Friday, 28 December 2012

Sumatera Barat Part 1: The Ghost of Parapat

Stupid Mistake
Hotels booked. Routes studied. Backpacks packed. We were ready to go. We thought we were. Why? Because at 12:00 am, my instinct kicked in, forcing me to check the expiry date for my passport. It was 17 May 2013. Less than six months. And our flight has been scheduled at 8:25 am early in the morning. 

Dear God, what have I done? Is this some kind of karma?

We took the next flight at 15:30. So I had ample time to renew my passport. This is an honest but stupid mistake. So I deserved the lecture on “responsibility” from my sister for a good 60 seconds over the phone.

Inside Polonia International Airport, Medan

KLIA > Polonia International Airport, Medan, Indonesia
Arrival 15:30 as expected. Kuala Lumpur is ahead of Medan for an hour. It was a small and old airport. I’ve read stories on immigration officers asking for bribes, so I was prepared for that situation. But it turned out nothing happened. Alhamdulillah.

For a small airport, everything went smooth and speedy, within an hour. So the next mission was finding transportation to Parapat. I’ve booked the hotel in Parapat. By hook or by crook, we have to be in Parapat that particular night.

We went out of the airport. Like vultures circling dead animal carcasses, we were surrounded by determined taxi drivers and private car owners, offering us rides to various places. Their voices were loud that I could not hear myself think. We walked past them, and my eyes caught a familiar sight – our Petronas petrol station. Not only it housed petrol pump and KFC, it also sheltered some becaks who were not allowed to be in the airport.

Among the first thing you are going to see outside Polonia International Airport

Staying put would attract the remaining taxi drivers so we walked towards the main gate of Polonia International Airport with no idea of what to do or where to go. Flashes of conflicting thoughts lingered on our mind. Whether we should go to Parapat via a dangerous and dark route at night? Whether we should have stayed in Medan and depart to Parapat the next morning?

The streets in Medan

Tips #1: How to Get to Parapat from Medan?

One: By Bus. Go to Bus Terminal Amplas (Indonesia said: Amplas Terminal Bis). From Polonia, Take either taxi (IDR 40,000), Becak (IDR 20,000) or Minibus (IDR 3,000) turn left after arrival exit of Polonia. Then, at the Bus Station, take “Sejahtera” direct to Tiga Raja.

Two: By Taxi. Taxi services to Parapat are provided at the airport. The two reputable ones are PT. Bagus Holiday's Taxi and CV Raja Taxi Trans. Taking illegal taxis at your own risk. Well I did that.

Three: By Train. From the Medan train station straight to Pematang Siantar. Then from there you need to take taxi to Parapat for an hour journey.

Take a Chance on Me
As the clock was ticking, a young man approached us with a smile, and we knew we had to make a decision. Even if we had to take a chance.

We asked. IDR 700 000. For a private car all the way from Medan to Parapat. We bargained hard. The clock was ticking. We were desperate. They were persistent. So we agreed at IDR 550 000. Yeah, it was quite pricey (according to Wikitravel, it should not be more than IDR 500 000). At least we got the whole Toyota Innova to ourselves. I typed the amount on the calculator so as to confirm the final amount.

The driver said: Saya janji, sebagai orang Muslim, dengan nama Allah, saya tidak akan menipu kamu. (I promise, as a Muslim, in the name of Allah, I will not lie to you.)

We took a chance on him, the driver, whose name is Haris.
Dear God, we seek your protection.

Bumpy Road to Parapat
We passed by various shop lots along the busy roads in Medan, where hundreds of vehicles honking one another for no apparent reasons.

“Manusia-manusia seperti ini perlu dihon.”
(People like these should be honked).

Even if I had to sit on top of the van

According to Pak Haris, in Indonesia, honking may denote various signals including warning, friendship, anger, intention to turn right or left, indication of mere presence etc. In return, I explained that in Malaysia, honking denotes three things.

One, you are mad with the reckless driver.
Two, you are saying hello to your friends.
Three, you are a kid who finds honking as amusing and after three honks, your dad would say, ‘stop it’.

3.5 hours to 6 hours. To me it didn’t really matter that much as long as we arrived in Parapat safe and sound. Speaking of safe and sound, what I was about to face is an epitome of thrilling ride. I could not sleep, partly due to the bumpy roads (with some huge pot holes), but majorly caused by the remarkable driving skills displayed by the driver. For splits seconds, I felt like the Toyota Innova was about to collide with a lorry coming from the other side. For six hours, my heart was pounding on my chest and my left legs were numb due to excessive pressing of an imaginary break.

I am telling the truth, with no hyperbole.

With the radio playing love songs like Whitney Houston’s I Have Nothing, Phil Collins’ Against All Odds, Celine Dion’s All By Myself, Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up etc, and some Mozart’s and Beethoven’s, I felt like I was in a juxtaposed situation.

And surprisingly, the driver memorized all the songs. And he sang the female songs using his falsetto voice. Epic.

Kau ada?


Green View along the Way to Parapat
Since I was young, I was gifted with the ability to read in moving vehicles. I brought a novel recommended by a close friend entitled The Best Lain Plan by Sidney Sheldon. For six hours of travelling, I thought I should kill time by reading novel. But after six pages, I realised I should have been enjoying the beautiful panoramic view along the road to Parapat.

Go Green to Parapat!

Along the long winding and narrow road, the shady green trees seemed like greeting you to the beautiful earth of Sumatera.

“Paginya lebih cantik, pak.”
(The view would be more beautiful in the morning). Pak Haris said.

I could imagine. But traveling in the evening was not bad at all, the view was still stunning. But too bad, the day was getting darker as time went by.

We passed by few kampungs including Deli Serdang, where majority of the residents are Muslims. I heard the azan in the air; I knew for sure it was going to be dark soon.

Coffee Break in Permatang Siantar
Hours passed by, we were informed by Pak Haris that we were in a town named Siantar (full name, Permatang Siantar). It was a clean town, where only few shops were still in operations, while the rest had already been closed. Stalls selling various types of foods lined up along the streets.

“Makanannya murah-murah, enak-enak, berak-berak.”
(The food is cheap, delicious, and will cause diarrhea). Hence the stalls lined up along the streets were not recommended.

I was first introduced to Teh Botol (Tea in Bottle) in Permatang Siantar. Yeah, taste like normal tea. Nice. 

Pak Haris recommended us to have dinner in Permatang Siantar instead of Parapat. According to him, the food sold at the stalls or shops in Parapat will be on display for three days before it was disposed off.

So, we stopped by at a shop for coffee and dinner. I was told by my wife that it is reasonably expected that the tourist will bear the cost of the driver’s meal. I wouldn’t mind. After all, through out the journey, Pak Haris had been so thoughtful by sharing so many things about Medan, Lake Toba and Indonesia as a whole. He even gave us some advice and tips on spending few days in Medan.

It is reasonably expected of a traveler to be able to mingle around with the local people. To me, I just did, even if it was with the driver.

Hantu Muka Lepes (The Ghost with the Flat Face)
The traffic started to build up towards the end of the route to Parapat. Perhaps the people were heading back to their hometown in Parapat for the upcoming Christmas celebration. And the fact that it was a two way narrow road contributed to the traffic congestion.

Di sini ada hantu namanya hantu muka lepes.
(There is a ghost here named hantu muka lepes or the ghost with no face)

Mukanya lepes, ngak ada mata, ngak ada hidung, ngak ada mulut.
(Her face is flat, no eyes, no nose, no mouth)

Kalau kenampakan, tandanya ia meminta korban.
(If she is visible, then she is asking for sacrifice)

Yeah, like I really appreciate these useful facts, Pak Haris…
Then my wife had the nerve to ask:

Korbannya sudah ada pak?
(Did she managed to claim any?)

Pak Haris answered:
Iya, bulan lalu. Mobil. Sepuluh orang. Jatuh gaung, semuanya mati.
(Yes, she did. Last month. A car of 10 persons. Fell from a cliff. No survivors)

My wife and I exchanged looks. Lesson learnt: do not travel to Parapat at night.

Jika ada orang panggil nama, jangan disahut. Jika tidak kamu bisa jatuh sakit. Atau tukarkan saja namanya.
(If you hear someone is calling out your name, do not answer. If not, you will fall sick. Just change your name for a while.)

Err can we change the topic, Pak Haris?

Horas! Welcome to Toba Lake!
45 minutes after that, I saw lights from far, with reflection from below. That must have been houses or buildings in Samosir, with reflection from Toba Lake. Affirmed by Pak Haris, he stated that the view would be stunning if we were there since the evening. I could not wait until the next day to witness by myself the great lake of Toba.

Horas! I’ve checked in Toba International Cottage, nearby the lake, or rather specifically near Jeti Tigaraja. Fireworks above the sky, people singing Christmas songs. I was not sure whether they were rehearsing or actually celebrating. But I could feel the spirit in the air.

Alhamdulillah we took a chance and we made it.

Until we meet again,

Hairi Tahir

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