I am in no rush to leave the comforts and good company of Homestay Rumah Kita. I have enjoyed my time there so I sit in the courtyard for an hour until I can delay departure no more. So I grab my bag, swing my leg over the bike and head off. The ride to Puger takes me through farmland and small villages. The contrast with Korea couldn’t me more stark as I watch a man plough a rice paddy pushing a human-powered plough. The season here seems constant, with fields in various stages of harvest, growth and plough.
There are no signs here to tell you that you have reached a town. You just kind of have to guess and rely on Google maps to show your location. I reach a small village and notice some brightly coloured boats on a creek. I saw these the previous night online so know I must be close. A small street leads away from the main road along the creek. Given that all creeks eventually lead to the sea I decide to follow it.
The area feels slightly foreboding. The street along the creek is rough and the bitumen is long gone, leaving raised bumps where it used to be and gravel in between. There’s so many boats moored along the creek that it’s pretty on one side and ugly on the other. In the wasteland near the sea there are lots of little concrete block houses in various stages of completion. I wonder whether this is a new estate or a grand seaside scheme gone wrong. I follow a guy carrying coconuts along the road. He wobbles and wavers as his bike struggles with the weight of his load. I figure he’s probably going to the beach so stay on his tail.
I know I am in the right spot when I reach a small guard station. Here I pay the 5,000rp entry fee for the privilege of going to the beach. I am used to it now and guess this is how you can create employment: charge fees and have someone collect them. There isn’t much here: just some houses and pergodas. Local men sit in the pergodas whiling the day away. This is something I have noticed here – Indonesians can just sit and do nothing for hours. They’ll sit and stare at the sea alone or in groups, barely saying a word or moving at all. I park the bike and find a spot in the sand under some pandanus trees where I take a long break. It’s too hot to explore too far and, despite the litter that’s been blown under the trees, I find it a peaceful place to stop.
While I’m relaxing another group of people turn up and try to ride their scooters right out onto the black sand to get as close to the water as possible. This raises two other things I’ve noticed here. Firstly, that Indonesians must not like to walk. I rarely see anyone walking anywhere unless they were very poor and carrying heavy loads to the farm. But in the cities and towns they seem to ride everywhere, even the corner shop. And secondly, Indonesians don’t care whether or not there is a road – their bikes go everywhere. I think that’s pretty cool because I have been known to take my road bikes places they shouldn’t go.
I leave the beach after a couple of quiet hours to make my way to Jember where I will stay. It’s only 35km but I find some local roads to explore along the way. It’s 2pm so the children are all leaving school and the road is clogged with young teenagers on scooters and bicycles. Many bicycles and scooters have two children on them; sharing transport being common here. Slow moving vehicles are the norm here on Java. While this bicycle loaded with grass might not seem too out of place on a country road, you also see these guys out on the highways being dodged by trucks, buses, cars and motorbikes.
Here in this area I also pass some grass houses. I wonder whether people live there or whether they have some other purpose. I haven’t seen them anywhere else on my travels here on Java. Most are tucked away off the road behind palm or banana trees.
I end my day in Jember where my hotel has a small garden in a quadrangle bewteen the rooms. It’s a pleasant surprise for the cheapest hotel in town. The town itself is nothing special. There’s a busy market selling fruit, vegetables and fly covered raw chooks near the hotel and a busy highway that doubles as the main road through town. But it’s nice to put my feet up on the chari outside my room for a while until I feel the need to retire to the comfort of the aircon.