Saddle sore and weary. Saddle sores are easily the most painful and debilitating aspect of cycle touring. I haven’t mentioned them -and I know many won’t want to hear about them, in some time because for the past few weeks I’ve had no problem, – but this evening the curse of the cycle tourer returned with a vengeance! There’s so much conflicting advice on how to prevent and treat saddle sores. -Use ointments/don’t use them? Wear two pairs of shorts? Keep changing saddle position? Spin for a while every few kilometres, to get your bum off the saddle? I’ve tried lots of these solutions but nothing works. The only gem of advice which is definitely sound is to ensure that your cycling shorts are clean and dry. With so much torrential rain recently, keeping anything dry been very difficult. Then last night, I washed my shorts in seawater and this was a big mistake. -Because for the last 50 km of today’s cycle, I wasn’t able to sit on the saddle at all, the pain was so bad. My morning at the little fishing port was very pleasant. I had breakfast with the fishermen and listen to them debating whether they should go fishing today or not. Unfortunately they decided that it was too windy so there was no fishing for me this morning. I was very conscious of the fact that this was probably going to be my last morning with the fishermen as I’m heading inland now, away from the coast and definitely won’t be taking a mountainous coastal route in Java. I knew that the route inland to the port would be quite difficult. I’d already traversed the big mountain range which runs from the north to the south of Sumatra. Now I was going to have to do it again, this time from the west to the east coast. There were two horrendous ascents, both over 1500m. These would have been difficult even on a good day, but after 10 days of continuous climbing on the rollercoaster coastal route, both could only be described as being tortuous. Then to add to my woes it was raining heavily for most of the day and as usual the road surface was dreadful and the bends too sharp to be able to enjoy the descents. Several times I had to clear fallen trees from the road and there were many diversions into the jungle because of mudslides. Then to put a nail in this coffin of misery, my arse was literally in shreds by the time I got to the top of the second summit! However, there were some positive outcomes today. I met an adventure cyclist from Java called Yanni and we stopped for a chat on a steep slope. This short meeting motivated me to power onwards and upwards. Then, at the top of the final climb, I was feeling quite nauseous and stopped for a break at a petrol station. There, I met a brother and sister who were very friendly and helpful, giving me lots of useful advice about finding accommodation and making my way to the port near Bandar Lampung. So, unable to sit in the saddle, I had to spin for the entire final 40 km or so into the town where I found a really nice clean and comfortable hotel at an affordable price. There, I was amazed to see that the cooler in the lobby was full of cans of Guinness, -the first time I’ve seen this in Indonesia. Needless to say I rewarded myself for my hard day on and off the saddle with a few of them. It was easy to find a decent restaurant, where I got chatting to some local lads who were keen photographers. They seemed to think that I’d make a good subject for a project they’re doing and are meeting me for a photo shoot at my hotel , very early tomorrow morning. Now where’s that tub of Sudocream?
Java, – the land of volcanoes and arguably the best coffee in the world…..Yes, I’ve left Sumatra and my ferry has just docked at the port of Mekat at the northern tip of Java. Java is the biggest and most populous of the Indonesian Archipelago, 1,200k in length with the capital Jakarta in the north and the popular (but now volcano bound) island of Bali only 50k to the south. It’s the only part of Indonesia that I knew anything about before Gogodermo as I once studied demographics here as part of a college Geography course a long time ago. In any case I’m really looking forward to exploring another exotic destination. It was such a relief for once not to be climbing again today. The road from Permangillan, where I was staying last night to the port at Bakauheni was almost completely flat except for a bit of a sting on the final 50k. However it seems that the past ten days of continuous ‘rollercoastering’ have made me a stronger climber and this final steep ascent was a cinch. It was a great feeling to be able to power along all day at 25k per hour on a good, straight flat road, with a bit of tailwind behind me and best of all with an arse I could sit on. It looks as though the Sudocream I applied last night did the trick! I took only one break today at the provincial capital of Bandar Lampung about 70k into the day, where I had my usual lunchtime treat of noodles and a large bottle of Coke, enough to fuel me until I reached the port. Bandar Lampung is a big, busy city with lots of one way streets and I was glad to have MAP ME to navigate my way through. Even the kids shouting at me wasn’t a problem today. I enjoyed waving and answering their friendly greetings.-“Good morning, Meester” -I get this at all hours of the day -and night. “How are you?” “We love you, Meester!” When I’m feeling strong, it’s such a joy to hear this and answer back. “Good morning to you. I love you too!” When I’m feeling stressed or exhausted as I was on yesterday’s climbs, this shouting drives me crazy. Then, when I don’t respond to their greetings they shout louder, sounding offended “Meester! Please talk to me.” Sometimes I preempt the situation by waving and shouting before they get a chance- “Hello, How are you? I love you too!” I do this especially when I’m cycling through towns or passing groups of children going to and from school. This royal waving would seem like stupid behavior anywhere else but they love it here in Indonesia! So, after 150k of easy riding and much royal waving, I reached the port of Bakauheni just as darkness was falling. It was somewhat alarming to see a ferry pulling out of the harbour as I made the long descent into the port. -I really wanted to reach Java this evening!
But the ferry service to Java leaves every two hours all day and night, so I was able to buy a ticket, (costing only €5) enjoy a big fish supper at one of the many stalls near the harbour and then load Karolina onto the 8.00pm ferry. I really love traveling by sea and the Indonesian ferry experience is quite unique. The boat is quite modern but everywhere on deck, groups of people are cooking on little stoves and enjoying their food. In the place where you’d expect to find a bar, there’s a mosque and as you have to expect everywhere in SE Asia, there’s the dreadful ubiquitous Karaoke Lounge, where young men queue up to sing, even though they can’t! The 100k sea voyage took two hours so it was very late when we docked and I found a grotty little seaman’s hotel overlooking the harbour at Mekat at a very good price. Now it’s time to think seriously about my options for getting out of Indonesia to Australia. It seems that the eruption of the Bali volcano is showing no sign of abating. If I go there my chances of getting a flight out are looking very slim at the moment so I may have to exit Indonesian sooner than I’d expected. I won’t make that decision until I reach Jakarta.
The descent into hell
Cycling in heavy rain can be quite exhilarating, even when the downpours are torrential and lasting for an hour or so. City cycling can also provide a bit of a buzz, at least while the novelty lasts as you test your skills dodging your way through the traffic, Today, I spent the entire day cycling in the most congested traffic I’ve ever experienced while the tropical rain bucketed down relentlessly. A day from hell and one I’d prefer to forget! Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia is only 120k, ‘as the crow flies’, from Mekat, the port where I stayed last night. There’s a new motorway linking the two cities but obviously I couldn’t cycle on that and so ended up on the old main road which zig zags its way back and forth across the motorway for 140k or so. I’d left my especially grim and grotty hotel at 8.00am, hoping to get to Jakarta early, -maybe even do a bit of sightseeing this afternoon. But it just wasn’t to be today. It appears that the city of Jakarta has sprawled out over a huge area forming one massive conurbation straddling the motorway. Mekat, 120k to the west is part of this sprawl and I’m told that it continues for a similar distance to the east. With a population of over 20 million people it’s something of a ‘monster city’, heavily polluted, massively congested and lacking essential infrastructure. As a simple country boy, Jakarta is most definitely not the kind of place I want to spend a day cycling through. I’d estimated that the cycle today would take 6 hours and that I’d arrive in the city centre nice and relaxed for a night on the town. In reality it took nearly 12 hours and my nerves were in tatters by the time I arrived. The first 50k was just about tolerable. The torrential rain was fun for a while but when I saw the sewage flowing along the street under me, the novelty soon wore off. The whole city seemed to be on the move. I noticed that the motorway was relatively free of traffic but this main road was chaotic with cars, busses, trucks and literally millions of motorcycles competing for very limited space. I couldn’t judge the depth of the many potholes and it was difficult to dodge them with so much traffic. Many, many times, I just had to cycle into the enormous pools, hoping that I’d come out unscathed, There were plenty of wobbles and close calls but thankfully nothing serious. And so it got steadily worse and worse throughout the day. It was like Dante’s inferno, -a descent into hell! At one point, the traffic moved less than a km in one hour with diesel fumes filling the air, horns beeping impatiently and the deluge all around me. Cyclists are at the bottom of the order of priority here and nobody gives them the slightest regard or respect. There are a few bus lanes but today, at least they were thronged with cars and trucks, just like the other lanes. I wished I was back in the jungle. Even tortuous climbing, painful saddle sores and angry primates were more tolerable than this! Miraculously, I’d managed to keep Iphy dry but her battery died as I crawled closer to the city centre where my hostel was located, into the chaotic darkness, reaching it eventually, -a very stressed and disgruntled drowned rat, at about 8.00pm. I quickly found a bar which served lots of unusual beers, where I sank quite a few while my phone was charging and my nerves were unraveling. MAP ME proved it’s worth again by directing me, who by now was feeling slightly woozy on the shortest possible route to my destination, -Teduh Hostel, about 4K from the bar. ‘Teduh’. What an oasis of calmness and civility in a sea of chaos! I was welcomed warmly, shown to my immaculately clean dorm, had a warm shower, -the first in several weeks (most budget Asian hotels have very primitive shower facilities) and spent what was left of the evening chilling with the most eclectic international group of guests. They’ve come from all quarters of the globe to be here and there’s even a fellow Paddy, a really great guy called Max from Donegal. After several weeks of the same conversation in pidgin English, it’s overwhelmingly wonderful to engage meaningfully with the human race. And the icing on the cake,-there’s plenty of beer in the fridge…… I really should be on my bike early tomorrow morning, heading to Bali. But I’m not going to do that. Tomorrow will be a real day of rest at Teduh. No running around doing repairs, just good old fashioned chilling…. Bali and the rest of Java can wait!
Ding dong merrily
What a difference a day makes! I arrived in Jakarta like a drowned rat, nerves shattered by cycling through heavy traffic, saddle sore and weary. After spending a day of rest and recuperation at the wonderful Teduh Hostel, I’m leaving refreshed and looking forward to my journey through Java. Many things about this little oasis have woven their magic on me, -the wonderful companionship of fellow travelers, cleanliness, and in a bizarre way, -Christmas carols. I slept really well in my little pod in the huge dormitory. It was such a relief waking up, safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to be cycling today. There was a wonderful breakfast available, treats like Coco Pops and toast,- delicacies which I hadn’t eaten in quite some time. While enjoying breakfast, I was sent drifting off on a sea of nostalgia and memories by the dulcet tones of Bing Crosby,- “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas, just like….” I know from Facebook that the Western World is already fully absorbed in the Yuletide spirit, but in SE Asia, there are no signs that Santa’s revving up in the North Pole at all,- During the month of November, there was no tinsel, no sleigh bells, no carols. And I really missed them all! Then, this morning, tears filled my cereal bowl as angels sang sweetly o’er the plain. I miss so much about this time of year in the West,-the ritual of ‘sourcing’ the Christmas trees, the music, the family, the togetherness…. International hostels in faraway places can provide a ‘surrogate’ family to the lonely traveler. Today, I was Grandfather to an enthusiastic group of young German, Canadian and Spanish friends as we wandered around the crowded streets of Jakarta, doing silly touristy stuff, sipping coffee, eating street food, entertaining the locals-Ana, the Spanish girl worked as a clown in Barcelona and was great fun to be with. There were no shortage of attractions in the area, -markets, mosques, and museums, but I became tired quickly of being a tourist and went back to the hostel to chill and blog. Later in the evening there was a bit of a session with plenty of beer and even an old fashioned sing song. My arm was twisted to have a blast at ‘Wild Rover’. Unfortunately, I won’t be returning to Ireland with “gold in great store” but far better, with a treasure trove of precious memories.
In praise of bicycles in general and Karolina in particular.
MAP ME didn’t pretend that the escape from Jakarta was going to be any easier than was the entrance into it. Today, there was at least another 100k of ‘urban sprawl’ to negotiate to the east of the city centre. I decided to wait until the morning rush hour was over before taking on the great escape and spent a few hours chilling at the hostel, saying goodbye to the many friends I’d made there. I was especially taken with a lovely duo from Montreal, Adrien and Adrienne, who were so sweet, so helpful and so encouraging. They are among a small group of very special people I’ve met on this trip and I just know our paths will cross again! But departure as usual was inevitable and eventually after much faffing about, off I went running the gauntlet into the mid morning traffic. Immediately for no apparent reason, I began to ponder on the magnificence of the humble bicycle as a means of transport and in particular on my good fortune to have chosen Karolina as the trusty steed to bear me on this wonderful odyssey. I soon discovered that there’s no such thing as ‘rush hour’ in Jakarta. The traffic is chaotic all day long! It was bumper to bumper and mudguard to mudguard for the first few hours and progress was painfully slow. But at least it was dry and better still, there was a fresh, gusty tailwind pushing me along. Isn’t the humble bicycle such an amazing piece of human ingenuity? I’ve become mesmerised by the ability of a simple piece of machinery to propel the pedaller for such phenomenal distances in such an efficient manner. Nothing more complicated than a metal frame, some cogs, a chain, two wheels and the world becomes your oyster. No distance is impossible! No place is inaccessible! Of course there’s bicycles and there’s bicycles…I’ve ridden bicycles which I hated, – bicycles which were uncomfortable, bicycles which always punctured, bicycles whose frames fell apart….. But, Karolina! What a queen among bicycles, -everything the gentlemen cyclist could wish for, – strong, forgiving, capable of roughing it when necessary, dependable, beautiful in a mechanical way and I’m going to say it because I know you’re thinking it, -a. great ride! So, my Queen Karolina carried me through the traffic and the awful roadworks outside Jakarta towards Bali. There were a few hairy moments. Once, quite early in the morning, I got totally lost in the middle of the most complicated ‘spaghetti junction’ I’ve ever seen. Even MAPME was overwhelmed and kept changing her route. She couldn’t provide a safe way out. But the ‘long arm of the law’ once again showed its more caring side and I was given a police motorcycle escort from the chaos of the spaghetti junction to the busy but safe highway to Karawang. I love the sound of the place names in Java. ‘The word ‘Jakarta’ itself evokes its own magic and today I cycled through the suburbs of Jangalang and Bangdang in order to reach my destination, a pleasant suburb called Karawang, about 120 k from Jakarta and just outside the city limits. With the help of MAPME , I found a grand little cheap and clean hotel where I can have a good rest before settling off into the Javan countryside tomorrow. I’m looking forward to seeing rural Java, outside of Jakarta. It seems to be more developed and less Islamic than Sumatra. It was easy to get a beer this evening. I’m also looking forward to pushing Karolina to some big 160k plus days in order to reach Bali and get out of Indonesian before the volcanic eruption causes another airport closure. Australia, here we come!
A McGyver Moment
Who remembers McGyver, -the guy from the 80’s TV series? He was able to find solutions to all sorts of tricky life or death situations through improvisation and his speciality was the use of everyday things like duct tape, matches and of course his trusty Swiss Army Knife. I don’t pretend to be an expert on bicycle repair but I was pretty chuffed with my McGyver moment today. I was looking forward to another big mileage day with Pekalongan, 160k to the east as the target destination but unfortunately I only achieved a little more than half that distance today. Breakfast at the salubrious Diwanti Hotel was generous and quite delicious with many Indonesian delicacies I’d never had before. So it wasn’t easy to force myself onto Karolina and set off into the morning heat and heavy traffic. The temperature rose to 40 degrees, the hottest it’s been since I entered SE Asia, but at least it wasn’t raining and the prevailing wind continued to work its magic. I had no problem powering along at 25k per hour. Then, just a few km from the point where I was hoping to have morning coffee, I heard a curious noise from the front wheel and then the brakes began to rub, bringing me to a sudden halt. At first I thought that Karolina was losing spokes or that we were having our first puncture. But close examination of the wheel showed that the inner tube was bulging out through a 10cm crack on the rim on the wheel. I’d never seen anything like this before I don’t know if it was caused by over inflation of the tyre or just material fatigue,-this wheel had survived 20,000k on some very dodgy roads so I suppose something like this was inevitable. So what could I do? There was no bike shop nearby. I could try to get back to Ciberon, where I was last night, 50k way. No way was I doing that! I could wait for tomorrow and get a bus to Tegal, another 50k to the east, I knew I’d get a new wheel there but would then have to come back to where I was and continue from there, that would waste another full day…. Or maybe, I could improvise some sort of repair and continue to cycle to Tegal instead of taking the bus tomorrow. The improvised repair involved deflating the tyre, wrapping the damaged section tightly with an inner tube, securing this with duct tape and inflating just enough to allow me to cycle but not enough to have the tube bulge through the wrapping. It looked fairly rough (see pic) and it certainly made for a painfully slow bumpy ride, but after a quick Coke break-I was pumping sweat all morning, we limped onwards, reaching Tegal, 55k away 3 hours later. Finding a bicycle shop which stocked decent wheels wasn’t easy. Leisure cycling isn’t popular at all here and most shops stock only cheap Chinese kids bikes and replacement parts for rickshaws. When I eventually found what I was looking for the owner refused to sell me just a front wheel. He insisted on selling them as a pair, at Rs.2 million! That’s €120 for the pair. The back wheel was still fine but what could I do? Then, I found out that the mechanic had gone off duty so the repair would have to wait until tomorrow morning. More time wasting! By now it was getting dark so I left Karolina in the bike shop and found a good, clean, cheap hotel. Another problem emerged at the ATM. Every time I tried to withdraw cash, I was refused despite the fact that I’d adequate funds in my account. I couldn’t contact my bank nor could anyone in the hotel, but I desperately needed cash to pay for the hotel and the repair. Once again, I decided to go to the Police for help. Several times recently I’ve found that this is the best solution when I was in trouble. PO Wedi couldn’t have been more helpful. Not only did he allow me to use his office, phone and wifi, but when, after an hour of trying to contact the bank and eventually having the account unblocked, he brought me on his motorbike to an ATM and then to an international hotel for a drink. I needed one to settle my nerves. When I got back to the hotel where I was staying, the manager treated me to a wonderful meal in her newly opened, European ‘vintage style ‘ restaurant. A real treat after a difficult and very stressful day.
A laughing stock
There’s so much that I love about Indonesia, verdant jungle, unspoilt beaches, smiling children, coconuts, helpful policemen, and of course the fishermen. There are also a several things about Indonesia that are driving me crazy as I get closer to Australia. After spending two weeks here, I’m really tired of trying to bridge the huge gulf that lies between my culture and the culture of Islam. Every day here begins very early with a sustained chorus of mournful wailing from a nearby mosque. And the whole day is punctuated at regular intervals by the now familiar plaintive strains. You’re never very far away from a mosque in Indonesia so there’s no escaping it and while I found the sound exotically oriental two weeks ago, it’s really getting on my nerves right now. So much so that late in the evenings, when I’m on the edge of exhaustion. The difficulty of obtaining a decent beer in the evenings is really getting on my wick too. People who know me well will testify that normally, I’m a fairly patient and generally a very tolerant guy, but two nights ago I was close to blowing a fuse when, after an hour of fruitless enquiries and several refusals, the messenger boy eventually brought me back two bottles of very poor beer at room temperature, and that’s 35 degrees at the moment. This, despite the fact that I’d paid him well and I’d done lots of animated shivering and pointing to the fridge to ensure that he clearly understood that I wanted a really cold beer. I was shocked by my own vitriol! This morning my patience was tested again. The bike shop owner had assured me that Karolina would be repaired and ready for departure by 9.30am. I thought this a little late myself but didn’t complain and was at the shop this morning in plenty of time. As I expected, she wasn’t ready, the work hadn’t even started. No, the mechanic hadn’t arrived yet. No, I wasn’t allowed to fit the wheels myself. “And could you pay now please Meester? Two million rupiahs Meester please. And no, Meester, I can’t accept payment by debit card…” I was hopping mad. All of the bike shop owners I’d met up to now had been most accommodating and generous. I’d never yet been charged for labour. But I could see this guy’s eyes registering the dollars as new items were added to the bill. The rear tyre was worn so I needed a replacement. The front brake pads were worn. The new wheels took ‘presta’ type tyres so I needed two new ones and two spares…And so it continued as my patience evaporated and the bill mounted, necessitating another exasperating trip to the ATM. The bill was now standing at 2,500,000 rupiahs, nearly €150! When I looked angry and complained about being ripped off, the owner and his team of mechanics fell around the place laughing at me. It’s great that they’re so good humoured, but it’s exasperating when they’re practically pissing themselves laughing hysterically, when they can surely see that your blood is boiling. Anyway, a few deep breaths and a litre and a half of Coke later, and I was off again, at about 10.30am, determined to put in some big mileage after yesterday’s shortened day. My target destination was Semarang, a full 180k to the East. With a late start and very high temperatures again today it was going to be a big ask to get there before dark. I hammered the first two 50k sections, easily pushing 25k per hour with a good tailwind behind me. To be fair also, Karolina seemed to really appreciate the TLC she’d been given at the bike shop and she powered along like the well oiled machine that she most definitely is. I even began to feel guilty about being angry with the guys in the shop and was able to laugh at my foolishness. I surprised myself when I joined in with some of the now, very melodic warbling which was wafting from a roadside mosque! At Pekalongan, where I took a short lunch break, I’d an important decision to make. Semerang was still 80 k away and there were only two and a half hours of daylight left. There were no towns with hotel accommodation between where I’d stopped and Semerang so it was either another very short day….or I could hammer the next 50k while there was still light and take it easy on the final 30k in the dark into Semerang. It certainly wasn’t easy and I’m pretty knackered now after arriving here at 8.00pm but I’ve settled nicely into a grand little hotel in the centre of town and am looking forward to a lovely snooze.