29 October, 2007

Into Indonesia

The time came. After waiting for the weekend after the week was up, the 'mechanic' came back to tell us that he had not mended the fuel pump, but that he would be taking it on a plane to Jakarta personally, so that he could see it being fixed since it would soon be Idul Fitri, the end of Ramadan the holiday. Right. Slowly and sadly William and I heaved the bike off 'Quickstep'. Having made the decision to go, I got my head down and began putting all the bits back on and packing up carefully. I'd made some enquires the day before and Customs said there'd be no problems since I had a Carnet. Telling this to the cynical yachties; "that means there'll be LOADS of problems!" But I was confident in the polite way I'd been treated and sure enough, stamp, stamp, sign, stamp and I was finished with Customs. I'm glad I haven't become as cynical as so many I've met. Smile and be patient, that's definitely the key, but so many are always in such a hurry.

While reconstructing the bike, two English lads appeared and chatted for a long while. They warned me about Indonesian police patrols since they'd hired mopeds and been stopped four times on a wee run around Bali. The police, they said, were always looking for a bribe. I'd not been stopped once on the Harley, and we'd done almost 500miles. I'd be careful anyway.

At one point I was hot and thirsty and stopped work for a drink and a cool down. I put down my bag full of tools, tie-downs and some 'Highway pegs' I'd picked up in Darwin (I couldn't fit these because they seem to be US fittings). I checked the internet (the only air-conditioned room in the marina) and when I came back there was no bag! I searched everywhere as these were my favourite tools, an original BMW toolkit with some useful extras which I'd managed to get to be just right over a number of years. Two hours and a lot warmer later, I gave up, and scrambled the bike together. I knew that if I stayed, the tools might turn up but, maybe it was the heat, I had said I was going and had to go. On a plus point, the camera I thought I'd lost turned up in the pocket of a jacket I'd never even worn since coming into Bali. This jacket had been hanging in the cockpit of the boat. Funny place!

I didn't get far. The sun was going down fast and I found a friendly wee hotel for only 40,000IR (Indonesian Rupiah). This is about 2.20GBP. Food, bed, fan, toilet. What more could anyone want? I slept soundly and was up early next morning.

I arrived at the ferry port for Java at 8.30 with the sun just warming up. Along the way I had ridden alongside a friendly family. The dad seemed to be a careful sort who was taking no chances with his wife and family aboard. Still the riding was chaotic, but it made sense to me for us to make progress together smoothly through the traffic. Sometimes I was in front, sometimes him, with exchanges of smiles and thumbs up at traffic lights.

We made very little progress at the actual ferry port. There were three sweat-drenched hours in the ever-warming sun while we waited for each ferry to fill, go, return and let the next batch of motorcyclists on. Everyone was heading home for Idul Fitri. Spirits were quite high though, for a while. We were separated by a building from the air-conditioned cars and trucks but we could hear them tooting their horns in impatient frustration and grinned at one another as we listened. As the heat increased and there was no shade, some people who had fainted were passed overhead to waiting medics at the side who gave them water and sent them back into the overheated throng. Children were being sick and shade was constructed out of anything to protect them. The sun was directly overhead but we all kept our helmets on. At last some at the back began to cheer then roar and rev their engines. Wee bikes like these only have wee batteries and they wouldn't take lengthy toots on horns, so this seemed the reasonable alternative. We surged forward a wee bit being pushed from behind but just ended up in more fumes, with more kids being sick and just a bit more squashed up.

Idul Fitri is, I think 'Eid al Fitr' in Europe and North Africa. A Swede at the marina, speaking in a heavy US accent had managed to make it sound like "Ay-dolf Hitlir", but it's the same holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan fasting when everyone wants to be home with their families to break their fasts and party. I was told this was the heaviest traffic of the year. Great timing! Speaking of timing, I've gone back again. This is 1428 in the Islamic world. They only use our "Christian" calendar to make trading and business easier between countries.
These lads entertained and made money by swimming around till people threw coins from the ferry. Health and Safety?

Java itself was just entirely nuts. Half of Indonesia's 250million population live on this one wee island. And they were all out on their bikes rushing to get home. I tried to think of a way to describe it, and came up with this . . . Picture the English Lake District - hmmm, nice eh? Lovely scenery, sun blazing, skinny wee roads . . . but it's August Bank Holiday, and someone has organised a Moto GP in some imaginary circuit at Barrow in Furness, and a World Superbike round at a similar venue in Penrith. The M6 and A6 are closed, but tickets to both are free. Every motorcyclist in Europe (all for some reason riding modernised C90 equivalents) cannot make up their minds which one to attend, so they speed like maniacs from one to the other, trying to make it in time for the next race they most want to see. And there are lots of Italians with the entire family on the bike - dad driving, wee one in the footwell, another youngster squished between dad and mum who clings to the back in her flip-flops, all their worldly belongings on an elongated, wooden, home-made rear rack.

To make things a bit more interesting, SAGA, Wallace Arnold, Parks of Hamilton and Rennies of Dunfermline have somehow conspired to get their entire bus fleets onto these wee single-track roads. And nobody, bikes included but especially buses, has passed the emissions test at their last MoT. The temperature has soared way into the 40's, there's no wind and it's very humid. And the Lake District has stretched itself to become the length of all England. Got it?

It was real elbow to elbow stuff the like of which I've not seen since RD250LCs were let loose at Knockhill in the 1980's. Panniers were useful for fending off smaller bikes, or for giving them something to lean on as we edged round corners. At one point I'd got ahead of the screaming pack into a tiny bit of clear road and was peacefully and happily negotiating a tight left-hander, the jungle thick on either side. A bus was coming the other way cutting the corner just slightly - not enough to trouble me. To my real horror, a wee bike was overtaking the bus in a head-on collision course with me! I swerved into what little room I had to my left and and clipped some jungle greenery. He straightened slightly and went to his left. We missed!! How we missed? Sadly, to his left was the bus. In my mirror I saw a shower of sparks as I heard the scrape and scrunch of plastic. It looked like he'd gone right under the front wheel of the bus. I rounded the bend and stopped at the first bit of straight road. The traffic did not let up.

At this point the cynics will tell you that you should not stop, never go back, that foreigners always get the blame, that you'll be heavily fined, lose your vehicle, go to prison and never be heard of ever again. But how can you leave a young laddie lying under a bus!? I couldn't do that so I quickly U-turned. The bus hadn't even bothered stopping. There were white scrapes and some deep gashes in the road and a group huddled to one side. He had been travelling with mates who had pulled him and his bike out of harm's way to let the traffic continue. I made another U-turn and pulled up beside the group. They surrounded a winded youth who was lying on the grass verge gasping for air, but being well looked after by his concerned pals. His bike even looked serviceable. There were no obvious breakages, no blood and his mates, while not unfriendly, showed no emotion at my return. He'd live, and hopefully he'd learn. No need for my First Aid, I rode off back into the madness heaving a huge sigh of relief, and trying to control the shaking.

I got an e-mail from William saying my tools had turned up! They'd been left in the cockpit of Quickstep and everything was there. Very odd place where things get 'borrowed'. He'll send them on to me, or bring them to Langkawi, hopefully before I leave Malaysia.

Mileages across Java were way down on the usual 250miles/400km per day. Java slows you down whether you want to or not. The energy-sapping heat, the mad traffic and the state of the roads reduced my daily mileages to as little as 110, and that with a very early start. Speed was normally anything between 15 and 40mph. Moving any quicker was just impossible. Packs of bikes moved around like shoals of fish. The gearbox wasn't very happy being so abused and I worried about overheating. It was like dispatching through a crowded London for hundreds of miles a day, without the Highway Code! I decided not to let it worry me, since nothing could be done about it. I dawdled quietly along, stopping between 2-3pm to get out of the broiling heat and rest.I made my way over a cool, mist-covered hill to Borobudur. The road was almost empty up here. Borobudur (great name) is a World Heritage site on a par with Ankor Wat in Kampuchea. Or so the book said. Built in the 8th Century AD it uses similar technology to some of the South American monuments in that there's no cement and rocks are carved so that they fit together more firmly. Not quite as solid as the South American ones, it has to be remembered that these were built 800years before. I stayed two nights, spending one whole day on a relaxing visit to the the place. Well worth it and I was glad of the break. I saw just one other obviously western tourist.

Eventually I reached the far end of Java to get the ferry to Sumatra. Sumatra, I was told, was full of bandits and I should be very careful. I hope I'm not getting too complacent but everywhere I go in the Developing World, the next place is always "full of bandits" and I "should be very careful". This ferry loading took little or no time but the crossing took three hours.

On disembarkation onto Sumatra I was quickly in Bandar Lampung via efficient, fast, smooth, clean roads and checked into the best hotel yet. It had a movie channel on the telly, air conditioning and even a fridge for some cooling drinks. Heaven! The movie was some Hollywood 'action' rubbish but the fact I could understand it and relax in front of the boredom-box briefly was a real treat! After that, I'd have to say that the hotels on Sumatra were better than those of supposedly better developed Java. Less expensive, more comfortable with even friendlier staff.

And I thought Enfie had wide panniers! The roads were much less congested too, and on one day I made 310 miles and wasn't even too tired at the end of it. I'd got to Pekan Baru and made friends with the hotelier. In the morning he gave me a letter of recommendation to his friend at a hotel in Dumai where I'd need to organise the ferry to Malaysia. I'd only just heard from Jim back in Australia that there was no Roll-On, Roll-Off ferry here. This could become complicated so I might be there some time. A good hotel would help a lot!

Dumai was the usual dock/port town. Not overly pleasing on the eye but functional. I quickly found the Grand Zuri Hotel (another good name) and booked into a very comfortable room - a/c, telly, shower room, fridge, all the bits and bobs. And I got a fairly respectable discount. It was supposed to be 280,000IR per night, but my pal at the last hotel had got that down to 240,000, or about 13GBP. A help yourself breakfast was included. Top.

I had time so I went to the Ferry company. They said they didn't take vehicles and didn't know anyone who could. Hmmm, this would be more difficult than I thought. Then they said if I went to Customs and sorted things out there, they'd see what they could do. I made sure that the Ferry lady knew that if I went to Customs then I would have to leave very soon afterwards because my bike would no longer be in the country and would therefore be entirely illegal on the road. That was fine, she said.

When Customs opened next morning things all went very smoothly, my bike was now officially not in Indonesia anymore. I only had another few days on my own visa, so things were getting a wee bit tight. Back to the Ferry company.

Oh no but they couldn't take vehicles, they only took passengers! But their colleague yesterday had said . . . Better come back at 2pm and see her then, that's when she started. At 2pm she said she had not said what she had said yesterday and was now saying something completely else, so there. Go and see the Harbour Master about it, if I didn't like it. Crazy, but the feeling I got was that if this Harbour Master chappie said it was okay, then I could go with them. This was only day two of smiles and patience, after all. Plenty more to come.

Mr Harbour Master sent me to find DPI Berth to see if there were any boats going to Malaysia. But nobody knew where DPI Berth was, although they all pointed in just about every direction but up or down! "Over there" with a vague flap of a loose arm is about as accurate a set of directions as you can get anywhere in Indonesia. I returned to the Harbour Master and confessed defeat. "Never mind," he said, "I'll phone them in the morning. Come back at 10am." Why hadn't he done that before? I got the idea that this guy was looking for some sort of "back-hander" to get things moving. I'd give it a day or two more before I would ask how much he wanted. Smiling was becoming more of a challenge now, although I still wasn't in any great hurry so my patience was holding up pretty well.

That afternoon there was a knock at the hotel room door. A young lad said in very broken English that he'd like to come in and chat to improve his English. Not sure if this was an invasion of my privacy (I'd been dozing with a book) I decided to admire his pluck and invited him in. Said (pr. Sah-eed) didn't have much to say but phoned his teacher and asked if I'd like to come to his class later that evening. I'd no pressing engagements so I agreed.

I had to get food and found a likely looking place nearby. The set up there was that they brought the entire menu, (not the cardboard menu but all the actual plated-up food) put it on the table and what you ate you paid for. Excellent! I had forgotten all about the class when Said popped up again as I went to pay my bill. I jumped on the back of his bike and was taken to 'school'. Said went off, I thought to get his pal but he never returned, and I was left with the teacher, who insisted I "just talk" to his four pupils for an hour and a half! This isn't easy at the best of times. These were 16/17 year olds. I did my best and tried to hide the fact that I was surprised he had nothing prepared for them. I had thought I might be helping, or even joining in a lesson, not doing the whole thing myself for free!!

Back at the Harbour Master's office at 10am next morning, he wasn't there! He would return soon, I was told. I waited an hour before a neatly uniformed man approached and apologised in very clear English for my waiting. Captain Purgana was the real Harbour Master, had an excellent office with a/c, he offered me cold drinks and asked what my problem was and how he might best be able to help. I was a bit baffled but decided to keep yesterday's Harbour Master to myself. I explained the whole situation from the start. I learned that there were regulations about carrying vehicles but that something could be sorted out.

A shipping agent was summoned to the office and, yes, he could organise it just for the price of the labour required to load the bike. 300,000 should cover it (15GBP). "Fine", said the Capt, "now if you can give me your passport, we can organise your ferry ticket". The bike and I would be on different boats, and I would leave the morning after but we'd end up at the same destination - Port Klang (supposed to be named after the noise a motorbike makes as it is unloaded). While we waited for the ferry ticket to happen, the Captain and I blethered about salty sea dog tales. He'd been at sea for 20 years but had settled ashore to get married and bring up his son.

Soon the passport reappeared with all the necessary tickets and departure taxes paid. How much was that? "No, no I wouldn't hear of it." says the fantastic Captain, "I'm just happy to help and so sorry there isn't anything more I could do!" He paid for my ferry ticket! I was lost for sufficient words of gratitude. I wondered whether he knew more about my pillar-to-post experiences of the last few days, but decided it best not to ask. The first bogus "Harbour Master" had obviously wanted to get some money out of me, but I was pleased with myself that patience and smiling had worked out again.

All I had to do was take the bike to the appropriate boat and load up. The agent led the way on his wee motorbike and I surprised myself by having to pretend to be worried (I wasn't in the slightest) as the bike was gently manhandled onto the waiting boat and lashed to the deck. I've got over getting concerned about stuff like this, but it still seems to entertain the locals as the Western guy gets all excited in case the bike falls in the water. Of course they're not going to drop it
- they're all underneath it!


At 08/11/2007, 21:06, Anonymous Mo said...

I can't believe anyone could be that patient waiting to get on that ferry, the photo looks terrifying just a sea of skid-lids and the actual sea in the distance. phew!!

Mo xxx

At 09/11/2007, 15:31, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hell's teeth Mick, that photo of the queue of bikes is something else! What happens if you need the toilet? The moped marathon has nothing on this!

Keep it upright.

Cheers, Enfie.


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