A day of travel with almost 1000 kilometers on water and land is behind me. Because I couldn't get any further from the Indonesian island of Batam yesterday, I was only able to start my onward journey to the main island of Sumatra today. Yesterday evening I made an appointment with the taxi driver who drove me to my accommodation yesterday, that he would pick me up at the hotel after morning prayer and take me to the ferry terminal. I think it's a bit early, but a quarter of an hour doesn't matter. At 20 to 5 the muezzin calls to prayer and wakes me up. At half past five my alarm clock does the same thing again. At six o'clock I get in the car to the port.
There is not much to report about the ferry trip. It lasted eight hours and led mostly in river-wide waterways between the small islands to the industrial city of Dumai. Where there is occasionally no land cover, there was a little more swell, but none worthy of the name. The waves are about a meter high, but because the ferry is going so fast, it starts rolling and two stewards walk around with puke bags.
It's freezing cold in the cabin with around 200 seats. It can't be more than 12 degrees. I knew that beforehand, because all the other ferries on this trip have always been extremely cold. Despite a long-sleeved shirt and two jackets, I'm frozen through after six hours and have to warm up again and again on the small, open aft deck for the remaining two hours.
When Dumai comes into view, it's a dystopian sight. Chimneys and high tongues of flame rise into the sky where gas is flared. The shore is lined with oil and gas tanks and our ferry finds its way between the countless tankers that are moored here.
Dumai is described in my Lonely Planet travel guide Ls as a nasty city where one only stays if there is no possibility of further travel. There is a lot of shouting at the exit of the ferry terminal and a bunch of recruiters trying to win the newcomers over to their travel company. You always have to go through it stubbornly, even if you hear the right offer. Because if I stop now, they all fall on me at the same time and I have no chance to keep track of d3n. After I'm out of the crowd, there's only one left who asks me where I'm going. "Bukittingi," I reply. This is in West Sumatra. With his moped with a sidecar, he wants to take me to a bus stop that sells tickets. For 50,000 rupees. That's 3 euros. I'm acting on principle and trying to do it with 30,000 rupees, but it can't be done at all and as the next negotiation step I would have to pretend that I was looking for someone else. But that only takes time and in the end they would agree on 40,000 rupees and I would have saved 60 euro cents. However, if I miss my bus to Bukittingi because of them, then I've really lost something. Besides, my self-respect and decency forbids me from bargaining down 60 cents from a moped-cab driver. You do not do that. Not even as a backpacker. If you don't have the money, you should do without a mango shake.
The moped driver is a nice guy and we chat a bit on the ride. The city is even more desolate than I had imagined.
But at the bus agency I found out from a fat one-eyed woman at the counter that there was a bus to Bukittingi at half past six in the evening. The ticket costs 19 euros. The journey will take ten hours, so another night journey. I've never found it good, but it saves me an overnight stay in a hotel and a day's time.
By bus from Dumai to West Sumatra
The bus is not air-conditioned and the seats are narrow. There are still only a few passengers on board and I have the two seats to myself. Almost all the men on the bus smoke. In Indonesia people smoke almost everywhere. Clove cigarettes are the flavor here and it smells more like spices than tobacco.
During the next few hours more and more passengers get on and I also lose the privilege of being alone in my row. I now balance the backpack on my knees. Sleep doesn't work yet. I've been sitting for eight hours and my buttocks feel uncomfortable from the start on the sagging bus seat cushion. As night falls we leave the good road and now we travel by coach on a lane too narrow for two trucks to pass each other. Again and again we have to stop to let others pass. Endless columns of tankers are coming from the opposite direction.
Shortly before midnight the sky lights up orange and through the trees I see a nearly twenty meter high flame rising into the sky. A gas field. Here we turn and the road now has sections with deep potholes. The bus driver has to brake at full speed to almost zero and feel his way through the holes at walking pace. Some are so deep that you think the bus would tip over and occasionally some women cry out in horror because they think we're going to fall over. The fact that this fear is not unfounded is proven at an intersection where an area is used as a parking space for buses and trucks that have been involved in accidents. Most have front-capped cabs from head-on crashes during overtakes gone awry.
I would have buckled my seatbelt now at the latest, but there are no seatbelts.
There are several breaks, but I've been drinking so little that going to the toilet isn't worth it.
After two o'clock I'm finally tired enough and the road conditions are better again that I can fall asleep. Of course it's not restful deep sleep, but it's better than staying up all night. I still have a sore throat from the cold that I imported from Singapore. Lack of sleep affects the immune system and traveling sick is torture.
It's still six o'clock when I wake up. Also, most of the other passengers are awake talking to each other. On my mobile phone map, it only looks like a half-hour drive away. I choose a convenient place to drop me off in Bukittingi. I walk the last 20 minutes to the guesthouse. On the way I find myself swaying as there has been a lot of movement in the last 24 hours on both water and land.