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I was at a loose end today, and I wanted an excuse to use the motorbike, so I offered to run errands for the hotel staff. They laughed and came up with a good mission for me: To fetch a live chicken from the market on Samosir. I had plenty of time to kill, and beautiful landscapes to ride through, and was in the mood for any sort of pleasant diversion the day night bring. As I was passing through Ambarita, the morning session of school was getting out, and a bunch of laughing children called out to me, waving frantically, practically blocking my path, so I stopped to see what they wanted. They had been given assignments by their English teacher to find an English speaking person and ask them some questions. Afterwards, I had to fill out a little questionnaire, one of the questions was, "What do you think of this student's grasp of English?". I thought I'd take the opportunity to teach them some vocab, so I wrote things like "Fantastic", "Extraordinary", and "Catherine's English is spectacular, I foresee a career as an English professor". Then I was held up for almost half an hour as one by one they took photographs of each other sitting on the back of my bike. I eventually extricated myself by giving them Rp20,000 to buy ice creams, which sent them all off delightedly shrieking like it was Christmas.

So I took off towards the markets in Tomok, riding past waterfalls and rice fields, deciding to stop whenever I saw someone walking alone carrying something heavy, and see if they wanted a lift. This turned out to be along dirt tracks into the jungle, deep into a tiny village full of gobsmacked laughing children. After negotiating some rough terrain on the way back, I managed to blow a tyre, and had to locate a little hut with a "Tempel Ban" sign in it and what looked like a pre-WW2 air compressor sitting ominously out the front. While I was waiting, a lady with three kids came pushing her bike into the shop, also with a flat tyre, and I watched, mesmerized, as she deftly used tyre levers to remove the tube, located the leak with a well-used bucket of murky water, abraded the surface, applied rubber paste, before using a vice equipped with an alcohol burner to vulcanize the tubing. You could tell it was something she must have done a thousand times or more in her life, and she expertly scolded her children for playing in a puddle without so much as breaking stride as she bent over her work. My back tube, however, had been completely split, necessitating the removal of the back wheel and the exhaust. They didn't have the right kind of tube for my wheel, so the proprietor had to go off on his bike to find one. When all was said and done, my bill came to Rp35,000 ($3.50). I was gobsmacked.

Eventually, I made it to the market, and sat down at a fried banana stand, striking up a conversation with a charming old woman who instantly treated me like her long lost friend. She told me not to get the chicken from market, as she had the best chickens at her house (sure she does!). She said that I should come back in a few hours when she'd be closing the banana stand. We chatted for ages and took lots of photos with her friends, making me promise to bring her prints when I came back for the chicken.

So I had to find another little hut that advertised internet, photocopy and scan. There was no phone signal, so I couldn't email myself the pictures, but with a little organization and excited communication between adjacent shops, it was decided that I should bluetooth my photo's to the ancient handset of a fellow from next door, which had a cable for the computer with the printer attached. We had to try about five times, because he kept running out of space on his memory card. Eventually, after lots of smiles and enthusiastic discussion, I got my prints made, and continued on my way.

At the lady's house, we sat and enjoyed a coffee while we waited for it to get dark so the chickens would come in. I met two of the cutest children I think I have ever met. They were delighted to meet me, but even more delighted to be able to play Angry Birds and Temple Run on my phone. As soon as word got out that there was a video game in the village, the entire neighborhood's kids were all crowded around, shrieking and calling out to their friends. The old lady showed me a picture of her daughter graduating from university, insisting that I would be very happy should I decide to marry her. I suggested that I should see how the chicken worked out first before making any further contractual arrangements with her, and off I went on my bike with the chicken.

The chicken turned out to kick up a hell of a racket on the motorbike, and the sight of a Westerner struggling along the road with misbehaving livestock was just too much for some people, who were literally bent over double with laughter, gasping for air.

chicken on bike

Then, when I finally got my chicken back to the hotel, it turned out that it was the wrong sort of chicken, so I decided to take to the streets again, on foot this time,. to find an appropriate new home for the unwanted chicken. I came across an old gentleman who, as luck would have it, seemed to be rounding up the last of his chickens into a self-contained hutch. I ran over to him, using broken Indonesian to explain that I had a refugee chicken from the North, who was looking for a new family and a nice place to stay. I think he looked at me like I had a screw loose, but after some negotiation, it appeared that I had successfully transmigrated the chicken, and to a much more affluent family. I hope it will be very happy in its new home.

Now I'm back at the hotel, typing this up on a keyboard with a few screws loose, and as sod's law would have it, the 'E' key is by far the most recalcitrant. There's going to be live music and a great atmosphere here at the hotel tonight, but I'm going to again avoid the temptation to enjoy a beer or two at the end of the day, because I've just had so much energy lately, and I'm enjoying myself more despite not drinking.

This is the life!