I have always loved just getting in a car or on a bike and seeing where the road takes me. I think this goes back to the days when I was a kid and Mum and Dad would take my brother and I out on a Treasure Hunt drive. Admittedly we knew where we were going, to a certain extent, as we were following clues, (easy for a copper you’d have thought) but still, the concept’s there, right? Day 6 in Belitong (Thursday and my penultimate day here) this was my chosen activity.
Heading out of Tanjung Pandan I first of all stopped near the town’s port. Next to the dock is a thriving market place so, camera at the ready, I went for a wander. Buying some sate sticks from a roadside vendor, i was munching on these as I took in the sights, sounds and smells of the place when i passed a coffee warung, full of blokes drinking coffee. Shouting at me to sit and join them, I thought what the hell, pulled up a chair and sat down.
As I’ve mentioned before, tact and diplomacy don’t come into Indonesian questioning techniques and the questions came thick and fast. The oldest guy in the group, at 61, spoke the best English, so when I or his confederates struggled with bahasa Indonesian he was usually able to help out.
The ringleader of the group whose name escapes me informed me that he was ‘Polisi’ and I, as expected, showed the correct amount of awe and respect for his position. Next minute, the same guy takes down a guitar, asks me if I like Liverpool, which I assume to mean the place, and heads into a version of Englebert Humperdink’s ‘Please Release Me’. At the third time of hearing the chorus I get the idea that he wants me to join in (the others are beckoning me to do so) and I’m a sucker for ad hoc Karaoke so happily obliged. A slight change and we’re into ‘The Green, Green, Grass of Home’ which suddenly turns into a whole table chorus. A great way to enjoy a morning coffee. What’s significant is that no alcohol was involved.
Following the coffee and impromptu sing-song I continued walking around the market, admiring the variety of foods on offer and then headed back to the bike. Seeing a sign for Sijuk, it seemed like as good as any to follow and I quickly found myself in the middle of nowhere. Putting my bag on the floor of the bike, I put my camera strap around my neck and made frequent stops to take photos.
I was amazed to find so many schools and I must look into the different types that I saw. I’m not sure of the population of the island but there are plenty of kids, I just assumed they were more homeschooled. I also found two signs saying ‘Homestay’. This is often where you stay in the room of a families’ house and share their food for a small charge. Might be a nice idea next time I visit.
I must have spent a couple of hours riding round the island. Alternating with the helmet on and off (because of the unforgiving sun) and it’s on the road less travelled that you see the most interesting sights. Today I passed my first albino Indonesian, which must be one of the cruelest jokes to play on humanity. I just mentioned the heat and I can only assume this poor girl of maybe 10 or 11 came from a tough background. She’s riding on a moped with her mother, but there is no cover, not even a hijab, to protect from the ferocity of the midday sun. I saw kids leaving school, the majority are primary school age. I did see secondary school kids too but they’re mainly girls. This is a pragmatic island. The boys work, the girls learn, or so it appears.
The road that I found myself on eventually brought me out at Lor-In, one of the more upmarket places to stay on the island and located very close to Tanjung Tinggi so, realising my location, I headed to Tanjung Tinggi for lunch. The Udang Goreng, Tempura style prawns, were served with a spicy, sweet sauce and an iced tea. I was joined in the middle of it by an Indonesian guy who I took the opportunity to ask questions of. I was wondering about how much it would cost to buy land and build a house. The response was a bit complicated but I got the feeling that the land would be about Rp70,000 per square metre. I need to do some more research but this is definitely an island with potential. I think it will get busy really quickly and it may be worth picking a good spot. The only thing is that there is little in the way of land registry and planning applications to understand what the government or individuals might be planning to do. It would be horrible to build a dream house here and then find that it’s right next door to the local waste disposal site!
Lunch over, I headed back to Tanjung Pandang to get some mosquito cream and bite cream. I had a run in with the Nyamuk Air Force last night and I don’t really want a repeat.