Escaping Java

Location: Subang, Java – Merak, Java, Indonesia
Distance: 314km

The ride into Jakarta was memorable for all the wrong reasons. I had already planned it as a longish day but a wrong turn and 35km of cycling out of my way to the foulest smelling town I’d ever encountered. The main street a quagmire of sloppy brown mud, broken tiles and brick and all the detritus of the market that lined it. I didn’t stick around. Back on track I followed one of the main arteries into the heart of Jakarta along with half of Indonesia. Traffic jam to end all traffic jams saw me arriving well after dark and chocking on moped fumes. I was hardly surprised to wake feeling like death having made many emergency runs to the bathroom throughout the night but was convinced to take up an invite to a plush apartment complex to lounge around an oversized swimming pool while enjoying avocado juice and ice cream.

Still feeling average I was fortunate to be staying at possibly one of the best hostels I can remember from anywhere. Six Degrees was run by an Irish guy, his Indonesian wife, her sister and a host of other colourful staff who treated you like family. There was a great lounge area and movie room to chill out in and pair of 24h food stalls across the road. Needless to say I didn’t venture too far over the following days and I merged into group other guests who had also become semi-permanent residents.

Eventually I started feeling better and climbed back on the bike to hit the road again but it took me a full morning of wrong turns and backtracking to find my way out of the hectic Jakartan streets. I had enough of Java and despite all the warnings I’d had about Sumatran roads (I couldn’t imagine them possibly being worse, either quality or traffic) and roadside robberies (neighboring countries/states/cities the world over seem to love hating on one another) I was looking forward to a change of scenery.

The following morning I rolled into the port of Merak and boarded huge ferry loaded with trucks, minivans, people and all their wares, found a seat and watched as Java disappeared in the distance.

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

Hot Spring In The Rain

Location: Cipatujah, Java – Subang, Java, Indonesia
Distance: 232km

The road continued along the coast,  the ocean crashing on the beach somewhere behind the scrub and with little traffic to speak of it was a nice way to start the day. But the pleasantness was soon to end. Up ahead a great hulk of a headland ended the smooth ride, the road swung inland and up. Really up.  Sweat pouring from me like I was being wrung like a wet cloth. I crawled past a road crew patching a hole and took a breather under a shady tree while some local school kids ambled past. A couple of hours later I rolled into Pameungpeuk and found a fried chicken stand while weighing up my options.

With only 2 days remaining on my visa  and 130km to Bandung including some big climbs it was time for some motorised transport. A bis, bemo, angkot or whatever it is they call a mini bus in these parts would serve. The fried chicken man pointed me in the right direction and I was soon underway, bike lashed to the room with some suspiciously frayed rope. I was slightly disappointed at first as we drove along a freshly sealed road but that only lased about 5km before staple Indonesia pot holes returned but the scenery was gorgeous so I soon forgot my aching backside. Lush mountains, dripping in greenery sometimes disappearing fog and mist. Rolled into Garut well after dark jumped straight onto another bus and headed straight on to Bandung where I had dinner with the ticket guy from the bus before hunting out a room and crashed.

At the embassy I ran into Alex who’d spoken to on the street in Kuta and with his help speaking basic bahasa managed to haggle down the processing time to 2 days rather than 4. It was good to have some company for a couple of days with little of interest in Bandung so we killed time playing pool and eating.

With a crisp new visa I headed north for some more climbing along some less hectic roads.  Through forests, past tea plantations  and innumerable roadside pineapple stores. I finally visited my first hot spring of the whole journey at Ciater. Despite the overly commercial nature was still a relaxing way to spend an afternoon in the rain. I slowly worked my way to the hottest pool and soaked as long as I could stand it.

Sufficiently wrinkled I dried off only to get soaked to the bone in a late afternoon downpour on the way into Sebang. The road so rough it managed to loosen off my fuel bottle lid and leave it in a puddle of mud somewhere by the roadside. Fortunately my stove is currently in a long term hiatus and will continue so for a while. Jakarta tomorrow.

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

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