Postcards from somewhen else


Picture the scene. I’m riding down a hill (Actually I’m wheeling my flat tyred, one pedalled piece of antiquated crap down a slight incline but hey! Why wreck the idyllic imagery) in picturesque Lake Toba, in the middle of Sumatra, the largest island of Indonesia. A little girl comes out of her humble abode and waves at me. I stop in the hope of some cross cultural dialogue as well as practicing my extensive knowledge of the Bahasa language. ( Okay, I knew the words for no, thank you, how much and happy wandering, and I can tell you I didn’t do too much for Anglo/ Indo relations)

I stop near the little girl, ( When I say little girl I don’t mean the little girls you some times find in Balinesse night-clubs with one hand down your trunks and another stealing your wallet. I’m talking little girl in the innocent, purest form of the word you dirty evil minded purve.)

I smile pleasantly and say (In Indo) "Happy wandering thank you no how much" .

She looks up at me with wonder in her eyes. ( I’ve found most Indonesians look at me with wonder in their eyes. Although I feel it tends more towards the shocked side of wonder. ) Her eyes twinkle and she gives me that sort of cute smile that Pixi fotos never manage to capture.

Oh my god ! I’m in a travel brochure and no one’s told me, I think to myself. I smile back at her hoping the photographer’s getting my good side.  She smiles some more and finally speaks to me

You want Magic Mushroom?

WHAT ? Innocence shattered, an eight year old has just offered to get me stoned. Mr Big is about three foot nothing and wearing a skirt. I’ve gone to Indo Play School and Big Ted is brain dead.

I’ve been to Bali and true a few people had tried to sell me a few things. Okay everyone tried to sell me everything. You try and find a peaceful night on a Balinese beach ! and please tell me, if you’re not meant to take fruit and nuts in to the Monkey forest why there are stalls full of the stuff just near the entrance! What do they think we are? Stupid. And how in the hell did that monkey know I had peanuts in my pocket and more importantly where has he been all my life?

In Jakarta I was offered a great deal of goods by a lot of people, including a splattering of services. Four am in the morning and a man materialises in front of me. “For thousand rupiah I tell you what hotel you want to go to” That’s a service. How much for the rest of my life decisions. I must comment on the ambiance that is Jakarta. Imagine if your Great Grandmother has smoked all her life, drunk only dishwashing water, never washed and used cloves as a perfume and you’re close to Jakarta. Imagine her flatulence and you’re there. 

Now Indonesia really is a lovely place, with Sumatra being my personal favourite, but really does everyone need to sell me all this crap ? Indonesia the land of the hard sell. Dead frogs which have been plaster cast into funny positions, paintings that Demtel refused and one wash sarongs and here I have found the ultimate. Drugs from a kid whose not old enough to take an aspirin.

Okay, Lake Toba has a bit of a reputation as a drug haven. I arrived on the ferry ( Token geographical info; Lake Toba is a volcanic crater that was quite a lot bigger than Krakatoa. You actually stay on Samosir island in Lake Toba. That’s enough of that. Too dull.). Standing on the little landing, surveying the scenery and suddenly I’m surrounded by fisherman in dug out canoes offering me drugs a plenty. Probably made from the mould blooming on their Y fronts ( Hey I didn’t look ! Someone told me) Now I can handle that. Fine, nothing like a bit of free trade and recreational usage. Four days and five hundred offers later and I’d had enough, then the Indonesian equivalent of lil orphan Annie offers me a good bit of stuff. That’s it ! I’m staying here and dedicating my life to drug education. Right after I have a smoke to calm my nerves down.

Interesting legal fact. If your travelling partner is caught with drugs, you go to the slammer as well. In light of this I introduced total body frisks with occasional cavity searches to any and all who could be construed as a travelling companion. Now who said laws were restrictive. This has led to my discovery of exactly what my personal travelling buddy was carrying. Now we hoped on being away a year at the least and I’m a bit concerned why she only bought five items of clothing and her body weight in paperbacks. “But we can buy clothes anywhere but books..... We can always trade them...” Surrounded by Kalimantan natives believing that we’re all that stand between them and religious autonomy, bearing down spears out raised. “ Hold On ! We’ve got books ! Agatha Christie!” The tribesman look at each other as the headman puts his hand up. Silence reigns. He asks “Poirot or Miss Marple ?”.

With all this trade you must know, and be ready to use, barter. This has proven a problem with me and my magnificent command of the language. “ How much ?”. They reply with some sum, I return either with no or another sum if I’m feeling brave ( But usually this is too much and I end paying about ten bucks for a bar of chocolate. and I don’t even like chocolate.) So, a month and a half later and I’ve successfully bartered for a bunch of bananas and I’m still not sure if they didn’t diddle me.

Unfortunately it’s become addictive. I barter with everything now.
“That’s a nice tree”.
“It’s okay”,
“No I think it’s really nice, In fact I’d say it’s great”,
“Okay, okay I’ll give you nice and possibly it’s fine but not a great.”. See what I mean. I’m now just bartering with my companion to talk to me again.

I’m now in the Bohorok national Park at a place called Bukit Lawang, home of the Orang Utan rehabilitation centre. 

 Surprisingly people are still trying to sell me things. Mostly treks through the jungle It’s actually called rain forest now. Who wants to go through a rain forest! I want Jungle. Bloody political correctness.

Everyone here runs treks. “Come on my trek and I’ll guarantee we’ll be near where a tiger was”. “Come with me and we see Tiger”. “Tiger. You can be eaten by one if you want.”. That’s what its like. Sort of reverse bartering. Just for the record, me and a tiger. I don’t think so. Tigers are the only big cat that actively hunts man, likes the taste of man and will stalk for up to a day. Tiger ? Uh huh.

I found my guide. I was going to go with a National Park Ranger until he told me his heart warming and amusing story of how he had to piss on a tourist because her bottom had jungle rash on it. Cured only by urine. Didn’t see that in the brochures.

The jungle is unbelievable. I was so awe-struck I turned to me guide and blurted out my pleasure “No Thank you how much happy wandering”. I quickly assured him I didn’t have jungle rash and he wouldn’t need THAT thing. The main reason people come to Bukit Lawang is it is one of the last places where wild Orang Utan are. Nothing in my life prepared me for that moment when I saw my first Orang. I was half way up a mountain (My god Perth's flat. Reabold hill, don’t make me laugh) and this majestic beast came out of a bunch of bamboo and just hung there looking me and my trekking party over. No one talked as we revelled in the moment. What truly magnificent creature. We watched as it hung there and curled its lip and said “Anyone want to buy a banana?”


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