Monday, August 17, 2009


Thu 16/07
The sign at the junction reads Pontianak 215km straight ahead or Pontianak 140km left. Naturally we go left, but in the back of our minds there’s something niggling, something someone has told us about an unfinished section of road. It looks ok on the GPS and for about 75ks is a dream, possibly the best road in Indonesia.

Then it all turns to shit.

The little roadside carwashes should’ve tipped us off, but we just blow past, oblivious to the 30km stretch of rutted horror that lies before us. Ann drops the bike halfway up a hill overtaking a truck and before Lucas can get back, one of the locals has already helped her lift it. The Indos are fantastic with this sort of thing and have helped us many times now.

It takes nearly an hour and a half to do the 30ks, and in hindsight, standing on the side of the road where the bitumen starts, looking like we’ve just done a stage of the Dakar, we wish we’d taken the long way round.

Its late in the day when we finally approach the main bridge into Pontianak, and in one of those spur of the moment errors of judgement you look back on later and go “Holy shit, did we really do that?”, Lucas decides to take the left lane.

Beyond the point of no return we both realise that the bridge is actually only two lanes and the “left lane” is actually a pedestrian crossing. Being as pedestrians are an endangered species in Indonesia, the locals use the pedestrian crossings as extra motorbike lanes. Which works fine if you’ve got a skinny little 125; you can even squeeze past the odd pedestrian who risks life and limb crossing on foot or pushbike.

But as we approach the bridge we can see a couple of guys pushing their little bakso carts up over the hump and realise we’re never going to fit. The clearance either side of our panniers is probably only a foot.

Breathing in doesn’t do much good, but luckily the bakso guys clear the hump before we get to the top and coast down in front of us to the other side.

Fri 17/07
We wake to the news of the Jakarta bombing and feel sorry for Indonesia, but won’t be changing our travel plans.

Later that morning it takes us a couple of hours to find the right agent, but we finally find out about the Pontianak – Surabaya ferry. Which... was cancelled a few months ago. Terrific.

However there’s one to Semarang on Monday, so its not a complete disaster and after comparing ticket prices for the various classes we decide to get a private cabin and go 1st class for a change. 40hrs of cigarette smoke, smelly armpits, Indo TV, screaming children and children with plastic death ray pistol abominations of noise and flashing lights and laser sights are all just a bit too much to face this time.

Hmmm... death ray pistols or... private air conditioned cabin?

Its a $25 decision.

After sorting out the ferry we walk back to yesterday’s infamous bridge, hopefully to get some photos of the mayhem. Smoke chokes the air and this is the second afternoon where flecks of ash rain down like snow, blotting out the harsh sun and giving the sky a surreal dirty brown glow.

Sat 18/07
Pontianak doesn’t have a big pineapple, a big cow or a big prawn. But it does have a monument to the equator, which runs right through the middle of it. Which is actually pretty boring unless you want to hop back and forwards between hemispheres, so we take a couple of Been There Done That photos and ride back through the Pontianak traffic (traffic is really an understatement, you’d shake your heads in disbelief if you actually saw it) to have a look at the old home of the Sultan and his mosque, the Istana.

Afterwards we ride back over The Bridge Of Death, which holds no fear for us now (especially when we avoid the pedestrian lane) to sort out some confusion about the ferry departure. With the language barrier, this sort of thing takes forever and involves as many people as possible, until someone finally has the bright idea to ring the agent to get the right answer.

Note to viewers: never ever take what you’re told by an Indonesian at face value. Get a second opinion. Preferably a third. We’re sure they don’t intentionally mislead foreigners (unless they’re after your cash), its just that to save face they’ll suggest or agree to pretty much anything. Never ever put words into their mouths.

The Pontianak ash continues to rain down...

Sun 19/07
Noodles for breakfast again. They’re slightly better than the rice. Or is it the other way round? No fuck it, they’re both diabolical. Another morning, another budget hotel breakfast.

Not like the one down the road, which has been cordoned off by the riot police, a swat team, the army and god knows who else. Actually they’ve closed off the whole road and all seem pretty tense, obviously in response to the Jakarta bombing.

Replacement sunglasses for Ann (lost in Kuching) set us back a whole $3 at the markets.

Mon 20/07 – Wed 22/07
The last few days have been a countdown to another god-awful ferry, the experience of which is dragged out even further when you’ve got something to load.

Note to viewers: try to avoid watching the loading or unloading of a big Indo ferry. That way you’re less likely to worry about how much they’re actually stuffing into it.

After yet another argument with another ferry crew about where to put the bikes (we’ve done our research on this and know exactly how they should be loaded), we find ourselves wedged between three 20 ton trucks (each weighing in at more like 30 or 40) and one of the four caterpillar earth movers they loaded earlier.

All the Indo ferries we’ve taken so far have Made In Japan stamped all over them, which is the only good thing we’ve got to say about them. This one was probably state of the art 30 years ago, and as a testament to Japanese engineering, after 30 years of virtually no maintenance still seems to float. Our cabin even turns out to be surprisingly big and if it had an ensuite would be the perfect haven from the hell in the corridors. Unfortunately it doesn’t, because the shared mandis on this one are disgusting. Revolting Little Black Holes Of Calcutta.

We kid you not on this folks. Over the next 40 hours the only times we venture outside the cabin are to use the mandi. We’ve had some great times on these ferries, but on the whole... we’re really just fed up with them.

Java. Bring it on...

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