Thursday, 2 July 2009

Monkey Extra On The Bandung Train

I left Jakarta early, avoiding the Transport? Transport? touts and their steering-wheel mimes at the top end of Jalan Jaksa. In the bright sunlight, I headed for the railway station. Nick, an Englishman I´d met a few nights previously, had given me a number for a girl called Ika; she´s an Indonesian who relocated to Florence, but was back in town. He told me that if I was heading South and fancied surfing, I should call her. He´d met her in Pangandaran a summer ago.

Bandung was first on my list. The train was about to pull out of the station when a bizarre creature entered the carriage, ticket in hand and squinting at his seat number. Chinese-looking, with long straggly hair, sweaty pasty face, sunken eyes; his hands were filthy, and nails long and blackened. This fella looked like an extra from Monkey. Perhaps a bedraggled Sandy. I could smell him as he got closer, and it wasn´t pleasant. I just knew his seat ticket was the B to my A. I grimaced as he sat down. He realised I was English, and engaged me in conversation. His breath was something else, he could have hired himself out as a paint-stripper. Holding your breath while answering questions is no mean feat, I assure you. He was still half-cut from the night before, and was rambling on and on. Other passengers giggled at my raised eyebrows and pained expressions; this was going to be a long ride, alright. The worst moment came when he pulled up a leg of his jeans to reveal a bloody, infected patch of skin and began scratching away at it...then sucked the blood from under his nails. I gagged.

A woman on the opposite side of the carriage came to my rescue. She´d been calling across and asking where I was going, and naming a few places I should not miss. I was struggling to hear her, so she suggested she swap places with Ogre. To my relief, he was happy to...she´d been sat next to a cute Indonesian girl. For the next hour I had a great conversation with her, she´d worked in most areas of Indonesia...she scribbled names, places and dates on my maps. She also showed me photos of her two single daughters and gave me their phone numbers. Wouldn´t happen back home, would it?

Bandung is up in the hills, and the train would through pleasant verdant countryside before we finally pulled into our destination. It was nice to escape the heat, the climate here is delightful. I thanked the lady and said my goodbyes. Wandering off down the main street, I rotated the map a few times and got my bearings.

It took me half an hour to find a decent place to stay which had vacancies, and settled on By Moritz. There´s not a great deal to do in Bandung, so I just wandered for dinner and a few beers. I got chatting to a Swiss lad called Martin, a fellow Divemaster, we had planty to talk about. We arranged to see the volcano together the next day.

I was about to finish my beer and retire for the night when the owner turned up. A middle-aged Swiss, we got talking about various places in Asia. He also gave me a few pointers for South America. I was just getting interested in what he was saying when he came out with the biggest pile of bullshit I´ve heard in a while. He said that gangs were stealing babies from poor people in the countryside and selling them to be eaten. By rich Americans who see it as a delicacy, apparently. I burst out laughing. He was deadly serious, and told me he´d seen photographs of it on the internet. I explained the basics of Photoshop, finished my beer, and went to bed.

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