And I’m Off!

Ah, no.  I’m still in greater Jakarta.  So, ‘I’m off’ actually means that the 100km ride to the ferry for Sumatra doesn’t ever really leave the sprawling suburbs and takes the better part of a day!  The whole experience really brought home the fact that while Indonesia ‘only’ has a population of around 240 million people, over 30 million on them live in the greater Jakarta area.  Put a different way, in an area of less than 800 square km, they have pretty close to the entire population of Canada with an area of  around 10,000,000 square km!

Finally though, I was on the ferry.  We didn’t pass close enough to Krakatoa for a picture, but I still enjoyed the sensation of once again brushing up close to history.  Then it was off and into Sumatra for some decent riding and a quest for transportation to Malaysia.  My Indonesian visa was running out and I’d heard bad rumors all up on the interwebs about the traditional and much loved boat route between Indonesia and Malaysia being closed…

Considering this state of affairs, I decided to stop in Dumai where cargo boats between the two countries are common.  It hasn’t been used by riders for ages, but I thought it would be worth a check since it was on my way.  Turns out it wasn’t.  It just wasted 2 days, but, no- wasted is the completely wrong word.  Shipping wise, the time might have been wasted; experience wise, it was a rich one.

Riding into town I hit up the first shipping office I found and was promptly stuffed into a corner and told to wait.  Humph!  About 15 minutes later, just as I was about to shuffle around the office to make sure they hadn’t forgotten about me, a short man road up on a scooter and walked up to me.  Turns out they’d called the local English teacher to help me with translation- Perfect!  It was getting late in the day, so he took me back to his place where, in exchange for helping me find shipping the next day and giving me a room to sleep, he had me  help teach his night classes.  Cool!

That evening was an experience- not one I’d care to frame as good or bad necessarily, but one to remember.  I spent a couple of hours with two different classes being grilled mercilessly about my marital status, why I didn’t have children, what I thought of Muslim women (the class was about 3/4 women and they were by far the most vocal), and even some not too subtle questions about  if I’d ever slept with a girlfriend!  At the end of it I was exhausted- trying to speak clearly so they could understand my English, keeping my answers vague enough not offend, and tangling with how much of the truth I should be sharing.  I went to sleep trying to make sense of it- I suppose these rather sheltered young people had just as many preconceptions about me as I did them, but mine were now shattered.  There was no way I could reconcile my previous view of what young Muslim women wearing veils where supposed to be like with the experiences I’d been having.  The guys were easy- asking about work, the bike, and the trip.  The women were simply a minefield that I knew I couldn’t hope to navigate.

At least some things never change!

The next day my host and I headed out to look for a boat.  And hit a stone wall.  In front of customs/the navy/the coastguard the captains all expressed delight at the idea, but as soon as officialdom had moved on, they made excuses about how it just wasn’t possible.  Before long, the truth became obvious-  The captains would have to pay substantial bribes to carry the bike and would most likely be checked more often if they did, just in case they had another bike with them.  They wanted nothing to do with me or my bike, but wouldn’t say anything about it while those who extracted the bribes could hear.  So, once all avenues of attack had been tried, it was time to call it a day.  My host was dejected and disgusted with not having been able to help me and with having he country’s corruption thrown in his face…  I was just dejected since I had another night of classes to help teach!

The next morning, after an evening much like the last, I was back on the road to Medan where I’d be trying my luck with the old route that may or may not be working.  My last chuckle before I left was when I took a photo of my normally smiling and genial hosts…


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