Peggy and Randy Ford Authors- FOUND OUR WAY 49th Installment

17. Bantal We never knew if mail leaving Indonesia ever got out, so we didn’t know about mail coming in, but we thought an air-o-gram might be safer because it obviously contained no money.

The ship we were waiting for came exactly two weeks after we arrived in Bantal. When we learned that it was IT, we gathered up our things (including still wet laundry) and went to the spot to get on a small boat that would take us to a bigger one (which had to anchor out some ways). The ride in the small boat was really something: the waves broke some distance from the shore … and the waves were big. Fortunately the roweres were skilled, and we didn’t drown. But Peggy wasn’t sure we would make it.

The ride in the bigger boat … or was it a small ship? … wasn’t much better. The Indian Ocean was the roughest sea we’d been on. Both of us were somewhat seasick. And the boat was very crowded: it had been two months since one had gone from Bantal to Bengkulu, and many people had been waiting for it. (One of them was the son of the police chief … in whose home we stayed … and he showed us a tiger skin that he was taking to sell in Bengkulu.) We started on our way about 5 p.m., neither of us having a place to lie down. Later, the captain suggested that we sleep upstairs on an open deck, and he gave us a mat and a pillow. To get to this deck, we had to crawl through a window of wheelhouse. Unfortunately, the top rocked more than the bottom, and we spent the night sliding up and down, back and forth.

The ship reached Bengkulu about 9:00 a.m. The water was somewhat calmer by then, and Peggy and I worked our way downstairs … only to learn we wouldn’t be able get off until 4 p.m., when it would be high tide and the ship could dock. Some people paid high prices to go ashore in small boats, but our rupiah funds were so low that we couldn’t afford to pay for our luggage, our bicycles and ourselves. Se we spent the day rocking gently back and forth. We were still slightly seasick, and reading or writing would have worsened the situation. So we just sat. The only food available on the ship was rice and chili paste, with a bean larger than a lima. I couldn’t keep the bean down, and I didn’t think I could eat chili paste even with rice. This was before I learned to like spicy food.

18. Bengkulu Saturday in Bengkulu was a busy time. We started at the bank, since we were down to 20 rupiah (about 4 ½ cents). That took until 9:30 because no one knew how to cash a Travellers’ Check until the boss came in, an hour late. Next we located the police station, where we hoped someone could extend our visas, which were due to expire. They couldn’t help us, although they were very friendly. Then we headed for the hospital, where the only three doctors in town worked. There we waited and waited and waited. (Neither of us was feeling bad, but we had had stomach trouble off and on for a month or so, and our feet weren’t completely healed.) The doctor finally came and confirmed our suspicions: amebic dysentery. We’d been really careful about what we ate … maybe it was a re-occurrence from before. We got medication and decided not to worry about it … amebic … until we left this part of the world. (We knew it was hard to clear up.) Then we’d fight it until it cleared up for sure.

19. Palembang, South Sumatra. When we left Bengkulu the next morning, we had to work to make the 450 or so kms. (300 miles) to Palembang, where we could extend our visas. We knew we were running out of time. The first two days were really hard, the road being under construction off and on and rocky most of the way. It made for slow, cautious, difficult going on bicycles. Twice we hitched rides up a mountain in the back of empty freight trucks.

About 6 p.m. the second day we were about 12 kms from our destination when a young man who had also hitched a ride in the truck we had rushed out to us and asked us to spend the night in his friend’s house there. We ended up staying in another home, that of a soldier. We were well taken care of, and we learned a lot by talking to our host.

The next day … taking the advise of our host of the night before … we road the train 175 or so kilometers (about 110 miles). That four-hour ride would have taken us at least two days by bicycle … maybe three or four if the roads were as bad as we were told. Since we were rushing to reach Palembang before our visas expired, that train trip enabled us travel on a more sensible schedule.

The next morning we really flew, averaging about 12 miles an hour instead of the six or so we had been doing in Indonesia … until I got a flat tire. Pumping it up didn’t work; so we with the help of several men patched two holes. Two kilometers later the same tire went flat again. So I walked my bike about four or five kilometers until we could hitch a ride for the next six kilometers to a town, where the nearest bicycle shop was. I ended up buying a new tube and having several “boots” put in the tire itself. (Indonesians really got their money’s worth out of their tires, putting reinforcements inside a break instead of buying a new tire.) So that was a sad day, but it ended well. We ate a delicious Chinese meal in a home, which we were led to when we requested Chinese food. And we stayed in the nicest hotel we had in Indonesia.

At 7:00 the next morning we began a 60-mile ride. We had never gone that far in Indonesia, but our schedule required 60 miles that day and 61 the next. The first 30 miles were fast once again. But the other 30 were really bad. The road became so rocky that we had to creep along for fear of ruining a tire. Then we came to an oil company road, which we were advised to take. It wasn’t rocky, but it went up and down, as our other road had been doing. But these were very steep grades, so that we became exhausted and had to walk up the hills. To top it off, there was no shade. So that 60 miles took us 11 hours and left us without an ounce of energy to spare. (The one bright spot was cheap pineapples, which we found six miles before the town. We bought five for 75 rupiah (20 cents), eating two then, two the next day and one the next. Fortunately the 60 miles the last day into Palembang were easier, taking us only 8 ½ hours. But it was hot again by the afternoon, and we were quite tired when we reached the city.

We spent the morning in Palembang going to immigration (where our visas were extended) and the bank (we spent more that week than we had been spending in two weeks lately) and did some shopping. Palembang was the biggest place we’d been in since Medan, and we found a gold mine there: Newsweek! Having had no English magazines or newspapers since Medan two months before then, we went wild buying the last three issues. The rest of the afternoon and all evening were spent buried in our treasures.

From Palembang we were heading south to where we’d catch a boat to Java. Our information about the roads was nil, but we guessed it would take us about a week more in Sumatra, then a couple of more days to Djakarta. How long we stayed there would depend upon expenses and how long we could endure the city. At that point we were still thinking about going to Japan after Indonesia.

Peggy and Randy Ford

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