After a short, urine scented ferry ride to Bali, I was expecting to find an island overrun with lager fuelled Aussies, obnoxious Lonely Planet fuelled backpackers and who-knows-what fuelled hippies. I was therefore delighted to be surprised on the upside when I discovered that these tourists were trapped in small pockets on the island. The change from Java was huge. Roads were so much quieter, the regular wailing from the mosque calling folk to prayer were less abundant, shrines and statues provided something for the eyes to regularly feast upon, cows seemed much more prevalant and chickens were much healthier than their very scrawny Javanese cousins. I also found a new word on the menu: 'babi' which is pork in Bahasa. After spending the last while in muslim areas, it was so good to eat a bit of pig again.
After studying my map, looking at possible routes to get down to Denpasar, I cast my eye on a road that climbs up into the crater of a volcano. After slogging up the steep northern slope of the volcano, my bike computer suggesting a maximum gradient of 30%, gushing with sweat and being hounded by a couple of pesky flies, I was disappointed to find that the crater looks more spectacular on the terrain setting of google maps than it does in real life. The problem was that trees obscurred potentially good view points and it wasn't until I had decended the other side the following day that I read that there were good view points from another road.
Over the past year my cycling skills have improved, as you will notice by the reduction in my falling off regularity, and I've even got to the point where I am descending mountains with my eyes closed. After a very opimistic application of suncream, I began my increasingly frightening descent out of the crater as the skies emptied rendering my brakes very ineffective on the steeper sections. The rain also washed the suncream into my eyes which became impossible to keep open for more than a fraction of a second due to the stinging pain, or wipe as my hands were both locked on the brake levers. It was therefore with great relief that the road started to flatten out so I could come to a complete stop with the assistance of dragging my feet along the floor and not to rely on the aid of an unseen tree or the foot of a cliff to reduce my speed!
I spent my final couple of days in Asia in Kuta, the Aussie version of the Costa Del Sol. It was one of the last places on the planet I ever wanted to step foot in but happens to be right next to the airport. Up until that point I had crossed all water by bridge or boat and all land, but for a couple of border crossings, by bicycle. I would have loved to have continud in this fashion but couldn't justify spending five times as much to ride on a cargo ship than a flight cost. It's also pretty much impossible to hitch a ride on a yacht this time of year so I found myself a cardboard box, took my bicycle apart and spent hours scrubbing it with my toothbrush in order to please the Australian immigration officers, then left it in the hands of the Indonesian baggage handlers.
As I collected my torn box with my precious bike inside from the floor of the baggage reclaim as it had fallen off the conveyor, I proceeded through immigration and into the quarantine/customs area to show off my very shiny, hopefully undamaged steed. After so long scrubbing I was pretty disappointed when the official said "G'day, is your bike clean?" then just waved me through when I enthusiastically replied "it's spotless, do you want to see?"
After piecing my bike back together, thankfully uninjured since I laid eyes on it last, I set off into Perth to buy a new toothbrush and to meet Paul, a good friend from uni days who had come to visit me and was kind enough to appreciate how shiny my bike was. After a few days of fine food, fine wine, fine cricket and fine company, Paul headed off to watch the Aussie Open in Melbourne and I set off in search of an apple to pick or something similar that would allow me to refill my piggy bank a little.
So here I am sat in my new home, a youth hostel in Denmark, waiting to start my new job on a potato farm tomorrow. For the next three months I think, I shall be plucking rocks and rotten potatoes from a conveyor belt on top of a potato harvester. But do not worry, the lycra based adventures will return.
(Queue Stars Wars soundtrack) To be continued...