Cycling across Java and Bali
by David Blundy
The trip seemed doomed from the start as not one, but two, of of the group broke bones in bike crashes a couple of weeks before flying out. We'd lost one of our ringleaders, and chief hill enthusiast, Lachie. He was also the one planning the route and we found out later that he'd left a few surprises for us!
Java is renowned for its volcanoes, so naturally the route was planned to cross as many as possible. It wasn't until we started on our way up to Dieng Plateau that we started to comprehend what this really meant! Here's an account of our second day of cycling:
After arriving at the city of Banjar Negara in the dark the night before, we were determined to make an early start for our ascent to Dieng, a volcanic plateau filled with steaming craters and stunning scenery. We set off about 7:30, but by 8:30 we'd only climbed 200 metres out of roughly 1500m of ascent, and the team was already starting to struggle. A nice second breakfast in the shade and talk of giving up was postponed – at least for now.
As we pushed on I was trying to hide a niggling feeling that we hadn't even got to the real hill yet.
The riding was tough, but the area was beautiful. Steep green hills, with cultivation on every possible slope. I get the feeling that not many people take the back way up to Dieng. We were certainly a novelty with the locals, and every time a truck full of farmers overtook us at 10km/h uphill there was plenty of smiling and waving. But we were progressing at a painfully slow pace, and it was starting to look like we wouldn't make it to Dieng village before dark.
Several locals assured us that there was a hotel in the town of Batur, so that became our goal for the night. As sunset was approaching, after several more hours of pushing our bikes up hills, and braking down hills too steep to coast down, we rolled into Batur to find... no hotel. Pushing on to Dieng was not looking good, with another 12km of steep undulations expected. We stopped in the centre of Batur, exhausted after 1800 metres of ascent on only our second day of cycling. A well dressed local man took pity on us and invited us to stay in his house. We were incredibly grateful as he sat us down to tea, snacks, and stilted conversation.
Oki was a generous host, but it turned out there was a complication. He had relatives coming to stay for the night and he couldn't fit us in. We were soon bundled onto a rowdy local bus bound for Dieng village. As we enjoyed the cheerful atmosphere on the bus we realised we had made the right choice by not riding the ridiculously steep roads to Dieng in the dark.
It was disappointing not to ride the full way up to the plateau, but the hospitality shown by Oki and the entertaining bus trip more than made up for it in my eyes.
And that was only Day 2! A few highlights from the three week journey that followed:
- Getting comfortable with Javanese traffic (hint: don't stop. Just don't.)
- Talking our way onto a train in Jakarta after being told bikes weren't allowed
- Getting way off the beaten track
- Eating nasi goreng every day
- So many friendly, happy locals. I don't think I once heard a voice raised in anger.
- Riding bikes every day
Cycle touring Southeast Asia is very different from other outdoor activities, but in some ways it is akin to bushwalking. It's all about the journey, and it has the same rhythm – get up, ride, find somewhere to sleep, eat, sleep, repeat. On the other hand, rather than solitude and natural environments, what you experience is people everywhere and their lives – where they eat, sleep, work and live. Possibly my favourite thing about cycle touring is that it frees you from the restraints of travel agents, tourist attractions and buses. You see less of touts, pickpockets and t-shirts and more of an actual place where people live. People who are usually surprised and delighted to see you!
If you'd like to read the full story, you can read more on our personal blog: http://indonesian-incursion.blogspot.com.au/
Read more posts on the Bogong Blog.
Photography: D. Blundy