Travel doesn’t always go as planned. Transportation isn’t on your expected schedule, hotels lose reservations, and new locales aren’t always tourist friendly. Adventuring abroad is another beast–take your normal travel woes and magnify them by 1000. To undertake an adventure abroad means to let go of the reigns, because if you hold on too tightly you will undoubtedly be disappointed. Even the best laid plans will be interrupted by something, whether it be missed trains, language barriers or even really terrible coffee when you just want a good espresso, damn it. I’m generally a planner, I like having my days and weeks laid out so I know what to expect but when I’m traveling I know that mindset goes out the window. You have to be along for the ride, and realized you are not driving. This story is one of making lemonade out of a bad travel decision.
One afternoon during our time in Singapore we were exploring a ten story tall mall (Singaporeans love their malls!) when we came upon ferry companies listing rides to nearby islands. There were excursion to nearby Malaysian and Indonesian islands and we learned that a tiny island in Indonesia named Batam could be reached by only a 40 minute ferry ride. It was touted as a tourist destination for Singaporeans looking for a short weekend away and after asking around we were told there was good shopping and a few temples to explore. We decided to give it a shot–why to add another stamp to our passports if it was so close? So we booked the ferry for the next day and planned on making a totally unexpected day trip to Indonesia.
The ferry ride the next morning was short and the waters between Singapore and Indonesia were never clear of boat traffic. But as we neared closer to Batam, the waterway cleared of large ships filled with containers of goods and gave way to small boats with lone fishermen. The stark differences between Singapore and it’s Indonesian neighbor were even more apparent when Batam’s “skyline” came into view. Gone were the shiny, sparkling skyscrapers and instead we were greeted with small slum villages built on stilts and polluted water.
After a short visit to the customs office where we had to forswear we would leave the island in 10 days time, we walked into what was described to us as the “great shopping and restaurant district” We suddenly realized that maybe the ferry boat sales person was exaggerating about the “famous entertainment district” of Batam. We found ourselves in what looked like could have been a mall at some point but with 75% of the stalls closed it was hard to tell. We were hassled at every corner by taxi drivers offering to drives us to wherever we wanted to go, but we had no idea where that would be. We kept walking, thinking that maybe if we went a little further that we’d run into the something—anything!—but we didn’t. We finally came to the realization that this was it, two small street food vendors, a lot of dilapidated buildings, and some seriously sketchy street hawkers.
We seriously had nothing to do on this island. Our ferry dropped us off at 10am and our schedule ride back was at 6am. We walked around the small boat landing and saw naked children running around and a small gang of teenagers eyeing our obviously oblivious situation. After some quibbling and annoyance amongst ourselves about whose idea it was to come here anyway (it happens to everyone who travels at some point, no matter how happy the friendship/marriage) we decided to settle things by doing what we do best–eat. We found a taxi driver who seemed up somewhat trustworthy so we got into his car, but the language barrier presented itself more and more because he didn’t understand why we didn’t have a specific place to go and we didn’t understand why he didn’t tell us where we should go. While this confusing conversation was taking place I started to see that we were heading past restaurants-restaurants that looked like they were open!
We hopped out of the car, gave him $5, and ran into the nearest restaurant to at least have some lunch and kill time before our ferry ride back to Singapore 7 hours later.
Since it was 11am on a weekday we had the entire restaurant to ourselves and the people who worked there were a bit surprised to see two Western tourists walk in when they opened their door. We were seated on the patio with a view of the bay and our waitress was the only person working who spoke English. She did her best to explain the menu to us but in the end we told her to bring us typical dish from Indonesia, whatever she liked best. It ended up being a very delicious meal and now we often use this trick when traveling abroad. It hasn’t steered us wrong yet! I like to call it “point and pray.”
Travel Tip: When traveling abroad, ask your server to bring their favorite local dishes. You won’t be sorry!
After talking to our server about how we were traveling from the US, she told us that her husband was a taxi driver and he would be happy to show us around for the day. He came and picked us up after our lunch and we ended up having a really awesome experience that the normal tourist probably doesn’t have—we saw a way of life on Batam that was both eye-opening but also heart warming, and it never would have happened if we hadn’t had a fight that led us to this restaurant.
You never know how things will work out when exploring!