I often draw similarities between riding through third world countries with playing a video game. Indonesia was no exception. Jumping onto each island brought new obstacles to the table as I rise through the levels of this particular game. So far, I have passed levels that include increasing traffic, people and animals. Every district giving off a distinct theme for me to battle through.
The island of Sambawa was no exception. The backdrop to this particular level was the port town of Sape, where the houses were painted in bright colours. Green stood out as being either the towns favourite colour or they got a super special from a paint company. Standing in front of then but lining the streets were small horses (the size of western ponies) all pulling brightly painted carts in reds and blues with ethnic patterned on the timber and leather work. As the horses trotted down the road a bell that hung over the lower parts of the horses main jingled as a warning to all that it was also on the road.
With Sambawa being the poorest island out of the main group of Indonesian islands, the roads matched the tax payers income. The tar seal were slowly slipping down the road and pot holes punched through the thick black surface. Luckily for future travellers, the Indonesian’s were developing the roads in small sections, which I also had to avoid.
To add another layer of complexity to this island was an introduction of goats. Goats had no idea of the world around them as they only think of their tummies before danger. With this in mind, they would dart across the road unexpectedly. I would then have to applying full pressure onto the breaks, I would stop with neck breaking jerk.
Every night, after a long day of intense concentration, all I would like to do is have a shower and sit down with a cold bottle of beer in my hand. These two small luxury items were not available on this Muslim island. Frank and I were refused a room in a nice hotel just because we were not married and could not prove we were when we lied to them. Forced to take residence in a ‘loesmen’ (Guest house) where my ensuite had no main light. I casing a beam of light from my head torch around the tiny box like room, that’s when I saw the layers of filth and worms growing in force in the madi.
Madi (Bathroom / shower) varied greatly in Indonesia. Most traditional bathrooms were a small shed outside. Constructed from what ever was available, like woven bamboo to sheets of ply wood or plastered bricks. Opening the door you would find a concrete floor and open top square water tank full of water. Next to the tank, but slightly raised from the main floor was a squat toilet. Resting on the edge of the concrete tank was a faded plastic bucket stained with use.
To have a shower, you would picking that bucket by the handle, and dip it into the cool water and pour it over my head. After a couple of pours I was generally wet enough to then start lathing myself up with soap and shampoo. The whole process was repeated to wash away the spent soap.
Being a girl, my toilet experience is somewhat different to a man. From a girls point of view, I would clamber onto the small tiled shelf that had the ceramic squat toilet recessed into. Pulling my pants down around my ankles I would balance between slipping in the water off the ledge or dropping my clothing into the water. After I had finished my business, I picked up the same bucket I used to wash myself with, scoop up a large bucket full and flush the toilet.
Toilet paper was a foreign concept to locals, they take a scoop of water and use a combination of water and their left hand to wipe away left overs from a number 2. Personally, I hated been caught short and would always keep a supply of toilet paper handy in my pocket for these moments.
Moving across this Muslim island I realised we no longer saw the ‘RW’ signs roughly pained on closed doors or on tiny pieces of folded cardboard, standing proudly in front of a dark dish of meat. On my very first night in Dili (East Timor), Frank and I went out for dinner at a local restaurant. The owner could see my confusion as I peering through the glass cabinet at the dishes laid out before me. The slightly over weight young local girl came out to greet us and explain the dishes. Pointing to the dish that sat off to the left with the label ‘RW’ sitting in front. She blushed and said ‘its duck liver, very spicy’ I love spicy food and trying new things, but liver has never been my personal favourite. So I pass on that dish and chose pork meat. Walking to a table, Frank started snickering, ‘I had read about ‘RW’ but it didn’t click until you asked that it was dog meat!’ ‘What!’ I exclaimed, ‘I thought she said chicken liver!’ Looking in my dictionary, I found this explanation – RW- (Er-Wey)Dog – Usually served shredded fried and very spicy (North Sulawesi and other Christian areas)
Piling my gearing on after the long ferry crossing, I was approached by a tall skinny local guy dressed casually in a rastafarian tee-shirt, shorts and flip flops. He had long dreads, piled high on the crown of his head, spilling down his back. ‘Hello, we are also travelling on motorcycle’ he said in broken English ‘where are you from?’ After explaining my history, he pointed to a pile of rubbish in the corner of the petrol station in the shade of a tree. ‘ My friend and I are travelling on a old Vespa from Samatra to Sulawesi’ ‘Really!, on that thing’ pointing back to the heap. ‘Yes’ ‘Can I take a photo?’ Calling out to his mate who was sitting under the tree, he picked up the bike and pushed it over to us and into the middle of the large group that had formed around us. Stunned as I saw this heap turn into rough Vespa. The body work wasn’t smooth like the Vepas I know, it have brown and textured like an egg carton. The seat was made from wire mesh. There gear piled and stuffed into every nook and cranny. They had a long wooden post on the back with their’ Vepa Padang Club’ flag tied firmly on the rear. Completely blown away with what these two young locals were trying to achieve on next to no money and on an extremely old motorcycle.
Early in the morning I was drinking a thick black sugary coffee, when Frank was asked by two boys in the early twenties, if they could take a picture of me. We were both surprised by the questions, Frank looked at me with the question in his eyes, I nodded and he replied ‘sure why not!’. No sooner did he finish that short sentence the one of the guys sidled up to me, wrapped his arm around me and his friend snapped away. ‘Your beautiful’. Walking out of the shop, this friend wrapped his arm around me and took a candid shot with his arm out stretched to get us both in.
In most countries around the world, I am not considered beautiful. I’m not exactly ugly either, just a ‘plain Jane’. Here in Indonesia with my white, pure skin colour, I am the most beautiful woman they have ever seen. I often stared at by men, called out too with the following phrases ‘I love you!’, ‘your so beautiful’ , ‘Do you have a husband?’. Once they find out I’m single they then ask if I want to move to Indonesia and marry them, with the offer of working in the nasi (rice) fields or a mine. I had to politely decline their offer and move on.
Passing the Sumbawa level, it was time to catch the next ferry to Lumbok. Still worried, our motorcycles would be classed in a grade higher and charged double the amount, we stopped short and removed our motorcycle gear. Riding onwards to the terminal, we discovered the ferry set up was professional as we were forced to stop at a barrier and pay first. As the officer in a crisp blue uniform, pulled a Gol. 3 ticket from the lower drawer, I started to complain. ‘No, no, no, Gol. 2 – is two wheels not three!!’ pressing his lips together forming a perfectly straight line he shakes his head and said ‘big motorcycle, Gol. 3!’ also pointing to Frank’s Tenerre behind me. Frank looked at the price and handed him the money, it was only $2 more than the normal fare. Walking back to his bike with his ticket, I handed 50,000 (5 Euro) across and demanded Gol. 2. Receiving my change and my Gol. 2 ticket. I then replaced my helmet and kick started my bike. Glancing in my rear vision mirror, I realised I was holding everyone up over 20,000 (2 Euro).
Upgrading a level in my own personal video game, we arriving at the Lombok port. People crammed the streets, on carts, motorcycles, horses, cars, truck and walking. Structures layered behind the street life. Following the roads out of town, where the chaos slightly dispersed out until I reached the outer limits to the next village. The break between villages were minimal, if no existent.
As we rode down to a tourist town called Kuta, the rain fell heavily,saturated my motorcycle gear and quickly working its way down to my skin. After a few minutes, even my eyes were drowned in the large rain drops. Squeezing them shut for a few seconds gave me some time to view my surroundings and take in the next few meters of swollen muddy road. We arrived just in time for the rain to dry out.
Every day it rained, my tummy once again was turning and I spent a considerable amount of time on the toilet after eating nasi compur (Rice with a mixture of meat and vegetables) made with rotten chicken. After five days I was getting tired of been stuck in the one place and made tracks to the next ferry to Bali.
Exactly like the last ferry, we had to pass through a barrier to obtain a ticket. He handed us both a Gol. Two ticket without questions. We rode onto the wharf only to be stopped and asked to purchase a Gol. 3 ticket. After much haggling, we convinced them my bike is equivalent to a 250cc Honda Tiger, which was Indonesia largest road bike. Frank had to return to the ticket booth and ask then to explain to the ticket collectors. He returned in a few minutes and told them, the head of the port, told him to board the boat. One annoying haggler, who was clearly trying to a few dollars from us, was really annoyed he didn’t succeed and asked for our tickets, but I had already handed mine over to the ticket officer. We brushed past him and entered the boat. I felt really uneasy and hung around my motorcycle until the rear door had closed firmly shut before heading up stairs.
Kuta Bali, was exactly what I was expecting, traffic was incredible, with young kids on hired scooters and taxis all trying to deliver there cargo to the correct hotel. As I entered the city, I was forced to slow right down and crawl along the foot path. I could feel the engine almost burning my calf muscles. To top it off, I was there exactly when the Australian ‘Schoolies’ (At the end of the last year at high school, Australian children go wild at different party locations all around Australia and Bali). It was the first time in my life, I felt old and sensible.
Its time to steep it up a level, as I have two friends from Brisbane packing their bags for a motorcycle adventure in Sri Lanka for Christmas. This means, I have to start arranging for shipment from Jakarta to Colombo and actually physically make it to Jakarta with plenty of time to follow up with the shipment details. I knew I wouldn’t have much time on the island of Java to do much sight seeing, but I thought I could see these places along the way.
My first stop was Mount Bromo, which is meant to be a huge volcano which you can ride up and into. As we rode up the ‘non touristy’ side we found ourselves in white drizzly cloud. Riding high above anything on slippery concrete paver’s, which were crumbling under our weight. For over an hour we rose further into the cloud until we reached a clearing and decided to turn around.
It seamed everywhere we went was either raining or closed due to the volcanic eruption. Sight seeing on Java (for us) was pointless. It turned into trying to put the kilometres under our belt averaging around 250 kilometres per day, due to the increasing traffic. Eventually after struggling for a week to cross the island we arrived into Beski. A large town 30 kilometres east of Jakarta.
Even though we arrived mid afternoon, we had hotels slamming the doors in our faces, saying they are all full. Some places had baths and some had special rates. After a few of these special rates, we realised the only reason they used these hotels were for sex. Apparently the Muslim culture is very secretive about sex out side of marriage. Four hours circling the city in thick sweaty traffic, we found a place to stay in.
Jakarta was a mess, navigating through the city was trying at the best of times with the odd one way street popping up and into existence. The cars pottering along at 20 kilometres per hour with scooters zipping in and out, barging their way to the front of the queue. I had to drive with meaning and be forceful. This was made easier with the shear bulk of my bike and with the two of us, I could easily block the path across the scooters to allow Frank to weasel his way into a better position for the next intersection.
I was in Jakarta purely to ship my motorcycle to Sri Lanka. For the next week I was on the internet and phone, contacting and negotiating with several shipping agents. I quickly discovered, that Indonesians do not really like to work, as I had to chase them consistently, trying to get a price out of them. It was almost like banging my head on a brick wall.
One company couldn’t give me a price until I had a dangerous good certificate, I crossed them off the list. Another told me I had to pay $1000 USD just for a custom clearance. After I haggled a bit, I got this down to $700 USD. But I still couldn’t see why I needed it since I have a Carnet De Passage (a document that allows me to bring my motorcycle in and out of countries with out paying import and export fees) It was becoming clear, that they only saw a rich white woman and wanted to take her for all she had. I was getting increasingly frustrated.
Dragging Frank along, I turned up to one the only company office that gave me a fair price. However, this company was deliberating whether or not they wanted to help me. With me being in the office with Frank, they finally worked out a price of $1200 to air freighted to Colombo in two days including a create and transport. All I had to do was email them my sender and consignees address that day and they promised to send all the details back to me that afternoon and will pick my bike up on Monday.
I never got an email on Friday, Monday came and went and I hear nothing. Eventually I was told it would be picked up at 10 am. At 11:30, I called Puguh(My contact in the company) Apparently he had been wondering around my suburb on foot, trying to find my hostel. All he had to do was call me! Another two hours my bike finally left me along with my carnet.
The next day Puguh returned this time on time telling me they had to empty the fuel and oil from the bike. This was a complete lie, as I had already done this. Then the next minute I found myself on the phone with the the airports safety officer. He had been informed that there was a battery on my bike and he proceeded to tell me this was against aviation law. Trying to control my voice and not get angry at this poor mislead guy, I had to explain that my bike is a very special bike that does not require a battery, therefore doesn’t have a battery and they can not remove a non existent battery. Frustrated, I handed the phone back to Puguh.
Earlier in the week I told a small white lie to Puguh, all eh knew was I had a flight out of Jakarta at 6pm that day. It was now 4pm, two hours before I was due to leave the Jakarta, I hadn’t even got my Carnet De Passage back or even paid. This was the exact moment Puguh decided to tell me the price had increased to $2500 USD. I nearly spat the dummy. Thinking quickly, I cancelled the air freight and with Puguh, we arranged to have it shipment to Chennai India.
The very next day, I leave Jakarta on a business class flight to Colombo, Sri Lanka. I’m feeling nervous, as my bike doesn’t leave Jakarta until Sunday and I do not have the bill of landing in my hand. I have to trust Puguh to sort it out on his own and send the paperwork to me in Sri Lanka. Easing myself into the oversized soft lounge chair that’s provided in first class, I realised I needed a holiday. I found myself looking forward to having a few days off and act like a normal tourist.