capn_n_pye: (alone)
[personal profile] capn_n_pye
We flew Lombok – Jakarta – Medan, arriving at a shiny new airport. Some of the smaller airports were closed because Indonesians like to set fires for shits and giggles – it shits off the neighbours and the Indonesians giggle.


While I was dealing with all the fun stuff at the hotel (getting the booze-filled mini bars locked, getting the toilets unblocked from the massive jobs the girls were doing in them, the usual), the blokes took a student to the mall to get some cold sore cream. I made the foolish decision to wait for them to have dinner and couldn’t figure out why they were taking so long to get back. Turns out that about 20 metres from the hotel, three guys on two motorbikes scoped out the scene, then swooped in and pinched the girl’s bag. Poor little tacker was freaked out, but if it was going to happen, it was best case scenario – her passport was in the hotel safe, her phone was in her hand and the bag only had cash in it – no wallet, no cards, nothing else. We had to report it to the police so we could deal with the travel insurance, so I came along as translator. It was like slipping back into the 70s, only with more cigarettes, mullets and huge man-rings (seriously, they all had massive rocks on their fingers, probably as a sign of their virility). It was definitely a boys club, which I could tell because I was invisible for about an hour (eventually I was able to prove useful with my talky-skills, and achieved half-visibility, go me!). Three hours later and the hotel ‘security’ people were taking us back to the hotel, with the most laborious police report in the world clutched in our hands. They offered us the opportunity to spend three more hours with a detective investigating but there was no point, really. We made security take us via a chemist so we could get the poor kid some more cold sore cream, and made it back for dinner by around 10:30. If I wasn't already convinced that Medan is a stinky hell-pit, I would have been by the end of that particular day. The next morning our guide, Joe, asked why we hadn’t called him to help. It had never even occurred to me that that was an option!

We got out of dodgy-town the next morning, leaving half our bags at the hotel, but still having a crapload of luggage with us. Our first stop was about five hours away, but with a group of 20 (18 of them girls), off course we had to have many wee-breaks. We’d done a good job of exhausting the girls and when we stopped at a petrol station, Manja was fast asleep. Somehow she managed to sleep through everyone getting off and only woke up as the driver was getting petrol – with the doors locked. Lol! I think I made it look like an accident...

First destination was a place called Tangkahan. Formerly a logging village, they’ve got a good thing going with elephants and eco-tourism. The bridge was a great disincentive for sneaking off – the girls wouldn’t cross it more than they had to!
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The accommodation was very basic, but it suited the environment so everyone agreed that it was okay. The rooms were bamboo shacks, with semi-outside bathrooms, so everyone felt very explorery and brave. Adventurous accommodation does have a down side, though, as I discovered when I went to the toilet and when I came out, Jembatan had left. She had also shot the bolt on the outside of the door – she said that she thought that I could open it from the inside. It was a bolt. I worry about her. I think Moose was encouraging her, because the little shit wanted to hog the hammock.
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We sent one round of the team elephant trekking while the rest of us wandered around the river. We went to a waterfall and the girls played under it, then we slogged back through knee-deep mud, where one of my shoes made a break for it (I got the sneaky little bastard back!)
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One of the girls – Abu – was washing her shoe in the river when she let it float away. Jembatan being the Energiser Bunny that she is jumped in and saved it. Pretty sure that none of the other staff would have bothered, unless they really felt like a swim. Which is probably why Jembatan jumped it!

The power at Mega Inn was a bit variable – we'd decreed lights out for the girls at 9, but they went out at 8, 9, 9:30 and so on through the night. An idiot dog came wandering over to show us his laundry detergent box…
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…while another one tried to come and stay in my room. Probably should have let it, because while the electricity was out, I kept hearing a rustling next to the bed, where Jembatan had her bag of lollies and beng-beng. I thought it was a rat but couldn’t spot it, so rolled over and hoped for the best. At 4am, I woke when Jembatan squawked – she’d thought I was rummaging through the bag and she caught the rat in the act as it pissed off (literally). Moose was a little intimidated and refused to come out of his bag. The girl next door (who insisted on talking to me through the wall as I showered or went to the loo), insisted that she heard tigers prowling on the porch overnight. Yes. The critically endangered Sumatran tiger came to see you, right past ALL THESE DOGS that WANDER AROUND FREELY. Definitely tigers.

The next day we wandered through the village to help wash the elephants. It was early, but it gets hot fast, particularly when you have a shitty job to do…
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THAT POOR GUY HAD TO DO THE SAME THING TO ALL OF THE ELEPHANTS. Apparently it's to clear out the poo so they don't mank up the river, but it could also be the whole village totally trolling that one guy. I will never complain about any job I have to do, ever again.

The elephants were fed, washed and washed us back.
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A third of the group then took off on the elephants, while a student and I interviewed a bloke from the program for her Year 12 detailed study and bought a bunch of stuff. We headed back to the start to swap over and go for the last group’s elephant ride.
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Gotta say, while I like what it’s doing for the community and local environment, I just don’t get what’s so awesome about riding elephants. Ours was very well behaved, at least – it didn’t poo on the path once!

Having exhausted the charms of Tangkahan, we rolled on to the next stop. We had to cross another bridge to get to the digs at Bukit Lawang, but after the last one, the girls weren’t too worried. They were just happy to be back at a place where the toilets flush and there is electricity (no WiFi, for the second day in a row – they were getting twitchy).
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We’d done some pretty intense fundraising over the year and were excited to hand over $1500 to help with rehabilitation and release of orangutans. Well, did an electronic transfer before we left, but we had a giant cheque and we weren’t afraid to use it.
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The girls were in two camps the next day – excited and exhausted. Still, they all dragged themselves out to hike into the national park and see if we could spot some rangas. While we were mustering we sent them onto a grassed area to get them out of the way. One girl showed me her foot. ‘What’s this, Bu?’

‘That’s a giant leech. Fiddle de dee, the whole grassed area is crawling with them. I DON'T WANT TO ALARM YOU, BUT GET BACK ON THE PATH RIGHT NOW AND MAYBE CHECK YOUR LEGS RIGHT NOW FOR NO REASON.' That first victim aside, we were all safe, thank god – I don’t think I had the resilience left at that stage to be kind to anyone who had a leech-related meltdown.

Our ranger was very kind to the slower members of our group and took it nice and easy, but it was still a very, very sweaty hike. Fortunately there was plenty to see along the way, like these arseholes:
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…and the nicer Thomas Leaf Monkey...
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We didn’t go near a feeding platform, but we didn’t have to – suddenly orangutans!
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I was a bit worried we might run into a pissed off ranga called Mina again (and the ranger certainly did tell us all cautionary tales about 'naughty Mina') but they were all very well behaved.

We could hear gibbons mocking us in the distance, so we left half the group panting and wilting and the hardy ones pressed on to see what we could see. The ranger must have superhuman sight, because he spotted this cheeky little bugger off in the distance:
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At least it was worth the extra walk!

We thought that was enough for one morning, so ushered the girls in their showers, packed them up and chucked them onto the bus, where they all immediately passed out. We stopped at an Alfamart and they made up for two days of being good by buying a truckload of crap to eat. They went from really tired to hyper in about five minutes, and Manja ate a whole bunch of ice-cream, chocolate, four fizzy drinks, dinner and later ordered room service. Then she expected sympathy and a sleep-in when she was sick – sorry whinger, you only get that once, and only if you didn’t bring it on yourself!

Next stop was Brastagi, where it was actually cold and Mount Sinabung was spewing up a bunch of ash, making it all seem colder and greyer. It didn’t stop Jez and Jembatan from getting up at 4am to climb the other mountain (Sibayak). I’ve already climbed it, so nobly volunteered to sleep in and supervise the students. From my bed. Where I was sleeping. Jez and Jembatan came back covered in ash and were at breakfast before Manja managed to drag her bum down to breakfast.

We headed into town to let the girls get some retail therapy…
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…and I hope they didn’t notice the layer of ash that was still being laid down.

We pushed on to visit Karo Batak traditional house in the village of Dokan, where Moose got a picture with the 95 year old elder and his 80 year old wife. Wakil and a student tried the manky sirih that Joe The Guide made on the manky floor and I considered myself lucky for not having to do it too.
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Next stop was the Sipisopiso waterfall. When I told the girls that we were going to another waterfall they were all ‘OH MY GOD NOT ANOTHER ONE DO WE HAVE TO WALK ALL THE WAY DOWN THERE WHAT THE HELL?!’ Next thing you know they’ll be slagging off rainbows and trying to punch butterflies.
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Next on our whirlwind tour was the tribal kings’ house of the Simalungun Batak in Pematang Purba. A lot of girls didn’t really care because they didn’t have beng-beng there, but some of them thought it was interesting.
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I thought it was a shame that it’s falling apart, but that’s life for wood in the tropics.
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Then we stampeded to Lake Toba, where the Toledo Inn had a boat waiting for us. It was nice – it would have been nicer if someone didn’t pinch things from our rooms – but it’s hard to be cranky at a place like this.
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There were too many of us to drive us around the island, so we got to do Samosir by boat. It was really tough.
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First we visited Ambarita with its megalithic execution tables.
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We executed one of the students – she took it surprisingly well. Then I was taking photos of Moose surviving, when a local pregnant woman was like ‘You should give me that doll!’ and I was like ‘Exsqueeze me?’ and she was all ‘YEAH, GIVE ME THAT DOLL’. I was all 'ARE YOU KIDDING ME, YOU CAN HAVE ONE OF THE STUDENTS, THEY'RE YOUNGER THAN MOOSE AND LESS PRECIOUS' and she was like 'YOU SHOULD STILL GIMME THAT TOY FOR MY BABY' and Moose was like 'HOLY SHIT BALLS STINKY YOU'RE NOT GOING TO GIVE ME TO HER ARE YOU' I was all 'IT WOULD SERVE YOU BOTH RIGHT IF I DID, BUT GET IN THE BAG MOOSE AND KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN'.
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Moose wanted to show that he was still tough, so went back to say hi to his prisoner-friend from last time. This was then:
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…and this is now. Prisoner-dude has got a lot more suspicious…
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There was more ulos and handicraft to be had in the village…
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…but the girls were more keen on the stuff outside. Seriously, the island if full of stalls like these and I have no idea who actually buys the stuff.

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Then we powered on to Simanindo for that strange shuffling Batak ‘dance’ with the puppet and audience participation.
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Moose applauded enthusiastically as the buffalo disgraced himself and was led away.
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A few of the group danced – Jez was into it – and we mostly avoided the museum (which from memory wasn't too exciting anyway). The place next to it fell down, which wasn’t a good sign.
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Last stop was Tomok for kings’ tombs, and lots of shopping opportunities. A young pickpocket circled the staff and we stonily stared him down until we left for easier pickings (not our girls, this time!).
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Around the back of these tombs are some cool old statues, so I took the staff around to have a look. Look how cool these are - we should show these off!
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...or, you know, dump a bunch of crap on it, that'll work!
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In less disappointing news, I  managed to get the staff to my favourite drink-spot overlooking Toba, for a nice, cold…lemonade. What another waste!
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Back at the hotel, Moose found his spirit human - they both answer to the name of ‘Pocket Psychotic’ which is nice for them, and probably bad news for the rest of us.
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We got one last swim in the lake, where Jembatan failed her teaching round by saying she’d jump in at the same time as me and then not doing it (you can hear my outraged squawk as I realised her betrayal).
Then it was seven long hours, slogging it back to Medan – and at the end, your reward is that you get to be in Medan, woo! There were some good safety demonstrations to watch on the way…
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That bus window says ‘Pariwisata’. Jez is very observant, but he doesn’t speak Indonesian, so he assumed that the Pariwisata organisation was the dominant company that had the tourist industry stitched up. I didn’t want to have to break it to him that it just means ‘tourists’, because his version is better.
Back in the glory that is Medan we had a free morning before a brief (sh)city tour, so we herded our girls to the mall. It was a nicer mall than last time and Moose was delighted to find himself a Batak batik shirt.
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We had to find some cakes for a little birthday celebration for one of the girls who was turning 16 on the flight home. ALL WE WANTED TO DO WAS TO BUY SOME CAKE.
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We got cake and birthdays...eventually...
We had time for one stop on the way to the airport and we picked the Masjid Raya, or grand mosque. It’s very Moroccan/European, apart from the sleepy dudes all over the place.
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We thought that was elegant sufficiency for one trip, so dragged our weary and sweaty selves to the airport. I was herding girls around – they wanted to buy a box of beng-beng – and asked an official if we could go out of the waiting area and get back in. ‘You speak Indonesian?! OF COURSE YOU CAN GO YOU CAN DO WHAT YOU WANT’, he said, bless him. Next bonus was when they sold the girls a box of beng-beng for Rp175 000. I decided to get a box too and thought I’d misheard before, as I only got charged Rp150 000. Nope, it was a non-language tax on the girls – maybe next time they’ll be brave enough to try speaking out loud!

Everyone made it back (even if only 18/20 of us came back on the bus, but screw you bus lady, that's still 90% so it's still an A, and the two who didn't come back are grownups, so shut up!), even better, all the kids got picked up (mostly) on time. Five days off and it’s back to work! I wonder what will happen to the next person who asks how my ‘holiday’ went…
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