April 15, 2012

Mikrolets: North Sulawesi’s public mini vans that look much like Jakarta’s sky blue angkotans. Pay 2000 rupiah (30 US cents) and climb in: you’ll find yourself in a party on wheels. Whether Indonesian folk, American pop or miscellaneous rock, the Minahasan mikrolet seems to be defined by its sub-woofer system.

 To accentuate the ride, some drivers even sport tiger stripped plush coverings or bouncing hello kitties on their dashboard. Others, in the sleepy Minahasan mountain towns of Tomohon and Tondano, turn on rotating disco lights at night.

On our final ride to the Manado airport, we came our favorite mikrolet yet. Our driver made the unique choice of playing American country music. His 45-year-old neighbor came along for the ride. And she crooned along with Dolly Parton as long as she had a cigarette in hand.

She filled us in on her absent husband who was away with the merchant marine for six months at a time. She had managed fine, singlehandedly raising three kids on her own. One was still in school but two others had already produced grandchildren for her.

To hear her sing though, you could almost hear her yearning for her man in a way that only country music can draw out, even from a Minahasan jumbling the words.