Finished at lost, sorry it's so long.
Stage 2 - Indonesia
Twist my nipples and call me a sissy, but as the plane came in to land over East Timor I was petrified. I’d never been to Asia before and here I was, about to land in a country described by the man on the news as a war zone. Murders, political coups and UN intervention, it’d seen it all. Even my own government said not to go. And then here I was, in the middle of it all, little ol’ me, trying to figure out what the fuck I was doing there.
Sydney to London on a moped. That was it.
I sat in the arrivals lounge, swatting taxi touts off like flies until an aid worker from Australian took pity on me and gave me a lift to the only backpacker joint in the city. The Dili Smokehouse was on the main street; past the caged chickens and wooden shacks, beyond the grotty food stalls and teenagers sat on kerbsides selling sim cards and just around the corner from the dock where Dot would arrive in a week. I checked into the hostel and bolted the door. ‘I’m out of my depth here,’ I thought.
It didn’t help that I was taking larium, an anti-malaria drug with a cocktail of side effects, including paranoia. I felt nervous and edgy, a sense I was being watched. Strangers at the hostel asking too many questions were spies in my mind, those curious about the contents of my bags were thieves. It also didn’t help that I was reading a book about the murder and rape the Indonesians enjoyed during their occupation of East Timor that ended in ‘99. What if their spies are still here, watching me, waiting for me to cross the border to West Timor where they’re still in control. What will they do to me? More importantly, what will they do to Dot?
But as fear of Indonesia grew, so did my fondness for East Timor and its people. Here’s a nation battered and bruised, on its arse only two years ago and now, with a bit of international scaffolding, back on the mend. What a great time to see it, before the western tourists arrive expecting cheap sex and a ping pong show. The only thing that gets you now are the UN vehicles buzzing around with their sirens on. There must be hundreds of them, all bright-white four-wheel drivers going somewhere, doing something. But what that is nobody really knows. They pull out next year so we’ll see what happens. Probably the expensive restaurants will make less money and Toyota will do less trade but other than that you can’t see the place going belly-up.
Then Dot arrived and it was time to go. I could hear it; Indonesia calling us from just across the border. ‘Nathan and Dot, we’re going to slit your throats and feed you to the monkeys. Nathan, ride quickly….”
And we did, hitting the road to West Timor with a growing sense of fate and destiny. This was it. There’s no turning back. The beast was very different now. In Australia we’d enjoyed good roads, a shared language, food you could recognise and oil you could trust wouldn’t be fake. It was all kinda easy. Here in Asia, even on the short ride to the border, I had to negotiate pot-holes and pigs in the road, learn to communicate with locals I didn’t understand and find out what flies they put in the soup. I was wide-eyed and clueless. A boy out of his depth on an adventure he was far from prepared for. Then we reached the border and I nearly shit myself. This was it. We’re going through.
Customs and clearance was easier than I thought. I border hawk helped deal with the official and within an hour we were on our way, riding guns drawn like cowboys through an Indian canyon. My eyes were everywhere, alert, watching. I bought fuel out of a glass bottle by the roadside and listened to Dot fart as the water in it ruined the mix. Everywhere people shouted ‘hey mister… where do you go… where do you stay… married… how old? Five questions repeated again and again.
At the first town over the border - Atambua - I stopped the night in a cheap hotel. I’d not realised but the town was where the Indonesian backed militia had fled when the UN kicked them out of the East. You sensed that. The place didn’t put you at ease. I had a guy on a scooter follow me to the hotel and heckle me. In the morning he was waiting outside and followed me to the phone shop. He was a weasel, a shifty looking son of a bitch who I didn’t trust, ‘Are you following me?’ I asked. He shook his head but the damage was done. In my pants I’d already done another poo.
Faster than the speed of sound, we rode hard to the port town of Kupang where we hoped to get the hell out of there on a ferry. Only the last one to Flores had sailed just a few hours ago and there wasn’t another one due for a fortnight. Even the smaller local ferries that sink weren’t running because of the weather. To ride without guides or maps or any idea of what perils lie ahead was always the intention for this trip. To discover it all for myself was my mantra. Yet now, as it slowly sunk in that I was stuck here, paranoid in Kupang, I really began to wish I’d not been so stupid.
There were other problems too. I’ve not yet mentioned this in fear of necessary abuse, but in my ignorance - and against the advice of everyone - I’d only applied for a 30 day visa for Indonesia and not a 60. My reasoning was that it would give me a challenge, keep me focused and moving. This trip was never about sight-seeing, it was about the test of whether or not I could make it to England. Now though, with those days depleting as I sat on my arse in Kupang, a 30 day visa just wasn’t looking enough. Or was it? Only time would tell.
On day seven, as I was really beginning to panic, there was a break in the weather and the seas finally settled. A local vehicle ferry was able to sail so I jumped on that and enjoyed the 18 hour crossing to Flores listening to a woman ‘hock’ phlegm across the deck while a man with a dangerous face kept harassing me with stupid questions. He wanted to know everything and would stand and lean on Dot’s handlebars until I answered. Just being friendly? I don’t think so.
When the ferry finally docked in Flores we only had 23 days left to go. My destination - Medan in Sumatra - lay at the end of a 6000 kilometre road that was pot-holed, mountainous, and riddled with many more ferry crossings. So let’s go go go. Frantically, I crossed Flores in two days, Sumbawa in one and a half and then Lombok in three hours. The riding was endless, stopping only for fuel and shelter. But the longer and faster we rode the more we loved it. We were focused, unstoppable. Potholes were the only menace at night. That and the paranoia. Still scared I would set booby traps outside my hotel room in the evening so that if anyone touched Dot and disturbed the attached glass bottle I was ready to bash them with the hammer that lay on my pillow
Thankfully that all changed in Bali when I took my chances with malaria and ditched the drugs. From there I began to relax. Especially a town in the hills called Ubud. I stayed in a cottage by a rice field and sat in a cafe drinking ginger tea and counting my pennies for a few days. It was just what me and Dot needed before we head-butted the smog and the fumes of Java. After the mint Toblerone mountains of Flores and the all-day siesta of typical Indonesia life, Java is like being hit in the head with a shovel. Or in my case a bus.
It was the coming the other way, on the wrong side of the road, and I had no where to go. ‘It’s going to hit, it’s going to hit me, it’s going t…..’ BANG. The bus belted Dot on her right hip and walloped us into the side of the other bus that I was over-taking at the time. Like a pinball I ricocheted between the two, riding the bull at 50mph and emerging the other side with Dot’s pannier racks bent and battered. I didn’t stop and neither did they.
But karma caught up with me the next few days. I fell off three times, got stranded down a ditch and the was chased by the police for running a red light. “TOOOOT TOOOOT,” went the policeman’s whistle. I wondered what best to do. Stop or carry on? In the end it was Dot who made the call. ’Just ride man, just ride,’ she said. So we gunned it, flat out at 80km/h with us looking in the mirror every minute for the flashing blue light. But Dot was too fast. A lightening bolt, a pistol. We were free…. to be bludgeoned to death by the great tourist swindle where we pay thirty times more than the locals.
It was the same two-tiered pricing in the hotels that always had dirty sheets and a sense they were masquerading as brothels. That’s why I was glad when I felt confident enough to use my tent in Sumatra. Riding along I’d find a dirt track off the main road and ride along it until I was out of sight. Sometimes I’d cut down leaves and branches to camouflage Dot and not put up my tent ‘til it was truly dark. You could say I was doing it to save money, but really, deep down, this is what I preferred. Put the tent up, use a t-shirt as a pillow, sleep in my clothes with a weapon beside me and wake up and head off the first second of day break.
Shortly after I’d stop at a stall for a breakfast of fried rice and strong Indonesia coffee. Black and hot, just how Dot likes her men. The food wasn’t always so good, though. Across all of Indonesia, cheap stalls served a local dish called bakso. It looks a bit like meatball soup, only with chicken balls made from all the bits including the beak. Sometimes, if you were lucky, they’d also chop a stretched penis on top of the dish. I later found out it was intestine. Not the kindest ingredient in a county that expects you to wipe your hand with your arse.
But for me a toilet is a fitting description of Java; crowded, noisy and dirty with just one too many tourist scams to make you not want to stay. Unlike the much calmer Sumatra, the next and last of the Indonesian island where I was made honorary member of an Indonesian biker gang and given an escort with flashing lights, horns and everything. I felt a right tit and was glad to ride alone again. By now I’d covered 4,000 kilometres in two weeks and had just one more to navigate 2,000 kilometres of tarmac so terrible I’d scream at cows in the field to ‘fix your fucking roads.’
Just like Australia, this meant once again Dot would have to ride like the wind. Flat out, 75km/h, I even had to ignore the ticking noise coming from her engine and soothe her grumblings with promise of a doctor in Malaysia because I wasn‘t one. I was afraid that if I stopped they’d diagnose something disastrous and have me stop and rebuild. It was safer, I reasoned, to close my ears and carry on. Fools logic I know, but we had to be out the country before my visa expired, whether Dot was in one piece or two.
Only we failed. Sort of. Because we actually we made it with a day to go. The problem was the ferry wouldn’t take motorbikes and no one knew when the next cargo ship sailed. I spoke no Indonesian, no one understood, we rode back into town deflated, defeated and feeling very much alone. At the internet café the owner presented her daughter. “She make good wife,” the mother said. Sure, she was beautiful and made cracking tea, but I need a boat, not a bride. With new found information I rode back to the port and began to ask for a mysterious man called Mr Monte.
After an hour we’d still not found him so gave up and found some one else. He was a stout man, looking every inch like an Asian Forest Whittaker from The Last King of Scotland. He was like a raging storm bottled up in a man. Following him to a derelict warehouse somewhere on the dodgy side of the docks, he said he could take Dot across the pond for 1million RP. About sixty quid. Here that’s a lot, but I was desperate. I agreed, handed over Dot, the money, and then left with no receipt. “Not necessary,” he assured me.
Later that week, with Dot already on her way to Malaysia and me two days over my visa, I caught the passenger ferry, paid Indonesian Government PLC $30 for the extra days and kept my fingers crossed that Dot would be waiting for me when I got there. That she was, but I'd been conned. The guy in Medan was only an agent and the fee I'd paid him was just to line his own back pocket. On the Malaysian side I was asked to pay the ‘real’ fee, another million RP. I was fuming, livid, steaming, but what do you do? They’ve got your balls in their grip. The man laughed when I complained. I nearly shot him with rage.
But the next day I was calm. We’d made it.