Tag Archives: hitchhike

The Rich-Mike Hitchhike Insight: Hitchhiking in Kazakhstan

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Everyone hitchhikes in Kazakhstan.

As there are no taxis, every private vehicle can, in effect, pick up hitchhikers and charge them a fee.

Almost everyone we met in Kazakhstan had a finger in a business pie. It was impressive. Ainur, for example, who was about 25, had her own shop and rented her living room out to 6 students, whilst Ali, who was 27, had opened his own private school.

Impressive as the entrepreneurial spirit is, it made it difficult for us to hitchhike in Kazakhstan. Imagine what the people here, newly drunk on capitalism, thought when they saw us? A couple of “rich” Europeans (in spite of our clothes / odor).

We could almost see the dollar signs spinning in their eyes when they saw us. Our hosts were invariably disappointed when we refused to pay the astronomical prices they quoted us.

Although its easy to hitchhike in the cities, it’s difficult to find a fair price

Once out of Almaty, the roads seriously deteriorate and the traffic becomes very infrequent. The infrastructure, however, is changing, as the revenue from oil money starts to trickle into the State’s coffers.

Kazakhstan Hitchhiking Rating: af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15 (4/10)

The Rich-Mike Hitchhike Insight: Hitchhiking in China

China is such a diverse country it’s difficult to consider it as a whole. South China is a hitchhiker’s dream. It was easy to secure rides and the people were always hospitable and friendly, especially Ryan, in Huize, who took such characteristics to new heights.

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After Xian, as we followed the Silk Road west, it grew more difficult. People were less likely to stop and if they did a large sum of money was expected. This said, there was never a single day where we failed. For this reason, combined with the fact that pristine new highways have been built to connect the numerous mega-cities, we regard China as an excellent place to hitchhike in.

China Hitchhiking Rating:  af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15     (8/10)

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The Rich-Mike HitchHike Insight: Hitchhiking in Malasia, Thailand & Laos

We raced through Malaysia in only two days, in half the time we’d planned for. Apart from a two hour wait near Pinang, it was rare to have to linger around anywhere. The fact that many people spoke great English also added to the richness of our journeys in terms of conversation.

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Thailand was even easier. We never had to wait very long for a ride here and sometimes people would even turn off the highway, circle back around, then re-join the highway so they could pick us up having missed us the first time. Not only was it trouble-free, but the people who picked us up were keen to engage with us, often by taking us back to their home for some food.

If anyone is thinking of recreating a portion of our adventure, I would definitely recommend from Singapore to Bangkok. The route has everything a traveller could ask for. The verdant jungle scenery of South East Asia, bordered by pristine beaches, is connected by three distinctive mega-cities: Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Although I’ve said that the treasures of Thailand lie outside of Bangkok, it’s still well worth a visit. Moreover, the combination of fantastic food, accommodating people and a constant feeling of safety gives the peninsula an atmosphere that’s impossible to forget.

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Laos, however, proved more problematic. With considerable difficulty we eventually managed to hitchhike through the northern part of the country to the border in three rides, two of which we were expected to pay for. It only served to emphasise how spoilt we’d been in Malaysia and Thailand.

Malaysia Hitchhiking Rating: af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(9/10)

Thailand Hitchhiking Rating: af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(10/10)

Laos Hitchhiking Rating:        af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(4/10)

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Day 19: “Sick fashion…” – Sadao

I awoke in a small attic-type room, above the bar. After the night’s heavy drinking session it was always going to be a brutal morning.

Michael went through every step of his customary hangover routine, as systematic and predictable as ever. He woke up chewing his hangover breath, then leaned over and was sick into a plastic bag (Michael never goes anywhere without at least one plastic bag. He has never faced a dilemma in his life that he hasn’t somehow managed to resolve with a plastic bag).

By this time I’d woken up and had turned away from him because I knew what was coming next: he staggered to his feet, all bleary eyed, trying to remember where he was; he then checked himself for any accidents he may have had in the night, first the front then the back.

He breathed a sigh of relief, “phew,” and wiped some imaginary sweat from his brow. He then took a few faltering steps forward, tripped over and dropped the bag of sick, spewing the contents onto the floor. I wasn’t even looking but I know his routine so well by now I was able to mouth the words “Oh Shit!” at exactly the same time he did.

“Where’s my Lee Gibson Training jumper?” I mouthed again, in perfect sync with Michael. He turned around to see that I was holding it up for him, as I had been doing since the moment he stumbled to his feet. I shuddered as I remembered that, in my drunken stupor last night, I’d resorted to using the wretched jumper as a pillow and had fallen asleep playing the “which one of Michael’s stale bodily fluids can I smell most” game.

The next stage of Michael’s grim hangover ritual is to get to work mopping up the mess with his long suffering garment. By this time it had endured so many of Michael’s various accidental spillages over the years, it now made Joseph’s Techni-coloured dream-coat look like a nun’s laundry basket.

This though, was one hangover too far, he dumped it in a bin near the house we were staying. If any of you are ever in south Thailand, and you see a local scamp skipping around in what looks more like a rainbow’s scab than a jumper, you’ll know the story of how the bin rummaging little tyke came to possess it.

Day 18: Welcome to Thailand – Alor Setar, Malasia

After a brief visit to The Chief’s new house, which he proudly explained was in an affluent suburb, the bus dropped us off near Alor Setar, only 30 kilometres south of the Thailand border.

We considered calling it a day and finding somewhere to sleep, maybe in a field or something but the allure of making it into a new country proved too great.

“What a day it would be if made it into Thailand!”

With the tall trees at our backs and the open fields ahead of us we stood at the toll gate, with a sign reading ‘Thailand’, as the sun went down.

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After no more than ten minutes, a car pulled over ahead of us. Two people hoped out of the front and waved us over as they moved some luggage into the boot.

There was a Thai couple, in their early 30s, in the front. They opened the boot and arranged their possessions to make room for our bags. Once again we were thankful that we’d packed so light.

The Thai couple were evidently married and the wife had a 7 year old boy on her lap. There was also a man of Indian descent, Winrey, sat in the back with us.

“I worked in Australia”, he said with twinkling eyes.

“Thank you so much for stopping”, I said.

“I saw you had a sign for ‘Thailand’ and I thought ‘well, we’re going to Thailand’ so we should stop. And you can just tell when you see someone that they’re a good people and you look like good people”

“Where are you going?”

“Sadao. It’s 14 km into Thailand. We go there often to a friend’s bar to talk nonsense and get drunk. Do you like to talk nonsense and get drunk?”

“Of course!”

“Excellent. Well then it’s settled. You must join us”.

We pulled up at the border.

“Foreigners go there,” said Winrey pointing to a kiosk. “We’ll meet you on the other side”.

We bumbled our way to the border crossing kiosk feeling elated at having travelled through Malaysia in only two days. We celebrated by filling in an immigration arrival form.

“What’s the address of where we’re staying in Thailand?” asked Michael.

“Eerrrr Bangkok, I guess”

“Do you think that’ll be alright?”

“I doubt it”

Sure enough, when we handed in our forms…

“Address?” asked the immigration official, pointed to where I’d scrawled ‘Bangkok’.

“I don’t know the address, we’re staying with a friend,” I replied. “No address. No visa”

“But I said I don’t know the address”

“No address?”

“No”

“No visa”

“Just say China Town” whispered Michael at my side.

“China Town”, I said to the official.

“China Town?” he repeated, doubtfully.

“Yes, China Town, Bangkok”

The official narrowed his eyes at me.

“Street?” he asked.

“Errm.. Beijing road”

“Beijing road, China Town, Bangkok?”

“Yes”

There was a pause.

“Number?”

“Seriously?!”

“Number?”

“10A!”

He stamped our passports and we were granted the mandatory 15 day visa. We wondered through into a new country.

“Yeah I guess you’re right”

We saw Winrey waving at us up ahead. His car had pulled off onto a side street.

“You are trusting people,” Winrey told us, seeing has we’d left our bags in his car after meetinjg them only 10 minutes previously.

“No, just stupid” said Michael.

“The secret to carefree travelling is not to take anything nice with you,” I said.

“Which is why I brought Rich!” said Michael, looking proud of himself.

“Ho ho bloody ho. I’m so glad to see that comedy school obviously worked out so well for you, Michael”.

“You went to comedy school?” Winrey asked, sounding impressed.

“Oh no,” I replied, “It was sarcasm”

“Oh right, where is that? Near London?”

“No, it’s just erm… yeah, it’s near London”

Winrey invited us to join them for a night of a bit of food and a lot of drinking in Sadao. We arrived at Bali House, an atmospheric outdoor bar that I would strongly recommend anyone to visit if they’re ever in south Thailand.

The leafy garden was groomed enough to be practical, but wild enough to look authentic. It had a large table in the middle, which seated our crowd of 10 or so people.

We were introduced to Sakorn, the owner of Bali House. He was evidently a much respected man in the Sadao community and it was easy to see why. Though he looked like a tough guy, he wasn’t intimidating in the slightest. His shaved head and muscular physique belied his generous and gentle personality.

As the evening darkened, the low level orange lighting, draped generously throughout the garden, over the trees and across the bar, like large Christmas lights, made it feel like we were partying underwater in a luminous jellyfish forest.

The candles on the table flickered on the smiling faces of the group, and they were soon joined by plates of rice and spicy Thai-curry. The food, the company and the beer were the perfect welcome to Thailand.

Elated by our successful day of hitching, buzzing on another potent travel high and encouraged by our new friends, who wouldn’t let us take two sips of beer before replenishing the glass, it wasn’t long before the glowing orange bulbs started spinning slowly around us.

At one particularly surreal point in the evening, Sakorn, who’d been watching me roll cigarettes using rolling tobacco, asked me to make him a marijuana joint, which I did, under the interested eyes of Ote, a member of the Thailand anti-drugs smuggling police.

Inspired by the lyrics of Cypress Hill (“insane in the brain”), I rolled up a nice fat 3 skin spliff, the kind that would have made Bob Marley splutter. By the time I’d finished my exhibition of ostentatious origami, it looked like a policeman’s truncheon.

I fired up the beast and passed it to Ote.

“You know you’ve just passed a joint to a police officer,” someone said. Ote looked at me in the eyes, took a huge puff and then, as he exhaled through his smile, said, “Welcome to Thailand,” and the whole place exploded with laughter.

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Day 15: “It must be Sayang…” – Singapore

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According to the schedule we were supposed to hit the road again, head across the bridge, and then 200 kilometres into Malaysia but the receptionist at Urban Hostel must have put a hex on us or something because we both felt a bit ill, especially me. Although, granted, our health could possibly have been due to a combination of too much sun, too much beer and eating chicken that was so raw it was still pecking at the vegetables on the plate.

Whatever the cause, we decided it was necessary to change hostels and stay an extra day to recuperate. We were both aware at this time that we’d been lucky with hitchhiking through Indonesia. We were fortunate it was such a chilled out country. The police seemed to play by their own rules, which, that time, had worked in our favour.

Singapore, however, has a notoriously officious reputation. There are over 40’000 illegal offences many of which are innocuous, such as littering, leaving still water lying around your house or workplace, failing to lock up your bicycle when not in use, walking around naked in your house, and oral sex, unless, of course, it’s part of foreplay.

We felt lucky not to have to hitchhike in this environment. The receptionist at our new hostel had agreed to take us over the bridge, to the border of Malaysia, in the morning.

“I know some Malay”, said Michael, while we were killing time in one of Singapore’s numerous shopping centres.

“Oh really”, I replied, “What’s that then?”

“’Sayang’ means ‘love’”

“Oh right so that’s what ‘Sayang House’ [the name of Michael’s house in England] means” I said.

I was in the toilet, drying my hands, when a small Singaporean, probably about 45, pottered over to me. He was about 5”4, with gaps between every one of his top teeth. He was wearing a short sleeved shirt that was too big for him and a belt high around his mid-rift.

“Hello!” he said, enthusiastically, leaning on his heels with his hands behind his back.

“Hi,” I said, and we started shaking hands. “Are you new to Singapore?” he said.

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“Yes”, I replied. We then proceeded to have a 5 minute chitchat conversation, just the usual kind of stuff. When he was listening to me, the little man had a curious habit of tilting his head and pursing his lips as if he was sucking on an invisible straw.

Suddenly and inexplicably he came out with: “Do you know any gay people in Singapore?”

It was at this point that I realised we were still shaking hands.

I took my hand back. Michael was now washing his hands next to me. I could see him sniggering at me in the mirror. “No. I’m new to Singapore”, I said.

“Do you know where I can find gay people in Singapore?” he said, taking a step closer to me.

“Ermm, no”, I said, nervously scratching my neck and looking around. “I’m new to Singapore. You could check the internet?’

The little man appeared to think about this and he took another step closer to me. “Do you mind if I do this?” he said, and he started stroking my shoulder. It wasn’t in an especially erotic way –it was more like as if he was brushing some dust from my T-shirt.

“Erm… I’m going to have to go now”, I said, stepping away, feeling like my personal space had been invaded a bit to far, especially considering we were in the mens´ toilets. “Great chat though. Let’s go Mike”

“One sec mate” he replied, “my hands are still a bit moist-” I grabbed him by the collar.

The little man followed us out of the bathroom, asking us questions about our lives. He didn’t come across as threatening, just a bit weird and creepy.

He kept trying to engage us in conversation as we walked through the shopping centre.

“What was your job in Australia?”

“Miner”

“Did you have you drive far to work” “

No”

“Did.. errr… did you bring a pack lunch?!”

“What?”

“Did you bring a pack lunch to work”

“Yes”

“Can I have your address?”

“Don’t give him your address, Richard,” Michael whispered to me,“He definitely looks like the stalker type”

Mike went into a shop to buy some sunglasses. “Can I write to you in England?” the little man said to me again.

“No”

“Pleeeease”, he said tugging at my sleeve.

“Fine”, I said, and I ripped out a page from my diary. “You can write to me in England”

He studied the address I had given him.

“Oooooooo”, he said, looking excited, leaning on his heels. “Do you know that ‘Sayang’ means ‘love’ in Malay?”

Day 14: A chilly reception – Singapore

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We stepped gingerly off the boat with sunburnt faces, raw lips and bruised hips.

It was like stepping into another world. I was reminded of a cartoon I once watched where, for some reason, Fred Flinstone and Barney Rubble had been teleported into the Jetsons’ future word.

“Ugg!” I said, as I pawed inspidly at the neon buttons of a lift.

“What did you say?” asked Michael

“I said, ‘Surely there are no two countries in such close proximity that are so different?’”

“What about England and Narnia” he replied, almost instantly, “They’re pretty different and they’re only separated by a cupboard”

I nodded.

Due to our ships delayed departure from Indonesia we were very late for check-in at our hostel. I was worried because, due to the F1 event, it had been really difficult to find accommodation. We were due to check-in at 3pm. It was now 7pm.

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We tried to ignore the distinct possibility that our reservation had been given away as we made our way through the futuristic cityscape. Pushing the prospect of a night on the streets into the back of our minds, we tried to distract ourselves discussing the differences between our former and current countries.

Indonesia seemed to vibrate with colour and friendliness and a pleasant grittiness. Singapore, on the other hand, seemed clean almost to point of being sterile and much of it smelled like a dentist’s waiting room. The people here instantly came across as more aloof, sometimes cold, even in customer service roles.

The woman who checked us into Urban Hostel, for example, must have been abducted and replaced by a giant scorpion, wearing human skin, stretched over her exo-skeleton as a disguise. As we walked up the pristine white staircase to reception, I felt an icy trickle of fear seep down my spine.

As soon as I laid eyes on her I knew that she made the demon masseuse back in Jakarta seem like Mary Poppins.

“Yes? What do you want?” she hissed upon our arrival, barley lifting her eyes.

“We’ve b-b-booked a r-room,” I stammered.

“Name?”

“Egan mam,” said Michael, taking off his cap and twisting it in his hands.

She looked into her book and searched for our name, with a long, sharp fingernail.

“You!” she growled, clenching her fists. “You were due at 3pm! It is now 7pm! Do you not realise that I could’ve given your reservation away?!”

“Our boat was late,” Michael said truthfully, knees knocking.

“You could have phoned!”

“Our boat barely had an engine let alone a phone,” I said.

“There are plenty of phones in a Singapore,” she spat, with a bit of venomous bile dribbling onto the desk.

“We only got here half an hour ago. We just wanted to get here as fast as we could” We daren’t wait for a response. Michael grabbed the key from her clutches and we scarpered into the safety of our room. “We’ll make a break for it later,” I panted. “She’s got to sleep sometime”

“Richard?”

“What Michael?”

“I… I think I’m in love with her”

Day 7: The Demon Masseuse – Jakarta

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On our second night in Jakarta, we were sat in a bar, sinking suds, watching the football.

I returned to our table with a fresh couple of beers.

“Hey Mike, do I look especially wretched, desperate and lonely tonight?”

“No more so than usual. Why?”

“Well, a fifth different prostitute has just offered me her services”

“Oh right. Maybe Jalan Jaksa is a seedy part of Jakarta? What did you say to her?”

“I politely told her that I am not yet wretched, desperate and lonely enough, and that she should either ask me in ten beers time or just come and ask you now”

Just as Michael was about to reply, a couple of pretty looking girls came over to our table. Except for the fact that one of them looked Indonesian and one looked Chinese, they both shared similar features: a bright smile, dimpled at the cheeks; long shiny black hair and a potent pair of dark chocolate eyes.

I lifted my eyebrow in Michael’s direction, as if to say:

“Careful, Michael, they could be ladies of the night”.

Michael furrowed his brow slightly and twitched his cheek, as if to say:

“I know, play it cool Rich. Let’s see what happens”. (We later discovered that the bar we were in was next door to a brothel)

“Hello, my name is Isabelle,” said the Indonesian looking one, the more confident of the two. “Is it ok if we sit down with you?”

“Yeah sure”

“My name is Christine”, said the one with Chinese features, as she sat down. Conversation started flowing and the girls told us they both worked in marketing. Oh yeah, I thought, here we go, what are they going to try and sell us. But they didn’t. They were just genuinely interested in coming over to talk to us. I kicked myself under the table for being so presumptuous. I kicked Michael, as well, just in case he had been too.

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For the next couple of days Christine took us under her wing and did a great job showing us Jakarta. Highlights included a trip to the zoo, trudging knee deep through putrid fish guts at the fish market and an excursion to the Cibodas Mountains, a welcome respite from the congested, urban sprawl of the city. We also experienced the uglier side of the Indonesian law enforcement’s character.

One night we were in a taxi with Christine when a police car, attracted by the silhouette of Michael’s western hairstyle, pulled us over. He demanded our passports and then, through Christine, commanded we go with him to the station.

For some reason, the officer’s attention was on me. I had apparently committed a misdemeanour and Christine pleaded with him for perhaps 15 minutes.

Eventually she paid him a sum of money, the value of which she never divulged. It was a constant struggle with Christine in regards to money. If she had had her way, we wouldn’t have ever paid for anything. At times, we literally had force money into her hands to maintain some kind of balance.

Without the bribe, she told us, I would have spent a night in the cells. This altercation was minor, however, and it paled into insignificance when compared to the next ordeal.

We decided we deserved a massage to relax are battered, travel weary limbs. We walking into a plush hotel-like reception, lit with red low level lighting around the side of the black room.

I was guided into the small massage room and I sat on the table eagerly awaiting my masseuse, when a little smiling woman, about 60 years old, tottered in.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but now I think about it I’m pretty sure she had sharp teeth, a fork tongue and the red fires of Satan in her eyes.

She started things off with some light pinching of my legs. This is weird, I thought. Little did I know she was about to unleash the full extent of her repertoire of playground bullying techniques.

After she’d tenderised me slightly with her girly, kiss-chase style, pinching, she started pummelling me with a series of brutal dead legs, right on the sweet spot. I bit my lip and braced myself as she pottered around to work on my arms where, with an iron grip, she literally started administering Chinese burns, the savagery of which would have made Genghis Khan wince, had he been there to witness them.

“You sleepy mister?” she mocked, before nearly lifting me off the table with a couple of nipple cripples. When she went to do my shoulders I half expected her to get me in a head lock and give me a noogie.

The she-demon did not offer me a famous “happy ending,” but if she did, I can only assume that it would have involved her standing over me, on all fours, before kneeing me square in each testicle with all her might. She then would have stood by the door with her hand out, expecting a tip; or, more likely, she would have demanded my lunch money and then given me a wedgie as I limped out of the door.

Somehow, despite this cruel and, yes, sometimes unusual torture inflicted upon me, I did not give her the satisfaction of seeing me cry. I did, however, have some residue sun-cream in my eye, so if that devil-woman starts gallivanting around town boasting about how she made one of the bulés cry, she’s a dam liar.

Of course, Michael loved his massage. In fact, his was such a bonding experience that I’m pretty sure I heard him offer his (male) masseuse a “happy ending” (this may not be true).

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Day 4-5: Suwarno – To Jakarta

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We waited at the lights until they turned red and then stepped out into the traffic asking each car in turn if we could join them.

“Turpan,” we’d mouth, pointing at our sign.

It wasn’t long before our actions roused the curiosity of some local children, who, once they understood our intentions, geared up to try to help. We had no idea what was about to happen as we waited for the lights to turn. The kids looked like relay sprinters about to receive the baton.

The light turned red and, well, it must have looked like some kind of riot. We looked on, jaws open, as the 8 or 9 kids ran through the traffic, knocking on car windows pointing at us, squawking, “TUBAN! TUBAN! TUBAN!” like hysterical banshees.

Considering the attention Michael and I get when we’re just being normal, the scene we were now apparently instigating, like a pair of moronic Fagins, predictably led to police intervention.

We heard a whistle from across the road and a policeman waved us over into a small police office, which happened to be nearby, and our passports were politely demanded. Not this time, I thought, as I contemplated the tedious game of charades that was about to ensue, and I handed them the letter from the Situbondo police.

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Not more than five minutes later, after they’d bought us some bottles of water, they set up a road block and practically forced any passing trucks, on their way to Tuban, to let us join them. We jumped in the back of a truck collared by the police.

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It was exactly the same kind of vehicle as the one we were in the day before, an empty wagon, except this one was dirtier and more exposed to the sun. The drivers, however, were less amenable and they stopped about half an hour later at a bus station and demanded we give them some money. After an argument regarding the extortionate amount they’d asked for, we eventually paid them a sum we felt was fair, and the driver marched into a police station, presumably to report us, and we were ushered inside by an officer.

We knew our routine by now though, and when the police asked us if we needed a bus, we just handed them our ‘golden ticket’ and, after a few obligatory refreshments, the third police force in two days set up a road block for us.

The fact that we were at a bus station, with most of the buses heading to Tuban, didn’t deter them in the slightest. Our eventual ride was with a small man in a round pair of glasses.

He initially seemed reluctant to have us in his cab but, as we later discovered, the Indonesian’s are rather fearful of the police and so he must have felt obliged to cooperate. We sat in the cab next to him and introduced ourselves.

“Suwarnooo” he boomed with a voice that contradicted his unimposing appearance. He was one of those people who look thin but have actually got a bit of a belly. Despite the fact that he spoke very little English, we still managed to have a non-stop conversation with him for the first three hours of the journey.

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He didn’t shout, but his voice always seemed to be raised. He spoke in a slow, methodical manner, always rolling his ‘Rs’ to an exaggerated extent. He like to repeat words and sentences a lot, despite the fact that we rarely understood them.

“Baaaliii!” he rumbled, when we asked him where he had driven from and we both cracked up with laughter as he performed a little dance whist fluttering his eyelashes, as he was driving, in imitation of Balinese Hinduism. He had driven his huge lorry full of motorbikes from Jakarta to Bali. As this was his return journey, his trailer was empty.

Suwarno was always pulling over his lorry to buy us things to ease our journey: water, tofu, fresh fruit juice and several meals. He refused to let us pay for anything and forcibly made sure everything was on him. At one point he pulled over to buy us some fruit juice neither of us had ever seen before.

I sniffed it tentatively. It was pale yellow in colour and had a curious, unenticing smell. Michael insisted it tasted a bit like sweet mouthwash whereas I thought it had a slightly nutty flavour. Whatever it was, we decided to finish it, not just in gratitude, but for the vitamins as well. (We later found out the juice was made from durian).

The traffic on the road between Surabaya and Jakarta was always busy. At times it felt like we cruising down a river teaming with life: the foliage that bordered the road had a tropical, almost aquatic feel. Suwarno’s lorry was constantly flanked by a gang of scooters, like pilot fish around a shark. Though the scooters seemed to be darting around the huge lorries and each other with a natural ease, the numerous accidents we saw on our journey suggested the dangers the road users were exposing themselves to.

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In Suwarno’s lorry though, the biggest beast on the road, we felt invincible; we felt safe. We drove past many flooded rice farms, as is the method of irrigation in this part of the world, and we contemplated how much rice must have to be produced to feed Java, the world’s most populated island.

Whenever we passed another lorry from the same company, Suwarno would inevitably stick his head out the window and yell “Touristas!!” in reference to Michael and me, much to the delight of the passing driver.

“Brrrro-ther!” he said, as he pointed at a lorry passing us on the other side of the road. “Indonesia brrrro-ther! No Warrrrr.”

Suwarno always seemed keen to make us understand that, in Indonesia, Muslims are a peaceful people. He pointed to himself and with wide, intense eyes said, “Su-warrrrr-no”. He then pointed outside, “Warrrr-no! Indonesia: no warrrr! Su-warrrr-no! No Warrrr. Su -Warrrr-noooooo!”

He loved the irony that his name contained the words “no” and “war”, and that this mirrors Indonesia’s peaceful culture.

I tentatively tried to bring up the subject of the 1965 uprising and the massacres that followed, but Suwarno didn’t seem willing to acknowledge the event. The mere mention of the topic made him nervous and so I didn’t persist.

After a lot of gesturing and misunderstanding we made it known to him that our preferred destination was in fact Jakarta, 800 km away, not Tuban, which was only 100 km. To our delight, Suwarno agreed to take us all the way and our course was set. We’d get to Jakata a few days early and, even better, we’d get to sleep on the back of his lorry as it drove through the night. It felt slightly strange to feel so ecstatic about the prospect of spending 20 hours straight in a lorry.

On the route we passed The Sangiran Early Man Site, on the World Heritage List, in central Java. It is estimated to have been inhabited one and a half million years ago and half of the world´s hominid fossils have been unearthed at this very spot. If Africa is known as “The Cradle of Civilization”, then surely this place could make a fair claim to be its nursery. We longed to take a few days out of our journey to check out such a historical site but, of course, we could not. We merely added another place to our bucket list of things to see the next time we would be passing through.

When it got to about 11pm, we left the comfort of Suwarno’s cab and got into the trailer with a couple of mango dealers who’d paid Suwarno to deliver them and their cargo.

Suwarno tapped the pocket of my shorts containing my wallet, then the pocket containing my phone, before pointing at his eyes. I nodded.

The noise and motion of our sleeping quarters was incredible. The clunking and screeching of the metal frame, the constant beeping of horns, the roar of the mighty engine as the lorry lurched forwards or backwards, if it slammed on the brakes, which it often did, to avoid the swarms of scooters darting in and out of the traffic.

This combined with the glare of the passing street lamps, flashing past us like paparazzi cameras, and the loose mangos flying about, like ping-pong balls on a bouncy castle, made the prospect of sleep unlikely.

What kind of demented maniac could sleep in these conditions, I thought to myself, just as Michael started snoring next to me.

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Day 3: The Golden Ticket – Situbondo Police Station

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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.

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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.

“To England”

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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