Sape, Sumbawa. Wednesday 27th September 2017.
It’s been good fun travelling with Dan, which is been a bit of a surprise really. Apart from a few days down in Tasmania, when I hooked up with a young English visitor, my 106,000 plus kilometres have been solo. And that’s the way I generally prefer it. I’d always worry about having to compromise on routes, or sites to visit or riding pace. But none of that has come about. Partly it’s because the route and the riding pace were pretty much dictated for us. But it’s also because we want to see, and don’t want to see, the same things. Travelling across Flores got us into the swing of things. Dan’s an easy going guy and we’ve enjoyed some great chats about bikes, travelling and other things. So everything is good so far. Dan’s on a bit of a time limit with his visa but, looking ahead, we don’t see that being a problem.
Catching our second ferry wasn’t a problem either. No Daisy to help us this time, but she wouldn’t have been needed anyway. We arrived at the ticket office at 7.30, paid our fare and were directed straight onto the boat. With the bikes safely tied down we found ourselves some seats in one of the lounges which had its sides open to the sea breezes, and settled down for the four hour crossing. The only slightly puzzling thing is that this ferry cost us more than the one from Kupang to Flores. Maybe that was because of Daisy’s help, but who knows. We chatted to a Californian couple who were SCUBA diving instructors. They’d been working in Bali but were moving on because tourists were staying away. The threatened eruption of Mount Agung was to blame. It’s been fizzing away for a few weeks, with steam coming out of the sides and plenty of underground rumblings. The authorities had evacuated people living nearby and put an exclusion zone in place too. All of this was scaring away many tourists and it’s been a big news story on Aussie TV. Were it to erupt the problem for them would be with flying home. Dan was worried enough to decide on a leaving date and book a flight, while his insurance company were still prepared to cover the possibility of cancellations.
We’d reached the conclusion there wasn’t a huge amount to see in Sumbawa unless you were a fan of surfing or trekking. It’s a small and mountainous island, but with good surfing beaches. Once we’d disembarked at the port town of Sape we found a good hotel where they insisted we bring our bikes into the lobby for safe keeping. That was a first, and another traveller box ticked.
Sape looked a bit run down, as did the little pony carts we saw, carrying passengers, goods or both. They looked cute but were a real pain because of the way they held the traffic up in the narrow streets. The poor little ponies didn’t look too happy about it either. I see that as a sign of economic struggle. Down by the harbour most of the buildings were on stilts, raised above the high tide level. There were mud flats either side of the road, the ferry terminal being at the end of a peninsular. We spotted a boatyard, where three wooden boats were under construction. They were identical to those we’d seen in the water, which part of my mind had assumed were very old and would have been superseded by something more modern. Clearly not and I suppose the maxim ‘why change it if it works’ applies here. We ate at a nearby warung, cheap if not wonderful.
As we rode across Sumbawa it became clear this island has a heavy agricultural presence, with most land being cultivated with some crop or another. Down by the coast we came across some large ponds, separated from the sea, with several electrically driven paddles in each one, agitating the water. We presumed they were fish farms, not being able to think what else they could be. The roads were really good and we even came across a dual carriageway outside one of the larger towns. Oh the thrill of being in top gear at 100kph! We know how live, do Dan and I. We stopped to admire the view at one point and Dan decided we should ride down a little track, out to a headland, just to get some photos. That was a little bit of fun, for no reason other than that we could. I think the sunny weather and the holiday mood was getting to us.
Sumbawa is a mostly Muslim island, so mosques were plentiful, one of the factors in choosing our hotel last night, i.e. there wasn’t one within shouting distance. The Hijab was a common sight and I was amused to see a shop selling ‘Fashionable Hijabs’. I was told later that it’s something of a new habit among women, mostly the younger ones. Older women don’t wear them so often, which answered the puzzlement I’d felt when I saw young women wearing them but their older female relatives not doing so. Indonesia is generally a Muslim country but clearly not as strict as those in the Middle East. In fact there is an equal pay law in Indonesia, not at all what we’ve been led to expect from Muslim countries. It was certainly the case that none of the women were shy about talking to us. Perhaps there are lessons for other countries to learn here. At time of writing this I think I’ve only seen one burka.
In the larger towns now we were seeing big convenience stores. Part of a chain rather than the small family run ones we’d seen everywhere else, although those were still plentiful. Another sign that we were reaching the more modern parts of the country. There was one next to our hotel and Dan spotted some cans of beer in the chiller cabinet. But sadly they were the Islamic version, with a big 0% ABV written on the side of the can. We decided to have an ice cream instead.
All you’ll get in a Muslim owned store. I’ve never seen this flavour in Britain. Delicious!
We’d ridden across Sumbawa so quickly that we decided to get the ferry to Lombok the next morning. It took us less than two hours to reach the port and, after a cup of tea, we boarded the 11am boat and settled down in some seats up on deck. Apart from what we’d observed from the saddles of our bikes, we hadn’t seen much of the island. But that was OK as everything that could be done involved expending copious amounts of energy. On this occasion we were happy just to enjoy the ride.
A puzzling feature was the number of police we saw in some of the towns. We hadn’t seen many up to now and the odd thing was that there were three distinct types. Some were in light blue uniforms, some in dark blue and some in brown. We rode respectfully past each time, not wanting to create a stir, and got some smiles of appreciation for it. Dan had no IDP so the last thing we wanted was to be pulled in. I later discovered that those in light blue were marine police; those in dark blue state police; those in brown are regional police. We passed an airport and those guys were toting automatic weapons, reminding us that Muslim countries also have to guard against terrorism.
The ferry pulled out, slightly late, got a few hundred metres out into the bay, then changed its mind and came back again. Reason unknown. It was 12.30 by the time it left for the one and a half hour crossing, but we got there soon enough. We had a list of several places we wanted to visit on Lombok, and would have gone to see the Pink Beach en route to our planned overnight stop, but the ferry’s lateness legislated against that. So once we’d arrived we headed straight down to the beach resort town of Kuta, down on the south coast. Once we’d left the port we entered traffic hell. The built up areas never seemed to end and they were jam packed with cars, trucks and scooters. The level of aggression seemed to be higher too. There were loads of mosques, many of them very beautiful, but with stupidly loud chanting blaring out from some of them. At various points there’d be people standing in the middle of the road waving charity buckets at the passing traffic. They also had incredibly loud music or chanting blasting across at us. Not something that was likely to make either of us feel very charitable.
Eventually we were able to turn off that awful road into some relative calm and we soon got down to Kuta. Jasmine had recommended a good restaurant to us so we parked up in the centre of town for a look around. It happened that we’d stopped right by a home stay, which had decent rooms at a good price. So we booked ourselves in and went for a walk.
Kuta is tourist hell, or heaven, depending on your point of view. Lots of Europeans once more and plenty of the kind of place’s they like to have around. Restaurants or warungs; pizzerias; barrista cafés; bars down on the beach; scooter hire shops; tour shops; surfboard hire shops. We enjoyed a beer at one of the beachside bars then found the restaurant Jasmine had recommended to us. A nice meal there. Back at our homestay we met a group of Italians, who’d ridden across from Bali on scooters. Simone is a diving instructor and his Dad had come over to visit him, along with some friends from Italy. They’re all keen bike riders so we had plenty to chat about. Dan went out with them later on, but I cried off, feeling that I needed some sleep.
We went out for a walk next morning, on a bit of a mission. Dan had remembered that it was AFL Grand Final day so we were hoping, given the number of Aussies around, that one of the bars would be showing it. We found one quite easily and went back over there to get a good seat and enjoy the game. There was a crowd of Aussies just behind us and more came in before the game started, so it would be a good atmosphere. The final was between the Richmond Tigers and the Adelaide Crows, with the Tigers winning easily in the end at 106-58. At half time I ordered a Spaghetti Bolognaise, which was very nice except that the sauce tasted sweet. I think they must have put honey in it. Familiar dishes in foreign places can often have a surprising taste.
After an afternoon rest we ate at a warung, where I had Gado Gado, a dish made from vegetables with a satay sauce on them, plus rice of course. Food in Indonesia can be quite boring at times, with small warungs only offering basics, such as Nasi Goreng (fried rice), Mie Goreng (fried noodles), usually with vegetable and egg in it. Bigger ones will offer fish, chicken, pork and various curries. I discovered a really nice dish called Pepes Ikan, which is a piece of tuna, wrapped in a banana leaf and served with vegetables, sauce and rice. Food is usually quite cheap although some places in Kuta definitely had tourist prices.
Back at our homestay the power was out, the town having suffered a power cut, although it did come back later on. Dan was going out again so I just had a relaxing evening.
In the morning it was time to head for the hills. But first we had to fight the traffic once more as we headed north. It was a Sunday, for goodness sake, don’t these people ever take a day off? Repetition is supposed to make something easier but not when it’s this bad. When people talk about the bad traffic in Asia, this is what they’re referring to. But eventually we could turn off onto a quieter road and, after a tea break, we started climbing and left the population behind.
We were slightly puzzled as to why there were hundreds of bikes climbing this steep, twisty road. Groups of them parked by the roadside too. When we came to the top of the pass the answer lay before us. A glorious view out across the valley below and to the steep hills beyond. There were crowds of people there, with plenty of stalls to supply them. There’s a special viewing point, accessed by climbing up another slope, but that has to be paid for although it possibly has some cultural significance too. I haven’t been able to find out. We just settled for the cheap seats and enjoyed the views and being among the people.
We pushed on, down, around, up etc, stopping at one point to allow some rain to pass us by. Every time we stopped people would want to talk to us, find out where we’re from and so on. It was nice to be among such friendly people. On one particularly steep hill I made a complete arse of myself by falling off the bike. As we came round a bend we found a truck stuck on a steep slope. I would have just gone round it but there was a car coming towards me. So I stopped and promptly overbalanced on the very steep camber and fell off the bike. Dan went past and stopped but couldn’t help me because he had the same problem. Fortunately the truck driver and his mate came over and helped me pick the bike up. Then they jammed a rock under the back wheel so I could pull away easily. I think they owed me that!
Although the roads we’ve ridden so far have been generally good, they aren’t what you might call ‘engineered’ very much. By that I mean that they follow the terrain faithfully rather than having any bends levelled off or brows of slopes flattened. There’s been very little sign of anything as drastic as blasting the rock face away or building a viaduct. All of this means that steep bends will have steep cambers, in either direction; you can’t see what’s over the next slope and it could well be a sharp bend; the roads can be very steep and narrow – think back roads in the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales. So caution has to be the watchword, all the time. As I discovered, you never know what’s around the corner.
Eventually we reached the waterfalls we were heading to at Senaru, near to Lombok’s north coast. The spectacular Sendang Gile and Tiu Kelep waterfalls are on the slopes of Mount Rinjani, a favourite place for trekking and forest walks. We pulled in to the car park of Café Emry and allowed ourselves to be persuaded that we needed a guide to take us down to them. There were a group of young lads there and one of them led us down some very steep earth steps, which had crumbled away quite badly, until we joined a proper path going further down. This café had been the first we’d come to as we rode up the hill and they’ve very enterprisingly cut these steps to give access from their premises to the official path. I’d kept my riding trousers and boots on and promised my self I wasn’t going to try to climb back up that way. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t make it.
The waterfalls are quite something. They’re a few hundred meters apart and, for reasons of irrigation control, are linked together by a tunnel so that water flows between them at ground level and is controlled by sluices. Visitors are free to walk through the tunnel if they want to as the water is only up to about thigh level. We stuck to the path. The first one we got to was Sendang Gile, a water fall that drops from two places but falls into one pool. Swimming permitted and plenty of people did just that. Then we back tracked a bit and followed the path, part of which was above the tunnel, over to Tiu Kelep. Getting there involved wading across the river in two places and I’m pleased to say that my riding boots proved to be completely waterproof. None came into the boot until the water got deep enough to flow over the top, and then once inside it wouldn’t come out again. Tiu Kelep is the most spectacular of the two, with multiple cascades falling down over the rocky ledge and above them a much higher fall. The bathing pool beneath is cold but plenty of people felt the obligation to get in anyway. I never have a problem resisting that kind of masochism.
When we went back up to the café I took the longer route and by the time I got there Dan had got the teas in. There was a honeymooning Dutch couple there so we chatted with them. They were highly amused to have discovered that the Indonesian word for Holland is Blunda. Roy, the guy who runs the café, recommended a homestay just up the road and said to mention his name for a discount. It worked, and we got good rooms at a reasonable rate. We went back to the café for a couple of beers and a meal which we ate while Roy regaled us with tales of mountainside ganja farms and how the local mafia destroyed a 400 hectare crop simply because it hadn’t been approved by them. He reckons this kind of thing happens on most of the islands. Well, maybe but who knows?
It really was a beautiful place up there. Roy had done an excellent job with the garden of the café and the backdrop provided by Mount Rinjani made it a peaceful and special place. We were very glad we’d come up here especially as were going to be on the ferry to Bali next day, signalling the end of our trip together.
Beauty and peace in the garden of Cafe Remy while gazing out at Mount Rinjani.
An early start saw us on the road to the port at Lembar. Nice riding at first, with blue sea and white sand to admire, but eventually we hit the busy urban streets and exchanged sea air for diesel fumes. Nothing to be done other than put up with it but we were very pleased when we reached the port.
No hassles with getting on board. Buy the ticket, ride on, tie down the bikes and find a place to sit. We opted for the indoor lounge as the deck had no comfortable seating, but it did get rather hot after a while so we went outside and discovered our Italian friends out there. One of Dan’s concerns was that he had no IDP, not having planned to be riding a bike when he first left home. The police in a tourist filled place like Bali will often stop tourists, knowing that the fine for not having one can supplement their pay very nicely. I’d experienced this myself. Simone said there was very likely to be a checkpoint when we left the ferry and he was right. But to Dan’s great relief all they wanted to see was vehicle registration documents. In Indonesia these must be carried on the vehicle. I had mine, Elisa had left hers with the bike and the Italians’ scooters were all rented so they had theirs too. Easy peasy.
Simone had a rented house down in Seminyak, part of the Denpesar conurbation, so we headed off down there via the Expressway. Dan needed to be in Seminyak too. He’d managed to borrow some riding gear from a shop called Eiger. In effect, they sponsored his trip across from Kupang by lending him some boots, jeans and a jacket provided he posted pictures of him wearing the gear to Facebook regularly. He’d bought his own crash helmet and goggles though. As I said before, he’d had no plans to ride anything when he’d left Aus four months earlier. As far as he knew he was obliged to return everything and he wanted to talk to the manager to tell him how he got on.
As the Expressway entered the city everything slowed down until we were obliged to ride on the dirt at the side of the road to make any progress at all. We came to a cross roads which was completely jammed up, with nothing moving. The Italians zipped around via a zebra crossing but Dan and I, on our bigger bikes, got a bit stuck in the narrow gaps and upset a few car drivers by forcing our way through. In fact one got so upset that he got out of his car and threatened to hit Dan. That was funny in a tension relieving kind of way and we made good our escape and caught up with the others. They’d pulled in because they were turning off the main road and it was time to say arrivederci. We Googled to see what accommodation was available, bearing in mind this area was a tourist hotspot and it was now nearly dark. We were relieved to find the M Boutique Hostel, very close by, and worthy of mention because it had capsule style accommodation. This is rather like having a closed in bunk. We had a large locker for personal gear (although most people seemed to prefer the floor) and then we could crawl into the capsule, pull the blind down behind us and shut out the world. The capsule was as wide as a single bed and with enough room to sit up. With power points and a light it was cosy, private and comfortable. These places are popular in Japan although I didn’t use one while I was there. A hot shower, cold beer and a good meal at a nearby warung brought back some much needed peace and harmony to the soul.
The last day with Dan started with us making our way to Eiger where the manager was happy to tell him he could keep the riding gear. Dan had been hoping this would be the case – who wouldn’t? It was all very second hand now anyway but had done the job required of it. The store is very much like places such as Cotswold Outdoors or Kathmandu except that they provide motorcycle riding and touring equipment too. After tea and photos with the manager we set off towards the small village of Mas, near Ubud. This is were Nancy lives and it was were Elisa’s bike was going to be kept until she could collect it and restart her trip. Nancy is a friend of Elisa’s father, which is how that offer came about. We followed her instructions and got ourselves there easily enough, once we’d fought our way through the traffic again. Nancy is quite a woman and a very interesting character. I’ll write more about her in my next blog. Suffice to say she made us very welcome and we got the DR650 tucked away and covered up.
Journey’s end for Team Dan and Geoff. He was getting a taxi back to Seminyak and would then spend a few days with friends before flying home. I was going to ride into Ubud and spend a couple of days enjoying the town and its delights once more. As you all know, I’m a solo traveller and prefer it that way. But the opportunity had presented itself to ride with Dan and it made complete sense to do so. We had a great time and got on very well, both personally and as riding buddies. Neither of us felt pressured by the other, either into doing something we didn’t want to, or not doing something we did. Our two weeks together had been really good. It was Dan’s first taste of this type of motorcycling and he’s now keen to do more. That’s great news. So thanks for your company Dan and good luck with your new life direction.