Christmas was a strange one. Full of the festive spirit, I was generous enough to give myself a few days off at a hostel in Jakarta run by an Englishman and an Irishman where I hoped it would be celebrated in this predominantly Muslim country. Not much evidence of Christmas had been present up until this point in Indonesia. Despite the Christmas tree in the corner, the traditional roast dinner, the watching of Christmas films and even the taste of a Marks & Spencer mince pie that I had somehow managed not to devour since it was given to me in Singapore, whilst all of this enjoyable, it just didn't feel right. The weather wasn't disappointing, silly games were not played and there was no family there to share it with.
New Year felt a little bit less peculiar. After riding for a few days through the wet, busy and potholed roads to Yogyakarta in Central Java, I arrived at the hostel I had booked, hoping to find other people to celebrate it with. I discovered that I was the only one booked into the dormitory over the New Year but at breakfast on New Year's Eve I met a gay Muslim from Sheffield who invited me to join him and a group of other people he had met the night before to celebrate in a bar with a live reggae band in the center of Yogya. As we walked into town, the streets were packed with people sitting quietly and soberly, waiting for the New Year to come upon us. A very different and slightly refreshing atmosphere to that of Britain where drunken revelers stumble noisily through the streets, bottle in hand. New Year was brought in with very dodgy fireworks, one of which flew into the crowd in the entrance to the bar we were in, giving one unfortunate punter a shock as it struck her face but thankfully doing no serious damage. When my new friend headed onto a gay bar, I thought it was time for me to head back to the hostel for my first sleep of 2012!
My time in Indonesia started with one of the most uncomfortable ferry journeys I have ever taken. In true adventurous and scrimping fashion, I had booked an economy ticket from Bintan (an island just off Singapore) to Jakarta in order to travel as the locals do. I carried my bike with all luggage attached up a flight of steps onto the ferry and into the economy cabin where I joined a hundred or so Indonesians. I was trapped there in the very warm conditions (no air-con or fans) with cockroaches scuttling around all over the place for the next 30 hours as people stared at the weird ginger bearded white man with a bicycle. When we finally arrived in Jakarta an announcement in Bahasa was relayed over the intercom and everyone stayed where they were. Over the next hour traders came on board and walked round trying to flog their pink stuffed bunnies and dodgy rolex watches. By this point my patience was starting to wear slightly so I stood up and took my bike to the exit to see if I could get some special treatment and be let off the boat. I was hopeful that I could pull the special white man card and escape as so far I had been given special care by being forced to take double portions of the rather unpleasant meals we were provided with, and the people around me were very glad to have this excess shared out between them. As it turns out, the announcement had been that we had arrived and that anyone getting off in Jakarta should do so at that point in time. Despite the people around me knowing where I was going, no-one thought to relay this to me. It transpires that everyone else in the cabin was going onto the next port! For the next two hours I stood with my bike waiting for a chance to carry my bike down the steps and off the boat but a constant stream of cargo being loaded onto the ferry prevented any escape. Finally, a big guy took pity on me, took a couple of my bags and cleared a path to make good my escape. As it was getting late I battled into Jakarta through the absolutely mental traffic, chasing a girl on a motorcycle who decided that instead of telling me how to get to the cheap area for accommodation 5km away, she would lead me there in true Indonesian riding style.
After a day off to recover from my ordeal and from the cold I had developed, I headed west and into Sumatra to make the most of the time I had before I was booked to be back in Jakarta for Christmas. My delays meant that I didn't have time to get up to the National Park I was hoping to visit so instead I decided to revisit my primary school topic of volcanoes and our case study of Krakatoa, this time in the flesh. Krakatoa is a volcano just off Sumartra which blew itself apart in 1883 to leave a group of small islands behind and 'the child of Krakatoa' (Anak Krakatau) has been emerging from the sea since the 1920s. As I was unable to cycle out there, I had to rely on an organised tour. The only other organised tour I've been on during this trip so far was in Vietnam and didn't go as well as hoped so I crossed my fingers that this time would be different. I was expecting to join a group of other tourists on a reasonably sized vessel. I was therefore slightly surprised to arrive at a fisherman's house and to be taken to the small, narrow boat which was going to take just him, his crew member and me across the Sunda Straight, which was a little lively that day, to Anak Krakatau. On the active volcano we came across the largest lizards I have ever seen. Not as big as a Komodo Dragon, but still around 2 meters in length. I read later that these lizards are carnivorous and are from the same genus as the Komodo Dragon. We walked up the first level of the volcano before heading back down and to another island for snorkeling at the coral reef. The mask I was given was very ill-fitting and I ended up inhaling water a couple of times before calling it a day. The little boat survived the waves and rain and as we headed back to shore. Despite threats from the waves tossing the little boat around, the volcano, the dragons and the water inhalation, the only time I feared for my life was when we arrived back at the shore where I was met by a crazy 12 year old who was providing my 15km ride back to the hotel on the back of his scooter!
Resolutions for the revolutions
We have arrived at that time of year where resolutions are made and if we are lucky are not yet broken, so I thought I would make a few of my own to try to adhere to whilst I am cycling for the second half of my trip:
One of my most frustrating habits is the choosing of locations to stop for food and supplies. Over 95% of the times that I stop, it is on the side of the road I am cycling on and when I have not passed it yet. If a perfectly reasonable cafe or store appears on the other side of the road or I am past level with it then my fingers will remain away from my brake levers and my mind will tell me, 'oh, lets just go onto the next one'. This has led at times to hungry and thirsty periods as I realise that it was the last opportunity in that town to stop. My mind seems determined to save time by not having to cross a road twice, even if it is a really quiet road, or turn back the 10 to 20m which would add 20 to 40m to my day's ride! Totally ridiculous and a statistic that needs improvement.
Another frustrating statistic is that my 4th Kindle of the trip will be waiting for me when I arrive in Perth, Australia. I somehow managed to break the screen on my latest kindle on Christmas day so that is two broken screens and one theft! Thankfully it is still under warranty but in the days since then I have been reduced to playing solitaire on my ipod and sitting on floors of internet cafes (for some reason many of them don't have seats) in order to provide my evening entertainment. I therefore resolve to pay more care and attention to the object that keeps me most sane on my trip.
Finally, my taste in music is straying towards the absolutely detestable end of the scale. Recently I found myself singing Lady In Red by Chris de Burgh through the Javanese traffic and it led to me taking a serious look at myself. I have admitted that I have a problem and hopefully this is the first step to recovery. I am very ashamed indeed!
Please note that if you have any suggestions for other resolutions I should have, particularly involving any items of clothing or facial hair, please keep them to yourselves!