June 21, 2012

I’m taking a ferry from Melaka to Dumai, on the east coast of the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. It’s overcrowded and a little scary as I am sitting on the lowest level (below the waterline) and in the very front. The way out to an exit is up a very narrow staircase and I know if we crash I’m a goner. So, after realizing all these facts I decide not to worry about it, what else can you do? On the ferry I meet a young woman who wants to practice her English with me, this is going to become very familiar over the next few days. She offers me a ride to the bus terminal with her family who will be picking her up from the ferry, what a sweetie. I also meet a man who is traveling with his family, wife and 3 children (aged 17-22), they also offer me a ride and as he will be the one driving I accept because I feel it will inconvenience him less than the young woman.  They wait patiently for me to make it through getting my visa on arrival and going through customs (where for some reason the officer takes a very thorough interest in the padding in the back support of my bag and scans it 3 times before letting me through). The family has a driver and everyone is crammed into the back 2 seats of their suv, they insist I take the front seat, I have no choice but to accept.

We drive to the bus station and the father jumps out of the car and tells me to wait, that he will arrange my ticket for me. When he comes back he gives me the ticket and I try to reimburse him the $9.00 but he won’t take it. I leave the money sitting on the front console of the car, hoping he won’t notice until it’s too late.

They then insist on taking me out for lunch, again, I have no choice and I know better now than to try to pay, I just thank them many times and try to be an interesting eating companion. We are having a “Padang meal”. What this mean is that many, many dishes are placed on the table in front of us and we eat what we want to. When we are finished the server adds up what has been eaten and charges accordingly. It’s a good meal, and while I am trying to make conversation the family is busily and speedily eating away, probably downing about twice as much as I do in the same time period and then waiting for me to finish up. I hadn’t realized eating customs were so different. Perhaps because it’s lunchtime? Maybe because they are Chinese Malays? Maybe they just typically eat really fast as a family? In any case it’s a serious business and quickly finished.

After the meal they invite me back to their house to wait for the bus. I accept happily and we drive to a large 3 storey building that looks more like a warehouse than a home. There is fencing all around and cameras as well. I’m getting the impression that this is a pretty wealthy family my Indonesian standards, and the dad is a bit evasive when I ask him what he does for a living. I am in their home for about 45 minutes, and spend most of it chatting with the 2 older girls. Eventually the bus shows up, it’s actually another suv, it turns out that a lot of the “buses” here are suv’s. I say goodbye to my hosts and settle in for what is supposed to be a 5 hour journey (was actually 7) to Pekanbaru, about halfway across the island heading westward and my stopover for 2 nights.

June, 22 2012

Pekanbaru turns out to be an ugly place, god, I though KL was bad but this is terrible. I can’t think of one redeeming thing to say about the place as there just wasn’t anything to do. It was hot and smelly, really dirty and smoggy. It looked a lot like Dumai and I was starting to wonder what I had gotten myself into coming to Sumatra. All I could do was keep my fingers crossed that my next stop, Bukittinggi, would be better.