bali

Notes from a Multi-Millionaire

Regrettably, that’s a multi-millionaire with a poor connection – no photos on this post, I’m afraid.  Anyway…

There’s something strange about the money here in Indonesia.

It took me a while to work out that everywhere I’ve been so far (including my evening in Mexico, where I used US Dollars) has had a Sterling exchange rate of one-point-something to the pound.  The Euro, the Canadian, US, NZ and Australian Dollars.  All of them.  You kind of get used to it.

Then there’s the Indonesian Rupiah.  Currently at around 19,000 to the pound.  That’s a bit of a shock.  I’m a multi-millionaire!  But only after several visits to the cash machine; most of them only give out a million at a time…

Of course, the cash is only one small difference now that I’m very definitely out of ‘the West’.  This is the world’s most populous Muslim country, and there are many changes from the English-speaking, first-world countries that I’ve left behind.

Apart from the changed countryside, there’s now a significant language barrier to overcome, the prices are way down, and south-east Asian scooter madness is a new challenge to the touring cyclist.  Oh, and there are sometimes monkeys by the side of the road (much easier to spot than kangaroos!).

I was delayed getting on the road in Bali.  Not, for a change, because of the weather.  I was ready to hit the road on Friday morning, when I discovered that an old friend and work colleague had just arrived in Bali on holiday.  He was staying just a couple of miles up the road.  Clearly, a swift change of plan was required.  And, eventually, a day late (but a happy coincidence, a couple of Bintang beers and a pizza richer), I finally rolled out on Saturday morning.

Anyone who’s ever been to Bali will be able to tell you about the nutty traffic in the Denpasar area, especially the tourist areas around Kuta.  Indonesians theoretically drive on the correct (left) side of the road.  But the roads are very narrow, there are a lot of taxis, buses and vans around to block things up.  And swarms of scooters make up their own rules; no one way streets or traffic lights for them!

Once you get up the nerve to jump in, though, it’s not so bad to ride inside the maelstrom.  Although it’s chaotic, speeds are very low in towns, and it actually feels a bit more dangerous on the open road, with long-distance buses the main threat.

Anyway, I’ve been going gently for the last three days, allowing my body to readjust to riding after over a week off, and giving myself time in the shade and to get used to the traffic.  And I made it safely off Bali on Sunday, and onto Java by ferry.

Java greets you with a view of a giant volcano, and it looks like there are a few big hills to be had over here, certainly in comparison with the last weeks in Australia.  I’m going to have to re-learn how to climb…

Once I get used to egg-fried rice and tofu in chilli sauce for breakfast, and figure out how to use a squat toilet (tricky when you can’t squat without toppling over backwards), I think I’m going to like Indonesia.  The first big hills rear up tomorrow, and then I need to crank up the kilometres to make the most of my 30-day visa.  At my current rate, I’m not going to get all that far.

Now, how many millions can a man spend in a month?  I’ll keep you posted.  And hopefully, get some pictures together for next time.

The Reef, the West, and the Rain Man

I’m not sure how a post without any cycling involved really fits into an account of a round-the-world bike ride.  But there hasn’t been any riding since I got to Cairns.  Some coral, some fish, an awful lot of flying and another international border.  No riding at all.

But I need to provide a neat finish to Australia; it wouldn’t do to just jump suddenly into the middle of Indonesia as if nothing happened in-between, would it?  So here we go…

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I spent so many weeks in Queensland riding parallel with the Great Barrier Reef that it would have been a crime not to go and see it.  I finally got the chance in Cairns (it’s probably more accurate to say that I had my last chance at Cairns; I’ve always been an expert in putting things off ’til the last minute).

And so, on my last whole day on the east coast of Australia (Saturday), I hopped on a ferry and headed for Green Island.

Halfway there (it was the morning, and I’m never all that sharp before lunch), I realised that I’d forgotten to either rent an underwater camera or buy a waterproof disposable one.  This was yet another ‘doh!’ moment to add to the several I’ve accumulated so far during the trip.

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Still, I had a pleasant snorkel around, and then a glass-bottomed boat ride, which at least enabled me to get a couple of blurry snaps of a chunk of reef and a few of its denizens.  I don’t think that they’re likely to set the world of aquatic photography alight, but at least there’s a record…

As I waited on the jetty for the boat back to town, it became apparent that another (yet another?) storm was heading straight toward me, entirely obscuring Cairns behind an impenetrable sheet of rain.

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When I got back that evening, I was accused for the first (but by far not the last) time this week of bringing the rain with me.  It hadn’t rained much in Cairns this wet season until my arrival, despite my fairly regular soakings further south in Queensland.  I didn’t think too much of this at the time, until I crossed the country to Perth.

As I said last time, the ridiculousness of aviation routes and fares meant that flying three sides of a fairly large (think most-of-Europe sized) square was cheaper than heading to Indonesia in a straight line.

It also meant that I could visit old friends (Matt, Jennifer and family) in Perth.  I went to school with Matt, but we worked out that it was fairly close to decades (plural) since we’d last seen each other.  Astonishing how time flies (and how old I must be).  And it was also an excuse to stretch my time off the bike by another few days.  Though the Beast’s not particularly happy at having been wrapped in cardboard and battered by baggage handlers across three time zones.

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As the picture above might suggest, Perth in the summer is usually hot (but emphatically not humid) and dry.  As the picture above might not adequately suggest, within an hour or so of my arrival on Sunday, an immense thunder storm kicked off.  The accusation of storms following me around was repeated, and staunchly defended.  But it was starting to worry me now.

And the worry deepened yesterday (Tuesday), as I raced incoming, menacing dark cloud back to the house.  A casual observer might have thought that the rain thrashing in within five minutes of my arrival meant that wherever I go, precipitation follows.  I might even be starting to agree.  Maybe I am, indeed, destined to be forever stalked by lightning and heavy rain.

If it’s going to catch up with me again, though, it’s going to have to leave Australia and get me in Indonesia.  As I left Perth today, I was departing under crystal-clear blue skies, and remained in them all the way to Bali.

It clouded up later, though.  Of course it did.  Any bets that the first update from the road in Indonesia won’t include the word ‘storm’?  Or ‘rain’?  Or at least ‘shower’?