Trip Start Mar 10, 2007
153Trip End Jan 01, 2007
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Medan is a bustling, dirty, overcrowded city and it reminded me at first of Cambodia (specifically a poorer Phnom Penh), with the tuk tuks being replaced by Bejacks, a similar thing but they are much smaller, two seats (like a little carriage) made from a steel frame in a ludicrous colour like bright green or red being pulled by a motorbike. The streets are also lined with food vendors selling mainly fried rice, noodles or sate, or variations of these (the staple Indonesian dishes it turns out). The people here are once again not used to the site of foreigners so much, and I'm getting hello-ed left right and centre as i wander down one of the cities busiest streets, though its in a friendly and not at all threatening way. English is spoken much less here and it reminded me of how truly spoilt i have been in Malaysia, so i was grateful for this, a welcome preparation for India.
Wandering around like a clueless round-eye, looking for an ATM and standing out like a sore thumb (not too many 6ft2ish, white, bright blonde haired westerners here), i was approached by two English students who wanted to practice their English and hence were keen to latch onto me and help me, which is never a bad thing when you arrive in a new country reasonably clueless.
The students accompanied me to a warung (roadside food stall come restaurant) where i had some fried rice (still don't like fried rice that much, it always tastes like grease) despite ordering fried noodles, whilst the students expressed their concerns about me taking a night bus to Banda Aceh. The bus station it seems, is not a nice place. Failing to convince me to stay in Medan until the morning, they pointed me in the direction of a local bus to the bus station, a tiny tiny minivan set up like an enclosed saawnthaew (buses in Laos) and overcrowded with far too many people, and said goodbye. Great first people to have met!
Got to the 'bus station' and the kids weren't lying. I was dumped by the driver in a dirty, overcrowded street (no obvious station) filled with shady characters, a ludicrous number of cars and minivans and dirty food stalls. I was new to Indonesia but it doesn't take a genius to work out that in a place like this, whenever you are approached by someone shouting English at you, its gonna be someone looking to make a quick buck. It turns out (well everyone i could ask around here told me this anyway) that the terminal was closed at this time of night, and all buses were taken by flagging them down on this dingy street. It was late at night, i was tired, sweaty, had both my bags, no map, little language skills and was alone in a threatening place, i wasn't gonna start wandering around a threatening area i didn't know looking for a bus terminal so i was inclined to believe the 10 or so people i had asked.
To be honest i was glad for the English speaking people (a language i knew made me feel a little safer, not that i was feeling threatened, but i always get a little edgy at night when i have no prospective place to sleep) and i let them sort out the bus arrangements for me (they were touts for buses, so its what they do, they weren't just randoms). They got me into a minibus for Banda Aceh, which i wouldn't have been able to do for myself (its Idil Fitri, the celebration after Ramadan, and as a result most passing buses were full and weren't stopping for these guys, so definitely wouldn't have for me), took an expected commission in my 'ticket price' and sent me on my way for a uncomfy van ride to Banda (though i did have a row of seats to myself). Three in the morning the minivan stopped, they told me they were going no further and then they piled a very tired and disorientated Ben ( having just nodded off) onto a big bus (yes, legroom!) for the rest of the journey. Wanted to stay awake for the rest of the Aceh bound journey to take in the lush beautiful green mountain scenery stretching as far as the eye could see, but i was too shattered and crashed.