- Things I thought had been stolen but I had actually just put away somewhere appropriate - 2 (Leathermans and my medical kit)
- Things I actually had stolen - 1 (Motorcycle gloves)
- Kids highfived while riding since leaving Dili - 32
- Breakdowns since the engine rebuild - 1!
I was stuck in Darwin for far too long. A month and a half of working a bar which overlooks a beach with daily spectacular sunsets should not have drained me emotionally like it did. Pulling beers in the sun, running a small satellite Tiki bar barefoot on the grass and getting paid well for it is just about the dream of anyone who has ever stood behind a dingy ice well surrounded by barflies (both the insect and person kind). Here I was though. I was in a slump - bike less and building inertia in no particular direction.
The bike was getting a rebuild. A new piston, barrel and an overhaul of all of the little things that due to the gaps in my knowledge, I had just overlooked or ignored. The process took longer and cost more money that I hoped it would but as said, I had work which was helpful for my budget. I felt like I should have been riding motorcycles not slinging booze to Darwin locals. Perhaps I just felt like I was falling into something more permanent. Sydney to Darwin just didn't feel right but there I was doing what I have done some many times before. Working for a paycheck trying to ride motorcycles.
The hold up did give me chance to make it to a close friend's wedding. After wearing nothing but my Maple motorcycle jeans with grease permanently under my nails, putting on a suit was a strange feeling. It felt very wrong in every way possible. Sliding in my cufflinks, I couldn't fathom that this process used to be a daily routine for me when I was working in Sydney. How impractical the outfit was. Is that what is waiting for me at the end of the trip? The thought frightened me in a way I didn't believe possible. A suit, cufflinks and shoes that would wear through the sole the first corner I took I speed - perhaps that is why I left Sydney, and how terrifying that one day I must return. Still, at the reception after an amazing meal and an over indulgence of champagne, the far distance problems of suits and engine pistons were soon forgotten as I danced, spun, threw and caught one of the bridesmaids and other spirited guests.
After a month and a half in Darwin I got to ride my bike for the first time in 2 months (getting the bike to Darwin took a while). The piston felt strong and as I cracked open the throttle the bike pulled away with a force I didn't know was possible with the old girl that had almost got me to Darwin. The thrill was short lived. I had only two hours blasting around Darwin before I had to race to the docks to load the bike onto a freighter.
The bike was on its way to Dili - East Timor. I followed it shortly after.
Heavy humidity, the smell of clove cigarettes and two-stroke engines. Asia at last. After 4 months I was finally out the country. Being so far behind schedule didn't concern me as I drank $1.50 beer and looked West to where I knew I must soon ride. Dili is a strange place for tourism. Most tourists were divers with heavily padded budgets and the only Backpackers tended to attract a rarer breed of travelers - overlanders, crossing the world with a vehicle. Either leaving to, or arriving from Australia, Dili in East Timor tends to be the most common jump point in both directions. There were two guys heading to Australia on fully kitted and appropriate bikes (BMW and a Honda) and a Dutch couple going in the same direction as me in a land cruiser. Sitting around and talking I felt far more at home talking with these types of travellers than those I had met at the Backpackers in Darwin. Chat of road conditions, bureaucracy and tool kits suited me more than talking how great that unknown spot called Bondi/Byron/Sydney/Noosa/Melbourne/(Insert Australian icon here) which was about of 90% of the backpacker chat in Darwin.
The bike cleared customs - it was relativity straight forward after I convinced the officer that the typo in my middle name on a completely insignificant document (a receipt given in Darwin) was in fact not an issue and not a reason to hold my bike - the officer felt different. I smiled.
Then onto the next round of bureaucracy - the Indonesian embassy for the overland visa. It was an ordeal and not one I wish to get back into because I try to limit the amount of colourful language on my blog… the long and short of it was that after several knock backs I was given a 30 day visa (not the 60 day that I applied for).
This extra time gave me chance to see some of Dili. One night in a bar (why do most of my stories start like that?) an Australian I had been hanging out with suggested a hike up to the 3000m peak of Mt Ramelau. Pat (another overland traveller), and I hastily agreed and the next day we were bouncing along in a 4x4 to the base of the peak, trying not to show any signs of distress as the car overtook trucks on blind mountain corners.
Shortly before we jumped in the car we were reminded that it was a two hour sunrise hike. (I had missed this part the night before). Even in East Timor 3000ms high and above the cloud line at dawn would be cold. The hike in the dark was fine and the guide we hired was helpful and talkative as we chatted about his family while I stumbled and kicked unseen rocks which he had avoided. The top was of course cold, windy and generally miserable. Oh what I would have given for a bowl of mulled wine or mug of buttered rum. When the sunrise did make an appearance it was spectacular. I try to avoid over used clichés like 'moving, spiritual, all consuming beauty’ so you will just have to take my word for it that view was amazing and check out the pictures below. If you ever get a chance to make that hike you should - bring buttered rum though.
Back in Dili, I packed my bags, triple checked my paper work and started West. I was Indonesia bound and the bike was running great.
While the road quality left something to be desired the impeccable mountainistic (yeah I just made that word up) coast line made up for the sections of soft gravel. Sometimes so distracted by the view I would send the bike right through the centre of the oversized pot holes. Stupid mistakes I know but as my last 2000kms of riding had been through the unchanging Australian outback I was happy to just enjoy the curves and the view. If the potentially lethal and suspension destroying potholes and gravel was the price to pay for the view - I would happily pay it. Many times over.
While I was travelling, the local kids would see my foreign bike and rush to the side of the road for a high five while I rode by. I wear an open face helmet. I know the statistics that when I crash I am likely to lose a better part of my chin. I also know how cold, wind and rain burn can all be mitigated with a full face. Mostly I was concerned about losing the rugged good looks behind my cutting wit …. That said, being able to smile back at the kids as they waved, I would never consider switching back to a full face while I travel. I would happily go ugly with a face full of road rash if I get to see the big smiles on kids' faces again.
I made great time and spent the night on the East Timor side of the Indo/Timor boarder. A small guest house I found had one other visitor. He was a gentleman from the Asian development bank who was helping to establish a marine park to prevent the Indonesian industry over fishing East Timor waters. He was one of the most well traveled and gentle people I have met. He talked of the challenges he was trying to mitigate on his many trips away (around 250 days out of a year).
He talked about his family and how he needed to balance the responsibility to the bank and the good work they do with the requirements of being a father. I felt a strong link between this man and the guide who had supported us up the two hour hike to Mt Ramelau. They both gave up exceptional amounts of their time to support what they thought were worthwhile pursuits (bringing people to worship sites and protect the environment). It was interesting that there seemed to be so many parallels between the two men - one had never left his state in Timor and the other had travelled the world. Both raised the same concerns, both felt that they should spend more time with their family, both had the same outlook on work and providing for their family. We never talked about concepts of masculinity (the language barrier on my behalf prevented that) but there was an undeniable link between these two. One who wore a suit, the other who wore a pair of comfortable shoes.
I had a deadline to get to Bali and so the run to Bali was a blur of islands, more amazing roads and long ferry crossings. With nearly vertical jungles climbing up impossibly steep mountains Flores was the first place I rode though thinking … I need to come back here. Not just transit through but spend a month exploring, hiking and camping. If you ever want to feel like you are riding around Jurassic park… Flores is your place. The eighteen hour ferry ride from Timor to Flores was by far the most interesting though. The ship was packed with at least a hundred motorcycles, half a dozen trucks and at least a dozen pigs. People hustled for space. I found a bunch of missionaries from the States and Indonesia who were very fond of the Australian Hillsong movement. They clapped their hands and played guitar while they worshipped. Not being a god fearing man, I still found their ability with a guitar and vocals impressive. I smiled and practiced my Bahasa (Indonesian) with the locals. While I sat reading through my motorcycle workshop manual they sat and read through their bibles. Both essential documents were studied carefully as we tried to find guidance to questions we needed answering. My bible had significantly more grease stains though.
Arriving in Bali I avoided the sunburned, Bintang wearing Australians and found a small guest house in the main town.
The following day I met the amazing Aileen who took me a bike shop full of custom bikes and vintage triumphs; a workshop full of old British iron; the kind of guys who hand you a cold beer without removing their welding mask then invite you to a midnight ride through the city.
Next blog entry - One woman, Two wheels, Four corners of the world - The story of Aileen. Also Riding with a Bali Vintage Motorcycle Club, A Frenchman and his Backpack and A Visit from a Friend from Sydney.