The locals in Jakarta are positively at a loss about how to react to a lone woman roaming around their land….the addition of the bicycle being the straw that broke the camels back. Too excited to form a sentence I was usually greeted by a fit of giggles and a “ Helloaghhh” presumably “Hello” and “Agh” contracted. There is also no gender in the Indonesian language so it took a while to shake off the offence of having “Hey Mister” shouted at you every second. (Flashbacks of my “Man Woman?” incident in Vietnam)
Elegantly awaiting the performance. Bali.
Lighting a "kretek" clove cigarette.
Cycling from the airport was thankfully not as life endangering as I expected and equipped with great directions from my local host David, I arrived to the Tebet area of Jakarta without a hitch. I did however resolve never to cycle within the city limits again. Aside from the traffic issue which was more a test of patience than dexterity, there is simply nowhere safe to park your bike and exploring cities involves night cycling which isn’t highly recommendable in a megacity such as Jakarta.
On my first night in Jakarta we went to christen my arrival in a new country and I was surprised to see everyone in the pub with a mug in front of them. Either this is a very gentrified country or I haven’t been taking this Ramadan seriously enough. To my relief I soon discovered that they were merely using a mug to disguise the alcohol from the local Muslim activist group. A successful disguise! Later the pubs had to close in Cinderella style at midnight which was swiftly followed by young members of this activist group (the eldest being about 12 years old) parading around the city and threatening to close down any bar that was still open! The thought of a 12 year old attempting to close a bar down at midnight on a Saturday night back home was certainly a comical one! I never thought I’d see the day where a group of youths close down a bar…such is the power of religion! Apparently youths gallivanting around the streets at night is warranted as justified behaviour if closing down bars is their pursuit.
Bandung, rice fields.
I was a little weary of travelling in a 90% Muslim country during Ramadan but with an appropriate amount of provisions it really wasn’t an issue most of the time. I inquired at one hotel towards the beginning of my journey what time breakfast would be served at and I became a little daunted at the reality of cycling during Ramadan when he replied “Between 2 and 3 am”. Thankfully this was the exception to the rule and as long as you eat in private it’s not really and issue. However close to Bandung I stopped at one local shop-come-restaurant to ask for water and you’d think I’d asked for a triple vodka on the rocks with the response I received….needless to say I pedalled off miffed and just as thirsty!
Cycling in Java gets quite a bad rap from tourers due to the high levels of traffic. I can’t dispute that the motorways are little short of suicidal but with a little imagination following the sideroads and even the adjacent tracks by the railway line, Java offers boundless options for the cycling tourer. As regards road quality here, what could be described as a track by European standards is awarded national road status here. Going lower than national roads you are greeted with little more than a tack not far removed from a track trodden solely by goats and yaks in the Himalayas! That said I have just come from Japan where I could count on one hand the amount of potholes or slight blemishes in the asphalt throughout my entire journey there!
The envied missile among friends.
Boat crosing from Java.
Independence day bike parade.
The gilted missile felt simply boring in contrast to the competition.
The further you go off the beaten track the more dire the hovels…sorry hotels are. Hotel being a courtesy title in rural Java. On my way to Surabaya I ran out of puff and was nearing delirium due to the intense heat that day. I paused at a roadside coconut vendors stall which I thought would be a mere comma in journey. As my muscles grew cold and my energy diminishing with the sun I sensibly decided to call it a full stop. The local vendor insured me a hotel was to be found 3km away in the town with no name. So off I pedalled and sure enough there was a “Losmen” . When one speaks of basic accommodation this particular flophouse ticked all the boxes. Dip and poor bucket shower, polished earth floor, no lock on the door and a mattress offering as much cushioning as a slice of pan loaf. The pit WC was W’less with your business going straight into the stream below. Presumably the drinking water also comes from that same source so one can only hope it’s slightly further up steam. (Mental note to bring the purification tablets out of hibernation) The electrics were as sparse as the bedlinen and with no electrical output and the solitary flickering exposed bulb was the showpiece having only the bed to contend with for attention. If a 10 watt bulb exists this was it! The joy of cycling is that you will quite literally sleep anywhere. Too tired to go on a food hunt I opted for nourishment of an anaesthetic nature by buying the sole bottle of beer sitting like a trophy on the barren shelf behind the reception. Noting the amount of dust on the bottle I deliberately chose not to investigate its expiration date. With “nourishment” attended to I set about DEETing the legs of my bed to avoid an anarchadian and rodent invasion that night. With the backdrop of accommodation being so dilapidated to the point of looking abandoned and the ever astonished gapping mouth of the proprietor who simply thought I was too good to be true, I was beginning to think I’d taken on the persona of a ghost! A nights sleep had obviously allowed him to digest the previous nights proceeding however, as he greeted me with rice and tea the next morning. I had already performed some indoor camping in my room and dined on oatmeal but after my insubstantial nourishment the previous night I was capable of going a second round and not shunning his kind gesture.
Those Mies trees in my architecture renderings actualy do exist! Sanur, Bali.
Oddly enough there is a time difference of one hour here between Jakarta and Bali which I have been oblivious to for a few days now. I find it a comical refinement here in rural Java where an hour or even a day here or there is of little significance to the average rural citizen!
The highlight of Java for me was undoubtedly Yogyakarta. It is considered the heritage and cultural capital of Indonesia and with good reason. The temples of Borobodur and Prambanan are less than a days cycle from the city and the city also has it’s fair share of artists homes, palaces and other cultural gems to offer. The significant university which dominates the city further adds to its cultural mix. They say you never visit Yogya only once and having visited the city I see no reason to argue with this statement.
Imported Cliffs of Moher, Bali.
On my final night in Yogyakarta we went to a ballet performance of the Ramayana Ballet. Ballets are of a slower nature than what I am accustomed to but with the backdrop to the stage being Prambanan temple naturally lit by the moon, I could have happily watched a performance of tiddlywinks for hours.
Entering Hindu Bali from predominantly Muslim Java made quite an architectural difference.
Physical contact especially among strangers is somewhat taboo in Indonesia. Babies however were often shoved cm’s from my nose and being the youngest child coupled with a lack of knowledge of any customary greetings towards toddlers I was always weary as how to proceed with greetings. I tried “oooohing” and “aaaahing” at their beauty and displayed what I considered an appropriate amount of wonderment at their teeth and hair. This was usually enough to pacify most proud parents. When these efforts failed to move the child from my face I gave it a quick peck on the cheek which always ceased the greeting out of inappropriatness or satisfaction I was never quite sure. Another local mystery I must set about solving.
Not being a tick the box traveller I thought my 3 years out of date guidebook would be sufficient to give me an overview of where I was headed. I sincerely hope they have corrected the 2007 edition as they had the maps of two towns mixed up. The streets in Indonesia are normally named after famous historical and distinguished gentlemen or gods. The problem lies in the fact that these said characters are awarded a street in almost every town leading to much confusion when the locations of the streets bear no resemblance to map! After an hour searching for non existent roundabouts in Sepetan town I was at the point of coaxing my eyes to believe that a fork in the road was in fact a roundabout when two kind truck drivers interrupted my hallucinations and clarified through commendable gestures that I was in fact in the wrong town. When I finally pedalled to the next town 8km away I had to use all self restraint not to hug the receptionist when he said there was a room available. It was almost 2am but at least I was on time for breakfast!
One of the little mysteries in Indonesia is the availability of ginger coffee. Now I am no authority on coffee but I am an avid fan and consider Nescafe poison. Nobody here ever raves about it or recommends it yet it is everywhere. So I would just like to set the record straight that ginger and coffee complement each other as well as mittens do to a concert pianist. What makes it so bizaar is that second only to Vietnam I think Indonesia has superb quality coffee and why they would taint it with ginger like ketchup spoiling a good steak is really beyond me.
Mt Bromo, volcano.
On entering Bali I felt as if I was entering a new country. The Hindu atmosphere is evident throughout the country and Ramadan suddenly seemed like a thing of the past! Having enjoyed a most pleasant journey along the north coast only the mountain of Mt. Batur stood in my way before I could freewheel into Ubud on time to be reunited with my parents.
They are known as the happiest people in Asia for a reason!
Singaraja, morning market Bali.
Breakfast that morning was an Asian adaptation concocted by my host of supposed western delights. It consisted of imported sliced bread caked in an alarming chemical orange “butter” and topped off with chocolate flavoured sprinkles …. a very classy menu in these parts! It takes a lot to sway a cyclist off a meal but this time my stomach was not as democratic as my morals as I knew there were plenty of good breakfast stalls within throwing distance. I tactfully chose to eat my breakfast outside where I could enjoy the view and more importantly hide the kind breakfast in the meadow grass.
I set off from the old port town of Singaraja early that day in case the mountain proved more trying than expected, The mountain was noted by the locals to be “Much much, oh so very high” but as most Asians are prone to exaggeration I chose not to heed their warnings much. A day later I can now accept their apt description with little difficulty! After a stunning view from Kintimani one is justly rewarded by a sumptuous drop of 30km through lush paddy fields, remote temples and locals on their way to give Puja offering by foot or bicycle…..pure cycling bliss!
Betting on the dead in the temple....i think the bible had a different take on betting in the church!
I met one grimacing face emerging from the paddy fields clutching a filthy rag to his dripping finger as I neared Ubud. My interpretation of his body language was that he got it caught in a fence. Like a dutiful hypochondriac I produced my medical kit which received a lot of admiring glances from the crowd (which had miracuosly popped out of the paddy-fields), to the point of snatching. Never fond of handing out medical supplies which threaten local remedies and whose supply disappear as quick as I do. I reluctantly showered him with bandages, antiseptic wipes and painkillers….little did I know I would be needing them very soon myself!
Shortly after being reunited with my parents I was unfortunately bitten by a dog precisely on the cycling muscle, causing my leg to swell up and left me to hobble with a crutch in Dr. House style. A highly sophisticated fashion item in these parts. Sightseeing was restricted to hospital visits but gave us a chance to catch up on the past years events which was probably the more preferable activity after our exertions to meet on an agreed date. At least now my parents can attest that I do not go looking for trouble it just has a way of following me!
The episode to get my final anti rabies injection is certainly one for my comical medical moments on this journey. I headed to the rabies clinic on the assigned date only to find out that my previous doctor had got the date wrong by a trivial 5 days…..reassuring! 5 days later I dutifully return and fill in an array of paperwork and head to the clinic. A “doctor” looking younger than myself then sets about his job “new injection…not already used” he pronounces proudly …and there was me thinking that was a given! Next he produces the vaccination like a magician showing the final card of his tick. As bad and all as my eyesight is I can clearly see the expiration date was 5 months ago. “Indeed Indeed, would you like a fresh one?” If I hadn’t spent the past 2 hours filling out the appropriate forms for this procedure I would have taken this as my que to leave but I was too fed up to care. He ambles back a few minutes later looking somewhat miffed as If I had been nit picking about the colour of his latex gloves and he reluctantly gave the injection. I asked him how long he had been a doctor and he said he wasn’t a doctor. “Sorry how long are you a nurse?” He replied “Not exactly a nurse” Turns out the chap was taught how to give injections and the second hand stereoscope around his neck was purely ornamental but he can give injections well so the locals think he is wonderful!
Being bitten by a rabid dog and then a few days later hit by a motorbike would be considered by many as extraordinarily bad luck. However I feel that fate has dealt very kindly on me. Were I to choose a country to be stranded in for over a month Indonesia ticks all the right boxes, great people, fabulous food and an array of water activites I’m literally foaming at the bit for. Bide your time kate, your time will come!
carrying the cremated remains of the queen, Ubud.
I tried out my leg today on a short 5km ride….an experiment my leg did not approve of as it came back with its bandage a dripping deep red colour. Well at least now I know cycling is totally out of the question!
Irish reunion in Bali. Napkins as headwear is highly fashionable and cultural must in Indonesia.
Missing my flight to Australia due to my leg has put a slight spanner in the works on my initial route. Instead of cycling from Darwin to Perth I have decided to quite literally to cycle across Australia for the epic coast to coast ride from Perth to Sydney. I can then say I cycled an entire continent coast to coast, which has a rather nice ring to it. I will then make my way to either Tasmania if my new passport is processed in time or failing that I’ll head straight to Melbourne provided I haven’t evapourated in the desert meantime and hopefully catch the Australian tennis open! Well the plan sure sounds exciting on paper but what will actually happen could be something altogether different….time will tell!
Kawah Ijen, Sulphur mine, Jawa.
*Sadly I'm missing a lot of photos from Java as I deleted them immediately after I backed them up onto an archive CD....but they are awaiting me in Ireland. I guess the humiduty is slowly frying my brain!