The arrival in Sumatra was so funny.
As we have little experience on flying with bikes, we had dismantled and put them in carton boxes as the airlines companies ask (later we would find an easier and less laborious way but… we continue where we were going, that’s another story). So when we landed in Sumatra we had to assemble everything back in the airport to start cycling. We knew that it was so hot out there and that if the airport was small,we would have to make all the work of mounting the bicycles and the panniers outside of the airport under the Sun.
We decided to don´t be shy and because we were not harming anyone, and the airport was big enough to hide ourselves little bit, we pretend that what we were doing was so normal, we opened the boxes, we got the tools and started working on the bicycles, yes… with A/C, shadow and tranquility.
It was a gift.
Nobody said anything to us , many people passed by and laughed, or someone looked at us shocked by the scene even looking confused.
We have been throwing more and more buckets of hope, excitement and anticipation to the mountain of illusions that we had already built around the idea of pedaling Indonesia. We expected somehow Africa:
villages, tribes, a place of those in that one feels have reversed in the time.
The expectations as we well know from pure experience, are nothing more than obstacles, inconveniences, ballasts that the mind constructs and feeds knowing that they are the cause of frustration. A big mistake from our part that brought us a great disappointment.
What we found when we left the airport and went in Medan, the capital city, not differed almost nothing comparing with Southeast Asia that we had left behind. A very developed country, with many facilities and no trace of this adventure into the unknown and remote that we were ready to experience.
Traffic, pollution… reminded us to India, an Asian India and we began to make our theories about why the name of Indo-nesia.
The first days were completely tasteless, we moved on forward, because we had arrived…, because… we were already here and little else. We cycled standing the traffic, trying to stand the exorbitant and extreme excitement that we generated because we were foreigners and to the way that the people of Sumatra dealt with us, with which we did not resonate or felt at ease.
So it was how and why Sumatra initially choked us.
Every day, it stuck on our tonsils, as when you have a thin fishtail those ones that they do not drown but that each time you swallow you feel it, there, riveted.
We continued pedaling without losing hope, without judgments or without to proclaim truths, just opened.
We opened our hearts to each other having a tea and we discovered that both of us we felt the same, this… boring. More Southeast Asia.
When we reached the Lake Toba was the first breath, the first change, the first tasty bite.
A lake inside the crater of an ancient volcano, and in the center of the Lake an island.
There we crossed in a small boat and just from the moment in which we started cycling, we both felt another different kind of energy, another clear sensation on everything.
Another reality .
A bucolic place of quiet people, so picturesque houses that also turned out to be cheap.
We got a room with attached bathroom at the very edge of the Lake, quiet and spacious: great for the first rest in Indonesia, perfect to forget the traffic and also the expectations, reset ourselves and so to be ready to take whatever come later on.
After the break began the surprises and these were from good to the best: people and their behavior, traffic and even the jungle surrounding us, everything was different! .
Beautiful places and forest, much forest, beauty all around and with such abundance that to enter in it, to stay inside was hard, sometimes almost impossible, but going through it, just observing it from the road we could feel the recharge, the energy, just taking some time to look at it, clearly, something was coming back to us.
Coffee, coffee and more coffee but in addition, really good coffee.
From village to village we could feel the difference from the previous one, the smell, the thickness. Tasty and cheap, they prepare it like in the past: putting coffee powder in the glass and adding boiling water to it, stir it and rest… mmmm… how tasty and delicious.
Nasi Goreng (rice with a fried egg and some spices) Tofu and Temphe: the most everyday meals. We were eating one then the other and back to one again, because… there is little choice out of the touristic places.
Good and cheap, healthy and with enough calories to continue cycling and pushing despite the slopes, those also began to be a routine. We already knew by other cyclist of the steep slopes of this island and it didn´t catch us by surprise, we enjoyed the up hills without suffering, but also with joy.
And flowers, flowers, and an abundance of water. So much water:
It was amazing to see how full the rivers flow, I don’t remember having ever seen a country where all the rivers were ready to overflow.
Impressive to see how these enormous masses of water advancing, observe how they are creating, generating all this abundance in its path: abundance of water, of so much life, jungle that grows like an explosion, wonderful, awesome.
The water and heat are the protagonists of the tropics: water that runs and nourishes, water that we have to drink like real camels due to the heat and so much sweat, from morning to night, whatever you do… even if you don’t do anything, always sweating. Intense humidity in the atmosphere, water that falls from the sky like thrown from the bucket, monsoon´s rain would must be the Biblical deluge, no doubt.
And the heat, the heat of the tropics… ufff, it is a heavy heat that sticks to you like chowing gum to a shoe and it does not loosen, and it does not allow you to relax unless you put yourself under a fan or air conditioned.
This, the heat has been the hardest, especially in the nights.
To don´t be able to sleep until midnight, to be sweating on the bedsheet without knowing on what side of the body to lay, after having spent the whole day sweating under the sun…. uff too much. The heat of the night is too much, it didn`t allow us to relax, nor rest.
When sometimes we have allowed to ourselves the luxury of taking a room with air conditioned, something that always has repeated, every single time, has been the sleep, as trunks, as dormice, hours and hours and hours… with all what we carry in the saddlebags extended on the room so while we were resting, deeply, the air conditioned dried the humidity that all our things absorbed day by day.
There has been something that facilitated us the nights and those have been the police stations, Yes.
Other cyclists had already told us that in Sumatra, due that it is overpopulated there is not much places to camp, there are not many hotels, and having so much jungle, the most of them had chosen to cross the island sleeping in police stations and we wanted to try it.
Aitor initially didn`t like the idea at all, “his religion does not allow it” 🙂
but it was so easy, we were so kindly received and it simplified and cheapened the day that both became addicted to it. We had a lot of good memories, laughter and talks.
Usually they had a room, office, roofed area or even a proper room where they allowed us to put our mosquito net, and after a small talk and a drink they left to keep doing their things, they respected so much our privacy. The most special night that we spent at the police station, was when we were told that the building was so small that they had no place where we could sleep but, as that day there was no one detained, we could sleep in the cell of the jail so… we did it.
We spent the night in jail but yes, with the door opened.
Mornings of “Gorillas in the Mist”, fog that makes everything to be like a dream… interlaced in the trees, resting in the slopes, a mute show that we watched in first line, also unforgettable was the view of the Kerinci.
An active volcano of 3800m high that appeared there in front, like a mirage, smoking, alive.
It seemed to watch us in the continuous and loooong ascension that seemed to be eternal. It was without a doubt the toughest thing to cycle in Sumatra.
Steep slopes, the inclination of the up-hills was such that we were thinking every climb…
“Well, after this… the plain is coming, or perhaps the Summit, these are the last slopes before Summit”
but… there was another, and then another, and so for many, many kms in which we had nothing else to eat, to take to our mouth, because we had not neither imagined that it would be so long and not so hard, so we didn`t take enough food.
It was getting late afternoon, if we stopped to cook, the night would arrive and we wanted to climb it totally until the summit, because we didn´t want to camp behind a curve, behind some bush…
Since we were in it, we wanted to finish it.
We arrived at the end of the ascension with the night looming, tired, hungry and satisfied.
A tiny village, a small group of houses and a mosque was there, we asked for a place for camping and a kind man with beautiful smile and bright eyes offered us an empty house that he was building:
-All for you! You do not camp, we are high and it will be cold. In the morning if you don ´t leave very early I will show you the waterfalls that we have just a few hundred meters away from the village, you have to see them there isn’t anything like them.
Of course, we agreed and yes, really it was long time that we didn´t see such a magic place to where we descended through a long stairs surrounded of green, of moss, of flowers, plants and beautiful butterflies. A huge waterfall that magically sprang from the Earth and fell in spurts, it lost in front of our eyes at the same time that the sun rays penetrated between the vegetation gifted us a lot of small rainbows suspended in air, here and there.
-This is a great gift our friend, we will not forget it, thank you so much!!.
And as always… keep going on, is the life of the nomad, the painful routine that happens after each meeting:
to say goodbye.
We planed the route in such a way that we would cycle the 2. 500kms that has the island, through the mountains, adding some loops in order to avoid as much as possible the palm plantations. They are so extends and they are eating the forest in a way that we still had to ride through it more than 300kms.
Macabre beauty of the Palm, at the foot of which nothing grows, it seems a cemetery, alive but… cemetery.
The Palm that is planted (as we already told you in the post of Malaysia in 2013) to get this poison for the human body that is so widespread and which is the Palm oil.
The purest jungle areas, we discovered, are the union of the two states or communities, border areas usually means a lot of kms through it, just jungle.
One of the times, we found gold diggers!!! and of course we stopped to see and to know, what and how they were doing. It was so interesting but… too much hard work to get a few small gold stones!.
Sumatra has been the only country in these 10 years of kilometers and places where we felt like Hollywood stars, passing through this island has made us understand them and to feel pity of them, feeling sorry.
The extreme attention of locals about the foreigners is somewhat excessive, huge, disproportionate, even abusive. Also, and here comes the problem is that in these times everyone has a smartphone, all the phones have a photo camera and everyone wants a selfie with us. Not our photo but a selfie, they must be in the photo with us, otherwise they don`t want it. They must appear in the photo with us, and happen that normally, the picture is so empty, without history behind: we haven´t talked, we haven´t even looked to each other eyes and they want a picture with us pretending we are old friends.
This has been going on day after day, from morning to night, dozens of times, such was the harassment and made us feel that burden, that one day we decided to leave Indonesia and to go for cycling to Australia, really.
After de tough moment we decided to wait and see what we find in the next island: Java, and once there decide.
Finally to go through situations that you do not like and to have to bear them, cope with them yes or yes… teaches and enriches. Maybe the taste is not good but it is enriching, no doubt, at the end is to change the way in which one handle it, one takes it. It is to find a way to digest it as soon as possible, not having it in the mind all the time because that only helps to make the problem bigger.
And as always, it changes, everything changes and thus also the meetings changed, finally.
We contacted through “warmshowers.org” with Jefran, a very nice guy who hosted us in his family house and helped us to overcome a big problem:
After an area very, very muddy, the Aitor´s bicycle´s rear shifter, to say it in a simple way and to simplify the explanation, broke totally. In the 99% of the times this means having to stop a truck, putting the bicycles inside and go to one bicycle shop, (that who knows where you can find a bike shop here) praying along the way asking to God to help by findining the spare part we need, but Aitor again was able to do what seemed to be impossible, and to create a solution where normally there is nothing to do.
He finally left the chain fixed to one gear to be able to cycle, on the plain road was ok but… up hill!!! with his heavy bycicle!!! ohhh that was really taught, I promise you.
Although it took a couple of touches more on the invention created with pot´s plastic lid that one shopkeeper gave to us. It worked perfectly to cycle the more than 100 kms that remained to arrive to one bicycle shop in Lubuklinggau.
Because of that problem, and throught Jefran was how we contacted with the “Indonesian cyclist community” which is created by many small cyclist clubs in the diferent islands. As an example:
20 kms before arriving to Curup, some members of the club were waiting for us, the came cycling to recieve us and they took care of us for a couple of days, treating us like king and queen from the first minute, leading us through beautifull roads, offering boundless hospitality, their smiles and their friendship which we will keep as a treasure for the rest of our days. Those people, those memories give sense to everything, to deal with the difficulties that travel like this has sometimes.
Finally and because we received that great hospitality which we experienced even a couple more times with another cyclist clubs before to leave the island, we was looking back grateful from the ferry that was taking us to Java, knowing that whenever, wherever we remember those moments and days, we will smile from the deep of our beings, feeling richer, thankful and lucky to have been enjoying those moments with all of those new friends.
Thanks to all of you people!!!!!
( “Terima Kasih” means “Thank you very much” in indonesian language).