Posted on November 18, 2013 by

Into Java

Tuesday 12 November  – Bandar Lampung to Java: We left Bandar Lampung bound for the ferry at Bakautani. This was the 6th consecutive day and we were both starting to suffer with saddle sores, but on the plus side we’d make it into Java two days before we thought which means two more days on the smaller islands.

We made it to the port in just over 2 hours and drove straight onboard. We arrived at 10.30 sailed at 11.00 and it costs just 93,000 rupiah for the bike and us – about £6. The trip took 2 hours but we then had to wait an hour in a que to dock, the first bit of Java congestion experienced before even hitting dry land. It was not anywhere near the terrible journey I had envisaged due to things I’d read. The ferry for starters was in decent condition, then there were no farm animals aboard and thirdly there was lots and lots of space. Maybe that’s to come…We stayed below deck so we didn’t become the entertainment for the passengers. It’s sweet that everyone is so nice and wants to chat and take photos but I’m not at ease if I feel people looking at me and I start to get nervous.

Nearing the end of the journey, some men were taking photos near to Paul so he instinctively moved to avoid being caught in the way of the sea view. However, once again it was him they actually wanted photos of, so failing on the decoy photo operation they asked for us to pose with them. Turns out they were all off duty policemen heading for a break in Jakarta.

When we finally docked there were some kids milling around. I later found out on the return journey they board the ship quickly, and then ask for money to perform their best jump from the highest point. If you are happy with the show you have to chuck a few more coins in and the little buggers will deep dive to retrieve them.

Now going into Java Paul has vowed to take it slower as I think the chances of an accident are pretty high and if we make it out of Indonesia without one scrape, I think we will have been very very lucky. We’re basically relying on a lot of people to not mess up and be really good at reacting. Considering 10% of drivers are under the age of 15 and 60% drive without mirrors it’s pretty slim odds of someone not messing up at least once.

First impressions of Java greeted us at Merak, the port town. It’s a pretty ugly little place but at least the traffic flowed. This only lasted for half an hour tops. Then we hit Cilegon and the chaos began. Every vehicle, moving push-cart, animal is battling for a position on the road. We purposefully chose a route to avoid Jakarta, thinking the traffic won’t be nearly as bad. We were either wrong or driving in Jakarta is simply not possible. A gap between vehicles presents an overtaking opportunity. The buses, trucks, cars and scooters all try it and often end up just blocking the paths of other vehicles, making progress ridiculously slow.  A Toll freeway does exist to Jakarta which is suppose to ease the traffic. Great, except motorbikes are not allowed as we discovered in Sumatra. Everything we had read/heard about the Javenese traffic is 100% true. Only what we imagined to be bad needed to be multiplied by a hundred to get the true picture. It’s hell.

We didn’t get above 10mph, so it took over an hour to get out of Cilegon. Again, the driving licenses are obviously not mandatory or enforced anyway, as the 7-10 year olds still weave in and out, only they’re a little more crazy in Java.

The traffic eased a little as we took a smaller road but then we hit Serang – another gridlock city. Just like in Sumatra, we made a plan to get somewhere or at least near to and we failed– Bogor was our target.  It took another hour and half to get through Serang.

It was approaching 17.00 and the wind started to blow a forewarning of a down pour. Then a blanket of very black clouds covered the sky and it went really dark. So we decided to call it a day as progress was so slow. We followed a sign and went 2km down a country road, then followed a small mud track past some abandoned buildings to the signposted hotel. Already weary of the surroundings and the visible chunks of concrete missing from the side of the hotel, two men drove past on a scooter armed with two riffles. That clearly wasn’t enough to deter us as we still drove the entrance but the 6 men sat at the barrier entrance sealed the deal, we were off. We both agreed maybe keep going and get a soaking.

A massive thunder and lighting storm opened the skies and we were soaked to the skin within a matter of minutes. Paul could barely see as his glasses steamed up, the roads were quickly becoming flooded and the road on google maps was saying straight yet we only had left or right as options with no signposts, they only way was to stop  and ask in the heavy pissing down rain.

A Warung [cheap restaurant] owner pointed us in the right direction, but also in the direction of a hotel. Not being able to see a few metres ahead of us was the deciding factor, we had to stop. This is when you hope the place turns out to be ok, we could have predicted it wouldn’t be based on all the previous, but we lived in hope. Yet again, 200,000 rupiah for a really really awful room. We don’t get it, we paid 100,000 rupiah in Lake Toba and it was a pretty good room – with hot water!

What we arrived at was just weird. It was some sort of an attempt at a waterpark complex. There were kids around when we arrived so it at least felt a lot safer than the previous area, however the men lurking and rockweiller type dogs in cages when we ventured out for something to eat made it a little unsettling. This place was so dilapidated, in the finally stages of ruin, yet families seemed to holidaying here but it’s definitely up there with the worst rooms we’ve had, a top contender for the number one spot. I think the mouse infested room in India still makes number one. The room had so many holes in it, I had to get handy with gaffa tape and any spare pieces of material I could find to stop the tens of mosquitoes. We also had to use the bungee straps to try to seal the bathroom off as the smell was unbearable and got our sleeping bags out as the bed was filthy.

To escape the dirt hole we ventured out into the hammering rain in search of something to eat, turns out Rangskitbung is also short on that front too. A smiling man had some instant noodles in his cabinet, better than nothing we headed inside for some ‘mie’ – the name for noodles. We were essentially sat in their front room/bedroom/store front. His wife popped up from a nap behind the cabinet and his two daughters and two grandchildren emerged from behind a small curtain.

As bad as the room was over the road, this damp, little more than plywood building is home for these 6 people which is not even as a big as the room we were in.  Whilst broken, the man could speak English too so understood that we were travelling by motorbike and told us of the mountains we’d pass through the next day. The noodles the daughter rustled up were more than expected and went down a treat. There’s a bad picture of the family on the Instagram page.

Wednesday 13 November – We left just as the weird holiday complex was filling up for the day. Our audience for the pack up was a group of giggling girls who took it in turn to ask questions. When one got the answer they high fived eachother; happy that their English had been understood. The other audience member was an old chap who didn’t speak, just helped us by holding the bike steady whilst we loaded it up. It doesn’t need to be held but he looked like he wanted to do it. He watched us intently until we drove off, a very sweet man.

We didn’t really have a plan of where to get to today. Bogor was now too short a drive away and with only really some pretty botanical gardens to visit, it’s not worth stopping for so we planned to try and get to Bandung.

At first the day started well, light traffic and good roads. That changed after half an hour. Huge pot holes appeared filled with muddy rain water. Some spanned the entire width of the road, making dodging them impossible or the roads were waiting to be surfaced which meant driving on rubble. That was just to ease us back in to the Java driving experience.

As I mentioned Bogor is famed for its beautiful gardens. I personally had a wide boulevard lined with huge trees picture in my head, flanked by maincured gardens on each side with a fresh pretty feeling. Well, there was a dual carriageway at first but then hitting the centre everything came to a standstill. We passed the gardens which are gated and a fee is charged, if I’d blinked I could have missed it.

Sitting in jams are exhausting for Paul and the bike. Both getting more and more hot and bothered and covered in more of the intoxicating black fumes and dust, spewed out from the buses and trucks. Plus, even more concentration is needed as everyone gets a bit more manic and every road user almost certainly is doing the wrong thing to get ahead.

In the end it took two hours to get through Bogor, which meant we’d done about 50km in 4 hours. Paul was more than happy to see the golden arches once again. Yes he loves McDonalds.

It was quite clear at this point we weren’t going to make it to Bandung so it was a just see how far we could get day. Once out of Bogor the roads began to climb into the hills. This is also a main route for slow trucks chugging along, slowly filling everyone’s lungs with black fumes they were aiming for the stone mining plants dotted along the road. The tailbacks went on for miles and miles. Car after car attempting to reach their holiday resort in the hills. We could at least weave in and out here, but they were sat for the long haul.

This area sits under the shadow of Gunung Gede [volcano] and makes for some beautiful views which I imagine would be amazing if the cloud hadn’t of been lingering.  Right on cue the heavy rain started at 15.00 signalling the end of the day. Slow moving traffic, uphill, around tight bends, on wet roads is not that fun.

We called in at more than a few cheap looking places, only they weren’t cheap for what was on offer. I had my best bargaining face on at one place and was ready to seal the deal but he refused to include free WiFi for more than an hour despite having a completely empty hotel. Totally didn’t get it, his loss. The next place we tried was run by a sweet Chinese family. It was by far the best place I’d looked at and the cheapest. Accommodation standards just don’t make any sense to me in Indonesia.  The shower was even hot, the sounds coming from Paul were of sheer delight. It’s the first time ever he’s had to make himself get out of the shower. The collection of art on display was quite an odd array – a naked statue of a woman, taxidermified fish, and a huge wall hanging of Chuck Norris.  It was a nice sleep in the knowledge there were no bugs or rats around.

Thursday 14 November – The skies were clear, the air smelt fresh, no hint of black pollution, it felt like it was going to be a good day. Well it was at first, the descent down from the hills was a nice ride. The crisp morning made it really enjoyable. A convoy of what seemed like a million scooters passed us on the opposite side, either supporting, celebrating or protesting something. We couldn’t really tell either way, no one seemed unhappy or particularly happy, so I’m going with support.

Then we hit Bandung. It has only a few million less people than Jakarta so it’s a big clogged city. It was by far the worst traffic we have encountered on the whole trip and it felt like the most difficult slog. I should also mention this is the 8th consecutive day driving – the most days in a row we have done on the whole trip.  The fury in Paul is growing every day we sit in another endless jam. There’s not much fun in traffic jams in any country I suppose. It’s fair to say he has lost his patience with Java and wants out as quick as possible.

The traffic dispersed and we eventually hit a clear road. A sign for McDonalds lightened the mood, but then quickly evaporated when it was on the opposite side of the walled off dual carriageway. Just when we thought we were on the home straight, we hit it again. How was it possible? We were out of the city. Roadworks. When these take place in what seems to be the worlds most congested island the trouble it causes is huge. Everyone jostling to be the front runner, the pavements becoming the second road, our daily intake of exhaust fumes went to a whole new level. We were constantly wedged between trucks and buses. The black remnants smeared all over our faces resulting in a quick lick of the lips being a definite mistake.

Then, I thought perhaps maybe I’m delirious from the fumes but no I really was looking a masked monkey wearing a beanie, jogging pants whilst sat on a railing having a smoke. This was the strangest moment and thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Other than a monkey riding a goat on a cup on a tightrope of course. But, we saw this in real life, not on a video. It took a while for me to register what was going on and I didn’t immediately get my camera so it’s not the clearest photo but it’s enough. It’s as cruel as hell and he was chained as you can see on his foot. The government has tried to put on end to ‘masked monkey’ shows but it obviously isn’t stopping some people.

Just after that the roadworks ended and the traffic flowed freely, thankgod. We made next to no progress as it started to rain as we hit Tasikmalaya. It was torrential and the roads were flooding quickly. Paul was going a little fast at one point and my leg got pulled off the peg in the tidal wave it created.

Once again the odd hotel standards began. We followed for the first option that appeared. Signs directed us into a mall multi-storey car park. Perched right at the top of the 4 level car park was the hotel. The rates advertised were apparently, whilst available, not on offer to us – only lorry drivers. How lorry drivers would get to this hotel is beyond me but they wouldn’t budge. They would only let us have the deluxe which was out of our price range. On to the next one, they were ‘full’ despite an empty car park and so was then next one. We ended driving back on ourselves and a little out of town just to get somewhere. Despite the cockroaches it was a pretty nice place in the end. They brought us breakfast in bed at 06.30am. This has happened a few times in Indonesia, they’re always a tad too keen with the coffee.

 Friday 15 November – Today we were heading for Batu Karas, google maps predicted a two hour journey. Ha. We were relieved to be getting of the orange roads [the colour which indicates main road on google] as there would be less traffic. We weren’t wrong there was less traffic and for the first hour or so we made really good progress but then the roads turned into off-road roads. Paul insisted I’d directed us wrongly, which I had briefly earlier as I missed the turning, but I hadn’t this time. It really was the only road to reach Batu Karas.

Paul stopped more than once and said ‘I can’t take this shit, I’m turning back’. The riding was painfully slow as we edged round large craters and the bike was getting seriously hot, the breaks starting to make a funny sound and at one point it even cut out on us. At least on mud tracks the riding is fairly smooth if slippy, on these roads however there is no way of getting over 10 mph. After a few hours on these roads we decided to take a break and let the bike cool off a bit. The combination of the heat and the painfully slow going had left us quite exhausted and feeling low, but once again the pure happiness and friendliness of the people puts you back into a good mood. The family who ran the roadside stop beamed with smiles as they saw us, and another photoshoot with all the kids was to follow.

We arrived in the small village of Batu Karas just after midday after more painful roads, and found a great place to stay and once again quality isn’t reflected by price as this was far cheaper than all our previous night’s accommodation. Batu Karas is known for its surfing as the cove in the main village has consistently good waves on a sand bottom.

Paul booked us both in for some surf lessons and our day next day was planned. A huge thunderstorm broke out at the scheduled time of 15.00 and continued until the early hours of the next morning.

For our surf lessons, we had an instructor each, Lily [a man] and Weko. The on sand lesson lasted less than 5 minutes, which was exactly what Paul had hoped for.  I had Weko to start with but it soon became apparent I needed more instruction than Paul. Well he has surfed alot more than me. So we had to swap as Weko didn’t speak much English.

I got up after my third attempt, and then quite a few after that. Paul got up nearly every time. They pushed us into the wave making it a lot easier, even with them doing this I soon became tired. My upper body strength is a bit lacking for the paddling. After the first half hour Paul was paddling himself into the wave, no push needed and Lily conferred to me that he was impressed with Paul, not so much me. Ha.

We went for a rest after that first hour. Then got back in without the instructors and my god it was hard. I got up once in about an hour, exhausted again I had to get out. Paul caught quite a few more. Paul acted as my personal instructor, but that ended abruptly when I was ready to punch him. What he lacks is patience, and gave me a telling off when I bailed because I deemed the wave too big. We spent the day trying separately and I decided to end it when I nearly killed some teenagers on body boards, they dived out of the way just in time.  Our bodies were battered and bruised and ached more than they did after a 8 hour ride but it was so much fun and we can’t wait to get to Bali to do some more.

The local kids here are amazing.  The cutest little lad  complete with surfer style long hair paddled past me saying hello, then caught wave after wave. He could not have been much older than 7. We saw him later running in with a little float playing with the other little kids and making sandcastles on the beach.

We could have spent longer here but there are no ATMs and we didn’t prepare well so we didn’t have enough money so onto Yogyakarta we go.