Around the world by bike
Indonesia (7 islands)
(5 266km - 178days)
(1 694km - 33days)
15 February - Malacca (Malaysia) – Dumai (Indonesia) - By ferry (plus some cycling)
Malacca was rather slow to wake from the Chinese New Year celebrations, and we weren’t sure if the ferry was even running. Time to move on however, and we packed up early and cycled down to the ferry jetty. We were advised to take the second ferry as the first one was choc and block full, whilst the second one wasn’t even half full. The ferry ride took about 2.5 hours and walla, there we were in a new country again – Sumatra Island, Indonesia.
Indonesia appeared to be halfway between India and Africa, hot, humid, crazy traffic and potholed roads, this is more my kind of country (opposed to more organized SE-Asian countries like Malaysia). Don’t get me wrong, I loved Malaysia, but feel very at home in more chaotic countries. I think I’m going to like Indonesia! So here we are back in dirty rooms with peeling paper-thin walls, shared toilets, and bucket showers - what more can I say.
16 February - Dumai – Duri - 5km
We followed the busy, potholed road south in blistering heat; I somehow think that this is going to be our lot for the next few months.
I haven’t worked out the money thing yet, the local currency is Rupiah which seems to be about 1 000 Rupiah to one SA Rand. Here we are in a conservative Moslem country again and being stared at yet again (especially in shorts and T Shirt). They will just have to stare as it is far too hot to cycle in long pants and sleeves.
The people seem very friendly and everyone wants to be your friend, we are constantly being invited to stay at their homes. “Hello, how are you?, Where you go? and Welcome to Indonesia” is constantly being shouted from the side of the road. They seem to get the Miss and Mister thing a bit wrong as I’m often called Mister. (A reminder of the “Good morning teacher” in Africa, is the regular “Good morning Mister”, even in the afternoon).
My heat rash was so bad that I opted for an air-con room, but accommodation seems rather expensive in Indonesia and we cycled around for a long time in order to find a reasonably priced room. In general the quality of the rooms are similar to some of the Arabic countries and Pakistan, not to clean, curtains hanging from washing pegs, mouldy peeling walls, and a bit smelly.
17 February - Duri – Minas - 110km
The map that I bought in Dumai was rather useless as it showed no km and was a very small print but at least it was better than nothing. We headed for Pekanbaru on the narrow potholed road and I was amazed that the truck drivers were so courteous, sitting behind us until they had space to overtake. This is not a road for listening to the i-pod, we had to be very aware of vehicles on the road. Not only was the road narrow but came with lots of steep little ups and downs.
We could tell that we reaching the equator as it was not only hot and humid but rain came down in buckets every now and again. So we took shelter with the local motorcycles waiting for the worst to pass and then continued along the road. I spotted a sign for a hotel, and we went to enquire even although Ernest said it would be far too expensive as they had security guards at the gate (a sure sign that it is out of our price range). The place turned out to be a resort type of hotel with tennis court, swimming pool, etc. The price list scared us, but after chatting to the management for a while they gave us a decent room for 100 000 Rp, not only with air-con and hot shower, but with dinner and breakfast included - now that’s what I call a good deal.
18 February - Minas – Bangkinang - 90km
We were rather slow to leave our luxury accommodation but eventually got underway, and I was pleased that the road leveled out a bit. So we cycled 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 liter. There were Mosques aplenty, some quite impressive and some looking a bit worse for wear.
Although this is a Moslem country they do not seem to be as conservative as some other countries. There appears to be many Girl Schools and women are quite independent, schooting around on their motorbikes, and very much doing their own thing.
We’re becoming really lazy, and by the time we reached Bangkinang we called it a day and found a room for the night.
19 February - Bangkinang - Pankanang - 85km
We left at around 10h00 after looking for a cap for myself, (I once again lost my old one). It was by far the best day on the road since we arrived in Indonesia, although hot, humid and hilly it was very scenic past small villages, dense forests thick with ferns, and a large lake where the river was dammed up, probably to feed the hydroelectric plant that we saw earlier.
We crossed a few very large rivers complete with fish farms but had no idea of where we were as our map is not very accurate and the sign boards indicated places not mentioned on the map. The final stretch levelled out and we cycled along a river which, had it been anywhere else, would have been jam packed with holiday resorts. Eventually we spotted a petrol station where we were offered a room to sleep on the floor. As there was a restaurant, showers and toilets we settled in for the night with hordes of people staring and watching our every move. When we sat down to eat our table was shared with curious onlookers. Ha, ha our room was invaded every now and again by people coming to have a look at us. As this is a public room they proceeded to sit down on one of the mats and just look at us. I’m putting the laptop away now as they sitting right on top of me to see what I’m doing. There’s nooo private space here, what a disaster, should have pitched the tent next to the river instead.
During the night the room filled up with other people sleeping over, and I woke in the night to find a local man lying next to me with his hand on my leg; I couldn’t wait for the morning to get out of that room.
20 February - Pankanang – Bukittinggi - 85km
I was up at first light, but we still didn’t get away until 9h00. We expected to climb all the way up the mountain to Bukittinggi, which I’ve read is on top of a mountain. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the climb up the pass was only 20km. In the process we crossed the equator but missed the sign somewhere along the way (must have had my head down huffing and puffing up the hill).
On top of the mountain we stopped for a bite to eat and marvel at the view of the surrounding mountains, then it was on the bike again and we flew down the mountain on a very steep winding downhill. The road continued to be busy, especially in the villages, where the main road was packed with busses, trucks, cars, horse drawn carts, motorbike taxis with sidecars and of cause us on our bikes. This part of Sumatra is home to the Minangkabau. With the Minangkabau society being matrilineal, the houses are owned by the women of the family and ownership is passed from mother to daughter. The houses are mostly of timber and have dramatic buffelo-horne like curved roof structures.
Soon we were caught in the tropical rains again. We quickly found shelter and waited for the worst to pass so it was after dark when we arrived in Bukittinggi.
21-22 February - Bukittinggi
Two days spent doing very little, although we did walk to Panorama Park which has views over the gorge, and we even went down and explored the WWII Japanese tunnels. I still want to know how dog owners manage to sleep with their dogs barking all night long! Just as the dogs went to sleep the mosques started up! At least their purpose is to wake the whole community. This is a Muslim country so there’s no getting away from it, but the dogs??? How can the owners not wake up from that constant barking?
23-24 February - Bukittingkki – Padang - 95km
This must surely rate of one of the best cycling days for a very long time! 95km of downhill past small villages, raging waterfalls, over rivers and through lush and green forests with volcanoes as a backdrop! Oh yes this is volcano county and there are hundreds if not thousands of volcanoes in Indonesia. It’s also a country which has experienced various natural disasters recently, such as the tsunami and a succession of earthquakes.
Early on in the day Ernest and I lost each other somewhere along the way. When I arrived in Padang I was shocked to see the full extent of the devastating earthquake of a few months ago. See and hearing it on TV never seems to be very real. Many buildings have collapsed and are now in ruins, hotels have been destroyed and the few remaining ones, now charge exorbitant rates.
Early on in the day Ernest and I had somehow lost each other along the way. However, just after I pulled into one known cheap hotel, Ernest pulled in there as well - ha, ha there’s just no getting rid of this man! I was however quite relieved to see him, as I was getting a bit worried after I saw a bicycle flatted by a truck along the way and it made me realize how quickly an accident can happen.
Padang remains a busy coastal town with a very scenic beachfront packed with stalls offering crab and prawn meals. We watched the sun set and what a display of color that was.
25 February - Padang – Painan - 80km
We headed South along the coast on our way to Jakarta (still about 1 000km away). What a stunning day on the road, we followed the coast for app 20km and then the road turned inland over the hills. We followed a small river through many tiny villages, past rice paddies, rivers and forests. Along the road people are drying all kinds of goods, rice, oranges, cloves, cinnamon, what a lovely smell.
We ended up in the small town of Painan and intended to camp by the beach but I had a distinct feeling that the entire town had come out to watch us - they came from far and wide on foot, bicycle and motorbikes to witness the spectacle. In the end we headed back into town to find a room as it is rather difficult to find a bush toilet with the whole world watching!
26 February - Painan – Balai Selasa - 76km
Although this is not the easiest cycling one can get, the scenery is unsurpassed. The day started with a good hill or two. It was boiling hot and we were sweating buckets. Again the road followed the coast past many fishing villages, rice paddies and rivers. We stopped to sample the food along the way, including cassava fried in a batter.
A drinks stop at a local shop normally attracts the entire village, staring unashamedly without even blinking an eyelid. The road is lined with villages and seldom do we pass someone without hearing “Hello friend” or “Where you going?” – as well as the occasional “What are you?”, “Who are you?”, or even “Why are you?”.
We made it to the small village of Balai Selasa just before the rain came down and there was just enough time for Ernest to go to one of the local stalls and pick up some more fried snacks, amongst other things.
27 February - Balai Selasa – Tapan - 65km
Bathrooms in Indonesia come with squat toilet and a water reservoir (mandi), from which one can scoop water with a plastic bucket to flush the toilet and “shower”. I was, however, so hot that 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. Fortunate they have a power shortage, and in general very low voltage globes in the rooms – it’s better not to see what else is floating in the water. Power cuts seem to be a general occurrence, even stopping the mosque mullah’s chorus in mid sentence!
It rained all night but by the time we were ready to leave it had cleared and we were on our way. The road turned inland over the hills again but at least we had some cloud cover for most of the day.
We found some unusual fruit along the road, one (markisa) was like a passion fruit but less watery and with a thick skin that one can peel off to eat the pulpy inside. The other fruit (salak, or snake fruit) has a tough scaly skin with 3 firm white segments inside, quite sweet and delicious with a faint mango flavour.
Soon the heavy rain came down and by the time we were soaked to the bone we arrived in the village of Tapan, where we opted for a room. Sopping wet and dripping with water it was surprising that the landlady even let us in. An interesting room without any glass in the windows, just shutters, the room looked clean but Ernest picked up a really bad eye infection, we think from the pillow (or the wash water in the bathroom “tank”)
28 February - Tapan – Pasar Bantal - 125km
The day started flattish but got progressively more hilly. We thought we were on the coastal road (meaning next to the ocean) but it was up and down hills through palm oil plantations, and it just carried on, and on, and on. One needed to pedal like the clappers down the hills to make it up the next steep one. The road was full of potholes and often broken up in the dips, so it was not always possible to get enough speed down the hill to carry you up the next one.
Fortunately we had some food along the way as it became a rather long day as we were unable to find an ATM to stock up with cash again. Ernest also had a really bad day as he couldn’t see out of his one eye, and the other one was also becoming infected. Late afternoon the rain came down as usual and making it hard to camp as the ground was flooded. In the pouring rain after dark we were offered camping space in a disused mosque at a small village; at least it was out the rain – and we discovered that the lights still worked! We boiled some salt water for Ernest to wash his eyes, ate our noodles, drank our coffee and then it was straight to bed – accompanied by many eager mozzies.
1 March - Pasar Bantal - Ipuh - 53km
The road continued up and down the steep hills, what a difficult ride it was. I felt short of energy and had difficulty with my smaller gears, not something you want on a ride with a million and ten steep hills. Up and down we went through oil palm plantations. Ernest struggled with his eyes and found it difficult to see, by now both eyes were virtually swollen shut.
We stopped in Ipuh but were unable to draw money, as the only ATM in town was out of order. We decided to take a room and I took the bus back (with my last money) to Mukomuka to where we saw an ATM, the previous day. Once there I was shocked to find that the ATM only took Master Card and not Visa (mine is unfortunately Visa). I was in near hysterics as now I had no cash whatsoever. The friendly man at the bank gave me 150 000 rupiah out of his wallet without blinking twice!! Can you believe that!! He did not even want to give me his name so I can repay him later. (I did however manage to get his name from one of the staff members at the bank). I will be forever grateful to that friendly man. It was enough money to get a bit to eat, take the bus back and pay for the room where Ernest was lying in a dark room with his eyes (obviously) closed. There was also enough money left to get a large amount of noodles to see us through to the next big town. I only got back to Ipuh at 10.30 that evening, hot, tired, hungry and thirsty. Ernest was not impressed, as he reckoned us worse off than before. Wow what a day, I would have dearly liked someone to offer me a cup of coffee instead.
At long last I could have a shower and change out of my dirty cycling clothes - I must have stank the people out of the bus, considering that I had not showered or changed my clothes in the previous two days.
2 March - Ipuh – Ketahun - 82km
The day did not start in a perfect way, after packing up Ernest discovered he had a flat tire (from a pothole the previous day). Instead of waiting I got on the road as it was already fairly late. Ernest is quite fast, in both fixing tyres and cycling and would catch up soon. Off I went up and down the notorious hills. If there is one thing I don’t enjoy, then it is slogging up steep hills in my granny gear at 5k/h and men on motorbikes pulling alongside wanting to know if I want to boom-boom, while pushing their thumb between their index and middle fingers. This only happens when I cycle on my own and never when Ernest is with. I gave them a mouthful and they took off on their motorbike.
By the time Ernest caught up it was already 16h00, so it wasn’t long before we pulled into a petrol station with a grassy patch where we were allowed to pitch camp. We ate the last of our noodles and drank our precious coffee and then it was off to bed. The tent was like a sauna and I would have loved to leave the fly sheet off but with all the usual spectators it’s not possible unless I want my every snore watched.
3-7 March - Ketahun – Bengkulu - 91km
I was on the road before Ernest even had his tent down. The road was not as hilly as the previous days but littered with potholes the size of small cars. I bounced my way along the poor road until after 60km I decided to wait for Ernest. The people are just so friendly along the way, always shouting “Hello Mister, how are you?” from far away. When you answer there is normally scores of hysterical laughter afterwards.
Ernest soon arrived (I had to go into the road to stop him, otherwise he wouldn’t have seen me) and we were on our way to Bengkulu. Once there the first thing was to find a working ATM. With money in my pocket, we headed for the nearest hotel, had a shower and found some food. A shower is definitely not something that’s overrated!! Hotel Samudera Dwinka was quite fancy but they had some cheap rooms at the back which were quite comfortable, large, on the ground floor and came with a fan and a back door as well as a hot water dispenser – for plenty of coffee. (The only difference between our room and most of the other rather expensive rooms was air conditioning and hot shower).
We had no intention of moving on until Ernest’s eyes had recovered and he could at least see where he was going. The antibiotic drops seem to be working and he already looked a lot better.
Bengkulu is quite a large town and had a shopping mall with supermarket etc, etc. The roads were littered with mobile food stalls (kaki Limas) and we ate as if we had not seen food in many days. In the meantime we did our 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 whiles Ernest cleaned the bikes - not to mention that he sprayed the greasy muck off in the bathroom with what he calls the “ass-washer” (a flexible pipe protruding from the wall in many eastern toilets, usually with high-pressure water controlled by a sprayer at the end – in the cheap places the plastic scoop from the “tank” is used for the ablutions). I hope the hotel staff did not notice, as I’m sure they will kick us out on the spot.
I went back and forth to the mall (it was such a novelty) found a face mark and hair removal cream and spent the rest of the day titivating myself. In the mean time Ernest also spent time at the interesting local market, having his tent zip replaced, cheap Chinese shoes repaired, and his beloved chair sewn up.
Oh yes, we even experienced an earthquake, in this earthquake-prone area. However, I can hardly say that we experienced it, as it happened after we went to sleep and we didn’t even wake up (only heard about it the next day!). The quake happened 160 km out to sea from here, and although it measured 6.5 in magnitude there was fortunately no structural damage or injury here in Bengkulu.
Today, the 7th, we took a walk around town and to the coast, also visiting the historic Marlborough Fort built by the British in colonial times. Ernest’s eyes seemed much better and I think tomorrow we’ll scoff up the last of the luxury breakfast buffets served here (included in room price), and move on again.
8 March - Bengkulu
Flip-flops is definitely the footwear of choice around here, for easy removal when entering shops, houses and lodging, I’m getting fed-up with removing laced shoes, it’s such a hassle.
Sleeping does not always come easily, roosters crowing at all hours of the night, dogs barking, mullahs calling people to prayer endlessly, and rock hard mattresses - not a good recipe for peaceful sleep. What is with the short mirrors, all I can see is my navel, surely no one is that short; uhmmm…… full of complaints, definitely time to move on.
9 March - Bengkulu – Seluma - 60km
At last we were on the road again, and what a good day it was. The road was not bad at all and the hills where absent. I did not however, feel very well and struggled along on a day that should have been as easy as pie. Once we reached Seluma we opted for a room and even although it was hardly past lunch time, settled in and I even had a little nap. We walked into town in search of the food carts, with hordes of children in tow. They are just so sweet, a bit wary of us at first, but friendly enough, often chanting “tourist, tourist, tourist” which normally gets the whole town out for a look.
10 March - Seluma – Manna - 80km
Another fairly easy day as the hills were not as severe as before. We pedalled quite happily along through small villages, densely forested areas, rice paddies, and the ever present oil palm plantations.
Meeting curious locals normally comes with a barrage of questions. “What’s your name, where you from, how old are you, are you married?” After answering and posing for pictures with them, you’re considered a friend for life.
11 March - Manna – Bintuhan - 75km
I was not quite firing on all cylinders but we carried on regardless. As usual it was hot, humid, the hills were steep and the roads were bad!!Kids were cheering us on as we passed through villages, dogs barked at our heels and elderly people looked up in amazement. We dodged potholes, geese, chickens, goats, and water buffalo as we passed through what seemed like an endless village.
We rolled into Bintuhan where the fried food stalls got the better of us. We booked into a room and went shopping, returning with a huge bag of fried snacks - enough to feed the whole of Africa, and if that was not enough we got ourselves a rice meal as well.
12 March - Bintuhan – Pugung Tampak - 82km
The day started deceptively easy as we cycled along the coast. Soon we headed over some of the steepest hills I have yet encountered on this trip. The sign board along the road which indicating the severity of the gradient was no exaggeration! At first I thought it to be a joke and that the board was placed the wrong way round on the pole, but I soon discovered that whoever made that sign was quite serious. We huffed and puffed and had to push our bikes up the endlessly steep hills.
It was supposed to be quite a scenic day (the road runs through a National Park), but I saw nothing just my own sweat dripping on the road. I was never more happy to see the end of a National Park, from where we sped down the hill towards the coast again and landed up in the small village of Pugung Tampak.
Dead tired, we found Cecep, who runs a basic “homestay” and caters for surfers. Cecep’s home is very traditional, built around a courtyard complete with a well, laundry and monkey on a string. We, however, decided to camp behind his house next to the beach, which was maybe not the best option. Soon the entire village surrounded us and I was concerned that the whole crowd was going to come down on my tent. I was aware of torches shining into my tent until the early hours of the morning, as visitors came from far and wide to witness the spectacle. I had hardly fallen asleep and the Imam started singing in the nearby mosque - let me tell you, that man should not quit his day job just yet.
13 March- Pugung Tampak - Krui - 37km
I felt tired from the previous day’s mountainous road and was rather reluctant to leave. Ernest was keen to carry on, so we packed up and cycled along the coast. Again it was hilly but nothing like the previous day.
We passed through some small fishing villages with double-storied wooden houses lining the main road. Laundry hanging on fence poles and produce being dried in the sun has become a daily scene. It‘s also not unusual to see the odd bullock cart along the way.
As we reached Krui we opted for a room as I felt weak and unwell. Aaah the pleasure of a room (with fan) where one can close the door and be out of the public eye for a few hours!
14 March - Krui – Bengkunat - 87km
At last we had a flat scenic road along the coast!! It lasted for at least 60km but unfortunately came to abrupt halt as we turned inland towards the mountains. What a pity we’d stayed in Krui, as there were some fantastic beach bungalows just about 25km down the road. We just had a quick peek and then it was on the road again past more fishing villages where they were carefully drying tiny fish along the road. The smell of ground coffee and cloves accompanied us all the way. About 20 km paste the tiny village of Bengkunat we found a derelict government office and camped out back beside the banana plantation were we found handy (abandoned?) water well. Later we were almost as amazed as the villagers who appeared from out of the bush, coming to fetch their evening supply of water. In those isolated parts they tend to be a bit shy, and were stopped in their tracks as they came upon the two strange-looking foreigners camping next to their well. After surveying the scene they built up enough courage to fetch their water – eventually there was a whole crowd of them, and some of the children were even demonstrating the English they’d learnt at school (“mother”, “father”, “grandmother”, “grandfather”, etc.).
It was not the most comfortable of nights as first the mozzies feasted on us and then it started raining, we had no option but to crawl into our tents where we lay sweating in our own private sauna. Fortunately we’d cooked and eaten our dinner by that time.
15 March - Bengkunat – Kota Agung - 70km
Ernest had one of his very slow mornings packing up, man the guy can drag his heals. It was 9h00 before we got on the road. I could not believe it was another day of serious hills!! Again the road ran through a National Park. I’ve come to the conclusion that National Parks are for hiking not for cycling. We climbed and climbed, higher and higher through a dense rain forest and although it was scenic I did not have the presence of mind to enjoy it. It started raining and the road became slippery and very wet. Once out of the park there was about 10 km of steep downhill, but alas, not to be enjoyed by us. A landslide had covered the road in clay soil, and in the rain it was rather hazardous. Those vehicles which attempted to pass were spinning and skidding in the mud, trucks were sliding into the embankment, but somehow we managed the get through.
The clay clung to our bikes to such an extent that the wheels could not turn and we were forced to stop and clear the worst away with sticks. At least we had one pleasant surprise, as we came upon the town of Kota Agung at least 20km earlier than expected (the best maps we could find here are not proportionally correct, they don’t indicate all the places, and they don’t show distances). We were pleased to reach the town, and we also found a comfortable room with a convenient tap and hose pipe where Ernest rinsed the bikes off.
16 March - Kota Agung – Pringsewu - 60km
The hotel gave us a surprise breakfast of fried rice, and after the bikes were oiled we were 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 we had in the previous days. At least one climbs up at a steady pace and then you go down again.
What a pleasant surprise we had! Once over the crest the road just went down and down and down, I knew it had to happen some or other time. It was a real pleasure. Around 15h00 the clouds looked threatening and drops started falling. At about that point we arrived at another unexpected town, and once we’d spotted the very nice local hotel Ernest and I gave each other a quick glance and pulled in there without a word being spoken.
More amazing was the fact that no one in Sumatra seems to know the km too the next town. They glaze over and then come up with a number that varies so drastically from the previous one that one never knows. They can, however, tell you to the minute how long it takes by motorcycle or bus.
Interestingly the distances given between Kota Agung and Bandar Lampung varied from 50km – 200km!! That’s quite a difference (in the end it turned out to be about 100 k’s).
17 March - Pringsewu - Bandar Lampung - 38km
Breakfast was included in the room rate, and as everyone knows, that’s a dead loss to any establishment when cyclists are around. I just love the rice cooked in a banana leaf served with a fiery curry/coconut sauce. The Indonesians are not scared of chilly first thing in the morning. So I set of with serious heartburn up the hills again. This time the distance reported was between 45km – 75km to Bandar Lampung. Strange enough there were no distance markers along the road to Bandar Lampung.
We, however, reached Bandar Lampung after a mere 35km. I needed to extend my visa ASAP, as it has already expired the previous day and I was rather anxious to get to an Immigration office.
We found a rather expensive hotel but as it came with air-con and hot water I dug deep into my pocket and paid the price. Then it was off to the Immigration office just to find that I needed a sponsor. The hotel where we stayed was unwilling to help, what a pain!! I can’t blame them, 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 again.
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). Job done!
Walking around I noticed that there was more to Bandar Lampung than expected, big supermarkets, loads of hotels, (which we’d missed coming in on the bike the previous day), a huge local market and even a Carrefour and Pizza Hut around the corner! Uhmmm….. just wondering if I should frequent them.
Traffic was hectic and, like elsewhere in Sumatra, traffic rules are often disregarded. Traffic lights are ignored and so are one-way street signs, making getting around quite challenging.
There is nothing as pleasant as listening to the bucketing rain from the safety of your hotel room. (Ha, ha sorry that was not rain, just the air-con dripping outside the window)
19 March - Bandar Lampung - Kalianda - 63km
An easy ride to Kalianda where I thought of taking a boat to Krakatau, but it was a little bit pricy after paying for my visa extension and fine for over stay, so I gave it a miss and rather just spent the rest of the day in the small harbor town of Kalianda.
I’ll just have to do the volcano thing somewhere else. There will still be plenty of opportunities to do that here in Indonesia.
(1 215km - 44days)
20 March - Kalianda – Cilegong - 46km
Breakfast is often included in the room price, even in cheap rooms. Don’t get all excited now it’s only a plate of fried rice. After breakfast we packed up, loaded the bikes and were on our way to Bakauheni to catch the ferry to Java Island.
Once in Bakauheni we swiftly got directed to the ferry terminal and in no time were on a huge car ferry. It must have been the slow ferry as the crossing to Java Island took 2 hours. Somehow it didn’t seem necessary to buy a ticket for the passage (nobody asked for tickets, and nobody offered to sell any). Can this trip be for free, or did we just miss the ticket office?
The ferry ride 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- did not seem to bother anyone. Sea traffic appeared no less hectic than the road traffic with other ships passing dangerously close in front of us (no surprise that the there are many shipping accidents in this region).
Once off the ship at the Merak ferry dock on Java Island, we hit the road in the direction of Jakarta. We only made it about 15 km through the traffic before we found a reasonable hotel in the town of Cilegong, with outside rooms under shady trees.
So came to an end our cycle in Sumatra and it will be interesting to see what Java is like. Was that a level road or did I just imagine it?
21 March - Cilegong– Tangerang - 91km
I thought that Sumatra was one long drawn-out village, but Java seems to be one long drawn-out city. Not once did we leave the built-up area, and cycled in traffic all day long. However, my impression is that the traffic is fortunately very aware of cyclists.
Saw a guy pedaling down the road with his sewing machine (actually a sewing workshop on wheels). Well, what do they say? “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammad, then Mohammad must go to the mountain”.
It rained on and off all day long and by our third soaking we found a room where we could dry out. Although Tangerang is a large town we had some difficulty finding accommodation, as many hotels were seemingly full. Maybe they just didn’t want two scruffy looking cyclists dripping rain water all over their neatly polished tiles.
22 March - Tangerang – Jakarta - 31km
It was hardly a cycle into Jakarta, only 30km and we were there. We picked up a nice tail wind and got blown right into the city centre together with whirling dust clouds, cardboard boxes and plastic bags. The traffic was hectic with thousands of motorbikes and taxis. The one-way streets made it even more frustrating, just as we thought we had the route all planned we had to deviate to “who knows where” because of one-way streets.
Soon enough we found ourselves on Freedom Square and then it was easy to find our way to Jalan Jaksa, the cheap tourist accommodation area. We found a room at Borneo Hostel which was comfortable enough at the price. Ernest seemed to be all hyper-active and washed the bikes and some of his gear, as well as doing some work on his bike (hub and brakes). He was a real busy bee!
23-24 March - Jakarta
Donned hat and shades, and in full tourist disguise, we went exploring what is left of the old Dutch city of Batavia. We found only an old town square with one or two well preserved colonial buildings. The rest of the buildings seem to have been hit by some severe natural disaster (floods, earthquakes or is it just old age??) The old Dutch port (still with beautiful wooden fishing vessels, but in rather polluted water) is still operating. Cargo is still being loaded in a rather old fashioned style along rickety gangplanks. Wow, there’s no way you’ll get me to walk on those things.
Just around the corner was the fish market, (which at the best of times 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 a bit more smelly than your everyday fish market. Just outside the fish market we found the old “Uitkyk Toring”, which is now starting to resemble to Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Ernest loves taking local trains and so we did our exploring bit by local train, at Rp1000 (about 80 cents SA) a ticket it’s hardly money at all, but how come it’s Rp1500 coming back? It just makes no sense at all, same train, same route but different price…… weird. (Subsequent experience seems to suggest that you pay to the end of the line, which is further for us on the way back).
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. We nearly got caught in the whole thing but made a quick u-turn and headed in the opposite direction. The positive side was that the city streets were dead quiet and we could wander around at leisure.
Just to the south of where we’re staying is the modern city of Jakarta, complete with bumper to bumper traffic, modern shopping centres, high-rise buildings etc, etc. It’s however quite easy to get around, whether by bus, train, tuk-tuk, or mini-van.
I can’t believe we’re still here in Jakarta after a week! Ernest came down with a bout of bronchitis, but still kept fiddling with the bikes, and did some repairs to his tent, etc. Seeing that I’m neither domesticated, nor do I know anything about bikes, all I did was lie around, endlessly listening to music - what a pleasure.
29-30 March - Jakarta – Bogor - 57km
We seemed to be cycling less and less. The road was congested the entire way from Jakarta to Bogor. Bogor is world renowned for its historical botanical gardens and we could hardly cycle past without a visit to the park. We found accommodation close by at Puri Bali Homestay for a reasonable price and with lovely old spacious rooms. We spent the following day exploring the gardens - and what an impressive haven it was.
31 March - Bogor – Cibodas
We climbed up the volcanic slopes to the Puncak Pass, which took the best part of the day but offered stunning views of the surrounding mountains and tea plantations. Ernest was still suffering from bronchitis and on the downhill it started raining, so we started looking out for a roadside room.
Disaster! As I went up a wet concrete ramp to check on a room I slipped and fell. I immediately knew something was seriously wrong as I went into spasms and couldn’t stop shaking. I sensed that Ernest was irritated by my clumsiness but he still went with me (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 so they referred me to a specialist in Cianjur about 20km away. Off we went in another minivan but the doctor was out of town and we made an appointment for the following afternoon.
So I spent an uncomfortable night back in the “disaster-zone room” (which we’d been forced to rent), sucking on pain-killers.
1 April - Cibodas – Cianjur - By minivan
I managed to charter a local minivan to take me, the bike and the bags to the larger town of Cianjur, where I had an appointment with the specialist. All the effort was in vain, as I was again referred to doctors in the city of Bandung about 65 km away. What a schlep, I just hate things like this! Cycling was out of the question, so all I could do was take more pain-killers and go to bed.
As if I didn’t have enough problems, earlier in the day my credit card got stuck in the ATM. Fortunately it happened at a bank which was still open, but it was still a big rigmarole getting the card back – obviously not my week!!
2 April - Cianjur – Bandung - By minivan
It is such a mission to organize things if you don’t speak the language. When I enquired about a minivan to Bandung the hotel staff thought I wanted to exchange money!? In the end I flagged down a minivan, negotiated a fee and set off for Bandung. I could not believe Easter weekend was such a big event in Indonesia (the most populous Moslem country in the world), as hotels were fully booked and one could only get a room at prime rates. There wasn’t much else to do but pay the price and sms Ernest where to find me (he was still following by bicycle).
By this time my arm had swollen to double its normal size and it was on fire. I went to a reputable private hospital in the city, just to discover that there was little they could do but put the arm in a sling and give more painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicine. At least the painkillers seemed to working better than the stuff I had up to then.
3 April - Bandung
There was no doubt that I would not be able to cycle for some time, so I had to make a quick plan. I decided to leave all my belongings at the hotel and fly back to South Africa for a month, while waiting for the silly arm to mend. Fortunately there was a travel agent directly next to where we stayed and in no time at all I was bound for South Africa (albeit a huge credit card overdraft). I bought Ernest a plane ticket as well, but he didn’t seem all that pleased about it (Was it because his trip was being put on hold?) Whatever the reason, he was rather miserable.
4 April - Bandung – Jakarta - By bus
It was another mission just getting to Jakarta airport from Bandung (chartered minivan with bikes from hotel to bus station plus three hour bus ride to the airport) – all this while I was in constant pain and had a splitting headache as well, not even the medicine seemed to help. On top of that we still had 8 hours to wait for our flight which was at half past midnight. Just to crown it all, I puked 2 airsick-bags full before the plane even took off!! Now that is what I call “things not going to plan”.
5 April - Jakarta – Cape Town, South Africa - By plane
Wow, 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) eventually we arrived in Cape Town where I spent just as many hours chatting to my sisters while drinking numerous glasses of wine. I was, however, more than relieved to be off that darn aircraft and snug in a real home, eating my favorite dish (macaroni cheese) of which a huge bowl was awaiting me as I stepped into Karin’s home.
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 we’d left off. It was great to see my friends and family again, and even after extending our departure for a week, 5 weeks were just not enough to catch up with everyone. It was a concern that my shoulder was not yet completely right - now really, tell me, how long does it take for a bone to grow on?!
12 May - South Africa to Indonesia - By plane
After a 9-hour flight to Dubai, a 5-hour stopover, a further 8 hours to Jakarta, plus a 3-hour bus trip - we finally arrived at our hotel in Bandung at 3 am. We were happy to find our bags still exactly as we’d left them, albeit a bit dusty.
13 May - Bandung
Jetlag and time-zone differences started to
take its toll on us. After a long and deep sleep we were still
tired but had to start organizing our equipment. Unfortunately
the new front rack for my bike didn’t fit properly so Ernest had
to do some magic, but the gears just didn’t want to play along.
Ernest worked on the bikes for hours that afternoon, but was
unable to fix the gears on my bike.
14 May - Bandung – Cicalengka - 46km
Ooh it was so good to be on the bike at last. First we cycled to the bike shop and had the gears on my bike sorted out, Ernest also got a new front derailleur, and after everything was fitted it was 12h30. We headed south-east along a terribly busy road, complete with traffic jams, busses, trucks, motorbikes and scooters. Not even on the bike could we always get past.
By 4.30 we did a mere 46km, dark clouds started heading our way and with big drops of rain falling we kept our eyes peeled for a room. We pulled into roadside village (in Java the whole roadside is a village) and asked around for a room. By the time we found a room we’d actually started heading back in the direction of Bandung. The room came without windows, a solid cover of mould on walls and ceiling, and a pile of cigarette butts swept into a corner. Rooms were obviously let by the hour as there was a constant coming and going of visitors, and judging from the sounds coming from the other rooms I think 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 - 73km
In the morning I was more than happy to be out of our cell and back on the road again. Things went well enough until we started climbing over the mountains when I could feel that I hadn’t been cycling for 6 weeks – Gosh, how quickly one looses fitness. 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, but it was still twilight and raining, with parts of the road more like a river. I felt that this was a dangerous situation as we were not very visible, the road was narrow with flooded potholes, and the traffic was extremely heavy (as usual in Java).
I was becoming concerned about the gathering dark, but fortunately about 10 k’s before Tasik Malaya town Ernest spotted a hotel - there was no argument about pulling in there (fortunately the rooms were cheap and not too bad).
17 May - Tasik Malaya – Tasik city - 16 km
We cycled the short distance into the city centre, drew some money and then decided to stay for the day. Good thing too, as we did some laundry, high time as well, as I’ve been wearing almost the same clothes since leaving Cape Town 5 days ago.
18 May - Tasik Malaya – Cipatujah - 78km
I was getting back into my stride and felt more at home on the bike and on the road than on the previous two days. We headed south on a much smaller and more quiet road to the small seaside village of Cipatujah. Although a hilly road, the scenery was sublime. We pedaled past small villages, rice paddies and dense forested areas. Once again we had to take shelter from the rain for a while, but for most of the afternoon it wasn’t much more than a drizzle. What a pleasure it was to cycle in the rain, at least it helps to keep one cool!
Soon we arrived in Cipatujah and found ourselves a nice little local hotel room close to the beach. We had hardly unloaded the bikes and the landlady brought us a bunch of bananas and later 2 huge plates of fried rice accompanied by the usual omelette, prawn crackers and slices of cucumber. At first we thought we were the only visitors in the village but soon a bunch of travelling salesmen (on motorbikes) arrived - that’s when you know that you’re staying in a local joint.
Later, just as we were nicely settled in, the earth started to rumble and shake! Clothes started swinging on the wall, the standing fan teetered back and forth, the water in the bathroom mandi (tank) was sloshing around, and even the floor tiles were moving back and forth!! Ernest and I looked at each other wide-eyed and I quickly put my shoes back on, just in case I had to run from our not so strong looking room (or a tsunami).
We had hardly calmed down again and a whole bunch of local policemen arrived (apparently to check our visas, etc.). They were obviously inquisitive about us and wanted to chat, but the language barrier was a problem and they didn’t stay long - at last we could go to bed.
19 May - Cipatujah – Batu Karas - 76km
We left our fragile-looking accommodation and headed towards Pangandaran, the next biggish place on our map. We followed the smallest of coastal roads past fishing villages and more rice paddies. The road was mostly level as we followed the coast, what a pleasure it was! Some days, bicycle touring can be so much fun!
We took our time and turned off the main road. In the process we found the fishing village of Batu Karas, and decided to stay the night. The place is popular with tourists as it has a great beach and good surf as well. There is a range of accommodation, some fancy hotels and also basic “surfer dorms”. We found a nice cheap place attached to one of the beach restaurants, and it was even worth eating there instead of cooking our own food.
20-23 May - Batu Karas – Pangandaran - 34km
A short ride into Pangandaran,, apparently the main beach resort on Java island. There’s a lovely beach, hundreds of cheap hotels, a peninsula with nature reserve up the road, and not much else. Ernest was complaining of a sore backside, so we booked into a room and did lots of exciting things such as the laundry! We also spent the next day in Pangandaran, and while Ernest fiddled with equipment I spent some time on the beach - lukewarm water and good waves is not something I complain about. That evening after supper I started feeling nauseous and puked my lungs out all night. Although I felt a million times better in the morning, I was weak so we stayed on another 2 days. The first day I mostly spent sleeping, and on the second day I went to the bookshop and spent the rest of the day reading The Shining Mountain by Peter Boardman. I love mountaineering books and find our personalities and justification for what we’re doing scarily similar. It’s interesting to read that he had as much difficulty in explaining to people why he climbed, than what we have explaining why we’re cycling.
24 May - Pangandaran – Cilacap - 90km
There were heavy thunderstorms during the night, and in the morning it was still raining. At first we couldn’t decide whether to move on or not, but by mid-day the weather had cleared and we were eventually on the road. It was a rather bumpy road, but that also meant not so many vehicles. We followed this tiny road over hills, past rice paddies and coconut groves, and through villages until we reached the large town of Cilacap. It was rather late and half dark by the time we found a reasonable room for the night.
25 May - Cilacap – Kebumen - 90km
We got woken up with a tray of breakfast at 6-30. The breakfast consisted of a teenaged chicken thigh (with claw still attached), sticky rice, and sambals. No need to say Ernest had both plates, but was convinced that it had already been prepared the previous day.
We left by 8 o’clock (a record for us in recent times!), and continued East along the road. During the course of the day we found ourselves back on a main road, and in Java that means the road was jam-packed with buses, trucks and scooters. I have to remind myself that there are 130 million people living on this island of 132 000 square kilometers - the most populated island in the world. The roads are also rather narrow and often in poor condition – everything but a relaxing ride.
It was still fairly early in the afternoon when we arrived at Kebumen, a large town about half-way between Cilacap and Yogyacarta. Due to the early start we’d had enough for the day, and had no trouble finding a reasonable room. In some of the more conservative Indonesian towns it is, however, rather difficult to find a beer with which to relax during the evening – and this town is one of those places.
26 May - Kebumen – Borobudur - 87km
As we approached Borobudur the road became more hilly as we crossed over the flanks of two volcanoes. Jeepers, those hills were steep, but I 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 we planned to visit the well-known Buddhist temple on the following day. We had to search for a room 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 the site is a popular tourist destination, it inevitably comes with all the tourist paraphernalia one can expect of such a place.
27 May Borobudur
We were up early to visit the temple. Borobudur is an excellent example of Java’s Buddhist heyday. Constructed in the early part of the 9th century the temple was later abandoned with the decline of Buddhism in the area, and covered in volcanic ash by an eruption in 1006. The buildings were rediscovered in 1814 by Raffels, 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 hills. From here one can also see the two nearby volcanoes, “Sumbing” and “Gunung Merapi” which appears in a near state of eruption (smoke spewing from the top and all - I’d better just behave until I’m out of here!).
Soon, however, hordes of giggling school kids arrived, (“small students” as the gatekeeper referred to them) all wanting to have pictures taken with me, and wanting autographs in their books which they apparently brought with especially for that purpose. I did the best I could, but there were just too many of them! So with the arrival of the heat and the school kids we retread back to our room for a lazy afternoon.
28 May Borobudur to Prambanan (via Yogyakarta) - 71km
Shortly after leaving Borobudur we cycled past the nearby Mendut Temple where more Buddhist celebrations were underway. Police blocked the road off around the temple, but allowed as through on the bikes. Monks were chanting at the temple so we just viewed the scene from outside the fence.
I now realized why I thought I was stuck to the road cycling to Borobudur - it was uphill!! So it was a relatively short downhill run all the way into Yogyakarta city. Once there we discovered that there was not room for a mouse in town - everything was jam packed full, due to the celebrations. We cycled around for hours looking for room, but eventually we decided to head out in the direction of Solo, our next destination. Within about an hour we passed the temples of Prambanan, and fortunately we found a cheap room close by just before the rain came down. I decided to have a look at the temples the following morning - these seemed to be Hindu temples, hence the fact that we found accommodation so easily.
29-30 May - Prambanan – Solo - 51km
First thing in the morning I went to visit the Prambanan temple site – reputedly the largest and most beautiful Hindu temples in Java, built in the 9th century and mysteriously abandoned just after completion. Although seriously damaged by the 2006 earthquake, I found the temples to be very impressive. Then it was back on the bike.
It was a fairly flat ride into Solo, known as a very conservative city. It can’t be all that conservative as Ernest managed to find not only a beer, but also a tin of ham. The local Moslems probably think that he is going straight to Hell!
The next morning we decided to stay one more day. I handed in my laundry and we walked around town. We also bought some new dry bags at an outdoor store, at a fraction of the price we would pay for it in SA. Food for myself was more difficult to find as everything I saw had meat or egg in it. Eventually I ordered a spring roll at the hostel where we stayed and instead of a spring roll, got an omelette with veg inside. Ernest had to once again eat my poor order, and that after he already had to eat my breakfast omelette which came included in the room price. (I think he’s had enough of omelettes for a while).
31 May - Solo – Caruban - 119km
After Ernest had 2 omelettes for breakfast (mine and his), we headed in the direction of Surabaya and found the road fairly smooth and flat. That also meant that the buses and trucks were going ten to a dozen and we had to be careful not to become road-kill in the process.
At last it seemed that we were (at times) out of the built-up areas and among some farmlands for a change. Cassava, rice and sugarcane were being grown in large quantities. All kinds of things were being sold next to the road, including tiny monkeys, fancy chickens, and colorful song-birds in cages.
I nearly got bitten by a snake which had been run over, and in defence it was striking out wildly in all directions. I did not spot it until the last moment, so I swerved away in a panic and nearly got run over by a truck myself -sjoe, that was close!
Otherwise it was a good day on the road and we put in a full days cycling, something we haven’t done in a while. Around 5 pm we pulled into the small town of Caruban where there was no problem finding a bed, food, and a beer - what more can I ask for?
1-2 June - Caruban – Surabaya - 159km
We were on the road early and headed in the direction of Surabaya, and until we reached the outskirts of the city we made good time as the road was fairly flat and not too congested. However, once we reached Surabaya the traffic became horrendous, and the last 15 k’s into town took hours - the last thing I feel like after such a long day on the road! (When Ernest decides what the destination is for the day, then there is no stopping him - and me like a small dog following in his wake, tongue hanging out and huffing and puffing for 160 km!). By the time we found a budget room close to the city centre it had been dark for some time, and I was totally buggered. I had a quick wash out of the mandi and then passed out on the bed.
The following morning we went to enquire about a boat to Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo. The first shipping company wouldn’t allow us to take the bikes along, so after I schlepped all the way to the head office of another company I was informed that the ticket office was elsewhere. We decided to leave it at that for the day, and rather cycle to the ticket office the following morning.
That evening a huge explosion rocked our street, scattering building rubble and broken glass everywhere – I nearly shat myself! The power was cut, and there was general pandemonium around the place with people running and sirens, etc. There seemed to be a strong military presence which made me think that it was something more sinister than just an accident. (Later I discovered that it was an accident in a gas-storage warehouse – it was even on the TV news, and apparently 3 people died).
(661km - 21days)
3-4 June - Surabaya – Borneo - By ship
In the morning we packed up and cycled to the harbour where the friendly security guard at the gate went to the shipping office by motorbike to buy our tickets for us. I wasn’t feeling well, and as the boarding time was only later that afternoon, 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 SA for a 24h00-trip) it sure was not going to be a cruise liner. I was suffering from severe diarrhea and certainly wasn’t looking forward to spending a long time on a crowded boat with a lack of toilets. The ticket included 6 meal vouchers so it seemed that they were expecting us to be on the boat for significantly longer than the predicted 20 to 24-hours. The fact that we only left at 20h00 instead of 17h00 made me wonder if we were going to need all those vouchers. However, once on board the friendly crew gave us an option to upgrade to a private cabin for a mere R40 each - what a bargain! (I quickly dug in my wallet en coughed up the money). There we were like two comfy rich tourists, even having meals served in the cabin while the rest of the rabble had to stand in que’s! The ship was a large car-ferry, so we could cycle on board and store our bikes below decks with the trucks and cars and motorbikes (R60 per bike).
Twenty-two hours after sailing out of Surabaya we docked at the river port of Banjarmasin. We only had to cycle a few k’s into the city, and although it was dark we had no trouble finding our way and booked into one of the budget hotels. It was immediately apparent that it was going to be even hotter and more humid in Borneo than in Java. The last part of the ferry trip to Banjarmasin was up a large river, and from the ship one could see that a large part of the population lives in wooden stilted houses over the water along the riverbanks.
5 June Banjarmasin
I felt absolutely awful and spent the best part of the day lying in the room under the (not so effective) fan. It was boiling hot and the humidity was extremely high, just what one can expect being so close to the equator. Ernest found some tablets for my nausea which seemed to work quite well and by the evening I felt a whole lot better. We decided to stay another day, and I arranged an early morning river trip with Ahmed, a local guide.
6 June Banjarmasin
We were woken by our guide at 5 am (we hadn’t adjusted our watches to Borneo time – an hour earlier than Java). After cruising up rivers and canals in an open slow-boat we arrived at the very colorful floating market. We bought some fruit from the boat vendors, and on the return trip we stopped at the riverside “old market” for vege’s and made a nice potato salad that evening. (I still could not stomach any fried stuff). The markets are fascinating and a quick glimpse into the daily life of the local people.
Banjarmasin is a city with a maze of rivers and canals, and much of the population spend life in the stilted houses lining the banks. The waterways are not just for transport, but also serve as a toilet and a bath (swimming, laundry, and dishes are all done in the same water). Then they still fish in the river, gosh, I hope they don’t drink that water as well!! That sure will be enough to kill a person. The people are incredibly friendly and shout, scream and point us out to their kids, as we pass by. At times I felt as out of place here as an urang-utang would be on the streets of Cape Town.
7 June Banjarmasin – Margasarihili - 81km
We decided not to take the main road, and left Banjarmasin along a narrow paved road following a canal with plenty of local life. In contrast to our suspect map, the road abruptly turned into a small gravel road which ran along rivers and canals and rice paddies. We could tell that there have definitely not been many tourists in this part of the world, as people seemed rather apprehensive of us.
The mother of all storms was building up around us, and our road had deteriorated to a footpath with no shelter in sight. Fortunately, just as the storm broke we reached the entrance road to a coal mine and sheltered in the security hut, with coal dust from the overhead conveyer belt showering down together with the driving rain. Later, in light rain, we proceeded along the unpaved mining road which soon ended. Before we knew it we were back amongst the rice paddies, and the rain had turned the track into an impossible clay pit. Slipping from side to side, my bike and feet were soon jammed up with the thick sticky clay. Pushing the bike was also impossible, and I ended up dragging the bike along, falling and slipping around in the process.
It seemed like an eternity before we reached a canal where a ferry took us across, and we were hopeful that conditions would be better on the far side. The locals helped us slide the bikes onto the ferry, and then helped us clean off the worst of the clay. As it was getting rather late we considered camping right there, but it was still raining and there was no shelter or dry land around (besides that, the mosquito’s were eating us alive. By the time we’d made up our minds to move on it was dark, and the friendly locals helped push us off through the clay for the first km or so (bikes caked with clay again!). By then the path had improved to simple mud, stones, and potholes, so we could cycle to some extent. It was tricky cycling in the dark and the rain I was lucky to have only one serious fall (luckily I didn’t break my arm again!).
A lifetime later 2 rather soaked and muddy foreigners slunk into the small town of Margasarihillir – much to the surprise of the locals. After looking around for a while we went to seek shelter in the (deserted!) police station. After a long while the police returned from their patrol (or dinner?), and allowed us to camp in their derelict back rooms. In fact, it took a while to explain to the police that all we wanted was a place to sleep (not a lift to the bus sation, or a meal, etc.). Ernest worked until well after midnight to wash the worst of the muck off the bikes.
8 June - Margasaribilir – Kandangan - 54km
At last we were on a tarred road again, and I have never been happier. We cycled along the scenic narrow road, past villages and along a river to reach the small city of Rantau. What a fascinating country this is. We carried on past Rantau until we reached Kandangan were we found a hotel. I was in desperate need of a bath, and we spent the afternoon doing laundry, and cleaning equipment.
Now the skin is coming of the palms of my hands, gosh what’s next? It looks to awful, like athletes foot on one’s hands, this is so gross!!
9 June - Kandangan – Tanjung - 97km
Breakfast seems to be included in the room rate – often something like fried rice and a boiled egg. Taking the weather into account it’s no surprise that duck eggs are the order of the day here.
In a constant drizzle we cycled along, and I was happy that we were on a hard topped road. Anything is better than that mud!
10 June - Tanjung – Muarakomam - 92km
Holy Mackerel, those hills were steep. It just went straight up and straight down, what happened to good old zig zags? On top of every hill I first had to stop and get my breath back, then it was straight down and up again. Along the way we were offered coffee by locals at a roadside stall where we stopped for a rest – coffee was obviously being grown in this hilly area, and locals were drying the beans at the roadside.
We reached Muarakomam at around 16h30. It was a tiny village with just a few houses on either side of the road, a mosque and a market. We could not believe it when we spotted a penginapan (small local hotel). They sure knew that they had a monopoly as the price was rather steep for such basic accommodation.
Now that was a hard day! Gosh, it’s not that the hills are that long, only about 500m or so. But the gradient is insane, then straight down again, across a river and straight up again. So it went all day until we reached the top of the mountains. We basically fell straight off that mountain and flew downhill at break-neck speed. I was nearly a goner as I flew around a corner at high speed, while a truck coming up swerved out for a huge pothole and missed me by mere centimeters. I was a lot more careful after that!
We called it a day when we found a hotel in the small junction town of Kuaro - I desperately needed to rest my weary legs.
12 June - Kuaro – Balikpapan - 141 km
I was hoping that the road would flatten out in comparison to the previous days. Although it was not as steep, it was still hilly the whole day. We headed for the coastal city of Balikpapan on the East coast along a “good” road (according to the locals – still bumpy and potholed). As it had been on the previous day, it was hot and humid under a searing sun. I was sure that I lost half my body weight as the sweat just poured out of me!
By late afternoon we’d reached Pananjang on the Southern shore of a large estuary, with Balikpapan on the other side. We decided to take the car ferry across, but realized why many of the locals hire speed boats as the crossing took more than an hour. By the time we cycled off the ferry it was dark, and to our dismay we found that the ferry dock was some distance away from the city. So, we had some fun cycling another 20 km up and down steep hills on a tricky road in the dark, and then through chaotic traffic (every time we asked for directions it was another 5 km!).
By the time we reached town, I was exhausted, hungry, and thirsty – but that was not the end of the ordeal. It was late on Saturday night, and all the hotels in town were full! At last, after 10 pm we found a place, but had to wait for a while until the hourly customers had left and the room could 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 wonder if people in SA realize just how much they are in the eye of the world right now. With the FIFA world cup their every move is watched across the globe. Here I am in Borneo and the streets are jam packed with traffic, going to the local park where a huge big screen is showing the football. It’s festive and food stalls are lining the streets, they should have blocked the road, as it was impossible to get through. Everywhere else in the city, people are sitting on the pavement in front of cafés and at local eateries, cheering on their chosen team on TV.
14-15 June Balikpapan
We moved 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 nothing a couple of anti-inflammatories and a few days rest can’t sort out. We even had a shower with hot water in our room, which made us stay another day and enjoy the luxury. We washed our clothes, washed our hair, scrubbed our bodies and just enjoyed the luxury of an air-con room.
16-17 June Balikpapan – Loa Janan – Samarinda - 139km
Time had come to move on and we headed further North towards Samarinda. The road continued to be extremely hilly. It was also slightly further than expected. By the time it got dark, I insisted we find a room as I had enough of struggling in the dark up hills and trying to find a room in heavy traffic (my pet hate). So we stayed over in an overpriced crumby room in the town of Loa Janan, and cycled the remaining 13 km into Samarinda city the following morning. There we booked into a local favourite hotel close to shops and the central basar.
We also took a walk to the harbor to enquire about ferries to Sulawesi. However, before leaving Borneo we plan to explore the interior by boat, as roads appear to be non-existent and the best way to see the interior seems to be by river.
I found out to my horror that our digs also came with lice on the bed. I woke the following morning bitten to pieces and itching like hell!!
18 June - Samarinda
We conveniently found a guide to take us to the interior (they seem to frequent the hotels on the hunt for tourist). I liked the guy so we arranged with him to take us inland along the water ways. I’m sure that we could have done this quite easily independently, but what the hell let’s do the touristy thing for once.
Our guide was dead on time at 8h00. We took an ankot to the bus terminus where we boarded a bus to Kota Bandung further up-river, a very bumpy 3-hour ride. There we boarded a small long-tailed boat, which was 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 sits on the back of the boat, and has a long direct drive shaft to the propeller - a rather noisy affair. The engine spattered and roared - reminding me of our disastrous crossing from Thailand to Myanmar where the engine blew up.
Soon we left the busy waterways around the town and found ourselves on a large lake resembling an ocean. The colors reminded me of the Antarctic, whites and blues abound as we zooted across the lake. After about 2 hours we reached a tiny village where we stopped for lunch. The little village is no more than 1 square mile but was fitted with walkways for streets whilst everything else seemed to be floating alongside it.
At times our boatman had to find his way along channels through the floating grass islands in the lake, which were sometimes so thick that the boat got stuck. We had to ask directions from local fishermen a number of times.
A thunder storm was building, and came down with such force that we took shelter at a floating fish-depot. That also gave us the opportunity to buy some huge lake prawn which our guide later cooked for supper.
Our overnight stop was at a village where we stayed in a very comfortable guest house, resembling a longhouse. Longhouses (the traditional accommodation) are not in use anymore and I understand that it is discouraged by government. Traditionally a whole village would live in one longhouse, but apparently it was also a breeding ground for disease. Individual houses are now encouraged but there are still some lovely old longhouses to be seen in some villages.
After a breakfast of tea and fried noodles we were on the boat again. This time the route was up a river lined by dense forest and small villages. Wooden houses on barges floating along the side of the river are the norm around this part of the world. The toilets are no more that a small outhouse directly over the water with a hole in the floor! From what I could see most of these villages are fishing villages and people don’t seem to do much more than fish, wash, and clean. I just wonder if kids don’t drown in hordes??
We even spotted some long-nosed proboscis monkeys along the way. All kinds of fishing methods are being employed, from fish traps to Chinese fishing nets, but still there seems to be plenty of fish around.
The villages along the way seemed to be well organized (albeit floating and with no connecting road). They have their petrol station, shops, furniture stores, schools, etc all floating on barges or on high stilts.
Women could be seen going about their daily business with faces speared with white cream. The purpose of which is still unknown to me. Babies were being rocked viciously in small hammocks and older kids were, seemingly, constantly playing in the river.
In the next small village I eventually found the women making the face masks. A concoction of leaves and flour. This is then rolled into small bolls and dried in the sun. She keenly gave me some (which I still have to try out).
Back in our guesthouse we ate the rest of the prawn, tempe (something like tofu, thinly sliced and fried) and noodles, washed down with some more tea.
I could still not stop itching, no lice this time just hordes of mosquitoes! I was fairly lumpy by then. Fortunately the power come on in the evening and stayed on until the morning, so one can at least have the use of a fan during the night.
It was time to head back to Samarinda. First I had to take a quick peep at the traditional healer’s house. It was rather colorful and quite busy, so it seems that people make use of the local healer fairly regularly. His drumming and chanting could be heard throughout the night.
Our boatman was ready and waiting for us and we headed back the same way we came. Although there was not a huge amount of wild life around there were still a fair amount of bird life, there were colorful kingfishers, plenty of other water birds and even a huge maribu stork or two.
I must admit that the toilets here are something to get use to. Not only is it just wooden structures over the water with a hole in the floor, people wash themselves, do their laundry and swim right at the door of the toilet. Best not to think about it, just squat and do your thing. Good thing they do not use toilet paper around here. The worst is that you still have to wash your ass with water scooped from that very same hole!! Gosh, I guess that is way too much information for most people.
22 June - Samarinda
We bought our boat tickets for our trip to Sulawesi, which appears to leave every Wednesday. I anticipate another long boat ride with minimal facilities. Judging by the way they were selling tickets left right and centre. I’m sure they have no idea of how many tickets they have sold. We’ll wait and see what the boat is like.
Ernest was sick and stayed in bed all day, so even if there was another boat we could not leave.
23 June - Samarinda, Kalimantan – Pare-Pare, Sulawesi
According to the ticket the boat would leave at 11h00, but it was 14h00 before we finally left. People streamed onto the boat and we were packed in like sardines. Rumor had it that there were 4 000 people on the boat (which I could believe), licensed to carry 970 people. There was not even enough space for us to roll out our sleeping mats. Eventually we opted for the open deck, but even there it was totally packed with people coming out to escape the stuffy interior. Hawkers still managed to get thru to sell all kinds of snacks and trinkets; how they managed I don’t know. You know you in for a hot and stuffy ride if the hawkers peddle fans at only R3.00.
We waited for the mullah to call the people to the mosque (on every ship around here) and took the opportunity to roll out our mats on deck; at last we could stretch our legs!
As if that was not enough a fierce wind came up and soon we sailed through a storm. It rained, the swell was rather large and the boat pitched and the people puked! Ugggg … there was no chance of going inside as by now it was even more packed inside and there was not even standing space. We wrapped ourselves in our ground sheets and waited out the storm on deck.
The problem with such an overloaded boat is that the facilities are not designed to handle so many people. People puked and had a pee where ever they could squat! What a trip we had.
(659km - 15days)
24 June Pare-Pare
Dead tired we arrived in Pare-Pare at 7h00. Once off the boat we headed straight for a room where we could have a shower and a sleep. First we had to find a bike shop and a new tyre for my bike as a huge bubble appeared along the wall of the tyre. Ernest, still feeling unwell, did all the work and changed my tires for me.
25 June - Pare-Pare – Enrekang - 86km
Sulawesi is a twisted orchid shape Island with four mountainous peninsulas sprawling into the sea. Needless to say there is little flat ground around. The road between Pare-Pare and Enrekang is probably the most flat of the lot. We headed north on a gently undulated road until we reached Enrekang.
Both the culture and architecture here seems to be different to Java and Kalimantan. Traditional wooden houses lined the road, orchids seemly growing wild along the road and amazed and friendly locals are keen to inspect us as soon as we stop. At every stop they appear from nowhere and have no shame in staring at and even touching us (they must wonder what a white skin feels like).
26 June - Enrekang – Makale - 80km
Gosh what an uphill day it was. We climbed up to the highlands with stunning views of the valleys and rivers far below us. It was a rather slow day as we stopped numerous times for water and to admire the views and the interesting traditional houses along the way. Once we reached the area of Tana Toraja things became even more interesting.
Traditional houses with boat shaped roofs, rising in front and at the back, is a common site, most also have a richly decorated barn in front,
Although it was Saturday night, we were lucky this time and found a room in Makale at the 3rd local hotel we tried. Although we were not far from Rantapao (tourist centre of Tana Toraja), it was getting late and we were rather tired (Ernest was still suffering from the illness which he picked up in Borneo).
27-29 June - Makale – Rantapao - 24km
It was a short and easy ride to Rantapoa. We took the opportunity to stop at Londa, a small village with some fascinating burial caves. One can even go inside the caves where old coffins are scattered around, exposing skulls and bones. Very gory, how can these people find any rest? Above the cave is a balcony with a row of tau tau (life size carved wooden replicas of the dead) sitting all dressed up in fresh clothes watching their graves. We found more caves at Lemo where tau tau is sitting high up on a sheer cliff face.
Once we reached Rantepao, we booked into a rather expensive but comfortable hotel, in fact we stayed for 2 nights, doing nothing just laying around and watching football on TV. (Also waiting for Ernest to recover from his illness).
30 June - Rantepao – Palopo - 65km
Another remarkable day on the road. We cycled through more authentic villages with colourful rice barns. At last we reached the long awaited downhill. The road was in rather poor condition and washed away in many places, parts so narrow that I wondered how the trucks and busses make it past those detours. Thick clouds and rain hung over the mountain top and made visibility rather poor as we descended down the mountain. We reached the town of Palopo fairly early in the pm, and booked into a room close to the central market.
1 July - Palopo – Larompong - 81km
At last we reached a level road! (only slightly up and down at times). What a pleasure it was to cycle along and just enjoy the ride. We could see all kinds of produce being dried along the road. The whole range was there, coco beans, coffee beans, fish, rice, sea weed, vanilla and the ever present cloves. The smell of cloves will now probably forever remind me of Indonesia.
We spotted a Hotel sign indicating a beach hotel, and booked into what was once a very nice resort hotel – right on the warm tropical ocean -but it has since gone to the dogs. The hotel is situated right on the ocean with all the facilities, but no one there. The facilities were not what it used to be but the location was fantastic. There was a small fridge and TV in the room - and despite the arrangement of satellite dishes there was only one channel on TV. (I later found the TV remote in the bed). Soon the word must have gotten out that two foreigners were in their midst, and the townsfolk arrived to come and have a look while we were still unpacking outside.
2 July - Larompong - Sidenreng - 123km
Another excellent day on the road, gently undulated and with nice views. We picked up a bit of a tail wind and carried on cycling past more colourful villages. The Indonesians do like color - from bright pink curtains to luminous green school tracksuits.
Just as we departed from one of our water stops, Ernest snapped his chain but fixed it in no time. In the meantime the lady from the house served coffee and cake. Kids arrived to check us out, and although shy they’re not timid. They just come to have a closer look at the two strangers.
The soccer world cup has really put South Africa on the map. Most people now have heard of South Africa, although they still find it amazing that we are white. When they hear where we from, they spontaneously brake into the “Wave your flag” song. How fantastic is that! I must admit it is a rather catchy tune.
3 July - Sidenreng - Pare Pare - 31km
After a breakfast of fried rice and chilies, there was no doubt that heartburn was going to set in soon. Ernest (still suffering from his mysterious illness which he picked up in Borneo) now seems to have a chest infection as well. He wisely decided not to cycle on to Makassar but to take a day’s rest in Pare Pare.
4 July - Pare Pare – Pancep - 113km
At last we found a flat road in Sulawesi. The road followed the coast and contrary to what I expected, was very scenic and very enjoyable. Hardly any of the places along the way were on our map – the names seemed to be different from those commonly used in the area (a bit confusing at times)
Ernest was still ill, therefore we considered stopping early but there was not much (or nice) along the way so we carried on to where we found a comfortable room. Once again, I expect, it was a place where they rent rooms by the hour but it was cheap and the people friendly enough.
5-8 Jul - Pancep – Makassar - 56km
An easy and short ride brought us to Makassar with its heavy traffic and congested streets. We found a good old backpackers hostel right in the centre of town where we off loaded the bikes. We soon found out that we would have to wait 5 days for the next boat back to Surabaya (Java) - gee that is a long time to sit around!
While waiting for the boat we visited the old fort and took bicycle rickshaws around town, visiting all there is to see in Makassar.
(210km - 8days)
9 July Makassar – Surabaya - By boat
Eventually it was time to leave. The day dragged on, seemingly for ever. We had to be out of our room at 12h00 but the ship only docked at 3pm and left at 7pm. So, we sat around in cafes, walked around shopping centers and visited the old fort (again). At last we headed for the harbor where we boarded the already overcrowded ship (this was not the origin of the voyage, the ship does a weekly route amongst various Indonesian islands).
We found what we thought was a good spot for ourselves and our bikes in a passage close to the door where we entered the ship. However, soon other passengers also claimed their space in our passage and we could hardly move. The rest of the ship was similar, with people sleeping on the stairs!
The Indonesians must surely be the most tolerant people on earth. With the boat being that overcrowded, everything from going to the (soon blocked and overflowing) toilet to buying something at the shop brings along a lengthy wait in a long que. Those people (unlike me) don’t stand there grumbling, sighing, and rolling their eyes. In fact they remain friendly and chatty as if this is no problem at all. I truly admire them, even when our ship developed engine problems and we were left adrift out in the open seas, they did not lift an eyebrow, - they just carried on eating their instant noodles and playing cards, believing that the problem would be fixed in no time at all!!
In the meantime they seem to be constantly having a shower, and always smell as fresh as daisies; it was just the 2 foreigners being all sweaty and stinky. I have now discovered their secret. Sweet smelling flowers, being sold at the market, is placed in water and is then used for rinsing the body.
10 July - Arriving in Surabaya
A lot of rubbish is generated by so many passengers on a ship (meals and snacks are served in polystyrene containers, and most wrappers, etc. are plastic. This rubbish was collected in large plastic refuse bags and stored at the other end of our passage – but during the night the large side-hatch was opened and all that rubbish was unceremoniously dumped into the ocean!l I could not believe my eyes, after all that careful collection, what’s the point?!
We arrived in Surabaya, at around 22h00 (instead of in the afternoon, due to the engine problems). It took forever to get off the boat with our bikes and bags. We once again cycled in the dark into town to find a hotel. I was more than happy to be off the boat and into fresh air.
11 July - Surabaya
FIFA really did put South Africa (Africa Selatan as they say here) on the world map. Most people have at least now heard of South Africa. My impression is that many people still think SA is just a geographical term referring to the South of Africa. A common reaction is still, “But you are not black?” As someone asked today, “Where in South Africa, …..Nigeria?”
Ernest was still rather ill, so we stayed one more day. He refuses to go see a doctor, and because he keeps on cycling he has now also picked up a cold.
12-13 July - Surabaya - Pasuruan - 67km
We packed up and cycled the relatively short distance in heavy traffic to Pasuruan. It was a short ride but better than just staying in one place. I seemed to have also picked up Ernest’s cold and suffered from a tight chest, blocked nose and headache. This is so frustrating.
The entire way was very congested, and it felt like we were not getting out of Surabaya. This must be guava country as all along the road they were selling guava and guava juice. A great drink to have as they put loads of ice in it.
In constant traffic we arrived in Pasuruan; found a very comfortable room (my favorite) an outside, ground floor room with a window and a veranda overlooking a central garden.
The next day both Ernest and I were rather sick and feeling worse for wear, we decided to stay in bed and only carry on the followed day.
14 July Pasuruan – Probolinggo - 41 km
We took it real easy and only cycled the short distance to Probolinggo. Although a busy road, it was nice and flat with a bit of a tail wind, so we arrived early. I was keen to see the nearby volcano and decided to do that the next day.
I got up in the early hours of the morning, left Ernest in bed, and headed up the mountain to see the sunrise. Gosh, I have not seen so many tourists in a long while. Where did they all come from? I could hardly catch a glimpse of the sunrise with all those people at the view point! It still remained quite a spectacular site. Mount Bromo with its smoking cone and smelling strongly of rotten eggs, is situated in a vast caldera and surrounded by various other craters.
I climbed up to the lip of the crater to see what was down there. Not much just a smoking hollow! Then it was time to head back to the room where Ernest was still semi-comatose under the covers.
16 July - Probolinggo – Situbondo - 102km
A great day on the bike, as the road was flat and there was not as much traffic as expected. The road hugged the coast for most of the way and although not a beachy area, more like mangrove swamps, it was great to be next to the ocean.
I love easy days!! Both I and Ernest felt a lot better so we enjoyed the day, all we needed was a tail wind, but that was asking for too much!
(351km - 13days)
17 July - Situbondo – Gilimanuk - 90km
Ernest was still not well; I just yesterday thought he was getting better. We set off and soon encountered a rather stiff headwind, which just got worse as the day progressed. The road was not as flat as the day before but rather hilly in parts. Fortunately the hilly area was through shady forest. By the end of the day I had enough of battling into the wind.
At the dock in Ketapang we took the short ferry ride across the channel to the island of Bali. At last we arrived in Bali! I take my hat off to Ernest, who feels crap, but still manages to cycle 90km in a strong head wind (or is he just stupid??)
We were hardly off the ferry when we spotted a nice place advertising rooms, and what a delightful place it was, little bungalows in an overgrown garden, lovely!! I just hope the wind dies down during the night.
18 July - Gilimanuk – Medewi Beach - 59 km
The first part of the day we cycled through a national park and under a green canopy of trees. No wonder Bali is such a popular destination. It has more than just beaches! The Balinese Hindu culture is alive and well and I have seldom seen such a vast collection of Hindu temples and shrines. The towns and villages along the way had a strong ancient Hindu flavor reflected in the architecture and all the shrines - how fascinating!
Soon we reached the well known surfing spot of Medewi Beach. Close to the turnoff from the main road we found a good place to stay with an excellent menu! I don’t often cycle past places like this.
19-21 July - Medewei Beach – Denpasar (Capital of Bali) - 74km
Bali has everything to make it a true paradise; with its warm tropical climate and great beaches, good surf, palm trees and frangipanis. Add to that an evocative Hindu culture, green rice paddies and friendly Balinese and it is sure to be a winner. Typical island style there was plenty of fruit to be had along the way. Roadside stalls were selling bright red water melons, large yellow bananas, pineapples and mangoes.
The road down the west coast was fairly hilly and slightly windy, but we soon reached the capital where we had to stop for a day or two in order to inquire about a visa for Australia.
We did the necessary, filled in forms, made copies of what was required and handed in the forms. Then it was just a matter of waiting to see what will happen. In the meantime I was bored stiff. Time to move on and check on the progress of the visa later. There must be more to do on this holiday island than sitting in a city room staring at the ceiling.
22-28 July - Denpasar – Kuta Beach & Uluwatu - 10km/29km/28km
We saddled up and cycled the rather short distance to the famous or infamous Kuta Beach. It was a 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, CD’s. T-shirts, surf shops, western restaurants, booze, tattoo shops and marijuana!! Gosh, I nearly fell over just witnessing it all!! We eventually found a reasonable room and parked off, absorbing it all.
The most wonderful thing about human beings is how quickly we can adapt to a new environment! Soon I was shopping, eating and drinking and nearly had a new tattoo!! I joined the beer swirling holidaying Auzzies and ate at Pizza Hut, swam in the ocean and spoke loads of shit with holiday makers from around the world, dogged 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 obviously did not me believe me. Definitely time to move on, I’ll say, before all my money is gone and people think we’re just making this up!
We biked down 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, but most accommodation places where scattered along the hilly roads in the vicinity. We only stayed one night and decided to go back to Kuta, while still waiting to hear from the Australian Embassy.
Back in Kuta we found a better room at Sari Bali, lovely with balcony and pool. We lived in luxury, eating more pizzas and of course we also drank a few beers.
29 July - Kuta – Padang Bai - 61km
At long last we left the touristy area of Kuta and headed for Denpassar to pick up our passports at the application centre. We were eager to see if the visas had been granted and were rather relieved to see that a 3-month visa was securely pasted in our passports.
We headed off to Padang Bai to get a ferry for Lombok as we still had until 11th August left on our visas for Indonesia. We bought our flight tickets from Bali to Darwin for 10th August and could now relax and explore Lombok until it was time to leave Indonesia.
Bali is a smaller island than expected and the roads are good and scenic. So all in all an enjoyable ride with once again plenty of Balinese Hindu temples and shrines. Padang Bai is not only a ferry port but quite an enjoyable little village, with a small touristy sea-front where there were plenty of places to stay and eat. We found ourselves a cheap room (complete with sheets which has not been changed for months) and headed out to one of the small restaurants on the “strip”.
Ernest went wild and ordered a steak, big mistake! Although the steak was ordered “rare”, it was still cremated and resembled part of an old shoe sole, just as flat and just as tough (the accompanying French fries looked and tasted exactly like rice). My veg curry was a winner. Stick to the local food, that way you avoid disaster on a plate.
(556km - 13days)
30 June - Padang Bai, Bali – Senggigi, Lombok - 40km
We took the 10h00 ferry from Bali to Lombok, a 4-hour voyage. From the ferry port it was only 20km to the capital which we bypassed and headed up the coast to Senggigi, famed for its lovely beaches, and the most touristy place on Lombok island. Once there we discovered that most of the accommodation on the beach was too expensive for us - so much for the lovely beach where I envisaged myself in a bamboo hut with the water lapping at my feet.
In order to get out of our dark hole of a room, we headed for a local restaurant instead of cooking for ourselves. Ernest, at long last, had his fish which was not cooked to a frazzle, and was not served with scales and bones! I had fried veg and tofu, which was absolutely delicious; I was pleased we did not cook for ourselves.
31 July - Senggigi – Senaru - 85km
Most rooms in this part of the world come with a simple breakfast and this time it was no different. We ate our banana pancake, drank our coffee and soon were on our way again.
The road was a lot more hilly than expected and we huffed and puffed up the steep little hills and then flew down the other side. The ongoing road works 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 10km of the day was straight up the mountain! We were rather happy to reach some accommodation with excellent views of Rinjani (the well known volcano on the island). I was itching to do the trek up to the crater, but we have such little time left, that I gave it a miss.
1 August - Sennaru – Lanbuhan Lombok - 68km
After our usual banana pancake (tourist breakfast) we sped down the hill at breakneck speed, but once that was over it was back to the steep ups and downs again. The scenery was absolutely stunning and friendly kids cheered us on as we battled up the vertical road. A chorus of “Turist, turist” and “hello mister” could be heard as we cycled past small villages. I must admit my greetings seem to fade a bit towards the end of the day.
Shortly after lunch we reached Lanbuhan Lambok, the ferry terminal to Sumbawa island where we had been heading. After some consultation with the locals we decided to stay the night and only cross to the Sumbawa in the morning. We found a cheap “losmen” (local hotel), bought some things at the local market, and eventually Ernest found a decent White Snapper at a good price which he filleted and fried (he managed to eat up the whole thing – for the uninformed, I’m vegetarian).
2 August - Lanbuhan Lombok – Mataram - 75km
Somehow our plans changed during the night. For a number of reasons we decided to stay in Lombok instead of crossing the short strait to Sumbawa. The main reasons being that we both hate back-tracking (which, it seems, would have been necessary), we had no decent map of that island, and we were unsure of where to go once we got there.
We headed back in the direction of the Lombok capital, Mataram. A number of locals had reliably informed us that the main road back to the West coast was flat. Unfortunately (as in many parts of the world), “flat” seems to mean “straight”. We gradually climbed for some time, then some “up and down”, and eventually we had the gradual downhill run-in to the capital. The road was dotted with small villages where the horse and buggy is still in full use and seems to be the main mode of public transport around town. Farmers still plow their rice paddies with oxen and locals are amazed that we’re cycling to the next town! It’s rather useless telling them where we come from as its way off their radar.
In Mataram we found a nice room (recommended by the guide book), where we could unsaddle our own well-used horses. Ernest did his usual pm march around the markets, and as usual he returned with a refreshing local Bintang beer. Now we have a few days left before our flight to Darwin.
3 August - Mataram, Lombok – Padang Bai, Bali - 21km
We were rather slow at packing up. Eventually we had the bikes loaded and ambled along the road to the harbour for the ferry ride back to Bali.
We were just in time for the 12h00 ferry, along with trucks, busses, curio sellers and hawkers, we boarded the ferry for another 4-hour crossing back to Bali. The swell was rather large, making it difficult to walk around so we just settled in on a mat and ate Pop-Mie and selak (snake fruit, which we’d bought earlier along the way).
By the time we were off the ferry it was 16h30 so we once again found a room at the same hotel as the one we’d stayed in before we left for Lombok. It at least appeared that they had changed the sheets, although we were definitely not the first people to sleep on them, they were rather less “used” than on our previous visit.
4 August - Padang Bai – Amed - 56km
I knew we were just passing time in Bali before our flight out, so I was rather lazy to cycle. We eventually made a move and headed east and then north around the island. So off over the hills we went and what a stunning ride it was! Lush and green with rice paddies and temples made the ride a pure pleasure and I was happy to be on the bike. There seems to be frequent celebrations or festivals complete with people all dressed up in traditional clothes, dancers and local bands. This time, however, it could have been a funeral (who knows?).
Once over the eastern hills we sped down to the coast and in no time at all found ourselves in Amed, a very touristy area on the far eastern coast. We found a rather nice room (albeit pricy) on the beach and enjoyed a swim, a beer and some of the local food. Although the beach was a black volcanic pebble beach, the water was crystal clear and lukewarm.
5 August - Amed – Lovina - 85 km
We had a good tail wind for the first part of the ride, so we sped along a fairly flat road along the coast. Ernest bought a fish for supper at the local market down the road – a rather strange looking pike-like creature which he cleaned and deboned for hours. He was quite pleased with the end result, a fine meal of game fish fillet and fried noodles. It seemed to me that so much work should have produced a lot more fish – but then again, I’m very lazy when it comes to cooking food.
6 August - Lovina – Tangarang - 83 km
We had to head over the hills back south towards Denpasar and the airport, and as we’d expected it was a decent climb across this volcanic island. Then, as usual, we flew down the other side. The scenery was however stunning, and we had to stop to photograph the neat terraced rice paddies along the hillsides. We found an affordable room in the big town of Tangarang, about 20km North of Denpasar (not a touristy place, therefore the price was reasonable).
7 August - Tangarang – Kuta - 36 km
The ride to Kuta was fairly quick – with a bit of a rain shower along the way. We cycled around Denpasar city looking for an outdoor store which I’d spotted previously, but I was now unable to find it again. On the road from there to Kuta Beach we passed a good bike shop where Ernest bought a spare rim (cheap) – he wasn’t going to cycle through the Australian Outback without the necessary backup. So we headed on to Kuta, where we found a nice room at Sari Bali where we’d stayed previously. Now it was time to sort out the bags and the bike for our flight to Darwin, trying to reduce the weight as excess baggage can be very expensive.
8-11 August - Kuta – Kuta Airport - 7km
Ernest scrubbed and cleaned the bikes; we did laundry; sorted out our gear; and lazed around before our flight to Darwin Australia. Who the heck worked out the flight time table? Out flight was at 11pm arriving in Darwin at 3am, ghosh, what a time to arrive in a place! (The actual flying time was only 2h30m, but there is a time difference).
At last it was “Salamat Tingel dan tarima Kashi” Indonesia. We cycled the short distance to the airport for our flight to Darwin. Once at the airport we expected to have to box the bikes, but there were no boxes available there. However, we were lucky to meet an extremely helpful Malaysian (Tan C K), who had just bought a bike in Bali - he phoned the bike shop to bring us 2 bike boxes, which they did. They also helped pack the bikes -gosh how nice is that.
The bad part was paying for our overweight baggage which, even after a discount, was still far more than the price of the ticket. Even on board there was no service whatsoever (without paying extra), not even a glass of water or a cup of coffee. Then they still wanted you to clean up and pack the seat-pocket in front of you neatly the way they want it. Well bugger that, they can repack their own brochures. Ha, ha, I suppose, that is what you call a budget airline!