The first time I simply traced my finger over the words on the screen, the second time I read the words aloud to myself. ‘We believe that terrorists continue to plan attacks, which could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.’ I scratched the crown of my head and read on, ‘All airlines from Indonesia have been refused permission to operate services to the EU because Indonesia is unable to ensure that its airlines meet international safety standards.’ My left eyebrow sank while the right one arched into the furrows of my brow. ‘Indonesia sits along a volatile seismic strip called the ‘Ring of Fire’ and volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis are possible.’ ‘Ring of Fire?’ And it burns, burns, BURNS… the burning… ring… of fire. I decided to skip the FCO’s warnings about Bird Flu; in fact I passed over the remainder of their heartwarming advice. I took a brief look at the LP Guide to Indonesia, and discovered that independent travel is interpreted as “Solo is Loco”, while their online forum is permanently headlined, “Indonesia: Is it Safe?” I read all of this, with a dog-eared e-ticket to Padang (one of the “top ten rainiest inhabited locations in the world”) poking out of my back pocket and forty-eight hours later I stunned myself, and landed.
In total honesty, if you’d handed me a pin and a map two weeks ago, I’d have jabbed it with an air of deceptive confidence in eastern Africa, boldly locking it in with land-borders on all sides. I repentantly scribe this post from real-life Sumatra, the sixth largest island in the world and the largest fully loyal to the nation of Indonesia. The inward flight was worth the ticket price alone; 10,000ft below the belly of the budget jet rippled a warm welcome mat of deep green Sumatran jungle, intestinal rivers scribbled their way where the tangle of trees were refused and as the plane began its descent, a vast danau (lake) lit up its gentle surface with seedlings of brilliant sunshine. At the airport I grabbed my bags, a handsome Lithuanian couple and a taxi into town. I soon discovered Padang to be docile, a far cry from the hectic port I’d conjured up in my mind and thankfully free of the promised liquid sunshine. My gaze was passed between the peaking horns of the local Minangkabau (an indigenous people of West Sumatra) architecture. We lunched on the regionally renowned cuisine, the system is to fill your table with twenty or so dishes and you pay for what you eat. Roast chicken, rendang (buffalo curry), vegetables of every persuasion, inescapable rice and my once favorite yellow coloured, coconut milk curry with a soft tofu-like ingredient that tastes similar to a mythical banana-cucumber hybrid. ‘What is it?’ Sumsum. ‘It’s really nice, what’s in it?’ The inside of a cow’s spine. ‘WHAT! Ah, umm, ok. No dessert, thanks.’
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