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Published: February 13th 2011
We had a hell of a time getting out of Sumatra, and while in south Sumatra. I think it's a good idea every once and a while to write about the things that go wrong - in this case, many, many things all together - so at least the picture of travelling in these beautiful, exotic, 3rd world places is balanced.
The vast majority of travellers fly from Padang to Jakarta (Java). We the ever stubborn overlanders opted for the other way. Instead, when we left Kerinci we headed east, somewhat blindly. There's very little travel information for south sumatra, and little english is spoken. After arriving in Sungai Penuh we walked around the very busy small town looking for a bus that left earlier than 8 in the evening (this was noonish). We ascertained that there were none and booked passage in a car for hours later. Found an internet cafe, wandered around getting catcalls and both developed sudden fevers. In Kerinci we had to hitchhike back from the volcano we climbed and were picked up by a couple of men. They wanted to bring us home and said it would only be 15 minutes and then they would drop us at our homestay. We met his family and his terrified wife and cute daughters and waited awkwardly for him to bring us back. Instead, he invited us to stay for the night. We declined. He then said, ok, I'll take you back at 9pm. (It was 730 and we had been there a half hour at least). He made us eat dinner that was rather tasty but we are quite sure was to blame for our fevers. He brought us back to our homestay at 8:15pm instead, I supposed having realized we weren't actually that fun to talk to.
After the afternoon market finished up, this town was filthly. Like piles of horse shit, rotting fish and bones, vegetables bits all laid fermenting in the sun all day long. We couldn't wait to get out of there.
Get loaded into the car at night, fevers broke and it was fairly comfortable. We were heading to a town the Trans-sumatran highway called Bangko. I had read that it takes 5 hours to get there. It took 8. This was an impressively bad road, holes that swung the car violently back and forth, large rocky ruts, muddy holes and some seemingly random nicely paved sections. We are dropped off at a hotel at 4am and proceed to wait by the door. Some staff wake up at 5:30 and ignore us competely. Half hour later they come to the door, one guy had his hand down his pants to the elbow scratching his butt. They wave us off saying no no and glare a bit, then take the chairs out front we had been sitting in and proceed to lounge and yawn. Laziness often prevails over need, 'cus there was no way this place was full, or at least there would have been someone checking out of the roadside hotel to continue on their way. I discover I've left my pouch containing my mp3 player and earplugs in the car (aka sanity tools) Find another hotel, get a room and sleep some. Bangko is another unpleasant town seemingly full of young men on motorbikes zipping around and yelling all day. Keen to escape, we head to the bus company. Next bus isn't for 7 hours and another night bus.
We had plans of visit a highland area but threw them out and decided to just try and get out. Take the night bus, our 12 hour ride takes 22 hours. The AC dripped water on me the whole time and it was infested with cockroaches. We passed the time by flicking them off each others shoulders. There was nothing to be done and we just had to sit it out. Instead of dropping us at the bus station, the driver leaves us on a ring road 12km away from Bandarlumpung. Despite having no sleep and the glaring sun, we get to the bus station. We were looking to go to the Damri office, who runs bus/boat to Jakarta. Get on an opelot (van/citybuses with speed demon drivers) who drops as at the wrong office, still nowhere near town. Finally get into town, buy tickets and go get some food before yet another night bus.
Thinking we are now in the clear, we get onto the gloriously comfortable bus and I pass out immediately (at this point we've missed 2 out of three nights of sleep). One hour later our bus drives onto the ferry and we are kicked out of our reclining, AC seats and sent to the deck where a television is cranked to 11 blasting indonesian soap operas when the blaring static wasn't too much for it. 2 AM back on the bus, 4AM, we arrive Jakarta. Got train tickets for Yoygakarta, and drank coffee for the next 4 hours. The train ride was very pleasant, not that we got any sleep on it.
We realized when we checked into our guesthouse here (Yoygakarta), that the lovely comfy bus was infested with bedbugs, Brian is still covered in hundreds of bites. We slept for 12 hours straight as if in a coma and have been here since.
So, to other travellers who made read this, beware that stretch!
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