Sunday, 28 March 2010
Some time around 1650 a Dutch official of the VOC in Batavia committed some sin, and as punishment he was ordered to establish a replenishment station at the Cape of Good Hope. The ships in picture are not quite the Drommedaris, Reigger, and De Goede Hoop with which Jan Van Riebeeck sailed to the present-day Cape Town (my home-town). However, the old Sunda Kelapa harbour in present-day Jakarta - once the booming centre of the spice trade - is still in operation, with rows of interesting old wooden trading ships lining the quays (of course, there is also another modern harbour). Otherwise there's not much left to see of the once prosperous Batavia, the place to which Van Riebeeck longed to return (of course there wasn't much amusement in Cape Town at that time). This historic old colonial part of Jakarta is pretty much going to the dogs, with crumbling old buildings, slummy areas, and the stinking polluted canal. Otherwise the city of Jakarta is a large, modern metropolis - the 9th largest in the world with about 17 million inhabitants. Leana and I have been here almost a week, relaxing, servicing the bicycles, repairing things, and stocking up on things which we've been unable to find elsewhere. Although the city is very spread out, there is a suburban railway station close to where we're staying, and the bus service as also quite ok. Jakarta is not quite as smooth and efficient as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, and certainly not as clinical as Singapore. Yesterday we celebrated our 3rd anniversary on the bicycles - 3 years on the road since leaving Tableview beach on 27 March 2007. We splashed out a bit, and celebrated by enjoying a couple of the local Bintang beers at a little place around the corner - incidently on their opening night. We'll probably move on East through Java Island tomorrow, I'm not sure by which route but there are lots of volcanoes which Leana wants to see (and I see hills again in my nightmares!). In case you didn't know, Indonesia is the world's 4th most populous country, and more than 50% of those people live on Java island. Thus far we've only cycled a short distance in Java, which has been built-up all the way with lots of traffic (especially motorbikes and mini-bus taxis). So, for the next few weeks I see myself struggling up hills, while at the same time trying to survive by dodging the traffic (I won't even mention the heat and humidity!). It may sound as though I'm complaining, but after 3 years I still wouldn't swap this lifestyle for any other! Daily distances cycled since my last report from Cilegon have been:- Tangerang 91 km; and Jakarta 31 km. Total distance cycled in the past 3 years from Cape town to Jakarta is 56 816 km.
Saturday, 20 March 2010
In a moment of madness I found myself running my fingers across the map of Sumatra in Braille-like fashion (don't worry, I've recovered from the eye infection). I was trying to decypher the hills, but the map remained flat - not so in reality! Although there were a number of comfortable cycling stretches along the coastline, through many villages, rice paddies, and coconut groves, the overwhelming impression is one of many steep hills. It seems to me that the National Parks with their lush indigenous rain-forests exist simply because those slopes are too steep to accommodate the population or to allow for agriculture. Probably the toughest day which Leana and I have had so far was through such a park, and for the first time on this journey I pushed my bike on a paved road. Dragging the stubborn and heavily-laden "Saartjie" up that hill by her ears was no fun at all, and it prompted me to successfully make the extra effort to subsequently stay on the bike. From Benkunat village on the West coast we crossed the back-bone of the island again (another National Park!), where we found that the downhill section had been partially obliterated by a landslide. There were a number of exciting moments slipping through the clay in the rain, and by the time we were off the mountain our bikes must have looked like two moving ant-hills (fortunately there was a hosepipe at our overnight accommodation). Once or twice we camped in what we thought were discreet spots, but the villagers have an uncanny ability to sniff out tourists - making us the "attraction of the week" (particularly if your camp is practically on top of their water supply - which we took to be an abandoned well). We spent a couple of luxury nights in a "fancy" hotel in Bandarlampung where Leana extended her visa. Today we left Sumatra and crossed the Sunda Strait on a large ferry which also carries cars, busses and trucks. During the voyage we had views of the infamous Krakatao, still grumbling and steaming in the distance. Now we're in the town of Cilegon on Java Island (about 15 k's from the ferry port at Merak), and I'm sipping "mokka coffee" on my first day in Java. Daily distances cycled since Benkulu have been:- Seluma 61 km; Manna 83 km; Bintuhan 76 km; Pugung Tampak 85 km; Krui 37 km; Benkunat 87 km; Kotaagung 70 km; Pringsewu 60 km; Bandarlampung 38 km; Kalianda 63 km; and Cilegon 46 km. Total distance so far on this trip is 56 694 km.
Sunday, 7 March 2010
From the higland town of Bukittinggi it was a steep downhill run to Padang city, on the West coast of Sumatra. Our route took us past volcanic peaks and lush forest, and in the traffic somehow Leana and I managed to lose each other. Once in Padang I was amazed at the devastation caused by the September earthquake, and many buildings (especially in the quaint old riverside district) had been damaged or destroyed. As a result of the earthquake there were a limited number of budget hotels still operating, and Leana and I happened to meet up again at one of these. The road South from Padang was a scenic ride along the coast at first, but the trip soon turned into a never-ending steep roller-coaster struggle through the oil palm plantations. (When first cycling amongst the oil palms about a year ago in Thailand we thought it to be a nice ride, but since then I've certainly had my fill of that "roadside wallpaper". Incidently, palm oil is not only used in the manufacture of soap and cosmetics, but is also often an ingredient in foods such as biscuits, noodles, and even ice-cream). Trucks carting the clusters of palm kernels to processing plants also damage the road - of course most of the road damage is in the dips at the bottom of the hills, preventing cyclists from building up any sort of momentum with which to tackle the uphill. The disastrous 2004 tsunami was caused by an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, and low-lying coastal towns have signs indicating evacuation routes in the event of a recurrence (photo). Another disaster during this time was the fact that I picked up a bug which caused a bad case of conjunctivitis in both my eyes. However, the "show" had to go on as we'd run out of cash and the couple of ATM's along the way were always off-line. I discovered that it is not so easy to cycle in traffic on bad roads with eyelids glued together and covered by sweat-streaked sunglasses (I would have lost Leana numerous times if she hadn't literally jumped into the road in front of me where she'd been waiting for the "invalid" to catch up). Fortunately the only mishap after 4 days of "blind cycling" was a flat tyre caused by one of the many potholes I'd been happily flying through. In Benkulu, we found a very nice affordable ground floor room where, after another 4 days, I've almost recovered from the eye ailment. At the interesting local market I've also managed to have my shoes repaired, camping chair sewn up, and tent zip replaced. I've also cleaned and serviced the bicycles (the "ass-washer" in the open-plan bathroom is very effective for spraying the bike down - although the hotel management would certainly view such activity as a disaster). We haven't spotted any other foreigners in Bengkulu, so our hotel probably doesn't know what to make of these 2 crazy cyclists who string washing lines outside the room door, and who literally "clean up" the breakfast buffet (included in the room price!). And then, 2 nights ago, the big thing happened - a 6.5 earthquake 160 km out to sea - and we didn't even know about it until the following morning (fortunately for the locals, no damage or injury). So, tomorrow we'll move on from Bengkulu, and perhaps unfortunately I'll be able to see the oil palms and the continuation of the steep hills and broken road. Daily distances cycled since Bukittinggi were:- Padang 99 km; Painan 95 km; Balai Selasa 77 km; Tapan 65 km; Pasar Bantal 125 km; Ipuh 53 km; Ketahun 82 km; and Bengkulu 91 km. Total distance cycled on this journey so far is 55 988 km.