Archive for November 10th, 2010

10th November
2010
written by Ilana

When we finally arrived in Berastagi after one early morning ferry crossing, a long bumpy school bus ride, and then a crowded van ride, we were exhausted.  After walking around a bit, we found a hostel, dropped our bags and went looking for food and cold drinks.  Happily, we found both.

During our walk we were constantly followed by hordes of school children.  The followed us down the street, waved hello, asked us our names, and then asked us to be in pictures with them.

Posing with the kids

We were celebrities.  It was a hilarious introduction to what would be our lives for the next week in Sumatra.

Berastagi was alright, but while there I decided I should deal with the fact that my tongue and mouth felt swollen and dry, and had felt this way since we left Australia. At first I had assumed that I had just burnt my tongue or something, but as it progressively worsened, I realized this must not be the case.  I was constantly waking up in the middle of the night with a sore throat and mouth, and by the time we reached Berastagi, I was starting to freak out.

So, instead of taking the morning to climb one of the volcanoes, we decided to look for a doctor.  Luckily, we found one around the block from our hostel.  We walked into a small empty building.  “Hello?”  We called out.  After some time two women found us and asked us to take a seat.  “Doctor?” I asked them.  They shook their heads, “coming soon,” they said and began to take my blood pressure and made me write my name on a piece of paper.  A few minutes into this, a man walked in and proclaimed himself the doctor.  I was escorted into this office where I told him “MOUTH HURTS.  OUCH.  TONGUE HURTS” and then stuck out my tongue.  He motioned for me to say ahh, and then shone a flashlight in my mouth.  “tonsils swollen,” he said.  He walked out of the office and I followed him.  He gave me four different types of medicine.  One for cough, one for swelling, one anti-biotic and one for inflammation.  He then gave me a bill.  It was 75,000 indonesian rupiahs, which is approximately $8 US.

Wow.  I looked at my watch and saw that I had only been inside the building for 15 minutes.  This was the cheapest, most efficient doctor’s visit of my life.

I decided that before getting too excited about the amazingness of the doctor’s visit, I should probably call my aunt, who is a doctor, and check that these medicines were legit.  I found an internet café, where I sat at a computer surrounded by teenage boys playing video games and smoking cigarettes.  I turned to the boy next to me, “don’t you have to go to school?” I asked.  He gave me a confused look and logged onto facebook.  I called my aunt on skype who told me the medicines all sounded good. Mid-conversation I turned my head and found a small boy, maybe 3 or 4 years old, perched right over my computer screen on a small stool.  This place was weird.

Following the Indonesian teen’s lead I then logged on to facebook and started chatting with Feiber.  He asked me how I was.  I typed, “yesterday I fell in a toilet.”  I asked him if this seemed appropriate blog material and he said that not only was it good material, but it should be the title of the post, and so Feiber, here it is.

So, you may be wondering, Ilana, how in fact did you manage to fall in a toilet?!

Well, my friends, as you know, I am in the land of squat toilets.  I have not yet taken a picture of a squat toilet to post here, but imagine walking into a stall and finding a porcelain hole in the ground, on the sides of the hole are ridges, where I assume you are supposed to place your feet.  When we were in Medan having tea and a belligerent conversation with our ex-tour guide/driver, I went to the “bathroom.”  It turns out the bathroom was a family’s cement floored laundry room.  The squatter was positioned directly underneath a clothesline with wet, dripping clothes hanging from it.  While being dripped on by the laundry, I tried to maneuver my feet on the ridges, which were wet,  and my foot slipped and fell into the hole/toilet.  Oh, disgusting.  At least I had pre-emptively rolled up my pants since the bathroom is almost always soaking wet.  It was not my best moment.

THE ROAD TO LAKE TOBA

After the doctor’s visit, and my foray into the internet café, Bloom and I decided to move on to our next and final Sumatran location, Lake Toba.  Lake Toba is a very large volcanic lake.  More specifically, we were going to be spending about a week on the island in the middle of the lake called Samosir, and even more specifically we were staying on a smaller part of the island called Tuk-Tuk.

We decided to save money and take local transport.  I’ve been backpacking for some time now, and I figured I could handle it.  Our first step was getting on a door-less minivan.  There were no real seats in the back, just 2 benches on either side of the van.  The van came to a rolling stop in front of us and after confirming that it was going to the right place, we jumped on.  It was packed with ladies and babies who laughed at us and our big bags.

On the first of many crowded vans

The bags were taking up too much space and were thrown on to the roof.  After around 20 minutes, we reached our next destination where we were put onto another van, this one had rows of seats and even a door.   I am pretty sure this van was meant to seat, maybe, ten people.  However, there were about 30 people squeezed in, a few babies, and one live chicken being held upside down by its feet by its lady friend.  I was lucky to have a window seat, and spent most of the 4 hour ride with my head out the window trying to breathe, and trying not to puke as we bumped over unpaved roads.  We reached our third destination and were put on yet another van, less crowded and chicken-less this time, but no window seat, where we rode for an hour before we were dropped off on the side of the road somewhere near Lake Toba.

By this point, I had had it.  I was proud of myself for saving money and for being a badass backpacker, but I also thought I would puke everywhere, and was quite grumpy about this fact.  We now needed to find the ferry that would take us to Tuk-Tuk in the middle of the lake.  One of those door-less minivans came to a rolling stop.  “FERRY??”  We asked.  They motioned for us to jump in and after a few minutes we reached the ferry, where we were told that it would not be departing for another hour.  I sat on my backpack and was grateful that I was not on a moving vehicle at the moment, but was not excited about the 40 minute ferry ride that was coming up.  As soon as I sat down a bunch of locals approached us.  “Hotel?  Tuk-Tuk?  Transport?”  We were being attacked on all sides, trying to be sold on hotels, food, drinks, etc.  I was in no mood for this.  “NOOO.”  I said loudly and aggressively.  They laughed.

Eventually, we got on the ferry, and it was actually a beautiful ride as we watched the sunset from the boat.  We got to Lake Toba, eventually found a hostel, which we left the next day, but we were exhausted and fell fast asleep.

LAKE TOBA—TUK-TUK

We spent a week chilling out in Tuk-Tuk, which is the longest we stayed anywhere.  We ended up with so much time since we hadn’t done the long jungle trek, and we already had a flight booked to Java on October 20th, so we hung around.  It was a great place for loitering.  We were staying in a great hostel with a porch overlooking the lake and our own fridge, although there were constantly millions of ants everywhere, but it was still a great place.

Bloom went swimming every day, while I loitered on the internet, trying to keep in touch with the outside world and planning the rest of our trip, which was completely unplanned other than our flight to Java.  We planned on staying a few days in Java and then heading overland to Bali.  How long should we stay in Bali?  Where should we go next?  At first we decided we would go to Thailand to meet our friend Anna, which would be awesome, but then when we looked into flights for some reason it was very expensive for us to get to Thailand at that time.  I started looking into our other options and saw that China was actually not much more expensive than Thailand, but much further away, so we decided that from Bali we would go to China, starting in Beijing and then working our way south overland, ending up back in Malaysia in order to fly to India by the start of February.  We found a flight deal for Nov. 10th and booked the flight to China.

We also spent time just wandering around Tuk-Tuk, and one day we even rented a motorbike and rode around Samosir island.  Awesome.I was terrified, but it was actually pretty fun, and I got a kick out of Bloom driving a light pink motorbike.

In all of Tuk-Tuk we found two restaurants which met Bloom’s approval.  One was a tiny place, I think an old woman’s house, where she happened to not cook any meat or chicken.  We ate there once.  We sat outside her hut in one of the two tables available, and I watched as a chicken climbed on the table and walked around.  This was not my idea of ambience.  There was also a cute looking kitten who climbed onto the table and hissed at me.  It freaked me out and I moved my chair a bit and suddenly the chair broke into many pieces and I was sitting on the concrete.  Bloom was laughing hysterically, and the chicken and kitten just stared.  Needless to say, we did not return.

We found another restaurant where we discovered that they cooked all the chicken and meat  in separate pans, which was a lucky find, since it was a nice place and had decent prices.  We decided we would eat there for shabbos.  We had already been there a few times, and we spoke to someone there about setting up a tab, which was how many places worked in Sumatra, and we even asked if we should leave a deposit, but we were told it was all good, we would have a tab and pay later.

We ate a delicious Friday night dinner and when we got up to leave, we were approached by a waitress who told us we had to pay now.  We went to  the counter to explain that we had set up a tab, etc, and we ended up talking to a European woman who had not been there earlier in the day.  She was apparently the owner, and she did not take kindly to our tab.  “You are not guests in our hotel, so you cannot have a tab, you have to pay now.”  When we explained that for religious reasons we don’t use money on this day, she didn’t buy it.  “What religion is this?” she asked skeptically.  “Judaism, we’re Jews,” we explained.  “I’ve never heard of this.  It’s very weird,” she said judgmentally.  Europeans are such anti-semites, I thought in my head.

She tried another approach.  “Can I have your passports?”  We explained that on the Sabbath we don’t carry anything, not even passports.  She looked at us like we were idiots.  “Look, we were here earlier, we’ll come back tomorrow, we promise, we’re really sorry, we can give you our passport numbers, but we don’t have anything to give you.”  She seemed ok with this, and gave us a paper and pen to write our passport numbers down.  Oh God.  More awkwardness.  “Well…We also don’t write on this day,”  we explained.  She looked horrified at our archaic ways.  After the passport exchange she was still not satisfied.  “I don’t know about this…Isn’t there something you can give me..?” She asked.  “Take my wedding ring,” Bloom said.  “WHAAAT!”  I yelled.  I didn’t expect this to upset me so much, but I almost cried right there.  The European lady started to reach for the ring.  What the hell kind of person was this??  Was she really about to take his wedding ring?!  “You are NOT taking that,” I said to her.  I looked at myself.  I could give her my shoes and walk home barefoot… I had forgotten about my watch.  “Take my watch, it’s a good watch, and believe me, I want it back.”  “Alright.”  She finally agreed.

The Indonesian man who we had spoken with earlier stood by and watched the whole exchange.  Earlier, I had thought he was the owner, and maybe he was the part owner, maybe he was even this woman’s husband, it was unclear.  He gave us a look that said he was sorry about this lady’s behavior, and the next day he even approached us and apologized, which was nice, but I still felt terrible about the whole thing.  We would have left a deposit if they had asked for one!  Now I felt like some sort of Jewish stereotype living an antiquated life, and trying to get out of paying for things.  And what kind of European was this woman?  Did she really not know what Jews were??  It was humiliating returning there the next day, but the food was good, and we ignored the woman.

We even went back Saturday night with a Belgian couple we had met in Berastagi and had run into again in Lake Toba.  I told them the entire story about the food and shabbos, etc.  “Do you guys know about Jews?”  I asked them.  “Yeah, we learn about Jews in school.  We know about Jewish things, the Sabbath and all that.”  Hmm… So what was up with that woman?  We asked the Belgians if they recognized the woman’s accent, since we were trying to figure out where in Europe she was from.  They said they were not sure, but wasn’t the place called Tabo Restaurant and German Bakery…?  I should have known.

SIR, EMBRACE ME:  Our Encounter with an English Class

While Tuk-Tuk, like most of Sumatra, was pretty empty for most of our stay there, on Sunday it came to life with Indonesian tourists.

Our Hotel in Tuk-Tuk

Bloom and I went for a walk and made it only a few feet from our hotel when we were bombarded by teenagers who wanted to ask us questions, take our pictures, and get our autographs.  This was a much more intense form of celebrity than we had experienced in Berastagi.

We would walk a few steps, and then we would be interrupted by a teenager who would ask us a questions, usually “hello!  What is your name?” and as soon as we stopped to answer, 20 other teens would come out of nowhere asking us all sorts of questions.  The questions were immediately followed by pictures.  Some were group shots, but many of them wanted individual pictures with me or with Bloom.  After we posed for the pictures, the kids would shake our hands and thank us, and many would then ask for our autographs, and some even asked for our email addresses.  Many of them walked with us for a while and soon it was like a parade as more and more students joined us in our walk.

As we talked, we discovered that they were students in an English language course and they were on a field trip to Tuk-Tuk where they were hoping they would find native English speakers in order to practice their English.  Some of the questions they asked were standard like, “where are you from?”  “What are your hobbies?”  “What is the reason for your visit to Sumatra?” “Do you like Sumatra?”  “Do you like Indonesian food?”  “Do you like Justin Beiber?”   Some of the more unusual questions were, “What is the reason that American children are more smart than Indonesians?” and “Is Justin Beiber your brother?”  My responses were, “American children are not all smarter than Indonesians, why would you think that?” and “No, I am not related to Justin Bieber.”  They told me that Americans are obviously smart because they have advanced technology and that I look like Justin Bieber.  It’s true that we are both white.

The highlight of all of these interactions was that, more than once, one of the students said to Bloom, and I quote, “sir, embrace me.”  I found this to be quite a spectacular way to ask Bloom to put his arm around them in the photos, although I would not necessarily recommend using this phrase in an English speaking country.  People might get the wrong idea.

After a restful week, we packed up our bags once again, and were off to the Medan airport to fly to the next island, Java, to a city called Solo via Kuala Lumpur.  We flew via KL because it was cheap, and because then we were given new visas since we were going to overstay our original 30 day visas.  We flew to Solo because it was the cheapest flight we found to Java.  We spent from midnight until 7 am in the KL airport, which I thought I could tolerate, but when at 1 am they kicked everyone out of the airport in order to fumigate the place, I no longer supported my let’s sleep in the airport plan.  In the end, after some fighting and complaining, we managed to arrive safely and even happily in Solo, which I will write about in the next post.