Doesn’t That Kid Look Adorable With That Gun?

Well, good news all around. To start things off I’ll just take a second to gloat about the Giants’ dominating run to the Super Bowl, especially their nasty thrashing of the Vikings, and pass along my prediction:

Giants 16, Ravens 10; the Ravens’ final drive stalls on a Michael Strahan sack inside Giant territory with less than a minute to play. Go boys, go. What an odd thing to say, I must have picked up that phrase from Laynni or something. Anyway, we’ll be in Thailand for the Super Bowl and I hope to be able to watch it there since it is supposedly more, um, let’s say, modern, than Indonesia. Of course, I wouldn’t be too surprised if you could find the Super Bowl in Zaire.

Moving right along…

On the off-hand chance that you A) were paying attention, and B) bothered to remember, then you’ll be expecting to hear a long-winded diatribe about the horrors of our supposed twelve-hour bus ride from Medan to Banda Aceh. Sorry, not this time. I mean, don’t worry, you still get the long-winded diatribe (whew!), but the rest may surprise you. Envision: roomy, reclining seats with foot rests, individually adjusted air-con and reading lights, an on-board crapper and (gasp!) eleven and a half hours from Point A to Point B. Even Points A.1 and A.2 were relatively stress-free, considering they were military checkpoints. Oh yeah, did I mention that there’s a wee bit of a civil war going on in Aceh right now? Probably not, for the sake of avoiding any futile familial stress. But now we’re back, no harm, no foul, right? I do have to admit, however, that it can be a bit difficult to feel completely confident in your safety when your bus is boarded by military rebels wearing ski masks and brandishing AK47s who proceed to go up and down the aisle checking Ids and poking passengers in the ribs with their guns. At least they rolled the masks up, possibly as a gesture of good faith, possibly because they didn’t really care if any one recognized them. So, while several Indonesian men were badgered and harassed, but thankfully not shot, we might as well have been invisible. Every one always says that the tourists have nothing to worry about and, after these incidents, I’m inclined to believe them. Of course, I have to admit that Laynni didn’t exactly fit the profile of a disruptive Indonesian terrorist agent, what with severe bed-head and her chin dripping with slumber-slobber. And, while their lack of interest in us was comforting, I nevertheless decided that it would not be prudent to point out that, despite the masks and the camouflage pants, I could still see them.

Well, we eventually made it to the Pulau Weh ferry in one piece and, quite naturally, expected to find ourselves virtually alone. After all, we were venturing into an “Officially Non-recommended” area. Who would go there willingly? Try everybody. On the first ferry of two for the day there were no less than sixteen other tourists. That may not sound like many, but it was very close to being the most foreigners we had seen in one place anywhere in Indonesia. When we got to our beach of choice, Iboih, all five guesthouses were pretty much packed, and they remained that way throughout our stay. I think that this, more than anything else we’ve seen so far, is a great example of how most travellers (including us) are not only adventurous (as we love to think), but also really stubborn and, above all, pretty stupid.

“What do you mean, ‘It’s too dangerous’? Not for us! We’ll go wherever we damned well please! We’re on vacation, for chrissakes! When’s the next bus?”

Speaking of which, a few days before we had planned to leave, the buses actually stopped running because of a rash of killings in the area. When they started running again a couple days later we decided to take off immediately, even though it was a day sooner than we had planned. Let me tell you, that day (yesterday) was an absolute marathon of taxis, ferries and, of course, buses. For once, I’ll spare you the details. Mind you, earlier that morning a fellow Giants fan (from Colorado, of all places) revelled in telling me all about their two playoff wins that had them on their way to the Super Bowl. I was walking (or sitting, I guess) on air all day. In the end, we’re just happy to have made it back to Medan. I never thought I’d say that, but it is relatively safe compared to Aceh, right now.

Now, on to some of the happenings during our two weeks in Pulau Weh. I’ll start off with the most condescending comment of recent weeks, courtesy of Eric, a 68-year old Canadian speaking to four young Brits on the ferry over:

“I thought I’d move over here because, while I see you smoke also, those guys (referring to a group of Indonesian men) smoke incessantly…….by that, I mean ‘all the time'”.

Thanks for the clarification. He actually turned out to be a pretty decent guy and was able to teach us a few things to boot. For example, I hadn’t known that roughly 50% of Indonesian men are gay, or at least bisexual, and very interested in good, ol’ Eric. I can’t believe that I thought all those persistent sales pitches were merely about money. It’s probably a little different in my case, though, considering that I’ve never been mistaken for Sean Connery even once, let alone “all the time”.

“Pulau Weh: It just might be the cheapest place on earth”. Why doesn’t some one put that on a brochure? Even if it’s not, it’s close enough for me. Without depriving ourselves at all, we lived pretty damn well on about ten dollars a day for both of us. Naturally, the scuba diving doesn’t count (conveniently enough, for our budgeting), although that was really cheap, too, as far as diving goes, not to mention top-notch (I never imagined I’d ever use the phrase “top-notch”. Who knew?). Ocean-side huts, crystal-clear water for swimming, snorkelling and diving and some fair-to-middling beach. Excellent fish, rice and veg dinner for a dollar (Canadian, no less). Granted, our shanty, the luxury suite at about $2.50, left a little to be desired. Undaunted, we fluffed up the 50-year old mattress, put a cardboard box over the (biggest) hole in the floor and patiently used safety pins to close up all the (worst) gaps in the mozzie net. Voila! It was still a dump, but now it was our dump. An added touch was the brittle half-inch rope that appeared to be the only thing keeping our noticeable oceanward tilt from becoming a full-fledged shack slide into the water. Unfortunately for the Swiss/German guy up the hill (you can call him……”Timm”), we were all in it together since our rope was tied to the supports of his equally shaky-looking hut. On the plus side, we never had to worry about closing the door behind us; it was usually already hitting us in the ass.

The highlight of our various underwater pursuits was the large group of giant manta rays that hung around the area throughout our stay. They were incredibly graceful and often as much as 12 feet across. Truly amazing to watch. We also saw some octopi, and dozens of moray eels, barracuda and sea turtles. I even managed to touch one of the turtles, but only on the shell, nowhere “dirty”.

In addition to all the fun we had, Weh Island turned out to be a valuable learning experience, as well. Apparently, when thirty people are sharing a mandi (picture a “bathroom” with no plumbing, a squat toilet, and a water basin for showering/flushing) that relies on rain water, and it doesn’t rain for three days, it quickly becomes time to make other arrangements. Luckily (I think), there was a well that was available for use by the entire area (so now we’re talking more like a hundred people) where you would haul up water by the bucket and do your scrubbing in public. Bucket goes down, bucket comes up. Dump, scrub, scrub, scrub. Bucket goes down………etc., etc. It’s nice, though, you can shower, catch some rays, and chat with the folks on the deck of the restaurant, all while casually digging the soap into all the nooks and crannies inside your underwear. Uncanny how a paper-thin layer of cotton (or lycra, in the case of Germans) can completely disguise what’s going on. Let’s have three cheers for denial.

Now for a quick rant:

Throughout our nearly four-month stay in Indonesia we’ve gradually become accustomed to the, shall we say, different pace here. Things generally don’t run on time, sometimes not at all, work is naturally stopped for long stretches to spit, and answers to questions are often intended more as conversation than fact. Then there’s the food service industry. Cleanliness, promptness, accuracy. You learn to expect a little less all around, and a good part of that can probably be traced back to the fact that there’s no tipping. But even with the bar significantly lowered, the place we stayed at (Fatima’s) still managed to limbo in below with room to spare. For starters, each bungalow is given a book where all meals, snacks, etc. are recorded, to be paid when you leave. The unfortunate part was that all the books had really similar dumb cartoon patterns, which made it a somewhat difficult to find yours. Then, for some reason, even though there are probably only a dozen cabins the books are numbered up to thirty-something. Even then, some numbers were repeated. Sound confusing yet? So each meal begins with a lengthy search for your book, at which point you write in your order and pass it to someone heading in the general direction of the kitchen. So far, so good. Then, a seemingly random amount of time after that, as long as your book doesn’t get mysteriously re-shuffled into the pile, probably only a one in four occurrence, somebody emerges from the kitchen to start the auction. Naturally, breakfast provided the most chaotic examples.

“Toast with egg? Who ordered toast with egg?”

The first person alert enough to get their hand up and grunt, “Over here”, was the lucky winner. The bright side of it all is that there is no reason to be bored through all the waiting as long as you find a restaurant full of naked kids entertaining. Don’t take that the wrong way.

On one of our last days a group of us (Laynni and I, Nick and Beccy from England, Timm from Switzerland, Andy from Hungary, and Anita from Toronto) rented motorbikes to tour around and see the rest of the island. Actually, only Laynni and I had a real motorbike (foreshadowing) because there weren’t enough mopeds to go around. We were definitely a spectacle, seven of us bombing around the mountain roads like maniacs, convoy-style. We stopped in the only place worthy of the name “town”, Sabang, for lunch, and were treated to some goat curry with rice. Well, I’ll tell you one thing, none of the goat is wasted. The meat was actually really good (I’d never had it before), but I think that I can speak for everyone when I say that we were less fond of the gristle, tendons and knuckles that so often appeared on our spoons. Hey, lunch is lunch, right? From there we headed toward the other side of the island, only stopping briefly just outside of Sabang while Laynni and I crashed. OK, it was more of a “spin out, wheelie for about ten feet, then bail”-kind of wipe-out than a full-on crash. In all fairness to Laynni, she really had no part in it save being catapulted off the back, and maybe having been a little too heavy over the back tire. Hmmm, should I have said that? Luckily, we came out of it with just a couple little scrapes and a bent foot-peg. The only real damage done was to my pride. Unfortunately, that took a little longer to bounce back than the foot-peg. Lesson: When there are two people on an old 100cc bike that has bad shocks and a jerky clutch and they are entering a hairpin corner while going steeply uphill…….they should not slow right down. Of course, some might consider that lesson comparable to having to touch the stove to know it’s hot. Either way, I know now. Ironically enough, while Andy was trying to help me get our bike moving again, his fell over, snapping off the front brake lever. That’s why they have two brakes, right? So, while I was able to hammer our foot-peg back into shape at the next stop, Andy ended up paying for a new lever. Oops. The rest of the day went relatively smoothly. We only got lost five or six times, never “hopelessly”, and managed to hike to (and find, surprisingly enough) a secluded little waterfall where we went for a refreshing swim. Then, thanks to missing a turnoff or two, we didn’t make it “home” until after dark, all relieved and laughing. Can’t you just picture the whole day as the musical segment of a 1980’s spring-break movie, maybe set to “Walking on Sunshine”, and involving lots of high-fives and thumbs-ups.

Some other noteworthy occurrences:

1) We finally managed to find a couple of other Kaiser players. Hugh, from New Brunswick, and Patrick, from Nova Scotia. OK, they didn’t actually know how to play Kaiser, but they did know similar games and learned pretty quickly, considering they’re from the Maritimes. A side-note: the last word we received about them said they were wandering around the Patpong area of Bangkok (red-, very red-, light district) making a home video/documentary.

2) For what I believe is the first time, our deck played host to both monkeys and goats, albeit not at the same time.

3) One night in Timm’s room we were amazed to see a huge gecko, maybe a foot and a half long, with blue and red spots. For some reason, we were no longer amazed after Andy informed us that “lots of them get that big”.

Typed for her pleasure,

Dean

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