Why I Should Have Chosen The Blue Thing
Medan Travel Blog› entry 58 of 115 › view all entries
The heavens open as we return to Medan, massive black clouds roil overhead spewing thunder, lightning and water. It's less like heavy rain, more as if some vengeful deity is gleefully emptying out an endless tin bath of tepid water down on the city. Alex and I get ourselves aboard a mini bus and hope that it'll take a while to get back near the hotel; only a few seconds out in this downpour and we'll be saturated.
The drainage simply can't handle the volume of water and the streets swiftly become mini rivers, temporarily transforming Medan into a filthily shallow version of Venice. The bus ploughs on regardless and, jammed inside with locals aplenty, we peer out through the grubby windows at the rolling scenery of a city under weather siege conditions. People wade out through the torrents or ride on motorbikes, protecting themselves with only thin plastic ponchos. They still have places to go, work to do, the rain can't stop that. Outside a restaurant, a man chases a rat round and round a tree, striking at it with a long-handled sweeping brush. We have moved on again before we see whether or not the rodent escapes a bristly beating.
Eventually, it's time to drag ourselves and our packs off the bus, but thankfully the worst of the rain has abated. We are able to walk the rest of the way in a lighter kind of shower. My bouyant mood from our trip to Bukit Lawang remains and I sing all I can remember from Singin' in the Rain, complementing my bleating with a little soft shoe shuffle through the puddles that adorn the uneven pavement. The locals don't know quite what to make of my clumsy efforts; in the end they settle for a kind of smiling confusion.
Later, on the balcony outside our musty hotel room, we meet a bearded Czech guy, Eric, who is sporting a massive Canon camera that looks like it should be on a photo shoot for a glossy magazine. We introduce ourselves and end up going for a few beers with him. He shows us some of his brilliant nature photography and then, as usual, we get to talking about places we have been to. I thought I'd had it bad in South America being robbed 3 times but my experience pales into insignificance alongside that of Eric. He tells us that, a few years ago, he was on a business trip to Caracas, Venezuela when he was approached on an afternoon street by two teenage thieves armed with a pistol. They were intent on stealing his camera then, as now, expensive and slung around his neck.
You could maybe say that Eric was asking for the camera to be stolen, Caracas does after all have a serious reputation for crime. He wasn't asking for what happened next though; Eric raised his arms, palms displayed in submission, he didn't run, didn't put up a struggle. The teens, obviously jumpy, shot him twice anyway, once through the elbow, once through the liver. They left with the camera, Eric was lucky to leave with his life. A military hospital nearby was able to perfom an emergency operation on his liver. Half a hour longer, he'd have been dead. He tells us this matter-of-factly, displaying the scars lacing his blasted elbow from the numerous operations required in Venezuela and, later, in Switzerland. I suddenly don't feel so bad about my pilfered gear.
After a few more beers and an aimless, circular moto ride around the city provided by a driver who does not understand the English words "night" and "market" but nods enthusiastically as if he does, we opt to go to a local street cafe for food. As we study the unappetising contents of the pavement side glass food cabinet, I spot something a little different:
"Let's have the blue thing, that tube there," I say, pointing it out to Alex.
"I'm not eating that. Chicken'll do. What the hell is it anyway?" He pulls a face, distinctly unimpressed by the slimy-looking cylinder.
"I dunno, but it's blue, it's got to be good. I always like to try blue food whenever the opportunity arises."
"Not a chance - you feel free though." He ambles off with Eric and they take seats at one of the white plastic tables.
In the end I wimp out and choose chicken as well. It's a decision I come to regret. At 4am the next morning my guts go into gurgling spasm and the next 24 hours are punctuated by regular visits to the horrible bog in our horrible adjoining bathroom for the horrible fowl to be noisily evicted and flushed away. For some reason, Alex is ok - his young Geordie guts must be stronger than mine. In the morning, he leaves to catch his plane to Singapore and I'm on my own again. I'll miss his amusing company, his constant bloody quest for food: "Alright Salad - Let's get some scrannage" was a constant refrain during our three week jaunt.
I lie in the room for an extra, unplanned day, dozing off, waking to drink water and scurry to the bog before collapsing back onto the bed again. I have plenty of time to think about Sumatra, the land, its people and its easy sense of chaos. Without doubt it is my favourite country of the journey so far. Never have I come across such friendly, helpful people who do not see you as simply a walking ATM but as a person worth speaking to, a friend even. I feel as if I have taken a significant step off the beaten track, a step that makes me want to return to explore the rest of Indonesia. One day I will, and I'm sure that memories of wonderful Sumatra will stay with me until I do.