HOT INFO On The Road

Ben van den Anker
SE Asia: REPORT #6
Fly to the moon***

Sep 1, Y2K Tuk Tuk, Indonesia

Fly to the moon***

Medan is the third largest city in Indonesia, most people use this town as an entry or exit point. It has few sites of interest. I stayed a little bit longer, discovered an interesting Chino-town and a kind of "little India" too, with temples to make you forget that you're in Indonesia. I stayed in a Muslim hotel and had a lot of fun there, all members of the family liked chess and sure I do too. Outside their living room we played for money and drunk beer when the mother was out of sight. Inside, when it was raining, the big mama didn't allow us to "gamble" as the put it. The only bad thing is that right opposite the Zakia hotel the Mesjid Raja, Medan's impressive black domed mosque stands. At six in the morning the Muslim chants would wake me up.

In Berastigi a dog attacked me while walking up Gundalung hill; "Please don't hurt my dog!" shouted the woman, instead of calling the dog towards her. I heard about an Australian woman dying two days after she was bitten by a dog at Lake Toba. So I'd better avoid being bitten by a doggie, I don't have any vaccinations against rabies in the Netherlands, most countries give them to long time travelers. It surprises me a little bit, just like the "lariam" they subscribe in the Netherlands for Malaria protection. It's such a strong medicine, it gave me such sweet dreams that I quit after the first one.

With Jeone from Durban, South Africa, I climbed the Gunung Sibayak. An easy climb according the guidebook, it should take four hours to reach the summit. Hmm with my great experience as a climber we arrived at the top after seven hours. Finding the route was the main problem, from the normal route we switched to the steps above the hot springs, the gasses there make me forget about eating eggs for some time! Jeone is traveling alone like I am, she has had numerous problems with men while traveling, especially the Muslem men. I heard more woman complaining about this, for Jeone it has come that far that she is thinking about leaving Indonesia.

Of course I wouldn't want to miss lake Toba, the Samosir island in the middle of it has the size of Singapore. I thought it would be easy to get round the island on a motorbike, it wasn't. I had to cross rivers on wooden bridges, sometimes on trees lying across the river. Fun! I was exhausted after 11 hours of driving but have seen so many things, Batak houses, graves, places far away from the tourist crowds.

Hiring the bike is another story, they now raised the prices compared to last year with 100%. They all charge the same 45000 rp, they formed an association and they will give the police 5000 rp of very motorbike that is being hired. The police will take care that in case of an accident the foreigner won't have that many problems. But I'm sure they will find a way to get money out of the situation too. A policeman offered me ganja in Tuk Tuk, "Come to my office, I have 2 kilos there!". It was even too ridiculous to give him an answer.

The friendly girls at "Tony's" invited me and two other tourist for a party with original Batak dancing. "It's not the thing you can see in town, that's for the tourists, it's fake!" So they close the restaurant at ten and we walk to the party. To my surprise a coffin is standing in the room, inside the corpse of a 82 year old woman. The dense crowd is smoking, singing, laughing and dancing while in the corner a band is making music. The brother of the deceased is calling the grandchildren to join in the dancing. I am amazed, "She is 82, had a good life, so why not party? When a young person dies we don't party, we will bury the body after some days, not after five." What to say to that?

The people here are very friendly, the cost of living is extremely low. I guess these reasons are the cause that many foreigners are permanent residents here. My neighbor in the hotel rents his room for a 400$ a year, he's able to survive one year with nothing more than 1400$. For that money he's been one month in Laos, Thailand and Singapore too. No alcohol and cigarettes contribute to that amount of money!

He once hired a bike-taxi for 7000 rp an hour, although he stopped a lot during the city trip the man started complaining after some hours; "I'm so tired, I don't want to go further!" So instead of earning a lot of money, the man had earned enough for food, cigarettes and a bit of gambling. When he'd arrive home he had to give the money away anyway. Saving money is of no use for Batak people, when a cousin gets ill they have to pop up the money out f the bank. So instead, like the Chinese, they buy gold and jewelry for it. That's a safe investment that the family won't take away from them.

Chris, another long term resident, is living in a traditional wooden Batak house, inside he has a computer with internet connection, satellite TV and a modern vcd. He's terrified by the idea that anyone will accuse him for working, there have been cases that the Indonesian "Immigrasie" kicked foreigners out of the country for working on a tourist visa. Also some "lovely" wives send them pictures of their husband working, hoping to get the guesthouse and restaurant all for them self. They succeeded in some cases, I heard another story but more about that later.

The magic mushroom is another attraction in Tuk Tuk, every restaurant has them on the menu. It's legal, weird because it's supposed to be so much stronger than the illegal ganja. In Medan the children of the Moslem family told me enthusiastic stories about these mushrooms. "You can fly to the moon!"


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