Failed escape attempt and the Howard Marks story

Friday, November 11, 2016
Tuktuk Sonak, North Sumatra, Indonesia
We decided to stay on Samosir island for one more day. I like it here, especially how quiet it is. We didn't go far either. Over the road for some food and generally just hung around our digs at Bagus Bay. Having a smoke witth the local lad who works here, sorting photos and videos, updating the blog, that kind of thing.

As night came an English bloke I had spoke with briefly a couple of times over the past few days called Simon appeared at our guesthouse, and he was certainy worse for wear . I had seen him mid afternoon after he had downed a few glasses of palm wine and he was wobbly and sluring then. Now after yet more palm wine and a few beers he was a gibbering mess compared to the fairly respectable, inteligent and articulate Englishman I had met on the first day.

He bought us a couple of beers and after sharing another smoke we sat around chatting until the early hours and I'm not quite sure what to make of the guy, what's true, what's not, it really is hard to tell. As I said, when you first meet him he comes across as very well educated, intelligent and very articulate in how he talks. He is from somewhere down south in England and still has a very strong English accent. He is traveling for around 6 months and had told me how he has done a lot of traveling all over the world in the past 30 years.

I asked what he did back home a few days ago and he gave a fairly muted reply about not doing too much. Some bar/nightclub he had bought in Mallorca then renovated and sold but nothing too specific . This night though after a lot of drink his talk turned to his younger days and a lot of drugs. He randomly mentioned some drug bust back home in Wales 40 years ago called 'opertion Julie' which took down the UK's biggest LSD production lab at the time and he spoke about it with a lot of detail and knowledge. I have since looked this raid up and everything he said was 100% accurate. He didn't say he was involved in it in any way but seemed to want to tell the story of this raid for some reason. A little strange I thought but an interestting story non the less.

From there he went on to talk about how when he was was 16 he followed his brother down to London and got involved with dealing Marijuana as his brother was already established there. He also spoke of his travels after that and how he ended up in the hills of Morocco involved in Hashish production! At this point I was a bit skeptical as you would be thinking that it is just some crazy older drunk guys daft Walter Mitty stories but when he mentioned Morocco and he told me the year I instantly thought of Howard Marks . I merely started to mentioned the name Howard jokingly after he spoke of this and he cut me straight off. "ah Howard...yes well....ok I will tell you a little more"....where was this headed? I was curious now.

He went on to talk a lot about his brother and how he was Howard's second in command. How his brother was detained and questioned in India, didn't tell them anything and was then later picked up and arrested in Germany as part of a worldwide operation involving authorities from 8 countries. He spoke with such detail, and you could see him pausing and checking through his memory to make sure he was right on his details. Sometimes correcting himself on dates etc. He spoke a lot about how many people went down that were connected to Howard and that only a few managed to squeeze through the net and were never caught or conviicted. I wasn't really sure what to make of him to be honest, but at times when he spoke to me and looked me in the eye I could easily imagine he was involved in such a lifestyle and such events . I've read up since on more of the facts around that time involving Howard and every single thing he said rings true. Particularly about his brother. If his brother is who I think he may be from what I have read then sure enough he was also involved in the LSD production that was raided by operation Julie hence why he talked about that. There just seems to be too many facts and details that ring true told by a very drunk bloke. A lot of the people involved with Howard and also Howard himself were all well educated people and I can easily imagine that Simon fits the right mould for the kind of people Howard associated himself with.

So maybe out here in the middle of Sumatra on a small island there is a 57 year old English guy who from what I have seen has no financial worries at all and is living a quiet life and still to this day keeping a low profile. Maybe true maybe not but certainly an interesting conversation and tale non the less.

After the stories were over and another smoke was had we turned in for the night with the intention of catching an early ferry over to Parapat then transport on to Berastagi to check out the volcanos there .

The followinng morning we were up fairly early, on our ferry and 20 minutes later were back on the mainland at Parapat. This is the point when the true idiot abroad mantle kicks in. Once on land we checked with a few places how much it would cost to get from Parapat to Berastagi. They were quoting us crazy prices to leave there and then but half the price to go the following morning so we declined and checked out the public bus option. The publlic bus would be a combination of a taxi followed by 3 different buses, then a mini van then eventually one last taxi to get us into town and would work out around the same price as getting the shared taxi the following morning that would only take around 3 hours compared to the 9 hours on the public bus. So we decided we would grab somewhere to stay in Parapat and booked our place in the shared taxi for the next day. As we wandered around Parapat checking places to stay they were also asking for crazy amounts as well, more than we had been paying on the island which just didn't make sense to me . So after a quick cuppa and a chat we decided to pay our 90p each on the ferry again and headed back over to Samosir island for the night. It sounds stupid I know and we should have really planned our transport better but info is really limited here at times and it also comes down to how hard you can haggle. Parapat didn't look the most interesting place to spend the day, just a small noisy town with a lot of building work going on. So for the sake of a cheap ferry fare we were back checking in at our previous digs within half an hour and amongst calm peaceful surroundings again with 3 litres of plam wine and a couple of smokes from our young guitar playing local friend. Makes sense now really doesn't it?

3 Litres of palm wine and a few smokes later and I was crashed out by 10pm. The next day was an early start so maybe not a bad thing I guess. We were up, packed, fed and watered and on the 8:30am ferry with our transport leaving at 10am. We left Parapat heading north of the lake towards the active volcano of Gunung Sinabung which was spewing out ash as recently as a week ago . It should be an insteresting few days ahead. What I do know is that it feels good to be adventuring and exploring again. Back on the open road with no set plan, just see where we end up from one day to the next.
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