Random Travel Moment #5: Shopping w/a Stranger (a Man) & How It Led to a 17-Hour Bus Trip w/20 Teens

Traditional coffee in Sumatra

How did a simple chat about my phone with a man–a complete stranger (see below)–lead to some crazy shopping in a busy market and then, eventually, to me taking a 17-hour overnight bus ride with him and 20 teenagers a few days later? Read on to find out!


Meet ‘Jaka’–the most patient man ever

Part I: Chatting at a Cafe

Where: Bukittinggi, West Sumatra

At the Turret Cafe in Bukittinggi, a city in West Sumatra, Indonesia.

Why: Me Having Phone Issues

I was eating Western food (which was a treat despite loving the food in the village I’d been staying in) and taking advantage of wifi (desperately needed it for tech issues.) and trying to figure out what the heck was going on with my telephone (iPhone running on an Indonesian SIM card). I had “pulsa” (credit) for the phone, but the Internet seemed to have slowed to a crawl.

How: A Simple Question About My Phone

I saw a man sitting nearby who looked nice. I’d overheard him speaking English (it was excellent) and had a good feeling about him. I asked, “Do you know anything about SIM cards?”

“Yes–do you need help?”

“I do.”

“Let me take a look,” he said with a friendly smile. I knew I was in good hands.

But as much as he tried, he couldn’t fix it. I asked if he knew where a Telkomsel store might be and sure enough, he did. He ended up going with me and we became fast friends.

What: Needed to Buy a Few Things

The phone problem was quickly resolved, but then I knew I needed something else. I didn’t want to push my luck, but…he–Jaka–was so nice, I thought it was OK to ask for more help. I needed to buy an external hard drive, some sandals and a small lock.

“I know exactly where we can buy those things. Come with me and it will be faster. Let’s go!”

First we went to a computer store. Then we headed for the market for the shoes and lock. It was busy and crowded and there were times where I didn’t make a quick decision or we couldn’t find what I wanted.

And know what? Jaka was really patient. More so than boyfriends I’ve had! He was so wonderful that I said–“You are probably the most patient human being I’ve ever met.” He smiled and said thanks.

And Then…The Rain Came

But then, it started to rain. Hard. And everything took longer due to people taking cover and us having to walk around the puddles that suddenly appeared. And although I got the lock easily enough, the shoes were a bit more complicated.

Rainy Bukittinggi Market

Rainy Bukittinggi market–less than ideal for shopping

Still, this man–Jaka–kept his cool. I suspect that most men would not have. :)

At one point, he asked if we could stop for coffee. Of course, I said. And we did. It was unique (to me), by the way, because it was traditional coffee–drunk from a bowl. He said it helped cool off the coffee, which was often too hot. OK, why not?

PS: I treated him to beer that night to say thanks for helping me!

Who: Jaka, the most patient man on the planet

So who is Jaka? And why is he so darn nice? And how’d I end up on a bus with him and a bunch of teenagers a couple days later?

Well, he’s a former collections worker who’d left his job to become a tour guide. When we met, he was just starting out. Turns out his first tour was a few days later–to Lake Toba. Exactly where I was going!

Part II: Motorbiking to the Bus Station

What: Getting Info About Tickets

So, imagine this. After our shopping expedition and the rain ended, we took his motorbike over to the bus station so that I could look into the ticket situation. It wasn’t good. Not too many tickets left and I wasn’t sure exactly when I was leaving.

Two days later, there were no seats left on the bus I wanted. So…

What Else: An Invitation to Take the Bus Together

Jaka invited me to go on his tour bus–the one with the teenagers on a class trip! I was slightly hesitant, not knowing what to expect. Also, it was a 17-hour bus ride. But I said yes. He was such a nice guy and I was sure the kids would be cool. They were all from West Sumatra and the people there were super friendly.

A few days later, there I was–on the class trip. Here’s a video clip. (Note: For better quality, I think you need to click on HD. Sorry, but no time to upload to YouTube.)

Me and Sumatran kids on class trip

Me and a couple female students

Was it fun? Yes. Did I sleep much? No. Still, it was a good time. And I love how it came about–thanks to a random travel moment.

PS: I have no doubt that Jaka is now doing great as a tour guide. And I wholeheartedly recommend him. I trust him 100%, think his English is great and he’s very knowledgeable about his island, Sumatra, and Indonesia in general.

If you’re going to Bukkitingi at any point (or other parts of Sumatra) and want to get in touch with him for tour guiding, let me know and I’ll connect you. In the photo below, he’s with Roni, the man he works for/with–also super nice. If I return and need to go somewhere tricky in W. Sumatra, I’d definitely consider a tour with them. They really took care of me and made sure that I got to my hotel OK and I truly appreciate it.

Jaka and Roni

Jaka and Roni at Lake Toba

Your Thoughts/Experiences?

Ever have something like this happen to you–a random chat leads to something else and ends up being just what you needed or just a lot of fun? If so, where were you and who was it with?

Do your travels have a lot of random moments that occur? Do you find that you end up meeting the locals this way?

If not, would you like to? I have an idea for a post re: how to meet the locals.

PS: This Story Is Mentioned on the Oprah Website

An Oprah blogger, Amy Shearn, wrote a post about my story and how about everyday miracles and how random moments can lead to unexpected journeys. It’s very cool and worth checking out. She called it The 17-Hour Indonesian-Bus-Trip Guide to Life. Click on the title to read the post. Enjoy!

Can’t Get Enough?

Here are some more Random Travel Moments from Syria, Turkey and Panama and more articles about my experiences in Indonesia. Also, I’ve got some stories about locals I’ve met while traveling. Enjoy!

More students

The students had just done some singing for us–modern and traditional songs

6 Responses to Random Travel Moment #5: Shopping w/a Stranger (a Man) & How It Led to a 17-Hour Bus Trip w/20 Teens
  1. OutsideTheGuidebook
    September 11, 2012 | 1:11 am

    A heartwarming article Lisa. Too many times we miss out on what could turn out to be life changing friendships during our travels, due to innate and sometimes baseless suspicions of the locals. Well done to you to have made a good friend like Juka. This was a super read!
    OutsideTheGuidebook recently posted..Top Portugal shopping secret: Don’t miss out on this local tip!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      September 11, 2012 | 8:38 am

      Thanks so much for the feedback! I agree with you; it’s so easy to be suspicious of the locals. Fortunately, in West Sumatra, most people were just as wonderful as Jaka. Sadly, South Bali was different (which is why I ended up going to East Bali, which was less overrun with tourism).

      Anyway, I’m happy you liked this piece!

  2. Naomi
    September 13, 2012 | 4:21 pm

    I have lots of experiences like this, which I am really grateful for. I think the key to meeting locals is to be friendly, curious, yet respectful, to be willing to change your itinerary to accommodate spontaneous invitations of hospitality, and yes, to throw that ridiculous mistrust of all strangers out the window and use your common sense instead.
    There are a few scams out there, but almost always they occur at heavily touristed places. Strangers you meet in non touristy areas are usually going to be ordinary people like yourself who are interested in learning a little about you, or helping you in their country. If it feels weird, don’t take up an invitation, if it feels right, go for it.
    Naomi recently posted..Hostel life in WanakaMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      September 17, 2012 | 11:40 pm

      Hi, Naomi. Cool that you have these kinds of experiences, too. Perhaps that’s why we’ve connected here? I love the fact that you’ve also been to Sumatra, btw.

      I agree with you re: the scams being mostly in the tourist areas. When you’re away from them, it’s a different world–one that’s full of friendly/welcoming people. I also agree that one must go with their gut. Fortunately, I had such good feelings about the people in Sumatra and all tended to go great!

  3. Neal
    September 19, 2012 | 2:46 am

    This is the pleasure of traveling alone. Just when you need it a clarifying moment occurs. People make travel worthwhile and a memory and smile that last forever.

    • CB Driver
      September 19, 2012 | 8:20 am

      Hi, Neal–absolutely! The people I met in Indonesia–especially in Sumatra–made the trip special!

      PS: Have you seen my Ecuador/Panama photo guessing game? Even if you haven’t been to Panama, I think you could win it–LOL. Here’s a link.

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