When planning my summer 2014 adventure I decided to visit a country I knew very little about (except of corse what I would teach in Geography lessons about overpopulation and natural disasters) and in turn discover and learn about people, places and cultures throughout the journey. We all know it is best to learn by experience and I certainly did that! I wanted to start my trip in the capital of Indonesia (Jakarta) and travel through the island of Java before heading to Bali to rest! In Indonesia by far the most common use of transport is the moped/motorbike so I thought I'd give it a go and hire a motorbike to travel between these two destinations. This 1720km (1068 miles) journey proved to be much more difficult than I first thought, but what a way to see this amazing country!
Traveling through Indonesia: Jakarta to Bali by motorcycle!
I had ridden moped's in both Italy and Thailand before but never a motorcycle with gears. Before I left for this excursion I made sure I had passed my basic motorcycle test here in the UK (I would definitely recommend this beforehand). I began my journey in the capital city of Jakarta where I collected the hire bike from. Initially this was not the best plan as I have never seen traffic so crazy in my life... this made me build confidence to help me along with the rest of the journey.
Riding a motorcycle in Indonesia, in a way, felt as if I was playing a computer game. There were a number of levels of difficulty! (Unlike a computer game though if I made any mistake it would be game over with terrible consequences...)
Let me explain the levels..
Level 1: Basic controls of motorbike and getting faster on an open road. Never having ridden a motorbike before this was the first challenge.
Level 2: Controlling the motorcycle, watching out for other drivers while checking out the stunning scenery of padi fields, beaches and volcanoes for the entire journey. There were so many times, I just had to stop and look...
Level 3: Watching out for other drivers was one of the hardest challenges as first of all the roads are generally extremely busy. No one leaves any stopping distance and along with that rarely do the cars have breaking lights, so you find yourself guessing whether people are going to stop or not... This involved a few near misses especially in the wetter conditions!
Level 4: Around the town of Garut I experienced the most terrifying motorcycle ride. This was all caused by the steep, potholed roads and rain.... absolutely loads of it! For some reason this area also attracts a huge backlog of lorries who love to go round tight bends (almost tipping over!). Several times I believed that these top heavy overloaded trucks would fall on top of me... thankfully they didn't and for some of the route... I just decided to take the bike off road because it was safer!
Level 5: Darkness..... one tip for motorcycling in Java. Don't even think about going anywhere if the darkness has come... and it comes quick so plan ahead. None of the roads that I experienced had street lamps and the motorcycle lights shine for 5m max giving you no time at all to deal with whatever is in your way. I speak from experience with this as I hit a boulder head on that was placed (who knows where it came from) in the road just outside Yogyakarta! (luckily I was wearing the right protective gear!)
Top 5 tips to riding in Indonesia:
1) Stay alert.. Never take your eyes off the road and other cars. Think ahead and slow down if unsure!
2) Wear the correct gear. Even through it was hot I wore Padded Kevlar Jeans and Jacket with Boots and a Helmet. Without these.... i'm not sure if I would be walking today! Enough said..
3) Make sure you have the right paperwork. I saw so many people pulled over by the police for not having the correct driving licence. Before you head to Indonesia pop into the post office and for a mere £5 you can buy an International Driving Permit which will save you hassle on the roads.
4) Don't drive in the dark....you can't see anything and make sure you don't overestimate your driving times to avoid this... I found that the sun set much earlier than I expected leaving me stranded and/or rushing!
5) Enjoy it... You have the freedom to see and do what you want to!
Motorcycle Rental - http://www.indocampers.com/
Motorcycling in Indonesia: Tips and Advice from Derek Freal - http://blog.theholidaze.com/2013/12/indonesia-by-motorcycle-advice-tips/
Six Degrees Hostel, Jakarta - http://jakarta-backpackers-hostel.com/
Couch surfing across Java: The most hospitable people in the world.
As shown by the map at the beginning of this blog post I was lucky to experience the best Java had to offer by being shown around places and staying with people living and working within the country itself. I managed to organise all of these experiences through the increasingly popular website:couchsurfing.com
Through setting myself up with the Indonesian locals I got to experience Indonesia from a different perspective to the average holiday goer.. and I absolutely loved it.
I started my couch surfing journey in Jakarta where I met with the lovely Sisca and Nelce who showed me the sites (and the bus network which I would never have been able to figure out by myself!). Sisca and Nelce took me to their national monument (stunning views of the city) and a traditional indonesian lunch of fried banana, with cheese on top! Aside from sightseeing they helped me along my way by taking me shopping for some essentials for my journey including a much needed local SIM card for my phone (there was 3G signal for my satnav everywhere it was unbelievable!) and a map to get me started.
After my difficult journey out of Jakarta and beyond the next day I was greeted by Devid and his friends and family who had all come to welcome me into their town in the hills overlooking Bandung. His mother cooked us some amazing local (very spicy) meals during my stay there and we had some great experiences just hanging out in the village playing guitar and watching the local football tournament! His friends were kind enough to join us to climb (by motorbike) one of the peaks in the area for some stunning views of the valleys below.
Heading west from Bandung my map took me to Purwokerto where I stayed with Hani and her mother. It was only a brief visit but Hani was kind enough to help me get my motorbike serviced before the next leg of my journey. While my motorbike was in the shop Hani showed me her beautiful town which involved trying some very special spices and trying the Durian fruit for the first time! (I really cannot explain the taste... but it seemed fairly alcoholic!).
Next along the journey I spent a couple of days with the Wahyudi family who were so lovely. I spent some of the mornings and evenings teaching english to the girls and spent one of the days exploring a volcano that had recently erupted at Mt Kelud with Michael. I felt privileged to spend my time with them.
To all the people I stayed with and shared experiences with on this trip I am truly grateful and hope to return the favour one day! Couchsurfing is such a great way to travel in this country of friendly and genuine people!
Indonesia as a country
- Food: The Indonesians love their rice (goreng) and spices (which they are known globally for).. this is in fact the staple diet for the millions across the islands. The spices here are pretty special and I couldn't get enough (despite my stomach really not wanting to comply!). If you don't like the spice I was pleasantly surprised by bananas here being served with chocolate and grated cheese!!
- Transport: Motorbike or Flight... If you need to get from one city to another nearly everyone seems to fly as it is so cheap however if you like the challenges of the geography of the country, the crazy trucks and unpredictable roads the take the motorbike because traffic occurs in every little town or city you pass regardless. From what I have heard public transport is pretty bad (if it exists at all!).
- People: The people of Java (from my experience) are probably the most welcoming and kind people you will ever meet. I have already said a lot about this in my section on couch surfing above. But this kindness is not just from people hosting you in their own homes, they are people in the streets, in shops and restaurants. They are the people who when you are looking a bit lost, show you where to go even if we don't understand one another. They are the people that will go to the edge of their English ability to find out as much as they can about you. They are the people telling me to be careful on my motorbike... maybe because they knew the dangers ahead. I quickly learned that for some reason most people in Java idoloise 'white westerners' (known here as 'bule'), I still can't understand why. It was explained to me several times that people in Java want to be taller, whiter and many were very keen to learn a 'proper British accent' from which some searched YouTube for help. As a result of this idolisation almost everyone I met (and didn't meet) wanted to take a photo with me, which most of the time found amusing and ofcorse agreed. I would usually return asking for a photo as well.
- Rules and regulations: This is still a very blurred line. Even though at no point during my trip I felt in danger.. I am still uncertain whether basic health and safety exists in Indonesia (especially on the roads). By law you are meant to be wearing a helmet but often you will see a whole family riding a small moped....