Untold Tales 19: “S***, They’re Throwing Petrol Bombs At Us,” Medan, Indonesia

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I recently wrote about my exciting time on the trail of orangutans in Sumatra. What I didn’t mention was the horrendous, almost catastrophic minibus ride from Medan to the jungle village of Bukit Lewang.

2002 marked the culmination of a rise in political and ethnic tensions in the region, and I happened to get caught in the middle of a mass demonstration on the outskirts of Medan. At first, it seemed fairly placid. Our driver told us not to worry, and smiled as he drove calmly among the hundreds of protesters. But progress through the crowds was slow, and once it got dark, so the tension grew. Numerous fires were started on the streets, and car after car was overturned.

And then things got really scary, as the first of many petrol bombs were thrown. Hence, my terrified exclamation in the title of this post. Of course, our van containing half a dozen tourists wasn’t the target. We were just in the protesters way. But when one of the lighted missiles exploded against the side of the van in a blaze of ferocious flames, I’d never been more scared.

Amazingly, our driver’s smile never left his face, and ten minutes later we were safely through what felt like a mini war zone. He didn’t speak enough English to effectively explain what the trouble was about. All I know was that it remains my most terrifying experience to date. That is, until I gave my first Best Man Speech. Luckily, only cocktails minus the Molotov were launched my way on that occasion.

Sadly (or happily?) I have no pictures from that scary event, and couldn’t find any to poach from Google other than the feature.  Just take my word for it…stay clear of petrol bomb throwing, politically unhappy locals.

Image courtesy of skydancingblog.com

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