I was on the dive boat to Kanawa Island where my close friends Lorena and Martin manage the branch of Flores Diving Centre. Martin was temporarily on the Gilis to do his Instructor course.
Lorena was there and waited already unpatient on the pier of the small island. We fell in each others arms and the time seemed to stop for a while. Then we went diving in one of the hotspots of the world: Komodo National Park !
I was impressed! Beautiful reefs full of life! Colourful corrals, lots of different sharks,manta rays, nudibranches, octopus, mantishrimp, turtles. Wherever I had a look, I could see something going on. I fully agree with the divers who said they got spoiled by diving at Komodo.
The time out of the water I spend on Kanawa Island. This small place is surrounded by pretty reefs and at dawn young blacktip reefsharks come out of the mangroves to hunt. To hike to the highest mountain of the island takes about 15min. There is only one junction on the way: left side to the sunset viewpoint, right way to the sunrise. There is one restaurant, one dive centre and a few bungalows. Lorena and Martin live in a small pavilions of 4 square meters. As walls they have bamboo rollos, inside is a matress and a moscito net. I loved that simple place to sleep in!
All the day I spend outside, talking to people, snorkeling, preparing firewood for the evenings bonfire and of course with diving.
Then came the 8th of December, mine and Lorenas birthday! Same as last year in Thailand we got spoiled with an amazing massage before we met in a colleges house to have a big party. We want to make a tradition out of meeting somewhere on the world for that day!
Short before I had to leave again Martin arrived to the main island Flores where I picked him up in Labuhan Bajo. To see him again made me so happy as well! Together we returned to Kanawa island for one more day.
The beauty of travelling is all the new experiances. The weak point is the farewell. After an amazing time I left my friends behind to be on the road again…
The deck of the car ferry to Sumbawa island reminded me of an alpine house sleeping room. People resting beside each other in a big room full of bunk beds. The ferry is run 24h per day. During the transfer it got dark and when I arrived to Poto Tano on Sumbawa I was keen on finding a place for the night soon. I left the port and stopped at the first “rumah makan” to ask if they have place to sleep as well. They did not, but a policeman bought his dinner there at that moment. He took me with him back to the port and arranged that I could sleep in the police office. The head of the office tried hard to convince me to join him for dinner to the next town. I did not want and I also did not want to join him to watch TV in his private living room. I went to bed soon.
Next morning I started to cycle on Sumbawa. My first impression was, that it is very different from the islands I have seen so far. Dry grasslands cover the hills, many goats wander around on the dusty streets. People do hard work with their bare hands. They work in quarries with the most basic tools and manually thresh the rice. Electric devices are not very common as there is a failure of power every day for hours. Sumbawa is rich of minerals and gold I was told. I read about misharvests and starvation.
The rainy saison should have started. But it was simply unbearable hot, dusty and dry. My skin started to burn even though I was dark brown already. The irradiation was so strong that I went to the next clothes shop to buy something with long sleves to cover up. The only thin, strechable long shirt they had in my size was a pyjama top. With a teddy bear on my chest I felt a bit silly but at least my skin was protected.
I got too much sun one day and ended up in a small warung (restaurant) falling asleep on a bamboo bench. I got fever as always when my body or mind is exposed to some extreme conditions. Luckily I could stay there and during the 3 days I was with them I became a part of the family. Sandara took care of me as if I would have been her own child. She wanted me to stay longer but I had to leave if I wanted to meet up with my friends in Flores soon. In the meantime the rainy saison finally started and streets turn into rivers, meadows into lakes. It’s impressive…
When I was on the bicycle again for the next few days I felt extraordinary weak and dizzy. Health issues can brake a cyclists timetable, motivation and fun. For the last bit on Sumbawa I took a truck to arrive to my friends place on Kanawa island (Komodo National Park) on time.
Most of the touristic spots on Lombok are located along the coast while I crossed the island from one harbour in the West (Lembar) to the other one in the East (Labhuan Lombok). Cycling off the touristic paths have several impacts: You are an alien and get all the possible attention. In Indonesia that means that people scream at you “Hello Mister! Where you go?” all day long. Off the touristic track you find all kinds of local food. I usually eat rice three times per day here, sometimes with tempe, sometimes with vegetables but always spicy. When I have to fix anything on the bicycle a crowd of curious men gather around me and watch every move. Everybody wants to take photos and everybody have the same 10 questions which I answer already in a kind of autopilot in Indonesian language.
The more I was surprised when Gede drove his motorbike beside me and asked me in quite good English if I could come to visit his school. First he brought me to his village where Nia, his wife took care of me. I had a nice shower in an outdoor bath surrounded by banana plants. After some tee and the obligatory photo shots I joined the afternoon classes from Gedes English school. The children were 8 to 13 years old and different shy and capable of English. We sat all together on a carpet and I asked them for their names, how many brothers and sisters they have and stuff like that. At the end we made photos together and I joined Gede in the next class. Here young adults practiced their language skills but they were even more shy. Only 16 year old Dana had a bubbly conversation with me which was funny and interesting at the same time. I’m sure, she will make her way – she have the right energy to achive anything she want! Fatima was way more quiet but also knew what she wants. She is my age, still single and happy about it. That is very unusual here! Fatimas plans are to study English and to open a small resturant on Bali then.
Gede and his friends said they will pray for us to get husbands soon. We just shook our heads in agreement and laughed. No need for that!
Bali is the most touristic island in Indonesia. I was curious about this island as I have heard a lot about it. Theo and I spend some days cycling along the North and East coast. Sometimes we passed places with interesting spots for scuba diving. There developed a whole infrastructure of shops, guesthouses, restaurants and divecentres. For the rest of the way we cycled through small villages and along the coast. We got the same overwhelming attention as every where else in Indonesia. Sometimes we went out snorkeling and I got exiting about diving soon again. We spend some relaxed days in Ubud. There we walked along the rice fields and talked a lot. I found a place to store my bicycle and Theo got a box for his as he would fly back home soon. On Theos birthday we saw a Balinese dancing show and had a romantic dinner. Next day I was supposed to fly to Kuala Lumpur alone. As he could not extend his Indonesian visa Theo joined me for two days. Our time in Bali was not as free and easy as usually. Emotions directed our conversations and our mind was far too often at our farewell…
After five weeks cycling on Sumatra Theo and I looked forward to come to Java. Our first impression was good. The first day of cycling we decided to follow the smallest roads on our map, as the traffic on the main roads was mental. We had an enjoyable day following channels and approaching small villages. Fresh green rice fields all around and acceptable road quality. In the evening we had some problems finding a place to sleep and were not really sure where we actually are.
We ended up camping on the terrace of house which hosts construction workers. We sat together for some cups of tea before everybody went to bed. Next day we started fresh and motivated. After a few kilometers we ended up on mud roads. I did not care, felt like on a mountain bike. But it slowed us down a lot. When we finally crossed some railway tracks it was the triumph of the day! None of the locals could have told us how to make our way to Bogor. But on the small dirt path crossing the remote train lines we knew we were on the right way!
That day we were challenged by broken roads, truck traffic jams, never ending dirt roads and hills and upcoming emotion and frustration. It seemed to be the end of the world. Jakarta, the Indonesian capital was only 50km away. But we almost got stuck in the sticky mud in the middle of the truck traffic. It was dark for two hours already when we finally reached Bogor.
The next two days we spent with resting and planning. We decided to take the train to Jakarta and further to Yogyakarta. There seem not to exist any rules in Indonesia but one: There is no way of getting the bicycles on that train!
Our level of frustration reached a top peak. It seemed nothing could go smooth any more.
But we also saw ourselves in a highly privileged position. Beside the entire struggle we are still the “rich westerners” who can afford to sleep in a decent guesthouse if available. What we saw in Indonesia almost every day was a struggle to survive. Old men build up speed pumps. Then they stood beside them warning the car drivers and hoping for some tip. Young motorbike drivers jumping of their machines in traffic jams to guide the cars through the chaos for some coins. Often they made the situation worse. We observed them. Maybe one of them got a coin every five minutes. (16000 Indonesian Rupiah are equivalent to one Euro coins are worth nothing)
Our sorrows about the travel plans seemed so big to us but so ridiculous at the same time…
The next 25 hours we spent on a minivan to cover the 350km to Yogyakarta, one of the cultural highlights of Indonesia.
In Indonesia Theo and I planed to travel together again. We went by boat from Klang, Malaysia to Tanjung Balai, Sumatra, Indonesia. Both of us were exited. I because I heard so many stories about this country. Theo because he was keen on coming back to Indonesia since he was here a few years ago.
As soon as we left the port we were surrounded by chaos, overwhelming people and crazy traffic. Trying not to crash into the honking motorbikes we made our way through the screaming crowd: “Hello mister!!! Hey mister!!! Sir!!! Where dor you come from???” When we finally found a room for the night there was still a crowd in front of our door waiting for us to come out again. Theo found a dead cockroach under his pillow. Welcome to Indonesia!
Next day we started cycling towards Lake Toba, the biggest vulcano crater lake of the world. In this area live the Batak people. Until 200 years ago they exercised ritual cannibalism and head hunting before the majority of them converted to cristianity. Nowadays they are great musicians and calm and friendly people. We stayed a few days on Samosir, the huge island in the crater lake.
Then we headed south towards Bukittinggi, Pandang, Bengkulu. Often we where surprised by the beauty of the mountain range. Small villages surrounded by rice terraces and jungle. People working with buffaloes in the fields and rice, coffee and spices drying on awning fabrics on the road.
Sumatra is not as remote as we expected. In the valleys and along the coast we constantly passed villages and plantages. In each house seem to live a crowd of children of every age. As soon as they see us some of then start screaming with full power: “Hello Mister! Sir!!! Turis!!! Bulei (=white)!!!” Sometimes the crowd of children runs onto the street in between the trucks, motorbikes and infront of our bicycles. Not only the kids fight for our attention. Young women constantly want to make fotos with us and older people ask the same five questions every time we stop the bicycle. But the young men are the only ones who approach us in an agressive way. When they scream “Hello!” it often sounds hysteric and they honk the brain out of our heads. They follow us on the motorbike with 5km per hour on a climb, constantly honking and making fotos. Others shout “Hello Mister, fuck you!” and once there was a crowd of about twelve of them hammering against our room at midnight, screaming “Mister,Mister!!!!” They tried to break into the room. Finally we went out fetch the bicycles before we barricated the door with the bed again. They kept on teasing us for far longer and we stayed awake almost all night.
Theo and I spoke a lot about the behavior of the young men here on Sumatra. It in very disappointing. In no other country we made similar experiances. But it is unlogical as well as they seem positively surprised to see us. They just loose any control of their behavior which is scary and sucks lots of our energy
This makes my journey on Sumatra less pleasant than it could be. Combined with the dangerous traffic, very steep hills and the tropical climate the last weeks were a big physical and mental challenge.