Adventure on Sumatra
- Submitted by: Erik Futtrup Soerensen
- Submission Date: 09th Feb 2005
Bispehavevej 31, 2.tv -
DK-8210 Aarhus V -
This is a continuation of my travelstory from Asia with my two friends: Kurt (my brother) and Niels. Previous to Indonesia, we have visited Pakistan (2 days), Sri Lanka (2 weeks), Thailand (3 weeks) and Malaysia (3 days). The money rates used are: 2.37DKR=1m$=rs696, that is 1US$=6.15DKR=rs1806. DKR=Danish Kroner, m$=Malaysian $, rs=Indonesian rupees. I have used $'ers and cents (c) so foreigners have an understanding of the costs.
Day 36: Sunday 3 March 1991 - Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia
Departure from Penang, Malaysia. After a flight on schedule, we arrived in Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia. The flight took -20 minutes, because of the time difference. It was cloudy and the air was VERY humid and it felt very hot. Immigration: no problem. It was actually a very 'small' airport, considering that 2 million people live in Medan. We changed a few dollars (80 malaysian $ to rs52.000). We had withdrawn a lot of malaysian dollars on Penang because we were not sure if we could use our credit cards here on Sumatra.
In the airport of Penang, we had met a Dutch guy, Rene, who we had talked to in Thailand. He had got an address of a Guesthouse from the Airport Information and we decided to go along. We took a taxi - it was a fixed price of rs4500 (2.50$). The guesthouse was nice and clean and we got us established. We talked with Rene about our plans. His girlfriend was coming tomorrow and they were going to the most northern point of Sumatra. She studied biology and had previously worked with/studied orangutans there for half a year and now they were going back there - it implied a 3 day jungle-trip to get there! I had copied 100 pages from the 1000 pages big Indonesia Handbook (Lonely Planet) and had read about the Maimoon Palace. I convinced Kurt and Niels that we had to see it - and the time was only 1pm. We only had to walk 10m (32ft) before the first becak (trishaw - three-wheeled bike) came to us. Now, we were not quite familiar with the prices, but he asked for rs3000 and we talked him down to rs2000 (1.10$) - our book has a funny chapter about this phenomena. It also says that the number of becaks is a barometer of a city's poverty and unemployment level. The Maimoon palace is the historic Sultan of Deli's Palace. The architecture is a mixture of Oriental, Middle Eastern, and Western. Though the sultan has been pensioned off by the government, he and his family still live in the palace.
When we arrived, a guy quickly approaches us and says that he is a guide here, and we have to have one to get in (Bullshit, of course). He showed us around in the two halls available for the public: the throne room and the dining room. Meanwhile, a music-video was recorded in the throne-room. We walked a bit around on our own and listened to the Indonesian music. The lead singer was a very big name in Indonesia and along he had a drummer, a violinist, dancing girls and a guitarist - everyone dressed in old traditional clothes. Niels had forgot his camera at the guesthouse, but we could have our picture taken here with a Polaroid camera for rs2500 (1.38$) and Kurt and I would like to bring one home with us very much. We asked the photographer if he would ask the dancing girls if they wanted to be on the picture too. In one of the pauses, we had a great picture taken of the 3 of us, two beautiful girls, the guitarist and the drummer - sitting on the throne!
While we were looking around, we said hello to a lot of people. The film-people showed us their equipment and we spoke some time with two highschool-girls, who learned English there - it is very few who speak English besides educated people. We were amazed that we did not see any white people. We had not seen any since the guesthouse - but Sumatra don't have many tourists. Well, we had to move on. While we waited 5 minutes below a portal for a rain-shower to stop, we read about a market which also had a shopping-complex. A lot of becaks offered their help, but the one we took, didn't want to go there - we think it was what he said. It was probably closed (or too far away ?) He had a better suggestion, so we went there.
It was a very modern complex - very much like in the west, except no white people here. Very funny to walk around, all the boys greeted us with a 'hello Mister', and the girls giggled and waved to us; yes, the girls seemed very interested in us - but well, we know we are gorgeous. We end up in a big restaurant/ kitchen, where they had a lot of Indonesian food. We had a solid 2-dishes meal; soup and seafood for about rs4000 (2.20$). It was really good. I was looking in my phrase book for the word 'delicious' (and the waitress smiled when I told her), but I also found the phrase 'I'm full, I want a banana', in Indonesian: 'Saya sudah kenyang, Saya ingin pisang'. We thought it was very funny, so for the rest of the trip, we gave everybody this line and people were very amused.
Next, we went into a supermarket and when we passed the perfume department, we were really startled. They had all the well known stuff, like Chanel No.5 for rs3800 (2.10$) and so on. They were made under license in Indonesia, but had the right scent. We thought we did not understand the prices and had to have them confirmed a couple of times by the employees.
We take a becak back and talk with Rene and read a bit. An older German man comes. He had travelled for 2 months on his own and he had a lot of good tips to give us. Later an elder German woman (independent from the former) comes. She came directly from Lake Toba (a lake on Sumatra) of which she could tell a lot. She had travelled 7 horrible hours by train which she definitely did not like. We got Input; lots of Input.
Day 37: Monday 4 March - Medan
Breakfast at 9am. We took a becak to Bank Negara Indonesia - we'd better get our Malaysian dollars changed. The rate was 693, but we looked around a bit and the bank opposite, Lippo Bank, changed at rate 696. Our book told us that BNI should have the best rates, but be sure to look around for your self.
For the first time in our life, we were millionairs! We got rs1.200.000 !!! (665$) (we took a great picture of us playing with the money). We were a bit nervous walking around with all this money. Kurt wore them all in his waist-belt, so we let him walk between us - one can never be too careful. Bought a Sumatra map (I think the price was a bit high), and after some searching, we found the Tourist-bureau. We got some pieces of information we could use about volcanos and Lake Toba. Their English was very bad and we did not understand all of it.
Walking towards another complex, we met a couple of other young people practicing their English and one of them walked with us to the complex. He used his lunch-break from his work to practice his English. He had a small book in which he wrote several translations down. On the Ground-floor, there was an exhibition of keyboards and a kind of show was going on - one played keyboard and a female singer was helping him; very atmospheric. Browsed a bit; the theatre only had Indonesian movies. We had decided to go for a jungle-trek tomorrow, so we bought some supplies in a supermarket. The girls helping at the register were very interested in us and we had a good talk. All of them wanted our addresses and we felt much courted - why aren't the Danish girls like this to us ? This time we tried a motorized becak back. The only difference from the bike-becaks is that the bike is exchanged with a moped.
Kurt and Niels wanted to rest a bit; I went for a walk in the neighborhood. I passed a couple of beautiful parks, churches, etc. - and an uncountable amount of becaks and taxis which wanted me as their passenger. I had learned that when they asked: 'Were you go?', you just had to answer: 'Jalan, Jalan!'. It worked very good and the almost always smiled at the answer. It means something like 'just walking' or 'catching the wind'. In the evening, after having dinner, we were sitting at the guesthouse sweating. A taxi arrived with a couple of people and I gave the taxi-driver a very careful prepared note which said in Indonesian: Tomorrow, time 5:00, Benjei-Namo Ukur-Telegah. (translated with my Indonesian phrase-book). (besok, jam 5:00).
That was where we wanted to go trekking. We wanted to go early and the guesthouse-host said that no busses left until 7am. The driver said something and then wrote: pagi and sore. We asked in the reception and they said it meant 'morning' and 'evening'. After underlining 'morning', we had to haggle over the price. He did not know the village Telegah, so he was not sure how far it was away. We ended at rs30.000 (16.60$) but then we would come all the way out there and we could start early.
The trekking-route was mentioned in our book only as a small notice - where you should begin and where you would end up.
Day 38: Tuesday 5 March - Medan-Benjei-Kabanjahe-Medan
I had moved to a dormitory, so we only had to pay for one room. We had gone to sleep at 9pm (with earplugs and eyecovers) and had slept very well. At 4:20am Niels came and woke me up and the taxi-driver was here at 4:30! We had to have some water in our face first so we did not get on our way until around 5am. We did not bring much: a sweat suit (in case of mosquitoes etc.), our medic kit, water, bread, a map, the phrase-book and sunglasses. It was a very bumpy ride, but kind of nice anyway. In the suburbs of Medan, we saw young people walking along the road, hand in hand (at 5am!). Half of the way was through pitch dark jungle. The driver had to ask directions quite often after Benjei - but there never seemed to be any problems; people he asked were always ready to help. The road got more and more narrow and after 1 1/2 hour, we reached Telegah, our destination. It was a very small village in the mountains. We showed our 'map' to several people. The map showed that from Telegah there was 4km to a 0village, then a steep climb until the jungle starts. We would also cross two rivers and end up in another village and could get to Kabanjahe from there.
They pointed further on along the dirt track. The sun had started to rise and was very beautiful hidden behind the mountains. We kind of wanted to have some breakfast before our trek, so we tried with gesticulations to show we were hungry. They showed us inside the nearest building which seemed to be a native version of an inn. I looked up 'egg' in my phrase-book. They found some eggs for us. We then had to try to make them understand that we kind of wanted to eat then now and here. No problem, and then we were brought tea and boiled rice wrapped in leaves. We also found the word for salt, 'garam'. This meal cost us the ridiculous sum of 400rs/person (22c). This place is pretty far out... Well, a man had arrived who spoke a bit English and he was very interested in helping us, as a matter of fact, so were the rest of the village. We were told to follow the dirt track until we reached the Pama village. It was 'Visit Indonesia Year', so he felt obligated to help us.
Start: 07:00am. We really got use of our camera; the mountains and the surroundings were just beautiful. We met two flocks of school-children from Pama on their way to school in Telegah. The girls and the boys. They walked the 4km in school uniforms every morning (and afternoon). They greeted us enthusiasticly.
Just outside Pama, we found their church - a big church for 20- 30 people, we thought. Made of wood and very open. It only had a pulpit, a table and the benches. We met a man a bit further on, and he showed us the mountain-path. Sometimes it was quite broad (a car could come through) and then it would narrow down to a small path. The path climbed a mountain gently. The vegetation was very lush, considering the high altitude. We also had a very good view over the area from the mountain side. Fairly many spider-webs, so we had to take turns walking in front. We walked upwards for about 3 hours and we were surrounded by all kinds of jungle sounds. We could hear the barking of flocks of monkeys nearby! Now the jungle started! It was a challenge; we were kind of scared for tripping on snakes and not finding our way. The path was easy to follow even though it was very narrow and we often had to squeeze through the vegetation. We could see that the branches had been cut some time ago. Often it was very swampy and we had to go around mud holes. Niels was attacked by a leech and we had to burn it away from his leg. We took a nice picture of the massacre. At 12:30pm, we find our first river - well, more like a small stream. We sat down with our feet in the water with the sun right above us, trees towering 70m (225ft) above us, the sound of the water, all the sounds from the jungle - and not to forget: our bread and jam - great! We rested for about an hour. A big crab wanted to taste my toes, but it found out that I was bigger than it and it scurried away. Well, we had to move on. 5 minutes away we found the next 'river'. Liana hung from the tall trees and I have always kind of felt like a Tarzan and wanted to swing over the river, but they were stuck to the trees - tough luck! Well, the path broadened again and after an hour, we found a dirt track. After another 1/2 hour, we met people; first lumber jacks and then we came to a big plantation where they had all kinds of vegetables and fruits.
This was the first time since the start of the trip, that we could see very far. We came to a village and after a bit of communication with the locals (and our phrase-book), we found out that a bus would come at 4pm (the time was now 3:40pm), so we had time for a glass of tea (100rs (5c)) in the local hangout place. We communicated with them and watched them play chess. We wanted to give the children some candy, but they were much too shy to take it; one of the men almost had to run after them to give it to them. The men ate the rest of the candy. The girls ran away and hid when we tried to take a picture of them, but we got a picture of the boys. Our book describes the behavior of the children as a reaction of watching TV. On the TV, they only know white people in connection with dead and murder. Not necessarily as killers but as strange people. 'Our' children were very curious, though.
At 4pm, precisely, our bus turns up and we have a beautiful trip to Kabanjahe. A very big volcano raised from the ground close by and during the one hour tip, we saw it from three views. It was a 12-person minibus we rode but we had to bring along a bit of everything - one place, we had to stop for a while and the poor ticket collector had to get out and put five big sacks of corn on the roof (which held a bike beforehand). Later he had to help the old woman again, getting the sacks off.
In Kabanjahe, the ticket collector helped us get on a local bus to the bus-terminal and when we arrived, 10 different people wanted to know where we were going and soon we were on a bus to Medan - it took off five minutes later - like hand in a glove. Total cost to get home: 600+1200rs/person (1$) - a bit cheaper than the taxi trip. The bus did not drive directly to Medan, we had to zig-zag between towns so the bus could optimize it's surplus. We were not in Medan until around 7pm.
We had only in mind to get back and get a bath as quick as possible. Halfway back, we had to stop and look at our city map and try to find our where we were. Some young people came to help us (and helped keeping becaks away). We had a very good conversation, and the 3 of them studied English at the university and were on their way home. Well, there were only five of them and we had to get something to eat anyway, so we invited them to join us and have something to drink. We made really good friends there and practiced English, Indonesian and Danish. Niels and I got Cumi-Cumi (pronounced: Tjummi-Tjummi) - octopus - very good actually. A.Zebar, 30 years old (looked like he was 24); studied English on his 6th year. Muslim. He dated Lucy, a quiet catholic girl - we later found out that she also studied English, but was a bit shy about practicing it. Her sister was here too, but we did not find out much about her. Niels talked much to Edison (Thomas) - he had a difficult name, so we called him Joe or Edison. Last (but not least), there was Lia (Dahlia, actually). Only 148cm tall, but very lively and wonderful to speak to. She had studied English for 4 years and was a Christian.
We could hear that they had not had too many possibilities practicing their English, but they were easy to understand. Zebar told me later that it was difficult to find people to speak with. They learn the grammar but don't speak it so much.
Well, we had a lovely evening. They ask us what we were doing tomorrow and we had not decided on anything special. Zebar had no lessons tomorrow (and Lia took off, I think), so they wanted to show us around a bit. What a great offer, so we arranged to meet at Zebar's place at 10am.
We said goodnight and walked home to our well deserved bath and we quickly fell a sleep. We had probably walked about 20km (12.5miles) today and a couple of hundred in cars - and we have learned so much more than what is written on the last 3 pages.
I have found out that most of the towns in northern Sumatra has several different religious communities. Even in small town, you would find Methodists, Catholics, Pentecostal and the Indonesian church. Each of the communities would have a church. One should think that there would be problems, since the government and most of the Indonesian population is Muslim, but it did not seem to be a problem here.
Day 39: Wednesday 6 March - Medan
Woke up, ready to take the jungle trip again - well, perhaps some other time; we had a date today. Got on our way at 10am and had to spend some time with a moped-becak driver. He only wanted to take two of us and if he should take all three, it would cost a lot more. After a long time of bargaining, we agreed on rs2000 (1.10$). We found Zebar's house at 10:30am. A nice place; he did not pay to stay and eat there. He stayed with his 'sister' (he called her his adopted sister). He told us that it was normal that Indonesians stayed with each other without paying rent - but well, they don't get SU there [we Danes are paid 500$ each month to study]. We were served tea and talked for an hour or so. Niels had to get to the Post Office, so we took a mini-bus and there was also time for a glass of ice (the ice is served in a glass) - at local price. The post office is nicely decorated - from the Dutch period - with messenger pigeons in tile up on the walls with the gold bugle, the Dutch postal emblem.
We had to take two mini-busses and a small walk, to get to Lucy's house - in the other end of town, in a more typical onelevel -house-area. Her father makes religious figures of plaster, crosses etc. Pretty neat, actually. They had a 1m (3ft2) tall figure of Christ in the living room. When she was ready, we continued on to Lia's house. She lived in the neighborhood in a house with her sister and brother-in-law (and their son, Jakob). They used to stay in a bigger house (where they could play soccer in the living room), but Jakob got often ill, so they moved - I'm not sure if it had anything to do with the big house. She and her sister were both from near Lake Toba. A nice house, only the kitchen and bath were a bit different from what we are used to. She had a girl visiting them, who also studied English. Rosita was her name. Lia and her sister made a superb lunch: breadfruit, rice, meat pieces, salad, omelet, watermelon and so on. We had to start thinking of how we could repay this.
Zebar was put to work. Their camera was in a locked closet and they could not find the key. He was put to unscrew the lock. Meanwhile, we showed our pictures to them, and we saw theirs. At last the camera was brought out in the open. A lot of pictures were taken. After tea, the time was about 4pm. We had discussed in Danish, if it would be proper to ask if they would go to a movie with us. We asked - Bulls Eye. They loved the idea. We were soon ready. First we went to visit Rosita's house.
Indonesians are very happy to show you your house. She lived by her grandparents together with 3 cousins. When we arrived, we were served some great 'cakes': bananas inside dough. We were a bit surprised, how they could be warm at the time we arrived ? They were really good. We choose to go and see 'Pretty Woman' since none of us had seen it.
We continued to our guesthouse to take a shower. It was now about dinner-time and we told them, that if they could find a fairly cheap place to eat, we would be glad to pay. Zebar thought it would be best to go to a place close to the theatre. So we took two taxis - and it was chocking ! One taxi:rs1200 (65c)! We had been paying exorbitant/tourist prices for becaks. Well, we tried to get over it. The place where we ate was of the kind where you are served a lot of different kinds of fish, meat, chicken, rice and fruit and then afterwards you count and pay according to what you have eaten. This was chocking too. Rs8000 (4.40$) for 8 people! When you are together with local people, it is really cheap. For the first time we learned how to eat rice with your fingers - the right way! It is a special technique. Orion21 was the theatre. The ticket said: Super 4 channel Dolby sound-system, A/C. The tickets cost rs4000/person (2.20$), but it was also the best theatre in town and a similar ticket would have cost five times as much at home. The film was okay. It was very funny to read the subtitles. In Indonesian you put a word in plural by repeating the word (e.g.: pisang (banana), pisang pisang (bananas)). In the subtitles they just wrote 'pisang2'. We had forgot our camera, but they took a whole film in just one day. We would like to have a copy of the pictures, so Zebar would try to have it developed. After the movie, the girls were tired and wanted to go home (Zebar only slept 3 hours every night, so he did not care). In the taxis back, I thought it was funny to watch the taximeter. When it clicks 1kr (17c) at home, it clicks rs20 (1c) here.
A kind of sad parting. We had met some real friends. Everything this evening had cost us less than rs50.000 (27.70$) for 8 persons! Zebar promised to come and help us on the bus the next morning.
Day 40: Thursday 7 March - Medan - Prapat (Lake Toba)
...and he was at the guesthouse before we had risen at 8:30am. We took turn packing and eating breakfast and talking to Zebar. We gave him 6 superfly-guys pictures of us (a trick-photo we had had taken in Penang of the three of us flying) for him and the girls, signed of course.
We had the pictures collected on the way to the bus station. Very good memories. We bought tickets to Prapat (rs3000/person (1.66$)) and were quickly on the bus. While waiting for departure, Zebar helped us getting supplies at reasonable prices. Departure at 11am. The trip was actually very nice; we passed some very big rubber-plantations, went through jungle, small villages and finally we were in the mountains again. The mountains were a bit different than the 'usual' ones. In the area of Prapat, the landscape was a bit like e.g. Switzerland (the vegetation) and so was the climate (not so humid and hot). Lake Toba is the biggest lake in south-east Asia, the deepest (523m/1687ft) and the highest situated (600m/1935ft). Our book said that there used to be a waterfall at one end of the lake, but they turned it into a power station. Since then, the water level has sunk 2 1/2 meter (8ft). Well, we did not notice. Our friends in Medan had also been here; it is a popular excursion place for the Indonesians; also because of the comfortable climate.
We had had several offers about transportation for the next stretch and we considered them over a Fanta at the bus station. Fanta here equals red strawberry soda and what we usually calls Fanta is called Orange here. We accepted an offer for a room at the bus station. We walked down to the lake where we relaxed and made plans for the next couple of weeks. We watched some rats running by the water. Meanwhile some obtrusive person tried to rent us both a waterbike and a water-scooter. He wanted rs20.000 (11$) for the bike and rs35.000 (19$) for the scooter. We ignored him and after 20 minutes, we had got student, family and group discount and the prices were now rs5.000 (2.80$) and rs15.000 (8$). We left him and ended up in the harbour (from where there are ferries to Samosir Island). We got dinner in a Hong Kong restaurant. You could get shark fin soup for rs27.000 (15$), but we had steak and potatoes instead for rs4.500 (2.50$). A bit expensive, but we could not find a 'medium' restaurant.
Back at the 'hotel', we wrote some letters and talked to a girl who worked here about the language etc. We think she might have kept our Maimoon picture, because we could not find it later on. We were very sorry for the loss. Before we went to bed, we were offered the key to her room. Well, we did not take the offer though, we are good boys, you know. In our room, a very unpleasant surprise waited for us. The room had been invaded by thousands of ants - and they had also found parts of our luggage. My water bottle, which smelled of soda, and my handbag, where I had some biscuits. Fortunately the bed was ant-free.
Day 41: Friday 8 March - Prapat-Tuk Tuk (Samosir Island)
We ordered tickets for Bukittingi for monday morning, that would give us a few days on Samosir Island. We took a mini bus to the harbour where 10 ferries waited to sail to Samosir. We were told that one of them would leave at 11am, but it was probably more likely when there were enough on the boat. It was also different companies which sailed and they were fast to get you when you arrived there. The one we got on could take us to the place we wanted to go to, but we had time to get off several times to buy sodas and bananas before it departed (at 12am). A couple of others had left meanwhile. The book is also correct when it states that you should never ask an Indonesian a yes/no question, because they would always answer what pleases you. We had asked: 'Do this boat sail at 11 o'clock ?'. And the man had answered, hesitating a bit, 'Yes'. Well, we were not in a hurry. The sail trip was OK. Beautiful.
We were recommended 'Carolina's Cottages', so that was where we went. It was a very fancy place (the book told us that too), it had everything: beach, diving board, satellite tv, telephone (only two on the island!), good restaurant, nice personal. We had to pay rs17.500 (9.70$) for a cottage, but it was a real Batak cottage and it had a REAL flush toilet!!! and a balcony. We relaxed on the beach until about 4pm and we met three Danish girls there who we talked to until it was time for News in English (from Malaysia). We met another 3 Danes, so we were a total of 9 Danes in one place, what do you say ?! A nice evening too, about 24o (75F) outside.
Day 42: Saturday 9 March - Tuk Tuk
After breakfast it did us good with a morning-swim. The water was supposed to be 25 degrees (78F) constantly and I guess it was right.
Our plan was to walk around the peninsula, Tuk-Tuk, and then south to Tomok. We left at 10:30am. The sun was high in the sky (so it was pretty hot too). A lot of building houses was taking place but did not in any way overshadow the beautiful surroundings and the many nice things along the roadside. After some time, we passed a protestant school with a church next to it. 50 school-children in uniforms stood lined up outside - it is just like us students at the university where we also have to study saturdays. They were singing a couple of songs and it ended with a salute for the teacher and then rush home.
In the village of Sailagan we saw dozens of small booths where you could buy wood-carvings and hand-weaved belts etc., but not one single tourist was here. We had heard of this the day before from a Dane who had experienced the same. In a way a sad sight, but the people looked happy anyway. Around noon we took a couple of pictures of our shadows (or lack of it). A very funny phenomena.
Continued on to Amberita where it was time for a little lunch. We saw a cozy place and asked: 'Can we have lunch here?'. 'Why not ?', was the answer. While we had the best fruit salad and fruit pancakes ever, a volleyball match was taking place on the field close by. After the meal we went over there to look. We later found out that 100 of the pupils playing and watching, were visiting the town - an excursion. There were also supposed to be some adorned stone coffins but we could not locate them.
Went back to Sailagan where we knew a stone-table would be. Some time ago, they used to behead enemies here and eat them. The 'table' was surrounded by Batak-cottages - cottages on poles with curved roofs. We had hardly gotten there before a girl from one of the cottages called to us. We were dragged into the cottage where 12 boys and girls were drinking tea and we got a glass too. Why did they want to talk to us ? They turned out to be from a high-school from Pem Siantan (further north on Sumatra) on an excursion and they were told to catch some tourists and practice their English. They started with 'Where are you from?' and 'What's your name ?'. A nice bunch of students. Here we were sitting in a 100 year old wooden cottage (even the nails were made from wood), drinking tea and answering all the questions they could come up with. We were split up in 3 'camps' and I talked to 5 of the girls and we ended up singing a lot of Christian songs; they even had a guitar. We followed them to the harbour. On our way home we only made a stop in a 'cafe' where you only could get coffee and cake. There were also supposed to be a lot of music saturday evening - why could we not find any ? Day 43: Sunday 10 March - Tuk Tuk-Prapat
Sunday: church day. We were told that is should be a very good experience to go to church here. In this area, 80% is Christian. They show their faith in many ways, for example, one of the workers at Carolina told me that my face looked like the face of Jesus and you often see bibles and songbooks in cafes and other places.
We walked towards Tomok, south of Tuk Tuk. We had heard that the service was held at 9am. We had hurried there and arrived at 9:05am, but only Sunday school was in progress. The service was not until 10am, so we had some time for the sights. A lot of turists here - Indonesian tourists, that is. At one time, we had to step aside for a delegation of important men and women. We later found out that they were from the government in Jakarta. The special thing in Tomok is the old stone coffins which are carved and ornamented beautifully. Then it was our turn to be taken pictures of: within 10 minutes, two flocks of girls wanted a picture taken of them together with us. There was also time for a chat with them.
Then it was time for church. It was a protestant church. We were lucky to choose the right side when we entered. The middle and right rows were for women. The church was 3/4 full and the women were all dressed in beautiful clothes - basically a dress with flowers and a kind of 'belt' over their right shoulder. The older women wore their hair in a knot. Then men wore a white shirt and were not so colourfull as the women. The songbook was fairly easy to use. It had notes and Indonesian is pretty easy to pronounce. It was 3 different persons who held the service: a cantor, one who prayed and read the texts and a preacher. The liturgy was very normal, but they only sang 2-3 verses of each song. I even knew one of them. A collection was held and the contribution was rs100 (5c). Then 20 of the women performed a part-singing hymn. The sermon was held from a high pulpit and lasted 15 minutes. Next, everybody walked past a bowl and when it was our turn, we discovered that you were to give money again. We did not expect that; actually, I have never experienced two collections during one service. We gave a little extra - we could afford it. After the service, the women walked through the town. It looked very nice.
We had walked the 5km (3.1miles) down here and kind of wanted to get a ride back. We had not walked long before a van wanted to give us a lift. How much ? He asked rs1000/person (55c). No, but what about rs500 ? He did not like that. We walked to the door. Then, what about rs1500 for the three of us ? OK, get in! They are sometimes strange to do business with. A short intermission: A French-American we met in Thailand had wanted to buy a towel (in Thailand): 'How much ?' - '80!' - 'No, I'll give you 10!' - 'OK, but I tell you: I make no profit!' When we got back to Carolina, we found out that two of the Danish girls had been at a service too in another church and they had also noted that people sung very loud.
The last boat left at 4pm, so we had time for a good lunch and 1 1/2 hour on the beach. The sun disappeared in clouds when we left. When we got back to Prapat, we went directly to the bus company. There were problems. The bus had been fully booked faster than usual and he had had a man on Samosir to look for us (I don't know if that is true). He had booked us for a bus tonight instead and we would get rs2000 back each. No problem for us. The bus was scheduled to leave around 8pm. The bus company had a small restaurant, so we had dinner and bought supplies. The trip to Bukittingi would take us through mountain areas and would take about 13 hours. Bukittingi is very close to the equator, so we would also be able to experience if it is true that the water spirals the opposite way out through the drain on the southern hemisphere.
At 7pm one of the agents ran to us and asked: 'Have you finished eating ? Have you paid ? Are you ready to go ?'. We were practically dragged out to a minibus with our backpacks. Another couple in the restaurant had been waiting too, but one of them had gone for a walk - they did not make it! Very fast, we drove out of town - we were not sure what was happening. Perhaps we were kidnapped by a communist terror organization. Well, perhaps not. Our bus waited 3-4km out of town. It turned out that the 'agents' had not seen the bus at the station until it had left - then they quickly had followed and stopped it. Our backpacks were placed on the floor next to the back exit. It was full and with only 3 seats left. It had A/C turned on, so it was freezing inside.
Then our bus trip commenced. To begin with, it was OK; we were in the mountains so of course the road had a lot of turns and ups and downs. We quickly tried to get some sleep, but it was hard to sleep for more than a few minutes; either they turned on the A/C; people scrambled around; we took some sharp turns; the position got unpleasant or ... In addition, they played loud music; Indonesian pop & Bruce Springsteen - even though everyone tried to sleep! Perhaps it was to keep the driver awake.
Day 44: Monday 11 March - Bukittingi (West Sumatra)
The trip continued... At 1am we came to a bridge. It took 45 minutes to cross it. The first two trials failed and the drivers had to back up again. The second time we were on the bridge, I could see 50m (161ft) straight down outside my window. At last everybody were told to get out. Kurt and Niels were too slow and did not get out before the bus was on it's way over the narrow 'bridge'. It succeeded. We followed the bus and I could see that part of the bridge was landslipped - a small miracle that the bus had crossed safely.
We found the hidden button on the seat that made the seat tilt, and we got a 235o angle so it was a bit easier to sleep (they did not stop the music, though).
Around 6am, the sun rose. We started looking for the equator; according to the schedule, we should arrive around 8am. At 9am, we had a morning-stop and from our map, we could read that we would cross it shortly. And we were right; at the equator, there was build a big globe. It was a disappointment, we did not turn upside down or anything. The nature here is very vigorous and dense jungle surrounded us.
We arrived in Bukittingi about 11am (3 hours late). At our morning-stop, I had spoken with a businessman who also was on his way to Bukittingi. He had recommended us a small hotel, Gangga Hotel, which he always used - and it was even half price for tourists! (we had that confirmed later). We went together in a minibus to the place. We had a room with 3 beds for rs8500 (4.70$). Our friend paid rs10.000 (5.53$) for a single. While we filled out the form, a guide came and tried to palm different trips off upon us (the place had a tourist bureau too). He had a rather interesting round-trip in West-Sumatra the next day which we decided to take. Rs12.000 (6.65$).
After lunch and a bath, Kurt and Niels took a nap. I went looking for a postoffice to send the last postcards. Got a good impression of the town and my orientation was also better afterwards.
Our plans were to go to Pekanbaru wednesday and find a boat to P.Tanjungpinang and from there to P.Batam and Singapore. Then we would arrive in Singapore Sunday or Monday, depending on a lot of things. I had just seen that we could take a plane from Pekanbaru to P.Batam for rs73.000 - the sail would cost us around rs50- 60.000, depending). I passed the possibilities on for consideration and we talked about what we could do instead. We would be able to stay on Sumatra until Sunday if we took the plane. The Zoo was close by and we had thought of going there, but different complications meant that we never got there all of us. I thought Kurt had been robbed and had been desperately looking for him. He had been in a saloon instead, and he and Niels went there afterwards to have wash, headmassage and a cut. Rs7000 (3.88$). It was a very nice place and a good result.
At the hotel, we met 3 Danes at our age: Sanne, Peter and Thomas and they told us not to eat here - they had heard that the kitchen was very dirty. They knew a cheap, cozy place where a lot of backpackers came. We were allowed to come with them and Canyon Restaurant was really good and cheap. They had a funny ordering system. The pen hung from the ceiling in a string and when you let go of the pen, a lamp in the kitchen lighted up. We could get all kinds of western food here: tacos, steaks, omelets etc. They had brought a Danish music-tape with Johny Madsen which we listened to while we were eating and telling about our selves.
They had a week ago arrived with a bus from Prapat to here and it had been even worse than our trip. There had been a singtogether -video in the bus, that is music-videos where the lead vocal is missing and then the passengers can find out if they have a yet undiscovered talent. It had been happening all night! But their ride had only taken 14 hours - amazing. A lot of stories and experiences were told here.
Next door was another travel agency and we found the same flight for only rs68.000 (37.65$), and got good pieces of information. But we decided to wait with the tickets till the next day. In the evening, Kurt and Niels went to bed early. I sat in the hotel's restaurant writing my diary and my friend who showed us the place, came and we talked for a while. He sold computers and software and we talked about education systems etc.
It was obvious that we had come to a more Muslim dominated part of Sumatra. The churches are replaced by mosques and many girls wear traditional Islamic clothing. But they are just as friendly as the people in the north.
Day 45: Tuesday 12 March - Bukittingi
Got up at 7am and breakfast at Canyon. We decided to buy the plane tickets next door. We waited with booking the bus tickets for Pekanbaru. It is a science to find the cheapest place. There are two big companies, ANS and PMA; one of them is 2x2 seats, the other 2x3, but if you want A/C busses, both are 2x2 (maybe!) - and then all the different prices, depending on where you book the tickets! (differs from rs4500 to rs7500 (2.50$-4.15$) Mohammed (our guide) picked us up at 8:30am and we took off. Besides us, there were a couple from Singapore; he was a general manager for a shipping company, we discovered. Also an Australian (35 years) and an English couple. The first stops were 'Panoramic Views' and it was very pretty in the mountains with views over the rice fields. We looked closely at cinnamon trees - they looked like normal trees with red top leaves. We then saw a coffee-mill. Water powered. After the beans were stamped, women sieved the coffee. Outside we saw a 10cm (4 inches) long spider. It's web took up 1m2. The village was called Sungai TaRab. Next stop was the King's Palace, from the Minangkabau kingdom - 14. century. It was only a 'copy', but still impressing. Muhammed spend 15 minutes talking about how the throne was passed through the queen's family and not the king's. Rather simple. Nearby we saw some Sanskrit-rocks from the Buddhist period. Lunch in Bt.Sangkar. Then some less interesting traditional houses. We also had time for a swim in the volcano-lake Singkarok. The last stop was in a village where everybody either carved wood or weaved. Some of the weavers spend years on the same dress and they also used gold threads. We went into some of the carpenter shops and in one of them the Australian guy went to the poor woman who sold the furniture: OK, I buy the whole shop, how much? -The woman failed to understand his humor. We saw a large hand carved cupboard with glass and everything - rs300.000 (165$). When we told the man that a similar machine-made one would cost 20-30 times as much in Denmark (5-9 million rupees), he would not believe it.
We were also supposed to have seen a bull-fight in a village - it used to be twice a week, but the Rammadan had just begun and the event canceled. Our 3 Danish friends had told us that it should be very interesting. A fight could last from a few seconds to 30 minutes. Two buffalos are released; then they fight and the looser runs away. The winner stays and a new challenger is released. It was supposed to be very exciting and stalwart. People stand close by and bet on the buffalos and when they 'crash', people hurry away - the looser don't look for anything when it runs away.
Back in town, Kurt and I go for a walk to the market. I wanted to find some cinnamon. We met a young guy who wanted to practice some English and he tried to help finding some. All the places were closed, but he told us it would be no problem tomorrow - it would be market-day tomorrow.
Ate at Canyon (of course). When we counted our money, we found out that we only had rs20.000 (11$) per day for the last week.
Day 46: Wednesday 13 March - Bukittingi
Kurt and I get up 7:30am so we could go to the market. Niels wanted to get some more sleep. We had made plans with the 3 Danes to go together down the Grand Canyon after breakfast.
We did find some cinnamon (powdered, rs1250/ounce (69c)). I had looked up cinnamon in my phrase-book so it was no problem to find. It was really a big market. We looked at some shoes. The price was around rs30.000 (16.60$) for college/laced shoes. A bit more for patent-leather shoes. Then we found a T-shirt place. Puma/Nike/Esprit for rs2500 (1.38$). Bought a couple each. All 6 of us met at Canyon. It was a nice day; cloudy and the temperature was about 26o (79F) - one should think it would be much hotter at the equator. But it was nice expedition weather. Here, you really enjoy that the sun is hidden. The expedition should go to the Grand Canyon - a big canyon close to the town. We met several classes of students (junior/senior-highschool) who also were on expedition (in uniforms). The descent was very stunning. Saw some mega-spiders (at least 15cm (6 inches)). There was a river at the bottom of the valley. The 3 had been here before and they had heard of a place with flying foxes (big bats) which should be in a cleft, somewhere. They kind of knew the direction. We got further directions from an old guy who could speak Dutch and German. Further on in the canyon, we passed a scout camp where perhaps a hundred children were bathing in the river. We found some mega-beetles (7cm/2.8inch.) with a big hook. We made an arena and a beetle-fight. Our 'Champ' could take all of the challengers. When they had had enough beating, they flew away. It looked very stalwart.
Now we had to cross the river, well now it was more like a stream. Kurt wanted to show us that he could cross it without taking off his shoes. After 15 minutes he succeeded - with only one of his shoes wet. Tough luck for him because we were going to cross the stream 20-30 times more. The cleft is a bit difficult to describe. It all looked very splendid, the cliff-sides raised perhaps 50-80m vertically (161-258ft). We could also see small water-falls. In the bottom, the stream twisted in and out. We walked upstream and at one time, we met a couple of young people. We asked for directions and they pointed further upstream. They followed us, but we were capable to find the way on our own, so we decided we would not give them anything, if they wanted money. We had just asked for directions. They said the place was 5 minutes away. It was more like 15 minutes or so. The cleft became more and more narrow; at times, we had to walk in the middle of the stream to get further on. Then we saw a fox fly high above us, making contour against the sky. Impressing. Perhaps 70-80cm (28-32inch.) in wing span. Then we saw tons of them hanging on branches above. Impressing. They had the real Batman-contour. We clapped and yelled and what a sight! 20-30 flew around high above. Impressing! If you ever get around, go and see for your self. One the way back, we met a couple of Germans. They were told in town that it was impossible to find this place without a guide - ridiculous. Just ask for Big Bats. We wanted to go another way back, and we were showed up a vertical mud staircase - it had also started to drizzle. We ended up in a small silvervillage. A nice atmosphere here; we could hear a quiet background music playing, the quiet drizzle, the cozy cottages, a sleeping dog, a couple of chicken and so on.
Our 'guides' asked for money (of course), but they did not seem to be very disappointed not to get anything. The 3 Danes had been in this village to buy silverware a few days before, so they knew the prices. It was a rather small village and every second house had a display case with handmade silverware. We got bananas and a cola for lunch in a small joint. Then we looked in 3 different places for silver chains (every link was 'homemade'). The price for a chain was between rs7-15.000 (3.87-8.30$), depending on how much silver it consisted of and how strong it was.
We only had to walk for about half an hour to get back. Also a pretty trip. We were back around 3pm. It had been a superb trip. After a snack at Canyon, we spend a couple of hours at the market. I bought a nice ring with (almost) a moonstone for rs3500 (1.94$). Niels and Kurt bought more T-shirts. Meanwhile, I bought some cinnamon-bark-sticks. rs200 (11c) for a 40x5cm piece. We were a bit hungry and when some vendors wanted to sell us some mega pancakes with sugar, chocolate and nuts for rs500 (28c), we first split one in 3. It was very good, so Kurt and I split one more. They were called Martapak - try them!
Back at the hotel, drinking coffee. Our Australian friend told us that they showed an American movie at 10pm for rs2000 (1.10$) called Maniac Cop 2. Not difficult to figure out what kind of movie it was - but what. When Niels came back from Canyon, we was in for it too. The theatre was huge - perhaps 60x15m (193x48ft). Braided seats. As mentioned, the Australian had a good sense of humor. At one time, at young man sat next to him and asked if he would mind. Not to begin with. The guy had some questions to ask. When the movie started, he said: Have you noticed that people around in this theatre is sitting very spread - and you know what? We Australians like that too - do you mind moving right one seat ? He was like that. The film was perhaps the worst we had seen for years - but what, we were prepared. The Australian also thought we had had our ration of 'ass and tits' for the next week (not because it was that kind of film, don't misunderstand me).
Day 47: Thursday 14 March - Bukittingi
We had not quite decided what to do today, except seeing the zoo. The entrance fee was rs500 (28c). It had a lot of monkeys, but no snakes, except 4 phytons. A bit disappointing. We saw the kind of monkey we had heard on our trek in the jungle - it barked very loud and had a big throat, but I don't remember it's name. The cages were really sad - we saw a white-bellied Eagle in a 2x2x2m (6.5ft3) cage - horrible. A lot of mothers with their children were here.
On the way back, we passed through the market and ended up buying some Martapaks (the pancakes). Niels wanted to go back for a nap; Kurt and I went for a walk, to see the town.
We had not walked far, before 3 muslim girls wanted to converse with us. We did not mind and had a good talk. The Zoo is on the top of a hill, and the town is kind of shattered around the hill. We went to the big Mosque. It still looked like it was under construction, so we did not enter it. We had a nice walk; it is a pleasant town. I decided to have a haircut too. 'Mona Lisa' was next to the hotel. Glodia, a 17 year (204 months) old girl, gave me first head-massage for 15 minutes (1/4 hour). Then wash, more massage and cut. The last part of the cut was taken care of by the owner. A superb job for rs7000 (3.88$) - it was the first time I've been to a hairdresser for more than an hour!
Niels had gone for a walk, so we proceeded to a park opposite the zoo - Taman Benteng. We were hardly inside the gates before a young guy wanted to sell us tickets to the (small) park. He wanted rs100 (6c). OK, it was cheap - when we hesitated, it was more the principle in paying to get into a park. The 3 Danes HAD told us that everything here would cost us; e.g when they had ascended a volcano, halfway up they had been stopped by a person who wanted to know where they were going. They were on their way to the top. They had to pay for that! Well, we paid too. A class of school children from Padang (further south) surrounded us - Alan and the gang. Alan had some difficulties in remembering that I didn't like being called Sir. Kurt and I had each our crowd, but fortunately their bus came for them. They could also confirm that everybody paid to get into this park - not only tourists. We had thought of trying to have dinner somewhere else than at Canyon. We found a nice place, but they did not have a very big selection (and I wanted a Taco) and it was also more expensive. So after a quick salad, we went back to the only place: Canyon Coffee-shop. Banana Taco - rs1000 (55c), Fried Rice with egg - rs900 (50c), Coconut-milk juice - rs800 (44c). Now we were full (Saya sudah kenyang). Our 3 Danish friends had made a Diploma for the Canyon for the best food in town - so if you pass Bukittingi some day, look for it on the wall!
Later this evening, I went to the conspicuous Clock-tower. It is funny to look our over the town; you don't see many lights - only one in each house.
A Danish family had found Canyon too. To adults and two kids. As you might know, the people from Copenhagen have a very special accent; so we almost died from laughter when one of the children called: 'Adddd - Far, se en stooor Pissemyre!' (Bwrd - Dad, look at this biiig ant).
The weather was a bit strange. The usual 15 minutes late afternoon rain did not come until 6pm. Besides that, it had been a pleasant cloudy day.
Day 48: Friday 15 March - Bukittingi-Pekanbaru
Today would be yet another travel-day. Pekanbaru is placed on the east coast, in the swamp-land where all the oil is. On the way to the bus station in a minibus, we passed the meatmarket and you really lost your appetite for meat for a while. We also had to pay rs50 (3c) in bus station tax!!! Okay, still not a fortune, it is just the principle I'm complaining about. A.N.S fixed 3 seats on the back-row (after moving a couple of people). My backpack was placed on the floor and people kept coming. Remember to come in good time; our bus departed 15 minutes before scheduled! (at 9am). After the first 20-30 people had tramped on my backpack (it hurt me more than my backpack), I took it up and held it in front of me instead. A bit more uncomfortable. Splendid mountain road. We saw smoke from one of the volcanos close by. Wow! We really wanted to climb it and see a real active volcano and smell the sulphur - next time. The driver was just as bad as all other Indonesian drivers. Not a single decent driver is found in this country - they drive like crazy. We had a lunch break at 11:30am - well timed; the driver could change tire meanwhile. We had some boiled corn cobs and watermelon for rs100 (6c) each. Very good. The last hour was in the swamp-land to the east - in one hour we came just as far as we had come in 5 hours of driving in the mountains. We had also passed the equator again; no big globe this time, though.
We arrived at 3:30pm and instantly some people wanted to help us on. He followed us to a guesthouse (Gemini) where we got a room for rs5000 (2.76$). The guy also drove one of the other people who arrived to the boat to P.Batam. The Indonesian handbook states that you only can get to P.Tanjungpinang, but now you can get directly to P.Batam (just south of Singapore) almost every day at 4pm. The price is between rs35-40.000. But we heard some horrible stories of the sail. We heard (second hand) of one time where all of the crew were drunk (and nobody steered for half and hour - one of them committed suicide as well.
A young guy, Jose, wanted to show me some of the town - just a fifteen minutes ride on his motorbike. That was OK with me. What I did not know was that he drove me to a place where Englishlessons were held. It was a funny experience. The teacher came out and prepared me of what would happen. I should just tell a bit of myself and answer some questions from the young people (between 14 and 23 years old). I walked forth and back and answered all their questions they had written in their exercise book. They asked if I was married, had a girlfriend etc. The teacher told me I could just pick one of the girls if I wanted. We all had fun for 20-30 minutes. It is very important for the Indonesian to learn English. This 'school' was full from monday through sunday.
We drove back and watched the news from Malaysia; then we went for a walk to find something to eat. It is very humid here and even when you stand still, the sweat is running from you. We met Jose again and he showed us a place where we could eat. From outside, it looked like the usual joints, but we were showed upstairs, where we sat alone in a big room. Kurt and Niels wanted rice and chicken, but I had noticed they looked 'hot', and I had seen some people downstairs eating something that looked like pancake with meat, vegetables etc. (Pizza ?) It was called Martabar and it tasted great. Kurt and Niels almost lost their taste bud for good - it was REALLY hot.
To other (local) boys we had met at the guesthouse joined us for a walk. One of them invited us to see his fathers pineapple-farm tomorrow. We accepted. We had read books and asked the different people what to see here in Pekanbaru. Everybody agreed: there was nothing to see here. It was just a transit and oil town. They wanted us to taste the famous/notorious durian fruit. It looks like a big green melon with prickles. It is notorious because it has a terrible smell. Signs in hotels and guesthouses forbids people to bring this fruit inside. We did not like the taste though. A lot of vendors sold this fruit on the street.
Day 49: Saturday 16 march - Pekanbaru
Another humid day with 32o (90F). Our pineapple friend did not show up, so at 11am we took a minibus to the market (Pusar Pasat). The driver wanted 500rs/person (28c), but I had seen a woman give him 3 coins - that means max. rs300. I was a bit mad at the driver and gave him, after some discussion, rs1000 (55c) for the 3 of us. It seemed to be OK. We walked around the market for a while but did not find anything special. Well, they had a rococo-pillow for rs7.500 (4.15$) (before haggling). We had a small lobster for rs3.000 (1.66$) and fried rice. We were helped on a bus to the harbour (rs500 for 3). It was very uninteresting and we soon left. A couple of old, worn quays and warehouses. The water was very uninviting - Coca Cola coloured, as our book said. At Gemini, we saw one of the final matches in All-England where also some Danes played.
We were told to go to a kind of amusement-park tonight. There would be live music at 7pm. The place from yesterday was closed, but we found a place next door. An elder Canadian couple entered. Kurt remembered them from Carolina and it turned out to be true. They were also on their way to Singapore. They got around the same ways as us, but spend perhaps a bit more. We met them again in the airport and again at a fastfood restaurant in Singapore! When we got to the amusement-park, we thought we was at the wrong place. Only childish things here and we got more and more convinced. No young people or music either. We had almost reached the exit when we met a boy and a girl whom we had met earlier. They insured us that it was the right and only place and that the music would start at 8pm. He studied Biology and she (her name was Nelli) studied Religion. We talked a lot during the evening and we paid for a couple of photos. They promised to mail a copy to us (we never heard from them though). The music started and it was mostly rock and pop. It was OK. Nelli left at 9:30 and the guy told us about his study and job. He had been on a 3 month assignment to an Indonesian island (where they couldn't understand him) to shoot a 'Badak' - a kind of duck - of which only 30 were alive in the whole world! After 3 months of jungle hunting, he succeeded (so now there is only 29).
On the way back, Niels went to Jose's place to watch the finals in All-England. Happiness in all the homes here; Indonesia won most of the medals.
The next day would be our last on Sumatra and we would come to Singapore - a city that did not belong at all in South East Asia.
We all enjoyed Indonesia very much and we are all looking forward to going there again some day.