About Richard
The Journey
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Report: #10
Date: Mon, 16 Nov 1998 16:10:53 +0700
Subject: BadDay in Sumatra? 16/11/98
Location: Sumatra

Dear All,

I'm now exploring the highways and tracks of Sumatra, Indonesia. More than 1000Km have spun and bumped beneath my tires and not one puncture has slowed me

What has slowed me has been the magnificent crater-lakes of Maninjau and Toba and a quest to see Orangutans in the north. Yes, I've been going north again.

I came from Singapore by 3 boats to a place called Pekanbaru, arriving at 5 in the dim morning after a chug up a river on a large boat holding 6 layers of tightly packed sleeping people into the Sumatran interior. A similar language to Malaysian greeted me, which made things fairly easy, but there was quite a different diet to get used to, though mostly rice and noodles based. A cold, spicy noodles dish and a super strong coffee zapped my internal workings and I set my wheels along the road towards the other side of Sumatra, just after first light.

That night I didn't find a guest house and had to cadge a table and mattress in a truck-stop cafe, having to bathe at the mosque a short walk along the highway. It was a quiet place barely large enough or collected enough to be called a village. Quiet, except that my sleep was hindered by drivers watching a blaring TV all night airing something like MTV. That and the vicious mosquitoes. But the noise was stopped in time for breakfast.

The road was getting higher, but sometimes dipped low into dense tropical vegetation along river valleys. The flatter bits tended to be more cultivated and the slopes more jungly.

A more touristy mountain resort village with lots of scraggy horses with red pompoms in their foreheads pulling buggies, Bukit Tinggi, offered much better accommodation on the second night and a place to take stock. What to see? Volcanoes galore, Orangutans, Sumatran Tiger perhaps, famed Lake Toba etc. My list was growing with every traveler met. Against the flow of my round the world journey, I had to go north again; this maybe a once in a lifetime chance.

Jungle treks, leaches, fireflies, hot springs, the Equator (which I had crossed without noticing on the way to Bukit Tinggi [yet again! I did the same in Kenya]), "bechaks" (strange Vespa scooters with side-carriages for one person, but usually taking 2 or 3) and the never ceasing greetings "Hello Mister! or "Hello Miss!" awaited me. And I have a sort-of beard now, too! Sumatra is fun; it's on the edge. It has more of the feeling of adventure after relatively easy Thailand and Malaysia.

To save time now, though, I will include here an account of yesterday. I wrote it to an American friend met in Vietnam, and who has recently returned to USA and emailed the "bad news", as she says, that she is now working! Hence the introduction:_

Also, sorry to hear about your bad news. What can I say to console you? Stuff like; It could be worse, or; There'll be another holiday along soon, just perfect for you, etc etc, just sound too insensitive. So I'll just say; It helps to talk to a friend who's working to. And positively plan your escape.

Perhaps I can also assist by telling you what a bad day I had yesterday, not working.

In the morning I climbed a volcano and had to teach English just about all the way up, to an Indonesian lad who latched onto me for that purpose. Fortunately I tired him out by forcing the pace and I had a bit of respite when he was out of breath and lagged behind nearer the summit. There it really stank of sulphur, evident as bright yellow sulphur deposits, and the sound of the steam vents was ear splitting close up, and terrible, like there was a buried steam engine trying to get out. It was very misty, visibility was poor and it started to rain. There was no view to speak of. The lad was then useful for taking photos, but he found it difficult to hold the camera straight. Shouting over the sound of the vents was wearing on my vocal cords. Then I had to run down the mountain, as I wanted to cycle 65Km in the afternoon, and also to keep warm in the now torrential rain. The poor lad just couldn't keep up. I had to run even harder when I met some Indonesian people carrying a friend covered up on a make-shift stretcher. I ascertained that the patient was not dead and then said I would go quickly down to the gate at the bottom of the trail and send help as they were having difficulty, and tiring, carrying him/her. Completely soaked I reached the office/coffee-shop at the gate, and noone was interested in helping at all. I had to shout again to get someone to go and get a vehicle, the police or something and had to draw a picture of the stetchered person. Still when someone came in a small mini-bus, which would really have had to struggle up the road to meet the stretcher party, they were even less inclined to do anything, especially as it was an Indonesian injured (or sick or whatever).

Then the lad arrived back down. "No problem", he said. I said we help people like that in England. Perhaps I shouldn't really have got on my high horse, and of course it's not always the case in England, but I was wet and quite cold after waiting around. The mini bus should have been going to the nearby town, Berastagi where I was staying, and definitely wasn't going up to the rescue, so I hopped on it. When I got off they tried to charge me a huge amount, assuming that I had ordered the bus like a private taxi. That was a misunderstanding that I worked out only afterwards. At the time it just made me angry. I paid the normal bus price and walked off. I'd had to take the minibus because I'd had to wait so long for the people to come and go to that rescue. I wasn't inclined to make further losses.

Wet and cold I had hot passion fruit juice, spaghetti cheese, banana/coconut/lemon pancake and a large sweet-milky coffee for lunch at my guest house. Then, still sopping wet I cycled off into the rain. The ride was a whooping 1200m descent to Medan. But the rain didn't let up and the traffic was quite hazardous, so I was reduced to an average speed of just over 30Km. On arrival, I was even more saturated and with much more dirty water than before and my gear was also drenched. Luckily everything important was in plastic bags. But my bike needs a good cleaning.

Medan is much warmer than Berastagi, so I was no longer uncomfortably cold in my wet gear. And it wasn't too much of a problem to stand waiting 25minutes for the losmen (a kind of hostel/guest house) staff to find a clothes rack for me. My cold shower was not too bracing either.

Cleaner, but not much dryer, I had to rush out, wearing wet clothes as nothing was really dry, to use the Internet for an hour before closing. I didn't think I would be able to use it today as I'm heading out to a place called Bukit Lawang in search of Orangutans. Anyway, that was when I found your message. BIG thanks for brightening up my day. I thought I'd just come in to the email place this morning to say that.

Back to the remains ofyesterday, after the cyber stuff, I went to find some "tafu isi" (veg-stuffed tofu) that I really love, but I was just too late and had to settle for fried rice and some sate (satay), OJ and milk tea. Then back to the guest house, where I'm staying in a dormitory, to do some serious laundry by hand. Don't you just hate that; makes all my veins pop. So much for a night life; By about 11:30pm, I'd finally wrung out my last sock and hung it up along with just about my whole wardrobe in my dorm to dry in the draft of a standing fan reciprocating back and forth and on full to cool the humid night and discourage mosquitoes from landing to feed. I had barely enough energy left to follow an hour's pleasant chat with an amicable Colombian bunking on the opposite side of the dorm. I know he gave some interesting insights into the ins and outs of trying to fit in as a Colombian semi-long-term in this Sumatran city, but I can't recall any. My long-term memory had already clocked off. Shut-eye came the moment my head hit the pillow.

At 4:44am I was awoken by the raucus drone of the call to prayer at the main mosque across the road. But that's today's stimulating beginning.......

As bad as all that may seem, I'm glad I was doing that, not working. And, to be honest, I did enjoy it really. So perhaps you can enjoy work. On second thoughts....

For those of you working, I hope that you're all leading lives which make you not in the least jealous of my itinerant life-style. If not then maybe see you out there.

See you around anyway.

Make Good.
Richard the Itinerant

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