With visions of air conditioned, colonial era bars serving us Singapore Slings dancing in our heads, we endured a timeless developing world travel experience: 12 bone-jarring hours in a minibus, through the night, from Sibolga, over the (apparently pot-holed) backbone of Sumatra and down to Dumai on the east coast, where we could catch a ferry to Melaka (which occasionally sinks). This was an (un)welcome throwback to prior trips – see West African Roadtrip – and somehow worse than Robert Huber’s experience (he spent nearly a year in Indonesia in 2008).
Upon arriving in Melaka, Malaysia we quickly made our way to the nearest McDonalds, snapped photos of British strongholds, and hopped on a luxury A/C bus to Singapore, reaching Little India after dark. It was Saturday night and every hostel was full, so we ended up in an Indian expat worker’s colony. Paper thin mattresses, covered in plastic, no top sheet, no problem. The Indian cafe downstairs was delicious – the only place to get DPC (dal, paratha, chai, naturally) for S$2 / person. Or S$1 / person, or S$3 / person – the price changed inexplicably every time we ordered the same thing. Dozens of homesick Indian men stood, spilling onto the street, entranced by a terrible rip of some terrible Tamil film; this would carry on ~20 hours / day. We promptly moved to the Prince of Wales backpackers, where we enjoyed our first high speed internet since Thailand.
Monday morning we made the pilgrimage to Raffles Marina, at Singapore’s western extreme – as far as possible from Singapore’s eastern Changi Sailing Club, where we’d need to pick up the Furlex aluminium extrusions we ordered. Luckily, the Yanmar and Onan dealers were both on “Tuas Ave,” in the west, so we were looking forward to killing a few birds.
The Raffles Marina chandlery had most of what we needed, at eye-watering prices. We agreed to pay – we’ve been looking for these items for sooo long:
- A filter wrench so we can remove our fuel and oil filters with something classier than the Indian wrench we bought, which resembles a rusty bicycle chain
- 4x$25 fuel filters that are the right size and correct porosity (10mu)
- A $100 Jabsco hand pump, so diesel will not spew out all over us every time we try to add diesel with our flimsy plastic Chinese pump
- A $50 fuel funnel that filters out water and particulates so we can catch all of the nasties before they pile up in our fuel tank
- A $50 bottle of Biocide, so we can kill the nasties that do make it into the tank
- A $50 tub of blue gel FSR, to remove the rust stains on our fiberglass from an unfortunate incident with steel wool
We soon learned that every street within ten square kilometers was a “Tuas” of some sort (Tuas 2 Ave, Tuas 12 Blvd, etc.), so it was an unexpectedly long hike through the palm fringed industrial park.
Once we got past the attack dogs who kept sneaking into the air-conditioned lobby for a nap, we found more success with Tri Power Corporation (a RACOR and Onan dealer):
- $340 smart regulator to replace our crapped out Balmar ARS-4
- 1 more fuel filter (we cleaned out the chandlery)
While waiting in the lobby with the dogs, we waylaid a gnarled old man wearing a blue one-piece jumpsuit. We explained that our old fuel filter was stuck in its housing, and we couldn’t free it, even after repeated stabbings with a screwdriver. We gave him the housing + filter, which we had lugged all the way to Singapore. He promptly came back, holding the filter and the housing in two spotted, arthritic hands and said, “that was really easy for me to take apart.” Fantastic.
In summary, it wasn’t cheap, but it was effective, and that’s what we need most right now. Next, we proceeded with an American food binge– sushi, Starbucks, McDonald’s, pizza – anything but mie goreng.
Visited the Indonesian embassy to secure 2-month visas – much cushier than the 1-month visa on arrival. Sporting the uniform (shorts, flip flops), we approached the guard as he scowled at our bare calves. Thankfully, we weren’t turned away; instead, we received fashionable periwinkle sweatpants so as to be dressed “appropriately.” Mine even had the pockets cut out so I could reach the real pockets – nice. We then proceeded, visitor badges in hand to…stop! What? Visitor badges must be hung over the neck. Alright.
Number taken, form filled, passport photos ready, and…where is your return ticket? “Oh we didn’t realize you were serious about the return ticket.” We are taking a 45 minute ferry from Singapore. Denied. That evening we bought the third useless ticket of the trip with no intention of using it, and returned the next morning to apply for the visa. Wearing pants.
Meanwhile, shopping complete, we decided to take in the sights of Boat Quay, including lots of these, as well as the local bridge where everyone buys beer at the 7-11 and sits around telling tall tales. Everyone except the Indian men – you know where they’ll be standing, in the street, gawking.
Saturday morning ferry to Batam, just in time to miss the last ferry to Dumai, so flight to Padang, and another painful all-night minibus ride back to Sibolga, this time with 2.4m aluminium extrusions in constant danger of being bent / crushed.
Returned to Sibolga find the boat a little rustier than we left her, but otherwise unscathed. Paid off Beng Beng and Cosa Nostra, sorted out diesel, water, petrol, coolant, and food. Visited the harbor master who, naturally, requested 100k Rupiah for “administration”, 100k for “typing”, and a little something on the side just for him. We smiled, asked to see the official pricing schedule along with a receipt. He eventually agreed that he really just wanted a “kado.” So we handed him a 50K Rupiah note for our “gift” and left. No one was smiling when Beng Beng happened to ring our mobile in the middle of all this…hmm…we didn’t answer, expecting it was no coincidence. We persevered and, finally, and grabbed our exit papers and ran. Fired up the engine and set course for Pulau Nias – just an overnight sail away. It’s nice to not be in a minibus.