world travel

Betrayal and Photo-Mugging

You might have got the impression from recent posts that I’d fallen for the happy madness of Indonesia’s National Road 3.

You’d have been right too.  But not any more.  It’s let me down badly.

Maybe I expected too much, and tried to push too hard (I have been trying to increase the mileage since Yogyakarta).  Whatever, by yesterday afternoon (Friday), I was sat at a level crossing watching a train flash smoothly by, and wishing I was on it.

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It’s not the scenery, which has remained pleasant and lush and green (if a little hilly as I approach the inevitable volcanic passes I need to clear to get towards the north coast and Jakarta).  It’s not the people, who have remained lovely throughout.  And It’s not the traffic, which I’m well used to by now.  Or even my standard bugbear, the weather.

No.  It’s the road itself.

Ever since Yogyakarta, the surface has deteriorated.  There have always been a few rough spots, but it’s got kind of ridiculous for the last hundred and fifty kilometres or so.  For long, seemingly endless, sections it might as well be ploughed.

Potholes, ruts, tree root damage, odd ripples which look like the road’s melted and then stuck together again in waves.  I actually hit some roadworks this morning, where they had stripped the surface off the top of the road.  The bare gravel was much smoother than most of what I’d been riding.

Down goes the speed, up goes the effort.  It’s like mountain biking, having to use your whole body to keep moving while keeping the bike and bags in one piece.  Constantly out of the saddle to absorb shocks.  Constantly un-weighting the front, then the back on every lump and bump to avoid damaging the wheels.  Constantly concentrating to find the smoothest line, and make sure you can take it without getting rear-ended by a bus.

It’s hard work, is what I’m trying to say.  And I’m getting a wee bit tired of it.

There may be a little hope.  The Beast and I rattled and bumped to the border between central and west Java this afternoon.

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The road has been a little better since the border, though it’s only been a few miles.  I’m not counting my chickens yet.

While the road might have changed, one thing has remained constant since I was at Borobudur.  Being photo-mugged by the locals.  It never happened before Yogyakarta, but it’s been pretty much constant since.  Indonesians don’t do the full-on gawking, ‘staring at the weird foreigner’ thing which happens in other places.

But they pretty much all have camera phones.  And they do all seem to want a photo with the weird foreigner.  A couple of local tourists got me at the border.  Before that, a bunch of scootering girls caught me at a shop at lunchtime.  And then another school football team got me at my final drink-break.  It’s nice, but a bit odd to be a tourist attraction when I’m the one on tour.

I guess I’ll just have to get used to the road and the photo-mugging, and try not to let them distract me.  There are still a few miles to go, after all.  And I need to focus on the big hills in the next few days.  Just hope that road surface holds up…