We docked at Tanjung Balai around 3am. We waited for all the other passengers to unload until we got the bike off. Surprisingly crew members stuck around and knew exactly what they had to do. But before then, they wanted to negotiate a price to take the bike off the ferry. The week before our fellow bikers had negotiated below what they had asked for, so it seemed the crew had a higher number in mind to make up for the week before. During negotiations, Nick moved the bike off the center stand which caused quite a stir. The crew freaked out that this dude is about to take the bike on his own, so they quickly came down even though it was still more than what we wanted to pay. I was outside recording and taking pics of whatever I could and fending off the homeless kids and porters that were trying to pick up our panniers when the crew quickly took out the bike down the 10 steps from the ferry to the pier. Again, not knowing if they were holding the bike from the fog lights, tool tubes or what the bike moved. Nick rode the bike to the inside of the waiting hall and I made sure all the panniers were being taken to the bike without being lost or dented along the way. Nick explains riding the bike on the ferry piers as if he was riding through an airport terminal, just plain weird. Surprisingly, there were customs officials waiting for us. It was confusing because there were about 8 of them ordering us around. We got our immigration done first, while Nick talked to the immigration guys, a couple of customs officials tried to order me to open the panniers to search them. I told them that I could do that, but they would have to wait until our immigration was finished and when my husband gets back. They were okay and never mentioned it again. Things got weirder when they told us we would have to come to the customs office with them. They expected Nick to walk with the bike fully loaded mind you…to the customs office that was about half a mile down the road. After a minute we got on the bike and started the engine, freaking out the customs officials. We told them to chill out! It was dark, we couldn’t tell what was around us, and there were weird men on scooters or bikes that were accumulating around us and following us to the office. When we got to the office, we were surrounded by customs officers and curious local people. At that time of the night, it all just seemed freaky and weird. Nick tried to explain to them to stamp the carnet, the customs guys stalled and stalled saying we needed to go to the police in the morning and then they’d stamp the carnet tomorrow. They were basically stalling to figure out how to get some money out of us. Eventually they got tired and Nick got them to stamp the carnet. While Nick was inside getting the carnet stamped, I was surrounded by men. It felt awkward. The last time it was like this, we were in Guwahati and I wanted to pepper spray and drop kick some ass. One random local dude asked where we were from. Considering all the confusion when we tell them we’re from the US, I said India. Everyone around me got very excited and started shouting random things…’Shah Rukh Khan!’ ‘Kuch kuch hota hai!’ ‘You know Shah Rukh Khan?’ ‘Aamir Khan?’ ‘Kajol?’ Someone started to sing ‘Tum paas aayee’. It was hitting 4am and all I could think was what the f*** is happening around me, is this Indonesian man singing a KKHH song to me right now…did I just say KKHH? I patiently answered all questions related to India, my marital status (they were very relieved to know we were married), how many babies we have (very confused when I said none yet, followed by the question why not?), and all Bollywood related enquiries. Little did we know that Bollywood has made such a profound imprint on Indonesians music and pop culture!
After getting the customs stuff straightened out, our next plan of action was to either ride to Lake Toba where Sascha, Kirsten, and Martin were staying or try to find something in Tanjung Balai. We also needed gas if we were to go to Lake Toba. One of the smart ass locals that was standing around offered to help us get gas and he knew of a hotel that was still open. We had a feeling he’d ask for money, but at this time of night and being in a new country, we needed a little guidance. We got to a Pertamina station and found that it was closed and that was that. That ruled out Lake Toba for us. So the dude took us to a hotel. It ended up being decent and here we were introduced to the tub. In India or even parts of southeast Asia you have a balti (bucket) and a cup. In the Indonesian mandi (bathroom) you have a big concrete or tile basin or tub that you fill up with water. And of course, the squat toilet…no problem, we got this. By the time we got settled the first Namaz of the day was called over the nearby mosque’s loudspeaker. Must be 4:30am…this would become our free wake-up call for the remainder of the trip (except in Bali). We got up 5 hours later and packed up to leave for Lake Toba. Tanjung Balai seemed much nicer during the day time. We also had to get a police letter from the local police station that would help us if we got stopped anywhere along the way. After some breakfast of Indomaret (like a 7-11) bought Nescafe and pastries, we got to the police station with the help of a nice lady with a baby. She jumped on her scooty and showed us the way! After much back and forth and hesitation the police gave us the letter and we pushed on.
We soon learned we had an Indian traffic situation on our hands…possibly worse with the amount of scooters and small bikes. If this was Sumatera…what’s Java was going to be like??? Eventually we started to move up and up and up until the weather became a little cooler and we got our first amazing view of the volcanic crater lake, Lake Toba. Nick turned his head a bit and told me “See babe, I told you I’d bring you to an amazing place for your birthday!” Oh yeah! It was still my 30th birthday…and amazing it was! We took the last ferry across to Tuk-Tuk and met up with Sascha, Kerstin, and Martin. I was able to find a small bottle of brandy and that was my bday! Brandy, boiled veggies with peanut sauce (gado-gado) , cool weather, hubby, and amazing views. A simple 30th, but hey…I now realize that I don’t need ‘stuff’ to make me happy…and that is a great realization!