Medan Madness

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October 16th 2015
Published: November 19th 2015
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We flew from Colombo to Kuala Lumpur to Medan, which is the capital city on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia.

We expected a pretty small and shabby airport, forgetting that the airports in Indonesia are very new. So it was a pleasant surprise when we landed and arrived at a fresh and clean airport. Straight away we were met by smiling Indonesians who taught us how to say 'thank you' which is 'terima kasih'.

We jumped in a taxi with a man who had very little English but a lot of knowledge of football players. English teams such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea have in recent seasons come to places like Indonesia during pre season to play tournaments and train, with the end goal of increasing their global fan base and potential revenue streams.

Medan is a very busy city, with huge hotels and fast food restaurants everywhere. We had been told not to spend much time here so we planned to leave early the next morning.

When we got to our hotel we tried to organise a bus to Bukit Lawang for the morning. This was impossible as we could not find anyone who spoke enough English, and our Indonesian consisted of one word. There was very poor information online to help us and although our information book told us there was a tourist bus, there was no information about when or where it left. So we organised a taxi for the morning to take us to the bus station in Medan. What. A. Mistake.

When we pulled up to the bus station after a breakfast of fried rice in the hotel, we were swarmed by touts (or what the Indonesian call bandits). Our taxi driver quickly abandoned us and we were shoved into a rickety bus whilst they all clambered in beside us.

We were aware that the buses would drive around the streets until they could find enough people to make the journey worth while so when the bus stopped we weren't surprised. However, the bandits started demanding money.

"You pay now!"
"100,000 pay now or get off!"
"You pay or we phone police!"
"Police will come then bang bang!"
"F*** you Mr, pay now!"

We had been warned about the touts asking for money on the buses as they are not government run. However, we knew not to pay anyone until we arrived at our destination, and that the money should go to the driver. But we definitely did not expect to be harassed. Even touts in India were tame compared to these guys.

People were looking on at us with pity in their eyes as we tried to stand our ground. But eventually the bus driver realised we were more hassle than we were worth and asked us to get off his bus. We were continuously shouted at by these gangsters, who we were damned sure would not be getting a single rupiah of our money.

Luckily, some lovely women who worked in a near by bakery (who knew all too well what was going on) helped to phone us a taxi to escape the vultures. As our taxi pulled up, we managed to grab a french couple and quickly explain to them that they should just come in the taxi with us all the way to Bukit Lawang. In the end it all worked out perfectly! Phew!

The roads were appalling, with our taxi getting stuck every so often in the worlds biggest potholes. All the traffic is on the small roads that weave through the villages so it can take a while to get anywhere. But eventually we made it to Bukit Lawang four hours later.


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