Long drives in Sumatra

Long drives in Sumatra

We’ve reached our penultimate country on our journey to Australia – Indonesia!

After spending a day and a night in Melaka (Malaysia) we boarded the 9am ferry to Dumai in the Riau province of Sumatra. The boat was really small and packed with people but we managed to get up to the small deck for some fresh air and watch as Malaysia disappeared and the Indonesian islands appeared on the horizon.

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Once we landed on Sumatra we had to go through customs and collect our visa on arrival at a cost of 25 US Dollars. We didn’t need any paperwork or passport-photos, just walked up to the desk, gave the officials a wadge of cash and walked off with a receipt. As we were a rather large group of 26 we had to hang around for quite a while as the visa stamps were stuck into our passports. Then came the bag searches, which was an interesting experience. They had an x-ray machine but it was either broken or they just decided not to use it and instead opted to search all our bags by hand. For some reason three people were needed to search my backpacks and they literally took everything out. Apart from some slight confusion over whether or not I was a doctor, and if not why did I have so many Malaria tablets and a pack of syringes, everything was fine and I was through in about 10 minutes.

Richard on the other hand was accused of being a thieving, pot-smoking, taliban terrorist by one customs official, after he discovered some hotel slippers still wrapped up in plastic, combined with visas for Thailand and Pakistan in his passport! That was quite funny.

Once all of us were through customs we boarded our Indonesian bus and met our guide.

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Our first stopover was in a place called Pekanbaru in North Sumatra. We arrived there at about 7.30pm and went straight out to eat at a local restaurant around the corner. We were joined by our Oz Bus leader Michelle and we all ordered the local ‘favourite’ Chicken Satay (or ‘Sate’ as it’s spelt there). It was really nice and not too peanut-y but the experience was slightly marred by the restaurant staff trying to overcharge us by triple the amount. It took around 20 minutes to get them to agree to the actual price and we hoped that this wouldn’t be the case in every town we visited in Indonesia.

We had a really early start the next day – we got up at 4.50 am! – as we were off to the city of Jambi. This involved an extremely long 13 hour bus journey through bumpy roads and dirt tracks running through forests of Palm Trees. This was the only view we had throughout the entire journey, which started off quite exciting, but quickly got boring. Whilst palm trees usually conjure up images of exotic beach holidays, these just reminded us that we were still miles from any city!

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I felt really travel sick for the first time in a while and couldn’t wait for the bus ride to be over. We had been warned that Indonesia would be hard going due to the lack of decent roads, but we really didn’t think it would take that long to go just over 200 kms!

A big highlight of our day however was crossing the equator! We stopped the bus so that we could mark this momentous occasion by walking from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere ourselves. The location is marked by a large tower, so spent some time there taking photos and jumping from one hemisphere to the other!

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We were soon back on the bus and after a few more hours pulled up to our destination in the dark. Once we arrived we were very pleased to discover that our hotel was awesome! The lobby was dominated by a huge Chandelier hanging from the ceiling and the bed in our room was big and soft – the nicest we’d slept in for weeks! The long journey had left us too tired to seek out some local cuisine that night so instead we went to Pizza Hut around the corner (as did half of our fellow Oz-Busers!). Whilst we were there we ordered a pizza for our lunch the following day – another long drive day!

Luckily we didn’t have such an early start that morning and left at 8.30 am, bound for the city of Pelambang. Our day consisted of staring out of the bus window as the landscape changed slightly from Palm Trees to rubber plantations. This changing scenery reminded us very much of Cambodia. Everything from the bumpy country roads, to the wooden houses at the edge of the surrounding fields and the green trees, took us straight back to those bus journey’s between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

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Unlike the past couple of nights we had an extremely eventful evening in Palembang! We all went out for dinner at the Riverside floating restaurant on the Muri River – courtesy of our local hosts and had some great Indonesian dishes and a couple of beers. It was one of the Oz-buser’s birthdays the next day so we ordered birthday cake and everyone was in high spirits.

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This all changed however when we got back to the hotel and two of the girls discovered that money had been stolen from their room whilst we were out! They lost over 500 quid altogether and were really shaken at the thought of somebody – most likely a member of hotel staff – rooting through their bags. It was made all the worse by the fact that the staff and hotel manager didn’t want to help at all, refused to call the police and actually laughed about the situation. Their attitude was disgusting and I hope that the hotel is never again used by Oz Bus.

Everyone was pretty exhausted and keen to go to bed as we were setting off at 6am again to drive to Bandar Lampung and we all felt terrible leaving the girls and Michelle to try and sort it out – I think they ended up with only 3 hours sleep that night.

The journey to Bandar Lampung the next morning was just as long as the drive to Jambi and once again I succumbed to travel sickness which stopped me from being able to pay much attention to the views. The landscape changed again from rubber plantations to sugar cane and paddy fields, which was thankfully a bit more interesting than a sea of Palm Trees, but the roads just got worse and worse!

There was one occasion when we thought we’d have to turn around as the road was littered with craters filled with water – the bus driver managed to get us through of course, but not without a few hairy tilts!

The journey finally ended when we pulled up outside our hotel in Bandar Lampung at around 5.30pm. We spent the evening catching up on the internet after going out for pasta at the local Pizza Hut (again!). Another 6am start the next morning meant that we didn’t have much time to explore and to be honest, didn’t really want to as everytime we walked down the street we were yelled at by locals (mostly men) who were hanging around the pavements or driving past in local buses. The place didn’t have a very nice vibe to it (apart from the lovely Pizza Hut staff) so we were more than happy to get an early night!

We set off at 6am the next morning after a terrible night’s sleep and drove to the ferry port for our crossing to Java. The ferries leave every half an hour so we didn’t have a deadline to meet but wanted to get there in good time as there was at least another 4 hours driving on the other side!…


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  1. December 06, 14:29 #1 cynthia scarborough

    Holy smokes! A 13 hour bus trip! Other than the inflated dinner prices and theft it sounds as though you had a good time. Happy travels!