Monthly Archives: January 2015

Finding Beauty on a Busy Hwy 1 – West Java

The colorful hats against the green rice was the most beautiful part of the day.
The colorful hats against the green rice was the most beautiful part of the day.

Today was another day on our bicycles that I would compare to the Washington, DC beltway traffic on a Friday  before a three day weekend. lt was non-stop noise, traffic, obstacles, and concentration. But instead of looking for the negative as I did in the last post, I decided to look for something a little more positive.

Admittedly beauty was hard to find, but just before the heat from the noonday sun sent us in search of shade, the traffic all but disappeared. My best guess is that most of the men answered the Friday prayer call and went to the mosque. Finally,  I was able to relax a bit a look at the scenery around me.

To my left were beautiful, thick, green patches of young rice. Women wearing colored triangular bamboo hats were standing in brown paths between the green rice. They were bent over weeding or thinning the green blades of rice. The hats juxtaposed against the lush green fields made a beautiful picture.

I signaled to Eric that I was stopping and pulled off the highway.

“ Grab the camera. I want a picture,” I commanded Eric.
“Of what?” he asked.
How could he not notice the beautiful hats?!
“Of the ladies working in the field. Isn’t is beautiful?”

While he was digging through his “bucket”, his name for his Ortleib handlebar bag, to find the camera, one of the women in the field noticed that we’d stopped. I put on a big smile and gave a big wave.

“Salamat siya! (Good day!) ” I yelled.
“Siya” she yelled back waving and blowing kisses.

Then she must have told the other women to look up because they all stopped working and started waving. I waved back with both hands. They kept blowing kisses. I blew kisses back.

I wondered if their supervisor would be angry because I stopped them working, but I think the women were loving the break in their routine.

More waves. More air kisses.

“Eric, have you taken that picture, yet?” as I watch him methodically trying to shoot the picture without capturing the giant power line in between some of the women.

I can edit that pole out of the picture at home tonight.  Just hurry up and take the picture of the women waving and blowing kisses with their beautiful hats.

So, you get the picture. Eric didn’t get the “picture” I wanted.  So, you’ll just have to trust me. It was a beautiful scene.

West Java Between Jakarta and Indramayu is not my Cup of Joe

 He works for a development organization working with AIDS babies in Indonesia.
Meeting this man Ali at breakfast at the Flamingo Hotel was the start to a better day than the one in this post.

We just finished our third day of cycling east from Jakarta on Highway 1. It’s been non-stop traffic, noise and heat most of the way. My ears are numb from the high decibel horns and engines, my nose is sunburned because I kept wiping the sweat off my nose, and I’m extremely tired – probably dehydrated.

My negative attitude is probably strengthened due to a lack of sleep in last night’s very run-down hotel . Today’s sights along the road didn’t help. I couldn’t  bring myself to take pictures because most would have needed major cropping to edit out the gunk.

Here’s a bit of what we saw:

Rubbish everywhere. It’s on the streets, in the canals, lining the rivers, in front of the schools, along the paths to the clinics, in front of the mini marts. There is so much rubbish that I’m wondering if all of Jakarta’s trash is dumped 50-100 km east of the city. The stench, coupled with the warm steamy heat, had me breathing through my mouth the entire ride.

New mosques under construction. In our 107 km ride there were at least 10 new mosques, probably more, being built. In front of each new mosque the traffic was being slowed down so drivers could put money in the fish nets being held by men, women and children whoh I presume were collecting more funds for each mosque. Surrounding the mosques are shanty towns, corrugated shacks, dump piles, flies, lack of running water, pot-holed roads, barefoot and dirty children. The minarets of the new mosques are made of shiny stainless steel that, when the sun shines just right, reflects the shacks surrounding the mosque. It just seems to me that there could be a better use of the money. (Just to be clear, I would say the same to a bunch of fancy churches being built in the face of 3rd world poverty, too.)

Statues of crashed motorcycles and cars mounted on welcoming signs to the village. These “statues” remind me of the cars placed in front of US high schools the week or so before prom. But, here in Indonesia these statues are disturbing and unwelcoming, but, as far as I can tell, not slowing down the teenage boys. Last night there were drag races in front of our hotel until dawn it seemed like.

On the bright side, a fairly nice hotel appeared just when I didn’t think I could pedal any longer and dark storm clouds were looming in the distance. We’ve also had lovely encounters with the people at all of stops to rest and refuel.

I’m really hoping to find the Java that everyone really loves and really soon.

Cycling out of Jakarta

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The view from our hotel room on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Admittedly, we could be die-hard cyclists and get up at 3:00 am to avoid rush hour to exit a mega city like Jakarta. Early departures might save ourselves a lot of headaches. But taking the easy way is  just not us. We prefer to wake up without an alarm, linger over that second cup of coffee, and start pedaling around 9:00 when we think rush hour should be over.

Unfortunately, rush hour never ends in Jakarta. After two days of riding (30 km yesterday and 65 km today) I can honestly say that I think now we are FINALLY out of Jakarta.

Jakarta is a huge metropolis ruled by the many cars, ancient, underpowered mini-bus taxi things, huge diesel trucks, and large old city buses clogging the roads with thousands of motorcycles and scooters and several (including ours) bicycles filling in the space between.

Jakarta is a mixture a gleaming sky scrapers, tree-lined boulevards, lovely traffic circles with sculptures and fountains to admire for hours while waiting in traffic. Squashed between these architectural wonders are some of the dirtiest and smelliest shanty towns, rubbish piles and canals we’ve seen on our entire SE Asian adventure.

Yesterday, for most of the day we were sitting in traffic with one foot on a pedal and the other pushing our bikes forwards towards free space in the traffic where we would cycle for a few feet, come to a complete stop and then repeat the entire process again.

After cycling around the city center through wealth and poverty for about six hours and seeing the road we wanted calling to us across eights lanes of traffic, we and pushed our bikes up and over the pedestrian overpass and headed east. Another 30 minutes of push and stop traffic was reason enough to check into a new hotel exactly 10 km away from the night before.

A delicious thin crust pizza with a glass of Australina cabernet merlot, a night at the movie watching “The Imitation Game” which we really enjoyed, and a good night’s sleep on a really comfortable bed, we felt recharged for day two of “cycling out of Jakarta.”

Thinking the side roads might be a better choice, we let our Garmin 810 choose the route for day two. It directed us to one-lane motorcycle roads, blocked-off pedestrian alleys, and across highways that have long since between converted to one-way with jersey walls blocking the intersection. But, we saw a lot of the Jakarta that many people never see.

We saw moms carrying babies strapped to their sides stepping across heaps of trash on their way to or from the market s We saw men wearing white hats going or returning from the mosque located across from the dump. We saw bustling markets with scraps of food, old produce and trash squishing under our bike tires. We heard noisy school children, saw old men sleeping on cardboard, and appreciated school-aged boys who were earning a few rupiah by acting like traffic lights and directing traffic.directing traffic so we (and others) could cross busy intersections.

We cycled under mega-highway overpasses, choking on the fumes from hundreds of 2-stroke engine motorcycles. We waited at railroad crossings with the blaring ding, ding, ding and the flashing of the red signal lights indicating a train was approaching. We watched in amazement as scores of vehicles scooted under the descending RR crossing arm just missing the approaching train by seconds.

After about an hour seeing lots of local culture but still being no closer to our destination than when we started, Eric’s patience was wearing thin. I actually thought we should stop and take some pictures. Anyway, we pulled out our cell-phones and opened Google maps set to the “fasted driving route” and headed to the highway.

Once we finally found the road east towards Bali we needed a break. That’s when we discovered that McDonald’s in Indonesia  really brews a good cup of Java. We felt revived.
We survived our two day ride to the east only to check in to our dated, needs paint, gaps in the wood for mosquitoes, we’re-not-in-the-city-any-more, hotel room.

Thank goodness for the sunrise prayer call from the minaret located just across the street. We’ll be on the road a lot earlier tomorrow.

Flying with Bicycles

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Packed and ready to check in for our flight.

We’ve been touring for almost four months now and we’ve gotten a lot more confident about route planning, navigation, and bicycle maintenance. We were ready for a new challenge – flying with our bicycles.

We had a lot to learn.

Sure, I’d been reading blogs and Facebook posts about flying with bicycles. There are two schools of thought on bicycle packing: use a bicycle box or wrap them in Saran wrap. I was voting for the wrap method because I wanted to see those suitcase wrappers spin my bicycle and wrap it tight like those cold hot dogs I used to pack in Eric’s lunch. But, alas, the airlines said we needed a box.

So about three days before our flight, while Eric was doing bicycle maintenance in the parking lot of our hotel and his idea of twenty minutes worth of work often morphs into 4 hours, I set out in search of a bicycle shop that had some empty boxes. As luck would have it, I actually stumbled across a row of bicycle shops a mere six blocks from home, I mean our hotel..

I walked in the first bicycle shop. It was empty except for the four (2 guys and 2 girls) salespeople. They huddleId together deep in conversation as soon as I walked in the door when they realized they might need to dust off their high school English.

Me: (Big smile on my face) Have your got any empty bicycle boxes?
Three clerks: (Blank stare)
One clerk: (Ran to the back to find the resident translator)
Me: (Making it easy for them, pulled out my pen and piece of paper and drew a box).
Four clerks: (Loud sigh of relief that they didn’t have to speak English motioned for me to follow them to the back.)
The mechanic in the back pulled out a stack of three boxes, a touring bike box and two mountain bike boxes. I chose the bigger (and much heavier but that didn’t seem important at the time) box thinking it would be easier to drop a bike with racks into.

I left the shop hefting this extra large box with my stronger right arm. I proudly said “No, thanks” to the taxis offering to give me a ride. “Gotta save those retirement dong (21,124 dong = $1)” I said to myself.

Continuing the walk, I  shifted the monstrosity to my left side. I was battling occasional gusts of wind and struggling to keep theT-Rex-sized box from blowing into motorcycles, pedestrians, or shiny diplomatic Mercedes roaring past me.

During one awkward step my  right shoe sunk into some thick gooey stuff that I was sure was dog poo until a shop owner yelled at me to pull my shoe out of his freshly poured 18 inch square of concrete.

Why did he even bother to pour this teeny tiny patch of concrete because the rest of the sidewalk for the entire city block was chipped, uneven or missing.

He glared.

And why didn’t he put some kind of caution tape around the soggy mess?

He glared again.

I scraped the wet concrete off my shoe by running my sandal across the gravel next to the teeny patch of concrete.  Then, I pulled up my chin, straightened my back, gripped the elephant-sized box with firm resolve and continued the walk to our hotel.

I repeated the  “box walk” the following day without stepping into wet concrete. Unfortunately, I was only able to find a much smaller and lighter  mountain bike box.

So here’s what we learned…

The larger, heavier touring box was easier to pack but ended up being 4 kg overweight. Cha Ching!

The smaller, lighter mountain bike box was harder to pack and too small thus requiring an additional box to hold the front wheel. Cha Ching!

We learned not to believe all those cyclists who say flying with bikes is easy. We also learned that it would have been cheaper to buy our bicycles a seat on the plane and let them enjoy a complimentary glass of white wine than to stuff them in the dank, dark cargo hold.

On a positive note, our bicycles received First Class baggage service, enjoyed their flight, and returned to us unscathed.

Cycling in Saigon

I'm in the "local" lane. To my left is the "express" motorcycle lane.
I’m in the “local” motorcycle/cycling lane. To my left is the “express” motorcycle lane.

Rush hour – every hour.
Motorcycle freeways.
Special lanes packed four motorcycles across and one hundred deep.
Pedestrians dodging motorcycles cutting corners on the sidewalks.

Drive-up food hawkers packed with motorcyclists ordering for coffee, rice pancakes, sliced fruit, scrambled eggs, noodle soup or baguette sandwiches as the rush hour traffic parts around them.

Drivers texting with one foot resting on the curb under a shade tree oblivious to other drivers racing past and swerving to miss.
Drivers texting while driving, easy to spot because they are swerving and driving slower than the flow, right hand on the handlebar, left hand on the phone. What text is so important that it can’t wait?

Women wearing flowered long motorcycle skirts (aprons?) with velcro fasteners to protect their mini skirts or their modesty?
Women avoiding sun and calluses by wearing elegant long gloves like my mom wore to formal Glenn Miller Band dances.

Drivers wearing face colorful masks – American flag prints, Hello Kitty prints, Spiderman, Union Jack, flowers, soccer balls..
All drivers wearing helmets – Is it a law?

Stilettos, flip flops, leather moccasins, dress shoes, sneakers, sandals.

Babies strapped to the driver, or held by mom or dad, or squeezed between both parents, or standing on the running boards, or tucked in baby seats.

Cargo – lumber, pipe, rebar, groceries, cases of beer, toilet paper, glass mirrors, car bumpers, bags of recycling, chickens, pigs, eggs, windows for an entire apartment – either tied, held by the driver or another passenger or, as I saw tonight, two cases of Heineken beer balanced on the seat.

Couples, students, families of five, friends, construction workers, bankers, or tourists who, by the way, are the least predictable and experienced in traffic.

Honking, beeping, swerving, stopping, starting, pushing, squeezing.

Red lights, green lights, left lanes, right lanes, crossing four lanes, flashing lights, traffic police, dignitaries, children on bicycles, buses, taxis, push carts, pedestrians, left turn weaves, traffic just flows….

Call me crazy but I LOVE cycling in Saigon!