The Final Stretch: Kalianda to Monumen Nasional, Jakarta: 200 Kilometres (including a ferry)

Final distance from Banda Aceh Jakarta to Jakarta: 3,732 kilometres.

Bike ride progress final

Day 23: Rest Day in Kalianda

Before reaching Jakarta, I felt some quality beach time would be helpful to chill out. For those who are yet to experience Jakarta, it’s a massive, sprawling, dirty, polluted traffic ridden metropolis. Having said that, I love it. But before hitting the big city, some quality beach time was in order.

I awoke late and got some breakfast. I then rode my bike down the coast, along sublime coastal roads. There were many spots to stop and chill, but I was enjoying riding down the beach road. I probably rode 30 kilometres, before deciding to turn back and check out a beach I had spotted.

Islands in the distance
Islands in the distance

I found a little hut, and chilled out while reading a magazine. People came over and chatted with me and wanted photos. They were a tad pushy, and unsettled me a bit. After living in Indonesia a while, I know how to give it back to people who are pushy, and they quickly went back to their friends. The beach was very amazing though, and there were various islands in the distance. I knew this place isn’t too far from Jakarta, so it could possibly be a good holiday destination from the big city.

That afternoon I really took it easy, and just watched a few movies. It was great to have some quiet time, the calm before the storm which would be Jakarta.

Day 24: Kalianda to Jakarta! 200 kilometres in nine hours.

I awoke nice and early today for the final push. I had enjoyed a long sleep, ready for the final day of riding. I was a bit sad to finish, but knew today would be a tough day on the road, and wanted to get started. I packed my bags tightly, checked out of the hotel and hit the road towards the ferry.

The huge islands of Java and Sumatra are linked by a ferry which takes everything from passengers, bikes, cars and massive trucks. The trip I was told takes three hours. I rode from Kalianda to the ferry terminal, which was a one hour ride. The ferry terminal is at the southern most point of Sumatra, and along the road there were many buses and trucks. Interestingly, all the buses have signs which say their origin and destination. I saw one bus which shocked me to the core. It was en-route from Surabaya in East Java to Medan in North Sumatra. That is a backbreaking journey of about 2,800 kilometres which would take probably 6 days if travelling 24 hours per day. On the Sumatran roads, I believe that would be the definition of hell. I shuddered at the thought of being on that bus.

Anyway, I approached the ferry terminal and was surprised by the efficiency. I was convinced it’d be an ass ache to get a ticket, load the bike, and protect me bags from thieves who so famously rob travelers. The reality was totally different. I went through the ticket booth on my bike, paid Rp39,000 or $4 for myself and the bike. Then I rode the bike to the boat, directed by various staff. I rode right onto the boat, up to the top level, and parked my bike next to a bunch of other travelers. Couldn’t have been easier or cheaper. I then took my bags up to the passenger area, sat down, and immediately got chatting to staff who work in the café/kiosk. They made me a coffee and noodles, and we chatted all the way to Java.

The deck awaiting cars
The deck awaiting cars
My bike with some other bikes on the deck
My bike with some other bikes on the deck
I'm pretty sure my boat was the same as this
I’m pretty sure my boat was the same as this
The approach to the port in Sumatra
The approach to the port in Sumatra

IMG_0330

The ferry ride was weird. It took three hours, but we were stopped in the middle of the sea for at least an hour and a half of it. There was a traffic jam at the port, and we were in a line of ferries waiting to unload their passengers and vehicles. I had never been in a boat jam, but I think it was normal.

After three and a bit hours, I got back onto my bike and rode off. I had been warned about the Javanese authorities checking motorbike registration, but no one stopped me. I just rode off, took some snaps, and hit the open road.

Waiting to get off the boat
Waiting to get off the boat

Then it hit me. After just a short three hour ferry, the road was totally different. It was jammed, busy, traffic-light ridden and dusty. I spent the first hour sneezing uncontrollably. The air was just thick with pollution and dirt which killed my nose. I had to stop various times because of coughing and sneezing. I just wanted to get back on the boat and go back to Sumatra. Furthermore, the closer I got to Jakarta, the more grey the sky became dark because of all the pollution. Despite all this, I pushed on.

My mobile phone data plan wasn’t really working too well, which totally screwed my google maps. I was totally blind in trying to reach Jakarta, and asked a bunch of people. My final target was the national monument (Monas) in the centre of Jakarta. I kept on riding, following signs to the city, and then it happened.

I turned a corner, and there was Monas! I couldn’t believe it, as I thought it was still a little way off. So at about 5pm, with the sun going down, I had finally reached my destination! Monas looked so majestic, and the grounds were full of people playing soccer and other sports in the afternoon warmth.

I rode my bike right up to the gate, and parked near some people selling drinks. I was exhausted and so happy to have made it after so many days. I bought a bottle of water from the woman, and asked her if she could take a photo. I told her I’d just arrived from Banda Aceh. I think she was more excited than me, and said she was happy to take one hundred photos! All the Indonesians gave me the thumbs up, and big broad smiles seeing my bike, and all my gear. The woman enthusiastically took photos for me.

I made it! Me and the bike with the Indonesian National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta!
I made it! Me and the bike with the Indonesian National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta!

I drank my water, and soaked up the atmosphere while sitting on my silent bike. It was a mixture of pride, happiness and exhaustion. There were so many people milling around the area, going about their business with family and friends. I felt that as I had completed the journey alone, having some quiet time to reflect at Monas was the perfect way to end such a journey. My resounding emotion was just being pleased by the adventure. I have raised $1,630 for the Heart Foundation which I was ecstatic about. I want to sincerely thank everyone who made a donation and who contributed to the cause. 100% of the money went directly to the foundation, and I am sure this will help their valuable work.

Before closing, I want to thank a few people. I want to sincerely thank everyone who looked after me, and hosted me in Sumatra. A special thanks needs to go out to Teuku Fariza from Banda Aceh especially, for hooking me up with all his amazing friends. Without such a great network, my trip wouldn’t have been so awesome. I want also to mention everyone in Sumatra who made my trip so memorable. I was greeted with kindness everywhere I went, which is testament to the values of the Sumatran people. Everywhere I stopped, I was offered food, drinks, directions and advice from such friendly people. I began to rely on this friendliness, and I was never let down.

Speaking of never being let down, the real hero of this trip was the motorbike! Before embarking on this trip, I was sure I’d break down several times, requiring hitchhiking with the bike on a truck to the next town. To my absolute astonishment, this never happened! Sure, I needed a new rim and tyre, plus various services and brake adjustment (broken by a dodgy mechanic), but aside from that, the bike performed faultlessly over more than 3,700 kilometres. I didn’t even have a flat tyre! I am seriously amazed by this bike, and can’t believe my luck at purchasing such a sound machine for only $700. While it was only a small 125cc bike, it was a dream to ride.

The bike!
The bike!

What now? So I hear you ask what I’m going to do now once I’ve arrived in Jakarta. Well, during this trip, I organised an internship for myself at the Jakarta Globe newspaper. I started the week after arriving, and am interning with the editing team, but I am also able to write my own stories. I have already had two published. While interning, I am considering the option of working here in Jakarta in the new year. If the right opportunity comes up, I may be back. So if anyone reading this in Indonesia needs a young Indonesian-literate Australian staff for next year, hit me up at samuel_bashfield@outlook.com. I am really enjoying my time at the Jakarta Globe, but am looking forward to coming home for Christmas.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and for all the donations. Without everyone’s support, I wouldn’t have been able to undertake such a journey. Thank you!

Jambi to Kalianda via Palembang, 704 Kilometres

Distance covered: 704 kilometres. Distance from Banda Aceh: 3,532 kilometres

Reminder: I am completing this ride to raise money for the Heart Foundation. Donations can be made via the link below. 100% of the funds go directly to the Heart Foundation. Please donate generously!

https://www.mycause.com.au/page/79342/samssumatranmotorcycleadventure

Day 19: Jambi to Palembang 272 kilometres in seven hours.

After an awesome few days in Jambi, I left after breakfast at about 8.30. Once again, I put in my headphones, and rode along the North-South road towards Palembang.

I had been told numerous times that these roads were especially dangerous. These sources had told me definitely not to ride at night, and if possible to group up with other riders, or a car in order to complete the journey. The main problem, apparently, is that there are groups of bandits, who stop bikes and cars in order to steal the vehicle, and the valuables of it’s rider/occupants.

So I was a tad nervous while riding, and didn’t stop for anyone. I had also been warned to be careful of my stuff while parked, so I only stopped at café’s in the more rural spots, and rode straight through towns. This had been a strategy I’d employed since starting my trip. It also served in stopping me from being mobbed by people wanting pictures. I find that Indonesians, especially young men, are very confident when in packs, and very easily want to show their bravado in front of the foreigner. It’s not a bad thing, but when I stop, I prefer to be able to relax, rather than pose for a thousand pictures. So when I stop at quiet café’s, people tend to prefer a polite chat rather than a squealing frenzy for photos.    

My progress. Really not far left to Jakarta
My progress. Really not far left to Jakarta

Anyway, while riding, I did notice more rifles slung over people’s shoulders, and even a few balaclavas. Now, seeing guns in Indonesian rural locations is not entirely unusual, as farmers use them. But I did see a group of people in the back of a truck’s tray and a few were wearing woollen balaclavas. They were most probably just conscience about the sun, but the temperature was 34 degrees, and super humid, so it’s a bit out of place. I was probably just over cautious, but the balaclavas did startle me. I overtook the truck, and shot off into the distance.

I eventually arrived in Palembang, and found a nice cheap hotel. I also sussed out the local McDonalds, and raced straight there to stuff my face. As I have previously said, I love Indonesian food, but often, I also love fast food. Following my binge, I went back to my room with wifi, and had an easy and early night smashing emails and watching YouTube. A great night in.  

Day 20: Rest day in Palembang

I was in need for a quiet day, and I thought nothing could compete with watching a movie. I spend the morning riding my bike around town, visiting an old Dutch fort, and snapping some images of the big bridge which divides the town. Palembang also has a huge mosque in town, which I caught a great glimpse of as I rode past.

The main bridge in Palembang
The main bridge in Palembang

I headed to a big shopping centre in town, from where I wanted to find a café to do some work on my computer, and watch a movie. The shopping centre is in a huge entertainment complex, which is also home to a decent size hotel. I found my way to the cinema, and bought a ticket for a movie called Lucy, which had mixed reviews. I didn’t really care.

To my surprise, there wasn’t any café’s at all in the whole shopping centre. I don’t even think there was an espresso machine there! I had to settle for a wifiless restaurant type thing, but it did the trick. The movie turned out to be bearable. It’s about a girl who takes a drug which allows her to use 100% of her brain, at which time everything gets crazy. To me, it was a comfortable chair, a box of popcorn and a decent film.  

Following the film, I had arranged to meet a friend of Teuku from Banda Aceh. His name was Ryan, and he is a singer in a punk band in Palembang. Ryan and his friends met me at the shopping centre, and we went straight to China Town, to have a progressive dinner at a variety of Chinese restaurants. Despite being Muslims, Ryan and his buddies have acquired the taste of pork, which I make no qualms about loving too. So out first course was at a Chinese restaurant in the city centre, with a pork porridge. Excellent!

The feast continues!
The feast continues!
Beers and chicken
Beers and chicken
More chicken
More chicken

Second course was at a restaurant only twenty metres away, and we had pork noodles, with dumplings both fried and steamed. Another delectable dish. Our third course was at a local bar where we had beers, and chicken wings. I was absolutely stuffed after all this eating, and luckily the bar had a pool table to walk some laps around while hitting balls. Ryan’s friends were all super friendly, and we chatted all night until everyone was exhausted and still very full. I rode back to my hotel, and had after completing some writing tasks about this trip, I slept really well.     

Day 21: Palembang to not really sure. 200 kilometres in six hours.

This morning, Ryan and I had arranged breakfast before I shot off towards Lampung. We went to another pork Chinese restaurant for this meal. This time, we had a thick noodle soup dish, with prawns and of course, pork. The place was quite busy, and we washed it down with strong coffee. At breakfast, I planned my route. I knew Lampung was too far, so instead aimed to reach a town around half way. Because I was having a late start, I’d only be able to do about 200 kilometres. We decided upon a town about 170 kilometres away near the provincial border with South Sumatra and Lampung province.

After getting my tyres pumped up, I shot off at about 10.30am. The roads were quieter than I had found the north-south road previously, but they were rough as guts. Previous legs of this journey, I found the road to be good, but then there were extended patches of gravel which was under construction. On this stretch, instead of gravel, the bitumen was just very bumpy and there were potholes everywhere. The potholes weren’t deep, but when travelling at speed, the whole bike was just shaking to pieces. So much so that when I stopped for some water, I noticed my watch was feeling strange. I took a look, and saw that one of the pins holding two links together had almost fallen out! The bumps had almost caused me to loose my watch. I couldn’t believe it. I fixed my watch, and kept it in my pocket for the rest of the trip.

The first sign indicating Jakarta!
The first sign indicating Jakarta!

Eventually, I reached the towns which I planned to find a hotel. The only problem was that they were, well honestly, pretty shit. So pressed on into Lampung province, and saw a sign for a nice new hotel just 5 kilometres up the road. Sure enough, I found it, and went to ask if they had vacancies. Silly question really, cause they’re never full. I paid more than expected, but the room had wifi, cable tv, and most importantly hot water. I arrived in the afternoon, and I regret to say, I didn’t leave the room! I was exhausted, and just ordered room service, and indulged in TV. The Dictator was on, and I wrote another article which will be featured on the ABC website very soon. One amusing thing about the hotel though, was the fact that the guest could not turn off the doorway light without turning off the power to the room, which in turn switched off all the power points and air-conditioning. It’s an absurd system, but something which doesn’t really surprise me about Indonesia. Everything seems to be broken, and once broken, it’s rarely fixed in this country. I’d long thought that travelers should be given a basic course in plumbing in order to stay in Indonesian hotels, especially any hotel under $50. Maybe sparky 101 would also be a useful course to take as dealing with dodgy power points is a daily battle here. Luckily I had an eye mask, so the light didn’t affect me!

Day 22: Not really sure to Kalianda. 232 kilometres in seven hours

Today I hit the road late again after breakfast. The hotel breakfast was good, as I would expect for the price, so I took my time. I hit the road at around 10am, and almost immediately ran into a police roadblock. By this stage, I had taken to wearing a black mask over my face to protect from the truck smoke. Together with my black sunglasses, my face is totally invisible. More about that soon.

So I rode up, and immediately the cop points at my to pull over. They were pulling over almost everyone on bikes, and I knew all my documents were in order, so I shouldn’t have a problem. I was only carrying the equivalent of $3, so if I did have a problem, I knew I’d be screwed. I was worried that they’d pick a fight about my international licence again. So as I took off my helmet, the cop came up and was a bit pushy. When I pulled off my mask, and he saw I was foreign, a little friendly smile came across his face, and the other cops said “hi” enthusiastically. He asked for my licence and registration papers, and while I pulled them out, he was already grilling someone else. I’m not exactly sure what the guy had done wrong, but the cop was yelling, and telling him that he would have to go to court, and pay a huge fine, the usual initial communication. The cop was pointing to something near his number plate, perhaps a broken light, I’m not sure. I just stood there with my papers, watching the rider pull out his wallet, working out how much to pay this disgruntled cop. He had 100,000IDR in his hand, or about $11 and that was what was passed.

So when the cop saw I had my aussie licence, my international licence and the registration papers, he gave the guy a brief break, then took my papers for 5 seconds, casually glanced at them, didn’t even open the international licence and told me I could go! I had just taken off all my helmet, glasses and iPod to be told to just go. I felt cheated, haha. But while I got dressed again, the other cops talked to me. They told me which beach is nice, and said to be careful on the road, and to not get tired while riding. Kind guys!

So I shot off into the province of Lampung. Now, about the mask. Over the last few days I had taken to wearing a black mask, which totally changed the dynamics of the ride. When not wearing the mask, people instantly recognised me as not Indonesian. This was in every case a positive thing, as people would wave, or give me the thumbs up. Cops and military would smile, and when I stopped at cafes, people would be curiously excited. But now, while wearing the mask, I was saved from breathing in plumes of truck smoke, but I was suddenly anonymous. I had stuck out like a sore thumb for the entire trip, but with this mask, I blended in. Well almost, people still saw my bags, my nice bike boots and jacket with Australian and Korean flag patches and thought I looked out of place if they looked hard enough. I had people along side me at traffic lights staring at me, because they knew something was up, but they couldn’t be sure because my face was hidden. The mask is great as it protects from the smoke and sun on my face, but it’s really a strange feeling to be anonymous again. When I rode past people, they didn’t look twice, which was very unusual.

My anonymous ride continued past the large city of Lampung, and down towards where the ferry to Java leaves. This area has many nice beaches, and I intended to find a small hotel on the beach to relax at before the push to Jakarta. I saw one hotel in Kalianda, but continued on a little to find something with more beach-frontage. I rode another half hour down an amazing road on the edge of the coastline. Spectacular views of the islands, and beautiful beaches abounded. I rode for a half hour, but couldn’t find my ideal hotel, so I rode back to the one I’d previously scouted. It turned out to be cheap, so I checked in.

The coastline was spectacular, with islands dotted in the distance.
The coastline was spectacular, with islands dotted in the distance.

I went out for some food opposite, and while walking out of the hotel, there were two guys sitting. One said, not very politely, to sit down and drink with him. I politely said with a smile that I wanted to get dinner, and went opposite to a small tent restaurant which are popular in Indonesia. I came back to the hotel and he was still there, and said the same thing. I said I needed to buy some things from the convenience store, so I went opposite. I decided, why not join him as I didn’t have other plans, so I got a beer and went back to the hotel. The guy seemed a bit rude, but I can easily serve back snide abuse.

So I went back with my beer and joined these guys. It was two guys about 30, and a 25 year old guy who was working the front desk was relaxing with them as the hotel was quiet. I found out that these guys were actually at the hotel to “main-main” which literally translates as play, meaning enjoying the services of prostitutes. I had seen a woman in the hallway wearing a motorbike helmet and was suspicious. It’s not uncommon for towns which are not too far from big cities to be popular prostitution spots, as men get away from their families for the night and “main-main.”

The guys were saying if I “need” a woman, they were only a call away, but I politely declined. The offer was repeated throughout the conversation. These guys actually only lived a few kilometres up the road, but were having a night out in the hotel. They were very shady, and the hotel staff perfectly countered their shadiness by being very polite and upright. He repeatedly said to me that I look tired, giving me an excuse to leave this conversation, of which I think the hotel staff regretted my involvement. I said I’d sleep once I’d finished my beer. At one stage there was a prostitute who was waiting for a client. She joined us while waiting, and the shady guys asked her all manner of questions. It was surreal. When I took my last sip of beer, the hotel guy immediately said again I should rest, and I took his kind suggestion/mercy and went to bed. Once I knew the usual guests of this hotel, I scrutinised the sheets closely before sleeping.        

Padang to Jambi via Sungaipenuh, 633 kilometres.

Distance covered: 633 kilometres, total distance since Banda Aceh: 2,828 kilometres.

My progress so far!
My progress so far!

REMINDER! TO MAKE A DONATION TO THE HEART FOUNDATION PLEASE VISIT https://www.mycause.com.au/page/79342/samssumatranmotorcycleadventure THERE ISN’T MUCH TIME LEFT!

Day Sixteen: Padang to Sungaipenuh, 228 kilometres in seven hours.

The consensus from everyone I’d met in Padang was that the trip to Sungaipenuh would take seven to eight hours, which made me think that nine is more realistic. Never-the-less, I left nice and early, and after getting a little lost in the outskirts of Padang, I eventually made my way out of the city.

Padang from the mountains
Padang from the mountains

The roads instantly were fantastic. They were cut into the forest, and snaked past spectacular views. As I climbed into the mountains, the temperature dropped and the cars became scarce. I passed a huge lake and rode through very isolated villages. Whenever people see my face, they just stare. It’s quite funny really. Needless to say, I was stared at a lot on the way to Sungaipenuh. The combination of cooler temperatures, and isolated excellent roads made today I think my favourite so far. It definitely rivalled my ride from Melauboh to Takengon which also was memorable and rewarding. Additionally, this area is Sumatran tiger country. Many of the sharp bends had mirrors which allowed drivers to see approaching vehicles. I used these mirrors to check for tigers. While the chances of seeing one were very slim, never-the-less, I didn’t want to turn a corner and suddenly be staring one right in the eyes.

My bike in the Kerinci mountains
My bike in the Kerinci mountains

Luckily or unluckily, I didn’t see one, and arrived in Sungaipenuh at about 3.30pm. I found a decent hotel with running water and made the most of it. This afternoon I went to meet a guy I’d met via my facebook page, an American who grew up in the Philippines, and lives with his family in Sungaipenuh. His name is Luke, and I joined his English language class that afternoon, and told the kids about my ride and they asked me questions. I really enjoyed telling the children about my story and my adventure, helping them to practice English at the same time.

Following the class Luke and I went for dinner at a local restaurant. Sungaipenuh really is a small town, and everyone seems to know everyone. After dinner I was exhausted and slept very early. The following day was set to be a real trial, as I was to attempt to cover 400 kilometres.    

  

Day Seventeen: Sungaipenuh to Jambi, 405 kilometres in ten hours

I awoke at 5.30am a bit anxious about trying to cover all these kilometres. I knew it’d be a real trial, as covering 330 kilometres had been exhausting. Never-the-less, I was determined to give it a good shot, so I started riding at 6.15. I had a packet of Oreos in my left hand, while gripping the throttle in my right and tore off into the morning mist. For the first time this trip I decided to listen to my iPod while riding. It’s not very safe to do so on busy roads, but since there was no-one around I figured it was ok. I listened to Triple J Live at the Wireless podcasts. When the music became too much, I started listening to BBC World Service “From Our Own Correspondent” podcasts. They are great listening.

While I really enjoyed listening to music and podcasts, I can’t help but feel a little dislocated to the riding. When all I’m listening to is the sound of the bike, I tend to look around and soak up the scenery more. While listening to music or voices though, my focus is solely on the road ahead and trying to take in what I am listening too. I enjoy listening to music and podcasts, so I won’t stop, but I can’t help but feeling I am missing something. The kilometres all tend to feel the same, and the subtitles of the landscape are left unnoticed.

But what I did notice on the road was open-cut goldmines, and lots of them. People standing waist deep in dirty water panning for gold. I’d never seen it before, and it was quite dirty work. Another incident on the rod did occur, if an embarrassing incident. Upon leaving the more rural road and turning onto the busier inter-city road a made a wrong turn. I looked up and saw a sign for Padang, definitely not the way I wanted to go. So I moved over to the far side of the three lane road and turned my head to look backwards at the other sign, seeing if it said Jambi. In the process, I managed to ride into a very deep patch of mud on the far shoulder of the road. This was a very wide road, and only the stupidest of idiots could manage to ride into this mud. My feet went down, and my back tyre was spinning in the mud. People were riding past and laughing. About 20 seconds later I managed to push myself out, just as a couple rode past, and the girl on the back was giggling. I did a quick u-turn and shot towards  Jambi once again.

Finally, at about 4.30pm I arrived in the city of Jambi and found my new friends. I met Andes and Kadek at a local Indomaret, and Kadek was kind enough to offer me a bed at his house for the two days I was to stay in Jambi. They also told me that there was a concert on that night, so I went to Kadek’s house, showered, got changed, then we were out once again.

Tonight we went to an event which included a punk concert with 20 bands, and free food for the poorer of Jambi run by a global organisation called Food Not Bombs. The event was held in a park near a big monument in town, and the bands were getting  set up as we arrived. The area was full of Jambi’s punk and hardcore followers, all under 35 it seemed. Everyone was getting into homebrew liquor, and chain smoking Indonesian clove cigarettes. There were also pills being taken by some, which I was later told was some kind of anti-depressant. Everyone was in black clothes, with the logos of their favourite bands, and super friendly.

The gig got underway, and I think there was about 200 people there. It was huge. Everyone was getting into the music, and the atmosphere was very friendly and relaxed. One thing which did surprise me though was the children present. I swear some of the kids there must have been ten years old, dressed in denim vests and skinny jeans. Andes Kaded and I left the gig, had dinner and came back. I was exhausted after such a long day on the road, so I left the concert and got to sleep. Andes and Kadek kicked on until 2am.        

Day Eighteen: Rest day in Jambi

Today my aim was to get my visa extended. Following that, Kadek, Andes and I had arranged to go swimming in a river. Kadek offered to help me with the visa, and we got to the office at 10.30am. I had purchased a Visa on Arrival (VOA) at the airport on Banda Aceh, and those visas are offered throughout Indonesia, which are valid for 30 days, and can be extended for 30 days upon application, which was my aim.

Kadek with his parents and I
Kadek with his parents and I

So we went to the immigration office with all my paperwork. There were heaps of people there, and the people had flowed over outside. I thought we’d be waiting for hours. Luckily, I was the only one getting a visa extended, as everyone else was applying for a passport. So I got served straight away! The woman gave me all the papers, and said I need a sponsor, which isn’t always necessary. Kadek said he could be the sponsor, so we went back to his house to fill in the papers, and get everything photocopied.

We went back after the immigration peoples 2 hour lunch break. Yep, that’s right, 2 hours. They don’t work between 11.30am to 1.30pm. Now that’s a great job! Again we went straight to the woman, and I gave her all the papers. She went into the back, and after half an hour, she was back. She said there is a problem. She showed me my visa, and on it it said “this visa is valid for 30 days, and is not extendable.” She said that they had never seen this written before, and that in every other case, VOA’s can be extended for another 30 days. She said that there is nothing she or the office can do, and that extending my visa would be illegal! She was very apologetic about the whole situation, and she said she had not been in this situation before. So I need to leave the country by the 9th of September.

The only explanation for this is that since Banda Aceh has only been giving these visas for a short period of time, they are somehow only allowed to give 30 day non-extendable visas. Even though, any other airport in Indonesia gives you a normal VOA which can be extended. It is an absolutely ridiculous situation, as I have a Visa On Arrival, the same as any other tourist in Indonesia. Indonesia is lucky that I like the country, otherwise I’d just go to Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, or any of the other countries who give Australians a free 90 day social visit visa for free and not bother with Indonesian bureaucracy. Indonesia makes the visa and immigration process so difficult for foreign tourists, who just want to spend their money in the Indonesian economy, which values it. I am sure that if they gave all tourists a free 90 day visa, like Malaysia, that their tourism industry would boom, and more people would visit Indonesia, and stay for longer, in turn, spending more money. Also, tourists wouldn’t have to go to the immigration department at least twice, once to drop off the papers, and three days later (best case scenario) to pick them up again. At the moment, sometimes, I don’t know why I bother. Sure, the Indonesian government make a clean $55 in fees for each tourist in terms of entry and exit fees, but surely an extra month of hotel and restaurant spending would make the government much more money through taxes. So to all those out there who want to visit Indonesia and their port of entry is Banda Aceh airport, you’ve been warned! Anyway, enough of the rant, but seriously, Indonesia, all you’re doing is making the Malaysian airline AirAsia rich by forcing tourists to book cheap flights to KL, so they can return a few hours later to get a new visa. All you’re achieving is making the Malaysian AirAsia rich, and adding pollution to the already polluted sky via extra flight services and frustrating tourists. For sure they’ll go to Thailand next year, and I don’t blame them.

A normal Visa on Arrival
A normal Visa on Arrival
A Banda Aceh Visa on Arrival. See where it says it's non-extendable!?
A Banda Aceh Visa on Arrival. See where it says it’s non-extendable!?

ANYWAY, luckily, the afternoon was a stark contrast to the morning, as Andes, Kadek, about 15 more friends, and I went swimming in a river near the town of Jambi. We all piled into the back of a big ute type truck, and drove the 45 minutes to the river. We arrived in a very small village, and walked a little way to the river. It is actually a small inlet from a very large river, so it’s more like a lake. The in the middle of the water is a wooden floating hut, which was our hangout spot. The water was an amazingly warm temperature, and we swam to the floating platform. Some also brought our bags on little canoes.

Getting ready to go to the river
Getting ready to go to the river
The local village near the river
The local village near the river

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The floating hut
The floating hut

We spend all afternoon and evening swimming, chatting and playing guitar. It was a spectacular afternoon, and one which I will remember for a long time. Everyone was so friendly, and was so keen to relax, swim and chill out. Even better, as it was a Monday afternoon!

We eventually left when the mosquitoes get too much. Once they found all the exposed skin, it was almost unbearable, and I felt if I didn’t get malaria after the evening, I would be very luckily. I had been told about recent cases of malaria too in the Jambi area. But we had an awesome evening, and finished in the village drinking local coffee. We drove back to town, and then hung out more outside the house. More local alcohol was brought, which was quickly consumed.

I got to sleep around midnight, after watching some of the US open with Kadek and his family. It was a great way to finish the day, and I’d almost forgotten about the visa problems of the morning. Jambi was certainly a highlight of the trip, and I sincerely do wish to come back in the near future.

Pekan Baru to Padang via Bukittinggi 311 kilometres.

Distance covered: 311 kilometres, Total distance covered since Banda Aceh: 2,195 kilometres.

For those still wanting to make a donation to the Heart Foundation in support of this adventure, please follow to https://www.mycause.com.au/page/79342/samssumatranmotorcycleadventure 

Day Eleven, Pekan Baru to Bukittinggi, 221 kilometres and five hours.

After a great breakfast this morning, I left Pekan Baru at about 8am, and hit the road to Bukittinggi. The trip was a leisurely five hours, a relief after previous days on the road. The weather was sunny, and it wasn’t long until I left the outskirts of Pekan Baru, and was into the hills.

Spectacular roads!
Spectacular roads!

The road was constantly changing between three lanes each way, then one lane each way. I’m not sure if eventually the whole road will be three lanes each way, but it was frustrating to keep switching between a wide road and a country lane. The road took me right up into the mountains, and the views were spectacular.

A few hours into the ride, I went past a big spherical monument, of which the top half was painted red and the bottom white, like the Indonesian flag. Since it was independence day a week or so earlier, I didn’t think much of it, and kept on riding. Only once I arrived in Bukittinggi did I realise it was the equator marker! I couldn’t believe I had sped past it without taking a photo. I had been looking forward to crossing the equator on a bike for months before this trip, and I sped past it without noticing! Absolutely idiotic. 

Along the way there was also a spectacular stretch of road called nine corners. The road goes through a valley, so they have built a huge raised road to get down the valley. The road it quite spectacular, and a photo of one bridge is pictured. It cuts hours off the journey. 

One of the nice turns. Impressive road!
One of the nice turns. Impressive road! 

But after about five hours I arrived in Bukittinggi, and found a nice, if a little expensive hotel. I showered, had a sleep, then found a nice café for dinner and some beers. I met some locals who I discussed my trip with, and they told me all the things I need to do in Bukittinggi on my day off. I Everyone in Indonesia is very proud of their home city, and it’s nice to get good advice about the sights. I vowed to see as much as possible the following day.    

Day Twelve, rest day in Bukittinggi

After a decent sleep in and a good breakfast, I rode my bike to the Bukittinggi Japanese tunnels. The Japanese during World War Two made a big underground complex in Bukittinggi and used it to occupy the city. The tunnels were a bit eerie, because I was alone, and there were many dark corners.

Following the tunnels, I rode down into a big valley for lunch. The valley is very close to the city, and has a beautiful stream running through it. I rode a little, and found a café on the side of the river for lunch. During lunch, it was raining, so I shot back into town before the downpour.

While getting my motorbike serviced and it’s oil changed, I went for a walk to the Bukittinggi zoo. That site is also home to a dutch fort which was constructed years ago. The views from the top of the hill were great, and there was a wide view of Bukittinggi and the surrounding mountains.

Bukittinggi!
Bukittinggi!
Japanese tunnels
Japanese tunnels

I retreated back to the same café as the previous night for dinner and a beer. I poured over maps and the lonely planet guide to plan my next week on the road. While I am not entirely sure my route, I want to visit the Mount Kerinci area, before riding east over to Jambi. I’m sure it’ll be an adventure, but before then I get to visit the famed city of Padang! 

Day Thirteen Bukittinggi to Padang 90 kilometres in two and a half hours.

It was a lazy morning before I was to set off. I had grand plans of going the short distance to Padang, only 90 kilometres, via a huge lake. When I hit the road at about 11, I was forced to change all my plans.

Over the last few days, a political storm had been brewing due to the limit of subsidised fuel being reached. To be clear, Indonesia was not running out of fuel, but the government had put a limit on the amount of subsidised fuel they were willing to provide the public, and that limit was nearly exceeded. This sparked panic buying at the subsidised price, and absolute chaos on the roads.

Busy petrol stations!
Busy petrol stations!

So what happened? Basically, everyone and their dogs stopped whatever they were doing, gathered all the containers they could, and went straight to the petrol station. They lined up to fill their containers, then went home to put it into storage, then used the same containers to go and get more, repeatedly. This panic buying means that everyone who needs fuel, say, to drive their motorbike to Padang from Bukittingi, couldn’t access fuel at the petrol station. It also means that trucks who needed diesel (which was also being stockpiled) couldn’t access petrol stations, and were simply parked all over the road. If a diesel truck runs out of fuel, the engine needs to be laboriously serviced, so not wanting to risk running dry, the trucks simply parked in the middle of the road.

Fear not, fuel was available! Of course, while people stockpile fuel for themselves, they are more than willing to sell their fuel at inflated prices. So one litre at the national service station, Pertamina, costs about 65 cents. That is for “premium” which is for motorcycles, so I assume it’s 98 octane, but really who knows. Fuel from road side stalls in plastic bottles usually costs 80 cents, but due to the crisis, they were selling it at $1 per litre. The public belief is that this fuel is cut with water, and I think there is a noticeable difference in the mileage of the road side fuel. Anyway, some places were selling fuel for $1.50, totally unheard of here. So despite the availability of fuel, if more expensive, the roads were a mess so I just rode straight to Padang. Every petrol station was just a chaotic scene, with card lined up for at least a kilometre on either side, despite no fuel even being available. Police were everywhere. I spend about half the day riding on the gravel beside the road. It was dusty and dirty, and people were desperate.

I arrived in Padang, and went straight to a well-known backpackers. There I met an Australian guy called Mike, and we went to McDonalds, and then played pool for hours. Padang has a new centre called Tee Box, which has a pool hall which rivals anything I’ve experienced in Indonesia. It’s huge, and has probably 50 tables, all with more than adequate space around them. The attendants are quick, the music is good, and the food is cheap. We played for hours, and how I’d missed playing pool in Indonesia! While I loved playing three-cushion carom and eight-ball in the Itewon Pool League in Seoul, Indonesia really knows its shit when it comes to pool. I slept happy that night.         

Day Fourteen and Fifteen, sightseeing in Padang.

These two days I really took easy in Padang. I was slightly ahead of schedule, and had a few days to go to the beach and relax. Together with Mike from Australia, we went to a beach called Pantai Air Manis, rode around Padang on the motorbike, and played heaps of pool.

The food in Padang is especially memorable. For those who don’t know, Padang style food is famous throughout Indonesia. I had always wanted to eat real Padang food in Padang, and I was not disappointed one bit. The rendang is spectacular.

Mike and I were minor celebrities at the bank.
Mike and I were minor celebrities at the bank.
Cruising around Padang!
Cruising around Padang!

A few days were needed to do some banking, and plan my next move. From tomorrow I’ll be riding further south to the Kerinci national park area. From there I will ride east over the mountains to Jambi. In Jambi I think I will need to extend my visa, which could be simple, or could be a pain in the ass. Time will tell. From there I’ll continue south to Palembang, then onto Lampung, and finally Jakarta. My plans totally depend on how I go with the visa extension. If it’s smooth and quick, I’ll be able to see more sites, but if it’s slow and painful, I might even need to do a visa run to Malaysia. That’s a last resort though.

We’ll see!    

For those who want to know more about the fuel crisis, this is an informative article. http://www.thejakartaglobe.com/news/jokowi-hints-indonesia-fuel-price-rise-likely-inauguration/ 

Lake Toba to Pekan Baru, 626 kilometres

Distance traveled: 626 kilometres. Total distance covered to Pekan Baru: 1,884 kilometres. 

Day 8 Lake Toba to Kotapinang, 310 kilometres and nine hours.

I awoke early again to make the most of the clear morning weather. Rather than hitting the road though, my journey started on a ferry across the lake from the town of Tuk Tuk on Samosir Island in Lake Toba to a town called Parapat, which is on the ‘mainland.’ The ferry cut two hours off the journey, and was a nice relaxing way to start the days travelling. As well as being convenient, the trip cost $1 for me, and 50cents for the motorbike. The trip took just under a half hour.

Great way to start the day with a ferry trip over  Lake Toba with my bike. Luckily my bags didn't fall off!
Great way to start the day with a ferry trip over Lake Toba with my bike. Luckily my bags didn’t fall off!

Once at Parapat I intended to follow a shortcut which I found on the map. I had been told that the road was very remote, but wanted to give it a shot. I was a little apprehensive though, because upon arrival at Lake Toba, I realised that my map wasn’t very accurate. The problem with the map was that the roads that were listed as ‘main roads’ were often quite damaged. My ‘shortcut’ was over a road designated as a village road, so I really wasn’t sure of it’s quality.

I had some breakfast and a coffee, and asked the restaurant owner about the route. They told me that the road was very isolated, and advised against it. They said it basically went right through the jungle, and was quite narrow. They showed me an alternate route, which was a bit of a circle, but they said it wouldn’t take long. I ended up deciding to take their advice, and take the quality roads. The kilometres flew by until I had my first run-in with the Indonesian cops.

While along the road there had been various police checkpoints, they were small affairs, and I hadn’t been stopped. This time though, there was about 50 police, and almost everyone was being stopped. Sure enough, my lack of a rear numberplate immediately drew attention, and one cop started blowing his whistle, so I stopped. I got off my bike and I was super friendly, but he was having none of it. He was young, and I felt he was out to prove a point with the foreigner. So he asked for my licence, and registration papers, which I gave him. I have an expired Indonesian motorcycle licence and a new international licence, and all the documents for the bike. I know the numberplate would be a problem though.

I gave him my documents, and he immediately took my key out of the bike and pocketed it. Not a good sign, but I knew that some cash is enough to shake any traffic cop off my back. So he points to my rear mud guard without a plate and says it’s not allowed. Then he looks at my international licence, and tells me that it’s not valid in Indonesia, and since my Indonesian licence has expired, I’d have to pay a bigger fine. It was obvious that this young cop had never seen an international licence before, and couldn’t speak English, so I showed him where it said it’s valid in Indonesia. Then he said it’s only for cars, and showed me how he has two licences, one for a car and one for a motorbike. So I showed him where it ‘s written that it’s valid for a motorbike as well as a car. He didn’t want to admit that he couldn’t speak English, so when I pointed to the licence, he just caved. The problem was that on the first page of the document it says ‘date,’ which is the date the licence was created.  So the next tact of this slimy cop was to tell me that this ‘date’ is actually the expiry date, and that the licence isn’t valid. The licence really isn’t clear, and this was hard to refute. While I showed him in the book where it says that the licence is valid for a year after the date on the front page, he wouldn’t back down. All this time he is standing real close, and trying to be strong, although I towered over him. The cop opened up his law book thing, and showed me that the fine for not having a licence is $100, and the lack of a plate is $50. So he wanted $150, or 1.5million rupiah. I have played this game before, and there was no way I was paying that much. I was waiting for him to name a more realistic price.

Luckily during all this, the police chief came over. He started chatting to me, and was a really friendly guy. I told him about my journey, and where I’d been. While he said I need to get a new plate, he just wanted to have a chat, then told me I could go. But the young cop was still there, and was still intending to get $150! So I had the boss saying I could go, but the young guy demanding money. I didn’t even have that much money on me, well in rupiah anyway. Nor was I was going to pull out the US dollars I carry. So I said I only have $20 on me. The young cop wanted it all, but the chief said no way. I ended up giving the cop $10, which was more that I should have anyway. $5 was enough. The chief cop obviously had dealt with international licences before, and knew it was valid.

After I gave the cop the $10, the police chief asked whether I still have enough to get to Jakarta. He pulled out his wallet and offered me money! I said I can visit an ATM to get more cash, and that I’ll manage. The chief was seriously concerned though, and the whole situation was comedic. I think the chief was unimpressed by the attitude of the younger cop, and wanted to instil a positive image of Indonesian police. In the end, no one lost face, the younger cop got his $10, and had his time in the sun with the foreigner. I had a chat with the police chief, then hit the road again. All in all, the experience was interesting. While the young cop was hastle, I had a good chat with the chief. All up, it only cost $10.

Along the road, I went through more smaller police checkpoints. When they see I’m not Indonesian, they all stare, then shout “hello mister!” I turn around and shout hello back, and by the time they notice I don’t have a read numberplate, but it’s too late, cause I’ve already sped off! Haha.

When I arrived in Kotapinang, I couldn’t find a hotel. So again, I visited the police, and asked them. I had a chat with them, and told them about my run in with the police further north. They just laughed. Luckily they showed me a hotel, and I was so exhausted, I just slept.  

Day Nine: Kotapinang to Pekan Baru 316 kilometres and nine hours.

I had had a rough night after some kind of food poisoning, so I had a sleep-in, and started riding at 9am.Despite being a bit tired, I felt good again, but planned on a smaller day of riding. The town of Pekan Baru was a long way south, so I decided to just ride to Duri, then the next day push to Pekan Baru where I had friends of friends to meet.

Today I was riding again on the north-south road, which was basically a dusty, smoky dirty stretch of tarmac. I have never breathed in so much truck fumes in my life. It’s putrid. After just a few hours my face was dirty, and I was constantly chewing on sand and dirt. The trucks also flick up rocks, and I got hit in the chest by one. The aim of these roads is just to overtake as many oil tankers and palm oil trucks as possible. The problem is that there are literally thousands, and the whole road is full of them. I also stopped to get a new license plate made. Along the road there are people who can make a new one in twenty minutes, and it was only $4!

Getting a read number plate made on the road.
Getting a read number plate made on the road.

Along the way I saw two crashes, one palm oil truck had flipped, and one oil tanker had gone off the road. Luckily the thing didn’t explode. I arrived at Duri at about 2pm, and the town looked pretty crap to be honest. Friends of my friend Teuku in Banda Aceh had kindly offered to host me in Pekan Baru, and show me around. I figured why not just push it to Pekan Baru, another 120 kilometres, or three hours south.

Despite my lack of appetite, I had some food and a coffee, and continued south. I was interrupted by a little rain, and the clouds were very dark. The whole was along I was sure a storm was coming.

But after another three hours of breathing fumes and chewing dirt, I arrived in Pekan Baru. It was a beautiful city, and really reminded me of Yogyakarta. I met Amirudin and all his friends in Pekan Baru. He has a really cool network of friends, and after a shower, we went out for dinner, then to a café. I was exhausted after such a long day on the road, so I slept early.   

Hanging out at a local milkshake bar.
Hanging out at a local milkshake bar.

Day Ten: Rest day in Pekan Baru

I had two aims today, to get my rear motorbike tyre replaced, and to buy more maps. I had seen a Gramedia, which is a large chain book store in Indonesia. I knew that they had a large map collection, so I wanted to visit.

After breakfast, we went to watch futsal, which is indoor soccer. After that, we went to the motorbike tyre store, and I bought a really good quality rear tubeless tyre. My back one was wearing, and I don’t want to have a puncture. When the mechanic took off my rear tyre, it exposed the inside of the wheel, which was totally rusted! Really dangerous! Luckily they sold replacement wheels, so I bought one, and we went to another shop to have the wheel fitted. I also bought a new helmet as my one was rubbing my forehead causing really bad pimples.

I had no idea the inside of my rim was rusted! So dangerous...
I had no idea the inside of my rim was rusted! So dangerous…
The bike looks funny without a back wheel.
The bike looks funny without a back wheel.

So at the next mechanic, the guy had to put all the spokes into the rim, which took about an hour and a half. He then put on the tyre, and put the sealant in. For an hour and a half’s work and a bottle of the sealant, he charged $3.50. Crazy.

Following on from the mechanic, we went map shopping, then started socialising. First off we went to a hairdresser, where I got a great cut! We then spend the night at different cafes and restaurants. Indonesians have a great culture of hanging out, and Pekan Baru is full cool cafes to drink milkshakes and chat the night away. After such a busy day, I was happy to be in bed by midnight, ready for a big day on the bike the following day.    

Langsa to Lake Toba via Bukit Lawang, 488 kilometres

Total distance covered: 488 kilometres, total overall since Banda Aceh: 1,258 kilometres.

Reminder: Donations to the Heart Foundation can be made via:https://www.mycause.com.au/page/79342/samssumatranmotorcycleadventure 

We’re already over $1,000!

Day Four: Langsa to Bukit Lawang, 204 kilometres in about six hours

I awoke very early today for the push to Bukit Lawang where I was to have a day off from riding. After four days on the road covering almost a thousand kilometres, a day off was a priority. This also represented my last day in the province of Aceh. It has been a pleasure riding through Aceh, and I could only hope that everyone else I meet along the way would be so friendly. Having said that, leaving Aceh would mean I could have a beer, which was incentive to ride fast.

So I shot off from Langsa at 6.30am, and headed directly south to the border with the province of North Sumatra. The problem was that I only had a map of Aceh Province, and would have to rely on Google Maps to get to Bukit Lawang, a popular tourist spot in the hills. I had already found out how inaccurate Google Maps is in Sumatra, especially it’s direction service. Today I would have to ask as many locals as possible.

So I rode south, and further south, and even further south waiting to cross the border. Every regional municipality in Indonesia has a nice sign saying welcome or goodbye, so I expected the provincial border to be impressive, especially considering it’s the separatist region of Aceh. Eventually I stopped and checked Google Maps, which told me I’d crossed the border about 50 kilometres ago. I didn’t even realise! So I bought fuel in Northern Sumatra province and pushed on south to a town called Tanjung Pura, where Google Maps said I must turn left.

At Tanjung Pura I stopped for some water and sat with some old guys having coffee. They said I needed to turn left at the next major town called Stabat. So I continued on another 45 minutes or so, and in Stabat I asked where the turnoff is. I was told I need to go further south to the southern end of town, so that’s what I did. No turn off was in sight, so I stopped at a police station, the source of the best directions in Indonesia! They said I need to go further south to a city called Binjai, which is a satellite city of Medan. I didn’t really have a choice, so I did that, and once I got to Binjai I found signs to Bukit Lawang and followed them for a further two and a half hours. I think it was a considerable detour but wherever.

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Eventually reaching Bukit Lawang, it’s a beautiful village. It’s very much tourist orientated, so once I found a hotel and shook off all the touts trying to get me on a jungle trek tour I could relax. The town is on a river, and I had to cross a swing bridge on my bike to reach the hotel. I had a sleep, then had some beer and dinner with a Brazilian guy called Mario. We had a good chat, and arranged a tour to some hot springs for the next day. I slept well and  very early that night.    

Day 5: Rest in Bukit Lawang

After a nice sleep-in, I had breakfast with Mario, and our tour guide arrived at the hotel restaurant on the river. At 11am Mario and I as well as two Swiss girls left for the hot springs. I rode my motorbike, and the others rode pillion with three guides. The road there was rough, and was basically riding on big rocks up and down hills for an hour and a half. At one stage we put the bikes on a raft to cross a river. I also had to ride through two smaller rivers, which were about a half metre deep, which is tough on a small bike like mine. Eventually we made it, and swam under a waterfall. We had fried rice for lunch and fresh fruit. Following on from the waterfall we relaxed in the hot springs. Basically, there was boiling hot water flowing into the river. The locals had arranged rocks to make hot pools, which were amazing. We made coffee with the boiling water and had even more food there.

River Crossing!
River Crossing!
Magical waterfall swimming spot!
Magical waterfall swimming spot!

When we were ready to leave the rain started. My plan for this journey is to wake up and start riding early in the morning as rain is very very common in Indonesia from 4pm onward. So like clockwork, at 4pm the heavens opened up and it bucketed down, which made the river level ride dramatically. We only just crossed the river as it was, and with the level doubling, the river crossing was out of the question. The guides were chatting about the possibility that we might have to sleep the night in the tiny hut thing that we were currently seeking shelter in. Frankly, a worrying thought.

Eventually though we set off to check the river. Luckily I had my helmet and raincoat which stopped the chilling wind, but did nothing to keep me dry. We rode to the smallest river, and sure enough, the level was super high and looked like a white water rafting river. Luckily one of the guides knew an alternate route, but the ride took almost two and a half hours in the rain, and the last hour was in the dark. The riding was brutal, over huge slippery rocks, and down muddy hills. The mud was in my front brake rendering it useless. I had to take it real slow, and was very pleased to make it back to the hotel without dropping the bike. Toughest riding so far. So much for a non-riding day!

Mario and I had dinner and some more beers before I turned in early. The consensus among the locals was that from Bukit Lawang to Lake Toba should take nine hours. From my experience, that means more like ten or eleven. So I slept early to get as much rest before hitting the road again. I really enjoyed Bukit Lawang, and it’s relaxed vibe.    

Day 6: Bukit Lawang to Lake Toba, 284 kilometres, 10 hours

I was on the road by 6.45, and just wanted to smash as many kilometres as I could as fast as I could. I knew today would be tough, so I just twisted the accelerator grip and left. I knew there was a McDonalds on the outskirts of Medan, which made me ride even faster. After a stop for canned coffee and Oreos (breakfast of champions) I drove past the McDonalds. Not hungry, so why stop?

Breakfast at IndoMaret, a local convenience store chain which stocks everything you'd ever want and more.
Breakfast at IndoMaret, a local convenience store chain which stocks everything you’d ever want and more.

The outskirts of Medan weren’t inviting. It was like Jakarta with kids begging and dusty, dirty traffic jams. The temperature seemed to rise dramatically, and the air was dirty. I rode out of Medan, and back into the mountains. Despite skipping McDonalds, I found an empty KFC at about 11am where I had a feed. I love Indonesian food, but after a week of Indonesian food solid, I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity for a burger and fries. The security there told me it was another four hours to Lake Toba, but I knew that was very optimistic. I kept going, and went directly up a huge hill, and luckily the temperature dropped again. There was HUGE traffic problems as there was road works on a very hilly section of road, but luckily on the bike I skipped it all!

Indonesia has a very cool habit of establishing roadside cafes anywhere where there is a view. So once Lake Toba was in sight, sure enough there was a series of cafes, which I stopped for a quick coffee. The lake was magnificent, and I was currently at the northern extreme of it. The lake is the size of Singapore, absolutely huge, and has a massive island in the middle, which is where I was to stay. There are a series of towns on the island, and one is full of guest houses. But despite being able to see the lake, I was told it was another three hours to the island!

The coffee shop guy was right, and the roads were very rough, including heaps of potholes which were full of water. One nearly threw me off, and wet my boots. Eventually I reached another town and asked the police which way. The cops said to follow him, and drove me about 20 kilometres in the right direction. I was so excited to have a police escort, and felt like the Long Way Round guys. The police dropped me at the bottom of the hill, which was then another hour and a half to the town of Tuktuk where all the guest houses are. I eventually arrived at 5pm, and had dinner and some beers with other travelers. It was a tough day on the road, but rewarding to be at Lake Toba, which was spectacular. Just like the setting of Lost!

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The traditional Batak buildings with my bike

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Day 7: Rest day at Lake Toba

Today I really took it easy. I woke up, ate, got a cream bath, which is basically in Indonesian head and shoulder massage, got my bike washed and chain oiled, swam in the lake, and now I just had dinner.

View from my hotel room complete with a bird flying past. It's not an alien.
View from my hotel room complete with a bird flying past. It’s not an alien.

All that there is to report is the Lake Toba is absolutely amazing, and a real must see for anyone wanting to visit Indonesia. The lake is perfect for swimming, and the locals are all friendly and not trying to push tours like Bukit Lawang. There is plenty to do here, but doing nothing is just as good an option! Also, I found out that tomorrow I can take the ferry basically from outside my hotel room with my bike over to a town on the mainland, which cuts off 3 hours of riding time. Does life get any better? Oh, and the ferry ticket for me and my motorbike is $2. Happy days!  

Banda Aceh to Langsa

Preparation in Banda Aceh

The day finally arrived!

IMG_0035

While it feels like yesterday, I arrived in Sumatra on Monday the 11th of August, after an overnight stop with the amazing Azhan Rabi in Kuala Lumpur. My first impression of Banda Aceh was wow, this is a small city. I don’t know what I expected, but it certainly has a small town vibe. Also, reminders of the tsunami hit me as soon as I left the airport. Along the way to the city from the airport is Ulee Lheue Mass Grave, which has the remains of approximately 46,000 tsunami victims.

I was picked up by a mutual friend of my friend Marcus, Teuku Fariza who kindly agreed to help me find a motorbike in Banda Aceh. Without Teuku on my side, I’d be lost. Teuku took me to the Red Cross Hotel, which I believe was built by the Red Cross after the 2004 tsunami. After living in South Korea for almost six months, my Indonesian was very rusty, and I continually used Korean words, which was super frustrating. All together, I spent four nights in Banda Aceh, hanging out with Teuku and his friends, doing some sightseeing, and importantly buying maps and my motorbike.

After a few failed attempts at buying a motorbike from friends of Teuku, we went to the used bike shops in Banda Aceh. There is an area in town totally dedicated to used bikes, so we went straight there. Used vehicle sales people are the same the world over: pressure sellers! Just the same as Australia, they see $$$ or in this case IDR, and they won’t stop until the cash is in their hands. So we went into one shop, and they were right in our face, “try this” and “what about this.” I took a $500 Suzuki around the block, then a $750 Yamaha which was much better. I decided better to spend the extra cash than regret it later. Plus, I am going to sell it anyway, so it will retain most of its value. Anyway, I’d decided on it, but the only issue is that I only had USD with me, which they wouldn’t accept. They wanted to hold USD200 as a sort of a ‘deposit’ but I said no way. They took me to a “money changer” which Teuku assured me was legit, but I was worried. With people watching, I pulled out nine UDS$100 notes, and the money changer people took it and went into the shop for a long while. Eventually though, someone on a motorbike turned up with two gigantic wads of Indonesian rupiah. It was all fine, and we proceeded with the sale.

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Before departure I took the bike for a comprehensive service including oil change, mechanical testing, brake adjustment and a new seat cover, which all cost $12. I also got a small hook installed to secure my waterproof bags, which was a bank-breaking $1.

Due to the bike servicing and preparation, my date of departure was shifted from Thursday the 14th to Friday the 15th. It allowed me time to ensure that everything was complete, and time to do some sightseeing. I was fortunate enough to see the Aceh Tsunami Museum and a huge boat which was washed kilometres inland by the tsunami. I was also able to ride to the beach which is only a few kilometres from Banda Aceh where there are tsunami refuge towers and more mass graves. Fascinating place.

Day One: Banda Aceh to Melauboh: 250 kilometres.

After a false start because my rear number plate fell off, I was off at about midday. Despite the lack of the rear plate, I hit the road anyway, initially travelling West towards the coast, and then south. While this route isn’t direct to head towards Jakarta, I was very interested to see this coast line as it was the scene of the tragic tsunami. Furthermore, the town of Melauboh was “ground zero” of the tsunami, the hardest hit in Indonesia.

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The riding was sublime. The coast was beautiful, and the road snaked up mountains, and then down right along the shore. The road was rebuilt following the tsunami, and the majority of the bridges along the way were built by USAid. Each of the bridges has a plaque designating it a USAid bridge. To be honest, they were pretty good bridges. Despite a sore ass and the helmet numbing my forehead, I pressed on, and made Melauboh in about five hours. Along the way, I stopped to adjust my bags, and noticed a motorbike stopped about 50 metres back up the road. Sure enough the rider approached and wanted a chat. It turned out he was selling simple medicine like aspirin and the like to the shops along the way. We both convoyed to Melauboh at a leisurely pace and stopped along the way to make his sales. I chatted to the shop owners of the shops, drank water and ate bananas. It was a leisurely ride, and in Melauboh we had dinner together.

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After dinner I sat outside my hotel and chatted to another guy and relaxing out the front. Then I noticed a bunch of military and police personal in the middle of the road stopping cars but mostly motorbikes just in front of the hotel. I asked what was going on and my new friend explained that opposite the hotel is the Islam religious office of Melauboh and that they were checking that people’s clothes conformed to Islamic standards. The province of Aceh is under Sharia law, which prohibits many forms of clothing, including tight pants for women. I asked one of the soldiers whether I can take pictures, and he then went and asked the guy in charge. The soldier then told me to come over to the boss, who said he would have to call his boss. I told them if I can’t, it’s no issue, but they were determined to get me an answer. I chatted to one of the Sharia police, and they explained what was going on. They said that if someone’s dress does not conform to the standards, then they are issued with a warning. If that person continues to get warnings and becomes well known to the authorities, they may need to be taught how to dress. Not sure what that implies. I was also told that these rules do not apply to non-muslins, and they respect other religions. They stressed that the important thing is that one follows a religion, whatever that is. They were super friendly, and were eager to explain the process so that I fully understood what was happening. While these guys were kind, the military were not so. If someone didn’t want to stop their motorbike for the check, then the military would yell and grab their handlebars basically forcing them to enter the compound for the check. Many people were being issued with warnings, and many were not pleased by the whole process.

Eventually the answer came about taking photos. I was told that yes, since I am not a journalist, I could take two photos for my own personal use. I was told not to share them or to broadcast them online. Since I bought a cheap camera in Korea and it was night time, the two photos are pretty crap. They were a bit nervous about letting me snap photos, but once I chatted with them, they were happy.

Following that I crashed knowing I had a big day of riding ahead.

Day 2: Melauboh to Takengon: I’m not sure the exact distance, but probably about 180 kilometres in nine hours.

I woke up at 6am a little bit nervous about the day. I had heard from people that I shouldn’t attempt this ride because of its remoteness, and the quality of the roads. Some also said it wasn’t possible in one day. Despite the road in question not even being listed on Google Maps, I had a map which showed the road and wanted to give it a shot! I had also read the blog of some NZ cyclists who did the route in three days. I knew it was possible.

So I set off from Melauboh and of course overshot the turnoff. After a u-turn and some directions at a restaurant I found the way. I was told to buy fuel at a certain village because it was the last chance for a long time, so I made sure I was fully fuelled up. Then I hit the road.

First off, there was a sign in Indonesian, basically saying that you are now entering the jungle, and that you are responsible for your own wellbeing. I wish I took a photo of it. Then it started. The road just went straight up into the mountains, and was eerily quiet. No one coming in the opposite direction. This is also Sumatran tiger country, so I was worried that I could turn the next bend and come face to face to face with a Sumatran tiger. It was serious jungle with big wild monkeys. I came to a section of road where there had been a huge landslide and the road had fallen away creating a spectacular view, but a very hairy dirt track was the only way to proceed. As the bottom I saw a motorcyclist just standing there so I stopped for a chat. Then I few more people came down the road and all stopped. They were very surprised when I said I was alone, and offered to convoy with me to Takengon. They were going to the same place and travel the road often. I was very grateful and took them up on their offer.As these pictures show, the road was treacherous.

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My travelling companion was Harry, 23, and his wife and baby all on one motorbike. They were also travelling with their extended family which compromised three more bikes and a little compact old Toyota hatch. We stopped for many rest breaks, and had some food in one tiny town in the valley of two mountains. The road cut right over two huge mountain ranges, and while spectacular, the road was rough. One particular note worth occurrence was at a rest point on a bridge. The family were so very kind, and when they cut their cake, they gave me a piece. They were amazing people, but this cake was infested with small red ants. They must have known because the ants were everywhere, but no one seemed to mind. I ate my piece along with probably 40 live red ants and politely refused a second piece. These people were farmers, and very poor. I paid for lunch to thank them for looking after me.

After nine hours we finally reached Takengon and they took me to a beautiful lakeside hotel: Hotel Rengalli. While the building had seen better days, it was a magnificent building, overlooking the enormous lake which dominates the town. That night I met a bunch of Indonesian road construction contractors, and together with them we cooked fish on coals. It was a huge feast and I slept very full and happy.

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Day 3: Takengon to Langsa: 340 kilometres and ten and a half hours

My aim today was simple: cover as many kilometres as possible, and that’s exactly what I did. My time in Aceh had been amazing, but I really hadn’t covered many kilometres southward. Today I was to rectify that.

The lake early morning.
The lake early morning.
Nothing says "Happy Independence Day" like kids riding a bike with a fake tank on-top complete with real explosions!
Nothing says “Happy Independence Day” like kids riding a bike with a fake tank on-top complete with real explosions!

I started at 7.30am from Takengon, and headed East towards the coast. The main road to Medan goes along that l coastline, so I figured my best bet would be to get on the main road and just ride. There really isn’t much to report except that the road is horribly dangerous. The amount of trucks, buses, cars and motorbikes all darting around is alarming. While it’s a great way to cover kilometres, it’s really not enjoyable riding. At one stage I was stuck behind a truck carrying a huge amount of fish on ice. While I couldn’t see the fish, I knew it was fish because the ice was melting under the hot sun, and fishy water was spraying all over everyone behind the truck. Fun! Oh, but it was Indonesian Independence Day, and the countries 69th anniversary. So all the towns along the way had parades and the school kids were all dressed up. Was good to see how each town celebrates the holiday.

In the end though, I covered around 340 kilometres, and almost reached the provincial border. The more kilometres I managed today, the less I will have to do tomorrow when I go to Bukit Lawang. I stopped at a really nice town called Langsa, not wanting to test my luck with the weather. I knew it could rain at any second.

So I am now in Langsa, looking forward to my short four hour trip up to Bukit Lawang tomorrow to see the orangutans! I can’t wait, and I’ll have a rest day there. I think I need it.

Just a reminder, for those who are unaware. Via this trip, I am raising money for the Heart Foundation. To make a donation please follow this link:

https://www.mycause.com.au/page/79342/samssumatranmotorcycleadventure

We’re almost at a thousand dollars!                   

On the way!

Dear readership!

Welcome to me second blog entry. This time being written from Air Asia flight D7 505 direct from Seoul to Kuala Lumpur. I am only five days from my departure date on Thursday the 14th, and preparation are well underway. Tomorrow, Monday the 11th, I’ll fly from KL to Banda Aceh, where I will have a few days to prepare and to sightsee.

I have received a variety of advice after announcing this trip a week or so back. I have been warned about travelling through certain towns, and about travelling at night. All advice is being recorded and I’ll take caution in those sections of the journey.

In addition to area specific advice, my former Indonesian lecturer and supervisor, Pak Paul Thomas, gave me some advice which was intriguing, hilarious, and concerning at the same time. He told me that if I run over a chicken or ayam kampung, then the best course of action is to pay the owner without argument. He added that if I hit a water buffalo or kerbau, then I am in big trouble. My only concern is: what’s the going rate for an ayam kampung these days? 100,000IDR (AUD $11)? More, less? What if it’s a really skinny chicken? I wouldn’t pay 100,000IDR for a skinny chicken. I remember on a previous multi-day trip around Central Java, I nearly hit a huge duck. I don’t know who, if anyone, owned that duck. When I mentioned Pak Thomas’ the chicken advice to friends in Seoul, they said best I just hit the gas and get out of the town as quickly as possible. I think I’d prefer to apologise and hand over some cash. I need some good Karma.

Speaking of good karma, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of you all via your donations to the Heart Foundation. Even before the trip has kicked off, a total of $740 has been donated, representing about 25% of my $3,000 target. I want to sincerely thank everyone who has made a kind donation! I assure everyone that 100% of the funds go directly to the Victorian Heart Foundation. Donations can be made via this link:

https://www.mycause.com.au/page/79342/samssumatranmotorcycleadventure

Since the trip is yet to begin, I will keep this blog entry short. My preparation will go into overdrive upon reaching Banda Aceh tomorrow afternoon. While in Seoul I bought all the necessary motorcycle gear, including a jacket, pants, boots, camera, watertight dry sacks which will be strapped to the bike and gloves. Come my arrival in Aceh, the best part comes, bike and helmet shopping! I will report more upon the day of departure.

Before wrapping up this blog, I want to make some comments about South Korea. For those who are unaware, I just finished (on Friday!) a semester of Korean language study at Seoul National University, completely funded by the Victorian Government’s Hamer Scholarship program. Firstly, I want to sincerely thank and plug the Victorian Government’s Hamer Scholarship program. This initiative is absolutely sensational, and allowed me to gain an intermediate understanding of Korean, and make amazing new friends, and lifelong professional connections. I wholly commend the program, and encourage interested Victorians to find out how they can also benefit from a semester of Asian language study. Secondly, to everyone I met there, both Koreans and “aliens”, thank you so much for making my stay an absolute blast. I never experienced a dull moment, and revelled in the non-stop and action-packed times we experienced together. Any time I experienced problems or needed help, I was always assisted and the issues were effortlessly resolved. For anyone who has not been to Seoul or South Korea, go, and you won’t be disappointed. Maybe start off by going to a Korean BBQ restaurant. From there you will get a taste for Korea, I assure you. Anyway, thank you to everyone, I could not have hoped for a better semester, and it has made leaving so difficult. While I don’t know when, I will definitely be back!

Until next time,

Sam

What is this all about!?

Dear all,

I have never been the best at keeping family and friends updated on my travels. When I go overseas for extended periods of time, I have a tendency to become slightly lax in my communications with home, and am not the best at keeping everyone updated. It’s not a good habit, and I intend to rectify it as I embark on a new adventure.

I am happy to announce that as my Hamer Scholarship semester comes to an end, and the Victorian Government’s generous funds dry up, I will be be entering the second half of the year in a  totally new environment. While I have loved living in Seoul, and will be eternally grateful to the kindness of all the Koreans I have met, I will be hitting the streets of Sumatera in a 3,000 plus kilometre motorcycle journey starting in just over two short weeks. This journey will take me from Banda Aceh, the northernmost city in Sumatera, all the way down Sumatera from where I will hop on a ferry and after a few more kilometres, arrive in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta. The tickets are booked and the motorcycle gear is being promptly delivered by the Korean postal service. While I still have a variety of items to prepare, all is on track. 

During this month long motorcycle ride, I intend to keep those who are interested updated via this blog. I will add images, videos and stories from my travels. There are a variety of reasons for this blog. Firstly, I believe it will be entertaining for those who are interested in Indonesia, motorcycles, or travel in general. Secondly, Indonesia is subject to such negative publicity in the Australian media. I hope this blog will counter all those negative images, and portray the Indonesia I know and love. Lastly, if I don’t update the blog after a few days, maybe someone can call local hospitals, locate me, and arrange consular assistance should I have crashed. But I sincerely hope that won’t be necessary! 

How can you get involved? While this trip has been a personal project of mine for some time, I also would like to use this opportunity to raise some funds for the Heart Foundation of Victoria. My grandfather, Bill Bashfield, who was also an avid traveller, passed away from a heart attack a year ago. In his memory, I would like to raise $3,000 for the Heart Foundation which will assist those living with cardiovascular disease, and many of us who will develop it in our later years . Donations can be made via this link:

https://www.mycause.com.au/page/79342/samssumatranmotorcycleadventure

This website allows all donations to be tracked, and so we will know whether or not the target has been reached. Although the Victorian Heart Foundation does not directly impact upon Indonesians, I am sure the research and hard work of this organisation has global implications.

Please donate generously, and together we can achieve the magic $3,000 target! Additionally, if you have any friends in Sumatera who may be able to show me their home city or even let me stay overnight, please email me at samuel_bashfield@outlook.com.

Please also like the facebook page, and stay tuned for more updates!

Until then,

 

Sam

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