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Across the Island of Java

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It’s been over a month now that I’ve sat down at the computer to add to the blog. It’s been great getting ‘away’ while riding across Sumatra. No one knows exactly where I am. No one is expecting me. I have no plan. I don’t speak the language and time has politely disappeared. I haven’t owned a watch in over 25 years but this has created a very unique situation for reflection and wondering. I usually keep the riding below 280km (174mi) per day, which here in Indonesia can take up to 7 or 8 hours.

On New Years Day I was riding from Lubuklinggau to Batu Raja and was just getting to the outskirts when I stopped to check my map to see where I was. (Thank you Google Maps) The bike would not start. I tried kick starting, pushing it and popping the clutch, it was not going to start, so I started pushing. It happened to be flat so pushing with the bike fully loaded wasn’t totally draining. It hadn’t really been far at all and there was a mechanic along side the road and he was open.

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( All Blog Post Photos: © Copyright Bartay )

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This was a family owned place, Dad was the boss, his nephew was a mechanic, brother was working there and so was his daughter. She spoke some English so by default she became the interpreter. After about an hour and a half, the nephew had the bike running better than before. We all were getting along so great when mom showed up and of course then we needed the customary photo. They really were a fantastic group and it is true, you end up with great stories when things go wrong or break down.

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Due to this being the monsoon season, sometimes it will rain for ½ hr. and sometimes 3 hrs. It is heavy rain and when riding on the bike it hurts. I have a rain jacket and pants and a shielded helmet but it also gets very hot in that outfit so sometimes I wonder if I’m really staying dry by wearing it. I’ve also found out my ‘dry bags’ are not 100% waterproof. When the rain starts, everyone on a bike pulls over and puts on their rain suit then continues on. Or you might just get under a tree and wait it out. But everyone does slow way down when the rain starts, except the buss drivers. These guys are maniacs on the road.

There are no shoulders here along the roads just ditches and rice fields. We drive on the left and you just pass whenever you think you can make it. Busses tend to think moto’s are small and are going slow so they will pass quite often when they shouldn’t. You try to slow down or stop to leave enough room for them to get back over. I’m doing pretty well, I’ve only been run off the road twice, it could be worse.

About a week later I reached about as far south as you can get on Sumatra, so it was time to put the bike on a ferry and take the 2 ½ hr ride over to Java. On the ride over I couldn’t help but think that about 50 miles due south of us in the middle of the straight is Krakatoa or rather Baby Krakatoa, what’s left. There are about 20 active volcanoes at any given time across the entire archipelago. I know Bromo is spewing ash on the eastern edge of Java and Son of Rinjani on Lombok caused Bali to close their airport a week ago.

I made it to Jakarta and it has become very clear to me that Java is the most populated island in the world. The traffic, OMG. Moto’s are not allowed on the thruways on Java so I have to take the old roads and the ferry is only about 100km from Jakarta but it took 8 hours. I found my way through the metropolis and ended up in the Tibet neighborhood where I took a hotel for about a week. It was nice to be in a city after 6 weeks traveling the back roads.

I did get to most of the sights, the Masjid Istiqlal, which is the largest mosque in SEAsia. There’s room on the main floor for 200,000 Muslims to pray. Kota Tua where the Dutch originally settled and built their town. Pasar Baru (the old market) and Sunda Kelapa, which is the shipyard on the north edge of Jakarta. I went to the Sunda Kelapa on a very very hot clear day and went walking out along the docks. There wasn’t a lot of work going on maybe because it was lunchtime but the heat was devastating. The old boats were all lined up and were just beautiful.

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As I was meandering along I ran into a group of fishermen sitting on the ground repairing their nets. They had propped up one net to act as an awning from the heat and they waved me over. I went over and they motioned for me to sit and have a bottle of water, I could not pass that up. With all the traveling in the third world I do, it never ceases to amaze me how you can communicate with other people by simple gestures, hand language, and facial expressions. BUT I have to admit, Google translate has been a great help too! We got along for about an hour before the heat was just too much and I said my goodbyes and left.

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I decided to head south across the island to Pelabuhan Ratu on the Indian Ocean coast. It was nice to get out of the utterly congested Jakarta, although the roads didn’t really ease up much at all. This island is crowded. It was up into the mountains and jungle then down the other side to the coast. I got caught in one traffic jam due to the condition of the road that took about an hour to go 2 miles. Finally got to the coast and started my search for a place to stay. One homestay showed me a room that had only one large window and nothing on the back side to let air in. No a/c but a fan. I thought maybe? Then I turned the fan on and went to the window and they could not be opened. He motioned to leave the door open! A shame I couldn’t be on an unlimited budget!

I found a another place that had a/c so I was happy and went across the road and down to the water to check it out. This seemed to be the place were a lot of people from Jakarta go to get away from the heat of the city and play in the water.

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I grabbed some Mie Goring from a street cart and sat along the edge to have a late lunch. I am in the southern hemisphere now but so close to the equator that the heat and humidity never goes away. The water is cool but what’s strange is people don’t really go swimming. They love to go in the ocean and just sit down and let the water wash up over them.

There was this photographer walking along the beach taking pictures and selling them to the tourists. He saw me and came up to talk, he spoke a bit of English so we got along for some time talking cameras. While we were talking, two young girls came up and asked if they could take a photo with me. So it was Selfie time and then they were off.

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It was in the paper today about the ISIS bombing in Jakarta on Thursday that wounded 17 and killed 5, including the terrorists. It seems that where ever I go I’m just missing something terrible. I remember I arrived in Nairobi last year hours after the bombing downtown by el Shabab that killed so many. I knock on wood and hope my luck continues.

All the way along my southern route on the coast I always find the most pleasant people. Very friendly and we always have a good time trying to understand what each other is trying to say with our hands, pen and paper, and facial expressions. We most always part with that photo with the foreigner touring Indonesia by bike.

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I think it is interesting that in every guesthouse or homestay or even hotel in Jakarta I’ve been in, they offer a prayer rug in the closet and there is always a “Kiblat” arrow on the ceiling somewhere pointing West toward Mecca. I’ve never found out what Kiblat means but even for me it’s obvious where it points and what it’s for.

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I decided to head east toward Yogyakarta (called Yogya for short) because my 60 day Visa is running out and I need to go to Immigrasi and renew it before it runs out. On the way east towards Yogya it’s pretty much traveling through mountains and rice fields but it is so pretty that time flies even when it’s pouring rain.

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I will usually find a place to stay the night then I head out and walk around town till I find some nice looking street vendor to try their tasty food. I’ve always loved street food, it’s authentic, fresh, and really is the best food and usually will be the friendliest people too. They love having a foreigner come eat and they love trying to communicate with you. This is very typical of the eating establishments that I like to frequent.

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Before getting to Yogya, I went up to Borobudur for a couple of days. I wanted to see the temple there and was told I must see it at sunrise. I splurged and stayed at this beautiful little place out in the jungle and when I got there, I was the only person staying there. I had the entire place to myself and the staff was great. The cook was fabulous and dinner every night was outside under a thatched roof with no walls and it poured rain every night. It was fabulous.

I left early in the morning for the temple so I could walk up the mountain before the sunrise to see it come up over the volcano and into the valley. Everything was so wet from the rain during the night and so humid, the entire valley was filled with fog and it made for a beautiful sunrise, if not the clearest.

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On to Yogya and Immigrasi. I had no idea how long it was going to take to get my visa renewed but booked 4 nights at the hotel I was staying in. I went across town to the Immigration Office early in the morning and it was very crowded as I was told it would be. Think DMV here in the states. After about 2 hours of sitting they called my number, I go up and hand the agent my forms….. He asks me who’s your sponsor????????

After all this time I just now find out the embassy in San Francisco gave me the wrong kind of visa or didn’t totally explain it. They explained to me that it was 60 days and it could be renewed for 30 days, 4 times, before having to leave the country. They didn’t tell me it requires a local native sponsor. It flashed before my eyes that my trip was over, but I didn’t have enough time to sell the bike and make new air reservations. I left and went back to the hotel and was totally stumped for what to do. I offered about $50 (a lot over there) to anyone at the hotel that would sponsor me. But having to have a Xerox of their official resident card and their signature, everyone was too nervous and scared of the government to take me up on the offer.

After a very long stress filled night, the next morning I got the idea to go to the backpacker area of Yogya and I started at one end and stopped and talked to every little office asking if anyone would sponsor me. It only took me 4 offices and I found a guy who would do it for $30. So I got a copy of his resident card, had him fill out the papers and sign them, but by that time it was too late to go across town to Immigrassi so I’d wait till the next day.

The next day I went across town, got a number, sat down and the same agent called me up. I handed him the paper work and he looked at them and asked me where my sponsor was? I said he’s back in his office. Well, there is a little tax stamp that has to be put on the form for him to sign over, to show we paid the tax. So he handed me the papers back and off I went to find the guy again. By the time I found him, bought the stamp, had him fill out the form again and sign over the stamp, it was too late to go back to Immigrasi, so I’d go the next day.

I go back, take a number, sit down, and He calls me up again. By now even the guy in the parking lot knows my face. He takes the paper work, looks it over AND HE TAKES IT. Yipee. No I’m running up against a weekend so he tells me I have to come back in 2 days on Friday and pay and have my photo and finger-prints taken. Then because Monday is a state holiday I can come back on Tuesday and pick up my passport. I go on Friday to pay and have my photo and finger-prints taken and after ½ hr of sitting waiting for my number, the computer system breaks down. They tell me I can come back on Tuesday or wait, I wait. 3 hours later the computers were up and I paid and had my images taken and then I will wait till Tuesday.

So now here it is on Monday, the state holiday and I have one more day and I can go pick up my passport tomorrow. It’s been 10 days, which is probably not that long but not having my passport and trying to get my visa renewed it seems like a month.

So over the weekend I went and checked out Keraton Yogyakarta, built in the 18th century and still the official palace and home to the King of Indonesia. A very interesting place, there are still wonderful people everywhere, but to be honest I want my passport and I want to head east. While I’m walking around the palace an entire group of Indonesian tourists come up to me and want to have their photo taken with the foreigner. Maybe I should start charging?

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I had walked from my hotel to the palace but the heat is so unbearable I decide to take a bacak back to the hotel, cool down and head out and down the road to get a beer. Tomorrow I’m going across town to Immigrasi and pick up my passport.

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This entry was posted in Indonesia.

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