We walked to the police station, took a deep breath and walked inside. We had no idea what we were hoping to achieve. I guess we were just bored of being cooked in the sun.
“Do you speak English?” I asked one of the officers.
“No,” was the expressionless response. He guided us into another office using the peculiar South-East Asia hand gesture that means ‘go away’ in the western world: a kind of, dismissive flap of the hand that, conversely, means ‘come here’ in parts of Asia.
Once we worked out he was beckoning us to go with him and not telling us to bog off, we followed him into another room and sat down in front of another officer.
We tried to explain to the man what we were trying to do but, inevitably, he didn’t understand. Why would he? He asked for our passports and seemed to think, like we presumed he might, we’d come to the station because we’d run out of money.
“No, no, no,” I said, “We have money”. And then, for the first time, and certainly not the last, we performed what became ‘The Routine’.
“We travel,” I said, pointing at Michael and myself, “from Bali” “Bali!” he repeated in excitement at recognising a word.
“Ahhhh England,” he said, nodding, as if I’d said something wise. “England home. No bus, no plane, no train, no taxi” He seemed to understand and took us upstairs to another office where he asked if he could have his photograph taken with us. We then sat down and were brought a couple of room temperature colas, which, for the record, I despise with a passion, but I managed to gulp it down nonetheless because I’m a hero.
Another man came in and we had to perform our routine again. When the officers asked why we were doing this, we pointed to a word that Saroo had written in my diary, ‘PETUALANGAM,’ which means ‘adventure’.
“Aaahhhh…” they would say, smiling, “bus station?”
“No! No bus. No plane. No train. No taxi,” we would repeat, drawing pictures of each, with a line through them. Using a combination of bad drawing, bad acting and broken English, we described to each officer our mission, in turn. After much effort, an understanding would be reached; the officer would then have a photo taken with us and would leave the room, to be replaced by another, apparently more senior, officer, and we would repeat the process.
This must have happened six or seven times over a period of several hours before we met Ibnu, a young police officer. Ibnu was short and a bit chubby, with happy eyes and a friendly face, a bit like Kenan, from Kenan and Kel. Due to his superior English, we eventually made Ibnu understand our intentions and he translated for the others. The police chief thought for a few moments and said something in Indonesian to Ibnu.
Ibnu turned to us and asked, “So… why have you come to the police station?” It was a bit of a soul crushing question. We had hoped that once they understood what we wanted to achieve, they would magically be able to solve our problems.
I think we’d just hoped they’d be able to come up with a suggestion to help us. The realisation suddenly dawned on me that, instead of wasting all this energy entertaining the Situbondo police force all day, we could have used this time trying to hitchhike.
“We want you to help us,” I said to Ibnu. Ibnu translated to the chief and they both left the room. After five minutes, Ibnu returned.
“Ok, we will help you,” he said, “We will give you a police letter, in Indonesian, for people to know your adventure and we will get a truck for you. Follow me”
“Huh?” I said, retching down the last of my coke (because I’m a hero).
“They’re going to set up a road block for us!” said Michael, laughing, as we bounded down the stairs after the officers. We were led outside and they drove us to a tiny police shack on the same road as the petrol station.
They wrote a letter in Indonesian that had our names, addresses, occupations and a brief summary of our intentions. They then set up a road block and asked every passing truck or lorry, firstly, their destination, and, secondly, if we could join them.
It wasn’t very long before two nervous looking lads, no older then teenagers, were brought into the station. The police took their details and instructed them to let us ride in the back of their empty cattle truck. We were ecstatic. It was a risky play, going to the police, and it seemed especially so when they requested to see our passports and started processing our details. Because of the language barrier we were never quite sure if they were arresting us, interrogating us, or just curious and eager to help.
We soon realised that when it comes to Indonesians, it is, more often than not, the latter. As a couple of westerners in the back of an open top paddy wagon, usually reserved for cows on their way to be slaughtered, we got a lot of attention as we passed through the endless stream of villages.
If anyone saw us, and many did, it was pretty much guaranteed that they would either wave, shout “Hello mister!” or even, as a group of girls did, dance around in their headscarves blowing us kisses. With all this attention we were receiving, it was easy to forget our humble transport.
After a couple of hours I think it’s fair to say the “fame” had gone to our heads. We seemed to have taken on the demeanour of medieval kings cavorting around on a white stallion through the streets of Camelot, chests puffed out, eyebrows raised, bestowing royal waves and knightly nods to the locals.
That moment, stood in the back of an open-top truck, admiring the Madura Straight, a body of water that separates Java from the Madura Island, with the wind cooling our hair and the afternoon sun on our shoulders, was definitely the high point of our journey thus far.
“I can’t believe we’re really doing it!” we kept saying to each other against the wind, all smiles. Sure, it’s possible that we were merely feeling an intense sugar rush because our blood had been turned to syrup by the equivalent of coke-a-cola water-boarding treatment at the police station. But I don’t think so.
I think we were jacked up on a pure unadulterated travel high. The moment was euphoric. The feeling was addictive. We wanted more.