Sunday, July 13, 2008

To Indonesia

Wow Medan, Wow Indonesia.

I had sussed out that if you avoided the taxis in the airport and walked out the gate the transport was half the price, yeah ok, but try finding the gate with 20 or so uniformed taxistas trying to attract your friendship. We did it though, a small victory, a motorised rickshaw to the centre of town for 15,000 rupiah, or approximately $2.50. Penny and I and all our gear managed to weigh the little vehicle down so much that our first experience of Medan traffic was a breeze as we got barely above running pace. No photos unfortunately but here's one of Penny and Elo on the rickshaw getting out of Medan.

That was the last of our little victories for the day. Dropped off in the town centre with no language skills and no ideas our first task was to cross the road. A continuous stream of traffic ranging from bicycle rickshaws to motorised rickshaws to crapped out minibusses to the ubiqutous dark SUV's with tinted windows was peppered with racing super scooters. Two white people with big packs conspicuous on the side of the road, “where you going mister, I take you there” Haha as if we knew!! Beaten we spied that travellers haven, McDonalds, and retreated to make a plan and learn a few words of Bahasa Indonesian.

Judging by our map there were a few hotels just up the road, and armed with a few words like thank you “terima kasih”, berapa “how much” and hebat “great” we set off with some trepidation. The staff at hotel sumatera spoke no english to speak of but given the context managed to work out we wanted a room, the only available been a twin deluxe and an economy the latter no doubt proposed to shock us into taking the deluxe. Imagine their confusion when we booked both as Elo was flying in that evening!

Since it was still only 9.30 in the morning we had to build up the courage to venture back into crazy land We aimed for the tourist information centre a couple of blocks away and eventually found its abandoned shell with a few grimy posters in front of the counter and a wrecked room with the plumbing exposed behind. Ok, we can live with that. We decided to keep wandering and quickly got ourselves lost, or at least geographically challenged by the filthy river grotting its way between the ramshackle homes. The citizens of Fendalton might not be quite so pleased with their riverfront aspects if we turned the Avon into the cesspit witnessed here.

Eventually we found our way to the Sultans Palace which has very little to commend it except that the giant chandiliers use eco-bulbs. Tired and hot we tried to buy some smoothies but totally blew it. We didn't ensure clean water was used, and not knowing either way probably insulted the lady many times trying to find out, to add insult to injury we didn't have any small change to pay..... Beaten again we retreated to the hotel. Our afternoon hibernation broken only by my brief shopping expedition during which I managed to find a nice peaceful supermarket to find some easy food.

Our wills broken we resorted to hotel taxi to get to the airport to pick Elo up. Medan International Airport is something else. A terminal for a city of 2 million people that doesn't have an arrivals board or really a terminal, at least not for those waiting who are left to the merciless pursuit of the taxistas (thats just what I call them, the indonesian equivalent of mafiaso's.) We escaped this time to our first nasi goreng, a reassuringly familiar menu item. Eventually Elo did miraculously appear and we usshered her away from the insistent hordes to the waiting taxi and hotel.

Next morning we rushed out of the hotel and subjected ourselves to the plans of a rickshaw driver to get us to the village of Berastagi on the Karo highlands. His plan involved a scenic cruise to a mysterious taxi stand and a bit of a wait and noodles before what was one of the most amazing little car rides i've been on. From the steaming human infested plains of Medan we wound our way up onto a high plateau, the changes in lifestyle dictated by altitude was fascinating. Here are my thoughts recorded from ym journal, I gave up trying to take photos, as they seldom look good from a car.

“humans are a plague, humanity is a solution...humans fight to occupy every available niche at the fringes of their society, we are predators and parasites and herbivores and viruses”

“the kids came to our window, braving the traffic and sang us a tune, they weren't old enough to go to school yet, it is tempting not to look, we gave them cookies”

“the boy lay on the side of the busy road, covered in filth. He lay in a ditch, an indonesian ditch, his genitals exposed to the world”

“what did the rick little Indonesian boy sitting on his fathers lap think when he saw the boy on the side of the road?”

“dogs in sacks in a pile on a trailer”

“one big massive fat lady in a double rickshaw chases pigs in a basket on the back of a bicycle”

“we're going (through) bananas”

“pungas for sale”

“into the jungle, durians for sale, flying foxes in cages, people swimming in the river”

“everywhere you see the importance these people place on the importance of cleanliness in themselves and their possessions...”

“and then into the lattitude of the basket weavers”

“Green Hill City, themepark and Mikies Funland”

“drag race with a pluttering truck up through a hamlet with a burdened bus bearing down on us”

“people spend a lot of quality time with their friends here”.

We alighted in Berastagi, enjoying the cooler air at altitude (about 1200 I think) and spotted a tourist information centre, where they spoke English! It made it so easy, we booked a volcano tour for the next day

(ok running out of time now chocolate pancakes await. We climbed both the volcanoes around Berastagi, Sibayak and Sin???, now we are about to head off towards Ketambe in Gunung Leuser, a 6 hour ride in local transport we plan to see the jungle, orangutans, Sumatran Rhinoceros etc, although will haveto be on our toes to sight the latter. May not be on internet again for a while, but will try and upload photos etc when possible. J)

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