Thursday, 17 July 2008

Day 421 - Bukit Tinggi (Sumatra, Indonesia)

Well I am Bukit Tinggi, I was in one of those in Malaysia, though this one has been a bit more of a challenge to get to.

Taking the ferry out of Singapore to the island of Batam was easy, though I was thankful of the $10 deposit returned to me for the locker key at the hostel as they wanted $10 to take the bike over, it left me with enough for a tea and a small bite to eat. Just as we docked at Sekupang the Singapore skyline disappeared behind the trees, I was about to enter a different world. The orderly way of life has gone, it's back to chaos. I made my way to the domestic ferry terminal next door to get a ticket to Sumatra, there was a row of kiosks with heads poking out and people shouting out their destinations, not that I could make out what they were shouting when they all shouted together. Soon enough I have a ticket for 7am the following morning. I went in search of a hotel, the first one I found was 16km away. I walked around the town, there is traffic everywhere, mainly motorcycles, few pay attention to road rules, a red traffic light seems optional. Peoples reactions to me seems to fall into one of three categories, call out a greeting, talking to me in order to request money for some service or just a very fixed stare. I am not a lover of the later, but I will soon get used to it again. A greeting, nod or a wave changes nothing, it's a very fixed stare, a sort of 'the lights are on but no one is in' type of stare.

The following morning I had breakfast at the hotel, there was a delicious looking rice pudding, that would go down a treat, but it didn't, it was a salty fish based dish and came as an awful shock when you are looking forward to a nice rice pudding. By 6am I was ready to leave, it had just started to pour with rain, great. After 5 minutes, experience told me that this weather was set in for the day, I had to make a move and get wet or miss the ferry, there was no point waiting any longer. I set off when it eased a little, but 5 minutes later I was wet through, another 5 minutes later and the rain stopped for good, so much for experience! The ferry to Pekanbaru arrived at 12:30 but sells you a bit sort, 150k short to be exact! As I waited to get of with my bike the hawkers were around me, "Where are you going","Pekanbaru" I replied, "How are you getting there", "I am going by bike", "You can't go by bus, the road is too rough and it's too bumpy, it will take 4 hours, you can go in my car", "No, I am going by bicycle" I reply and point to my bike, "You can't cycle there, it is to far", "Yes I can", "No you can't", "Yes I can", "No you can't", "Yes I can", there is only ever going to be one winner, he walked off in a huff. I was shown to my baggage on the back of the ferry and asked for 2 dollars for the service, I gave him the same as everybody else was paying, nothing. So I set off down a deserted road, clearly I would not reach my destination by night fall. I had mixed feelings about this extra 150k, a bit pissed off as it is unexpected, but happier that I have been dropped off at the edge of the island rather than in the middle. The road was ok so long as you weave around the potholes, some were more like craters! I stopped for lunch at the first place I found, it might be the last place too. The guy opposite me is a starer, nothing I do can get through to him, so I just return the stare and he eventually looks away. As soon as I turn my head he is stareing again. The going is reasonable until it starts to rain again, so I dived into a cafe to take cover and ask the locals where the nearest hotel was, it's another 30k including a ferry across a river. There was a policeman there, I asked if I could stay at the police station but he said they are just offices, I asked if they have any cells and everybody laughed, then I politely ask him to arrest me for the night but he wouldn't, I must remember not to be so polite when asking to be arrested. Still he paid for my coffee instead. I set off into the rain and by the time I reached the ferry it was getting dark. It arrived and the queue of motorcycles started to move, then stopped. At this rate it will be another 2 or 3 crossings before I got on. I could see the ferry on the other side, it didn't return, great! I was told it has broken down, somebody else said they have stopped for dinner. A small fleet of little boats started up but few used them, but I was one of them, 4 motorbikes per boat. Once across it was completely dark, time to use my new rear light, oh, how interesting, it doesn't seem to work, it did when I bought it. Another sound investment. I arrived in a town and was about to go into what looked like a hotel only to find out it was a hospital. I found a hotel but it was outrageuosly expensive, so I looked elsewhere. Having been lead around by motorcyclists to other outrageously priced hotels, some with no water, I had covered every road in the town at least twice, it was near 8pm and I as rapidly losing the will to live, so I went back to the first hotel I tried where only the executive rooms were left. Looking around me I suspected the word
executive would have been misused, rather like calling the ferry the Pekanbaru Ferry, I was proved right. My executive room was damp, moldy and stank. It had a squat loo and bucket for a shower, no running water, the television had three channels, but the reception was so bad you couldn't see a picture on any of them, but at least you could hear faint voices from one of them. The air-con sort of worked though. As I ate in a restuarant a couple came in who had 14 dishes taken to their table, they must have been cyclists, I was proud of them and just a little jeaous too. I have a new challenge here in Indonesia, it's trying to find the name of the town I am staying in. I eventually found out that this one is Perawang, a big place, but not big enough for my map, and there are no signs for it. When I asked the name of the place, the usual answer I got was "Yes". My one inch to the day map is decidedly lacking.
By lunchtime the following day I arrived in Pekanbaru, but after a bite to eat I carried on covering 60k of the 143k marked on the map to Bukit Tinggi, leaving just another 80k, though it is back into the mountains. Hotels have a number of names here, Wisma being the most common. They are family run affairs, more like a guest houses than a hotel, somewhat basic. In Bangkinang the electricity was off until 6pm, I thought I had left all that long behind.
Soon after I set off I saw a sign for Bukit Tinggi, it was 147k, either the map or the sign was wrong, more likely both. The first lots of kilometers were flat, but with the mountains ahead I was still in for a tough ride. I arrived at a small town which seemed as though I might be able to stop at, but first I asked somebody how far it was to Bukit Tinggi, 24k the man said in good English in a confident tone, the type of person and reply that instills confidence. The kilometer stones only have 3 letters on, the rest you have to work out. PYK was another 45k, but clearly wasn't Bukit Tinggi which should be the next town, odd. When I stopped and had a closer look at the map PYK turned out to be the town before it, that would make BKT at least 75k, oh shit! The climb through the mountains started, it was long and hot, not overly exciting as there were no views through the trees. It became clear I wouldn't reach the next town, it also became clear that I wouldn't be able to camp, the flattest ground was the road and my legs over the last 15k confirmed that even the road wasn't that flat! Then I could see a big glass fronted building way up the hillside, I hoped it was the top and at least a village, but it turned out to be just a restaurant, quite a smart one. I pulled in and asked if they had a room for rent, they straight away offered me the smaller room of the restaurant, excellent, I was being smiled on for a change. There were people there of various ages though I never could work out the connection, there was a bit of a language barrier. There were 2 young childen and their mother, a man about my age and an elderly couple, but I don't think any were related other than monther and childen. After a shower I joined them outside on the terrace which had a great view. The children were wonderful though got just a tad too excited when I took the camera out. After that the little girl just wanted to hug me all the time, she was like a limpet. At least I assumed it was a hug, she might have been trying to strangle me for the camera. Then I was joined by the elderly man of 82 who clearly wasn't going to let the minor detail of a language barrier get in the way of a few good stories, most of which ended in a big smile and him pointing to an even bigger ring on his finger. The evening was spent with the children playing ludo and snakes and ladders, me learning the numbers in Indonesian, they learning the numbers in English, they were doing better than me. The women slept in the main restaurant and I slept in the smaller room beside the old man who made the most of another chance to tell some more stories, though as he had his blanket pulled right over his head all I had to do was grunt occasionally.
Come morning the little girl was soon in our room, I knew that meant there would be no more sleep. Once up I was offered tea and with it came fried bananas. They wanted nothing for my stay, but as the woman seemed to really like the beads I was wearing around my neck I gave them to her. It was another 2km to the top of the climb, then a nice descent that had a series of switchbacks that were so sharp lorries couldn't get around without a bit of reversing. The rest of the ride to Bukit Tinggi was easy compared with the previous day. I found a hotel then did a great pile of washing, which reminds me, it is on the balcony and it's raining. I had a walk around town, it's nicer than my first impressions of it when I arrived, but I was flagging so stopped at a cafe for a bite to eat where I met Udi, a 46 year old man who was not slow in coming forward, "Hello, my name is Udi, I am gay and my boyfriend has just left me, do you want to come back to my house tonight?", "Er, thanks very much, but I really must wash my hair tonight!".
To get to Bukit Tinggi I had expected to take the ferry all the way to Pekanbaru, then ride the 143k as stated on the map to here, however it's taken a ride of 385k to reach here, but that's travel, that's life.
Indonesia is geographically an amazing place, covering a huge area, but made up of over 17,000 islands. So far I have visited 2, so I don't extect to get around them all in the 2 months I have here. Tomorrow it is back down to sea level and Pedang, then I will ride all the way south along the west coast. My map shows just one big town, so there will probably be loads, so you may not hear from me for a while.


dad said...

I take it the photo is not your bike having sprouted another wheel. I discovered that Singapore is the busiest port in the world, so that beats Combe.

aoiffe said...

Really glad to hear of your experience with the fish rice pudding, it puts the food here in hotel Racliffe in a new light - the ocean pie was not as unexpectedly odd as your meal and it did contain one piece of greying fish,so i count myself blessed.

Caff said...

Welcome back to the blog Aoiffe:-) I always seem to do things back to front - I read the comments before the blog. It is rather strange but gives me a sense of excitement of what is to come - you know, like reading a book starting at the last page! :-)

Oldyonfoldy said...

Hi John.

Came across your blog.

I'm a fellow cyclist and will be heading to Bt Tinggi in 2 weeks. Wondering if I could tap your experience on Bt Tinggi accommodations? Any hotels that impressed you? All the best for the rest of your adventures.