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Published: April 13th 2009
(Day 374 on the road)
The island of Batam on Sumatra in Indonesia is only 30 minutes south of Singapore by ferry or a short ferry-hop from Malaysia, but it is a different world altogether. Where Singapore and Malaysia are pretty orderly and easy on the traveller, Batam is chaotic and a lot of hassle. In a way it feels good to be in a more chaotic country once again, but after a few hours I was already longing for the peace of hassle-free Malaysia. Still recovering from the 25 US$ entry fee (they call it visa on arrival, but no one checks anything) the taxi drivers at the ferry terminal tried to rip me off by trying to prevent me to share a cab with two other travellers (no way, my friends, you think we are daft?).
Walking the streets of Batam is no solitary experience either. Everywhere people are shouting at me ("Hey mister, taxi?" or "My friend, my friend"). To grab one's attention, they clap their hands, which actually worked a few times until I got used to it. All in all, it is just very very tiring.
I hadn't even checked in properly into my cheap
hotel when a guy (!) on the street was offering me oral sex. I was pretty stunned - after all Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world. Unfortunately I declined straight away, at least I could have asked him how much he charged for his services. Ah, well next time.
Batam itself is nothing to speak of. It is a pretty seedy place actually, with lots of lonely men from Singapore coming over to get cheap "special massages" here and to play golf. I was here to catch a ferry to the city of Medan in northern Sumatra the next day and spent one night in the city, which was rather boring affair.
The next day, things got worse. Boarding the ferry to Medan in the north of Sumatra, I had my wallet stolen in the crowds. I had read a lot about the prevalence of theft in Indonesia - it is often explained by the poverty, but that doesn't somehow hold up, as there are plenty of poor countries in the area that have a much less dubious reputation. It was the first time I have been the victim of pickpockets so far on my
trip - I guess it had to happen at one point, but together with the hassle it surely does not make for a good start in Indonesia. The worst thing is not the loss of money I guess, but the loss of trust in the people. All of a sudden, everyone around me looked suspicious, and I needed to force myself not to become paranoid.
In any case, for the next 24 hours on the overnight ferry to Medan I kept mostly to myself and slept on my backpack - just like everybody else actually. Theft is a huge problem especially on the ferries and buses in Indonesia, as most travellers who have been here and every guidebook will tell you. Also, as I now had absolutely no Indonesian money left and very little water and food, I was quite uncomfortable for the duration of the journey. And the abundance of cockroaches everywhere in the cabin did not quite make the passage more comfortable. I was very happy when it was over.
In Medan, things improved somewhat. I met up with Zaki, a friend of Indonesian Endah I had met in Singapore, and he and his friend Dito
showed me around the city and took me out for dinner. That was really nice, just what I needed actually at that point. After a good night sleep, I was ready to brave the road again and to move on to the Orang Utan centre north of Medan.
Next stop: Bukit Lawang (Sumatra, Indonesia).
To view my photos, have a look at pictures.beiske.com
. And to read the full account of my journey, have a look at the complete book about my trip at Amazon
(and most other online book shops).
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