We spent a few days at Adi’s deciding what to do. Our initial plan to go to Lake Toba didn’t seem feasible anymore. It was much too far unless we took a bus but that would also entail spending a bit on bus tickets.
On the 12th of march we took a train out of Lampung to Palembang to meet our next CS host. Clem and i had decidee to slowly make our way to Dumai and spend some time in each province. The train from lampung to Palembang was really cheap for economy. 35000 IDR each. That’s around $3.80 AUD for a 10 hour train ride. To clarify, that’s a 10 hour train ride to another province. Yes, Sumatera is that big!
When we arrived in Palembang we managed to meet our host Dwi without any issues. Probably one of the most smooth sailing arangements we have had so far. Palembang was a muc flashier city than we predicted. You know you’re in a well off city when you pass by a sushi restaurant that’s as big as an office apartment block.
Being in a city felt so unsatisfying. It wasn’t part of our original plans to travel to cities. A city is like every other city. There’s not much to do but contribute to the capitalistic ideal. Spend your money on shiny things and build attachment to them for as long as they are in trend/up to date. Oh and by the way if you are worth a lot of money you can stand a chance to receive a wave of false smiles and the illusion you are in control of people.
Our host Dwi, was so accomodating and determined to make our stay satisfying for the soul. The fact that he lives in a village was a bonus. Seeing chickens running around with the village kids generates happiness in its purest form. There is no purest form of happiness than seeing children free and frolicking. There is no warmer form of happiness than being happy to see others happy.
Dwi’s love and passion for his religion was beautiful. His religion is Islam, and his practice was “acceptance”. Though being a devoted Muslim, he understood the difference in culture and took into consideration we would want to be able to fall asleep with each other. He gave us his room and his bed (we never needed to ask for it) and was more than accomodating. He was the first religious individual we met that was happy to share the beauty of his religion, what he loves about it, but yet not encourage us to practice the same beliefs. He wasn’t enforcing, he just wanted to share. On top of that he had the sweetest personality you could meet in a man who works in finance and also teaches karate.
Our trip together with him to Al Quran Al Akbar was refreshing. It was lovely to see how happy he was to be there and the carved scriptures of the Quran on wooden blocks, the size of an average human were majestic. He taught me some Arabic numbers and id his best to get me involved in conversation to take my mind off some unpleasant thoughts.
We chatted with him of our plans. A few nights prior to this, back at Adi’s house, I said to Clem that I still wanted to hitchhike, despite the stories everyone have been telling us, despite the warnings. My risk assessment was based one two factors;
1. The people who warned us about hitchhiking in Sumatera had never tried it before or ever left their comfort zones
2. We have both been searching in news papers for the alleged gang attacks and crimes but found nothing related to our method of travelling.
Before, Clem was not happy to put hitchiking on hold but for my own safety, he hesitantly accepted that we should put it on hold. In the end we decided to do it anyway.
Dwi didnt want to hinder our adventurous spirit but he couldn’t ensure us our safety either. He was so kind that he wanted to buy us bus tickets to which we politely rejected so he bought us coffee instead. The morning after our day out together, Dwi dropped us of on the main highway of Sumatera (Jalan Lintas Sumatera) and we started our hitchhiking journey again. As usual we didnt have to wait long until someone stopped for us.
Two electricians who were employed to service the electric posts and cables on along the highway offered to take us 14kms further front from where we were. We happily accepted. They fed us bread and soft drinks. Our diets have been very sugar heavy or oil heavy in Indonesia. They took us as far as they could that was still on their way to work.
Norman, the passenger who spoke English better than his colleague, dropped us off not too far from his office and gave us his number. He said if we ever needed help we were more than welcome to call him. We got out our sign that said “Jambi numpang gratis”. There wasn’t much traffic and those that drove past didn’t seem interested in stopping for us.
Then a friendly man came up on his motorbike and spoke to us. We chatted a bit about our journey in Indonesia so far and our method of travelling. He was very much interested in hearing more of our story and even more interested in helping us. He said he was going to Sungai Lilin which was 1 hour before Jambi. We were welcome to come along with him but we had to wait for him to go back to his office and get his car so he could collect us.
As the whole conversation took place in Indonesian, after the man left I started translating the conversation to Clem.
Suddenly a less friendly man came to us on a motorbike. Despite the heat, he was dressed in black slacks, a white collared shirt and a black jacket over it. His jacket also had a hole in his pocket and his feet were enclosed in black leather shoes. Without a smile he asked us where we were from and we answered appropriately. We were used to these questions by now. He then asked what we were doing in Indonesia, again without a smile. Travelling, was our reply.
Then he asked what were in our backpacks to which I responded with slight assertion that they were just backpacks. He discontinued the question further.
He then asked for a photo. Again this was something we were accustomed to by now, for Clem anyway. Everyone we met in Indonesia wanted to take a picture with the white man. Except normally they asked for a photo with him. This man snapped a photo of just Clem alone. I was wary of our belongings when he asked us what were in our bags so I stood next to them.
I then said rather than offered to take a photo of this man with Clem. I took his phone of his hands. In truth i was trying to delete the earlier photo he took of Clem but failed to figure out how without looking suspicious. When i passed his phone back to me he told me he was a police officer and wanted to see our IDs.
I refused and asked to see his first. He pulled out a card from his wallet. The name was somewhat readable but the photo on the card was so faded and scratched that I couldnt make out if it was really him. He asked again for our passports. I refused yet again saying I didn’t trust him.
He pressed again that he was a policeman. I asked him where was his uniform. No reply. Clem asked him why he wanted our IDs and the man said it was to “collect data”. To which Clem further interrogated. What was the data for? How are you collecting it without any official computers or devices? The man was either pretending not to understand or he must have actually not understood but was too proud to admit it.
He asked for our names and we refused to give it either. He wasn’t nasty, but he wasn’t friendly either. I said repeatedly to him, feigning discomfort, that his behavious was making me feel uncomfortable and anxious and if he would kindly stop. I knitted my eyebrows to the centre, put my hands girlishly behind my back and made my body language smaller. I pretended to be afraid of him as everyone was watching us and I wanted us to appear as the victim, should anything start to erupt out of this.
It worked because he started speaking softer and softening his tone. Eitherway, he asked once again for our IDs, he said it was to make sure we were safe. The link still did not match up. I said to him yes we are fine, we have friends waiting for us tonight in Jambi and family waiting for us in Malacca. Then he instead said he wanted to check our passports for our visas, if we had the right to be in Indonesia, to which I responded if he knew his facts, people from Europe and Malaysia ,may remain in Indonesia for 30 days visa free. He wasn’t going to find anything in our documents.
Just in time, the friendly man returned with his car. I was beyond relieved. We gathered our things to load into the car, the less friendly man was chatting with the friendly man. The friendly man seemed to vouch for the other man, saying he really is a policeman.
We stood by our ground and said no. The last thing the policeman said to me before he drove away was, this is my province and I have authority here to ask for information from you, as you are in my territory, to which I replied, that may be so but my private property, no matter where in the world, is still mine and we had the right to refuse to share it.
We got in the car where the friendly man took us to his sandal store. (Literally half his car was filled with sandals). His coworkers made us Luwak coffee and offered us various keropok to eat. They had to reload the stock in the car to take to Sungai Lilin. The ladies were excited to take photos with Clem. At least they were normal locals about it. They giggled as they uploaded the pictures to Facebook. I was surprised when they wanted a photo with me too.
When the car was finally loaded, the man’s younger brother drove us 2 hours out towars the direction of Jambi. He said we would only be an hour away from Jambi once we get to Sungai Lilin. His brother didnt speak much except when he was offering us cigarettes. Men in Indonesia smoke so much constantly it’s almost scary to watch.
When we arrived at Sungai Lilin, the sun was already over our heads. It wss probably around 1pm as the ground was so hot it was burning Clem’s bare feet. And his feet usually have a high tolerance to his environment. I recalled the day we met when we were both walking barefoot at Wee Jasper and I was constantly feeling the pricks of thorny bindis under my feet, but he was just comfortably sailing on the same ground.
We found a shaded area and started to hold our sign. Almost immediately a car stopped for us, but they stopped much further front. One of the passengers came out to meet us and to help us put our bags in the car. They were 3 men on their way to Medan from Palembang. They were asking us if we had been to Danau Toba, to which we said we wanted to but it wasn’t feasible anymore. They started sharing with us their experiences at Danau Toba and kept recommending us to go there. They mentioned it was between 2-3 hours out of Medan.
I looked at Clem and whispered to him if we would want to give it a try to go to Medan with these guys and go to Danau Toba from there to which he agreed. I asked the guys if we could come with them to Medan and head to Danau Toba from there? They said it would be tine of course! I then asked how many hours more were we from Medan, thinking it was probably 10-12 hours and he replied, 30 hours! They were going to drive all night!
Al Quran Al Akbar, Palembang