Sunday, September 25, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 8: Dieng Sunrise

Sunset at Dieng

As much as I do this motorcycle touring and international travel thing, I'm still not very good at it. It's not from lack of planning time. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I spent hour after hour online, researching my route, considering accommodations and activities. Despite the planning, there's always little details that you can't anticipate and perhaps it's better you don't. Spontaneity and all that.

It's in the details that mistakes can occur, and whereas I really enjoyed my time up on the Dieng Plateau (that zipline was incredible), I missed an opportunity to see something that is reported to be one of the greatest sights on our planet - sunrise at Cikunir. A simple error caused this failure. 

I ended up here---> 

<-----When I wanted to be there. 

Enjoy the video. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 7: Pangandaran to Dieng

Let me step back from my narrative for a moment and make a general point about the trip as a whole. One thing impressed me more than anything else over the course of my 10 days tootling around Java on a motorbike: the road conditions. Indonesia is not a rich country. The part I was in is most certainly overpopulated, and I was expecting the roads to be rough and clogged. My experience getting out of Jakarta certainly reinforced that preconception. On the whole, however, I have to say I was much impressed by the quality of the roads there in Java. Better than Thailand. Far better than Myanmar, and as a motorcyclist, having thoroughfares on which you don't have to be constantly on alert for potholes, which are wide enough to pass slower traffic safely and are well marked is a luxury that I do not take for granted. Kudos to the Indonesian highway department for having good back country roads and stellar main highways.

After a day of rest in Pangandaran, I had a decision to make. See, my original itinerary had me going next to Yogyakarta, the cultural heart of Java and a place I lived for a year back in the early 90's, I was much looking forward to seeing my old haunts and finding out how much the place had changed in 25 years. Thing is, I was already looking forward to the next Indonesian journey. Yogya deserves more than one day. Just as I did in Jakarta, I want to take a couple to days to reconnect with old friends in the place. So, I decided to skip Yogya altogether. Save it for the next trip.  Instead, I would get a day ahead of my original plan and go to the Dieng Plateau. 

210 kilometers from Pangandaran to Dieng, and back up into the more populous central parts of the island. The day didn't start very auspiciously, as I found myself with a flat tire. This was the only problem I had with the bike during the entire journey, so I took it in stride. 

At one point, I found myself in a medium sized town by the name of Wangon... I'm from Yangon! Wangon and Yangon are neighbors alphabetically. 

Another town I went through was called Wonosobo. I absolutely loved the local noodle dish, noodles in peanut sauce. I think my taste for peanut sauce is part of why I love Indonesia... It's so good. By the end of the trip, I think my blood peanut sauce concentration would be to the point of me being illegal to drive. 

I got to Dieng. I checked out the famous ancient Hindu temples. I ate corn. 

By chance, I ended up at the Dieng Mountain Theatre, and if you're ever in that part of Indonesia, do not skip their "Flying Fox" ride. In the USA, we would call it a Zip Line, and it's something I had never experienced before. I kinda forgot in my excitement that I can sometimes be afraid of heights...

Enjoy the video...


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 6: The Longest Ride of my Life

There's been a bit of a delay here in the recounting of my recent trip around Java, Indonesia. See, I ran into some technical problems. Namely, my 4-year-old Toshiba laptop got fried. It died in what I see as a very SE Asian way to go. I have strategically located my in-home work station directly under my apartment's air-conditioner. This is the most efficient set up here in the steamy cauldron of far flung Burma. As they sometimes do, my aircon began leaking water to what was below it, my good old Toshiba. Since it happened while I was sleeping, I awoke to my computer no longer able to run on the AC cord, not charging and sending an electrical shock through me whenever I touched it. My local repair guy said he couldn't fix it, so I'm coming to you now from my brand new Dell (I hate it; it's slower than my old computer and it's brand new).

So where were we? Ah yes, day three of my actual traveling, and I was faced with the longest single bit of driving since I've taken up this pastime of touring Asia on very small motorcycles. 337 kilometers or 210 miles. Now, that's nothing in a car or RV in the West. On any decent highway, that would take a few hours, tops. Ah, my friend, these are rural SE Asian highways. Check out my estimated actual travel time on the map! 8 hours 39 minutes! I drive pretty fast, but I make a lot of stops, so that balanced out in terms of travel time and the drive did take about 9 hours.

Enjoy the video.

Now, after that video ended, I got to explore Pangandaran after dark. I ate some amazingly delicious food. I shopped for some souvenirs. Basically just chilling in a relaxed beach town surrounded by local tourists. Before retiring for the evening, exhausted after my long ride, I decided to go down to the beach for one more look at the water. I was met by an imposing beast.

Deer God, what was this animal on the beach?

 It was a deer. Not just a deer, but an imposing stag with a huge rack of antlers. This creature was bigger than any deer I'd seen in North America or Myanmar. It was huge. Elk sized. With those pointy bits coming out of top of its head, it could mess me up pretty bad if it chose to.

Immediately I thought of the peninsular national park just south of town. There would be no way for overcrowded deer to escape from their near-island habitat except through the beaches and town of Pangandaran. Maybe it was hungry. Maybe it was mean. I gave it a wide berth as it stared at me intently.

Eventually, it wandered up to a beach side restaurant and started poking around. I went and sat at one of the tables of the restaurant, which prompted its owner to come out and serve. I asked if it was normal for the deer to be so casual with humans. She reported that it most definitely was. In fact, if the restaurant owners don't well secure their places at night, the deer will break into the kitchens are wreak havoc. She brought out some wilted cabbage to feed the mighty stag.

So, as it turned out, the deer are part of daily life in Pangandaran, which I think is pretty cool.

Pangandaran has a lot of other really cool things going for it. You can watch the sun rise and set over the ocean from beaches just a few blocks from each other. There's a beach from which you can snorkel out and observe tropical coral reef fishes. There's HUGE lizards. And the countryside outside of town isn't overcrowded and you can see the lives of regular Sundanese people.

All of that in the second video...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 5: to Ujung Genteng

Refreshed as I was having reached the south coast, I was ready the next morning for the next stage of the journey. I had spoken with the owner of a beachside cafe who happened to be a German very much into motorcycle touring there in Java and had gotten some good insights into the roads ahead. He told me that the road to Ujung Genteng was quite good and that I would have a swift and easy ride.
The Hotel cat saw me off

At 94 kilometers, it was the shortest leg of the journey, and the German was right. The road was fantastic. Curvy, but not one hairpin turn after another. Smooth and uncrowded. Spectacular scenery all around. It's roads like this which are why I enjoy motorcycle touring the first place. Furthermore, to have as a destination the beautiful beach at Ujung Genteng, that made it even that much better.

The hills of West Java (slightly color enhanced)

The road to the hotel
I found and booked the hotel I chose in Ujung Genteng online. In some respects, I enjoy the certainty of knowing where I'm going when I end the day on the motorbike. What I've come to realize, however, is that it's often better not to book online until you've seen the place. I didn't like my hotel that much. The road to get there was terrible, and really, it was meant for those who were there for the tremendous surfing a few hundred meters away at the beach.

Still, a beautiful sunset is the same no matter where you're sleeping.

Enjoy the video.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 4: Jakarta to Pelabuhan Ratu

No one would rent me a motorcycle. I feared the vacation would fail entirely due to this lack of transportation. What could I do? While meeting with old friends there in Jakarta, one of them took pity on me and lent me his spare scooter and finally, the trip was afoot.

Given that I had lost so much time, I had to reroute my itinerary. Gone was the trip west to beaches facing the Sunda Strait seperating Java from Sumatra. I would not step foot on the Krakatoa volcano nor see the critically endangered Java rhino on this trip. Instead of heading west, I headed due south, skipping my stay in Bogor and going all the way to the south coast, to a place near the town of Pelabuhan Ratu.

More than 5 hours to go 140 km? That's less than 30 km/hr
(20 mph). How can that be? TRAFFIC!!!

Traffic so bad that I could check my
route on my smartphone while driving.

I've heard horror stories about Jakarta traffic, and my experience in taxis and such over the last few days had confirmed that motor congestion is a 24 hour reality in the capital. Now, I was leaving at 6:30 AM, and I was heading OUT of town, not in, and as most rush hours tend to be one-directional, I was hoping it wouldn't be so bad leaving the Big Durian.

I was right. The traffic in South Jakarta was heavy, but not brutal. On the other side of street, however, the folks trying to come into town were bumper to bumper, jam packed.

The old colonial palace
Eventually, I got to the city of Bogor, about 50 miles south of Jakarta. Bogor is an old town, and 70 years ago, was the colonial capital during the hot season. Being at elevation, Bogor is a bit cooler than the lowland Jakarta. Bogor is also renowned for its famous botanical gardens, which you'll see in the video.

Heading out of Bogor, the traffic was absolutely insane. Several highways converged into one and whereas driving a motorbike usually allows you to wind your way through stopped traffic, even us motorcyclists were at a standstill.
This insanity lasted for scores of miles until eventually I reached my turn off. As the congestion looked to continue unabated all the way to Sukabumi, as soon as made a right onto the road to Pelabuhan Ratu and the south coast, everything opened up.

In fact, perhaps it was due to the contrast from the hell I'd been through up to that point, but I thought at the time I was one the best possible road for motorcycling. Smooth, windy, and with some hills for contrast, I enjoyed that last bit of the day's journey as much as I have ever enjoyed any road. Free from the continuous urban sprawl that had followed me all the way from Jakarta, the hills were green, forests surrounded the road and I got my first real taste of the Javanese countryside.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 3: My Indonesian Family

Being without transport meant
dealing with bajaj drivers
I can be a real inconsiderate, self-centered bastard at times. I mean, I suppose we all can be, to some extent, at certain points in our lives, but I really should try to think more about people other than myself. 

See, my original itinerary, the one I was disappointed wasn't happening, was to get a bike on the first day and get out of Jakarta as soon as I possibly could. I had no plan to reunite with old friends and "family". I was just thinking about my adventure, my journey, my needs. The folks I used to know wouldn't even know I was in town, so it wouldn't hurt them in any way if I didn't contact them.

Explaining life from the back of a Bajaj.
The incredibly warm reaction I got from the people who remembered me from Jakarta in 1986 was really special. It made me feel good to not only be remembered, but to bring happiness to them in that they didn't think they'd ever see me again. 

And that joy was an afterthought, originally. 

Well, in retrospect, I'm really happy it took the extra time to find a scooter in Jakarta. In fact, I wasn't ever able to rent one; I'm borrowing the spare scooter of an old friend from the neighborhood. More importantly, I got to see my old "family", the people who hosted me as their 'child' back when I was
The Delay also meant I got to eat
a lot more siomay Bandung.
16 years old. I wasn't a good kid, either. I was a bit of a rebellious teenager. In any case, all of that is in the past, and I'm looking forward to spending my last night in Indonesia (4 days from the time of me writing this; I'm still on the road) in the family home in Jakarta. 

Enjoy the video...

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Jakarta: 1986 vs 2016

(Preface to my regular readers - I've written this for a very particular audience: expats in Jakarta)

In 1986, at the tender age of 16, I arrived at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta to begin a one year experience as an exchange student. During that year, I came to know the city fairly well, and by the time I left, I had 'gone native' to a certain extent. For 30 years, I've carried around these memories of my time there, and although I've had tons and tons of other experiences since then, I'll always look back fondly on my first overseas adventure, the people I came to know during that time, and the city that served as a backdrop to the whole thing.

30 years later, I'm living and working in Southeast Asia again, and have taken a vacation back to the island of Java and the city of Jakarta. First time I've visited since 1990. This may sound cliché, but so much has changed, while at the same time, so much has not.

Maybe by giving examples I can make things clearer

Four things that haven't changed in Jakarta in 30 years which I thought might have-

Bajaj (pronounced Bajai): These sturdy Indian-made three-wheeled taxis dominated the roads of Jakarta Selatan during the 80's. If ever you wanted to go anywhere, you grabbed a beat up, orange Bajaj. You could fit three adults in the back, fares were negotiated, and they were just narrow enough to get through some of the gaps in traffic that cars couldn't. I saw one Bajaj in my first day in Jakarta. Just one, and it was blue. Then I got to Jakarta Selatan and went to Blok M. Now that's Bajaj territory. They aren't as beat up as they were back then. They're blue now instead of orange, and they seem to all be licensed and
registered. I took one from Radio Dalam to Blok M, and seeing the driver work those Vespa-style gears, it brought back fond memories.

Metro Mini: Again, transport surprised me. Of course Jakarta still has buses, but it was cool seeing those same stenciled letters “Metro Mini” on the same red medium-sized buses. Like the bajaj, they're not as dented and beat up as they were back in the day, but they're probably pretty much the same on the inside.

Kaki Lima: One of my favorite parts about Jakarta in the 80's was the food vendors wandering the neighborhoods. If you were hungry, just listen for the sound of your preferred vendor as he patrolled the streets and you could have anything from baso, satay, and siomay to roti, ice cream and martabak.
You don't get this kind of food service in Bangkok or Yangon. Hanging out a friend's house the other night, we heard a “TAY!!” from the road out front. “Hey, Joko, would you like some satay?” Hell yes.

Blue Bird Taxis: They seem to have expanded in both market directions, but it's nice to see an honest company built on not ripping people off still thriving. In fact, I've noticed that the beat up, old, yelly “Presidents Taxis” are gone. Good riddance.

Four things in Jakarta that have completely changed or are new since 1986

Gojek & Grab: Again, I seem to be focusing on transport, but I find it fascinating that Jakarta has an app with which you call a motorcycle taxi on your smart phone. The motorcycle taxi is the best way for a single person to go short distances in several Asian cities, but they don't have this app in Bangkok. I think it's really neat.

Becaks: They were trying to get rid of the pedicabs in the capital back in the 80's, but with limited success. I remember a story about how the police confiscated thousands of the sturdy, 3-wheeled bicycle cabs from all over the city, dragged them out into the Java Sea and dumped them in hopes of their acting as the basis for an new artificial coral reef. Instead, local fisherman went out, dragged them up off the bottom of the sea and sold them back to the becak drivers. Now that I'm out of town, I see them here, but they seem to be finally gone from the city.

IndoMaret and AlfaMart: My God, they're everywhere. In my first video of this Java Journey series, I noted how I saw two IndoMarets on ly three doors away from one another. AlfaMart is similarly ubiquitous. Where did they all come from? What impact are they having on the struggling mom and pop warungs? Back in 86, the very first convenience store chain was just to appear: Circle K. They were wonderful as they were the only places in town where you could buy ice cold beer any time of the day or night. Now, neither IndoMaret nor AlfaMart, nor Cicle K or 7-11 for that matter, sell beer.

Hijabs: I can't recall the Indonesian word for the Moslem headdress that women wear, but I think it's Jaelbob... Anyways, back in 80's, few Jakarta women wore the Islamic garb when they went outside. They'd wear it to pray, but otherwise no. Maybe 1 in 10 women out in public wore the hijab. Now, it seems like the majority of women are wearing the headdress. Advertisements on TV feature ladies in the Islamic hijab. I don't know if it's a reflection of a change in culture or a change in fashion, but there's a lot less hair seen on the streets of Jakarta today.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 2: The Old Neighborhood

Sometimes you have to lie to get what you want, and as long as that lie isn't actually hurting someone else, I don't see anything wrong with that... now. See, it was my reluctance to lie which is wreaking havoc with the itinerary I had planned for this trip. It's now day four of the trip, and I'm still in the capital, Jakarta.
Jakarta, Cengkawan District

In the previous blog, I related the story of how a rental agent told me he had bikes for rent, and then on second thought, stopped answering my calls and turned his phone off. Yesterday, same story. A guy who had said he would have something ready for yesterday would not pick up his phone and eventually set it for straight-to-voicemail. Errrgh! The frustration.

I was starting to see a pattern here. I had been told there were bikes available and then the story changed after they had asked me what I'd be using it for. See, as was later explained to me, they don't want to rent to people who are taking it on a road trip all through the countryside. Puts a lot of wear on the motorbike, they think. Also, Indonesians have a very indirect way of communicating. They don't like saying 'no'. In fact, I've noticed that they answer “not yet” when they mean to say “no”. In any case, turning off your cel phone is a very indirect way of saying no. If I had lied to the first guy on day one, I'd be on a boat right now on my way to see the Anak Krakatoa Volcano or enjoying a beach on the Sunda Straight.

I got to ride as a passenger on a motorcycle taxi
..ordered by smartphone app!
The hotel I was staying at was quite nice, but knowing I'd be spending yet another night in Jakarta, I decided to relocate to some place cheaper. I didn't need luxury. Furthermore, as I had yet another night to kill, I decided I'd now have time to visit my old neighborhood where I lived back in 1986-87.

There were some familiar sights as I wound my way through the open air market adjacent to the old neighborhood. Most of it though, was totally different. The old windowless, poured-concrete structure that served as the bazaar was gone, replaced by an indoor mall. I was happy to see that the tiny department store I used to buy clothes at was still there, and I bought some clothes there just for the sake of saying I'd shopped there 30 years apart. And I could use another pair of shorts; I'll be needing laundry along my way on this trip as 2 weeks of clothes don't fit in a small backpack.

Buying clothes from the EXACT SAME STORE I
bought clothes 30 years ago
Finally, I got to Dempo Street... err streets. Like a lot of streets in Jakarta, one name goes for lots of connecting roads, they just add a Roman numeral to the end of it. I wasn't really expecting to encounter anyone I remembered or who remembered me... What happened? Well, I'll let the video tell the ending of this story. 



I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...