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Many Adventures of a Nomadic Poet A young poet with Asperger's makes travel his passion, and away he goes...

Taking on Sumatra

INDONESIA | Friday, 10 October 2014 | Views [526]

As I boarded the ferry to Dumai this morning, I was aware of the length of my journey ahead. I have two of the largest islands this side of the world to traverse and the state of roads in both are iffy at best. I had wondered if the ferry was even seaworthy but it appears much better than the one in Nicaragua a few years ago and, unlike that one there isn't a heap of cargo and cattle aboard. The boat has air conditioning as well (much to my surprise). As I settled into my seat I covered myself with my Norfolk Island towel and fell asleep for a bit. I had no idea where Dumai was located, but learned on the boat it's about four hours to Pekanbaru. A local sat with me and gave advice on places to go in Indonesia. He suggested visiting Lake Toba though it's about a 12-hour drive north of Dumai. Getting off the boat you can clearly tell this isn't Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, or even Malaysia. If you've travelled around civilized countries for awhile Indonesia comes as a surprising and sometimes unpleasant shock. Persistent touts and searing heat and humidity greeted me as I tried to get past. I had no idea where the hell I was or how far I was from anywhere. I wanted to get online for a bit, so a motorcycle driver took me to an internet cafe and tried to rip me off like $5. Dumai is actually further north than Singapore. My first thought was to attempt hitchhiking south but I had no idea where the road was and I had no idea how to ask anyone since I don't speak any Bahasa. When I was taken to the bus station I was told the only bus to Pekanbaru leaves in the morning but I could catch an air-conditioned bus to Bukittinggi. In exchange the tout bugged me to buy him a pack of cigarettes. Indonesians smoke more than people of any country I've ever visited! On buses, in food stalls, everywhere, people smoke, and Indonesians have no qualms about chucking cigarette butts and plastic bottles out bus windows and on the sides of the road. The bus had no air conditioning at all and when we stopped in Duri (I wonder if that's where "durian" comes from) we hung out for about 45 minutes until the bus was packed sardine-full. Much like Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Peru, and other third-world countries I've visited, Indonesia has many of the same problems: rubbish everywhere, pollution, filthy bathrooms, and unhealthy snacks: instant noodles, Coke, white bread, cheap beer, and grease-loaded food run the gamut at food stalls. There's a stench of fire and smoke coming from the Sumatran rainforests and the sun has an ominous colour as a result. In terms of "travel toughness" I compare Indonesia to Ethiopia. This place ain't for sissies. Earlier I went to an ATM and withdrew 1,000,000 rupiah! For a few minutes I was a millionaire, though 1,000,000 rupiah is equivalent to less than $100. Indonesia is an interesting country on a map and on paper. Home to more than 250 million people it's the largest Muslim country in the world and the world's fourth most populated country, and its islands big and small are scattered across the map appearing as if two kids got into a fight and started throwing mud and rocks. Indonesia is the world's most volcanically active country with more than 150 active volcanoes. Toba is a well-known supervolcano as well. Indonesia has abundant rainforest and the world's second highest level of biodiversity. With human impact Indonesia could easily be a case study for environmental disaster. As we drove through the darkness I could see large flames shooting from smokestacks; another sign of rampant pollution. The orangutan lives only in Borneo and Sumatra but from what I've seen of Sumatra so far I don't see how an orangutan could live here. This legendary journey continues, and I'm hoping I can write 33 good things about Indonesia when it's all said and done!

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