Photos from India

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thirty Hour Bus Ride!

When I bought a bus ticket from Lake Toba to Bukittinggi, I was ready to move on. Knowing that the journey was supposed to be fifteen hours was obviously not something to look forward to but for this trip actually had a proper bus service and I was on an “executive class” bus. The super executive bus was about five dollars more and I now realize that I should have upgraded. Maybe you wouldn't have been able to smoke on that one? Anyway, so the bus sets off a bit over an hour after it is supposed to. Leaving late is by all means expected here so I patiently waited on the bus to show up. Now on board and winding our way through the Sumatran Jungles as the sunset, I was happy to be on my way.

It was now dark, the sun had set and we had just taken a break for some dinner at one of the roadside food stands. A bit of chicken and some rice and I was ready to attempt to fall asleep and wake up the next morning in Bukittinggi. It took a while to fall asleep so I enjoyed looking out the front window of the bus to see the densest jungle you can imagine and our driver expertly navigate roads that are barely wide enough for one car up and down the mountains on the absolute most curvy road I have ever seen. Combine that with the fact that there was a non stop downpour the entire trip and it was an incredible sight to watch, better than any movie could have been had they actually played one. There is no telling how slow we were actually going but this was like a ride in a theme park. How we didn't run off the road or collide with another vehicle I will never understand but all in all I wish it had been daylight so I could have enjoyed the amazing scenery that surrounded this tiny little road that is the main highway across the island of Sumatra.

When I awoke the next morning, I felt the bus come to a stop. We were in the middle of the jungle and I could see a few cars lined up ahead and didn't think much of it. It was just past sunrise and after a quick look around I fell back asleep. A couple of hours I woke up again and we still hadn't moved. I spent most of my morning reading my book as it was raining outside and I didn't want to soak everything I was wearing for the rest of the journey, how ever far that may have been. The rain finally began to let up and it was just in time as I was beginning to feel a bit sick from the stagnant smoke from all of the passengers on board. Unsure of what was going on, I began walking ahead to find what was blocking the road. Not too far up the road, I found there was a massive landslide that had taken a huge portion of the hillside and deposited it on the road.

Although the landslide had happened six hours previously the only people trying to clean it up were a few guys who had shovels and picks in their cars and one man who fortunately had a chainsaw to cut up all of the trees that had washed down. With a couple of hundred people watching, I was unsure what to make of the situation. After a few hours of watching the pathetic display of a cleanup, the trees around the previous landslide began to shake and everyone began screaming and pointing at the hill when suddenly another chunk of the mountain slid down onto the road. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Just when I thought they were making progress and we would soon be on our way, the road was now blocked even worse than before.

Several hours later and I was beginning to think that it was going to be another night on the bus without food or water. As I finished the last page of my book, a bulldozer came rummaging along the side of us. Everyone on board let out a big cheer and I couldn't have been happier. Twenty minutes later and the road was cleared and we were off on our way. Traversing down the mountain we came across signs of many other landslides and trees that had been across the road which had already been cut up and moved out of our way. At the base of the hill, we came across a village who had suffered from the heavier rains far worse than we had. Every home and structure in sight had about a foot of water inside of it. For miles and miles it looked like we were driving alongside a lake with a bunch of floating houses. Strange however, everyone seemed to be enjoying the river that was now running through there homes. Children played and the adults just smiled and watched. I can only imagine that this is such a regular occurrence that they are used to living with it and just see it as a part of everyday life there in Sumatra.

Thirty hours after my fifteen hour bus ride began, we finally arrived in Bukittinggi. Tired and hungy, I found a guest house and after tossing my bag in my room I headed for a place called the Canyon Cafe that was just across the street from where I was staying. After first ordering a beer I managed to order about half of the menu and had my first meal in over 24 hours! Needless to say when I went to bed that night, falling asleep was definitely not a problem. I think I am through with long bus rides for the remainder of my time in Sumatra. It means scratching a place I wanted to see off my list but I don't think the reward of making it there would be worth all of the effort!

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