What a day.
It started at 2am when the bumsmear next door kept coming and going on his moped. I don’t know what he was doing but judging by the nature of the hotel he wasn’t up to no good. Like the last one I think it was really a brothel, or service centre for seamen as it was at Sumatra’s northern port town of Belawan. Even the man who showed me to the room asked ‘do you want woman?” I said, ‘no thanks, I’ll take care of myself tonight. But thankyou for asking.” Apparently 300,000 RP is the going rate. Or about 18 quid. Good value then.
But no, I needed my sleep, this was it, I’d finally made it. Indonesian was over all I need do now was catch a ferry to Penang Island just off the west coast of Malaysia and this Asian baptism of fire would be over.
So after my early wake up call I go to the ferry port nice and early, 7am. There’s no one else around except for a security guard who accompanies me to the food market and insists I pay for his breakfast. ‘For protection you understand’. Okay my friend, now piss off.
Back at the ferry terminal one man says no ferry today. Not another ’til Tuesday, which is bad news as my Indonesian visa expires Sunday. Bugger. Then another man comes and says wait, ‘one due later’. Great.
But wait again. Another man comes and says ‘no motorbikes’. Then he changes his mind, tapping on his calculator and showing me a figure with a trail of zeros that means enough palms will have been greased to make it happen.
First though I have to strip Dot naked and remove her panniers and drain all the petrol from the tank. That I do, spending an hour scraping the skin off my knuckles and distributing the full tanks of petrol to the circling pack of dogs who hunt me wherever I go.
Ferry turns up, captain Birds Eye looks at Dot and says ‘no way, not on my boat, won’t fit.” It’s true, Dot wouldn’t have ridden the gang plank. So we’re screwed. She’ll have to go on the next cargo ship. “So when’s that due?” Tuesday, two days after my visa expires.
I put Dot back together and wheel her out of the terminal. The men who had my fuel laugh. “They gesture that I have to push. No bensin. Hahaha” No my fcking friends, I don’t, for I have two petrol tanks and you only drained one. So I smile, tap the full tank and ride off gloating. Screw you sailor boy.
Sauntering in town I’m a broken man, out of his depth, weary, wih little lumpy spots on random parts of my body and bright red eyes from all the riding. 14 hours most days. Dot’s no better, despertately needing the bike doctor to fix her valves. They’re noisy. Or something. I don’t know, I’m not a mechanic.
In town I go to internet cafe, get called ‘hey mister’ a million times and am asked ‘where are you going’ a million times more. It’s hot, dusty, foreign, alien, noisy and I have no clue what I’m going to do. Not get married that’s for sure. The owners of the internet cafe introduces me to their daughter. They said she’d make good wife. I’ll admit, she was beautiful and did make great tea, but a wife? Not likely. Not when she said I’d have to shave my beard. So I went back to the port to take on the sailors.
There I asked for Mr Monte, a man whose name I’d found on the internet with the rumour that he might be able to help. Except no one had heard of him, hadn’t a clue. In the end I found the harbour master and had a cup of tea with him in his third floor office overlooking the harbour. The sun was setting, it was a gorgeous summer evening. He said he could help.
Down we go to another office. Three men. One young, one old, one fat. All smiling, jabbering in Indonesian, ‘I just need to get Honda to Penang,’ I try and explain with my hands and a pen and paper. They smile, thumbs up. I wait.
Another man appears from nowhere. He’s like an Asian Forest Whittaker from Last King of Scotland. Stout and menacing. We shake hands, he says follow him. Off we go, me and Dot behind him on his scooter as we wind around the dock and finally up a ramp and into an empty warehouse. ‘You pay 1million RP’, he says. Seems a lot, about 58 quid. But I’m desperate, I say ok and follow him in to a dirty office where I hand over Dot and a stack of cash. I ask for receipt. He shakes his head. ‘Later’, he says. I’m worried.
I ride pillion with him to customs where they stamp by bike passport and then on to his office in town. He makes me tea, buys me biscuits, turns out to be lovely, a real gent, family man. I trust him but I can’t remember his name. Then his boss, a lady with thick rimmed glasses arrives and writes me a recipt. ‘Bike in Penang on Tuesday’, she says. “You go by ferry on Tuesday also.”
I call immigration. ‘I’ve got no choice but to overstay’, I tell them. No worries, (this is Indonesia) you will pay fine. $20 per day. So all sorted.
All I need do now is avoid getting married and get on a bus back in to Medan. Except here they don’t have buses, they have vans with seats in the back and blaring steroes and drivers who count their money while they drive. It’s like nothing else.
I show him the hotel I want to stay at. From his Indonesian response it seems he’ll drop me at the door. Only he doesn’t, going instead to the other side of the city. I get annoyed, he says ‘taxi’ and that’s what I get. A motorbike with a pram bolted to the side which I sit in as we rattle and bump across Medan to the hotel. It’s 9pm when we get there. I’m dirty, smelly, hungry, thirsty, tired, worried… eveything. But the hotel’s okay and that’s my day. Saturday.
Then Sunday I wake up to an email from my mum. Somehow the money’s run out. We’re nearly in the red. She says come home. After yesterday for a minute I think ‘maybe’. But no, I’m not having that. This adventure doesn’t end here. It won’t. It can’t. There must be a way. Has to be. So once I get to Malaysia I go to Bangkok with the plan to do whatever it takes to raise the cash to carry me the rest of the way.
Wish me luck.