Bumpy, bugger of a bus ride!

Trip Start Apr 10, 2005
Trip End Dec 09, 2006

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Sunday, October 1, 2006

It didn't take long to decide we wanted to get the 'flock' out of Medan, our evenings entertainment with Herman 'the rip off merchant' had been enough. Although still knackered from our grueling journey to Indonesia, the prospect of spending anymore time in chaotic Medan was worse then jumping back on another bus. Sometimes you just can't worry about sleep when you're travelling, or lack of it, you just have to get on with it. Even getting breakfast in the morning was a stressful task. Imagine trying to dodge traffic while you're half asleep, with people shouting at you from all directions when all you want is food arghhhh. We didn't get very far before deciding a packet of biscuits from a street stall would have to do, desperate times!

Our next stop is to be the North Sumatran jungle, where we'll trek with a guide to (hopefully) track down wild orangutans. We realised we'd probably paid way over the odds for this trip when our guide, Yan, ushered us on to the local bus, not the air-conditioned tourist bus we had been sold. At least, we thought, it would be an experience. And, it was certainly that, for 8 hours (we were told it was going to be 5) we were squashed, with absolutely no leg room in a mini van (the local bus), boiling hot from practically sitting on the engine, passively smoking god knows how many fags, with a kid vomiting most of the way behind us!! The things we put ourselves through, this jungle trek better be worth it!

I don't think you can really get anywhere quickly in Sumatra, the roads are shocking, worse then Cambodian we thought, there were pot holes and bumps everywhere, so most of the journey was spent slowing down and weaving in and out of them. On normal roads it probably would have taken us half the time. It was impossible to sleep, although the locals some how managed it and we spent most of the time waffling away about funny things that have happened, we've seen or done in the past - laughing some how eased the pain.

Lucky for us we got a food stop, apparently this is the driver's choice and if he doesn't want to eat then neither do you. We couldn't wait to get out of the van, although it took a while to get the use of our legs back. Instead of being given a menu, a selection of small bowls of food were put in front of us, some with rice, meat, fish, vegetables, it all looked pretty edible but we weren't sure we wanted to eat the whole lot. Yan explained that you pay for what you eat, not a bad idea, it's just a shame it was cold! Not that we complained, there is seriously only so many bourbon biscuits you can eat in one day. Matt got stuck in with his hands, like the locals but I didn't fancy getting rice squashed under my fingernails. Our first real taste of some Indonesian food, we're undecided on whether we like it or not yet.

It certainly wasn't a boring journey, we travelled through countless small villages catching what we felt was a glimpse in to the Sumatran life; people eating and socialising by the road side, shopping at the busy markets, workers in the rice fields, men riding buffalo and carts, big piles of rubbish burning in the middle of the street and no matter how small or basic a house or hut they would have a huge satellite dish attached! Even in the remoteness of Northern Sumatra we still managed to spot a Manchester Utd top!!

We had to change buses for the last hour of the journey, this meant hanging around in a small town until someone passed that was going the same way, this was a little less daunting knowing we had Yan with us, otherwise we didn't have a clue where we were. As we stood waiting, it was hard not to feel all the eyes on us, it felt like everyone was staring in our direction. As people passed they were literally gawping at us, open mouthed - we're not that special honestly. We're guessing they don't come in contact with white folk very often, especially an extremely tall woman (I am a giant compared to Asian chicks) and a red haired guy. We would have loved to have known what was going on in their minds.

We finally arrived in Ketambe absolutely exhausted and totally put of road travel in Sumatra, not that we really have much choice. We stayed in a lovely little guesthouse, with a room backing on to the jungle, it was certainly nice to fill our lungs with some fresh air after smoggy Medan and all the cigarettes we had involuntarily breathed in. We weren't surprised to learn we were the only tourist here, tourism in Sumatra and Indonesia as a whole as slumped dramatically. So much has happened in recent years, such as the tsunami (or big water as they call it), earthquakes, violent conflicts and bombings (Bali), it's not surprising people are put off, admittedly we were at first. Had we not been with a guide I don't expect we would have ventured this far, as in recent years the Aceh region has seen terrible fighting between rebels and the government, in fact you are warned not to go here in the Lonely Planet.

Something that sadden us when we found out, although this is not gospel only what Yan told us, Aceh only apparently received about 10% of the aid money raised for the tsunami, so the buckets of change we were filling up overseas were actually lining the governments pockets - corruption at it's finest. Aceh still hasn't recovered. Yan seemed very knowledgeable and gave us a good insight in to a country we knew very little about, one of the main reasons we came travelling I guess. In exchange we told him things about England, although the difference being he will never get to go there.
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