Thursday, November 25, 2010

Karma Sumatra

The title can mean many things in the context of recent days.  It could be in reference to the way Sumatra screwed me, as I will explain.  Or it can mean the way karma helped smooth my unenviable journey.  I began my long journey on tuesday morning, rising early and heading on a public bus to the bus station across town.  Life is kinda like a Jakarta public bus: crowded, dirty and full of people filling it with noxious smoke; it barely slows down for you to get on or off, yet you keep on trucking.  On the bus, I chatted with a few nice fellows- one of whom was a religious Muslim, who blessed me for my journey after I played him some Yusuf Islam-nee Cat Stevens.

In a grey and miserable Jakarta day that was overcast and outcast, I got to the bus station and found my way over to the Sumatra area.  I could hardly call it a terminal but there were at least a few buses headed north.  I made sure to buy my ticket on the bus, from the company and not a tout or ticket agent as that will increase the price a lot.   I hadn't planned to go that far cause I had considered going to Bandarlampung to try to see Krakatoa, but it seemed rather expensive to visit so I decided to head on further.  I spoke with the woman on the bus, who told me there was no bus to Bukittinggi or Padang, where I wanted to go, but the bus went to Solok nearby.  She said it would arrive the following morning.  That was in-line with what my guide book said, so I bargained a bit and plunked down my rupiah for a ticket to ride.  It was my last rupiah save about 25,000 rupiah (a little less than $3), but I figured enough to get me some meals along the way until the following afternoon.  We left not too much after 11am on an "executif" bus, if ever there was a misnomer.
"But your thoughts will soon be wandering
The way they always do
When you're ridin' sixteen hours
And there's nothin' much to do
And you don't feel much like ridin',
You just wish the trip was through

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin' star again
There I go
Turn the page"
-Bob Seeger, Turn the Page
We proceeded to drive all around Jakarta, picking up parcels and packages.  Fine, I was in no rush.  Then we got stuck in Jakarta traffic.  Seeing the lines of flags for the Golkar Party, I was reminded of the power that Suaharto held, and the sway his party still hold.  It took us 3 hours in total to get out of Jakarta, and almost 9 hours to get to the Java port heading across the Sumatran Straits. It was around the time we were crossing the straits and I was chatting with the driver when i found out that the bus didn't really go to Solok as my ticket said.  I also found out that it wouldn't be a day but far longer. 

"You may ask yourself
Where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself
Am I right?... Am I wrong?
You may say to yourself
My God!... what have I done?

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground

Into the blue again/into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground
Letting the days go by/into the silent water
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground

Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was..."
-Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime"
I sat out on the deck of the ferry  The moon was hanging low and full over Java as we puttered away.  People were friendly, and a nice family adopted me and let me sleep on their mat on the deck of the ship.  A kid tossed a bottle over the side, and I threatened him that he would be next if he did it again. 

We continued on in the bus, driving through the long night.  I awoke to the vastness of Sumatra.  I hadn't realized that Sumatra is 4 times bigger than Java, and is the 6th largest island in the world.  Sumatra is lush, vast and empty.  We drove on, down the trans-Sumatran highway, which is also a misnomer, as it was barely a two-lane road with an occasional pothole big enough to swallow a goat.  I was a little worried as I had no money to eat for the coming day, but as always, trusty Sancho Harranza was there in a pinch.  I raided the money I had stashed away for Harry and was flush with another 12,000 rupiah ($1.33), which seemed just enough to keep my hydrated and eating.  Meanwhile, the executive airconditioned bus was filled with smoke from people puffing away in the closed air cabin.  Grand. 

Everytime I have been ready to write Indonesia off, it redeems itself.  The bus crew knew I was broke as they had seen me trying to find an ATM to no avail.  We stopped for dinner on the road and they were kind enough to invite me over for a free meal.  I ate fried chicken, grilled eggplants in chili and lots of rice, and sipped a super-sweet strawberry fanta in condensed milk.  I was extremely touched by the gesture and thanked them profusely.  They were touched as I blessed them in Arabic to show my gratitude.

And the ride continued on.  At about 3am, they woke me to switch buses to another bus that was going to Bukittinggi, where I wanted to head.  I slept about as comfortably as I could on the bus and woke up the next morning to blaring Indonesian music.  I scrapped my last rupiah together for a filling brunch of nasi tellor, a boiled egg covered in curry with curry rice and some kind of leafy green that resembles spinach but isn't.  The bus continued on as I felt more and more gross as the time continued on.  I passed my second day on the bus, breaking a record for me.  We continued on until I finally arrived at my destination.  An ungodly 54 hours on the bus, breaking my old record of 40 hours.  This came on top of a ten-hour train journey from Yogya to Jakarta the previous day, amounting to 64 of the last 72 hours in transit.  I have earned a thanksgiving break from travel.  I can tell you, no place in the world is worth traveling 54 hours on a bus, and Bukittinggi is surely no exception; however, I would gladly sit on a bus for 54 hours if it meant I could be home with my family for thanksgiving tonight.  Alas, all I can offer is my thanksgiving benediction:

To all those who have blessed me and kept me, fed me and guided me,
To those through whose kindness I have seen God's countenance upon me,
To those who have been gracious on to me and have granted me peace,
I offer my heartfelt thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

1 comment:

Abba said...

Amen