Seven million miles further…
We left Bukittingi in Sumatra, after a day spent at a German guesthouse with an enormous 3month old miracle earthquake baby. He was born on the day of the Padang earthquake (the one which caused so much devastation about these parts in September). Many other mothers lost their babies that day due to the stress. This kid looked like he had thrived on the challenge- he was the size of an 18month old, and could barely be carried in his little fabric sling. Fortuitously he had been named King, and not something like Tiny Tim. (or Diminutive Dave…)
Bukittingi was a little large and rambunctious for our boggled brains, so we headed for calmer climes…
A little old toothless lady made us amazing Indonesian food for far too little money, and chased skinny cats away while we ate.
There were sunsets, and sunrises, and other daftly utopian creations of the universe.
A busy but interesting two-hour ride saw us approaching various roadside randoms in the village, trying to mime ‘equator’.
We missed it again.
There was no sign at all on the road we tried, and even the people who understood my ludicrous globe-imitations weren’t too sure why I would want to see a fictional line. I conceded the point, and we stopped hunting.
On the way back we passed through earthquake territory, and the damage was brutal, and shocking.
I saw a woman rocking with grief on a bed by the roadside.
Every house built with concrete was damaged, some more than others. But in many cases the wooden traditional houses had remained unharmed. Even so, the very apparent rebuilding was all in concrete.
We had made it to the coast, and outside the town the scenery improved. We whizzed through tiny fishing villages and drew stares.
Java’s heat hit me like a lava-wrapped brick right between the eyes- for some reason it was a lot cooler two hours east, equator or no equator.
But someone had thoughtfully adjusted the light at the same time as the thermostat, and managed to make everything look shiny and new as we whizzed along the coast.
That same someone had also erected some pretty spectacular coastal scenery.
Java was proving pretty good so far.
The road from Anyer, our peaceful Krakatoa-watching post, to Bogor, our Jakarta base, was hectic and a little scary. Mainly admittedly because of the distinct absence of a left-hand mirror… it fell off some time ago, but the roads in Malaysia and Thailand are so good that we hadn’t yet felt the loss.
Now it is me that feels the loss most keenly. I have become a mirror. It is my job to have my head lodged permanently over my shoulder, and shout “Left!” through my visor whenever a scooter starts to undertake. This happens approximately every two minutes. I have begun to vary the tonal quality of the ‘Left’ depending on the style of scooter, just for something to take my mind off the neck-ache…
Our ride to Bogor quickly got us a bit wet, but generally continued along the same lines. Busy little scooters continued to disregard all traffic regulations, eye-piercingly bright rice paddies continued to disregard all proper colour limitations, and the rain clouds continued to disregard our pleas.
Jakarta is quite big in the same way that the ocean is a bit soggy. It sprawls on and on and on in every direction, covered in a thick soupy yellow smog of pollution. It has high-rise apartments, skyscrapers, slums and squares, and absolutely no pavements. But Jakarta-dwellers are resolutely friendly, smiling and helpful, no matter how yellow the air. And people stand up for each other on the train. Strangers ask you if they can help you reach your location. Everyone starts conversations with each other.
We found the Chinese quarter, and gawped at the cobras in tanks for so long that an old Chinese guy stopped to explain they were for eating. We must have been looking confused…
Strange parts of unidentified creature swam in congealed goo on the food-stall tablecloths, and red paper New Year lanterns swung from every available hook.
As we left, the riot squad were practicing high kicks, still holding their shields. There were some bizarre baton moves which would have caused a substantial amount of damage to a protestor, were the protestor choreographed to be underfoot in exactly the right place at the right time- I don’t know, but I do think that would take some organizing…
We wandered round the old town, with the old Dutch colonial buildings still in place. A family of performers snapped 3 meter whips against themselves. They had a monkey that was made to ride a tiny motorbike.
A bunch of school kids recorded an interview with me in the square. I measured about two foot taller, and the kid in charge of the photography looked dubious.
Then on our last night there was an extra good bit: we got to meet up with some fellow round-the-world motorbike enthusiasts from Jakarta who are planning their own big trip- Bram and his wife Griska (www.daddynaeva.wordpress.com).
On the way from Ciapanas carts went past with upset-looking little horses on the front, their nostrils flaring with the pressure. Buffaloes looked far more pleased with their lot. They wallowed up to their flanks in the wet paddies, ploughing, or threshing, or who knows what…
We stopped for a quick breather at a petrol station, and an energetic little lady bounced up to ask me lots of questions using mime, and when I mimed that I had a cold (always a sucker for sympathy) she leapt up and massaged my back, somehow magically thereby completely clearing out my throat and head within two minutes. I considered offering her a permanent position on the team, but wasn’t sure how she’d feel being told she’d have to wedge into one of the boxes.
She blew me kisses as we rode off. I blew them back, and meant it.
The air was languid and lazy, and the heat shimmered in an evil sort of way. The sweat formed little eddies in my bellybutton. The road carried on and on.
I fell asleep on the back of the bike about a million times, micro sleeping for up to a minute before bolting myself upright again. I am fairly sure Adam was not amused.
Then the pressure finally broke, and the thunderstorm that had been brewing for hours crashed around overhead, and the rain pelted at our brains. It got dark and windy, and the scooters behaved more scurrilously with the storm. We got pushed off the road by oncoming buses.