Jungle Highs, AC lows thats the way Indonesia goes
Trip Start Sep 09, 2007
33Trip End Ongoing
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From the 5 minutes of internet time we'd afforded ourselves to do some research (in between checking Facebook and Shotsweb) we'd decided to head for the island of Batam first: it's only a 45-minute ferry ride from Singapore and one website described it as 'the new Bali' - beautiful beaches and a good nightlife and a good time to visit before it gets over-run with pastey Brits in football shirts getting drunk and singing Amarillo (and yes I know what you're thinking - just me doing that would be enough!).
Two thoughts entered our head: let's get drunk tonight; and let's leave first thing tomorrow!
Another (more reliable) website told us that Batam Centre has built up a reputation for prostitution and illegal gambling dens... and presumably nice shower curtains?!
The next morning we headed down to the ferry terminal and took the boat to Dumai in Eastern Sumatra. They put us downstairs in the air-conditioned bit which we weren't too bothered about as we thought we could catch up on some sleep after a night sleeping on a rock-hard bed and a 6am start. Unfortunately the A.C. was broken and was set to 'high' so the place was absolutely freezing - blankets, socks and jumpers were needed! To add to the misery, they turned on the big T.V. screen at the front and decided to play a DVD of Westlife live in concert!?
Before we got to Dumai we were treated to one of the most surreal moments of the trip. They had put on a DVD of the entire back catalogue of some really terrible Indonesian pop singer. This woman pranced around in ridiculous padded bras of all different sizes which took her from Jordan in one scene to Tara Palmer-Tomkinson in the next, miming hopelessly to Casio keyboard backing tracks as the words came up along the bottom of the screen like a karaoke video. All around us, everybody (and I mean everybody - kids, young lads, old women... even the guy with one arm and one leg who got up every half an hour or so and hopped down the aisle to go outside for a fag!) was sat there tapping their feet (or foot in the case of 'The one-armed bandit'!), nodding their heads and singing along to these songs. It all felt like a terrible dream.
In Dumai we had a few hours to kill before our overnight bus to Bukittinggi so we went for some food. A selection of curries, rice and 'meat' was laid out in front of us to try. One in particular took my eye, a curry dish with what looked like pieces of sausage in it. I gave it a try and fought hard not to throw up as the guy running the place looked on, nodding and smiling. I managed to swallow the disgusting spicy mush in my mouth and asked him what exactly it was I'd eaten. His English was sketchy but we were able to work out, after a lot of charades-style animal impressions that I had just eaten buffalo intestines. The worse thing is it tasted like a lot of the 'meat' I'd eaten in India ...
The bus to Bukittinggi again turned out to be air-conditioned (I think they see that we're Western and immediately assume you can't face a hot bus and open windows) and again turned out to be just as dam cold as the ferry. The bus also had the added issue of the air-con vent in the ceiling which was leaking dirty, cold water. At first it was just dripping but as we got further down the road big splashes fell down onto the seat below. It doesn't take a genius to work out which lucky white guy they'd chosen to sit in that seat...
One of the locals on the bus took out his phone to play some music when we'd stopped for some dinner and we wondered what he had in store for us - some of the music on the trains in India was really good, whereas the Sri Lankan bus music still haunts me now, so we took a deep breath and waited. The sound of Phil Collins was both unexpected and unwelcome. Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, we were subjected to 'One More Night'.
We arrived in Bukittinggi while it was still pitch black and the bus dropped us off in what turned out to be the middle of nowhere. We trudged around for a bit, no idea of where we were going or even really where we were (a guy at Dumai ferry terminal had said 'Bukittinggi' to us and we vaguely remember reading something about it) until we found an ATM. It was then that I realized I'd left our bank card back in Batam. So there we were, at 5am in god-knows-where, sheltering in a doorway from the rain as the calls to prayers bellowed out around us arguing about how stupid I was for losing our bank card... ah the joys of traveling!
Luckily, Bukittinggi turned out to be a really nice place, set up in the mountains which meant you had great views all around you and a nice cool temperature while still being sunny. The horse-drawn carts that run through the streets taxi-ing locals around add to the quaintness of this little town, and we ended up staying for quite a few days here (after finding a map and working out where it was!).
We took off on a 2-day trek whilst we were here with a local guy called Jefry who we'd met in one of the cafes in town and this turned out to be an excellent couple of days. The first was spent walking through the rainforest surrounding Bukittinggi and around, over and down some of the mountains which gave us some stunning views of the villages, canyons, rice paddy fields, rivers and volcanoes around us. We walked through wild coffee plants, lemongrass, tiger balm, papayas, bananas, sugar cane, cloves and cinnamon trees as a wide range of butterflies, birds and multi-coloured dragonfly buzzed all around us. At one point we spotted a family of monkeys so we stopped to watch them swinging through the tree-tops above us. We finished up the first day at a homestay set in the side of the mountain overlooking the beautiful Lake Maninjau . The sunset over the lake was something else, and it made pulling the leeches out of our feet when we stopped that much easier to bare! The night ended with a bit of 'Sinatra in Sumatra ' as I introduced the Indonesians to Frank over a few well-earned Bintang's!
The next morning we awoke to the sound of monkeys playing in the trees outside us and the sight of Lake Maninjau in daylight acting as a mirror for the mountains behind. We made our way down the mountainside through the village fish farms and sheets of rice and cloves set out to dry and had a couple of hours of soothing our scratched, bitten and aching legs in the lake. A bus then took us back up the 44 bends (they were all numbered, we didn't sit there and count them all, honest!) of the mountainside and to the top of the canyon where we saw the thousands of flying fox starting to wake up in the early afternoon - an awesome sight.
Just before we left, we were told that the Rafflesia,
Our next port of call was Carlos Beach in Bungus Bay where we checked into a lovely little beach hut in a homestay where we were the only guests. Our first day as spent lounging around on the beach while Charlie made Percy a new shirt from a napkin she'd stolen in Fiji, before we retired to our porch with a few beers to watch the sunset and have a few drunken sing-songs with ourselves!
The last couple of days in Bungus were spent with a really nice Swedish couple Martin and Lena who'd checked in. We drank beer and played cards together, and apparently they think I'm a dead ringer for Russell Crowe!? Can't quite see it myself - Russell Grant maybe...
Our flight to Jakarta saw yet another delay (the fourth in a row!) as we sat around at Padang airport playing Scrabble for four hours - rock n roll!! The four hours were filled with 'stares, musical chairs and bing-bong call to prayers': the stares as once again we were made to feel famous, with staring, waves and photo-taking; the musical chairs as the Indonesian people just cannot sit still and were constantly changing seats - if someone stayed in the same seat for more than five minutes they'd probably call in security to check they weren't dead!; and bing-bong call to prayers as these would be played out over the airport tannoy (sorry, speaker system) - you'd hear the chimes expecting to be told some news on your flight and instead you'd get some guy wailing like he'd burnt his hand on a hot kettle!
We arrived in Jakarta and checked into a hostel whose rooms doubled up as prison cells and where to go in/out you walk through the owners' front room while they're all sat glued to the TV. Charlie hasn't washed her hair for nearly a week (despite 2 days' trekking, swimming in a lake and the sea and all the dust and dirt from traveling on the Indonesian roads) and her arms and legs are like a dot-to-dot puzzle from all the bites she's got... she's not looking her best right now!!