Mega-Blog: A Miracle Baby, a Monkey on a Motorbike and Post-Earthquake Mayhem

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…

There were 49 hairpin bends down to Lake Maninjao, with big trucks hurtling down and swinging around them on two wheels, and views that were dangerously beautiful for their location.  The bends were numbered, in case you missed one. 

Maninjao is another volcanic lake inside a crater, and this one is thermally heated… I dreamt of pre-cooked fish flinging themselves onto plates from the water.  It didn’t require much imagination.  There were hundreds of fish farms all round the lake, and they all teemed so abundantly that the gulls circling above looked to be in constant paraplegic throes of ecstasy.

We spent three idyllic days there: eating said fish, watching said fish be caught, and flopping around a bit like said fish. 

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. 

We went on a mission: back to the equator, having stunningly completely missed it the first time. 

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.  

The road had been badly damaged by landslide.

In some places the entire fronts of houses had just disappeared.  In others it looked like someone had turned them inside out.


A mosque had collapsed in on itself.  The dome lay in the centre of the rubble. 

There was a strange atmosphere, but everything was just having to continue as usual, with tarpaulins making up for the lack of walls, and people sleeping in aid tents. 


As we left for Padang, the earthquake damage worsened.  I saw one lady living under the remains of her roof in a crawling space- every wall had collapsed on her stately house, and she was reduced to cooking in the rubble.

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. 
The road deteriorated into a giant mudslide-  the earthquake had thrown the surrounding hillside onto it with frankly scant regard, and there was no actual road visible.  Tractors laboriously cleared it.  We slithered through.  Well, Adam did.  I had to trot. 

In Padang the earthquake had reduced gigantic office buildings to brickdust.  There were 4 star hotels with giant rips out of the side of them.  The traditional longhouses had had their beautiful roofs shredded. But the damage seemed less harrowing than in the villages to the north, where families seemed to have lost everything.  In the little bits of Padang we saw it seemed mainly to be to commercial buildings. 

We had made it to the coast, and outside the town the scenery improved.  We whizzed through tiny fishing villages and drew stares. 

At our lunch stop Adam made friends with some interested passers-by, while I fished water up from the local well to flush the toilet with, and squatted in a chest-high roofless shack while the chickens scratched about my feet.  It was a surprisingly pleasant toilet visit somehow…

Eventually the earthquake zone petered out, and the traditional villages and rice paddies looked undisturbed and ancient. 

 Strange formations off the shore appeared.  

Volcanic rock covered the ground.

The coastal road was covered in sand, and we found ourselves riding on the beach. 

The stretches in Indonesia are humungous, and we did 12 hour days down the coastline, trying to see the more remote fishing villages, but also trying to make it down to Java fast enough to have time for Bali and Lombok.  The country is amazing, and I could spend a year here looking around without having seen even half of it, but a two month visa and dwindling funds makes for a sadly expediated exit. 

We made it all the way down the east coast to Bandar Lampung, and ate at the local Padang-style restaurants as we went.  

These are interesting eating experiences.  It works something like this:   You waft in somewhere off the street, grubby, tired and hungry, and are immediately seated and surrounded by every dish available that day, usually about 12 choices, stacked high on the table in front of you.  A giant plastic tub of ever-refilling rice appears, and piles of prawn crackers and salad.  You select the various dishes from the heaps, and tuck in, using a spoon as the fork, and the fork as a knife.  (If you use a fork as a fork people think you are mad- no one puts a fork in their mouth in polite company.)  Afterwards a waiter with a keen eye approaches the table and ascertains without asking which dishes you have eaten, and presents you with a minute bill.  The food is every thing ever, in various coconut milk curries or stews: fish, goat, beef, chicken, vegetable, potato cakes.  It’s all served at room temperature apart from the rice, and the cup they give you with the hot water in… that’s not for drinking, its for washing your hands.  I think.  Actually I am not sure, but Adam drank his first one and got some very funny looks.  He said it was nice, but a bit like soap… Since then we have left it alone.


The next day the ferry over from Sumatra to Java was easy.  We lay about on the floor in an AC room (so did everyone else, its not that we were feeling rebellious- there weren’t any chairs in there), while a man was stripped of his T-shirt and massaged in front of us. 

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.

It seemed worthy of a celebration, so we sat drinking the sort of brightly coloured fizzy drinks that only an ADHD 10- year old with a future involving Type 2 diabetes could dream up, and looked out over the ocean as crabbers in conical hats picked their way between the coral.

We passed traditional fishing boats in the estuaries, and got curiously examined as we took photos of them. 

Every corner turned up better and better views....
We found another amazing spot for the night, rejoiced thoroughly, and spent a few happy hours sitting in a beach hut, eating freshly grilled fish, watching the sun set over Krakatau (and Mini-Krakatoa, its evil child spawn…). 


Possibly we went a bit loopy with the old camera...



Adam, having just discovered Krakatoa in the distance

A giant spotted gecko watch us watch it on our hotel wall, and Gacked at us a few times, tentatively.

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. 

Bogor itself should possibly be renamed Boggle.  The place is a huge congested town covered in a spaghetti-mess of one way systems that even the locals don’t understand.  Eventually we had made it, and so we managed to keep our next day appointment for chest x-rays at the fancy private clinic we were sent to in Jakarta. 

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.  

Someone tried to sell Adam a 12" flick-knife.

We visited Sukarno’s ‘Last Erection’ (not my name for it…).  It was a giant concrete monument, phallic and unbeautiful, with a flame on top.  

Underneath there was a set of diaoramas made with brightly painted figurines, exhibiting the officially acceptable history of Indonesian independence and politics.   It was actually finished by Suharto, years later, so funnily enough it doesn’t mention much about Sukarno’s days in power…

The best bit though, was that the whole square the monument sits in was being used just that day as a parade practice area by the Jakarta police forces.  From the top we could watch really quite impressively choreographed dances by the various factions in uniform, including some nifty little hip movements Shakira would have been proud of.

There were also some quite nice views to be had, but I was more concerned with the dancing.

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…

Either way everyone looked to be having a good time, and they waved when they saw us taking photos.

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 ( 

They actually came all the way out to Bogor to find us, and took us out for dinner at a trendy restaurant in town.  It was great to meet some likeminded travel-enthusiasts, and they were a very down-to-earth couple.

Bram had a list of bike-trip questions for Adam, interview-stylee, and me and Griska nursed Bintangs and discussed girl-topics.  Griska even brought a pair of earrings for me as a souvenir (which is bizarre as I had been looking at some quite similar at a stall in Jakarta and decided we couldn’t afford them.)  I think we will need to head back to Jakarta for our package soon, so we’ll hope for a reunion, and hopefully one where I am not feverish and sniffling loudly… sorry guys!

Fever still mounting, we left for the trek to Borobodur, 450km east.  

A steady, filthy day of riding up and down busy hills past tourist shops with strange oversized wooden chillies saw us reach a bog-standard hotel room in Cipanas… until we noticed the Jacuzzi-size bath in our private ensuite!!!  Enormous, and piped straight from the hot spring, I sat in it immediately, and got out, wrinkly and pink, several hours later, while the water turned a nasty shade of grey…

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.

We rode through flooded towns on the way- the rivers had burst their banks....

But now we have made it, and the fever has gone, along with most of the flueiness, which means that despite having ridden until well past dark again, I still have energy to write this!  And it helps that we are staying in the most beautiful hotel I have ever stayed in, with enormous rooms with hot water,  free breakfast and really friendly people, for $15 a night, so I am very pleased to be here.  Tomorrow we shall investigate Borobodur.  


  1. Loving every word and every picture! Glad you are feeling better Nicky.

  2. Thanks for yet another well written update of your journey. Glad to hear you're health has mended. (Must have been the massage!) Enjoy your sweet suite!


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