I had a special stay in Merpas with Harin but was now eager to get going again. There had been extremely heavy rain in the night which had made way for a bright and sunny morning and the prospect of making some kilometres was inviting. I thanked Harin for what had been a fantastic stay and he wished me well for my journey. However, upon departure, I instantly had a problem. Whilst on the smallest chain ring of my front gears, a loud noise and vibration through the pedals was produced from my bike and I observed as my newly installed chain jumped up and down as it travelled through the cassette. I was just on the back of 4 days of rest so did not want to halt my progress any further and looked for a way of just getting through the day. I knew that a day of limited hills lay ahead of me and felt that for the most part I would be able to use the second chain ring at the front which worked without problems. I set off on my wounded bike and began heading North. I crossed many rivers leaving South Sumatra behind and the heavy rain in the night meant that they flowed powerfully. A brown water picked up more colour as it flowed its way downhill above the banks of the river and took with it anything that was not securely rooted in the ground. The contrast of colours made the blue sky and lush green trees look really beautiful and with the terrain remaining mostly flat, the beginning of the ride was very enjoyable.
All good things must come to an end though and after 30km I began climbing hills that were just too steep to be comfortably climbed on the second chain ring. Reluctantly switching into the first ring, my chain jumped about with ever more intensity as I put more strain through the drivetrain with the increasing steepness of the road. I could feel a strong clunk in my feet and observed as the rear derailleur was rived about by the stress of the chain and decided I needed to stop and inspect or risk causing more damage. I saw that the teeth on my small chain ring were hooked, almost shaped like a shark fin so that when the chain went round, the hooks would keep a hold of the chain and cause it to lift upwards when exiting the chain ring on the bottom side. I had read about this problem caused by running an old chain and felt quite annoyed at myself for not changing the previous chain earlier even though I had been advised to change it after 5000km (it had now done 8000km). But, there was nothing I could do apart from learn from my mistake and find a way to resolve the issue so pondered what to do. I thought of putting the old chain back on but decided that this would probably only make things worse and concluded that unless I could reshape the teeth, the chain ring was finished. Being in rural Sumatra with some steep hills ahead and a distinct lack of cycle shops around, my determination to find a solution was strong and I cast back my memory to one night at home when my dad and I had been in the local pub discussing my trip. Fortunately he is the handiest person I know and has a wealth of experience in repairing, renewing and even temporarily bodging things until a proper repair can be achieved. He had told me that this problem may occur as my components wore and that I may be able to solve the problem with a round file and a bit of thought of where material needed removing from, so that is what I planned to do if only I could find a file. I rode the rest of day using the smallest chain ring as little as possible and kept my eyes peeled when any signs of a shop appeared, hoping to spot a tool store.
I spent the vast majority of the day cruising through wonderful scenery with amazing coastal views and passing tiny villages where the locals made me feel like a celebrity. Fortunately the road was mostly flat and I only spent a very small amount of time grimacing at the pain I seemed to be subjecting my bike to when climbing the short steep hills. In Sumatra I’d grown to really enjoy cycling through countryside where animals roam very freely. In any given kilometre I may pass cows, goats, sheep, dogs, cats, geese, ducks, swans, snakes and giant lizards just going about their business with a freedom that comes as a novelty to me. Due to the nice scenery, wildlife and easy going road, I found that the 100km I pedalled to Manna where I met one of Harin’s friends called Dian passed by easily. On my way into town I happened to pass by a tool shop and managed to pick up a file for 20,000 Rupiah (£1.25) which didn’t have quite the diameter I would have liked but I was confident that I could make it work.
Dian runs a private English school from home and after arriving at her house, I got the opportunity to meet some of her students and sat down to chat with them over a table filled with sweet snacks. Later in the night we went out for dinner and then I set about filing my chain ring as best I could without dismantling the crank. I managed to find room through the holes in the larger chain rings to access the mis-shapen teeth of the smallest chain ring and tried my best to file them into the correct shape. I noticed that the problem was that the chain rollers of the new chain could not sit fully in the lowest part of the chain ring (located in between two teeth) so the chain was running towards the upper part of the teeth and not releasing properly when it should and therefore jumping around. I needed to remove material from the opposite side to the hook to allow the chain to sit deeply again and set about my work. I went once around the whole chain ring, filing a a rounded shape back into the front side of the tooth and then gave the bike a test run. It seemed I had been successful so I was very relieved and I went back into the house to sit chatting with Dian for the night. I felt totally at home within Dian’s house which was really comforting and we had a really nice evening of chit chatting about life and my cycle trip whilst sampling lots of local food. Perfect!
In the morning, I prepared early and departed at around 7am in hot sunshine, expecting a long day on the road. Dian had given me a good breakfast of quail egg and fried rice and sent me on my way with a pack up of fried goodies. I pedalled along undulating terrain but the hills were small in comparison with Java and South Sumatra. My legs were feeling very strong and I climbed the hills with an almost unfamiliar ease and raced along the flat sections. I found that on the steepest hills where I had to use the smallest chain ring, my repair job had not completely solved the problem. Whilst the bike was not loaded and riding on the flat, the chain didn’t stick but with all my luggage on and going up steep hills, the extra strain meant that the problem persisted although not quite as badly as before. I knew that ideally, the ring needed replacing but was encouraged that the work I had already done had helped a small amount so decided I would have another go at it when I got the chance and next time, I would remove the larger chain rings so that I could properly access the affected teeth.
As I got further away from Manna, the development of land turned from housing to palm and rubber tree plantations. They went on and on and villages became fewer and further between although the reception I got in them all was very good with lots of welcoming waves and hellos. At one stage however, I passed a small village and somebody began following me on a rough looking motorcycle that made a horrible sound. I am regularly followed by school kids and we have a little laugh and joke for a few kilometres and they take a lot of photos before they turn and let me on my way. This though was a grown man and he seemed to have no intention of leaving me. He rode around 2 metres behind my back wheel for 10km. I stopped in at a small town to get a snack from a road side stall and he stopped as well, just staring at me. I said “hello” but it was unreturned and when I got back on my way, he started up his bike and followed me again but this time rode alongside me. He began asking questions in an Indonesian language that I didn’t understand and when I couldn’t respond, he retreated to the back of my bike again and carried on with me. At times, the man would race on ahead and then dive into a palm plantation and I thought that would be it. A few kilometres down the road though he would quickly come up behind me and start the whole following thing again. After around 40km, I had put it down to an intense curiosity and lack of anything better to do that had caused the man to follow me. I’m sure that white people on loaded bicycles are a rare sight around here so it was probably just his days entertainment. Whatever it was though, he was now quite a long way from where we began our journey together given that if it was his home, he would have to double back and ride all that way again. We began a downhill section of road to the ocean side when the man came alongside to speak to me again, this time in Indonesian national language which I understood. He asked where I was going and I just said Dumai, to which he promptly turned around, never to be seen again.
For the rest of the day I pedalled through palm and rubber plantations on a road that dropped down to the ocean side and then climbed gentle hills back inland. I also passed a lot of coastal land that had been dug out and in these areas, brick manufacturing huts lined the streets with roaring fires burning inside and lines of new bricks drying outside in the hot sunshine. It was interesting to see the brick factories but I was quickly becoming tired of the wildlife free palm plantations which cover such a huge area of Sumatra.
After 130 relatively uninteresting kilometres, I knew I was approaching a city of decent size because Angkot vans began to appear with increasing frequency. I may have been on a different island but the Angkot’s retained their unpredictable stop start movements of Java and I found myself weaving by them in the streets which got busier as I neared the city centre. 10 kilometres later, I reached Fabri’s house who was my couchsurfing host in the city of Bengkulu and he and his mother welcomed me in with a cup of tea before I took a well earned shower. In the evening, Fabri and I went out for dinner before joining his friends in a very Western style coffee shop where I felt a certain home comfort from sitting in a well decorated coffee shop with motown music playing through the speakers. I really enjoy the breaking of borders feeling I get from sitting and chatting with people from a completely different country and culture who have experienced a completely different upbringing, yet we find so many common topics to laugh about. We all seemed to really enjoy the evening and I didn’t need much pursuading to take a day off the next day so Fabri and I could visit a local waterfall and sample some Bengkulu food.
In the morning we left early on Fabri’s scooter, loaded up with snacks and water for a ride into the countryside. When stopped at a traffic light though, the scooter mysteriously stopped and would not start again. After 10 minutes of trying, we gave up and pushed the bike to the nearest mechanic. We were told it would take a couple of hours to fix so went for a drawn out coffee in a local cafe and I got the chance to find out a little more about my host. Fabri is a smart guy and studied urban development in Yogyakarta but I feel very sympathetic for his frustration that he suffers whilst attempting to work in that field in Indonesia. He spoke of a project he was on where he had designed an environmentally friendly way of getting waste away from a new housing development that had been given the go ahead. However, half way through the project, the government got involved and said that the houses needed to be built quicker and for less cost. As a result, Fabri’s design got dropped and he was forced to work on a project that would cost less to build, but have a much bigger impact on the environment with the traditional waste management method of gathering it up in the street and setting fire to it. In the end, Fabri had had enough and quit the project and has now run up a bit of a bad reputation with the government but he says that the moral implications of doing something he doesn’t believe in are too strong to have continued with that project and I really respect his strength on this view. I also asked Fabri about the pollution control for traffic in Indonesia and he told me that there were no requirements for emissions of vehicles which explained why I found the air quality in Java to be a huge challenge, especially when cycling.
With a call from the mechanic confirming the scooter was back up and running, we set off for the hills. We quickly left the city behind and we both said how lucky we were that it had given up in the middle of Bengkulu with mechanics all around. Pushing the scooter up the country hills would have been no fun! We cruised through wonderful rice fields approaching the mountains and finally pulled up at the waterfall where we first hiked through a stunning gorge with fresh water flowing heavily. We had to trek through the water, holding our bags on our heads as the cold water came up to chest height. We spent 2 hours swimming in the pristine waters before dark clouds rolled in. Fabri said that we had to leave because dark clouds here meant it was already raining higher up the mountain and that would bring a sharp rise in the power and volume of water flowing down the hill. We got back on the scooter and as we drove away from the mountains, we could see water lashing the land above so it was a good job we had decided to move on.
Around 30km from Bengkulu, we stopped by a street food vendor to eat some sweetcorn and Fabri spoke with the seller. She cooked the corns in a huge black pot on top of a roaring fire and lined them up on a wooden table when ready. Interestingly, he had to stop her and ask her to speak in Indonesian national language because she was speaking in one of the +300 native Indonesian languages and it happened to be one that Fabri didn’t understand. Lingual problems solved, we sat nibbling away on our sweetcorn and the lady then set about sorting chillies for the families evening meal. Behind her were 3 children playing and when they ran over she had the hugest smile on her face which was really beautiful to see.
With our bellies full of sweetcorn, we set off again before stopping to drink a coconut on a beautiful cliff face overlooking the ocean and quizzed each other on previous and upcoming events in our lives. We then headed back to town for some local Bengkulu food on the beach front as the sun was setting which concluded a great, food filled rest day. I’d really enjoyed getting to know a little more about Fabri in the past 2 days and he had looked after me well but with time on my visa beginning to look a little tight, I decided I would leave the following day and progress North.
I said goodbye to Fabri and headed off in the morning sun. A bit of poor navigation following me being sure I had memorised my route out of Bengkulu meant that I took the long way out of town. The plus side to this was that the new route took me by many fried food stalls so I was loaded up on fried banana by the time I found the road heading North towards Padang. The town quickly disappeared into the distance and I was soon well in the countryside. I had been pedalling for around 50km when I became hungry but around me laid a seemingly never ending palm oil plantation but no sign of houses or food. The only times I did see houses, they were tiny shacks which I guess were for the plantation workers and I wasn’t hungry enough to start knocking on doors and asking for a bit of rice so I kept on pedalling. I finally reached a small village after 90 food free kilometres and pulled in feeling very hungry. I sat and ate Nasi Padang and chatted with an old man in the restaurant for over 2 hours who told me that I only had 5km left until Ketahun where I would sleep in the police station. It seemed though that the Indonesian elastic measuring tape had been used because after 5km, there was no sign of a town. I stopped by and asked some more people who said the town was 3km away and again 3km passed without a town. Eventually though I did reach Ketahun and pedalled to the police station where I entered to find the officers in hysterics watching videos on YouTube.
I was welcomed in by Mario and the gang and they seemed very proud to have me there, contacting their friends on video call to show me off. I brought my bike inside and parked it next to one of the cells that had a prisoner sat inside looking very glum whilst the officers laughed and joked around outside. Apparently, the man had stolen from a jewellery store and was now subjected to being called “naughty boy” repeatedly by the policemen. Later in the afternoon and with the initial excitement of me showing up now gone, the officers were looking for new ways to entertain me, even though I was quite happy just relaxing. After plenty of food and fruit shakes, Mario decided it would be a good idea for me to join 2 others for a late afternoon patrol. We set off in a 4×4 truck going around the small town of Ketahun whilst the officers whoop whooped the siren and laughed uncontrollably at anybody who flinched even the smallest amount at the sound of the very loud siren.
After startling half of the town, we returned to the police station and to a new member of the police force who had come to join us. He was off duty and making the most of his time by drinking Tuak (fermented coconut milk) at a rate that meant he was drunk within the first 30 minutes and dancing around the room, singing at the top of his lungs, especially in the direction of the prisoner. At 10,000 Rupiah (60p) per litre it is a very cheap way to get drunk and this is heavily reflected in the taste which is to put it politely, bloody awful. As a result a small shot sized amount was more than enough for me which meant more for the already drunk man. Happy days for him!
I was getting prepared for my night of sleep on the floor of the police office when I was pointed in the direction of the police accommodation. I was upgraded to a room with king size bed, air conditioning, shower and snacks – wow! As a result, I slept like a baby in the temperature of my choosing rather than the +30 Celsius I had been trying and failing to sleep solidly in for the previous few nights and was only woken at 6.30am when Mario felt like he had been too long without my company. I got up and we went straight to Ketahun town for breakfast before returning to shower and prepare for departure. I had had a really enjoyable stay with the police in Ketahun and felt humbled by their kindness and generosity but after a quick photo shoot, it was time to get on my way.
Within the first couple of kilometres leaving Ketahun, I had begun the continuous up and down sections of road that would fill the majority of my day and these sections ran through palm oil plantations. The road was bad for the first 40km but then with the introduction of a huge and seemingly well established palm plantation, a brand new surface appeared. My bike rolled well on the smooth tarmac but my eyes were becoming numbed by palm trees and palm oil trucks rushing by with their overweight loads. I was really struggling to enjoy pedalling and the lack of visual stimulation seemed to emphasise a feeling of fatigue that had been growing in my legs for the past few days. Each time I descended a hill, there would be another one waiting for me to climb on the other side and I knew that there would be no reward at the top of it so soon, the mental battle was one that I began to lose.
Fortunately for me, I happened to be riding through an area of the world where such trivial matters are not worried about as there are much more pressing issues going on that require more attention. As I pedalled through a sulky and uninspired mood, I was greeted with big waves, loud shouts and huge smiles baring bright white teeth. Slowly but surely, they breathed optimism back into my attitude and the kilometres continued to tick by but with more ease. I stopped in hottest part of the day to eat an Indonesian sweet called Sup Buah (fruit soup) which is crushed ice covered in sugary sauce with pieces of fruit in the bottom. Within minutes, the ice melts and a sweet soup surrounds the fruit providing a sugar kick.
I was in a very rural area and quickly attracted the attention of the locals. I used the little bits of Indonesian that I knew to hold a very basic conversation with the group and they seemed equally confused and impressed at the fact I would ride a bicycle from Bali to Dumai. Long after the fruit soup had disappeared, I was still sitting down. I was really enjoying the company and chance to have some time off the saddle but my Indonesian had been exhausted and I was now struggling to keep up with the conversation. I decided to leave and went to pay before being told that no payment would be required. In that moment I felt so thankful for the way I had been treated here and over the course of the day where people were so happy to see me plodding along on my bike. I sat contemplating the day so far and only felt silly for sulking at the fact I had to go up and down a few hills without amazing scenery. It really knocked me down a peg or two and made me appreciate the present moment I was in where in all honesty, life is absolutely great.
I left the small stall with a renewed optimism and pedalled the remaining 15km to Ipoh police station where I was again told it would be no problem to sleep. Since leaving Harin’s and nearing the equator, I’d really begun to notice an increase in temperature which had translated into me feeling much more tired at the end of a days ride. I found that the night time temperatures were not too dissimilar to the day time temperatures and a solid nights sleep was difficult to achieve so my batteries were feeling a little depleated. I went out for some dinner before heading to bed on a camp bed at 7.30pm, much to the amusement of the police officers.
It wasn’t much of a solid nights sleep because the police men were watching international football all night and cheering on their teams with a lot of enthusiasm. However, I had been in bed for so long that I had managed to rack up a good number of hours inbetween the shouts of “GOOOOOAAALLLL” and was on the road at 6.30am with my legs feeling better and more importantly, in good mental spirit.
The first 50km brought short steep hills, much like yesterday but with a far superior road surface which meant that I could race down the hills and only had to climb for the last little bit so it passed with ease. I stopped in for fried banana and chatted with a sweet older lady and her three children. Before leaving, I asked if I could just use the toilet. She said I could and then went inside to get some paper before drawing a map. Feeling a little confused, I watched her as she sketched out the route I needed to take to get to the toilet and then pointed me where to begin. I followed her route, past trees and piles of rubbish to find the most rural toilet I have ever used. A gap between two logs in the forest surrounded by flags was all that was required to relieve the pressure in my bladder and I was soon back on the road.
As I continued, so did the palm plantation and trucks loaded high with palm oil dominated the traffic flow but I had begun the day with a feeling of acceptance for how it was going to be so did not feel frustrated at the lack of scenery. I got very warm receptions from families as I cycled past and I had begun to note how away from the cities in Indonesia, people seem to just be sitting around a lot of the time, chatting with family and the pace of life is very slow. Eventually I dropped down to the coast and pedalled beside the water, only separated by a monstrous tsunami defence wall which served as an unsightly reminder of the devastating 2004 Tsunami in which this area was one of the worst hit. Recovery from that day is sadly still not complete and remains of houses lay all around and regular signs point to evacuation points incase another disaster strikes.
I could feel myself beginning to switch off from the riding and my mind wandered to thoughts far away from the bike, just like they used to in Australia. Before I knew it, I had reached Muko Muko where the mid day sun shone down powerfully. I was stuck between hiding in the shade for a while and progressing through the day to my destination and in the end, I chose the latter. 1 hour later though after leaving Muko Muko I was regretting my decision because shade was nowhere to be found and my arms were suffering at the hands of the merciless sun despite being blathered in sun cream. I eventually found a restaurant and stopped in for lunch to escape the hottest part of the day. It was a meal of fish curry and rice that I had to eat with my hand and I couldn’t quite tell if the marks appearing on my shirt were due to me dribbling in sweat or that my ability to eat with my hand was absent and curry was splashing here there and everywhere. On reflection, it was probably a collection of the two…
After lunch I pedalled the remainder of the way to Lubuk Pinang police station where I was welcomed in to rest. I went out for dinner and sat alone in a restaurant eating Sate Madura which is the Javanese and in my opinion best version of Indonesian Sate. I struck up a conversation with the owner who I found out had moved to this area of Sumatra to escape the chaos of busy Java and I completely understood where he was coming from. It presently began to rain extremely heavily so I was confined to the restaurant for longer than planned and shared coffee and snacks with the owner. By the time the rain had eased, it was already dark and I wanted to get back to the police station so I could rest and told the man that I would be on my way. He refused any form of payment, saying that he had really enjoyed my company and wished me well for my journey. On my way back to the police station, I strolled along in appreciation and admiration of the way I have been treated on multiple occasions of my Indonesian adventure – what an amazing nation.
After a good sleep I was pedalling early at 6am. It took around 10km before my legs had woken up but as I crossed the border into West Sumatra, an immediate reduction in palm trees and increased mountain views spurred them into life and the contast of scenery from the past few days made me feel really happy. I carved my way through dense jungle before reaching mountain backed rice fields and the heavy cloud cover meant that the heat of the sun was dissipated and the climbs I undertook went by with ease. I considered how easy the actual cycling had been here in stark comparison with Java and South Sumatra where I took on steep climbs daily. The morning passed by quickly and by early afternoon, the clouds had cleared which had brought a rise in temperature. I stopped in at a restaurant for 2 and a half hours to get some respite from the heat. Equatorial life was becoming hard to handle for my body and afternoon breaks were becoming more important and also longer. After lunch, I pedalled the final 13km to Air Haji where the police gave me a bed for the night in a small restaurant along with enough food to feed a family and some much appreciated good company as we laughed about life and watched Indonesian trash TV. At around 5.30pm, the rain began to fall very heavily again. The corrugated steel roof banged like a drum and leaked like a sieve. We scuttled around the room quickly with buckets, trying to catch as much as the rain as we could and took it in turns throughout the evening to empty the full buckets amidst a chorus of laughter.
The next morning I woke up and my legs felt good due to the previous short day. I was cycling to Pasar Baru where I had arranged to stay with a warmshowers host and due the fact that he was running a private English school, I was hopeful that a day off awaited me. I first had to do a bit of legwork to avoid certain marriage after telling one of the police officers that a photo of him and his daughter was beautiful and then finally got a chance to say thankyou and goodbye to my hosts for the hospitality over the night. I pedalled along good and flat terrain for the first 50km where I stopped in for a lengthy coffee break, way ahead of schedule. I caught up with Marty who had been my Warmshowers host in Perth, Australia and it was nice to hear from him as he too had just been on tour in South Korea and spoke with passion about his recent cycling adventures. The road travelled close to the ocean side and a rough looking storm out to sea caused a headwind on the land but with time on my hands, I just dropped down a couple of gears and plodded on slowly. The road surface was consistently between bad and terrible throughout the whole day. Most of the road was unsurfaced and pot hole ridden but in the areas where surfaces were actually present, speed bumps or rather speed depressions had been constructed to slow down the traffic. They were deep channels which spanned the road and were around 30cm wide and if I didn’t slow significantly, they really gave me and my bike a hammering. Of course, the traffic flew over them almost un noticed and I soon grew tired of building up a bit of speed before slowing to almost a standstill and then gingerly crossing the channel.
I chugged through it though and approaching the town of Painan, I began a steep and sweaty 3km climb. Much to my surprise on the other side, I was greeted by a staggering view of the bay where Painan had been built. I slowly made my way down the hill on the rough surface but was in awe of the beautiful views as turquoise ocean flowed in onto golden sand beaches that were backed with mountainous terrain. I coasted by small fishing villages where I was greeted with big smiles and soon the road flattened with a good surface. I rode the rest of the 10km to Pasar Baru and to BASCA English school. I showed up at 3pm which turned out to be the time when some of the younger children were finishing their class. Loud screams greeted me as I pulled up my bike and children came running to me, swarming around me and saying “Hello, hello, hello”. Vino then came out to see me who would be my host. It turns out that he is a huge photography enthusiast and wasted no time in getting out his camera so I could pose with the small children. After a long few days on the bike, I was looking particularly dishevelled but that was no excuse to escape a photo with each of the children and before they left for home, I wrote a little note in each of their notebooks. It had been a really nice welcome and Vino had made sure that I felt at home. He said that a day off would be no problem and even mentioned that two other cyclists were also here and that I would meet them later.
After freshening up, I came back out to the front of BASCA and met some more students who had turned up for their class. Vino and I got some food before returning to find Marcelo from El Salvador and Anouk from Botswana who were the other two cyclists staying with Vino. Marcelo was a truly inspiring person and had been cycling around the world for the past 5 years and I felt a certain admiration of the trip that he had undertaken and spoke of in such detail. He met Anouk when he was in Botswana and she had been riding with him for the last couple of months and they really seemed to enjoy riding around Asia together and it was interesting to hear their adventures of travelling as a pair versus Marcelo’s solo riding. We spoke of immediate plans and they said they were going to have some time off in Pasar Baru and that I would be nice if I joined them. I spoke with Vino and he seemed to light up at the thought that all 3 of us were considering staying with his permission. He immediately rattled off a list of local attractions that he could take us to with the students and was excited at the prospect. And so, with a definite nod of the head from Vino confirming that 3 guests would be no problem, what I thought would be 2 days off the bike began.
We first went with a group of students to a nearby village where the residents live in treehouses. We set off in a convoy of 5 scooters and coasted through stunning scenery before climbing up to the village where we had coffee overlooking a huge valley. On the way back we stopped in at a root bridge for a swim before heading back to Pasar Baru and it was really nice to see the smiles on the faces of the children who really seemed to enjoy their day out. Vino of course caught most of the day on camera and it was nice to reflect on the days events once we returned home. Vino had already become impressed by mine and Marcelo’s seemingly bottomless stomachs and willingness to try any food. He would ask us “so, did you try this yet” and if our answer was no, we would be sent to the market to go and pick up the food and it almost became a game for him. I have found in Indonesia that people are extremely passionate about their food and will want you to try all. After a nice day out and with the children now home, Marcelo, Anouk and I sat chatting away about our journeys. This day also marked 3 years on the road for me and it was nice to reflect on what a fantastic journey it has been so far.
The next day Vino took us and the children out to a nearby waterfall where we all went for a swim. We picked up some local food on the way to enjoy once we got there and all set off in the convoy of scooters together again. By the time we got home I was thinking of preparing to pack up and leave in the morning, the same as Marcelo and Anouk. With news of this reaching Vino, it was as if he seemed to go inside and think of everything that we could do whilst we were here that we had not yet done. He came back with some more waterfall suggestions, more food to try and importantly a wedding at the weekend. We conferred between us and after my very positive wedding experience in Merpas, I was definitely up for more wedding celebrations. We all came to the decision that we would stay longer and in the end my 2 days in Pasar Baru became 7. Over the course of the 7 days, we visited 2 more waterfalls, swam in an aquaduct built by the Dutch, attended an engagement ceremony, a wedding, a funeral, got to know Vino and his family and sampled many local foods. Best of all though, we all got to socialise together as a fascinating group and discuss tales from the road.
At the engagement ceremony, over 80 people gathered so that the “uncles” (the important members of the family in Minang culture) of the bride and groom could discuss the terms for marriage. The women had been cooking away all day in huge pots outside and we were served a generous amount of really good food which was a way of welcoming the new family into the village. Interestingly, the bride and groom were not in attendance at their own engagement event and the fathers had no input either! It was purely a dicussion between the uncles of the families and most of the discussions were to do with money although location and time was also discussed. The uncles sat in a room separate from the women and any men who were not regarded as being important enough to be inside. Outside the room, people lounged around and sort of just waited for the discussions to come to a conclusion. I observed from outside as the uncles chain smoked cigarettes and drank coffee over their discussions. It took hours for the men to come to an agreement but eventually, from somewhere within fog came a result and at around 1am, we went home.
The next morning we went to a traditional Minang wedding which was similar to the one I had attended in Merpas. Again, the bride wore a magnificent golden head piece and the groom wore a red velvet suit. In +35 degrees, I felt a lot of sympathy for both as they were frequently dabbed with a cloth to try and take the shine away from their faces on their wedding photos. We stopped and enjoyed some great food before sitting through a minor amount of rotten karaoke. With the heat only increasing through the day and our couple of hours normal visiting time over, Vino said we should head back and we got back to Pasar Baru to catch up with some of the school kids.
That evening we also attended a funeral dinner for a local resident. They had frequently seen Marcelo, Anouk and I relaxing whilst drinking coffee and we always returned their waves. It was to be the last of a 14 day funeral ceremony after the grandmother of the family had died. We went over and initially, the men sat inside chanting whilst we socialised with the women outside. When that was complete, everybody came outside to sit with us and dinner was served. We were subject to many stares, many questions and many photos but everybody thanked us sincerely for attending what had been a significant event for the family and wished us well for our respective journeys.
On my last morning with Vino, I took some time to have another go at repairing my bike. I took off the largest 2 chain rings so that I could properly access the teeth on the smallest ones and looked at what needed a little more work. I realised that the teeth directly behind the crank arms had not been filed so well due to a lack of access so removed the screws from the chain ring and spun it round before working on them. I went round all teeth making sure that the were as close to the proper shape as I could manage and then reassembled my bike. Again, on test run and unloaded, the bike worked fine but I knew the real test would come when I was on the road.
It had been a fascinating and unexpected week off the bike in which I had been blessed with the opportunity to get to know Marcelo who inspired me so much. He spoke with such calmness, spoke of troubles that I may get into along the way but most importantly spoke with a care for others that he said he had learnt along the way on a journey in which so many people had been good to him. Of course, not all had been plain sailing and it had been quite nice to hear that there are sometimes sections of the trip that are not so enjoyable at the time but can be reflected on as being important challenges that were overcome. Vino had also been an impeccable host who took great interest in showing us local Minang culture and allowed us all space to rest from a long journey on the bike. He takes some of the best wildlife photography I have seen and can be found on instagram at @leovin_agustim if you want to be amazed!
On 7th November and only 8 days left on my visa with over 800km to pedal, it was time to leave. Marcelo and Anouk also prepared and we left BASCA early in the morning after giving a heartfelt thankyou to Vino and his family for how they treated us all over the last week. We pedalled together for a couple of kilometres before arriving at a T junction where we went separate ways. We said our goodbyes and I turned North whilst they turned South.
Leaving Pasar Baru, the scenery was very beautiful with small villages situated on the fringe of the jungle and backed by large mountains. Now a sole white guy on a bike again, I was the focus of a lot of attention from the locals who seemed to be greatly entertained at me plodding on but the shouts, waves and giggles kept me occupied through the towns. I soon began a long climb and found the hill too steep for the 2nd chain ring. I switched into the smallest one hoping for the best and was really delighted to have returned to normal functionality without my chain rattling, clunking and jumping. It’s funny on the road how the smallest things can really delight you and I was pedalling along in a fantastic mood. I summitted the 15km hill and had a long descent on the other side where presently it began to rain. At first, I just thought it was a shower as a result of the high altitude, like the rain I got in Java but it only began to get heavier. By the time I reached the bottom of the hill it was thumping down so I took a break in a cafe opposite an oil refinery. Workers came in one by one, all sprinting across from the entrance of the refinery to the cafe to avoid the rain as best as they could. I had been sat for over an hour and by now, even the roof of the cafe had begun to submit to the force of the rain. I decided that it wasn’t going to stop and that the only thing I could do, was go and get wet.
I began pedalling again and I can only imagine that the feeling I had was the same as if I had been riding my bike in a giant shower. The rain was warm and came down in huge droplets that meant that every inch of me was soaked through in no time. As I pedalled down the road, many people offered me shelter but it was going to make no difference as I was totally wet and because I was still warm and buzzing from a fully functioning drivetrain, I didn’t really mind.
I pedalled up a series of long climbs before one long descent to the city of Padang where I met my couchsurfing host Eriq who found me hidden under a market stall tarpaulin, sheltering from the rain. We walked to his house where I took a shower and I got to meet his whole family. I have found that Couchsurfing hosts rarely get the opportunity to host cyclists so are very intrigued when I turn up and Eriq’s family were no different. We sat drinking coffee after coffee and discussing every detail of my trip before we all went out for dinner. I had been eating Nasi Padang almost daily for 6 weeks now and had finally reached it’s origin. We went to one of the best places in town and I filled up on all the good stuff I had come to enjoy over the weeks in Indonesia and also got to try some Padang specials such as beef Rendang. All the food lived up to the hype and it was only my stomach reaching its stretch limit that stopped me from putting more delicious food into my mouth. We concluded what had been a really nice evening with Eriq’s family by getting some sweet snacks on the way home to complement our final cup of coffee of the day. I went to bed feeling very thankful for a great day and also feeling hopeful that the rain that was still pounding down, would relent just a little by the morning.
To my delight, I woke up to dry although threatening skies. Eriq, his dad and I went for Lontong at a small roadside restaurant before we returned to have the standard photoshoot with all family members and then I got on my way. Eriq was a few days away from making his first trip to Mecca and was very excited so I wished him all the best for his journey, as he did for me. I pedalled along flat terrain for the first 40km before a long climb to Bukittinggi began. Bukittinggi translates to “high hills” and over the next 60km I was to find out that it was a place that lived up to it’s name. The road travelled through mountainous scenery and the thick black clouds above me sprinkled down a refreshing mist that provided a slight cooling. I slogged out the steepest part of the climb and summitted a hill to reveal a stunning view of Merapi mountain which was surrounded by cloud at its highest point. I eventually arrived in Bukittinggi and met up with Doni who was a friend of Vino in Pasar Baru and also an English teacher. I sat enjoying the cool climate before being introduced to his class. Over the next hour I was quizzed by the young children about life in England vs life on a bike and they were quite confused that I would choose to currently live on the road.
It was soon time for them to head home though, and with that, I also said goodbye to Doni. I found out that I would be sleeping in the house of one of his friends who came to pick me up on his scooter. I locked up my bike in the school and then we went out for another Nasi Padang. This time in the restaurant, all the food was brought to the table so we were sat with a plate of rice each and then over 15 dishes of tasty looking food. I was intent on trying all that was on offer and set about making my way through the different flavours. I got to one that looked a little odd and asked Doni’s friend what it was to which he replied “chicken”. In this situation, a sense of smell would really have done wonders but with my lack of it, I sliced into the fleshy looking piece of food and took a bite. The taste was good but the texture was sort of squishy and a bit unpleasant and I had a good idea what was in my mouth. Again, I aksed Doni’s friend and he said chicken before asking the restaurant staff who confirmed my thoughts that it was infact a chunk of cow brain. I stomached as much of the brain as I could before we headed off to call it a night. Doni’s friend lived 8km out of the city centre and we were soon in a very rural area. We arrived at a wooden house where my bed for the night was getting heavily sprayed with air freshener which led me to believe that this time, it was probably a good job I couldn’t smell. Everybody said goodnight to me before I asked if there was any chance I could shower as I had yet to have one after the days hard ride. The family members seemed to look at eachother before handing me a bucket and sending me outside. I was taken down to a lake, around 500 metres from the house and given a bar of soap. I slowly showered as best I could in the lake but was finding it difficult to bend down and keep scooping water onto my head so I decided to just put my feet in. Within seconds, I had hungry fish nibbling at my toes and shins and quickly removed them from the water. I completed what was an unsatisfactory “shower” and headed to bed, feeling very tired after a day of long climbs and cow brains.
I woke around 6am to a living room full of family friends from the village who were very intrigued by me which scuppered my chances of getting the early start on the bike that I wanted with a long day looming ahead. After a prolonged breakfast of Lontong and Teh Telur which is tea with egg yolk, we set off to Bukittinggi town to pick up my bike. I began descending from Bukittinggi around 9.30am and raced down the hill, barely rotating my crank for the first 30km and cruising through some magnificent farm land scenery. The pleasant climate I had experienced over night was now a distant memory as I seemed to hit walls of hotter and hotter air with each reduction in height above sea level. I began one last final long climb and was happy in my mind that this would be the last serious climb of Indonesia. On the other side, I came down a steep switchback road and crossed the equator, concluding 9231km in the Southern Hemisphere that I had thoroughly enjoyed and it felt like a momentous occasion in my journey.
Life in the Northern Hemisphere continued to be uncomfortably hot and only got worse as I continued to descend. I eventually ended up on a road with rolling hills that were crossing through an area of little visual stimulation. My legs were feeling very tired and after 90km, the introduction of palm plantations back into the scenery made me eager to find somewhere to rest. The trouble was that I really seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and a lack of housing meant that I was just plodding on, up and down the hills. Eventually I found a police officer who was stopped drinking coffee and I asked him if there were any stations around. He told me that 5km down the road I could take a left and then rattled off a number of lefts and rights that left me totally confused. I told him that I knew exactly what he meant and set off with the intention of finding somebody else to ask further down the road.
I reached the left turn the officer told me about and then began to ask people for the police station and I was soon on my way. The 3km I was told it would take turned into 11 but eventually I arrived at the police station and was told I could sleep. I took a very refreshing cold bucket shower and then retreated to my room at the back of the station to sleep at around 7pm with my legs feeling like lead.
I had a rotten nights sleep with people constantly coming into the room and turning on the light to see if I was still there and chat with me. My legs felt empty and Indonesia had now become a real struggle as I battled feeling tired whilst pedalling through uninspiring scenery but with time really running out on my visa, there was nothing I could do but continue. Prior to leaving I threw a couple of cold buckets of water over my face to try and shock me into some kind of life and got back on my bike and pedalled off. Short sharp hills dominated the start of the ride and I found myself sweating heavily. Soon though, they relented and I stopped in for breakfast at the cafe of an old lady. As with so many times in Indonesia, the older women really seem to have an understanding of exactly how a person is feeling without the need to talk. I got some chicken and rice and sat chomping away and the lady would keep returning with extra vegetables and extra rice. I had a really good feed and a nice little chat and left the restaurant with a renewed energy. The kilometres on the flat road ticked by quickly and before I knew it I had arrived in Pekanbaru to meet up with a friend of Anto who I stayed with in Bogor.
I met Yuchie and Mario who were absolutely delighted to be looking after me and their energy was infectious. I took a shower before we all headed out for coffee and snacks in a nice coffee shop and then we spent an evening doing a city tour before concluding it with Nasi Padang in Yuchie’s parents’ house. The next morning before leaving, Yuchie and Mario took me out for breakfast and then gave me a bag full of snacks for the road. I had been blown away by their kindness, generosity and jovial character and still look back on our evening together as one of the best of my whole trip.
A heartfelt goodbye saw me reluctantly on my way but I now had 4 days on my visa with just over 300km to cover so needed to make tracks. Leaving from Pekanbaru to Dumai, I took what I hoped would be a scenic detour away from the highway. The first 10km were through heavy traffic, as expected when leaving a big city but I soon ended up with few cars around and then scenery changed to palm plantations.
Not wanting to get caught up in the monotonous views of palm tree after palm tree, I checked my map and saw that there was a shortcut to another road that would lead me to where I needed to be. I went for it and soon began climbing up and down rolling hills through a palm plantation. The road turned from bitumen to concrete panels and got bumpier by the kilometre. Traffic reduced until I was only passing palm plantation trucks that were either loaded high with palm oil plants, or rattling down the road ready to pick up their next load. I got a general unwelcoming feeling from the people that I did pass and the road condition continued to deteriorate. At it’s worst, I was pedalling along a gravel track with huge pot holes and stones making the riding extremely uncomfortable and slow. Combining this with a very hot day with limited breeze meant that I was not enjoying the ride at all and regretting not just slogging out along the highway to Dumai.
I was travelling along at around 8kph, bumping down the road when I got to once particularly sketchy looking area of the plantation. One man called out to me “Hey mister, fuck you” and then 3 more people just shouted at me before small rocks began to be thrown in my direction. It was the first time in my trip I had felt uneasy and with one rock bouncing off my front wheel, it was as though the race horse within me had been whipped. I began pedalling as fast as I could, not worrying about the rough road surface and just aimed to get out of that area as fast as I could. To keep my mind off the pain growing in my backside, I began to think of areas that might be worse to get a flat tyre but struggled to think of many and prayed for the strength of my punture protection strip that runs within my tyres.
I eventually got out of the palm plantation and onto a highway that went on and on through mundane scenery and surrounded by huge power lines. I was feeling much more at ease and stopped for lunch before churning out the kilometres to the strange town of Siak. Here, the infrastructure has been built as if you are about to approach a metropolis. A 4 lane either side highway makes it way into the city and I just about had it to myself the whole way. Reaching the town itself, huge and desolate hotels dominated the outskirts and few people were to be found in the city centre. It was as if the town has been built with the future in mind and is currently vastly oversized.
I stopped by the police and asked them if I could sleep to which the officer said I could not and that sleeping with the police doesn’t happen in Indonesia. I was too tired to argue the fact that they had provided the majority of my hospitality in Sumatra and left feeling disheartened but happy to escape this strange place. I continued along very rural roads and with light fading I was eager to find somewhere. I stopped in at 2 houses and asked if I could camp in their garden but they also refused so I just continued on. I was ready to stop in at the next mosque I saw when a rural police station appeared. I stopped in and the men said I could definitely sleep and gave me a cup of coffee and a room with AC where I could put my sleeping mat and I sat thinking about how much more friendly people are away from the cities.
A refreshing night in cool air meant that I woke feeling the best I had in days. I got up at 6.30 and joined the policemen for a breakfast of Soto in a nearby restaurant before they refused to let me pay and wished me well for the remainder of my journey through Indonesia. I pedalled along flat road to Sei Pakning and was encouraged by the strong feeling I had in my legs. I was enjoying my last views of Indonesia and really finding it interesting how motorcycles have been modified to do almost any job in Indonesia. Some are people carriers, some have trailers attached, some are stacked as high and wide as a truck and chug around with huge loads and some are simply used for school kids to race their friends on.
The temperature was extremely hot and I found that stopping reduced the amount of breeze that my skin was receiving and I actually sweated more when I wasn’t riding. Food stops then became a quick affair and I collected small snacks from roadside stalls throughout the day. I reached the East Coast of Sumatra and pedalled along the waters of the Malacca straight which were brown and filled with rubbish which was a stark contrast to the pristine waters I had left behind on the West Coast.
With 110km racked up for the day I was looking for a police station to sleep in but nothing was showing. I stopped in one town and asked the locals where the next station would be and they said Dumai. With this bad news I decided to pedal a little further and see if any opportunities presented themselves. I reached a tiny village of around 15 houses and with my legs tired and light fading, I stopped and asked if I would be able to sleep in the Musholla. After a bit of conversation between two seemingly important members of the community, they said it would be fine for me to stay. I took a shower and just went to relax in the Musholla when a tray of food turned up under my nose with some biscuits for afters. I sat, enjoying my food and considered how fitting and representative of the journey it was that I would end my last night on the road in Indonesia in a small mosque, getting looked after by the Muslim community as though I was one of their own. To feel that warmth as a complete stranger and not of the same beliefs is truly wonderful.
In the morning I said my goodbyes to the community who saw me on my way after a much needed cup of coffee following the 4.30am call to prayer. The morning sunshine soon beat down hard upon my back and a headwind made the pedalling difficult. I completed the pedalling to Dumai which is a typically industrial and grimy looking port town. I passed through the market and picked up some fruit before arriving at Hamdi’s house who was my warmshowers host. I spent a lot of time with Penny and Hamdi’s mum whilst Hamdi was at work and they looked after me really well. My long days on the bike had afforded me 1 rest day in Dumai which I spent eating, sleeping and buying my ferry ticket.
On the last day of my visa, I thanked and said goodbye to Hamdi, Penny and his mother and then headed down to the port and boarded the ferry, heading to Malacca. As the boat departed I watched Indonesia shrink into the distance as the ferry got further from the coast and I couldn’t help but sit and think about what a fantastic adventure it had been. At times I had been overwhelmed by the curiosity of the people and found time to myself hard to find. At other times, the climate had been such a shock to my body that all of my energy had been drained and rest days became crucial. But I had learned so much, seen so many beautiful places and most importantly met so many amazing and inspiring people who showed a level of care to strangers that came so naturally to them, but was such a surprise to me and I hold this nation as being the friendliest I have ever visited. I think that the challenges that Indonesia presented me with only made me like it more. I am truly grateful for the lessons that are on offer in Indonesia and also grateful for the lessons that come with travelling by bicycle. I had definitely jumped in at the deep end of Asia by beginning with Indonesia and went forward to the more developed Malaysia filled with confidence and optimism about the journey head.