Day 0 -10 August 2015 evening
Well, the reason for including 10 August evening as part of the journey is my visit back to my parents’. I spent the night in my old room after more than 1.5 years. I’ve lived in the house for more than 20 years and though 1.5 years might not seem long to many, it was indeed something which I’d missed in the beginning. The familiarity of the estate, planning a routine over the weekends and the comfort of being in one’s room.
I thank my parents for providing that ‘rent and expenses-free’ for so long. What they’ve provided was much more. It was the comfort, safety and knowing that no matter what happens, one is always welcomed home. I noticed that of the mug which I’d used at home. It was still laid out in the kitchen beside my dad’s, mom’s and sister’s after 1.5 years.
This is not meant as a nostalgic post but one of appreciation and taking the moment to remember the blessings.
Day 1 – 11 August 2015
My day started at 5:30am or possibly earlier since I was lying in bed listening to the quiet of my parents’ place. I remembered my old routine of heading to the kitchen downstairs for my water, coffee and bringing a light breakfast snack up to my room while I got ready for work back then. I did the same on this day except I was getting ready for a trip. Wondering if my backpack would pass Jetstar’s approval of a ‘carry-on’ bag on top of my daypack, I was nervous and excited at the same time. It has been a while since I’d taken a solo trip. I had the opportunity to do this now since I’m on a break before I start work again and also because M is away on a personal and business trip for a while. My last solo trip was amazingly the same time as now, about three years ago. I just discovered this when Facebook decided to remind me of the memories I had. I was in Pak Chong, village about 3 hours by minivan, from Bangkok.
I was nervous about my backpack the whole time until I got onto the plane. I almost broke out in cold sweat when they announced for people to start queuing to get on the plane and also announced that carry-ons which don’t meet the requirements will be rejected on board. If those attendants could feel the relief rolling off in waves from my pores….when I was on the plane…and managed to heave the bag up like She-ra or He-Man onto the cabin compartment, in front of a watching attendant.
The flight was pleasant enough and I was seated next to a Japanese couple who apparently has flown Scoot from Japan since they were comparing both Jetstar and Scoot (that much I’d gathered when I saw them pointing at the inflight magazine and mentioning ‘Scooto’ many times), but I could be wrong of course. I might have been making up stories in my head as part of the beginning of my nine days of solitude. Well, not entirely a recluse. I meet people along the way.
I landed in Medan and was jubilant that I didn’t have to wait for my luggage and breezed through the security who were all smiles when I was grinning like a child at them, excited to be on a ‘journey’. It was 9:50am when I left Singapore and 9:50am when I arrived, Medan time. I was happy to start my day with almost the same number of ‘active’ hours.
That ‘grin’ was wiped off my face when I didn’t see a board or paper with my name on it, like the taxi service had promised upon my arrival. I checked both international and domestic arrivals. No one was looking for ‘Alicia’. I made an international roaming call on my mobile to the private taxi company and he said he will send someone soon and it was raining heavily in Medan. Yes, we experienced the weather on the way into the airport while in the clouds. The little Jetstar plane was pushed around by the winds and rain.
I waited for the private taxi from 10:15am to 12pm at the airport. I managed to amuse myself by finishing a Starbucks muffin (from Singapore) in front of three spectators who were probably thinking that I haven’t eaten for days as I was literally eating the muffin from my hand and almost licking the paper. It was really crumbly and I ended up pinching crumbs off the paper and then stuffing them into my mouth in handfuls before they fell.
People were calling me to get a taxi from the ‘integrated taxi service’ counter and on my fifth time circling around the airport, they gave up and just stared at me when I made my rounds. I bought a local SIM card from a telco store and contacted the taxi company again. They were pleased that I now have a local line as it was too expensive for them to contact an international line. So I received two more unknown callers on the Indo number from the taxi company and I had no idea how long more I had to wait from both calls as when I asked ‘How long more or where to wait’, it was always, ‘Ok, driver will be sent soon. Heavy rains, traffic jam in Medan.’
The next call was more enlightening. He said that he was my driver and he is on his way. So now, after 1.5 hours, at 11:30am, I knew I had a driver coming. Before it was just, ‘sending someone’. Then he calls again at about 11:45am and he said he’ll be there in 15 min. I asked where I should wait and the response was, ’15 min Ok?’ Luckily I wandered outside to the taxi stand or something like that and it was like ‘spot the person who is also looking for someone’. I saw a guy in a red polo almost the same time he spotted me and he asked, ‘Alicia?’ and I was glad that I finally can make my way to Lake Toba. There were two other girls from Denmark in the old space wagon and we didn’t exchange names though we chatted a bit on and off during the 5 hour car ride. There was some traffic through a street. The driver smoked on and off in the car when the window down but it still flooded the car with some smoke. There was only one toilet break throughout the journey and it was like a race to somewhere. I moved from the front seat to the seats all the way at the back to avoid a heart attack before arriving. I should be used to this by now, but it still doesn’t take away the fear of the ‘this could be it’ feeling.
We arrived in the town of Parapat by 5:20pm and the head honcho and his minions were all waiting for us. The ‘minions’ opened the car doors for us when we arrived and grabbed our backpacks like ransom if we didn’t pay, which I took it from him when I got off and he handed over almost reluctantly but I was insistent and was almost pulling it off his back. Well, at least for me as the other two girls prepaid as a package so I learnt later. I walked over to the shop where the ‘minions’ went and a dark guy exuding authority sat down and was smiling at me. I immediately knew this was the ‘John’ I spoke to on the phone before my trip to arrange for my taxi and again on the same day for the late service. We shook hands and I asked about the ferry. He said that the ferry will be leaving in 5 minutes and it’s just down the road. The next one leaves in about 1 hour or more. So I gave the driver the money which was Rp80,000 (can you believe it is about SGD8.20 for a 5 hour taxi ride?) and more than 10% tip since I didn’t start off with a lot of small notes and followed one of the ‘minions’ who was leading the way to the jetty. There, more money collectors stood by the boat about to leave. Young boys who were asking for destination and when I was Mas Cottages, they said, ‘You pay 20,000’. So I asked why wasn’t it 15,000 as per what the standard rate is? They said it’s because Mas Cottage a jetty and ‘don’t need to walk’ and it’s further down from the town apparently. I noted when they were dropping off passengers that some cottages had their own jetties too but they collected 15,000 from them. I knew that they collected the money mid-way through the journey. Well, but to be fair, I was the last to alight as the cottage was further off from their usual route. The ferry ride took more than 40 minutes.
I arrived at Mas Cottage and was greeted by the lady who communicated with me on Whatsapp prior to my arrival on requirements. I was shown the standard room I’d booked on Booking.com and noted that it was quite dark and not a place I would want to stay in for the next 7 days. She said she also reserved a suite for me since I asked for a upgrade before. So I was shown that after climbing two flights of high stairs with my backpack and a day pack and puffing a little. I knew I would pay more for the room I saw. It was bright, on the second floor, had a wonderful view, beautiful balcony with chairs which I could sit in to read for half a day (instead of the plastic red ones I saw in the standard room). It even has a sofa or day bed looking thing next to the windows. I asked how much and she told she’ll give me a discount. I said yes and staked ownership of the room by plopping my backpack and day pack down onto the bed. It was 6:30pm and I haven’t had enough water, food and I feel like a shower.
I washed up a little and was going to the restaurant to pay for the room and have my first proper meal of the day but was delayed by the door. Ok, usual locks have keys which can be removed vertically. I tried and tried until my hands were sore. The lady who saw me at the restaurant window (I am next to the restaurant and really close.) told me to turn it flat to remove it. So while she was explaining that, I had already turned it horizontally and pulled the key out. Finally. I felt silly. Too hungry to think about it, I went to the restaurant and paid for 7 days in advance to offload all that cash. Then promptly ordered a nasi goreng which I’d been thinking about and ate it while admiring the beautiful sunset. The mountains were shrouded in clouds and the lake was calm, vast and definitely deep. Totally worth the journey to have this view for the next 7 days, even if there’s WIFI only at the restaurant. But since I’m so close to the restaurant, I discovered that both the laptop and the Blackberry can ‘steal’ some wifi from parts of the room, except for the Sony Xperia. No wifi signal at all. Not even one bar.
So day 1 ended with me taking a cold shower in the room after dinner and wondering why the heater wasn’t working. It was chilly at night and it was a shower which reminded me of the cold icy showers we had while camping in Canada, in the dark with a makeshift portable shower balloon. Until I discovered that hot water is from the right side and not the left side of the swivel. I discovered during my shower the next morning. I was asleep in a second when I hit the bed and got under the covers.
This was a long post but I’ve collected all my thoughts during the trip to share. Also, I might have a few tips on the island now! More posts coming up. Uploading photos can be a pain on this wifi connection.