February 20, 2014 – Welcome to Indonesia
Day 37 - Distance biked so far: (2,844 km)
The flag of Indonesia was first introduced on August 17, 1945 during the Indonesia Independence Day and exactly 5 years later, it was officially adopted when they gained independence from the Netherlands. If the flag were flown upside down with the white above the red, it would be the flag of Poland. That would be quite the gaffe if done at an Olympic medal ceremony.
On Monday February 10th I arrived by ferry from Singapore to the island of Batam, Indonesia from where I would be taking another ferry to Jakarta. The Batam-Jakarta ferry only runs a few days a week so I had to wait one day in Batam. On Wednesday I cycled 20km to the ferry port to get the ferry to Jakarta, a trip that would take 27 hours. I had a hard time finding the terminal; the only thing I saw was an unsigned warehouse, which turned out to be exactly what I needed. It wasn’t fancy but it worked.
|Ferry terminal in Batam|
I had a room with 3 other men, one of whom was a Buddhist Monk from Tibet but unfortunately he did not speak English and my Tibetan is rusty. The ferry did not have a lot of people and this mode of transport will be going through a slow death, replaced by the budget airlines. I know a lot of people do not have a full day to spend on a ferry but there is something nice about taking your time on a boat and talking with the local people instead of the often impersonal manner of using an airplane. I spent the day engaged in numerous attempts at conversation with local people, something I would have missed by sitting in another airport. I think a lot of people miss the real joy of travelling by focusing on the destination instead of the journey. In most cases I notice the destination is often anti-climatic but the journey is often memorable. Here was a guy on the ferry getting some traditional heat treatment on his back.
Indonesia is the world’s 4th most populous country (after China, India and the U.S) with approximately 250 million people crammed on 8,000 inhabited islands. My route through this diverse country will start in Jakarta; go south into the mountainous interior and then east to Bali, a distance of approximately 1,200 kms.
At some point during the ferry ride, we crossed the equator so now I am in the southern hemisphere. It doesn’t feel any different; it’s just as hot and humid as it was on the other side of the line. The ferry was due to arrive on the outskirts of Jakarta at 7:30 pm, meaning I would be cycling into the 2nd largest city in the world in the dark, with no idea of where I was going to stay. There are times I wish I could just hop in a taxi and go to a reserved hotel but that’s not the way it works when you travel by bicycle.
As I was preparing to roll my bike down the gangplank, I met another pair of cyclists doing exactly the same thing. Here is some kind of security guard making sure my bike was okay after the ferry from Batam.
|Inspecting the bike|
The couple is from France and are also biking to Bali but planning on taking the northern coast route to avoid the mountains in the Central part of Java. The guy has biked all the way from Europe and met up with his friend in Thailand and they are cycling together for the next month. They will be staying a few days in Jakarta to go to a hospital (she fell from her bike and has a shoulder injury) but we agreed to bike together to the center area, safety in numbers. I don’t have a light on my bike but do carry a headlight that I use to read when camping so I strapped that on my head. I also carry 2 small lights that I found in Bangkok and I attached those to my rear panniers so was quite visible to the passing cars and motorcycles. The cities are always well lit and at this time of night we were hoping the traffic wasn’t too bad. We set off with a few deep breaths and prayers.
I had no plan of where to stay but did know the road I wanted that would lead me out of Jakarta the next day and wanted to stay on it. We also knew that road would lead south and pass close to the central part of Jakarta so away we went. The roads were not too bad and the drivers were fast but also courteous and allowed lots of room. We cruised in a line and were moving along well but often had to stop at traffic lights. At one point a young Indonesian couple pulled up beside me and for the first of many times I was asked where I was from and where I was going. I told them that I was looking for a hotel on this road but closer to Central Jakarta so I could leave easily tomorrow. They told me that they knew a place so they led the way with the 3 of us in pursuit. We biked for close to an hour and suddenly the couple on the motorcycle stopped and showed me the hotel, it was perfect. The other cyclists wanted to get close to their hospital and asked the couple on the motorcycle if they could show the way so off they went. It was about 9:30 pm now so I was anxious to get to sleep, as tomorrow promised to be a very tough day.
On Friday morning I had my introduction to cycling in Java. The world atlas ranks Jakarta as the 2nd largest city in the world next only to Tokyo, with a population of over 20 million. I think most of them had a day off and wanted to follow me on motorcycle. Since I was on the road that I was to follow south, it was pretty simple getting out. It quickly became obvious that Jakarta has serious problems with traffic. The city does not have a mass transit system; one is currently being built with a scheduled completion date of 2018. For now they rely on buses, long distance trains and minivans but for the most part it seemed everyone drove or rode a motorcycle. There were cars and motorcycles everywhere, lining up at intersections and with a loud roar, would take off when the lights turned green. They left behind clouds of smoke and a coughing, shaking cyclist just trying to get out of the city. Here is a typical scene of the clogged streets, but you can’t see the smoke, hear the noise or feel the heat of Jakarta.
|Still nowhere to go|
My first town was Bogor, a city 60 km directly south of Jakarta and there was no gap in the traffic the entire way. At one point there was a small river running parallel to the road so I stopped to take a photo not realizing that the locals use it as their local dump, something that seems to be very common in large parts of SE Asia. I’m not sure what has to change to stop people from throwing garbage out of car windows or in rivers but it is something that is very common here. I will see people sweeping the front areas of their homes and stores one moment, and the next they will throw a plastic bag full of garbage on the road. When I was on the ferry to Jakarta, I was standing on the deck near 2 young guys eating some lunch in a Styrofoam container. The deck of the ferry had garbage pails every 10 feet and these guys were literally an arms length from one of them but they finished their lunch and without a second thought, threw the containers into the sea. I have seen this repeatedly, particularly in India, the Philippines and now Indonesia and to a lesser extent in Thailand and Malaysia and it really is difficult to understand. I would have thought the younger generation would change things later but many of those I have seen throw trash at will are the young. There needs to be an entire shift in thinking about the importance of the environment in China and SE Asia. Here is a picture of what once was a nice river.
|River in West Java|
I arrived in Bogor after 4 hours of really uncomfortable cycling and was thinking of stopping but was hoping the traffic would ease as I continued up into the mountains so I pressed on. The road had been flat to that point but I kept moving hoping to get cooler and cleaner air higher up.
The road from Bogor to Cibodas is 35 km’s and in that entire stretch there is no flat or down, it is up the entire way. It was a long and grinding climb and in some places I struggled to keep my bike upright. The road did not have a shoulder so with the heavy traffic on one side, steep hills, potholes to avoid and the heat and humidity, it made for some pretty tough cycling. Here is a photo at the start of the climb, not a lot of room to maneuver.
|Climbing up in Java|
It took me 4 more hours to go the 35 km’s, after having already biked for 4 hours since Jakarta. Of course it started raining heavily as I neared the top but by then I wasn’t going to stop so just put my head down and kept turning the pedals. I spent a few hours wishing for my old desk job in Bermuda.
I finally reached the town of Cibodas and a very friendly man named Dae, working at the hotel, greeted me. I had a very early start that morning and there were still a few hours of sunlight left when I arrived. The rain stopped so Dae offered to show me around his city. I needed a half hour to recover and then would meet him.
Dae told me that Cibodas is famous in Indonesia for it’s botanical gardens named Raya Cibodas and he offered to take me there to show me around. I was coughing from sitting in traffic with cars and buses that do not have exhaust restrictions so needed some fresh air and thought that would be a perfect way to end a tough day.
The Raya Cibodas and are spread over the steep lower slopes of Gunung Gede, a towering 3,000-meter peak. Indonesia was a colony of the Netherlands for 300 years and one of their positive legacies is the number of botanical gardens. Given the lack of priority on the environment it is impossible to believe that these garden oasis would exist if not for the Dutch so on that point, they have a lasting legacy and my personal gratitude.
After 8 hours of cycling with the last 4 being uphill, I needed to sit down for a while.
|Sitting after a tough day|
We walked around the gardens for a few hours and I really needed to rest so after picking up dinner I thanked Dae for his time, ate and went to sleep.
The weather up in this part of Indonesia is very comfortable compared with Jakarta and a lot of locals flock here during the year to escape the heat of the big cities. It is a beautiful area with the only drawback being the crowded roads to get here.
The next day I continued on my journey east through Java with the target being the city of Bandung. Based on my limited experience, I am not going to enjoy the mega cities of Java but for the most part, they are unavoidable. In most countries, the main roads or highways are relatively flat as they are a main transport link for speeding cars and trucks. Indonesia has toll roads that I cannot bike on so the road I take is considered a main highway but is really what most would consider a secondary road. Some sections of this road are very steep with buses reduced to walking speed as they leave a trail of exhaust behind. Yesterday, I decided to try one of the alternate routes hoping to escape the exhaust fumes and traffic. I turned on the road and within 1 km was faced with a hill I could not get up. I had to take all the bags off my bike, walk them up the hill and then walk back down to get my bike. I then had to walk my bike up the hill, as I couldn’t even ride it up without any panniers. I then loaded up my panniers and a short time later approached another hill with a similar grade. I decided that it would take me a few months to get to Bali so got on my bike, turned around and re-joined the highway. Now I know why I haven’t seen anyone walking in Western Java, the hills are so steep you need a motorcycle to get up.
As I have been biking I am constantly met with yells of encouragement as I struggle up the hills. Motorcycle and car drivers give me the thumbs up all day long. I stop regularly for drinks and rest and am always greeted warmly. I spent 5 days without seeing a single foreign person and it seems many people here have never seen a foreigner on a touring bike. The smiling and curious people here constantly greet me and it is a joy to be here off the tourist trail. The people really appreciate when someone makes an effort to visit their communities and many want their photos taken with me as I pass. If I stopped to talk with everyone who yelled out, I would still be in Jakarta.
The road from Cibodas to Bandung was far easier than the day before and with clear skies I was able to see some of the incredible beauty in this part of the country. Here are some farmers planting the next crop of rice.
|Rice workers in West Java|
With so many traffic jams in West Java, it is only fitting that some people find ways to make a few rupiah off the situation. There are a few things I have seen repeatedly during the days. The first is the ever-present guy with a whistle. The roads are typically 2 lanes so if someone is on the wrong side in a car he might be there all day trying to cross and that is where the whistle-blower jumps to action. The man will walk out in the middle of the street, hold up his hand and blow his whistle. As the traffic stops, the car trying to cross will ease out and then roll down his window to give the whistle-blower a tip and be on his way. This happens all the time, which just adds to the bottleneck of traffic, and the whistles simply add to the noise.
The second occupation created by the traffic jams is the men with guitars. They will walk down the lines of stalled traffic and usually stand beside a mini-van that drives with the passenger door open. He will stand and sing a love song hoping to get tips from the passengers. Here is one guy trying to make a living.
One day it was getting late as I was trying to reach a small town for the night. I was planning on getting there easily but did not anticipate the slow progress due to the large number of potholes on the road. They really slow your progress, particularly going downhill as you have to avoid hitting them at high speeds. It was getting dark and suddenly the clouds burst with a torrential downpour. It was now very dark and I ducked off the road under an awning for a car wash. I still had 10 km to go in the dark on a very busy and narrow road. A man approached me to ask where I was from and where I was going and after the usual answers asked him if this was his car wash business. He told me that he lived in the small wooden building to the side and the house belonged to his sister. I was putting on my rain gear and dreading having to go back on those roads so I pointed to a corner of the driveway and asked if I could sleep there tonight since it was very dangerous to go back on the road. He asked me if I was serious and I said yes, I have a tent and can sleep anywhere. He reluctantly agreed but only because he thought I wouldn’t be comfortable.
The man is Dadan and as I was setting up my tent he offered me a cup of coffee and then raced off to his store in his home to get me a cup. When he came back he offered to let me stay in his sister’s home but I had my tent up and insisted that it was a perfect place for me to sleep and that I was just grateful for him allowing me to stay there.
Dadan and his wife had one son and one daughter and a few years ago, a woman in the vicinity approached them and said she had a baby but could not afford to raise her. They asked Dadan if he would take the child. In Indonesia and the Philippines, there is a large informal adoption process where people will sign over their child to a relative or friend. They sign papers and agree that the new parents will have sole custody and are responsible for the child’s welfare. There is no money that exchanges hands and the system is a lifesaver. I knew a few people in the Philippines who have informally adopted a relative and it works very well. The people adopting have the means to provide for the child but don’t have the fees that would be charged in a formal adoption process. Dadan told me that if he had to pay the adoption fee charged in Indonesia, he wouldn’t be able to take the baby girl. The informal adoption process cannot be done for foreign adoptions of course, that has to be tightly controlled, but within the countries here and particularly amongst relatives, it is a wonderful system that works.
Dadan and his wife adopted Nisrina 4 years ago and here is a picture of all of them.
|Dadan and his family|
On January 22nd of this year, Dadan and his wife were approached by a different woman asking if they could adopt her newborn daughter. They informally adopted a second girl, now 3 weeks old. Here is Ratih with their new daughter.
Dadan and his wife absolutely love children and were very interested in Angel House and my efforts to support them. They invited me into their home for dinner and provided noodles and vegetables along with pastries, tea and some figs. Here is my dinner.
|Meal after long day|
I then spent a few hours talking with the family. I showed them a world map of my planned route and they peppered me with questions about my home in Canada and particularly why I am not married with my own children. When I was ready to sleep, Ratih loaded up a plate of pastries and figs and told me to take the plate to my tent in case I got hungry at night. In the morning the only thing left on the plate were the seeds from the figs.
What started out as a difficult situation of having to bike in the dark through a rainstorm turned out to be a wonderful night with Dadan and his family. It’s funny how things turn out when you least expect it and it always seems to come down to the kindness of strangers.
The next day I was biking along and heard a strange sound so stopped to investigate. On the corner of an intersection a monkey was at the end of a chain performing for the passing motorists. I went over there to see the main actor doing various tricks. Here is one where the monkey tries to impress with feats of strength.
As I was standing there a few men across the street told me to give the monkey a tip. I pulled out a bill and waved it so the monkey approached me. He was a nasty fellow and growled and showed his teeth so I wasn’t about to hand it to him but threw it near him instead. He picked it up, walked a few steps away and then gave me a salute, which caused a lot of laughter in the passing vehicles.
One of the things that I noticed immediately in Indonesia is the number of people who smoke. After my first day I was making it a habit to ask people whom I came into contact with if they smoked and it took 3 days before I found one who didn’t smoke. The non-smoker was Dadan’s 15-year old son who told me he does not smoke. I asked Dadan if he knew of anyone except his son who does not smoke and he said no. The problem here is that despite a non-smoking law for restaurants and hotel rooms, they are not enforced so between the exhaust fumes and cigarette smoking, my lungs are taking a beating. Here is an example of the prominence that cigarettes get in the stores. They don’t hide them behind the counters in Indonesia.
On Thursday February 20th, I entered the city of Yogyakarta and will spend a few days here in the cultural capital of Indonesia. The day was a long 130 km and since I am now back at sea level in Central Java, the heat has returned with a vengeance. In the mountains I had almost forgotten that I am close to the equator but now I am going through large bottles of water regularly during the day. The flat roads have returned and here is a scene a few hours before I stopped for the day. It is noteworthy because for the first time in over 600 km, I had flat road, no potholes and no traffic. Unfortunately, the road was a new bypass that only lasted 3 km’s before I was back on the main road. It was a great while it lasted.
|What happened to Java|
Here I am at a rest stop with a few Muslim girls from the store. Can you tell who has been biking in the heat?
|Groupies in Indonesia|
Last week there was a major volcano that erupted in East Java. Mount Kelud erupted killing 3 people and closing the major airports in the area. The city of Yogyakarta where I am now is a few hundred kilometers away but as I rode into the city I noticed the ash covering trees, rooftops and the sides of the road. I am heading east after a few days off here and hope to climb Mount Bromo a little to the east of Kelud but that may not be possible after the latest eruption. I have heard things are clearing up so hopefully it will be okay. I will then be heading towards the island of Bali so will explore another island in this beautiful country.
In my discussions with Dadan and his family about the informal adoption process that occurs in Indonesia and the Philippines, I was again reminded of the work that David does with Angel House. With child trafficking a real problem, it is essential that the formal adoption process geared towards people outside of these countries be controlled tightly. Angel House employs a social worker who deals with the Philippines Department of Social Welfare on a daily basis to ensure all the laws and requirements for formal foreign adoptions are in met. The costs to feed, clothe and ensure the health of the children are high and David absorbs those costs without any government assistance. If you or anyone you know is interested in sponsoring one of the children or helping with the operational costs, please contact Angel House or me directly.