Riding in the wet season
The heat is killing us. Each day the air is stifling and we are covered in a layer of sweat unlike anything we’ve experienced in Australia. The sweat forms pools in the crevices of our elbows and drips through the dirt that cakes our legs. We decide to spend half the day relaxing at an internet café and ride in the late afternoon, when the temperature drops significantly.
We spend a blissful couple of hours updating our website, catching up on facebook and researching ferries from Jakarta. But before we’re ready to leave the power and internet go off. The café quickly empties but we’re reassured that this doesn’t happen all the time, and when it does things are back to normal in 20 minutes. We’ve got the laptop so we keep typing, but after 45 minutes we’re told the power won’t be back until 4pm. With no internet we decide to ride after all.
The roads are terrible. Massive potholes, rocks, different surface textures… we’re constantly weaving around the holes and trying to avoid any overturning jolts. It’s impossible to build up any speed. On top of this, the trucks, buses and cars seem to be particularly determined to kill us. Despite it being one lane in each direction, they’re overtaking three abreast and well and truly coming onto the shoulder on our side of the road. As we weave around the massive holes in the road we’re also concentrating on traffic in both directions. No one cares about rules and the lives of two strange white people. They beep at us to move out of their way, the locals still yell at us for attention, school children and teenage girls laugh at us, teenage boys yell out in Indonesian what we can only guess to be insults based on the mirthful laughter of their peers.
We check the GPS phone and look for a train station. Nothing nearby. We have to keep riding until we hit another city.
Storm clouds have gathered and big rain drops start to fall. Scooters are pulling over and people are pulling on rain jackets, but we welcome the cool relief. The fields next to the road are already flooded almost up to the road, and the thunder indicates a lot more rain is coming. We’ve only done 40km, but the weather makes the choice for us. We decide to stop at the next hotel we see to recover mentally and plan our future course.
Just as the rain starts pouring down we pull into a fancy looking hotel with Wifi and a reasonably priced café menu. We shower and order a feast – rice, chicken, veggies, a burger, soup… we haven’t eaten all day our nerves are fragile. As we sit on the internet waiting for our food the storm rages outside. The power goes out, but the hotel is prepared and turns on a noisy generator. We sit in a haven of light while the bikes and scooters and cars and trucks continue to move around outside without any street lighting and most without any lighting on their vehicle. After waiting 45 minutes they come to get our food order again. We are angry but they speak no English so we can’t communicate to them that the food should already be here. We have no choice but to keep waiting.
Our food comes out and we eat to the sounds of bad karaoke upstairs – a service they provide for the wealthy businessmen who stop here. We go to bed early but throughout the night Sam is disturbed by the sounds of drunk people being escorted back to their cars and scooters where they drive away. Exhausted, Shanna sleeps well.
Difficulty- Sam 9 Shanna 8
Weather- light rain
Awake at 6am and the sweat is already pouring from my body. The tiny archaic air-conditioner making a loud noise in the corner of the room is doing nothing, and the heat is oppressive. Laying there I can’t help but think about our first day in Java and wonder if it will be the same for the next 1000+ kilometers. What if it is, what if the crowds never stop, the people never stop yelling, all needing or demanding an answer to their ‘hello Mr’s’ or cries of amazement, laughter or bemusement. What if the constant honking never stops, the heat never ceases, the array of hopeful suitors never cease their attentions or the food never changes?
We cool ourselves with a small bucket of water in the decrepit, grimy bathroom and the feeling of the cold water washing over my body is exquisite, cleansing and instantly refreshing, but I try not to let the water enter my mouth, my stomach already feels queasy and I’m wondering if today is the day our resistance gives way.
Back on our bikes and we soon realize that that day has come. Frantically searching for a bathroom, (not as easy as you might think when you are in the backwoods of Java) we finally locate one just before our powers of resistance are embarrassingly about to give way. Attempting to squat, with tired legs over a grubby pan the steaming pungent stinky liquid explodes with an embarrassing cacophony of noises.
I hear what I think is laughter… I turn the tap on, the sound of the running water is comforting, and it hides things. Removing my shorts (for those who don’t know toilet paper is only used here in café’s or restaurants as serviette) I fill a bucket in the corner with water and pour it down the hole, it doesn’t work so I try again. This time the mess goes down the hole, most of it anyway, a few more bucketfuls, in the hole and on myself and back on go the shorts (all the while careful to stand on my thongs). The water runs down my legs, my shorts are a little wet, but it feels nice in an odd way, kind of like using a bidet but a little more real...lol
My stomach is still queasy, and so is Shanna’s, but we buy some cold drinks from a roadside shack and tentatively get back on our leather bike seats. In an hour we find a roadside café and eat some rice, we have to eat, we have no energy and laying down while drinking flat lemonade in an air-conditioned room (what we would have done at home) is not an option. Stomach’s still funky, we lay down in a hut beside the café constructed from Bamboo and tin, and eventually fall asleep despite the honking of horns and the screaming of motorbike engines revved to there limit. A short sleep but a delicious one, sharply awoken by the sound of screeching honking trucks.
Over the next few hours we stop three times in various locales to find places to relieve our bowels. We haven’t gone far and our energy is depleted, most of my carbs I presume are in various holes across the Javanese countryside… But at about 3pm a storm approaches, the sun is covered in dark cloud and the temperature drops. Weak and tired or not, this is an opportunity we can’t miss. Over the next 3 hours despite our whining bowels we ride 65km, and as the dark begins to take over the light we desperately search for a hotel. During the morning, when we refused to stop we saw many, but now, even approaching a city and we cannot find a single one. We stop at a traffic light, urgently scanning the streets, trying to ignore the questioning faces when we hear a ‘hello Mr. how can I help you.’ Trying to hide the desperation in our voices I ask him very slowly if he knows were a hotel is. “Yes Mr. he says, hotel jus’ down her’, you go der’, dey very good dere.’ ‘Thank you very much,’ we reply.
This time it was clean, a hotel with a white sheet, a luxury we never realised we would seek. The girl at the desk spoke very good English, astonishingly good and we wanted her to know but it seemed that no amount of 'terimah kase's' could do it justice. The hotel was out of rooms with aircon so we had to make do with a small fan pushing the hot air around the room. We filled the small bucket with cold water over and over and over again, and let the water wash over our tired bodies, peeling back the grease and grime, feeling in that moment a sense of achievement unlike we had yet felt, an inner satisfaction that needed no words.
Exhausted, and covered in lathers of sweat, the heat, the noise and the bed conspiring to make sleep a contest; yet inwardly smiling, content.
One white duck
Difficulty- Sam 6 Shanna 6
Weather- hot and sunny, cloudy & cooler in the late afternoon
We were ready to start our first full day of riding in Java but we needed to find some food. We ate some bananas we had left from a roadside stall and set off to find food.
We rode past a school and it was clear that we were an unusual site. The students and teachers gathered at the fence to watch us ride past and yell out "Hello Mister" and "Where you from?" at the top of their lungs. Each one hoped for a personal acknowledgement of their greeting.
We stopped at a small shop hoping to find some Nasi Goreng but found donuts instead. As we ate the two ladies tried to talk to us, but they knew as much English as we knew Indonesian, so we didn't get very far. They called out to their neighbours who came over, the younger girl able to speak some English. Through them we were able to talk a bit about where we were from and what we were doing. A small crowd of friends gathered to be part of the fun and when we left we were told to come back next time we visited Bali.
We quickly found some real food and cold drinks when we stopped at the food kiosk at a big service station. The sauce was very spicy though and it was hard to force ourselves to eat enough to have the energy to keep going.
We had chosen to follow the coast road to the north of the country. Java is made up of volcanos and mountains so our reasoning was that the coast road would be the flattest. But as we followed the road, it was heading towards a mountain. We hoped the road would steer around the bottom but it soon became apparent that we were headed up.
As we pumped our legs up the hill we were overtaken by trucks and cars on narrow sections of road, each one honking and calling out to us. Sometimes it was friendly but sometimes it was so insistent it seemed hostile.
As we climbed the hill it became apparent that something was going on - all the cars and trucks were stopped. We rode past them and were amazed when the queue kept going for kilometres. At the top of the hill there were roadworks happening - right on the summit stopping traffic from both directions from getting through. We were waved through with smiles and a few "Hello Mister!"s only to notice that the queue on the other side of the hill was even longer. These people must have been sitting there for hours waiting to get through. It was as if the whole NE corner of Java had been stopped by the roadworks. Luckily we were able to sail past everyone on our bikes.
The condition of the roads up to this point and for the next couple of days proved inconsistent. Sometimes the surface was smooth and we sailed along at speeds of over 30km/h. Other times it was bumpy with massive potholes we couldn't miss and our bikes shook at the impact. On our second day in Java Sam realised one of his wheels was slightly buckled, but there was nothing we could do except redistribute weight and commit to reducing weight even further when we had our next rest day.
As we rode on our first full day in Java the sun beat down on us so when a man rode up beside us and offered us a rest in him home we happily accepted - also because he was the first person who spoke good English we'd come across in Java. He said it was 1km to his home but about 4km later we finally arrived.
We sat in his cool home and met his family. As they fed us a strange pink soup that had pieces of bread floating in it he said we could spend the night if we wanted, and also requested us to come to the Islamic school with him where he taught English, so we could speak to the students. We politely declined on both counts, stating that we needed to keep moving. We ate as little of the pink soup as possible. Not only was the taste offensive to our western pallets, but it had chunks of ice floating in it which we were certain would be from the tap. The cold water he gave us to drink also had the distinct taste of coming from the tap, not the bottle.
The man seemed to invite all his friends and family to come and "see" us. We had many curious faces look through the doors and windows at us as the man sat there, proud as punch, telling us it was his hobby to make friends. He even had a big gold and purple ring which he said had nothing to do with his marriage, but rather it had magical powers to help people like him.
While in the home Shanna asked to use the toilet and the man nodded his understanding of the question and spoke to his wife in Indonesian, presumably to take Shanna to the toilet. The wife led Shanna to a room out the back without a door, which just went around a corner. Seeing no toilet in there Shanna asked the woman if it was the toilet and she smiled and nodded. It seemed to be the bathroom. It looked a lot like Wayan's family's bathroom, only without the toilet. Thinking that not all families must have a toilet, Shanna squatted over the drain and peed. She tipped some water from the bucket to wash it down the drain and walked back out. On her way back into the house she saw another little room off to the side - this one with a toilet in it.
Back on the road the stares from men grew even worse – boys and men on bikes would ride slowly behind Shanna, smiling as they went past when Sam yelled at them to keep moving. Surprisingly, although many women wear muslim headwear, they always smile approvingly at me and nod that they are pleased.
We've had many good experiences with the people too. One that first afternoon Sam spent some time yelling "Bonjour" to everyone who called out to us, with the logic that "Hello" was too simple and he wanted to make them think. Sometimes he would just ride through a town yelling "Bonjour" to everyone before they even had a chance to yell out to us.
Once we'd done 90km on that first day it was time to find a hotel. We hadn't seen one for about 70km so needless to say that the first one we saw, we went in and paid for a room. It was a ghetto hotel. The worst we had experienced yet. There was no fan, and the rattling old air-conditioner seemed to do nothing. We spent about an hour trying to kill all the mosquitoes only to realise there was a big gap under the door that we needed to plug. So we used the towel they'd given us. For dinner that night we ate the Indonesian equivalent of two minute noodles from the small grocery store across the road, using hot water the land lady provided us with.
Following the pink soup and hot water, we both went to sleep wondering what the morning would bring.
Quick update from somewhere on Java
Sorry there have been no recent posts - there is limited internet so far on Jave. But as we near Jakarta (only about 900km to go) hopefully we'll see more.
We spent two days riding to the ferry terminal in Bali then caught a ferry to Java. The past two days in Java have been HOT!!! Luckily the north coast road that we are taking has been fairly flat, hills are a killer in this heat.
We are sick of cars beeping at us, men oggling at Shanna like she was Jennifer Hawkins riding in a bikini and sick of Nasi Goreng! But the people are so friendly and the landscape beautiful - more stories and photos coming soon!
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia