“You don’t have to be rich with money to do goodness.” Ankuntano Widyantono
How one guy’s love of cycling is making a difference in his country.
Eric and I has the pleasure of cycling with Akuntanu Widyantono, or Anto as he likes to be called, a twenty-somthing cyclist/explorer/writer/blogger in Jogyakarta. The more I got to know him, the more impressed I became with the simple things he is doing to promote cycling and camping in his country. He calls himself “just a normal guy” but his simple approach to cycling and writing about his experiences are having a big impact on the younger generation.
We met Anto through Warmshowers, a group for cycling enthusiasts to share lodging and a love for a common sport. Although we did not stay with Anto, we had the pleasure of local expertise to tour some local sights: an old bridge that was a relic of the Dutch colonization, an obscure Hindu temple, another temple, and some caves built by the Japanese to hide munitions during WWII.
The sites are very interesting and off the radar screen of the regular tourist paths. But even more interesting to me is how Anto finds these places and what he does once he find them.
Several times a week Anto starts off on his bicycle with no particular destination in mind. He just rides and takes the paths not well traveled. Often he gets lost and carries an old-fashioned compass, in case GPS signals are not working, and makes his way somewhere. More often than not, he stumbles across waterfalls, mud bridges, hidden caves, beautiful lookouts at the top of hills, or old temples covered with trash or graffiti. Then he wanders into the nearest village, finds an older person in the village and asks for the history or folklore about the place. For destinations farther away from home, he might also ask for permission to camp.
When he gets home, he write details about that day’s ride including the history of the place and how to find it. He has an active blog that gets over 4500 visits per month. And, from what we witnessed, people are using his suggestions about local attractions to plan their free time.
What really sets him apart from other bloggers is that he takes some of his “finds” to the government to help promote tourism by the local residents. For example, recently he round a hidden Hindi temple that was filled with trash and being used by local teenagers at the “hangout and party” place. After he learned the history of the temple from some local villagers, he wrote to the government and asked them if they want to let their national treasures be destroyed and lost to future generations.
Within a week, the temple was “found” and cleaned up. The relics were labeled and catalogued. Signs were placed on the nearby roads to direct people to the temple. Signs were placed at the site explaining the meaning of the carvings. Today there was a school group of about 30 students who had ridden their bicycles with their teachers to the temple for a small field trip. They were enjoying the ride and the different location of the “classroom.”
The bridge that Anto rediscovered and wrote about in his blog has become so popular that a small parking lot has been built. Many locals come to this bridge for wedding photographs and to enjoy the salt water flowing over the lava formations below.
The temple mound at the top of a small mountain was another discovery. Today there were many groups enjoying the 360 degree view and taking lovely photos. There were mountain bikers using the path for a challenging training loop. The villagers below were enjoying the increased traffic to the ancient temple and had opened up small food and beverage stalls and a way to earn some money.
Anto would like to see more people ride bicycles to enjoy the local scenery. But he is concerned about the obstacles. There is a anti-bicycle culture that we’ve seen in many SE Asia countries – the perception that bicycle riding is for the poor. Status is achieved by buying motorcycles and cars. The motorcycle manufacturers have made it very easy for Indonesians to buy new motorcycles with very little cash and it’s common to see families where each child has his or her own motorcycle.
He’s had people comment that their bicycle isn’t good enough for these short journeys to the countryside. He tries to convince them to ride whatever bicycle they have laying around. He even has a small repair shop in his home to help get people back on their “working” bicycles.
Aside from Anto’s encouraging cycling and camping, he’s educating about pollution – no small feat in a country where throwing rubbish anywhere and everywhere is common practice and old engines from motorcycles, cars, trucks, and buses fill the air with black smoke all the time.
Anto says, “Don’t be affraid with what other people thinking about you (sic), your life is not just to impress others but doing your life in a positive way (and of course you like it) sooner people(s) from everywhere will appreciate and get inspired because of you .”
As I’ve mentioned before, Indonesia has been a difficult country for us to visit because of the infrastructure, pollution, and hesitation on the part of the locals to interact or smile at strangers. But meeting and cycling with Anto, a “regular guy” with a vision for the future of his country, has made our pedals spin easier and our smiles much bigger.