You think you’re alone now?

 

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.

We stopped in a village for a drink break and the whole population showed up to see what we were up fo.

We stopped in a village for a drink break and the whole population showed up to see what we were up to. I don’t have a wide enough lens to capture them all…

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.

The scene at the river campsite. Travelling through Sumatra is not for the agrophobic, that is for sure.

The scene at the river campsite. Travelling through Sumatra is certainly not for the agrophobic. (Photo by Monika)

 

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.

 

The fast-breaking meal outside our room

The fast-breaking meal outside our room. (Photo by Monika)

 

The congregation outside our room

The congregation outside our room… there were about 20 more on the verandah outside. (Photo by Monika)

 

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.

 

Maladies

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.

A snap I took of the crater lake (Danau Maninjau), while speeding down the "44 bends" to the lake shore

A snap I took of the crater lake (Danau Maninjau), while speeding down the “44 bends” to the lake shore

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?

Dramatic scenery made up for feeling crook and the odour exposure

Dramatic scenery made up for feeling crook and the odour exposure

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.

In Pictures

The scenery…

sunset

One of many magnificent sunsets seen from our beachside campsites.

sunset at TKT beach

Another one…

Another sunset at TKT beach

last one, promise

rice fields and mountains

Rice fields and mountains, looing back at Lake Maninjau.

A mosque (Masjid) tucked away in a valley

A mosque (Masjid) tucked away in a valley

Trying to wrangle a break from the crowds, we hid behind some trees and planned to take in this magnificent view... they found us within five minutes...

Trying to wrangle a break from the crowds, we hid behind some trees and planned to take in this magnificent view… they found us within five minutes…

 

The people…

Ramadan is a month of fasting and religious cleansing. All the same, they are pretty pleased when the sun sets and they can eat and drink again.

Ramadan is a month of fasting and religious cleansing. All the same, they are pretty pleased when the sun sets and they can eat and drink again.

Early morning wake-up call. No need for an alarm, the locals show up before the sun rises to see if we are doing anything interesting. Sleeping is still interesting apparently.

Early morning wake-up call. No need for an alarm, the locals show up before the sun rises to see if we are doing anything interesting. Sleeping is still interesting apparently.

These monkeys are used to collect coconuts. They are trained to climb the trees and knock the coconuts off for their handlers. I wonder if the monkeys try to aim for the handler in the hopes of makin a run for it?

These monkeys are used to collect coconuts. They are trained to climb the trees and knock the coconuts off for their handlers. I wonder if the monkeys try to aim for the handler in the hopes of making a run for it?

What's in that box? I was tryin to snap a picture of this old fellow, but he was more interested in finding out what the little box was I was waving in his face. Too funny.

What’s in that box? I was trying to snap a picture of this old fellow, but he was more interested in finding out what the little box was I was waving in his face. Too funny.

Monika tries on a traditional Indonesian head dress with some local ladies

Monika tries on a traditional Indonesian head dress with some local ladies

It looked like so much fun, they decided to join in... it weighed much more than you'd anticipate

It looked like so much fun, they decided to join in… it weighed much more than you’d anticipate

Random strangers ask to take your photo all the time... I'm sure I'm on hundreds of FaceBook pages by now.

Random strangers ask to take your photo all the time… I’m sure I’m on hundreds of FaceBook pages by now.

Showing off for the foreighers

Showing off for the foreighers

Geoffrey

Geoffrey, a grand name

Energy Plus! It's hard not to enjoy yourself when there is this kind of enthusiasm on display around every corner

Energy Plus! It’s hard not to enjoy yourself when there is this kind of enthusiasm on display around every corner

A contrast to the previous pic, calm dignity in the face of camera toting outsiders

A contrast to the previous pic, calm dignity in the face of camera toting outsiders

The Top Knot Twins. Sons of the folks that own the little park by the sea which we adopted as our home for four days. These two are truly gentlemen in the making.

The Top Knot Twins. Sons of the folks that own the little park by the sea which we adopted as our home for four days. These two are truly gentlemen in the making.

Daddy to the Top Knot Twins and one of the many ferocious creatures he's imagined out of the driftwood that has washed up on the beach

Daddy to the Top Knot Twins and one of the many ferocious creatures he’s imagined out of the driftwood that has washed up on the beach

Another campsite and another crowd of enthusiastic locals cheering us on as we set up

Another campsite and another crowd of enthusiastic locals cheering us on as we set up

Our local Mama that adopted us and demanded we stay. She gave great hugs!

Our local Mama that adopted us and demanded we stay. She gave great hugs!

They start driving pretty young in Sumatra. They also peer backwards after they have passed you to stare at the sight.... I've also seen a man who would be classified as legally blind driving a moped the wrong way down a highway. Road safety at it's best (photo by Monika)

They start driving pretty young in Sumatra. They also peer backwards after they have passed you to stare at the sight, wobbling teribly with 2-3 friends on the back…. I’ve also seen a man who would be classified as legally blind driving a moped the wrong way down a highway. Road safety at it’s best (photo by Monika)

Another cuppa and another crowd. Word passed pretty quickly about our location and they descended in droves for photos, a chat and to stare at us having coffee

Another cuppa and another crowd. Word passed pretty quickly about our location and they descended in droves for photos, a chat and to stare at us having coffee

 

The Twisted Sisters…

Crossing the equator. This was quite a milestone and one I won't soon forget. I started at just shy of 40 degrees north and managed to ride most of the way to the 0 degree mark - woo hoo, go Janey!

Crossing the equator. This was quite a milestone and one I won’t soon forget. I started at just shy of 40 degrees north and managed to ride most of the way to the 0 degree mark – woo hoo, go Janey!

Monika bathing in the river, her sarong was apparently just short of decency so it was a touch awkward

Monika bathing in the river, her sarong was apparently just short of decency so it was a touch awkward

Living a bit of fantasy: Janey of the Twin Top-Knots. A magnificent wizards staff I found amongst the driftwood at the beach with the Top Knot Twins, sort of sad that I couldnt take it home with me. I believe in magic... (Photo by Monika)

Living a bit of fantasy: Janey of the Twin Top-Knots. A magnificent wizards staff I found amongst the driftwood at the beach with the Top Knot Twins, sort of sad that I couldnt take it home with me. I believe in magic… (Photo by Monika)

Cuddling the Top Knot Twin's pet monkey, wondering how many fleas/lice were traversing the small space between us. (Photo by Monika)

Cuddling the Top Knot Twin’s pet monkey, wondering how many fleas/lice were traversing the small space between us. (Photo by Monika)

I've been getting a little spoiled by Monika's wonderful camp cooking, she's a bit of a whizz. (Photo by Monika)

I’ve been getting a little spoiled by Monika’s wonderful camp cooking, she’s a bit of a whizz. (Photo by Monika)

My contribution to meals: toast on a home-made toasting contraption. We lashed out and bought some margarine and jam, too comforting for words. (Photo by Monika)

My contribution to meals: toast on a home-made toasting contraption. We lashed out and bought some margarine and jam, too comforting for words. (Photo by Monika)

Stretching out my back by the side of the road. The locals couldn't work out what I was up to. I left them guessing. (Photo by Monika)

Stretching out my back by the side of the road. The locals couldn’t work out what I was up to. I left them guessing. (Photo by Monika)

Fighting one of Papa's (Top Knot Twins daddy) driftwood monsters. I told you that staff was magic. (Photo by Monika - auto timer)

Fighting one of Papa’s (Top Knot Twins daddy) driftwood monsters. I told you that staff was magic. (Photo by Monika – auto timer)

Monika takes a hit for the team. Sister down!!! (Photo by Monika - auto timer)

Monika takes a hit for the team. Sister down!!! (Photo by Monika – auto timer)

I'm running out of time on my visa and I fly to Darwin in a couple of weeks, so we hitched a ride through masses of palm oil plantations and boring scenery on the back of a potato truck. Five hours of sitting on potatoes can leave you slightly deranged as evidenced by this pic.

I’m running out of time on my visa and I fly to Darwin in a couple of weeks, so we hitched a ride through masses of palm oil plantations and boring scenery on the back of a potato truck. Five hours of sitting on potatoes can leave you slightly deranged as evidenced by this pic.

 

Bibs and bobs…

In bad English and my poorer Indonesia the Top Knot Twins tried to explain where they got their monkey from... It came out as "monkey mother is in the forest with the deer, but she's not dead"... still don't know where they got him from, but hope his mother likes the deer she's hanging out with

In bad English and my poorer Indonesia the Top Knot Twins tried to explain where they got their monkey from… It came out as “monkey mother is in the forest with the deer, but she’s not dead”… still don’t know where they got him from, but hope his mother likes the deer she’s hanging out with

Student Accommodation... I lived in some ordinary places when I was at uni, but compared to these they were veritable palaces

Student Accommodation… I lived in some ordinary places when I was at uni, but compared to these they were veritable palaces

A compressor, a hose, and an inner tube, that's all you need to mine gold in Sumatra... oh, and one dude willing to suck on the dodgy air coming through the hose and guide the vaccuum as it sucks up the sediment. Hard work for a few grams of gold a day.

A compressor, a hose, and an inner tube, that’s all you need to mine gold in Sumatra… oh, and one dude willing to suck on the dodgy air coming through the hose and guide the vaccuum as it sucks up the sediment. Hard work for a few grams of gold a day.

Apparently there are malicious cars that dive off precipices and into the water around here... keep your eyes peeled

Apparently there are malicious cars that dive off precipices and into the water around here… keep your eyes peeled

In Australia a "piss pot" is someone who likes to have more than the recommended alcohol intake on a regular basis, in Indonesia it's a place to get your car washed

In Australia a “piss pot” is someone who likes to have more than the recommended alcohol intake on a regular basis, in Indonesia it’s a place to get your car washed

 


Comments

You think you’re alone now? — 3 Comments

  1. Welcome to the Southern Hemisphere travellers! It’s all downhill now but sobering to think the Australian leg still to come is still 6,000+ km! Great people experiences in Sumatra with some spectacular places along the way. The solitude of the Outback will come as a pleasant surprise. Well done Janey and Monika the Pedalling Ambassadors

  2. Hallo meester!
    What a wonderful story again, love. I understand you’re going to Darwin soon because of visa arrangements. Are you going back to Indonesia after?
    You’re already more than a year on the road. Amazing! So much has happened since, right?!
    Oh by the way, a pispot is Dutch for a urinal. Strange that they transformed it into a place where cars get washed.

    Big kiss and many hugs!

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