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Entered Indonesia 8th January 2001.
Exchange Rate: 1USD=9500 Rupiah
Fuel: 1 Litre = 1150Rp
Camping: – Didn’t camp, hotels very cheap.
Pension/Guesthouse: – from 30,000-50,000 for a double room.
Road conditions: – Generally good. All sealed roads, but traffic is like nowhere else on earth!
Speed limits: – ?
Border crossings: All islands, entry by sea or air. See text below.
Food & Drink: – 1L Water 2000Rp, Large Beer 10,000Rp, 250ml Pepsi 1500Rp, Main Meal (Mie Goreng Ayam, Fried noodles with chicken) 15,000Rp
When the Asian financial meltdown occurred a few years ago, the country to suffer the most was Indonesia. Their currency is now worth about 40% what it was in 1996, and has been much lower. One of the major reasons Indonesia fared so badly is corruption. Since independence in 1947 until recently, Indonesia suffered under the cronyism and corruption of Soeharto, and Sukarno. It appears that the current government is working hard to fight the problem, but a lot of the problem is cultural. Malaysia and Thailand are still in the grips of government corruption, but seem to have strong enough economies to survive. The problem is, someone has to pay, and it is invariably the poor.
In am optimistic that the country can drag itself out of the predicament it is in, because it is an incredibly fertile land, and resource rich. They have minerals and oil, lots of it, but it also has a population of 211 million. Just about every piece of farmable land is cultivated. There are a lot of mouths to feed. I didn’t intend to come to Indonesia, because I have heard from so many people about the corruption of the police, and they fine you at every opportunity (and pocket the money). There are difficulties in getting in, and even more so getting out. Also, Australians are reputedly not flavour of the month here because of our involvement in the Timor conflict. I had been to Bali and Lombok before, so I knew that Indonesia would be a good place to travel, and I have to say that it turned out to be far better than expected. This country is fantastic. I didn’t had one problem being an Australian. I was never fined. I didn’t have to pay any bribes. The countryside is breathtaking. Mostly rugged, and lots of active volcanoes. Everything is green, and the people basically nice. On top of that, it is very cheap. The cheapest country I have ever been to. Accommodation, food, beer, petrol etc is all cheap. I don’t know how we escaped it, but I know that police fines for ridiculous things are still rampant. I met an Aussie surfer who said he was fined several times for having a surfboard on top of his car. The fine is BS of course, just a way for the police to line their pockets.
The country is very difficult to get into and out of. There are no vehicle ferries from other countries. We had to charter a boat specifically for our bikes. There are only two official ports for foreign cargo, Jakarta and Surabaya, both in Java. We came in through Dumai in Sumatra, and had no troubles, in fact the customs guys treated us like royalty, and were really happy to see us. They stamped our Carnet’s and gave us each a genuine customs cap. We had been preparing ourselves for a battle, but it turned out to be the easiest border crossing any of us had ever been through.
All roads are sealed, but were not without their dangers. The roads are mostly narrow, and have way too much traffic on them. Much of the country is mountainous, and being monsoon season, often wet, covered with mud, or oil (which gave me my third opportunity to kiss the bitumen).
Our bikes arriving from Malaysia. In spite of covering them, they all had a liberal dose of salt water over them. We washed them as soon as we could, but salt is very difficult to get rid of, and we all suffered some corrosion. Mine was at the front, and copped the worst of it.
This is how we got them off. Many hands make light work. We had to pay the locals at the wharf to help us, but it was only 20,000Rp US$2) each.
These are the Dumai customs guys who were so good to us. They insisted on all bringing out their cameras, and we stood there with our cheesy grins while dozens of photos were taken. I guess they don’t see many bikes come through here.
This guy was justifiably proud of his 150cc Vespa. Great paint job. There are still plenty of Vespas here, though they aren’t imported any more.
This sign was painted on the window. I had to laugh. It certainly left know doubt as to what his profession is.
Let me introduce you to my riding friends. From the left, Cuan (South Africa), Gernot and Horst from Germany, and me. All sporting our new customs caps, and our favorite pastime in our hands.
We stayed in Dumai just one night. Our bikes didn’t arrive until late in the afternoon. Like most ports, this place is an unimpressive town. There is no reason to stay here other than to pick your bike up and go.
We had a bit of an introduction to the sort of things we were going to experience in Indonesia though. We were met at the ferry by a representative of the shipping company. We were being bustled into a bemo (small Suzuki or Daihatsu bus), but I stopped them and said, ‘how much’, to which they said ‘don’t worry, special service’, so I assumed that the shipping company was paying. They took us straight to a hotel, but we refused to stay there because it was expensive. Then they wanted to charge us US$8 each (X4=$32) to take us about 2km. I told them to get lost, but it was turning into a bit of a scene. If they had been reasonable with their charge, I may have grudgingly paid them to get them off our backs, but since they wanted to rip us off, I dug my heels in. Eventually a policeman cam along to see what the fuss was, so we relayed the story, then he told the bemo guys to get lost.
Later that afternoon, Gernot and I were walking down the main street in search of a beer to take back to the room. As we walked past a shop, a young guy offered us a ‘chicky chicky’, to which we waved no. He started swearing at us with every English swear word he knew, and he knew a few.
Heading down Sumatra the first day, we passed the equator. Check the Latitude on the GPS.
We nearly pasted the equator oblivious to it’s position. I knew we would pass it in Sumatra, but I forgot to look at the GPS. I thought there might be some sort of plaque to show it’s position, but there was nothing.
Lake Maninjau, near Bukittinggi. Indonesia is full of lakes in extinct volcanoes. This one, like most are spectacularly beautiful. Surrounded by the rugged edges of the volcano, fertile farming land around the shoreline, forest on the steep slopes of the rim, and fishermen plying their trade on the water.
Lake Maninjau again. We had lunch here at a hotel right on the water. We were on a day trip from Bukittinggi, otherwise we might have stayed.
We stayed in Bukittinggi for a few days. It was a pretty good place. Not a great deal to see, but it was at a fair altitude, and therefore cool.
The road into the crater has 43 numbered switchback corners. These monkeys got a bit too inquisitive when I stopped to take the photo, so I started the motor, and that put them back in their place.
Yet another view of Lake Maninjau.
A few K’s from Mt Kerinci, one of many active volcanoes in Indonesia
Mt Kerinci. Tea plantation in the foreground.
Tea pickers in their colourful hats.
Taking over the hotel foyer was no problem.
Hot beer? No problem. Just add ice!
Western Java, crash number 3. The road was very twisty, no straights. Trucks and buses every few hundred metres. I came up behind a truck, I looked up the inside, saw I could make it around before an oncoming truck, then I whipped out and passed him on the outside. Right around the corner was a perfect arc of freshly dropped diesel about 300mm wide. I turned tighter and got my front wheel around, but the back wheel caught it, I hit the deck faster than you can imagine. The bike did a 360 and a bit, I ended up in front of it. Both the trucks pulled up in time, and I was back in my lane. They all thought it was funny. I was just a little annoyed with myself, and annoyed that these trucks go around spilling diesel. I’ve seen many trucks here with no fuel caps. Once they lose them, they don’t replace them. How much diesel do you need to spill to pay for a new one?
I had to ride for an hour to catch the others with the handlebars broken. Once I caught them, we patched it up with a steel rod, some cloth tape, two hose clamps, and a big zip-tie. It worked fine, and I rode another 2000 odd kilometres with broken bars.
These handlebars are almost unbreakable. The reason these broke is because the panelbeater in Turkey used heat to straighten them after the sheep and I argued over who should be on that particular piece of road at the time. These bars are specially tempered, so heating them to straighten them makes them brittle.
This poor pannier has copped it twice now. It still works, and with plenty of cloth tape, is waterproof.
Borobudur Temple Jogjakarta
Mt Bromo, East Java
I had a ball on the ‘sand lake’, volcanic ash from Mt Bromo
Bali. Sand, Surf……and beach sellers. You get hassled non stop for massage, pedicure, plat your hair, watches, t-shirts, sarongs, necklaces, beer, cigarettes, you name it. The hawkers are the number one problem in Bali. A lot of people simply can’t handle it. I used to be polite all the time, but I don’t even answer most of the time now.
Having a shower Bali style.
We arrived in Bali on Christmas eve. All the cargo offices were closed until January 3rd, so we decided to go over to Lombok for new year. I had been to the Gili’s before, and the others guys wanted to go to a real beach (white sand, crystal clear water, coral, coconut trees, as few tourists as possible etc). The islands were great, inexpensive and beautiful. I did a couple of dives, which is the first time in over two years. The coral isn’t as good as Australia, but I was impressed with the fish life. We saw sharks, turtles, cuttle fish, moray eels, lion fish, clown fish, and lots of different small colourful reef fish. I was a bit sceptical about the quality of the diving here because I have been to some of the best reefs anywhere in the world (Soloman Islands and Queensland), but it really was worth it. The quality of the diving equipment was terrible, and these guys are bound to have a real accident soon. The mouth pieces were perished, air hoses leaked, my depth gauge didn’t work, the wet suits were completely worn out, etc. One guy’s mouth piece broke at 20m, but fortunately he didn’t panic.
This is the port on Bali from where the ferry goes to Lombok. Usually the ferry ports are horrible little towns but this one would be a good place to stay in its own right. In fact we had to stay here on our way back to Legian Beach because we arrived from Lombok at about midnight.
Gili Meno, one of a group of three islands. Meno is the quietest, so we decided it would be a good place to go for New Years Eve. We had been partying enough for the last few months.
One of our persistent young pineapple sellers on Gili Meno.
Interestingly, Gili Meno seems to be popular destination for western girls looking for young, fit Indonesian gigolos. I’ve never seen it so blatant anywhere else.
While there, we saw a flyer advertising a boat trip to from Lombok to Sumbawa, Komodo, and Flores. Since it looked like we would be able to ship our bikes from Bali, and we probably won’t be riding this way as we originally intended (to Timor), we decided to go. The boat trip was fabulous. Good food, the best snorkelling I have seen anywhere, with great reefs in shallow water and plenty of sunshine to show off their spectacular colours. The ocean was smooth, and like a mirror in some places. The rain stayed away until the last day, and it only cost US$45 for 4 days and 4 nights, including 3 meals a day. It was almost a perfect trip.
Unfortunately, we encountered a fair bit of dishonesty here. It seems so ingrained in their culture that they don’t think anything of it, and they have the annoying habit of telling us what ever they think we want to hear, not the truth. They will take advantage of you any way they can. They see foreigners as a life support system for a wallet. I know I am generalising, but it seems that any one in the tourist industry is this way. Before the trip started, they took orders for drinks, which we had to pay up front for. They told us they had fridges on board the boats. We worked out our drink order, and paid for it up front. We got on the boat and there was one small cooler box for 18 peoples drinks, and no ice! I asked him about the ice, and he said he couldn’t find any. I asked him how long they had been doing this trip, to which he replied 5 years. I said, if you have been doing this for 5 years, why couldn’t you find any ice???? He couldn’t answer me. I kicked up a bit of a stink because we bought 36 beers between the three of us, and I don’t fancy hot beer. At our stop that evening, he managed to get some from a village, but that ice had to last the whole trip. The result was the beer was cold for one day, barely acceptable for another, and hot for the other two. Then at the second last day, we all ran out of drinks. None of us had had our allotted share, but mysteriously, there were no more drinks. They under bought, and pocketed the money.
Our dolphin escorts. We must have seen dozens of pods along the way, mostly in the morning.
There were two boats, this is our sister craft. There were supposed to have been three, but one had engine problems, so the other two were a little crowded, but OK. Our boat had two motors. Our sister craft also had two, but one was broken down, so it was slow. It was always some time behind us, and they didn’t get the snorkeling time we did.
We were blessed with the weather. You don’t often see an ocean like a mirror, but we fluked it.
The water was as clear as crystal.
Impressive sunsets every night.
This is a volcanic lake on Sumbawa, only a few hundred metres from the shore.
The old and the new. The main motivation for taking the trip was to get to Komodo Island, and see these monsters. The grow up to 4 metres long, the largest lizards in the world. They seem to ignore humans, but being reptiles, they are completely unpredictable. They can run at 15km/hr, but not for long. They feed on wild pigs and goats. They ambush them as they pass through tracks, but often their prey escapes, only to die later from infections created by nasty bacteria on their teeth, plus a recently discovered poison gland. They can smell their prey from kilometres away.
At the start of the trip, they sold us bus tickets back to Bali. They said all the buses and planes would be full because it was the end of the Ramadan. We checked the flights, and they were full, so we bought the ticket. Again they pocketed the money, and didn’t pass on the reservation details to the bus company. The trip back is a bit of a nightmare, even if everything goes to plan. It usually takes 30 hours to get from Flores to Bali. It involves a ferry, a bimo (small bus), bus, ferry, bus, bimo, ferry, and finally another bimo. One bimo trip took 3 and a half hours to do a one and a half hour trip because it was boiling all the time, and had to stop regularly to top up the radiator, and cool down.
We arrived at the station for the first bus leg at night, it was raining, and they wouldn’t let us on the bus. They wouldn’t honour the tickets even though they were on their numbered stationery (so they know who issued them). They wouldn’t give us replacement tickets or a refund. There were 10 of us affected, and we all piled onto the bus, and refused to move until they gave us replacement tickets or a refund. It looked like it might get a bit ugly at times, but we hung in there. We delayed the bus by about an hour, and finally they gave three of us replacement tickets, and the others had to sit in the isle of the bus, because they had plane connections to catch.
Our group of three stayed the night in Bima, Sumbawa, and caught the bus the next night. Two hours into the trip, the bus pulled over to make room for an on-coming bus, and got bogged to the axles. We had to sit on the road for 10 hours waiting for a replacement bus. Fortunately it wasn’t raining. When I say we sat on the road, I mean on the asphalt. The sides of the road were all sticky mud. Not the safest place to be! It took a total of 3 days and 5 hours to do a 30 hour trip. It helps to have a sense of humour at times!