The legendary horizontal Irish biker
The audience turned expectantly towards me, and I didn't feel I could let them down. Up on the pegs, I launched myself at the thing gamely, with predictable results. Something solid in the glutinous muck grabbed pulled and twisted, and over I went. Fortunately, the mud was nice and soft, and I relaxed happily into its gluey embrace as I thumbed the kill switch...
The roads on Nias also provided some amusement - on the East of the island, the asphalt had degraded beyond recognition, and the journey from the port of Gunung Sitoli to Lagundri took around 4 hours.
I had particular difficulty with the decaying bridges, which had originally been constructed of flat planks running at 90 degrees to the direction of travel. However, as these had progressively disintegrated, shoddy repairs had been made by placing two gangways of inadequately secured boards along the length of the bridge where the car tyres would run. These things were rattly and uneven, and fairly tricky to balance on. A glance downwards afforded views of the river below, through the gaps in the mouldering old boards. I concentrated on staying on the gangways, picturing in my mind the possible effect of a quarter-ton of Yamaha if it were to pitch onto these old timbers at speed. The best approach seemed to be to line the bike up as I approached the bridge, and then gas it across in a dead straight line along one of the gangways as it rattled and shook discomfortingly.
A few days on Lagundri beach was a welcome respite after all of this, and when I left I elected to head back to Gunung Sitoli by the West road, which I was assured was much better. In my experience, advice like this should always be taken with a pinch of snuff, but in this case the advice initially turned out to be sound. The road was smooth and only occasionally reverted to dirt: I made good progress. Unfortunately, it then became necessary to gain altitude and cross over to the opposite side of the island, and it was on this stretch that I was brought up short by a steep muddy slope. A couple of minivans were stuck at the foot of this rutted ascent, whilst a third attacked it at maximum revs, wheels spinning as it was shoved by its dozen or so passengers. The attempt was unsuccessful, and it slithered back into the quagmire with smoke pouring interestingly from the engine compartment.
The audience turned expectantly towards me, and I didn't feel I could let them down. Up on the pegs, I launched myself at the thing gamely, with predictable results. Something solid in the glutinous muck grabbed pulled and twisted, and over I went. Fortunately, the mud was nice and soft, and I relaxed happily into its gluey embrace as I thumbed the kill switch. He's back, I thought, the legendary horizontal Irish biker adds one more landmass to the growing list of "Places I've stacked the bike"....
The audience seemed to appreciate my efforts, and cheerily hauled me upright for another go, this time a couple of my new friends gave a helpful push which got me to the top of the obstacle. I thanked them all very much, and they seemed to have enjoyed themselves too, so that was OK.
Possibly I was still slightly shaken by the tumble, for a few miles further on, I stacked it again on a not-particularly-difficult stretch, for no reason other than lack of concentration. There was no one about at the time, but in Asia you are never alone for long. Within five minutes I was helped upright again by the dozen or so bikers and twenty school kids who had appeared, as they do in such circumstances, out of nowhere.
More waving and smiling, more happy customers, off I rode
- provider of entertainment, reliever of tedium, benefactor of mankind.
While waiting for the ferry, a teenage lad approached me, and I anticipated the usual series of questions. You sometimes get a little tired of the predictable nature of these exchanges. "What your country?", "What your name?", "How much this bike cost?", the routine never varies much and you long for someone to ask you something original. Today, my prayers were answered.
"You married?", he asked. I said yes.
(I generally travel "married", not that it stops people from offering you hookers, which they seem to do almost by reflex, in the same tone as you might say "Fancy a cup of tea?" - but it does give you a plausible reason to say no. Attempting to explain that you have no interest in studying HIV first hand, in my experience, achieves very little.)
The lad continues: "So - you zigzig with your wife everyday?"
I looked up sharply. He seemed completely serious. Finally, I had been presented with an original question, and I could think of nothing relevant to say. For shame. I think he sensed that I was on the ropes.
"Does your body smell?" he continued levelly.
I muttered something inane. What sort of textbooks had this lad been studying? I was impressed. "Do you bat? I bat.", he pronounced with gravitas, and cycled off.
I only realised later that he'd been trying to say "bathe", but despite the slip, his grave dissatisfaction with my personal hygiene, mud spattered and sweaty as I was, affected me deeply. I was chagrined and decided that I must bat at the earliest opportunity.
A day after I left Nias, I reached the mountain town of Bukittingi, a journey which involved my first ever crossing of the equator. I accomplished this momentous feat in torrential rain, wearing full waterproofs. I felt slightly let down by this, but was excited to be in the Southern Hemisphere.
Irish 'Crossing the Equator Jig', in Indonesia
This excitement was tempered when I learned that evening on the news of a freak storm, which killed 60 people on the island, which I had so recently left. I hoped that my cheerful roadside rescuers, and my personal hygiene inquisitor, were not among the casualties.
I plan to head for Danau Maninjau next, and gear up for a frontal assault on Jakarta. The options for shipping the bike out of Indonesia are still under debate, but the Carnet expiry date of 31st August does put a limit on my stay here. I will report in when the muddy waters clear up a bit....
Posted by Connor Carson at August 15, 2001 12:00 AM GMT