Java, Mighty volcanoes and grand temples.

Java, Mighty volcanoes and grand temples.

Location: Gilimanuk, Bali – Cipatujah, Java, Indonesia
Distance: 814km

It was a wet morning to be leaving Bali. The rain never much more than a drizzle but that was enough to make a mess of the road for the short ride to the ferry terminal, carefully steering clear of the constant stream of trucks kicking up mud as they passed by.

From the grey Java slowly came into view, well the coast at least, nothing could be seen of the mountains above, which I’d soon be climbing. I stopped to stock up on some food before weaving my way through the streets of Banyuwangi to find the right road to take me up the mountain to Kawah Ijen, a beautiful lake in a crater know for the men who mine it’s sulphur.

The fickle weather was welcome at first keeping me cool on the lower slopes but some 4 hours and 2000m of climbing later I rolled into Pos Paltulding just on dusk and I was cold, tired and ready to crash. Although not overly steep, there’d scarcely been a moment’s break in the uphill run and the bad stretch of road as described by the Belgian cyclist Arnaudt was downright horrible – completely unrideable – which made for a fun hour or so of pushing. I had half expected to camp here but I was greeted by park ranger who told me officially the park was closed but I could have a room to sleep in for a small donation. I was warmly welcomed into a tiny shop and fed some noodles, eggs and all the rice I could eat in for next to nothing while I toasted myself by the fire and talked with the shop owners before finally retiring for the evening.

An early start saw me walking the rim of the crater just after 7am, arriving as the clouds decided part, letting the early morning sun shine on the brilliant aqua lake, wisps of sulphurous steam rising from its surface. Despite the early hour there were already miners making their way out from the crater under heavy loads of yellow sulphur. Some 430 miners in total work here but only about 150 on any one day. They carry out 3-4 loads of sulphur weighing 70-90kg each per day. I never found out exactly what they earn but I would guess close to not much. The ranger later told me that there was a man in his 70’s still mining sulphur albeit not as often anymore.

It was a rather sketchy walk/scramble down to the lake where the miners were at work. As strangely beautiful as it was the heat and pungent odour hanging in the air had me scrambling back to the rim soon enough.

Freewheeling out of Pos Paltuding was a nice change; quiet, smooth roads with zero traffic. The only interruption some kind of checkpoint where I had to sign a visitor book before being asked for a bribe of some kind, cue dumb tourist routine. Unfortunately the downhill wasn’t down the mountain but into a massive crater some 20km across which I had to climb out of again past endless coffee plantations before beginning the descent proper.

I stayed in an overpriced hotel in Bondowoso but partly made up for that by the stupidly cheap food at the local night market, Rp5,000 meals!

Because of its size and the limited visas – a one month visa I could extend only once – I had always known I would need to skip though some parts of Indonesia so the next day I caught a bus to about 100km to Probolinggo for the start of the climb to Cemoro Lawang which overlooked Indonesia’s most holy and famous volcano, Gunung Bromo.

Biting off more than I could chew is one way to put it. My legs were still getting over the 2 previous days climbing and I hadn’t made it half way up the 2300m mountain when it started getting dark. Slightly disappointed and with it starting to rain a bemo (mini-van) had stopped so threw my bike on the roof and squeezed in under a pile of backpacks. Fortunately in the bemo I met Dutchman Bart and his two daughters and together we found a hotel, some food and a beer to end a long day. We also arranged a Jeep for sunrise overlooking Bromo.

Early starts are never my thing but I somehow woke and found myself in the back of the Jeep by 4am for a rough ride up to Gunung Penanjakan overlooking the whole Bromo-Tengger-Semeru crater. Also, as an aside, there are no “Jeep”s, they’re all Toyota Landcruisers, I guess Jeep is simply easier to say. I had read Bromo sunrise was a popular event but this was something else. There was still a kilometre of parked Jeeps to walk past to get to the lookout at the top (unknown to us at the time we had arrived on some kind of holiday) where the crowd was crushing around the main lookout. We managed to find somewhere away from the mayhem and I set up the tripod and take in the views, which were, impressive, Bromo smoking and Semeru in the background spluttering ash once or twice as the sun bathed it all in warm, morning light.

We stopped at Bromo on our return which was just as busy. The staircase which climbs to the crater rim was at a never ending standstill so climbing up the volcanic sand slopes was a faster option. Although you can walk most of the way around the rim of Bromo, most people barely walk 10m from the top of the stairs which makes for a chaotic and dangerous balancing act. Fall one way and you roll back down the side of the volcano, dirty and bruised, fall the other and you will enjoy a bath in a boiling volcanic lake.

Although the practical way to get to Malang from Bromo is to backtrack to Probolinggo and then travel some 200km to Malang we decided to hire another “Jeep” to drive us across the Laotian Pasir (Sand Sea) to Tumpang and ride form there. I had originally planned to cycle this but from what I’d seen when we drove to Bromo that morning there would have been many a mile pushing through some very soft sand, plus I was able to split the cost of a Jeep between the 4 of us made it all the more affordable.

I took the day off in Malang, staying in a cheap but very noisy (next door to a mosque) dorm before jumping on a train to Yogyakarta. Unfortunately it was a later afternoon train so passing views of endless rice field and villages didn’t last too long.

Somehow I passed 4 days in Yogya, exploring the huge Pasar Beringharjo (market), stalls along Jalan Malioboro and eating dozens of different noodle dishes, sate meats and deep fried mysteries. With the help of a motorbike I visited both Borobudur and Prambanan, two of the grandest Buddhist and Hindu temples in the world. Despite the hordes of tourists their size made them both easy enough to find somewhere away from the crowds. Something I had experienced previously but hadn’t really taken notice of was the strange obsession Indonesians have of getting their photo taken with foreign tourists. I obliged often enough but eventually grew tired of it and there was always plenty of other unsuspecting suspects close by. While in some small off the tourist trail town I would understand this custom, doing this at Borobudur felt very odd.

Back on the bike I headed south and then west from Yogya along some very quiet roads, tiny paths and across some rice paddies. So far in Indonesia I’d taken it for granted that there was always somewhere to stay but upon arriving in Petanahan I learnt that was not always the case. With no hotel, guest house, homestay or any other official form of lodging I asked at a chemist hoping to find someone with a better grasp of English than I had of Indonesian. No luck there but my quandary was understood and I soon found myself at some local’s house – rather large by the town’s standards – and given a room. Eventually the daughter of the owner arrived and explained they rented out some ½ dozen rooms to locals who work in town but live somewhere else. I stayed two days and got to see a more personal side of Indonesian life, eat some home cooked meals and have more photos taken than I care to remember.

From Petanahan I road along the south coast of Java and the roads took a dive to the wrong end of the quality scale. The pot holed remains of a once flatish dirt road now embedded with fist sized rocks carefully positioned to make weaving around them all but impossible. At times I wondered how a road could possibly become so bad without it being some deliberate act. Brief interludes of freshly laid bitumen only my the returning to the rubble all the worse.

Riding into Cilacap I was greeted by a young student, Rudi who was eager to practice his English and show me a bit of his town. A nice change from some other approaches I’ve had who always want some kind of payment. Pangandaran proved a little disappointing due to its popularity with Jakartan’s as a weekend getaway; crowded, tacky and rather rough beach. The bad road continued and I had plenty of trucks for company now, kicking up clouds of dust and sand, but I was riding right along the coast so the views and a cooler breeze made it all ok. I passed the first machinery I can remember seeing on Java, a string of excavators filling the trucks I’d been following most of the day; a reminder of how much work here is still done by hand.

A string of guest house in the late afternoon was my cue to stop, eventually settling on a sad little room. It was half the price of the next closest offering but the desk fan required 3 jockey straps to bring its rattles under control. From here I’ll swing north to Bandung. My Visa is soon to run out so I need that sorted pronto.

Posted by admin in Australia, Indonesia, Travel, 3 comments
To The Gulf and Gorge

To The Gulf and Gorge

Location: Undara – Lawn Hill, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 1021km

Back on the road again it was good to know it would be downhill almost all the way to Normanton; the road losing some 700m in elevation over the next 400km. Despite this, I only managed to make it to the Einasleigh River – one of the few in this part of the country that doesn’t flood the road due to a fancy new bridge built a couple of years ago – about 80km along the Savannah Way. The old highway and remains of the original bridge made for a nice camp spot though and I watched the sun fade while I downed the last of my beers. Unfortunately there wasn’t much of note over the next few days; early starts, late finishes, relaxing in the heat of the day in whatever shade I could find. Towns and rest areas are few and far between out here. Long straights of 10-15km were common, very little traffic and an endless supply of savannah scrubland was all I had for company so I had the tunes blasting for some extra stimulation and watched the insects go about their business. One afternoon while on a nothing stretch of road “The Sunscreen Song” came on so I pulled over for a drink and found myself in a swarm of dragonflys, dozens of them all buzzing around this one particular tree.

A few days later I arrived in Normanton where I had planned on stocking up on food for the next couple of weeks. Pity it was a Saturday afternoon of the Easter weekend and the only shop open was bare of a lot of the basic and scarily expensive. Karumba seemed like the logical place to go. Once of the few townships on the Gulf Of Carpentaria I could spends a couple of nights there before doubling back and stocking up after the long weekend. The 70km was too far to complete that afternoon so I camped about halfway there in what was essentially swampland and had lovely evening with the resident hordes of mosquitoes. Karumba itself was much more pleasant. Cool sea breezes, few mosquitoes, beers and fish & chips at sunset. The majority of people who visit seem to fall into one of two categories. The grey nomads who stay for the majority of the dry season escaping the cold south of Australia and those chasing Barramundi (of which there was plenty to be caught). After 3 nights I was ready to move on and double-timed it back to Normanton spotting even more birds than I did on the way out. Massive flocks of galahs, brolgas, egrets, jabirus, kites, pluvvers and a dozen other species I didn’t recognise. Stocked up in Normanton I decided to try my luck and see just how “flooded” the road to Burketown was but I wouldn’t find out until the morning.

Just before the Little Bynoe River a short side road led to what little remains of Burke & Wills Camp CXIX, the last of their camps on their expedition to traverse Australia. At the river there was about 30-40cm of fast flowing water to tackle but a couple of locals out fishing (for Barra of course) said the Bynoe and Flinders Rivers were nearly a half meter and flowing just as fast. That was a no go for me. While the depth wasn’t a problem and I could unload the bike, crossing multiple times in murky, fast flowing water wasn’t overly temping especially given the local inhabitants, Salties. Backtracking I was back in Normanton again before setting off late to knock a dent in the empty 200km run to Burke & Wills Roadhouse. The following morning the trees disappeared and I was riding through endless, shade less, grassland, a couple of rests stop along the way provided some relief from the heat and I eventually rolled in to the roadhouse a half hour after sunset, with nearly 8 hours on the clock. After a feed the manager kindly offered me a place to camp and a hot shower. I slept like a log that night.

Looking at the map it was another empty stretch of 150km to reach Gregory Downs, except this time there weren’t even any rest stops marked. With that fact and my legs still feeling pretty knackered hitching a ride seemed like a good option and after a few “no”s I was soon loading up the bike on the back of J.D’s and Luke’s truck, two electricians headed to Doomadgee (somewhere I would reach in about a week). Zipping along it was just over an hour before I was dropped off at Gregory Downs. Not much more that a pub, a couple of houses and scattering of sheds. Strangely the owner was complaining about it being too busy as a result of some local nutjob in Burketown burking down the pub there, leaving Gregory Downs at the only watering hole for a couple hundred kilometers in any direction. Enjoyed a decent chicken Kiev for lunch (why the identical meal is cheaper at lunch than dinner I’ve never understood) and did the usual chilling out for the middle of the day. When I finally left I had barely made in 500m before stopping at the beautiful Gregory River for a quick dip slightly wary of the invisible crocs. By the time I was going there was only a bit over an hours riding to be had before dark. The first 20km on the last bitumen I would see for a while before it turned to the loose red gravel and dust that the road trains love to kick up everywhere, luckily they seemed to have finished their runs for the day and I had the road to myself.

The next morning was fortunately a Sunday (I lose track of the days all the time) so I passed but a single road train on the 40 or so kilometres to the mine turn-off where the road roughened up a bit for the rest of the way to Adel’s Grove. Stopped for a couple of basic supplies before the last 10km into the very quiet Lawn Hill National Park, somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time. I had 3 days here to relax, swim, do some walking and snap a few decent photos. Sunrise looking out over Indarri Falls will stick in my mind for a long time to come. The warm, morning light, crept slowly down the gorge walls, making them glow golden-orange. Local wildlife could be spotted in abundance too, various turtles, archer fish, fresh water crocodiles, dozens of different birds, pythons, lizards and a few wallabies. I had some good company too in my camping neighbours, Adam and Tamsin (keen cyclists) and their kids Odete and Thea. Some good food, coffee and a beer or two were all very much appreciated but the luxuries were about to come to an end. It was time to take on the even more remote and less used roads to Doomadgee and Borroloola. Adam and Tamsin were also headed the same way in a couple of days so I would probably cross paths again at some point.

Posted by admin in Australia, Cycling, Travel, 5 comments
Stuck In A Lava Tube

Stuck In A Lava Tube

Location: Cairns – Undara, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 395km

Swimming in crisp, chest deep water, I could see nothing ahead of me but black. My hands were invisible even when but a whisker from my face but I swam on, as far as I dared. Above me tiny bats zipped past on fast beating wings and droplets of water seeping through the cracked roof fell periodically. Behind me echoing shrieks of those still to enter the water, complaining of the cold, bounced off the walls. I had raced ahead wanting to have the place to myself, at least for a moment or two. Floating in 190,000 year old lava tubes full of fresh rain water is not something I expected to do everyday, but there I was again, simply because of a spur of the moment decision and a random act of kindness.

Over two weeks ago I had set off from Cairns and just in time too. Although it had been wet with drizzle the last few days the heavens truly opened the day I set off for Yungaburra and were set on drowning the place over the coming days. A quick pit stop at Gordonvale allowed me to lighten my load – there was little chance of snorkeling west of Cairns – before taking the twisted Gilles Highway up some 800m into the Atherton Tablelands. Not a difficult climb by any measure but the relentless rain made it less than enjoyable spoiling any chance of admiring the view back down towards the coast and nearing the plateau I was well aware of the drop in temperature. I had contacted James and Sarah on Warm Showers a few days earlier looking for a place to camp, a shower and somewhere warm to dry off. What I got was something rather different, an upgrade so to speak. Off the highway, along a couple narrow little backroads and finally a down a lush green path I was welcomed and given my own cabin in the countryside above Lake Tinaroo to take over as my own for the weekend. James an Sarah were both lovely, laid back people and had both toured here in Australia and Sarah in Tibet and Mongolia so there was plenty to talk about and learn. The rain was no less intense up here but I could sit under the veranda and watch the lake disappear behind the clouds but it never drowned out the whine of the jet skier’s boats. The climb had taken more out of me than I knew so I had a lazy Saturday but on Sunday morning we visited Lake Eacham – a beautiful freshwater lake formed in a now extinct volcano crater – for breakfast. Even with the rain it was a beautiful place, the water a deep, rich green, turtles and archer fish swimming by the shore in between the pandanus. Cooked a rather good korma for dinner with went down well and finally got around to patching up my holey front pannier properly.

Come Monday morning I discovered the reason for my very stiff rear break, a partially snapped cable housing, probably the result of crashing into a dodgy kerb in Rockhampton. It could stay like that for the time being though, no hills to speak of for the next couple thousand kilometers.. The cloud hadn’t cleared off but they were holding back momentarily so I could enjoy the back roads to the Gallo Dairy where I found some delicious passionfruit yoghurt and feta cheese and then on towards Atheron to stock up on some food and vote in some kind of election; I look forward to getting off the electoral roll. That was about as long as the clouds could hold back the flood and it became a wet, and then very wet and finally flooded road type of ride. Twisting my way south towards the highest road in Queensland at 1143m. A local though I was having trouble when I stopped for a photo, why else would I stop in such weather? By the time I arrived in Ravenshoe I looked a lot like a drowned rat and felt pretty much the same as well but soon dried off in a pub before setting up for the night under the BBQ area at the tourist information centre; they do come in handy sometimes. Innot Hot Springs had been something I was looking forward to but the rain had swollen the creek and almost put the bridge under so the hot springs themselves were well and truly drowned. It was the middle of the following morning that I found myself at the Undara turnoff. I had been undecided about whether to stop by or not but in the end the decision was made for me. Although the road had been excellent I had been fighting a very strong headwind for 15km and I knew the road was cut not so far ahead. I needed somewhere to kill a day or two.

Two weeks later and I’m still here, although I’m finally moving on tomorrow. On my first night as a paying customer I’d seen one other couple walking around I little hope of there being much action around the camp fire but I did discover a few of the staff had a including the manager enjoying a drink or two. The short of it is after realising I couldn’t ride further west with the flooded road Steve (the manager) offered me a bed and food in return for a few hours work each day. So for the past two week I done various things around the resort from cleaning windows and raking paths to housekeeping and picking up rubbish. Made a couple of trips to the Mount Surprise pub for supplies of the alcoholic kind, an 18th birthday and also a made a mad 10 hour road trip to Charters Towers at night (plenty of roos and pigs to dodge along the way). I saw some of the lave tubes a half dozen times, swimming in them just as many time, others once once or twice and climbed Mount Kalkani (an extinct volcano) to see a rather bleak sunrise but it still worth the effort. I also managed to keep the legs in half decent shape by riding some of the walking track. Once through a half meter of water by the 100 Mile Swap (named so because it is 100 miles from Cardwell), at least the bike was clear afterwards.

The second week finished up with the Undara Country Rock and Blues Festival. More rock than blues but still some decent entertainment to be had by the bands who played over the 3 days. Finally there was a staff party on the Sunday night with most of the band members. After a couple of games of darts and pool and few too many beers, the night ended in bit of a blur. Stumbled back to bed sometime around 4am. Haven’t done that in a long time. I’m glad to be getting back on the bike tomorrow. As much fun as I’ve had here, hanging out with some of the long time staff I’m itching to move on. I heard on the grapevine the road is now open all the way to Normanton, some 450km west, so flooded roads shouldn’t be a problem for a while.

Posted by admin in Australia, Cycling, Travel, 4 comments
The Great Green Way

The Great Green Way

Location: Bowen – Gordonvale, Queensland, Australia
Distance: 832km

The ride north out of Bowen was hot in the afternoon sun but more flat countryside meant I made good time and I was 80km up the road at Guthalungra – nothing more than a service station and rest area – as the sun set. It was more of the same the following day through Gumlu, Inkerman and into Home Hill where I had heard there was an excellent rest area. Big covered area, toilets, hot showers (which I made use of) and BBQs. Great if you have a caravan but unfortunately nowhere to camp. Tourist Information people turned out to be hopeless as per usual.

While I was having lunch I realised I had a puctured rear tyre – punishment for my rough Bowen camp site – and spent an hour or so fixing that and digging all the spines out of my tyres. Crossed the 1km long,  shoulderless Burdekin River Bridge  to Ayr for a quick look around – couldn’t find the giant model snake – and so continued on to a little rest area at Sandy Creek. Fell asleep to the low hum of the sugar refinery in the distance.

Detoured to Giru the next morning where I happened to find a power point on the outside of a hall, in the shade. Time for some housekeeping. Moved some funds around, ordered some new shirts, some spares and an EPIRB in preparation for the run west along the Savannah Way. Spotted a little freshwater crocodile in the Haughton River, took a refreshing dip in a creek and startled a dingo in the afternoon before happening across a big truck stop with a camping area at Alligator Creek. A watchful eye was needed to dodge the heavy traffic into Townsville the following morning, but once into the central area it seemed deserted during what should have been peak hour. My Magnetic Island contact never replied so my stay was brief but did include an Irish Grill fry up and a pint of Guinness for lunch.

North of Townsville I found myself with a whole beachside camp area to myself at Balgal Beach and decided to stay after having ridden only 30km. Silently apart from the odd passing quad bike. The road had continued to be good to excellent and very light on trucks due to the majority of freight being moved by trains. A good thing. While enjoying a mango smoothie at lunch I spotted what I think was my first other cycle tourist pedaling past. I packed my stuff and set off hoping to catch up but never saw him/her again. Sick of the highway noise I retired for the night behind some out of action cane carriages to sound of a million frogs, crickets and various other creatures of the night. Then it started to rain. All night, all morning and most of the afternoon. I sat in Ingham most of the morning wondering if it was worth the time and effort to ride 50km out to Wallaman Falls (268m, the highest in Australia) eventually deciding it was and rolled into camp at 600m just before 7pm. The rain amazingly held off for the majority of the climb and rest of the evening which I shared with the only other couple there over a few beers.

Couldn’t have timed my arrival better. The sun came out in the morning and the falls was roaring with the runoff from the previous day’s rains. It had all changed the next morning though. Not a thing to be seen but they could still be heard. A pity for the two German couples which had arrived the evening after me. It poured the whole way back to Ingham making the downhill run tediously slow but the gore tex fared very well. I was still dry on the inside.

It was while I was on the jetty in Cardwell I spotted a vaguely familiar face – Reuben, who’s journal I’d been reading for some time on Crazy Guy On A Bike. Neither of us could be bothered to press of so we booked in at a cheap campsite and made for the pub for some good conversation about the roads we’d travelled, gear we used and where we were headed while the storm built up and rolled in from the ocean. A lazy morning followed due to more rain but after a coffee or two we headed our separate ways.

The wet weather continued in Tully, hardly surprising while I was standing in front of the Golden Gumboot in Australia’s wettest town. Another detour off the highway took me to Mission Beach past a frightened cassowary then north to Bingil Bay, a beautiful, twisting ride along the coast before turning inland though rainforest and rolling green countryside. I spent an on edge night in a tiny rest area beside a rising creek, checking it every hour or so. It stopped rising around 2am.

While dripping dry in Innisfail I decided it was time to find a laundromat given the pungent odor coming from some of my clothing was starting to get a real bight. It amazing what a bit of sweat can turn into in a plastic bags over a few days. Due to a rather devastating cyclone in 1918 Innisfail has quite a collection of art deco inspored buildings, quite a change from most architecture in north Queensland towns. Enjoyed a rather heated domestic between a couple of Aboroginal families over lunch until the police appeared and settled things down before riding on through Babinda – Australia’s second wettest town – to the Boulders, a large rock pool which I had to myself for the evening.

Despite all the warning signs its not until you look a cassowary in the face at an arm’s length that you feel they might just be able to tear you apart with their over sized toes. An exciting way to start the day. Enjoyed another swim for breakfast but not so quiet this time with the bus load of backpackers around before riding north to Gordonvale where I had, at the last moment managed to arrange a roof to sleep under for the night (cheers Matt -> Jade -> Dan). Passed a couple more cyclists on the way but neither seemed interested in stopping. Oh well.

Posted by admin in Australia, Cycling, Travel, 0 comments