‘Let’s go,’ says Rizal. He’s always dressed up like a hardcore mother fucking Muslim.
‘You aren’t calling me an extremist, are you?
I could be and what’s it to you. You seem extremely into Mary’s big boobs. Mary is the receptionist at the hotel I’m staying at and she just loves teasing us by giggling them around. Mounds of flesh…
I pay him half the fee to Lake Toba and say I’ll pay the other half on arrival.
We mean business. He proceeds to get onto a parked motorbike at the hotel. He got me. Then he shows me to his car.
‘Nice one Rizal,I say. He nearly got me. Now what is all this talk about him being a hard nosed Taliban? Maybe I’ve got it wrong.
‘You got it wrong once you started listening to that Batak fucker.’
I must say I was interested in seeing what all the fuss was about Lake Toba. I didn’t check out. It would be a day trip. I hadn’t slept night before. I caught up with Rizal in the restaurant.
“You want go Lake Toba?” He’d been asking me since I arrived over a week ago.
Well actually, yes, lets go. And by the time I got back this evening, I’d be able to synch my sleeping back to some kind of normalcy.
Even he seems excited. We were best buddies in the early days. It’s only when I mentioned a trip to Aceh that he started to turn against me. The more he turned, the more a trip to Aceh with him seemed a no-go zone.
He turned because I was stringing him along. He didn’t get the idea that I couldn’t afford it. If I was a real traveler, I could have walked across the road and taken a local bus. But I’m not a real traveler, am I?
It’s only going to cost me a hundred bucks for a ten hour round trip to Lake Toba – with a drive by past the active volcano.
I’m totally fucked from this traveling business. The thought of taking a local bus is just that. The best way to travel is to jump into a taxi and get on with it. It’s how I travel around Asia. It’s fast, not that expensive and gives you great mobility.
I know Bob thinks I’m wasting my money.
‘The money you paid for that trip I could live off for a month.’
True, but I have the choice to eat Nasi Goreng or McDonald’s, you don’t.
That shut up Bob who was preparing to leave Medan very soon.
‘They want me out.’
He’s made a few enemies with the mini bus drivers.
‘I only ask for the occasional free trip,’ he says, ‘and then they get angry.’
He’s a rich foreigner and is flaunting that status while being the biggest tight ass.
Now what is the word in Indonesian for tightwad?
“Enjoy your trip,’ says Bob.
We’ll catch up when I’m town this evening.
‘Only if you are paying.’
Actually, he pays for his own meals. He’s really not that tight.
The driver was fantastic, we communicated somehow. Sometimes I prefer a driver who can’t speak a word of English, seems to make the trip a bit more authentic.
Huggy says I’ll see the volcano, ‘but that will be 5 more red notes on what you originally agreed.’
No wonder Rizal is smiling. He puts the Koran on the dashboard and keeps on patting it like a good luck charm.
‘Make me money Allah, make me money.’
He’s also on the phone and giving updates to someone.
‘Probably putting bets on cockfights.’
I had no idea. But he was courteous and actually really good company.
‘He’s just softening you,’ says Huggy. ‘Once he gets you up in Aceh, that’s when he literally fucks you up the ass with a cucumber.’
Stop scaring me, I say. I’ll be back in the evening. So reserve a seat over at Mcdonald’s for me.
I had an all nighter playing dominoes at the warung around the corner. I can say it was one of the happiest times of my life. And today’s trip to Lake Toba will be from lack of sleep – should sort out my sleeping habits, still all over the place.
Not even the rats underfoot could do anything to undermine my joy. Feary, the late 20s, vaguely employed – but he’s free to drive me to Lake Toba if I agree with his price – is as dodgy as fuck.
‘Nowhere near as dodgy as that Huggy,’ he says. He’s not offended by my up-frontness. ‘Once we found out that you weren’t prepared to go to Lake Toba with us, we brought Huggy Bear,, a fellow Batak, on the scene, to squeeze you dry.’
It all makes sense now. I met Huggy one late night. He was hanging around the front of the mosque and just invited himself up to my table. He’s banned from the hotel in the back alley, but any tourist who sits at this warung is fair game. He wouldn’t shut up. He wouldn’t stop helping himself to my cigarettes either. He managed to humbug a meal out of me too. He was that good.
Interesting, I said, as I won another game of Dominoes. Feary and Anton, his younger brother, work the warung in the evenings. Anton studies in Aceh and says my cavity search was shameful behaviour. ‘The military are always asking me if I want to buy dope when I’m in Aceh.’ Anton seems the most sensible of them. He’s only 19 years old and offered me a free coffee on the first night. ‘We aren’t all pricks like government officials,’ he says.
Tank is the oldest brother of the three that run the warung. It’s just tables and plastic chairs and a gas stove for deep frying. He comes and goes as he pleases. He’s formidable both in size and his position. He is the Tank after all and works with the military.
‘I was the President’s bodyguard when Cliff Richards played in Jakarta.’
I suspect he works for the secret services.
‘I do,’ he says. He’s already sounded me out.
‘Remember the Batak I introduced you to?’
I did. The fucker asked me if I was into drugs.
‘We were trying to set you up,’ he says. ‘You passed with flying colors. If you took the bait, I would have finished what the Customs guys started.’
The first few days in Medan were just bliss. This was traveling, cheap Dunhill across the road and copious amounts of crappy Indonesia coffee; the kind you spit granules out. Lake Toba wasn’t far. I could even make it far as Padang and then catch a ferry to Batam or Singapore. I had so many genuine travel ideas. Until…
I just couldn’t tell you.
‘You were running out of cash,’ asks Huggy, ‘ weren’t’ you?’
Admittedly a lot of it went on you asswipe. It’s all added up. And if I went to Aceh with Rizal, I’d be really cutting it fine. At this stage, I didn’t even have a return flight back to Australia, let alone out of Indonesia. I’d have to get online soon and make a commitment. As much as I wanted to continue traveling around Southeast Asia, my bank statement was saying ‘no can do.’
‘Our job is to patrol the street and keep it safe.’ I’m in a tough part of Medan. ‘Be careful.’ When the security guard, a local, says that, you know you better be careful. But fuck it, I still do my late night cigarette and Red Bull runs at the Alpha Mart across the road. It’s no man’s land. There’s even a large fence separating the road. The trick is to find where the hole is, and jump through it, while not being hit by oncoming traffic from the other side. It’s fucking dangerous and defies logic. But it is Medan so anything goes.
My eyes are continually red. Might be from the pollution or just lack of sleep. Ever since I’ve had that cavity search, my brown eye has become a red eye. I couldn’t resist that one.
So tell us about your trip, asks Huggy. We are at McDonald’s. He knows where to find me.
‘Everyone knows where to find you,’ he says. ‘Medan isn’t a big place.’
Just when he sits down at the table with me, he’ll demand money. He won’t ask for it, but me being a soft cunt, I’ll get him to drive me down the road a kilometer to another watering hole. As soon as I sit on his bike it’s going to cost me a big red.
‘And the rest.’
Would you like some more cigarettes, I ask. And have you had dinner? He’s not a big eater.
‘No one eats much on speed.’
But those clove cigarettes aren’t cheap.
‘I’m having problems buying my own, so why should I buy yours?.’
I wanted to say that. No one says shit like that to Huggy. He’s operation is too smooth for such uncouth hard truths.
So Sumatra is raw in the truest sense, I said. It reminded me of East Java, in it’s rich and powerful beauty and down to earthiness of the people.
Rizal stopped at a restaurant on the hill.
‘And you had great views?’
‘And that’s when he started negotiating a price to see the volcano?’
How did you know about it?
‘Who do you think he was calling up every ten minutes?’
I really didn’t have a clue.
‘It was me dopey,’ he says. ‘He kept on asking me if you would pay him. I know you paid him half of the agreed price before you left, but he was wondering if you’d pay the extra 500 000 he managed to squeeze out of you during the renegotiations at the warung by the lake.’
Sly cunt, I thought.
But for now, I need to sort out my sleeping. I just can’t slip back to the hours I was keeping in Malaysia. Not that I wouldn’t mind. Night times acts as a stimulant for ideas. But it would be nice to wake up in the morning. I’ve still got a few more yellow tablets left, the five-kilogram type. And I can say, they are taking the edge off this hectic city that just spews out all kinds pollutants.
Huggy Bear’s rates are fantastic. I bitch about him but he’s being very fair – he’s not killed me yet.