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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More bike problems.

When I got on the ferry to Sumbawa, I heard a little grinding from my rear tire.  Nothing too loud, but certainly enough to have me check when I parked the bike.  Damn- oil was leaking out of my final drive hub!  The drive had about 80,000km on it, but the last change was at 100,000km and after Africa- my riding had been a lot easier (in general) since then, so it should have been fine.  Then I remembered that I had it changed by the losers at BMW Morocco… Crap, it probably was going.  Ah well, when I get to some Internet I can check out what I can do myself and if I can get some help in Jakarta or something- for now, I have a ferry ride past a smoking volcano to enjoy!

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Tourists are Bad. I Think.

When I got to Flores I was looking forward to the mountains, volcanoes, and volcanic lakes…  Unfortunately, while the rain held off, everything was carpeted with low clouds and mist.  It was still something to see, but not what I was hoping for.  Sigh.

But, but, but!  The riding was great!  Decrepit roads winding through the jungle, impossibly steep corners, and crazy drivers that had me thinking about charging my heart rent for the amount of time it was spending in my throat.  Everything that makes riding- Riding.  This little stretch from my GPS map gives a good idea (note the scale).

Then, as I got closer to the East coast, the weather cleared and part of what I’d been missing was reveled!

The real treat, though was waiting for me in Labuanbajo.  Primarily a jumping off point for K0modo Dragon viewing (something I had to skip- no bike transport), it was actually a really nice little town.  Enough tourists to have some modern comforts and tourist related stuff (WiFi, a fix for a burger fix, etc), but not over-run with the annoying types trying to sell you things or anything.  A perfect place for a little break.

After checking out the view from my patio,

I decided that a night and a day wasn’t quite enough- 2 nights would be perfect!  That evening cinched the deal and would have had my running back to the hotel to book another night if I hadn’t already.  Great fresh seafood, laid back locals to play pool with, and dinner with view like this…

The next day had me updating my blog, doing some chores, and reflecting on tourists.   I’m obviously a tourist, but in a strange category that very rarely has enough numbers to justify a place changing to accommodate my (our) needs.  Maybe traditional tourists aren’t so bad?  Even a steady trickle brings in more varied food, convenient odds and ends at the shops, and more English speaking locals.  I’m still not sold, but perhaps- just perhaps- I could be convinced that regular tourism isn’t the death of a place…

 

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Island Hopping

Finishing Sumba worked out perfectly- I arrived at the town where the ferry left from in the late afternoon and the ferry was scheduled for 9am the next morning.  After finding a hotel, I went down to the dock to make sure I knew where to go and buy a ticket.  Unfortunately, things weren’t exactly as they should be…

No worries though- a bit of detective work sent me riding to the fishing dock about a kilometer away where a temporary setup was in place and I was able to buy a ticket.  The rest of the afternoon was left to exploring the town and munching on more wonderful street food.  One odd little find was a traditional village on a little hill…

In the middle of town!

The next morning I got to the ferry early, showed my tickets, and then tried to ride onto the dock to the boat.  No go-  the rather unhappy looking ferry workers would let me pass.  Much arm waving, broken English/Indonesian, and a quick walk to the ferry later I discovered the problem.  It was packed!  There was no way my bike could fit- a little local bike would have made it, but apparently the guy who sold me my ticket hadn’t passed on the information that my bike was on huge side.  So I wasn’t going.  And the next ferry wasn’t for 5 more days. AND they wouldn’t give me a refund!  More arm waving later and I was back on the road to the town I’d started in on Sumba- I’d sold my ticket to a local who wanted to cross, found out that a ferry going back to Flores would leave the next day, and couldn’t manage to stay cranky, despite my best efforts.

Bright and early the next morning all went as planned and I was on my way to Flores, this time with much quieter neighbours…

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This is gooooood

After my 32 hour odyssey on the ferry, I arrived in Sumba well after dark.  A stop at a gas station where the attendant waived over a local to direct me to a hotel had me in a dreamless sleep before my bike had even started to warm up properly.  The morning came early (like 4:30 am early!) when the mosque next door played their call to prayer.  After getting back to sleep, I finally got myself in gear and looked out the window.

The scene was perfect!  Just what I had been missing- that crazyness.  That world full of unregulated life.  Sure, I was still tired, sure I would have enjoyed a shower that wasn’t just a bucket of water I could pour over myself.  Sure.  But, really- it was the last thing I wanted.

Back on the twisty roads I was rediscovering my ride, a book too long left unopened and ready to be engage me again.  Everything felt new and fresh.  The weariness of endless kilometers passing by without thought was washed away by the joy of savoring every meter.

New houses built in the old style, with old ones still standing…

To old tomes along the side of the road…

To cheeky kids in the street who would wave me down to take their photo…

To the near painful green of the land.

It wasn’t a ‘breath of fresh air’.  No ‘lightening of my soul’.  It scraped away the furry plaque of a big night out from my mouth and left the smooth white sheen of the ride behind.

 

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What a difference a border makes…

Crossing the border into the Indonesian side of Timor was a straightforward and relatively pleasant affair.  I was steeped in the history of East Timors occupation and was half expecting some fortified border filled with hardened military men.  Instead I got a very friendly welcome from a universally young group of army lads- I suspect chosen because they were too young to have participated in the occupation.  Either way, it was a fast crossing and I was back on the road in less than an hour.  The first thing that hit me was the roads- still small and twisty, but in quite good shape.  My speed was more regulated by traffic and turns than potholes and crumbled banking.  Then I stop for the evening and got my second update- the prices were half to a third of those in East Timor.  $1.50 could get you a decent little meal, fuel was less than 50 cents a liter, and a plain hotel room with a private bath cost just over $10.  Well, maybe now I’d be able to get my budget back under control after Australia!

The next day I reached Kupang and the first of many ferries to come.  And was transported back in time to my boat trip from Cameroon to Nigeria.

The boat itself was a proper RO-RO ferry, but other than that, it was all Africa.  You know what?  It was also homey.  I understood this kind of thing- I reveled in it in my perverse little way.  My bike stacked with all the others while we found places to crash out on the floor amid the bundled goods, animals, and general chaos.  It felt good.

I had it in my head that the ferry trip was around 7-8 hours, but as night fell and my GPS showed us still in the middle of the sea, I knew I’d been slightly off about the timing.  So, curling up on the floor, I settled in for the night.

The morning came early and brought magic with it.

Like countless others, I’ve waxed poetic about African sunsets, but the sunrise that morning over the Flores Sea was breathtaking.  Moving…  Magical.

As we approached Ende in Flores, the boat heeled over and did a 180 back out to sea.  Huh?!  We then passed around a peninsula and headed back towards a different dock.  A dock with no boat ramp.  How was I going to get my bike off the ferry?  I could have done what the locals did with their bikes…

I really AM back in Africa!  But this time I had a choice- risk the bike with some random people handing it up onto the dock when they had trouble dealing with scootes, or stay on the ferry until Sumba.  I chose Sumba and was more than I little pleased that I did.

Waiting for the ferry to leave port turned into a bit of a party- me taking pictures of people, them of me, me of them on the bike, etc, etc.  The women selling food were especially fun and I ended up with a line of them waiting to take pictures with me and the bike.  All while they tried to ‘ruin’ the others photos or do funny things in theirs.  I don’t think they were having fun at my expense, but I don’t particularity care if they were since it was great fun!

Then the screaming started.  Loud, high-pitched wailing.  What the heck was going on?!  I was half expecting a riot or something, when…

Oh, okay- just some rather cranky and unwilling passengers.  I guessed their squealing would make an interesting counterpoint to the endless chirping from the hundreds of little chicks that had been loaded earlier.  Luckly, the hogs were quickly settled in and began to doze like well seasoned travelers.

We left port with a much reduced crowd, so after my less than restful night, I decided to get comfy, grab some more space, and make like a pig.

 

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Timor-Leste

East Timor– a country whose very name brings up thoughts of civil war and brutal occupation.  And one where my knowledge of it ended there.  It’s now a country struggling towards a stable democracy, with a surprisingly cordial relationship with it’s one time oppressors (Indonesia), and a growing worry over the planned UN pull out at the end of 2012.  Needless to say, I really had no clue what to expect.

A guy at the BMW dealership in Darwin put me in contact with The Honorary Consul to The UK who ran her house as a jumping off point for people who were coming to East Timor for work- she’d rent them a room and plug them into the local expat community while they looked for more permanent accommodation.  It worked perfectly for me since I had a longish wait for my bike and instead of being stuck looking at the walls of my hotel room, I was invited to parties, outings, and quiz nights- perfect!

Dili, the capital, is not a pretty city by any stretch of the imagination.  Dusty and dirty, pot holed roads fronting massive new government ministry offices, and an ocean front lined with newly built embassies instead of anything that might be productive to the economy.  That being said, it grows on you- helped by the friendly and chatty locals, expats, and cold Bintang beer.  And there are some glimpses of what the views could be like if things stay stable.

As well, the upcoming run-off election (held on April 16th) slowly added excitement as political rallies and banners slowly started to appearing on the streets.  Seeing these signs of a functioning democracy with the still obvious background of war gave me hope, but the long term future of the country is still very much in doubt.  It’s economy has been almost hopelessly twisted by the presence of so many UN and NGO workers, that when they pull out it seems quite possible that unrest will once again rear it’s ugly head.

On a side note, I was very happy to finally see a Western Saharan flag flying.  The region has become a bit of a political hobbyhorse of mine since I rode through there during the riots and their brutal suppression by the Moroccan forces in 2010.  The flag itself is banned by the occupying Moroccan government in Western Sahara and seeing one flying over their embassy right next door was a daily treat.

As another treat just before I left, a group of riders showed up.  They were heading towards Australia and so we passed many an hour talking rider stuff while I sat back and watched them wash their bikes for the strict Australian Bio-hazard control checks.

But finally, after some Easter related delays, I was off towards Indonesia.  Slowly off.  Very slowly off.  While to roads in Dili might have been potholed, those in the countryside were a mosaic of holes of every kind.  Anything faster than 40km/hr seemed to guaranty that a deep hole would appear around a corner while a friendly goat would ensure that the clear part of the road was blocked.  It took me almost 4 hours to ride the 100km to the border.

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