Dry-bag Karma, Break-downs and More Brits on Wheels

We hurtled and bounced, and bounced and hurtled.  In between the bounces we cursed the foolish optimistic Lonely Planet writer, who had deemed this particular bit of hell 'a decent road with some dodgy patches', that was 'easily manageable for a competent scooter rider'.  He failed completely to mention that said scooter rider would have to be sat comfily in the passenger seat of a 4wd truck, and preferably have a penchant for nasty cranial bruising. 

Two hours later than expected, and following some hearty swearing and a 2km downhill hike for one of the party (ahem.), we arrived at the port.  The boat trip to Bali was pleasantly benign, and we sat and discussed our preferred despatch methods for Indonesia Lonely Planet writers.

Bali, when it arrived, was radioactively bright.  It seared through the flesh on our eyeballs and they dropped out, leaving us with enormous gaping skull-holes.  That bit isn't quite true.  But it was very bright.  We also suddenly realised that the island was a lot larger than expected.  

Our pleasant little day's ride had just taken on epic proportions, and we bombed it past Balinese temples and Hindus in traditional sarongs, zoomed through scenic villages and around volcanoes, and completely failed to reach the other side before nightfall.

We spent the night at a pleasantly cool altitude in the only hotel available, and studiously ignored the silent French grump studiously ignoring us.  It was all fairly blatant- he shut his door as we walked in...
Luckily the hotel manager was a friendlier sort, and cooked us up some great food.  The next morning as we meandered out into the sun we watched him clamber up onto the bike, and immediately fall off.

We made it to Padang Bai, and couldn't afford any of the hotels.  A guy  found us and took us to his homestay.  Our lovely little room looked out onto an octogenarian with a drool problem, who spent his days sat in the shade with his wife.  They shared a small plastic drool-bucket, and muttered.  The only time I saw any movement was when I accidentally went out wearing a sarong to bring the laundry in.  The old man stood and saluted, before collapsing back into place.

We spent a happy week swimming, sunbathing, and getting root canal treatments.

We met a few interesting souls and listened to their tales, Adam's mouth healed, and time passed.  It was getting on, and our visa dates were looming.  We hit the road for Lombok. 

Lombok is a little place.  It has crowded boats, friendly Hindu celebrations in the street, and horse-drawn carriages.  It took us a day to cross it, so that's about all the information I can impart.    

We crossed over to Sumbawa, and I was thrilled to be on an island I had only found out existed the day before.

After a friendly old greeting at the port, we meandered off past quaint little villages dotted here and there.  I sang Massive Attack songs into my helmet.  Pastel wooden huts lent the place a Caribbean air.  Muslim villagers wandered past with prayer shawls on their shoulders.

We got lost again whilst looking for the grilled fish shack-restaurant made famous by one weary Aussie traveller in the Lonely Planet.  A tiny fishing village was completely over-run with goats, and they sat about on the house porches, glaring at us for intruding.  The entire village came out to wave at us, and we rode through in a strangely imperial way, waving from the wrist...

We found our fish restaurant, and attempted to mime to the lady that we would please like to sleep in one of  her convenient pagoda huts on the shore.  Understandably, miming this sentence whilst filthy and sweating and sitting on a daft-looking bike gave us few results.  After the fourth attempt, which involved the drawing of a tent, the lady looked a little tired, smiled wanly, and said 'yes.'  That was all it took, and we started unloading.

It was still light, but the drizzle had started, and whilst munching our fish we debated the relative merits of having an actual ceiling over our heads, as opposed to thatch palm resplendent with holes and bugs.  We decided to repack and head for the next town.  The lady looked like she might well collapse with relief, and we zoomed off...

It got darker.  As usual, our light didn't work.  As usual, we had forgotten about it.  As usual, our speed dropped to below 20kph, and we bounced along. 

After an hour and a half we found a tiny shack in the wilderness.  We hadn't made it to the oasis promised by the Lonely Planet, or any form of hotel at all.  The shack would have to do.

A handily placed English-speaking Jakartan made the necessary explanations to the bemused shoeless owners.  We set up our inner tent hanging off bungie cords from the roof rafters outside the shack. This caused great hilarity, and throughout the night wanderers would appear, marvel loudly at the foreigner's idiocy, and go for a quick pray at the adjacent mosque.

At 4am a paying customer appeared at the shack, and the owner kindly played a happy hardcore album at approximate 12,67000 decibels to welcome him. 

At 5am we gave up.  Even clambering back onto the bike with our painful saddle-sores was preferable to enduring any more incongruous early 90s rave, Indo-stylee.  The family were very sweet though, and had all slept through the atrocious noise quite peacefully, and we got a grand send-off as we rode away.

Sumbawa carried on being gorgeous.  The roads continued being near-perfect, the villages sustained their quaintness, and we decided never to leave...

We found a hotel at the port where a young trendy Sumbawan told us his laudable life-philosophy in excellent English.  It transpired that basically this was to always do the unexpected in every possible circumstance, which apparently included wolf-whistling at passing devout Muslim girls, despite being able to see only their faces.  None of them ever gave the remotest response, but he assured Adam happily that he had several girlfriends in the village, and didn't seem even slightly perturbed by their lack of interest. 

As we rode into the port at 6am, we were completely gobsmacked to see an enormous 4wd truck...with British plates... 

We had stumbled across some more crazy overlanding Brits, in the most un-foreignered island we had been to...

Our rapid-fire exchange of stories was shortlived though when we had all bought our tickets for the ferry, and waited patiently to load, only to discover the truck wouldn't fit on.  The bike, however, did.  They would catch the next ferry across at 12pm, so we agreed to keep in touch and meet up on the other side.

We found them relatively easily in Labuanbajo, funnily enough, and spent the evening chatting merrily.  Having found them so bizarrely, it seemed daft to travel off on our own, so we took them with us.

We zoomed through Flores, waving at everyone.  Everyone seemed ridiculously friendly.  

At one point we stopped at a tiny shack for grub, only to suddenly be interrupted by two Irish on a borrowed scooter from Lombok.  They stormed in, completely took us and all the villagers by surprise, told us a story and left.  The villagers looked like they had just seen a goat mounting the mullah.  I don't think they saw us foreigner-weirdos much, certainly not complete with strange vehicles. 

Not being able to make it to anywhere with an actual town-centre before darkness, we found a spare bit of beachy wasteland, and camped with the others.  The village turned out to see what we were about, and a man with an enormous harpoon wandered about barefoot.


Amazingly after last time, the tent survived, and, even better, knackered from sudden social contact, we slept like logs.

The next morning a new gang had surrounded us.

 he borrowed my sunglasses for a classy portrait.
We rode on through bamboo groves, and found Bajawa, a tribal village with betel-nut chewing ancients and youngsters doing little dances.  The houses were all thatched bamboo huts with ornate tribal decoration, and they had strange male and female totem poles and tiny Christian graves dotted about with Coca-Cola bottles as offerings.  There was a dead monitor lizard on the roof.  Old intoxicated women spun wool to make local ikat sarongs.

It was all going so well.  The roads were fun and off-roady, with bamboo poles and mud.  We started back towards the town.

Then we ran out of petrol.  There was a petrol-dispensing shack though slightly further along, so we rolled merrily downhill, unperturbed.

It was empty.

Still unperturbed, we came across the truck, and they mentioned more petrol cannisters in the village.  We rolled on.

The village had none, but we did gather a decent crowd.  By this time the perturbation had set in slightly.

We had to call our two fellow Brits to rescue us, and they pegged it all the way back to town in the truck to fetch us cannisters, like true heroes.

At Ende the next day we tried to determine the ferry timings across to W Timor.  The ferry was allegedly on the Friday, but we had heard a billion differing views, including one that said it had not departed for a month...

The office was a little ramshackle.  The ferry guys were also a little ramshackle.  The main ferry information man sported an American football T-shirt and a baseball cap.  He rang around to try and give us a date for departure.

It was looking bad.  Everything seemed to point to us having to drive all night on bad roads 420kms across the island to reach Larantuka for 7am the following morning, thereby missing Flore's main attraction, the volcanic crater lakes at Kelimutu.  I sulked. 

Right at the last moment, another ferry man appeared from a derelict hut next door.  He called a second office, and came to the conclusion that it wouldn't be leaving the next morning, and we had until the original timing on Friday to reach the other end, a far more healthy proposition for our poor un-headlighted steed.

We found a little hut on a tiny farm to stay in, and spent the evening watching the villagers get terribly excited about the possibly sighting of a rescued body from the Kelimutu lakes.  A local lady had leapt to her death from the edge of the lake a few days previously, and the body had to be fetched out by the military.  The ambulance drove past with a million giggling faces following it.  We were mildly horrified.  Then it abruptly did a U-turn and drove back through again so more people could get a look.  The hysterical glee this brought about in the villagers was alarming.  Having said that, it was a very small village.  They may well have got excited about an oddly-shaped vegetable. 

The lakes the next morning were very blue, and very crater-like.  There was police-tape lying about, but  there was no-one there.  We meandered about a bit and went on our way.

By this time we had to zoom, and we pegged it all the way across to Larantuka to make it in time for the ferry.

The ferry.  Oh, the ferry. 

It seemed innocuous enough to start with. There were platforms to lie down on.  It was relatively clean.  Everyone was friendly.  The toilet had water.  So far, so good.

Then a little gaggle of Indonesian men brought on a load of Arak liquor, and got steaming drunk. This still wouldn't have been a problem, except that they were determined to impress us foreigners with their stunning grasp of the English language, and their fascinating array of English mobile phone tunes, including, bizarrely, rather a lot of Kenny Rogers.

No one wants to listen to Kenny Rogers being sung by an enthusiastic Indonesian drunk at 11pm.  Least of all on a pitching car ferry, with the by-this-time putrid toilet aromas wafting gently over to them on the breeze. 

We coped magnanimously for a while.  We smothered the swearing.  Adam just grimaced and gripped the inflatable pillow tightly.  Kym shot daggers at the perpetrators, but asked herself quietly what the the Dalai Llama would have done. 

I asked them nicely.  They nicely offered me Arak and cigarettes, and switched the music to English-speaking Christian rock.

Kym asked them nicely.  So did Gary.  They started on a little comedy act, with us as their main material.  The rest of the room sniggered.  Then the main man started making farmyard noises, I started swearing, and Adam lost his rag, pulled the little scret by the hair and asked him precisely what he thought he was playing at. This little exchange culminated somehow in Adam thwacking him with an inflated empty dry-bag, which caused the drunk so much distress that he ran out of the room with his hands around his ears, sheepishly explaining that he would be leaving now...

An hour later his previously meek compadre arrived at precisely the same stage of Arak-drunkeness, and started squawking and retching, whilst listening to increasingly loud rock ballads...

I had incredibly managed to drift off when I woke to find Adam, pink with rage, stuffing four boxes of cigarettes under the camping mattress, and muttering to himself that they could have them back when they had started behaving.

When I woke up properly, I realised he had also thrown their arak and beer overboard.

It worked.  The remaining idiots wandered off into another room to swear at the crew until they fell over.  Sadly though, it had inspired such a level of excitement in our room, that all the Indonesian families who had been unable to sleep had to get up to have a half-hour gossip about the whole thing.

Quietness was a long time coming.  I think we averagely all slept about 3 hours that night.

We arrived into the port four hours late, packed the bike with lightening speed and made to hotfoot it off the boat.  The others left ahead of us as we waited for a bike opening.

Then bike wouldn't start. 

We unpacked to try the battery connections.  The crowds gathered.  Pressing the start- button produced a sad little Clunk.  It wasn't the battery connections.  Someone helpfully let Adam know this, in case he had missed it...

We  pushed the bike off the boat and into a little piece of shade, and sat morosely waiting for the battery to charge in the office.  It charged.  That wasn't it either.  

In another piece of shade with a new crowd we tried whacking the starter motor back into life.  Nope.  Clunk. 

I kept the crowds happy while Adam removed the starter motor, and we called our rescuers, yet again. 

A few hours later Adam was attempting to explain to a mechanic exactly what was wrong using only mime and three words of Indonesian, while the bike was being covered up lovingly with cardboard by a friendly shack-owner at the port.

It is now sat in the police station car park, and we are sat in the hotel.  We are waiting over the weekend for it to be repaired.  The heat is on to be on the next ship to Darwin in a few days time, but there isn't a whole lot we can do, so we wait.  And hope.  And wonder whether it was karma for hitting the drunk with the dry-bag.


  1. Hope you guys get the Darwin boat OK. Take care

  2. I simply love your posts! It always brightens my day to read your wonderful humor.

  3. hello,

    my name is Carlos, i am now in Sumbawa, with mecanical problems in my motorbike. I am going to Timor to cross to Australia. When are you crossing? maybe we could join us¿?¿?¿

    thanks and good luck!!!!

  4. thanks guys, also really hoping we make it, boat goes on the 16th. now in dili. the saga continued with the starter motor and it all got a bit worse before it got better... ho hum.. thats for the next time the connection is good enough to post...

    nicky x x

  5. looks like the last part of Indonesia was a pain in the ass ... lots of trouble ...
    Hope you are make it to aussie and rite on time !

    good luck !

  6. Found your blog ramdomly looking for some infos about Bangladesh...ended up reading the whole thing till way too late.... Splendid blog!
    I motorbike Bali to Dili last year. I laughed alone as I read.
    " The entire village came out to wave at us, and we rode through in a strangely imperial way, waving from the wrist..."
    I d love some real quick infos about these intercontinent ships you take or wish to...really couldnt find any infos about that...even from Dili to Darwin...maybe I wasnt looking at the right place.

    Best luck to you and your bike

    philmaltais@yahoo.ca from Montreal


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