Sunday, August 23, 2009

A cup of Java

Wed 22/07
At least getting off this ferry is pretty straightforward, but after 40hrs we’re both knackered. Maybe that contributes to what happens next, or maybe its because he’s been getting a cold the last couple of days, but 30 minutes after riding off while looking for a hotel, Lucas has a meltdown in the middle of a main road.

For months he's been fed up with people tailgating Ann and trying to push her down the road, but can only watch in frustration in his mirrors. You’re pretty vulnerable on a bike, and often these idiots sit right on her rear wheel.

Anyway... some moron decides to try it on in the midst of the chaotic Semarang traffic, blasting her with his horn, weaving back and forth trying to bully her off the road. Lucas is observing this in his mirrors and when he sees her trying to kick the car with her foot slows to a stop in the middle of the road, on a green light, parks the bike and gets off, storms up to the guy and starts stomping on his headlight to try and smash it. Unfortunately he only has his hiking boots on so doesn’t do any real damage, but just as he’s making some obscene gesture to the driver realises he has a uniform on and may actually be an off-duty cop (he may have been a security guard, we’re not sure). Anyway, after Lucas gets back on the bike we ride straight through the 5-way intersection, on a red light, the traffic magically parting for us anyway. They were probably all just staring at us, gobsmacked.

We’re not precious about driving in the Indo mêlée, and are usually cutting a swathe through it, not holding people up. So even though we’re guests in a foreign country, we refuse to put up with assholes. Besides which, this sort of thing is pretty tame for Java. Apparently every year people who cause accidents are beaten to death by angry mobs, exacting retribution.

Thu 23/07
We’d like to exact a bit of our own retribution on some of the mad mullahs around the place. There’s no let up to the wailing this afternoon, each wailer becoming successively more strident and talentless. Lucas pronounces he could gargle better than some of these guys.

Fri 24/07
Semarang, even withstanding the fact the Dutch built a series of canals here, has a real flooding problem. The canals of course have since become clogged with rubbish, turning them into great snaking stagnant ponds running through the centre of the city. As a consequence, the mosquitoes here are horrendous. Its a constant battle, and because a lot of our stuff is black, the hotel rooms we occupy usually play host to a nightly game of mosquito hide and seek.

The tube of Bushman’s we bought in Oz has nearly run out, but seems the only effective deterrent. The problem is its fairly toxic (80% DEET), stains clothes and melts plastic, so we weren’t planning on using it long term anyway. Citronella spray is good for a couple of hours if you smother yourself in it, and god knows what the little electric fumigators spew out into the atmosphere, but ours seems to be about as healthy as the DEET. We use the mozzie net whenever we can, but often its impossible to hang it from the ceiling.

Sat 25/07
Lawang Sewu (thousand doors) was also built by the Dutch Railroad Co. in the early 20s as an administrative building and surprisingly turns out to be one of the most amazing places we’ve visited in Indonesia.

Semarang is architecturally quite interesting anyway (in a filthy, decaying, Dutch kind of way), but Lawang Sewu seems to sum the whole city up in one building. The Indos stripped it after the Dutch left, so the interior is completely unlit, giving parts of it a really creepy atmosphere.

And as is typical here, the place has been almost completely left to rot. Its tragic really, but the Indos don’t seem to give a damn about their old buildings. Sorry, any buildings. They literally don’t maintain anything. Public buildings, hotels, ferries, roads, anything. Things just deteriorate here until they fall apart completely.

Later that night we strike up a conversation in an internet cafe with two young girls who want to practise their English. This is surprisingly rare for us so far, and apparently we’re the first of our “type” they’ve met. Its an odd thing to say to someone, but there’s no such thing as political correctness here. People call out or refer to us as Buleh (foreigner) all the time, which when you think about it is the equivalent of an Australian calling out Hey Chink! to a Chinese person they see walking down the street.

Maybe we’re just intolerant, but after a couple of months of Tourist! Tourist! or Buleh! Buleh! the whole thing gets pretty old. In fact we can’t express in words how over it we are. Oh yeah... by the way, did we tell you how over it we were? No? As if people don’t already stare at us like we’re two-headed monsters everywhere we go, a cry of Tourist! Tourist! is guaranteed to bring a market to a standstill. Try eating dinner anonymously at a little warung, like the locals all do.

Ok, so here in a big Javan city they’re a little more sophisticated, and its almost possible to walk down the street without being stared at. But only a main street. Get out into the backstreets of any kampung and you might as well have two heads. Maybe it’d be more fun if there was some variety to their reactions, but they all say the same things. They all ask the same questions. Its like they cloned the whole 250 million of them.

It doesn’t stop us doing any of these things, but god, did we tell you...?

Sun 26/07
Its great to finally ride out of the stifling heat of the city and head for the hills, to a little town called Bandungan.

The nearby Hindu temples of Gedung Songo were built around the 8th or 9th centuries and are in a spectacular part of the countryside. But unfortunately, as with many things in this country, the Indos have turned the whole thing into a really tacky tourist trap, complete with pony rides and karaoke. The temples themselves are carved from sandstone and we find it incredible that people are just clambering all over them. It takes an hour or two to wander round them all, possibly more, depending on how many people mob you with the Photo! Photo Mister! thing. In our case this happens maybe half a dozen times.

Didn’t we just say the Javans were more sophisticated?

Maybe these ones are on holiday from Flores.

Mon 27/07
The ride to Solo is about all we can deal with today. Lucas has been getting a cold for days, and generally feeling like shit since the ferry.

Tue 28/07
So today we get up early to actually see some stuff before he runs out of steam.

High up on the side of yet another volcano, Candi Sukuh is a Hindu temple which seems to pay homage to the almighty penis, as some of the workers restoring a section of it gleefully point out.

Candi Ceto on the other hand, is even higher up the same volcano at the end of a wickedly steep road, and doesn’t obviously pay homage to anything, until we stumble upon a huge effigy of you know what tucked away near the top. Randy lot, these Hindus. Probably explains Indonesia’s breeding habits.

Wed 29/07
Westerners is a little homestay tucked away in the backstreets of the kampung. True to its name, the lady only takes buleh (the locals are too much hassle), so Ann is surrounded by a load of French, and one Australian, all coughing and blowing their noses. It must be the polluted Javan air or something.

Fri 31/07
Speaking of which, Solo to Malang is 340ks, most of which follows the main Surabaya road. Surabaya is Indonesia’s second biggest city at about 5 million, but the roads that feed into it from elsewhere, like Solo, are mostly narrow 2 laners.

The traffic is a mixture of clapped out overweight trucks doing about 40, clapped out bemos (just mobile traffic hazards really) doing about 20, intercity buses driven by maniacs (often coming at you down the wrong side of the road), 4x4s driven by the painfully timid (probably scared shitless), 4x4s driven by road hogs who weave all over the road, and about a hundred billion motorbikes.

All the trucks drive right to the centre line, making it almost impossible to pass on the right. The bemos crawl slowly along the left-hand edge and are, along with becaks, the most infuriating vehicles on the road, often making passing down the left no good either. The road hog 4x4s have a knack of blocking nearly every gap in between, and the maniac intercity buses well... holy shit. They pull off some outrageous passing manoeuvres. If you can keep up with one of these you're doing well.

Most of the time though, the only gap is down the left-hand side, usually just wider than a motorbike. Initially we think no way, there's just not enough room to pilot one of these bikes down the left the whole time, but really there’s no alternative. The trip would take the remainder of our natural lives otherwise. So we mostly tend to mix it up with all the other bikes down the left, riding tank to tank with teenagers, test pilots, businessmen, shop assistants, families, couples, cops, chicken coups, hardware stores and all the rest of the mayhem. Its kind of cool to be mixing it with the rest of Indonesia this way, but maybe not quite this close, as they’ve got no concept of what its like to ride anything bigger than a 125.

You do get into a rhythm though and its possible to really hammer along. Well, if you call averaging around 50kph for six and a half hours hammering. This includes three stops. In comparison, the lunatic intercity buses do the same trip in 7.

Later that afternoon, sitting having a coffee and swapping war stories, our hearts continue to pound.

Sat 01/08
Things are a little less hectic today, but after another day of temple-watching, we’re starting to wonder what we’re actually doing here. Some Indos have been incredibly friendly and kind to us, but on the whole we really just don’t like them all that much.

Ok, we’ve said it now. We just don’t like them.

Its mainly the men, who are mostly an immature and inconsiderate lot. But its really the whole package. The national average IQ seems to be around 100, or possibly in the double-digits if we’re feeling really uncharitable. The children are all obnoxious, undisciplined, uneducated, noisy little bastards. Or is that still the men? Well they’re interchangeable, so it doesn’t really matter. Its the stupidity of their driving habits, which we’re subjected to on a daily basis. Its the general laziness and don’t give a shit attitude of nearly every Indo we’ve met in the last few months. Its the irritating shrug of the shoulders and little laugh they all use to explain away their fuck-ups. Its the spectacular country they’ve overpopulated and polluted beyond belief, which makes us feel like someone should take it back off them and dump them all in the ocean, along with all the rest of their garbage.

Sun 02/08

As for the way they treat their animals, well... we’ve already seen plenty of examples of that, so the local bird markets don’t come as much of a shock.

What does shock us however is the loss of Ann’s purse, full of credit cards and drivers licenses.

Its not even until you talk to the bank that you have any idea what needs to be cancelled, what funds you’ll have access to and how long they’ll take to replace. And just where the hell in Indonesia do you get the cards sent? And you know that’s the easy bit. Its the licenses that are going to be the real problem.

But after you do the looking at each other in disbelief thing, the retracing your steps thing and waste even more time doing the going to the cops thing, you realise its probably more important to do the ring the bank thing, and so walk out on the cops mid-sentence (they’re a useless lot anyway) and rush off to the nearest internet cafe.

Prior to cancelling the cards though, we decide to raid all four of the nearest ATMs and grab enough cash to last us until... we’re not sure when (as much as a house brick worth of rupiah lasts).

Tue 04/08
The whole reason we came to Malang in the first place was as a stopping off point before visiting Bromo, so this morning we leave bad memories behind and head for the hills.

Generally if you want to hike up Bromo you can do the touristy thing and stay at Cemoro Lawang, hire a guide, take the 4x4 tour, pony ride etc. Or, if you’ve got your own transport, you can stay at a little village like Wonokitri, which is on the other side of the crater and rarely sees tourists.

The road up is pretty spectacular and the Hindu Tengger people have been farming the sides of these steep valleys for hundreds of years, so you tend to see people walking around with limps as a result of one leg being shorter than the other. Its genetic you see.

Ok, so that’s not entirely true, but you do see them struggling up and down hills with massive bamboo containers filled with potatoes or cabbages. They have to be carrying at least 50kgs across their shoulders and the 79 year old former farmer, in whose house we’re staying, still has the physique of a body builder.

Wonokitri itself is 7000ft up the side of the old Tengger Massif, so that toughness comes in handy when dealing with the cold water mandi. There’s a small carp swimming around in this one, so we take care not to scoop him up when having a shower. The water is so cold the steam rises off our skin.

Wed 05/08
A couple of days ago we asked the National Parks office in Malang about the road down into the crater, as we’d read it was very steep, with the GPS listing it as a 4x4 track. Oh, no problem for a sepeda motor they said. Well we’ve heard that sort of thing all over Indonesia, so this morning decide to take both bikes down, as riding 2-up sounds too risky. Its just as well, because the road is rubbish and the final kilometre is so steep the rear brakes struggle to hold the bikes. Almost as soon as we’re down we’re worrying about the climb back up again.

Gunung Bromo looks almost like a pimple on the face of the old crater; the original volcano must have been massive. Clouds spill over into the crater from the neighbouring valleys, the heat rising from the volcanic sand keeping them at bay.

Back at Wonokitri it seems like all the houses have TVs, but otherwise time seems to stand still. We’re the biggest thing to hit town in ages, or rather our bikes are. And since Mr Universe has insisted we park them right out the front of our room, there are groups of men-boys from all around checking them out until late in the night. Blah blah blah Bee Em Wee! blah blah... or so it goes. You probably think we’re just being cynical, but actually we’re sick to death of Indos (who have no respect for, or concept of private property) fiddling with and jumping all over the bikes. You get on it in the morning and some idiot has flicked the kill switch, moved the mirrors, turned on the heated grips or, if you’re really lucky, flicked a cigarette butt onto your vinyl seat upholstery.

What this country really needs is birth control.

Thu 06/08
Which may have prevented the birth of at least some of the moronic hotel staff at Bondowoso, who we find jumping all over the bikes the next day, taking happy snaps with their mobiles. This will happen twice here, Ann and Lucas both taking turns separately to yell and swear at them.

Fri 07/08
Another day another diabolical road, this time to Kawah Ijen, a nearby volcano which is notable for its beautiful sulphur lake and the men who collect sulphur from its crater. The LP states that this is a good, if potholed road. We beg to differ. This is actually a twisty pile of rocks with strips of bitumen in between.

The hike up Ijen is incredibly steep, especially for the sulphur collectors we pass periodically, who are carrying huge bundles of the stuff.

The crater itself is a steaming cauldron, and every so often one of the sulphur guys struggles into view from within the mist.

Sat 08/08
We can’t remember when we decided to go to Bali. For the past two years we’ve been telling anyone who asks “No, we went there 15 years ago, so won’t be stopping there this time.” But right at this point we’re both tired and run down, and its so close now - just a 45 minute ferry ride away.

So after ignoring yet another ferry crew and parking the bikes wherever the hell we want, we find ourselves riding the choppy swell across the straight to Bali...

1 comment:

  1. MMMMM , Between the losing of the purse and the ??? what ever , I walked into my Kitchen where I poured a nice cool scotch and coke before continueing on with your tale of many wowes and travels.
    Hope you didn't loose too much , if any , money Ann and , My poor Luke , hope that cold didn't last too long and that your now enjoying Bali.
    Here??? Brissie is going through a heat wave . 35 the other day < its the 28/8/09 ,4.50pm << Friday>> and is going to be the same this week end .
    Take care you two and be safe .
    Love N.