I wake early knowing I will have a big day ahead of me. I know before I leave that by the time I read a hotel tonight I will probably be feeling run down and cranky but still I commit to riding the 250km to Malang in a single day. It is a gateway city to the volcanoes of the east and I have heard they are amazing. Besides, I’ve been taking thing easy and need a challenge. So I join the mini grand prix that is taking place out on the roads of Pacitan. It’s an exhillerating start to the day and I can’t quite believe I am here doing this. A blessing I should have remembered later in the day when fatigue got the better of me.
I am becoming used ot the way of the road here on Java. Contrary to the hierarchy of the road at home, here buses are the top dog but motorbikes rule the roost. We pretty much go where we want, holding up all the cars and mini trucks that happen to get stuck behind our humming swarm. It’s bedlam but if you look closely and immerse yourself in it, there is an order to the roads and you can ride through the pattern.
Once out of the towns the traffic just disappears. I guess it’s like at home where the cities are busy with everyone going to work. But the rest of the roads between cities and towns are the place of travelers and delivery trucks. I love the riding here. It is brilliant. I know I will be back to ride here some more.
I pass by picturesque farms of rice, sugar cane and corn with bark- or grass-topped shelters. Houses sit between fruit tree plantations where bare soil is slowly being recovered by weeds. Farm workers’ bicycles and motorbikes dot the side of the road as I pass below volcanic outcrops. In places I see the ocean off in the distance to the south. Here in the mountains of farms that ocean feels like a long way off when really it is but a few kilometers. So diverse is the landscape here on Java. Where one minute you are on the flats and the next you are riding a ridgeline with the mountain dropping steeply on either side and the only option for farmers is to work by hand because no vehicle could handle the drops.
When I stop there is often silence. It’s a far cry from the bustling rush of cities and towns. Occassionally a mosque will be crying the call for prayers, a church will be playing Christian songs or a farmer will be playing music. But for the most the farms lands are quiet and calm.
And then I am here. Malang. It’s loud and crowded after my few days in quieter places. It’s 2pm when I hit the city’s traffic about 20km from the centre. It will be 5pm by the time I find a hotel to call home for the night. In between I will experienc ethe gridlock that is caused when scooters and motorbikes are allowed to ride unchecked. As they sneak forward the cars are blocked and can’t get through the intersections, creating a bigger queue and more sneaky motorcycle shenanigans. I admit that I leave my Australian etiquette behind and weave to the front with the other bikes. To do otherwise would leave me stranded like the cars are. The motorcyclist in me loves it; my socially responsible public policy brain recognises that this mayhem is unsustainable. But oddly enough, despite the absolute chaos there is no rage being vented between the drivers, riders and miscelaneous vehicle drivers (there are some horses and carts, two touring cyclists, pedestrians and countless people pushing market carts).
I find my hotel and realise I’ve made a mistake. It has beggars on the porch, no reception and they can say “I don’t speak English” but don’t recognise the word “reservation”. Even “Kammer satu malam” is met with blank stares. Sure, all I’ve said is “room one night” but usually in hotels this is all I need to say. The odd part is that I actually have a reservation. So I try the words “Booking.com”, which has also worked for me here in Indonesia when I think the reception are asking whether I have a reservation. The hotels here all know Booking.com and Agoda. They even offer you rewards for posting reviews online so know the importance of those sites. But no, here it doesn’t work. And a part of me is relieved because I don’t really feel safe in this strange and dingy place. (And realise that trusting reviews when I know hotels give rewards is probably a mistake). Oh … if you are wondering, I don’t think they are so familiar with TripAdvisor – often the same people who write glowing reviews on Agoda or Booking.com write scathing or average ones on TripAdvisor so I recommend relying on that site instead … just don’t tell the hoteliers or they’ll fix that too.
I check Booking.com and find another hotel that has good but not glowing reviews across all websites. The lack of glow indicates that the reviews are likely to be genuine. I know which street it is on because it is near the traffic jam so I head back there. And then I do a round of the block and head back there again. But the hotel is nowhere to be seen. By now I have been in Malang for two hours and have moved a grand total of about 10km. So I make one final check on Booking.com and see a hotel has rooms for $30 a night. I know where this hotel is because I’ve passed it a few times but expected it to be one of the many more expensive places in town ($30 is expensive for me though because usually I stay in $10-15 dives). When I turn up there is a programming error and only one room is actually available in the whole hotel: a $40 a night superior double. I am tired, fed up and just need to stop. Besides, this is a nice Western-style business hotel with flushing toilets, fast wifi, clean western-style linen and hot water in the showers. Sometimes I just need to stop being as tight as a fish’s a**hole and get over it. So I do.
After a week of cold showers and bucket washes the hot water splashing over my body is amazing. I can feel the road grime washing off me. I’ve bought a razor so have a shave. I examine the map and make a plan for the next day while remembering what clean sheets feel like (the beds in $10-15 a night hotels generally have threadbare and stained sheets that are best ignored). Then I walk outside, see a sign that says Ikan bakkar resto (Baked fish restaurant) and decide I must eat there. The food is AMAZING. I have mie goreng (fried noodles) with a fish dish baked in a kecap manis (sweet soy) sauce. It is sticky, sweet, salty and delicious. It’s all about the food – haha.