Houston, We Have a Problem

Trip Start Oct 23, 2006
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Trip End May 08, 2007


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Monday, April 9, 2007

Not Houston, really, but a city much like it. Pekanbaru is a city considerably smaller than Houston (only about 650,000 people) but is an oil town just the same. It's dirty, polluted, run-down. Overall just a lovely spot.
Very few travellers ever come to Pekanbaru. That was one of my favorite things about it. I found a nice room for less than half what I paid on Batam. No hot water or A/C, but I've never really needed those things anyway. It was in a little spot called Poppies Home Stay. It sounded adorable until I realized the owner was Eddie and "Poppies" is due to the former opium trade here. Wake up Mike. You're not in the Disneyland that is Singapore anymore.
I read a lot in Pekanbaru. Went for walks, took pictures. Overall explored the city. Pekanbaru had a grit that reminded me of other places I'd been: Hanoi but more open; Yangon (Rangoon) but less oppressive. In fact, my whole bus ride from the port to Pekanbaru itself left me doing nothing but comparisons.
I wrote about it in my journal:

Riding a long distance bus through Indonesia is the same as most other countries. If there were boulders on the side of the road, it'd be Vietnam. If there were random, vegetation-covered cliffs, it'd be southern China. If the vegetation there is had been brown, dry, and dying it would've been Cambodia. If the roads were wider, smoother, and the buses luxurious, it'd be like Thailand. If the roads were disintegrated down to no pavement, and the bus half its size with twice as many passengers, it would be just like Burma. But instead it's Indonesia, so it's somewhere in the middle of all those traits with a couple unique ones. Like many other countries I've ridden these long distance buses in, there's no A/C. But Indo's much hotter and muggier. And the crowning difference of the Indo-experience is that the whole time, everyone around me was smoking relentlessly. It wasn't until I was in that hazy tobacco sauna that I realized how rare it was for anyone to smoke on a bus in any other country.

Finding myself a bit jaded, I decided to get to planning the specifics of my time in Indonesia. I looked at everything on offer in Sumatra, Java, and Bali, being that I limited myself to those islands. I had been considering a trip to Komodo to see their infamous dragons, but it revealed itself to be touristy, expensive, and since I was by myself, why bother? On this wave of apathy and exhaustion, I decided to cut out the rest of Sumatra and western Java. Trying to fit it all in would have required money I didn't have and a pace I couldn't maintain. I'd been going strong and hard for a long time, and I knew I'd need to wind down before coming home and starting the whole "job" thing you all at home are caught up in.
To tell it accurately: I did try to buy a bus ticket to see more of Sumatra, but they made it difficult and expensive to go where I wanted. Next door to the row of bus companies was an airline's ticket office. They made it easy and cheap to fly directly from Pekanbaru to Yogyakarta, which was the first city I wanted to see on Java. On a whim (and a desire to not get on another smoke-filled bus) I bought the plane ticket. I gave myself a few more days in Pekanbaru to both further reduce the airfare and to give Sumatra somewhat of a fair shake.
It was in that time that I did my exploring and picture taking. I committed to memory my usual vital phrases in my last new language.

selamat pagi = good morning
selamat malam = good night
terima kasih = thank you
sah kuku ratah = I have no money (leave me alone)

There was only one other set of travelers at Poppies. A German couple, of course. But they were extremely nice. We spent our evenings discussing our respective trips and experiences. They've ridden their bicycles from Germany, through the Middle East (apparently Iran is fantastic), across India and Nepal, and down SE Asia to Indonesia. Despite the time I've had, I think they win.
After several days of this, I began to like it here. Indonesia was familiar but new. And a 5:00am each morning I was reminded that it was my first Islamic country by the blasting of the Call to Prayer. Every mosque, 5 times a day, on PA equipment that was already decaying in the 70s. They blast out their devotion in song and prayer. It's actually pretty soothing as long as your not right next to one of the rattling loudspeakers. I'd always fall right back to sleep after that first call.

After growing acclimated to it all, it was time to move on. Such is travel. Eddie (not Poppie) gave me a ride to the airport. It was the saddest thing I'd ever seen. Two gates. They call them gates, but you still walk down a flight of stairs onto the tarmac, they hand you your in-flight meal in a cardboard box, then you climb the stair-car onto the aircraft. But I didn't get to do it quite on time. My flight was delayed twice, but I didn't mind. It meant I missed the daily thunderstorm. Such is travel.
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