It was finally time to say farewell to Nias, with my curiosity for traditional villages sated and time ever pressing on. Cam and Keith were bailing out too, disappointed after their episode of unsettled weather and poor surf, and being pushed for time I was emotionally blackmailed into splitting a ridiculously overpriced charter van 3 ways with them. I might have joined them on a flight to Padang had there been one available, but with not a single travel agent to be had in Teluk Dalam and the Merpati airline office being short on service, they finally opted for the desperate measure of flying out to Medan in the hope of a connection further south instead. I was happy to be sticking with my hardcore overland strategy however, especially with the revelation that a new fast ferry service would get me back to Sibolga in just 3 or 4 hours. It was on the way to the ferry port past Gunung Sitoli that I spotted a sign for the local museum, a sidetrack I had had aspirations to catch, but the dedicated transfer to the boat after picking up another infuriating credit card advance and passport photocopies proved to be too convenient to let drop. It proved a well founded decision, since upon arrival at the port it transpired that the fast boat was leaving an hour earlier than I had expected, and I also had the good fortune here to meet 2 young guys from Teluk Dalam heading my way. In stereotypically rudimentary fashion, we had to board our speedy looking craft via a larger landing craft, then sidle over one of the wooden hulks I had earlier got to Nias on, an assault course of clambering over high gunwhales, jumping between craft with the risk of falling into the sea and being crushed in between them. Then we had to cower through the low precarious negotiation of a cargo hold in full swing of loading and unloading goods and passengers. Our pointy fibreglass bucket certainly turned out to be fast though, and it was still daylight as we shuttled past offshore islands and a cliff scouring waterfall plunging into the sea near Sibolga.
Walking into a solid wall of business hopefulls, I showed the Nias boys the art of not being swayed by their aspirations, it was a more immediately pressing concern for me to bag some money and food in any case. I was made to feel a dickhead then when not half an hour after our arrival, despite the efforts of a local Nias "friend", we discovered that incredulously, all of the transport south had dried up. It was something I had checked upon my previous arrival in Sibolga and couldnt believe that there wasnt a single night bus south. Seemingly out of options then, it was with a very heavy heart that I had to accept the inevitable unenviable drag of overnighting in Sibolga. Though our Becak driving "friend" was handy in finding an ATM which readily accepted my cashcard, and I also chanced upon an unexpected golddust net cafe, the boy showed his true colours upon me offering to treat them to a drink at a "good cafe". I began to wonder if it was a dangerous set-up on our subsequent baffling foray 10Ks out of town in the dark then, only to get a surprise of another sort entirely when the prize chancer parked up outside a country shack immediately obvious as a knocking shop. Unimpressed despite one of the chicks running out to grab my nuts, I had to explain to my teeny sidekicks that there were no friends in business and I was now left wondering how much the fucker was going to sucker me for at journeys end. All the cafes good or bad turned out to be shut upon our arrival back in town, and so it was fortunate he spared me my anger in just settling for the wholly grudged 10,000 I proferred. I would have much rather hit the cunt. After treating the boys to a warm beer between them, the fun was only just beginning however as they complained of "many mosquitos", but I quickly sussed that our Losmen dive was alive with bedbugs instead. Well initiated by now, I explained to the boys that there was nothing for it, we would be sleeping on the bare floorboards that night, but even that proved to be overly optimistic. The blighters still found us and made for a horrendous sleepless night, constantly applying Tiger Balm and repellant whilst listening to the monster sized rats scuttling about under the boards just beneath our backs. It struck me that I had only just managed to finally doze off when the boys unexpectedly woke me at half 5, our "non-friend" had promised us cheap tickets for next day transport but it proved to be just another sham. The promised discount was not forthcoming and after fighting for a reasonable price we waited in earnest like suckers for our less than ideal teensy Colt minivan to fill up. Wary of screwing the boys around again, I just settled for that convenient if infuriating option, but would be glad to get on the road and break free on my own. As we sat forlornly waiting to get under way, in full knowledge that we must have been letting other departures from the terminal slip by us, I also now became painfully aware that they had obviously duped us about night buses too. It was here that I tried to distract myself by watching Ecuador v Chile playing in the Copa America, and that coincidentally raised a particular point of note, in that en route south along the Trans-Sumatran Highway I would cross over the Equator today. It had taken me over 9 months to get this far "south". With the boys going on to big city Padang, it had been a deliberation as to whether I should do likewise. In the end however I settled for stopping a couple of hours short at the enticingly high thus doubtless cooler Bukittingi, reputedly a hill town travellers hangout promising a variety of attractions such as bullfighting, more traditional villages and 2 notable volcanoes. I really was feeling the need to make distance but reasoned that splitting up the marathon trek of maybe 14 hours to Padang would also help justify a stop over to check out the scene. Besides, I'd been plagued by a series of dramas and misfortunes ever since meeting the teens and was also growing increasingly shy of young people's habitual tendancy of accepting my charity devoid of conscience. Slipping in and out of consciousness, the all day minivan extravaganza continued a theme noted by the teens, that ever since they had met me there had been nothing but problems. Unbeknown to me, they had even spied me at the airport on Nias in the process of dropping off Cam and Keith, whereupon the van had promptly suffered a puncture. The story of my life.
A farcical "lunch stop" found us pulled up at a shack proferring only tea and "snake fruit", there were excruciating time expending sidetracks and pointless delays, and then I was bolted upright from my slumber by the van sideswiping an unseen car. For once though we didnt even stop. The Trans-Sumatran Highway proved to be a somewhat optimistic example of nomenclature, with the narrow undivided tarmac giving way to potholes and disrupted sections much more than it ever managed to boast white lines or dual carriageway. It was a relief that the van was at least heading direct for Bukittingi, and so it was that I said a tired farewell to the teeny duo as they connected for Padang. It was still a stretch of the nerves however as Mr. Gran Turismo up front drove like the habitual maniac, only to blow any time saving by an overlong pitstop just 50Ks short of our goal. It was just before this that I also came across another frustrating development just outside the town of Bonjol, named for a 19th century independence struggler. Though there was no arbitrary white line discernible, the Equator materialised mustering a large and very new looking museum building, there had hitherto been no mention of it. Upon arrival in Bukittingi it was certainly a saving grace then that I finally managed to coax the boy into dropping me off at the door of my chosen lodging, and welcomed into town by a very unexpected hoard of upmarket resort hotels, it was an immense relief to settle into a relative palace after the past weeks privations and a 13 hour gruelling journey. Too shattered to even Mandi off 2 days worth of sticky grime coated bug bites, a nearby travellers cafe proved to be another godsend, even if the beer was warm and all the tourist chicks were shagging the locals.