Daily Archives: June 5, 2012

No motorbike, No cry

So, with my bike safely (?) aboard a wooden vegetable boat, it was time to get me to Malaysia.  In this day an age in Indonesia it involved going to the airport, walking up to the check-in counter and buying a ticket for the next flight.  That’s it- no ‘you-didn’t-buy-it-on-the-internet-and-print-your-own-ticket-so-we’ll-charge-you-all-sorts-of-handling-fees’ silliness.  As it turns out, my flight was delayed, so since the departure terminal in Medan is rather spartan, the immigration guys just let back outside without any additional paperwork- just a ‘don’t miss your flight’.  Ahhh….  when was the last time you actually interacted with normal human workers at an international airport?  *note: I was screened through security each time I entered or left the building and I had to get the guy who let me out vouch for me to get back in.*

Back in the terminal I was able to enjoy some of the English translations that Asia is notorious for.  They usually run along the lines of ‘Please remove your feet before entering the temple’ or some other amusing, yet harmless fun.  This one though, well…

Arriving in George TownPenang was painless and I was quickly able to get a hotel, meet the shipper, arrange my bike pick-up for the next day when the boat arrived, and play normal tourist for a while.  It was all so, well, normal.  People answered phones and e-mails.  When they said they’d be somewhere in 15 minutes- they were!  Needless to say, it all made me very suspicious- tomorrow, I was sure, would not  be a good day.

George Town is a great place to spend a day or so, dive into the food, experience the strong Chinese and Indian cultural influences, and just explore since the interesting parts of town are all within easy walking distance.  The local little temples in Little China where wonderful since they weren’t monuments to an older age- they were living, breathing examples of current faith.  They exuded a life that you never seem to see around Abrahamic places of worship.


I forgot my camera when I wandered Little India, but trust me- The Hindus are just as vibrant and alive with their faith as the Chinese.

When I was in the old colonial area, this clock tower brought back memories from Syria, but I couldn’t quite place them…

Then I remembered!  Aleppo!  I actually hadn’t posted any pics of the clock tower, but a quick search through my old pics revealed this-

Considering the current situation in Syria is was a bit of a bitter/sweet memory.  How many of the friendly people that I met there have suffered extreme personal loss?  What scenes from that country now only exist in the photos of myself and others?


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Okay, now it’s just creepy

Back on the road and heading to Medan things were normal until I hit a bit of a traffic jam where a truck was trying to pull another one out of a ditch (not a terribly rare event in Indonesia).  As I was stopped, I heard some squealing and the general types of noises made by overly exited teenage girls.  Seconds later I was mobbed from behind by a pack of girls from a bus or something.  They all wanted my photo (on their camera phones) with my arm around them!  No hover-hand– they would grab my arm and put it where they wanted.  It was insane- I just didn’t know what to do.  As the traffic moved on, I had to pull over onto the side of the road to finish the photos- the girls were going crazy.  With this, it had stopped being flattering (well, not completely), but had moved well into creepy territory.  I couldn’t get my head around it and just didn’t how to deal with it.  It really left me annoyed- was it just being a foreigner?  Was it the bike?  The blonde hair?  Whatever it was, I was done with it!

Thankfully, it was the last such experience and we won’t have to discuss it anymore.  So, onto Medan!

That night, after a long ride in almost constant truck traffic, I started my normal search for a hotel.  And nothing!  Everything was full- place after place just told me they had no rooms.  Finally, I managed to find somewhere.  Once I got into the room and peeled of my sweaty, dirty riding clothes and took a look in the mirror I think I found out why…

That’s not a tan- that’s grime from the truck exhaust!  A quick check of my shirt showed a black outline on the bed where I’d dropped it.  No wonder I’d had so many problems- I wouldn’t want me in my hotel either!

The next day I reached Belawan where I’d give the old shipping route a spin.  This tried and tested route on a wooden vegetable boat was rumored to be closed, but it was really my last chance…  And it was still running!  The rumors of its closure were true, but only on the Malaysia-Indonesia run, going to Malaysia was still fine since Indonesian customs hadn’t started checking boats leaving… yet.

A bit of running around and a full morning in customs had my bike ready to be loaded.

So, bike dealt with, it was time to deal with me!  I headed to the other side of the dock, through the petroleum terminal to find the ferry station.  And around the petroleum terminal.  And into the petroleum terminal…  Turns out there was no ferry dock anymore since cheap flights had caused all the traffic to dry up.  Crap, time to walk allll the way back… Until a transfer train pushing a huge load of cars blocked my path.  And stopped.

Turns out, the driver had stopped for me!  He’d seen me walking around and was fairly sure I was lost, so he stopped the train, had me jump on for ride through the terminal…

…and back into town, where he dropped me at a track-side market where I could find a tuk-tuk into Medan!

Now, just how cool is that?!

Getting to the tuk-tuk stop, I found them all empty- turns out they were all in the little food/beer/brothel houses backing the stop.  Ah well, when in Rome… So I hit one of the houses, grabbed a meal with one of the sober drivers, took a picture with the mama-san, and then had the driver take me into town.

It wasn’t until later that I realised how strange the situation was- not because it was odd for Indonesia, but because it didn’t seem odd to me.

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And I’m Off!

Ah, no.  I’m still in greater Jakarta.  So, ‘I’m off’ actually means that the 100km ride to the ferry for Sumatra doesn’t ever really leave the sprawling suburbs and takes the better part of a day!  The whole experience really brought home the fact that while Indonesia ‘only’ has a population of around 240 million people, over 30 million on them live in the greater Jakarta area.  Put a different way, in an area of less than 800 square km, they have pretty close to the entire population of Canada with an area of  around 10,000,000 square km!

Finally though, I was on the ferry.  We didn’t pass close enough to Krakatoa for a picture, but I still enjoyed the sensation of once again brushing up close to history.  Then it was off and into Sumatra for some decent riding and a quest for transportation to Malaysia.  My Indonesian visa was running out and I’d heard bad rumors all up on the interwebs about the traditional and much loved boat route between Indonesia and Malaysia being closed…

Considering this state of affairs, I decided to stop in Dumai where cargo boats between the two countries are common.  It hasn’t been used by riders for ages, but I thought it would be worth a check since it was on my way.  Turns out it wasn’t.  It just wasted 2 days, but, no- wasted is the completely wrong word.  Shipping wise, the time might have been wasted; experience wise, it was a rich one.

Riding into town I hit up the first shipping office I found and was promptly stuffed into a corner and told to wait.  Humph!  About 15 minutes later, just as I was about to shuffle around the office to make sure they hadn’t forgotten about me, a short man road up on a scooter and walked up to me.  Turns out they’d called the local English teacher to help me with translation- Perfect!  It was getting late in the day, so he took me back to his place where, in exchange for helping me find shipping the next day and giving me a room to sleep, he had me  help teach his night classes.  Cool!

That evening was an experience- not one I’d care to frame as good or bad necessarily, but one to remember.  I spent a couple of hours with two different classes being grilled mercilessly about my marital status, why I didn’t have children, what I thought of Muslim women (the class was about 3/4 women and they were by far the most vocal), and even some not too subtle questions about  if I’d ever slept with a girlfriend!  At the end of it I was exhausted- trying to speak clearly so they could understand my English, keeping my answers vague enough not offend, and tangling with how much of the truth I should be sharing.  I went to sleep trying to make sense of it- I suppose these rather sheltered young people had just as many preconceptions about me as I did them, but mine were now shattered.  There was no way I could reconcile my previous view of what young Muslim women wearing veils where supposed to be like with the experiences I’d been having.  The guys were easy- asking about work, the bike, and the trip.  The women were simply a minefield that I knew I couldn’t hope to navigate.

At least some things never change!

The next day my host and I headed out to look for a boat.  And hit a stone wall.  In front of customs/the navy/the coastguard the captains all expressed delight at the idea, but as soon as officialdom had moved on, they made excuses about how it just wasn’t possible.  Before long, the truth became obvious-  The captains would have to pay substantial bribes to carry the bike and would most likely be checked more often if they did, just in case they had another bike with them.  They wanted nothing to do with me or my bike, but wouldn’t say anything about it while those who extracted the bribes could hear.  So, once all avenues of attack had been tried, it was time to call it a day.  My host was dejected and disgusted with not having been able to help me and with having he country’s corruption thrown in his face…  I was just dejected since I had another night of classes to help teach!

The next morning, after an evening much like the last, I was back on the road to Medan where I’d be trying my luck with the old route that may or may not be working.  My last chuckle before I left was when I took a photo of my normally smiling and genial hosts…

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Trip Track has been updated- Finally!

I finally got around to it- sorry it took so long.  I’d promise to be better about it, but based on past experience that probably won’t happen…

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The Big Durian

Getting to Jakarta seemed like a fairly straightforward ride, and generally it was.  Decent traffic, some pleasant detours, and a dash of deja-vu.

Along one country road that paralleled a canal I was thinking about how Dutch the scene seemed (not surprising considering the canal was built by the Dutch while Indonesia was still a colony) when I passed a lock that sent me to a completely different part of the world and my riding there- Suriname!  The style might have been Dutch, but the feeling was far closer to the Northeastern coast of South America than anything in Europe.

Along with being transported by the sight I was again reminded of just how lucky I am to able to have these moments.  The idea that I can see a Dutch style lock and be reminded not of The Netherlands, but the tiny country of Suriname in South America was more than just satisfying- it was one of those times where my ride gets framed in my mind as a whole.  As THE journey of my lifetime that it most surely is.

Then it was time to take a bite of Durian.  Jakartas nickname is amazingly well chosen- an acquired taste that generally revolts, disgusts, and intimidates newcomers to the amusement of its aficionados.  From the time I hit the outskirts, it took 3 hours just to make the 20 odd kilometers to the BMW shop- even with a full GPS map!  When I finally got there, I was done- my riding clothes were soaking from my sweat, my patience was losing its grip on the last thread keeping me together, and my body was aching from hours of stop and go traffic on a heavy bike…

This was my welcome.

A few liters of water for me later and my final drive problem had been found- The Moronoccans had installed the wrong sized seal inside the final drive and it had finally failed (it still lasted over 80,000km, so I guess I can’t whine too loudly).  The drive itself was fine!  So, the guys found me a hotel for the night, replaced the seal, changed all the bike fluids for free (!!) and sent me on my happy way the next day.

Not quite such an acquired taste after all I guess.

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Java Jive

Rolling off the ferry into Java was perfect- wonderful!  Whatever happened to the bike now, I only had to get a truck to Jakarta and didn’t have to deal with any kind of ferry issues or anything.  I couldn’t relax, but I could certainly give my nerves a break.

First order of business was to head to Yogyakarta to experience some Javanese culture and see The Borobudur Temple Complex– the single largest Buddhist structure on earth!

The approach to the complex got you in the right frame of mind, with rocky hills surrounded by beautiful green rice paddies.

Then the temple itself consumes you in detail,

before releasing you to become enthralled with its views…

Having had my Java fix, I was off to Jakarta to see about the bike.  A quick stop in Cirebon and I’d be there.

Then Cirebon actually happened!

For my night there  I stayed at a nice little cheap hotel and decided to take a walk around and sample some of their famous seafood…  Until I passed a swanky hotel with a bar called The Grizzly Bear.  Being a good Canadian boy, I felt I had to go in and grab a beer.  I wasn’t there 5 minutes before I was talking to the manager, who happened to be a rider as well (BMW R26 and Norton 500)… So, one thing led to another and for the next couple of nights I was sleeping at the swanky hotel for a near-nothing rate, getting free beer, and enjoying the sold-out bands for free.  Too cool!

During the day, I hit a local museum to see some of the strange artifacts that the past Sultans had created in order to make all various local religions/cultures feel welcome…

Wings for the Muslims, elephant for the Hindus, and serpent for the Chinese!

Then it was off to a local waterfall where things got weird.  Wonderfully weird.  I had already noticed that my long blonde hair was a hit with the Indonesian ladies, but things were getting surreal.  At the waterfall a number of lovely young ladies insisted on getting their picture with me- with my arms wrapped around them!  I certainly wasn’t complaining, but it was strange since I still had this ‘conservative Muslim culture’ thing in my head.  It’s not like anything went anywhere, but the whole experience chipped more huge chunks off my block of Indonesian preconceptions.

The next day, I broke my rule and gave the manager my keys for a quick spin around town.  I was nervous, but he was a good guy and would never get a chance to ride a new BMW since Indonesia has such a high tax on ‘luxury’ bikes that they cost around $50,000USD there!

He had a great tour around and I just about finished falling in love with Indonesia and its people.



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Bummer Dude!

Riding while worrying about your bike is just not fun.  Any little noise, any strange vibration and your Spidey Sense goes on full alert and you become convinced that your bike is on the verge of self-destructing in the middle of nowhere.  When riding on roads with the kind of variable surface that you get in Indonesia, it turns into a two wheeled remake of The Blair Witch Project.  “What was that?”  “Did you hear something?”  “It’s gone, but I’m sure I heard… There!  Can you hear it now?”

But, despite all this, I still didn’t have a hard time enjoying myself.  The Island hoping was fun and the people were still being great- even the cops got into the action when I was pulled over… Just so they could take some pics with me!

Then a passing meet with some other riders…

Sure, the bike was bugging me.  Sure, whenever I went into the mountains the low clouds obscured all the views.  Sure, Bali just felt like some year-round Spring Break party that had me grumbling about tourists again.  Sure, and so what?  I was riding through Indonesia and meeting all sorts of great people, eating fantastic food, and seeing things no beaching tourist ever does!  It was about moments.

Being stopped by a bus load of school kids for a picture,

walking through a bad part of town where ever single person said said hi or waved while living in terrible conditions,

realizing I was just about to leave Bali without having taken one picture,

and having people at hotels so concerned about my bike that they insisted that I keep it in the lobby overnight.

Bummer Dude?  Not on your life!

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