Saturday, October 19, 2013

How to say good-bye to Indonesia

Four months, seven islands, some 6000 km, and some of the most incredible experiences on two wheels so far. Despite seeming a lot, they are virtually insignificant numbers for such a vast country. Seen on a map, it looks relatively small, but with its more than 17,000 islands, about 300 ethnic groups, more than 700 languages and dialects, the map is quite misleading. In only four months, one just can even begin to scratch the surface of such a giant of infinite natural and cultural wealth. 8 months would have been more appropriate, although 1 or 2 years would be the least to really get to know Indonesia. It captivates, it catches your deep attention, it enamors.

Each island left something deep inside. I think of Kalimantan and no matter where I am, I will start to sweat just for remembering its name, along with the millions of sounds of the jungle that will sweeten my memories. I think of Sulawesi and the adrenaline flows just by thinking that I crossed the heart of its jungle while playing Tarzan on a bicycle under some truly extreme conditions. I think of West Timor and the "gory" smiles of the siripina along with the friendly people living in the cute ume kebubus brings a smile to my face from ear to ear. I think of Flores and I instantly forget there is a world with flat roads and another color that is not green, and I will have the feeling that all that surrounds me can erupt at any time. I think of Bali and I prefer to forget it, since that place was expropriated from Indonesia and its people, it has nothing to do with this country. I think of Java and I can smell the aroma of the coffee while I remember the harshness of existence of those who give their life for pennies but never stop smiling and remind us that there is no reason to complain, you can be happy with very little. I think of Sumatra and I imagine the monkeys will take over the universe and I will yearn for the entire world had the beauty of its valleys and lakes.

The long crossing of Sumatra

 Several people had told me that Sumatra was "the best of Indonesia", but honestly, after more than three months of cycling through this country, where over and over we had been dazzled and left speechless at what we experienced, it was impossible for me to even imagine that what would lie ahead could be any better than what we had already seen. 

If there was something that we confirmed immediately while pedaling the 148 km road that links Jakarta with the port of Merak, is that having hopped on a bus to avoid wasting time in western Java had been a truly wise decision. Leaving Jakarta was as infernal as it was entering it. During the 10 hours we cycled to the port on that endless day, heavy traffic and overcrowding were such all along the way that it felt like not having left the city at all. Jakarta's hell perpetuated itself throughout the whole day. We arrived in Merak after 9pm exhausted, not so much by the 150 km that we had cycled, but by the chaos of trucks, vans, buses, cars, motorcycles, pollution, noise, people, asphyxiating traffic jams, heat and other tortures that accompanied us during the whole day. That very night, we crossed by ferry the strait that separates Java from Sumatra in less than three hours and spent our first night in the place that would soon become our accommodation of choice during the days to come: the police station.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Getting to the city

Once completed our journey through the volcanoes, we wanted to get to Java as fast as possible. Java, with the exception of the spectacular east of the island, is where the majority of the population of the country lives, and in a country of 200 million people, that is not a minor thing. Java is badly overcrowded. In this aspect, Java reminded me very much of the Philippines where hardly 1 km would go by without people or settlements. Java also contains most of the country's industries; therefore traffic and pollution are extremely high. Finally, after 3 months and more than 4000km of cycling in rural and remote Indonesia, we had come to the big cities. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Into the lungs of hell

The sulphur miners of the Ijen volcano, in the easternmost point of Java, carry out still in the 21st century, one of the most unhealthy and inhuman jobs in the world. The job involves descending into the crater of the active volcano which is constantly releasing immeasurable amounts of sulphur fumes, to crack by hand, the sulphur rocks that form on the surface, product of the chemical reactions of the sulphur coming in contact with the oxygen. Once they have enough rocks, they load them into their baskets which are then loaded onto their shoulders to carry them all the way up to the storage point, where the rocks are sold to the ones that will later sell them to the big companies. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

In the ring of fire

 With such limited time as 4 months to visit Indonesia, the last place in the country where I would have spent at least one second is in Bali. The mere idea of going there gave me chills. It is for this reason then, that destiny put the nearest bike shop where to buy and replace the broken component of my bike, where? Precisely, in Bali. So from Labuanbajo, we took the Bukit Tilongkabila, heading to Denpasar, the island's capital. Those were the last 32 hours that we would have to spend on a PELNI on this journey and like all previous times, it was a PELNI experience like the one described in the previous posts. Getting off at the port of Denpasar, was like getting off in another country. If ever in history, Bali was a paradise, now certainly it is almost impossible to imagine. Our stay was limited to going from the port to the bike shop, and from the bike shop, we cycled 140 km west to cross to Java. We minimized this nuisance to just 10 hours only. Shortly after midnight, we were already disembarking in Banyuwangi, Java. It was time to go up to see the Earth breathing.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fading Flores

After two quiet weeks, waiting for Julia to fully recover from the damn dengue, we left Kupang full of energy en route to Maumere, on the volcanic island of Flores. And we should certainly be filled with energy to board again in a PELNI. This time it was only an18 hours journey but the ship was again crowded. It really is not as bad as it seems, people are very friendly as always but so many hours, in an environment so crowded, makes the experience very tiring. Although the fact of being on the road again, ready to roll in Flores, filled us with enthusiasm.

Traveling in time

The PELNI* experience

May began and ended with trouble. As soon as we boarded the Bukit Siguntang at 23:00 hrs. in Makassar, we finally understood what that likeable member of the crew that brought us from Kalimantan, had meant by saying "enjoy that trip". It is unimaginable the chaos that was this boat when we boarded. Thousands of people occupying every corner of it. The overcrowded communal bedrooms, crammed with people sleeping next to each other, intoxicating cigarette smoke floating in the air, mountains of bags, packages, boxes with fruits and all kinds of crap. People crowded into every available corner outside the bedroom, in hallways, stairs, lying on cardboard or empty rice bags to separate them from a grimy floor, crying children and babies everywhere, bathrooms giving off corrosive smell…you can imagine, no? Surely not. The only spot we found was on the floor of the corridor leading to the kitchen, a permanent transit space with a bullhorn blasting announcements directly above us with a piercing volume, especially at 4.30 am during the first daily call to pray. There, in that oppressive space, we spent the next 36 hrs. sailing to Kupang in West Timor.