I wouldn’t necessarily recommend riding on Javanese roads at night. I’ve nudged into dusk a few times over here, as the sun sets depressingly early. But I’ve only hit full darkness once on the whole trip, on Tuesday. It wasn’t dark to start with, mind:
Later on, it was quite easily my scariest evening’s riding since I used to commute in London. A head-torch turns out not to provide a massive amount of illumination in the pitch dark gaps between villages. And combining it with a helmet means that whatever tiny pinprick of light is produced is generally aimed at either the sky or the handlebars.
This all makes it very hard to see either the side of the road or the gradient, unless there are other headlights about to steal light from. But if there are other headlights, that means you’re in the grip of the standard Indonesian traffic frenzy (with less visibility than usual). Fun, fun, fun!
It wasn’t even (really) my fault that I got stuck out there as darkness fell with forty kilometres still to go to my destination. I knew I had a fairly long run (123km) ahead of me, and set a super-early alarm to give myself time. For some reason, despite being connected to the network, my phone managed to lose an hour in the night, leaving me playing catch-up before I even started. And then a badly-timed burst of rain left me stranded until nearly dusk. And because it was only nearly dusk, I refused the kind (mimed) offer of shelter from an Indonesian family whose roof I’d been sheltering under from the rain. So really, not my fault at all.
Apart from the unintentional night riding, it’s all been going quite well. Although I’m running a little slow (halfway through my Indonesian visa time already!), I’ve been making reasonable progress across Java. And I was greeted on the road into Yogyakarta yesterday (Wednesday) by a mosque dressed up as St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Or maybe St Basil’s was modelled on a mosque; who knows?
Yogyakarta is the biggest city I’ve been to here, and is a cultural centre for the country. What I really wanted to see was Borombudor, a huge,ancient Buddhist temple a few miles out of town, which was dug out of the forest in the late 1800s, and is now an Indonesian ‘must see’.
I got out there today, with rain threatening (though thankfully, not actually falling on me for a change). It’s a very impressive site; a flat-ish pyramid with tiers of Buddhas and Stupas all the way up, as well as some fairly vertiginous steps and drop-offs (health and safety is not quite such a big deal here as it is at home). And the taxi ride out and back was a nice little adrenaline spike to get me ready to be back on the road tomorrow.
It’s actually my second new year of the year tomorrow, as the Year of the Goat (or possibly the Sheep; there are a lot of ambiguous drawings and inflatable toys around) kicks off.
Hopefully, the roads will be quieter as I head on west. Unlikely, but you never know…