Cycling with Pablo García in Indonesia, by Pablo Olias
I begin to write this article sitting on a small Indonesian warung, near the airport in Kupang, from where I will go back to Spain in a few hours. It is making me even harder than usual to digest my last nasi gorem because I was overwhelmed by sadness and I lost my appetite. It is not just because this is the end of my trip but because this morning I had to say goodbye to Pablo and it’s been a rough time, more than what I expected.
I met this character long time ago. After discovering him in Internet I became a faithful follower of his adventure and I was lucky to pass him by chance, in the main street of my city. In the days we lived together in my house we built a nice friendship, which has made 6 years later he offered me to accompany him on his tour through the eastern Indonesian archipelago, due to a flight sponsored by the airline Air Asia. Leaving aside the question of the opportunism, the opportunity to share 40 days of traveling with someone I admire and of whom therefore I could learn, terribly attracted me so I did not think for a moment and 15 days later I was taking a plane to Bali.
Our meeting was shocking to me. After a rigor embrace a rapid visual scanning was sufficient to understand that if time does not forgive, it certainly doesn’t do it whom has lived with such intensity. His face, terribly weather-beaten and skinny, as well as the flags of his bike look, faded and falling to pieces, some of them almost broken without even reveal which country they belong, are unquestioned evidence of the toughness of a journey that every day put him to the test, continuously, as if it was an arm-wrestling daring him to give up.
During our stay in Bali we joined to the tourist plague which invades the south of the famous island. Together with Santi, Marina, Sergio and Alex, we visited the beaches and towns by motorcycle. Life here, as in most big cities of Southeast Asia, is chaotic and stressful, dominated by a rampant traffic (that never stops …) which is governed by its own “no rules”.
Thousands of bikes lining the streets where is only heard the deafening whistle of the vehicles. Throughout Indonesia most of people drive with one hand at the wheel and the other on the horn, which made indiscriminate use.
We left the bustling south to go deeper into the Island in search of Indian culture, temples and high mountain markets. Our only stop for a night was in Ubud, where we were warmly welcomed by Clelia. Then we cycled directly to the coast to catch the ferry to Lombok.
The truth is that I must say, contrary to what the most travel guides say, that Bali captivated us not at all. In fact we were surprised by the very good publicity and fame that this island has.
Everything changed in our arrival to Lombok where after disembarking we cycled towards Senggigi per a couple of hours under a waning moon. The next two days we were frolicking in Gili Meno, the second of three small islands situated in the northwest of Lombok; they are an ideal retreat to get away from busy traffic and take a rest of the loud ring-tones of the Indonesian horns. Those bungalows in the middle of nowhere seemed strong candidates to present us our first quiet night in Indonesia … nothing is further from the truth. At 5 in the morning the hammering of some workers were allied to the ubiquitous and more than punctual cocks crowing. It’s just that in Indonesia even the car dealers have roosters and hens. Of 40 days in Indonesia, believe me that there was not a single night free of this annoying experience, and that usually many other rumblings are added to it. The first advice I would give to someone who plans to travel through this country would be that make like me: “bring a couple of good earplugs”. He will probably wake up at 5 a.m., but at least he could romp in the bed without his ears squeak.
This was not enough to disturb the good times we spent eating and chatting under the thatched shelter on the beach. We also dived in the wonderful corals that exist in the area, teeming with fish of all shapes and colors.
After crossing comfortably Lombok by its magnificent central valley, something that took us more than a day of pedaling, we took the ferry to the Sumbawa unknown. On this island, as in the previous one, we arrived at night and cycled in the darkness, this time without the moon protection, now nonexistent, to find a good place to sleep.
Sumbawa not brought us any surprise, nor impressed with any of its landscapes. But, however, its authenticity and total lack of tourism was what we liked more. Perhaps because of this, the days of pedaling has stretched over 130kms per day surpassing even the rain, poor road conditions of a forgotten way and the clay that made them almost impassable.
And this is not the worst since nothing was as hard as the thousands of greetings received without the least space of time between them; the common “hello mister” turned out to be a torture, like someone hammered on the brain over and over again. A “hello mister” screamed with disgust by every Indonesian citizen with whom we met, not to mention that Indonesia is the fourth most populous country.
It would be unfair to set aside the list of difficulties those related to rest and food, two important aspects to respond to the physical effort that requires a trip like this. About the first matter I have said enough. The second is not much to say: RICE, that when we were lucky we found someone who cooked fried rice chicken, but due to the size of the piece of the chicken I believe that those birds were hungrier than us. But this situation had its positive side: too much rice reduce the severe stomach pains which force you to jump to the bush just in seconds…
Cycling under these conditions, it is inevitable that comes to my mind the question: “what kind of short circuit, chronic, has someone to suffer voluntarily to choose this lifestyle for 10 years! It is true that I did not find the answer to my question but I must admit a very worrying affinity with Pablo on this point, who I do not think he has the answer. Only I will make clear for those who don’t know him, that Pablo, far from being crazy as many people could think, is one of the sanest person I know. He knows very well what he wants and has the strength and courage to go straight for it.
The last night on the island we slept in our sleeping bags, inside mosquito nets which hanging from the slate of a very dilapidated classroom that literally we invaded at dusk. Our wet clothes hung on the tiny desks of students and all our belongings were scattering haphazardly in the classroom. In the early morning, we slipped away deftly among students more disciplined than showing up at school. It was really fun.
One day we were on the ferry that landed in Labuan Bajo, Flores Island, where we stopped two days to rest and so that Pablo work on internet, updating his web and managing his visas. But the true rest was in Kanawa, a tiny private island where we were invited by entrepreneurs who exploited its 12 bungalows with a small restaurant.
Rarely have I breathed so much peace and tranquility as in this remote island. Here, again, we enjoyed incredible diving in the most crystalline water I ever saw, surrounding its spectacular coral reefs. We sought obsessively sharks which everyone on the island had seen but we were not lucky. Or maybe we were…
With the masochism that characterizes this type of travelers, we left this paradise of pleasure to again voluntarily wallow in absolute pain: the merciless mountain range of Flores Island. A serious lack of respect for the rider. The route linking Labuan Bajo with Bajawa was the hardest. Pablo compared it with Tibet. I laughed while I listened on my MP3 one of my favorite songs by REM: “pushing an elephant up the stairs”. It seemed as if Pablo, with his eighty kilos of luggage and his face contorted with effort, wanted to act out the song I listened.
But nature, wise as ever, reserved us the best satisfaction to reward the efforts. This gave us a wonderful night of camping in Cancar, on a hill near the village from where we sighted an incredible rice fields arranged in the form of a spider’s net, unique in the world. The following dawn was spectacular, although usual; very early we were invaded by curious locals.
A few days later we would be rewarded again. After putting our bikes to the test through practically impassable roads, we reached the foot of the Gunung Inerie Volcano, where an incredible traditional village exists. Bena is a delight to behold, with log cabins and thatched roofs, arranged in two lines that form a terraced street where funeral milestones stand. We overnight at one of the huts of the people and we enjoyed another beautiful sunrise.
Our next stop for resting and working was in Ruteng, the heart of the island, where we spent another two days. I would not miss the opportunity to praise the effort and work that Pablo dedicates to his web and audiovisual production. This is a job he takes very seriously and that requires a discipline truly voluntary. Sometimes Pablo begins to work very early in the morning to go to sleep late, all without looking away from the computer screen.
After traveling nearly 500 km through the mountains in Flores Island, we left this beautiful and lush Island from Ende port, thinking about how nice our experience had been. This time the ferry to West Timor took 24 hours, so we decided to travel as gentlemen in first class. We landed at Kupang, the capital city of West Timor, a rickety and noisy city, but also stimulating. We stopped for 3 days to wait for the visa to Pablo, who was going to cross the border to East Timor.
Thousands of sensations invaded me when we started to cycle. I was four days of my return to Spain; the countdown for the end of my trip was being activated. More and more the nostalgia invaded my thoughts, and emotions were piling up according trip memories came to my mind. The overall feel of this trip was really exciting. I also felt a great affection for my partner with whom everything had been easy. Our harmonious coexistence was far from having the slightest friction; every day was filled with good moments.
Letting me be part of his trip, which I follow with great admiration since years is something I will always be grateful.
I can only wish that his courage and strength never desert him, because they make him who he is.
We said goodbye at the Kefamenanu bus station, near the border with East Timor. It was a bad time we had to deal.
Even if you don’t need
Good luck friend.