CYCLING SUMATRA: There will be thieves and pirates along the way. So you’d better be careful girl – this is the jungle!

As I was cycling in Java I was told by different people, more than ones, that cycling in Sumatra wasn’t going to be the same. Over there; they told me with a serious face: it’s more dangerous. There is more crime. There is more robbery. And they assured me, when they saw my skeptical face as I was taking their words in reconsidering: this is not just our opinion, this is not just a prejudice, this is just the way it is.

There will be thieves and pirates along the way. So you’d better be careful girl! This is the jungle!

And as I, after one year on the road, kind of unraveled the true pattern behind all of this. Since all country’s attempt to warn you about your visit to the next country, while they will attempt to warn you about the next country, and the next one (or the previous one) and so on and so on…  I normally don’t get impressed by their words so soon, neither do I take them so seriously that often, but this time they had some resent facts to support their story… As they told me about this Russian cyclist that got robbed in full glory. As she (since she was a she and she was also riding her bike solo through Indonesia) arrived in Lampung (the place where I was heading to), she got robbed. And it wasn’t an innocent, small robbery. They took all her bags, her passport, her phone, her camera and her wallet… they took ALL her personal belongings.

So they told me:
Make sure that you are very careful in this area.
Make sure that you don’t cycle there in the dark.
And I told them;
Of course I will be very careful in this area,
And of course I will not cycle there in the dark.

It was 6 september, 20.00 o’clock in the evening as I arrived in Lampung.

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How is it possible I ask myself, that I end up cycling in the dark time after time, day after day, especially when I am heading to big city’s or other big places. Places that are well-known to be avoided cycling in the dark. And I think back of my rides, in Brisbane, Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville: the places where I all arrived late in the evening.
Thinking back of all these places brings back a smile on my face. These were all 100+ km days, most of them closer to 150 km, and there was always one fine explanation for me ending up cycling in the dark: in all these cases I knew I had a place to stay in the end. And if you tell me that there will be good company, a shower, some food and a bed waiting for me ahead, I just keep on cycling like this little mouse keeps on spinning his mill trying to catch this little piece of cheese right in front of his head. So the goal was clear, just like today. As I already knew that I had a place to stay. This boy was recommended by several of my friends along the way. They told me when you go to Lampung; make sure you ask Rio for a place to stay.

And so I did.

And so I was cycling in the dark.

The explanation though, for cycling in the dark today, was perfectly clear. There was no doubt about that, since it wasn’t a surprise in any way. 1) I got invited to visit this school in the early morning 2) being a teacher, how could I say no to that? 3) so I catched the ferry a bit later than expected, and 4) so it turned out to be lunchtime when I set my foot on land on the other side of the water, the place where I found out (without any idea on forehand) that in the end it was a 100 km ride to make it to my friend.

So, I knew there was no chance that I would make it there before dark.
A perfectly fine explanation I would say… although right now I was wondering if it counts as a justification if I might get in troubles on mu way. And to be honest, I wasn’t so sure about that..

And as I continue questioning whether my stubbornness and determination were working in my favor or could actually end up working against me – there is this guy, all out of nothing, that grasps the back of my bike, as he was somehow hidden next to the road. Only to bully me, I guess, as I see him laughing out loud when I look back at him with this face filled with fear and anger. And I can tell you that: it worked. With a heartbeat in my throat I increased my speed even though the road was going up. Pedaling like my life was about to end if I would stop, I question myself a bit harder; whether this attitude of mine could get me into troubles. As I was thinking ‘ what if’ .. then ‘how stupid would it be’…

There will be thieves and pirates along the way. So you’d better be careful girl! This is the jungle!

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And then suddenly, all out of nothing, there is this Indonesian boy on the road, riding his bike. As he comes closer, cycling my direction, my side of the road, the wrong side of the road (did I mention he was Indonesian), without any light, without a helmet, and with a big smile on his face from ear to ear (did I mention he was Indonesian).  ‘Janny?” he says, as I say ‘Rio?’.  And he responded with another smile, followed by a ‘Wowww you are so coooooool!‘. And I respond with an ‘Welllllll I am not so sure about that… but nice to see you!’. As he repeats: “Wowww you are so cooooool!’.

As I think by myself, I don’t think that  ‘cool people’  would feel this relieved that they had found company on the road in the night. And I smile. This whole excitement (or feeling worried or slightly anxious) about cycling in the night in an area like this, ends when this boy arrives.

And as Rio starts this little photo-shoot right next to the road to inform his friends about this freshly catch of the day: ‘a cyclist on her way’, I realize, yes it really is a totally different experience if you are with two. Isn’t it fascinating, that your perception of what we call reality can swift so easily from one second to another.  It’s like two kids playing outside, riding their bike. As the dark suddenly feels so much lighter, and the sky looks so much brighter. Was there anything to be afraid of I question myself as Rio continues his little photo shoot.

Well to be honest, we should get our asses on our bike and continue our ride since Indonesian Highways are not exactly the best places to stop for taking pictures, even if you are with two.

So maybe Rio, we can first cycle to your place before we continue our shoot?

“Yesss he said, that’s allright, let’s get back on our bike. But first I have to make a phone call to tell Mr. Marlis my friend, that we are on our way!’. Because that’s the place where you will stay.

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No idea who Mr Marlis was, or where we were actually going to. But since we were now with two, I just had to follow.

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And soon we would find out. Let me introduce to you: Mr. Marlis. and his little son.

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Or actually, Mr. Marlis, his little son, and the rest of their neighbourhood. And Rio checking his phone to see what his friends say about his ‘catch of the day’. Cycling the Indonesian way.

As I take a shower they get me some Nasi-Goreng, and as we eat all together Mr. Marlis tells me that I can sleep in his office for tonight. This Mr. Marlis turned out to be a big businessman an a bike lover at the same time, so in the night they turn his big office into a little bedroom for any cyclist that needs a place to stay. Nice hey. ‘I’ve slept in many different places on my way, but never in an office’, I tell him with a smile on my face as I check his big table and this impressive big pictures on the wall. ‘What time is this bedroom changing in the office the next day?’ I ask him. ‘7.00 o’clock in the morning’ he says. ‘Terima Kasih’ (thank you very much) & ‘Selemat Malam’ (sleep well) I say, ‘that’s sounds perfect, that will be more than okay’.

And 7.00 o’clock, early in the next morning of this very next day, Mr. Marlis knocked on my door. Not to start his job at the office, no, to invite me for breakfast at his place.

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What starts with a breakfast ends up with a stay for two more days. As Mr. Marlis decided to take me in to his house, I got an upgrade from the office to his daughter’s room, and I would get to know his entire family.

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We would use our time wisely: besides all the eating, chatting and having fun. So it was time to check the routes on my map and with these two experts by my side that would work out well. Kurnia and Mr. Marlis both have lots of experience when it comes to riding the bike. As they both know exactly what cycling in Sumatra would be like.

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With a bit of a worried face they take a close look at my map, and then they look back, at me, as they tell me that cycling in Sumatra isn’t going to be: the same.

There will be thieves and pirates along the way. So you’d better be careful girl! This is the jungle!

And they add to all of this with a serious face, ‘it will be hilly along your way’. ‘Like your whole way! From the beginning to the end. Are you sure you don’t want to cycle the highway?’
And I told them that I don’t like hills, but I definitely don’t like cycling a highway. ‘So yes, I prefer hills over heavy traffic. Even being Dutch doesn’t change anything to that’.

And I can see their faces wondering about the best direction to take. Followed by silence. And again I can see them wondering about the best decision to make.
You really think it’s dangerous out there I ask them?’ Now it’s my turn to show my serious face.
And as soon as they see this worried part of mine, they assured me that I would be fine. ‘You are a strong women! he said’ with a big smile.

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See here the result of this little preparation-day. They made me a little tour-guide with the exact distances to ride every day, including the options to find me a place to stay. I now felt no longer like riding my bike on my own. I now was part of a team.

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And while my team helped me with a technical look at my bike, some little eyes were checking on us.

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while they were riding their bike:

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As we decided to go ourselves for a little ride:

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And after another technical check-up, this time by a proper bike-mechanic like -the best in town-:

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And  getting to know the rest of their bicyle-community:

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This girl was now ready to ride. But not alone, I can tell you that. As Mr. Marlis and some members of their community decide, to join me the early next morning for the first 35 km of my ride.

And off we go!

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The police officer just wants to make sure that I am not cycling alone? A women on her own, that would be dangerous!

And I smile. Do I look like I am riding my bike alone? Pointing at my team with pride.

And we all laugh out loud, as we continue our ride.

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35 km. Check! Cheers to three wonderful days. Cheers to these wonderful guys. Getting to know people like you, Mr. Marlis, is priceless. You would guide me along my way and monitor me the whole 1.500 km that was ahead of me. Thanks to all of you I would feel at home in Sumatra even before I started my ride. And that’s priceless since it’s all you need in the end to feel safe and comfortable riding your bike on your own, in areas where you have no idea on forehand what the experience would be like. Expect for all those people telling you that you should be more careful there, riding your bike.

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And thank you Rio: your sense of humor is priceless and so is your smile. As you show us all that although there’s not so much in life you can control, at least you can decide about your own attitude towards life. Wherever he is around you will see people smiling. And I felt happy to be one of them.

Bye guys! Take good care. Keep on pedaling – keep on smiling!

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And hello guys. Speaking about smiling.

As I continued my ride, this time alone – I cycled another 45 km to arrive at the place that would be my final destination for this first day. And as I make a little stop at the local supermarket, there suddenly appear three guys riding a mountain bike, out of nothing, coming my side.  They look at me as if they know me so I start questioning myself whether I might know them. But the answer is no. And then this one guy, starts talking with a lot of enthusiasm, telling me something about a bicycle-community, telling me something about inviting me for his club-house… if I wanted to join them on their way? I look at them, still trying to understand their message. And then he adds the magical words, that makes this whole situation clear: he is a friend of Rio and he told them that I was on my way. ‘Sure I say’. And offf we go. Guided by three guys riding their bike.

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Let me introduce to you: Dedi and his bicycle-community, at Kota-Agung. All of them waiting for me to arrive.

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If I still have enough energy to ride my bike?, so they could show me around. Of course I say, after I just finished my 80 km for today. And so we all get on our bikes as we cycle/drive to the local harbor of their town.

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And lucky as I am, they have one girl in their community riding her bike, surrounded by all these men, and she would take me in for the night. Staying with her was alright, as it’s very inappropriate in their culture to take a random women spontaneously in for the night. With or without a bike. They already arranged it all for me. And Fuji would take good care of me.

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After a shower, and something small to eat she tells me as a sister and a friend that we should prepare ourselves for the evening. We are going out! Me, smiling, as there isn’t anything to prepare to be honest. I told you I already took a shower right? And after taking a shower I always feel like this is the best version of me you could possibly get. As I don’t carry any make-up with me, neither do I have anything else to wear. And I smile again. We should prepare? For what? In a country where I end up dressing like a guy while riding my bike, to avoid to get too much attention, more than I would like…  This sister of mine now reminds me of the fact that women used to make themselves more beautiful when they go out? Hmm… I think about it out loud. It feels like another world, like a long long time ago. A world that’s far away from this ‘riding my bike solo’. But for Fuji there’s no question about the importance of this mission, and so she walks in to her room and comes back with this red-colored lipstick in her hand. This will do she said. Now we go out!

For all of you that already picture us in a club, going out for a drink or a dance. Wait a minute…

We went to the gym.

Yes you hear it right. We went to the gym. And while the girls were doing their daily work-out, dressed up pretty with make-up on their face, surrounded by these big guys showing their muscles trying to gain some strength, I just take a seat in this comfortable chair, wearing the prettiest clothes that I could wear. I had my work-out earlier the day, when I was riding my bike these 80 km.

15152898_1345454965499572_894913849_oMy favorite activity for the evening: the one that I prefer better than going to the gym: we went out for diner.

The atmosphere was completely different but the location was exactly the same. We had dinner at the harbor where we had a drink earlier the day. And that’s where the most amusing conversation from the day took place. As Dedi (the leader of this bicycle-community) ask me about my route for the very next day. Well I say, I will cycle another 70 km, cross the jungle to reach Bengkunat where I already have a place to stay. And then this is what he said, after sharing his worries about the thieves and pirates along the way. After telling me with a serious face that these are not the roads to ride your bike alone. You know as a women on your own. This is the jungle!

So he said: You know what, we will drive you there with our car.
And I said: You know what, I really would like to ride my bike over there.
So he said: You know what, we will drive you there.
And I said: You know what, why don’t you join me? You are a bicycle community right? And I smile.
And he said: But you know what; we ride mountain bikes, they are not appropriate for the road.
And he said: And you know what; it’s an extremely hard ride. You have to climb almost the whole way. Like the entire 70 km!
And I smiled as I said: You know what, that sounds a bit funny for guy’s with muscles that just finished their daily gym?
…..
You know what; we will join you on our bikes.
Our MOTORbikes.
You can count us in.

And that’s where this next chapter of my story begins.

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The early next morning I said goodbye to my sister and friend: Fuji, the strongest girl I ever met. She was going to her work.

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And exactly one hour later, just as they promised me, just as they said, there were four guys on their motorbike waiting for me to guide me on my way. Say hello to Dedi and his friends!

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A stop at the supermarket after cycling/riding the first 30 km.They bought me a cold drink and a robe. A robe? Yes a robe. And if you are curious what the robe was for. So was I. But soon I was about to found out. They told me to take a deep breath and asked me if I was ready: as this is the point where the real climb will start.

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And they were right about that!

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Our first conversation, talking about the robe. But hey did I mention my stubbornness and determination: let’s first try!

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And let’s try again.

Wonder why Andi looks a bit tired? Well because he just pushed my bike as I was trying to master this next hill. And even with two we didn’t make a chance… These are the kind of mountains where you stop cycling and have to start pushing your bike. In Indonesia we all know what that is like.

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So that’s when the robe came into the story.

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Cycling a mountain – the Indonesian way.

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Did you ever cycle an uphill with the speed of going down? I can tell you it’s the weirdest feeling ever. But it’s worth a good laugh. It was a ride to remember!

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climbing hil 1

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leaving Kota Agung 3     leaving Kota Agung 4

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*(with a big thank you for Dedi and Johan for sharing these awesome pictures of this awesome ride)

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One group-picture before the guys would go back home. As a new member of the team now joined the group.

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‘Changing of the guard’. It was the nephew of Mr. Marlis. And since he works as a policemen in this little village I was heading to, I could stop at their office for the night. Mr. Marlis had told me staying with them would be alright. And Dedi had already told him not to take his car, since this girl wanted to ride her bike. After this one day one the road they now knew exactly what I was like.

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Cycling a mountain was never so much fun as it was with you guys. I sure would remember all of you, with a big smile on my face.There would be many times ahead, this time climbing the hills on my own instead, that I would think back of this day with a bit of a nostalgic feeling: longing for our laughter and this magical yellow robe.

Take good care guys and keep on pedaling!

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My stop at the police office for the night. And all the questioning would start again, whether I was going to be alright?

There will be thieves and pirates along the way. So you’d better be careful girl! This is the jungle!

As I continue my ride in the early morning of the very next day, I knew I only had to ride another 100 km, to reach this next area of my ride. The part where they told me, from here on you will be alright.

The place that was well-known to be a surfers-paradise. They say it’s like Bali’ but then in Sumatra. And I just couldn’t imagine what that would be like, after riding this ‘jungle’ with my bike.

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But they were right. They do exist. Suddenly out of nothing, there were more of them: tourists! And I can tell you that, they were as surprised to see me as I was to see them.

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As the surf dudes left, some kids on bikes accompanied me for a while. For them it’s not a question whether you could ride your bike here alone. For them it’s the place where they cycle daily, as it’s the place that they call their home.

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As I arrive in this little surfers-paradise, I find myself a little hostel to stay for the night.

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Runned by a small family, it was was the kind of place where you just know that you will be alright.

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*(with a big thank you for Jose, for sharing the picture. Keep on surfing guys as we will continue to ride our bike!)

And when the time for diner was there, with lots of stories and some good food to share.

The one and only big question was also present:

Isn’t it dangerous, you know riding this jungle on your own?

And I smile, as I suddenly realize;

there wasn’t a day that I cycled alone.

 

-With love-

Jannie

3 thoughts on “CYCLING SUMATRA: There will be thieves and pirates along the way. So you’d better be careful girl – this is the jungle!

  1. Hoi Janneke,
    Wat een heerlijke verhalen schrijf je, het lijkt wel of ik op je bagagedrager mee reis…..
    GrG

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