Having left New Zealand we got to Jakarta and instantly noticed a subtle difference. There were cars, trucks and motorbikes on the road – millions of the bastards! The first few days we spent trying to organise our visas for China, and realised this was not a simple task. After 3 visits to the visa office, and filling out the form about 6 times, we finally managed to submit our applications and passports. Though it usually takes 4 days, we had to leave our passports with the Embassy for the next 2 weeks due to the end of Ramadan and the start of a long holiday; so we would have to wait. In the meantime, we would cycle. To see us off and bid us a safe journey were a lovely Indonesian cycling couple who took us out for a delicious dinner and es kopyor (iced coconut drinks with shaved coconut slices).
Jakarta to Cicurug
The next day we were excited to get out of the smoggy, polluted and busy streets of Jakarta and start a new cycle touring journey. We headed for the hiils and out to Bogor, not really ever knowing when the big city ended and a new town began. It was hot, humid and seemed pretty polluted, with river banks of rubbish bordering the chocolate rivers. And for Day 1, we were stuck behind traffic. With every vehicle wiggling its way into any inch of empty space, there was no room to budge and no space except for fumes. Although we were both happy to be back on the bikes, this was far from a cycling utopia.
Ramadan was still in full swing, but we never really felt the need to hide away when we grabbed for our water bottles or whatever food we could find – it was pretty clear we were different. Plus, when we noticed others eating and drinking, we were put at ease.
An attempt at getting off a main road, we diverted through some smaller towns, but just as congested, with bikes and trucks chugging up and down the hills coughing out plumes of nasty black smoke, which we inhaled as we gasped for breath as we went up and down the side of a volcano in a relentless heat. With no view of the volcano, we just seemed to be enveloped in a haze of smog.
Desperate to finish and find a hotel, we first headed to the Lido Lakes Resort – it sounded posh and thought it would be too expensive. Bus loads of local tourists seemed to be in the area, so we assumed this place might be popular. I was pretty surprised when the price seemed reasonable, so I asked if I could see the room first…an instant aura of damp hit me…then disgust as I turned to look at the bathroom. Not a chance we were staying here, we would have to carry on cycling.
Luckily, another few kilometres up the road we found a slightly more pleasant hotel, decked out with Christmas decorations and a Christmas tree (it’s mid June). The normalities of a Northern Hemisphere Christmas still seem a long way off.
First day done, and the legs felt good after having been off the bikes for so long, but the journey wasn’t too enthralling just yet. And then Lindsay’s pannier broke.
Cicurug to Cianjur
Turning out of the guesthouse and joining the road, we also joined the mile upon mile of traffic. Still it seemed we hadn’t left the city. The route took us around a big volcano and we were eager for a glimpse! Unfortunately, the smog had not cleared.
We did start to get lots of waves and thumbs up however, which made it all slightly more bearable. And when the chief of the Fire Station noticed us trying to fix Lindsay’s pannier with duct tape, he was eager to help and give us a bunch of zip ties and join in the repair.
Cianjur to Bandung
With breakfast included, we were looking forward to a delicious morning brew – Java being famous for it’s coffee! It made it even more disappointing when we were served a gritty, sugary liquid, followed by rice and fried chicken.
Onwards and upwards, we joined the daily traffic and tried not to breath too deeply. With a little bit more understanding of the rules on the road, we boldly weaved in and out of the stationary cars and trucks (pointless vehicles in this country) and forced our way through with the countless number of motorbikes. However slowly, it seemed to work best if you kept moving and dived for any available space you could – closing your eyes and hoping for the best helps. We’re still in shock with the traffic though.
A stop in one of the local supermarkets did give us a welcome surprise – named something slightly different here, but just as good as one of our favourite snacks in Vietnam; a packet of biscuits! Not quite a dark chocolate McVities digestive, but would still go down a treat with a nice cup of tea.
Bandung to Cirebon
Our plan was to cycle to Bali to go diving. We didn’t have too much time and realised that this more southern route of Java would take us much longer than the flat northern route. The southern route was hilly, more interesting and less busy. Having not seen much but the backend of exhausts, we decided that heading north would at least be quicker.
So, today would be a longer day to get us north. Last night was the end of Ramadan, and we had three separate mosques all blasting out unintelligible noise from their tinny loudspeakers. At 8pm, the party had started. We figured the chanting would end soon as it was getting fairly repetitive. By 10pm, we had a 2 minute silence – we were deceived into thinking it had ended. Midnight passed and the noise had not abated…4am rolled in and earplugs hadn’t been enough. There was just no point in trying to sleep.
Slightly in shock and very wearily, we climbed our way out of the city. And all appeared quiet. The streets were pretty much empty and all ours. Those we did see were dressed in their Sunday best and celebrating with family and friends, with calls of “hello mister” to me …and to Lindsay. This was also good news for us, as hopefully all the empty, closed and shut down looking cafes and stalls would reopen and we may be able to find some good food and, hopefully some good iced coffees.
The cycle was also surprisingly scenic, and we meandered through rice paddy terraces. More roadside stalls were opening and things were looking slightly more favourable. Plus we caught up on some sleep on the downhills.
Cirebon to Brebes
On our way east to Bali; full of traffic but flat so we would hopefully be able to cover some good distances now. With the sun beaming and temperature beyond thirty degrees, we were determined to find a good (hopefully iced) Java coffee. Following a sign written with a black marker on a scrap bit of cardboard should have warned us this probably wasn’t going to offer the treat we were searching for. But it was icy cold, and the girl serving us was happy for us to be there. Most of the coffee they have is just sachets of 3-in-1, not the tastiest but still a caffeine boost. The family were friendly and smiley and as we left they took turns shaking our hands; the little girl took our hand and put it to her forehead, slightly odd we thought but we later learned this was showing respect to her elders. It must have been the dirt from the road that made us look so old! We then couldn’t leave before many family photos.
It turned out to be a day of posing. The owner of a restaurant wanted a picture of happy western customers outside his restaurant, and a group of boys outside the local market were more than excited to shake our hands and take turns posing for the camera. The traffic and the burning rubbish at the roadside made things grim, but everywhere we looked we were met with smiling locals.
Brebes to Cirebon
We hate back tracking. Turning around is normally not an option. We need to be going forward. We found out however, that even on a domestic flight we were required to have our passports. These were in the Chinese Embassy. We had planned to fly back from Bali, but now this was not possible. Things weren’t working out as expected but the great thing we have is flexibility: we would go back to Jakarta, grab our passports and pop over to Lombok to go diving (decided that Bali might be full of drunk Aussies!).
We got back to Cirebon and today it was the most popular place on earth. It was still holiday time and every hotel was fully booked. Losing count of how many hotels we had asked at – well into double figures – we recouped our energy. This café looked promising and the iced coffee resembled a knickerbocker-glory. Whatever it was it was exactly what was needed; a small boost to keep us going and find that elusive hotel room.
Cirebon to Losarang
Finally a view of a volcano – not a bad view while enjoying a weird breakfast of fried chicken and rice.
Following the coast and trying to keep off the main highway, the route felt surprisingly quiet. With tree lined ‘country’ roads, rice fields either side and not a huge amount of traffic the cycle was quite pleasant. We even stopped off at a local beach hotspot – I think the only place anywhere near Jakarta that you could, or would want to swim in the sea. We didn’t. It wasn’t quite like the beautiful beaches of elsewhere in SE Asia.
Losarang to Karawang
I’m not sure if it was the pollution that was beginning to make my throat feel sore. Or perhaps, seeing a truck full of locals, with one particular young lad wearing an Arsenal shirt and with them all smiling, waving and shouting their hellos to us, I couldn’t help but burst into song. I assumed that wearing an Arsenal shirt, he was a big fan. I wasn’t so sure however, that he would know many Arsenal songs. So I started off with a simple one, that after a few verses, they would all be singing along to. I started with the classic…
ARSENAL ARSENAL ARSENAL,
ARSENAL ARSENAL ARSENAL,
ARSENAL ARSENAL ARSENAL,
I was lucky, they appeared to know the words to that one and soon a truck load of kids and a few adults, cheering on their mate in the Arsenal shirt were also chanting along.
Lindsay was just worried I was going to crash into the back of the truck when things got passionate and both arms were flung in the air to enhance the little singsong (look Mum, no hands!).
I like to think that this is their new favourite song.
To finish the day on an even higher note, we had just checked in to a luxury hotel, with pool and proper concierge service, all for the high price of £6.50 each. So we decided to stay two nights.
Karawang to Jakarta
We sadly left our slice of luxury, and turned our wheels towards the sprawling Jakarta. It wasn’t too difficult to negotiate the city, and darting in and out of the traffic can be fun.
The fun stopped when we checked into our new hotel. How there can be such a difference between the qualities of hotels, which are only a couple of pounds different in price, is astonishing. Tonight we may have well been in a crack den. The aircon made the walls shake, the bedsprings were popping out from the bed, the wallpaper sweaty and peeling and the traffic outside did not stop beeping their horns all night. As the woman showed us to the room, she walked in and instantly sprayed a can of air freshener throughout the room – which did nothing to hide the smell of damp but only gave us more toxins to inhale!
The cycling has been ok, but mainly because it was good just to get back on the bikes. The pollution from vehicles and burning rubbish at the side of the road we found too much and our timing hadn’t been great with Ramadan. The food mostly fried and the the only vegetables were rotting at the sides of the road. Another SE Asian country where the people seem to be all too aware of how their hair looks, but couldn’t care less about throwing all their rubbish to the anywhere and everywhere.
However, with our visas granted for China, we were soon to be starting our journey home!
First though, a quick getaway to the island of Lombok to go diving, and to find some beauty in the sea.
Upon arriving on Lombok, the temperature felt cooler, the atmosphere much calmer, and we could see views to distant volcanoes. Our day diving was just what we needed – the sea was beautiful and we saw rays, hermet crabs, shrimps, pipefish, and an octopus, though sad to see the litter at the bottom amongst all the coral and living creatures. I think Indonesia, and the world needs to be more aware of our Plastic Oceans. Lombok has been a nice few days break before starting our journey home, beginning in China…