Sunday, October 11, 2009

Indonesia- Day 1 - Travel to Lake Toba

So, I put a glimpse of this day on my facebook status, but here is a much longer version, and the second half of the day which I didn’t write about in my status!

October 9th, I woke up around 3:45am. I was in the van with a few other folks from the conference in Malaysia, and rode about 2 hours to Kuala Lumpur airport. I had about 3 hours before my flight took off. Funny enough, in spite of being there really early, I almost missed my flight, as I was catching up on emails and didn’t notice people boarding my flight!

Anyway, I got on and sat next to two ladies from France who were with a group travelling to see various parts of Indonesia. When they found out I had only an idea, but no firm plan of what I was doing, they tried to translate their Lonely Planet guide book from French to English for me. I tried to reassure them I was quite confident that no matter what, I’d be okay!
(Picture- My Indonesian bus-seat-mate observing the beauty of Lake Toba!)

Then I began calculating a few prices from Indonesian Rupee to USD, just so I’d have a frame of reference over the next few days. Turns out, you can pretty much just divide the amount by 10,000 to get the USD equivalent. Anyway, a man across the aisle saw me and asked where I was from, and where I was going. As my time in India has taught me, I was cautious and vague at first. He gave me bus terminal information and asked his friend sitting next to him for more information. His friend agreed to help me when we landed.

After landing, we walked down the stairs from the plane and all went into the airport, which may be the smallest international airport I’ve been to. I stood in the immigration line, and another younger man in line began to ask me if it was my first time in Indonesia and if I was alone. Again, I was not exactly polite initially, and explained that my friends were waiting for me, which was true, until a few days ago, but I didn’t tell him that! :) As we stood there, I looked around and saw a “visa on arrival” booth and realized I should be in that line. The young guy said I might not need it, and he asked the immigration officer for me. Turned out, I did need it. So, I went over there, and paid $10.00 for my 7 day visa. Then I waited again in the immigration line (neither lines were too long).
By this time, there was no sign of the man who I had met on the plane who said he was going to help me. I figured he had gone through the immigration line already, and probably had gone on his way. But when I came through the immigration line, he was there with his taxi driver waiting for me.

So, keeping my passport and cash close to me, I got into a taxi him. It was daylight and there were 100’s of people around, and the door handle was within a few inches, so I really wasn’t worried. I asked about an ATM, and we found one quickly. Then we went on some back roads to avoid traffic (but again, never without several people near the road, or in the yards nearby– I wonder, can one ever really be alone in Asia?).
(Picture- Part of the restaurant)
Eventually, we came to a busy stretch of road with tons of busses and vans, all going to various places in Indonesia. We came to one bus service, got out, and found out that a bus was leaving in about 1.5 hours for Parapat/Lake Toba. I looked at the kind man who had helped me thus far and debated for 3 seconds if I should ask him if there was a bus leaving earlier, or just accept this bus and wait. I decided to ask if he knew of a bus leaving any sooner.

He then directed the taxi driver to go to his home. I started to think, ‘Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into.’ Within 2 minutes, we were in the yard belonging to this man and his father. The taxi driver put my bag from his taxi into the man’s car and left. I really had no idea what was happening at this point.
I got into the man’s car, said hello to his father who had come out of the house to see the foreigner. The man pulled out of the yard, started driving down the road and said, “I am a Muslim.” Being in a country that is 90% Muslim, I wasn’t surprised. But still, I blinked a few times and wondered, Ok, how am I supposed to respond to that? I didn’t say anything at first, but eventually asked him about his family, and his hometown. We drove back out onto the main road, and stopped at another bus service. They weren’t going to the town I wanted to go to. We kept driving. Pretty soon we were behind a bus, and the Muslim man asked me some questions about the exact town I was going to. I didn’t really know, but must have answered satisfactorily, because he then flagged down the bus, and within 3 seconds, 3 guys had jumped out, one grabbed my bag, one asked the man where I was going, and the other grabbed my hand and pulled me onto the already moving bus! I called out to the Muslim man, “Thank you very much!!”

Later when I reflected on that whole experience, I realized that my experience getting from the airport to the bus, was not only just helpful, but actually it was quite convicting. Here was a man who was not ashamed of what he believed, and he was more than willing to go out of his way to help a stranger without anything in return. Two points that I can learn from.

Back on the bus….I sat down on the colorful, but worn-down, dust-stained, thinly padded metal bus seat. I sat down next to an Indonesian girl who was sending and receiving text messages most of the trip, but stopped to say, “You’re beautiful” about halfway there.
(Picture- Chiska, the sister of the restaurant owner - we're in the kitchen!)

The benches on the bus were very close together, barely enough room to actually sit straight, and not have to keep your legs to the side. You could tell the row I was sitting in had the shape of three seats, but only three very very small people could actually fit there. I figured no one else would sit there. Haha…had I forgotten I was in Asia? About half way to my destination, as I was sleeping sitting up, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see a man with a look like, “Move over.” I glanced around and the bus was completely full already…I looked at the girl next to me and she then looked out the window. A few other passengers were starting to look at me, and I could read their minds, “What is the foreigner going to do, how is she going ot handle this situation…?” I picked up my backpack, and scooted over next to the girl. Amazingly, we all three fit.

It was pretty tight…I was connected to my seat mates, from my shoulders all the way down to my pinky toe. There actually wasn’t enough room for all of us to sit with our backs to the seat at the same time. So, I leaned forward a bit to allow for more room for the other two, and to keep my shoulder bones from being squashed.

Before too long, the man as well as a few others on the bus began to smoke.


In spite of the “No Smoking” sign posted at the front of the bus.

I had to smile at the situation I was in. Here I was in the middle of who knows where on the island of Sumatera Indonesia, in the middle of two people who I couldn’t communicate with, and who probably were feeling a little weird sitting next to me, and there is cigarette smoke all around me, a bit of sweat dripping down my back, and more unidentifiable smells than you can imagine.

How do I end up in these situations!?

Anyway, after living and travelling in India for 2 years, this Indonesian bus experience (which costs me $2.00 to travel about 5 hours!) really didn’t seem too bad.

Anyway, a little further down the road, the bus stopped for a few minutes, and about 20 locals from young to old jumped on to sell water, fruit, and homemade cakes – in a dirty cardboard box. I did purchase a bottle of water, but had to keep looking away in order for the cake sellers to leave me alone!

About two hours later, we arrived at the Lake…

The sight itself was worth the trip. I don’t know what it is about a lot of water in one place that is so attractive. But it is. The ocean, or a vast lake…it’s just beautiful.

But, my trip was really only half over! Several people got off at various places along the lake, and a local man with long dreadlocks asked me where I was going. Again, I answered vaguely, “I’m not sure.” He could tell I wasn’t perhaps the typical hippie back-packer, and so he didn’t really ask any more questions. I did follow him off the bus since he was going to the same Island I was going to, but he kept his distance ahead of me.

I boarded a ferry, hoping I was on the right one, and going to the right place.

Before too long, the boat driver asked me if I knew where I was staying and showed me pictures of a place on the island. I had heard about it, and was considering staying there. Then another local asked me a few questions and made some recommendations. He said he owned a restaurant, and told me the name of it. I pulled out some of my printed out Wiki-travel and other Google notes on the places I was travelling to, and sure enough, his restaurant was listed as a nice/trustworthy place to eat!

I still wasn’t too sure, but there were a few other foreigners that he was also helping, so I got off the boat at his dock. I met his two sisters and cousin and asked them if their brother was trustworthy! They said “yes!” I felt better after seeing the restaurant and meeting his family.

We got on his motorbike and he took me (within 10 minutes), to two hotels to see the rooms and check the prices, and then brought me back to the restaurant where I had some great “Indonesian Food” as it was listed on the menu.

After eating (around 5pm), actually for the first time since the morning, I then walked down to my hotel, stopping at a few shops and view-points along the way. I also watched some local kids play some version of tag on the road in front of my hotel/guesthouse. After checking into my hotel, I enjoyed an hour or so by the lake before it started to get dark.

Pretty soon I feel asleep to the sound of water lapping the shore just a few feet outside my window.

1 comment:

Mark Brown said...

What an experience you had Elizabeth! Wow! I don't know how I would have handled the bus ride mind you! Lots of prayer!? Lol!

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