Sumatra and the Elephants.

Sumatra Route

Simpang Pematang, Sumatra. Monday 27th November 2017
Java is Indonesia’s most populated island, at over 141 million people. Sumatra is its largest island, more than three times the size of Java, and yet has just over one third the number of people. Having discovered this I could understand why Java was such a busy place. So as I rode off the ferry I was looking forward to calmer traffic, emptier roads and a less frenetic pace.


How it got there, I can’t say.

As I rode up the hill, heading out of town, I came across a truck parked by the side of the road and people waving down the traffic. I pulled over to the right hand side, where there were several other bikes parked, and realised that yet another truck had managed to disappear down an embankment. I asked one of the guys there if the driver was OK and getting an affirmative answer I pulled out my camera and watched the fun. This truck was a 16 tonne tipper which had gone over the edge backwards. How? I can only guess that he had to stop on the hill and suffered brake failure. I’m extremely glad I wasn’t behind him! It took two other 16 tonne tippers to haul it back up the steep embankment then one of them towed it up to the top of the hill. It looked very sorry for itself. I must say that I saw a great deal of resourcefulness going on there, necessarily so given that a heavy duty recovery truck was unlikely to be anywhere nearby, even if one existed.


Two tippers rescue one.

With that little bit of fun over with I rode on. Most of Sumatra’s beauty lies in its natural environment. Rainforest, mountains and beaches. There were Orang Utans there too, plus other wildlife. But I was short on time so had decided to ride straight up to the Lake Toba area, where could be found a beautiful lake up in the mountains. After that I hoped to get to Banda Aceh, right up at the northern tip of the island and supposedly its most beautiful area. I pushed on, enjoying the scenery and the riding, although the road was very poor in places. By contrast, many of the houses were nicely built, mostly brick, and with nice gardens around them, suggesting a degree of prosperity in this part of the island.
I had a problem that needed solving. The bike was due a service again and I needed a bike shop at which to do it. The problem became more urgent when I realised that my clutch cable was getting slack, which I knew meant that it would break soon. This was very annoying as my spare had already fitted, at 16,000kms, and it had barely covered 9,000kms since. As I came into Simpang Pematang I spotted a bike repair shop and pulled in. I asked them if they had any clutch cables, hoping to find one to match mine, but they didn’t. Instead they directed me to a spares shop just down the road, who could supply me with a universal cable, albeit light duty and designed for the small bikes they all use here. I didn’t buy it immediately but went back to the bike shop. By this time a guy named Juan, who spoke good English had turned up (summoned by the bike shop I suspect) and he interpreted for me. With his help I was able to explain the need for not only a replacement clutch cable but also to change my oil. So while I did the oil change one of the lads went and got the cable, plus a spare one, and between us we fitted it on. It was just an inner cable, which slides into the original outer cable and was only about half the thickness of the old one, so I’ve no idea how long it will last. But having oiled the nipple at the lever end and adjusted the position of the lever too, I’m hopeful it will last a while. The cost of their work, plus parts? An amazingly cheap IRP70,000 (About £4). They were delighted when I gave them 100k and said to keep the change. That price included the oil too. Fantastic.


My friendly, and very cheap, fixing crew.

I found a local hotel then went out for a meal. Chicken soup this time. I was both disturbed and amused to find it contained not only the chicken’s feet but also its comb. Now it may have been that I was being honoured by their inclusion, and leaving them behind could have been, for all I knew, a huge insult to the café owners. But I accepted that risk and there they sat on the edge of the bowl when I’d finished.


Chicken feet soup? Err, no thanks!

Another day’s riding passed by, with more bad roads and good scenery. Many more trucks this time, and a near collision between me and one of them. This came about because of an indicator problem. In Indonesia an indicator can mean many things. Not so much the left hand one, which usually just means the vehicle is turning left or pulling over. It’s the right hand one that gives the problems. It can mean: I’m turning or pulling over to the right; I’m about to overtake; I can’t overtake right now but I’m going to as soon as I can; the road ahead isn’t clear so it’s best if you don’t overtake me; I’ve forgotten to turn it off (scooters especially). I tended to ignore them because it was usually one of the latter four reasons and I was happy to make my own judgement and use my nimbleness to get past them. This time I nearly got caught out because the truck actually was pulling over to the right. Who did he think he was! But I managed to zip round the front of him anyway, so no harm done.
But further along it was a different matter. There is kind of hierarchical system which  scooters follow, where the really slow ones keep right over to the left; the not so slow ones ride in the middle of the lane and the faster ones will ride close to the centre line. ‘Fast’ is a relative term here as everyone drives and rides quite slowly. This time I was passing some of the slower scooters when one old guy decided he wanted to go over to the opposite side of the road, and did so, right in front of me and with no indicator at all. I slammed on the brakes but I was too close to avoid him and collided with the back end of his scooter. We both tumbled to the ground, me in a gentle ‘falling off in slow motion’ kind of way; him with much more of a crash. People came rushing over and picked up both bikes. I put mine on the stand and checked to see if he was alright. It seemed he’d bruised his hip and arm, but was otherwise OK. I checked my bike over and straightened out the mirror. His scooter seemed to have suffered a dent or two but it wasn’t easy to spot a fresh dent among the old ones. I wasn’t sure what would happen next. Would the police be called? Would I be facing a hostile crowd demanding I compensate the ‘victim’ even though it was his fault? Would I be spending the next few days in a police cell? It was none of these in the end. To the delight of the crowd I just shook the hand of the other guy, then got back on my bike and rode off, breathing a sigh of relief that my first collision on the whole of the journey so far hadn’t been worse.

A local industry of brick making seems to explain these stored piles of bricks.

I had another interesting event in the hotel that evening. The room rate was IRP100k, which I duly handed over, along with my passport so the young receptionist could copy it. I went to the room and a while later she came back with my passport and some English words, written on a piece of paper so she could quote them to me. It said that I had to pay another 100k ‘for the police’. Straight away I smelled a scam so I just said no. She went away and came back with another guy, probably the manager, who repeated the same thing, saying they get fined by the police for having foreign tourists. Now I knew that was ridiculous, so I point blank refused and went out for something to eat.

About ten minutes after I came back there was a knock at the door and standing there were two smartly dressed policemen, along with the manager. One of them spoke good English and asked me where I was from and going to. I explained and he asked me if everything was OK. I said that it was, that I had a nice room and all was well. He shook my hand and told me to contact them if I had any problems, and then they left. No mention of money, tourist tax or anything of that nature. But what puzzled me was why the manager thought the police would back him up in his demand for extra money, or perhaps he just thought I’d be frightened into paying the extra anyway. Maybe they do work together sometimes in this way. It was the first time anything like that had happened, anywhere on the journey. I woke up with a dickey tummy so decided to stay another night. The reception girls seemed very pleased at this, although it’s hard to figure out why, and there were no repeats of yesterday’s scam attempt.


Whenever it rained I was tempted to do this.

Very much on my mind as I continued along the island was how to get across from there to Malaysia. The certain option was to put my bike on a boat, known as the Onion Boat, which did a regular run from Belawan, near to Medan, Sumatra’s main city, across to Penang. The less certain method was to see if I could get my bike onto a passenger ferry. There are no RoRo ferries between Indonesia and Malaysia, despite their proximity to each other. I’d heard of people being able persuade ferry crews to allow their bike on to the passenger deck, after the correct amount of money had changed hands. One such ferry ran from Dumai across to Melaka so I diverted there to see what could be done. The security guys at the port were sympathetic to my mission and one of them led me to the ferry ticket office, where the answer was a very firm NO. Back at the port one of the harbour staff said I would need to talk to the harbour master so he led me to the office. He was very helpful and rang up the manager at the ticket office. This seemed very encouraging but unfortunately it was still NO. He even rang up a local boat owner for me, but he couldn’t help. So it looked like it was to be the Onion Boat after all.


Often seen outside mosques. A colourful celebration.

During the few days I’d been riding in Sumatra I’d realised that the drivers and riders here operated on a level of aggression that I hadn’t come across on the other islands. The car, truck and bus drivers seemed to be homicidal while the scooter riders seemed to be both suicidal and carelessly oblivious of the effect of their actions. Meanwhile I’d morphed from a take it easy, go with the flow rider into Mr Angry. I found myself yelling and cursing at other road users, a pointless exercise as they couldn’t hear me anyway. I’d twice been run into the dirt by oncoming vehicles overtaking, one of them a bus which pulled out to overtake in full sight of me. Scooter riders were no better. When in traffic they’d just pull across in front of me or shove their front wheel into the tiny space I’d left in front of my bike when queuing in traffic. Cars tended to hang out behind the trucks, blocking my view of oncoming traffic and preventing me from overtaking, even though they couldn’t overtake either. I was starting to get very frustrated and I had to force myself to sit back a bit and take it easy. Eventually I managed to find an alternative route, away from the main road, taking me up into the mountains towards Lake Toba. The map suggested it was quieter back route in, and so it proved.
One thing I’d noticed in Sumatra, although I’d also seen it elsewhere, were the number of new mosques being built and, along with that, the constant presence of collection points outside of them. I’d ride into a village or town and it wouldn’t be long before I’d see some traffic cones or oil drums along the centre line, with rope strung between them and people sitting in the middle of the road holding shrimp nets on poles, for passing drivers to throw money into. These people would always be wrapped up against the sun and the traffic fumes, reminding of me of the invisible man, with his hat and bandages. I felt sorry for them as they sat there, hoping to get funds for the partially built mosque that was invariably just behind them. I couldn’t help wondering how long it took to collect enough money to get them finished. There seemed to be plenty of opportunities to donate, for those who were minded to.


Collect the money, build the mosque.

Talking of roads, I was fascinated by how each island seemed to have its own variant on cheap passenger transport. The micro buses were pretty ubiquitous but mixed in with them was always a variety of three wheeled transport. Or, on some of the islands further east, four legged in the shape of pony carts. Tri-cars were common, pedal or engine powered, and some of those had clearly been around long enough to have worn out their original engine, which was usually replaced with a Honda generator engine. It would be connected to the wheel by a very Heath Robinson design of belts and pulleys, converting stationary power into motive power, as in the example below. They would chunter along the streets, getting in everybody’s way because they moved so slowly. Another one of Indonesia’s traffic frustrations.
In Sumatra the three wheeler of choice was the motorcycle and sidecar, sometimes with a 250cc engined bike to haul it, but more often another worn out 125cc, struggling to move it and its passengers along the road. Invariably the sidecar had some kind of cover over it, with at least two seats inside and usually highly decorated. At school finishing time I’d often see them piled up with six or seven kids, all looking happy to be getting a ride home.


How about this for your ride home?

One thing about Indonesia’s roads I discovered quite quickly (and helped by experience in other third world countries) is that despite the appearance of there being no rules, there very definitely are. It’s just that they’re a little different to elsewhere. Bear in mind here that Indonesians drive on the left. I mentioned the extra uses of indicators earlier, relating to overtaking. Perhaps the other big difference is turning out of T junctions. Left turning scooters will simply pull out, regardless of what’s coming along. Many of the riders don’t even look. Cars sometimes do the same but with more caution. For turning right the scooters will move over to the right hand side of the turning they’re in as they reach the junction, and when the traffic coming towards them from their right is clear they will pull out onto the right hand side of the road they’re turning into then slowly drift over to the left and blend in with the traffic stream. This means that if you’re turning right into that same turning you have to go behind the vehicle rather than across the front of it. It all seems very strange at first but you soon get used to it and it actually seems quite sensible. The other thing is that traffic moves very slowly, even when the road is clear. I had to remember this because other road users didn’t expect me to be travelling quickly so they therefore assumed I wasn’t. That caused me a couple of ‘nearlies’ until I adapted.


An unusual sight in the very Islamic island of Sumatra.

As I got nearer to the Lake Toba area some changes started to happen in the villages I passed through. I noticed the presence of churches. One place had four, with not a mosque to be seen. It was a Sunday and I saw plenty of women dressed in their Sunday best walking down the road. The older women wore traditional dresses, which were long and had a heavily decorated, brocaded top half. The younger women wore summer frocks, usually nice and colourful, and all of them with their hair done up nicely. It surprised me how refreshing that seemed to me as I rode by. The reason for all this was because I was entering the Batak region. Although a few of these people are Muslim, most of them are Christian, hence the churches and less restricted way of dressing. As I found out when I stopped for a cup of tea, many of them speak some English and I sat chatting for a while to an English teacher. Because they lived mostly inland they were influenced far less by Arab traders and Islam. Lake Toba is the centre of their region and is the place where their cultural influences can mostly be found. The town I’d stayed in the previous night had some buildings constructed in their particular style, prompting me to stop and take a look at this different design.


Lake Toba. Shame about the gloomy weather.

Lake Toba sits at around nine hundred metres above sea level. After my friendly tea break I turned onto a smaller road, winding its way through the hills, eventually taking me to a viewpoint where I could get my first look at this huge lake, all 1,100 square kilometres of it. It sits in the caldera of a volcano, which last erupted over 70,000 years ago and is reckoned to have had a world wide influence, reducing global temperatures by 3-5 degrees Celsius, as well as depositing ash as far away as East Africa. That’s quite a blast! Despite the gloomy weather it looked incredible. As I rode nearer to it I could get more views and could also see the island of Samosir, my target for the day. The road wound back down the hill, showing signs of previous landslips along its edge, almost certainly caused by rain. At one point the surface was just mud and there was a drop in level of about 400mm. There were plenty of trucks parked up while their drivers tried to find a way round this problem. “Good luck fellas,” I thought as I hopped the bike over the edge and carried on down. I kept stopping to photograph the view, while the other people there took snaps of me. It’s such a shame the weather was so gloomy. Eventually I crossed the small river which creates the island of Samosir and made my way to the small town of Tuk Tuk. There I found a homestay to lodge at for a few days, then went in search of that very traditional Batak meal of pizza and beer. A very tasty end to one of the better days of my Indonesian journey.


A Tugu. A home for ancestral bones.

I spent the next couple of days exploring the island and learning more about the Batak culture. Although they now follow mainstream religions their history is one of cannibalism and war. (Now I’m wondering what was on that pizza!) Cannibalism had pretty much died out by the mid 19th century, especially as Islam and Christianity took hold. The warring tendency also died away and they became traders. But they still hold on to one of their key tenets, that of their belief in spirits of both life and death. Tendi (life spirit) disappears when the individual dies but the Begu (death spirit) lives on for some time before it too dies. To prevent the Begu returning to cause trouble to the family the body is buried some way away from the family home and is taken there along a very confusing route so the Begu can’t find its way back. After several years the bones are dug up, cleaned and polished, then laid to rest in a Tugu, or bone house. These can be very ornate and are placed somewhere on the family land. On my tour round the island I saw plenty of these buildings, many of them very ornate. Nobody had any objections to me photographing them either.

Ancient Batak village, with the heavily decorated Chief’s house.

I visited other cultural sites too, including those of ancient rulers and their tombs. The traditional villages I went to had fine examples of their particular style of housing, with definite elements of boat design in their architecture. No surprise really, given that their well being centred on the lake where they lived. They have very steep roofs, upswept at each end, like a boat, and the gables overhang significantly, with the front one being heavily decorated. Traditionally thatched, these days corrugated iron is used and the recently built houses will have more living space attached to the rear, especially for the kitchen etc. They look very elegant indeed. Other Batak areas will have a different design of house, reflecting their local culture, but I can’t comment on them as I didn’t visit any.
The people at my homestay noticed how dirty my bike was and recommended a nearby place where I could get it cleaned. I went round there and was charged IRP25k for a very thorough job. Think back to when I was in Java and the place that wanted 200k. I was very happy indeed. A bit further along that road I stopped to admire a very large roadside tomb. An elderly woman came over to talk to me and it soon became evident that she had a small shop nearby and wanted me to come and look at her carvings. She had some very nice pieces there, all hand carved by her, she assured me. She told me her story (while holding my hand and stroking my palm) about the Swiss lover she had when she was young (she was now stroking my beard because he had one too) and how she waited for him but he never came back. Therefore she got married in her thirties and only had one child, who had moved away. Her husband had died so she was on her own. She struggled to make a living from her carvings and couldn’t afford new tools (she showed me the old, worn out ones she was forced to use). I couldn’t resist that level of appeal so I bought a pair of figures from her. Was I mugged? I like to think not as she seemed s genuine, but I would say that wouldn’t I.


Very worn out carving tools.

Time to leave Samosir Island and head back to the coast and the port of Belawan. I needed to make sure I knew the drill for getting my bike shipped to Malaysia and it’s always best to do these things in plenty of time. I took the ferry across the lake, a rather strange boat where vehicles had to reverse onto the deck because there was a ramp only at one end. A nice ride through the mountains until the road found its way down to the coast, Batak culture was left behind and the Muslim world came to the fore once more. My phone battery had gone flat by now but I was able to use the services of a local lad who kindly led me to a hotel, a long way off his route, I suspect. I was happy to give him some money for his services. The hotel initially stated there were only the most expensive rooms available but when I said I’d have to go elsewhere the manager went off to check something and came back saying a cheaper one was available. Was this another attempt to ‘mug off a tourist’? Actually no. When he took me to the room I could see that the hotel grounds had suffered some flooding in the recent heavy rain but it had drained away enough for me to get access to the cheaper rooms. I was highly amused though, when he said I must either leave my bike in a car park by the security hut or put it in my room. There was even a ramp to assist with this. I unloaded my bag and left the bike with the guys at security.

One Batak family’s idea of a Christmas tree,  and a local trader’s suggestion as to how to enjoy it.

The agent who handles this particular crossing is based in Penang. Mr Lim had given me the map coordinates for the agent in Belawan, along with the location of the customs office and the warehouse. Once I’d found the agent and discussed it all with them it became clear everything would be straightforward. The boat sailed on Monday afternoon and I needed to come to the agent’s office Monday morning to sort out the paperwork and the money. I’d spoken to Deon, The Aussie guy I met in Java, about it all and he said to go to customs first to get my carnet signed off, then go to the agent after that. The agent concurred so I left there with a firm plan in place and a relieved mind. I had three days to kill and I’d decided to go and visit some elephants.
The village of Tangkahan has set itself up as a CTO – Community Tourist Operator. The idea is to discourage illegal logging and provide an alternative income from tourism. Work for the local Karonese people is provided by supplying accommodation and by the elephant sanctuary. The sanctuary is a CRU – Conservation Response Unit. As well as for entertaining tourists, the elephants are used to patrol the jungle against illegal loggers. It’s located on the edge of the Gunung Leuser National Park and my ride out there took me along a muddy and stony track, through palm oil plantations. To leave behind the palms and suddenly arrive in native rain forest provided a sharp contrast and underlined the importance of these ecological projects more than any words ever could. As I’ve mentioned before, the problem with plantations doesn’t relate to CO2 but the destruction of native ecosystems and the effect on wildlife.


“Where’s my breakfast!”

The accommodation there was basic but comfortable, in very rustic wooden cabins, and quite cheap too. My cabin was called Ten Bears and as a fan of the film, The Outlaw Josey Wales, I felt quite at home there. Although elephant rides were on offer, I came for a different, and possibly unique experience. I was going to wash an elephant. How do you wash an elephant? (Insert your own punchline.) In this case it was going to be in the river. After a briefing the little crowd that had now gathered trooped off down to the bank and we watched the elephants come down out of the jungle and wade across. Included in this small herd were two calves and a slightly older one too. The team there were delighted with him because rearing a male meant that the breeding programme was assured.

The simple pleasure of washing an elephant. A delightful way to spend a morning.

The elephants were given food and then they lay down in the river ready to be scrubbed. We were all given brushes and got stuck into our task. I have a suspicion that scrubbing them is actually completely unnecessary, but there’s no doubt that it’s great fun and you certainly get up close and personal to these wonderful creatures. Some of them have skin that’s become mottled, faded to white but with black spots on it. I did jokingly wonder if it was caused by too much scrubbing but was assured it was just age, a kind of reverse of liver spots. Let’s face it, their skin is as tough as old boots, and with it’s wrinkled appearance, looks just like them too. Their beautiful brown eyes look at you with complete trust and relaxation while you scrub away. They all behave perfectly, even the calves, as they give them selves up to our ministrations. Looking at them walking around, no more than a couple of feet away, you cannot escape their sense of dignity and obvious intelligence. They instantly obey the orders of their Mahouts and none of us felt in any danger from their size. After the scrub up we were given food to hand out to them, with the calves rushing about, as kids will, trying to get more than their share. It is amazing to watch how their trunks work as they grip the food and transfer it to their mouths. While I was washing them I’d been fascinated by the design of their trunks and how fine the muscle control was. It’s almost impossible to express how delightful is to be so intimate with these wonderful creatures and the thought that they’re murdered just for their tusks or, even worse, for ‘sport’, fills me with anguish. It was a wonderful experience.


“Stop there and get in line, Junior.”

Fun elephant facts. The Asian elephant is from the genus Elephas, lives to about 50 and weighs in at about 5.4 tonnes. In Africa there are two species, the Bush and the Forest Elephant. Both are of the genus Loxodonta. The bush elephant lives to about 60 and weighs in at about 6 tonnes. The lifespan of the forest elephant is the same but it is a tiny (by comparison) 2.7 tonnes. These figures refer to males. The African elephant’s trunk ends in two opposing lips whereas the Asian elephant only has one. An adult African elephant’s tooth weighs about 5kg and is around 300mm long. Big, huh! Lastly, the easiest way to tell them apart is to look at their ears, especially the right one. The African elephant’s ear is shaped like Africa, almost like a badge of origin.
Lots more elephant facts here: And Tangkahan’s excellent website is here:
After that happy couple of hours it was time to negotiate the muddy track once more and return to Medan. It never fails to impress me how the locals negotiate these tracks on the standard bikes while I, on my big (relatively) off road demon machine sometimes struggle to stay upright. Light weight and a low centre of gravity are the answer, I’m sure, something obviously not shared by this truck (over)loaded with palm oil nuts. Back in Medan I found the hostel I’d booked myself into and made plans for the last day in Indonesia, before taking my bike to the ship.


Overloaded and stuck in the mud.

Medan is Sumatra’s capital city so is, of course, big and busy. But nothing like as chaotic as some others I’d been to and there were a few cultural places that seemed worth a visit. I created a list of five, but only visited three in the end. The first was the Shri Mariamann Hindu Temple, which was just across the road from the hostel. It’s in Little India, as you can guess, the area of the city where Indian immigrants have settled. I found some gates, but they were closed. I walked round the opposite side of the building and found myself in an area full of smartly dressed Indians obviously enjoying some kind of celebration. They didn’t seem in the least bit fazed as I wandered among them in search of the entrance. Eventually I realised the temple wasn’t open until later in the day.


I was invited to pose with this family, who were having fun dressing up.

Maiman Palace is a former Sultan’s home, part of which is still occupied by the family, with the remainder open to the public. People are able to dress up in Sultanate style clothing and pose in the rooms, with the exotic decorations and furniture as a backdrop. One group invited me to join them in a kind of mega selfie, them all in robes, me in my very nondescript travelling clothes. Good fun. Equally interesting was being interviewed by various groups of students. As I’ve mentioned before, they are tasked with interviewing Europeans as part of their English coursework and they needed at least six minutes of conversation, which they’d record on one of their phones. Well, there’s no hardship in chatting to pretty young women, which they mostly were, although after the seventh interview I had to cry “Enough!”. My voice was going. Passers by were often amused by what was happening, with a small crowd gathering at one point, to see what was going on. Some students asked me if I could speak any Indonesian and were highly amused when I told them, in Indonesian, that I didn’t understand Indonesian.
A strange thing I noticed with one group of girls was that three of the four were happy to shake my hand, both before and after our chat. But the fourth one managed to have both hands full at those moments, clearly an avoidance tactic. It saddened me to think that she’d been convinced there was something wrong with connecting with me. She was also the one who recorded, but didn’t engage in, the conversation. Perhaps I’m making an assumption here and there was some other reason for this behaviour. I guess I’ll never be sure, but I know how it seemed. She was really the only young woman I’d encountered anywhere in Indonesia with this attitude, all others being open and friendly, often voluntarily smiling at me as we passed in the street.


Three friendly interviewers, with the fourth one behind the camera, and not as friendly.

My second cultural visit was to a large shopping centre where I enjoyed a much needed ‘cultural’ cup of coffee. And then I finally got to see the Shri Mariamann Temple, dedicated to worshipping the Goddess Mariamann, popular among the Tamils who populate Indonesia. It’s full of intricate carvings and statues of gods and goddesses. It’s good to see how colourful these modern temples are, compared to the dull, grey, ancient buildings I’d seen elsewhere, although I appreciate they will have looked better in their heyday.
Monday arrived. An auspicious day. My departure day from Indonesia and also my birthday. No celebrations allowed until my bike was safely loaded on that onion boat. I rode out to Belawan and found the customs office. My carnet was stamped so then it was off to the agent’s office, not far away. Once business was done one of the staff showed me where the boat was docked and Trixie was immediately winched aboard and lashed to the deck. “See you on the other side” I thought, although looking at the battle scarred condition of the boat I did wonder. One of the dock workers spoke to a guy who’d just delivered a load to the boat, who was going back to Medan and was happy to give me a lift. That was good news as it was a fair way away and a taxi would have been rather expensive.


See you on the other side Trixie. Bon voyage.

Back at the hostel I chatted to Mr Yauw, the kindly owner, who’d taken me under his wing somewhat. He lived in America for thirty years and has a great sense of the spiritual. We’d enjoyed some good conversations. He arranged for a scooter to come and pick me up, which took me to where I could catch the airport bus. I made it to check-in with not much time to spare, but all was well and it wasn’t long before I was rolling down another runway, saying goodbye to Indonesia and heading to the 23rd country of my journey, Malaysia.


A very hospitable hostel, and Mr Yauw, its owner.


Things you see.


Guiding the blind. Full marks for intent. Zero for execution.