Endless Indonesia

by Will Sanders on April 11th, 2009


Welcome all!!!!!

Remember me? I am the willsanderschinaadventure blog, some folks used to read it, some folks really did, weird! Me? I have been on hiatus from the high free wheeling Asian adventure for a time, spending a year in America, catching up with friends and family. I kept meaning to write one last post on the China adventure, you know, something that would pull the whole thing together but I guess I got lazy. Besides, I feel like the last post I put up was a pretty good ending, see you at manuels. In case you missed it, I did show up at Manuels, lots of people showed up. Ryan and Amy picked me up at the airport, they were standing with their backs to me waiting at the wrong door so I got to sneak up on them, funny stuff. Then we surprised my mom, which made her cry (my mom cries easy) and then my dad, he told us about my niece Emma, ‘You’d like Emma, she’s a nice girl’ he told us. Walked into the Earl and pointed a finger at Mr Monty Trammell and he fruck out.
I was thinking about writing a blog while in America about adventures on the Marta bus, but once the Marta expirience was no longer novel it became hugely annoying and agravating and I gave up on the idea. Marta sucks, by the way. For those of you from other cities, should you come to Atlanta do not use the public transport. The few good things about life in Atlanta make life (for me, anyway) worth living there but I find it harder and harder to champian the city when everytime I turn around I can point to something else they have gotten just plain wrong.
It has been nice though, I am glad to have been here for the election. I am sorry my Grandmother wasn’t around to see it, she would have been so happy about Obama. We lost her last summer, just after I came back, which was tough. I have been able to meet my niece, she is a nice girl. She is the cutest thing you can imagine. She makes an elephant noise that is just like a real elephant. A week ago I got to go visit her in Memphis and we went to the zoo.
And I feel like I am closer to many of my friends than before I left. I know who my friends are, and they are wonderful people who will be with me for ever. I will see them tonight at Manuels, but tonight I will be drinking ginger ale. I have been in bed sick for these three days past. Fever, no energy, the all around oh no’s. But I am a cowboy, no worries.
So here we go with this new blog, new country, new adventures, same old spellling errors. Welcome back aboard, Blog believers, you excited? I sure as shit am!!!! Wednesday I get on a plane for Singapore, I will spend three days there sorting out my visa then off to Surabaya, on the island of Java, Indonesia. I have been to Indonesia once before, it was the last of seven countries I was lucky enough to make it to last year: China, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia) and man, I tell you what, it left it’s mark on me. It is hard to sum up what it is to stand in a place and look around, and be there, you know. I can try to tell you about what the food vendors smelled like, I can try to tell you about the hills and rice paddies, or the water falls, or the people, the smiles, the din of the cites. I will try to do so as best I can over the next year, at least a year I am hoping. And you may read it, you may not, but if you did, maybe you would have some sort of idea how it is to be in Indonesia, but you wouldn’t know. Indonesia is volcanos and rain forests, beaches and coral reefs, dizzying cities and fuck it all hammocks, endangered species and plants, and driving which makes me pine for China roads. For me, Indoneisa is the big if, will I find peace or is what I am looking for even geographical, and what the hell am I looking for anyways? More on that later is my guess.
I got to spend maybe a month in Indonesia last year. I was in Sumatra, the northern most island, and yeah, the coffee place. I wrote a post about it in my China blog, it started with my brief stay in Malaysia. Because it was my first bite of Indonesia, (didn’t know then it would become my life) I am reprinting that part of the blog here, omiting the bit about Malaysia. This is what happened to me in Sumatra, if memory serves it was a doozy. Thanks for reading.


The following was copied from a now nearly destroyed notebook from the road


The boat landed in a port town called Dumai, a dusty undeveloped place with one or two story shop fronts along with a sparse landscape dotted with shacks, very little else going on. I paid a guy to take me to the long distance bus station, me hanging off the back of his motorcycle, which is a common taxi in South East Asia, especially the poorer parts. I think that for these guys the motorcycle is the single thing they own outside of their families shack and their clothes, and the motorcycle becomes a very important tool for transportation, revenue, as well as the hauling of large amounts of goods which is achieved through a precarious balancing act. Today, the cargo which was being balanced on the back of the bike precariously happened to be me with my pack pulling me backward as we speed down the dirt roads dodging the multitude of other bikes along with occasional chickens.

At the station I bought a ticket for Lake Toba, more on that later. The ticket office was a large concrete block room, empty aside from a desk in front and a wooden pick nick table. The locals were friendly enough and I had many hours to kill so I sat with them and passed the time of day. After a while, a Swede showed up also trying to get to Toba, and together we walked down the street to the bus station. While we waited, the Swede took the opportunity to show off his fancy bug zapper, which was an electrified tennis racket. He was so proud of this thing, and with little else to do we took turns trying to fry the fly’s, many locals watched with casual interest.

A guy approached us, a teacher at a local school, could we speak to his kids to help them practice their English? He explained that when he heard that we had gotten off the boat he had been running all over asking everyone trying to find us, and his school wasn’t far away and it would only take a little while. The Swede said no, we should stay put so as not to miss the bus. I said if the guy wanted he could go and get his students and we could talk to them right there at the station. Delighted, he ran off and a little while later two motorcycles arrived carrying 10 kids. They seemed a little shy and nervous at first but opened up with time. They were seniors, off to Jakarta next year, they were very sweet and just as nice as they could be. The Swede asked them about arranged marriages which made for an awkward moment, but they said it was common practice, and they told us that they really didn’t mind because they had total faith in their parents judgment. Different place, man.

It was so much fun talking to them, they reminded me of my Chinese students. Their smiles and laughter gave me a real kick, it was an energy that was warm and sunny, and it made me feel so happy for hours, like being high on goodness. The goodness filled me up and when something as powerful and unstoppable as the smiles of children from other countries hits you, you smile back.


The bus from Dumai to Toba was all night, it sucked and sucked and sucked and sucked. Man, it sucked horrifically. The main transit artery of Sumatra is a two lane road, potholes and dirt. The game seems to go as fast as you can in the wrong lane, laying on the horn until the oncoming traffic becomes too much of an impending inevitable eventuality, then jump back into the safety of your lane with whole inches left to spare, and bonus points for making the entire bus damn near wheelie in the process, sending all lose items and people sailing and jerking around like rag dolls with whiplash. This all night chicken game went along with loud blasting Indonesian pop music (granted, it is a million times better than Chinese pop music) and no AC. The driver was a very sad man, I decided, obviously depressed to the point of suicide. I wondered why he didn’t just get it over with quietly at home, with a rope or poison or pills, I wondered why he seemed to be trying to take us to the other side with him. He was putting his foot on the floor on the turns. Anyone who has ever played any nintendo driving game as a child (F zero, Super MArio Cart) knows the simple rule that you do not accelerate on the turns, that is common sense. He would have to slam down on the breaks in order to keep us from flying into a ditch which caused the whole world to come to a crashing hault. Who does that, blog believers, WHY? The best part of the all night suicidal bus ride came when we got to a mountain pass with no road. The solution had been to bulldoze dirt into a huge ridge that was not flat on top, so we went down a cliff of sliding dirt.

This was the only time the whole night the driver switched off the music, we went very slow. The driver may have been suicidal, but he wasn’t crazy. I noticed that every passenger sat on the edge of their seat, eyes wide. Half way down the slope on the bottom of the ditch we could see another bus which had landed wheels up. This sight did not instill confidence.

Later, I slipped a green army cap over my eyes and tried like hell to get some sleep, and in the dead of that night, while being violently shaken, my head bopping around like a baloon in the wind, in the endless night at some point, somehow, I found myself happily dreaming.

Soon after the Swede woke me up by shaking me, he wanted to know if I wanted some cookies. I most certainly did not. I was not very nice about it either. Insult was added to injury at 5:30 Am when the driver reached for the Rod Stewart box set, which blasted at us all morning. The only song they didn’t play was Maggie May, the only good Rod Stewart song I know of, aside from when he was with Faces.

Finally, early the next morning the bus stopped some place and they came and told us to get off and gave us our shit. This was clearly not anywhere near lake Toba, and nobody could speak any English and it really looked like we were now being kicked out in the middle of nowhere. Well, first thing the Swede went ape shit, hollering so the veins in his neck were bulging, his face getting all hot. I tried to stop him, and the more he hollered the more people they seemed to find who could not speak any English. Now they were trying to get us on a mini bus, and the Swede was arguing that we had already paid to go all the way to Toba and we would not pay again. I pulled one guy aside and talked to him, after a short while I realized that these poor people were trying to explain to him that this was just a transfer to a free mini bus that would take us the last two hours of the trip, it was included in the price and at no point had they tried to cheat us. If you are ever in a situation in another country were you are confused and lost and scared, don’t just start screaming, nine times out of ten if they are out to cheat you it is obvious and you see it coming and even still, the ones trying to cheat you are not necessarily bad people anyway, just poor people who don’t have many options. In any event you catch more flies with honey, it is often just a misunderstanding and if you get hot at these people they just shut down and become embarrassed and you wind up looking and feeling like an ass. So the Swede calmed down and we had our own little mini van the rest of the way, and by all rights I should have slept after my all night suicidal hell ride, but this leg of the journey took us up up up through mountainous jungle roads along cliffs and through canyons with amazing scenery and monkeys hanging out by the side of the road doing their monkey thing, and the sky was blue and soon we could see Toba. Ah Toba. The second I layed eyes on the place I was home.

But more on that in a second. first I have to tell you when we got to the city on the shore of lake Toba (we aimed to ferry to the island in the middle, you dig) we were tired and I was running around trying to find someone who would give me a not crazy rate on Chinese yuan. I came back to find the Swede sitting with a fat man who was so nice he wanted to give us a ride and tell us which hotel to go to. Here is the rub, this is a very common and obvious ploy. You get a ride to the ferry and then they follow you to a hotel and then when you get there the hotel owner has to charge you more money to cover this fellas finders fee. The reason I avoid this is the simple reason that one can never be sure how much it would cost without the fee and it eliminates the chance to shop around to find the best price or spot. Sometimes I am so tired or a place is so remote that I am grateful for the help, but Toba is very much on the map so I wanted to just do it by myself. The Swede was all about it though, the fat man told us that this hotel had a couple of Swedish girls staying there. This news came as a powerful revelation to the Swede. He proclaimed loudly, loud enough for everyone in the place to hear “Wow, that is so great. I really want to get a blow job!”

I managed to convince the Swede that we should just hoof it, it wasn’t that far and we were better off figuring it out for ourselves. As we walked the Swede began stopping at every single shop, regardless of what they were selling. He was suddenly on a mission to find some shit called 7 up revive. I have never heard of the stuff, but he had to have it. Every place he went he asked for 7 up revive, and each time they had no clue what he was talking about, and each time they desperately tried to make him happy with some other soda. Each time we walked away, each time they came after us trying to go down on the price, wondering what was wrong with the coke they had or with their store that we wouldn’t want to shop there. Every single place, very soon I found this embarrassing. When we got to the ferry port the fat man was waiting for us with a grin. We had missed the boat and had to buy a ticket with him, for a jacked up price no doubt. I could see a boat with people getting on, so I thanked the fat man for his time and kept walking. We got on the boat which hadn’t left after all, and then……



Ahhh, Toba. Lake Toba is so big that it shows up on the Sumatra map.
It is a massive lake surrounding an island inside a super volcano. The encircling rim looms above and looks like a mountain chain, covered with a combination of ultra bright green lush short grass, jungle, as well as the occasional cascading waterfall. Toba was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in earth’s history, so I’m told. In the past few years they were finally able to piece together that a long misunderstood mystery ash that was popping up as far away as Iceland originated from the Toba eruption a few million or so years back. It is far enough above sea level for a cool breeze to stop the equatorial sun from murdering but still just right for swimming. This is the place, the greatest place I have ever been aside from my friend Caroline’s lake house in Georgia, which is mainly great because of memories of friends and barbecue. This is the place I needed, this is the spot, the place where the rest of the world is replaced with maybe going for a swim, maybe a nap in a hammock, or a beer. This is the place that makes you cry later in lament for being confounded with the curse of being stuck any other place on earth. This is a place where your soul smiles. You can not look in any direction in Toba and not see the most amazing scenery your heart or mind could ever take in, it makes the jaw hang. The blue of the sky is a brand new kind of blue, as is the brand new green of the surrounding hills. This is it, man. The air is full of happy and a guitar or a drum is never far out of reach, the tourists are the cool smiling friendly, undemanding kind, and the locals are even nicer. The days are endless and the nights are cool under a sky of deep stars and in the evening, in the distance, you can always hear the music of the Batak people. No shit. This is the place. This is the place. Oh god, this is the place.

The first three days I did nothing. I read a book by the lake, I drank beer, I swam, I talked to other travelers, I ate, I napped. This was my whole objective in the first place, just chill the hell out in paradise. I met a way cool musician from Germany named Peter Subway,
(http://www.petersubway.de/deutsch.htm) he started in Berlin playing shows on the subways now he travels all over the world playing on trains. He is a regular at an island I made it to a little later in my trip called Pulau Wei, and was on his way to Jakarta. He told me that the trains in Jakarta are moving market places with local musicians, he was going to go and jam. And I met a 19 year old white kid from California who had been riding his bike (push bike yall) from Istanbul. His crazy ass had been through north Iraq, he said that at that time the north was fairly stable, but still. He had also been through Pakistan, he said that the nicest people in the world were in Pakistan. He also told me that he had tried to go through Iran but they wouldn’t let him in. Next he was going to Malaysia, then through Thailand to Laos then China to Hong Kong, then home. It occurs to me that I would at some point love to travel this way, me and my bike across a country. I need to get into better shape first though. Me and this kid went climbing up the mountain one day to the water fall and I found a real difference in climbing speed between me and a 19 year old who had come from Istanbul by bike. Can you guess who was stopping and panting blog believers?

I wound up staying at a place called Liberta on Tuk tuk (the name of the island in Toba). Just in case you found the willsanderschinaadventure while doing a google search on Liberta guest house, let me tell you that it is among the nicest places I have ever stayed. I was paying $2 American a night for my own private bungalow with bathroom and cold shower. Cold shower is normal, as hot shower would be silly in the heat of Sumatra. It is run by a guy named Moon, a hell of a nice guy. He is mentioned by name in the Lonely Planet. He spent his days playing chess with anyone fool enough to challenge him and a lot of times many of us sat and watched the games in the shade taking refuge from the afternoon sun. One day I found myself eating pizza by the chess table, Moon and a Frenchman were in fierce battle.
The Swede was quickly bored by the chess game and left, returning promptly with the bug zapper which nobody cared about. He provided endless commentary on the size of the mosquitoes he was nabbing, one was small, one was big, one had stripes, one was a fly. We did our best to ignore him, so he started waving it over the chess board. The Frenchman swatted one on his leg, the Swede protested that the man should have used his wonderful device. We ignored him. He pouted and left, rejected and sad. Nobody cared about his bug zapper, even though it was so clearly important. Poor guy.

I met a guy from Manchester named Mark, we became fast friends. He had heard about a local wedding on the other side of the island and we crashed. The locals didn’t seem to care, it was outside and we stood in the corner watching the scene. One man was leaping around with his eyes all rolling around in his head in a trance like one of the faithful at a pentecostal snake handling poison kool aid drinking tongue talking ho down babtist type church. Everyone in the place was drinking Tuack, which was my first exposure to the stuff. Tuack is a bright yellow and thick potent wine that ferments on its own in the tops of palm trees. They actually don’t have to do a single thing to it, just pull it out of the tree and put it in a plastic bag and serve. More on Tuack later.

That day I remember that Mark and I wandered around the island, and wherever we went young girls called to us from their shops like sirens pulling Greek sailors to the rocky shore, but damn if it didn’t work. We went in these places and hung around making the girls giggle. We hung around buying beer and food but in the end we realized that none of the girls wanted anything from us further than our business. That night we went clubbing at a place called Brandos, which only had two woman on the dance floor. We went to a place called Ellios where I had a girl rub herself all over me for me to buy her drinks. After I bought her a beer she proceeded to ram her big butt into my crotch. We danced for a while, I think that is just how she gets drinks, and I suppose that she does this every night with somebody, still I didn’t care. After I left that night I heard later she started trying the same thing with Mark.

The next day Mark and I hung out at the guest house and wrote a song on his guitar about his dead Grandmothers nipples, which was very amusing to the both of us. That night I hung out in my favorite spot on the dock next to the water with a book, just relaxing. That night Mark went out to the clubs again looking for girls. He couldn’t find me so instead he wound up taking the Swede, who apparently creeped out the girls and was a weirdo, the way Mark tells it. And Mark told me he had followed the Swede around all night in his quest for 7 up revive, this time, lo and behold he actually found a bottle. He was so happy he turned it upside down and downed it in one go. After doing so, he complained to Mark that 7 up revive made him feel sick.

Some days Mark and I wandered around the island, rice paddies and hills with small villiages. Always chickens clucking around, water buffalo, and always small children. All the English these kids seemed to know was “Hello”, “Bye bye”, and “Fuck you”. I don’t think they really understood what any of it means, they would smile and say “hey mister, Bye bye, hello, money, money, fuck you, hello, bye bye”. And I would smile back and wave and say hello and bye bye, what else am I going to do? I doubt they knew what they were saying, maybe they just hated us, either way they were way cute. Mark and I were walking at one point and a little girl who was playing in her front yard waved her little hand and smiled and said “hello”, then her much younger brother, maybe 2 or 3 came running out of his front door butt naked and poking his penis with one finger calling “hello”. So we laughed about that one for quite a while.


One day it occurred to me that it was high time I saw the rest of the island, which is around 50 KM around, so around eleven I rented a motorcycle off Mr. Moon. Moon’s bike was a bit more expensive than some of the locals who were hanging out, but I didn’t care because I knew Moon and I trusted Moon. I trusted his smile and I trusted his breakfast and I trusted his chess game and I trusted that the motorcycle wouldn’t crap out on me mid day, and I trusted that he wouldn’t trump up some unforeseen preexisting problem with the thing and then try to charge me for it, I have seen that happen. He gave me a xerox copy of a hand drawn map of the island (which I trusted as well) and he gave me a smile and told me he would put the rental on my tab, not to worry, so off I went.

I was zooming along the coast, I decided to head to the North, the folks hanging around in the hammocks told me that following the road to the South was no good, the roads that way were shit. I was cruising along, the mighty lake on my right side, the mountain on my left. Perfect. I saw empty guest houses which would have been full in the Toba hey day, which I understand was around 97. Since then people have forgotten Toba, terrorists in the North and the bombings in Bali, the Tsunami, shorter visas all helped deal the death blow to Toba’s draw, now it is blissful and empty of tourists and the guest houses and hotels that still dot the shore are abandoned, landmarks from another time. I saw while I drove through an endless street market with endless stalls and endless bodies running to the street calling to me, ‘come in, come in’. I kept driving. It was easy to picture that one day not so long ago this street was filled with families from Europe, Dad with a belly pack and obnoxious straw hat, Mom with her lonely planet guide book, the kids running around as kids do, now a ghost town, just me and Moon’s motorcycle speeding through and not slowing. I went to the hot springs, but didn’t get in. Hot springs are rarely nice, sometimes, but not often. These had been pumped into a dingy looking swimming pool and the smell of sulpher was killing me. I did see a huge iguana cross the path while walking up.

So I kept going, for a time I went along a road that didn’t go anywhere, then doubled back. Next I shoot up up up up the mountain to get to the top of the plateau in the middle of the island. Along the way I had to stop often to survey the world of green on which I now was standing on top off. At the bottom of the mountain were the shacks and buildings the locals had put together, beyond that was the shimmering lake, and beyond that was endless green that rolled its way all the way out to the horizon.

The top of the mountain was mostly farm land, it was such a large area one quickly forgot that this was a mountain top. The lake was a bit on the small side, especially in comparison with the rather gigantic lake surrounding the entire area, a lot of farms and the occasional ox. It was just about that time that I noticed my gas gauge was just above the red. I stopped and asked some locals who looked at the gauge and when I told them I was heading for Tuk Tuk they smiled and said I had enough. So onward I went. The map I had showed the road to Tuk Tuk becoming a wavey line, this seemed to coincide with when the road became dirt surrounded by jungle. I figured this must be the last leg of the road and it didn’t look very far on my map, if I was in fact where I thought I was so I kept going. Soon it became clear that this was never intended to be a road for vehicles of any sort, I had make it through huge sections of deep mud, which was a warm spray all over my legs and face from the tires spitting, the whole bike was bouncing along, sliding and bounding and skipping in the mud, trying not to go so fast that I lose control or so slow the tires start to spin out, the best thing seemed to be just to fucking gun it, a few times I found myself almost thrown into the bushes. The first of these were short but they became longer and more ridiculous the further in I ventured. Now it was seeming like I was running along a dry creek bed, the gravel underneath was slippery under the tires, but it seemed crazy to turn around now, I was finally getting past the mud areas and I didn’t want to have to go through that again. But some stone cold realities were not going away, my knuckles could feel each of these facts as they gripped the throttle tight, just as sure as they could feel every bump and stone.

One: It was late in the day, maybe 4:30 or 5, I was running out of daylight, and I was going further and further into the jungle.

Two: I was running on fumes at best, only a matter of time before I am pushing this sucker.

Three: The guys who told me to come this way and that I needn’t worry about gas were clearly assholes.

Four: I was about to sleep in the jungle. Alone, without water or food.
I was getting noplace fast. I stopped and got off the bike, just to curse a little. When I was done I decided to scout off the path down the hill to see what’s what. I climbed into the bush, promising myself that I would not lose sight of the bike, trying to make a lot of noise to scare away snakes and god knows who else. Soon I started seeing what looked like a break in the tree line where it seemed like the whole world dropped off. That must be the edge of the mountain, which I reasoned meant that I was not going to find a path down the side as I had been hoping. I remembered a very slight trail I had passed up the road a piece that could very well be leading off in the direction I wanted, so back up through the bush I climbed and made it back to the bike, a little dirtier with a million bug bites, but now with a slight tinge of hope. I turned that sucker around a doubled back up the road for a good ten minutes, gambling everything that I could make the trail and that it would be my salvation.

Good news, that trail lead me out of the jungle, the tree line ended and the road was semi paved, lots of potholes and loose gravel, but all in all an improvement. I was on top of a mountain, man it was spectacular in every direction. Now I could even see Tuk Tuk, a tiny speck in the distance. Soon I even saw a local kid on a motorbike, I flagged him down. Now, he didn’t speak much English but I showed him my gas gauge and he understood and motioned for me to follow. He took me around the corner to a barn where a guy came out with a couple of soda pop bottles full of gas, I think a 2 litter was less than a dollar and I was good to go. Two problems solved, now which way do I go to get home? Once again the kid wanted me to follow.

He lead the way down a steep steep hill road, it was almost going straight down the mountain. I would not be stretching if I told you it was like a 70 to 75 degree angle, and the road was half paved, half potholes and all the way covered with very loose rocks which ranged from gravel to baseballs. My throat was in my balls and I rode the breaks which was causing my back tire to start spinning and bouncing all over as the rocks shot out from under, I felt like I was sliding head first. Soon I felt the back tire loose the road altogether and it shot forward to the left side, for a split moment which is frozen in my memory for all time the whole bike was leaning all the way over to the right and for just a second I realized that there was no way to play this that wouldn’t end with me whipping out down the side of this mountain, and I realized that something very shitty was about to happen and that at the very least it would hurt.

I landed on my right side, skidding with the bike on top of me. I didn’t skid far, a few feet maybe, I wasn’t going very fast. But try as I may I couldn’t get the thing off me. I must have hollered when it was happening because the kid saw me and came running to help. He lifted the motorcycle off me, my right arm was bloody, by right leg was skinned from the top of my foot, (inside my shoe, still can’t really figure that one,) all the way up my thigh. I walked with a limp and cursed a little more. Yeah yeah yeah, I was lucky I didn’t kill myself and I know it.

It occurred to me that it had been several hours since this had been fun just before it occurred to me that the plastic case for the headlight on the motorcycle was cracked and had a hole. This made me feel like a total fink. Mr. Moon had trusted me, I had clearly let him down. This hurt far worse than my physical injuries, and on top of my guilt I wondered how much of my trip budget would have to go to fixing his motorcycle.

Now on top of everything else I had to get back on the fucking thing and continue, now with fresh wounds giving credence to my fears. It gets better too, around the corner from there, and about 300 feet down the road stopped, and when I say stopped, I mean man, it stopped.

Shit. It looked like a mudslide had taken the road into a deep gorge, straight up and down cliff and then far across the gorge another cliff with the rest off the road. I sat on the cliff looking down into the abyss and you know what I did? I laughed and laughed and laughed. I was trapped on top of this mountain in this island worse than Giligan, what the hell was I going to do now? What is worse that a motorcycle going down a 70 degree rock slide slope? How about going back up. No way this was the way down, no way at all.

Soon the kids brothers appeared out of nowhere and wanted to carry my bike down the cliff. I said no at first but gave in quick, I was so beat and hurt and just wanted to find a way out. They took the bike down a trough of mud that cut along the cliff, I followed and found my feet submerged in what would have made perfect grey sculpting clay up above my socks. Each step slid me further down the cliff and deeper into the clay, soon I was knee deep, and I watched these two kids carry this motorcycle through all this with almost no effort. Once on the bottom the kids revved the throttle and rode across the canyon to the other ravine. Next one climbed along side the bike, straight up the cliff, with one hand on the edge of the cliff and the other on the throttle of the bike. The other kid ran up the cliff behind, or I should say directly under the bike trying to hang onto the seat to make it go the right way. This was the damnedest thing I have ever seen and if I had a camera it would be on youtube. After they made it to the top with a revving and kicking motorcycle I had no excuse not to follow up the cliff, now covered in bug bites, sweet, blood, mud,
and fury. The two kids asked for a high price hoping I wouldn’t bargin too far down, I didn’t bargain at all, I didn’t have it in me. I paid them more money than I had paid for anything so far in Indonesia, but all in all after what they had gone through risking their lives and pushing this bike all the way through the mud and up the side of a sheer cliff, I decided they had earned ten dollars.

The whole way back I was worried sick about the bike, and I felt like I had let Moon down and I was worried that he would charge me a lot of money to fix it. When I got in, I dragged myself into his lobby and asked the kid at the desk for him. They got him off his hammock and with deep regret I showed him the bike, and he couldn’t have cared less. He seemed to think his brother had done that to the bike ages ago and was more concerned with my cuts. He gave me a jug of homemade stuff to put all over myself, it was thick and had a label with some Butak looking guy who seemed angry about something. I used the stuff and granted, my cuts healed fast, but in the middle of the night I found my leg and arms covered completely with ants so I had to take a shower.

PSYCHODELIC VOLCANO, and the papers want to know whose shoes you wear

The night before the motorcycle day I had once again found myself drinking at Bagus Bay, where the 21 year old Batack bartender, Fernando had taken to calling me bruduh. That night I was drinking with a rather tall and lankey muppet of a person named Haiky. His eyes had a weird way of always being too wide, as if always expressing supreme enthusiasm. Haiky is a cab driver from Finland. When I asked him how a cab driver from Finland could afford to go all the way to Indonesia he almost screamed “I sell weed!” At this point I floated the question of Mushrooms, as I had been toying with the idea but hadn’t found anyone to trip with. Weed and shrooms are grown on the island and the signs on the walls of most restaurants reassured me that things were cool. The sign on the wall of Bagus Bay read
‘Mushrooms: go to the moon. Tea or omelet.’ So Haiky and I agreed on the next day.

The next evening I limped into Bagus Bay with fresh cuts and local ointment all over and found a group of people waiting on us. A nice couple from London had agreed to come along for the trip and so had Fernando, the 21 year old bartender who called me ‘bruduh’.

I might as well mention here that I had not done drugs of any sort for a few years. My standing drug addiction involves mushrooms taken once every two years with friends and in a cool place. This seemed the perfect place and it had been just about two years since I tripped at Carolines lake house with Blake and Amy, I asked for mine in tea form. We all carefully watched each other as we drank the shit down, it was putrid brew indeed. At the bottom of the cup was a pile of greenish muck, which I opted to eat as well, nobody else did. That may account for why I was tripping so fucking hard later and they weren’t. I call it getting your money’s worth, blog believers.

And that night Peter Subway went and got his guitar and he spent what must have been all night hour after hour (I am kind of hazy on a cohesive timeline for what should be obvious reasons) playing a concert for us until his fingers bled. The highlight of the show for me was when I was really peaking, peter went into space oddity by David Bowie, and man, I was Major Tom. Here is the part I was feeling the most from the whole song

This is Major Tom to ground control, I’m stepping through the door,
and I floating in the most peculiar way, the stars look very different today

That was cool. I will never be able to hear that song again without thinking of Toba and that night. And for a long time I found myself outside alone laying in the grass on my back starring at the moon, which seemed to have the face of an ex girlfriend, and all around the moon the clouds formed landscapes of mountains and cities and circular geometric patterns, and the moon was so so so bright it was blinding. At one point I worried, really worried that I might get a moon burn. And as I layed out there I started to want to hang out with Mark, Mark this guy I had only known one week had become my best friend and as fucked as I was I wanted to hang out with Mark who was this cool guy from Manchester, but I couldn’t seem to tear myself away from the moon. Soon I heard Mark calling me, he had wondered where I was and I told him I had been off hallucinating so I went in and listened to Peter Subway with everyone else for a long time, Peter Subway fucking rocks, by the way. The man is a jukebox, there was no way he could be stumped all night he played and sang, then at one point Mark started singing about his dead grandmothers nipples just to fuck with me. The local girls asked me how I was doing and I said “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” Which is what my Chinese students always say whenever you ask them that question, and everyone laughed at me, but it was cool. And Peter Subway knew how to play a song by T-rex. Then I was playing on a series of different sized drums along a line in descending pitches like a xylophone of bongos, after a while I realized it was night time and I asked if I was keeping people up and they said maybe I was so I felt bad about it.

I found myself on the dock with Haiky, the Finish taxi driver and we dipped our feet in the water off the dock which felt so fucking good and we starred up at the stars and the moon and Haiky agreed that the moon was so amazing and we played with piles of seaweed which was laying around, and it was so interesting and I told him about China and about living there and about how my life was really great and about all that really mattered to me anymore was happiness and he agreed with me and we laughed like idiots and he looked just like a fucking muppet.

As the night wore on we all wound up in the wee hours sitting around a table slowly coming down with Peter Subway (god bless him) still playing and singing for us. And as we all came down we felt immense euphoria and glee and our smiles were stupid and our eyes were heavy. We sang along with every song he played, oh and the British lady had discovered Tommy the dog early in the evening and the entire night she sat there smoking with one hand and petting Tommy with the other, by the time I wasn’t tripping anymore I noticed that Tommy looked like just about the happiest dog I had ever seen. I noticed that Fernando started cleaning the place and working, which didn’t seem right to me so I cleaned the place for him and told him to sit, that he was not working tonight, and he sank back into his chair and called me bruddah. So cleared the empties off the bar and washed it and went around dumping the ashtrays and everything else. And I sang blister in the sun with Peter and it was the sort of odd situation where one didn’t feel at all strange singing in front of a whole room full of people, I usually don’t sing, but I like doing it so I don’t know what is the issue and why I shouldn’t. And we started drinking wine and started getting drunk, and Mark disappeared with a local girl, and just before the sun came up we all gave each other teary eyed hugs, strangers a few days before, now brothers and sisters, soon we would make the pretense of emailing each other and maybe if were are lucky we may see each other years from now, someplace. I would like that anyways.


Next I went to a city called Medan, hoping that I could just show up and find teaching work as I was running out of money, but no such luck. I stayed at the be all and end all of shit holes. In another blog I had to change the name of a place I stayed in Macao and of the owner in case someone found it by chance on the internet I didn’t want to hurt their business. I will tell you the real name of this place, it actually deserves infamy, in fact, if nobody has ever died in this shit hole I am surprised. The place was called Rona’s guesthouse formally sputnik and it cost a dollar a night and when Rona showed me the room it was a stall with exactly two things, a thin mattress on the floor, and a fan. When she showed me the room she said “It’s got a mattress ,and a fan, and everything.”

The front porch was the headquarters for an ever vigilant garrison of international drunks, too ugly to get laid or tolerated elsewhere so they all wound up here. Their leader was an old man from Australia who never wore a shirt and looked just like Abe Vigoda. He repeatedly hollered things like “Fuck the world, mate, that’s what I say.” Always followed by bellowing laughter, and the locals all laughed hard when he called them Orangutans, but I noticed that they weren’t laughing quite as hard the next night when he was still saying it. He was still laughing though, and how. Oh, and there was also a young guy who seemed to worship the Australian who kept lighting his own farts for the Australians approval, which never seemed to wean. I tried to talk to someone else and the Australian wouldn’t have it. Some guy tried to tell me about his trek through the jungle and the Australian hollered, “Jungle, why would you want to go there? I lived for six years in the Jungle, I almost got eaten by a tiger. Fuck the jungle, that’s what I say mate.” He was the kind of man who would have made excellent food for an animal, but displayed little more worth.

So Mark and I bounced and found an alley way where the locals drank Tuak, the bright yellow palm tree wine, and we did that for a few nights and got ourselves fucked up, lord. The local folks seemed pleased that we had found their little alley, not many foreigners do I take it, and we were treated like guests. They told me that just one farm harvests all the tuack daily for all of Medan and they get a hundred US a day, which actually doesn’t come to all that much when you consider the labor they have to hire for the job as well as the trucks and everything else. But one dollar will get you a kool aid pitcher full and that is plenty for you and a friend. Tuack gives no hangover and no headache, and when you are really gone it is impossible to notice, it is not until the next day when you calculate that your behavior was making no sense.

One night the locals started fighting, one guy left. They made a call and a dude showed up on a super nice motorcycle, big dude. When he showed up the trouble seemed to go away, we figured he was local mafia enforcement. Mark actually asked him, are you Mafia? Which would get your ass shot with the real thing in America, so the movies tell me, but the guy smiled and thought we were funny. I heard a story from a local over Tuak about the mafia boss in Sumatra, a man named Onu. I actually heard that name around a few times, Onu is known from the North all the way to the South. A man told me with certainty in his eyes that Onu can not be killed by bullets, and if you shoot him he will laugh and then shoot you. And if you are trying to kill Onu,
he will turn into a chicken. I am not making this up, Onu the mafia king of Sumatra is said to be able to turn into a Chicken at will. Tony Soprano couldn’t do that. In the alley in Medan Mark and I had really deep drunk discussions on the subject of our life, really deep shit, and I walked away thinking differently about some things in my life. It reminded me of drinking at the railroad tracks with my friends in the ATL. We wondered the streets looking for girls or alcohol, or tuack. Finally we parted ways, I stayed around a few more days and ran into Haiky which was cool. Then as we were leaving he tried to rip me off, this is after I spent an hour trying to wake his sorry ass up off the floor of the bathroom in the morning at Rona’s so he wouldn’t miss his plane, but I don’t want to tell that story, he didn’t rip me off by the way, but he tried and it pissed me off and he was trying to be sneaky about it.

Next I went to an island called Pulua wei which was amazing and well worth another entire big blog but I don’t feel like it. And then the snows his south China so I couldn’t go back and I went back to Toba a second time and was greeted like a returning hero. Fernando was so happy to see me, and some dog had puppies and Fernando named one of them Will after me, which makes me more happy than I can say. This weekend I got to go to Hong Kong to sort out my visa mess, and I guess I will wind up telling you about that. But now it is late and I want to get this finished so I will now put it up without a single proof read. If you bothered to read all this mess, I thank you.

One Response to “Endless Indonesia”

  1. Doug Brown says:

    Do not believe this man. Atlanta has the most efficient mass transit system on this planet. Or any other. Wait…
    But seriously, Onu, Onu, Onu. Chicken-Headed Mob Boss. Now that’s gangster.

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