scooters

To Jakarta: Hills, Traffic, and Football

It’s been a few days that have felt like an assault course at times.

You can feel the pull of the capital from a long way off.  A metropolitan area with nearly 30 million inhabitants (10m in the city itself) is hard to ignore.

The traffic gets heavier (and slightly more aggressive), the air gets dirtier, and the noises get louder.  The lack of decent sign-posting becomes a major issue instead of a minor irritation.  And the smells get noticeably stronger (and generally less pleasant).

But before all that, there were the hills.

The ride to Bandung on Tuesday looked tough on paper.  And it was in practice.  Two major climbs, topping out at nearly 900m, and an awful lot of little ups and downs in between.

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It’s hard to get a sense of steepness across on a photo, but you can hopefully see the gradient near the top of the second climb here (the road follows the line with the rock face behind it).  It was a brutal day, and I was pretty well knackered by the time I rolled into Bandung.  To the extent that I didn’t really notice the increasing traffic until I got back on the road yesterday (Wednesday) morning.

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It was mayhem.  And this was on the ring-road, rather than the city centre.  The traffic lights here are on incredibly long delays, resulting in hundreds of scooters, minibuses (‘Bemos’), vans and cars building up at every red light.  When the lights go green, everyone charges across the junction, and then screeches to a halt again as the Bemos pull up in the middle of the road on the other side to disgorge their passengers.  Once you’ve squeezed past them, it’s all clear for a few hundred yards to the next set of lights, where the whole process repeats.

Jakarta, I can now say with some authority, is worse.

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As I crossed the last of the hills, it was a steep, twisty and poorly-surfaced interlude between the traffic madness.  It was fun.  There was a constant stream of trucks, scooters and cars going the other way, draped in blue flags.  It turns out that football is just as big in Indonesia as it is at home, and that Bandung had just won the league, with stacks of fans heading into town to celebrate.  At least I finally got my own back on the photo-muggers, and got a shot of some of them (all, oddly, Manchester United fans too, and not even from Surrey).

So, having got as far as Jakarta, I’ve got some logistics to sort out.  I’ve got six days left on my 30-day visa, which is not really enough to get to a port or airport in Sumatra.  With a bit of luck, I’ll be able to get a ferry up close to Singapore from here before my time expires.  Trouble is, it’s pretty much impossible to work out when and if the ferries are running without going to the office and asking.  If there’s one in time, I’ll get it (hopefully with a couple of days to poke around Jakarta).  If not, it’s either a visa renewal or a flight.

Should all be much clearer by next update…

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.