This post is a collection of short tales from the road…
No such thing as a quiet cuppa
While hanging with the locals has been amazing and incredibly rewarding, sometimes you just need a quiet break with only your thoughts for company. Try as we might, we have very rarely succeeded in finding that much desired solitude. Even when we roll to a stop for a water break, the local folks come out to say “hello meester!” and to ask the usual questions: Where are you from? What is your name? Are you married? Do you have children? etc. I’ve been asked this same round of questions for almost a year now and I’m ashamed to admit that I sometimes struggle to answer them without letting on that I am bored stupid with the monotony.
As previously mentioned, when setting up our camp in the evening, we get visited by pretty much everyone in the local area. One evening we camped on a lovely little grassy patch by a swiftly flowing river. Many of the local folks use that spot for bathing, clothes washing, and, of course, in lieu of a toilet. The area was so nice, that we decided to dig deep and cope with the multitude of visitors we were likely to receive that evening. A pleasant surprise presented itself while Monika was preparing our dinner, a teacher who spoke fantastic English, Leyla, came down and helped us control the crowd by translating any questions they had and letting them know that we wanted some peace and quiet by 8pm, but that they were welcome to stay until then. Leyla also organised the kids and adults to sing us some local songs and we had a grand old time attempting to join in with them.
One evening we stayed in a cheap hotel to clean up a bit and do some much overdue laundry. Our new landlord neglected to tell us he was hosting that day’s breaking of the fast – it’s Ramhadan, in a Muslim country – right outside the door to our room. Just as the sun was setting, about 50 people showed up to take part in the meal, and to listen to some words of wisdom from some of the local leaders. It effectively meant we couldn’t get into or out of our room for two hours.
Post Office Antics
Being the Awesome Aunty, I’ve been regularly picking up some goodies and posting them back for the posse of little one’s my brother and sister have added to the family. Whilst in Padang, I gathered quite a good haul, but had misplaced my brother’s mailing address. By the time I got the message with the address, the post office (and all other government offices for that matter) had closed for two hours of prayer time. So I decided I’d try and post it from further down the track, a bit of a hassle, as extra weight on the bike is not a welcome thing, but Awesome Aunty must persevere!
The first post office I passed denied that I was able to send a package to Australia and advised me to backtrack to the previous post centre. I didn’t think they were telling me the truth, but I was in no mood to argue the point and figured there would be a bigger centre down the road where it could be done. The next post centre was closed as it was Friday (the Islamic version of Sunday for Christians), and was likely to be closed on Saturday also. By the time I found one that was open I was pretty keen to get the task done, so when they too denied it was possible, I dug my heels in and explained in pretty horrible Indonesian that they were in fact a national postal service and that implied they could in fact handle international mail (no where near as eloquently as that, it was more like “this, Post Indonesia, not, Post [name of town], can, package, Australia, CAN”).
As I refused to budge from my position at the front of the ever-growing line of customers, the clerk eventually gave in and made a phone call to a supervisor. I was watching his face, and I could see as it slowly dawned on him that it was in fact possible to send international mail from his humble little post office. The crowd that had gathered behind me was on my side and there were cheers when he turned to me and said “can”. The next hurdle was packing all the stuff into a box. No problem fitting it in, but in some parts of the world, you are required to cover the entire box in multiple layers of sticky tape. I ducked off to the nearest shop to buy some, and we commenced covering the box, by the end half the roll was wrapped around the package.
Next came the problem of trying to work out the international mail system on their computer, half a dozen phone calls to the supervisor and they had the right screen and were ready to input the data. Then we hit the next hurdle, they couldn’t find the destination country…. in Indonesian, Australia is “Australie” so they were looking for the latter, and only the former was listed. Poor things, but we got that sorted out quick enough.
More phone calls to the trusty supervisor ensued, all in Indonesian, so I was pretty oblivious to what was being said. Next thing I know they start shifting furniture around so they can get into a filing cabinet that hadn’t been accessed in goodness knows how long. Success! They had managed to find the stickers for international mail. We seemed to be good to go, but then it came time to weigh the parcel…
… oh dear, maximum weight is apparently 2.0kg and mine was 2.75kg – most likely because of the sticky tape. What could be done? They were dumbfounded. I suggested we split it into two parcels and they looked at me like I was some kind of postal savant. Ok-lah! A trip to the grocer next door yielded a second box, and we commenced splitting the package. That’s when they noticed I had a decorative hand-made dagger in the package (a personal souvenir, definitely not for the nieces and nephews) and they tried to tell me that it was a dangerous item and couldn’t be sent through the mail. Fortunately, while waiting through the innumerable calls to the supervisor, I’d been bored enough to study the various posters on the walls, one of which was about not sending chemical weapons, other dangerous bibs and bobs, or live animals through the mail, and there was no mention of knives. As a former bureaucrat, I know that these kind of facilities rely on policy and procedure and so I pointed out that there were no knives on their poster so I therefore must be able to send it. They agreed, and again there was that look of deference to the postal savant.
Next came the confusion over connecting the scanner gizmo to the computer and how to actually scan the bar codes and get the information to sync on the computer. Finally, they had it and they printed off the labels and attached them, with more sticky tape, to the parcels. For the last step they were in their element, stamping the pages with massive hammer-shaped stamps and a rather worn out ink pad. Hive fives all round, and a big smile of relief on the clerk’s face, we were done. And it had only taken two hours.
So, if you find yourself in Western Sumatra and want to send a package home, the foks in Tapan know how it’s done. BYO sticky tape.
Cycling when you are sick is very unpleasant. It’s also pretty unpleasant to read about so I’ll skip over the gory details and rely heavily on pointless euphemism so as to placate the squeamish among you.
I had been nursing a classic case of traveller’s guts for a couple of weeks and it all caught up with me on what was supposed to be an incredible ride through a canyon, up over the lip of an extinct (so they tell me) volcano and down to the pristine lake shore and a delightful little bungalow with a view. A couple of kilometres into the ride I started feeling a bit dodgy.
I got seriously stressed out on a very steep climb and ended up pushing the bike most of the way. In fairness, the hill was so steep some folks had to get off and push their motorcycles. Things got gradually worse until I was no longer able to ride the bike, not even downhill. I pushed the bike along for a bit further until I could take no more. Monika was a few kilometres ahead, and the local folk that zoomed by me provided her with updates as to my progress and condition. Meanwhile, I was lying on a bamboo bench taking a second look at my breakfast and feeling pretty pathetic. One chap stopped to ask me if I was all right and I asked him to tell Monika to come back for me.
Monika eventually appeared, like a knight on a white charger, on the back of a young fellow’s moped. She leapt aboard my trusty bike and road it to the main road junction while I weakly clung on to the back of the moped and was whisked down the hill to the same point. I jumped a lift on a truck, the driver of which decided now was the time to finally make his push to join the F1 racers. I clung on to the tray in the rear of the truck as we overtook buses on blind corners and generally tore up the country side. I heard Tarquin scream a few times, but he swears I was so sick I was hearing things because he “really enjoyed the relaxing journey, it wasn’t scary at all”. Yeah, right.
The little bungalow on the lake shore was pretty basic, but for $5 a night you shouldn’t expect much really. I collapsed into bed and didn’t move for the better part of a day and a half. Monika was on medical duty and slogged into town to repeatedly stock up on lemonade and crackers as needed. On the second day, I thought the room was getting a bit smelly, but I was too ready to lay the blame on my own gassy guts and it wasn’t until I heard the the whimpering of little beings that I realised the smell was associated with the six newly born puppies that had arrived underneath. The smell wasn’t that bad, and the sweet little noises they were making were cute. Then the smell got worse… and worse… and … then we couldn’t take it any more and moved to a new bungalow as soon as one became available.
In the meantime, Monika had managed to pinch her sciatic nerve and was walking around like an old granny, and smelling like one too: think lots of deep-heat cream… combine that with the smell of puppy pee and, were we in West, we would have had family services visiting and asking us what happened to sweet old Nanna, and did we bury her under the verandah?
Aside: I’ve been feeling pretty sick for a few months now and was struggling to work out why. I’m probably in the best physical condition of my life, so it shouldn’t be related to the strenuous activity of riding. It seems that the cocktail of vitamins and malaria prophylaxis I’ve been taking every morning to boost my system is the culprit. I’ve stopped taking them and I don’t feel like throwing up every morning any more – huzzah and hooray! The risk of malaria infection is pretty low in these parts, so I’ll rely on mosquito counter-measures instead of feeling like doggy-doo-doo every day.
The Twisted Sisters…
Bibs and bobs…