On a local bus

I have written this blog a while ago, back in December when I visited the Toba lake. But I hadn’t gotten around to typing it out and actually publishing it, so today is the day you get to enjoy it and picture yourself on a local bus in Indonesia.

“The tourist bus leaves now, come,” a random guy at the busstation told me. But I had a local guy drop me off who said this bus would be much more expensive. I’m always up for saving some money, but the difference was only about a euro or two. Normally, I would have chosen a more comfortable option for this price difference, but my newest friend told me the other bus would have ac and would be fine as well. I should have known that wasn’t true.

But, I ended up on a local bus from Medan to the Toba Lake. A trip that would take two to three hours according to Google Maps, but took six hours with this lovely, non-ac, smoking allowed, all the windows open bus that not only had people in the seats, but also crammed people into the aisle like stacking Tetris blocks. I was very, very happy with my seat in the back where I could not move my legs, as it was better than not being able to move my whole body at all.

And off we were. Perhaps you didn’t know, but busses in Indonesia generally don’t do the whole busstop thing. You just stand along the side of the road that the bus passes and it will stop for you. And I noticed they had a very clever system of doing this.

My Kindle provided more than enough entertainment

There were three people working on the bus. The bus driver, who did nothing but drive, and two boys who took care of everything else, like helping people on and off (and they needed the help, trust me) and letting the driver know when to stop and go. The boys were all the way in the back, so to let the driver know they tapped a small rock on the side of the bus, a sound that apparently travels.

So as people get on and off at random places all along the road, we head to Parapat. It took long, because of the many stops, of course, but people were not all that was being transported on this bus. Along the way there were also folks who handed the two guys packages of God know what, that they proceeded to dump outside of the bus in the middle of nowhere. Nobody was there to collect them, they were just tossed there, although I’m sure someone would come for it later. Gotta love the Indonesian system.

I really respected the guys for the work they did, because it was really hard. They constantly hopped on and off the – sometimes still moving – bus and they were sweating like pigs in the Indonesian heat. They hauled people’s luggage and children around like it weighed nothing and never seemed to complain. Their speed also didn’t decrease. Amazing. And during the few moments they had, they were either drinking some well-deserved water or collecting and counting the money from the many, many passengers they got from A to B,C,D,E,F till Z that day.






The happiness of friendliness

A weekend ago I went to another Indonesian island, called Sumatra. I flew there from Jakarta on Wednesday and went back on Monday. I encountered so many friendly acts and faces here, that I just wanted to share some with you.

On Couchsurfing, I posted a request for someone to host me on my first night in Medan. I landed at the airport there and in the morning I wanted to continue my journey to Lake Toba, but I needed a place to crash. I realized this was not something that people may be jumping up and down for, and I posted the request two days in advance, but I got a reply. And the reply was so nice. It was from a guy who works at the airport and lives very close to there. That night he had a nightshift, so what happened was that he picked me up from the arrivals section, drove me to his house and left me there. His work finished at 8 am, so around 9 he picked me up and dropped me off at the busstation! He even stayed with me until I got on the bus and we had some fun conversations. But this was such a selfless act and I so appreciated it. Later, when I flew back to Jakarta, he met me at the airport and gave me a souvenir. It was a little Batak house and he walked me all the way to the plane (because he was awesome and had security clearance for everywhere).

When I arrived at Lake Toba, I just enjoyed everything so much. I took the first day to relax and read and write by the lake. The second day I went out for a new adventure: riding a motorbike. I entertained myself in the afternoon, just learning how to give enough gas (but not too much) and watching the amazing views of the lake and the mountains. In the evening I went to see a local Batak performance of dance and music. I was seriously unimpressed by the dance performance, because it was very easy. Which is probably why they asked some people to join them for the final dance and when I was asked I didn’t see a reason not to join – everybody could do that dance.
So I did. After that there was a wonderful music performance of which I have a little (big, whatever) clip.

I left Lake Toba on Sunday and my flight back to Jakarta was not until Monday evening. So I posted another request on Couchsurfing, to find somebody to show me around Medan. The girl who replied was very nice and showed me all kinds of places. One of the things that was very memorable for me, was the moment she went to the mosque to pray, in the afternoon. I placed myself on a bench in a small tent where they sold some street food, and I got my Kindle out, because there was no one there. But that never lasts long when there is a bule around.
First, three little boys came up to me.
‘Hello miss, hihihi. Where are you from? Hihihi what is your name?’
I answered all of their questions and after two or three questions they became too shy and ran off. Then, I looked over my shoulder, where I was sitting against a gate. And three little girls’ heads stuck through the gate next to me and smiled sweetly.
‘Hello miss!’
I greeted them and asked them in Indonesian how they were, which caused many giggles.
‘Dari mana, umur berapa, apa nama anda?’
I replied to all of their questions and they too ran off shyly.
It was quiet for a little while and just when I got my Kindle back out, I was interrupted again (which was welcome, of course).
This time, an old man. He came up to me speaking English very well. They are never very original in their questions, so I answered the same ones once more and just as he had his answers, more men came up. They all shaked my hand and I felt like I ended up in a meeting of the old men’s club. I was introduced to everybody (“Look, she is from Belanda”). And I always sort of have this picture of old men together, being very calm and wise and mellow. But they were a bunch of rowdy men laughing and joking with each other. It was such a great atmosphere and when my friend was done praying, I had to say goodbye and I left with a big smile.

And then, later that afternoon, when we were walking down the street, I was stopped by a man of whom I’m pretty sure he never saw a white girl before, because he was so excited. He asked me many questions in Indonesian and I was proud to be able to answer and then he proposed (yes, I mean for marriage).
My answer: ‘Maaf ya, nggak mau.’ (Sorry, I don’t want to)
Oh how he laughed.
He kept shaking my hand and put his arm next to mine to compare skin colors (Duo Penotti is the best way to describe it) and then I kept walking, because otherwise he probably would have taken me home to meet his entire family.

Even though sometimes the attention you get here as a foreigner can be a bit overwhelming, they have the best intentions and are always so welcoming. This time away has been proof of that yet again. And it just makes me so damn happy.

Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t take any pictures of my trip to Sumatra.