CYCLING INDONESIA (2)
(1222km - 30days)
9 January 2017 – Cape Town, South Africa – Bali, Indonesia
The time has come for me to say goodbye to my lovely family and all of my awesome friends. Once again, I did not get so see everyone, but I did spend time with my mom and met up with my longstanding Facebook friend, Diana, who I spent a lovely day within and around the Winelands of the Cape. We watched a hilarious duck parade and had a glass of wine on the lawn. Bliss! I walked in the mountains, ran along the beachfront, paddled with my dragon boat friends, and spent countless nights shooting the breeze next to the “braai” fires. In all that time, I only cycled once; I could just as well have left the bicycle in the box! On January 9, I boarded a plane for Indonesia, from where I will slowly make my way to Malaysia and meet up with Janice for our “Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok” cycle. Watch this space! Now, it's time to get back to my normal life on the bike as I wonder what Indonesia will hold!
10 January - Bali
After nearly 24 hours of flying, I finally landed in Bali, and I could not wait to get out of the airport and into the fresh air. It was hot and humid, as could be expected, as Bali is only a short distance south of the equator. I flagged down a taxi (bicycle and all, as I was in no mood to put the bicycle together) and headed for Komala Indah 11 Cottages. The rooms were simple but spacious and consisted of ground-floor bungalows that came at a very reasonable price of 100 000 Indonesian Rupiah ($1 – 13 000RP). Although the room only had a fan and cold water, it was set in a lush garden, and the price included breakfast, consisting of coffee and toast with jam or bananas.
I drew 2 000 000RP, bought a SIM card, paid for the room, and bought a large Bintang beer, which I drank while sitting on the steps and talking to other travellers. I fell asleep rather early but woke again at around 3 a.m. and was wide awake. Bali is five hours ahead of where I came from, and it is, therefore, no wonder that my time was slightly out of sync.
11 January – Bali
I did, however, fall asleep again and only woke at 9 a.m. I quickly got dressed and went for a jog, but it was a rather unpleasant affair, as it was already too late and far too hot and humid.
I put the bike together and rearranged my stuff back into the panniers where it belonged. Then I was off to the shop to get all the little bits and pieces I needed but don’t usually carry with when flying.
I took a walk along the beach, and although Bali is as touristy as they come, it remains a pleasant enough place to hang out for a day or two. In fact, I quite like the madness of it all. I'm sure that there are enough tie-dyed T-shirts and sarongs for sale to dress all of Africa, and one wonders how all the eateries make a living. I watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean while the waves rolled in and surfers caught the last waves of the day, all while doing my fair share for the sale of Bintang beer.
12 January – Bali
At first, I had thought of heading out, but then I encountered software problems on my laptop and thought it best to sort those out first. It took hours and hours; eventually, I had to call in Microsoft support, but even they had difficulty, and the upload was so slow that it was 10 p.m. before everything was back to normal.
Consequently, I did not see much of Bali and its beaches on that day. I only walked out once (while the slow upload was in progress) to marvel at all Bali holds. With its colourful stores and Hindu temples, it remains surprisingly Balinese for such a touristy island.
It was rather hot and humid, so I waited until sunset before heading out on my run. It was a most glorious evening, and the sunset was truly spectacular. I was once again extremely grateful that I had had the desire and will to go for a run. I had plans about jumping in the ocean; however, by the time I was done, it was already pitch dark, and I still wanted to rinse my sweaty running gear. By then, it was time for my daily Bintang and my usual plate of Mie Goreng (stir-fried noodles), loaded with chilli from the street vendor around the corner.
13 January – Bali – Mengwi – Ubud – app 50 km
After breakfast, I cycled to the Pelini ferry service office to enquire about a ferry to Singapore. The answer was positive, and according to the Bali office, there was a ferry leaving Tanjung Priok, Jakarta, on 3 February for the island of Batang, arriving there the following day. From Batang to Singapore there appeared to be various ferries leaving several times a day (one hour).
Then it was back to my room where I loaded the bike and first swung by the bike shop to buy a set of new pedals as the bearings on mine packed up. Therefore, it was after midday when I finally left, sporting two bright red pedals. (LOL, I have never seen red pedals before!) I headed for the small village of Mengwi as it is home to the Taman Ayun Temple, which is a group of temples situated in a most beautiful garden. It looked like the entire stretch between Kuta and Mengwi was one big temple with vendors selling temple paraphernalia. Just as I arrived, it started raining with the result that I could not even take any pictures. There was no accommodation that I could see, and I, therefore, headed in the direction of Ubud along a small back road that leads past bright green rice terraces and (once again) some beautiful temples.
Just before Ubud, there was one huge clap of thunder, and the rain came pouring down; I continued until I reached Ubud. I pulled into the first sign I spotted, Ayu Bungalows, and must have looked rather bedraggled as the room (at 250,000RP) was more than I wanted to pay. The owners, however, were kind enough to give it to me for 150,000RP, including breakfast. I felt guilty when they did this as it was such a nice room with aircon and hot water.
14 January - Ayu Bungalows, Ubud – Medewi Beach – 80 km
“Did you sleep well?” she asked with a friendly smile, hands touching her forehead and palms together. What lovely people the Balinese are. Included in the price of the room was a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, fruit and Indonesian coffee, which I enjoyed op my little veranda while the sweet smell of incense drifted across from the offerings.
One can’t just sit staring into space all day, so I loaded the bike and waved my friendly host goodbye. I first paid a visit to the nearby Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave, which was situated just down the road. It is said that the cave dates back to the ninth century, but I’m not sure if that means that the cave was dug out (as it is quite small inside) or if it is referring to the carvings around the cave entrance and the bathing ghats (which were only excavated in the 1950s). To enter the cave (now a temple), one gets given a sarong to wear, which I did with pleasure, as I did not want to anger the fierce-looking demons carved into the rock on the outside of the cave.
The ride today was fairly up and down, but once over most of it, I sped downhill to the coast past scenic rice terraces and had to take the obligatory Bali rice terrace shot. In fact, I did not just take one; I took about 100!!! I guess I’m going to spend the rest of the evening sifting through them. I found the coastal road busy and narrow but very scenic. I tried to stick as much to the side of the road as possible, but even then, it was a challenge. I passed a good number of surf camps and other nice-looking beaches and settled for Medewi Beach, where they have a handful of rooms, all at a very reasonable price. Once I had my shower, it was off to the nearest food cart for my daily bowl of bakso soup and a beer.
15-16 January Medewi Beach, Bali – Banyuwangi Beach Hotel, Java – 60 km
Breakfast was a rather interesting affair known as a parcel and coffee. The parcel consisted of rice and other stuff wrapped in a bamboo leaf (or maybe it was a banana leaf) and closed with a toothpick or thin bamboo stick. It was delicious! I then headed for Gilimanuk where I could get the ferry to the Island of Java. It was, once again, an enjoyable ride with mountains on the one side and the ocean on the other, and past the ever-present rice paddies. The last part of the day the road ran through a national park, and it was even more lush and green than normal with the trees forming a tunnel to drive through. Monkeys risked their lives darting across the busy main road, and even the temple statues looked more friendly than else where.
The ferry from Gilimanuk to Java Island only costs 7000IR (for me and the bike). It was a rather short crossing and only took about 10 minutes, but I had to wait for about an hour for the ferry to depart.
Once on the island of Java, I found a room at the Banyuwangi Beach Hotel which sounds far more upmarket than what it is. But, then again, what can one expect for $3–$6 a night! I went upmarket and took the $6 room—living the high life! Hahahaha!
The reason for the stay here is to see if I could arrange for a trip up to the crater lake. I found a “travel agent” that could arrange just such a thing. I got picked up at midnight, and we drove up the mountain for about an hour and a half. We then walked up a very steep path for another hour to the crater rim. This was where things became rather surreal. We descended into the crater to Kawah Ijen Lake and the sulphur deposits. Noxious and sulphurous smoke billowed from the volcano’s vent. The fact that both a guide and a mask was included should have warned me about the conditions. More bizarre was passing miners digging sulphur out of the crater floor and lugging it on shoulder poles up the steep path. The conditions these guys work in can only be described as “a medieval vision of hell” and one could hardly make them out as they slowly headed up the path in a cloud of sulphurous smoke. Down on the crater floor, one could see the bright blue sulphur fires burning, and I felt extremely sorry for the guys working down there, digging out the sulphur with no masks or any kind of protection.
By the time I got back to my room it was 7:00 and I had not slept or eaten since breakfast the previous morning. It was time for food and a nap.
17 January - Banyuwangi Beach Hotel – Situbondo 88 km
With a population of 260 million people, Indonesia is rather crowded, and 58% living on the island of Java makes it the world’s most populous island. Needless to say, the narrow roads are rather busy, and the potholes do not make things any easier. Broken down trucks have nowhere to go and stay put, and I passed one this morning that seemed to have been there for a while, as the driver was playing board games (on a board drawn on the road) while the others were collecting money from passing traffic. I think if I wrote down everything I saw today, it would be a book.
Sometimes when I get to a new country, I find it quite overwhelming. It all started early morning as I came out the shop where I bought water for the road and found someone measuring my bike. He seemed to go around measuring everything, from cutters to paving stones, and he was very conscientious! On two occasions, I saw a person walking along the road stark naked! Don’t know what that was all about. I know there is the Dani tribe from New Guinea who wears hardly anything, but I somehow don’t think these guys were from there. That was bizarre.
The more usual included numerous small villages, bright green rice fields with the ever-present cone-shaped mountains as a backdrop, banana stores selling nothing but bananas, in all shapes and sizes. There were men sitting on their haunches cutting grass by the side of the road (as animal feed, I guess) and hijab-wearing women tending sheep. In fact, I passed some colourful stores selling only hijabs (I should get one). There were young boys running around the rice fields flying kites and old men walking along selling woven baskets. Women dried small fish on wooden tables, and men transported wood on the back of motorbikes stacked sky-high, all this in the company of muezzins calling people to prayer from the mosque’s minarets (they should pay more attention to the quality of their speakers).
It was a hilly ride, and by the time I reached Situbondo, it was time to start looking for a place to rest my head. I found an even less expensive room than the night before, and at 60,000IR, I could not complain about the state of the bathroom (LOL). The bathroom was not bad at all; unusual maybe, but not bad. Stranger was the beds facing the bathroom instead of the door. There was plenty of street food to be found, but beer was becoming more difficult. I bought one at the Indomaret but, once in my room, discovered it was a Bintang Zero (LOL).
18-19 January – Situbondo – Probolinggo – 95 km
“Hello, Mister” is the standard greeting around here. I must say that the Indonesians are very friendly and I get the thumbs up, numerous times a day, as they zoot past me on their motorbikes. I, however, remain a novelty and I’m sure that (in this area) they have seldom seen a western woman, except for the faded poster girls in the workshops, and the sexy-looking ones on the truck tyre flaps.
The road hugged the coast for most of the day, making for easy and scenic cycling. The road was therefore lined with “warungs” (restaurants) selling “Ikan Bakar” (grilled fish). In the process, my Basa Indonesian is coming along just fine. In the food department, Basa Indonesian is fairly easy as long as one knows the words for rice (nasi), noodles (mie, mee or mi), fried (goreng), grilled (bakar), chicken (ayam), and fish (ikan). If also learned to say where I’m from (Africa Selatan) and that a bicycle is a sepeda.
Besides the restaurants, there were plenty of fish and rice drying along the road which is understandable as it is their staples around here.
With about 90% of the population being Muslim it is no wonder that there are so many mosques - the problem is that they all seem to be short of money and collect from passing traffic, making the already narrow road even more so. Phew, cycling here can be quite a challenge!
I stopped in Probolinggo and found a room at the Hotel Paramita. This time it was somewhat more expensive, but it came with the luxury of a clean room. My reason for stopping here was that I wanted to organise a lift up to Mount Bromo, but that worked out too expensive, so I may give it a miss altogether or take the bus up there in the morning. I may also decide to stay put here as I desperately need to do some laundry, but I will sleep on it and decide in the morning. For now, it is Selamat Malam as it is already 11.45 p.m. and I'm falling asleep as I'm typing.
20 January – Probolinggo – Mt. Bromo
I packed up and left Probolinggo, but when I got to the turn-off for Mt Bromo, I changed my mind and decided to go up there after all. Instead of cycling there, I found another real cheap hotel to leave my bicycle, and I grabbed a motorbike taxi to the top of the mountain.
Although I visited Mt Bromo six years ago, while cycling Indonesia, I thought it worth my while to pay it another visit. Although it was a most spectacular ride up the mountain, it was a rather unsuccessful day when it came to taking pictures. I'm of the opinion that the pictures I took six years ago came out miles better. In any event, it was still spectacular and remains a sight to behold.
As one enters the vast caldera, the fume-belching cone of Mt Bromo stares you right in the face and, from a distance, one can hear the hissing and splattering of the volcano. A short trek across the sand and up to the summit brings you to the brim of the crater, where you can gaze down into the belly of the beast. It splatters and roars while steam and smoke rise high above the cone. One can also walk along the edge for quite a distance, giving the whole volcano an other-worldly feel.
Then it was back down the mountain, past the vegetable plantation, and one wonders just how they manage to farm on such steep terrain. Up on the mountain, it is an entirely different feel from the lowlands, as it is much cooler, wet and misty, with blanket-clad farmers on horseback inspecting their farmlands. Wooden houses on stilts cling precariously to the mountainside, and red-cheeked kids skip their way to school.
Soon, I was back to reality and at my hotel where I ordered a bowl of bakso before cycling back into town to stock up on some needed supplies.
21 January – Probolinggo – Surabaya – 102 km
It was easy cycling, but it was the road condition and the heavy traffic that made for slow going. I, nevertheless, had a fantastic day, and although not much happened, it was the general everyday life that once again fascinated me. Roadside stalls sold the most interesting and beautiful woven articles, and I cycled past gangs of school girls on scooters, giggling their way to school. Mothers steered motorbikes one-handed while holding (what looked like) a near one-day-old baby on the other arm. Bicycle rickshaws carted hijab-clad pre-schoolers to and from school, while toothless men sat chewing their nasi goreng. Ladies dried corn in the sun, and others were cutting grass along the road as cattle feed (she appeared very impressed that I knew it was for her “kambing”).
There’s never a shortage of eateries in Indonesia and, as always, the road was lined with “warungs”, selling the normal “nasi goreng”, “mee goreng” and “ayam”. Every so often, I would get the pungent smell of durian as I cycled past roadside stalls, where stall owners looked up in utter surprise. There were plenty of “Hello Mister” from locals selling the biggest jackfruit I have ever seen, all making the day so quintessentially Indonesian.
Just before Surabaya, it started raining, making for a nerve wrecking ride into Indonesia’s second largest city. I was more than happy to reach my destination but found that cheap rooms were hard to come by in this city. Eventually, I settled for a pricier room than normal, and it did not even come with a better-quality room than the cheapies!
22 January - Surabaya
Once in Surabaya, I thought it worth my while to go exploring (seeing that it was such a mission to get into the city). The Qubah (the city’s labyrinthine Arab quarters), situated around the Mesjid Ampel Mosque, was an ideal place for doing so.
The mosque is said to mark the burial place of Sunam Ampel, one of the holy men who brought Islam to Java, and at the back of the mosque is a grave where devotees offer rose petals and chant prayers. The area surrounding the mosque forms a large souk with typical Arab merchandise, including dates, fezzes, samosa, prayer bead, perfumes, and lots more. The area is not touristy, and I stood out like a sore thumb as I wandered the alleys, camera in hand. Residents peeked through curtains and through doors slightly ajar, most likely wondering just what a foreigner is doing in their area. “Photo, photo,” the youngsters shouted, making for easy photography, although not always with the best of backgrounds. I nibbled on food for sale and watched in amazement as ducks were slaughtered right there on the pavement!
The local Chinatown also did not disappoint and was as colourful and vibrant as always, with beautiful temples and the ever-present colourful dragons, not to mention interesting eats. Unfortunately, the local fish market was already finished by the time I arrived, but the rest of the market was still in full swing, selling anything from meat to vegetables and fruit. The area surrounding the market was equally busy, with bicycle rickshaws waiting in line to cart anyone away to their destination.
23 Surabaya – Bojonegoro – 117 km
What a mission it was getting out of Surabaya! I first made a bit of a loop as the road I had in mind was a toll road, and bicycles were not allowed. Eventually, I got on the right road, and I followed men on bicycles dressed in shalwar kameezes and fezzes out of the busy city centre.
It took about two hours to get on—and I hesitate to call it this—the open road. There is no such thing as an “open road” in Indonesia, but at least I was out of the thick of things. The road remained busy the entire way, and I hardly took out the camera as I had my eyes on the road trying to avoid potholes and keeping my line as one cannot afford to swerve out for anything, and it felt like I was constantly surrounded by motorbikes.
Fortunately, it was once again easy cycling, and the day passed quickly. Only once did I try a smaller road, but although very scenic, the road was in such poor condition and the going so slow that I was happy to get back on the big road again. A truck overturned and spilt its entire load of rice all over the road. It caused a huge traffic jam, with trucks backed up for tens of kilometres. Phew, I was happy to be on a bicycle. The self-appointed traffic wardens also seemed to help; I don’t know how the traffic would flow without them. In Bojonegoro, I found myself a nice homestay and was very comfortable for the night.
24 January – Bojonegoro – Sragen – 125 km
Between the cocks crowing and the muezzins calling people to prayer, there was no sleeping in. Good thing as well, as the day turned out to be rather slow going. It started off very scenic, with rice paddies and mosques; unfortunately, the road deteriorated even more, and I rattled, shook, and bounced my way along, something that became quite irritating as the day wore on. I had to laugh as motorbikes would pass me, and then the heads would spin around to see just who or what was on this bicycle. I don’t blame them, as I looked a bit like a clown with my yoga pants and skirt over it. Every now and again, I would spot a mobile phone and hand popping out a car window for a quick snap. I do find it a bit tiring to be so constantly in the public eye; I wonder if other cycle tourers also find it so.
At midday, the heat became more intense and the road hillier. It was very much a country road through a very rural area, where woodcraft appeared to be the primary income. The road was lined with stalls selling some beautiful wooden items, from furniture to statues, and even skulls!
I managed to stay dry all day and found a room at the Graha Hotel in Sragen just before the rain came down. It was a fairly nice hotel, and I feared they would not have a cheap room, but fortunately, they had an economy room at 90,000IR. It was only a fan room, but it was on the ground floor, and I could wheel my bike right in. My kind of place!
25 January – Sragen – Surakarta (Solo) – 32 km
The traffic was already hectic by the time I left, but soon I was between the rice paddies and mosques again. I had no intention of turning into Solo but then changed my mind as there were quite a few interesting things to see. I found a room at Warung Baru Homestay and set off on foot to explore the old part. I was hardly on my way, and it started bucketing down. I thought I would wait it out but, eventually, I took a bicycle rickshaw back to my room as I had no umbrella with me.
Nothing much came of my sightseeing as the rain never subsided. I popped out only once for a bowl of bakso and to buy a plastic raincoat. To make use of my time, I did the laundry in the hopes that it would dry by morning. Fortunately, my laptop came back to life and I could sort out my pictures.
26 January - Surakarta – Prambanan Temple – 53 km
I think the wallpaper was way too busy as I could not fall asleep, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that I hardly did anything at all the previous day. I must have fallen asleep at around 3 a.m., but then the muezzin started singing at 4 a.m., and on top of that, someone in the alley where I stayed died during the night, and funeral procedures started at around 6 a.m.
Eventually, I got up and loaded the bike up as there was no point in trying to sleep. By the time I left, the entire lane was covered to provide shelter from the threatening rain, chairs were put out, and the body laid covered for people to say their last goodbyes. Speakers blasted verses from the Quran for the entire neighbourhood to hear. In a way, it was quite nice, as friends came by, sat down, chatted for a while, and then moved on again.
The price of my room included breakfast, and what a feast it was! They served rice with what looked like a tofu stew and other stuff; it was an all vegetarian affair, and it was delicious.
I then got on my bike and cycled the short distance to the Prambanan temple. The temple complex has been declared a UNESCO site and consists of beautiful Hindu temples from the ninth century. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and was constructed by the king of the ancient Mataram Kingdom in 856 AD.
I found myself a room nearby and then set off on foot to explore the complex. Unfortunately, the weather did not play along (photography wise), but the temples are located in a beautiful garden setting, and it was a pleasure just strolling around enjoying all of the old temples.
Early morning I spotted these guys loading flour, and thought it could make a few nice pics, but when they came out again they had cleaned their faces. How sweet is that?
27 January Prambanan Tempele – Borobudur – 55 km
Again, it was a short day in the famous Borobudur, home to one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world. Built with two million stone blocks in the form of the asymmetrical stupa, it is also one of the finest temples in all of Indonesia. It is said that viewed from the air, the temple resembles a colossal three-dimensional tantric mandala. In any event, I’m ahead of myself.
First, I had to get there, and to that purpose, I followed country roads through the smallest of villages. It was a beautiful ride, with the famous smoking cone of Gunung Merapi in the distance and past bunches of school children waving enthusiastically. I feel sorry for these small kids, all bundled up as if they lived on the Arctic Circle instead of the equator. It surely can’t be good for a person; in fact, I have read somewhere that most people here suffer from a lack of vitamin D. If that is so, it would be very sad because they live in such a sunny country. I also can’t see how kids can play dressed like that, and it is really sad as they did not choose their religion. No wonder most of the people here are so unhealthy. I’m shocked when I go to the temples and see the majority of people struggling up an ordinary set of stairs. I’m talking about young people who should be running up the stairs with ease. Instead, they are huffing and puffing and hanging on to the railings.
In Borobudur, I found a room at the very impressive Pondok Tinggal Hotel. At first, it looked far too expensive for my budget, but they were very kind and gave me a good discount, and I had a most lovely room for the night. The hotel is beautiful, built of bamboo and timber, with rooms surrounding a large courtyard garden.
This time, I was not going straight to the temple, but the plan was to go at six the next morning and see if I can get a few pictures. In any case, it soon started raining, and even if I wanted to go, it would not have been possible.
28 January – Borobudur
Most of the rooms at the hotel were occupied by art students who came on a field trip, and I was entertained by a cultural show in the courtyard. The performance carried on until 2 a.m. but I was up again at five to be at the temple by six.
This time, the light was slightly better, but it being a Saturday also meant that half of Indonesia was there! It was nearly impossible to take a picture without someone in it. I was clearly not the only one who wanted to see famous Borobudur. The temple has also been declared a UNESCO site, and the price for visiting is, therefore, quite steep at $20 for foreigners.
It is, however, a fascinating site, and it is believed that its construction started around 750 AD. The temple is wrapped around a small hill, but while renovating the temple, it was discovered that the hill was not a natural one, as had been assumed, but manmade. It is also believed that the temple was abandoned around the twelfth century, most likely due to volcanic eruptions in the area. The site was rediscovered by British Sir Stamford Raffles in 1814, and the temple dug out from underneath volcanic ash.
Back at the hotel the students left and the local car club moved in, I got invited to join in the festivities as they had a band playing and there was plenty of local food and drink to enjoy.
In the foyer of the hotel, a Javanese puppet show took place; it was most fascinating as it featured the famous wayang kulit puppets, also known as shadow puppets. The performance often goes on all night; it is not uncommon for the audience and even the musicians to doze off from time to time. Wayang puppets are made from dried buffalo skin and buffalo horn. The puppets are manoeuvred by the master puppeteer using a very thin stick. I did not stay very long as I did not understand the language and felt a bit sleepy although no one would have been offended if I had fallen asleep.
29 January – Borobudur – Kebumen – 83 km
It was a short ride, mostly due to the weather as it drizzled for most of the day. At first, it was a good climb out of Borobudur, but then came the downhill. I flew down as I was able to pick up quite a good speed with all the weight behind me. All the while, I kept an eye out for potholes, which were numerous, as I sailed past rice fields, raging streams, terracotta-tiled houses and friendly locals.
I realised just how history had shaped the language of this country. The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British were all here, and each civilisation left a few words behind. Words like “solo,” “mas,” “handuk,” and “kantor pos” are clearly borrowed from other languages. I found it interesting that they used the word “handuk” for "towel." Obviously, this word comes from Dutch, and, of course, it was not a word they had in their language when towels were introduced to them.
I reached Kebumen early, but it was so wet that I decided to stay for the night and continue in the morning. I found a room at the Sejahtera Hotel, which was not a bad place to stay. They had an economy room for 90,000IR and I could keep my bike in my room.
30 January – Kebumen – Hotel & Rumah Makan Karanganyar Indah – 100 km
Indonesia is a country with such a natural beauty that I’m amazed at the scenery every day. Shortly after leaving, I spotted a sign for Benteng Van Der Wijck, a Dutch fort built in the 1800s.
I had just left the fort when I spotted another sign, this time for a cave, and I decided to explore it. The cave was interesting as it had four underground springs. I should have scooped out some water as it is believed that the water from the springs will make one ageless! Inside the cave were various statues, 32 in all. Apparently, they tell the legend of Raden Kamandaka, the crown prince who was once imprisoned in the cave. It was all very interesting.
I continued, following the coastal road to Cilacap but found that the road did not go through to Pangandaran. Instead, one has to make a wide loop to get there. In the process, the weather came in, and after one almighty clap of thunder, the heavens opened up to such an extent that the roads quickly became flooded. I donned my plastic raincoat and carried on regardless. Around 5 p.m., I found a roadside hotel and was more than happy to call it a day.
31 January - Hotel & Rumah Makan Karanganyar Indah – Banjar – 90 km
Together with the morning traffic, I snaked my way out of the village where I had stayed, all moving at a snail’s pace to avoid the potholes (not that there is any avoiding the potholes, try as you might!). If there were a prize for bad roads, Indonesia would win, hands down.
It was a hilly day in Central Java as I headed over the mountains in the direction of Merak where I planned to get the ferry to the island of Sumatra. The poor road, however, made the going extremely slow and, in the end, I realised there was nothing I could do but relax, slow down, and follow the traffic. It remained a frustrating day, as my gears were slipping making the uphills even more difficult. The stunning scenery, however, half made up for the bad roads and the slipping gears. I needed to find a bike shop ASAP.
Along the way, I passed a sign saying something like “Watch Out – Crocodile Estuary,” and I wondered how many people were taken before it warranted a sign like that. I stopped at the most colourful fruit stalls and was tempted to buy a whole bunch of stuff but realised I could not eat that much, so I just took a picture and continued on my way. The Indonesians are super-friendly and are always keen for you to take photos, making it rather easy to take pictures of them.
By 3 p.m. the weather came in again, and just as I reached the village of Banjar, it started raining again. I did not feel like cycling in the rain yet again, so I slipped into the first hotel I saw. Maybe I was overly keen, as it was a terrible place with no shops in close proximity. I didn’t think I would get breakfast in the morning.
1 February - Banjar - Tasikmalaya – 47 km
No two days are ever the same. I cycled the two or three kilometres into Banjar, looking for a shop where I could buy internet time for my phone (I can't run out of internet time now, can I?). I cycled around, but most shops were still closed, so I headed out on Route 3 and found the Indomaret mini-mart, where one can get just about anything.
While sitting there having a cup of coffee, I scanned at the map and saw it indicated a bicycle shop just down the road. I thought it a good idea to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised to find a very competent and super-friendly Ikey bike shop. Not only did they adjust the derailleur but also replaced the chain, making for extra-smooth gear changing. I cannot explain how happy I was with that! Cycling uphill with gears slipping is just no fun at all!
The plan was to push on to Bandung, but I was a bit over-optimistic as it was close to 170 kilometres away. In any event, I moved along slowly as it was a gentle but steady climb to Tasikmalaya. Jatnika, from the Ikey bike shop, advised me to take to the secondary road, and what a pleasure it was. The road surface was much better, and the road was not that busy. It also came with some hidden gems (i.e. the knife makers) and beautiful vistas.
Close to Tasikmalaya, I stopped to consult my Google map as to which road to take from there, when two cyclists out on their daily ride stopped and offered to show me a nice hotel. I got escorted into Tasikmalaya right to the door of the Abadi Hotel, which turned out to be just perfect! A ground-floor outside room with mandi, what more could I ask for?
I passed a bandy-legged old man, scavenging for something to recycle, I passed salak stalls where sellers were calling “Mister, Mister” for me to stop and sample their fruit. Most interesting of all was the talented knife makers along the way, selling the most beautiful knives and sheaths in all shapes and sizes.
2-3 February - Tasikmalaya – Jakarta - by train – bus to Merak - 45 km
I realised that my time in Indonesia was running out and I had one more look at the map and knew I had to start moving towards Dumai as it was more than 1 500 kilometres away. I cycled to the train station and bought a train ticket for Jakarta as I reasoned that it would be easier there to find onward transport.
The bicycle cost more than double my ticket (I'm sure they pocketed some of the fees). The train trip, albeit long, was very comfortable and we arrived in Jakarta at around six. My bicycle was not on the same train, and I was told to come back in the morning. I grabbed a motorbike taxi to Hostel 35, in the backpacker area.
The next morning I headed back to the parcel office by Uber moto. Fortunately, the bicycle was there, and I loaded up and cycled to the harbour just to check if the Pelni ferry had left already but I was too late, and the ferry was long gone. I just thought if it was still there I could hop on, but I cycled to the bus terminal which was about 15 kilometres away where I finally got a bus to Merak, the most western point in Java from where ferries depart for Sumatra. It was after nine by the time we arrived, and I took a room at the local “losmen” (guesthouse) for the night.
4-6 February – Merak – Dumai by bus
From the losmen, it was a short cycle to the harbour where I found a very large car ferry ready to leave for Sumatra. The ferry runs throughout the day and although further than the Bali – Java ferry it was still a quick crossing and soon we arrived in the tropical island of Sumatra.
On arrival in Sumatra, I also found that there was not much of a system when it came to public transport, especially for a long trip like the one to Dumai and it was 17h00 that afternoon before I finally got a bus that would take both the bicycle and me. I’m sure I was overcharged, but at 500 0000RP, it was still a bargain, taking into account that the trip was 1 400 kilometres. The bus was old without any air conditioning, and we rattled along the equator on poorly maintained roads. I honestly don’t know how backpackers do it. The bus drivers all need a medal as they hardly ever stopped. They stopped to eat at around 9 p.m. after which we all settled in for an uncomfortable night’s sleep.
The next morning at around 7h00 the bus stopped again for breakfast after which it was straight through till supper time again. I had no intention of not drinking any water in order not to use a toilet, so I drank my usual amount, and when I wanted to go to the toilet I asked the bus driver to stop, which they did without a problem. In fact, every time I asked the entire bus got off and used the toilet, so maybe it was the way to do it.
During the day, I played on the internet. Fortunately, I had three power banks! I also realised that the bus trip was not going to be over before the end of the day and once again we settled in for another night on the bus. The following morning (6th) I was let off the bus at the Dumai/Medan junction, leaving about a 50-kilometre cycle to Dumai.
I was never happier to cycle 50 kilometres! Although sleepy, it was great to be back on the bike, and it felt downhill all the way to Dumai. While cycling this short stretch, memories of cycling this very road seven years ago (albeit in the opposite direction), came flooding back! Things were very much as I remembered it. The potholed road, oil palm plantations, oil pipelines and houses on stilts selling pineapples were still exactly as they were seven years ago.
Once in Dumai, I checked on the ferries but both ferries had already left, and I was left with two options for the following morning. (1) The 9h30 ferry to Malaka, Malaysia or (2) the 11h00 ferry to Port Dickson, Malaysia. There is also a third ferry leaving for Port Klang, but that only leaves on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Once that was sorted I found myself a really good hotel at the City Hotel for $20!! My excuse for doing so was that I spent two nights on a bus!!! I had a good shower, washed my hair for a change and handed my laundry in for washing!
7 February Dumai, Indonesia – Port Dickson, Malaysia by boat
After a good Indonesian breakfast, I loaded the bicycle and cycled the few 100 meters to the ferry ticket office. I was far too early but cycled to the harbour anyway, checked in and waited for the Port Dickson ferry, which departed at 11h00. The weather came in, and it was a rough ride over the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia. The ferry rocked and rolled and could have been called the “pitch and puke” as seasick bags were in high demand.
We arrived in Malaysia at 15h00 but the hour time difference made it 16h00. The weather was rather stormy making for poor light as I headed out of town in the direction of KL. I did not get very far and once I spotted the Grandpa Hotel (here I have stayed before), I weakened at the thought of a nice dry and comfortable room. I was not going to make Peter’s place, so it made little difference whether I stayed here or further down the road. I took a walk to the Giant shopping mall, just across the road and was like a kid in a candy store! I did not buy anything, just looked at all the luxury times for sale.