Tag Archives: hitchhike

Day 2: Fatty and one for the shudder bank – Situbondo, Indonesia

Anyone that could speak some English told us that people do not hitchhike in Indonesia. Everyone uses the taxi busses because they are so cheap and plentiful.

Eventually, though, someone did stop. I was on my way to the toilet when Mike called me back. In retrospect, I realise it would have saved me a lot of grief if I’d have just gone to the toilet when I had the chance, but we’d been waiting for a while and there was no way I could risk missing the ride.

A rather serious looking man, in a beige uniform, driving a patrol car, had pulled up next to us. He peered out of his open window through a pair of small dark sunglasses.

“Surabaya?” we asked, pointing at our sign. He thought about it, nodded and I hopped into the cab, at the front, and Michael the back. His name was something along the lines of Fatarama, but we referred to him as ‘Fatty,’ because we’re not clever enough to remember names that we haven’t heard of before.

He had a classic government-official-type moustache and whenever he struggled to find the right English word, which was often, he closed his eyes and seemed to meditate for a few seconds, wobbling his head, even while he was driving.

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Fatty told us, with the little English he had, after a few bouts of meditation, he’d take us to Surabaya. He stopped at a shop to get some water and Michael and I changed places. It was when I jumped in the back that I realised that my bladder was screaming at me.

You can hold it, Rich, I assured myself; but after a few more bumps down the road I really started to struggle. I think what made it especially bad was that I didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Surabaya. I knocked on the cab to get Fatty’s attention. No reply. I knocked again. Nothing. I looked at my half empty bottle of water. I had to do it, I had to go.

In a risky move, I downed the remainder of my water. I looked out from the open paddy wagon. The streets were busy and everyone seemed interested in me. I felt another surge of pain in my bladder, but still I tried to hold it. I knocked again on the cab, a little bit more frantically this time. No reply. We turned down a slightly quieter street. “This is my chance”, I announced to myself, with a steely determination that surprised me. I unscrewed the lid and arranged the bottle. Nothing happened.

I closed my eyes to relax, trying to ignore the pedestrians milling about, going about their errands around me. I thought of running water, I thought of waterfalls. As my eyes were closed, I felt the car come to a stop and, success! The sound of liquid hitting plastic was met with the sheer relief that anyone who’s really, really, really had to go can relate to.

I heard the doors of the cab open and shut and I snapped open my eyes. We had pulled up outside a grand looking house with elegant white pillars set against smooth, pale pink walls as if the place had come straight out of The Great Gatsby.

Before I had time to react, I realised that Fatty must have phoned ahead because a family had rushed out of the house with beaming smiles and were seconds away from greeting me. Mike and Fatty circled around from the cab to the back, where I was still sitting. Panic stricken, I moved the bottle away from my crotch and tried to covertly tuck everything back into my shorts without looking like I was molesting myself.

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Of course, I dropped the bottle and spilled the contents over the floor and myself. For the record, having my clothes freshly damp with urine, with my penis hanging pathetically out of my shorts, is not my favoured method of introducing myself to a new group of people. But this was what happened.

Once inside, I retreated into the bathroom with my tail as much between my legs as I could manage. I stood in front of a pristine mirror and gave myself a hard look. I sighed as I remembered the mother’s face when she pretended not to notice that my hand was wet when she shook it. I shuddered at the image of Fatty, having picked up the bottle from the floor of his wagon, had to empty the last few drops of what was clearly urine onto the grass.

I closed my eyes and repressed the memory deep into my vast bank of embarrassing episodes. I then shook my head and tried to get on with my life.

Day 1: Ketuk and the sex slaves – Pekutatan, Bali, Indonesia

After about 10 km more, the bouncy pace of the first enthusiasm imbued 11 half of the day had been replaced with a weary shuffle.

A slow moving truck, the first vehicle I’ve seen to drive with a limp, creaked to a standstill ahead of us. The exhaust pipe spluttered and hacked black smoke and a dark vicous liquid. As he’d pulled over, the huge tailback of traffic overtook him and we weren’t sure at first if he’d pulled over for us or to let the multitude of cars pass.

The driver’s receding hairline belied his youthful face. His name was Ketuk and he spoke a bit of English. Thankfully, he was headed a lot further than we first requested, all the way to Petkutatan, 64 km away.

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“So what´s in the back of your truck?” asked Michael, trying to make some conversation. Ketuk´s countenance seemed to change: his cheerful disposition darkened and his lack of response hung heavily in the air. Thinking that perhaps he hadn’t been heard or understood, Michael asked his question again but the driver´s grizzly gaze remained on the road ahead. We left the subject alone for the time being, but whenever the conversation returned to the contents of his truck, or indeed the purpose of his journey, Ketuk’s grasp of English seemed to mysteriously dissipate.

“Guns or drugs“, I whispered to Michael from the corner of my mouth.

“Sex slaves,” he replied, looking happy at the idea. He even showed me he had his fingers crossed.

I nudged him with my elbow. “What the hell would a sex slave dealer want with a couple of random hitchhikers who are 20´000 km away from home?” I hissed.

“Maybe he needs some guys to test out the sex slaves?” said Michael.

“Maybe we are the sex slaves” I countered.

Michael cleared throat and directed my attention away from him with his eyes. I straightened my posture away from my friend and realised that Ketuk´s eyes were fixed firmly upon us with the kind of look a disgruntled father would give to his misbehaving children.

When we were half way to Pekutatan, once darkness had fallen, we stopped off for a drink at a cafe on the side of the road. It had an open shop front with an array of colourful foods and drinks on offer.

We met a young lad of about 17 or 18 that looked a bit like a teenage Gary Coleman, mainly on account of his huge smile. He could speak some English, so we were able to have a reasonably good conversation with him.

“Could you translate something for us to Ketuk?” I asked him

“No problem,” he replied.

“Could you say ‘thank you for your generosity, you are very kind. What is in the back of your truck?’”

Gary asked Ketuk what we wanted but instead of giving us the answer, the two Balinese had an animated five minute conversation in Indonesian. Their elaborate, inexplicable hand gestures incited a burning sense of apprehensive curiosity within me, but just when I was going to ask him again, the food that Gary had ordered before we arrived, an interesting rice dish with fried vegetables, was served.

“Come!” said Gary, offering his plate with twinkling eyes, “Sit with me. Eat with me”

We thanked Gary for his generosity, something we would get used to doing time and time again with Indonesians, but we declined his offer and went on our way to meet whatever fate Ketuk had in store for us. We continued on our journey in silence.

With the seeds of trepidation sown in our suspicious minds, they started to germinate when Ketuk’s rickety truck turned down a dark, deserted side-road. There were no street lamps anymore. The only light we could see were those from our old truck. They flickered in vain out into the darkness and we strained our eyes in an attempt to make out what was outside.

Shielding my reflection with my hand on the dusty window, I peered out into the black jungle that bordered the road. All my weary eyes could see were sinister looking trees and bushes blustering restlessly in the hot evening wind. It had been a long day and my eyes felt hungry for sleep.

I sighed as we pulled up outside a house to see a gang of men were sitting around a flickering fire drinking beer and laughing with each other. Four or five motorcycles were scattered nonchalantly in the driveway. I shared a quick look with Michael and we hopped out of the truck. The men saw us and approached our vehicle.

Happily though, the only thing they were eager for was to greet us and our paranoia was instantly evaporated by their smiles. We shook the hand of every man there, sometimes two at a time, whilst offers of cigarettes and beer were shot from every direction.

It wasn’t long before we were motioned onto the back of a scooter, the three of us, plus luggage.

“It’s a good job we packed so light”, Michael smiled.

We wobbled along on the struggling scooter, back up the deserted road and into Pekutatan, a small town right on the beach. Ketuk took us to a tiny guest house owned by a little old laughing woman. She had a rag tied around her head like a rapper and when she smiled, which was always, the creases of her face closed her eyes.

Our humid room had two single beds and a curtain separating them from a room with a cold tap in it. We sat down on our creaking beds and a thing, an insect I guess, it looked like a cockroach except far bigger, scampered out from under my bed and outside into the muggy night.

It begins, we thought, as we dabbed our filthy, sunburnt faces. The adventure begins.

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Day 1: The first step – Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia

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Michael asked a bemused shopkeeper for some cardboard so we could fashion a sign and thus a new routine we were to repeat on countless occasions was forged.

In order to form a successful partnership when two people travel together, I think they usually fall into their roles due to their natural abilities, their key skills, what they are good at.

Michael’s job, on account of his affable charisma, was to ask shopkeepers for cardboard whereas my job was to write out the sign because I could remember to put the marker pen back in my bag.

I scrawled “GILIMANUK”, a town on the west coast of Bali, about 130 km away, in big, thick, black letters.

I don’t know why, but as we approached the busy road with our sign, knowing for well that few of the locals would have seen anything like this before, I felt an unexpected prang of self-consciousness. Everything we´d read and researched about hitchhiking in Indonesia had suggested that it just didn’t happen here. This was it. We had meticulously planned this adventure for the last few months. We’d published our intentions to everyone we knew on Facebook; if we failed at the first hurdle, on the first day, we’d surely return home as the same losers as when we had left.

If Michael also felt a bit ill-at-ease, he certainly didn’t show it. He stood up on the elevated platform, between the petrol station and the road and, whereas I must have looked as assured as a librarian trying to earn a bit a cash on her first night dancing in a strip club, Michael held the sign high above his head with the brazen pride of a ring girl in between rounds at a boxing match.

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I took a step back from the platform in admiration and thanked my stars that he was with me.