Around the world by bike
Indonesia (7 islands)
(5 266km - 178days - 15 February -11 August 2010)
(1 694km - 33days)
15 February - Malacca (Malaysia) – Dumai (Indonesia) - By ferry (plus some cycling)
Malacca was somewhat slow to wake from the Chinese New Year celebrations, and it was unclear if the ferry to Indonesia was even running. Time to move on, however, and it was a leisurely cycle to the ferry jetty. Locals advised taking the second ferry as the first one was usually choc-a-block full, while the second one was often half empty. The ferry ride took about 2.5 hours and, voila, there I was in a new country – Sumatra Island, Indonesia.
At first glance, Indonesia appeared halfway between India and Africa; hot, humid, crazy traffic and potholed roads. This was my kind of country (as opposed to more organised Southeast-Asian nations like Malaysia). Don’t get me wrong, I loved Malaysia, but felt very at home in what most people will consider third-world countries. Right from the start, I thought I was going to like Indonesia. That said, the first night’s accommodation was overpriced, somewhat dirty, had peeling, paper-thin walls, shared toilets, and bucket showers. I thought it typical for a border town, which Dumai was and, typical of such a city, it was slightly sleazy.
16 February - Dumai – Duri – 75 km
The route from Dumai to Duri followed a busy, potholed road south in blistering heat; I somehow thought it was going to be our lot for the coming months.
It took a while to work out the local currency, which was Indonesian rupiah and that appeared to be approximately 10,000 rupiah to one $US at the time. It was a conservative part of the country and being gawked at by locals wasn’t unusual, maybe it was due to cycling in shorts and T-shirts, or perhaps they were only unaccustomed to foreigners travelling by bicycle.
The Indonesians appeared genuinely welcoming, and continuous invitations into their homes were extended. “Hello, how are you? Where you go? Welcome to Indonesia!” was frequently called from the side of the road. The amusing part was everyone was called Mister irrespective of gender. It reminded me of the “Good morning, Teacher” in Africa. In Indonesia, it was a regular “Good morning, Mister”, even in the afternoon.
My heat rash was, by then, bad enough to make me opt for an air-con room in Duri, a small town situated way off the tourist route. Even in Duri, accommodation seemed rather expensive compared to other Southeast-Asian countries and it took some cycling around before finding a reasonably priced room. In general, budget rooms were similar to some of the Arabic countries; not very clean, curtains hanging from washing pegs, mouldy, peeling walls, and all somewhat smelly.
17 February - Duri – Minas – 110 km
The map bought in Dumai was rather useless as it showed no kilometres and was in tiny print but was better than nothing. A narrow, potholed road ran between Dumai and Pekanbaru, and I was thankful for the courtesy of truck drivers, sitting behind us until they had time and space to overtake. This wasn’t a road for listening to an iPod, as one had to be acutely aware of vehicles coming up from behind. Not only was the road narrow, but it also came with steep ups and downs. The area around Duri and Minas was rich in oil and it was, therefore, not unusual to encounter tankers and other large trucks running to and from the refinery. A new pipeline was in the process of being constructed, adding to the chaos.
It was evident Indonesia was near the equator as it wasn’t only hot and humid, but the rain came down in bucket loads every now and again. Best was to take shelter with the local motorcycles waiting for the worst to pass before continuing. Spotting a sign for a hotel, I went to enquire even though Ernest argued it would be far too expensive as there were security guards at the gate (a sure sign it was out of our price range). It turned out to be a resort-type hotel with tennis court, swimming pool and lush green lawns. The price list scared us, but after chatting with management, they offered us decent accommodation for 100,000 Rp. Not only did it come with air-con and a hot shower but with dinner and breakfast included!
18 February - Minas – Bangkinang – 90 km
I was reluctant to leave our cosy accommodation but was pleased to find the road had levelled out somewhat. Our path led past rice paddies and the ever-present timber stalls on stilts under rusted corrugated iron roofs, selling everything imaginable from cigarettes to petrol by the litre. Mosques were aplenty, some quite impressive and others looking a bit worse for wear.
Although Indonesia was a Muslim country, Indonesians didn’t appear as conservative as some other Islamic countries. Girl Schools were plentiful, and women were out and about, scooting around on motorbikes, appearing very independent. It was with great delight that I spotted the beautiful and unique-looking “Rumah Lontiak” or Lontiak Houses. That part of Sumatra was home to the Minangkabau. With the Minangkabau society being matrilineal, the houses were owned by the women of the family and ownership was passed from mother to daughter. The houses were mostly of timber and had dramatic buffalo horn-like curved roof structures.
19 February - Bangkinang - Pangkalan – 85 km
After looking for a cap for myself, it was 10h00 before getting out of Bangkinang (I once again lost my old one). It was by far the best day on the road since our arrival in Indonesia. Although hot, humid and hilly, it was incredibly scenic as the path led past small villages, dense forests thick with ferns, and a large lake where the river was dammed up, most likely, to feed the hydroelectric plant spotted earlier.
Our route crossed a few large rivers, complete with fish farms, but our exact location was unknown as the map wasn’t very accurate and the signboards indicated places not mentioned on the map. The final stretch to Pangkalan levelled out and ran along an idyllic looking river that, had it been anywhere else, would have been jam-packed with holiday resorts. Towards the end of the day, a roadside petrol station, with a public room where one could sleep, made for a convenient overnight stop.
As there were a restaurant, showers and toilets, it was a natural choice but at the same time somewhat disconcerting as hordes of interested people watched your every move. On eating at the little restaurant, our table was instantly shared by curious onlookers. Being stared at, at such close range, was slightly uncomfortable and it was best to retreat indoors. With it being a public room, more curious people came trying to make conversation or just watching to see what’s happening. There was a continuous audience, and many proceeded to sit down, made themselves comfortable and settled in to see for themselves what the two heathens were up to. Going about the usual routine of writing up the journal and downloading pictures was challenging, to say the least, as not all nations have the same personal space, and it was uncomfortable with people crowding around to see what one was up to.
During the night, the room filled up with more travellers taking a rest from their long journey. During the early hours of the morning, I woke to find a man lying next to me with his hand on my leg. After yelling at him, he, nonchalantly, got up and made his way to the door – it turned out to be the security guard. I couldn’t wait for daylight to get out of that room.
20 February - Pankalang – Bukittinggi – 85 km
I was up at first light but still didn’t get away until 9h00. The road to Bukittinggi was expected to climb all the way up a mountain, as it was said to be located on top of the mountain. It was, therefore, a pleasant surprise to find the climb up the pass only 20 kilometres long. In the process, the road crossed the equator but I somehow missed the sign. (I must have had my head down huffing and puffing up that hill.)
The top of the mountain came with a viewpoint and footstalls, a perfect place to have a bite to eat and to marvel at the view of the surrounding mountains. Back on the bike, it was a steep downhill ride along the narrow winding road. The route continued to be busy, especially through the villages, where the main road was packed with buses, trucks, cars, horse-drawn carts and motorbike taxis with sidecars. Throw in two foreigners on bicycles, and it was complete chaos.
As was the norm in the afternoon, tropical rains came down forcing us to seek shelter, with the result, it was after dark before arriving in Bukittinggi.
21-22 February - Bukittinggi
That night I was wondering how dog owners manage to sleep with their dogs barking all night. Just as the dogs went to sleep, the mosques started up. At least the purpose of the Adhan by the muezzin was to wake the community. Indonesia was a Muslim country, and there were no getting away from it, but the dogs? How can the owners not wake up from such a racket?
23-24 February - Buukittinggi – Padang – 95 km
The section of road between Bukittinggi and Padang surely rated as one of the best cycling days of the trip. It came with 95 kilometres downhill riding, past small villages, raging waterfalls, across rivers and through lush and green forests with volcanoes as a backdrop. Indonesia was volcano country, and there were hundreds, if not thousands, of volcanoes in Indonesia. It was also a country that had experienced various natural disasters in the preceding years, including a tsunami and a succession of earthquakes.
Early on in the day, Ernest and I lost each other somewhere along the way. On arrival in Padang, I was shocked to see the full extent of the devastating earthquake of a few months ago. Seeing and hearing about it on TV never seemed very real. Many buildings had collapsed and were in ruins, hotels had been destroyed, and the few remaining ones charged, understandably, exorbitant rates.
However, just after I pulled into a known budget hotel, still standing, Ernest pulled in as well - ha-ha, there was no getting rid of the man. I was, however, quite relieved to see him, as I saw a bicycle flattened by a truck, and realised just how quickly an accident can happen.
Even though badly damaged, Padang remained a busy coastal town with a very scenic beachfront, packed with stalls offering crab and prawn meals. The setting sun made for a colourful display over the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
25 February - Padang – Painan – 80 km
The following morning, the road headed south along the coast in the direction of Jakarta, still more than 1,000 kilometres away. It turned out a beautiful day of riding as the route followed the coast for approximately 20 kilometres and then turned inland over the hills. The path continued along a small river, through tiny villages and past rice paddies and forests. Villagers were drying all kinds of produce: rice, oranges, cloves and cinnamon, making for a lovely aroma.
The small community of Painan signalled the end of the day and the intention was to camp by the beach, but I had a distinct feeling the entire town had come out to watch. It seemed they arrived from far and wide on foot, bicycle and motorbike to witness this unusual event. Uncomfortable under such close scrutiny, I packed up and headed into town to find a guesthouse with a very reluctant Ernest in tow.
26 February - Painan – Balai Selasa – 76 km
Although Sumatra wasn’t the easiest cycling, the scenery was unsurpassed. This day was no different, and it started with a good hill or two, it was boiling, and one sweated buckets. Again, the road followed the coast through one lane of fishing hamlets, rice paddies and scenic rivers. En route to Balai Selasa, local cuisine from roadside stalls made for healthy snacking, and I thought deep-fried cassava not all bad.
A drink-stop typically attracted the entire village, all staring in total disbelief, and quite unashamedly, without even blinking an eye. The road was lined with small settlements and seldom did you pass someone without hearing, “Hello, friend” or “Where you go?” – As well as the occasional “What are you?” “Who are you?” or even “Why are you?”.
On arrival at the small community of Balai Selasa, Ernest had just enough time to pick up more fried snacks from the stalls before it started pouring again.
27 February - Balai Selasa – Tapan – 65 km
Bathrooms in Indonesia typically came with a squat toilet and a water reservoir (mandi), from which one could scoop water with a plastic bucket to flush the toilet and “shower”. On that occasion, I was, however, so hot I submerged myself in the reservoir, something I’m sure you’re not supposed to do, but there I had my own tiny swimming pool. Fortunately, there was a power shortage in Indonesia, and in general, very low voltage globes in the rooms – it was better not to see what else was floating in the water. Power cuts were a widespread occurrence, even stopping the muezzin’s chorus in mid-sentence!
It rained all night but had cleared in the morning, making for a dry start to the day’s ride. Again, the road turned inland over the hills, and the cloud cover made for comfortable riding.
Roadside stalls sold strange fruit, one (Markisa) was like passion fruit but less watery, and with thick skin one could peel off to eat the pulp inside. The other fruit (Salak, or snake fruit) had a tough, scaly skin with three firm white segments inside; quite sweet and delicious.
Soon, heavy rain came down and soaked us to the bone before we arrived in the village of Tapan. Sopping wet and dripping with water, it was surprising the landlady even let us in. It was a basic room with no glass in the windows, only shutters, and although the place looked clean, Ernest picked up a horrible eye infection – maybe from the pillow or maybe from the wash water in the bathroom mandi.
28 February - Tapan – Pasar Bantal – 125 km
The day started flattish but got progressively hillier. Although it was the coastal road, it didn’t run next to the ocean but, instead, the day was spent cycling up and down hills, through palm oil plantations. One needed to pedal like the clappers on the downhills to make it up to the next steep one. The potholed roads were often broken up in the lowest part, making it impossible to gain enough speed to carry you up the next one.
Fortunately, we had lunch along the way as it became a rather long day searching for an ATM. Ernest also had a dreadful day as, by then, he was unable to see out of his one eye, while the other eye also showed signs of infection. Late afternoon, the rain came down, as usual, making camping difficult as the ground was mostly flooded. In the pouring rain and after dark, helpful Indonesians pointed to a disused mosque on the outskirts of a small village; to our delight, the lights still worked. After boiling saltwater for Ernest to wash his eyes, supper was noodles, washed down with coffee and then it was straight to bed – accompanied by many eager mosquitos.
1 March - Pasar Bantal - Ipuh – 53 km
The road continued up and down the steep hills, making for strenuous riding. I felt short of energy and had difficulty with my smaller gears, not something one wants on a route with a million and ten steep hills. Up and down the road went through palm oil plantations. Ernest also struggled and found it difficult to see as, by then, both eyes were virtually swollen shut.
On reaching Ipuh, I was unable to draw money, as the only ATM in town was out of order. Ernest could hardly see, and it was best to book into a guesthouse allowing him to lay down. I (with the only money left), bought a bus ticket to Mukomuka where I saw an ATM the previous day. Once there, I was shocked to find the ATM only took Master Card and not Visa (mine was, unfortunately, Visa). I was in near hysterics as then I had no cash whatsoever and without any means to pay for the room or get back there. A very kind bank official gave me 150,000 rupiah out of his own wallet without blinking twice and didn’t want to give me his name so I can repay him later. I will be forever grateful to that kind man. It was enough money to get a bite to eat, take the bus back and pay for the room where Ernest was lying in the dark with his eyes (obviously) closed. There was also still enough money left to get a large quantity of noodles to see us through to the next big town.
I only got back to Ipuh at 10.30 p.m.; hot, tired, hungry and thirsty. Ernest was unimpressed with my efforts, as he reckoned us worse off than before. I was utterly gobsmacked with his response and stunned into silence. I could not believe after all that effort, I was made out to be the one in the wrong! I wondered how he figured who was going to pay for the room in which he was lying. Wow, what a day I had and would have dearly liked someone to offer me a cup of coffee instead of belittling my efforts, and I was more than peed off.
At long last, I could have a shower and change out of my dirty cycling clothes - I must have stunk the people out of the bus, considering I hadn’t showered or had a change of clothes in the past two days.
2 March - Ipuh – Ketahun – 82 km
The day didn’t start ideally and, after packing up, Ernest discovered he had a flat tyre. Instead of waiting I left as, according to him, he needed no help and could do just fine on his own. Off I went, up and down the notorious hills. I was clearly not in a good space as while slogging up a steep hill, in my granny gear, at 5km/h, two guys on a motorbike pulled alongside wanting to know if I wanted to “boom-boom” while pushing their thumb between their index and middle fingers. They picked the wrong day as I was already in a foul mood and gave them a mouthful after which they took off in a hurry.
By the time Ernest caught up, it was already 16h00, and it wasn’t long before finding a petrol station with a grassy patch for camping. It was, no doubt, a noodle supper washed down with coffee and then it was off to bed. The tent was like a sauna and leaving the flysheet off would have been preferred, but with all the usual spectators it wasn’t possible.
3-7 March - Ketahun – Bengkulu – 91 km
I was on the road before Ernest even had his tent down. The road wasn’t as hilly as the previous days but littered with potholes the size of small cars. The Indonesians were always kind, and from far away one could hear them shouting, “Hello, Mister, how are you?” When answered, there was usually scores of hysterical laughter.
Ernest soon caught up and then it was on to Bengkulu. Once there, the first task was to find a working ATM. With money in my pocket, it was straight to the nearest hotel to have a shower and buy food. A shower was definitely not something that was ever overrated. Hotel Samudra Dwinka was quite fancy, but with less expensive rooms at the rear which consisted of large, ground floor rooms that came with a fan and a back door as well as a hot water dispenser for plenty of coffee.
There was no intention of moving on until Ernest’s eyes had recovered, and he could at least see where he was going. The antibiotic drops from the pharmacy seemed to have worked, and his eyes soon appeared much better.
Bengkulu was a sizable town with a shopping mall and a supermarket. The roads were littered with mobile food stalls (Kaki Limas), and we ate as if we hadn’t seen food in days. In the meantime, it was time to do much-needed laundry, and I found a better deal for my modem with unlimited access to the internet for the next month. I played on the internet while Ernest cleaned the bikes. Not to mention, he sprayed the greasy muck off in the bathroom with the “bum-gun”. I was hoping the hotel staff wouldn’t notice, as I’m sure they would have kicked us out on the spot.
The rest of the day was spent going back and forth to the mall (it was such a novelty), where I came upon a face mask and hair removal cream and spent the rest of the day titivating myself. In the meantime, Ernest went to the local market where he had his tent zip replaced, shoes repaired, and his beloved chair sewn up.
It came as a bit of a shock to experience our first earthquake in Indonesia. The quake happened 160 kilometres out to sea, and although it measured 6.5 in magnitude, there was, fortunately, no structural damage or injury in Bengkulu.
Ernest’s eyes were much improved, allowing for a visit the historic Marlborough Fort built by the British in colonial times.
8 March – Bengkulu
Bucketing rain made staying put for another day. Flip-flops were most definitely the footwear of choice; for easy removal when entering shops, houses and lodging, and I went shopping for a pair as I was getting fed up with removing laced shoes.
Sleeping didn’t always come easily in Indonesia, with roosters crowing at all hours of the night, dogs barking, muezzins calling people to prayer, and rock-hard mattresses; a combination that wasn’t a good recipe for a peaceful sleep.
9 March - Bengkulu – Seluma – 60 km
It was good to be back on the road again, and it turned out a good one. For once, the way was in good condition and the hills were absent. Not feeling very well, it was a struggle on a day that should have been easy and, shortly after lunch, I opted for a guesthouse and soon fell asleep.
Later that evening, a walk into town, with hordes of children in tow, revealed many food carts offering plenty to eat. The kids were rather sweet, at first, usually a bit wary but friendly enough - often chanting “tourist, tourist, tourist” which generally got the attention of the entire town.
10 March - Seluma – Manna – 80 km
From Selum to Manna was another reasonably easy day as the hills weren’t as severe as before. Peddling through small villages, densely forested areas, rice paddies, and the ever-present palm oil plantations made for perfect cycle touring.
Meeting curious locals usually came with a barrage of questions. “What’s your name, where are you from, how old are you, are you married?” After answering and posing for pictures with them, you were considered a friend for life.
I wasn’t quite firing on all four cylinders but carried on regardless. As usual, it was hot, humid, the hills were steep, and the roads in poor condition. Passing through tiny villages kids cheered us on, dogs barked at our heels and elderly people looked up, mouths agape and hands on their hearts. Dodging potholes, geese, chickens, goats and water buffalo while cycling through what seemed like an endless village made for another great day of cycle touring.
In Bintuhan, the fried food stalls got the better of us and, after booking into a room, went shopping, returning with a massive bag of fried snacks - enough to feed the whole of Africa. If that wasn’t enough, included was a rice meal, just in case one still felt nibblish.
12 March - Bintuhan – Pugung Tampak – 82 km
The day started deceptively easy as the route followed the coast. Soon, however, it headed over some of the steepest hills encountered on our trip that far. The signboard, indicating the severity of the gradient, was no exaggeration. At first, I laughed at the sign but soon learned that my assumptions that the sign was placed the wrong way on the pole were clearly incorrect. I huffed and puffed, eventually having to push the bike up the near-vertical hills.
It was supposed to be quite a scenic day as the road ran through a National Park, but I saw nothing, just my own sweat dripping on the tarmac. I was never happier to see the end of a National Park; from there it was a downhill ride towards the coast and to the small settlement of Pugung Tampak.
Dead tired, I was happy to reach Cecep’s home. Cecep ran a basic “homestay” and catered for surfers. His house was a traditional one, built around a courtyard complete with a well, laundry and monkey on a string. Ernest wanted to pitch his tent instead of staying at Cecep’s and I, foolishly, agreed to camp behind the house next to the beach. Soon, the entire village surrounded us, and I was concerned the whole crowd was going to come down on my tent as they shoved and pushed to get a better look of what I was doing. Sitting in my tent, I felt exactly like a trapped animal in a cage, bewildered and wide-eyed. I was aware of torches shining into my tent until the early hours of the morning, as visitors came to see for themselves what was happening in their village. I had hardly fallen asleep, and the muezzin started singing in the nearby mosque. Phew!
13 March- Pugung Tampak - Krui – 37 km
I felt tired from the previous day’s hilly ride and lack of sleep and was somewhat reluctant to leave. Ernest had no patience for such things and wanted to carry on, and there was nothing to do but pack up. Again, it was hilly, but nothing like the previous day.
Our path ran through many small fishing communities with double-storied wooden houses lining the main road. Laundry hanging from fence poles and produce being dried in the sun had become a daily scene, and it wasn’t unusual to see the odd bullock cart along the way.
Feeling weak and unwell, nothing could have been more welcome than spotting a guesthouse in Kuri. To me, it was always a pleasure to have a place where one could close the door and be out of the public eye for a few hours.
14 March - Krui – Bengkunat – 87 km
At last, the road levelled out, and it was a scenic ride along the coast which lasted for at least 60 kilometres. Unfortunately, the path came to an abrupt halt as it turned inland towards the mountains. What a pity we stayed in Krui, as there were some fantastic beach bungalows just about 25 kilometres down the road.
After a quick look around, it was on the road again, past more fishing settlements where fish was being dried not only along the way but also on the tarmac. The smell of ground coffee and cloves accompanied us to Bengkunat.
About 20 kilometres past the tiny hamlet of Bengkunat, a derelict government office made for good camping outback. We set up camp next to what appeared to be an abandoned well. Later, we were almost as surprised as the villagers who appeared from out of the bush to fetch their evening supply of water. In those isolated parts, people tended to be somewhat shy and stopped in their tracks as they came upon two strange-looking foreigners camping next to their well. After surveying the scene from a safe distance, they eventually built up enough courage to collect their water. As they became more comfortable, there was soon a whole crowd, and the children were demonstrating the English they’d learnt at school, words like “mother”, “father”, “grandmother”, “grandfather” were repeated over and over in a sing-song voice.
It wasn’t the most comfortable of nights as, at first, the mosquitos feasted on us after which it started raining. There was no other option but to crawl into the tent where I lay sweating in my own private sauna.
15 March - Bengkunat – Kota Agung – 70 km
Ernest had one of his very slow mornings packing up. Wow, the guy could drag his heels, and it was 9h00 before leaving. I couldn’t believe it was another day of serious hill climbing. Again, the way ran through a National Park. I came to the conclusion National Parks were established purely as the land was too mountainous to be used for any other purpose. The road climbed and climbed, higher and higher through dense rainforest and, although scenic, I didn’t have the presence of mind to enjoy it.
To make matters worse, it started raining, making for a very slippery ride. Once at the top, the route headed steeply down but there was no enjoying the downhill. A landslide had covered the road in clay-type soil and vehicles that attempted to pass were spinning and skidding, and trucks were sliding into the embankment. Somehow, we managed to get through, albeit by dragging the bikes along.
Once on the opposite side, so much clay clogged to the wheels, it was impossible to turn the pedals. After scraping off as much of the clay as we could, it was possible to continue down the hill. The town of Kota Agung came at least 20 kilometres earlier than expected, and it was a pleasant surprise to find a comfortable room with a convenient tap and hose pipe where Ernest washed the bikes.
16 March - Kota Agung – Pringsewu – 60 km
The hotel gave a surprise breakfast of fried rice and, after the bikes were oiled, it was on the road heading up another mountain pass. Nothing like a good long hill first thing in the morning. I much prefer a mountain pass to the short chain-snapping hills of the previous days. At least one climbed up at a steady pace and, once at the top, there was usually a downhill.
A lovely surprise awaited as once over the crest; the road kept going down. I knew it had to happen some or other time. Around 15h00, the clouds looked threatening, and drops started falling. At about that point, another unexpected town made its appearance and, once we’d spotted a local hotel, Ernest and I gave each other a quick glance and pulled in without a word being spoken.
More amazing was the fact no one in Sumatra seemed to know the kilometres to the next town. They glaze over and then come up with a number that varied so drastically from the previous one, one never knew what to expect. They could, however, tell you to the minute how long it took by motorcycle or bus.
The distances given between Kota Agung and Bandar Lampung varied from 50 kilometres to 200 kilometres. Quite a big difference by anyone’s standard. (In the end, it turned out to be approximately 100 kilometres).
17 March -Pringsewu - Bandar Lampung – 38 km
Breakfast was included in the room rate and a dead loss to any establishment when cyclists were around. I loved the rice cooked in a banana leaf served with a fiery curry/coconut sauce. The Indonesians weren’t scared of chilli first thing in the morning!
This time the distance reported varied between 45 kilometres to 75 kilometres to Bandar Lampung. Strangely enough, there were no distance markers along the road to Bandar Lampung. We, however, reached Bandar Lampung after a mere 35 kilometres. I needed to extend my visa ASAP, as it had already expired the previous day and I was somewhat anxious to get to an immigration office.
After finding a somewhat expensive hotel, it was off to the immigration office just to find I needed a sponsor. Our hotel was unwilling to help - what a pain. I couldn’t blame them as I don’t know if I will do that for a total stranger. At least I was back in time before the storm broke, which came with such roaring thunder I thought the nearby Krakatau had erupted.
18 March -Bandar Lampung
The entire morning was spent renewing my visa. Whatever you do, don’t overstay your visa in Indonesia; it came at quite a price. Arie Tours, on Jl Wolter Monginsidi, was kind enough to help me process the application (also at a steep price).
Walking around, I noticed there were more to Bandar Lampung than expected - big supermarkets, loads of hotels (we’d missed coming in on the bikes the previous day), a huge local market and even a Carrefour with a Pizza Hut around the corner.
Traffic was hectic and, like elsewhere in Sumatra, traffic rules were often disregarded. Traffic lights were ignored, and so were one-way street signs, making getting around quite challenging.
19 March - Bandar Lampung - Kalianda – 63 km
It was a comfortable ride to Kalianda where I thought of taking a boat to Krakatau, but it was a little bit pricey after paying for my visa extension and fine for overstay, and I gave it a miss and instead spent the rest of the day in the small harbour town of Kalianda.
(1 215km - 44days)
20 March - Kalianda – Cilegong – 46 km
Breakfast was often included in the room price, even in budget rooms. It was mostly a plate of fried rice that was always delicious. After breakfast, it was on to Bakauheni where passenger ferries and cargo ships departed to the island of Java.
Once in Bakauheni, we were swiftly directed to the ferry terminal and, in no time at all, found ourselves on a huge car ferry across the Sunda Strait. The Strait connects the Java Sea to the Indian Ocean and is only about 25 kilometres wide.
So came to an end our cycle tour of Sumatra and I was excited to see what Java would hold. It must have been a slow ferry as the crossing to Java Island took two hours. Somehow, it didn’t seem necessary to buy a ticket for the passage (nobody asked for tickets, and nobody offered to sell any). Could the trip have been free, or did we miss the ticket office?
The ferry ride between Sumatra Island and the Island of Java came in true Indonesian style, complete with karaoke singers, instant noodles and the ever-present, deep-fried tofu sellers. The fact that the staff were frantically working on one of the engines during the entire trip - bits of engine parts laying everywhere, and smoke billowing from below – didn’t seem to bother anyone. Sea traffic appeared no less hectic than road traffic with other ships passing dangerously close in front of us.
Once off the ship at Merak dock on Java Island, it was on the road straight away, heading in the direction of Jakarta. It only took 15 kilometres of cycling through the traffic before finding accommodation in the town of Cilegong. With the rooms being outside under shady trees, it was perfect for cyclists. Was it a level road or did I imagine it?
21 March - Cilegong– Tangerang – 91 km
If I thought Sumatra was one long, drawn-out village, then Java was a long, drawn-out city. Not once did the route leave the built-up area or got out of the heavy traffic. Although the road was congested, I was of the impression the drivers were acutely aware of slow-moving vehicles and cyclists.
Passing a guy pedalling down the road with his sewing machine made for an excellent photo opportunity. He was going from house to house doing repair work (actually it was more like a sewing workshop on wheels). I guess, “If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Mohammad must go to the mountain.”
It rained on and off all day long and, by our third soaking, it was time to find a guesthouse and dry out. Although Tangerang was a large town, it was surprisingly challenging to locate accommodation, with many hotels seemingly full. Maybe they didn’t want two scruffy-looking cyclists dripping rainwater all over their neatly polished tiles.
22 March - Tangerang – Jakarta – 31 km
From Tangerang, it was only a 30-kilometre cycle into Jakarta. Aided by a tailwind, we were blown right into the city centre together with whirling dust clouds, cardboard boxes and plastic bags. The traffic was hectic, and it took weaving through thousands of motorbikes and taxis to find Freedom Square. From there it was easy to find the way to the backpacker enclave of Jalan Jaksa. Borneo Hostel was comfortable enough at the price. Ernest seemed hyperactive and washed the bicycles as well as his gear.
23-24 March – Jakarta
I donned a hat and shades and, in full tourist disguise, set off exploring what was left of the old Dutch city of Batavia dating back to the 17th century. On closer inspection, only an old town square with one or two well-preserved colonial buildings remained. The rest of the buildings seem to have been struck by some natural disaster, or maybe it was old age. The former Dutch port, still with beautiful wooden fishing vessels but in somewhat polluted water, was still operating. Cargo was loaded in a slightly old-fashioned style along rickety gangplanks.
Around the corner from the old port was the fish market. At the best of times a fish market is a smelly place, but with dirty water gushing from open sewers, people doing their daily ablutions in full view in the nearby canal, cats and rats having the run of the mill and homeless people squatting seemingly everywhere, this one was somewhat more smelly than your everyday fish market. Outside the fish market was the old lookout tower which, by then, started to resemble the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Further exploring was done by local train - at Rp1000 a ticket it was virtually free, but somehow it was Rp1500 coming back. It made no sense at all - same train, same route but different price, which was somewhat confusing. Subsequent experiences seemed to suggest the fare was to the end of the line, which was further on the return journey.
25-28 March – Jakarta
Scores of Islamic students staged protests outside Jakarta’s parliament against US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the country. Instead of being caught in the whole thing, it was best to make a quick U-turn and to head in the opposite direction. The positive side was the city streets were dead quiet, and one could wander around at leisure.
To the south of our accommodation was the modern city of Jakarta, complete with bumper-to-bumper traffic, modern shopping centres, high-rise buildings and the like. It was, however, quite easy to get around, whether by bus, train, tuk-tuk or minivan.
For reasons of his own, Ernest was reluctant to move along and, after a week, I couldn’t believe I was still in Jakarta.
29-30 March - Jakarta – Bogor – 57 km
The entire way between Jakarta and Bogor was congested. Bogor, sometimes referred to as the City of Rain, was world-renowned for its historic botanical gardens, and I thought it sacrilege to cycle past without a visit to the park. Puri Bali Homestay provided comfortable accommodation close to the park for a reasonable price, with lovely old and spacious rooms. The next day was spent exploring the gardens - and what an impressive haven it was. Known as the “Kebun Raya”, it had more than 12,300 plant specimens including 400 types of palms. A delightful day out.
31 March - Bogor – Cibodas
It took the best part of the day to climb up the volcanic slopes of the Puncak Pass, but it offered stunning views of the surrounding mountains and tea plantations. Ernest was still suffering from bronchitis and, as it started raining, it was best to look for accommodation.
Disaster struck when running down a wet concrete ramp to view a room. After slipping, I immediately knew something was seriously wrong as I started shaking uncontrollably. Ernest was irritated by the accident as it wasn’t part of his plan and reluctantly came with (long face and all by taxi) in search of medical assistance. X-rays revealed a dislocated shoulder and two fractures, but the local hospital wasn’t equipped for further treatment and recommended a specialist in Cianjur, about 20 kilometres away. Off it was in another minivan, but the doctor was out of town, and an appointment was made for the following afternoon.
I spent an uncomfortable night back in the “disaster-zone room”, sucking on painkillers and unable to use the arm at all. Ernest was of little help as he was peed off as I had inconvenienced him by interrupting his journey. He was, however, free to continue and was under no obligation to hang about.
1 April - Cibodas – Cianjur - By minivan
I strapped the arm up with an old T-shirt and went in search of a van to take me, the bike and the bags to the larger town of Cianjur. The doctor in Cianjur could also not help, and as cycling was out of the question, all I could do was take more painkillers and go to bed.
As if I didn’t have enough problems, my credit card got stuck in the ATM. Fortunately, it happened outside a still open bank. It was, however, still a big rigmarole getting the card back. It was, clearly, not my week!
2 April - Cianjur – Bandung - By minivan
Ernest continued by bicycle while I arranged to get myself to Bandung. Organising things was always somewhat of a mission when unable to speak the language. On enquiring about a minivan to Bandung, the hotel staff thought I wanted to exchange money. In the end, it was easier to flag down a taxi myself.
Upon arrival in Bandung, the arm had swollen to about double its standard size and felt as if it was on fire. I went to a hospital in the city, just to discover there was little they could do but put the arm in a sling and give more painkillers and anti-inflammatory medication, as I wasn’t interested in the operation they recommended.
3 April – Bandung
As cycling was out of the question for some time, it was best to leave all my belongings at the hotel and fly back to South Africa for a month while waiting for the arm to mend. Fortunately, there was a travel agent directly next to the hotel and, in no time at all, I was bound for South Africa. Ernest wanted to come with, and I bought two plane tickets. He was, however, somewhat miserable, and I was sorry for spending so much money on someone who didn’t appreciate it.
4 April - Bandung – Jakarta - By bus
It was another mission getting to Jakarta airport from Bandung as it involved a chartered minivan from the hotel to the bus station and then a three-hour bus ride to the airport. All this while I was in constant pain and had a splitting headache (something I rarely suffer from). On top of that, it was still an eight-hour wait for our flight, which was only at half-past midnight. Just to crown it all, I puked two airsick-bags full before the plane even took off. It was what I call “things not going to plan”.
5 April - Jakarta – Cape Town, South Africa - By plane
What a long, long day it was. Hours and hours in the air – via Dubai (that’s what happens if you live at the Southern tip of Africa) and eventually our flight arrived in Cape Town where just as many hours were spent chatting to my sisters while drinking numerous glasses of wine. I was more than relieved to be off the darn aircraft and snug in a real home, eating my favourite dish (macaroni cheese) of which a huge bowl awaited on stepping into my sister, Karin’s, house.
6 April – 11 May - Cape Town
It was party after party, pizzas galore, and after many good bottles of wine, it was time to head back to Indonesia and continue where I had left off. It was great to see my friends and family again, and even after extending the departure date by a week, five weeks weren’t enough to catch up with everyone.
12 May - South Africa to Indonesia - By plane
After a 9-hour flight to Dubai, a 5-hour stopover, a further eight hours to Jakarta, plus a 3-hour bus trip, we finally arrived back at the hotel in Bandung at 3 a.m. I was happy to find the bags still precisely as we’d left them, albeit a bit dusty.
13 May – Bandung
Jetlag and time-zone differences took its toll, and after a long and deep sleep, I was still tired but had to start organising equipment. Unfortunately, the new front rack for my bicycle I bought in South Africa didn’t quite fit, and the gears didn’t want to play along.
14 May - Bandung – Cicalengka – 46 km
First, it was off to the bike shop to have the gears sorted out. Ernest also got a new front derailleur and, after everything was fitted, it was 12h30.
The road out of Bandung headed south-east along a terribly busy route, complete with traffic jams, buses, trucks, motorbikes and scooters. Not even on bicycles one could easily get through. It was still good to be on the bike again.
So heavy was the traffic that by 4.30 p.m. we’d covered a mere 46 kilometres. Dark clouds started heading our way, and with big drops of rain falling, it was best to pull into a roadside village (in Java the whole roadside was a village) and inquire about accommodation. The place was windowless, had a solid cover of mould on the walls and ceiling, and a pile of cigarette butts was swept into a corner. The accommodation was, obviously, let by the hour as there was a constant coming and going of visitors. Judging by the sounds coming from the other rooms, they all had a pretty good time. With rain pelting down on the tin roof, we cooked our noodles and drank a local Bintang or two.
15-16 May - Cicalengka – Tasik Malaya – 73 km
In the morning, I was more than happy to be out of our cell and back on the road. Things went well enough until the path started climbing over the mountains, and I could feel I hadn’t cycled for six weeks. In the afternoon the usual rain-storm arrived, driving us to seek shelter at a petrol station. After an hour, the worst of the rain was over.
In poor visibility and in a slight drizzle, we continued and found parts of the road like a river. The poor visibility, narrow road with flooded potholes, and hectic traffic made for a dangerous situation. Fortunately, about 10 kilometres before Tasik Malaya (or Tasikmalaya), Ernest spotted a hotel and there was no argument about pulling in.
17 May - Tasik Malaya – Tasik city - 16 km
It was a short distance to the city centre where I drew money and then decided to stay the night. Good thing too, as it was time to do laundry - I’ve been wearing almost the same clothes since leaving Cape Town five days ago. The area was known for its plaited mats, painted umbrellas and batiks and it was, therefore, a lovely area to walk around in.
18 May - Tasik Malaya – Cipatujah – 78 km
It felt I was getting back into my stride and I felt more at home on the bike and on the road than the previous two days. The way south to the seaside village of Cipatuja was, fortunately, along a much smaller and quieter route.
Although a hilly road, the scenery was sublime. The way led past small villages, rice paddies and densely forested areas. Once again, rain made for seeking cover, but for most of the afternoon, it wasn’t much more than a drizzle. What a pleasure it was to cycle in the rain. It also helped to keep one cool.
Cipatujah offered budget accommodation close to the beach. Soon after unloading the bikes, the landlady presented us with a bunch of bananas and later two massive plates of fried rice accompanied by the usual omelette, prawn crackers and slices of cucumber. It wasn’t much later, and a bunch of travelling salesmen (on motorbikes) arrived. I always knew I was at the most inexpensive place in town when shared with the motorbike salesmen.
While relaxing, the earth started to rumble and shake. Clothes swung from hangers, the standing fan teetered back and forth, the water in the bathroom mandi (tank) sloshed around. Even the floor tiles were moving back and forth. Ernest and I looked at each other, wide-eyed, and quickly donned our shoes, just in case we’d to run from our, not so solid-looking, accommodation or a tsunami.
Minutes later a bunch of local policemen arrived (apparently to check our visas). They were obviously curious and wanted to chat, but the language barrier was a problem, and it was a short visit.
19 May - Cipatujah – Batu Karas – 76 km
Leaving the fragile-looking accommodation, it was on to Pangandaran, the next biggish place on the map. Our path consisted of the smallest of coastal roads that ran past fishing hamlets and more rice paddies. Some days bicycle touring can be so much fun, and this was one of those days.
Turning off the main road brought us to the idyllic fishing settlement of Batu Karas. Batu Karas was an enjoyable and popular place as it had a great beach and good surf. It, therefore, had a good range of accommodation, from fancy hotels to basic “surfer dorms”.
20-23 May - Batu Karas – Pangandaran – 34 km
It was a short ride into Pangandaran, the main beach resort on Java island with its lovely beach, hundreds of inexpensive hotels, a peninsula with a nature reserve and hardly any tourists. The following day was also spent in Pangandaran, and while Ernest fiddled with bicycle equipment, I spent time on the beach, swimming in the lukewarm water of the Indian Ocean.
After supper, I started feeling nauseous and was sick as a dog all night. Although a million times better in the morning, I still felt weak and stayed two more days. The first day was spent sleeping and by the second day, I went to the bookshop and spent the rest of the day reading The Shining Mountain by Peter Boardman. I love reading mountaineering books and find our personalities and justification for what we’re doing scarily similar. Although mountaineers are in a completely different league, it was interesting to learn he had as much difficulty in explaining to people why he climbed, as I had describing why I cycled.
24 May - Pangandaran – Cilacap – 90 km
By midday, the weather had cleared, and it was time to start cycling. The route was slightly bumpy, which also meant fewer vehicles. It was a minor road and led over hills, past rice paddies, coconut groves, and through small settlements, and onto the large port city of Cilacap.
25 May - Cilacap – Kebumen – 90 km
The landlady woke us at 6h30, with a breakfast tray consisting of a chicken thigh (with claw still attached), sticky rice, and sambals.
The early wake-up call meant an 8h00 start, a record for Ernest. During the day, the path led back to the main road and, in Java, it meant it was jam-packed with buses, trucks and scooters. I had to remind myself 130 million people lived on tiny Java, measuring 132,000 square kilometres, making it the most populated island in the world. The roads were also rather narrow and often in poor condition, not factors which made for relaxed cycling.
Kebumen, a large town about half-way between Cilacap and Yogyakarta, was our next stop where we’d no trouble finding a guesthouse. In some of the more conservative Indonesian cities, it was somewhat difficult to find beer with which to relax during the evening – and this town was one of those places.
26 May - Kebumen – Borobudur – 87 km
Approaching Borobudur, the road became hillier as it crossed over the flanks of two volcanoes. Jeepers, those hills were steep but we huffed and puffed and made it to the top. From the turn-off to Borobudur it was a nice downhill run into the village, where the plan was to visit the famous Buddhist temple the following day. The search for an abode was done in the pouring rain, as accommodation was hard to find due to the annual Buddhist Waisak Festival.
Borobudur is the largest Buddhist temple in the world, and during this festival, thousands of pilgrims and monks visit the site to celebrate the birth of Buddha and his teachings. Because of this, it inevitably comes with all the tourist paraphernalia one can expect of such a place.
27 May – Borobudur
It was an early start to the day to visit the temple before the hordes and the heat arrived. Borobudur was an excellent example of Java’s Buddhist heyday. It was constructed in the early part of the 9th century but later abandoned, most likely due to the decline of Buddhism in the area. During a volcanic eruption, in 1006, the structures were entirely covered by volcanic ash. The buildings were rediscovered in 1814 by Raffles, the then governor of Java. To Buddhists, the temple is a symbol of awakening and of a human’s journey to enlightenment. It sits on top of a small hill and overlooks the surrounding valleys and mountains. From there one could see the two nearby volcanoes, Sumbing and Gunung Merapi, which appeared in a near state of eruption complete with smoke spewing from the top. At the time, I still thought to myself, it better behave itself until I was out of there. A few months later, repeated outbursts of lava and ashes caused numerous pyroclastic flows down the densely populated slopes of Merapi. Over 350,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
Soon, hordes of giggling school kids arrived (“small students” as the gatekeeper referred to them), all inviting me to pose with them. They also asked for autographs in their books which they brought with especially for that purpose. I did the best I could, but there were too many of them. The arrival of the heat and the school kids indicated the time to retreat to our digs for a lazy afternoon.
28 May - Borobudur to Prambanan (via Yogyakarta) – 71 km
The Mendut Temple, where more Buddhist celebrations were underway, came shortly after leaving Borobudur. Police blocked the road around the temple but allowed bicycles through, allowing us to view monks chanting at the temple.
It was a good downhill run all the way into Yogyakarta city, and knew why it felt I was stuck to the road en route to Borobudur. Once in Yogyakarta, there was no room for a mouse in town – all accommodation was jam-packed, due to the celebrations. It was better to head out in the direction of Solo, our next destination. Within about an hour, the famous temples of Prambanan were reached, where a basic hotel in close proximity was perfect for visiting the temples in the morning. Prambanan was a Hindu temple complex; hence, the fact accommodation was readily available.
29-30 May - Prambanan – Solo – 51 km
First thing in the morning, it was off to visit the Prambanan temples – reputedly the largest and most beautiful Hindu temples in Java, built in the 9th century and mysteriously abandoned shortly after completion. Although severely damaged by the 2006 earthquake, they were still awe-inspiring. Ernest wasn’t interested in looking at temples, and it was difficult to take my time enjoying these ruins, knowing my cycling partner was tapping his feet back in the room.
It was a reasonably smooth ride into Solo, known as a very conservative city. It couldn’t have been all conservative as Ernest managed to find not only beer but also a tin of ham. The local Muslims probably thought he was going straight to hell.
The next day was also spent in Solo, for no reason at all, and personally, I would have much preferred spending the day at the temples. Food for myself was more challenging to find as most dishes came with meat or eggs. Eventually, I ordered a spring roll at the hostel, but instead of a spring roll, got an omelette with vegetables inside. Ernest ate my order, and that after he already ate my breakfast omelette. I’m sure he had enough of eggs by then.
31 May - Solo – Caruban – 119 km
For breakfast, Ernest devoured two more omelettes, and was starting to resemble an egg! Then it was on to Surabaya along a reasonably smooth and flat road. That also meant the buses and trucks were going ten to a dozen and care had to be taken not to become roadkill in the process.
At last, it seemed the route was away from the built-up areas and amongst farmlands, a welcome change. Cassava, rice and sugarcane were being grown in large quantities, and all kinds of things were being sold next to the road, including baby monkeys, fancy chickens and colourful songbirds in cages.
I came extremely close to being killed as a snake that had been run over was striking out wildly in all directions. I didn’t spot it until the last moment, and instinctively swerved out in a panic and in the process were nearly run over by a truck coming up behind me; fortunately, he managed to avoid me, if only by mere centimetres. I was extremely thankful for the quick reaction of the skilful truck driver.
Otherwise, it was a good day on the road, and it was good to put in a full day’s cycling, arriving at the small town of Caruban shortly after 5 o’clock and where there was no problem finding a bed, food and beer.
1-2 June - Caruban – Surabaya – 159 km
It was on the road early and good time was made until reaching the outskirts of Surabaya, However, on reaching Surabaya, the traffic became horrendous, and the last 15 kilometres into town took hours - the last thing I felt like after such a long day on the road. By the time a suitable room was found, it had been dark for some time.
The following morning, inquiries were made about a boat to Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. The first shipping company didn’t allow bicycles on board, and after schlepping all the way back to the head office of another company, was informed the ticket office was elsewhere. I decided to leave it for the day, and instead cycle to the ticket office the following morning.
That evening a massive explosion rocked our street, scattering building rubble and broken glass everywhere. The power was cut instantly, and there was general pandemonium around the area with people running and sirens wailing. Within seconds there was a strong military presence making one surmise that it was something more sinister than just an accident. I later read it was an accident in a gas-storage warehouse, leaving three people dead.
3 June - Surabaya – Borneo - By ship
In the morning, it was off to the harbour where the kind security guard at the gate went to the shipping office by motorbike to buy our tickets. Not feeling well, and with boarding time being much later, I parked myself under the nearest tree while Ernest went back to town in search of an Internet cafe and snacks for the trip.
Judging by the ticket price (R160 for a 24h00-trip) it sure wasn’t going to be a cruise liner. I was suffering from severe diarrhoea and certainly wasn’t looking forward to spending a long time on a crowded boat with a lack of toilet facilities. The ticket included six meal vouchers from which it appeared they were expecting us to be on the ship for significantly longer than the predicted 20 to 24 hours. The vessel was a large car-ferry, and one could cycle on board and store the bikes below deck with the trucks, cars and motorbikes for an additional R60 per bike.
The fact that the boat only departed at 20h00 instead of 17h00 made me wonder if one were indeed going to need all those meal vouchers. However, once on board, the very accommodating crew gave an option to upgrade to a private cabin for a mere R40 each. I thought this a bargain and dug into my wallet and handed over the cash. Meals were even served in the cabin while the rest of the people had to stand in queues.
(661km - 21days)
4 June – Surabaya, Java – Banjarmasin, Kalimantan, Borneo - By ship
The last part of the ferry trip to Banjarmasin was up a large river and, from the ship, one could see a large segment of the population lived in stilted wooden houses over the water along the riverbanks.
Borneo is the third largest island in the world, and the largest in Asia, and in my mind the furthest place on the planet from where I was born - not so much in distance as in culture, scenery and weather, and it held a huge fascination for me.
Politically, the island was shared among three countries: Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia with approximately 73% of the island being Indonesian territory. The island straddles the equator, and about half of the island is in the Northern Hemisphere with most of the Indonesian side being in the Southern Hemisphere.
Twenty-two hours after sailing out of Surabaya, Java the ferry docked at the river port of Banjarmasin on the island of Borneo. It was only a few kilometres into the city and, although dark, it was no trouble finding our way or a room.
5 June Banjarmasin
I felt absolutely awful and spent the best part of the day lying in the room under the, not so useful, fan. One could tell Borneo was going to be even hotter and more humid than Java, just the type of hothouse effect one could expect of one of the last wildernesses in the world. Ernest found anti-nausea tablets and, by the evening, I felt much better and could arrange a river trip with Ahmed, a local guide. Most of what there was to see in Borneo was inland along rivers and not along the (what seemed like) only route along the coast.
6 June Banjarmasin
Our guide woke us at 5 a.m. as I was unaware of the hours’ time difference between Borneo and Java. After cruising up rivers and canals in an open slow-boat, we arrived at a very colourful floating market which allowed buying fruit from the boat vendors.
Banjarmasin was a city with a maze of rivers and canals, and much of the population seemingly spent life in their stilted homes lining the river banks. The waterways weren’t just for transport but also served as a toilet, a bath, a place to fish, to swim and to do laundry. The people were incredibly curious and shouted greetings and pointed us out to their kids as our boat puttered past. At times, I felt as out of place in Borneo as an orangutang would be on the streets of Cape Town.
On the return trip, our guide stopped at the riverside “old market” allowing the purchase of vegetables for a potato salad as I still couldn’t stomach any fried stuff. The markets were fascinating and a quick glimpse into the daily life of the people of Borneo.
7 June - Banjarmasin – Margasari – 81 km
Instead of taking the main road, we left Banjarmasin via a narrow but paved road which followed a canal with plenty of local life. In contrast to our suspect map, the way abruptly turned into a small, gravel trail that ran along rivers and canals. People seemed somewhat apprehensive of us; a sure sign it wasn’t an area frequented by foreigners.
The path deteriorated into a footpath, while the mother of all storms was building up ahead. The storm broke on reaching the entrance to a coal mine, making for convenient shelter in the security hut. With coal dust from the overhead conveyer belt showering down on us, we soon resembled two drenched silvered leaf monkeys. The rain subsided and, albeit still drizzling, it was possible to proceed along the unpaved mining road. Back amongst the rice paddies, the rain had turned the track into an impassable clay pit. While slipping and sliding, all one could do was to try and push the bike along, but it became impossible as both the bicycle and my feet got stuck in the thick, sticky clay. While dragging the bike along, one sandal was lost and swallowed by the mud; sometimes the truth was stranger than fiction.
After what seemed like an eternity, a canal was reached where a boat ferried people across and, hopefully, there would be better conditions on the opposite side. Locals helped slide the bikes onto the ferry, and then helped clean off the worst of the clay. It was getting late, but camping was out the question as it was still raining, and with no shelter or dry land in sight, there was nothing to do but continue, with mosquitoes in hot pursuit. Helpful locals helped push the bikes through the thick clay until the path became more solid. It was tricky cycling as, by then, it was dark, still raining, the route muddy and potholed, and I considered myself lucky to have fallen only once.
What felt like a lifetime later, two somewhat soaked and muddy foreigners slunk into the small town of Margasari – much to the surprise of the locals. Shelter was sought at the police station, but it was deserted. After a long while, the police returned from their patrol (or dinner) and gave permission to pitch our tents in one of their derelict back rooms. In fact, it took a while to explain to the police all that was needed was a place to sleep (not a lift to the bus station nor a meal or anything else). Ernest worked until well after midnight to wash the worst of the muck off the bikes.
8 June - Margasari – Kandangan – 54 km
From Margasari to Kandangan ran a paved road, and I've never been happier. The route was along a narrow but scenic path, past rural villages and along a river that led to the small city of Rantau. It was a fascinating ride past Rantau and on to Kandangan and, being in desperate need of a shower, a room was found and the afternoon spent doing laundry and cleaning equipment. The skin on the palms of my hands started coming off – gosh, what could be next? It looked awful, like athletes’ foot on one’s hands, gross.
9 June - Kandangan – Tanjung – 97 km
Breakfast was mostly included in the room rate and, in general, consisted of fried rice and a boiled egg. Taking the weather into account, it was no surprise duck eggs were the order of the day.
We took off in a drizzle, and happiness was finding a hard-topped road, as anything was better than the clay of the day before.
10 June - Tanjung – Muarakomam – 92 km
Holy Mackerel, those hills were steep! It went straight up and straight down, and while wondering what happened to good old switchbacks, it was huffing and puffing up the mountain. On reaching the top, I stopped to get my breath back, then it was straight down and up the next one. Coffee grew on the mountain slopes, and locals were drying the beans along the roadside. Freshly ground coffee was, therefore, always available, and it was delicious.
Muarakomam was a tiny village with only a few houses on either side of the road, a mosque and a market. It was hard to believe it had a “penginapan” (small local hotel). They sure knew they had a monopoly as the price was rather steep for such basic accommodation.
11 June - Muarakomam - Kuaro – 57 km
The stretch between Muarakomam and Kuaro was another hard day of cycling. It wasn’t that the hills were long, only about 500 metres or so, but the gradient was insane and, on reaching the top, the road descended equally steeply down the other side, usually across a river, only to ascend the next hill. The process was repeated continually: reaching the high point after which it felt I fell straight off the mountain and flew downhill at break-neck speed. Flying around a corner at high speed, I was nearly killed for a second time in Indonesia as a truck coming up swerved out for a massive pothole and missed me (again) by mere centimetres. I was a lot more careful after that.
Happy to reach the junction town of Kuaro, I called it quits as I desperately needed to rest my legs.
12 June - Kuaro – Balikpapan - 141 km
The route headed for the coastal city of Balikpapan, and I hoped it would flatten out in comparison to the previous days. According to the locals, it was a “good” road, but it was still bumpy and potholed with a good few hills. Like the previous days, it was hot and humid and, under a searing sun, I was sure I lost half my body weight in sweat.
By late afternoon we’d reached Pananjang on the southern shore of a broad estuary, with Balikpapan on the opposite side. A car ferry took passengers across, but many of the locals made use of the speed boat service as the crossing took more than an hour. Cycling off the ferry it was already dark and, to my dismay, found the ferry dock some distance away from the city. It was no fun at all cycling another 20 kilometres up and down steep hills on a tricky route in the dark, and then through chaotic traffic.
On reaching the town, I was exhausted, hungry and thirsty – but that wasn’t the end of the ordeal. It was late on Saturday night, and all the hotels in town were full. Eventually, and after 10 p.m., a place was found, but it still had to be cleaned. What a long, long day it had been, and I was never happier to be horizontal – lumpy, sagging mattress or not.
13 June – Balikpapan
I wondered if people in South Africa realise how much they were in the eye of the world at that time. With South Africa hosting the FIFA World Cup at the time, their every move was watched across the globe. There I was in Borneo, and the streets were jam-packed with traffic, all going to the local park where a huge big screen was showing the football. It was festive, and food stalls lined the streets. They should have blocked the road, as it was impossible to get through. Everywhere else in the city, people were watching at pavement cafés and local eateries, cheering on their chosen team.
14-15 June – Balikpapan
The next morning it was better to move to another hotel closer to the centre and one offering better accommodation at the same price. My knees were sore from cycling up all those hills, but thought nothing a couple of anti-inflammatories and a few days rest couldn’t sort out. Thorough use was made of the hot water shower in the room, while washing clothes, hair and scrubbing bodies, all while enjoying the luxury of an air-con room.
16-17 June Balikpapan – Loa Janan – Samarinda – 139 km
Time had come to move on, and to venture further north towards Samarinda. The path continued to be extremely hilly and it was slightly further than expected. By the time it got dark, I called it quits as I had enough of struggling in the dark up hills and searching for accommodation in heavy traffic.
It was only 13 kilometres into Samarinda city and, once settled in, it was off to the harbour to enquire about ferries to Sulawesi. However, before leaving Borneo, I still had plans of exploring the interior by boat, as roads appeared to be non-existent and the best way to see the interior was by boat. To my horror, I discovered our digs came with bed bugs as I woke the following morning covered in itchy bite marks.
18 June – Samarinda
In Samarinda it was easy to locate a guide to take us into the interior, in fact, he found us as they seemed to frequent the hotels on the hunt for tourist. I liked the guy and arranged with him to go inland along the waterways. I’m sure it could have been done quite easily independently, but thought it a convenient way to travel and, in the process, support the local economy.
19 June - Going inland
Our guide was dead on time at 8h00, and the three of us took an “angkot” to the bus terminus. (Angkot is an abbreviation of “angkutan kota”, meaning city transportation. However, almost all foreigners call a minivan an angkot.) From the bus terminus, our guide, Ernest and I boarded a bus to Kota Bandung further up-river, a very bumpy three-hour ride.
Then it was on a small long-tailed boat, not much more than a canoe with an engine. It, fortunately, came with a canopy to keep the worst of the sun off us. The engine sat at the back of the boat, and it had a long direct driveshaft to the propeller, making for a somewhat noisy affair. The engine sputtered and roared. It reminded of our disastrous crossing between Thailand and Myanmar when the engine blew up, and the boat left adrift in the open sea.
After leaving the busy waterways, our boatman steered us across a vast lake resembling an ocean. The colours reminded of the Antarctic; whites and blues abounded as the boat scooted across the lake at high speed, reaching a tiny floating settlement two hours later. The village made for a convenient lunch stop. The little settlement was no more than two square kilometres and fitted with wooden walkways for streets while everything else floated alongside it.
Back on the lake, the ever-floating grass islands made navigating tricky and it was with great difficulty that the boatman found his way along channels through these islands, at times so thick the boat couldn’t get through. Directions were sought from local fishermen as the canals were ever-changing.
Our overnight stop was at a community where accommodation was at a very comfortable guesthouse, resembling a longhouse. Longhouses (the traditional accommodation) aren’t in use anymore, and I understood it had been discouraged by the government. Traditionally, entire communities would live in one longhouse but, apparently, it was a breeding ground for disease. Individual houses are now encouraged. Fortunately, there are still some lovely old longhouses to be seen in some of the villages.
20 June – Going Inland
After a breakfast of tea and fried noodles, it was back on the boat. This time the route was up a river, lined by dense forest and small villages. Wooden houses on barges floated along the side and toilets were no more than small outhouses directly over the water with a hole in the floor. From what I could see, most of these villages were fishing villages, and people didn’t seem to do much more than fish, wash and clean. I couldn’t help but wonder how many kids drown in these villages.
We were lucky to spot a few long-nosed proboscis monkeys along the way. All kinds of fishing methods were being employed, from fish traps to Chinese fishing nets, but still, there seemed plenty of fish around.
The settlements seemed well organised (albeit floating and with no connecting road to the outside world). They had petrol stations, shops, furniture stores, schools and even markets, all floating on barges or on high stilts.
Women could be seen going about their daily business with faces smeared with mysterious white paint. The purpose of which was unknown to me. Babies were being rocked viciously in small hammocks, and older kids were, seemingly, continually playing in the river.
In the next village, I found the lady making the face masks/paint. It was a concoction of leaves and flour rolled into small balls and dried in the sun. She keenly gave me some. I must have looked like I needed it.
Back in our guesthouse, we ate the rest of the prawn, tempe (something like tofu, thinly sliced and fried) and noodles, washed down with more tea.
I could still not stop itching, no bedbugs this time but hordes of mosquitoes and I was reasonably lumpy by then. Fortunately, the power came on in the evening and stayed on until morning, making it possible to use a fan during the night. Thank goodness for that.
21 June – Going Inland
Before leaving, a quick peep into the traditional healer’s house was fascinating. It was rather colourful and quite busy, and it seemed people made regular use of him as his drumming and chanting could be heard throughout the night. Then it was time to head back to Samarinda.
Our boatman was ready and waiting for us, and steered back the same way we came. Although not a huge amount of wildlife left, there was still a fair amount of birdlife, and our guide pointed out colourful kingfishers, many types of water birds and even a large marabou stork or two, easily one of the ugliest birds on the planet.
I admit the toilets were something to get used to. Not only was it a wooden structure over the water with a hole in the floor, but people also washed, did their laundry and swum right at the door of the toilet. Best not to think about it, just squat and do your thing. Good thing they didn’t use toilet paper. The worst was you still washed your ass with water scooped from the very same river. Gosh, I guess that’s way too much information for most people.
22 June – Samarinda
Back in Samarinda, tickets were bought for the passage to Sulawesi that left every Wednesday. Judging by the way tickets were sold left, right and centre, I anticipated another long boat ride with minimal facilities. I was sure they had no idea of how many tickets they sold. Ernest was sick and stayed in bed all day.
23 June - Samarinda, Kalimantan – Pare-Pare, Sulawesi
According to our tickets, the ship left at 11h00, but it was 14h00 before it finally departed. As expected, fellow travellers streamed onto the ferry, and soon all were packed in like sardines. Rumour had it that there were 4,000 people on the ship (which I could believe), licensed to carry 970 people. There were no cabins, only a large open area where people sat on the floor. It was so packed one couldn’t even find a space to roll out a mat. It was better to opt for the open deck, but even there it was totally packed with people trying to escape the stuffy interior. Hawkers still managed to get through and sold all kinds of snacks and trinkets; how they did it, I didn’t know. You know you in for a hot and stuffy ride when the hawkers peddled fans at only a few cents.
The muezzin’s call gave opportunity to roll out our mats on deck, allowing us to stretch our legs.
If that wasn’t enough, a fierce wind picked up, and soon our ferry sailed into a storm. It rained, the swell was enormous, the boat pitched and the people puked. By then there was no chance of going inside, as inside it was even more packed with not even standing space available. Ernest and I wrapped ourselves in our groundsheets and waited out the storm on deck.
The problem with such an overloaded boat was the facilities weren’t designed to handle that amount of people. People puked and had a pee wherever they could squat.
(659km - 15days)
24 June - Pare-Pare
On arrival in Pare-Pare, I think just about everyone was dead tired and happy to be off the ferry. I first swung by the bike shop to purchase a new tyre as a massive bubble appeared along the wall of the tyre. Then it was straight to a hotel for a shower and sleep.
25 June - Pare-Pare – Enrekang - 86 km
Sulawesi was a twisted, orchid-shaped island with four mountainous peninsulas sprawling into the sea. Needless to say, there was little flat ground around. The stretch between Pare-Pare and Enrekang was gently undulating and probably the most level of the lot. Both the culture and architecture of Sulawesi was utterly different from the rest of Indonesia. Traditional wooden houses lined the road, orchids grew wild, and amazed and friendly locals were keen to inspect us. I say “inspect”, as, at every stop, they seemingly appeared from nowhere and had no shame in looking and even touching us.
26 June - Enrekang – Makale – 80 km
The way to Makale climbed up to the highlands with stunning views of the valleys and rivers far below. Numerous stops for water, and to admire the scenery and the charming traditional houses, slowed the pace considerably. On reaching the area of Tana Toraja, things became even more interesting.
Traditional houses with boat-shaped roofs, rising in front and at the back, was the norm, and most had a richly-decorated barn in front.
Although it was Saturday night, it was easy to find a room in Makale, which was a good thing as Ernest was still not well after his time in Borneo.
27-29 June - Makale – Rantapao – 24 km
It was a short and comfortable ride to Rantapoa stopping at Londa, a small village with fascinating burial caves. Inside the caves, old coffins were scattered around, exposing skulls and bones. Above the cave was a balcony with a row of tau-tau (life-sized, carved, wooden replicas of the dead) sitting all dressed up in fresh clothes watching their graves. Other caves had the tau-tau sitting high up on a sheer cliff face.
On reaching Rantepao, we stayed two nights, doing nothing much but laying around and watching football, waiting for Ernest to recover.
30 June - Rantepao – Palopo – 65 km
The stretch of road between Rantepao and Palopo turned out another remarkable day as it ran through authentic villages with colourful rice barns before reaching the long-awaited downhill. It was in a rather poor condition and washed away in places, with parts so narrow I wondered how the trucks and buses make it past those detours. Thick clouds and rain hung over the mountaintop making for poor visibility as the path descended down the mountain. On reaching the town of Palopo, a guesthouse was found close to the central market.
1 July - Palopo – Larompong – 81 km
At long last, the path levelled out. What a pleasure it was to cycle along and enjoy the scenery past all kinds of produce being dried in the sun. The whole range was there: cocoa beans, coffee beans, fish, rice, seaweed, vanilla and the ever-present cloves. The smell of cloves would forever remind of Indonesia.
A road sign indicated a beach hotel and, on closer inspection, came upon, what must have once been, a superb resort hotel. The property was located right on the Gulf of Boni but was neglected, and although it had all the facilities, there were no other guests. In the room were a small fridge and TV, but despite the array of satellite dishes, there was only one channel. (I later found the TV remote in the bed.) The word must have gotten out that two foreigners were in their midst, as the townsfolk arrived to gaze at the two strangers and their doings.
2 July - Larompong - Sidenreng – 123 km
It was another excellent day of cycling, gently undulating with magnificent views. A tailwind assisted us while cycling past rural settlements where houses had shiny, pink curtains and kids wore bright green school tracksuits.
Shortly after departing one of our water stops, Ernest snapped the chain on his bicycle, and although he fixed it in a remarkably short time, a lady from one of the houses served coffee and cake. Curious kids arrived in hordes to see what was going on and, although shy, they weren’t timid.
With the Soccer World Cup hosted by South Africa at that time, most people had at least, by then, heard of South Africa, although most still found it surprising we were Caucasian-looking. When they heard where we’re from, they spontaneously broke into the “Wave your flag” song. I must admit, it was a rather catchy tune.
3 July - Sidenreng - Pare-Pare – 31 km
After a breakfast of fried rice and chillies, there was no doubt heartburn was going to set in soon. Ernest, for his own reasons, was keen to get to Pare-Pare and we, therefore, didn’t continue on to Makassar but took a day’s rest in Pare-Pare.
4 July - Pare-Pare – Pancep – 113 km
Ernest was still unwell and considered stopping early, but there wasn’t much to choose from, and he had no choice but to carry on to Pancep. Once again, I surmised, the guesthouse in Pancep was a place where they rented rooms by the hour, but it was cheap and the people friendly enough.
5-8 Jul - Pancep – Makassar – 56 km
The following day a comfortable and short ride led to Makassar with its heavy traffic and congested streets. A backpacker’s hostel right in the centre of town provided accommodation for the next five days and until the next ferry to Surabaya (Java) departed. While waiting for the boat, I visited the old fort and took bicycle rickshaws around town, visiting all there was to see in Makassar.
9 July Makassar – Surabaya - By boat
Eventually, it was time to leave. The day dragged on, seemingly forever, as checkout time was at 12h00, but the ship only docked at 3 p.m. and departed at 7 p.m. There wasn’t much to do but sit around in cafes, visiting shopping centres and the old fort (again). At last, it was time to board the already overcrowded ship. Makassar wasn’t the origin of the voyage, as the boat did a weekly route amongst various Indonesian islands.
Once on board, a passage close to the door looked the perfect spot for ourselves and our bikes. However, other passengers also claimed their space in our alley and soon one could hardly move. The rest of the boat was similar, with people sleeping on the stairs and in passages.
I thought the Indonesians the most tolerant people on earth. With the boat being overcrowded, everything from going to the (soon blocked and overflowing) toilet to buying something at the shop came with a lengthy wait in a long queue. The Indonesians (unlike me) didn’t stand there grumbling, sighing and rolling their eyes. In fact, they remained friendly and chatty as if it was no problem at all. I truly admired them for that. Even when our ship developed engine problems, and the boat was left adrift out in the open seas, they didn’t lift an eyebrow. They carried on eating their instant noodles and playing cards, believing the problem would be fixed in no time at all.
In the meantime, they seemed to be having showers continually and always smelled as fresh as daisies; it was just the two foreigners being all sweaty and smelly. I discovered their secret: fragrant flowers, sold at the market, was placed in water and then used for rinsing the body. How clever of them.
(210km - 8days)
10 July - Surabaya
A significant amount of garbage was generated by the many passengers. Meals and snacks were all served in polystyrene containers, and most wrappers were plastic. I was impressed that all the garbage was collected in large plastic refuse bags and stored at the other end of our passage. To my shock and horror, a large side-hatch was opened during the night, and all rubbish, unceremoniously dumped into the ocean. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Due to our engine problems, arrival in Surabaya was only around 22h00, instead of in the afternoon. It took forever to get off the boat with the bikes and all our panniers. Again, it took cycling in the dark to find accommodation, and I was more than happy to be off the ship and in the fresh air.
11 July – Surabaya
Due to Ernest being unwell, another day was spent in Surabaya. I wondered the markets of Surabaya and found although most people have at least heard of South Africa, my impression was many still thought of South Africa in a geographical term, referring to Southern Africa. A typical reaction was often, “But you are not black?” or as someone asked, “Where in South Africa? …. Nigeria?”
12-13 July - Surabaya - Pasuruan – 67 km
The route to Pasuruan was a relatively short distance but came with heavy traffic. The entire way was congested, and it felt like one never cleared the city limits. Still, it was better than staying in one place. I seemed to have caught Ernest’s cold and suffered from a tight chest, blocked nose and headache. Guava stands lined the road, not only selling guavas but also guava juice making for a great drink when loaded with ice.
The road to Pasuruan was congested all the way; fortunately the was a comfortable guesthouse. Not only was it outside, but it was also a ground floor room that came with a window and a veranda overlooking a central garden. The next day, both Ernest and I were not feeling well and stayed in bed, making good use of the cosy room.
14 July Pasuruan – Probolinggo - 41 km
It was a short and easy cycle to Probolinggo. Again, the route was along a busy road, but at least it was flat with a slight tailwind. Probolinggo was also the jumping-off point for tours to Gunung Bromo, the nearby volcano, which I was keen to visit.
15 July - Gunung Bromo
I got up in the early hours of the morning, left Ernest in bed, and headed up the mountain to see the sunrise. I had not seen that amount of tourists in a long while and wondered where they all came from. I had to stretch my neck to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. Still, it remained a spectacular sight with great views of the dramatic surrounding landscape.
Mount Bromo, with its smoking cone, and smelling strongly of rotten eggs, is situated in a vast caldera and surrounded by various other craters. The eerie landscape has spurned countless legends and myths. Mt Bromo was of particular importance for the Tengger people who believe it was the site where a brave prince sacrificed his life for his family. The people here appease the Gods once a year during the annual Kasada festival when offerings of vegetables, chickens and money are thrown into the crater of the volcano to keep the beast’s smouldering fury at bay.
I climbed to the lip of the crater to see what was down below and found myself looking down into its fiery caldera as plumes of thick smoke billow from deep inside the earth, making for an otherworldly scene. Then it was time to head back to our abode where Ernest was still semi-comatose under the covers.
16 July - Probolinggo – Situbondo – 102 km
I was well-rested and had a great day on the bike; the road was flat, and there wasn’t as much traffic as expected. The road hugged the coast for much of the way and although not a beachy area, more like mangrove swamps, it was great to be next to the ocean.
(351km - 13days)
17 July - Situbondo – Gilimanuk – 90 km
A stiff headwind slowed our efforts and got worse as the day progressed. The road wasn’t as flat as the day before and slightly undulating in parts. Fortunately, the hilly area was through a shady forest. From the dock in Ketapang, it was a short ferry ride across the Sea of Bali to the island of Bali.
At last, I had arrived in Bali, a place that conjured up images of a relaxing beach life with a cocktail in hand. I was more than ready for an island holiday in a beach hut behind potted plants.
Hardly off the ferry an advertising board pointed to rooms, and what a delightful place it was - little bungalows in an overgrown garden, nearly what I had in mind.
18 July - Gilimanuk – Medewi Beach - 59 km
The first part of the day was through a national park under a green canopy of trees. No wonder Bali was such a popular destination, it clearly had more than only beaches. The Balinese Hindu culture was alive and well and I had seldom seen such a vast collection of Hindu temples and shrines. The towns and villages along the way had a strong ancient Hindu flavour reflected in the architecture and all the shrines.
On reaching the popular surfing spot of Medewi Beach, I called it a day. Close to the turnoff from the main road, was an excellent place to stay with an equally excellent menu.
19-21 July - Medewei Beach – Denpasar (Capital of Bali) – 74 km
Bali has everything to make it a true paradise: with its warm tropical climate and great beaches, good surf, palm trees and frangipanis, it was close to heaven. Add to that an evocative Hindu culture, green rice paddies and friendly Balinese, and it sure was to be a winner. Typical island style, there was plenty of fruit to be had along the way. Roadside stalls were selling bright red watermelons, large yellow bananas, pineapples and mangoes.
On reaching the capital, the first priority was to inquire about a visa for Australia. There were many filling in of forms, copies to be made as well as a host of other requirements. Once done all was handed in and then it was a matter of wait and see. Ernest appeared satisfied sitting in a room in Denpasar, but I was bored stiff. Time to move on and check on the progress of the visa later. There must be more to do on a holiday island than sitting in a city room, staring at the ceiling.
22-28 July - Denpasar – Kuta Beach & Uluwatu - 10km/29km/28km
I saddled up and with a reluctant Ernest in tow cycled the rather short distance to the famous, or infamous, Kuta Beach. It was much closer than I had expected. It all came as a bit of a shock after such a long time in the rest of Indonesia. Tourists galore, narrow alleys lined with curio stalls, T-shirts, surf shops, western restaurants, booze, tattoo shops and marijuana. Gosh, I nearly fell over just witnessing it all. I eventually found a reasonably priced guesthouse and parked off, absorbing it all.
The most unique thing about human beings is how quickly one can adapt to a new environment. Soon I was shopping, eating, drinking, and nearly had a new tattoo. I joined the beer swirling holidaying Aussies, ate at Pizza Hut, swam in the ocean, dodged curio sellers and anyone else trying to sell me a trip to a nearby island.
I was enthusiastically telling someone about our trip, but he apparently did not believe me. Definitely, time to move on. It was a leisurely bike ride to Uluwatu Beach, one of the most famous surfing spots in Bali if not in the world. There was no accommodation at the surfing point, and most rooms were scattered along the hilly roads in the vicinity. After one night it was back to Kuta, while still waiting to hear from the Australian Embassy. In Kuta, better accommodation was found at Sari Bali – a lovely place with a balcony and pool and it was a luxury life of eating pizzas and drinking beers.
29 July - Kuta – Padang Bai – 61 km
Finally, it was time to wave touristy Kuta goodbye and to head for Denpasar to pick up our passports. Eager to see if the visas had been granted, it was a relieved to see a three-month visa was securely pasted in the passport.
With our Indonesian visas valid until 11 August and our flight from Bali to Darwin only scheduled for 10 August, it was on to Padang Bai to catch a ferry for Lombok.
Bali was a smaller island than expected and the roads good and scenic. All in all, it was an enjoyable ride with, once again, plenty of Balinese Hindu temples and shrines. Padang Bai wasn’t only a ferry port but quite a delightful little village, with a small touristy sea-front and plenty of places to stay and eat. Our budget digs came complete with sheets not being changed for months. Then it was off to a small restaurant on the “strip”.
Ernest went wild and ordered a steak. Although the steak was ordered “rare”, he claimed it was cremated and resembled part of an old shoe sole, just as flat and just as tough, hahaha. He also sarcastically claimed the accompanying French fries looked and tasted exactly like rice. My vegetable curry was a winner, and it appeared by sticking to the local cuisine, you avoided disaster on a plate.
(556km - 13days)
30 June - Padang Bai, Bali – Senggigi, Lombok – 40 km
The ferry departed at 10h00 for the four-hour voyage. From the Lombok ferry port, it was only 20 kilometres to the capital which was bypassed in favour of Senggigi, further up the coast and famed for its lovely beaches. With Senggig being the most touristy place on Lombok island, much of the accommodation on the beach was too expensive for me, and there was no beach where I envisaged myself in a bamboo hut with the water lapping at my feet.
Fortunately, there was always budget accommodation to be found. That evening, Ernest, at long last, enjoyed fish prepared to his taste. I ordered the fried vegetables and tofu, that was absolutely delicious. The cooking was a major bone of contention between Ernest and me as he insisted on cooking, where I preferred to eat local, partly as I have no interest in preparing food and partly as I saw food as very much part of a countries culture.
31 July - Senggigi – Senaru – 85 km
The road was hilly, and I huffed and puffed up the steep little inclines and then flew down the other side. The ongoing roadworks made it even harder and, while pushing up one particularly steep gravel hill, a kind local motorbike passenger decided to help - but I think he underestimated the weight and soon abandoned me to my own devices. As often happens, the last 10 kilometres of the day was straight up the mountain. The accommodation came with excellent views of Rinjani (the famous volcano on the island). I was itching to do the trek up to the crater, but there was no time left for such adventures.
1 August - Sennaru – Lanbuhan Lombok – 68 km
The scenery was absolutely breathtaking and friendly kids cheered us on while batteling up a near vertical road. A chorus of “turist, turist” and “hello mister” could be heard while cycling past rural settlements.
Labuan Lombok, was the ferry terminal to Sumbawa island, our next destination. After consultation with the locals, it was concluded that it was best to stay the night and only cross to Sumbawa Island in the morning. Upon finding a “losmen” (local hotel), food was bought at the local market, and eventually, Ernest found a decent white snapper which he filleted and fried for himself and managed to eat the whole thing.
2 August - Lanbuhan Lombok – Mataram – 75 km
Somehow our plans changed during the night. For some reason, a decision was made to stay in Lombok instead of crossing the short straight to Sumbawa.
Locals reliably informed us the main road back to the west coast was flat, but I think that by “flat” they meant “straight” as opposed to hilly. The road was dotted with small hamlets where the horse and buggy were still in full use and which seemed to be the primary mode of public transport. Farmers still ploughed their rice paddies with oxen and locals were amazed that one could cycle to Mataram.
In Mataram, a lovely homestay was located where we could unsaddle our own well-used horses. Ernest did his usual afternoon march around the markets, and, as usual, returned with a refreshing local Bintang and a few snacks.
3 August - Mataram, Lombok – Padang Bai, Bali – 21 km
It was a short amble to the harbour for the ferry ride back to Bali, arriving just in time for the 12h00 ferry. Along with trucks, buses, curio sellers and hawkers, the boat was boarded for another four-hour crossing. The swell was rather large, and one could do little else but settle in on a mat and ate Pop-Mie (cup noodles) and salak (snake fruit), which we’d bought earlier along the way.
By the time the ferry arrived in Bali, it was 16h30, and accommodation was in the same hotel where we’d stayed before (suckers for punishment). At least it appeared by then they had changed the sheets. Although not fresh, the sheets seemed somewhat less “used” than on the previous visit.
4 August - Padang Bai – Amed – 56 km
I knew it was just a matter of time before our flight out, and I was somewhat reluctant to cycle. I eventually made a move and headed east and then north around the island. Off over the hills, it was, and what a stunning ride it turned out to be. Lush and green with rice paddies and temples made the trip a pure pleasure, and I was happy to be on the bike. Along the way, there seemed to be various celebrations or festivals complete with people dressed in traditional clothes, as well as dancers and local bands. That said, it could also have been a funeral (who knows?).
Once over the eastern hills, it was downhill to the coast and in no time at all, arrived in Amed, a very touristy area on the far east coast. A guesthouse on the beach, a swim in the ocean, beer and local food concluded the day. Although the beach was a black volcanic pebble beach, the water was crystal clear and lukewarm.
5 August - Amed – Lovina - 85 km
With a good tailwind, it was easy cycling on a reasonably flat road running along the coast. At the local market, Ernest bought himself a fish for supper - a rather strange-looking, pike-like creature he cleaned and deboned for hours. He appeared quite pleased with the end result, but to me, it seemed so much work should have produced a lot more fish but, then again, I’m sluggish when it comes to cooking food and instead I ate my instant noodles.
6 August - Lovina – Tangerang - 83 km
From Lovina it was back over the hills towards Denpasar and the airport and, as expected, it was a decent climb across such a volcanic island. The scenery was, however, sublime as the road headed past neatly terraced rice paddies. Overnight accommodation was in the big town of Tangerang, about 20 kilometres north of Denpasar.
7 August - Tangerang – Kuta - 36 km
The ride to Kuta was reasonably quick but came with a few rain showers. En-route Ernest bought a spare rim, and it appeared to me he wanted to take as much as possible on the flight to Australia. Then it was time to sort out bags and bikes for the flight to Darwin, trying to reduce the weight as much as possible (except the rim) as excess baggage came at a hefty price.
8-11 August - Kuta – Kuta Airport – 7 km
The following day was spent scrubbing and cleaning bikes, doing laundry and sorting out gear for the flight to Darwin, Australia. I was wondering who the heck worked out the flight timetable as our flight was at 11 pm arriving in Darwin at 3 am. That can surely not be a convenient time for anyone. I was, however, quite excited to experience Australia, a new country and a new culture, after such a long time in Africa and Asia.
At last, it was “Selamat tinggal dan Terima kase, Indonesia” as we cycled the short distance to the airport. Once at the airport, we expected to have to box the bikes, but there were no boxes available (contrary to what we’ve been told). However, we were lucky to meet Tan C.K, an extremely helpful Malaysian who had bought a bike in Bali. He contacted the bike shop who brought us two bike boxes and helped packed the bikes.
The sad part was paying for our overweight baggage, even after a discount, it was far more than the price of the ticket (I was sure it was that rim). It was a budget airline, and I was surprised that the toilets were free.