Month: May 2012

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.

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.

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!

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 from 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 victims 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 Jakartans 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 Aaron K Hall in Cycle Touring, Indonesia, 0 comments

Bali, Island Of Gods

I’m back! Writing that is. I haven’t been idle in my near 3 months or so of silence. I’ve cycled nearly 4000km since leaving Australia but with a dead laptop and a lack of enthusiasm for hanging out in internet cafes the updates could wait. After Jakarta and Singapore proved fruitless for repairs I picked up a shiny new laptop KL a couple weeks back so the stories and photos can start flowing again. Just imported 4500 photos into Lightroom so there’s some work to be done.

Despite having a week to laze about in Darwin, Kuta seemed to encourage more relaxing. There was an excellent vibe and really good group of people at Mumhors House, the hostel I was staying at so I hung
around for 4 days. Drinking a few beers, dining on the beach, movies under the stars and very briefly catching up with some friends from home. After reassembling the bike I did do a little exploring of
Kuta, slowing becoming accustomed to the tangled mess of roads, many one way streets and less than accurate signage; something I would have to get use to in Indonesia.

My first stop out of Kuta, Ubud was barely 40km away but being a couple hundred metres uphill the temp dropped slightly. The road passing an uncountable number of stone carving shops, roof thatchers and timber yards. Strangely half the Kuta hostel people all had the same plans and we ended up together again taking in Ubub’s sights; temples, monkeys and a puppet theater show – which eventually put me to sleep – and for a few mores beers for good measure. Leaving Ubub, a tangle of back roads lead west and then north past a never ending string of village and towns, local shops and businesses spilling out
onto the road, ignorant to its purpose for vehicles. Rice grew in fields and crops of all sorts filled in the gaps in-between. Somehow I ended up on the right road but riding in the opposite direction I had intended, no matter, that meant I avoided the tourist toll.

The clouds didn’t lift but the morning light was beautiful over the rolling slopes of lush rice paddies. Quiet back roads leading through tiny villages and farms but that ended soon enough as I headed north across the spine of mountains that run east-west across Bali. Grey clouds grew gloomier as I climbed and the drizzle turned to a downpour. After the sweaty heat of the coast I actually found myself quite cold but thankfully a hot tea is never far away. The rain eased and I was soon rolling past botanic gardens, volcanic crater lakes and opportunistic monkeys. At the top of the climb the heavens cleared revealing a magnificent view down to the north Bali coast and Java’s mighty Gunung Ijen in the distant west. For a measly $10 (after some half-hearted bargaining) I scored an amazing bungalow with the same spectacular views. The sun put on an amazing show, slowly dipping behind the clouds and bringing the sky to life with a palette of reds, yellows and purples.

It was all downhill the following morning but I made a quick stop at a waterfall to stretch the legs before stopping for breakfast where I got an invite to stay the night. Too early in the day unfortunately, so I continued on the downhill run past more rice paddies, strung out villages and a smattering of coconut palms. Down on the coast it was a little less pleasant, heaviest traffic since Cairns but mostly mopeds driven by impatient, arrogant, assholes. The scenery wasn’t much to look at either. I did however meet Arnold, a Belgian cyclist heading for Bali, who laughed at my complaint about the traffic. I had far worse to look ahead to in Java apparently.

Pedalling on I arrived in Gilimanuk, the last stop on Bali and holed up in a dinghy hotel for the night. After a half a boiled chicken, including the foot and some spicy vegetables, I had an early night and would see what Java held in store for me in the morning.

Posted by Aaron K Hall in Cycle Touring, Indonesia, 0 comments

The Territory

Location: Lawn Hill, Queensland – Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia
Distance: 1318km

Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) had been a good home for a few days but doesn’t take me long to miss the open road. Adam made me another of his delicious coffees (going to miss those) while I loaded up the trucker including 16L of water. It was 140km to Doomadgee, nothing in between and road conditions were questionable at best. Quickly backtracked 20km past Adel’s Grove and a few sun baking snakes to the Lawn Hill Station turn off. “Just follow the signs to KFC” a passing station hand had said, “the road’s not too bad.” That made me laugh while I mentally applied a liberal amount salt to his advice. A few gates later, another snake and a herd of horses the station hand was right but that’s about as far as the “road” went. I crossed Lawn Hill Creek passing a funky smelling dingo and was greeted by a rough track on the other side.

A more accurate description would be a continuous, overlapping string of potholes created by cattle hooves; bumpy as hell. My progress slowed to a meager 10km/h or so playing a never ending game of dodge the worst of the pot holes even if that mean going off road, riding through the grass. The bumps managed to shake lose a couple of water bottles at some point before lunch which I walked back a couple of kilometres looking for but without success. By day’s end I had covered about 50km of the cattle track, passed a single ute, experienced my hottest temp so far, 43°C and worked up some impressive blisters on my palms (hard work steering with so much water on the front rack). At least there was a nice sunset and I had a lovely bunch of flies for company.

It was more of the same the next morning, including a murky 3′ deep crossing at Elizabeth Creek with a couple of dingos watching on curiously. After an hour or so things looked up and I was riding on something that resembled a road and it stayed that way all the way to Doomadgee where I made a beeline for the impressively well stocked supermarket where I briefly ran into Luke who had given me a ride to Gregory Downs a few days earlier. Before heading on I checked in at the roadhouse to ask about the road ahead, learnt nothing useful but did get a look from the lade there that said “You gonna die!” That put a smile on my face but it would have been nice to know about the 10km sand dune inspired road I had to trudge through. Eventually made camp some 2 hours later, hot and sandy.

Passed a whopping 2 cars on the way to Hell’s Gate, the last dot on the map before the border. No sooner than I had scoffed down a pie and coke Adam and Tamsin pulled up having left Lawn Hill that morning following my tyre tracks the whole way here. Over a quick catch chat up I was offered a ride to which I could hardly say no. The lady at Hell’s Gate was far more positive about the road ahead but did say we were the first tourists for the season. We made good time – a quick photo stop at the NT border – before making out way through some amazing rocky outcrops and a small range. The mighty Calvert River appeared and Adam and I, each with a big stick in hand and some keen eyes made a crossing on foot to scout the safest route. Some big rocks and a couple of holes over 1m deep but no crocs. The Landcruiser took it in its stride and we motored on to arrive at Robinson River on dusk.

The crossing could wait till morning. A big fire, baked bean jaffles and cold beer. Good finish to the day. We woke to a heavy fog, glowing soft pink and purple in the early light but was burnt off slowly by the rising sun. Although much swifter flowing the Robinson was an easy crossing with a smooth bed of sand and half the depth of the Calvert. Tall leafy paperbarks, pandanus and palms would make it a lovely swimming hole if not for the ever present but invisible salties. A quick blast up the road and it was time for me to move under my own power again. A hot and sticky ride into Borroloola with a couple of deepish river crossing and more corrugations than I care to remember made for slow going but I found myself a mascot, blind Elmo and ticked over the 5000km milestone. Ignoring all the usual signs I set up camp in a park next to the airfield where my mate Bill used to be based as a pilot.

Another bank of eerie purple fog greeted me at the dawn of a long day to the Heartbreak Hotel at Cape Crawford. Little of note along the way apart from the gargantuan mine trucks. Each nearly 100m long, towing 4 trailers with 130 tyres. A brief shower arrived on dusk – the first rain I’d seen in nearly a month – heralding the start of some cooler weather and after temps notching into the early 40′s since Undara it was a welcome change indeed. The clouds hung low on the lonely stretch of road to the Stuart Highway; 270km of nothing but savannah. Some impressively close bolts of lightning sparked small fires but none lingered long in the constant drizzle. On a 60km stretch of dead straight road, Bob from the Heartbreak Hotel pulled up and offered a ride. An easy decision allowing me to reach the Daly Water Pub for lunch on ANZAC Day. Two-up, ten-pin bowling, a live band, a hearty parmigiana and cold beer.

I took a ride with Rob and Bev to Katherine where I found my first fully fledged supermarket since Atherton, 6 weeks earlier. Freshly baked bread, salami, cheese, yoghurt, chocolate and more, I was in food heaven.  The landscape changed little over the final 3 days to Darwin but I did manage to find one of my best camp sites so far. Far enough off the highway to avoid traffic noise, no mosquitoes and plenty of wood for a big camp fire. Watched the sun paint the horizon orange and pink before the stars came out and the milky way drifted across the sky.

It took me a week to finally leave Darwin, solely because I couldn’t book an earlier flight. Luckily it was a nice enough place to relax and sort our some housekeeping; final hep b shot, insurance and sent some unneeded gear home. Relaxed in Bicentennial Park, cruised around town, ate at the Mindil Beach night market and sorted many a photo. Finally on the 5th May it was time to leave and on the way to the airport I ticked over the 6000km milestone, some 1500km than more I had originally planned.

Besides watching the top of a an overly active thundercloud somewhere above the Arafura Sea it was an uneventful flight from Darwin to Denpasar. 30 day VOA (Visa On Arrival) are issued without question for US$25. I’ll have to extend it somewhere down the road (a process I’ve heard all sorts of stories about) as 30 days for such a sprawling country is never going to be enough.

A tip for those who ever arrive at Denpasar airport and need a cab. Walk a few minutes out through the car park and jump in a cab on the street, the price will fraction of that from the airport itself. Unfortunately with 2 large panniers and an oversized bike box that wasn’t an option for me and I ended up paying an exorbitant Rp250,000 (about $27) for the 20 minute ride to my hostel.  I didn’t care though. I was glad to finally be in a new country, with a language I didn’t understand, a smörgåsbord of new foods to try and that strangely familiar, funky Asian city smell. Humidity is through the roof and there are more scooters/mopeds/motorbikes that I’ve seen anywhere else before. Selamat malang.

Posted by Aaron K Hall in Australia, Cycle Touring, 0 comments