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Sumbawa Indonesia: Hard Way Round
KAMIKAZE CANINE – SUMBAWA: THE HARD WAY ROUND
He came barrelling out of the scrub to my right, a white flash against the greenery. In situations like this your mind slots into overdrive. I knew this big white dog wasn’t stopping to look to his left, look to his right and look to his left again. The third actor in this impending tragedy was another motorcyclist coming from the opposite direction. Either he was going to hit Fido, or swerve into my path to avoid Fido or, if by some miracle Fido managed to cross his path unscathed, I was going to hit Fido. We both hit the anchors at the same time. Miraculously, Fido made it past the first bike, and somehow got beyond my front wheel too, so as to live another day. I hope the lady he was rushing to see was as pleased to see him arrive as I was to see him disappear!
No matter how careful you are, riding in Indonesia can still surprise you. I was on my way home to Lombok after a 1500 km ride through some of the more remote regions of Sumbawa, two islands east of Bali. Astride a Kawasaki KLX150 road trail, I’d been enjoying an incident-free ride - balmy weather, smooth bitumen, light traffic, few villages – until the near miss with Fido quickened my heart rate a tad. In hindsight, although I cursed Fido at the time, he did me a favour, as for the rest of the day’s riding I set my vigilance meter to ‘High Alert’. As things transpired, later in the day, between Aikmel and Masbagik in Lombok, I witnessed a head-on between a Fuso 15-tonner and a small people mover, whose driver, sadly, was killed instantly.
Driving in Indonesia - it is what it is. In heavily populated areas your survival can sometimes be just a matter of dumb luck. On the first day of the trip an impatient car driver pulled out to overtake, forcing me to veer left. At the point of passing there was a vehicle parked at the side of the road. If the driver’s door had opened half a metre at that instant, it would have been ‘All over Red Rover’ for me. But it didn’t happen and I’m still alive to ride another day. I do it because I love it. I control what I can control and let fate take care of the rest. If I didn’t think like this then I would have missed out on making a marvellous trip around Sumbawa.
I left with four goals in mind, two of which I’d failed to achieve in the past. In 2008 I’d walked the south-west coast until I reached a village from where I was able to get a ride in a truck to Lunyuk. In ’12 I attempted to reach Lunyuk on a Honda Vario but failed. I’d also tried to reach Tepal, a traditional village high in the interior but the road beat me. This time round I had the bike for the job. I also wanted to visit Wadu Pa’a, a collection of Hindu/Buddhist rock carvings hewn out of a lonely rock face at the narrow mouth to Bima Bay. And lastly I wanted to see the megalithic tombs of ancient chiefs located in a pretty valley in the hinterland of Sumbawa Besar city.
The ferry crossing from Lombok to Sumbawa was as smooth as silk. IDR 53,000 (AUD$6) got me and the bike on board for the 90 minute trip. Zinging out along the curving port road, a cool breeze taking the edge off the midday sun, I was soon heading south on a newly paved black top. Winding up through the hills around sweeping bends was a joy and once I reached the top of the range a stunning vista greeted me: a blue ocean, its waves collapsing on to the waiting shore.
I spent the night in Maluk a small town set beside a fine beach dominated by a stunning jungle-covered headland. I ate at a newly opened restaurant, tucking in to a mountain of rice accompanied by cassava leaves in coconut milk, spinach in tamarind water, bean shoots, tofu,, jack fruit curry chicken done in black bean sauce and a memorable chilli sambal, both spicy and piquant.
I hit the road next day at 7.00, gassed up with a litre of water hanging off my belt and another in my pack. Lunyuk was about 100 km away – a three or four hours trip. The bitumen ended after 30 km at Tongo. After that – I was expecting some fun because it had been raining in the area recently.
I passed along a flat ribbon of track littered with loose blue metal. Fortunately little of it was deep and treacherous. The countryside reminded me of North Queensland with fields a pineapples being watched over by low hills. I passed through Tartar village and waved good-bye to settled country, for the next 50 km to Lunyuk was through the uninhabited forest. The road rose and fell, plunging down to pristine rivers that had cut deep gorges between the hills. Massive trees and stands of giant bamboo kept me in perpetual shade for long periods at a stretch. I spied a decent waterfall issuing from a rock face high above the road, my only company, the music of rushing water and birdsong.
Rain had made the red earth slippery so steep downhills meant first gear and lots of back brake. I felt much more comfortable going uphill. This was my first serious off-road experience so i was learning the intricacies by the seat of my pants. I kept my centre of gravity low and my feet ever ready in case of mishap. There were lots of loose round stones, just the size to throw your front wheel into a head-spin and land you the wrong way up. Luckily, i kept out of their way.
Half-way on I met a road crew gouging out a new alignment with Caterpillar and Komatsu graders and excavators; mud and slush completed the scene. I forged on making slow but steady progress. Very occasionally, another bike would pass in the opposite direction. I heard the roaring of an engine in the distance. Before long, the only bus to ply the route, a sad-looking survivor of too many hard miles, came labouring up the hill towards me. The driver, his face etched with determination as he ploughed through the mud, sounded his horn in greeting as we passed.
The road began to improve a little and, as I came out of the hills, the first shacks appeared. There were fields of corn and padi fields, and rows of coconut palms flanked the roadside – Eden on Sumbawa southernmost shore. And then I hit newly-laid Mcadam – Lunyuk was not far away. I crested a rise and there before me was the coast. A back drop of mountains witnessed the ceaseless waves pounding the shore for between this spot and the Kimberly coast lay 1400 km of unencumbered ocean.
I’d made it to Lunyuk without mishap. The rest of the trip – about 110km over a good gravel road that ran across the spine of Sumbawa to reach the north coast – would be a snip. The KLX150 had proved itself in the toughest terrain I’d encountered so far. Light and agile, with a sound suspension and a selection of gear ratios that doled out the engine’s torque as needed, I could not have been happier with the bike’s performance.
And what was at Lunyuk? Not much to be honest. A few shops, a mosque, a collection of houses - some sound, some ramshackle – and the usual suspects were lolling about streets looking for some diversion. Was I disappointed? Hell no, because as one long-lost sage of the highways and byways once said: “Travel, my friends, is not about the destination. It’s about the trip.”
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