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Month June 2015

Sumatra 2

Another abbreviated post.

The last push to Belawan, outside of Medan before our extended visa runs out. As mentioned before, there’s no real problem with me running over and paying the fine, but Lucinda has to be out before that date or things get very complicated.

Bukittinggi to Padang Sidempuan
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A fantastic start out of Bukittingghi, through mountains
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Fast curvy roads in mostly good condition
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No houses until it flattened, then colour
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And rice fields
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I stayed a while to watch an ox navigate a tight corner
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No problems
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Ducks looked on
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A masjid
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And then the equator. Pic in the last post
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Through the tallest trees we’ve seen here
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Excellent
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One of the countless rivers. Oh, we found out why there are few lakes
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Most towns have their own version of a taxi it seems. These were mini. Scooters plus cab
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Time for our twice-daily coconut. The roadside stalls look like this
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They hack one off and square it, then off with the top
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A girl pours the water into a jug then scoops out the pulp. No doubt everyone has done this, but anyway
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In a bag with a straw and a smile. About 10 cents
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Padang Sidempuan to Parapat
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The toughest riding day in Sumatra. Out of the typical town
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And over some hills. This was a great ride for about 30 miles
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Then down again, and followed a river
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Then all hell broke loose. Nothing wrong with the dirt in this pic, but the next 60 miles was over paths, rubble, everything but road
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Until we got close to the biggest lake in Sumatra, Lake Toba
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Another truck in the ditch. More on this later
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Fires burning everywhere
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This is Sumatra
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Lake Toba’s main outflow
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Chaos
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The lake
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Parapat to Medan
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After maybe 20 miles, we hit the most developed road we’ve ridden in Indonesia, the whole way into Medan. Medan was 3 hours of stop-start traffic
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Medan to Belawan (and back)
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Lucinda’s getting a famous boat, an ‘onion boat’ across the straight to Malaysia. All riders who travel the length of Sumatra take this weekly boat, owned by a Mr Lim. There’s no other practical option. We have a tough ride for about 3 hours through Medan to Belawan, the port. It’s only 27 miles. We find his office
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The traditional thing to do is to take a photo of the bike lift into the boat. But we’ll be damned if we’re going to come back the next day through the traffic, it’s easier to steal a photo from Steph of her lift, from here link 2014-10-15 15.14.22

Our track through Timor-Leste and Indonesia, the green line
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Timor-Leste / Indonesia

1) 3666 miles / 5903 K

2) The Muslim call to prayer. Starting at between 4:30 and 5:00 in the morning, hourly until 7:00 in the evening, the call to prayer is always there. In a small town there may be 5 mosques all broadcasting, through speakers, the call to prayer. It’s often intense. Some people have a problem with this, but we thought it was beautiful. And when we first heard it, the morning we arrived in Lavantura, it sounded like a straight, legitimate, prayer to God, precise destination unimportant

3) One of the strongest impressions (this was a ride first, cultural immersion did not happen, save Jogja) are of course the difficulty of the volume, speed and behaviour of the millions of vehicles on the road. Many riders describe the locals as crazy and the riding chaotic. In a way we don’t think anything could be further from the truth. We thought the riders and drivers were the best and safest we’ve seen so far. The reason we saw buses and trucks in the ditch or worse was because sometimes the dimensions of the road and the vehicles occupying a given section just don’t work out in reality. Other than that they’re brilliant. We never saw a bike or car accident, or even contact, ever.

Also, we never saw a rider shoulder check, not once. In fact many of the bikes don’t have mirrors. They flow and behave with the spatial sense of a school of fish, fast mixed in with slow.

The secret: it’s based on trust, everyone is responsible equally for making it work. It felt like an important social comment, but maybe we’re reading too much into it. Indonesia, despite the population felt like a country with its act in order. Despite the difficulties and how seriously tiring it was, we loved the riding after we’d figured it out. But we’ve also described the riding as a shitshow, which is also true.

Lucinda thrived in the circumstances. A big cut-and-thrust enduro was the perfect solution. You had size and sound presence, and were torque-ier (sp?) and more accurate than anything else on the road, and a solid dirt bike for when the road got ugly, which was often.

The second impression is shared with every other rider: the Indonesians are almost universally outgoing and friendly, they actively want to talk to you, take photos of each other, admire the bike, ask questions if they speak some english, smiling the whole while like you’re an old friend. This fades a bit in Sumatra though. But the high point of the ride this way, by far. There were a lot of other thoughts about the whole thing, but we sped through thinking it felt upbeat and optimistic. Helped along by debt to GDP at a comfy 25%.

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Equator 2

Our second equator crossing! Yes, it’s hot!DSC00851

Taking a selfie here is a traditionDSC00856

Two to three hours north of Bukittinggi

Sumatra 1

Another beautiful map from Sandalmelik. Malaysia to the right Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 2.31.29 PM

Preamble: We have a visa expiry date to beat. This is a little complicated because we have to get Lucinda cleared by Customs, at which point they need to see my passport, otherwise we could be late and pay a daily fine of about $20. If we get it wrong, all hell breaks loose. So it’s a firm date, and there’s only a little slack. We have to ride methodically with only one day of dallying (today). A bee-line, unfortunately, but not on the major highway.

Plus, the below is scary given the distance ahead. Thrashed by hard braking on Java, but some life left. How much, who knows. We’ll be keeping a close eye on it, not using our front brake except in emergencies, and keeping our fingers crossed since there’s no choice and as yet no back-up plan DSC00796

Features of riding in Sumatra: They have what they call ‘pirates’ here. So no riding at night. The robbery-or-worse rate is high. If you’re solo. Because of this, we’re sticking to a specific destinations plan which makes for some short days and some long. The roads are supposed to be very rough. Although after 5 days of riding them we’d say they’re fine, just not great at times, so they must be bad ahead. Lastly, despite the rainy season being over, when it rains here late afternoon it’s an apocalypse. So we’re planning accordingly.

The first short day out of Java, across on the 2 hour ferry and into Sumatra Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 6.45.42 AM

Then to Kotabumi Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 5.40.29 AM

Nothing to write about today, a fairly busy day of traffic through continuous towns. ‘Sumatra’ sounds nice and countryside-like, but the latest headcount in 2010 was 50 million, so maybe 55 million now, on this island with so few roads DSC00562

Lots of chickens around DSC00566

The next day to Lahat Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 5.41.05 AM

After the first few hours, this was a beautiful and interesting day. There are still trucks continuously. You can see an overtaker here coming down the open lane. This is what it’s like whether you’re riding at him or not. You just have to get out of the way, off the road if need be, but 99% of the time there’s just enough of a gap on the shoulder, often never more than inches. I have no idea what people do with panniers wider than their barsDSC00580

Into the country for a while DSC00575

Through our first traditional village. Very creative DSC00578

Wow! DSC00577

So most of the houses are drying things out the front. We stop and ask these ladies if we can get a close photo, in the usual charades way. There’s a misunderstanding. Or my riding suit smells. Which it does, but I thought I was far enough away DSC00585

But we get a close shot anyway. Coffee. Or copi, here. I eat one and it’s a bit tasteless DSC00589

We think they lay them out and rake them daily, taking them in at night DSC00592

Through more towns DSC00597

Riverbank DSC00601

An imposing avenue, not sure of what DSC00608

Wild banana. The fruit are about 4″ long DSC00615

There are loud explosions going off in the distance, sometimes many at once, very interesting. At the next town there’s a large military exercise going on somewhere in the valley beyond we can’t see from here. People are gathered in groups watching the troops and trucks DSC00617

Cool DSC00616

As we ride out-of-town a half-dozen gunships pass overhead going in our direction! DSC00620

I recognize them at once DSC00625

Soviet MI24 or MI35 Hind. Wow, nice! A fierce gunship. I’ve played this helicopter a lot in C.H.A.O.S., an MMO, often remotely with my eldest daughter IMG_2841

The Indonesian Wiki. They have 6 and they’re all here! Must be a major exercise Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 6.58.09 PM

But now we play World of tanks Blitz, a much harder, very sophisticated, MMO. Below is my favorite tank, the tier 10 Soviet IS-4. My game name is wages_of_sin, so if you friend me on the Asian server we can platoon a game if you see me online! Notice my clean, stripped-down HUD IMG_0971

We’re in Indonesia so we can play when we want to. They have free fast wifi everywhere, even in darkest Sumatra. Kind of the opposite of New Zealand and Australia, where the internet is like debt is to Greece: they kind of understood the critical importance of not cocking it up, but cocked it up hugely anyway, and are now on the knife-edge of being banished from the modern world until they get their shit together. Which nicely ties into this photo. I guess cable hasn’t made it this far quite yet, so every home has a huge dish. Go Sumatra! DSC00632

Then miles of this DSC00636

At about the midpoint we climb twisties up and over some mountains for an hour DSC00644

And more miles of this DSC00656

We think these are rumah gadang but without the spires (later), traditional homes owned by the women and passed down to their daughters DSC00657

The next day to Sarolangun Screen Shot 2015-06-14 at 4.09.35 PM

Lovely, though very hot and humid DSC00660

Ox cool off in the water. They can sort of swim with just their nostrils showing DSC00667

More dredging, this time for rocks, possibly the same rocks as come up here in a sec DSC00671

This is a fish farm with the most enormous water lilies we’ve ever seen DSC00673

The blooms are at least a foot across, the whole plant maybe 15 or 20 DSC00675

A couple of locals who we think own the farm DSC00676

Later on we see these guys with troughs full of rocks and water, next to a river DSC00690

The rocks DSC00683

They make jewellery from them. So I bought a small rock from them for 10,000 rupiah (about 90 cents, I got ripped off but whatever) which if we don’t loose it we’ll make three things out of one day DSC00688

Another big town. We never stop at towns for lunch because of the crowds Lucinda draws, really DSC00693

This was a water break and look what happened, arrggh. Except they’re the nicest kids you could ever meet DSC00697

Another town. Tiring, because they’re big DSC00703

And back into the country. This looks just like El Salvador DSC00717

To Muara Bungo Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 4.40.00 PM

A horrible day. No scenery to speak of, tons of traffic. A bus off the road. We’ve seen a few of these. The buses are the fastest vehicles and are the most aggressive. To be feared DSC00723

But on the main street of Muara Bungo, an orchid in a tree DSC00729

Up close. A beauty DSC00728

Then to Bukittinggi Screen Shot 2015-06-16 at 4.57.13 PM

A difficult first half, then through some hills for about 30 miles DSC00742

Gassed up with a nice view DSC00743

Rice in spaced rows, we haven’t seen this before DSC00749

This building is the classic Sumatran spired rumah gadang. For more on this, here’s the wiki DSC00762

Then it flattened out to this DSC00771

Along a lake for about 10 miles. There are very few lakes in Sumatra relative to the amount of rainfall. We haven’t found out why yet. It just drains out via the rivers without gathering anywhere. But this is a big one DSC00784

People stopped DSC00789

to see a truck that shot off a corner into a field. Lots of these DSC00792

And into Bukittinggi DSC00794

Java 2

Yogyakarta to Purwokerto
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We’re headed to the coast road to try and avoid the madness. It’s quiet but broken pavement in long sections. Much better than inland
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At a river we see boats anchored and dredging with small nets on poles
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Bringing them, loaded, to shore. This guy’s done this before, he knows the wave height within an inch, or he’s sunk, so that’s very cool
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And shovelling the dredgings in relays into trucks. What’s in the river sediment, we wondered
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Back onto a great stretch
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And cut back north to the city. Not so bad, only about 4 hours of pure hell at the beginning and end. Another city section avoided
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The idea’s now to avoid the coming ultra-high-density part of Java as we get closer to Jakarta.

This is a recent rider’s description of Java:

There is just too much traffic volume for the tiny two lane highways. It does not matter what road you take or direction there is gridlock traffic. Because of this the roads are extremely dangerous and full of drivers with a suicide wish.
Until now I was unaware that Indonesians had special vision because it seems that they can see or believe they can see around blind corners and over hills.
I cannot tell you how many hundreds of times I had someone driving directly into me while trying to pass lines of traffic. And because of this I knew it was only a matter of time before something bad could happen.

And then he got sideswiped and crashed. Fortunately no injuries.

Most Java ride reports read like this.

The next big hazard is the city of Bandung. It can day a whole day of complete misery trying to get through. Plus there’s the stopping, if you can, to let an overheated engine cool down. Just not worth it we think. So I endure a day of hard riding along this track to a small village just an hour (of what I’m hoping is zero traffic) out of Bandung, to sneak up on the city while it’s asleep
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Half way through the day we grab street food beside a bike wash and indulge Lucinda in a shampoo
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We arrive at our village exhausted, again. Wow, this island is a serious rite of passage.

The next day’s track
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We eat immediately we arrive, crash, and set the alarm for 1:30 am.

Out of the village
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Through the countryside
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The road is broken or missing for the whole descent off the hillside to the city. A bit sketchy at times
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Into Bandung, the unavoidable bottleneck that’s ruined many rider days or rides. The city is alive at 3:00 am
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Our carefully set up GPS track is upset when we hit a ‘cars only’ section of road. We haven’t set up the settings on the new (replacement) Garmin to avoid toll roads, etc. So we bounce off one, double back and have to re-set the route at the side of the road
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Fires are burning along the roadside. We stop at one for a water break. Obviously we wouldn’t do this anywhere in Latin America. Or Sumatra, coming up. More on that another time. But tonight we think we’ll take the risk. These guys are plenty surprised to see this rider stop and say ‘Hi !’ like a lost (which I’m not) idiot (which I may be) in the middle of the night, downtown Bandung
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They’ve been watching Barcelona play on TV
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Then we’re through, feeling pretty pleased with ourselves. Dawn at an increasingly rare green spot
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Then there’s hell to pay again. But we find quiet streets occasionally
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This town doesn’t have the safest feel to it. Two dudes not smiling, which is unusual. Better move on then
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The riding is pure chaos for the next 4 hours until our destination on the coast. Here’s the landlady
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Our next idea was to take the long loop around Jakarta, despite being told two days ago the road is ‘bad’. There is a more direct line, but I’d rather ride a bad road than ride through Bogor, another Java traffic nightmare. If we can do this, we’ve avoided every big city other than Yogyakarta, which will be an accomplishment.

The day’s track
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The climb out of the village of Cisolok was the steepest pavement, both up and down, we’ve ever ridden. Ever. Up top, through a small village
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And into the countryside
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Just a few cultivated areas
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Then the trouble started. Indonesian for ‘warning’, and you see these everywhere, is HATI – HATI…!
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The road turned to dirt. At a water stop, more instant friends
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The it started to rain. It looked like it had rained up here the previous night. So slick, but not bad
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About 30 miles of slipperiness and broken road along the coast
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Over a bridge
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Past a very serious looking building, two Muslim girls showing great riding skills, as all Indonesians do
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I stop for a few minutes here to watch the scooters navigate the potholes. They can’t splash or risk muddying their wive’s outfits, so they wander around with great care
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Indonesia, amazing. Beautiful moto culture
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Then after maybe another 20 miles of hellish road, we hit an elevated section of concrete
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It’s strange and wonderful, sometimes up 2 feet from the ground
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But a lot of the time, it’s just one lane. The question is which lane to ride on. It’s not clear. so we wait sometimes until another scooter comes along and take one of the little ramps up, or down
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Sometimes we have to wait
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Unlucky truck fell off the soft side
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But all joking aside, there was also about 20 miles of the below stuff, endless small problems, some deepish mud, but never long stretches, and a further 30 miles of on-the-pegs completely broken road. It was a challenge because it was unrelenting. Lucinda doesn’t like going down in mud and so far, after accumulated miles of it together, hasn’t. In everything else we’ve crashed, but so far not mud. Mysterious
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But we broke out at this intersection, a village with only an excuse for a road
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Then a few miles later we were away, onto some of that big twin concrete, down to the ocean and along the coastline to our next destination.

Bogor avoided, but what a day.
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143K in 7 hours 20 minutes. Java!
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We took two days to do some planning. Sumatra is big, much bigger than Java. Also, after Indonesia, things get complicated and we needed to get ahead of the curve, even though I’ve been working on aspects of it for a couple of months.

Onto the ferry at Merak, headed for Lampung, Sumatra
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Kids will jump on the bike at the slightest invitation. The Dads think this is hilarious
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On the ferry, this. The first complete coverage we’ve seen in Indonesia
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The Sumatra dock
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First road shot. An hour after this we were stuck in 10 miles of gridlock, riding sidewalks, splitting lanes. But this is a bottleneck. Also, this is the main highway that runs the length of Sumatra on the east side. We won’t be riding this road after today
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Java 1

(abbreviated post)

The chart
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The first day’s track, including the ferry over from Bali and the ride from Goris.
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We’ve saved talking about this until now, but Indonesia and Java in particular are famed and feared by long distance riders for the density, speed and all around craziness of the traffic. Java’s been called 1500 km’s of stop-start, death-defying riding. Now that I’ve had a dose of it, I agree. It’s very difficult. Three of the recent riders through had accidents.

I heard that was no speed limit in Indonesia, but that’s turned out to not be true. It’s 80km/hr, blanket. But it’s completely irrelevant, if there’s a chance for people to make progress when possible by going as fast as is possible, they do. The overtaking is incredible, it’s happening all the time, by trucks, buses but mostly bikes. Overtaking is done on road width, with no regard to oncoming traffic. Bikes are ignored in the equation, you’re forced to the shoulder continuously by cars and trucks coming down your lane, fast and suddenly. Bikes all around you are shooting for gaps 100% of the time. It’s like a high stakes video game.

So the first day above was all-around lousy. It had been bad on the previous islands in sections, but now it’s getting serious. But as I approached Lumajang, our first destination, things quieted down and we could finally stop for a photo
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The town. Arrived exhausted
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The second day was a short ride up to Mount Bromo. Fortunately the last half, up the mountain, was quiet as it’s a more-or-less a dead-end. The first half was murder
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The climb up Bromo was excellent. Tight hairpins on a small road most of the way. The day’s elevation chart. Click for numbers
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Nearing the top
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The mountainside
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The final village just a couple of hundred yards from the cauldron
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Which looked like this. That cauldron in the middle is active and smoking
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It was fantastic riding on a kind of packed volcanic sand with deep loose pools
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4X4’s having a great time
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The next day we headed down to the start of what we hope would be a diversion around the worst of the traffic ahead
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But after getting off the mountain it was hell for 100 miles and took us most of the day to Tulugagung
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But there were small green spaces
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Mostly it was like this, a small road with cars, trucks and bikes racing flat out
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We stopped for lunch and met another group of Kawasaki Versys riders. Great guys, and I peppered them with route questions…
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The next day to Yogyakarta was the best day’s riding in Indonesia
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We’re determined to stay as west as possible
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Soon the traffic thinned and we headed across a final flat into the hills
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The villages were tidier here. It felt affluent
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Most flat areas were planted with various crops
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More here than meets the eye, the benefits of building over a riverside when possible
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Hot and humid
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A few of these
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And back to the ocean
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Yogyakarta felt very different: sophisticated, wealthy, interesting. We met some great people, riders. No idea what they do in the day, but I know what they do at night. Whoa, I’ll never forget. Crazier and crazier. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Since you’re undoubtedly reading this, thank you my friends.

During the day, we toured around in one of these
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Hilarious that they alone have the right to go the wrong way down one-way streets. You get to see rider’s faces close up
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We took a day trip to Prambanan, a huge1200 year old Hindu temple. To read about it, here’s the Wiki link, so no boring lecture
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Immense
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Restored in various stages from earthquake damage
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Each non-original block was marked with a steel stud
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Everywhere people were posing for photos. Everyone in Indonesia is beautiful
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Kids always on their smartphones everywhere. Facebook is as prevalent here as at home
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The temples were built for Brahma, Angsa, Vishnu, Garuda, Nandi and the biggest for Shiva, God of Gods
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In each of the temples was a room with the corresponding statue
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At the base of each statue was a Lotus motif
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And the outer walls were crenellated with Lotus shapes
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The second temple is the 9th century Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world, about an hour outside of Yogyakarta
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Hard to get a great view approaching it
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Non-Indonesians (me, at right) had to wear a blue decorated sarong. Looked great with my Billabong shirt
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The temple. For the full story, here’s the Wiki link
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Steep climb up to the top
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Lotus, again
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Hot
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Buddha
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Kids were cleaning moss out of the cracks
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Kids, loving it
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A modern temple a few miles away
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And there waiting in the garden was a Lotus
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Bud
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Seed pod
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Indonesia so far, from the Delorme track
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