Pangkalan Kerinci, Sumatra

The township of Pangkalan Kerinci (or Kerinci, as the locals call it) reminded me of Ashburton or Milton (in New Zealand) in that it consisted of one main street. All the businesses lining that one street (for a couple of kilometres?). About the size of Milton. Not a small village. My friend did some grocery shopping here, but also every so often would go to Pekanbaru on a main shopping expedition. Most of the businesses were in concrete box rows, a couple of stories high, set well off the street. Although the main road was tarsealed, other roads weren’t, so it was still a dusty looking place. Busy. Lots of traffic, including bicycles.

There is a daily traditional market…fruit, veges, spices, dried fish of all kinds, clothes & goods (including your fairly regular Chinese imports)…and wet market. The wet market consists of big plastic bins of live fish, freshly butchered meat, cages of live chickens and butchered ones on the benches above. You have to negotiate the open drains in between the stalls, some of which are boarded over, the smells, mud and the heat. I started out taking photos, but fairly quickly put my camera away after more and more people wanted their photo taken.

Chillies! A staple of the Indonesian diet.

Chillies! A staple of the Indonesian diet.

fish and/or mushrooms?

dried fish, shrimps and/or mushrooms?

It’s a well set out market, the fruit and veges looked great (and if you got there early enough in the morning, I’m sure the meat and fish would have been okay too). My friend had been learning Indonesian over the past year and a half, and could bargain for goods at the market, otherwise the stall holders punched numbers into a calculator and showed us the result.

Yours truly and the jolly stallholders

Yours truly and the jolly stallholders

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My intrepid journey to Pangkalan Kerinci, Sumatra

During the drive to Kerinci, I felt like I was starring in my own version of ‘Dangerous Roads’ or ‘Intrepid Journeys’. What an adventure! Heaps of scooters, trucks, and decent looking SUV’s…in fact, most of the cars looked brand new (Toyotas and other Japanese imports). Astounding, given their driving habits. But, as my friend said, if you can afford a car in Indonesia…you can afford a car. If you crash the car, you can probably just buy another one! The majority of people probably get around on scooters.

All along the roadside there are stalls (like our roadside fruit & vege stalls throughout NZ) selling bottles of petrol. I thought it was fruit juice or cordial, until I asked. 2 – 4 litre bottles of orange or yellow looking liquid. All illegal. Blatantly illegal! These stalls are right beside (legal) petrol and police stations. But that’s Indonesia for you, not shy of corruption. It’s a given, a culturally accepted practice.

The first bit of the drive is on brand new looking highway. Double lanes each way. You’d be thinking “sweet as!”, until you discover that ordinary (or what you think of as ordinary) road rules don’t apply here. I thought KL driving practices had inured me to all else, but Indonesians take the cake. Driving down the middle of the double lanes…that’s over the dotted lines, middle…only pulling over into a lane if someone is passing you (yeah, not ‘about to’, ‘is’). That’s alright, plenty of space on the highway.

Then comes a double laned road, one each way…your average NZ road. Only this road has deep ditches on either side. Which, in NZ, would be fine. In Indonesia (perhaps I should be saying Sumatra, given I haven’t been anywhere else in Indonesia yet!), everyone passes each other, at the same time…so, this road is constrained and suddenly doesn’t seem all that wide. Granted, I didn’t witness a truck passing a truck with another truck coming the other way…but other combinations of trucks/cars/scooters, yes. Hair raising, to say the least!

On that drive we witnessed one accident. As we were going over a bridge, passing a scooter (which was on our left)…said scooter runs headlong into the bridge railings, bounces off, spilling driver and passenger…helmets flying off. Miracle we, or followers, didn’t hit them. My friend and I were gasping in disbelief, as it all happened right beside us. Thankfully both people were unhurt, or alright enough to get up and pass us again a few minutes later!

All along the road, there are mosques every few minutes. Colourful domes and minarets. There are people burning little piles of coconut husks and rubbish. Kids running around. Chooks. There’s a few little concrete block rows of businesses, painted in primary colours, mostly ordinary looking houses or brick/wood shacks painted in pastel colours. Quite a few satellite dishes. Some of the houses had beautifully carved wooden front doors. As well as the palm plantation all around us, there were crops such as coconut, bananas, what I think might have been pineapple, and probably mango, papaya, dragon fruit…

I wish I had taken a video camera, to capture all this for you guys. I managed to take a few seconds of poorly shot footage with my camera…if someone can suggest a way to convert this into stills, I could see if there’s anything salvageable? Otherwise, your imagination will have to suffice…or better yet, go check it out for yourself!

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Sumatra

The flight from KL to Pekanbaru, Sumatra, only takes an hour. By the time you’ve ascended and descended, there’s barely enough time for the crew to ask if you need an arrivals form or want a snack.
Pekanbaru is situated roughly in the middle of the island of Sumatra, part of Indonesia. My destination was a town called Pangkalan Kerinci, an hour and a half’s drive away (or longer, depending on the traffic). Pekanbaru is the nearest decent sized airport. Sumatra, from the air, is green. Forest and palm plantations. Ribbons of brown rivers running through. Reminded me of flying over the Mississippi.

Why did I head for Pangkalan Kerinci of all places? Visiting friends! A couple of Kiwis, of whom the husband got a job working for one of the palm plantation companies. They’ve been over there for a couple of years, and intended on moving back home half way through this year. So…great opportunity to head to a place I’d never dream of going otherwise? Taken.

My friends said I’d probably be the only Westerner on board the plane to Pekanbaru. That proved to be the case. Talk about off the beaten path!

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Dear Jetstar, thank you for losing my bag…

This will shock a few of my fellow Kiwis, but seriously…thank you. I met some great people through the Fellowship of Lost Luggage, and dealing with this for the first time, in a foreign country? You can’t buy that kind of experience.

This could read something like “for the want of a nail the horseshoe was lost…”. Technical glitch meant delay, missed connecting flights and resulted in a few of us reaching Kuala Lumpur later than planned, minus a few bags. Midnight, at the Lost Baggage desk, found me sharing tired smiles with Mr and Mrs Whangarei, and C & N – two young women. What else can you do but smile? Luckily, I had a spare t-shirt in my carry on bag, so I was okay for another day, but others weren’t so fortunate.

The next day I happened to meet Mrs Whangarei in the queue applying for security passes (which we needed to get back to Lost Baggage), what a relief. She had a friend with her, who spoke Malaysian, and who helped us fill in the forms required. We’re handing strangers copies of our passports, paying fees here and there, signing our name to documents that say who knows what. Our passports were held hostage in return for Official Passes to the Back of Beyond. Through Security to Lost Baggage and filling out forms in triplicate before at last laying hands on the item.

Reunited with our bags, the tale might have ended there, but no…it turns out the flight home, a couple of weeks later, was just as eventful. Not only was I seated next to Mrs Whangarei, Misses C & N were also on the plane!

I swapped seats with Mr Whangarei, a few rows up, so he could sit next to Mrs. A few hours into the flight (Singapore to Auckland), we were diverted to Darwin because of a medical emergency. Early hours of the morning, while the plane waited on tarmac (for new flight path clearance?) I caught up with C & N. They’d been staying with a friend who’d worked at a university in Kuala Lumpur and travelling around some of Malaysia…areas that I would love to go next time. We’d had similar travel experiences and shared some good laughs.

It could’ve been a tale of inconveniences (I wouldn’t mind if you reimbursed me the return train fare it cost me to pick up my bag!), but all in all? I’m looking back on this with a smile.

 

 

 

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Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur

Tall statues compete with the natural wonder of limestone cliffs poking out of an urban jungle. The Batu Caves seem like a mini Hindu Disneyland. Just as well set up for tourists as Disneyland is…it’s easy to get to by train from KL Sentral, the journey only takes about half an hour each way, and the station is right beside the entrance to these grounds.

Hanuman the Monkey God

Hanuman the Monkey God

Murugan, the Hindu god, and the two hundred and something steps up to the entrance of Temple Cave

Murugan, the Hindu god, and the two hundred and something steps up to the entrance of Temple Cave

Those steps are steep. People are simultaneously trying to climb them and avoid or take pictures of the monkeys. Just before I started climbing, I witnessed one enterprising monkey knock a plastic bag full of bananas out of a woman’s hand. The woman starts shrieking and hopping away (you’re bringing bananas to a site known for the monkeys, for goodness sake!). A man rescued the remainder of the bag and bananas, which quietened the woman, and she subsequently stuffed them into her handbag (!). Honestly, that monkey could teach the local basketball team a few moves!

Lightfingers

Lightfingers

Temple Cave consisted of a massive cavern, with a couple of levels. Lots of little, colourful altars. Temples at which the faithful were being blessed. Chooks and roosters strutting about. Their cages, a water spout, privy and boxes tucked behind stalagmites, were reminders of the realities that men (holy, but still mortal) live here.

temples within temples

temples within temples

inside Temple Cave, looking back towards the entrance

inside Temple Cave, looking back towards the entrance

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Introduction to Kuala Lumpur

I’ll be honest, Kuala Lumpur was originally just a place from which to get a cheap flight to Sumatra and a train to Singapore. I didn’t do much reading up on it, even though I did plan on being there for three or four days.

Well, this city turned out to be a worthy destination in its own right. Never mind that my first impression upon arriving at the B&B was “what the heck have I gotten myself into?”. I was solo and arriving in a strange city at 1am, to a rather dodgy looking two-storey town house (to my sleep-deprived, Western eyes). But the housekeeper was there to greet me with a smile, and the room was clean and tidy. With fresh eyes, the block surrounding the B&B revealed ordinary town houses juxtaposed against newer apartment and hotel buildings.

Anita, the housekeeper, is from the Philippines originally. She came to represent a fair bit of what KL was all about. It’s a mix of cultures, religions, friendly, helpful and tolerant. Anita was eager to please, but not subservient, and generous with her time.

I spent a wonderful three and a half days exploring the central city, including a trip out to Batu Caves.

KL icons. The Petronas Towers

KL icons. The Petronas Towers

Kuala Lumpur jumble. The KL Tower is in the background

Kuala Lumpur jumble. KL Tower in the background

Jalan Sin Chew Kee, the B&B (Sarang Rooms) is the third or fourth house down

Jalan Sin Chew Kee, the B&B (Sarang Rooms) is the third or fourth house down

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the first post

Hey there,

I’ve decided to give blogging a go, as a forum for sharing my trip reports with family, friends and anybody interested. It’ll be a higgledy piggledy kind of blog…I’ll be writing retrospectively about trips I’ve done, and places I’ve been (and perhaps one day soon, writing more currently!).

First up, you’ll be hearing about a recent trip to Kuala Lumpur, Sumatra and Singapore (April/May 2013). Bear with me while I journey through the blogosphere, I’ve jumped into the deep end of the pool!

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