Thursday, February 09, 2006

Executive Class Travel

I drift into a drowsy non-sleep. The gentle rocking of the minibus and warm air assist this endeavour. The potholes do not. As I close my eyes I become more aware of the sounds around me: the rattling windows; what I can only describe as Indonesian Abba blaring from the speakers; the coughing fits of the woman in the corner seat.

We had chosen the Executive option for our return journey to Medan from Parapet on the shores of Lake Toba. Coming the other way we had taken the local 'big bus' - and spent 4 hours in baking heat slowly stewing in our own sweat, and the sweat of others (like the woman next to me who fell asleep with her sweaty brow on my shoulder or her baby that used my lap for a pillow), crammed in to a space not nearly large enough for western legs and bathed in the pleasing aroma of second hand smoke from clove-enhanced local cigarettes.

Executive minibus was, therefore, our preferred mode of return (maybe an extra 2 dollars each, plus we would be dropped next to our hotel instead of at the out-of-town bus terminal). We paid our money, handed our packs to the man on the roof and clambered on board - myself on the back seat and Harvey a row in front. The seating configuration was four rows of four seats. My row of four seats had six passengers (including me). To be fair, though, I should point out that 3 of those six were children, sitting and lying across their parents in various, shifting, configurations. I was also pleased to see that Executive legroom was far more generous than on the big bus - about 2 inches more, which meant that, if I sat bolt upright with my bottom against the seat back my kneecap would just be touching the seat in front.


My skull ricocheted off the window it was resting against. Another pothole. I did my best to ignore the new dent in my head then felt a slightly prickly heavy tap on my shoulder. I half opened my right eye and met the gaze of the 5 year old child, who was staring up at me. I think he was watching to see how I'd react now that his father had fallen asleep with his head on my shoulder. I decided to let the sleeping dog lie.

Moments later I was released from the head, when the father burst into a coughing fit. Not a petite sneeze, but a real coughing fit. With gusto. And phlegm. I dozed on.


The bus was noticably slowing - I could tell because the gush of air coming through the open window next to me was no longer rushing with such force that it made breathing difficult - and I opened my eyes to see we were passing through a small town and picking up and dropping off passengers amongst the roadside stalls and houses. The scent of durian wafted into the bus from one of these stalls, but luckily the edge was taken off it by the smoke from the cigarettes being smoked by the passengers.

On again, past the town. Tree lined roads were alternately backed by fields, plantation forests and houses. I checked my watch: 4pm. We had been going for 1 1/2 hours - less than halfway. I scribble some notes (which I am now struggling to read) then try to go back to sleep.


The following day sees our 5 hour ferry trip from Indonesia to Penang in Malaysia (Harvey's home town). It was even more fun than the bus journey - ice cold air con, cockroaches scurrying across the walls, an odd Chinese horror film about vampires (that looked like they were throwing up yoghurt when they were killed) and my own personal sea sickness. I'll save you the gory details, though.

We're now in Malaysia (truly Asia) and extra-grateful of small luxuries. Like tap water you can brush your teeth with and hot showers (with regular water pressure no less). Harvey's been carping on about the stunning food here, so I look forward to fattening myself up a bit before my imminent return to the cold, dark, British winter.


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