“How far?” I asked at one of the tourist info centres.
“Oh, very far,” said the local. “You need taxi.”
“How far?” I repeated, smelling his money-hustling attempt.
He mumbled something that sounded like, “Five kilometers?” I exclaimed.
The GPS on Bazza’s phone had said it was just under a 2-K walk.
“One and half kilometer,” he repeated.
“And you call that far?” I thanked him and headed off with my surfboard in the carry bag with Baz in tow. We were making our way to the Eco Surf Shop in Legian, a neighbouring suburb of Kuta.We reached the shop, deposited my board bag with its contents of fins, leash, board, wax, Frisbee, boomerang and a few surf combs to the delight of Rodney, the founder of the Soul Surf Project organisation.
Their aim and goal is to teach local kids how to preserve the environment via surf. As Bali and the rest of Indonesia, was plagued with a lack of solution regarding rubbish disposal, the locals were dispensing it everywhere.
And although this country had a long way to go before a change will arise, it was good to see someone taking the first step in teaching the next generation.
Back at the guesthouse we paid, packed and found a public bus to take us to the bus terminal in Denesapar, the capital of Bali. I found myself nodding off, crammed among the locals and their groceries in the back while Baz sat buried under our backpacks up front with the driver.
Not having slept much the night before, I was keen to get on the coach and hit the road so I could shut my eyes. We reached the terminal at about 13:00 for our 15:00 bus.
I texted Adi, our couchsurfing host in Batam who agreed to host us for a few days before we made our way to Singapore.
An air-conditioned coach pulled up and we loaded our packs and my guitar in the cargo area below. We took seats 3 and 4, behind the driver, even though our tickets read ‘1’ and ‘2′. The old man that wanted to sit in his allocated seat was not happy that he had to sit in number 2 rather than number 3.
Sitting directly behind the driver I noticed some of the passengers coming aboard with a packet of cigarettes and a lighter.
“Shit,” I groaned. “I hope they don’t plan on smoking in here,” I motioned to Baz.
Our driver, excited to have westerners on board, turned to us and asked, “Smoke?”
“No,” we both said.
“Oh,” his face fell. “Sorry, I smoke,” he said gesturing that he was going to light up even if the President of Indonesia would have asked him not to.
“Shit,” I groaned as Baz cracked up. “As long as it makes you happy in getting us safely to Jakarta, you can smoke as much as you want,” I said, regrettably.
Turns out cigarettes weren’t enough to make him happy – or getting us safely to Jakarta. It seemed our driver had seen the movie Speed one too many times, flooring it as though there really were a bomb on board.
Sharp turns (nothing short of the Monte Carlo GP track) were the favoured section of road to overtake rows of trucks, forcing all oncoming traffic of cars, bikes, trucks and buses off the road, their drivers screaming at us, honking their horns and gesturing with their hands (and no, it wasn’t the infamous rub ‘n’ tug motion). Our driver honked back. It appeared that our horn was located inside the cabin as it almost cracked the windshield.
And my eardrum.
Baz and I were finding religion as we prayed to make it safely to Jakarta.
To distract ourselves from the imminent expiration of our demise, we watched the adult-animated series, Archer about the world’s most dangerous spy, Sterling Archer, codename: Duchess (don’t ask). The show had it all, violence, comedy and ludicrous, loveable characters with impossible storylines. It was like Austin Powers-meets-Johnny English.
Only Archer was American.
We made it to the ferry in one piece on the west side of Bali and as soon as the bus parked, we sat ourselves on the top deck of the boat, charging our electronics and regaining our heartbeat and appreciation for life.
An hour later, hitting the island of Java, the largest of the 17,000 that make up the archipelago of Indonesia, we returned to the bus only to discover that the old man had switched seats with us and was now sitting behind the driver.
Cool, I thought. If he wants to breathe in cigarette smoke, so be it.
Of course, now we had a full view through the entire front windshield to see how our driver, who seemed to be auditioning for the part of James bond’s stunt driver, forced anything on two or more wheels off the road and almost into the pedestrians casually walking in the dirt shoulder lanes. It was obvious this guy had learned to drive via the GTA game franchise, all the while lighting cigarettes with one hand and answering his phone with the other.
Focus on Archer, I told myself, cringing as I could feel the heat of oncoming headlights swerving last minute.
I was falling asleep. Dunno how with my life in the hands of a wannabe Schumacher. I leaned the seat back and tried to avoid the temptation of cracking an eye open only to see oncoming headlights.
I clenched my teeth, bracing for what might be the inevitable.
When I awoke at about 03:00 I noticed we were riding a lot smoother.
Are we dead? I thought as I glanced over to the relief driver.
Relieved and finally able to sleep, I dozed off, glad to have onboard the only sane driver in Indonesia.
Stopping at various eateries, coupons were taken from our tickets as we ate rice, chicken, egg, tempura, chilli and drank ice and hot tea.
To avoid paying the 10-20 cents to use the bathrooms, I peed in the toilet on the bus. That’s right. We were riding in style (almost paying for it with our lives, but nonetheless, in style).
“24 hours it will take,” echoed the voice of the helpful woman at the tourist information centre in Kuta where we had booked the bus ticket to Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, that included the ferry-crossing to Java Island and three meals.
We had left Bali at a little after 15:00 – as scheduled. We were supposed to arrive in Jakarta at 15:00 the next day, as the way it works with 24 hours.
At 21:30, 7 hours after our scheduled arrival time, we arrived to the skylines of Indonesia’s capital in the dark of night. With its population of 16 million people, 77 highways, toll roads and fast-paced traffic, Jakarta greeted us with the police fining our Stig for speeding.
“If they only knew,” I mumbled.
Not that a speeding ticket slowed him down as he space-rocketed us to the bus terminal where he arranged a local bus to take Baz and I to the ferry terminal, another hour-long ride across the city with a driver that Baz almost had to slap to keep awake.
We made it alive – I think – to the Pelni offices, the company that operates the major ferry lines across Indonesia. At 23:07 we knew the offices would be closed but the security personal were kind enough to allow us to sleep on the floor in the hottest area of the lobby which doubled as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
I had already sprawled out, hoping not to wake up dead of dehydration and half eaten by the bony cat patrolling the hallways when Baz stirred me with, “Bro, the guys just offered us to sleep in their office. It’s got air-con.”
“Sold,” I said getting up, moving our gear where some of the office workers were playing FIFA on a Playstation console, yelling out excitedly and camouflaging the oxygen in the room with cigarette smoke.
“You have ticket?” asked one guy.
“No,” answered Baz as I set up my sleeping bag. “We buy in the morning.”
“You can buy now,” said the officer as he led us to the ticketing office and sorted us out.
$26 later we each had a ticket to Batam, supposedly on a 29-hour ferry ride including meals. It was the same kind of Titanic-like ferry we had taken from Flores to Lombok.
“How many people?” asked Baz.
“3,500,” answered the officer.
I woke up. “Three… 3,500 people?” I stared at Baz. “On this one boat?” I asked, astounded.
“Yes,” said the officer as though my questioning the impossible number was unquestionable.
“Shit,” said Baz.
In the morning we thanked the security guys as they directed us to the ferry terminal across the road. We walked among the brand-new imported cars waiting at the dock and arrived at a fence only to be directed to walk all the way around to go through to the terminal.
“Shit, man,” I said, turning to the police officer I asked, “Can’t you let us in? We’ve got all this heavy gear.”
He helped out by ordering two motorbike riders to take us free of charge to the terminal entry.
“Terima Kasih,” we thanked them as we passed through security checks that included a baggage X-ray machine and a metal detector that didn’t work. Armed guards, shouldering assault rifles were everywhere and the boarding of the ferry, although we were the few last ones, seemed to be orderly.
Getting de ja vu from the Flores-Lombok ferry ride, we found a spot under a life boat on the top deck in the open air. We clambered over bodies taking up every possible space, babies surrounded by entire families. Tip-toeing about the ship, I discovered a karaoke bar, an arcade gaming area, the restaurant, a mosque – which had the only western-style toilet on board – the pantry and hot water area for filling up our 2-minute noodles.
Sharing our cage-like space with some young local boys, only one speaking very little English. An armed paramilitary officer asked us to not sit in the cage – his locked and loaded assault rifle saving him from our argument. We left our gear and as soon as he disappeared we returned.
That night, after I brought out my guitar and jammed with some of the locals, we slept out in the open, cramming in with the other boys, all 7 of them, in a space not meant for more than 4 Indonesian-sized people.
The next day we met Sam, an Englishman cycling around the world, making his way to Kula Lumpar, Malaysia, to fly out to visit his sick father. He gave us some great travel tips on how to live without money.
I noticed a distant grey cloud and picked out, “Rain,” coming out of it just as an announcement was made and people started to flee into the ferry. “What’s happening?” I asked.
“Captain announced that there is rain and strong winds ahead,” translated a local, rushing to get into the stairwell. Baz had disappeared inside to charge his phone so I packed our gear and hoped he’d come back before we hit the –
“Oh, shit,” I said as the wind whipped up into a typhoon force, flinging rubbish everywhere.
I had to duck a few times as Styrofoam containers flew all about along with plastic bags, wrappers and small babies. The rain pierced my skin like tiny blades. Baz appeared and grabbed his pack as I brought my gear inside, swimming across the deck that had turned into a wading pool.
As the rain subsided and the sun came back out we hung outside again and could see the city skyline of Singapore, our next destination, on the horizon as we docked at 17:00, two hours after the scheduled time on the island of Batam. We parted ways with Sam and braced ourselves for the chaos that was to ensure.
Ever seen 3,500 people try to get out of one door while another thousand people plus crew are trying to come aboard with heavy luggage?
As Baz got sucked through the chaos I decided to hold back and wait, not wanting to risk my guitar (or skeleton) getting crushed.
An hour later, I saw an opening and made my way through the surging crowd. I was literally carried through to the warehouse-like structure that doubled as a holding area. Police were directing people out, stopping the suspicious looking ones for a search. I passed through untouched and found Baz who had found our couchsurfing host, Adi.
Fighting off the leech-like taxi drivers, we made our way to the bus stop only to find that we had missed our last bus to Adi’s home. A taxi driver offered to take us for $6 and even though Adi agreed, we haggled him down to $5.
Both Baz and I had run out of Indonesian money and Adi was generous enough to cover us. He lives in a small village just outside the Batam city centre. “This used to be the main city before the Singaporeans built the centre,” he explained. “The name of the village means ‘Diamond Village’.”
“No,” he laughed as the taxi went down a bumpy road and pulled up outside an apartment complex.
Adi’s pad was a ground-floor studio apartment with green walls and a huge fridge that was too expensive to run so it just stood in the room that doubled as his bedroom and kitchen.
After a long awaited bucket-shower we made our way to the Mega Mall where we bought some supplies, changed over the last of our Aussie dollars and, while Adi went to catch up with friends, we ate at a roadside eatery.
At 21:00 Adi picked us up on his scooter. Bazza was too tired to accept Adi’s offer of going to his office, the headquarters of the Batam Pos, the local newspaper, to use the free Internet. He took the key off Adi and walked home while I spent the next three hours sussing out a couch in Malaysia and Bangkok.
That night Adi had me share his bed with Baz while he slept on the floor.
In the morning, he disappeared and returned at lunch with three KFC meals. Instead of fries, it came with rice.
“Awesome,” Baz said as we munched away watching ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ on the Singaporean channel.
That night, we rode three on Adi’s scooter with Baz driving, leading us to a night market where vendors were selling everything from electronic goods including knock-off iPhones and Galaxies, to backpacks and used clothes, fish and toys. We ate at a restaurant up the road, packing away a jumbo-sized Bakso Baso meatball soup.
From the night market, Adi directed Baz to take us to a dance studio where, it turns out, he is a formidable traditional Indonesian dancer. We played around with the costumes, the girls there dressing Baz and I up, having quite the laugh.
Just past midnight we rode back to Adi’s house where I beat Baz in rock-paper-scissors to sleep in the bed while he blew up his air mattress and took the floor.
The next day Adi had a meeting at his office so Baz and I walked to the Mega Mall, looking for a gift for our generous host. I had noticed that his powerboard was slightly on the house-fire hazard side of life while Baz had seen that Adi lacked a mirror. We purchased both items and meet Adi by the road and headed off for lunch at a Warung in his village.
At 13:00 we walked with all our gear back to the Mega Mall with Adi escorting on his bike to show us the way to the ferry terminal to Singapore.
We were $8 short on the fare which, again, Adi was generous enough to cover. We hugged him farewell and passed through immigration, getting our passports stamped, me with my third country and Baz with his fifth.
At 15:00 we boarded the ferry which, for the first time since arriving in Indonesia, departed right on its scheduled 15:10 departure time. It took just an hour to reach Singapore and after passing through customs, we entered a large shopping mall. Without anywhere to place our bags we bee-lined it to the Apple store to use the Internet to contact Lee, our host who was getting married in a week.
We headed downstairs to sample some mooncakes from the stalls partaking in some Chinese festival.
“This is durian,” said the woman presenting Baz with a toothpick-sized portion.
Durian is a fruit that smells like a cat had taken a shit on top of elephant dung, then a dog had come by, ate it, shat it out and the sun baked it for three days.
Baz shoved it in my mouth.
“Oh, god,” I winced, forcing myself to swallow.
“How is it?” the lady asked.
It’s hard to respond when one dry-wretches. Baz cracked up.
The next stall had the vendors guessing how much our packs weighed. They each in turned crumbled under the weight of Bazza’s pack as they tried it on. We found a coffee place that had wifi. Bazz shouted a long black and ordered a cappuccino and after telling our story we were upgraded to the large mugs.
A large mug was enough to keep an elephant awake for a week.
We played online before Lee arrived to take us back to his home – in Malaysia.
And then the storm hit. Lightening flashed across the dark sky as thunder bellowed around us while Lee carefully navigated his small car towards the border with Malaysia. The skies opened up and the rain became a waterfall, the road a roaring river.
It was the first huge rains that we had seen since we both started our journey some months ago.
Lee lives in the small Pontian District. He bought us dinner and showed his home.
“You will stay here,” he explained. “I will go sleep at my parent’s house.”
So we had an entire house to ourselves. It was just on midnight but having induced enough coffee to make a sloth be a formidable opponent against Usian Bolt, we watched The Avengers – which, turns out, is a 3-hour movie.