Wednesday, 8 June, 2011

Kerinci, Indonesia

Today I’ve listened to three rap albums, watched a film and searched the internet high and low to discover which snake is the most venomous. In other words, I’ve wasted my day. Why such procrastination? I’ll tell you why, because job hunting is so frigging boring!

I am now at the point where I am convincing myself that I have earned a break; and if I do something constructive, like say, write a blog regarding an incident that occurred over six months ago, then a brief intermission is almost vital. So, here is a story I considered not good enough to write about when it actually took place – the tale of a mad man and an abduction.

Set your time machines all the way back to late 2010, because right now, we are going to return to Kerinci, Indonesia. Ready? Ok, let’s go… swooosh.

So, here we are, Indonesia. The bus that is going to take us from Padang to Kerinci is late, incredibly so, as in, we have been waiting around alongside this wooden post for two hours. Literally, two hours. At this moment, seeing a little boy saving a duckling from an oncoming high-speed train wouldn’t bring me joy. I’d probably just slate both the boy’s parents and the mother duck.

The bus eventually arrives, two and a half hours late. We find ourselves squished up on the back row, amongst four other people. In all honesty, we were probably more comfortable at the bus stop. I guess, you should be careful what you wish for.

Three hours pass and we are still in Padang – I’m unwillfully playing a never ending game of twister, and my only focus is ensuring that I avoid physical contact with all strangers – an accidental arse prod or belly press would just create awkwardness, and the way things are going, we’re going to remain in each other’s presence for some time yet.

The reason we are yet to leave the city that we started in, is due to the fact our driver is also apparently a postman and has decided to combine his two jobs for the day. He keeps stopping the bus at every single door to deliver the mail. Not only that, but he’s the friendliest postman in the world. He has a twenty minute chat with each door, and as our luck would have it, zero people living on these streets work the night shift. They are always free and keen on postal banter.

The bus is getting very hazy, due to all passengers other than Ruby and myself, smoking without breaks or opening the window. The bloke to my left elbows me in the side as he reaches for his lighter, I see he is clearly less concerned about avoiding human contact than I am. He lights his cigarette and then gives a wave of apology. In doing so, he drops ash on my trousers and then says sorry again. It seems like he’s apologising to me every thirty seconds. At this stage, I’m starting to think he has cheated on me.

There is also a weird man from the front row that keeps turning around and grinning at us every few minutes like an absolute nutter. I’ve decided that he is probably one to avoid. I smile back of course, but it is happening too frequently. There is only so long two grown men can sit and stare at each other with beaming smiles and no verbal communication, before it starts to feel weird.

As we start to look like we are finally heading in the right direction, the driver decides that he deserves a well-earned break. He, therefore, pulls into a side road and gets out to eat some fish head and rice. The passengers excitedly follow. We do too, though more for the fresh air and leg stretch than the open-eyed dead fish with the flies for company.

We share our thoughts – which is mostly Ruby complaining about the lack of leg space, and I, about the smoke. We’re British, we like to moan. We do have a much more pressing matter we also need to address – where will we be sleeping tonight? Due to the driver’s nonchalant attitude, we would be arriving in the city at stupid o’clock. Where can we go, and furthermore, how will we get there? We can’t rely on public transport at a reasonable hour, never mind off-peak.

I can see our fan from the front row walking our way. He’s still smiling, I start smiling – we enter that weird place again. Once close, it seems he just wants to practice his English, which is cool – we make small talk. Three sentences later, he asks us to stay at his house. This guy must scare women away daily on the dating sites, if this is how he plays it.

We look at each other. It is not ideal, sure, but what are our other options? We’re extremely tired and need a bed. If you’re under eighteen and such a scenario is offered, say no. We agree and he is over the moon. I hope he doesn’t kill us.

After four more long hours, we are now pulling in at his stop. Within that time, our new friend must have told the bus driver at least twenty times that we will be jumping out with him. He was keen. Keen to kill us?

We get out at his house, I don’t even know his name! If you’re under eighteen, definitely don’t go to a stranger’s home without at least knowing what they’re called. As we approach his place, I start to feel pretty nervous – is this really the smartest option?

His wife is waiting for us at the door – she is excited and very friendly. Surely, she should be more confused and surprised? Her husband has brought home two random foreigners at five o’clock in the morning. Maybe this is a reoccurring thing. We’re being presented with so many red flags right now – seriously, what are we doing?

We start discussing sleeping arrangements; I inform the husband that we would be happy with a sofa or even the floor. He appears to brush off my suggestion though and heads over to the room closest to the living room. Oh my God. He has removed his son? from his bed to accommodate for us. Well, now I feel like an absolutely terrible person.

I try to tell him that it is not necessary, but he brushes away my plea. We now have an enemy, he may only be a five-year-old, but he must be pretty angry, and rightfully so. Oh well, his dad is the cock. I really need to sleep, so I’ll put feeling bad on hold until tomorrow. Cheers for the bed and the Spongebob Squarepants quilt, kid, we owe you one.

A knock comes at the room’s door and I scramble over to my phone to check the time. Seven in the morning. We’ve had an hour and a half of sleep. I glare towards the door, with all my energy going on keeping my eyes from closing again – the husband’s head is now poking into the room. He is grinning, just as he was the very first time he caught our eye. “Breakfast?” He inquires. Bloody hell!

We take our seats in the dining room and start eating – this food is great. A mix of local cuisines spread around the table. His wife worked her arse off this morning, that’s for sure. While his son probably still thinks that we’re a pair of scumbags from the night before.

I’m sure that opinion isn’t improving as he waits and watches us finish our food before he is allowed to dabble at the leftovers. It’s a cultural thing apparently, but it is making me feel extremely uncomfortable. I will leave the biggest piece of fish for the kid. You can’t be taking both a boy’s fish and Spongebob quilt within a matter of hours. That would be plain inhuman.

As the meal is coming to an end, our section at least, he asks me to take a picture of him and Ruby. Just him and Ruby. This is highly amusing to me, I assume his wife who has slaved away for him all morning must feel a bit inadequate though. Maybe I should request a photo with her, to even the score. Anyway, I take his photos for him, and we now feel very much ready to go – we need a hostel and a few hours sleep.

Ruby goes back into the kid’s room to change her clothes. As I wait for her, I sit on the sofa with the son and watch Indonesian cartoons – I feel as though I should still work towards a bond, I’m not entirely sure what I expect to come of this, but, it is important for him to know that his dad is the evil one. Before I have a chance to settle, the husband grabs me by the arm and takes me outside. He’s still smiling, which is good, I think, but I’m still obviously a little bit anxious about where we are heading.

We stop two doors down, which turns out to be his brother’s house. They show me their homegrown cinnamon with pride. I just give the thumbs up because I don’t really know how I am supposed to react. Once the stick expedition is finished, the brother pulls out his phone. It is apparently picture time again. I am now posing for countless photos, and with every photo comes the same joke, ‘Facebook profile picture’. I’m far too tired for this crap. I start to fantasise about hitting both brothers over the head with a long cinnamon stick.

I convince the brothers that I need to go back and get my bag – which they accept. I had to get away, our new acquaintance had just shown me that the battery on his camera wasn’t even close to dying. Back in the house, the husband asks if we want to accompany his family on a trip to see the local hot spring. I shoot Ruby a look. While subtle, that glance tries to express the term ‘no frigging way’ as clearly as possible without appearing rude. Let me rest, man.

We wander back into the boy’s room to gather our things and begin talking about our host’s proposal. I remain unenthusiastic, but Ruby believes that we owe them something – she clearly values kindness too much. I feel guilty, after all, Ruby is right, they have given us both their son’s bed and his food. I sulk a little, but still agree to go on the trip.

We tell them that we will come. The husband then informs us that he’ll now need to hire a jeep. Hire a jeep? I agreed with reluctance, don’t feel the need to go out of your way to the extent of hiring a bloody jeep on our account. I tell him not to worry, but he won’t have any of it. We would be going to see this hot spring, and we would be travelling there by jeep!

I suddenly understand the need for a jeep, his brother’s family of five are also in attendance. That’s ten people – I don’t want to be a bother, but perhaps two jeeps would be more adequate? We climb in, squish together and get ready to go. The brother immediately gets his camera out again, does this guy ever stop?

We take a detour to grandma’s house, because apparently she must meet us. We seem to be becoming the prize they are keen to show off, rather than the guests they wish to share their sites with. I am going to assume that foreigners don’t usually venture to this neck of the woods. We arrive to discover that grandma doesn’t speak any English – we are left doing nothing but smiling and drinking tea. Usually I love a grin and cherish a brew, but right now, I’m too tired to appreciate the positive factors of this experience.

We say our emotional goodbyes and then jump back in the car. I ask if we would now be on our way to see the hot spring, but at this stage I fear that I’m pushing for an answer that isn’t going to come. The husband turns, smiles and replies, “You must see my cousin’s place first.” Well, of course we must!

The cousin has absolutely no desire to dilly-dally around showing us sofas or tables though. Instead, he just ushers us straight through his house and onward to the garden, where he can showoff his wax apple tree. He pulls one from its branch and places it in my hand – a gesture that would mean so much more if this piece of fruity goodness wasn’t covered in ants. I can see multiple ants frantically running all over my snack.

I will hold this wax apple in my hand until I find an opportunity to throw it away without hurting feelings. The conversation seems unbreakable – I literally now have ants crawling all over my hand – I need a distraction. I point to his roof and say, “What is that?” They all look, I throw my fruit to the ground and the mission is a success. I look weird due to there being nothing out of the ordinary on the roof, but that is merely a minor concern.

The cousin sees how quickly I ate my first of his offerings and gives me a second. Evidently, this day is not mine to celebrate.

hot spring

The drive to get to the hot spring was an hour, it appears that the cousin’s house was a major detour, but nevertheless, we’re finally here! I can honestly say that for the first time in two days, I’m starting to feel a little bit excited. Sadly, we soon discover that it is once again picture time – the surroundings would be required to wait.

Unsurprisingly, the family and I are left watching lots of one on one shots of Ruby and the husband – in which he hilariously stands on a rock each time to make himself appear taller than she is. We then have a few token pictures of everybody together before we jump back in the car. Seriously, that is it? We didn’t even see… you know what, whatever, just please let us find our hostel now and call time on this day of madness.

On our way back, the husband pulls up on the kerb. What could it possibly be now? An aunt that can shake a tambourine? A nephew that wants to show us his pet caterpillars? What?! Nope, this time we wouldn’t be meeting anybody. Instead, the husband needs to go and get today’s photographs developed this very second, apparently. I’m too tired to even describe how I feel about that.

We all wait in the jeep as the husband goes on his solo mission. He seems to know the photographer, perhaps we are not the first white people he’s had developed? Either way, they’re getting quite chatty. The pair then sit down and settle into a coffee – when I get home, I’m going to the opticians because surely my eyes are seeing things here! Ruby grabs my arm before I can jump out and, erm, offer him a top up of milk.

In the vehicle heading back, the husband declares how delighted he is with the trip, going on to suggesting that we stay another night and have a second fun-filled day with the crazy gang again tomorrow. Obviously I decline his offer, as I would rather wipe a chili pepper on my eyeball.

I tell him that we have ‘friends’ waiting for us at the hostel, and therefore, really need to head that way tonight. He seems to understand and tells me that he will drop his family off at home and then drive us there himself – as annoying as some of his antics have been, it would be unfair to dismiss his kindness.

The ride to the hostel is a bit of a blur, mostly because I slept through the majority of the journey – if I was a betting man though, I would put the bulk of my coin on the duration of the travel being spent getting fresh photos of Ruby and the husband. They will have been taken by his brother, who apparently felt the need to be a part of our drive too.

We arrive at the hostel at ten in the evening and my eyes are fully focused on our room key, nothing else matters, that key opens the chamber, the chamber containing the object more magical than any creation ever carved out be science fiction – this of course, is the bed. Apparently, that key won’t come easy though, not tonight. The husband interrupts before I get a chance to claim the key and starts rambling on about our friends – the ones I had previously made up – this is why you should never lie, kids.

As our ‘friends’ are not here, the husband concludes that we are in the wrong place and suggests taking us back to his. He has got to be kidding. I explain that we are here now and too tired to go elsewhere at this time. He’s confused that somebody may not want to continue travelling after dark, but seems to accept my ‘mad’ decision nonetheless.

He then pulls up a chair and starts nattering with the hostel owner about Indonesian life; they have tea, relax and talk. Does this guy’s battery never run out? This exchange continues for an hour – it is now twelve o’clock! All the while, we still don’t have our key!

The key trade off occurs, only I’m not a part of it, the room key has been given to the husband – now I’m confused. He enters the room with his brother – the brother uses our bathroom facilities, while the husband takes off his shoes and climbs on the bed. Seriously, what the heck is going on?! He then asks Ruby to join him on the bed for a picture – I laugh hysterically at this point, lack of sleep combined with the absurdity of the situation. My reaction confuses everybody, but I can’t stop.

I explain that they really need to go, I am firm but fair. It is evident that subtlety is no longer an option at this stage. They disappear and we sleep. I worry that they will come back but they never do.

Ok, let’s go back to the future. Swooosh!

So there it is, the story of how Ruby’s image is probably the pride and joy of an Indonesian mantelpiece right now. That is the longest blog I’ve ever written and all because I want to be a lazy bum without a job. Be sure to have a pleasant Wednesday.

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