It started as any other day in transit. Wake up early, walk with our bags for 20 minutes or so and wait for the car to arrive, sweating far too much all the while. My bag (or rather Mike's bag) reeked with sweat from the 8 hour jungle trek two days prior (sorry, Mike). It's okay though, as it turned out, everyone else on the shuttle stunk as well. We were headed for Lake Toba from Bukit Lewang, in Indonesia. It's a fairly standard trip and most people we had met in Bukit Lewang were planning on doing it as well. It's an estimated 7-8 hour van ride on the rough, highway-less, over-trafficked terrain of Sumatra.
Our van-mates (I'm using fake names, just in case): Helena and Saskia, two Dutch girls (there are so many Dutch people in Indonesia) and Gilly and Charles, two Brits (easily could have been characters straight out of Little Britain). Worried about getting car sick, Laura snagged the front seat before anyone else. As it turnes out, however, Helena also is prone to car sickness and she said her stomach wasn't doing too well already. I probably should have taken that as a bad sign, but I was tired and my stomach hurt a bit myself and it just didn't cross my mind.
The first time Helena puked, she could barely get the window open fast enough (actually her power window control wasn't working so she had to ask the driver to open it, which was frustrating because he never opened it enough the first time and someone had to specify "All the way!"). Head hanging out the window, driving through the streets of Medan, she left a trail of vomit on the street and the side of the car. We passed a group of police officers who pointed and laughed.
As funny as it is when random people barf out the side of a moving car, the humour faded as things got worse for this unassuming dutch girl. Gilly, who was proving to be increasingly annoying, wouln't leave her alone. Every few seconds she offered some new piece of "advice" in the form of bossy commands ("drink more water", "you need to eat something", "reclining your chair is a terrible idea"). Eventually Gilly ran out of comments to make and just started repeating the things she'd already said. The accent didn't help either. Every word hse said was like claws on a chalkboard. I could tell it wasn't helping Helena, but what can you do?
It came time for lunch, and for some stupid reason we all decided to wait a bit longer rather than just stopping for food in Medan. Our driver took us to a Batak restaurant somewhere on the side of the road. We were all wary of the place, but ate there anyway, if only not to be rude (except for Helena who couldn't move from the bathroom). The questionable fish was full of bones but tasted ok...
After getting back on the road, we pulled over so Helena could empty the little bit of water that was left in her stomach. The two dutch girls decided to find a hotel, this van ride wasn't helping anything. We were in some obscure dumpy looking town, certainly not for backpackers, and our driver didn't even think there was a hotel there. We found one, though, and left the two girls behind. They didn't know how they would eventually get to Lake Toba and no one spoke english (or dutch for that matter) at the hotel, but at least they weren't in the car anymore. Or, as Gilly annoyingly put it "Anything is bettah than Bumpy Bumpy".
After hitting the road again, two people down, something odd happened. Gilly didn't say anything for about 15 minutes. Then:
"Open the window... ALL THE WAY!" she yelled.
"Batak Food! Fucking Batak Food! Pull Over" She screams this accusingly at our driver.
We pull over and she started barfing. Then she falls over and out of the car and starts convulsing.
"Oh no, Gilly!" Charles shouts "Let me out!" I had forgotten that he was trapped in the back seat and Laura and I needed to move so he could get out.
We rushed around to the passenger side door and she's standing up, covered in her own vomit with a small cut between her eyes.
"See? What did I tell you?" She exclaimed. She had previously told us about some mysterious medical condition where she blacks out and has seizures when she's stressed out. While throwing up out the side of a car, for example. It sounded to me like epilepsy, but she claims doctors tell her it's some mystery illness. She points at the driver "Fucking Batak food! See! I knew it!"
Laura and I stood out of the way while Alan, the Driver (at this point I'm starting to feel real bad for this poor driver), and a good Samaratan that pulled over to help tended to Gilly and her seizure induced head wound. It reeked of regurgitated rice and curry fish and we only would have gotten in the way.
Luckily there was only one more puke stop somewhat quickly after the that one, however, a smell of vomit lingered for the rest of the ride. Also, sporatically throughout the remainder of the trip, Gilly would raise her arms to the ceiling of the van any time she felt queasy, releasing a stench of armpit sweat that was quickly taken to the back seat by the A/C. Laura and I were lucky we weren't a little nauseous ourselves because the smell alone could have tipped us over the edge.
After 10 hours, 8 pukes, 2 abandoned travellers, and 1 Ferry ride, we finally made it to our destination: Tuk Tuk, Lake Toba.
On the recommendation of some travellers we met in Bukit Lewang, we sought out a place called Parna's to rest our heads for the night. Disappointingly, none of the rooms they had available had western toilets, only the hole in the ground local-style ones. Normally we would just go find a different room somewhere else (what can I say? I like my western toilets) but it had been a long day and the nearest place was probably at least a 15 minute walk. Begrudgingly we took the room,.
After a quick bite at the restaurant at Parna's we settled for the night.
"My stomach hurts a bit."
"Yeah me too..."
And then it happened. It all started coming out. Everywhere. It was horrible.
Without going into too much detail we spent the next 8 hours swapping between the hole in the ground toilet and the bushes outside. Everything hurt, nothing would stay in, I thought it would never end. But eventually it did, at least enough to sleep a few hours.
The next day every muscle hurt, we could barely move from the bed, and we couldn't eat a thing. We made it through though, and the day after that (today) we managed to muster up the strength to get out of that god forsaken hell hole of a room and move to a slightly nicer place. With a western toilet.
** EDIT: In the end, I'm pretty sure we didn't get food poisoning. I'm pretty sure it was some sort of flu virus that was passed on by that dumbass dutch girl on the van ride over. Sick person in the front seat of the van with the windows closed and the AC pumping all her germs into the back seat is a recipe for disaster.