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“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Ernest Hemingway

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17 March 2015

42: Live another Day

25th-27th February 2015


     We have had some crazy journeys on our travels. A 10 hour bus from Skopje to Serbia sat next to a bald, fat man stripped to the waist with gypsy folk pop soundtrack blasting out from the speakers. A fun but long four day vodka infused rail trip from Moscow to Irkutsk and a horrific night bus from Ninh Binh to Hue, Vietnam. However these were mere warm up's compared to the bus trip from Bukittinggi to Jakarta. 

Our home for the next two days
     After our first experience of coach travel in Sumatra we made sure we left Bukittinggi with all the facts. The guys at the Orchid Hotel told us that a local company called ANS offer the most comfortable coaches for long haul journeys and after searching through loads of crappy privately run bus firms we decided to trust the advice. The ticket to Jakarta cost the equivalent of £18 and the we were told it should take around 36 hours in total.
All the mod cons

     Our first impressions of ANS were great. The bus was pretty much the alter ego of our nightmare, shot to shit Dumai coach. There was air con, leg room, comfy seats, a toilet and most surprising of all charger points. It doesn't get much better than that in Sumatra.

      Despite the drivers best suicidal efforts to stick to the scheduled timeframe our progress through southern Sumatra was painfully sluggish. Single carriageway roads are the sole option here and it only takes a slow moving rickshaw packed with pigs, a buffalo drawn cart or a lone teenager attempting to transport fifty 8ft long lengths of bamboo scaffold from the back of a Honda Wave scooter to cause huge tailbacks that could take half a day to escape.
     Once again the prayer, smoking and lunch breaks added frequent and often sought after opportunities to stretch our legs, grab some rice with mystery meat and watch the locals laugh at us. Apparently Indonesians find it amusing to see two slightly tanned foreigners wearing shorts and vests during the rainy season, instead of opting for the traditional two layers of clothing, jeans, bomber jacket and wooly hat combination.
Now I agree that this would be an unusual sight if we were in outer Mongolia in late February but when the climate rarely drops below 35 degrees it doesn't quite add up. Thankfully what our indigenous comrades of travel didn't realise is that too help pass the time we had noticed a few interesting characters of our own.

     Firstly a pretty common sight. Anyone who visits this country for five minutes will realise that unlike Europe there is no smoking ban in Indonesia. There were many people smoking on the coach but one person in particular stood out. He was a young lad no older than 17, sat at the front of the bus who we nicknamed "Casey Junior"(the train in Walt Disney's Dumbo) on account of his uncanny resemblance to a steam locomotive (ironically sat at the front of the carriage). He smoked that much that when the time came for a cigarette break outside he ensured he made the most of the fresh air and smoked two at once. 

    Next there was an old guy travelling with his family who we named "Shelly" due to his craving for quail eggs. This guys protein rich diet would have been fine if it wasn't for three key factors:

agriculture dominates the Sumatran landscape. If its not rice paddies its sugar cane or rubber plantations
1) Bin bags were not provided.
2) There were no windows that you could open.
3) We were in Asia.

   I've mentioned on many an occasion regarding the way Asia sees an open window not as a means to allow air to enter an indoor space, more as a magical portals where things can be thrown out of. Unfortunately as Shelly realized this second dimension was not available he just threw said egg shells over his shoulder and into the aisle.

     Finally sat directly behind us was a frail elderly woman who like Shelly had a craving for a certain type of food and it didn’t take long for us to guess. What “Smelly Sarah” enjoyed in life most was tucking into the king of fruits, DURIAN. Breakfast, lunch, dinner it didn’t seem to matter to Sarah. In fact I’m sure she brushed her teeth with the damn stuff and probably swilled her mouth out with durian infused mouth the wash. For those that have never experienced the sweet fragrance of durian it’s well known as the worst smell in the world.

     It was uncomfortable for everyone on board made worse by the three “characters” but the person I felt most sorry for was our cleanliness conscious driver who spent every fuel, prayer and food stop hosing down the coach.

Everything shipshape and Bristol fashion
The scenery along the way helped to distract from the tedium of our journey. Southern Sumatra may not be as touristic as the north but that doesn’t mean it’s not beautiful. Sure the jungles have be deforested in wake of agricultural lad over the years but I challenge anyone to look at the patchwork landscape of lush, green paddy fields and say it not stunning.

36 hours into our journey (already four hours over our estimate) we reached very southern tip of Sumatra and caught the Sumatra-Java ferry. The journey took an hour and half from one side to the other and gave us a chance to move about and enjoy the cool sea breeze. During the day time it’s possible to see the peak of the famous Krakatoa (or what remains of it) to the eastern horizon (not west as the Hollywood movie title would lead you to believe) but sadly the view at 11pm was limited.
Welcome to Java

Reaching the Javan shore was like stepping onto a new world the roads suddenly had two lanes, were more or less pothole free and the coach travelled the same distance in two hours as it would have done in five on Sumatra and as we reached Jakarta tired and malnourished things were looking bright again.