Bali by bike

by Will Sanders on September 27th, 2009

You may want to internet a map of East Java for this, I can’t be bothered to stop to give directions, have to make good time, don’t you know.

Actually, since writing this, Marcus has been kind enough to make a google map for us all to refer to.  Thanks a million, Marcus.  Here’s the link:

It wasn’t until late in the morning of the first day of the trip that I slowly started to overcome the gitters and finally loosen up enough to feel free on the road. I clung to the far side of the road for dear life as buses and big haulers honked by in a blur each time gusting me with black smoke along with almost enough wind to feel like I was going to blow right off the road into oblivian.  I was wearing a huge camping backpackers backpack which rode from above my shouldiers to the small of my back and was putting enough weight on my tailbone to numb my ass and stop blood to my toes, plus if I didn’t know any better (which I will be the first to point out I didn’t) I would say it was throwing off my balance.  I was wearing a pink helmet, a loaner which came with the bike.  The bike was a little 2 stroke meo, a scooter with no right to be called a motorcycle.  This had been an impulse decision made the night before when after quickly dissmissing Anna’s kind suggestion that I borrow her bike (and pink helmet) for the week long holiday trip I gave it a second thought, maybe, maybe, and here I was clinging for dear life on the shouldier, hoping this wasn’t as fool hardy as it felt, heart popping, eyes watering, teeth gritting, neck hairs standing, living life like it was going out of style, feeling free.
I had been going slow and getting my berrings, the demon stretch from the daily mud volcano traffic jam to Probolingo was hairy at first, buses swooping into oncoming trafic to overcome what ever poor devil in their way dared go at a reasonable pace.  Usually you saw them coming, but the trouble I was finding on that stretch to Probolingo was that they were doing this far more frequently than I was comfortable with.  Even in the distance when I saw one in my lane coming at me I would fast check mirrors, shouldier check, and swing off into the shouldier, a time consuming excersize but one that made me happy.  Soon the dreaded Probolingo road became bumper to bumper and the motorcycles all road in slow hordes along the shouldier or in and out of the stoped steaming honking cars, at least it was slow.
Finally I made Probolingo in the afternoon, the supposed three hour trek had taken me five.  My original plan had been to ride along the coast of Northern East Java until getting to far corner, a national forest called Baluran park.  Here I was in Probolingo thinking it looked like a hell of a long way on the map.  So soon I am moving to a small town called Jembur, have I told you that, blog believers?  Well it’s true I will be moving to a small town in which I will be the only nonIndonesian but only for a few months, just enough time for me to get sick of it and come back to the big city, and lookie!  Jembur is just another three hours from Probolingo through what looks like country road, not crazy pee in my pants large engine death machine road for another 6 hours at least.  Cool.  I called Dennis (my ace and boss in Surabaya) and asked him for the phone number of the boss in Jembur, Lilly.  Lilly said I should come and see the school and hang out there getting a feel for the place.  I was starting to get tired and my back and ass were killing me from the backpack.  The road was quiet and often beautiful, light traffic and I was feeling a little bit more comfortable on the bike.  The further I rode the more the small hamlets of houses and villiages which punctuated long stretches of lime green rice paddies teased me, the first signs of Jember, the outskirts maybe?  Nope, here come more rice paddies, there go the buildings, but where is this place anyways?  I was getting hungry too, and sunblock would have been a swell idea.

So finally I got to what must have been it, what else could it be, certainly this was the place.  I asked a guy in broken bahasa Indonesian and he agreed that we were in Jember.  Lilly wasn’t answering her phone so I tried to remember the directions she had given me earlier, where do I turn again?  Was it the town square or the KFC?  Because I remembered both those places from the directions and had seen both, hell.  I stopped at a police station to try to get directions.  A cop agreed to show me on his bike with me following behind.  The problem was he had no idea himself and thought it might be fun to drive around for a while in no particular direction, for his or my benifit I don’t know, either way his joining in my state of lost was certainly a kind gesture, I guess.  We stopped at some place to get directions.  The people were all puzzling it out when my phone rang, it was Lilly, she was sending a guy from the school to find me. Meanwhile someone invited me in for some water.  I came in bowlegged to a huge workshop.  In the corner behind me was a modernist Indonesian take on a Samuri coat of armur.  It was detailed and ornate, and next to it was another get up even more crazy.  One suit was all brightly colored cloth vegetables and still another was a tall robot looking thing, some were festooned with peacock feathers, some had angry spikes, one was sort of Chinese looking.  What the hell had I found?  What the hell was this?  Chance had found me in the workshop of the man who created the Jembur street festival.  The guy turns out to be a huge star in the Indonesian art world and he took me around his shop and gave me a tour, me with my jaw hanging.  He starts by making small puppet models and then makes the big thing, he showed me scetches and explained his process.  I told him breifly about Carnevil, a similar but in no way as big or famous as what he was doing, he seemed interested, or at least he pretended to be out of politeness.

Soon the guy from the school picked me up and off we went, I promised to be back though.  The school was what you’d expect, I sprung for a nice hotel that had HBO, they were showing the 80s heman movie with Dolph Lundrin, which is awesome.  That night she took me for steak at an amazing steak place which was right next to what will be my new house, and that was Jembur.  Not a bad little place for a few months, 45 minutes from a nice beach, I’m told.  I can’t wait to move there.

The next day I set out for Ijen to meet Allen and Luke and his girl Tabby, a Canadian and two Aussies respectively.  We all work together in Surabaya and they were heading out Saturday to meet up with me, also on motorbike.  I rode through Bandowoso and asked someone which way to Ijen, she said straight which should have triggered alarm bells as I knew I had to turn somewhere but straight I went.  It was a glorious day and the road was so pretty.  I stopped at a bridge to look out on an amazing rock formation in a river which lead into a blue pool, man I wanted to swim, but no time so I got an eyefull instead.  When I was ready to go on I looked up and saw a sign which said something in Indonesian and then it said Situbondo, this meant I not only missed my turn to go to Ijen, but I overshot the hell out of it almost all the way up to the coast, too into the scene and the drive to be bothered with turning, or maybe just a goofus.  So that gave me another hour, not the last wrong turn in the trip, that will come later.

It was on the second day that it occured to me that I was being silly killing my back with this amazing huge hiking bag.  I pulled over and lashed it down to the back seat with the straps of the bag itself and a bungee cord and some twine which I’ve always packed and never used.  In my boyscout days my father always advised to have a bit of string in the bag at all times as one never knew when it would come in handy, good thing too.  This was an epiphany which gave me better balance and no longer did my back and ass scream with the passing miles.  I was quite proud of myself still a half hour later when I pulled into a service station to fill up only to remember while in line that the gas tank could be found under the seat which I had spent almost an hour lashing a bag to.  So now I had to untie everything and start again, all the greatest plans have slight bugs from time to time.

So the right turn was found and taken and many had warned me about the road from Bandowoso to Ijen but off I went.  The road twisted and turned through amazing farms and mountains up and up.  It made my heart thump to fly through that area, although I noticed more and more potholes.  Soon I had cleared the farm area into a mountain forrest road, every so many switchbacks I had to stop and look out over the valley to the mountains beyond, I am not kidding it was so amazing!  So I kept steadily going up.  It was getting on in the afternoon when the road started to disapear.  I mean it was gone, like hey, who stole my road?  Bits of concrete with huge gravel rocks and slidy rock.  Although I am reletively new to long distance road travel by bike I have motorbiked through enough jungles in South East Asia to know (that would be four jungles) that when the road gets bumpy you have to keep up your engine speed, not flying but not coasting either.  The engine working is what keeps you from slipping and slidding, once that happens you are in trouble.  So I kept a slow but steady pace over the rocky bits, but it was endless, did this road ever become a road again?  Did this mountain have no top?  Did the Gods have no shame?  Bumping and bouncing, at times the whole thing seemed to crash and the little meo was greif stricken, never having been called upon to preform in such a way.  I would say it was a good hour and a half before I reached the summit of the mountain and once again found the road.  I was now in Ijen national park and it must have been one of the most amazing beautiful places I have ever been in my life.  The landscape was so great, the mountains were pine covered monoliths and if it hadn’t been so late in the day I would have spent more time stopping and looking around.  Yet anouther wrong turn lent me down a steep hill road which turned into sand, my engine cut out because I was going too slow and the back wheel crept forward and ass over tea kettle I spilled it.  It didn’t hurt though, and I got up and slapped great clouds of sand from my pants in gusts.  The bike seemed ok and I got better directions and was once again off.  I got to the park just before sun down, I had thought about camping but it was up in the mountains and believe it or not it gets really damn cold up there, so I opted for a room.  Zero cell phone reception in that valley so I asked around and found a local guy to help me.  He walked me ten minutes through a field and over a hill to a small picnick bench where he could get two bars, I called luke and told him under no circumstances should they attempt that road at night, so he figured he would meet me here tomorrow.

I waited all day for them the next day, but that takes us through the first few days of the trip and I figure I will give it a rest for now.  More later.  It is better in small bits, thanks as always for reading this blog believers.  I will try to get more of them out soonish, maybe pictures next time.  I love you guys.


2 Responses to “Bali by bike”

  1. amy bugg burke says:

    You’re a rock star Will. Can’t wait to hear more.

  2. Marcus Rosentrater says:

    I might be extremely behind, but I’m a blog believer still. I’m still so fascinated by your ability to find adventure. Or is it your ability to take the worst situations and turn them toward adventure? Or does your spirit of adventure lead you to these situations?

    Whatever the case, you are out there, experiencing things few Will ever have the courage, wit, foolhardy, bravery, aspiration, and drive too. I hope you realize that Mr. Sanders. You’re a special person.

    Jumping to the next chapter.

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