The world´s largest archipelago
Even though the Straight of Malacca may look quite narrow on
the map, it is wide enough that the speedboat we´re travelling on,
carrying several hundred passengers, does not see any land for
almost 6 hours. Then the coastline of Indonesia is ahead of us.
Sumatra – or Sumatera, as the locals call it – is almost 1,5 times
the size of Finland, our home country, and this makes it the
world´s sixth largest island. Its ´spine´ is the Bukit Barisan
mountain range, almost 2000 kilometers in length, that runs across
the island on its western side. But its eastern part, where we are
shortly about to set our foot in, is more or less flat as a
pancake. The harbour is called Belawan, and it is in fact the port
of the nearby metropolis of Medan. It was born during the colonial
days, to ship tobacco and coffee overseas from the plantations
Soon as we get to disembark the boat, it becomes obvious, that the
place is notably different from Malaysia. The crew are throwing
everyones luggage out from the ship with a lot of shouting, and
there are all sorts of "fixers", that are so typical to every 3rd
world border town, offering their services. We call them "hello-misters",
because that is by far their most common phrase in English!! We´ll
need to change rupees, the Indonesian currency, and decide to do
this at a bank, that can be found near the harbour office. But 1
US-dollar buys you almost 10000 rupees, so you need to think, how
much you´re going to change – otherwise you´ll be carrying a ´brick´
of cash around, and that´s not very convenient! Before leaving
Malaysia, we had double-checked, that this is one of those entry
points in Indonesia, where you can get the "visa-on-arrival", and
we pay 25 dollars for each of them, valid for 30 days. (Note:
Indonesia is a huge country, and travelling can be very slow, so
it is advisable to apply for a longer visa, that we, too, could
have done during our stay in Penang, for example!)
We stay overnight at a resort near the port. At almost 20 euros
per room, it is not cheap by this country´s standards, but we also
checked out a couple of other options in Belawan, and they were
filthy, stinking ratholes (that were probably used as brothels,
too) so we didn´t want to stay in them. Next morning, we go back
to the port to pick up our bike, that has spent 5 days here alone.
Customs stamp the carnet, and to our big surprise, we are through
with them in less than 10 minutes. This, I believe, is not common
for Indonesia, and it may very well be because many travellers
have used this route lately. We hear, that there is some ´damage´
on the bike, but luckily it turns out, that only one mirror has
taken a little hit, and nothing bigger is broken. Should have just
taken the mirrors off the bike, before leaving it to be freighted.
Most of our riding gear, however, has stayed inside the bags all
this time. And because of the tropical heat, that makes you sweat
inside your gear most of the time, they were not totally dry, when
we put them there. So it is no wonder, that for example my
leather-suits´ trousers have a nice, thick layer of mould growing
on them. But luckily it is all on the outside!
No-one mentions anything about an insurance for the bike, so we
take none, and this means that our bike is completely uninsured
during our stay in the country. But this is probably not
recommendable – it might be better to find out, where you can get
at least a minimum 3rd party insurance. While it is possible (or
even probable!) that it would not give you good cover in case you
have an accident, it´s not likely to cost you very much. And even
if nothing happens, there´ll be something to show the police, if
you get stopped on the road. If you dont have anything, they might
use it as a perfect excuse to get bribes from you.
Enchanting Lake Toba
We are not allowed to enter the toll-road or ´Expressway´ (they
are actually forbidden for bikes all over Indonesia), so our only
option is to go through Medan, a bustling city of over 2 million.
Over here, it feels even more hot and humid than it did on the
other side of the water in Malaysia, and we are already fighting
fluid loss, and need to keep drinking lots and lots of water. We
take a break at a McDonalds in Medan, and on the inside the
air-con makes the place feel like a freezer. This gives a
temporary relief from the suffocating heat. The traffic stays on
the left side – well, mostly – and generally it looks almost as
wild as what we saw in India. So, to be honest, it is really quite
bad, but after more than 3 months on the road in similar traffic
in Asia, we have already gotten pretty much used to this!
We are glad to reach the end of the coastal flatland, because the
worst heat is soon behind us, and the road gets curvier, while
traffic gets more sparse. We are riding through a small village,
when I see a scooter approaching fast from a side road coming down
a hill on the left hand side. There is enough time to notice, that
I don´t have to do anything to avoid it, but it is not far away.
Then I can see from the mirror, that the scooter just slams on to
the highway without braking, and 2 other mopeds, that were
following us just a few feet away, crash with it at the junction.
People fly here and there from their mopeds, and there´s really no
proper protective gear that anyone uses, and especially in rural
areas, they often dont even have helmets.
My first thought is to stop, and go to help those people. But then
I remember the teachings of some former accidents, that have
struck my friends, when they´ve ridden in Thailand, Laos or
Cambodia. As a foreigner, in Asia you, as a Westerner, are
considered wealthier than the locals. So you may find yourself the
guilty party in traffic accidents, and it doesn´t really matter
what actually happened. We weren´t involved, but it was only a
second or two away. This is why, when I notice, that there are
already plenty of people rushing to the scene, I decide, that it´s
better to just keep going.
We can just see the last rays of the sun reflect from the surface
of Lake Toba, one of the the largest freshwater lakes in Southeast
Asia. As this is very much in the tropics, very close to the
Equator actually, daylight dies away sooner than you realize, and
we don´t want to ride here in the dark. This is why we take the
first hotel, that we spot on the side of the road, and once again
it´s not among the cheapest for this country (it costs about 20
euros for a room). But it has a restaurant conveniently in the
same building, and as we´re quite tired from the heat and the
traffic, we don´t have to go anywhere to get a little something to
eat. Plus it is so close to the shoreline, that we could literally
dive into the lake from our room window!
The morning view from that same window is truly breathtaking, as a
new day is dawning above the calm, deep-blue waters, and you can
see some conical shapes of volcanoes on the horizon. Once we get
moving, and reach Parapat, we stumble into a ´biker-club´ from
Medan, who are all riding 150cc Honda Tigers. We join them, as
they start off around the lake. The guy who rides first, has
actually installed a pair of blue "police blinkers" to his bike!
Probably 100% illegal, but proves out to be a pretty effective way
to keep the buses and trucks from "borrowing" our side of the road
in the bends, like they usually do! Lake Toba is actually quite
big, and the roads around it are very curvy and slow. So after
reaching the northern end, we wave goodbye to the Medanese bikers,
and return to Parapat to catch the ferry going to Samosir island,
which is situated in the middle of the lake.
On volcanic soil
After waiting for a few hours at the ferry departure point, where
no-one seems to have any solid info about when the boat would
actually leave, it finally does. And once we reach the island, it
is only a 10-minute ride to the village of Tuk Tuk. This is where
Samosir´s ´backpacker-scene´ (or what is left of it!) seems to
concentrate. Tourism in this country has suffered some severe
blows during the last decade. So there are a lot of empty rooms to
be found all around this beautiful peninsula, where the village is
located. We simply choose one of the nice guesthouses right by the
waterline, and it costs about 10 euros per room per night. I think
you might easily find even cheaper places to stay here.
As we ride into the courtyard, we spot two familiar United
Kingdom-register plates, that belong to the bikes of the two
Australians, Kristian and Liam, who we already met in Malaysia!
Actually the plate behind Kristian´s bike is no longer bigger than
a credit-card, after he once had a rear-end collision with Liam.
The guys, now accompanied by Kristian´s girlfriend Sarah, who´s
flown over for her vacation, have been travelling in Aceh during
the past days. But the roads in that area are still so bad after
the devastation of the 2004 Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami,
that they did this by plane, and have just been re-united with
In Indonesia, you are never very far from volcanic activity. In
fact right now, as we sit down with the Aussies and have a few
beers, we are inside a crater, or ´caldera´, of a gigantic volcano.
Samosir island itself is nothing but a "cake" of lava, that has
spewed out from the Earth during one of the latest eruptions.
Under us is really a sleeping giant, a supervolcano comparable in
size to the one under the Yellowstone National Park in the US. And
that´s actually the only one you can compare to! One particularly
big eruption, known as ´The Toba event´, took place some 75.000
years ago, and scientists say that it was the largest of its kind
in the world for over 2 million years. It spread layers of ash,
that were several meters deep, thousands of miles away. And it
also created a mini "ice-age", that was actually so severe, that
our ancestors nearly did not survive, and the whole mankind almost
got extinct during the years following this massive eruption. Some
scientists now believe, that magma is again gathering under the
lake, which may be an indication, that this huge volcano is not
going to stay dormant forever.
A ride around Samosir Island
We played pool late into the evening with the Aussies, and took a
few more beers (well, quite a few, actually!) Maybe that´s the
reason, why they choose to stay put, and relax in the nice
hammocks hanging in the shades between the trees, as me & Anne set
off to ride around the north side of the island. This area is part
of the Karo Highlands, and as the name suggests, it is over 1000
meters above sea level, which is actually good, because the heat
is nowhere near as intolerable, as it was in the lowlands near the
The Bataks are the biggest ethnic group in this area, and there
are almost 6 million of them living in this region (more than the
entire population of Finland!) Descendants from some ancient
tribes, who lived in present day Thailand and Burma, the Bataks
stayed pagan for centuries, even though they lived near the Moslim
strongholds of Aceh and Medan. The Bataks still practiced
cannibalism in the beginning of the 19th century. European
missionaries turned them into Christians, and you no longer have
to be afraid, that they´re going to eat you! Nowadays you can see
the Batak culture all over Lake Toba. Especially striking is their
architecture: the houses and grave buildings, with roofs that look
like a boat or a saddle, and facades, that are decorated with
staring, red-eyed "monster-heads", geckos and water buffaloes, all
skilfully crafted from wood.
The day goes by quickly on the enchanting Samosir island. We see
several small grave ´houses´ for the fishermen, that have these
strangely shaped roofs, and there are also nicely decorated boats
parked right next to them. We also visit the Batak Museum in
Simanindo, on the northern tip of the island, and have lunch at a
warung (a local diner). There doesn´t seem to be a common language
between us, but we sit down, and make gestures of eating. In no
time the table in front of us is filled with small plates, all
carrying various dishes: fish in curry sauce, grilled chicken,
rice, deep-fried potato cakes, that somehow remind us of the
samosas in India, spinach and steamed vegetables.
There are 15-20 little plates on the table, and you only pay for
the ones, that you´ve touched. It is very cheap, though, and this
wouldn´t be an expensive meal, even if we touched them all! We
really like the food, especially the local nut-flavored sauce,
satay. This style of kitchen, called Masakan Padang, is not very
hygienic, though, because all the food remains at the table, while
you eat, and it looks like the plates we didn´t touch, are taken
back to wait for the next customers. But all the way through
Indonesia, we actually have very few stomach problems (compared to
India, for example!)
Then we continue south along the island´s western coast. The road
along the shore is narrow, and passes through many villages, but
it is in rather good condition. That makes us optimistic, that we
could return to Tuk-Tuk by crossing a plateau, that rises in the
middle of the island. That plan works just fine at first, even
though we have to return on our own footsteps a few times, because
there are many small roads, and many junctions with no signposts.
But just a few kilometers away from the finish, the road enters a
very thick forest, and there is a really steep escarpment, that we
would have to climb down. And at the same time, the road turns
into a real mudpath in the middle of the jungle.
We manage to go forward very slowly maybe 1-2 kilometers, but then
decide, that maybe it is better if I walk ahead a little bit, and
hopefully see a glimpse of the lake in front of Tuk-Tuk. That way
we could be sure of our location. But the forest is so thick, that
I cannot see anything, and now I also hear some large animal
walking in the bushes just nearby. It is probably just a water
buffalo, as we have seen plenty of them all around this plateau,
but it is quickly getting dark, and right now the imagination
starts to really run wild!
Even if there really isn´t anything to be afraid of in the jungle,
it is important to know your limits, when you´re riding on roads
like this. Because if you stubbornly try to get forward, and are
unable to make it through, then it is highly likely, that you
won´t have the strength left to return the way you came any more.
This is why we decide, that it is better to accept defeat. With
our mud-bathed bike, we return to the paved road, then cross the
high plateau again, descend to the other shore, and finally go
around the whole island, following the very same road, that we
took coming here.
Now it is totally dark, and we have to go very slowly, so all in
all it takes a staggering 2 and a half hours. We don´t have any
warm clothing with us, and after sundown temperature dropped to
maybe 15-20°C (the lake´s surface is nearly 1 kilometer above sea
level). It feels cold, when you´re riding with a t-shirt on. But
still I think this is a lot better, than trying to wrestle the
bike from the mud in the dark jungle!
A real "highway"
The Aussies are leaving for Jakarta, where they are going to drop
off Sarah for her flight back home. They have a good-quality map
of Sumatra, that we are missing (those do not appear easy to find).
Luckily I am able to locate a copier machine, before they leave!
Lake Toba is such an enchanting place, that you could easily spend
a week or two here, but our visas will be valid for 30 days only,
so the clock is ticking.
This is why, after one more lazy day, we also pack our travel bike
with all our luggage once again. We say "Terima kasih" (means "good
bye" in local language, Bahasa Indonesia) to the reception of our
nice guesthouse. Then we go around the island once again, and to
be exact, Samosir is not really an island, because it is connected
to land by a narrow causeway. By using it, we get to the western
edge of the massive crater that Lake Toba sits in, and a narrow
road curves its way up to the rim. From there we have one last
view to the lake, and it is in fact a truly spectacular one!
The road south is quite slow-going, even though there is not too
much traffic. Its surface varies from smooth tarmac to something
that resembles a riverbed, and even when the road looks generally
okay, you still need to stay on full alert for VERY big potholes!
There are many curvy sections, that are often bumpiest in exactly
the place, where you´d need to brake before a bend. A bike with
this much load on board is a bit of a handful there. It feels like
a long day of riding, but we haven´t proceeded more than 250 kms,
and stay overnight at a resort on the slopes of a volcano near
There is a lot of fog in the morning, as we eat breakfast in the
restaurant of our accommodation. When we get going, the road gets
worse, and I wonder, if this really is the "Trans-Sumatra Highway".
More like a "Billion potholes byway", I think! Today, it also
offers us hills, that are worrysomely steep, and especially there
the surface is plain soil and big, loose rocks, after rainwater
has washed away the rest. The worst of those hills have a
Caterpillar on top, and a thick steel cable hanging from it. Heavy
vehicles connect to the cable, and then they are pulled to the
top. I have to ask Anne to walk a couple of times, because
climbing the hills with a heavy-loaded bike is hard. You will need
to keep your speed up, as you climb the hill, otherwise you´ll get
stuck, or could even start to roll backwards. I no longer wonder,
why it takes the small minivan buses some 16-17 hours to travel
from Lake Toba to Bukittinggi, a distance of only about 300 kms.
Crossing the Equator
We have been inside the tropics for over 2 months now. But as you
head south, both India and the Malaysian Peninsula run out into
the sea, before reaching the Equator. Sumatra, however, is cut
roughly into two halves by this dividing line between the northern
and southern hemispheres. And on our route, it is located at
Bonjol, where there is a white line painted into a parking lot (now
it would be useful to have a GPS to check, if this really is
exactly 0,000 latitude, or it´s just for fooling tourists!) There
are a lot of ´hello-misters´ in the area, trying to sell you this
and that as a souvenir. We actually buy some "I crossed the
Equator" t-shirts, that are claimed to be of very good quality –
and maybe they are, but that quality will only last until the
first washing! We continue to Bukittinggi, which is not far away,
and the road stays very curvy. On this route, you´re always nearly
a kilometer over sea level, or even a bit higher, and that´s a
good thing, because in the lowlands, the humid heat might be just
intolerable. Because of altitude, crossing Sumatra was not nearly
as uncomfortably hot as we thought it would be.
We stay a couple of nights in Bukittinggi, and near the center of
the city, there´s a street cafe catering for tourists. They are
planning a walking trip to the jungle, to see the world´s largest
carnivorous plant, rafflesia arnoldii. But just before our
departure time, some reports emerge, that it is not blooming yet,
and so will not be worth the trek. But our guide takes us for a
walk to the town and some nearby villages, and we see for example
the caves, that were either built by the Japanese, who invaded the
island during WWII, or then they were built by the Dutch and
British, who tried to defend it (I don´t know, which way, because
our guide speaks very limited English!)
We also see the exotic-looking houses of the Minangkabao-people,
and the way they build their roofs, actually has something similar
to the Batak architecture, that we saw in Lake Toba area. But here
the edges of the roofs are bent straight up, so that they form a
sharp tip pointing directly to the sun (which, at noon, shines
from directly above you here in the equator, of course!) Some of
the houses are under repair because of a recent earthquake. Along
the coastal regions of Sumatra, the earthquakes often cause
tsunami waves, that add to the destruction. For me it´s fine, that
most of the places where we stay overnight, including Bukittinggi,
are not located right by the coastline.
We catch a ride back from the walking trip on a bemo, a Hiace-van
with wooden seats built around the space on the back. As we are
stepping out, the two-man ´gang´ strikes at the narrow entrance
door: the other stays on the doorway, which seemed strange (well,
not any more, now that I know, what they were up to!) and at the
same time, the other tries my pockets from behind. I notice, that
my old cellphone has disappeared, as soon as I step out of the
vehicle, but it is quickly accelerating away. Maybe the driver was
actually part of the gang.
The phone itself was ancient, and it had stopped functioning some
time earlier on this trip. It would have been a perfect "fake
target", had I not forgotten to take out its SIM-card, and put it
into the passport bag, that we´re both carrying under our trousers.
So there I lost many contact details, for example those of our
friends back in Iran (and since they weren´t familiar with e-mail,
that phone number was in fact our ONLY contact with them!) I had a
much more lucrative catch hanging on my shoulder: a Canon 5D
digital SLR-camera, that (with its optics), had cost about 3000
euros. But I am used to cover the camera with my hand every time
someone is near, and I surely would not have given it away without
a wrestling match. Both of those thieves were very small in
physical size, so I probably wouldn´t have hesitated to go against
them, even though there were two. But it would not have been a
nice scene inside a minivan. And naturally you cannot be certain,
that they won´t have something with them, like a knife or even a
gun. I also gave them the opportunity to take the cellphone, by
keeping the item in an outside pocket on my ´cargo pants´. The
zipper was easily opened, and the phone skilfully taken away so
that (with the other guy creating the distraction) I felt nothing.
But this is the one and only time during our whole 6-month trip,
when something actually gets stolen from us. In Southeast Asia, it
is very rare for anyone to come and mug you with a knife or a gun.
Even taking something like my phone was taken, is definitely not
common. But like anywhere, where you travel, your own behaviour
also has a lot to do with the risk, too. If you´re apparently
drunk, and go walking to some unlit back alleys, surely anything
can happen. Or if you´re being careless about how you keep your
valuable items, like cameras of wallets, then some dishonest
person may see, that their opportunity has come. Most of the
locals are very poor, so a single valuable, that you´re carrying
with you, may be worth their annual salary. But one of the true
highlights of Asia is, that it is generally a safe destination to
travel in. This one incident does not change that fact, but it was
a good reminder, that it can happen anywhere.
Heading to Java
We decide to try, how far we can travel in Sumatra during one
daylight. So we are back in the saddle just as the first rays of
the sun start to illuminate the eastern sky. And we stay on the
road, avoiding any unnecessary stops all day. This "Iron Butt-Ride"
(it really feels like one!) takes us about 600 kms to Lubuklinggau.
Luckily today the road is in somewhat better condition, than it
has been. But it is still more or less a mountain road, that has
lots and lots of curves, and changes in elevation. A very nice
road actually, and altitude helps with the heat nicely, but there
are good reasons not to go too fast. Like the crazy local drivers,
who often ´borrow´ your side of the road in the curves!
Another annoyance is that you´d often need to brake a little
before entering a bend, but for some reason, these "braking zones"
are often the bumpiest parts of the road, and with this much load,
if you brake on the bumps, while even just a little leaned over,
the center stand will touch the ground. Also the vegetation is so
thick, that it often casts shadows right where you´d need to see
to judge your braking. But still it is good to keep enough speed,
so that the local trucks, buses or cars are kept well behind on
mountainous stretches. Especially the bus drivers can make very
aggressive overtaking maneuvers, so it´ll be much better to deal
with them somewhere else than on the curvy sections.
Fuel is widely available from proper gasoline stations, and well
before our 400 km range is even close to running out. The
state-owned Pertamina company seems to have a monopoly, and there
are 2 grades of petrol. We use the more expensive (but to our
standards, still quite cheap!) Pertamax to avoid engine knocking,
which seemed to become worse, when we tried the cheaper brand.
Next day the temperature still stays in surprisingly ´cool´
figures – make no mistake, it is very warm all the time, but
because of altitude, it seldom gets intolerable, and this is
excellent! Had we ridden a bit further east across the huge plains,
I don´t believe we would´ve had the energy to cover such distances.
We have one more overnight-stop on this island, in Bukit Kemuning.
And when reaching Bandarlampung the next morning, we find a
suitable-looking scooter service shop, and have them change the
Motul engine oils, that we´ve been carrying with us since Bangkok.
After a while on a a very crowded highway, we arrive in Bakauheni,
and this colossal island finally ends. Almost 2500 road kilometers
in Sumatra are now behind us, and ahead of us is the Sunda
Straight. Its water is just unbelievably turquoise. There is a lot
of traffic waiting to board the ferries, that go back and forth
non-stop. Crossing the straight takes about 2 hours. Some of the
boats appear to be in a terrible condition, but luckily for our
departure, we get a more decent-looking one! During the crossing,
we try to gaze to the west, where the famous island of Krakatoa
was once located. It rose almost 1 km from the sea, but in 1883
the event called "Big Bang" happened, when Krakatoa erupted
explosively, sending huge tsunami waves to nearby Bandarlampung (where
they were 40 meters high!) and killing tens of thousands of people.
Krakatoa itself ceased to exist in this massive eruption, but
volcanic activity on the straight continues. And since the 1930´s,
a small island called Anak Krakatoa, or "the son of Krakatoa" has
slowly started to rise from the sea.
The days on our 30-day visas are already about 50% used, and it is
becoming clear, that we should have arranged 60-day visas from
Malaysia, where there was the possibility. This country is very
slow to travel through, and there´s lots and lots to see, so to
stay only one month is really too short. But there is another
thing to keep in mind: we have agreed, that this trip will come to
an end about early April, and that´s not so far away, either. So
if we want to reach Australia, we need to keep going. The first
night in Java is spent near the ferry port in Merak, and we get up
early, our plan being to cross the island of Java, west to east,
as quickly as we can.
The city, that was known as Batavia during the Dutch colonial era,
is now known as Jakarta, and it is a giant of some 10 million
people. Tehran, Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangkok were enough,
and we have absolutely no desire to enter the place on a
motorcycle, if we can avoid that! There might be one reason to do
so, though: the Tanjung Priok harbour, on the northeastern corner
of the city, is the main hub for all sea traffic in Indonesia. So
from there it might be possible to catch a ferry to Surabaya or
But the state-owned company Pelni, that operates many of the
long-distance routes, seems to do everything they can, so that
especially tourists wouldn´t have a clue, from where, when and to
where their ships are going to sail! For example, the company´s
webpages haven´t been updated in several years. The only place,
where there is any solid info, are the ports themselves. I
actually make a call to one of Pelni´s offices in Jakarta, but it
is of little help. And one thing to keep in mind is, that at least
their ´official´ policy is, that they do NOT transport motorcycles
(except if shipped as freight – which is a lot more complicated).
I have not tried, so I don´t know, if transporting bikes as "luggage"
could be negotiable on longer routes (this is Asia, afterall!) but
the size of the bike could be decisive, too.
We decide, that it´s not worth it to go to Jakarta to find out
about some uncertain boat connections, so we pass by the capital
on the south side, less than 100 kilometers away from the centre.
But today is Saturday, and this area, called Bogor, is very
popular among Jakartans during the weekends. It is a bit like a ´hill
station´, though a very overdeveloped one, and the hills aren´t
very high. Java is an island about half the size of Finland, but
it has 130 million people (whereas Finland has just 5.3 million!)
so this makes it one of the most densely populated islands in the
Therefore it is not much of a surprise, that traffic around here
is completely jammed (the word for it is ´macet´ in Bahasa
Indonesia), and most of the time it stays on a complete standstill
on the few narrow roads, that go through the area. Reminds us
strongly of India, when motorcyclists and becaks (Indonesian
version of the autorickshaw), try to ´filter´ through the endless
queues. We do our best to follow them, but our bike, with the
aluminum sidecases, is just over 1 meter wide, so we simply cannot
fit it everywhere. On the other hand, nobody has any problem with
it, when bikes "filter" their way through traffic; that´s just the
way all 2-wheelers do all around Asia. It´s also good, that all
car-drivers are used to it, because that makes it safer from a
biker´s point of view.
It takes us several hours to bypass Bogor, and so daylight is
already running out just as we arrive in another big city, Bandung.
We find a guesthouse, that reminds some sort of cabins on a
camping-area – no room for tents anywhere, though, and it is a bit
dirty, too. But it´s really cheap, and another upside is that we
can easily park the bike in a safe place, right next to our room.
We´ve had maybe a few drops of rain all day, but while walking to
town to find something to eat, it suddenly starts to downpour like
you wouldn´t believe! The streets of Bandung suddenly turn into
small rivers, and we get a little taste of what´s to come during
southern hemisphere´s rainy season.
East Javan deluge
There are basically two main routes across Java: one follows the
northern coast, and the other goes through the mountainous center
and southern part. We decide that the northern option might be the
faster one, but it turns out it is not very quick. Java is the
economical engine of Indonesia, and with so much population, too,
there´s a lot of traffic almost everywhere. You also need to keep
an eye on the road condition, because the tarmac can be smooth as
silk one moment, and then suddenly it changes into something, that
resembles the surface of the moon! Especially if you follow a bus
or a truck too close, you may get nasty surprises with the holes,
so it is advisable not to do that. Sometimes hard to avoid, though,
if you want to pass slower moving vehicles. It is a good idea to
try and follow their tyre tracks, and not ride in the middle of
Reaching Semarang, the rain keeps coming in quick but heavy
downpours. And time after time, in these lowland areas, there are
places, where the big masses of water, that have gathered to the
fields, flow over the road. Water has eaten away the tarmac, where
it has run over it, so these places are like mudpits. This causes
long traffic jams, as the trucks must slow down to a virtual
standstill to cross these "gaps". We look at a couple of
guesthouses, but they are just filthy, and also their parking lots
are already under 10-20 cms of water, so I´d feel uneasy to keep
the bike there. The only good option turns out to be an almost new
resort, and it is not the cheapest at almost 30 euros per night (but
includes a very good breakfast, and it would really be a nice
place in better weather, with large swimming pools!)
A new day dawns, and the sky stays constantly gray; it does not
look very promising on the plains, because now you can see water
almost everywhere you look. This is also a coastal road, and the
Sea of Java is now on our left hand side. It is a wild feeling,
because sometimes the sea and the flooded plains mix, so you
cannot actually see, where the land ends, and the actual sea
begins. It looks like the road is the actual seashore! After
Rembang, a river has bursted its banks, and worsened the flooding.
We soon find ourselves riding in 40-50 cm deep water, that is also
running quite fast. This is getting exciting, because you cannot
see through the murky water at all, and you don´t know, if there
are some bigger holes on your path. Soon we reach the tail end of
a really huge traffic jam. It is so long, that we cannot see, what
is causing it, but there are rumours, that the road has been cut
After a while, we return to Rembang, and re-check the map.
Unfortunately there appears to be no roads going further inland
from here, but our map is really quite poor, and asking the locals
does not result in any solid info, either. So we go back to the
end of the queue, and wait. There´s no way around as the road is
completely jammed, and water level just keeps rising, which makes
us a little nervous. But then a scooter rider waves to us (no
common language, so this is the way to communicate between us!)
that he´s going to make a detour south, and like us, he´s headed
to Surabaya. We make a quick decision, that it´ll be better to try
to move, and not stay here, and so we follow him.
The scooter guy seems to know the routes, as he takes in some
really narrow rural roads along the way. And even though the rain
continues more or less all the time, flooding is not so much of a
problem, once we get away from the plains. The rains have caused
many landslides, but luckily the roads stay open on our way. We
finally reach Surabaya, the second biggest city in Java, and a
major seaport, and before darkness comes, we search a bit for an
accommodation. Indonesia is very cheap for a European traveller,
so you don´t need to accept any place you can find. Also the
cheapest places in this country are a lot like the rock-bottom
ones you get in India or Iran; really filthy and disgusting, and
often also used as brothels. So it´s a good idea to spend a few
more bucks, and get something decent. It still costs a fraction of
the price, that it would cost back home!
We finally end up at a hotel, that has an entrance gate resembling
huge elephants tusks, some 7-8 meters long, and forming an arch on
the driveway. It´s far from perfect, and the room smells of
tobacco, but it´ll do for one night. Changing clothes, I notice my
leather suit has not liked being wet from the inside, or the
outside (or both!) for most of the time. Anne has been more
persistent in putting grease and leather-care onto her suit, and
she has also kept the rain jacket on top of it, when it has rained.
It pays to take care of your gear, though: my leather-jacket was
practically finished after this trip.
Next morning we get back on the road, and now the weather looks
like it could actually take a small break from the constant
raining. We pass by eastern Java´s big volcanoes Bromo and Merapi,
and can only see their lower parts, because the summits disappear
into a thick cloud curtain. From Ketapang, there is a ferry
service to Bali, and we have to wait for a couple of hours before
it departs. You can already see the island on the other side of
the sound. Local boys (I am not sure, if they are actually
passengers, or if they have just climbed aboard from somewhere!)
entertain themselves by jumping to the sea from the upper deck.
Some are also asking for money – even when they´re swimming, which
is kind of funny, but we just pretend we haven´t seen them at all.
Any small articles from our luggage on the bike could be in danger
of disappearing. So it´s a good idea to stay on the car deck, and
within touching distance of our bike.
There seem to be a couple of other "westerners" on the boat, too,
and while we wait at the harbour, there´s time for a little chat.
Turns out they´re a Russian couple, and it´s fair to say, that
they are on a rough trip. Lena and Dimitri Krylova started off
from their home near Novosibirsk almost 9 months ago, and they
have travelled all the way to here basically walking, without any
budget, just their rucksacks on their backs, and camping in the
wild. They usually walk between 15-20 kms per day, mostly along
the roads, but also along foothpaths in the forests. Most of their
food is picked up from the nature! They also tell a frightening
story about how one night, a tiger had visited their bush camp in
China! Naturally they have sometimes been offered free rides from
the bus or truck drivers, and friendly people have also fed them
It is really a humbling experience to meet these people. And this
also puts our own trip nicely into perspective: we live in hotels
and guesthouses, get food from cafes and restaurants, fly over the
seas, and sometimes even our vehicle is transported on an airplane.
And we thought this was rough! It is revealing to learn, that real
hardcore-travellers walk up to here! The Russians are also on
their way to Australia, but haven´t figured out yet, how (without
any money) they are going to cross the sea, that´s between these
two countries. But they are confident, that in time they will find
(It is also worth mentioning, that 1,5 years later, in 2009, Anne
sent an e-mail to the address the Russians had given us. And while
we did not learn, how the rest of this trip had gone for them
after Bali, it turned out, that they were on another trip, this
time walking through Africa, and were in Sudan at the time, when
Once the boat has docked in Gilimanuk, on Bali´s western coast, we
wish the courageous Russians good luck on their amazing trip. We
would have certainly offered them a ride, if there was any extra
space left on our bike, but there just isn´t! Indonesia is the
most populous Muslim country in the world, but the island of Bali
is an exception, because Hinduism has been strong here for
centuries. But you do not need to be an expert to notice, that it
is very different compared to Hinduism in India, for example.
Leaving the harbour area, the road almost instantly passes under a
very large and exciting arch-shaped statue depicting some weird
monsters or deities. I am no expert, but I dont´t think we saw any
of those in Sumatra or Java.
The road heading to Denpasar, the island´s capital, goes through
the southwestern coast, and it´s very curvy, and has an excellent
tarmac surface. It would be a rider´s dream, but the sun is just
about to set, and on top of that, right now it starts to rain
quite hard. Lightning illuminates the terraces, where rice is
cultivated on a hilly terrain, and over to the south, it also
briefly shows the mighty Indian Ocean, from where massive waves
come crashing to the shore.
We try to keep going, but after maybe 1,5 hours, we are still some
60 kms away from our goal, and now (especially because I have a
dark visor on my helmet, and the clear one is buried somewhere
inside the sidecases!) I´m having serious trouble to see the road
through the hard rain. Occasionally there is also so much water on
the road surface, that this does not feel safe any more. This is
why we go and ask at the first accommodation we spot beside the
road. But it turns out to be a 5-star resort, and at almost 100
dollars, we reckon it´s too expensive for us (well, now that I
think of it, we returned to the road, and had we then had some
kind of accident in the darkness, actually spending 100 USD to
avoid that, would´ve been money well spent!)
Luckily, after just 3-4 more kilometers on this curvy and
beautiful, but dangerously wet & dark road, we end up at a local
family house. They have a "homestay"-type of accommodation (I
guess they´d call it Bed&Breakfast in Europe), just a room or two
for guests upstairs, and normally they have surfers staying here.
We cannot see the ocean because of a thick palm tree forest, but
we can easily hear the big waves coming ashore. The family is very
nice, and though they speak very little English, we manage to make
gestures, that we´re hungry, and so they make some excellent
Indonesian cooking for us!
Thunder continues late into the night, and when we go to sleep,
rain still makes a constant drumming sound on the roof on top of
us. But as the next day dawns, the storm is gone, and the only
sound is coming from the ocean, and the birds singing. The family
has a Hindu place of worship in their home, and again it is
generally quite far from what we´ve seen of this religion in India.
Some of the depicted deities do look a bit familiar, though. We
thank our hospitable hosts, and continue along the fantastic coast
road towards Denpasar.
Just before reaching the capital, we search for accommodation from
Kuta Beach. This is among the largest tourist areas in Bali, and
has plenty of places to choose from. They are cheap, too, and
Hotel Lusa, where we go to, costs about 8 euros per night in a
nice bungalow, that´s more like a proper house. On top of that,
the place has a good breakfast and nice, large swimming pools.
Only a kilometer away from here, there was a nightclub, that was
blown to pieces in a bomb attack in 2002, and it is now called a
local ´Ground Zero´. On the site of the club, there´s a memorial
for the more than 200 victims (who were mostly Australian tourists).
There was also another bombing in 2005, and tourism has suffered
badly in the aftermath of these attacks. It is a shame, because
the island itself is really breathtakingly beautiful, and a true
paradise on Earth.
Kristian and Liam arrive the next day. They have been to Jakarta,
where they had dropped Sarah off for her flight home, and now come
to stay in the same hotel as us. They seem quite careless about
their bikes, because they leave them right at the courtyard in
front of the reception, where they can be seen from the road. They
don´t even bother to lock the steering, while we always push our
bike to a safe place right next to our bungalow. But they had
payed less than 1000 pounds each for those old Transalps in the UK,
and their trip is now almost finished, so that probably explains
the differences in our approach! After darkness we go for a beer
with them (well, quite many of them actually!) and discuss in
detail our trips to here, as well as the options ahead. The
Aussies had taken the other, more mountaineous, route through
southern Java, and also got their fair share of wet weather along
the way. As locals, they are also a great source of info for our
future plans to travel in Australia.
Going forward – or backward?
Our plans to proceed were thrown out of the window on February
11th. In East Timor, a few hundred miles east from here, there has
been a coup attempt, and a group of attackers have tried to
assasinate the country´s president and prime minister
simultaneously. They did not succeed, but the head of state is in
a pretty bad shape, listed in critical condition, and has been
flown to Darwin in Australia for treatment. The country has only
existed for a few years, and even before, it has often been far
from peaceful. So now nobody knows, if our only possible point of
entry to East Timor, which is a land border from Indonesian West
Timor, will remain open.
We were planning to go there, and use a Perkins cargo shipping
line from the capital Dili to Darwin to transport our bike. But
the crisis is not over, and it is unclear, if it would be safe to
go to East Timor, especially by road. The rebel groups are said to
be scattered around the capital right now, and some fighting with
government troops has been reported. Another critical thing to
keep in mind is the fact, that at this land border mentioned, the
Indonesian side is NOT among those crossing points, where you can
get a "visa-on-arrival". That means, that if we´d cross from
Indonesia to East Timor, and then found out, that overland travel
is not a good idea right now, we could not backtrack. We would
have to go all the way to Dili to get our Indonesian visas renewed.
There are other things to consider, like our current visas, that
will expire in less than two weeks (they could be extended, but
this can be costly). And also the rainy season, that often means
rough seas with a lot of wind. And to go east from Bali, we would
have to take many ferries. In this part of the world, the safety
of the vessels is often questionable (we have already seen the
rust-buckets, that sailed between Sumatra & Java, that would
immediately go to the scrapyard, if this was in Europe!) And their
captains, just like their crew, need to make a living, so they
won´t necessarily stay in the port, even when they should. This is
part of the answer, why there are so many reports of sunken ships
each year in this country. Someone, who lives here tells us, that
between Bali and Lombok, in the open sea, there have been some
40-foot waves just this week.
"Island-hopping" across the Nusa Tenggara province towards Timor
would most likely be one of the great highlights of this whole
trip – there are, for example, the world famous Comodo dragons to
be seen near the islands of Rinca & Komodo. But all in all, the
situation in East Timor right now is so unpredictable, that we
decide we are going to skip it altogether. The final decision for
me comes, when I meet an Australian media-reporter, who has flown
in from Dili less than 24 hours ago, and he says he could fly back,
but going there by road would be plain madness right now. If we
only had 2-3 weeks to wait, we´d probably be a lot wiser, if the
crisis will calm down, or if it´s going to escalate. It wouldn´t
be such a bad thing to have to wait (not at all, on a paradise
island like this!) But unfortunately, we will need to return home
in about 1,5 months, and if we are still to visit Australia, we
are unable to wait.
There is said to be an option of some shrimp boats, or even
private yachts, making the journey from Kupang (West Timor,
Indonesia) to Darwin in Australia, and I actually reach a guy
named Bob La Macchia, who has been known to sail this route, on
his cellphone. But he says that the weather at sea is too
dangerous right now, and thinks that the first possibility of any
departure by a small boat will be in early April. Sea freight
would be possible (sending the bike by truck to Surabaya first),
but that would take 3-5 weeks. Bali is too far away for any small
boats to sail to Australia. And, as is quite common in Asia today,
there are no international ferry lines to choose from.
So, with the road east being cut off, now becomes the time to make
some tough decisions. We find out, that it would be possible to
send the bike by air from Bali with Qantas, the Australian
national carrier. Its Indonesian counterpart, Garuda Indonesia,
also has flights going that way. But they say their cargo limit is
50 kilos, meaning we would need to get the bike dismantled into
4-5 pieces first! But there is a slight problem with Qantas, too.
The cargo door of the airplane going to Darwin (or Perth) is
simply not big enough to load a crate of this size. That´s why our
shipment would have to fly on a bigger plane to Melbourne first,
and then catch a connecting flight. So a flight time of around 3
hours would suddenly become almost 10 hours, and you can imagine,
what that does to the costs!
Kristian and Liam have convinced us, that it has been raining very
hard for weeks on the whole northern part of Australia, and after
what we saw in Java, it´s hard to doubt that. Even the main roads
can be closed for days because of flooding, and this makes Perth (that
is outside the tropics) a much better option than Darwin right now.
And if we don´t take the airfreight, then the other option for us
would be to turn back, and send the bike home from Singapore or
Kuala Lumpur (maybe sending home could also be possible from Bali,
Surabaya or Jakarta). So that would mean it´s the end of our trip
here in Bali.
For a couple of days we think really hard, what to do. The quote
for airfreight is about 1200 euros, which is a large sum of money,
and feels especially big, because we´ve just spent several months
in very cheap countries in Asia. But on the other hand, we have
already come this far, and it surely would feel very nice to reach
our "goal". Besides, we haven´t really been struck with
practically any unplanned costs during our whole trip so far. So
in the end we decide, that it is only going to hurt once!
We find a company called CAS Cargo Bali, which is located near the
road from Kuta to the airport, to handle the freighting. And again
we will have to run through a very similar list of things to
arrange, as we did in Chennai a couple of months earlier. I
believe very few vehicles get freighted anywhere from Bali. And
this company is specialized in sending stuff like furniture
overseas, so they are not aware of all the requirements. It is
good, that WE have already gone through the whole process once!
But this time, there are also the Australian quarantine
inspections (AQIS) regulations, that need to be fulfilled. We go
to the net, and find instructions, that all used vehicles, that
are to be imported to Australia, must be "clean as new", when they
arrive. It will be a major operation to wash our bike that clean
after all it has been through during the almost 5 months, but we
can only try to do our best.
We first take the bike to a street wash, where they get most of
the external dirt off. But that´s just the beginning, because then
we spend several evenings at our hotel, having taken the fairings
and the fuel tank off the bike. We even use some old toothbrushes
to get to some of the spots, that are hard to reach. I can tell
you, that there isn´t any shortage of those on a motorcycle! And
also, once the bike has been taken to the freight agent, and
packed into a crate, that is purpose-built out of wood, the whole
package needs to be taken to ´fumigation´. There the crate is put
inside a "tent", and some kind of gas is put in there for 24 hours,
that is supposed to kill any harmful creatures possibly inside the
wood. You also get a certificate of this for the Australian
Just before we put the bike into the crate, CAS Cargo tells me,
that Qantas wants me to take all engine oil out. This is not
required as per IATA regulations (and proven by the fact, that the
bike has already flown from India to Thailand with all engine oil
inside). But once again, arranging the whole thing has been so
exhausting, that I don´t have any extra energy to start wrestling
with them. Whether the airline´s cargo people here in Bali know
the regulations 100% or not, they are the ones, who are going to
give the shipment a green light, that it will need, or otherwise
it won´t fly. So you can´t really argue with them.
This is why I drain the oil, even though I know it will be a
problem at the receiving end. Tired as I am, I also get kind of
fed up with such made-up-regulations, so I decide to take off the
fuel tank as well, and drain it until the very last drop. In fact
even now the bike will not be 100% free of fuel, because the fuel
injection still has a little amount of it inside the system. I´m
hoping they´re not going to make up something about that next!
Just like in Chennai, arranging the freighting is like being in a
full-time job for many days. I´m very thankful, that before this
big hassle, we did some small tours to the eastern parts of the
island, because right now most daylight hours are spent arranging
this and that from various places in and near Denpasar. And even
if there was some daylight left, we simply wouldn´t have any
energy to go for a ride! The cargo agent also screws up with the
Dangerous Goods-paper (that is a very important piece of paper,
and without it the shipment won´t fly). When I see it, I tell them
right away, that it has wrong DG-codes marked into it, but they
insist, that it is ok that way. But later on at the airport, the
airline inspector rejects it, and then we need to rush back to the
cargo company´s office with a taxi, to correct this precious paper.
Finally, the bike is cleared to leave Indonesia, and after leaving
the crate in the cargo building, we can now go and buy our own
flight tickets. Compared to arranging the freighting of the bike,
that´s really the easy bit! They cost about 200 euros per head, so
transport from Bali to Perth will cost us around 1600 euros.
Kristian and Liam have also decided to skip Timor altogether under
the current circumstances, and they will send their Transalps home
using seafreight (the bikes will be put on a truck to Surabaya
first). The guys will fly to Darwin, and plan to buy a car from
there, and then drive home to Perth. In Kuta, we also spend an
evening with Eiko, a German biker, who has started his trip
several months earlier riding from Europe to Vladivostok (in
Russia´s Pacific coast). Then he had toured in Japan, and after
that, had his bike airlifted into Taiwan. But there he ran into a
solid wall of bureaucracy, and the vehicle was not allowed to be
temporarily imported. So he had decided to airfreight onwards to
Indonesia, but unfortunately the bike had got stuck again at the
customs in Jakarta airport. Actually it has now been there for
several weeks, and the strange thing is, he says he HAS the carnet!
Indonesian customs had told him, that they will need a "recommendation
letter from the United Nations", which sounds like complete crap,
if you ask me!! I know we had the carnet, and that was all we ever
needed to get our bike temporarily imported into this country.
There is also another guy, Mario, an Italian, who has had his
Harley stuck in a similar fashion at Surabaya seaport. He has
lived here for years, so if a little ´baksheesh´ would do the job,
I believe he would have already handled it a long time ago. Mario
asks us to come and visit his house. It is located on top of a
steep 100-meter cliff near Ulu Watu beach. The location is truly
breathtaking, with wonderful views to the ocean and many beaches,
that are a real paradise for surfers. When Mario hears, how easily
we managed to get the bike into the country from Belawan, he says
he is going to have his bike forwarded to Malaysia. And then he
will try to import it to the country the same way that we came.
All these experiences strongly point to the fact, that your
vehicle´s point of entry needs to be chosen carefully in
Like our bike, we take a Qantas flight from Bali, but this one
will go directly to Perth. During take-off, I watch from my window
seat, how this very beautiful and green island is left behind. We
only visited three of Indonesia´s over 6000 populated islands, and
though they were among the largest, still quite a few were left
unseen for another visit some time.
If I would have to pick just one country from this trip, where I´d
want to go back hardest, I think Indonesia could very well be the
one. It was very exotic, warm, friendly, cheap, and also a little
bit rough to travel on a bike (not as bad as India, though!) But
we´ll also have to keep in mind, that it is too early to make such
a decision, because there is still one more country left on our
route, that is in itself also a continent, that we have not yet
experienced at all.
(To be continued with the last part – from Perth to Sydney)
We were invited to an Italian named Mario´s place near Ulu Watu Beach
in southern Bali. It´s fair to say he had a fine sea view!
Ulu Watu Beach in southern Bali, with its big waves coming from the
Indian Ocean, is a true paradise for surfers.
The abundance of nature sometimes came from the leaking window net
into our hotel bathroom in Bali.
Our trusty travel companion being packed into the freight crate, that
is being built around it using wood.
Near the Ngurah Rai airport in Bali, we saw this remarkable statue,
that´s has lots and lots of details, and it is about 25 meters in
length, and over 10 meters high.
Another view from Mario´s place towards the airport and Kuta Beach.
The photo doesn´t really tell, that direct drop from the cliff to the
beach is almost 100 meters.
In Bali, they were selling lots of large-sized statues, that were
skillfully carved out of stone.
The bike has been put into a closed crate, that has been lifted into a
scale, to get the actual weight of the shipment.
Map of our route (entered Indonesia on February 5th, and left the
country on March 2nd, 2008)
Our first view of Lake Toba from our hotel terrace, as the day is
turning into night.
Geckos run around in most walls and even ceilings in tropical Asia.
Anne was a bit afraid of them, and this little fellow was spotted
right above her, while we were eating dinner!
Morning view from our room window in Parapat. From the window, you
could jump straight into Lake Toba, if you wanted! Far away in the
middle is a mountain that looks like a volcano (there certainly are
volcanoes in Lake Toba´s north coast, because one just erupted
A school yard in Parapat.
In Parapat, we met a motorcycle club from Medan. The blue ´police
lights´, on the first bike, though probably not legal, helped to give
them more space on the road!
A Batak ´mansion´, with some kids playing in the front yard. Note the
fish-shaped house on the background.
A fish-shaped house was a weird sight on a ride around Lake Toba.
Someone claimed, that it is a library.
Vehicles abard the ferry boat going from Parapat to Samosir island in
the middle of Lake Toba.
A view from the ferry approaching Samosir island. The clouds were
hanging on the really steep escarpment; you can see the village of
Tuk-Tuk on the right edge of the photo.
Kristian´s Transalp was bought in the UK, and it had certainly seen a
few tough miles on the way from Europe to here! I don´t know, how
comfortable that sheepskin is, when it rains!
A cottage at our guesthouse in Tuk-Tuk, with its roof style copied
from the Bataks.
Rice cultivation on terraces along the hilly coastline of Lake Toba´s
Houses of the Batak people on the shores of Lake Toba. They have a
really distinctive roof, that is shaped like a boat, or a saddle.
The entrance to the Batak museum, with many lianes hanging from the
A grave site of a Batak person in Lake Toba. Nowadays they are
Christians, but often bury their dead into small, decorated ´houses´
such as this.
A Batak village on Samosir island. On the back, you can see the high
escarpment, that separates the inland plateau from the coastal strip.
Some of the Batak houses were really nicely decorated, maybe belonging
to some prominent persons. Here the children were playing on the yard,
and waving at us.
A view to the village of Panguguran from the plateau near the center
of Samosir island. Just after this we tried to find a shortcut to our
hotel, but discovered a real nice "mud-trail" in the jungle.
The roads were quite interesting in Sumatra. Even the main
Trans-Sumatra Highway was not always like its name would suggest,
especially after the rains there were some spots, where you had to go
Kristian, Liam & Sarah are getting ready to leave Samosir island, and
then start off towards Jakarta. We rode with them to the ferry port.
A Batak grave on Samosir island, that resembles a house on Samosir
island. There is another, regular grave next to it. On the left, you
can see the steep escarpment, where we had to turn back, because the
road turned so bad.
Around Lake Toba and the areas nearby, you could also see some huge,
wooden ´palaces´ of the Bataks.
The big Batak ´palaces´ had lots of wonderful decorations adorning
Lake Toba was an extremely beautiful place, so we were a bit sad to
leave it behind. Here we are taking one last look to the lake from the
western edge of the enormous crater, where it is located.
After we left Lake Toba behind, we stayed overnight near Sibirolo, in
this resort which was built on the slopes of a volcano.
A very typical Indonesian street view; this is from a small city on
the road between Lake Toba and Bukittinggi.
The magical line, that divides the northern and southern hemispheres,
was painted to the tarmac in Bonjol (north is to the left here).
After over 4 months and some 21000 road kilometers from home, we had
finally arrived to the Equator in the middle of Sumatra.
Bukittinggi lies almost directly on the Equator, which was evident on
the satellite dishes, because they pointed straight up.
A trek to the jungle from Bukittinggi was cancelled, but our guide
took us for a walk to the rural regions near the city.
Taking a walk across some rice fields near Bukittinggi.
In Bukittinggi area, you can see the houses of the Minangkabao people.
Contrary to the Bataks, the roofs´ edges were pointing to the sky this
time. This house on the photo was still under repair, because of a
From our hotel yard in Bukittinggi, we could also see a very big
Minangkabao ´palace´ nearby.
A street view from Bukittinggi at sunset.
As Indonesia is a Muslim country, our hotel room ceiling in
Bukittinggi had an arrow mark, that points to the direction of Mecca
Taking a stop at a roadside bar on the banks of a river, as we were
heading southeast through Sumatra.
Women were crossing a river using a very narrow suspension bridge. The
railings on the sides do not look very strong or safe!
Having lunch at a roadside restaurant. Locals used their hands to eat,
but cutlery was usually available for tourists. Food was good (and
very cheap, too!) and not even our stomachs gave us big problems
during our time in Indonesia.
Even those species, that are familiar to us Scandinavians, can be
quite frightening in size here on the equatorial region. This spider,
with its legs, was about 10-12 cms long.
We had heard several warnings about the police in Indonesia, but at
least the ones, that we met on the road, were usually very nice, and
we had no problems with them. These two fine officers even agreed to
come to a group-photo!
From Bakauheni in southeastern Sumatra, we crossed with a ferry-boat
to Merak in western Java. The waters in the Sunda Strait were truly
unbelievably blue, even more so than what you can see on this photo.
On the 2-hour ferry crossing from Bakauheni in Sumatra to Merak in
Java. This guy showed, that if you´re tired, it is possible to take a
nap just about anywhere!
A roadside stop at some village just south of Jakarta. Java is a very
densely populated island,
and traffic was almost like in
Copyright does not mean a whole lot in Asia. A streetfood stall in
Java had named itself KuFC - short for "Ken-Tuku Fried Chicken!!" (We
also saw some small ´KTM´ bikes, that probably had nothing to do with
the Austrian company).
This statue, found on a central square of a town in Java, depicts the
mythical ´Garuda´-bird, that can be found on the country´s coat of
arms as well.
The toilet of our cheap-ish accommodation on the outskirts of Bandung,
one of the biggest cities in Java.
In the low-lying areas near the northeastern coast of Java, it was not
too hard to notice, that right now is the rainy season in southern
hemisphere! Sometimes there was up to 50-60 cms of water, that was
moving quite fast, and you couldn´t see the road beneath you at all.
Someone definitely had a good sense of humour at a resort just east
from Semarang in Java! (The place was almost empty, would be at least
a 4-star hotel in Europe, and a very nice room with a breakfast cost
around 20-25 euros total!)
A traditional boat on the northeastern coast of Java. Note the small ´house´
for the spirits on the top of the mast.
Our bold-looking but a bit clumsy hotel in Surabaya. The gateway to
the vehicle parking had big ´elephant tusks´.
Waiting for the ferry-boat to depart from Ketapang (East Java) to
Gilimanuk (Bali). Some small kids used the ship as their diving
apparatus - and then, while swimming in the sea, they shouted at
tourists to give them money!
This Russian couple showed, what "real adventure" is all about – they
had more or less WALKED south all the way to Indonesia from their home
in Russia, and it had taken them about 9 months!
The two of us, pictured with the brave Russian couple, on the car deck
of the ferry going from Java to Bali.
Right outside the port in Gilimanuk, this weird-looking gate welcomed
visitors to the paradise-island of Bali. But straight away after
taking this photo, we were hit with a huge thunderstorm, that
continued late into the night!
The morning view facing inland from our room´s door at a surfer´s
homestay on the southwestern coast of Bali. We had been forced to take
shelter there from a thunderstorm on the previous evening. The local
family, who run the place, and lived in the same house, were really
Our bungalow-hotel Lusa (in Kuta) was quite nice, and it cost less
than 10 euros per night, which was good, because we ended up staying
nearly 2 weeks in Bali. The price even included breakfast, that we´re
anjoying here by the swimming pools.
Our bungalow in Hotel Lusa. We always pushed our bike through the
narrow walkways and kept it right next to our room, but Kristian and
Liam had theirs unlocked at the entrance.
On the bungalow area of hotel Lusa, there were these small ´shrines´.
Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country, but in Bali, the major
religion is a version of Hinduism, that´s very different from India.
Company called Pelni operates long-distance ferry services in
Indonesia, but finding out about their timetables, or anything about
them, was hard! But in Bali´s Benoa harbour office, a rare table of
departures was on display.
These decorated and curved ´poles´ were part of a Hindu celebration,
and you can only see them in Bali for about 1 month each year. This
one was 7-8 meters high.
In Denpasar, the mythical Garuda-bird was depicted on a sculpture
carved out of stone, and carrying a Hindu deity on its back.
The Gunung Agung volcano rises in the eastern part of Bali. It is the
highest point on the island, at 3100 meters above sea level.
A river estuary, that we saw on our ride around Bali´s eastern regions.
Hinduism is strong in Bali, but it is clearly different to India, for
example. Here is a large Bali hindu temple.
Bali was one of the most beautiful places on our whole trip. Here is a
view from the hills in the eastern part of the island looking east
towards the island of Lombok.
Planning to import our DL650 to Australia, we had to wash it very
thoroughly. Even old toothbrushes were used, and we spent many hours
trying to rub all the dirt off the bike.