My journey started at my village near Pekanbaru. It was the day before Eid-Al-Adha, the Muslim day of animal sacrifice. A few people were already celebrating when I left the village. I had quietly planned the trip for months, however my departure was sudden. Since the word spreads quickly in our village, I was eager to avoid being the center of attention and that is why I decided to tell only my father that I was leaving. Having left the village, I drove fast, because I only had a few days to reach Belitung before the bi-weekly ferry left for Pontianak on the 8th.
For many reasons, my first day felt hazy and blurry. I remember driving headlong through the smoke coming from the palm plantation fires. The fires had almost become routine here, leaving the airport closed due to low visibility and the ferry schedule permanently changing. Everybody appears to suffer ill health from it, but unfortunately the government is not doing much. The people burn the forest and yet they can get away easily. Most people burn the forest in order to open a new field, or in most cases in Sumatra, large companies pay people to do it, in the hopes of getting away with it and sadly, they do. They care about money and want to convert most of the forest here to palm plantations or rubber plantations. I took those pictures during the day. In the past, it used to be bright and sunny, however now everyday is a smoky day.
I drove all day, completely forgetting to stop for either lunch, or dinner and eventually settled down to sleep roughly 304 km away from my parents’ house. My travels were slowed down, because my scooter broke down three times. A day before my departure, I had visited the mechanic, in order for him to tighten all the bolts on my scooter and to change my back middle tire. However, one of the guys didn’t know what he was doing and ended up breaking one of the bolts, as well as placing the wrong bolt. Thus, instead of putting in the 14 mm bolt, he put in the 12mm one and therefore it would repeatedly come loose.
At the end of the first day, I stopped to get a policeman’s signature on my record form. As it was dark already and the road ahead was only jungle, the police insisted I sleep in an empty building on their land. I enjoyed the company of a few frogs and cats. The building even had a bathroom, although it was probably not the cleanest one I have had. Nevertheless, I was very happy to finally be able to shower after a long day spent on smoky and dusty roads. I think the police officers felt sorry for me and worried about me, since it is very uncommon for women to travel by themselves in Indonesia. What a day. But I made it!
I woke up at 5 am the next day. I felt safe inside the police station, but mosquitoes and cats had interrupted my sleep during the night. But never mind, I am on the road and that is all that matters! I was excited to enjoy the freedom! So I loaded my scooter ‘Scoo’ and set off immediately. On the way to Palembang everything was closed due to Ied-Al-Adha. All the restaurants and petrol stations I passed through were closed. Luckily however, in Indonesia you can buy petrol from small shops as well, although they tend to be more expensive. In fact the price varies, depending on the seller. In one of the closed petrol station I found this.
It’s called community “Vespa gembel” or “Vespa Rat.” They deliberately modified their vespa to be as eccentric as it can be and I met a few of these along the way. You would be surprised how far they can travel. For some people they may be junk, but for others they are a form of creative expression. Along the way, I also found two crashed trucks. The driver of the first one even posed for me, when the driver saw me taking a picture. We both found it funny. The second one however wasn’t so happy that I was taking pictures.
The day was challenging, because half the road conditions were so bad I had to drive slowly and drive around all the holes on the streets. The road looked like an earthquake had just hit it and cracked it open! It was especially difficult to drive from Palembang to the Tanjung Api-api seaport.
I crashed once, when I hit a hole and Scoo turned over. But I was ok and so was Scoo. Two kind guys helped me up and so I continued my travels. At that point, I felt like crying, but instead I found myself laughing at my stubbornness. For more than 60 km, I was smiling at the bad roads and talking to my Scoo, asking her to be strong. Everyone must have thought I was crazy, because I was smiling at all of them. But that didn’t stop them from smiling back at me!
Finally, I got past the city of Palembang to Tanjung Api, where the boat left to Bangka. By the time I got there, the ferry had gone, so I had to sleep in the port.
All the officers at the ferry thought I was so brave for doing this all alone and they were all being so nice to me. The port is brand new but it’s such a shame because almost everything was broken already. But the people were nice and I got ferry ride for free!!!