We came to Batam on a ferry from Singapore, making Indonesia the 4th country we’ve visited since we started travelling just over a month ago. Like most of our trip so far, we were the only white people on the boat, and the only ones who knew how to queue.
We were met with immediate confusion at the Batam ferry terminal when I tried to book a Grab, the South East Asian version of Uber. Every time I booked a ride, the driver would send a jumbled Google-translate message about being unable to pick us up from the port, but none of them were able to provide an explanation.
I later discovered that app-based taxi companies are HATED in Indonesia, so much so that they have to hide the fact they are Grab drivers for fear of being beaten up. There are horrific stories on the internet about riots and pre-planned attacks, so as a result they can’t go to places where traditional taxi firms rule the roost, such as airports, ferry terminals and shopping malls, because it isn’t safe for them to do so. It sounds like some sort of mafia operation, doesn’t it?
Very few people here speak English and I’ve really come to appreciate the power of our country’s language, and how lucky we are to be native speakers of a language spoken almost everywhere in the world. I’ve also realised how much we take it for granted that everyone can speak at least a little English – I’m 24 (going on 25) and whilst I’ve been to countries and remote towns where communication has been somewhat difficult, this is the first time I’ve been somewhere where literally nobody speaks my language. How privileged am I!
Because of the communication issues our stay on Batam has been mixed. We’ve been dropped off in the wrong place almost every time we’ve caught a taxi, been unable to get more toilet paper in our hotel room and been followed down the road by hoards of children begging us for money because they assume we are rich.
Despite the language barrier, I’ve found it incredibly easy to eat tasty and affordable vegan food here, as they eat a lot of tempeh and tofu in addition to their beloved chicken. I’ve been treated to delicious fried rice dishes, tofu in satay sauce and even a variety of mock meats at the Maha Vihara temple, including vegan calamari and chicken nuggets! Indonesians also make some amazing kerbside snacks, such as marinated strips of deep fried tempeh and yummy deep fried banana.
There really isn’t much to do or see on the island but we’ve managed to keep ourselves entertained. I attended my first Iyengar yoga class, we went on an inflatable water park and visited a beautiful Buddhist temple which claims to be the largest in South East Asia – and not to mention the latest season of Man in the High Castle has been released on Amazon video!
We were looking at the map yesterday and realised we’re almost on the equator, and for the last 24 hours it has been our lifelong dream to stand astride the equator with one foot in each hemisphere. We’re currently sat on the plane to Pontianak, an Indonesian town which straddles the equator, ready to see which way the water goes down the plug hole.
See you in the Southern Hemisphere!