two to three times above the boat! This meaning that we were hitting waves 5 m high in a nutshell of a boat, which was open to the elements. Scared I decided not to look out again. Soon the impatient Indonesians started to hit the throttle again.
I do not pretend from myself that I was not scared (in good English, I was shitting myself), however after having seen the height of the waves, I realized that there was actually nothing I could do to make sure we come through this storm nor would there be anything to do if the boat sank. A strange mood settled over me. I was bored of being scared so I started to actually enjoy (or rather pretend I enjoyed) the ride. Nothing I could do, so fuck it, why not enjoy it. And indeed it was enjoyable, about like sitting in a rollercoaster while being thrown around in a blender without seat belts on.
Then the first motor died completely. The Indonesians tried to repair it, however were not successful. We had to continue with only one motor. The other motor continued fighting the towering waves for a good hour still (I was still pretending to enjoy the whole thing, although I was truly miserable and wet) and then started dying. The Indonesians and I (the other three tcheque did not know what it would mean to loose forward propulsion…) were frantic. Luckily after two minutes without propulsion, during which we were pummeled by the waves, the Indonesians got the motor back working and we wear under way again. During the night, we heard the boat cracking for 5 more times, the second time that it cracked I could swear I saw through the window a plank float away just after it cracked.
The waves were pummeling us for several hours before they started to abate very slowly (memorable was also the Czech being happy to have a strong wind blowing while we were going slow because it meant that the fuel fumes were blown out of the boat, not thinking of the very slight and deadly drawback of creating higher waves… those guys were properly stupid...). During all this time, I had to cling to the sheet of tarp so that it would stay in place to protect us from splash water. When the sun came up I was truly shattered and actually managed to fall asleep upright while still holding the canvas.
In the morning, I really needed to take a piss. The Indonesians slowed the boat down and I went for piss inside the boat (yes, I just urinated on the planks of boat since it was getting washed away by the breakers that still regularly submerged the boat (afterwards, I saw that the boat was actually leaking really badly as well). After done deed, I looked around the boat. Three or four broken pieces of wood were floating near the boat. I then lifted one of the planks to show to the Indonesian and all the reply I got was “From boat. No problem, no problem”.
After 8 and a half hours (a normal crossing should have taken only 4 hours), we finally crawled into the harbor. The boat was leaking from 5 holes, one person had to constantly shuffle water out. The boat was brandnew when we started, arrived at the port, the front wood plates had been damaged, it was leaking, one motor had given up and all the reinforcing beams of front and middle of the boat had been ripped off. The captain was near tears for his brand new boat!
Exhausted, I was just thinking to get out of this place and away from speedboats for the rest of my life. I quickly paid and then left the place. I had decided to go straight to Danau Maninjau in order to await the departure of my plane.
Well the travelling took me again longer than it should have taken only 4 hours (the bus was rammed and stopping every 5 minutes to cram more people into the limited space and the angkot in Lubuk Basung waited to be completely full before leaving…) and in the end it took nearly 7.
The only remarkable thing at the travels (which is an inverse of the travel that I have described from Danau Maninjau to Padang) was that I had told the driver of the angkot that if possible he should not make an accident, I had just survived a tsunami aswell as a storm. A few seconds afterwards, we were just rounding a bend. Travelling in the opposite direction came one of the Indonesian buses ( a rust bucket in Europe) fully loaded (overloaded by far in Europe) at full speed and tried to negotiate the curve. While we were exactly underneath, it started to tilt and continue its travel through the bend on two wheels. Passenger and driver of the angkot alike were seeing their last hour approach. Luckily the driver of the bus managed to control his vehicle and I could safely report that I had had luck a third time.
The rest of the travel was comparatively unintderesting.
NOTICE: This travel blog was written during the travels, however having my parents in mind. I have on purpose understated the dangers I was in. I also did not mention several things that happened more which would have gotten my parents too worried.
Happily, I did nothing during the whole day. In the morning, I got a call from the German embassy. My parents had reported me as missing to the German embassy in Jakarta. The call I got was to find out if I was alive. I felt lucky to be able to report that indeed I was. I also was able to convey my worries that I may not be able to get out of the country because my passport got wet and all the stamps got wet and unreadable. I got advised to go one day earlier to the airport to check with immigration if I could leave the country.
I had to leave Maninjau. Again 6 hours of travel because the bus was rammed again. I arrived too late at the airport because the immigration officers had already left. A nice security guard helped me to validate that with 95% surety, I would get through to take my flight the next day.
I then left to find a hotel room. I hitchhiked to the next hotel, only to find out that it was far too expensive for my budget. In the end, I had to hitchhike back to the airport where I wanted to stay and sleep at the airport. The nice security guard had already arranged for me to stay and sleep there. While waiting to get into the airport (only after the last airplane had arrived), I met a friendly local who insisted that I come with him to stay at his place. My alarm bells did not go off at all (he was just being friendly, not threatening in anyway and generally trying to help somebody who got stranded after being on the Mentawai) and I stayed at his.
I left the guys place in the morning at 6.30. He had bought breakfast for me (against my wish) and then driven me to the airport. I was so relieved to finally being able to leave the country that the small minded immigration officer who wanted me to reiterate again and again my story of how my passport got wet did not even annoy me.
When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, I stayed for a night at my mates Babak, where I had stayed before. We had planned to travel together to Cameron Highlands the next day but Babak had to cancel because he had his final exams the next week and needed to study.
I left far too late for Cameron highlands (CH). Then I took the KTM (the train) for half an hour and the Monorel (the monorail that runs in Kuala Lumpur) for another 15 min, walked for half an hour, just to find out that the bus station had moved due to renovation quite close to my mates… AWESOME.
After taking one further bus, I arrived at the bus station just to be told that I would have to pay 35 RM (12 dollars) to go Cameron Highlands (Note: I was back on 20 dollars a day. I did well to only go to Tapah (it still cost me 16 Ringgit). From there I took the local bus for two hours up to Cameron highlands (at the bus station, I got told that the bus leaves 1)not at all 2) at 5pm 3) Maybe at 5pm but definitely between 5 and 5.30pm 4) at 7pm 5) at 6pm 6) at 6.30pm 7) only tomorrow) which came at 6 oclock. It cost me 8 RM so I was quite glad that I did not take the 35 RM to CH.
Once arrived at CH, I was accosted by a tout who I did not listen to at first, thinking that he would propose me again some luxury accommodation that I would not be able to afford. However, when he mentioned “12 RM” my attention immediately returned. This was the cheapest I had found a room for during my travels through Malaysia (apart from the one on Pulau Pangkor) and it had even hot showers. I stayed there that night and met an English couple that I trekked with the next day.
First a bit explanation of what Cameron Highlands is. It is a hillstation, that means located on a plateau at about 1800 m high up in the mountains. CH is the best developed and biggest one, ie it attracts the most tourists. Due to the rather mild (I would even say cold) weather, it is possible to grow different vegetables and fruits than lower down. The main attraction of CH are the strawberry farms. Yes, the English introduced strawberries here, as well as tea.
We, me and the English couple (Kev and Rosie), left at around 10. We decided to trek Jungle path 1, which led up to the highest peak that was accessible from Cameron Highlands. First we walked to Brinchang along a jungle walk that was not actually a tarmacked road (and compared to some of the stuff I have done a real walk in the park). This bit was rather uninteresting.
The next bit was a quite steep climb up to the mountain. It rather ressembled what I had done before, but unlike before, the path was well trodden. Rosie, the woman of the couple I was travelling with, was rather a slow walker so we went up at her speed. However, at one point, I really could not hold onto that slow speed anymore and I ran ahead. That presented itself as a nice way to get rid of the hyperactivity…
On the path, we met other tourists, indeed indicating again that this jungle walk was not built by, or for locals. Even though, walking along it was still scenic and led past a mossy jungle that I had seen only once before while climbing the Gunung Rinjani in Lombok.
Mossy jungles have a peculiar look. They do indeed look like jungle in that they are very overgrown, however when looking closely at the trunks of trees, one can see that these are completely overgrown with moss (a fact that does not occur in normal jungle). This can only happen if the trees are subject to continuous moisture from mist and clouds.
We were lucky in that we had perfect sunny weather. As we came up to the top, we saw that there was also a road leading up that mountain on the other side. A bit sobered up, we went to have a look at the panaroma which was really quite stunning (however nothing unusual).
When started walking down the road we saw something quite unique. Cameron Highlands is known for that they grow tea and strawberries, both of which are not endemic and were imported by the English. The sight that presented itself along the road was quite stunning. The ordered strawberry plantations contrasted beautifully with the surrounding jungle! This shows again the ingenuity of the human as well as the tendency of the human to prefer something that he can get at home to be available when travelling (English wanted to have English fruit, vegetable and tea down in Malaysia while it was a colony). This same phenomenon can be seen in touristy towns here in Asia where the Italian food is omnipresent.
We stopped at a strawberry farm where we ate strawberry popsickles, obviously made with real strawberries. They were absolutely awesome.
Luckily, we hitched a ride back to Tanah Rata because the journey back was incredibly long.
Back at the hostel, I met a group of four German girls who I had a nice time with chatting to that night. They wanted to go do the same walk tomorrow that we did today.
That day, I had decided to stay at home in order to work on my journal. Turned out that it was a good idea. It started to rain and generally be a miserable day. I was having pity with the three german girls (the fourth was feeling too rubbish to go) who climbed up to the mountain. They were not going to see anything up there nor would the journey up there be comfortable because of the rain.
It turned out that they had even worse luck. When they came back, they had been stuck for nearly two hours in a traffic jam (weekend was about to start and it was Deepavali, the Indian Carnival), totally wet from the rain.
The five of us (4 German girls and me) went for dinner at the only Indian who was still open and had one of the most expensive dinners I had ever had in SE Asia(10 Ringgit) but I had an awesome time, mostly talking to Julia (Lang), an, as it turned out, truly amazing girl who had the luck to be pretty stunning as well. All four of us then went on to watch Ice Age 3. Julia and me where soon bored of the film and just talked through the film. After the film, I said goodbye to Julia (because I was leaving the next day) and went to bed.
Leaving was quite a problem. The bus to KL was scrapped so I had to go first to Ipoh and then onwards to KL, which instead of 4 hours took me 6 (which is still a small spell in a bus compared to the time I usually spend in a bus). I then went to Ka shings place.
Ka shing’s grandmother was also staying at the place, and, although the place is massive, it only has 4 rooms as well as only one guest room. This meant that I was staying in the house cinema on two bean bags. Without joking, I thought that the bean bags were really comfy.
Ka shing went out later for a dinner at his friends and I read a bit and went to bed.
The next morning we had a good breakfast of Nasi Lemak (ah so good no ikan bilis, those small disgusting fish that always get added to Nasi Lemak). When we came back, the mother had come back, a quite serious and very energetic woman, who REALLY did not like any dirt whatsoever.
I realized that day that my booking for my flight had not gone through when I tried to book it a month previously, when it would still have cost me only 50 dollars. I had to book therefore a flight three days in advance which was really quite expensive (120 dollars). I was pissed off with myself and all the recuperating of the 200 pounds I had lost before to the bank went out of the window…
In the evening, we went for some dinner at some eatery, where we had absolutely superb Cantonese food (fried rice and sweet and sour chicken… awesome).
I didn’t really do anything noteworthy that day apart from playing football at the local club as the goaly for Ka shing’s team was missing. We lost.
In the evening, the mother/the maid cooked a fabulous dinner for the 6 of us (Ka shing has two siblings, Li shing and Shu wain and then Ka shing and me went to see a movie at the cinema (unstoppable).
Read on what happened to me in the guide to the Caribbeans