28 March 2010

CYCLING JAVE, INDONESIA - Cilegong to Jakarta





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21 March 2010
Cilegong– Tangerang
91km


I thought that Sumatra was one long drawn-out village, but Java seems to be one long drawn-out city. Not once did we leave the built-up area, and cycled in traffic all day long. However, my impression is that the traffic is forunately very aware of cyclists.

Saw a guy pedaling down the road with his sewing machine (actually a sewing workshop on wheels). Well, what do they say? “If the mountain won’t come to Mohammad, then Mohammad must go to the mountain”.

It rained on and off all day long and by our third soaking we found a room where we could dry out. Although Tangerang is a large town we had some difficulty finding accommodation, as many hotels were seemingly full. Maybe they just didn’t want two scruffy looking cyclists dripping rain water all over their neatly polished tiles.

22 March 2010
Tangerang – Jakarta
31km


It was hardly a cycle into Jakarta, only 30km and we were there. We picked up a nice tail wind and got blown right into the city centre together with whirling dust clouds, cardboard boxes and plastic bags. The traffic was hectic with thousands of motorbikes and taxis. The one-way streets made it even more frustrating, just as we thought we had the route all planned we had to deviate to “who knows where” because of one-way streets.

Soon enough we found ourselves on Freedom Square and then it was easy to find our way to Jalan Jaksa, the cheap tourist accommodation area. We found a room at Borneo Hostel which was comfortable enough at the price. Ernest seemed to be all hyper-active and washed the bikes and some of his gear, as well as doing some work on his bike (hub and brakes). He was a real busy bee!

23 & 24 March 2010
Jakarta


Donned hat and shades, and in full tourist disguise, we went exploring what is left of the old Dutch city of Batavia. We found only an old town square with one or two well preserved colonial buildings. The rest of the buildings seem to have been hit by some severe natural disaster (floods, earthquakes or is it just old age??) The old Dutch port (still with beautiful wooden fishing vessels, but in rather polluted water) is still operating. Cargo is still being loaded in a rather old fashioned style along rickety gangplanks. Wow, there’s no way you’ll get me to walk on those things.

Just around the corner was the fish market, (which at the best of times is a smelly place) but with dirty water gushing from open sewers, people doing their daily ablutions in full view in the nearby canal, cats and rats having the run of the mill and homeless people squatting seemingly everywhere, this one was a bit more smelly than your everyday fish market. Just outside the fish market we found the old “Uitkyk Toring”, which is now starting to resemble to Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Ernest loves taking local trains and so we did our exploring bit by local train, at Rp1000 (about 80 cents SA) a ticket it’s hardly money at all, but how come it’s Rp1500 coming back? It just makes no sense at all, same train, same route but different price…… weird. (Subsequent experience seems to suggest that you pay to the end of the line, which is further for us on the way back).

25 to 28 March 2010
Jakarta


Scores of Islamic students staged protests outside Jakarta’s parliament against US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to the country. We nearly got caught in the whole thing but made a quick u-turn and headed in the opposite direction. The positive side was that the city streets were dead quiet and we could wander around at leisure.

Just to the south of where we’re staying is the modern city of Jakarta, complete with bumper to bumper traffic, modern shopping centres, high-rise buildings etc, etc. It’s however quite easy to get around, whether by bus, train, tuk-tuk, or mini-van.

I can’t believe we’re still here in Jakarta after a week! Ernest came down with a bout of bronchitis, but still kept fiddling with the bikes, and did some repairs to his tent, etc. Seeing that I’m neither domesticated, nor do I know anything about bikes, all I did was lie around, endlessly listening to music - what a pleasure.

20 March 2010

CYCLING SUMATRA, INDONESIA - Bandar Lampung to Java





18 March 2010
Bandar Lampung


The entire morning was spent renewing my visa. Whatever you do, don’t overstay your visa in Indonesia; it came at quite a price. Arie Tours, on Jl Wolter Monginsidi, was kind enough to help me process the application (also at a steep price). Job done!

Walking around I noticed that there was more to Bandar Lampung than expected, big supermarkets, loads of hotels, (which we’d missed coming in on the bike the previous day), a huge local market and even a Carrefour and Pizza Hut around the corner! Uhmmm….. just wondering if I should frequent them.

Traffic was hectic and, like elsewhere in Sumatra, traffic rules are often disregarded. Traffic lights are ignored and so are one-way street signs, making getting around quite challenging.

There is nothing as pleasant as listening to the bucketing rain from the safety of your hotel room. (Ha, ha sorry that was not rain, just the air-con dripping outside the window)

19 March 2010
Bandar Lampung - Kalianda
63km

An easy ride to Kalianda where I thought of taking a boat to Krakatau, but it was a little bit pricy after paying for my visa extension and fine for over stay, so I gave it a miss and rather just spent the rest of the day in the small harbor town of Kalianda.

I’ll just have to do the volcano thing somewhere ells. There will still be plenty of opportunities to do that here in Indonesia.

20 March 2010
Kalianda – Cilegong
46km

Breakfast is often included in the room price, even in cheap rooms. Don’t get all excited now it’s only a plate of fried rice. After breakfast we packed up, loaded the bikes and were on our way to Bakauheni to catch the ferry to Java Island.

Once in Bakauheni we swiftly got directed to the ferry terminal and in no time were on a huge car ferry. It must have been the slow ferry as the crossing to Java Island took 2 hours. Somehow it didn’t seem necessary to buy a ticket for the passage (nobody asked for tickets, and nobody offered to sell any). Can this trip be for free, or did we just miss the ticket office?

The ferry ride came in true Indonesian style complete with Karaoke singers, instant noodles and the ever present deep fried tofu sellers. The fact that the staff were frantically working on one of the engines during the entire trip - bits of engine parts laying everywhere- did not seem to bother anyone. Sea traffic appeared no less hectic than the road traffic with other ships passing dangerously close in front of us (no surprise that the there are many shipping accidents in this region).

Once off the ship at the Merak ferry dock on Java Island, we hit the road in the direction of Jakarta. We only made it about 15 km through the traffic before we found a reasonable hotel in the town of Cilegong, with outside rooms under shady trees.

So came to an end our cycle in Sumatra and it will be interesting to see what Java is like. Was that a level road or did I just imagine it?

16 March 2010

CYCLING SUMATRA, INDONESIA - Bengkulu to Bandar Lampung





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8 March 2010
Bengkulu


No, we did not move on, there we still were, we woke to bucketing rain, and decided to stay put.

Flip-flops is definitely the footwear of choice around here, for easy removal when entering shops, houses and lodging, I’m getting fed-up with removing laced shoes, it’s such a hassle.

Sleeping does not always come easily, roosters crowing at all hours of the night, dogs barking, mullahs calling people to prayer endlessly, and rock hard mattresses - not a good recipe for peaceful sleep. What is with the short mirrors, all I can see is my navel, surely no one is that short; uhmmm…… full of complaints, definitely time to move on.


9 March 2010
Bengkulu – Seluma
60km


At last we were on the road again, and what a good day it was. The road was not bad at all and the hills where absent. I did not however, feel very well and struggled along on a day that should have been as easy as pie. Once we reached Seluma we opted for a room and even although it was hardly past lunch time, settled in and I even had a little nap. We walked into town in search of the food carts, with hordes of children in tow. They are just so sweet, a bit wary of us at first, but friendly enough, often chanting “tourist, tourist, tourist” which normally gets the whole town out for a look.


10 March 2010
Seluma – Manna
80km

Another fairly easy day as the hills were not as severe as before. We pedalled quite happily along through small villages, densely forested areas, rice paddies, and the ever present oil palm plantations.

Meeting curious locals normally comes with a barrage of questions. “What’s your name, where you from, how old are you, are you married?” After answering and posing for pictures with them, you’re considered a friend for life.
11 March 2010
Manna – Bintuhan
75km


I was not quite firing on all cylinders but we carried on regardless. As usual it was hot, humid, the hills were steep and the roads were bad!! Kids were cheering us on as we passed through villages, dogs barked at our heels and elderly people looked up in amazement. We dodged potholes, geese, chickens, goats, and water buffalo as we passed through what seemed like an endless village.

We rolled into Bintuhan where the fried food stalls got the better of us. We booked into a room and went shopping, returning with a huge bag of fried snacks - enough to feed the whole of Africa, and if that was not enough we got ourselves a rice meal as well. .

12 March 2010
Bintuhan – Pugung Tampak
82km

The day started deceptively easy as we cycled along the coast. Soon we headed over some of the steepest hills I have yet encountered on this trip. The sign board along the road which indicating the severity of the gradient was no exaggeration! At first I thought it to be a joke and that the board was placed the wrong way round on the pole, but I soon discovered that whoever made that sign was quite serious. We huffed and puffed and had to push our bikes up the endlessly steep hills.

It was supposed to be quite a scenic day (the road runs through a National Park), but I saw nothing just my own sweat dripping on the road. I was never more happy to see the end of a National Park, from where we sped down the hill towards the coast again and landed up in the small village of Pugung Tampak.

Dead tired, we found Cecep, who runs a basic “homestay” and caters for surfers. Cecep’s home is very traditional, built around a courtyard complete with a well, laundry and monkey on a string. We, however, decided to camp behind his house next to the beach, which was maybe not the best option. Soon the entire village surrounded us and I was concerned that the whole crowd was going to come down on my tent. I was aware of torches shining into my tent until the early hours of the morning, as visitors came from far and wide to witness the spectacle. I had hardly fallen asleep and the Imam started singing in the nearby mosque - let me tell you, that man should not quit his day job just yet.

13 March 2010
Pugung Tampak - Krui
37km


I felt tired from the previous day’s mountainous road and was rather reluctant to leave. Ernest was keen to carry on, so we packed up and cycled along the coast. Again it was hilly but nothing like the previous day.

We passed through some small fishing villages with double-storied wooden houses lining the main road. Laundry hanging on fence poles and produce being dried in the sun has become a daily scene. It‘s also not unusual to see the odd bullock cart along the way.

As we reached Krui we opted for a room as I felt weak and unwell. Aaah the pleasure of a room (with fan) where one can close the door and be out of the public eye for a few hours!

14 March 2010
Krui – Bengkunat
87km


At last we had a flat scenic road along the coast!! It lasted for at least 60km but unfortunately came to abrupt halt as we turned inland towards the mountains. What a pity we’d stayed in Krui, as there were some fantastic beach bungalows just about 25km down the road. We just had a quick peek and then it was on the road again past more fishing villages where they were carefully drying tiny fish along the road. The smell of ground coffee and cloves accompanied us all the way. About 20 km paste the tiny village of Bengkunat we found a derelict government office and camped out back beside the banana plantation were we found handy (abandoned?) water well. Later we were almost as amazed as the villagers who appeared from out of the bush, coming to fetch their evening supply of water. In those isolated parts they tend to be a bit shy, and were stopped in their tracks as they came upon the two strange-looking foreigners camping next to their well. After surveying the scene they built up enough courage to fetch their water – eventually there was a whole crowd of them, and some of the children were even demonstrating the English they’d learnt at school (“mother”, “father”, “grandmother”, “grandfather”, etc.).

It was not the most comfortable of nights as first the mozzies feasted on us and then it started raining, we had no option but to crawl into our tents where we lay sweating in our own private sauna. Fortunately we’d cooked and eaten our dinner by that time.

15 March 2010
Bengkunat – Kota Agung
70km


Ernest had one of his very slow mornings packing up, man the guy can drag his heals. It was 9h00 before we got on the road. I could not believe it was another day of serious hills!! Again the road ran through a National Park. I’ve come to the conclusion that National Parks are for hiking not for cycling. We climbed and climbed, higher and higher through a dense rain forest and although it was scenic I did not have the presence of mind to enjoy it. It started raining and the road became slippery and very wet. Once out of the park there was about 10 km of steep downhill, but alas, not to be enjoyed by us. A landslide had covered the road in clay soil, and in the rain it was rather hazardous. Those vehicles which attempted to pass were spinning and skidding in the mud, trucks were sliding into the embankment, but somehow we managed the get through.

The clay clung to our bikes to such an extent that the wheels could not turn and we were forced to stop and clear the worst away with sticks. At least we had one pleasant surprise, as we came upon the town of Kota Agung at least 20km earlier than expected (the best maps we could find here are not proportionally correct, they don’t indicate all the places, and they don’t show distances). We were pleased to reach the town, and we also found a comfortable room with a convenient tap and hose pipe where Ernest rinsed the bikes off.


16 March 2010
Kota Agung – Pringsewu
60km


The hotel gave us a surprise breakfast of fried rice, and after the bikes were oiled we were on the road heading up another mountain pass. Nothing like a good long hill first thing in the morning. I much prefer a mountain pass to the short chain snapping hills we had in the previous days. At least one climbs up at a steady pace and then you go down again.

What a pleasant surprise we had! Once over the crest the road just went down and down and down, I knew it had to happen some or other time. It was a real pleasure. Around 15h00 the clouds looked threatening and drops started falling. At about that point we arrived at another unexpected town, and once we’d spotted the very nice local hotel Ernest and I gave each other a quick glance and pulled in there without a word being spoken.

More amazing was the fact that no one in Sumatra seems to know the km too the next town. They glaze over and then come up with a number that varies so drastically from the previous one that one never knows. They can, however, tell you to the minute how long it takes by motorcycle or bus.

Interestingly the distances given between Kota Agung and Bandar Lampung varied from 50km – 200km!! That’s quite a difference (in the end it turned out to be about 100 k’s).

17 March 2010
Pringsewu - Bandar Lampung
38km


Breakfast was included in the room rate, and as everyone knows, that’s a dead loss to any establishment when cyclists are around. I just love the rice cooked in a banana leaf served with a fiery curry/coconut sauce. The Indonesians are not scared of chilly first thing in the morning. So I set of with serious heartburn up the hills again. This time the distance reported was between 45km – 75km to Bandar Lampung. Strange enough there were no distance markers along the road to Bandar Lampung.

We, however, reached Bandar Lampung after a mere 35km. I needed to extend my visa ASAP, as it has already expired the previous day and I was rather anxious to get to an Immigration office.

We found a rather expensive hotel but as it came with air-con and hot water I dug deep into my pocket and paid the price. Then it was off to the Immigration office just to find that I needed a sponsor. The hotel where we stayed was unwilling to help, what a pain!! I can’t blame them, I don’t know if I will do that for a total stranger. At least I was back in time before the storm broke which came with such roaring thunder I thought the nearby Krakatau had erupted again.

06 March 2010

BENGKULU, INDONESIA




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We had no intention of moving on until Ernest’s eyes had recovered and he could at least see where he was going. The antibiotic drops seem to be working and he already looked a lot better.

Bengkulu is quite a large town and had a shopping mall with supermarket etc, etc. The roads were littered with mobile food stalls (kaki Limas) and we ate as if we had not seen food in many days. In the meantime we did our much needed laundry and I found a better deal for my modem with unlimited access to the internet for the next month. I played on the internet whiles Ernest cleaned the bikes - not to mention that he sprayed the greasy muck off in the bathroom with what he calls the “ass-washer” (a flexible pipe protruding from the wall in many eastern toilets, usually with high-pressure water controlled by a sprayer at the end – in the cheap places the plastic scoop from the “tank” is used for the ablutions). I hope the hotel staff did not notice, as I’m sure they will kick us out on the spot.

I went back and forth to the mall (it was such a novelty) found a face mark and hair removal cream and spent the rest of the day titivating myself. In the mean time Ernest also spent time at the interesting local market, having his tent zip replaced, cheap Chinese shoes repaired, and his beloved chair sewn up.

Oh yes, we even experienced an earthquake, in this earthquake-prone area. However, I can hardly say that we experienced it, as it happened after we went to sleep and we didn’t even wake up (only heard about it the next day!). The quake happened 160 km out to sea from here, and although it measured 6.5 in magnitude there was fortunately no structural damage or injury here in Bengkulu.

Today, the 7th, we took a walk around town and to the coast, also visiting the historic Marlborough Fort built by the British in colonial times. Ernest’s eyes seemed much better and I think tomorrow we’ll scoff up the last of the luxury breakfast buffets served here (included in room price), and move on again.

05 March 2010

CYCLING SUMATRA, INDONESIA - Padang to BengkuLu



25 February 2010
Padang – Painan
80km


We headed South along the coast on our way to Jakarta (still about 1 000km away). What a stunning day on the road, we followed the coast for app 20km and then the road turned inland over the hills. We followed a small river through many tiny villages, past rice paddies, rivers and forests. Along the road people are drying all kinds of goods, rice, oranges, cloves, cinnamon, what a lovely smell.

We ended up in the small town of Painan and intended to camp by the beach but I had a distinct feeling that the entire town had come out to watch us - they came from far and wide on foot, bicycle and motorbikes to witness the spectacle. In the end we headed back into town to find a room as it is rather difficult to find a bush toilet with the whole world watching! It was a rather heavy price to pay for some privacy as the room was so hot we could not sleep (even with the “air conditioner” on) and it had no outside window so there was no obtion than to just grin and bear it. Big mistake we would have been better off at the beach in our tents.

26 February 2010
Painan – Balai Selasa
76km


Although this is not the easiest cycling one can get, the scenery is unsurpassed. The day started with a good hill or two. It was boiling hot and we were sweating buckets. Again the road followed the coast past many fishing villages, rice paddies and rivers. We stopped to sample the food along the way, including cassava fried in a batter.

A drinks stop at a local shop normally attracts the entire village, staring unashamedly without even blinking an eyelid. The road is lined with villages and seldom do we pass someone without hearing “Hello friend” or “Where you going?” – as well as the occasional “What are you?”, “Who are you?”, or even “Why are you?”.

We made it to the small village of Balai Selasa just before the rain came down and there was just enough time for Ernest to go to one of the local stalls and pick up some more fried snacks, amongst other things. The room was as cheap as they come so we were surprised at the air conditioning, but soon discovered that it was only ornamental.

27 February 2010
Balai Selasa – Tapan
65km


Bathrooms in Indonesia come with squat toilet and a water reservoir (mandi), from which one can scoop water with a plastic bucket to flush the toilet and “shower”. I was, however, so hot that I submerged myself in the reservoir, something I’m sure you’re not supposed to do, but there I had my own tiny swimming pool. Fortunate they have a power shortage, and in general very low voltage globes in the rooms – it’s better not to see what else is floating in the water. Power cuts seem to be a general occurrence, even stopping the mosque mullah’s chorus in mid sentence!

It rained all night but by the time we were ready to leave it had cleared and we were on our way. The road turned inland over the hills again but at least we had some cloud cover for most of the day.

We found some unusual fruit along the road, one (markisa) was like a passion fruit but less watery and with a thick skin that one can peel off to eat the pulpy inside. The other fruit (salak, or snake fruit) has a tough scaly skin with 3 firm white segments inside, quite sweet and delicious with a faint mango flavour.

Soon the heavy rain came down and by the time we were soaked to the bone we arrived in the village of Tapan, where we opted for a room. Sopping wet and dripping with water it was surprising that the landlady even let us in. An interesting room without any glass in the windows, just shutters, the room looked clean but Ernest picked up a really bad eye infection, we think from the pillow (or the wash water in the bathroom “tank”).

28 February 2010
Tapan – Pasar Bantal
125km


The day started flattish but got progressively more hilly. We thought we were on the coastal road (meaning next to the ocean) but it was up and down hills through palm oil plantations, and it just carried on, and on, and on. One needed to pedal like the clappers down the hills to make it up the next steep one. The road was full of potholes and often broken up in the dips, so it was not always possible to get enough speed down the hill to carry you up the next one.

Fortunately we had some food along the way as it became a rather long day as we were unable to find an ATM to stock up with cash again. Ernest also had a really bad day as he couldn’t see out of his one eye, and the other one was also becoming infected. Late afternoon the rain came down as usual and making it hard to camp as the ground was flooded. In the pouring rain after dark we were offered camping space in a disused mosque at a small village; at least it was out the rain – and we discovered that the lights still worked! We boiled some salt water for Ernest to wash his eyes, ate our noodles, drank our coffee and then it was straight to bed – accompanied by many eager mozzies.

1 March 2010
Pasar Bantal - Ipuh
53km


The road continued up and down the steep hills, what a difficult ride it was. I felt short of energy and had difficulty with my smaller gears, not something you want on a ride with a million and ten steep hills. Up and down we went through oil palm plantations. Ernest struggled with his eyes and found it difficult to see, by now both eyes were virtually swollen shut.

We stopped in Ipuh but were unable to draw money, as the only ATM in town was out of order. We decided to take a room and I took the bus back (with my last money) to Mukomuka to where we saw an ATM, the previous day. Once there I was shocked to find that the ATM only took Master Card and not Visa (mine is unfortunately Visa). I was in near hysterics as now I had no cash whatsoever. The friendly man at the bank gave me 150 000 rupiah out of his wallet without blinking twice!! Can you believe that!! He did not even want to give me his name so I can repay him later. (I did however manage to get his name from one of the staff members at the bank). I will be forever grateful to that friendly man. It was enough money to get a bit to eat, take the bus back and pay for the room where Ernest was lying in a dark room with his eyes (obviously) closed. There was also enough money left to get a large amount of noodles to see us through to the next big town. I only got back to Ipuh at 10.30 that evening, hot, tired, hungry and thirsty. Ernest was not impressed, as he reckoned us worse off than before. Wow what a day, I would have dearly liked someone to offer me a cup of coffee instead.

At long last I could have a shower and change out of my dirty cycling clothes - I must have stank the people out of the bus, considering that I had not showered or changed my clothes in the previous two days.

2 March 2010
Ipuh – Ketahun
82km


The day did not start in a perfect way, after packing up Ernest discovered he had a flat tire (from a pothole the previous day). Instead of waiting I got on the road as it was already fairly late. Ernest is quite fast, in both fixing tyres and cycling and would catch up soon. Off I went up and down the notorious hills. If there is one thing I don’t enjoy, then it is slogging up steep hills in my granny gear at 5k/h and men on motorbikes pulling alongside wanting to know if I want to boom-boom, while pushing their thumb between their index and middle fingers. This only happens when I cycle on my own and never when Ernest is with. I gave them a mouthful and they took off on their motorbike.

By the time Ernest caught up it was already 16h00, so it wasn’t long before we pulled into a petrol station with a grassy patch where we were allowed to pitch camp. We ate the last of our noodles and drank our precious coffee and then it was off to bed. The tent was like a sauna and I would have loved to leave the fly sheet off but with all the usual spectators it’s not possible unless I want my every snore watched.

3/4/5/6/7 March 2010
Ketahun – Bengkulu
91km


I was on the road before Ernest even had his tent down. The road was not as hilly as the previous days but littered with potholes the size of small cars. I bounced my way along the poor road until after 60km I decided to wait for Ernest. The people are just so friendly along the way, always shouting “Hello Mister, how are you?” from far away. When you answer there is normally scores of hysterical laughter afterwards.

Ernest soon arrived (I had to go into the road to stop him, otherwise he wouldn’t have seen me) and we were on our way to Bengkulu. Once there the first thing was to find a working ATM. With money in my pocket, we headed for the nearest hotel, had a shower and found some food. A shower is definitely not something that’s overrated!! Hotel Samudera Dwinka was quite fancy but they had some cheap rooms at the back which were quite comfortable, large, on the ground floor and came with a fan and a back door as well as a hot water dispenser – for plenty of coffee. (The only difference between our room and most of the other rather expensive rooms was air conditioning and hot shower).