WHY THESE ISLANDS?
Well, the plan was to spend the last 2 weeks (in Indonesia) in Sumatra. The problem is that transportation is very slow and quite expensive in that Island, so, to visit the places I was planning I would need to literally run, passing almost all the time on the road, without time to explore it properly. Because of that I decided to give up of Sumatra, leaving it for the next trip, with enough time to discover it calmly. As second option I had the small paradisiacal islands of Banka and Belitung, highly advised by my couchsurfing host in Lombok (Mr Klaus), and Batam, an island right in front of Singapore, the right place to spend the last days of the Indonesia Visa, with no worries about leaving Indonesia on time, thanks to the daily connections Batam-Singapore they have there.
ON THE “JET FOIL”
From Palembang to Muntok (city in Banka Island), most of the trip was made crossing the big river that passes through Palembang. The landscape was amazing, silver light reflected on the river at the early morning, endless flooded zones with a few small villages spread along the riverside. Now I understand why there’s no road from Palembang to the east coast of Sumatra. This is a wild tropical and flooded zone with plenty of big rivers, with no conditions to make roads. Check on Google Earth, you will what I mean.
About the boat, it was hiper-crowded, with no space to move, but these people, like little impatient children, couldn’t stop go further and back. I didn’t know where and why, there was no empty place to go. Meanwhile, they were kicking, hitting and disturbing the rest of the passengers, making the already taught trip even harder. Because of all those reasons, I was not able to make pictures of the exotic landscape, pictures that I would like to had taken in order to show you how is that wonderful place…
DREAM STORY IN MUNTOK
Already in the Tanjung Kalian harbor (nearby Muntok city), I walked away avoiding the ojek guys! Asked the locals about the right direction to Muntok city and started to walk towards there, but the burning hot weather forced me to seek for shade, so I left the main road and walked towards the seaside. When I found beach and shade I took out my bags and got ready to go swim, but I didn’t do it immediately, once a strange wonderful encounter happened. A very old man come to talk to me in quite good English, proposing me to come to his house to listen him playing violin and meet his family. I loved the idea but found it strange. Still, I said yes to him, Mr Samsury Jupri, asking him if he could wait 5 minutes so I could refresh myself in the tepid waters… The confirmation that he was not joking came while we was walking towards his home: he started to whistle renowned classic songs! 🙂
Mister Samsury went to take his violin while his sister and wife prepared drink and a lot of food to me. We stayed in the balcony, under the shade and refreshed by the soft breeze. Mr. Samsury proposed me to play the violin but come on; I have no idea how to play it! So he played beautiful classics songs, some I recognized, some not. I enjoyed all, but the one who really touch my heart was the last one: Bela Ciao, for logic reasons… Soon later we were not 4 but a big crow, a soon and grand soon, a daughter, a neighbor, 2 other teenagers, etc… Incredibly, Mr. Samsury was not just the oldest person there, he was also the only one able to speak English, and so he was the translator during the long and joyful conversation. When I said it was time to go to Muntok city looking for a place to stay overnight and then sightseeing, he proposed me to stay in his house, saving “good money” with that option. Of course I accepted, explaining that anyway I will go to visit the city of Muntok, coming back to his home at the evening. The 7km separating the harbor’s village from Muntok should had cost me around 10000rp, but I did it for free with his soon ride, who left me in the right spot: bus terminal with an internet café, plenty of roadside restaurants and only a few meters distant from the coast! 🙂
The first reaction was to go check the coast, enjoy a view that I always love to find: the ocean. Soon after I went to have lunch and then go to the internet café. I spent 2 hours there, but must of the time I was talking with the cool teenagers guys, rather than use the laptop. One fo them saw me updating my blog and asked me to help him creating his own bog. I did so, but a few minutes later he couldn’t log in anymore once he forgot the password!!! :p Other saw me using software to edit pictures, staring at the monitor amazed. I asked if he wanted it and copied the install folder to his laptop. He was incredibly happy! :p Meanwhile they were feeding me with nice food and snacks, and when I was about to pay they asked me only half of the supposed price! 🙂 Ah, and we became “facebook friends”! :p
Another stop in a restaurant to drink a coffee; one more nice conversation with the owner and his friends. They were watching the TV showing the faked photo of Bin Laden dead. When I realized they were discussing it I join the debate too. The restaurant’s owner, a 60 years old man was able to understand English but not to speak, so he was a kind of translator to the rest of the men in this unexpected debate. I switched on my laptop and showed them the faked photo, comparing it with the other one of Bin laden making a speech, while explaining were was the evidences of photo edition. 2 guys were amazed, the other 2 happy to see a foreign come there to confirm their opinions with facts.
Walking towards the beach and fishing harbor I stopped innumerous time to shake hands of people and make the pictures they were ask me to do. It looks like everybody loves to be on the photo here! On the way back the same, but the best moments were there in the beach and in the fishing market in front of it. The fishing market for the photo session and conversation with some funny and cheeky old women. The beach for its beautifulness and its quietness. It was low tide, so there was dozens of meters of sand with thousands of special crabs (with the right main leg much bigger than the left main one) moving around. The late afternoon light was perfect, and the cold breeze a wonderful gift from the nature. I seated at the end of a very long jetty, to relax for a while. There I found myself contemplating that wonderful place, thinking about the local people I met, how they live their lives, how they greatly welcome a stranger like me… I was finally calm, completely calm, with no sense of time. I had finally found what I was seeking in this whole trip… 🙂
Back to the road, I passed again in the street market where the photo session with locals started again, due to their constant request! Ah, how they love to be photographed and how smiley people they are… 🙂
Back to the bus terminal, I seated again in the restaurant where I drunk coffee early this day, restarting the conversation about international politics and US lies in general, while eating an incredibly cheap meal of rice with fried crabs. This time there was another old man with enough good skills on English language to make the conversation long and interesting. It is amazing how young people do not speak English at all here, but some older people do!
At the end of the afternoon I looked for an ojek to bring me back to Mr. Samsury house, 7km away from there, but once again the guys asked too much money for it (Mr. Samsury and his family had told me the fair price), so I decided to walk back. That was a great decision! 🙂 It was a very long walk, but very pleasant and interesting. I did it little by little, stopping often to talk with people and make pictures of them and their children. What a lovely people. The only country where I had this bliss feeling of communicating with locals was in Turkey and still, I think here in Banka Island it is even more special than there! 🙂 By coincidence, one woman who told their children to get closer to me and say thanks for the pictures I took (!?!), later in the evening came to Mr. Samsury and was amazed to find me there. Around sunset time, when the sky was painted with hiper-vivid blue and orange colors, I stopped nearby the balcony of a house where 3 teenager girls where playing guitar and singing. They shyly smiled and stopped to play, but when I asked ans insisted to play and sing for me they did it. The conversation got long and one of them, if I wouldn’t had stop it in the right moment, she would propose to marry with me two sentences later, for sure… :p Already dark and only 1km away from Mr. Samsury home a guy stopped his motorbike nearby me and asked if I wanted ojek. I was really tired, it was very dark and I had my bag on my backs, so I asked how much. He said “two”. I though he meant 2.000rp, so I accepted. One minute later, at the entrance of mister Samsury house he asked me for 20.000rp!?! Ahahaha, sure… I called him crazy, explaining him that 10.000rp is the fair price to the 7km, so 2.000rp for 1km was more than fair! He asked for 10.000 and insisted. I gave up talking, left 2.000rp in the motorbike and entered Mr. Samsuri house. Explaining that situation to my host, he told me I paid the right price and that I did the right thing! 🙂
BACK TO THE DREAM PLACE
When I came back “home”, a huge banquet and the whole family was waiting for me in the balcony! Uoh,what an welcoming balcony!!! Hopefully it was now there other soon of Mr Samsury, architect and amateur photographer. Thanks to his very level of English Language, I had now a very good translator, making the conversations with the members of the family far more interesting! Besides being the translator, he was also the funny jester and also the photographer for the pictures of the family and I together! His wife was there too, and told she helped to prepare the food, enthusiasted to meet the foreign that was about to arrive! :p Fresh fruit, hot food, coffee and water never stopped to come next to me for the whole long night, while we were chatting and enjoying to be together. Mr. Samsury played violin again, we watched together the photos of the day and others from my trip in Indonesia and, when I went to take a mandi (kind of shower), I left Mr Samsury listening classic music on my laptop, his favorites songs but also others he didn’t knew and I wanted him to listen: Eric Satie’s Piano Works. He loved it, and I was happy for that! 🙂 After midnight, when I was about to go sleep, the electricity turned off, to only turn on in the next morning. That destroyed mine and the arquitect guy plan to watch the semi-final of Europa League on the TV. My time (Benfica) would be playing against other Portuguese time (Braga). Good that I didn’t watched, my time lost… :p
In the next day morning I woke up very early, having enough time to enjoy the sunrise in the balcony with my new Indonesian family, calmly taking the breakfast together. They asked me for more photos together and to not forget them. They insisted on that: “please do not forget us!” Uoh, the grandmother hugged me almost crying, holding me strongly like if she didn’t want me to go away… well, was the first very hard “goodbye” of the trip… I left their home and went with the youngest soon by motorbike until Muntok terminal bus, were he left me saying “thank you, thank you”! I was the one who should say that 1000 times to all of them!
The bus I was about to take was going to Pangkal Pinang, where we arrived 3 hours later. Muntok is situated on the extreme west of the island, Pangkal is on the extreme east part and capital of Banka Island. Like always, the bus stopped outside the city, obliging me to take a bemo that left me in the very city center. There asked locals for hotels. Many of them were pointing to different directions at the same time, other assured there were not hotel in the center… Trying to follow some indications, I walked down a long street. At the end of it a guy told me that the hotels were where I came from, advising me to go back. Back to the original place other guy told me to walk down the same street to find hotel! Ahahahaha fuck off! Again? Why do people enjoy to make fun of foreigns? They kept pointing and advising many directions, but I just gave up, pretending not to listen and choosing streets randomly in the quest for a cheap hotel. In the only one I found they were asking for 40€/per night in the CHEAPEST room!!! Ahahah, bye bye, good luck. Nearby the hotel was a Flights’ Agency with a guy able to speak well English! Aleluia, solution! This guys told me about a street with plenty of cheap hotels, next to the main Mosque and also where was situated the ferries’ company I needed to find to by the ticket to Belitung Island! And even draw me a map! Perfect! 5 minutes later I was there and found a very cheap hotel. Believe me or not, this street is the main one, right in front of the square where I left the public bus, 1 minute walking! So, the people there was really making fun of me giving wrong and insane directions to find a hotel!
When was about to pay the hotel I realized I had no more money! “Easy, go out and find a bank” I said to myself. I found many, around 10, but no ATM worked with my card. I still had my Emergency Euros Pack. I tried to exchange in several banks, but they only doing it for dollars and Singaporean dollars. Eventually somebody told me about a bank were usually Euros are accepted. I went there, but was close, opening only 2 days later! Not a good day! Only solution, make a deal with a local. It was not that easy to find one read to exchange Euros, and when I found, the negotiation was taught. The real rate was 123000rp = 1€. I proposed 12000rp, the old and rich man said 10000! With time and a lot of diplomacy I managed to reach an agreement at 11500rp per Euro.
Already with money I went back the hotel to pay it. Definitely not a good day: a big storm started, preventing me from explore the street of Pangkal Pinang for many hours. Later happen also a very bad thing with the memory card: The pictures from the morning at Muntok and all from Pangkal Pinang were lost! That was hard for me! Ah, and when I went out to look for internet, for the first time in the whole trip the owner of the internet café didn’t let me to connect my laptop with their cable. And happen twice in that night. Only on the 3rd attempt I managed to get internet, the fastest and cheapest ever found in Indonesia. The bad was luck was gone, promising a bright next day! 🙂 On the way back to home I bought a tasty and huge Chocolat Martabak! If I knew how easy would be the next day, I wouldn’t have bought such a big one think to eating in 2 days! 😛
THE GOOD SIDE OF PANGKAL PINANG
At the morning, when I went out the room to take my breakfast (a coffee), other guy was there drinking the same, so I supposed he was a costumer too. Dani was his name, a kind young guy interested in photography, so I showed him the camera and the my pictures in the laptop. The time was passing and the interest on each other was growing, so I showed my website, explained about my trip’s lifestyle, the concept of couchsurfing and hitchhiking. Curious if I had couchsurfing experiences in his country, I answered yes but only in the big developed cities. In this moment he smiled, took is mobile phone and called somebody: A friend in Belitung Island to host me or help me with housing. The conversation was going great, but I was really on the mood to write on the blog, so i went to my room. 30m later he knocked the door, which I opened ti receive a gift from Dani: a fresh orange juice! Cool!. A few minutes later he introduced me 2 friends and all together went to have lunch offered by him. A local meal with fresh fish and curry! Mmmm, wonderful taste! 🙂 After lunch I went back him them to the hotel by motorbike. While I was packing my stuff, Dani went to take his car in order to deliver me at the harbor with the maximum comfort! What an amazing guy! Already in the harbor, and before I understood what they were asking me, Dani had already paid it: the harbor fee! :p At the embarking time he offer me on more bottle of juice, and a box with cakes! What to do with the huge Martabak I bought!?! :p Ah, and told me to not forget to bring the paper with my name and country written, so his friend Hartono would find me at the arriving harbor more easily.
My staying in Banka Island was short, but there’s plenty of reasons to come back: the west coast were lives my Indonesian family; the smiling lovely people all over the island; the west coast: a several kms and desert beach of white sand; the new friends in the capital; and the several Chinese temples spread out through the Island (50% of he population is ethnically Chinese).
ARRIVAL AT TANJUNG PANDAN HARBOUR (BELITUNG ISLAND)
It was supposed to meet Hartono at the harbour entrance, and I thought it would be very easy once I was the only foreign coming in the ferry. And besides that I walked very slowly and in circles to give time to the unknown guy to see me. Nothing. I gave up and tried outside the harbor. There also nothing happened, so I asked a mobile phone borrowed and call him. He was talking only in Indonesian, but I understood him saying he was in the harbor, near the ferry, so I walked back to finally find him! 🙂 He drove me first to his friends house to meet them, then to the place where and other 4 guys live. Asked how to the owner how much I should pay per day for a room: 25.000. I accepted immediately! Of course, a big room, clean and new, not in a hotel, but in a shared house with 2 toilet,living room, place to wash clothes! A real and big house for the next 5 days! Great!