It is seriously nice to be back on home soil. Things work the way I expect them to, and there aren’t many unpleasant surprises in the way of food, bathroom facilities or driver behaviour – which makes a really nice change. Oh, and you can drink the water straight from the tap – brilliant!
My last few weeks in Indonesia only served to confirm that I was ready to return to my own country. It was a litany of transport dramas – real and grossly exaggerated – that drove me partially mad and left me with a negative feeling about a country that, on balance, had been so rewarding.
Trying to get through southern Sumatra to the ferry across to Java was really hard work. The road was clogged with heavy traffic as it is the only road to the port, so it was not nice to ride along. We decided we’d cut our losses and hitch a ride to the ferry. Every vehicle that stopped asked us for excessive amounts of money to give us a ride – 1 million Rupiah (AUD$110) for a 50km journey – so we politely refused. Even the buses wanted to take us for all they could get, asking for $20 each for the same journey when a local person wouldn’t pay more than $1.50. We were getting a bit fed up with this, so we grabbed a hotel room in a little town and then caught the first bus in the morning, for which we still paid above the odds ($5 per person) but not the extortionate rates of the day before.
The ferry itself was quite good value ($2.50 per bicycle, cyclist included) and it was a nice smooth crossing. Monika and I had to part ways at the port: she was heading for Bandung to meet up with friends, and I was trying to make my way as quickly as possible to Bali for some R&R before my flight home. As soon as we reached the bus terminal at the port in Java the extortion started again. We managed to negotiate downwards, but were still paying well above what a local person would pay.
I’d decided to head to Jakarta and then catch a train to the ferry crossing to Bali. A good plan, but I didn’t count on the number of people travelling during the holiday period (Idul Fitri, or Eid, at the end of Ramadan) or the general shutdown of all transport related booking agencies. I jumped on a bus headed into Jakarta, and was told I’d be dropped off at the main train station in the city so I’d be able to check on train tickets as soon as I arrived. This was not to be. The bus dumped me 20km away from this station, at night, in the pouring rain. I was not a happy camper, as you can well imagine.
Then came the drama of trying to make it down to Bali. I worked hard to get a train ticket for a week after I’d arrived in Jakarta. I was pleased as everything was booked solid. After I’d paid for it, I tried to find out what I needed to do to get my bike on the train as well. No bikes allowed on the train… What the? My only hope of getting the bike down there was to contact the other half of the railway company that did freight and put it on a separate train at a different time. Awkward, but perhaps manageable, yes? … Nope. That half of the company was closed for a week for the holiday. Frustrated? You betcha! Ok, so I try to get a refund on my train ticket… can get a refund, must wait 30 days to collect the cash and they keep 25% of the face value of the ticket. ARRRRRRGGGH!
Fortunately, the awesome booking agent I’d used to get the ticket in the first place offered to spot me the cash and would collect the refund when it was finally made available by the railway corporation. Feeling markedly less impressed with Indonesia at this stage.
I wasn’t keen to front up to the bus station and have to pay a fortune to be stuffed into a bus for the better part of two days to get to Bali, so I kept asking about other options. It turns out that Air Asia operate an Indonesian subsidiary and even booking the day before the flight with extra baggage allowance to cater for the bicycle worked out to be cheaper than what they wanted for the likely exhilarating (in the wrong way) bus trip through Java. You beauty! I was finally on my way out of Jakarta.
By the time I got to Bali, I’d run out of time to go anywhere meaningful on the bike so I elected to chill out at a hotel far from the crowds of tourists in Kuta. I hid out in my hotel room attempting to write stuff that the Australian media might be interested in carrying about my trip so I could get the word out and raise some funds for melanoma research. It turns out that I suck at writing media releases. Anything vaguely formal and I revert back to my government report writing days and get bogged down in statistics and other yawn-worthy stuff. I was sending myself to sleep!
[If any professional PR/Journo types want to lend a hand and help me get the word out, I'd be ever so grateful. Send me an email, or leave a comment at the end of this post.]
I arrived in Darwin in the wee hours of the morning to find my dear Mummy waiting for me outside immigration. It was so good to finally get a Mummy-hug! We filled up our time in Darwin getting various things done. Including some repairs to the wheels of my bike so they should last all the way to Melbourne. After 10,000km (including pre-adventure training) Surly Sally is still travelling really well. There are a few more cable ties holding bits of her together than before I set out, but she’s holding it together better than the cyclist on most days!
Mum had asked me what sort of food I wanted when I arrived and had stocked up on some of my favourites. I have gleefully munched my way through a barnyard of barbecues and roast dinners, and have almost taken my fill of fresh salads – “almost” because after a year of abstaining from uncooked vege due to dysentery concerns, it would take a month of Sundays to satisfy the cravings.
A week after arriving in Darwin, I set off for Kakadu bright and early in the morning to avoid the heat. My dear Mummy rode with me for the first 20km and has been building on that tally practically every day since. She can now knock of 40km in the cool of the morning in around two hours – not too shabby for a 70 year old. My Mummy is freaking awesome!
It took a couple of days to make it into Kakadu from Darwin, and there is no denying it is pretty warm at this end of the country. Early starts are crucial, as are regular stops for muesli bars, coffee and/or a slice of the awesome cake Mum has been baking in her nifty thermal cooker – start it on the stove and then leave it in its vacuum thingy for a few hours and presto-change-o you have scumptious fruit cake.
I’ve gone from sitting in the dirt on the side of a road somewhere in Asia eating whatever was available at the little shed that passes for a shop to reclining in a comfy chair, sipping on chilled water and snacking on freshly made cakes. Oh yeah, baby!
I had a lovely time in Kakadu, spotting plenty of wildlife, much of which was too fast to catch on camera. The cruise on the Yellow Water was incredible. I got to see lots of salt water crocodiles from the safety of an uncrushable metal boat.
We were extraordinarily privileged to see Jabiru (large crane-like bird) catch a fish at close waters and then defend its catch from two pairs of Sea Eagles who continuously dived and harassed the Jabiru while they broke up the fish with their impressively strong beaks. Even the guide was excited by the sight, which tells you how rare it is to see.
I am now in Katherine, a reasonable sized regional centre in the top part of Australia. There is a beautiful gorge close by that we visited yesterday, rich with Indigenous culture and devoid of man-eating crocodiles so you can canoe and swim at your leisure.
We have spent an alarming amount of time here in Katherine shopping for provisions for the next leg of the trip down to Alice Springs. Keeping a cyclist fed is full time occupation according to Mum, and she is doing a smash-up job of it. I’m feeling really strong and well-loved with her on the task. Thanks a million, Mum, you are amazing! Thanks also to Ron, my step-father, who has done a remarkable job at the rest breaks along the way and has truly set a new standard: comfy chairs set up in the shade, icy cold water ready when I arrive, and coffee on demand. Champion effort.
I would also like to thank the folks who have donated to my melanoma research fund along the way: Judy and Godfrey, Collin, and the strangers who dipped into their pockets without giving me their name. Cheers!
I hope this post finds you eating some delicious and nutritious food, surrounded by people who love you and feeling strong and, well, awesome!