September 15, 2001 GMT
To Yogyakarta and back

The first day's travel from Jakarta to Bandung was agonisingly slow and in desperation I tried to detour round the congestion of the major highways by using the secondary roads marked on my map. This worked well initially, but the asphalt road soon deteriorated into a rough cobbled track, which suddenly fell away down a hill to my right. Caught by surprise, I had no choice but to follow, and the track descended almost like a steep staircase into a village before launching itself up the other side of the valley in similar fashion. Slightly shocked by the suddenness of the change, I made it to the top of the next rise but the tree-lined track was by now no more than a walking path, and after a brief struggle through a particularly rutted section, I crossed up and launched myself into a tree where I stuck fast. The engine stalled, a few leaves fluttered down, and all was blessedly silent...

Becoming one with the trees, Java.

A group of small lads watched open-mouthed from a nearby field, and were quite obviously reluctant to approach. I eventually coaxed them over, and had six tiny people heaving and straining to lug the bike out of its symbiotic relationship with the surrounding vegetation. I gave them a fistful of rupiah for their trouble, and swore them to secrecy....

After these unnecessary antics, I decided that a relaxing few days at Pangandaran beach would be welcome, but between me and my objective lay the town of Bandung.

Ye gods. This must be where the dictionary definition of 'gridlock' was invented. Other words associated with Bandung include 'very hot', 'grinding misery', 'pollution', get the idea.

I arrived late in Pangandaran, severely knackered and up to my eyeballs in soot and diesel. Pangandaran was an excellent spot in which to eat some great seafood and sit on the beach watching the sun go down. In fact, after I had visited the magnificent Borobodur temple at Yogyakarta, I returned to Pangandaran to do just that until it was time to head West again to keep my appointment with Mr Koestanto... I was feeling definitely below par on the day I left Pangandaran for Jakarta, incubating something like a mild dose of the flu.

Pangandaran Beach, central Java, Indonesia.

Pangandaran Beach, central Java, Indonesia

However, I had promised Hery that I would report at his office on Monday morning, which meant that I had to cover the few hundred kilometres to Jakarta in a single day. The distance as such was not the problem....

However, the seven hours of hot, stinking gridlocked hell which I knew I would encounter from Bandung onwards were enough to make me quail. I felt like turning chicken, though I knew there was no way I could duck my responsibility. It was time to depart; ridge after ridge of jungle covered terrain flashed by, but before long I entered the seething morass of despair that is Bandung, and my progress slowed to little more than 20 kilometres per painful hour.

I will draw a veil over the rest of this ill fated day, as my temperature climbed higher due in equal part to the hot sun, the labouring bike, and the mild fever I was running internally at this stage. At one point I was obliged to dismount and sit in the shade for an hour, until the dancing blue blotches which were obscuring my eyesight went away.

My second stay at the Bloem Steen hostel on Jalan Jaksa, Jakarta was enlivened by the assault on my person of an army of bedbugs, which were clearly intent on crippling me with sheer loss of blood before moving in on the remains. It was a good strategy, and I hated them for their low cunning. I fought back, dousing everything in range with a spray pump of evil green stuff provided by the manager, which smelled like diesel mixed with nerve gas.

General Rommel bedbug and his Afrika Korps bedbugs were undaunted, and (slightly muffling his words round his tiny gasmask), he gave the orders for a second assault the following night. (NB looking back, I may have still been slightly feverish when I wrote this bit. Bear with me...)

Matters were becoming serious. Although the second attack was less extensive than the first night's bloodbath, I was far from happy with the response of the bugs to the manager's Green Stuff. I wanted the damn things dead, not faintly disheartened.

I resorted to a can of organophosphorous flea spray, which I had liberated from my last veterinary practice in the UK. It smelt awful, but seemed to work reasonably well, with only minor casualties in a couple of areas of flesh where I hadn't achieved adequate saturation. However, the novelty of hosing myself with nerve toxin every night, and going to bed smelling like a dingo's arsehole, was beginning to wear thin. It was time to go.

Mr Hery Koestanto, had gone down a few points in my estimation, by admitting to me that the price he had quoted for air freight of the bike to Darwin was in error. This was a bit of a sod, as I had come bucketing all the way back to Jakarta solely on the basis of this information. In fact, his original 1.45$ per kg shot up to 2.55$ per kg, on account of there being a different rate for cargoes which are classified as 'Dangerous goods'. My motorcycle presumably falls into this category by virtue of the remaining petrol in the tank (you can never completely drain it), the oil in the engine, and the unhealthy looking carpet-thing on the seat.

I had been aware that a dangerous goods certificate/fee was required, but I hadn't been told that a completely different pricing schedule would be enforced. This new price was way outside what I could sustain, and I decided to opt for sea freight, very much the overlander's least preferred freight option. The reason for this is that, although generally much cheaper, sea freight is very slow, unreliable and seems to be much more prone to the imposition of sudden arbitrary costs at both ends of the journey. In addition, the possibility that various prized components of your vehicle (or items of baggage) will be nicked is vastly higher, due simply to increased exposure time to the bad guys in situations of lax security. Airports in general have tighter security and give much less opportunity for pilfering, although there are notable exceptions, as anyone who has seen the anarchic mess that is Kathmandu Airport Customs Section will testify.

So with trepidation in my heart I agreed to the sea freight option, Jakarta to Sydney via Singapore. It has to be said that this was a vastly cheaper proposition than flying the bike, so assuming the thing arrived intact I would be quids in by at least a couple of hundred dollars. In addition, the 2-3 weeks delay during transit actually fitted quite nicely with my plans - I had another 4 weeks left on my Indonesia visa, and it seemed a shame to waste it sitting on my ass in Sydney racking up a huge hotel bill, when I could be on the beach in Indonesia, living the good life for a modest outlay.

Decision made. Bike to port. Bike into crate. Bike into warehouse. And (I hoped) bike NOT into bits and flogged off to the highest bidder.

Packing bike in Jakarta.

Packing bike in Jakarta

Packing bike in Jakarta.

And so to the beach....

So this was how I came to spend two weeks as a pedestrian in Java and Bali. A backpacker, no less.

I am on record as being occasionally jealous of the free and easy life of backpackers, able to leap on a bus to anywhere at a moment's notice, to sleep through the night while someone else does the hard work of driving. The backpacker is not fettered by a huge oily lump of metal, which must be cosseted and looked after, transported from landmass to landmass by air or sea at great cost and labour. What a great life.

What a LOUSY life! I would like to apologise immediately and unreservedly for thinking bad thoughts about motorcycle travel. The backpacker, by comparison, is heavily restricted in his travels, sees the country mainly through a small dirty window as he bounces around in the back of a bus, and cannot on a whim pull off the beaten track to 'just go and see what's over there'.

The backpacker is largely limited in his social contact to other tourists, and locals who are involved in tourism. Not for him to sit in a mechanic's greasy workshop drinking chai and trying to pantomime 'Please weld my bike back together'.

Servicing the bike in Bukittingi, Sumatra.

Servicing the bike in Bukittingi, Sumatra

Not for him to experience the delights of stacking a motorcycle in a variety of picturesque locations, and then being salvaged by legions of helpful locals with not a tourist tout amongst them. Is it also possible that I have become a little dependent on the bike, as though it's some sort of tribal totem, that I feel lessened in stature somehow when I am deprived of it. Is it possible that my personality is so weak that it needs to be propped up by inanimate machinery? Slightly worrying stuff.

This speculation was getting me nowhere: I passed the time in Bali at Lovina beach learning to scuba dive.

It was during this idyllic period that the attack on the World Trade Centre took place, and shocked the world out of complacency. I left Indonesia a few days later, in a world suddenly more sombre and uncertain than it has ever been in my lifetime.

Posted by Connor Carson at 12:00 AM GMT
September 30, 2001 GMT
Into subarctic Australia

The flight to Sydney dumped me into temperatures which felt subarctic in comparison with the balmy Indonesian climate. After a week of sitting on my ass in Sydney, and a couple of visits to the cargo agent in Port Botany, I had parted with many dollars in port charges, quarantine fees and other mysterious fees, acquired a stack of papers which could be used to wallpaper a moderately sized room, and was still not in possession of the bike. Fortunately I was staying with a biker friend (whom I'd met slumming it on a rented Enfield in Rajasthan, India), so I was not running up a huge hotel bill in the process. Cheers, Mike.

I finally was permitted to prise the bike out of it's crate after parting with even more cash - the total cost of handling, quarantine, warehouse rental, and other nebulous charges was around 600 Australian dollars (about 300 US dollars), and actually exceeded the cost of shipping the bike to Sydney in the first place. Unbelievable!

To add insult to injury, after three weeks in a dark container, the bike had a flat battery that resisted all attempts at jump-starting, and was in a MAJOR sulk. I beat an undignified retreat on the back of a breakdown truck, and dumped the machine in Mike's garage.

I had arrived in Australia at last, complete with a badly bruised wallet, a bike that wouldn't start, made funny noises in 5th gear, leaked intermittently from various orifices, wallowed like a sick pig due to shagged out rear suspension, and probably had things going on inside the engine that I didn't even want to think about.

Then I thought about all the miles and miles of empty dirt roads the wide open desert spaces and big blue skies, all just waiting for me.

I cheered up, and got the tools out....

Posted by Connor Carson at 12:00 AM GMT

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