I don’t know how we keep pulling it off, but once again we’ve managed to outdo ourselves in inactivity since I last sent an update. Christmas and New Year’s have come and gone, and what have we done? Well, we read a lot. Oh, and there was food, we ate quite a bit. I had some pretty good fries, once. Laynni seems to enjoy the porridge at our guesthouse. We had Indonesian gravy for the first time on Christmas Day. Not bad (it’s all about expectations, isn’t it?). It didn’t hurt that it was eaten in disco-esque strobe lighting due to some problems with the electricity. Fairly surreal. Nothing like flashing lights and a seat next to the pool table to remind us of Christmas. Come to think of it, that does sound a lot like Boxing Day.

Christmas morning our curiosity got the best of us so we walked to the nearby village of Ambarita and stopped in at a church service. Along the way we met a Canadian girl named Dee who had just arrived on the island, was still carrying her bags, and was obviously wearing her bar clothes from the night before. Not exactly church-attire. We just shrugged, she yanked her skirt an inch or two down her thighs (which, of course, bared another inch or two of her belly), and we traipsed on in. The place was jam-packed so we were directed upstairs. Or that was why we thought we were sent up there. We soon realized that upstairs was actually where people that couldn’t be trusted to behave were sent – namely kids and tourists. A family of foreigners that we had seen around proved the wisdom of this theory by sitting downstairs and letting their smallest blonde monster roam around at will. From our bird’s eye view he seemed to leave a wake. The service itself was pretty wild, with three or four different choirs and a band with saxophones, trumpets, trombones and even a tuba. I’m fascinated by the thought of a person who decides they want to spend their life playing music and then chooses the tuba. Anyway, eventually things got a bit bogged down as, apparently, every baby born in 2000 was presented for some sort of baptism or dedication. It could have been a hazing, I wasn’t really paying attention. At this point, it became clear that the men felt that knocking up their old ladies constituted more than their fair share since they all chose this opportunity to head out for a smoke. As for us, the novelty was beginning to fade into boredom so we took advantage of the opportunity to sneak out discreetly. Of course, “discreet” is always a pretty relative term for us in Indonesia, being that we’re tall and white and all.

A couple days after Christmas we finally rented a motorbike. I had wanted to for quite a while but Laynni kept talking me out of it (in other words, telling me I couldn’t). She had this crazy notion that I was just looking for a new toy to play with (and everyone knows the honeymoon’s over when you start going for the electric toys). Of course, that idea was absurd. I was interested in it purely as practical means of transportation. We soon learned, however, that practical as it may be, reliable it was not. No sooner had we set out double on our Honda Astrea scooter like a couple of yuppie biker-wannabes than (ten minutes later) we once again found ourselves on foot, pushing the old girl back to the nearest village. A flat (I know, it could have been worse). It might have happened a while ago because a fair way back I had noticed that it seemed to be handling a little bit funny. Who knows, we could have been driving on the rim for miles. As you may or may not know, I have a natural affinity for all things mechanical so it truly is a shock that I didn’t pick up on it sooner <Laynni sniggers loudly>. We finally figured it out when some guy pulled up beside us and brought it to our attention.

“Broken”, pointing at the tire, “Broken”. He sped off.

“Did he say something about the spokes?” I asked as we stopped. “Ooooh, that’s really flat”. <Insert vehement cursing here> So, we turned around started walking back. We eventually found a mechanic after we were told four separate times that we just had to go,

“That way……..ummm…….ten…….no………one hundred……ya, one hundred metres.”

It doesn’t matter who you ask, everything is either “a mile” or “one hundred metres”. While we waited, we began to ponder our chances of being financially raped on the whole deal. Sure, it was just a flat, but let’s examine the circumstances, shall we? Two (presumably) affluent foreigners on a rented bike miles from the guesthouses being helped by the only mechanic in town. Yes, sir, I could feel a good old-fashioned buggering coming right up. But the he fixed her up in a matter of minutes, and I started to let myself get a little bit optimistic (If he charges by the hour……?).

“So how much? Berapa?”

He said something too quick for me to understand properly.

“20,000?” I asked, hoping that I had heard right.

“Tidak. 5,000″, he corrected. About $0.85.

“Uh, yeah, OK, great. Thanks. Terima kasih.” C’mon, Layne, let’s get the hell out of here before he realizes that he forgot to screw us. And we did. See, it’s guys like that that don’t deserve to get lumped in with all the tourist touts that have made an art of chiselling every last cent and rupiah out of us foreigners. Of course, in all fairness, just how different are those guys than, for example, somebody phoning you during supper to inquire as to “how satisfied you are with your current long distance provider”? I guess somebody’s gotta do it.

It was right around this time that we learned that Lake Toba is immensely popular with Chinese people as a New Year’s Eve destination. A lot of our fellow travelers were getting kicked out of their rooms prior to December 31st to make room for Chinese guests who get charged anywhere from double to five times the normal price. We even saw one hotel that has a special menu with higher prices especially for the Chinese. I have no idea why they put up with it. It’s pretty strange for us since we’re used to seeing just two classes – locals and foreigners. Suddenly we find ourselves part of a more popular but less financially desirable sub-group. Nearly all of the business owners want the Chinese business and try to justify their ridiculous prices with all kinds of prejudicial generalizations:

“Well, they pack so many people into a room”

“They always bring their own food, anyway”

“They’re all so noisy”

“They like spending money”

and my personal favourite,

“They don’t care”

Well, I suppose nobody’s forcing them to go there, so who knows?

I did have one strenuous day over the holidays when I went for a mountain(-ish) hike with some other travelers: Nicola (England), Dustin (Penticton), Brian (California), and Debbie (Victoria). The “I” was intentional, as Laynni has finally come to the conclusion that hiking up and down steep hills with no specific goal in mind is just not her bag, baby. And, with that in mind, she’ll be glad she missed this one; nearly straight up for over two hours, lunch at a place that amounted to a couple of huts yet was very loosely termed a village. It then poured rain throughout our brief stop and we spent the next two hours slipping and sliding back down the now-muddy paths. Some really cool forest and impressive views, though. Laynni drew errand duty instead, taking the ferry to town to go to the bank machine, buy soap and toothpaste, and to make arrangements for getting to our next destination, Pulau Weh. A day in the life……

From the strange coincidences file: at the beginning of our hike we ran into an old guy who is turned out to be Debbie’s parents’ gardener back in Victoria. Weird.

Now, for some good news. The boys at the pool hall behind our room must have been given a Bon Jovi’s Greatest Hits CD for Christmas. It seemed to really hit the spot for them, which meant that at least once every hour for the last week of our stay (right up to when I was brushing my teeth before leaving this morning) Laynni and I were given the opportunity to slow dance to “Bed of Roses”. We didn’t take advantage of it very often, but it sure was nice knowing we had the option. I think that “Billy, Get Your Gun” is very underrated, as well.

Our communist friend, Viktor, informed us that we shouldn’t be telling our friends about all the fun we’re having on this trip, so as to avoid arousing envy. Following that credo, I’ll share our pathetic New Year’s tale with you instead. For a place with 50 hotels, all full, there turned out to be a remarkable dearth of December 31st festivities. We strolled around during the day (we do a lot of that, we’re getting awfully good at it) to scope things out and saw a couple signs for special suppers, several pigs roasting at roadside, and a couple bars advertising…..(dramatic pause)…..drinking and music. So, at about eight, we headed to a place creatively named “Tony’s”, ate, drank beer, watched the last half of “American Beauty” (again), then “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (again). Well, I forgot how long Ripley was and wasn’t really paying attention until the movie ended and we suddenly realized that it was 11:50. At that point, Laynni, Rupert (England), some friend of his and myself walked to Brando’s Blues Bar (the “Blues” turned out to be fairly misleading), rolling in about 30 seconds before they interrupted the monotonously pounding techno for all of five seconds to shout Happy New Year. The sparklers everyone lit and waved around like idiots were pretty cool, but aren’t they always? Conclusion; in bed by 1:30, no hangover, very unique New Year’s Eve. How’s that for calling the glass half-full?.

Eventually we decided that it was past time that we leave Lake Toba. The final straw was when we realized that the local puppies had grown noticeably since we first got there. I call this the “Canine Theory of Travel”. No one else seems to.

Well, we are now back in big, smelly Medan, enjoying it’s cheap, fast…….Internet service (what were you thinking?). Tomorrow night we head off for Pulau Weh, a tiny island off the northern-most shore of Sumatra. We are looking forward to getting a little more tropical again. All these mountains, lakes, jungles and rain are hell on my wardrobe. Laynni made me a rain jacket out of a garbage bag and some tape while we were getting poured on in Ketambe (isn’t she sweet?) but I really try to avoid wearing it unless it’s absolutely necessary. I think it makes me look fat. Unfortunately, by going back to the beach we’re forced to give up our nice beds, screened windows, real sink and shower, flushing toilet, and overall roach-free environment. A person really doesn’t appreciate how important it is to be able to enter a dark bathroom fearlessly until it’s no longer an option. As always, I’ll keep you posted.

Now this is just to make sure a certain person, no one in particular, of course, is actually reading this and not just skimming:

And that’s the story of how Leigh lost her virginity……..

Keepin’ tabs,

p.s. I know none of you cheer for the Giants, so nobody needs to bother trying to pull any of that “The Giants – Oh, yeah, I’ve always kind of liked them”-crap out after they win the Super Bowl.