I am the original 'Uneasy Rider' .. not especially blessed with much natural motorcycling talent, nor am I a particularly courageous motorcycle rider.
Nevertheless I went 'Right Way Round' New Zealand (at least twice) followed by a wonderful ride around Australia.

Then it was up to southeast Asia, around Indo-China, across southern Central Asia to the Middle East, Asia Minor .. and finally into Europe.

Right Way Round - all the way home .. from New Zealand to England, 2-up on a Honda Transalp.


PROGRESS SO FAR - Distance covered across Western Europe: 6,411 km [3,984 miles] - as at Thursday, October-22nd, 2015

Monday 25 June 2012

North/South 00°00.000’

Tuesday, 12th June

After getting slightly lost making our way from Tangerang (near Jakarta) to the ferry port at Merak on the northwest tip of the island, I tried to convince myself to stop worrying about the chaotic Java traffic scene - the sheer madness of it .. and all the potholes in the roads .. but instead, simply celebrate the journey, as I'll probably only pass through this way just the once. These days, therefore, must never be forgotten.

But it didn't work!

To be honest, as the ferry cast off its lines and sailed away from Java, I was glad to see the back of the place. The hustle and bustle - it was all starting to wear me down. With the exception of a handful of locations - Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park, and the City of Yogyakarta, both spring to mind - I was very please to be leaving the world's most heavily populated island in my wake.

Having said that, I wouldn't have wanted to miss the experience of Java. It is truly an extraordinary part of the world. An invasion on all your senses.

On deck, the usual assortment of vendors were plying their wares; from bottled water to hard-boiled eggs with cold plain-boiled rice; from ice lollies to freshly-plucked bunches of peanuts - not roasted or salted, but soft and sweet, picked straight from the plant.

During the 2½ hour voyage to the Island of Sumatra, we passed just north of Krakatoa, the famous volcano that has exploded many times throughout the centuries, but is most remembered for the 1883 event, which killed over 36,000 people. That particular explosion is considered to be the loudest sound ever heard in modern history, with reports of it being heard nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 km) away.

Despite the cooling sea breeze, the crossing was still mighty hot. Ellen spots some sweat rolling down my sideburn.

After seeing this picture (above), I have to admit that I am indeed going slightly grey, especially around the sideburn areas!

3:00pm - looking down the port side of the ferry we get our first glimpse of Sumatra, the sixth largest island in the world, with a population of over 50 Million.

An hour - 45 km [28 mi] up the road - after disembarking we were checking into our lodgings for the night at the Nirvana Resort, just north of Kalianda township. Nice place, if a little 'tired' and over-priced. Bargain hard with the receptionists and get up to a 50% reduction on the advertised tarrif price, especially during weekdays.


Wednesday, 13th

Our first Sumatran sunrise.


The first thing that smacks you straight in the face on Sumatra is the obvious interest, even fascination, the locals express when they see you, especially riding a big (by comparison) overland adventure motorcycle like the 650 V-twin Transalp. Whoops of 'Hello Meestir' around every street corner .. it's just like being back in Flores.

On the way north, somewhere, we stopped to buy a couple of bottles of cold water at the first shop we spotted that had a refrigerator .. and to give our arses a break.

Interest gathers almost immediately.

Incidentally, see the rubbish in the gutter (above)? This is quite typical; if there's a gutter around then Indonesians will fill it with litter. Occasionally they do attempt to burn it away.

Same goes for the outskirts of most townships; as you leave the boundaries and pass under the usual sign displaying "Selamat jalan" ["have a good journey"], there will be piles of abandoned rubbish; plastic bottles, cartons, supermarket shopping bags .. you name it.  A damn shame - spoiling the place, of course. How much responsibilty should the West take for this, I often wonder?

Soon half the village turns-up.

And out come all the phone cameras. We always ask them to pose in return. Smiles and the usual pleasantries exchanged .. and we're on our way again.


Thursday-14th & Friday-15th

We covered a lot of ground on Thursday-14th - well in excess of 320 km [200+ mi] over some poorly maintained and badly potholed roads. So we made Friday a 'short ride' day, just around 140 km [87 mi] to the City of Lubuklinggau, where we stopped-over in a slightly upmarket place called The Hotel Abadi. Nice, with a superb swimming pool, and a supermarket no more than 100 metres away that sells cheaper-than-usual Bintang beer! A great combination.

Saturday, 16th

The Abadi has a huge ballroom, which on Saturday-16th was opened to some sort of childrens' party [or pageant], where loads of kids were dressed-up in traditional costumes. Ellen went in and snapped a few pics, here's just a couple of them:



Away from the hotel by 09:30am. About 50 km [31 mi] up the road and we were flagged down by a passing private car, hassling us to stop. We (perhaps unwisely) pulled over to find out what all the fuss was about.

Turns out they were just curious and simply wanted to know what we were doing and where we were headed for .. and to take our picture. Nothing more sinister than that. Amazing I know, but it happens all the time.

Another 50 km and this time we were stopped, only for the second time anywhere in Indonesia (the first occasion was way back in West Timor) on a routine police check. When the cop could see we were 'different' he couldn't quite decide what to ask for [?] .. then it dawned on him, his face lit-up in an enlightened, slightly cocky manner, and he then demanded, "PASSPORT - give me passport." We obliged of course, and turned and pointed to the pages containing our Indonesian 60-day visas. I also chucked him my IDP (International Driving Permit), which he didn't seem all that much interested in.

No on-the-spot fine imposed on us today then. And so we relaxed and tried to strike-up a general conversation with 'em.

Just as a point of interest: apparently if you want to become a police officer in this country, then you have to pay (read: pay bribe money) up to around Rp 250 Million [£17,000 - £18,000] for the privilege, which is a HUGE amount of money by Indo standards.

Naturally, said police officers want to 're-coup' their investment .. which is why spurious (and obviously contentious) 'on-the-spot' fines are common place throughout the country.

All this guy wanted to talk about was the previous evening's UEFA Euro football match between Sweden and England. Although you couldn't tell from his expression in the picture (above), he was quite delighted to inform me that the Swedes were beaten by England 2-3.


We decided to turn west - off the main trans-Sumatra Hwy - when we reached Bangko, and head-up over the mountains to the west coast.

The first 50 km was fairly easy going .. then the road conditions deteriorated to broken tarmac, the oh-so familiar endless amount of pothole dodging. Often the road was reduced to no more than a mud track. It was heavy going .. and time was not on our side, as we were in danger of reaching our intended destination of Sungai Penuh in the dark.

 We got to the north-eastern shores of Lake Kerinci (Danau Kerinci) right on dusk.

Around 40 minutes - about 25 km [16 mi] - later and we pulled-up outside what seemed to be the only hotel in town; that is, the very very Muslim orientated city of Sungai Penuh.

Two weary Brits, then unloaded their Kiwi motorcycle in the dark, feeling more than a little incongruous! We slept well that night despite the traffic noise right outside our bedroom window.


Sunday,  17th

Away by 08:30am. 12 km further west along more broken track, not yet 'warmed-up' into motorcycling mode, I made the unforgiveable error of dabbing my front brake on loose gravel ..

.. and we went down.

sh!t-bum-tit-willy! .. my first 'off' for more than 30,000 km, and even then that first one was just a gentle 'lay down' when we hit a big pocket of bull dust on the Mereenie Loop Road in the Northern Territory, Australia.

This incident, unfortunately, was a little more serious.

Still, on the brighter side, neither of us were hurt; the crash bars had done their job of protecting the engine and plastic fairing; the Barkbusters handguards had protected the the clutch lever from snapping.

The LH side aluminium pannier had taken a bit of a bashing .. but everything was fixable, including my bruised ego.

Soon we had made all the necessary roadside repairs to get mobile again ..

and we proceeded on our way through mostly more broken track and gravel, over what remained of the mountain range and tropical rain forest to the coast - right hand firmly off and away from the front brake lever!

When we eventually hit the coast, where sections of the roadway had been washed away; we could only assume the cause was some sort of tsunami. I think I hate sand even more than gravel.

It was turning into an interesting and eventful day's ride, to say the least.

We passed along some beautiful coastal scenery on our way up to the City of Padang, arriving there, again just as dusk was falling.

Under the circumstances, we quickly agreed that two days and nights in Padang were needed for more than one reason. Firstly, we were knackered; secondly, the bike now needed some attention.


Monday, 18th

Remember me mentioning Ivan, head of the Java Honda Club back in Tangerang Java (in the last post)?

Well, we contacted Ivan on Monday-18th, and asked if he could put us in touch with a reliable repair garage in Padang. Within the hour two Honda owners showed-up outside our lodgings .. and escorted us through to the other side of the City ..

.. to Joel's place, where instantly the previous day's damage was fully diagnosed.

As I said .. all fixable.

A spot of welding here ..

.. and a bit of bashing and drilling there.

Within a couple of hours everything was put right. The damaged LH pannier made even stronger than before. The usual mandatory poseur photographs taken by all concerned.

We were 'back in business' and ready, in every sense, to get going again the following day.


Tuesday, 19th

With the bike fully repaired and re-fuelled, we stopped at the first ATM we came across to top-up our dwindling supply of cash. Incidentally, there are loads of banks with ATMs all over Indonesia; getting rupiah is no problem whatsoever. MasterCard is accepted by nearly all of them.

TIP: If you travel abroad then get yourself a pre-loadable credit card. For instance, we use CAXTON fx Global Traveller (MasterCard) plastic. We top-up these cards, online, every now and again when necessary. It's a wonderful system, with a good value currency exchange rate, which works well for us everytime.

Meet Fhri, Dia and Rindi. Outside the ATM booth these cute young ladies rushed across to speak to us, asking the usual questions: 'What are your names?' - 'how old are you?' - 'are you married?' - 'where are you going today?'

Then out come the phone cameras. We really do feel like celebrities out here sometimes. And luvvin' it!


120 km [75 mi] further north and we find ourselves twisting and turning ..

.. downwards through 44 hairpin bends into the perfectly formed volcanic lake of Danau Maninjau.

That evening, it phissed down with rain, but we found comfort in a rustic, almost ‘Bohemian’, little café called the Rama and were soon tucking into platefuls of 'martabak' - with cushions, kites and drums all around. Owned and managed by the English-fluent Muhammad Ali (really), and his lovely wife who prepares the delicious martabak .. the nearest item of food that comes even slightly close to resembling, and tasting similar to, a decent Cornish pasty. Proper grub .. at last!

We hooked-up with a Hertfordshire-based teacher, on a sabbatical, called Michael in the Rama Café. We hope our paths cross again, somewhere on the road ahead.


Wednesday, 20th

The following morning we awoke to the mirror-calm lake where ..

Parorama – click for full view

.. fish farming mostly sustains the small local community; tourism having been on the wane here during the recent past .. dunno why this should be, as it's a beautiful corner of the world.


Up back through the inside rim of the Maninjau crater, re-negotiating the hairpins, this time from the opposite direction, and our not-so-trusty GPS maps steered us along a short cut in order to get back to the trans-Sumatra Highway. Out into 'the sticks' ..

.. where we were confronted with a couple of dodgy looking dilapidated bridges. Ellen went ahead on foot to test for the sturdiest planks .. look for rusty nails and other potentially tyre-puncturing obtrusions, as this was one place I didn't want to get a puncture!

The 'road' eventually deteriorated into little more than a goat track. Remote, and where it felt that time must have stood still for the last couple of centuries.

The second bridge we encounterted was a suspension-type arrangement linking two sides of a narrow ravine, which really put the sh!ts up me. How the hell was I going to get us all across that twisted piece of swaying wreckage?!

Should I turn back?

Nope .. we had come this far, and as the main highway was no more than 5-6 km up the track, we stripped all the weight (luggage etc) off the bike ..

.. and I set myself up for the crossing. Some Indo lads down by the river (underneath) noticed this Bule* trying to get a BIG bike across their bridge. They rushed to help.

*pronounced 'Boo-lay' - a commonly used word in Indonesia to describe a foreigner, especially a Caucasian Westerner.

Less than a minute later .. and I was across and up the other side of the ravine. PHEW!

 I bunged the lads a few rupiah for their kind assistance. They gave me a new nickname: so you can just call me "Rossi" [of Valentino fame] from now on, eh?!


About another 60 km [37 mi] up the main highway - about an hour later - and we arrived at that imaginary line which divides Planet Earth into the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

It was no coincidence that we got to the Equator on June 20th -  Solstice Day ..

.. at around 12 noon. I had planned this some time ago.

At this precise point on the Earth's surface - latitude: S 00°00.000’ - it's mid-winter's day (the shortest day) in the Southern Hemisphere.

I rolled the bike forward, by no more than a metre - and the GPS latitude co-ord changed to N 00°00.000’.

Therefore, the rear wheel was in mid-winter - and the front wheel in mid-summer (longest day). Who would have thunk it? I mean, just how 'cool' (if that's the right word) is that?!

At this point on the planet I am moving through space at a speed of 1,040 miles per hour (1,670 km/h). The fastest I am ever likely to travel.

Conversely, had I been at the North Pole (90 degrees north), or the South Pole (90 degrees south), my speed through space would effectively be near zero since on those spots the Earth still rotates once in 24 hours at the Poles .. at a very, very slow speed. It would take whole 24-hours just to turn around on the spot.

Space agencies exploit the speed of the Earth’s rotation at the Equator to launch rockets. By launching a rocket from near the Equator, it’s already going almost 1,700 km/h just when it launches, so it takes less fuel, or can carry a heavier load into orbit. That’s why NASA’s Cape Canaveral is in Florida, and the European Space Agency’s launch facility is in South America.

Whilst I continued to contemplate and be fascinated by my location, and my time in space, Ellen takes a look around the local market.

Outside, I'm still playing. At exactly midday I took a picture of my shadow, cast due south, which as you can see is about a metre long. With the sun directly above the Tropic of Cancer's zenith today, Solstice Day, this is the longest my shadow could ever be cast here on the Equator. If I were to return to this spot in just over three months' time - September 22nd to be precise - on Equinox Day, then the sun would be directly overhead .. and I would cast no shadow at all.

Ain't it all just too bloody fascinating for words? .. I mean really, it is.

So it's 'Goodbye' to the Southern Hemisphere for us .. don't know when we'll be returning to see you again. And 'Hello' Northern Hemisphere. In a strange way it felt like we were back 'home' where we really belong.

Two kilometres up the road from the Equator .. and Ellen whispered to me, "Turned a bit chilly hasn't it .. or is it just me?"



Thursday, 21st

We took another 'short cut' away from the main trans-Sumatra Hwy - over the mountains (highlighted in red) - on our way to Lake Toba, deliberately to avoid the city of Sibolga. Another BIG mistake!

The [eh-hem] 'road' was reduced to rubble most of the way; parts of it were still being constructed (or re-constructed) - see above pic. What tar-sealed surfaces actually existed were mostly badly pot-holed. I was growing very weary from it all. Bloody hard work and concentration for so many hours, non-stop, does grind you down, eventually.

We limped into Parapat at around 6:00pm .. then couldn't find the ferry terminal [phucking useless GPS maps], and as dusk settled-in, we surrendered the day to the first crappy hotel we stumbled across charging a reasonable price that fitted our budget. The ferry ride to Samosir .. would have to wait until the following morning.


Friday, 22nd

Waiting for the ticket office to open at the ferry terminal in Parapat so that we could catch the 11:30am boat across Lake Toba to the peninsular of Samosir Island (Pulau Samosir); sipping coursely-ground unfiltered Indo black coffee (nectar), we noticed  ..

.. this strangely-patterned, rather friendly (or rather dead) moth; part of the huge range of Sumatran plant and animal species, many of which are critically endangered, including the Sumatran Tiger, Rhino and Orangutan.

It is estimated that Sumatra has lost almost 50% of its tropical rainforest in just the last 35 years. That's progress for you!

10:40am and mayhem commences - the ferry boarding master starts the embarkation process; every vehicle has to reverse over the stony approach, then mount the steel loading bridge and park .. all going backwards, of course. We were almost the last vehicle to be invited onboard, except for a couple of ice-cream vendor scooters - and a Pertamina* tanker truck.

*Pertamina is the Indonesian government-owned corporation that extracts, refines, distributes and retails the country's state-subsidised oil and gas reserves. Yep, subsidised to the tune that a litre of petrol (referred to as 'benzine') retails on the forecourts here for around Rp 4,500, which is about £0.31. This in turn means that I can fill my tank, from near empty, for less than six quid. Niiice!

The 50-minute ferry passage across Lake Toba (Danau Toba) to Samosir went quickly, helped along by a little 'People Watching' ...


And now here we are .. currently chilling-out on Samosir, Lake Toba, North Sumatra. It is quite the most perfect location; soooooo laid-back and peaceful - 'tis in fact, a bloody paradise .. and quite a contrast from the Indo chaos and disorder we've been through during the last 5-6 weeks.

We've booked-in at a super little family-run resort called Mas Cottages, which is about halfway between the villages of TukTuk and Ambarita. Here are our hosts: young San (26) on the right, with his mamma and papa, one of his three brothers and his little nephew, Willmas.

We have a lodge room, with balcony, overlooking the lake. Here's our early morning view.

Because of the altitude here - of 900 metres [2,953 ft] - and latent heat produced by the underground volcanic activity, the day & night ambient temperatures, and the lake waters, are kept more-or-less at a constant 23°C [73.4°F]. Moreover, for some peculiar reason, there are no mozzies around [?]. For a couple of stray Northern Europeans like us, all this makes for .. Absolute Bliss.

Yep .. We Lake Toba .. and especially Samosir Island.

From Ellen's journal: click on this link → West to North Sumatra


We'll be leaving this fascinating island of Sumatra, and indeed the country of Indonesia, for good, on or around Monday July-2nd, when everything - the bike, luggage and ourselves - will be shipped-up to Penang, Malaysia.

We have a couple of interesting and final excursions planned on Sumatra first though.

Stayed tuned .. more in about 7-10 days' time.


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