Bandar Lampung to Padang 1179km
So, after 14 days as guest rider / companion on the Grumgoesglobal gig I have been upgraded to guest blog writer. A big responsibility. Today Grum and I cruised into Padang to complete the itinerary roughed out in far away NZ. The fact we did this together is in no small part down to the ability of Grum to support, encourage and cajole more than I knew was in me.
To begin with he was patient with this cycle touring novice - he noted my eratic riding and gave me space - as much for his safety as mine and the other road users.
Ah, other road users!? Scooters (often carrying improbable numbers of people or other cargo) motorbikes (often ridden at breakneck speed by young males), trucks of all sizes, cars (mostly people movers with up to 10 on board), the occasional horse or cow drawn cart. Add to this pedestrians, goats, cows, and a monkey or 2 and traveling becomes interesting to say the least. (a side note re 'roadkill' - the most common squashed critters we saw were snakes, all range of sizes)
What is utterly remarkable is that we saw only 2 very minor accidents. A few close calls yes, but Indonesians grow up with this as their norm and are well adjusted to how it all fits together. As babies, then toddlers, they ride on scooters, so develop an innate sense of vehicle dynamics, so that by 10 or 12 they are zipping about in control of motorised vehicles as though born to it.
I had come to Sumatra to experience cycle touring, to 'see Asia up close', to hopefully swim in some crystal clear waters, to experience unfamiliar food and people. On all accounts bar one I have been enriched. We did see and swim in some very idyllic waters, but this was a less easily accessed fantasy hatched in far away NZ. The reality is lots of foreshore is corral and shallow, lots of the ocean is mucky with sediment runoff, and counter to the maps I had studied the road does not always run right along the coast. But then what adventure ever came from knowing totally what was around the bend?
Which brings us to the matter of reliable information. Often we would enquire about a distance, particularly to our evenings accommodation. The very friendly people had wildly varied estimates of how far the loseman/hotel might be, and often it seemed the distance given was merely to the next point of enquiry/update. After I saw a sign for a hospital that stated +/- 3km we started joking that any distance given us should be interpreted as "plus/minus".
Ah, the people! Friendly, engaging, welcoming, and accepting. Apart from one chap who took a swing at me from his scooter (as witnessed by Grum) we saw no road rage or even mild aggression (if you discount horn blowing). I certainly don't think NZ drivers are as tolerant as these people.
So a "full immersion" to cycle touring in high populace setting is at an end (though I still have a ride to the airport tomorrow). I am so glad Grum made the invitation (open to anyone out there reading this) and am so glad I took the opportunity to spend 14 wonderful days with the marvellous man called Grum to gain an insight into his on-the-road lifestyle.
We made a pretty good team. I covered the tall, we both are darkened by the tropical sun, and Grum covers the handsome part of the equation. We are strangers in this land and most people's reaction to us makes that abundantly clear.
A last thank you is due for the warning shouted to me towards the end of today's ride. We had stopped to observe and photograph some monkeys - I was focused on the young and females cavorting on trees and a vine up a bank. The male of the troup came from across the road and behind to give me an aggressive send off. It may be that Grum's shout of "behind you, quick" saved me from a rabid monkey attack!
Thanks mate, for that, and much, much more besides. It has been fabulous.