The final portion of my stay in Nias continued to be relaxing and laid back. It feels like a land stuck in time- somewhere that will only incrementally change by tiny steps over the years. It was similar to Samosir Island (in Lake Toba) in that it hasn’t caught up with most of the first world. People had TVs and phones and motorbikes/ cars, but beyond that it felt very dated- like they were 10-20 years behind the modern world.
During my entire time in Nias, the kids continued to beg for money. It wouldn’t shock me if there was a class in school that focused on teaching the kids how to properly plead for money. They would all put on a super sad face, and say “Please… pleaaaase mister… pleeeaaase,” over and over. I would laugh, seeing through their ploy, and do the same back to them. I told a few of them that if they produced a real, honest to goodness tear out of their eye, I would give them some money. Not shockingly, none of them were able to actually cry. The begging continued up until the moment I left my home stay with two kids standing by the car asking for money over and over and over until the car finally departed to the airport. Even when I did buy one of the local kids a coke, the FIRST thing he did was ask for one more. Before I had even completed the transaction and payed for one coke, he was asking for number two. I barely got a thank you, and that was the end of my generosity to the Nias kids.
I made my return to the airport in Gunung Sitoli airport, which is extremely small. There was one check in counter and one large room with everyone waiting for any flights that day. As soon as they announce they will be boarding, a very standard SE Asian phenomenon occurs- EVERYONE rushes to the front simultaneously. No one is rude and there is no pushing or shoving, but there is also nothing resembling a line. What exists is a massive bunch of humans at the front, all jockeying to be next through the gate. If something like this was happening in the States, there would be arguments and likely a fist fight. Here, no lines is the way of life.
On the flight back, I got another view of the erupting volcano- Mount Cinabung. It was super cool to see all the steam and smoke billowing out of the top. I stayed one last night in Medan before getting a flight to Bandung the next day. My return to Medan allowed me to experience my least favorite thing in the city- EVERY taxi driver asking me if I want a ride. There are dozens of taxi cars and dozens more of the motorcycle becaks, and at least 90% of them ask me if I want a ride. “Hello, Friend! Taxi??” Uh, I said no the first 1,000 drivers that asked me, but you know what, YES, I will have a taxi! The walk from the train station to my hotel was about 200 yards, and I was asked what felt like 10,000 times about at taxi ride.
The multi-days of travel to multiple locations allowed me to reflect on my several weeks living in Indonesia so far.
- On a scale of 1-10 (1 being “overly cautious” and 10 being “don’t give a fuck”), motor vehicle safety is somewhere around 200. Helmets are rarely if ever worn while on motorbikes/ scooters/ motorcycles. Sometimes the driver has the helmet on their arm instead of the head region, which would do a hell of a job saving their elbow from destruction but wouldn’t help the head much. In the car, seat belts are almost never worn. I often get laughed at when I put a seatbelt on. With the way they drive (lanes lines are a suggestion, tailgating is mandatory, and passing cars at high speed is necessary) it is surprising there aren’t a nearly infinite amount of car accidents.
- Almost no one wears shorts, except on the beach. It is pretty much pants at all times, despite the extreme heat.
- When Indonesians take a trip, they TAKE A TRIP. Nearly every passenger checking in at the airport has a minimum of 3 checked bags, sometimes double that. They have a few main bags, a few carry ons, then several boxes of food. People also seem to travel in packs of 10+, all attempting to check in at the same time.
- As mentioned previously, lines do not exist. If you aren’t paying attention, someone will 100% cut in front of you. At one of the airline check-in counters, I was standing about a few feet back from the person in front of me, waiting for them to finish with their check in. One guy came and stood right in front of me. I moved my way back in front of them, but if you aren’t aggressive you will quite literally be in line forever as more and more people cut in front of you.
- There do not appear to be any humans over the age of 65. It is unclear if no one lives to the age of 70, if they aren’t allowed to leave their house once they get over 60, or if the younger people just ship them away. I don’t remember seeing more than one person who seemed over 70. The one I DID see in Nias will probably give me nightmares for a long time. After waking up from a nap one day, I came out of my room onto the large balcony. Before I knew what was going on, there was a super old guy wandering up the stairs. He could have been 60, but he looked more like 125. Barely any locals came up to our balcony (probably an unwritten rule in the area) so seeing anyone was a shock, let alone a super creepy old dude. He pulls out a laminated surf magazine cover with a small picture of himself that had clearly been folded and refolded back into his pocket thousands of times. He didn’t speak any English, so he mumbled things in Indonesian out of a mouth that only had 3 completely black teeth left. I smile and nod, wishing I had slept another 30 minutes. Then, he grabs my arm to give me an “arm massage.” I am not a big fan of creepy old dudes rubbing my arm, so I was not pleased. After what felt like a few hours (and was probably a minute), he thankfully stopped massaging my arm and asked for my other arm. I respectfully declined. He asked for money, so I gave him about $0.50. Then I went wash my arm off. So the one old dude I DID see gave me a creepy arm massage, will give me a lifetime of nightmares, and cost me $0.50. Good times. Maybe that is why the old people get hidden in caves somewhere. Hawaii Bob let me know that was “Mr. Massage” and he has been creeping people out and giving massages in Nias since before time existed.
After my week in Nias and one night in Medan I flew across the equator to Bandung on the island of Java to meet some of my cousins. My Uncle (Dad’s brother) married an Indonesian woman and most of her family lives in Bandung. If I am in Indonesia, I of course need to stop by and hang out with my international fam for awhile. Spending time with actual locals is one of my favorite things to do while in foreign countries. Before actually meeting them, I had to make it through the Bandung airport. For a major city, the airport is very out of place. We exited the plane directly onto the tarmac and had to wait for a plane to drive by before we could cross to the terminal. Yes- there was an airplane crosswalk. I had never seen anything like it. What came next I had never seen either.
The baggage claim consisted of one tiny room with a SINGLE FILE conveyor belt. If you think that a single file conveyor belt of about 20 yards is an inefficient way to get bags back to passengers, you would be 100% correct. Added to the fact that the conveyor belt was a tiny straight line was the previously mentioned cultural aspect of everyone swarming around instantly. There was nothing I had ever witnessed quite like it- a huge crowd of people around a tiny, single file conveyor belt. I couldn’t do anything but laugh at the silliness of the entire situation. Only in SE Asia.
Thankfully I was able to retrieve my bag without having my ankles taken out by a baggage cart and made my way to the exit. My cousins were nice enough to come pick me up, and I was a little worried I wouldn’t recognize them. I had met one of them about 13 years ago, and another I had never met. The saving grace was I knew they would DEFINITELY recognize/ notice me since I would be the only white dude wandering aimlessly around the airport. Andrew and Devina were waiting by the front of the exit, and I think they gave me a second to see if I recognized them. Thankfully they didn’t wait TOO long, as I may have continued walking. We had a nice, happy reunion and made our way to their house in Bandung.
The entire family has been extremely nice to me, far beyond what they need to do. They are letting me stay in their house, won’t let me pay for anything, wash my clothes, take me around town to various sights, and feed me constantly. Staying in a house has been a very welcome change from tiny hotel rooms as well. The house seems massive with its’ many rooms, kitchen, bathrooms, living rooms after being confined to my own hotel room for two months. The family’s hospitality and generosity has been incredible.
They took me on several day trips outside the city of Bandung- one day to a villa on top of a mountain and the other day to a volcanic crater. Both days were really fun, and made even more unique because there is no way I would have done this if I was on my own. It was cool going to places with locals. I was also shown a by product of driving around Bandung- the insanity that is the traffic. The streets are constantly gridlocked, meaning it takes over an hour to go pretty much anywhere. If I lived here I would require a jet pack or helicopter to get around. There is also a noticeable lack of street signs. If someone gave me an address to locate, I would be lost in under a minute with no clue how to get back home.
I will be staying at the family’s home for another 4 nights or so before heading off to Yogyakarta in the middle of Java. Getting a taste of local Indonesian life, as well as incredible hospitality, has already been a great change from traveling on my own. I will definitely enjoy it for the rest of the week.