17 July 2010

CYCLING JAVA, INDONESIA - Surabaya to Situbondo

July Makassar – Surabaya - By boat

Eventually it was time to leave. The day dragged on, seemingly for ever. We had to be out of our room at 12h00 but the ship only docked at 3pm and left at 7pm. So, we sat around in cafes, walked around shopping centers and visited the old fort (again). At last we headed for the harbor where we boarded the already overcrowded ship (this was not the origin of the voyage, the ship does a weekly route amongst various Indonesian islands).

We found what we thought was a good spot for ourselves and our bikes in a passage close to the door where we entered the ship. However, soon other passengers also claimed their space in our passage and we could hardly move. The rest of the ship was similar, with people sleeping on the stairs!

The Indonesians must surely be the most tolerant people on earth. With the boat being that overcrowded, everything from going to the (soon blocked and overflowing) toilet to buying something at the shop brings along a lengthy wait in a long que. Those people (unlike me) don’t stand there grumbling, sighing, and rolling their eyes. In fact they remain friendly and chatty as if this is no problem at all. I truly admire them, even when our ship developed engine problems and we were left adrift out in the open seas, they did not lift an eyebrow, - they just carried on eating their instant noodles and playing cards, believing that the problem would be fixed in no time at all!!

In the meantime they seem to be constantly having a shower, and always smell as fresh as daisies; it was just the 2 foreigners being all sweaty and stinky. I have now discovered their secret. Sweet smelling flowers, being sold at the market, is placed in water and is then used for rinsing the body.

10 July - Arriving in Surabaya
A lot of rubbish is generated by so many passengers on a ship (meals and snacks are served in polystyrene containers, and most wrappers, etc. are plastic. This rubbish was collected in large plastic refuse bags and stored at the other end of our passage – but during the night the large side-hatch was opened and all that rubbish was unceremoniously dumped into the ocean!l I could not believe my eyes, after all that careful collection, what’s the point?!

We arrived in Surabaya, at around 22h00 (instead of in the afternoon, due to the engine problems). It took forever to get off the boat with our bikes and bags. We once again cycled in the dark into town to find a hotel. I was more than happy to be off the boat and into fresh air.

11 July - Surabaya
FIFA really did put South Africa (Africa Selatan as they say here) on the world map. Most people have at least now heard of South Africa. My impression is that many people still think SA is just a geographical term referring to the South of Africa. A common reaction is still, “But you are not black?” As someone asked today, “Where in South Africa, …..Nigeria?”

Ernest was still rather ill, so we stayed one more day. He refuses to go see a doctor, and because he keeps on cycling he has now also picked up a cold.

12 /13 July - Surabaya - Pasuruan - 67km
We packed up and cycled the relatively short distance in heavy traffic to Pasuruan. It was a short ride but better than just staying in one place. I seemed to have also picked up Ernest’s cold and suffered from a tight chest, blocked nose and headache. This is so frustrating.

The entire way was very congested, and it felt like we were not getting out of Surabaya. This must be guava country as all along the road they were selling guava and guava juice. A great drink to have as they put loads of ice in it.

In constant traffic we arrived in Pasuruan; found a very comfortable room (my favorite) an outside, ground floor room with a window and a veranda overlooking a central garden.

The next day both Ernest and I were rather sick and feeling worse for wear, we decided to stay in bed and only carry on the followed day.

14 - July Pasuruan – Probolinggo - 41 km
We took it real easy and only cycled the short distance to Probolinggo. Although a busy road, it was nice and flat with a bit of a tail wind, so we arrived early. I was keen to see the nearby volcano and decided to do that the next day.

15 July - Gunung Bromo
I got up in the early hours of the morning, left Ernest in bed, and headed up the mountain to see the sunrise. Gosh, I have not seen so many tourists in a long while. Where did they all come from? I could hardly catch a glimpse of the sunrise with all those people at the view point! It still remained quite a spectacular site. Mount Bromo with its smoking cone and smelling strongly of rotten eggs, is situated in a vast caldera and surrounded by various other craters.

I climbed up to the lip of the crater to see what was down there. Not much just a smoking hollow! Then it was time to head back to the room where Ernest was still semi-comatose under the covers.

16 July - Probolinggo – Situbondo - 102km
A great day on the bike, as the road was flat and there was not as much traffic as expected. The road hugged the coast for most of the way and although not a beachy area, more like mangrove swamps, it was great to be next to the ocean.

I love easy days!! Both I and Ernest felt a lot better so we enjoyed the day, all we needed was a tail wind, but that was asking for too much!

09 July 2010

CYCLING SULAWESI - Pare Pare to Makassar

4 July - Pare Pare – Pancep - 113km

At last we found a flat road in Sulawesi. The road followed the coast and contrary to what I expected, was very scenic and very enjoyable. Hardly any of the places along the way were on our map – the names seemed to be different from those commonly used in the area (a bit confusing at times)

Ernest was still ill, therefore we considered stopping early but there was not much (or nice) along the way so we carried on to where we found a comfortable room. Once again, I expect, it was a place where they rent rooms by the hour but it was cheap and the people friendly enough.

5-8 Jul - Pancep – Makassar - 56km

An easy and short ride brought us to Makassar with its heavy traffic and congested streets. We found a good old backpackers hostel right in the centre of town where we off loaded the bikes. We soon found out that we would have to wait 5 days for the next boat back to Surabaya (Java) - gee that is a long time to sit around!

While waiting for the boat we visited the old fort and took bicycle rickshaws around town, visiting all there is to see in Makassar.

03 July 2010

CYCLING SULAWESI - Pare Pare to Tana Toraja to Pare Pare

24 June 2010
Pare-Pare, Sulawesi

Dead tired we arrived in Pare-Pare at 7h00. Once off the boat we headed straight for a room where we could have a shower and a sleep. First we had to find a bike shop and a new tyre for my bike as a huge bubble appeared along the wall of the tyre. Ernest, still feeling unwell, did all the work and changed my tires for me.

25 June 2010
Pare-Pare – Enrekang

Sulawesi is a twisted orchid shape Island with four mountainous peninsulas sprawling into the sea. Needless to say there is little flat ground around. The road between Pare-Pare and Enrekang is probably the most flat of the lot. We headed north on a gently undulated road until we reached Enrekang.

Both the culture and architecture here seems to be different to Java and Kalimantan. Traditional wooden houses lined the road, orchids seemly growing wild along the road and amazed and friendly locals are keen to inspect us as soon as we stop. At every stop they appear from nowhere and have no shame in staring at and even touching us (they must wonder what a white skin feels like).

26 June 2010
Enrekang – Makale

Gosh what an uphill day it was. We climbed up to the highlands with stunning views of the valleys and rivers far below us. It was a rather slow day as we stopped numerous times for water and to admire the views and the interesting traditional houses along the way. Once we reached the area of Tana Toraja things became even more interesting.

Traditional houses with boat shaped roofs, rising in front and at the back, is a common site, most also have a richly decorated barn in front,

Although it was Saturday night, we were lucky this time and found a room in Makale at the 3rd local hotel we tried. Although we were not far from Rantapao (tourist centre of Tana Toraja), it was getting late and we were rather tired (Ernest was still suffering from the illness which he picked up in Borneo).

27/28/29 June 2010
Makale – Rantapao

It was a short and easy ride to Rantapoa. We took the opportunity to stop at Londa, a small village with some fascinating burial caves. One can even go inside the caves where old coffins are scattered around, exposing skulls and bones. Very gory, how can these people find any rest? Above the cave is a balcony with a row of tau tau (life size carved wooden replicas of the dead) sitting all dressed up in fresh clothes watching their graves. We found more caves at Lemo where tau tau is sitting high up on a sheer cliff face.

Once we reached Rantepao, we booked into a rather expensive but comfortable hotel, in fact we stayed for 2 nights, doing nothing just laying around and watching football on TV. (Aslo waiting for Ernest to recover from his illness).

30 June 2010
Rantepao – Palopo

Another remarkable day on the road. We cycled through more authentic villages with colourful rice barns. At last we reached the long awaited downhill. The road was in rather poor condition and washed away in many places, parts so narrow that I wondered how the trucks and busses make it past those detours. Thick clouds and rain hung over the mountain top and made visibility rather poor as we descended down the mountain. We reached the town of Palopo fairly early in the pm, and booked into a room close to the central market.

1 July 2010
Palopo – Larompong

At last we reached a level road! (only slightly up and down at times). What a pleasure it was to cycle along and just enjoy the ride. We could see all kinds of produce being dried along the road. The whole range was there, coco beans, coffee beans, fish, rice, sea weed, vanilla and the ever present cloves. The smell of cloves will now probably forever remind me of Indonesia.

We spotted a Hotel sign indicating a beach hotel, and booked into what was once a very nice resort hotel – right on the warm tropical ocean -but it has since gone to the dogs. The hotel is situated right on the ocean with all the facilities, but no one there. The facilities were not what it used to be but the location was fantastic. There was a small fridge and TV in the room - and despite the arrangement of satalite dishes there was only one channel on TV. (I later found the TV remote in the bed). Soon the word must have gotten out that two foreigners were in their midst, and the townsfolk arrived to come and have a look while we were still unpacking outside.

2 July 2010
Larompong - Sidenreng

Another excellent day on the road, gently undulated and with nice views. We picked up a bit of a tail wind and carried on cycling past more colourful villages. The Indonesians do like color - from bright pink curtains to luminous green school tracksuits.

Just as we departed from one of our water stops, Ernest snapped his chain but fixed it in no time. In the meantime the lady from the house served coffee and cake. Kids arrived to check us out, and although shy they’re not timid. They just come to have a closer look at the two strangers.

The soccer world cup has really put South Africa on the map. Most people now have heard of South Africa, although they still find it amazing that we are white. When they hear where we from, they spontaneously brake into the “Wave your flag” song. How fantastic is that! I must admit it is a rather catchy tune.

3 July 2010
Sidenreng - Pare Pare

After a breakfast of fried rice and chilies, there was no doubt that heartburn was going to set in soon. Ernest (still suffering from his mysterious illness which he picked up in Borneo) now seems to have a chest infection as well. He wisely decided not to cycle on to Makassar but to take a day’s rest in Pare Pare.

CYCLING KALIMANTAN, BORNEO - Balikpapan to Samarinda

14/15 June 2010

We moved to another hotel, closer to the centre and one offering better accommodation at the same price. My knees were sore from cycling up all those hills, but nothing a couple of anti-inflammatories and a few days rest can’t sort out. We even had a shower with hot water in our room, which made us stay another day and enjoy the luxury. We washed our clothes, washed our hair, scrubbed our bodies and just enjoyed the luxury of an air-con room.

16/17 June 2010
Balikpapan – Loa Janan – Samarinda

Time had come to move on and we headed further North towards Samarinda. The road continued to be extremely hilly. It was also slightly further than expected. By the time it got dark, I insisted we find a room as I had enough of struggling in the dark up hills and trying to find a room in heavy traffic (my pet hate). So we stayed over in an overpriced crumby room in the town of Loa Janan, and cycled the remaining 13 km into Samarinda city the following morning. There we booked into a local favorite hotel close to shops and the central basar.

We also took a walk to the harbor to enquire about ferries to Sulawesi. However, before leaving Borneo we plan to explore the interior by boat, as roads appear to be non-existent and the best way to see the interior seems to be by river.

I found out to my horror that our digs also came with lice on the bed. I woke the following morning bitten to pieces and itching like hell!!

18 June 2010

We conveniently found a guide to take us to the interior (they seem to frequent the hotels on the hunt for tourist). I liked the guy so we arranged with him to take us inland along the water ways. I’m sure that we could have done this quite easily independently, but what the hell let’s do the touristy thing for once.

19 June 2010

Our guide was dead on time at 8h00. We took an ankot to the bus terminus where we boarded a bus to Kota Bandung further up-river, a very bumpy 3-hour ride. There we boarded a small long-tailed boat, which was not much more than a canoe with an engine. It fortunately came with a canopy to keep the worst of the sun off us. The engine sits on the back of the boat, and has a long direct drive shaft to the propeller - a rather noisy affair. The engine spattered and roared - reminding me of our disastrous crossing from Thailand to Myanmar where the engine blew up.

Soon we left the busy waterways around the town and found ourselves on a large lake resembling an ocean. The colors reminded me of the Antarctic, whites and blues abound as we zooted across the lake. After about 2 hours we reached a tiny village where we stopped for lunch. The little village is no more than 1 square mile but was fitted with walkways for streets whilst everything ells seemed to be floating alongside it.

At times our boatman had to find his way along channels through the floating grass islands in the lake, which were sometimes so thick that the boat got stuck. We had to as directions from local fishermen a number of times.

A thunder storm was building, and came down with such force that we took shelter at a floating fish-depot. That also gave us the opportunity to buy some huge lake prawn which our guide later cooked for supper.

Our overnight stop was at a village where we stayed in a very comfortable guest house, resembling a longhouse. Longhouses (the traditional accommodation) are not in use anymore and I understand that it is discouraged by government. Traditionally a whole village would live in one longhouse, but apparently it was also a breeding ground for disease. Individual houses are now encouraged but there are still some lovely old longhouses to be seen in some villages.

20 June 2010

After a breakfast of tea and fried noodles we were on the boat again. This time the route was up a river lined by dense forest and small villages. Wooden houses on barges floating along the side of the river are the norm around this part of the world. The toilets are no more that a small outhouse directly over the water with a hole in the floor! From what I could see most of these villages are fishing villages and people don’t seem to do much more than fish, wash, and clean. I just wonder if kids don’t drown in hordes??

We even spotted some long-nosed proboscis monkeys along the way. All kinds of fishing methods are being employed, from fish traps to Chinese fishing nets, but still there seems to be plenty of fish around.

The villages along the way seemed to be well organized (albeit floating and with no connecting road). They have their petrol station, shops, furniture stores, schools, etc all floating on barges or on high stilts.

Women could be seen going about their daily business with faces speared with white cream. The purpose of which is still unknown to me. Babies were being rocked viciously in small hammocks and older kids were, seemingly, constantly playing in the river.

In the next small village I eventually found the women making the face masks. A concoction of leaves and flour. This is then rolled into small bolls and dried in the sun. She keenly gave me some (which I still have to try out).

Back in our guesthouse we ate the rest of the prawn, tempe (something like tofu, thinly sliced and fried) and noodles, washed down with some more tea.

I could still not stop itching, no lice this time just hordes of mosquitoes! I was fairly lumpy by then. Fortunately the power come on in the evening and stayed on until the morning, so one can at least have the use of a fan during the night.

21 June 2010

It was time to head back to Samarinda. First I had to take a quick peep at the traditional healer’s house. It was rather colorful and quite busy, so it seems that people make use of the local healer fairly regularly. His drumming and chanting could be heard throughout the night.

Our boatman was ready and waiting for us and we headed back the same way we came. Although there was not a huge amount of wild life around there were still a fair amount of bird life, there were colorful kingfishers, plenty of other water birds and even a huge maribu stork or two.

I must admit that the toilets here are something to get use to. Not only is it just wooden structures over the water with a hole in the floor, people wash themselves, do their laundry and swim right at the door of the toilet. Best not to think about it, just squat and do your thing. Good thing they do not use toilet paper around here. The worst is that you still have to wash your ass with water scooped from that very same hole!! Gosh, I guess that is way too much information for most people.

22 June 2010

We bought our boat tickets for our trip to Sulawesi, which appears to leave every Wednesday. I anticipate another long boat ride with minimal facilities. Judging by the way they were selling tickets left right and centre. I’m sure they have no idea of how many tickets they have sold. We’ll wait and see what the boat is like.

Ernest was sick and stayed in bed all day, so even if there was another boat we could not leave.

23 June 2010
Samarinda, Kalimantan – Pare-Pare, Sulawesi

According to the ticket the boat would leave at 11h00, but it was 14h00 before we finally left. People streamed onto the boat and we were packed in like sardines. Rumor had it that there were 4 000 people on the boat (which I could believe), licensed to carry 970 people. There was not even enough space for us to roll out our sleeping mats. Eventually we opted for the open deck, but even there it was totally packed with people coming out to escape the stuffy interior. Hawkers still managed to get thru to sell all kinds of snacks and trinkets; how they managed I don’t know. You know you in for a hot and stuffy ride if the hawkers peddle fans at only R3.00.

We waited for the mullah to call the people to the mosque (on every ship around here) and took the opportunity to roll out our mats on deck; at last we could stretch our legs!

As if that was not enough a fierce wind came up and soon we sailed through a storm. It rained, the swell was rather large and the boat pitched and the people puked! Ugggg … there was no chance of going inside as by now it was even more packed inside and there was not even standing space. We wrapped ourselves in our ground sheets and waited out the storm on deck.

The problem with such an overloaded boat is that the facilities are not designed to handle so many people. People puked and had a pee where ever they could squat! What a trip we had.