Sunday 17 November – It was a hot, clear sky morning when we were leaving. The roads at first were a nightmare, same as on the way to Batu Karas heavily potholed and no more than 10 miles an hour. What looked a short distance on the map took us 3 hours and put a serious dint in the progress to Yogyakarta. Not even a quarter of the way there at this point.
I’d accepted, as much as I didn’t want to, that it was going to be another crappy roadside hotel we would end up at tonight. We stopped at the now routine lunch break at Indomart, basically for a pack of crisps and a drink then on our way.
After we stopped, the roads became blissfully straight, well kept and whilst there was still traffic and trucks the tailbacks weren’t as long. We saw our first train in Indonesia after crossing many a track today and just like normal everyone jostled to be at the front of the crossing so as soon as the barrier was up they we off. Some didn’t even wait for the barrier.
After covering a large distance in quite a short time, I started to get optimistic about reaching Yogyakarta that day but it would mean a really long drive but still at least there was hope.
All hope was shattered when the heavy rains came. Paul can’t see for long as his glasses keep steaming up here, so we don’t have much choice but to stop. He pulled in at the first hotel we saw, and luckily for once it looked ok. I trundled in, I used my very few words I have learnt to ask for a room, all was going well, lots of smiles, they weren’t full and the rates were in our range. I asked to see the room but they wanted to know how many people first. Then the sex of the other person and if we were married… All though it wasn’t really vocal as they didn’t speak English and my skills only go as far as ‘do you have a room?’ ‘yes, two people’ ‘how much?’ and a few words for different foods. So they were indicating in the universal finger language for a couple, bashing the two index fingers together. I nodded yes and added husband. I know I’m not a great liar but I’ve got use to this question now so I thought I was quite convincing. They went on to say ‘document’ and I knew they wanted me to prove it. I said no same name and they said ‘sorry’ I lost that battle. No room for the unmarried couple here. We had no choice but to continue. However, whilst I’d been inside going through the inquisition the rain had lightened.
The main theme of the day was endless buses trying to kill us. They see us, pull out anyway then flash their lights like its ok, they’re coming at us at top speed because they flashed us. Going onto the hard shoulder here is not a safe option as there either isn’t one, it’s a ditch, there’s a hefty ledge or its highly likely to cause a puncture or already occupied with a small child or a moped going the wrong way or an animal. There was one coach, the driver was just an Idiot. He was overtaking a double length car transporter and he forced both us and the transporter off the road to avoid an accident. We wouldn’t stand a chance against a coach but at the speed we were travelling braking to a stop too quick could mean we skid and end up underneath but also going off the side road is not easy either for the above reasons. Luckily Paul pulled off and no damage was done but we came to squealing halt as did the transporter as it rattled noisily off the other side whilst the coach just continued bullying his way through.
Even with the good roads, the distance we had to cover was still fairly big. I guestimated we’d get there about 5ish which I judged form the signs indicating only 120km left to Yogyakarta. However the signs in Indonesia can prove very frustrating as around 60km later on the same road the distance had changed to 190km, and within around 10km along had once again changed to 140km. Confused we stopped to get a better idea at the Indomart, where the man said it was about 120km from this point. By 5pm we were still a fair distance away and it was getting dark early due to the next impending storm.
The roads into Yogyakarta and some of the best kept and prettiest we have come across in the whole of Java. There was also a privileged bike lane, although it’s not much use as the cars try to squeeze down it anyway or just conveniently block it by parking up.
Almost as soon as the sun set the rains started. I navigate using google maps, which on this occasion has not loaded any street names, so I have to try and match the road patterns to find the backpackers district. Which remarkably, blowing my own trumpet here, I did pretty well. I got us to the area we needed to be in.
A McDonalds sign lit up Paul’s eyes and I knew that was to be our dinner. There are no vegetarian options on the Indonesian menu, not even fish, so a dinner of chips for me. As we basically skip lunch Paul starts to get angry from not eating so I knew it was a good idea just to go with it. I have to admit I did enjoy them plus I do enjoy the choc-top ice creams they serve over here, a vanilla ice cream cone but the ice cream gets a coating of the magic chocolate sauce that goes hard.
The signs of the day were all over our faces. Both completely black and weary, whilst there were less trucks today, the sheer distance plus the huge factories we passed on the way pumping out so much crap probably contributed.
As we ate the rain got heavy but with full bellies the task ahead of navigating this large city in the dark and persistent rain seemed more manageable, plus I was confident I could direct us even with the iPhone only on 10% battery. It was just as easy as we’d hoped for. 20 minutes later we were on Sosrowijayan Jalan, the backpacker road.
Paul bookmarked a few in our price range, none of which I could see [turns out they were all down small alleyways no vehicles allowed bikes]. The last place we saw was Bladok Loseman one Paul had saved but it had no parking. Once again the accommodation rates mistify me, the room at 130,000 rupiah was one of the cheapest we’ve had, but the place had a pool, really nice staff and a great little restaurant with free morning coffee.
We briefly ventured out but not having our wits about us as we were tired we got talked into looking at a Batik exhibition. Not really our thing, and they were trying to sell. We got out of it pretty easily but the guy looked abit upset when we left after his indepth explanation of the Batik process.
The next day we did nothing. Yogyakarta is Java’s number one tourist spot and supposedly has the most things to see but in all honesty we just didn’t feel like doing anything except taking a rest. The most we did was attempt to look at the Sultan’s Palace but we didn’t look too hard and didn’t find it. We’re decidedly less popular here than everywhere else.
Clearly the novelty of white skin has worn off and everyone has their fair share of pictures as we didn’t get asked once and Paul was not once told he was handsome. Although that could have something to do with his new haircut, and unwanted shave.
Much like the accommodation, eating has been a bit hit and miss in Indonesia. Always uncertain what we’ll get. We ate at the place we were staying and it was so nice. For once, there were veggie options and more than one and also a good choice for Paul. It’s the one time I’ll probably hear the words ‘I wish I’d waited and not eaten McDonalds’
Tuesday 19th November – Quite comfortable in Yogyakarta we were in two minds about whether to leave or not, but with Bali on the horizon it swayed us to go. We took our time and by the time were ready to leave it was chucking it down. Loading the bike in our rain suits is never a good start.
It was quite an unmemorable but long driving day with no change in what we have experienced for the entirety of Java…Traffic. Mainly of the truck and bus type, constantly covering our faces and filling our lungs with black pollution. It’s fair to say I’m fed up with the island now too, testimony to that is that I didn’t take one single picture the whole day. Over 300km later, we ended up in an industrial town called Bagil in East Java. Our target was Taman National Park to see Mount Bromo and the Volcano but it was about to get dark. The roadside place we stayed was actually decent for a change. It looked like an American motel and even had a TV – with an English channel! We sat eating our £1 meal room service noodles watching the Victoria’s Secret 2013 catwalk show. Paul for once opting to wear his glasses to watch TV
Wednesday 20th November – We’d planned a nice lie in as Mount Bromo was less than a 2 hour journey from where we stopped but the hotel had other ideas. The breakfast delivery came at 05.55am.
The brakes really started to squeal yesterday after being endlessly put to use so we needed to check the pads before we left. They were gone – there were no pads left. No wonder they were squealing. That has what Indonesia traffic has done. They were checked in Malaysia and were well above the wear line – three weeks ago.
Our tool kit is a bit short on some items – a hammer for one, so we usually have to make do with what we can find as a suitable basher. Usually the socket wrench but that’s proving a bit tetchy and is a bit broke now. As we were doing this in the hotel carpark we sure enough gathered an audience. A guy asked if we needed anything – “a hammer please”. Off he went, a tool kit materialised but no hammer but he had other suitable bashing objects – a large spanner and a thin rod we needed to push the centre pin out.
Getting the new ones in was a bit difficult. Anyway, the onlookers always keen to give advice started to fudge with something, Paul got one in but the other wasn’t going anywhere near. More and more people appeared to watch, one a mechanic. He took over and just basically used brute force and bashing with any object he could find. It worked and they were in. After he was done, we cleaned it off, with the help of some of the bystanders all too obliging. Then they all dispersed as quickly as they appeared, barely even chance to say thanks. One of the men drove past in his van saying “Welcome to Indonesia”.
We got on our way to Mount Bromo. The road passed though lots of small villages, all seeming to be harvesting mangoes and people dressed in a more traditional manner than anywhere else we have seen on Java. As the road started to climb the temperatures started to drop and the cloud appeared, I really really hoped we wouldn’t once again miss the views because of cloud. Well, it got thicker the higher we got so we did miss out on the views of the valley. It was just starting to rain when we reach the national park gate and the temperatures were much cooler now.
The little village of Cemoro Lawang is on the edge of the crater doesn’t have too many options for accommodation so we stayed in the cheapest. Cafe Lava. Another case of overcharging for what’s on offer; a room that only just managed to fit the panniers in but left no floor space. Plus the reception lady was so miserable yet all her other staff were lovely, she just seemed to hate people in general.
Jumpers and thermals on, we went for a walk, not expecting to see anything as it was cloudy and also we knew it was over a two hour hike to the main view point but less than 50metres away from the hotel was a view point over the main crater! It was amazing, a full view of a real life volcano. The crater is known as the ‘Sea of Sand’ it’s exactly that, a huge plateau of grey sand bordered by 2 volcanoes, Bromo which is active and Batur that is dormant, and then a third in the distance called Semeru which is also active and the higgest peak on Java. At this point we could only actually see Batur, the green one at the front.
It was very cloudy but sure that it wouldn’t change too fast we went for some noodles first, then got the bike, but the cloud had moved in and the rain was back. By the time we got down to the plateau it was coming down hard, and we had to take shelter at a temporary camp. It was enough to give Paul a taster and he was even more excited to get out and ride again the next day. When we were heading back up the road had turned into a waterfall that’s how hard it was coming down.
The view of the Volcanoes is meant to be most spectacular at sunrise, and is a two hour hike from the village. So an early night was instore for us after a nice meal in the alpine lodge feeling restaurant at the hotel. Despite having two woolly blankets we still needed our sleeping bags. Apparently it can drop into the minuses, we certainly don’t miss the cold. Head torches laid out, alarm set for 3.00am we were tucked up and asleep by 8.30pm that evening.
We were both out of bed pretty spritely excited about what we were about to see. It’s a bit weird walking in the dark, especially when someone shouts hello from some long grass and you can’t see them but the trek is definitely worth it. We started to climb up, passed the morning tea and coffee ladies on their way to a lower down viewpoint but also passed some very good spots. We decided to stop at an unmarked spot that we had completely to ourselves. It was still dark when we settled down so we just watched over the whole mist covered plateau awaiting the sunrise, the wind was howling which added to eerie beauty, we kind of wish we’d camped on the little spot we found. Once the sun came up it really was a spectacular view, smoke was rising from Bromo and then just as we were leaving Semeru in the far distance gave out a puff of black smoke.
By 5.30am the cloud was already starting to make an appearance so we raced down to get the bike and joy ride around the sea of sand in the most perfect conditions. We pulled up to the Bromo volcano and decided to climb up to take a look inside, it was worth the hike as you can walk around the rim and look directly into the steaming hole.
After doing all this it was till only 9am so we had a coffee, packed up and were on our way. I was ready to call it a day only two hours due to the early day start but Paul was keen to continue as the roads were fairly clear so we went on and on all the way to Bali!
East Java definitely has less traffic but is made quite ugly by huge industrial factories even if they are spliced between padi fields, volcanoes and the coast. One thing that has been consistent through Java is people with fishing nets in the middle of the road outside part built or crumbling mosques but in East Java everyone was trying their luck with this fishing net malarkey. Broken down trucks even, pfftt no chance we’d rather they were off the road.
The last memory of Java is a nice one, the road borders the Baluran National Park which means there is no civilisation and no dirt. When we emerged out of the park the ferry port was less than half an hour away. Paul pulled into the port just to check on sailing times – 10 minutes until the next one so that’s how we ended up un-expectantly sailing to Bali.
In one day had done a 4 hour hike, watched the sunrise over a volcano, joy ridden the sea of sand, climbed up an active volcano and then sailed to Bali.
Another surprise that day was the cost surprisingly cheap at 36,000 rupiah for bike and us – less than £2! Despite the bad rep the Indonesian ferries have been great, we love them so far. As the boat docked everyone got ready to depart, including a very sweet little boy on his dads scooter. He pulled out his white rimmed sunnies and put them on – only they were upside down. Very cute, he was no older than 3. An hour and half later we were in Bali.
There was a police check before we could leave the port – they just wanted to look at the ownership papers. We’d heard the Indonesian police – especially in Bali are prone to fining for anything they can get away with so were expecting at least a small bribe but nothing, just lots of inquisitive questions and smiles as always. We left them a postcard.
We quickly chose somewhere not too far away as a point to head for. That was Balian, and it was actually 2 and half hours away. We were both fading when we finally got there in the dark. We were both exhausted not surprising as we’d skipped breakfast lunch and been up since 3am but we were in Bali.