About this post…
I have left a few cities, motorcycle club names and details out of this part of the blog. I am not always comfortable with what takes place in my travels but for the sake of the story I feel some parts must be shared. There are other parts that I will keep to myself, for future books or perhaps to share with someone over a beer one day. One of the main reasons I have struggled with keeping my blog up to date is my own questioning of how to write about some of the things that have happened on this trip. I am aware that one day this trip will be over. One day I will have to resume a normal life and return to a job. A future employer may check these stories and make judgements or see them in a way that I do not. I have met people from every walk of life while trying to explore the concepts of masculinity and to exclude certain men’s stories because I don’t agree with their values would be limiting my understanding. While I do not think I have ever done anything that goes beyond what I believe to be morally acceptable, some of the activities are illegal in certain countries. Not all people feel the same way I do about these things. For those people who might feel left out of this part of my story, please know I think about it all of the time and I am sorry I could not include your contribution to my experience in Java.
Also, my grandmother reads my blog and I’m sure she doesn't want to read about the time I slept at a friend’s brothel when there was no affordable accommodation in town. Like Joseph in the stable, sometimes you just have to take what you are offered.
I was disappointed to leave Yogjakarta (Jogja). I was having too much fun there and as was often the case, I needed to leave. I know I have said it before but one of the hardest parts of this trip is meeting amazing people, people who are kind, honest and welcoming; people with whom you have a real connection, only to have to leave a short time later in the name of the trip. I would have been happy in Jogja, but the road was calling. This journey must have an end point somewhere, at some stage and if I didn’t keep moving I would never find it.
I loaded up and left Mr Bang Bang’s place and pushed west. I had started with a few contacts at various 1% motorcycle clubs and now had contacts all the way through Indonesia, from Bali to the top of Sumatra. They were excited to meet me and a fellow classic bike enthusiast is still a fellow enthusiast regardless of their patches. While in Australia I did unexpectedly have help and support from these types of clubs, but here in Java there is undoubtedly a sense of apprehension when you are surrounded by men who have no issues showing their rank, chapter and 3 piece patches.
In the bigger cities the larger motorcycle clubs have a central clubhouse. This is often a bar run by the motorcycle club, with ample motorcycle only parking out the front and relaxed RSA rules. Apparently these are open to the public but I never saw anyone there who wasn’t patched or clearly trying to be introduced into the club as a “Prospect” or “Probie”. Then scattered around the city are various biker friendly hangouts called checkpoints. They tend to be on the outskirts of town along the main entry and exit roads. Often just a house, workshop or café, you can usually pick them from the large amount of biker paraphernalia floating around or the oil stained parking spots.
I was to meet a friend of a friend at one of the outlying checkpoints and he would show me around. I later learned that he would be my introduction to the main chapter and some of the riders who make up the top end of the clearly defined ranking system.
The checkpoint where I was introduced was a bike workshop. The local clubs seemed to base their iconography and symbolism very heavily on the outlaw clubs in the States. Surrounded by Nazi insignias, diamond patches and the confederate flag on an island in Indonesia takes some getting used to, though not as much as the power dynamic between the Probies and the fully patched members. The Probies wanting to join the club would have to enter a period of ... well service is the only way I can really put it. They wear a denim vest with only a bottom rocker as opposed to the fully patched members who only wear leather and the full 3 piece patches. The Probies fetch the coffee, run off to buy cigarettes and beer, they do the washing up and any other tasks that need to be done. There was never any animosity either way but just a happy acceptance that it was how things were done. As a guest I never really knew where I stood. If I needed anything (or my host thought I needed it) the Probies would hurriedly get it. It was a strange power play and dynamic but it appeared to work for everyone.
I spent the afternoon hanging out at the checkpoint, drinking beers promptly purchased by the Probies whenever we ran short. We talked bikes, my trip, riding around Indo and as tends to be the case after you have been drinking with new blokes, girls. I could tell that the half dozen or so guys I was hanging out with were all single and wanted to hear far more rock and roll stories and exploits than I was able to provide them with. They were amazed at how few women I had met on my trip - I think they had visions of tales of nightly misogynistic conquests from Sydney and across the world. It was never really something that I had given much thought. The goal of this trip was to explore concepts of masculinity. I found it interesting that these guys, despite their ultra-defined and patched social group, still felt that this was a huge part of who they were. I grabbed a beer and went to do some routine checks on the bike.
The head member of the checkpoint told me that I would be able to meet the President that night at the club house when they went for a weekend ride.
In the centre of town in the nightclub district, the club house was starting to fill up with members. Most members were milling around the front, checking out what was happening on the street and welcoming friends as they arrived. The higher ranking members all hung around one table, patched members with fresh cuts (patched vests with little signs of ageing) all hung around one table and the Probies all slunk around the corner… except when a member would turn up. Then 3 or 4 of them would run up to the member, shake his hand and then park his bike for him like a tattooed, leather clad valet service.
The bikes were exceptional. Words don’t really describe the huge range of classic bikes. The rat theme was stronger here than I had seen before - no headlights, no plates, not many front brakes in sight and a bunch of bikes that didn’t even have stands so had to be propped up on a wall like an MX bike.
While there was plenty of smoking there wasn’t much in the way of drinking. I was introduced to some of the higher ranking members and I quickly bought a pitcher of beer to share. After a couple of beers I loosened up and relaxed enough for some of the questions that I had been wanting to ask. I was talking to “Enforcer” who spoke English very comfortably.
I told him that this club was more regimented and had a much stronger sense of identity than some of the clubs I had met in Indonesia and even in Australia.
Loosely paraphrased he told me that they really wanted to provide a sense of brotherhood, a family structure and social organisation that would be known for the good work they did. I guess the clubs back home do the same things with the toy runs.
They talked about their social work. The reality is that in Indonesia you needed to come from a certain section of society to be able to afford these kinds of bikes. The members were clearly more wealthy than the average Indonesian. After learning more about this, I felt that this felt more like a rotary club than a criminal organisation – a rotary club with tattoos, leather and motorcycles.
Enforcer asked me what I enjoyed. “Whisky, motorcycles and women”, I replied. It felt like an appropriate response at the time when surrounded in a biker bar. He laughed, slapped me on the back and passed me a beer and told me I was now a friend of the club and would be welcomed by anyone with that patch. I didn’t know though that I would now be known by that saying throughout Indonesia and I might come to regret it.
I was passed a large glass of orange juice. I took several large gulps – hmm vodka and orange. It was not the kind of thing I had imagined drinking in a biker bar but a drink is a drink. I downed what I thought was my share and the table raised their eyebrows at me. I smiled back. The glass was passed on and replaced with another orange juice from under the table.
I thought back to the strange nature of the drink in the bar. “Orange juice and vodka?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes…orange juice and vodka and mushrooms - we said before”. I had missed the “before”.
Urrrg. I have no patience for hallucinogenic drugs. I am just too much of a control freak and an over thinker to surrender my thoughts and vision to the experience that they require in a strange setting. I kept trying to tighten my grip on normality even as the drug pried my fingers away from my already loose grip of social interactions. Luckily by the time I should have been in the full thralls of a trip, I had only some mild sensations, but my companions were giggling. There is something incredibly hilarious about a dozen men, all tattooed, leather vested and patched - giggling like school girls. Large shoulders heaving, bouncing up and down while they cackled madly at any comment, sight or unshared thought they have. I was laughing with them in no time at all. Maybe, sometimes a looser grip is the way to go?
Unlike what we hear reported in the media in Australia, I never experienced any animosity between the motorbike clubs in Indonesia. All of the clubs appeared to get along fine (with a few small exceptions). While I was riding through West Java I was introduced to many different clubs, and chapters of clubs. Everyone welcomed me, and provided me with support and help. It made getting around Java pretty simple. I would ride to a checkpoint on the edge of town. They would welcome me and I would spend the night. They would then take me across town to the other side and I would ride in that direction to the next town where a different club or chapter would be waiting on the highway to take me through town or put me up for the night. Repeat until you get to the end of Sumatra.
I mentioned before that somehow along the biker grapevine it got around that I enjoyed “whisky, motorcycles and women”. I thought it was simply a throwaway line but Indonesian hospitality did not let that one slide. I learned this when I needed to spend three nights in a town near Bangdoung doing some repair work. I was staying at a guest house (very kindly provided by my motorcycle friends). I kept being told I could get a massage *wink* *wink* here. I let them know that it was ok, that I really wasn’t in need of a *massage*. They kept insisting and I kept politely declining before I finally told them I was tired and needed to sleep. I wished them good night and retired, showered and was about to jump in my silk sleeping bag liner (it helps with bedbugs) when there was a knock at the door.
Yep. There was a prostitute at my door. Like most Indonesian women, she was unquestionably beautiful - large eyes, high cheek bones and a slender smile. She wore a tight fitting dress. She kept saying “massage sir, massage sent. I had been on the bike for most of the day riding around the local mountains; I was tense and a massage would have been perfect. She stood there with a shy smile.
I looked towards my empty bed, back to her. Shook my head, apologised, slipped her a small tip and closed the door as slowly as I could. I kept reminding myself that I had made the right call. Lying there in bed, muscles sore and thinking of her shy smile, I had a chuckle to myself. How many people end up this situation?
I am glad I was able to experience all of these more unusual aspects of Indonesia but sometimes they do know how to test a man.
I rode into Jakarta at about 2am. Though only 70kms away, it had taken me 10 hours to make the ride. The traffic was oppressive. There was no room to squeeze a pedestrian through the gridlock, let alone a fully loaded Enfield. My bike was getting hot from the lack of air over the cylinder. The jam was so bad I spent several hours with the engine off, rolling it forward a few meters whenever a gap appeared.
I noticed the sticker of the largest motorcycle club in Indonesia (Biker Brotherhood MC) on the back of a guy’s helmet. I waved him down and asked him where the South Jakarta checkpoint was. He rode me there and called my friend who I was to meet. It was midnight and the traffic was still thick. He said that we should wait until 2am when it will clear. We sat around drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, which did help me stay awake.
The two riders would take me into the city to my hostel that I had booked. They did offer to put me up but I felt like I needed a break from the Indonesian biker hospitality. My companion rode a cafe’d Buell while his friend was on a classic BSA. He was right about the traffic - like a light switch the roads were empty whereas only two hours before they had been gridlocked.
We rode fast and hard. If you ever want to see a city, blast around it on a motorcycle at 2am on a Wednesday morning. There was no slowing it down through traffic lights, just eye burning speed in the cool of the night. Riding so fast that I kept my weight on the rear wheel of the bike so when I would hit the pot holes the bike would lift right over them like a heavily loaded and slow Evel Knievel. I bounced, sped and likely destroyed my front end while loving every second of it.
We pulled in to get petrol and my patched friend filled my tank. There was no letting me pay for it. While this happening, a local custom Vespa club turned up. Now I ride with custom bikes back home but these Vespa guys take it to another level and make it something else. Extended, questionably welded unibodies and strange trike numbers that if they could pick up any speed would surely kill you faster than riding through the Java mountains with a head full of mushrooms. They explained that this is the only time they could ride their unregistered contraptions on the road. They smiled, waved, kicked their engines bolted on wheels and rode off. What a strange experience.
I pulled into my very Western hostel and arranged to meet my biker friends later that week. People speaking English, hot showers, wifi, beds with sheets, and toilet paper. There were half a dozen backpackers still up drinking so I grabbed a bottle of whisky I was gifted from my bag and joined them.
They asked me the usual questions: where am I from, where have I been, where am I going? I thought about my last two weeks of outlaw motorcycle clubs, parties and twisting mountain roads, close calls with trucks and the impossible kindness of the locals.
“Just around", I responded. I wasn’t trying to be mysterious; I just didn’t really feel like going into details and there is no way I would be able to do the experience justice.
“Tell me about your travels, I want to hear about your time in Kuta”, I said to fill a slightly awkward silence, knowing that the Essex girl would happily talk on for half an hour without pause while I kicked back with my glass of warm, cheap whisky.