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Indonesia-Report I

To the other Reports of Indonesia: Entry  Part II  Part III

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Sumatra, 17th Oct. 2006

Hi Folks,


Sorry it has been so long but I have been wading through a series of rather trying events but am now recovering in Bukittingi, an old Dutch settlement in Western Sumatra.

I see my last report was in KL. Well, I finally finished the flat, had yet another new back tyre fitted as the Thai one was on its way out after only 7,000kms. While at the bike shop I met an Italian overlander, Gianato, who had managed to get into China and was travelling without a carnet. Was good with the chat, I think to get this far.

Out of KL at last and on the way to Melaka via an old Portuguese fort. Melaka was charming, another Gibraltar with all its history of different owners and importance as a shipping lane. I had to buy yet another camera here as my new Canon had jammed solid after only 7 weeks use. What is it with me and cameras? I also had to get another battery for the bike as the one I bought only a few weeks ago in Ipoh was not holding a charge. I wanted to be sure that nothing was going to go wrong in Indonesia.(!)

After a final night on the town I went to the ferry port where they manhandled the bike through the passenger door and squeezed it in amongst the passengers. The trip was only 2 hours but very rough and I was having to lie horizontal and keep my mouth tight shut.

My arrival at Dumai began another saga. I passed through immigration ok with my visa but was escorted to the customs house, told to wait (so I took out the fiddle) and was then told they would not stamp the carnet as I had to go to the police. Oh, oh, I knew this meant trouble as another overlander had been stuck here. What could I do? I had to follow and ride into the lions mouth. Sure enough the police insisted that I could not ride without special permission from Jakarta. How can I get it? You should have got it before you came, the ferry people should not have let you on the boat etc, etc. Yes but I am here now, please help me. What can I do?

After two hours of talking they said they might be able to contact the main police office in Pakenburu , a town 200kms away, but not till Monday (it was Saturday) so I must leave the bike there and come back then.

Luckily I was able to spend the weekend with an English teacher and gave several lessons to his students in return for food and a bed. However, I was very worried. If I could not talk the police into giving permission I would have to go back to Malaysia and all the visa etc would be wasted. Should I offer them money , as all the Indonesians seemed to think? I've never tried to bribe anyone before, especially not a policeman. Should I try and ride away at night if they weren't looking?

Early Monday morning I went to the station and finally got them to write a letter for me to take to the headquarters. I did offer them money but they laughed. I jumped on a bus, which took 5 hours , crawled into a hotel and spent another sleepless night. Funnily enough there was an article in the local paper about me being caught by the police so I was quite well known in Pakenburu already!

Next day I found the right man, who was very helpful and gave me permission after photocopying all my papers to send to Jakarta. Back on the bus and at the police station first thing the next morning. It still took a couple of hours to sort things out but I was on the bike and outta there!

I should add that Dumai is stinking hot, very polluted with all the smoke from their slash and burn policy and industry and has some pretty viscous mozzies. Thanking Mr Muchsin and his family profusely for his hospitality I made a bee line north battling bad roads and oil palm trucks to get to the much cleaner air near Lake Toba, a huge crater lake which is now a tourist area.

Here I was in my element as the local tribe of Matak people are musicians and almost everyone plays guitar. There were 3 in the guest house I stayed in so we had a musical evening and I swapped my CD for the owners tape.

While there I also sampled the fish from the lake with some of the local boat men, went for a walk to the palm wine supplier and supped too much whilst being told the legend of the lake. Stopping off to view a wedding on the way back I had to visit the loo rather hastily to regurgitate. Saved me from a terrible hangover, I think.

I took the ferry over to Tuk Tuk, the tourist resort on Samosir an "island" in the middle of the lake, and had a couple of happy days by the lake shore and a short bike ride around. If I didn't have such little time I would like to stay at these lovely places longer. The weather was just right, blue skies and warm in the day but cool at night as it is a much higher elevation than Dumai. I had a little Batak traditional house which is made of wood and has a curved roof, rising at either end. A small door that you have to stoop to enter and plenty of beams to knock your head on. It was great!

With plenty more to see in North Sumatra I had to move on and sadly bid farewell to the Guest house staff, who had taught me a song (and I taught them the Brown jug Polka) and made my way westward to exit the Samosir "island" by its land connection, followed the rough road up and up to the rim of the old volcano basin and then took a north turn to Berastagi yet higher and close to two still mildly active volcanos.

The next day leaving my bike at the guest house I started the walk to the summit of the smaller one, Gunung Sibayak. I had been warned that I could get lost if the weather changed, there were bandits who could rob me and that I really should not go alone as lots of people had died when they did so. So, I left early before the clouds were likely to roll in, I locked my money belt in the bike, and I took my cheap Kodak camera. Ready for a fight I actually had a very pleasant walk seeing nobody and came back down the mountain to bathe in a much appreciated hot spring before finding another jungle path back to the guest house. The volcano had a dry, flat crater but lots of sulphur spurts on its edge reminding one of its power. Good views of the surrounding area and of the other volcano, Sinabung, in the distance.

From there it was on to Bukit Lawang, 150 kms north in the jungle. There is an attempt to save the diminishing number of Orang Utans and they are given a supplement of a few bananas a day but not enough to make them dependent and put them off looking for their own food in the bush. Unfortunately the cost of guided walks in this National Park are too high for my budget so I just went to the feeding areas and found a bat cave in company with a nice young Czech man who was touring by bicycle.

The road out to this jungle resort is bloody awful with broken tarmac and lots of water filled potholes. Both Marek and I were seduced by the information that there was a shortcut back to Berastagi which bypassed the heavy traffic of the trucks through the city of Medan we both passed on entry. Independently we set off the next morning to find this way. After 30 odd kms of bad road,(but less traffic and through pretty villages) I came to a section that I could not negotiate so turned back and met Marek on his way up. With his pushbike he could get through but I went back adding several kms and hours to the ride and , whilst in the town had to stop because of torrential rain. Got to the GH late and exhausted but poor Marek had an even worse time, he told me when he finally arrived. Neither of us will take advise about shortcuts again.

I pushed on to see how far I could get the next day, again getting soaked and tipped off my bike by an impatient truck. I screamed at him and his co driver had to come out in the rain and pick a very irate Linda and her bike up. When I got to the port town where I intended to stay the GH recommended in the Lonely planet wouldn't even give me the time of day. Said they were full and anyway had nowhere for my bike. Very unfriendly but a man standing nearby invited me to spend the night with his family so I fell asleep almost immediately on his floor, the bike in the same room and they woke me up to give me dinner. Very kind to a soggy, exhausted lady.

And so further on to Bukittingi. The road here has been very pretty but the bends make it tiring. Stopping to take photos is now a problem as I am back in the hazy area again and nothing comes out clear. The villages are very poor with wooden houses with thatched or rusty tin roofs. The people live in the streets, like India, clothes are out to dry spread on bushes and posts, chickens, goats and children are running everywhere and I have to ride very carefully negotiating potholes as well as the livestock and trucks. There is an interesting mix of Christian churches and Islamic mosques and of course, it is Ramadan so hard to get anything but biscuits during the day. Most people have been friendly, though, and a guitar is never far so I have been singing them my one verse Indonesian song.

Now I have to try and find out if the border between East Timor and West Timor is open and try and make plans to how far I can get on the bike. At present it looks like I may have to leave the bike in Bali, fly back to KL and then come back in to get another visa to complete the ride down to Timor. It is all very complicated and, I fear, expensive. However, I try not to worry too much. At least I have finally found an internet connection that works!

Sorry if this is a bit long. Thanks to the people on the way, it has been tough at times but I am still smiling!

Love Linda

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