We are still battling the Indonesian stomach attack – Sam more than Shanna. We’ve made the decision to ride to the city of Surabaya – the second biggest city in Indonesia – and from there catch a train to Jakarta. This is the best thing for our health both in terms of recovering from the stomach bug, but also for the basic instinct of staying alive. Surabaya is 65km away and looks fairly easy to find on the GPS.
The condition of the road has improved and we’re able to do a good pace – around 30km/h. It feels like we’re flying down the road and when we stop for our first rest break we’ve made 25km. But to Sam it feels like we’ve gone further. He’s not retaining any carbs and his energy levels are rock bottom. His lays down on the concrete outside the convenience store and shuts his eyes, desperate for five minutes of sleep. But the honking horns put a stop to that dream.
We start riding again. There are signs to Surabaya and we follow them around a series of exits at major intersections. One of the signs (backed up by the GPS) points us down a toll road, but the booths are long abandoned and the road full of holes that could swallow us, so we guess it’s not a toll road anymore.
We continue our good pace. We overtake a guy with a cart and pony – the poor pony looks partly lame and we feel sad. Sam yells at the guy to look after the pony and get it re-shoed, but the man just laughs and waves as we pass.
We cross a bridge where the rain waters are gushing out towards the ocean, and all of a sudden our two lane highway is a one lane track with a village running down the middle. Shanna checks the GPS – it says to continue following the road. But the road ahead is blocked. We ask some locals who point us towards a dirt road full of rocks and holes. Scooters and trucks are heading down there but we’re not convinced that this is the road to Indonesia’s second biggest city. We check with some more locals who confirm it, then call out “Rupiah” in annoyed voices as we head down the track.
The traffic is moving slowly. It is one lane, traffic is trying to move in both directions, plus we’re trying to dodge the holes, or at least minimize the damage. We follow the track for about half an hour, still confused as to how we ended up on this road to get to Surabaya.
Eventually the traffic banks up and we’ve made it to the intersection with the main road again. A policeman and some locals are directing traffic – otherwise we would never get out of the side street. Even with the police trying to stop traffic on the main road it looks certain that some of the trucks won’t stop for us, but at the last second they do. It is quite exciting to join with all the other vehicles in getting back onto the road, and we laugh as we pick up the pace again.
Not far down the road there is a turn off to Surabaya again. Again, there are toll booths. This time, the booths seem to be operating and it is a real toll road. Our GPS is telling us to go that way, the signs are pointing that way, there are no other alternatives, and so we decide that is the way we’ll go. We quickly realize that although Indonesians don’t care for road rules, there is one rule that everyone knows – bikes can’t go on toll roads. We have people yelling at us from trucks, the side of the road and waving for us to pull over. But we’re not in the mood to try and find another way to go – one that is full of pot holes, horse-drawn carriages, manic motor bike drivers, rusty old bicycles, trucks honking us off the road, and a myriad of twists and turns. We want the direct road. The man in the toll booth is waving and smiling so we just pick up speed and head on through. Soon people are honking and waving out of their windows at us, some in encouragement of the renegade cyclists, others informing us of their presence in Indonesia... The road is one of the best we’ve seen in Indonesia, and we are mostly able to ride without braking and veering into the traffic to avoid holes, bumps, people, bikes, rickshaws and all manner of unique vehicles. We move quickly, eager to reach our destination.
We’re doing well until we see another toll booth up ahead. We hear yelling through the speaker system in a shrill, panicky female voice, and a hand in the ‘stop’ signal is extended out of the booth. We don't know were else to go and are exhausted, so we pick up speed and sail through again. This time the people in trucks around us laugh and give us the thumbs up. We’ve only got 10km to go and according to the GPS we will take the next exit. At the exit though we’re surprised to see more toll booths. None of this was on the GPS we muse...! We’ve come this far, so we decide to go with the strategy that has worked so far. We get through the first checkpoint, secretly riding close behind a truck but the next booth, 50m ahead is the one that does us in. Unfortunately this time there is a lot of traffic, and we get stuck in a queue, giving security time to come over and escort us to the side. We act the unknowing tourist – pointing to the GPS and showing how it said to ride to Surabaya. He says 'Polisi' and 'English', 'Polisi take you,' a few times and in clear English tells us to 'Wait here for Polisi.' He goes away to continue managing the traffic. We are left to wait for the police...
We double check the GPS – we want to turn left in just 500m and then we’re off the toll road. We look around, it seems no-one is watching us...and the Polisi don't seem to have arrived yet... We decide to make a run for it. We’ve heard about the police who need financial reasons to help you and considering we’re surrounded by toll roads we’re not sure what they would tell us to do anyway. We count to three together and, make a sudden take off. No one has seen us yet, we think, aside from the motorists that are laughing from their trucks and cars as we try to merge through the traffic and get to the side of the road. Adrenalin pumping, this is a challenge in itself, and we only just manage to squeeze through the hoards of traffic spilling from multiple lanes. We speed away and around the corner, but in case anyone is in pursuit we keep riding as fast as we can, legs in pain but adrenalin keeping us moving. We round another corner and suddenly we are on another freeway, panicking we look around us to realise there are now motorbikes on the road... are we safe, are they still coming for us our minds frantically wonder when suddenly a load of dirt falls off the back of a truck and into Shanna's eyes, stinging and blinding her. Blinded and in pain she keeps on riding, hearing Sam yell 'turn to your left and stop...NOW'; she blindly follows, collapsing and crying into a busy city alleyway, the tears washing the dirt from her eyes, the relief of having gotten away washing over her, it seems the chase is over. Diarrhea still trying to overtake Sam's resitance, the rush is now on to find a toilet, and we take the first little laneway we find. We feel safe again. And it seems, we’ve made it to Surabaya.
We weave through a myriad of small streets before rejoining the main road – a massive four lane highway that is bursting with traffic and barely moving. After all the small villages we’ve been in, we weren’t expecting such a major city. A few kilometers down the road we spot KFC and happily pull in for some refreshment. As we leave KFC the rain starts bucketing down again. The GPS says there is a hotel just 500m up ahead so we keep riding. We see it on the left and pull in. It’s not flash but we can get a room with air-con and its own bathroom, the place has Wifi, plus the rain is pouring down, so we decide to stay.
We are amazed at how much rain falls during the afternoon. The hotel paths are flooded and we’re worried about our things. We make sure our possessions are up off the ground and decide to go for a walk in the rain. It is pouring but we laugh as we splash though puddles. The massive gutters are full of gushing water and it seems as if the streets will soon flood.
Sam and Shanna Evans are from Melbourne, Australia