Thursday, 15 December 2011


Thurdsday 8th December, 2011. The Bromo Indah Hotel, Tongsa, East Java.
Total distance: 594.5km.

The last few days have been enormously satisfying for two main reasons. Firstly, we've had a couple of days in which we've knocked off close to 100km, which is, as I'm sure you can imagine, very satisfying indeed. And secondly we've spent several days sat around scoffing steak, pizza, cake and ice-cream for a few days. Our satisfaction-o-metre would be bouncing around in the red, if only we had one.

We're back in noisy dusty busy Java again, but despite the fumes and traffic we've quite enjoyed ourselves. Today we took the highway south from the city of Surabaya, and pedalled our way 95km to a small town just at the base of Mount Bromo – another volcanically active peak that we're going to explore over the next few days. This one has been busy though; two eruptions in the last year or so, although it has been downgraded from alert status since June. There's this strange mentality that takes hold of you when you're near a volcano. You know that it would be very scary, not to mention hazardous to your health if this enormous mountain you're standing on were to suddenly explode sending ash and lava and rocks everywhere. But then, there's this little childish part of you that thinks how awesome would it be if this mountain were to explode with all lava and ash and stones and shit – while the logic centre in your brain repeatedly bats such thoughts down with an apparently ineffectual logic mallet. I'll compromise and say it would be great if Bromo would erupt spectacularly but without any ill effects to anybody whatsoever.

Of course the chance of us seeing an eruption is very small indeed. Unfortunately. Far more dangerous is the traffic in this place – which is a shame because it's much less interesting and we spend a lot more time in it. Today the road was very busy pretty much the whole way – although it must be said that the vehicles aren't that badly behaved, they just have a very different notion about what constitutes a reasonable distance to maintain when overtaking a bicycle. While 95km of plain road is not that exciting, glancing in your mirror to see a massive 7-tonne lorry bearing down on you, then thundering past inches from your handlebar, and then those inches being filled suddenly and quite unexpectedly by an eager motorcyclist, ensures that the journey never gets too dull. Or rather, you can't afford to become too inattentive.

An impressive looking mosque in Western Madura.
It is a far cry from Madura. We last left you I believe, dear reader, in the house of Rossini on the north coast of Madura. We slept very well there, and woke the next day to an interesting breakfast. Obtaining decent food up on the quiet north coast of that island was not an easy feat. We didn't really achieve it at any point so it might actually be impossible. The closest we got was Rossini getting us a bit of chicken and fish for supper that a) wasn't comprised primarily of the animal's internal organs and b) didn't make us physically sick (it was quite nice really). And while breakfast, thankfully, ticked both of those boxes also, and we were of course extremely grateful for Rossini for arranging it for us, it was slightly unsettling that the best that a local living here could hope for for breakfast was... sugary bread with chocolate flavoured condensed milk on top. Followed by yellow banana flavoured bread with large lumps of sugar on it. I mentioned earlier the sugar fetish that they have in Indonesia, I will mention it again. Everything here. EVERYTHING. Is full of bloody sugar.

We said farewell to Rossini, thanking her for her kindness, and paying her for the food she had arranged for us, plus a bit more. She told us that once we got to the other end of Madura and back onto Java, the city of Surabaya had good food. It was reassuring that she acknowledged that the food options around the north coast of Madura were dismal. She was very sure of Surabaya too. “Surabaya makhan bagoos!” Meaning “The food in Surabaya is good.” We set off eagerly west along the coast road, in the direction of this holy food land that lay ahead. We hoped.

Madura rolled under our wheels. Rice fields slid by to our left, while the sea flashed in and out of view from between forests of coconut palms. Kids followed us on their mopeds for a while, groups of people lying in the shade waved as we passed, while others let us roll through their town without turning to look. The sun was hot, the wind sometimes cool, and by 4pm we had knocked off 110km, and found ourselves in a large urban centre on the western edge of the island.

Our route across the north coast of Madura, across the strait to busy Surabaya, then down the highway to Tongsa. Mighty Bromo towers up out of the horizon.
Although the day's ride had been superb, arriving in Bangkalan was a welcome relief, not least because it had a hotel, and appeared to have places that served food that had been cooked – not just plucked cold from a shelf and laid on a leaf in front of you. After a bit of hunting we resigned ourselves, quite willingly actually, to a relatively pricey hotel with AC, fluffy towels, and a tv. It was luxury, although it didn't have any windows, and the fluffy towels were only the size of a tea towel once they were unfolded. We braved the the TV for 10 minutes, but quickly found that the choice between very serious faced religious types preaching, and badly acted soap operas might send us insane, so we turned it off.

It actually tasted a bit worse than it looks...
We tried to find an expensive restaurant but failed, and ended up in a sate bar eating chicken sate and peanut sauce – just the thing that had made me very ill back in Bali. Liv thoroughly enjoyed hers, but I found that my stomach started acting very much on edge as soon as it got a whiff of it, so I settled on just eating the rice instead. It wasn't very filling, so we went to the local Indomart – think Spar or 7-11 – and bought some very expensive fresh fruit & veg juice, some bread, some jam, some tinned mackerel and corned beef – all of which probably had a shovel full of sugar in. Determined not to become a bag of bones as a result of this trip, we sat in our hotel room and downed large quantities of the juice before constructing mackerel sandwiches and scoffing them too. They looked like a new way of marketing dog food, and we had to pick the little bones out, but it was enormously satisfying being able to guzzle it down without fear of bacterial recrimination further down the line.

Liv, luckily and mysteriously has no aversion to the food because she has been absolutely fine the whole time, despite eating the same meals as me on both occasions that I was ill. I am slightly envious of her immune system, it must be said. Soon after our fishy supper, we slept like plaice on a seabed - just without the wonky eyes.

Having cycled so far the day before, we had a very easy day to look forward to when we woke on Monday the 5th of December. From our hotel in Bangkalan to Surabaya was only about 30km, and would probably only take 2 or 3 hours. We had a bit of a lie in, of course, and spent the morning eating a bread and jam breakfast, followed by cereal. The only cereal for sale in all of Indonesia (it seems) is a horrible chocolatey monstrosity from Nestle that is so full of sugar that not only does it turn the milk chocolatey, I think if we left it for longer than a few minutes it would turn the milk gelatinous and the spoon would get cemented to the bowl. Keith Richards might shy away from a second helping of these sugared beasts.

The trip over the Madura strait was a bright and bonny
affair. Lovely weather.
So, keen and alert from sugary bread, sugary jam and super sugary sugar cereal, we accelerated away down the road to the largest bridge in Java, that links it to Madura. Too bad for us bikes aren't allowed on it, so we found ourselves down the docks again boarding a bleak little vessel that would carry us the 20 minutes over the strait to Java, and the city of good food, Surabaya. The weather looked particularly grim as we sat around waiting for our ferry to depart. The whole sky was grey, with an especially harsh lump of darker cloud that sat obnoxiously in the sky right above us. It started raining, and then fired brilliant lines of lightning down onto buildings nearby with a wham, leaving a momentary multicoloured streak down our vision, as though we'd stared at a long wirey lightbulb for too long, or eaten too much of that crazy Nestle cereal (it probably would make your vision go wrong if you ate too much). The dark clouds flashed again, and another crack pounded out nearby.

Coming from such a quiet and out-the-way place as Madura's north road, it was a little strange being on a busy little ferry. People bustled around us, tried to flog us little plastic scythes or flip flops, and asked us where we were from. Far stranger, almost to the point of being surreal, were the excessive number of ships that bobbed around on the water around us. All along the water, on both sides of the vessel, were dozens and dozens of large ships. Some were close by, while others faded off into the distance. Very few of them seemed to be doing anything but just bobbing away on the water, and one of them had, alas, fallen over and it still lay capsized with ropes lying over its dry side from an aborted rescue attempt. There were lots of ships, and lots of cranes too. Madura had its palm trees, Java had cranes. Loads of them sprouting out of the waterfront on the Javan side, gazing out at all the ships that bobbed along in the water around it. Wondering perhaps as we did: why would anybody want so many bloody ships?

Our little ferry chugged along the short distance between Madura and Java, and as we docked the rain really began to fall. In buckets. We donned our waterproofs and set out off the boat and into this large city that we really knew very little about. Couldn't see much of it either, because the rain was coming down in sheets – easily the heaviest we've seen so far. We both agreed that we needed to find some shelter fast, but the road we found ourselves on had a high concrete wall on one side, and a lot of factories and lorries along the other. We spat water as we breathed out, like breaching whales. The rain continued hammering down.

The friendly workmen who helped us out.
The immensity of the downpour distracted me from the wobble in my rear wheel at first, but it got rapidly worse and suddenly my whole bike was vibrating. I stopped and looked back to see a forlorn looking tyre deflated against the soaking road. There are moments in life when the timing of something is so perfectly bad that it actually becomes a thoroughly enjoyable experience, as you bask in the awfulness of it all. This was one of these occasions. We had to pull over and repair it right away – it was totally useless and would knacker the inner tube and possibly the rim if we continued riding. We dashed over to a lorry on the other side of the road and found a group of workers huddled under a piece of tarpaulin stretched between the lorry and a dank little building. All of a sudden, in waltz two “Touris” with fully laden bikes, one of them flung all his bags off, flipped his bike upside-down and began to work on the wheel. Just as the repairs were about to start the tarpaulin suddenly ripped and twenty litres of rainwater were deposited directly on my head. Everyone laughed. It was just perfect.

Puncture repair in a monsoon downpour.
Keep calm and carry on.
So then our first puncture repair began. The first bit of real maintenance we've had to do so far. Despite the rain, and the threat of further tarpaulin rain bombs, and cockroaches that ran up our backs, heads, arms and legs – despite all of this, it went like a dream. Really. The workers clocked what was going on as soon as I wheeled the bike under, and helped us locate the puncture, marked it for us, helped us dry the tube, test the repair, put the tyre back on the rim, and even cleaned the bike off for us afterwards. Hardly a word spoken, but a lot of laughs, a problem solved, and handshakes and goodbyes. By the time we had fixed it the rain had calmed down, but the road was flooded and it was getting on a bit. We had to get into town to find an internet cafe to get some idea about where we might find a suitable guest house, preferably before dark. It was evident that Surabaya wasn't just a large urban centre, it was a whopping great city, and as we splashed up the road and made our way onto one of the arterial highways, rush hour was approaching.

In Java when it rains, it pours.

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