Saturday, April 7, 2007


I had kinda of a vague idea of the route I’d take this trip. Figured Hawaii to Sydney to Bali across Java up Sumatra to Singapore and through Malaysia and Thailand to Bangkok. Nothing concrete, no dates and no tickets. If I like a place I can stay for a while and if I meet someone cool I can tag along with them. Just going with the flow and seeing what happens, that’s how I like to travel. Some folks plan everything out, reservations and to do lists and schedules to keep. Striving to meet self-imposed deadlines seems like a stressful way to spend a vacation to me though.

All I knew about Sumatra was volcanoes and orangutans. I wanted to see Krakatau and ride on a bus for a long time. And see an orangutan. Those were my only requirements. Krakatau costs a lot though. About half a week’s budget just for the admission fee. And its far from stuff. I’d take 2-3 days. And I only had a little over a week left on my non-extendable visa. So Krakatau’s out. Figured I’d spend a few extra rupiahs and fly from Jakarta to Padang to maximize my remaining few days in Indonesia. ‘Cept that didn’t work out. So I got my first long ride on a bus.

Must’ve slept through the Padang stop, but I got off at the next town. After 38 hours on a bus, I wanted to stretch my legs a little so I did some sightseeing. The one cool thing was closed ‘cause of damage from the earthquake the week before, so I went to the old fort/zoo. I like zoos and met some kids there. Only one spoke English, but no lingua franca was necessary to appreciate pythons eating birds. After the zoo we all went to eat some Padang food. Pading food means put a whole bunch of bowls full of stuff on your table and you grab what you want and shovel it and some rice into your mouth. With your hand. Your right hand though, ‘cause you wipe your butt with your left. Eating Padang food is fun. Not as much fun as pythons eating birds, but still. Had figured I’d spend the night in town and head to volcanic crater lake the next day, but the guy who spoke English was going to visit his parents and my volcanic crater lake was on his bus route. So I hopped on his minibus and a few hours later checked into a lakeside bungalow. One of the most beautiful sunsets I’d ever seen.

The next morning after strolling through rice paddies and electricityless huts in the jungle, I was stopped by a guy teaching an English class by the lake. He was an outdoors type who taught the kids the English names for all the local plants and animals. Sometimes he would take his class on hikes and clean up the trash people left behind. I was a most welcome guest speaker, and the kids had a blast asking me questions. That afternoon I met up with the teacher, and to show his appreciation for helping him out, he took me up to a waterfall in the jungle. Then we hung out at his parents’ elctricityless hut, drank some tea, and ate the nastiest bananas I’d ever had. They weren’t sweet at all, tasted more like potato or yucca or something. The next day I headed out to the other famous crater lake.

Within 16 hours (a blink of an eye in Sumatran bus time) I was checking into my Batak cottage. This lake was huge. Huge. So big it has an island in it. An island the size of Singapore. A country sized island inside a lake in a volcanic crater. Sumatra is awesome. Hung out there for a few days until the urge to spend another dozen hours on buses careening over potholed mountain roads became too much to bare. Orangutans at the orangutan rehabilitation center, and then on to the big city where I was supposed to catch a boat for Malaysia. Turns out all the cool stuff in Sumatra is way way way north of where you’d catch a boat to Singapore.

Arrived in town and started to shop for a hotel. I never paid more than $3.50 a night, but these places were asking 5 bucks. The audacity! I was hot and had been riding buses all day so I headed to an air conditioned shopping mall to cool off. Met some college kids who wanted to practice their English. Last time that happened, I had a pair of Beijing tour guides for a week. This time I scored free room and board for 3 days. The last night was the 30th anniversary of my host parents. We all sat on the floor and ate with our hands. After dinner we had a Cosby family moment with their 2 daughters and 4 sons each giving a little speech about how much they loved their parents and how appreciative they were to be a part of the family. Least that’s what I thought they were saying. That was the gist of my speech and it was well received.

Wound up overstaying my visa a little and even using my best tricks was unable to convince the immigration guys that it really was only 30 days. I had few of ‘em going for a while, but eventually they got out a calendar and counted the days. Had to pay a healthy fee, but no regrets. ‘Cept maybe for losing 430 pictures. That kinda sucked. Oh well, y’all don’t get any accompanying photographs until Malaysia is all.


Clements said...


Ian said...

Alright, alright, calm down. Not everyone lives in the nation with the highest broadband internet World of Warcraft 24 hour chain smoking PC bang nerds my friend. And lets keep the profanity restricted to the myspace.

Jess Lynd said...

now that you've admitted your afraid of monsters, gotten to know your softer side by way of beautiful sunset and done an act of global community service by hanging out in a classroom with kids while on your "vacation", i've decided its time to add you to the pristine blogroll of bus54. now we're linked F O R E V E R....