Saturday, 23 August 2008

Day 458 - Sumbawa Besar, Sumbawa

Heading out of Mataram was busy, very busy. There were no useful signposts so I just headed east, so long as the road remained busy I guessed I would be on the right one. It climbed very gently too for about 20km, but only went up to 375m, so easy going with people working in the fields and a view of the mountains behind them, I guess I appreciated it more than they did. I found a nice place for lunch, then at last the road headed back down gently to the coast. Heading north along the coast was a very different road, though technically the same one, few houses, little traffic, all rather nice. As I neared the port a group of vehicles came the other way including a huddle of motorcycles, I guessed that they had just come off the ferry and as it was every 2 hours I upped the pace and made a dash for it averaging about 30kph for the last 2km. I arrived in a sweat, but it had all been wasted effort, the ferry was there, I would be on it, but I still had 30 minutes to spare, but it's just not possible to pottle along when you don't know what time the ferry goes. The crossing was good, this ferry wasn't full, plenty of seating and only 1 1/2 hours, very pleasant. By the time I reached the other side the weather to the north looked threatening and heading this way, I needed to find a hotel quickly. As I made my way to town all that was there was a few rickety houses on stilts (photo), this wasn't hotel country that's for sure, so I had to carry on. It was already obviously different on this island, everybody called out enthusiasticly, it had gone a bit quiet on Java, Bali and Lombok, there were few trees and it all looked rugged. The weather was showing that it wasn't just empty threats as it started to rain heavily. I was going to get very wet very quickly, but I spotted a small warehouse type building and went through the partially opened gates and took shelter. There didn't seem to be anybody there despite the opened doors and lights being on, a bit of a shame as I hoped they might let me stay there for the night, though it was still early. A motorcyclist passed, then returned and joined me. He was drenched, but we got talking. He was Zen, a doctor on his way home from the local hospital. I asked if there were any hotels or homestays around, there weren't, but he offered me a night as his place. though he said he lodged with a family and it was very basic. I followed him back, by the time I reached the house there was near hysteria outside, so I took refuge inside. I don't like having quite that amount of attention. I could keep an eye on my bike by looking through the wall, a thin ageing wicker affair. I was introduced to the family, though there was a language barrier and enough people coming and going to confuse me. Another man arrived, another Zen, it's so much easier when people have the same name that is easy to pronounce. Zen and Zen wanted to take me fishing, I was up for it, though when I went out with my sandals on the girls all laughed and said "You don't need those", so I had a very slow painful walk across the rocky path to the boat. We went out into the bay and I was given a handline with 3 hooks, baited with half a little fish. The water must have been 20m+ deep and very clear. The Zens were soon fishing too and quickly caught fish calling out "Mr John, Mr John", laughing and taking great delight when the caught one, though they were all small. I watched what they were doing and was soon catching fish myself. It took a while to dawn on me that I was looking at dinner....ooh shit, I am not a lover of fish, and these are just too beautiful to eat. I had a great time and after about 2 hours we were packing up though I didn't want to leave. We headed back as the sun was about to go down behind the mountains of Lombok (photo), just fabulous. Once back a crowd soon gathered as we washed ourselves and Mother started to prepare the fish. The shirt I cycle in now smells of sweat and fish, oh lovely. I was being taught Indonesian, but there were just too many people and too many words being thrown at me, it wasn't going to work like that. Dinner was served on the floor by the women, and eaten by the men! The women eat in the kitchen, something that I still find very strange. Sure enough there was plenty of rice and plenty of fish. It seemed that appreciation came in the form of very noisey eating. Each time I ate a fish it was replaced by another two, a sort of feeding of the 5000 only on a slightly smaller scale, the feeding of the cyclist. The women did all the clearing up, a very old tradition, the men go hunting and the women do the cooking. After dinner we talked whilst watching Cambodia loosing at home to Myanmar 4-1 in an empty stadium. Dr Zen got a phone call, he had to go and take somebody's blood pressure, so Zen and I went along with him. I suspect it was just a ploy to get the stranger over for a chat and a closer look. I was interrogated, all very friendly, but I always hate the question "How much has this trip cost you?". By the time we got back it was almost bed time so I asked to go to the loo. As I said it is all very basic, including the loo. Grandma was in the kitchen so I was taken outside, along the path to a heavily shadowed area and told to pee outside somebody elses house. I just hope I don't have different urges later! I took out my mattress much to the fascination of everybody. I slept on the floor and every time I looked around, another person seemed to have come in and be sleeping on the floor. It moves and creaks as you walk over it, I hope it can take all the weight.

The Indonesian day starts early, when it get light, before 6. I was one of the last up and was soon given breakfast of coffee, lovely little bread rolls and rice in banana leaves. Mother and Father were heading to Lombok, the little girl was getting ready for school and Zen was trying to persuade me to stay another day to go up a mountain and then go fishing. I didn't want to outstay my welcome as Mother and Father didn't seem as keen, so I told him I had to move on. He helped me down with my baggage and was amazed at how heavy it was. I eventually set off leaving a crowd behind. As I made my way along the road people were calling out "Good morning Mr John", news of a stranger in town travels fast in these parts. It was a wonderful morning, clear skies, views back to Lombok and the mountains, a quiet road beside the sea, cycling at it's best. Zen had told me the road to Sumbawa Besar would be hilly, but it wasn't, it was easy going. Time and kilometers slipped by without me realising it, though my stomach was keeping an eye on things and telling me I needed a break. The cafe I stopped at played loud music, western music that I recognised, they even played the Carpenters "I'm on Top of the World" and I wanted to hear it again, it's just about how I felt at the time. It made me miss my music, but the music in my head at the moment is from an album of an Indonesian artist that I hear so often, I would like to buy it if I could find it, it will remind me so much of my time here. Once on the road again I turned southeast, straight into a headwind. Take your eyes of the weather for one minute and it plays havoc, so the afternoon was a little tougher. I spotted a man on a motorcycle selling pink frog spawn stuff so I stopped for some, though he sold it in plastic bags with icecream, you just snip the corner off and suck out the contents, wow, fantastic, it added a little power to my legs and I soon forgot about the wind. And so I arrived in Sumbawa Besar, a place that had seemed light years away when I first looked at the map of Indonedia, yet here I am already. Another 3 day then I have an 8 hour ferry crossing to Flores, somewhere I thought I might have to rule out if I was running out of time.

The main reason for this post so soon after the last one is that it is rumoured to be the last place for the internet before Ende, NOOoooo, not "The End", Ende on Flores, about a week plus away, so my dear family wont have to start worring about me. Tomorrow I don't even expect to see a hotel, let alone an internet cafe.

I have put two photos with this post, but the internet even here is so bad it can't display them, but I think they are there. The same applies to other photos I have uploaded to the album.

See you in a week or so, have fun, I know I will be.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Day 456 - Mataram, Lombok

So I had a whole day on Bali doing diddly squat, though if you have seen the picture of the little hotel I stayed in then you will know that it was justified. I desperately wanted to stay another day, but I could just see me getting bored, then I would have considered it a waste.

I had breakfast before off I set, but prior to that I had a pre breakfast snack as yesterday I learned it wasn't the type of breakfast to get you up a mountain. Today was a Buddist ceremony, Bali is almost entirely Buddist. I was told the roads would not be busy as everybody would be at home with there families. It started 20km on the flat, and jolly busy it was too, but I felt good, a days rest meant I felt strong, but I also wanted to be back on the move, I felt good about life in general. Then I turned south, towards the mountain, though the climb started straight away, it was nice and gentle the whole time, I could get into a steady slow rhythm. After a while it was time for a food stop though I had already noticed that I hadn't passed a single place to eat at, just little stores. I stopped at a couple across the road from each other and called out to them to see if they had any rice, they didn't but they did tell me I would find some another 10km up the hill, I couldn't wait that long so I stopped. I had a fanta and ate my way through the bread supply on one side and from the other side I had a very strange pink frog spawn like drink, though I am sure I have had that before, in Loas I think. I sat on a wobbly bench and when I move knocked the glass off and smashed it. Having cleared up the glass and taken back the spoon across the road, I gave the woman some money for the broken glass. A few minutes later she came across with a bowl of rice, some chicken and 3 kebabs, wonderful, and she refused payment. A lovely gesture and just what I needed, but once I set off I wondered if she would have given me the meal if I hadn't broken the glass and then paid for it, I will never know. The climb was exactly 35km, only the last 2 being steep, but always manageable. At the pass there were small hills on either side and the area was wooded, but there was a little sign saying 1640m, so I flipped the computer to the altimeter and it was on 1639, then it flashed to 1640 and back again. There must be something wrong with it as it is never that close. Once I started to descend the mountains and the large crater lake came into full view, worth the effort of the climb. As I carried on down there were restaurants with fantastic vistas, so I stopped at one. They wanter 60,000 for a meal, that's normally 4 at my prices, though it soon dropped to 40,000. I carried on, there were numerous places to eat with views, this is obviously where the day trippers from the south of the island come. I stopped at a cheapo cafe where there was just one couple. I had nasi goreng and coffee for 18,000, though as I paid with 20,000 the girl soon returned and said they had no change, that old gag to get people to leave it. I really couldn't be bothered on this occasion, I just said keep it, though I don't like such tactics. As I was just leaving the girl came out and called "Sir, sir", she came running over and gave me 2 oranges, I felt very guilty, how little faith I have in the human race at times. The descent was a stange one. I was still at 1300m, but the land just gently sloped down to the coast, the road was straight, just the odd little bend, it would have been so tedious to climb that way, 45km of going downhill. As I went down the roads were decorated for the ceremony with long bamboo poles with trails coming down from the top like a lantern. In the morning I had seen no end of people with baskets of fruit on their heads, but now I passed processions in the road and at the front of each house the family were outside with displays of fruit in front of them(photo). As the processions passed with all the men wearing bands around their heads, a monster type thing, a sort of panto horse would stopped at each display and do a little dance. I stopped to take photos, but it just caused chaos, the boys wanting their photos taken(photo), the girls running away when they saw the camera. It started to rain, heavily, though I carried on until I found a hotel, stopping to look at Buddist temples, just how many temples can you fit on one small island. I didn't find a hotel until I reached Padangbai, where I would get a ferry to Lombok. I asked a port official if there was a hotel here, "Yes, lots" he said, "Where?" I asked, "Hmm......there" he said quickly as though he had just spotted one as it was about to fly off! I didn't see a huge amount of Bali, I managed to avoid the package holiday resorts, but I like the place, I can see why people come here.

Getting the ferry the following morning was easy, I only had about 100m to go to get it at 9am. It would leave full. A bus went on after me with luggage on the top that jammed against the roof. It was a rusty old ferry with not enough seats, so not the most comfortable of crossings that took 4 1/2 hours. To make things worse they were working on the port which meant only one docking bay was available and there was already a boat there, so we anchored up for about and hour. At last we went in and the first vehicle started to leave, the bus that got wedged aganst the roof getting on, this time it grounded itself and was going nowhere, nor was anything else, not even a bicycle. After another hour it became evident that all anybody was going to do was look underneath the bus every now and then, they didn't seem to actually be doing anything, so I unloaded my bike and with a little help lifted the bike over other cars and eventually escaped, the first vehicle off. It was 3pm, I had hoped to get to the other side of the island ready for a ferry off the otherside the following morning. I decided not to cross the island at all, there was unlikely to be anywhere to stay inland, so I just went 20km north to Mataram, the main town and reluctantly booked into a hotel.

Monday, 18 August 2008

Day 453 - Lovina, Bali

Normal flat, busy service was resumed, all a bit boring after the climbing between the volcanoes, but an easy day went down well, even if nothing much happened. I stopped at a cafe, it was empty, though a few minutes later about a dozen Harley-Davidsons arrived, 2 on each bike. They made themselves more at home than a bunch of Audax cyclists. I set off again before them, they passed me 30k further on, that's a big lunch stop for them, may be I am doing the wrong thing. It was also a day of madness from bus drivers, why slow down when there is a hazard in front of you when you have got a very loud horn that works perfectly well? I was glad I wasn't on them.

Another mundanish day followed, though at least I could see a mountain through, the haze/smog, it's an improvement. I again saw the Harleys on the move, about 30-40 of them, most of them on the opposite carriageway despite the one we were heading along was all but empty. It made me think that no Indonesian should really be allowed loose on such a powerful machine. As seems to be the case with any big motorbike, even just one, there was a police escort, sirens blaring, but at the back of this group were a whole host of support vehicles, including 'spare' bikes on trailers, then right at the back was an ambulance, complete with Harley-Davidson logo on, so it would seem that even they think they aren't safe on the road. I got onto smaller roads today, I was looking forward to that, but it was worse. There seemed to be the same amount of traffic crammed onto a much smaller road, slow and fast vehicles together, nobody wanting to slow down. Added to that the edge was really rough making cycling in a straight line difficult, so some of the inpatient buses and lorries squeezed past far too close for my liking, I didn't enjoy it, I was glad to reach the wider smoother roads of Probolinggo where I stopped for the night. In Sumatra and West Java whenever you go into a cafe you get a mug of water, albeit warm, and a jug was always on the table, I usually cleared the lot. In central Java the jug disappeared, just the glass which I kept asking them to refill, but here in East Java the glass has gone too, they expect you to buy bottled water. I wont buy bottled water for four reasons, I am too tight, I am happy to drink tap water even if it has to be boiled, I try to minimise the amount of plastic I waste, and I have forgotten the fourth reason! Today I made the mistake of ordering food and asking them to refill my water bottle at the same time, they just looked confused and thought I was very strange to request rice to be put into a water bottle. After that I struggled to get my request across, so had to hide the water bottle from them, it made life a bit easier anyway.

Probolinggo was a much smarter town than your average Indonesian town, at least in my experience anyway, it was looked after and showed it. It was also the last big town heading east on the northern coast of Java, so I hoped that meant less traffic from there onwards. That's exactly what it meant, so much better than the previous two days and added to that it was also nice and clear, I could see the mountains, I could even see the tops of mountains. To my left I soon had the company of the sea, the road remained easy going, it was very enjoyable, everything that I had hoped for from the west coast of Sumatra. There were boats on the beaches begging to be photograhed, or was it me begging to photograph them, anyway, I did with relish. It was the sort of day that makes you want to get up the following morning and do it all again. I passed mosques where they were collecting money at the roadside, they had big sound systems with somebody talking, then as they saw me I would hear a distorted "HELLO MISTER" come booming out of the speakers, I couldn't shout that loud so just gave a wave. I also passed groups of school children marching along the road, each group in matching uniforms, but all the groups different to each other and all very colourful. It was a big event, I kept passing groups heading the other way for about 8km and families lined the streets. When I stopped to take some photos I became the main attraction and everybody wanted me to take a photo of them, I decided it was best to move on.

So the last day on Java would be a breeze, the trouble was it was a strong one, against me! The wind always seems to run parallel to the coastline in the opposite direction to the way I am going. But as I went along, the road became more rural, rather pleasant, then I could see Bali, there was a narrow strip of sea between us with mountains on either side. The air here is just as bad as the Indonesian drivers, when it gets narrow it all wants to get through at the same time and none of it is willing to wait, so for a while it was a real struggle into the wind, but I made it to the ferry, though with a resonable swell it wasn't fun getting on as the connecting bits were moving in different directions. The crossing was ok, though we rolled nicely. I got chatting to a group of French people, two of whom live in Jakarta. I asked if a driving test needed to be passed "No, all you need to do is buy a license when you are 17 and off you go". "What about motorcycles?" I asked, "The same" he replied, "But there are so many kids on motorbikes", "Oh, they are just practicing". So just imagine, Java, an island about the same size as England and Scotland with twice the population, and not a driving lesson amongst them. Shit!! It is not surprising that the driving is so bad. A common manouvre for motorcycles is as follows: If you want to turn right, you start looking for a gap about 500m before the turn, then you cross on to the opposite carriageway and head into the oncoming traffic, then when you get to the turning you turn right, minding to avoid the traffic coming out of the turning. The alternative is to sit at the junction and wait for a gap, but who wants to do that when nothing is going to slow down for you, they will just mow you down, not deliberately, but that is small consolation.

So I had a choice to make this morning as I started across Bali, I could head along the south coast to the white sands, big surf and 5 star hotels, but my wallet broke out into a sweat just at the thought of it. Well it is a Norwich City wallet, it hasn't got any money! So I made my way along the north coast, I passed through a National Park, hardly any traffic, I could breathe fresh air for a change, rather than that black sooty stuff, though it didn't last too long, but at least there aren't as many truck and buses here. I stopped at a beach resort with calm seas, black sand and no star hotels, though the one I found is wonderful, all on its own, immaculate and with a pool that I even went in. I will live in luxury for a couple of days, I have a western loo and loo paper, hot water and get this, a shower cubicle with a curtain so that the whole bathroom floor doesn't get wet, I can't remember when I last had such luxury. It was so much better value than the others I checked, though I did get bugged by touts that dashed into the hotel before me, made out they had brought me there and consequently the price rockets to pay for their commision. Where I am staying I managed to get through without them. If I had asked them to take me there, that's one thing, but their antics didn't go down well with me. I shall have a rest day and what is more I don't feel as though I really need it, but it better here for a rest day than anything else coming up.

So now the journey through Indonesia becomes very different, small islands and more rural on each one. The ferries become less frequent, evey 30 mins to Bali, ever 2 hours to Lombok, every day to Sumbawa and Flores, about as often as a Norwich City victory to Timor. I can't wait that long!

It's great to hear from you Anita and Martin, even at this late stage and it's good to know you will be reading the blog from now onwards. I was glad to hear that Ron has the address too as I left in a bit of a rush and I missed most of the Combe people before I left. You are making me feel a bit guilty though as I promised I would go to Cambodia with Martin and I crept through recently without telling him, though I guess he will find out now. Send me an email if you have time, the address is on the right hand side, it would be great to hear what you have been up to. Hi also to the Likely Lads from Ireland, good to hear that you are still drinking your way around the world! You be careful in Vegas, I don't suppose they will let you use that Monopoly money.

I shall end with a brief update on Aoiffe. Apart from the first week when there was one problem after another even before the bome marrow transplant, all has gone well and to plan and rumour has it that she might even be allowed out today. Crikey it gone quick, but then I thought about it and it's been over 6 weeks, though I don't suppose Aoiffe locked up in her isolation unit felt it went that quickly. I am guessing that she found it tougher than expected, even a text message was about as much as she could manage at times. Thanks for all of you prayers, thoughts and good will vibes, it seems to have paid off, but don't stop yet, there is still a long way to go. Once home she will need around the clock attention and will return to the hospital 3 times a week for the first 2 weeks, hardly worth going home! After that the recovery continues for a long, long time.

Bali, what a wonderful place, you turn on the tap and out comes Bali water!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Day 448 - Madiun

I woke in the morning to cockerels and pigeons right outside the door, I did my best to ignore them but then what sounded like a happy clappy Christian service seemed to be in full swing too, so I gave up. When I opened the door a cockerel was standing outside looking very indignant, I think I might have been in it's bed for the night, the pigeons were in cages. A man walked in from the yard carry another cockerel. I went in search of breakfast but couldn't find anything so left Weleri defeated. I started to climb straight away so I knew I needed fuel in my belly as the road could keep going up for a long way. I found a very nice cafe, but it looked shut, but who cares when you are desperate, so I went in, calling out, through the kitchen and out the other side until I found somebody. They were all too happy to knock up a little nasi goreng, just the job. It did climb a long way too. I think I passed an accident where somebody had gone off the side of a bridge, cars were parked everywhere with people running back to have a good look. It got steep in places, but always managable, nowhere near as bad as somebody had told me yesterday as they adviced me to take another route. After 3 hrs of climbing I stopped again for more food, I still had no idea how far it was to the top. The place I stopped was basic in the extreme, but as always the people were so friendly. It wasn't so far to the top, but I still didn't know if I would make it to Borobodur, I still had a long way to go, but after that it was very gently down for a long way, so I made good time and got there. I stopped again on the very busy road to Yogykarta, I was so thirsty. I coach load of young soldiers came in to the self service place and filled there plates to the level I would like to but would always feel guilty about, but there wasn't an ounce of fat on any of them, though they all had more hair than me!

I liked the little town of Borobodur, I went for a leisurely breakfast and was joined by about 20 English students and their teacher. They were just finishing a 6 month course, and boy were they good. I was so impressed, I never had to repeat anything of rephrase a single sentance, they were such a happy bunch, really nice and I was sorry when they all left. Having done my washing and been to the post office I went to the Buddist temple (photo), the reason for me being here in the first place. Wow! It was top drawer, regarded on a level with Bagan in Myanmar and Angkor Wat, and rightly so, though it came third in my opinion though only because it didn't have the supporting temples around it to be vistited. It was square, on about 6 levels, with a whole sack full of carvings and Budda images, then there were 3 circular levels at the tops with stupas all around them, each one containing another Budda image, and a great view from the top too, brilliant. A local school party was there, about 240 of them, that's alot of the same questions to answer, but once again they were a jolly crowd and a pleasure to talk to. Before they left each group wanted me to sign my name half a dozen times, then handshakes all round, my right arm was ready to fall off.

I am due to get Malaria pretty soon as my anti-malaria pills and my insect repellent are going to finish at about the same time. I have tried a number of places to resupply but the pharmacists here are useless unless you need a strawberry condom or something for a cold. What do strawberries need condoms for anyway? They must work very well mind, as you don't see many strawberries here. I spotted some Asprin the other day so I tried to buy them, at least that would give me a little bit of success, but they just said "You can't buy them", "Why not?" I asked "I want to buy them". They just laughed and said "Because they are way out of date", said in such as manner as if to say "Are you stupid or what?". I just laughed back and said "Oh sorry, I thought this was a pharmacist, I didn't realise I had walked into a museum!"

Having enjoyed seeing the Buddist temple I decided I would head off to Prambanan a Hindu temple complex built at about the same time in the 9th century and deserted soon after. Unfortunately it meant a main road bash, but that generally means good food and I found a self service place and learnt my lesson from the soldiers and piled my plate up high, wonderful. On arrival at Prambanan (photo) I made my way to the ticket office, I just followed the signs but I knew they wouldn't let me in. The price was 8,000 Rupiah, but only locals were allowed in at this little outside kiosk, I was sent to another ticket office, a nice smart new building with glass sides and air-con and a sign on the window saying "Special for Foreigners". Clearly it was going to be something very special as here they wanted 90,000 Rupiah, I did my very best to find out what was so special for the foreigners, but the ticket man couldn't think of anything. "It's ok then" I said "If there is nothing special for us foreigners I will go over there and by a ticket and save my 82,000 Rupiah". "No, sorry, you have to buy a ticket here". "So the only special thing I get is an air-con ticket office and that is going to cost me another 82,000". "No, no" he said "It's you that is special", "I am not THAT special" I replied "besides, if I am so special to you I should be allowed in for less than 8,000, not more". Don't get me wrong, as a supposedly whealthy westerner, and I suppose I am really compared with most Asians if I can afford to do a trip like this, I don't mind paying more to get into places, but I do find it hard to swallow when I am asked to pay 11 times the price. Compared with Borobudar it was a little bit of a let down, plenty of rocks piles to assist you imagination but the temples themselves weren't so great and to make matters worse all but 2 were well fenced off. Another school party turned up, more questions. The girl asking the questions squashed up next to me so I moved a little to gain a bit of space only for her to squash up again. When women talk to me here they are not at all worried by making bodily contact, not that it means anything, it's just the way they do things over here, but it is very unusual, especially for a Muslim country. At the end I took a photo of them, they all posed nicely and once taken they all gave a cheer of delight, I liked that. From there it was another 50k to Solo where at the hotel I checked into I was told there was free coffee and tea, though I did warn them I tend to drink alot in the evening, a sort of rehydration therapy. "And there is a safe place for you bike over there, 24hrs" I was informed. "What happens after 24hrs? Does somebody steal it" I asked. They laughed, at last people in a hotel with a sense of humour, or at least some that understand mine.

Today I made my way to Madiun with a choice three routes, one south around a couple of volcanoes, one north around them and a third going high up between the two, I chose the scenic route! As I started to climb it was nice and gentle, though it soon became evident that the free breakfast at the hotel was sufficient for a cyclist, I had to stop to refuel. Once on my way again I was soon into a 35k climb, though I didn't know that at the time, I also didn't know how high the road would go. As I neared the volcanoes I couldn't even see them, I kept straining my eyes but nothing. After 25k the clouds were really closing in and it started to rain, I did what you might expect me to do and dived into a cafe and started eating, there is always a plus side to going uphill and a bit of rain. Once the rain eased I set off again, not far now I thought, and it wasn't, only 10k, but the tough bit was saved until the end, it was really tough going now and with the naff weather there wasn't really anything to see either. The last 2k were the toughest of the lot, horribly steep, but a new road was being built that would make it much more gentle, I was tempted to wait around for them to finish, but I think that would have been a couple of months, probably more, this is Indonesia after all. But at long last I huffed and puffed my way over the top, thank goodness for that, 7hrs 15 minutes to 52k, I had hoped the climb wouldn't be over 1500m, but the pass was at 1834m, I wasn't going to make it to Madiun, it was already 15:15. Soon I was on a finished bit of new road and flying, the temperature had dropped to a chilling 17 degrees, I almost stopped to put a jacket on, then it came to a very abrupt end, the road became very narrow, rough, steep and very twisty, it took all my strength to keep the bike down to 10kph, I couldn't afford to let the brakes go, I would never gain control again. Another very steep, very slow descent, 600m of height were lost in 3km at 10kph, what a waste, though I once again think I had the easier way up. But after that steep bit normal descent resumed, I could let go at times, though it still wasn't fast, but soon enough it turned into a straightish fast road, no more braking, just whizz past the motorcyclists hoping they don't try to turn right without looking, but come to think of it, how else would they turn right? As I descended over the course of one hour I could feel the temperature rising back up to the much more familiar 30 degrees. that was really nice. I made the 20k to Magetan without even pedaling, I would push on to Madium afterall, a little bit more descending then a flat last 12k to get into town just as it was getting dark. I felt glad I had taken the mountain road, despite the weather, but that's mountians for you.

There is a whole host of photos uploaded, that'll keep you quiet, or just make you bored!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Day 444 - Weleri

Getting out of Jakarta wasn't as easy as getting into it, my map didn't seem to be working almost from the start, or at least my interpretation of it wasn't working, not helped by very busy roads and one way systems. Still, I turned right at a no right turn junction, right beside 2 policemen blowing their whistles like there was no tomorrow, they just smiled and waved. I followed the compass which lead me to the end of an industrial estate, so I just carried on down a footpath, crossed a railway and amazingly ended up on the right road. Well done compass, sod off map! For some reason I wasn't really up for it on that morning, it was busy, busy, busy, and I got it into my head that it would be like this for a few days. The little people carrier shared taxis were a real pain, they pass then immediately cut me up to stop for a pick up, it really leaves me with 3 options, brake and swerve to the left and plough into the people he is about to pick up, not really fare on them, brake and don't swerve at all and plough into the back of the taxi, not really fare on me or the bike, or brake and swerve to to the right and just hope that passing traffic has either left enough room for me, or that they have room to swerve too. I normally go for option 3, so far it has paid off. But the combination of not having a good day and being severely cut up made me loose my cool. I had to brake hard, swerve right at speed which meant I went a long way out increasing the chances of something hitting me, which thankfully it didn't. I turned around and went back and let's just say I made it very clear that I wasn't entirely happy with his manouever helped by the fact that I gave the driver's door a hefty whack! He knew exactly what I was on about and apologised, at least that is something, though I suspect he will do the same thing again before the day is out. 60k out of Jakarta there at last seemed to be a few less junctions and I even saw something green that reminded me of a field. The night turned into another mosquito night, my favourite. My room was full of them and the staff could do nothing about it, so I doused myself in repellent. It sort of worked, they were all around me, but kept their distance daring each other to go in for an attack. They were annoying me but I thought if they kept their distance I might be able to sleep through, so I tried. I couldn't, they did move in for an attack. I could stand it no longer so went back to reception. They came back with a pump action spray, it was jolly good, within minutes they were falling like flies....oh, hang on a minute. So at last I got some rest, but within an hour or so more were arriving, the night was spent covering up, sweating until I could take it no more, then uncovering and getting bitten until I could take it no more, then covering up......

Come morning I was amazed to find hundreds of mossies dead on the floor, yet there were still plenty airborne, where did they all come from. I was so glad to get out of the place. The day was thankfully more rural, but the road remained busy. I suspect there isn't a road on Java that is not busy. But it was flat and exposed, the headwind that has been with me for so long had a clear run which made things hard work, not that I am one to ever complain, besides its only about another 3000km until I turn out of it! I arrived at Jatibarang and just hoped there was a place to stay otherwise I had another 50k to go to Cirebon. Thankfully there was, a gem of a place, cheap, very well kept and spotlessly clean, though I did spot one mosquito. When I went out there was another mass of bats, I could confirm they were bats this time, a constant stream coming out of a building, a tangled mass of them clinging to an outside wall. I stopped to take a photo and the locals thought it was hilarious when they shat on my head (the bats, not the locals!)

The following morning as I was about to leave the guy in the house opposite saw me and came across for a chat, he's a serious cyclist and took me over to see his bikes, he had 4 all like his massive house, spotless. Well that was about the highlight for that day....what am I saying, I made a great discovery, something you could try yourself at home. Being as there is so little sweet food here and I need a sugar fix, I tried a drink that I have seens other have. You take one strawberry fanta, then put some ice in a glass having first added a large dollop of condensed milk. Thought strawberry fanta was sweet enough already? Think again. This is great as the fanta sits on top of the milk and you can mix it to you own desire, then drink with a straw. I tend to mix it lightly, then you get very different tastes depending on how deep you put the straw in, a sort of strawberries and cream. Wow, one of those and I am away! Whooosh!

Looking at the map todays little schedule was slightly shorter, I believed the map, why not? It wasn't, it was longer, though at least I realised very early on when I saw a kilometer stone. The last couple of days I have passed endless adverts for a chain of cafes, they give a countdown in kilometers, so I thought I would try one. Very nice, very good food, very comfortable and pleasant surroundings, very friendly staff, very empty, in fact only me, very expensive. 30p for a coffee, what is the world coming to! I wont use them again, though they took photos of me and asked me to write a few words with a think pen so that they can frame it and put on the wall at the entrance. Gosh fame, it's tough you know, though I am not sure if was fame for being a long distance cyclist or for just being a customer. So a long day was rewarded with a small town with no hotel, oh joy! I asked around and was told there was a Losmen, a sort of B&B though more of just a B. I found it (photo), but I have to say that it is probably the worst place I have stayed at on this trip, though it has some way to go to match the hotels in Ethiopia. The room is tiny, wooden and with plenty of open bits at the top for the mossies to get in, it's pretty grimey too. The showers in Indonesia are generally a large tiled container in the bathroom full of water that you dip a small bucket into and pour over yourself. Here was much the same though shared, but the tank has fish swimming around in it. There are no locks anywhere so I might find I get back and I have nothing left, though seriously I am sure the people living there are quite trustworthy. The outside is like most hotels here, it looks alot better than it actually is on the inside.

Another couple of traffic rules I have spotted. Firstly, you must give way to anything coming towards you on the wrong carriageway. Secondly, the bike is the lowest of the low. One of my favourite manouvers is by truck and bus drivers. They pull out slowly in front of me so that I have nowhere to go, but the bit I really like is the way they are hanging out of the window with a big smile on their faces as the shout out "HELLO MISTER". How can you get annoyed with that? To them it's not dangerous, it's just what they do.

So what about the weather here? Well I seem to have lost the wet season and I now have wall to wall sunshine, no clouds at all. What's more I am getting sunburnt again, that hasn't happened in ages. It's normally about 29-30 degrees when I set off and reaches about 37 degrees as a maximum. I did I say I wouldn't complain about the wind, well I lied. Each morning I set off and it is still and each day I think "may be this is the day of no wind". It never is. At about 8:30 the wind suddenly appears from nowhere, well, actually from the east, where I am heading to. Ok so its not that bad, but I have to work a reasonable amount harder to go about 3kph slower, that's no justice is it? But what I really hate is the thought that if I was going the other way it would be so, so easy.

Tomorrow I head into the mountains proper, hills and wind, I can hardly wait.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Day 440 - Jakarta

So I have arrived at the island of Java, one quarter of the size of Sumatra and with 4 times the amount of people. About half of all Indonesians live on Java, that's about 120 million.....Oooooo 'eck! It's my third island, only 17,505 to go. I still have 37 days left on my visa, but I think I need to step up the pace a little.
The run down from Bandar Lampung was pretty much as expected, the new good map showed it as flat, but my legs were telling me it wasn't, though being a main road it was never tough going. This was also the first proper main road I have been on since I arrived in Indonesia and it is noticable that the emission levels have rapidly shot up, as well as the noise levels. I think I have a pretty high tolerance to polution, but even I was really noticing it, my eyes became sore and at times I was a bit light headed. Most vehicles seemed to be emitting something undesirable, but it ranged from hardly noticable to hardly being able to see through it, and there was no shortage of those either. They must have some pretty good mechanics here to be able to produce that much black smoke. It started to rain, I don't mind cycling in the rain, honest, but I used it as an excuse to stop and eat. I didn't mind the climbs as I guessed that even the maps couldn't get it wrong and that the ferries would in fact leave at sea level, so I knew I would get my pay back soon enough, though I had to wait until the last three kilometers to get a view of the sea, and there were the ferries sitting on it. That made them nice and easy to find. Each time I had a junction choice to make, somebody would point the way without me even asking, I just hoped they knew where I was going. I was behind one car at the ticket kiosk, but men sat outside another seemed to indicate that I should go straight through, sure enough when the car went I was waved through without a ticket, I am not sure I was fully understanding the procedure here. A couple of hundred meters later I was at the dock, there was a ship heading out and another just coming in, but there was no queue of vehicles anywhere. I am British for heavens sake, I need a queue to join otherwise I don't know where I am going. I spotted 3 officials so I went over to them. "Which way is it to the ferry to Merak?" I asked, one pointed one way, one the other way and the third found it all just a bit too much. "I'm a bit confused now" I said, "Is it that way, or that way?" I asked pointing. The guy who seemed less sure with his original decision turned and pointed the other way. That was sort of good and he now agreed with the other guy who was more confident and looked a bit more if he knew what was what, but they were pointing the opposite way to what my gut instinct told me. "You are sure it is that way?" and I pointed the same way as they were pointing, they both nodded enthusiastically, "And it is definately not that way?" and I pointed in the opposite direction, at which point they completely took me by surprise and both at exactly the same time changed their minds and pointed in the other direction. I knew I should have stuck to gut instinct, I thanked them for theie help and told them that if the dock ever closed down they could always get a job with the Indonesian mapping companies. I went to a little cafe, I should have gone there in the first place, the staff told me that the ship just docking was heading for Merak at 3pm and I should get on it, I hadn't even told them where I was going. As I had a coffee and another snack a guy started to get agitated and said I should get on the boat as other vehicles were now going on. I made my way over slowly and he followed me, then I was asked for my ticket.....oh poo! My friend from the cafe said a few words and I was waved on, I didn't have to pay and I have no idea why not. Once on, various people spoke to me as I was the only foreigner. I asked each of them how long it would take for the crossing, the answers varied from 3 to 6 hours, I opted for 3 hours. 2 hours after we set off I was bumping my off at the other side. I decided not to continue any further and checked in to a hotel.
So now I had just 120k to go to Jakarta, it was uninspiring, flat and busy, very busy. Road rules are of the Indian variety, look straight ahead and do your best to avoid hitting anything, and to be honest they are very good at that, which makes it very reassuring that the chances of them avoiding me are good. I tend to look around me which is cheating a bit and hardly entering into the spirit of things. All vehicles seem to have an amber light on each side that when used, flash. They are a bit like our indicators, but mean something completely different here. I am not totally sure but I think that if the right one flashes it has a rough meaning of "I am about to do something even more unpredictable than normal", if the left one flashes I think that means "I haven't got a clue what the hell I am doing, so what chance have you got of guessing what I am going to do". If they are both flashing together it means "Get out of the way, I am a police car". I was flagged down by a motorcyclist offering food supplies, a sure way to make me stop. He gave me a bag with 2 sweet filled bread rolls in, and a bottle of water, what's more it was cold water. I don't buy bottled water I opt for the free stuff from the restaurants, though that is just boiled tap water and is supplied at any temperature ranging from warm to hot. I guzzled down the cold water, wonderful. Another good reason for not buying it, it doesn't last long enough. My new ify map had a good map of central Jakarta on it, that made life so much easier, I knew where I was the whole time, how boring is that? Hotels seemed to fit into 2 categories, cheap and rough with just enough room for a single bed and no window, or expensive and all mod cons. Guess which one I went for.
The plan for the first day here was to have a lie in, followed by a leisurely breakfast. The plan went very well especially as I met a couple from Sweden at breakfast, Marcus and Anna. We got chatting away and they too had been traveling south through Sumatra. When I told them I was on a bike they said "Oh, that's you is it?", apparently they had heard about me in Krui where I stopped the night. They seemed to be impressed with my method of traveling, but I was impressed with theirs, an 18 bus journey from Krui to Jakarta arriving at 3am, but to get to Krui had been an amazing 54 hours on a bus, not a nice comfy thing, but the rickety old type, made even worse by the fact that they cram extra people in by sitting them in the aisle. I am sure I couldn't do that, even the thought of such a journey fills me with dread, no a bike is so much easier! Their experiences have been so different to mine too. Anna said that as a women she is treated badly by the men and doesn't like to be alone, even making eye contact can cause problems. Jakarta seems to have a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde identity, on the way in it is at best shabby, at worst, well, not very nice at all really, but very quickly the centre turns into wide clean boulevards with big modern buildings, you could be forgiven for thinking that you had just arrived in the centre of Singapore. I just had a little walk around and ended up in a mall, as you do, though it is the first one that I have been security checked at before you can enter, though having seen the inside of the place I suspect they were checking that you were carrying a credit card. The place was full of designer shops, a tramp like me couldn't even afford the designer coffee, even the security people inside looked down their noses at me as if to say "Who on earth dragged that thing in here?". I looked for the one book shop that the plan showed located on the first floor, the shop name was right but they didn't look like books to me, more like very expensive watches. The evening was a sociable one starting with 4 of us, but numbers around the table grew to eight, but in true Singapore form, everybody is leaving tomorrow, I must be even more boring than I realised!
Had another lie today, back to reality tomorrow. I haven't really done Jakarta justice but there isn't a great deal here to get excited about anyway. I went up the national monument tower thing for some fine views, a bit like the Sky Tower in Kuala Lumpar but the scenery wasn't as good, nor the surrounding architecture. Still, I could see tomorrows route out and it looks very flat, so I should get away pretty easily.
It all a bit strange, but the feel of this trip has once again changed since I decided that I will return once I get to Sydney. Before I didn't think about time, but although there is no end date I still think about how long it will take me to get there. Before it was just another place to pass through, but now it feels like a firm target, an end point. Now it feels a very, very long way off, oddly enough it didn't before.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Day 436 - Bandar Lumpang

Sunday was one of those days, I got up early and had breakfast, then decided I wanted a proper day of chilling out as Saturday had all been pretty hectic in the end, besides another day of rest would do me good. Well, I guess it did do me good, but I started to look at the map of Java and beyond, there is a long, long way to go and not many days to cover the distance, in the end I felt I had wasted a day, it wasn't wasted I know, but that is how it felt.

So Monday morning was a replay, but this time I never felt like stopping any longer and soon I was on the road. I had no idea how far I would get or where I would stay, I just decided to see how things went. They went pretty well, the first 30k was flat, then the hills started, but they were proper hills, long enough to call hills and not so steep you have to bust a gut to get up them, I was beginning to enjoy myself again, even though the sea was still conspicuous by it's absence and the rest of the scenery was hardly anything to write home about, so I wont. Then I saw a kilometer stone saying 83k to Manna, that would make 140k for the day, a bit long but at least the place was on my map and with a good stretch today, having studied the map I decided it would be another 6 days steady riding to Jakarta, better than I had expected, so that was the target for the night's stop. With about 30k to go I was joined by a motorcyclist, before he even said hello he said "I have a friend like you, a cyclist from Switzerland, his name is David. Do you know him?". "A cyclist you say" I replied, "Yes", "Is he from Switzerland?", "Yes", "His name isn't David by any chance is it?", "Yes, it is" he replied, "No, I have never heard of him". Then he wanted to know my phone number so that he could come and meet me in Manna in the evening, but I lied a little bit and told him I didn't have one, besides I haven't got a clue what the number is, I never knew what the number was when I bought the sim card, I suspect it has a 0 in it somewhere, it probably has a 1 too, but after that it all starts to get a bit vague! I toured Manna somewhat reluctantly, a biggish place with lots of accommodation, but the prices were a joke, they wanted as much as I paid for a good room in Bengkulu for flea pit here. My chosen flea pit at least has clean sheets. When I went in we established I wanted a single room, so they showed me a room with 3 beds for way too much, but as I was leaving they showed me a better room with 2 beds for half the price. It's all a game to them, just to get as much money as possible, which results in me going around 5 or 6 places just to find an honest price. In the evening in one small area there were hundreds of birds, but they may have been bats, it was difficult to tell in the half light. Their home was obviously in a building by the road, so I went over to it. There were 2 small square holes in the doors and everything was heading in and out, a real bottle neck, not even a one way system, but for the few minutes I stood and watched I never saw a single collision, very agile with a great tuen of speed, very impressive.

A short ride was on for the next day, so having arrived I decided my body needed more sugar, so I bought a cakey, slab type brick thing, it weighed a ton, but when I came to eat it in the evening despite it being tightly wrapped the local ants had claimed it as theirs, there were dozens in there, tiny little ones that dart all over the place. That was my sugar fix and I wasn't about to give it up easily, so I gave it a wash under the tap and ate it, a bit soggy mind. The next day I bought another cake this time it wasn't wrapped so when I went out I created a little island with my coffee container and piled all the food stuffs on top, a nice little tower. On my return the whole lot had toppled and there was a whole swarm of ants around the cake, 100s of them, but I still wasn't giving up, though this time I just huffed and puffed a bit and then ate it. Blow me (excuse the pun) but the following night the ants were once again at my cake, but I lost the will to fight them this time and I just ate it. I'm sorry, but if I ate a few ants with it, it might seem cruel, but that is their problem not mine.

Most days seems to start reasonably easily hill wise, but after about 40k I had just decided I would stop at the next cafe for a bit of refueling as I could see some nasty hills ahead, but having dropped down to a bridge the road turned sharply and went straight into a very steep climb, to make things worse the road was rocks on one side and gravel on the other, so I stuck to the gravel, but it was so steep that I eventually lost traction and came to an abrupt stop. I couldn't get started again for the same reason and as I could see tarmac ahead I got off and pushed. This was somewhat more difficult as my feet lost traction too and whats more I really needed to be going uphill with the brakes on as the bike didn't seem to have a head for heights and was desperate to go back down again. At last I got going again, but it was still very steep and really tough and slow, but my main concern was that it would plummet back down to the coast again and do the same thing. I needn't have worried, it just kept going up and up, steep the whole way. After not having a hill more than 80m this one suddenly hit 441m, horribly steep for about half of it that really drained my energy, but as it became less steep I could feel myself recovering slowly. In the afternoon I stopped for more food and was then told they had no change, I had to come back tomorrow for it. That didn't go down well as the food had been very poor and way overpriced already, and the place had been busy when I arrived, they had change, it was just a ploy to get me to leave it, but I made them go and find change. The last 30k were still up and down but the whole day the scenery had been fantastic, the sort of scenery I had hoped to see so much more of along this road, but I had hoped it would be all down hill, though I couldn't quite see how that was going to work out.

Whilst I have been on this road I have been burning about 4000-4500 calories a day, that's a lot of eating, but I like a challenge. I don't leave without breakfast, then I have a meal roughly every 40k and one for luck.Added to that I have an evening snack, at least the leftovers from what the ants had been chomping through!

I could hardly believe the start I had yesterday, 60k of dead flat, not a single hill, nothing, but I knew the afternoon would be heading across the mountains. They told me where I stopped for lunch that it was 90k to Kota Agung where I was aiming to spend the night, I didn't believe them, it was never that far on the map, I guessed at about 60k though once I got started it was 65k to SGI whatever that was, so may be they were right. The mountains arrived with a bang, a sort of rerun of the previous day, though this time the surface was better, that just meant in practice I could keep going, but in reality it was too steep for me on a heavily laden bike, I stopped for a rest, sat with my back to the hill and ate biscuits. Every time I turned around the hill was still there, I really didn't want to go up it. Somebody coming down in a 4WD stopped and offered me a lift up, I turned down the offer, besides he told me it was only 3k to the top. It wasn't it was just over 10k, it would have been more useful if he had said "I have just come down the hill but I have no idea how far it is to the top, I don't know where I have come from or what my name is". That's being a bit harsh, he was a nice man and gave me a drink, but he is crap on distances. It's strange though that when you go up really steep hills, then it becomes less steep, it feels as though you are having a break, it's when they are too steep for too long that it becomes a problem. The road surface was new and having reached 640m I was really looking forward to the descent, but oh dear, it was terrible, sand, gravel and rocks the whole way, very steep for 7km, will lots of sharp bends, so I needed the brakes on hard the whole time, my hands ached, my arms ached, I was being thrown around and fighting to keep control most of the time. I had to stop to rest and to let the rims cool down a couple of times. I felt pretty cheated by the descent but then I thought about going up it, that would have been a nightmare and would have made my climb look like a walk in the park. To make things worse most of the afternoon was spent trying to convince myself I was still on the right road, I couldn't find the places on the map that were initialed on the kilometer stones and what's more I seemed to be going in the wong direction compared with the road on the map. At last I arrived at SGI, but I still didn't know the name of the place, but there was clearly nowhere to stay. I was told by some the next hotel was 5k, by others it was 10k. I had already covered 130k of tough road, I really didn't want to be doing any more, but the road was now in a valley and the roadside was all houses, nowhere to camp, I had to carry on. After 10k I arrived at Wonosobo, what a great name, but still nowhere to stay, it would be another 11k to Kota Agung in the dark, but I was sure there would be something there, thankfully there was. I don't know why I ask people how far somewhere is, they are always wrong, they are about as reliable as my map, it gives you a very rough idea of what's ahead, but you can never be sure until you have got there. I spoke to a guy in the hotel, he had come from Bandar Lumpang where I was heading today, he told me it was 25k to the top of the hill, then it rolled and the last 17k was flat, I believed him.

A dream came true this morning, somebody was yet again wrong on distances but this time he had over estimated, it was only 18k to the top, all on a good surface and none of it steep, a nice relaxed climb and a great descent on a smooth surface, a descent that increased the average speed, unlike yesterdays which reduced it! Then it was almost entirely flat until I reached the kilometer stone 17k from Bandar Lumpang, then I started the second longest climb of the day at about 6km, none of the last 17k was flat. Today I still covered 94k, but after the last few days it almost felt like a day off, I arrived at 15:30, very civilised.

I am really glad to be here in Bandar Lumpang. I had a choice of 3 routes heading south in Sumatra and the last 90 odd k to the ferry is the only road, so I would have been on that no matter what happened. Also my map tells me the mountains are behind me for a while, I like that, I am going to believe it. From here to the other side of Java I have a better map. No, no, what am I saying, that's probably not true, I have a different map.

So all being well I will be on the ferry to Java tomorrow evening.