Sunday, 4 December 2011


Sunday 4th December, 2011, 3.30am; Pasonsongan, Madura
Total distance: 363.9km

The offending mosque, with a
blackened charred
building in the foreground
to illustrate my feelings
about it blasting prayers
loudly in the middle of
the night.
I have a bit of catching up to do with this blog, it's been a busy few days and finding time to write up all of the events has been difficult, because there's just been so much going on! Luckily for you, dear reader, for the last half hour I've been blasted by the sound of a guy singing prayers very loudly from the mosque next door. It's 3.30 in the bloody morning. He's still at it. Liv has whacked in some ear plugs.

So anyway, it would have been the afternoon of the 1st of December, a Thursday, when we were cycling through the road that ran along the national park on the north eastern edge of Java. There wasn't much to see except trees and one large bird, like an emu, sprinting off into the brush. But I was exhausted and concerned since we couldn't pitch a tent for the night as we didn't have enough water to cook with, and we might not make the next town before dark. So we just had to take a break to get my energy levels back up, by eating some biscuits and a few delicious rambutans – our new favourite fruit; red hairy things that, once cracked open, contain a delicious lychee like fruit.  Once fed we set off along the road again, hoping to come out the other side of the park and find a guest house before nightfall.

Luckily for us it turned out that this was a magic national park, because despite the fact we only ascended a few metres, and I'm pretty sure we must have started somewhere near sea level when we went in, we suddenly found ourselves freewheeling down long downhill stretches that got us out of the park and into the next village in minutes. It was truly bizarre, but we weren't complaining – didn't have time to - the sun was setting, and dark clouds were building, so we'd have to be quick and find somewhere to stay.

Our route from Ketapang to Kanyangar,
with our route by jeep to Ijen marked
by the grey line.

Madam Luck was with us still, it appeared, because the very first sign we saw as we cruised into town was for “Rosa's Eco Lodge – International Standard. HOTEL.” It pointed right, down a little lane where we were suddenly confronted by a quite remarkable scene. This lane ran parallel and along both sides of a stone channel that directed the course of a small river through a little village. On either side were mudbrick, stone or wooden dwellings surrounded by stick fences, with cattle in every other yard and chickens scurrying about. Each house was painted with bright colours – aquamarine, yellow, blue, turquoise. As we rode along, numerous smiling faces looked up at us from the river, where families were washing their children in the water. Further down we saw a herd of white Brahman cattle taking a drink at the water's edge before turning in for the night. Children giggled at us as we made our way slowly down the lane.

After checking for directions we turned off the river lane, and down a perfectly flat dirt track that ran in between the houses to the east of the river. Herds of cattle on their way back from their evening drink jingled and jangled along different roads, like a bovine Benny Hill show. Everyone seemed to own animals of some kind or another; mainly cows and chickens that were fenced up in their yards, and birds caged up on their porches. We finally found the gate for Rosa's Ecolodge but it was padlocked shut. It seemed like it might be the back entrance though, so we worked our way around, but found nothing round the other side. Lightning flashed across the sky followed very closely by thunder that cracked crisp and clear above us, the air was charged for an imminent storm. We asked again in simple Indonesian, where is Rosa's Ecolodge? And were guided back to the same place. We got our our phrasebook and said “Locked.” The people around us paused and considered this, then some went off, others stayed, and we just stood around looking stupid and not having any idea what was going on.

We were finally led into somebody's yard, where a man appeared on a moped holding a sickle, and said “Hello!” His name was Anton, must have been around our age, and he spoke English well, and carried a kind smile.

We explained the situation to him, and he told us that Rosa's Ecolodge was closed since the owner was ill in Jakarta, but if we wanted to we could come into his house for coffee and to avoid the storm that had just started dribbling on us. We gladly accepted, and followed him to his house, left our bikes under the porch, and came in just as the rain began pouring down in true monsoon style.

Anton and his wife.
We sat and spoke to Anton and, through him and our own limited Indonesian, his wife, mother, and brother who sat in the room with us. It was his wife's bedroom we were in, we sat on one of the two sofas that sat facing each other, Anton and his wife on the other, while his brother Mahmood sat on the bed. The rain continued as coffee was served, the hardest we'd seen for the whole time we'd been here. Cracking at the roof like tv static. Enough to flood the yard in minutes and put our plan of asking to camp there out of the window.

Anton's Mother appeared with food for us; fried bananas, rice and coconut – just what we needed to perk us up, and we sat around muddling through the basics about each other as we slurped on coffee and ate. The roof dripping here and there into buckets dotted around our feet. Anton drew us a map and explained that there was a hotel about 15km up the road, right by the port that we needed to get the ferry to Madura. It wasn't so far, but the prospect of cycling it at night with the threat of a soaking wasn't all that desirable. Evidently his brother, Mahmood didn't think so either, and Anton announced a few minutes later that we were welcome to stay at Mahmood's for the night.

Mahmood, his wife and child. (We really need to get better
at remembering people's names, but it is very hard when
concentrating on speaking in another language, then
being confronted with a name that you've never heard before.
We aren't even 100% sure if Mahmood is Mahmood's name.)
It really can't be overstated just how nice this family was to us. Here we were, two complete strangers rocking up as the sun went down, suddenly invited in, had dinner cooked for us, given access to the shower, and given a bed for the night. They were all absolutely fantastic. Imagine if the tables were turned, and if two strange Indonesians who spoke no more than a few phrases of English rocked up in Cheadle or Dorking, smelling a bit funny, and carting lots of large bags on some bicycles. Would you let them stay in your house, even though you spoke no Indonesian? It really was amazing, and we were enormously grateful.

Mahmood's house was just a short walk down the road. While I was unloading the panniers from the bikes an old woman appeared and offered to let me put our bikes inside her house to keep them safe and dry. It seemed like everyone here was out to help our cause. We dashed about between houses in the rain, washed ourselves with the bucket shower and thanked our hosts profusely before passing out in a very comfortable double bed, while Mahmood and the rest of his family watched Beckham and the LA Galaxys play Indonesia on the TV.

Cycling with the locals, near Anton's village in Kanyangar
Javanese fishing boats are very colourful and even a little flamboyant.
Life gets on with things in Java
Cattle in someone's back yard.
After breakfast the next morning Anton took it upon himself to show us around his village. We visited the beach, the local fish market, his cousin's house where we were treated to several fresh coconuts, and then back to Mahmood's by 11am. We had taught ourselves a few compliments  before going to bed the night before, and as we said our goodbyes we thanked them for their kindness as best as we could. At the fish market we had, of course, offered Anton some money for all the food we had been given, but he politely but firmly declined. Here was a taste of real Indonesian hospitality, it was astounding, and something we'll never forget.

The 15km's to the port were easy going, and relaxed since we had heard word from Anton's friend nearby that the ferry wasn't running until tomorrow, so we were in no rush to get anywhere. It gave me time to phone my bank since I thought my card had been blocked, only to find that I had been trying to use it in an ATM that didn't accept Visa. Mystery solved.

Cycling the lanes around Anton's village.
We checked into the hotel by the port, which was actually okay given its location and price, and we went into town, got into an argument with a motortaxi driver about the price of a short ride, and ate at a little warung. We felt a lot of the time like we were the only white people that had ever been to this place. We were certainly the only foreigners there at the time. As we walked down the road regular alarm calls of “Touris! Touris!” would sound out, and kids would stand and gawp at us as we went by, we said hello, or asked them how they were, in Indonesian of course, but they didn't even blink, and just remained staring, or ran away. Motorbikes slowed as they passed to ask us “What is your name?” then riding off before any answer could be given. A gap-toothed woman came pounding out of her house over to us, and prodded each of our noses with her finger, before laughing loudly and turning back to her friends. It's very strange suddenly becoming a commodity that many people won't even speak to, but prefer to stare at, or even prod. But I suppose we are a novelty, and there's certainly never any harm meant by it. Most of the time open-mouthed staring is remedied by simply smiling at them, and they smile right back.

The next morning I was sick, again, and spent the morning alternately sleeping and inducing vomiting to get the offending food out. The thought of spending 5 hours on a ferry weren't all that appealing, but it had been a very stop/start few days lately, and we hadn't been covering the distance we'd been wanting to – and needed to - if we were to reach a port of exit before our visa expires in 6 weeks. We needed to get the ferry, and luckily after a late morning snooze I woke up feeling well enough, and we packed and boarded the ship.

It was a small thing, carrying fifty or so motorbikes, a handful of cars, some crates, some large bags of chillies and a few hundred passengers. We escaped the bustling confines inside which housed the sleeping quarters, and made our way to the top deck where the sun burnt down onto the seats laid out, but was kept at bay in places by a sheet of corrugated tin. We huddled underneath it, sat on the floor in the way of the crew as they came to and fro. It was much quieter here than below deck, and we sat and watched the ocean roll by as we listened to Bill Bryson on the ipod, and ate pot noodles.

Arriving in Madura
Wooden structures lie a few kilometres offshore from
Madura. Lonely individuals were stationed on
them as we passed. Were they some kind of fishing
station? Although this photo shows a boat next to it,
most of them did not have one. Just sat, on a pile of sticks,
alone in the ocean.
We pulled into port in Madura just after the sun went down, but found ourselves a cheap and reasonable room very quickly. I made an excellent cock up by taking the phrasebook and marking with my finger “What time is check out”. When I tracked down the young man on reception to ask him I studiously began reading out the phrase phonetically as it was written in the book, only to realise as I finished the much longer than expected phrase, that I had in fact asked him if I could stay at his place tonight. After some awkwardness I discovered that check out was at 4pm.

We were going to be gone way before that though, so we headed into town to get some dinner before getting to bed in time for an early start. Given my fortune with food related illness this last week, it will come as no surprise that I did not harbour much of an appetite. As anyone who has suffered food poisoning will attest, you get a lasting aversion to whatever it was that made you sick, which was a very useful trick to keep homo erectus from killing himself off by eating the same poisonous mushroom again and again, but since almost all warungs serve a variation on the same 3 meals it did mean I was running out of things that I wasn't naturally fearful of eating, and being on a cycle tour we had to make sure we were eating well.

Luckily Liv found a popular looking place a little way down the main street, and we ate some fried rice which mercifully remained in my belly. We walked back to the hotel along the quiet road, and turned in for the night.

Madura is a large island directly north of Java, and it almost looks a part of it, like the upper pincer on a crabs claw. We read about the place on Mr Pumpy's guide to cycling SE Asia, and it was instantly attractive because, he said, it was much more peaceful and less hassley than Java. And that it certainly is.

The roads in Madura were the quietest in Indonesia so far.
In the morning we woke and set off north west along the main road into the region's capital, Sumenep. The road was sparse, and while people did seem to be fascinated by the sight of these two “Touris!”'s they were much more gentle in their fascination – they didn't come up and poke our noses for a start. People do laugh though. It's very strange. Cruising around Sumenep for a few hours, searching out mosquito repellent and suncream, we were regularly the cause of outbreaks of giggling from groups of people as we rode past.

“Hello my friend!” Someone would call out from a warung by the side of the road, and then they and all their friends would burst out into laughter. At first it was a little bit uncomfortable, but we soon figured out that it's much easier just to laugh along with them, although, as Liv pointed out, they obviously find the whole situation much funnier than we do. Ah well, so we're oddities at the moment, but oddities in a quiet region of Indonesia. Madura is just great. After a pleasant few hours around the white buildings, wide roads and blazing sun of Sumenep, we headed towards the north coast road, and as soon as we left the city we found ourselves in open country, flat and wide, with rice paddies and coconut plantations spreading out for miles around us. It's the first time since arriving in Indonesia that we've seen so much unbroken greenery. While rice paddies are very much “in” in Indo, everywhere else they are broken up by villages, mountains or derelict buildings. Here on Madura they spread out away into the distance, and on down the quiet road ahead of us.

It was a glorious day's ride, warm, but with a cool breeze for much of the time. Within two hours we had hit the north coast, and from here the road runs the whole length of the island west, then down and back onto Java. No map required, we just get to enjoy the green trees, the whush of the waves, and the occasional astounded onlooker. Java will be a shock when we get back to it.

The cows in Madura are proper mental, like.
Lunch was a terrifying affair though. We were hungry, and rode through a town looking for a nice looking warung but saw none. None that looked nice, that is, and before we knew it we were on the road leading out with no houses ahead of us, and who knows how much longer to ride until the next place that might serve food. We were both hungry. Luckily we spotted a place just outside the town limits, and we rode up to the woman there and asked if we might have some food. She shook her head and pointed back down into town. It seemed that this place was closed.

We didn't much fancy going back, especially given the choices available there, so I tried asking if there was anything further up the road, but then we were invited to sit down as people rushed off down the lane to fetch us food. We haven't figured out how to say “Don't go out of your way, please.” yet. We haven't actually figured out how to say we would like to eat, we just say hello and stand around looking gormless at a place that seems like it might serve food, until they invite us to sit down or tell us to go away.

"Thank you for the chicken kidneys."
After a worryingly brief amount of time a pot of rice was served up, and then a dish appeared with some chunky vegetables and a fish in it. Now, although the second bout of food poisoning I had was purely from tofu and rice, I am currently trying my damnedest to avoid meat wherever I can. If Indonesia can manage to poison me with tofu, imagine what damage the meat could do! (Well, I don't have to imagine, the Lovina fever from hell showed me what that was like). But these people were evidently going out of their way for us, and we were right by the coast so it was probably fresh, right? I cut the little fish in half, and popped half of it on my rice, then went to work on the veg-... hang on, that potato has got veins. And it's attached to that bit of pumpkin by some sinuous membrane. Oh my.

No, it wasn't a plate of veg at all. It was, of course, chicken offal. The internal organs of two chickens served up with a fish, and of course, being polite British types, we just started forcing it down us, resigned to the fact that we might have to throw it back up in 6 hours. We didn't stick around for seconds, and set off down the road again, hoping that the peaceful ambience of Madura would allay our food fears.

One thing we did notice as we rode, was that for the first time since arriving in Indonesia it looks as though we might be able to camp. Everywhere else we have been has been lacking any land where we might put a tent up, and even if we had found somewhere there are so many people everywhere that we'd be lucky to last ten minutes before an inquisitive farmer or gang of kids found us. Here though, the villages actually have gaps between them, and don't just merge one into the other, and there are patches of uncultivated land where we might pitch a tent. We've kept our dromedary bags topped up with fresh water just in case, but yesterday afternoon rain clouds were gathering at 3pm, and we were scared of a sudden bout of diarrhoea or vomiting in a tent at night, so as we rolled into another village we began asking around for a “losmen” (guesthouse).

The north coast rode of Madura is peaceful and very beautiful.
But it has zero tourist infrastructure. Nobody speaks English, and
there are no hotels or guest houses for well over 100km.
We were alternately given directions, and then told “no losmen”, until after speaking to a number of different people one woman bid us follow her on a scooter, and we pedalled back into town and down a road, where we came to a grandiose building close to the sea, painted red, with ornate bird cages on the porch, and a tank full of catfish outside. We were shown into a room with a comfortable looking bed and flowers on the table, and we realised that this was not a losmen at all, but the woman's own house.

We spent the latter part of the afternoon conversing, slowly and sometimes without understanding, with the man of the house and a young man called Akmed, who isn't their son, so I'm not sure what he's doing here. It's funny being somewhere where your hosts speak no English at all, and you only have a phrasebook to help you grasp the meaning of things. Half of the time we only vaguely know what is going on, sometimes we think we have a pretty good idea, and other times you find yourself standing around in a room holding the cord of a fan unit, before realising that that probably hadn't been what the guy had intended you to do when he's walked out of the room ten minutes ago muttering something.

We smile a lot, try to look up words we don't understand, and bring conversations back down to a level we can work with “We like Madura!” “Your house's beautiful.” “Tea? I love tea! Thank you.” We haven't figured out how to say “no sugar, thanks!” though. Indonesians sure like their sugar.

The sun has risen now, and I have finally caught up with the last few day's events. We will be leaving soon, continuing west along the coast road, and waddaya know, it looks like eating the chicken offal hasn't given us fatal dysentery. Hurray!

No comments:

Post a Comment