Sunday, May 24, 2009

the shortcut

i was so excited to head back to banda aceh, where i finally have a hotel room with a sink! yes, until now, i've been spitting out my toothpaste onto the drain on the floor, trying not to splash on my pyjamas. only problem is this sink isn't attached to a drain or anything, so i'm still spitting out my toothpaste onto my toes. it's progress.
our trek back to town was much shorter than the way there, our convoy of two vans was able to take the direct route back, although with a few modifications due to broken bridges and landslides. this route, called the USAID road after it's funding source has "Aid from the American people" written the whole way from Calang to Banda Aceh. everytime we were reminded of this, i would be reminded in a rather cynical way that this is alee's road! obama's road! it wasn't perfect, pretty bumpy at times, spectacular at others.

sometimes it was paved and smooth, sometimes dirt and rocks and mud. we would often come to a fork in said road and there's no way of knowing which is the actual road, and which is a sneaky road that leads you to a distant village someone wants you to unknowingly visit. then, there's the guy with the homemade sign, standing out in the blisering sun waving you towards him. the sign has a bunch of painted scribble with the words quick, banda aceh and other stuff. the driver lowers the window and i ask, "what does the sign say? he says "shortcut!" with a huge toothless enterprising grin. my horror movie trained instints say no, don't trust the guy pointing you down a scary muddy road, but i'm not driving. we pay him his little fee and scramble down a path. we pass a lady who is drying octopus on hangers and selling baby hammerhead sharks for 30 cents each (sigh). they STINK. and finally we come to the rafts, the infamous river crossing rafts the Red Cross lady warned me about. you're not allowed to take official vehicles on these rafts, but ours are rentals. she specifically told me: take your important things with you, your passport, your plane ticket and make sure you ride on a different boat than your vehicle, take the motorbike boat. it was all very eerie. so i'm rifling through my bag looking for my most important things and everyone is laughing - if we sink you'll get eaten by the crocodiles in a second, why are you worried about your passport?
so i content myself with just my camera. the rafts are three small boats tied together, a sort of pontoon with a nifty shade, and tiny outboard motor on one of the boats. to get on the raft you roll your car over two rickety planks, and there are guys to help you measure and proceed juuuuust right. a few inches and splash. on another side is the scooter boat, yes, this one seems more stable, it consists of three full size canoe things. and scooters aren't as heavy and don't make the raft sway and list as it does with the car. we all jump on and off we go.
i have no idea how the boat driver sees what he's doing, he's looking under the car for the other side of the river and they are all smiling "no problem!" the raft exit is just as tricky, i can't watch. but there is a little hut to distract me, a little girl eating mango like things with a huge knife. they taste like mango, but i'm told they're not mango. we buy all they have, and our car smells like rotting mangos. we get back into the car and we meet shortcut exit guy, and we have to pay him too. only we soon realize he's fake shortcut exit guy, as the real guy who attracts the cars on the other side of the USAID road with his homemade sign is actually a little further. clever indonesians.
the next raft crossing is more fun. this pontoon takes 6 cars, with even ricketier planks and they squeeze the cars so tight it's crazy. the raft is very unstable, and no engine, these guys push us across with big bamboo poles. my favorite is this old guy with a homemade indonesian basket hat (water bottle caps holding the thing together). we take pictures. he tells me he is a proud grandpa and i should be proud of having my picture taken with him.
we stop at a cliff and have coffee in front of a spectacular vista. i have selected the island i will live on. we listen to the gibbons call, as we scoop the coffee grounds out with a spoon. i kinda like them, they taste like chocolate. and once again, i usually take my coffee with milk and sugar, but this stuff, i'll drink it straight.

we're entering into the sorta districts where not many whiteys are seen so in this little port town i'm the main attraction, especially because i'm with this ragtag group of indonesians. i tell you, when the day comes where i'm in a town like this and i DON'T have 5 guys screaming "hey miss! you are my girlfriend!" i will finally reach the pinnacle moment where i realize that i'm an an old, ugly, undesirable bule. and i will be very, very sad, unless i'm living on my island right there.

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