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Back to Medan

sunny

Though the others were staying on another day for a second encounter with the apes, time for me was pressing and I felt I had already done the idea justice enough. After a quick brekkie together I said my farewells, with Viv sweetly describing me as "the loveliest weirdo she'd ever met", and so across the ropey bridge one last time I opted for my first Becak ride (motorbike with twin sidecar) to patch of wasteground which was the bus station. My only view of the old part of town presented little to detain me and so straight into a waiting minibus, I was immediately back off down the bonejarring road to Medan. The minibus proved a touch faster as surmised but I foolishly had allowed myself to be crushed into one of the rear corners, with seat spacing not optimised for tall Western statures. Tourists had become rare enough around here for the usual procession of roadside shouts and giggles to endure, and past a palm oil mill and its many servicing trucks I ended up back at Pinang Baris bus station in good time if a little bruised. I then promptly bagged myself a ticket at a surprisingly low genuine price for the masochistic overnight bus marathon up to Bandah Aceh, with the added bonus of being able to somewhat riskily drop my bag there. That left me free with the best part of the day to try and fill in the gaps which had hitherto eluded me in Medan, though I was soon disappointed to realise that it was already too late for the mornings only War Museum. The Museum of North Sumatra merited another stab however and I was rewarded this time to find the lights at least vaguely on. I made a beeline for the hitherto unviewable upstairs galleries where I came across an excellent quality display of Thai artifacts, notably some very well crafted scary head masks of Buddhist and Hindu influenced deity figures, doubtless used in ritual pantomime. There was even a storyboard relating Thai history in a condensed form much more conducive to reception than the monster recitals I had pored over in Bangkok. An ethnographic section held some fine Batak ware, the local tribesfolk using ferns, palm fonds and bamboo to plait together all manner of goods such as carpets, hats and basketware. A collection of musical instruments belied the local importance of drums, with one example being a sort of xylophone array of a dozen very tall bongos of obviously varying tone. Some spooky human and animilist statues in stone and wood were excellent, and proved a good taster for the ensuing temporary expo on the fascinating and exotic Nias Island culture. The figure carvings here were supreme in size and craftsmanship, depicting creatures of demon and dragon-like ilk. Complimenting them was a display of photos from around the island, showing enticing pointy architecture, men porting warrior costumes, as well as elaborate house decoration and carved megaliths. Indeed, the advertising banners for the expo tried to sell it as the worlds only surviving megalithic culture and with evidence like this, who was I to argue? Returning downstairs the place was again pitch dark and deserted and so they missed a trick in selling me souvenir book, but never mind, I'd made the effort and had been suitably rewarded. Back up past the ever closed war cemetery, I made for a modern shopping centre devoid of the promised net cafe, but stocked up for the bus trip before finding a second net cafe both incredibly slow and incredibly cheap. I paid 10p for 40 minutes of mainly waiting, even if the joint was remarkably salubrious. Another rush hour Opelet took me back to Pinang Baris whereupon one of the touts trailed me heavily laden across the forecourt and a deathwish highway, but no, it wasnt to catch the bus out on the road, it was to try to get me into his mates restautrant fucksake. Risking life and limb again I returned to find more sweeping brooms than passengers awaiting the coach, and half an hour late we were off. Though it was air-con and a blanket was provided, none of that could save me from the immediate onslaught of ultra-loud Indonesian karaoke, ranging from teeny temptresses squeaking sickly sweet lovefests to a burly, aging rapper trying too hard to be cool with a painful mix of calypso and trance. And you risked epilepsy such was the frequency of switching from the artists to dancing girls, the same girls striking the same poses in each and every video. Good grief. Describing it as cheesy would be doing a disservice to cheese. I could only conclude that it was intended to distract you from the maniac driving which had my eyes frequently bulging. Vehicles constantly tripped over each other in their desperate attempts to squeeze past each other, slewing round blind bends and playing chicken at breakneck speed. Sumatra's main highway turned out to be what in Europe would be considered a narrow country road, more often than not devoid of any markings, and I'm sure we left it more than once as oncoming traffic saw fit to blind us at the critical moment. Despite dicing with the petrol tankers I sought refuge in sleep, only to wake up to wish I hadnt. It had become instinctive to periodically feel my pockets to check that everything was still there, I always carried my valuables close to hand. And so the ultimate nightmare unfolded as I felt for my passport to find it gone. Words cannot express such a sinking, crushing feeling. As my head writhed for an explanation I reasoned that no, it couldnt have been pilfered on the bus since I'd had the blanket over me. A quick search under and down the side of my seat revealed nothing and then it dawned on me that I'd been looking at it at the bus station when a local boy had proferred a tourist leaflet to me. There was no question of a pickpocket, but in hurriedly placing it back in my side pocket to take the leaflet, it must have slipped back out where I sat. SHIT! At the next brief pick-up stop I tied to explain in the absence of an English speaker the gravity of the situation, the driver just gestured towards Bandah Aceh. I'd little choice but to settle for that but by that time it would be morning and someone would have been bound to find it. Would they take it to the police? Doubtful. If they valued it at all, I guessed a Brit passport was worth a fair few bob in this nick of the woods. Painfully clawing through the ramifications, I realised it would mean an infuriating prompt return back to Medan, a visit to the Brit consulate, dealings with (bribing) the police, a nightmare of immigration bureaucracy. I'd recently met one poor bugger who'd endured the week from hell to secure a replacement paltry one year passport and short stay visa, and that was in "civilised" Malaysia. Not a happy camper then and resigned to my fate, I had visions of just throwing in the towel and flying to Australia as soon as I got it sorted out, but it didnt serve to alleviate the present sickness in my belly. Forlornly, I finally managed to fire up my miniscule pocket torch with its temperamental switch and soon found a condom under my seat. My condom. Unused of course! It had been in the same pocket, could it be? Light shone like never before when I spied a small burgundy booklet which had somehow managed to slither right to the far corner of the adjacent seat, such was the careering nature of the ride. WHOOPEE!! There had been an interminable number of sometimes spectacular mosques lining the road ever since entering Aceh province, and maybe Allah had had mercy on me. As the bus stopped for 5am prayers I relayed the good news to the congregation and relief was not strong enough a word. In a private moment, I shed tears.

Posted by andyhay 00:00 Archived in Indonesia

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