Madiun to Pacitan


I decide to ride to the beach at Pacitan. I have heard it is one of the nicer beaches on Java, an island not known for its beaches. I figure that if I am in Indonesia I should see some beaches. The first thing that strikes me about the ride today is how good the roads are here on Java. Or at least, in Central and East Java. The main roads look like they have been recently rebuilt. They are smooth, wide and well-signed. Away from the cities they are also relatively empty. It is perfect for riding.

The road to Pacitan takes me over a small mountain pass and through a valley. Unlike Korea’s mountains, which were relatively untouched and unspoilt, the mountains have been tamed by farmers just like the flat lands. It’s an interesting difference that geography and culture have probably created. Geography because these islands have only so much land available to farm so you probably need to use every bit you can. As for culture, I know too little about it but perhaps Confuscianism creates veneration for mountain peaks as gods while here religion is more fluid?

Small villages nestle in the valley cut by the raging muddy brown river. On the opposite bank from the road, farm houses perch precariously on the hillside. Palms and other tropical trees grow around the houses, creating an oasis among the bare terraces. More terraces are being built everywhere in this valley. I watch as they are cut by hand by men wielding picks and shovels. In other places men and women clear weeds to prepare the terraces for growing. I can’t help but be grateful that the lottery of birth did not render this my life.

But it’s the rock cutting huts that strike me the most. All along the road there are these little shelters filled with rocks. People sit in some, cutting or sorting rocks. There is work being done to the road in places and this is where the huts are located. I don’t know whether the rocks are being sorted for the road works or whether they were dug up by the road works and are being sorted for sale. Either way, the sorting and cutting of rocks seems like a tedius and horrible way to endure your days. The lottery of birth is brought home to me even more strongly and I feel grateful for the opportunities with which I have been blessed.

Despite my darker philosophical ponderings about the lottery of birth, the valley is very beautiful. It is lush and tropical; not a landscape to which I am usually drawn but one that is captivating me here in Indonesia. The terraces give the valley texture and shape while the farmers’ work at clearing gives it colour.

And then the mountains end and I find myself in Pacitan. Like all the cities and towns I have been to, Pacitan is spread out a long way and it takes me quite a while to make it from the first of the houses and shops into the city. The city centre here is set back from the beach around the main roads linking Pacitan to other Javanese cities. I guess passing traffic gives more business than beach-goers do. The city sits on a bay that is protected from east and west by rocky headlands. I ride up one to get a view of the town and come to a fishing harbour where brightly painted boats sit on the blue-green sea.

The boats lean and list idly on the water, looking exactly like the leaky hulks by which we Australians are taught by our government and media to believe we will be invaded. There is not much action here today. Fisherman sit on the backs of their boats with cigarettes in hand. I can hear their voices blowing across the water to the shore. On land fishermen sleep curled up on piles of nets and ropes. A few women sell some haggard looking fish that stink like, well, fish.

Later, down at the beach, I will see two fishing boats making passes of the sea hauling great nets from the water. These boats bob and list just like the ones in the harbour, looking as seaworthy as seives. It doesn’t look like the romantic existence one might imagine from reading children’s books about fishermen. On the contrary, it looks like a tough way to earn a crust. Perhaps an office job isn’t so bad afterall.

It is too early for me to check into a hotel (again I haven’t booked) so I head down to the beach. It’s peaceful and quiet here away from the bustling roads. A cool breeze blows across the sand. There are almost no people here in the middle of the day except ice cream vendors. At one end of the area I have come to are signs showing that the buildings are used as restaurants. One proclaims an all you can eat barbecue for 45,000rp ($4.50). I think about coming back but end up eating fruit for dinner because my stomach is still a bit upset. Not enough to warrant concern or the taking of imodium but enough for me to decide to listen to it and give it a bit of a rest.

I find a shaded picnic area in which I can do some work. It’s a gorgeous office. There is no one nearby so I can type away for hours. I am engrossed in my work when three goats decide to join me in the shelter. I had seen them earlier eating their way through the greenery further down the beach so am not totally surprised by their visit. They sniff around in the shelter for a while before realising I have nothing for them and they leave. It is rather funny though.

In the mid-afternoon I find myself a place to stay back in the main town area before returning to the beach for an evening walk. At the far end of the beach, about half a kilometer from where I parked, I find the surfers for which this beach is famous. I have read that they will go out to surf every day whatever the weather. They ride everything, from the big waves out the back to the smaller ones that break right on the short. These are not two second rides either, they surf all the way from way out the back to the beach. And then they head back out, sometimes stopping at the first break to ride a wave instead of heading all the way to the back.

I laze on the beach watching the fishing boats, the families and the sun sinking slowly behind the mountains. A group of friends has buried a girl in the sand. She is laughing as her bright pink head covering and modest Muslim dress is slowly coated in mud so just her smiling face and a little bit of pink above her brow is left to show. Unlike in Korea, there are no selfie sticks here today. A few people take photos of each other but most just sit in the sand in little clusters.

The sun sets in the west leaving a golden glow on the water. I think perhaps a beach holiday will be in order in my near future so I can sit and watch this all day long. I can’t do it here because swimming at Pacitan is too dangerous. The waves crash powerfully right on the shallow sands and the undertow is said to be a problem. Signs all along the beach warn that swimming is prohibited due to the dangers and red flags wave in the wind. But watching the goings on is fantastic and if it weren’t so hot and tempting to swim I’d stay another day.

After the sun has dropped below the hills but before day turns to night I ride through the town to see it a little better. This is a good thing about the motorbike, it is easy to explore. As I ride I hear the roar of dirt bike engines. There is a big jumps motocross track set up and some guys are riding it. I stop to watch just like the locals are. This is probably an every afternoon entertainment for them. One guy gets huge air on the jumps despite only wearing sandles, shorts and singlet. He’s not even wearing a helmet. But the airs are massive (I couldn’t get a pic of it unfortunately). It’s fun to watch but soon it is too dark so they stop to hang out near their cars.

Near the hotel the food stalls are all set up. Here they have carpets on the street ready for customers to sit on. I just walk past looking today. I have bought some nashi pears and a heap of fruit juice for dinner to give my stomach a rest. There will be plenty of time for more street food later.


2 thoughts on “Madiun to Pacitan

  1. Really enjoyed this account and the pics, Andrew. Yes, travelling can certainly open your eyes to the “lottery of birth.” It is sad to see the hard life others have and reminds us to be thankful. I complain about petty things really. I remember reading on another blog about very little kids in Mozambique with bandages on their hands sitting on the ground just pounding up rocks.

    Fascinating how culture/religion affects our use of land, isn’t it? I’ve been finding as I research my blog just how many hills/peaks the Indigenous owners here wouldn’t climb due to their spiritual beliefs.

    Your sunburn looks so painful! Ouch! Also, I hope your tummy settles down. If it keeps playing up, maybe consider getting checked for the giardia parasite? I even got in it Australia from contaminated water/ food washed in contaminated water. Although I guess you’ve got more knowledge than me about that with all the overseas travel you’ve done.

    Thanks for keeping us updated. 🙂

    • Yeah my arms got quite burned the first day. the rest of me is okay because I wear a sun visor on my helmet. As for my tummy … I got the trots before I even left home so I started out on the back foot. It’s okay though. It is settling also now that I have reduced my rice intake – rice can bloat you apparently. I am chosing noodles instead.

      I have sporadic internet access here so can’t blog every day like I usually do. I miss it when I can’t write. It’s nice to know someone other than my mum is reading. haha

      I think we all complain about petty things. It’s human nature. There must be ying and yang in all our lives. And we only know what we experience ourselves.

      I don’t feel sad about the lottery of birth. It is what it is. Everything has a reason and nothing is permanent. In a future or past incarnation I will be or was born in a place that was less fortunate than the one I am in now. Our bodies exist in the place and time when they are needed. It’s not about what we need but about what the world needs – and only the Universe or Gods know how our souls need to come to this earth. Our souls must learn lessons and will also bring gifts to those around us; no matter where we are born. And all we can hope is to live it the best we can … knowing that the skills we learn will stand us in good stead for next time around … . So we must be mindful and open to the experiences of others. But we do not need to feel sad. We can all do our part whether through awareness, charity or just spending a little money through tourism. For our sadness does not improve anyone’s lives. And it does not help us grow in this incarnation

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