Deeper levels of patience

Trip Start Sep 06, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Saturday, October 28, 2006

I feel sleep hovering over me and two dueling hostel musicians are in the background singing and playing available instruments. The night is warm and the mosquitos are out in full battle regalia. I am toasty on the inside from a couple of glasses of wine nuanced with a plate of cheese. The evening is coming to a close and the long journey from Indonesia is behind me.

After spending several days in Bukittinggi with only a handful of restaurants and shops open we pressed further west to Danau Maninjou. The bus ride was only 2 hours but we were crammed into our seats as before. The public transport available in Indonesia is described as a nightmare in hell at best. Riding a bus includes stops every several feet to pick up more passengers while teenage boys clammer on the outside of the bus including the roof and out the doors. Musicians with guitars get on at every other stop playing the same songs for money while they push and squeeze through the sardine packed aisles. My knees are so severely crammed against the seat in front that it feels as though my hip joint is rotating out of alignment. Likewise, Monika is pressed tightly against giving me the impression that our arms are going to fuse at the shoulder. Standing passengers hover over us like gnats and every 5 minutes I am convinced that our backpacks thrown haphazardly on the roof have tumbled off into the ravine below. The bus turns, pivots, and strains to keep on the road. The plunge into the hazy void below is constantly on my mind as we pass other cars and buses at mach speeds along 1.5 lane roads. We are now along the old crater of Danau Maninjou which over time has filled with water creating a giant lake. The slopes are steep and the hairpins dangerously frightening as monkeys gape and stare at the passing bus with arms, legs, and heads jutting out of windows and doors.

Finally we reach the towns along the bottom edge of this poke marked landmark along the Ring of Fire. The cars and buses mix with wandering animals and brave pedestrians weaving between speeding vehicles. Once we spot our guesthouse along the lake we are aided by some locals to stop the bus and allow us to disembark. If it wasn't for the friendly and helpful Indonesians which seem to be constantly hovering around us like guardian angels we would be lost and forlorn. As we sling our packs over our backs and trudge through the rice field path separating us from the road and our temporary home, the sun is glowing a fierce orange as it sets.

The days at Danau Maninjou are spent reading, strolling along deadly traffic filled streets, and generally taking it slow. The days are hot along the equator and the nights are filled with sounds of chirping geckos and lapping waves. The kampung (local village) food is satisfying and remarkably satisfying as I eat it with my hands. Chilies mix with the white rice which is plated along with friend baby fish, greens (never seen the vegetable before), red curry, and tiny shelled freshwater clams. I dig in with my fingers only taking a pause to sip the cold water before me, and finish with a rinse in a finger bowl provided.

The time spent is Indonesia has been too short as too much of it is devoted to endless boat, car, and ferry rides. After 2 days in Danau Maninjou, Monika and I have to head back to Bukittinggi to catch another bus to Dumai in eastern Sumatra from which we catch a ferry to Melaka in Malaysia. After standing the two hours on the public bus from Maninjou to Bukittingi, we are already becoming exhausted. After a 6 hour wait in Bukittinggi enjoying some last bites of Indonesian food washed down we rich tea, we head over to the travel agency from which we are supposed to be picked up and taken to Dumai. An hour passes and Monika and I are making alternate plans on how we are going to make our visa deadline to leave Indonesia when the travel van arrives to pick us up. After a transfer to another van, and a half hour wait longer, we are off. The driver, however, makes at least 5 or 6 stops in town potentially to visit friends or make none de script deliveries. Two hours later we finally manage to establish a travel style pace that is quickly interrupted with yet another stop.

As the night rolls on the stops continue which include helping another driver change a tire while at least 10 other people look on, stopping to chat with someone every half hour, and a continuous list of unmentionable time consuming ventures on part of the driver. At one point I wake up (this is a night bus) to find us stopped with the driver soundly dozing in the front seat legs hoisted over the dashboard. Another van driver pulls up and after honking, flashing lights, and yelling he gets out and shakes our driver awake. This happens yet again several hours later without the help of another driver to wake up our driver. As Monika and I stare at this in disbelief beginning to doubt our planned ferry departure from Indonesia, everyone else just takes this as quite acceptable and apparently unsolvable. Monika, however, becomes agitated and wakes up the driver who almost immediately breaks the sound barrier while weaving between oil laden trucks and passenger buses. As the dawn is breaking the bus finally gives up and the gears call it quits. At this point we are only able to shift between first and second gear and arrive at Dumai one and half hours later going 20 kilometers per hour.

While at the travel terminal at which we arrive we manage to negotiate a ride to the port to book our ferry ticket. Since this would seem an easy task anywhere else, let me clarify the details. While being asked to calm down in poor English by the other drivers when we are talking calmly and slowly (honestly at this point nothing fazes us, they try to convince us to give up our passports. This is in an attempt to get the tickets for us and charge us with an extra surcharge. After much "hanging" out smoking cigarettes and chatting with them, I manage to convince them to take us to the port. As they are asking for money, I purposely evade the question while we load our bags into the back of the van. They finally drive us and after purchasing tickets for the ferry ourselves, I explain to them calmly of course that we were told that this was included in the price of our ticket to the port from Bukittinggi. They finally give up and leave us to spend our last 15000 rupiah ($1.50) on breakfast and tea.

Upon arriving in Melaka we are relieved to have the ordeal behind us. Malaysia is such a relaxed and inviting destination. As we were coming back from dinner of vegetable, tofu, and noodle soup, I managed to catch a glimpse of an apartment complex with flats up for sale or rent. I briefly considered the location next to a Chinese Buddhist temple and actually imagined myself here grocery shopping and having friends over for dinner. This thought was stored meticulously in the back of my mind as I prepare to leave for India in several days.

Thanks for reading!
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rikki on

bad boy
stop smoking. (at least until you get to india. they have great cigarettes here.)

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