Tag Archives: Indonesia

A perfect day on Jemaja

February 2016

After almost two weeks on Siantan, the small ferry finally ran again. So we boarded the ship and went to Jemaja, a neighboring island. Siantan and Jemaja both belong to the Anambas Islands, a group of islands which roughly lie between Borneo and Singapore / Malaysia. We spent a day cycling the beautiful island, swimming on several beaches and sharing food with locals. It was an absolutely picture perfect!

Taking the small ferry from Siantan to Jemaja.
Lots of tiny islands.
Yes we had fun transporting the bikes and all the bags over that gap :).
Watching the petrol refilling process.
Village built on stilts.
Marsh lands.
Cycling on beautiful (and flat!) small roads through the island.
Loving the colours.
No one there except us.
Sandy riverbank.
Road leading to the other side of the island.
Trees hiding the beach.
Road construction.
Perfect beach.
Not that perfect sadly.
A lot of rubbish from the ocean ends up on the beaches.
This awesome family invited us to share their lunch with them.
Bad weather coming up.
In need of a wider lens to capture the huge palm trees.
Overgrown stilts.
Morning light.
The Bukit Raya, waiting to go to Pulau Bintan.
The harbour is too shallow, so we board smaller ships which bring us to the big ship. A bit of a challenge with the bicycles but we manage.
Boarding process from above.

Island Limbo: Stuck on Siantan

February 2016

Wanting to go overland (over sea) to Singapore we needed to go to Kalimantan / Indonesia once more.


At first we had a few beautiful days of hilly riding from Kuching to Pontianak. It was nice to go back to Indonesia and we loved finding familiar things again.


We had a lot of Nasi Campur (Rice with mixed things on top), drank sugar cane juice and talked to friendly locals.


One night we stayed in a church as a thunderstorm came rolling in and we slept really well!


In Pontianak we stayed with Leonie, our couchsurfing host. She is engaged in a local NGO working with less privileged children and it was very interesting hearing about her work with them. We would have liked to have more time with her but our next ship towards Singapore was already waiting.

While doing research on the boat Torsten saw that we would pass the Anambas islands while going towards Singapore. When he read up on them he found out that they are supposed to be really beautiful with lots of corals and snorkelling opportunities. So we decided to stop there for a few days. As the PELNI boat runs only every two weeks we confirmed with a local that the small ferry is actually running which it was. At that time.


So we boarded the ship and spent the next 30 hours on sea. Once again I was in love with just being out there, watching the endless water and the sun. It is really peaceful.


When we arrived in Tarempa early in the morning, a few locals invited us to have coffee with them at the harbour which was just the perfect welcome.


A bit later we met with Steve and he showed us to his hotel where we ended up staying for almost two weeks. How did that happen? Oh well. Usually there is a small ferry that sails to Pulau Bintan (close to Singapore) every couple of days. During monsoon season it might get cancelled sometimes. In our case it got cancelled due to strong winds once, twice, many times until we stopped counting. In the end we waited for 13 days.

p1160426 p1160428 p1160479 So, two weeks on a tropical island – that doesn’t sound too bad you say! Yeah well, it doesn’t but for some reasons I still had a hard time.

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Siantan is a small island, far away from the mainland. There are shops and eateries with local food. We found one restaurant which probably had the best Indonesian food we have ever eaten. But what to do when you miss that damn German bread and jam with more fruit than sugar?


Other than being homesick we had a bit of a hard time figuring out what to do on the island. Siantan is not a touristy place. Which is awesome of course as you get to experience local life(s). But it also means that it took us some time to find out what you can do on the islands. We tried to do some writing and working which was not that easy as the internet connection was mostly slow to non-existent.

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In the end we visited a waterfall, cycled around the island over ridiculously steep hills but with awesome views and went snorkelling for a bit.

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The most amazing experience was to meet Titin, a local English teacher who talked to us on the road and invited us to meet up when ever we wanted. We visited her in her family’s home, got to know her mother and children and were offered a lot of local food – yum!

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Another day she organized one more scooter to go to the waterfall and it was a lot of fun swimming in it and climbing around. And oh – the views!


But the best part was to talk and exchange a lot of stories about all our lives. Even if we have different views on religion, family life and more – our conversations were full of interest and acceptance for the other person. On our last day Titin told us about an island close to Siantan where you can camp overnight and see turtles. And it is possible to go there with a small inexpensive local boat. Oh well. That did sound awesome but we really didn’t want to be stuck on the island for another two weeks.

It was interesting to experience that tourist infrastructure can have its benefits sometime. Just in the way that there is information on what to do and how to get there. It took us a long time to find out that we could have gone to the turtle island and how to get there. It also took us a long time to find out that there are local ferries to some nearby islands because we didn’t think to ask that specific question. I don’t think that many people from Siantan go camping or snorkelling in their free time . Which is maybe why it takes longer to find out about these things.


Anyway. Maybe we didn’t spend our two weeks on the lush tropical island as you would expect it from a western travel brochure. But we did most definitely get a glimpse into island life: An island that is far out there and relies on big supply boats. A place where it’s difficult to get fresh fruit and vegetables because not much grows on the hilly lands. (Of course there is fish in abundance.) A place with stunning natural beauty but also a place where you need to travel at least ten hours to get to a bigger hospital. A place with lovely, interested locals and the best Nasi Campur.


A place where things might just not go as you had previously planned. But then again – when does that ever happen?


Feeling blue

February 2016


I am at an amazing place right now. A lush tropical island, somewhere between Borneo and Singapore. The waters are clear, there is intact coral around, the people are friendly and interested and small roads lead through tiny villages up and down through the hilly island. The views are breathtaking. It all sounds too good to be true.

And it kind of is. In the past few days everything has been too much. I didn’t want to explore the island, I wasn’t very fond off checking out the underwater life and making new connections with people seemed overwhelming as well. I feel the great need to be alone, to have a break from it all and to have some time to process.

I’ve been waking up being homesick and not wanting to get out of bed. I wanted to have rye buns for breakfast, toasted with butter and home made jam. My longing for bread lead me to research bakeries in Singapore because that will be the likeliest place to find any familiar tasting bread in the near future.

It’s a bit unusual for me, that longing for bread and it leads me to believe that I’m actually looking for something familiar. We’ve been cycling for about 6 month now and overall been on the road for almost 16 months. And I don’t think I’m tired of travelling per se. I still love cycling, I love connecting with people I don’t know yet and I love exchanging smiles with strangers. And I am still all for out new food and am amazed about all the new vegetables I never knew.


But right know, in the most beautiful of places, I just need a break. I feel bad, because I should go exploring and I should make more friends and try everything new and yet I can’t. And as much as I do feel bad about not doing all that much, I do get it actually. I’m all for change and new people and impressions, but I also need time to process all of that. Maybe more than some people, maybe less than others. I’m not sure how other long term travellers do that and I do feel the pressure of going on and on. But on the other hand I know that taking some time to process and letting experiences sink in is the key to stay healthy for me.

So for now I’m letting it sink in and I’m taking it as it comes. Spending a day inside, doing computer work, reading, watching movies, whatever it takes. And then, I’m quite sure, this feeling will pass. Of course I might have to make use of the bakery related research soon!

To stare or not to stare


As we’re waiting to embark on our PELNI boat towards Makassar, my friend Lia and I have the following conversation:
Lia asks: “So, in your culture, is it not normal to stare?”
Me: “Erm, why?”
Lia: “Well, I watched some movies and sometimes when someone stares at a person, that person says ‘what are you looking at?’.

I smile and respond that it is – in all my cultures – indeed not very polite or even common to stare at a person. And come to think of it – this is one of the local habits I have been trying to get used to in the last months. Torsten and I noticed quite early that a lot of people watch us doing all sorts of things. Things like trying to lean the bicycles against a lamp post or buying some fruit or even just drinking coffee or eating something. So not the most exciting things in life you might say. As I wasn’t really used to being watched that much, I felt a bit uncomfortable at times. Growing up  I was taught not to look at someone for long because that would be impolite.


Given that we were travelling through a lot of small villages and the people were probably not used to seeing many heavily loaded touring cyclists sweating their way along those roads I reasoned with myself that we were quite an unusual sight and people would naturally be curious. So over the course of our journey in Indonesia I learned to get used to being looked at a lot and – for the most part – to be fine with it. Except for those moments when I am very tired or exhausted I now usually don’t mind someone watching me while fixing my bike, having coffee or figuring out where to go.


And then I had this conversation with Lia which made me think about the whole deal more consciously. Our talk was followed by an experience on the boat ride to Makassar: On said boat a lot of passengers, including us, sat on deck to pass the time. And since there is not a whole lot to do on an overnight boat journey, most of us sat there, talking sometimes, but mostly just watching things happening. And then, suddenly it hit me: There was a man renewing the deck floor and manufacturing wooden nails to fix the deck. And he wasn’t alone: there were about 15 people standing in a close circle around him and watching him do his work. They didn’t engage in conversation with him, they just looked at him. Stared at him you might say.

Except that I’m now hesitant to use that word because I no longer think that it is appropriate. “Staring” has that negative connotation of being impolite which doesn’t seem to apply here. Looking at someone for a prolonged period of time is not necessarily impolite in this context and it took the conversation with Lia and the realisation that we weren’t the only ones being looked at to understand. A lot of the time that’s just what people do here. It might be to pass the time or because what they see is unusual or because there is nothing else to do. And additionally of course, because it is not necessarily considered impolite.


This is what I value so much about travelling: It took me some time to understand and I did feel uncomfortable in the process but then I learned something about other ways. While I don’t believe travelling and learning naturally go hand in hand, I do think, once you’re willing to be curious and look further than your initial feeling of discomfort, you might be in for a surprise. I can now say that I am way less insecure about doing what I want to do while someone watches me. And I don’t mean that in a “I am watching you” kind of way. I no longer question someone’s politeness or his motives but rather confront him or her with a smile or a ‘Hello’ or I just look back. For once that’s just so much more comfortable than before. And who knows, you might just gain a few new friends in the process!


Sick in Tawau: On unwritten rules


After stopping in Nunukan for a couple of days and accidentally overstaying our Indonesian Visa (we should know better by now than to trust boat schedules on a board), we finally arrive in Tawau, Borneo. Our first days in Malaysia are partly amazing and partly just very quiet. Food wise we are in heaven: Suddenly there are so many different tastes and spices, something that we missed quite a bit in the last months. We indulge in Indian food, mostly bread with dhal and curry. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. YUM!


On other news I’ve been fighting with a slight cold since we cycled out of Makassar and unfortunately that has turned into a fully grown bronchitis by now. I’m coughing my lungs out and feel slightly tired all the time. When our neighbour from next door comes over to bring me some of her old cough medicine I know that it must be quite loud, too.


So I make use of our nice little hostel room: I drink about 3-4 liters of tea every day, lie in bed and watch a LOT of TV shows. While Torsten is somewhere working, I sometimes venture out to get food or medicine or just walk around a bit. And somehow this is just what I need: having a bit of time to get used to a new place.


While I don’t think that everything changes when you cross a border, Malaysia has still a few new things to discover / deal with. One of those things – and for cyclists maybe the most important thing of all – is always food. And by that I mean food choices, availability, prices and so on. Yesterday we were at a restaurant for coffee and I saw that they have Mee Goreng Tauhu (Noodles with Tofu). When I later went back there to have lunch I was informed that they only make noodles for breakfast. So I went to another restaurant and asked for noodles and what do you know – noodles seem to be a breakfast dish here. At least in the small and simple restaurants that we usually go to.


It’s small and simple things and unwritten rules like that which are quite important for us to discover. It’s not necessarily a Malaysian thing though, it might just be the city or a certain area. In the Indonesian city of Ruteng for example most everything seemed to be closed by 8 pm. On the contrary in many other areas in Indonesia people seem to pour out on the streets after it gets dark and get together to eat and drink and meet family and friends.


Another example is Martabak – a kind of crepe which usually has an egg vegetable filling and is fried in oil. Very delicious! When we wanted to buy that dish in Mataram on Lombok, every single roadside stand (and we saw about 20 of them) exclusively made that dish with meat. Before and after that city, Martabak would in 99% of all cases be vegetarian. So setting your mind on a specific kind of food at a specific time of day you might just be in for a lot of surprises!


I  try to understand things like that in retrospect and think about how Mataram as a big city might just be richer and meat might be more available. Ruteng on the other hand is high up in the mountains and might be too cold (in a relative sense) to hang out outside in the evening and therefore shut down its shops earlier.

For our daily (cycling) life that means that a lot of small things change all the time. Sometimes I understand why, sometimes I wonder, sometimes I never find out what it’s about. Sometimes the changes seem to be relevant in a certain city or for a specific group of people, for an area or even for a country. You never really know before though. And you never stop stumbling across those unwritten rules.

At the moment I enjoy having a lot of time finding out about life and food in Tawau, Borneo. And so I get better albeit slowly. After almost two weeks I’m finally fit enough to leave Tawau and take on the Kalabakan Road. Off we go, into the (Palm Oil) jungle!

All that matters: good food, ideas and people


After a mere 20hour boat journey we were dropped in the port of Makassar, Sulawesi. I was a fair bit nervous before embarking on the boat as I’ve read a few too many horror stories about travelling on the big Indonesian PELNI boats with bicycles. But not to worry: Instead of going with the flow or even trying to get a good place we let all the others go ahead. At the end we somehow carried our bicycles up a few stairs which undoubtetly wasn’t too much fun but also over in a few minutes. Our bicycles remained intact, we got beds and I really enjoyed staring out at the sea and doing nothing all day long.


So, Makassar. Oh it was different here! After mostly riding alongside scooters on the previous Indonesian Islands I was a bit overwhelmed by all the big cars and the traffic jam which they caused. To be fair it was our biggest city in a long time.


At the same time I really liked our now urban surroundings. I can’t really say if I prefer rural areas or cities. Cycling is of course way more relaxed in the country side. The people there seem to be more open towards meeting other people in our experience. But then again, sometimes I need to be in cities. To feel the different vibe, to experience different subcultures and styles of living.

We looked up our host’s address and hopped on our bicycles for a quick ride to his house. We didn’t really know what to expect.


Back on Flores we met Andri, a fellow touring cyclist from Indonesia. He was really nice and relaxed and we would have loved going together for a while. Unfortunately he was going in the opposite direction. But on hearing that we would go to Makassar he contacted his friend Donny and asked him to host us.

We found the address easily and were greated by Maret, Donny’s wife and invited into their beautiful cafe. In the matter of a few minutes I was in heaven!


Maret and Donny run a small cafe together and are interested in making tasty and healthy food with real ingredients. No MSG and nothing artificial here. So we sat down, enjoyed bubbly juicy and flavourful drinks and marvelled at our surroundings.


Donny was just giving an English class, there were book cases lining the walls and there was an oven!


We haven’t really seen an oven since Australia, so I had high hopes for one or two baking sessions in the next few days…


My hopes did more than come true. We tasted a lot of Maret’s home made bread and her absolutely awesome veggie burger, we cycled around Makassar and as usual in cities tried to get one or the other thing accomplished.


We finally found all the ingredients to bake Apfelstrudel-Muffins and I made about 50 of them.


In between all of that we talked a lot with Maret and Donny. About good food, about their idea and their way of running the cafe and about living in Makassar / Indonesia.


Donny spent several years of his life in the US which made it particularly interesting for us in the way that he gained different perspectives on living while he was abroad. On his return opening the cafe was a way for him to be more himself. He is also a big outdoors enthusiast and we talked a lot about hiking and living in the outdoors.


Maret had a different career before working with food and I admire her willingness to learn all about good ingredients and try and error until it works. On top of that there were three kids running around, mostly looked after by Donny. I am incredibly thankful for our stay with you guys and the open and learning atmosphere that you create. That is something I am taking home with me and something that I hope to (re)create one day.


Unfortunately our visa was running out and so we cycled on. In two days our next boat would leave from Pare Pare about 150km away. Just when we left I felt that I was getting sick but oh well, the boat wouldn’t wait for us.


So off we went, on the thankfully very flat road north.





We marvelled at the beautiful houses that reminded me of the houses in Queensland, Australia (maybe except for the last one).


We ate a lot more mangoes, went to a cinema without cinema in Pare Pare, did a lot of selfies with locals and were spontaneously invited to lunch.



We both would have liked to have more time in Sulawesi and go further up north. But Borneo was waiting just around the corner!

Cycling magnificence on Flores

p1130716When I think of Flores words like majestic and magnificent come to mind. The ocean against the backdrop of grand mountains covered in lush green are a unique sight to be seen. Maybe it is even more special to us given that cycling on this island was for sure the most exhausting cycling we have ever done. 9320 meters of ascent in 531km is not something to take on lightly, at least not for me. Basically you cycle up to about 1000m and then coast all the way down again only to repeat the process a few times.

I wasn’t sure if I would manage that or even more important – if I would like it at all. Our progress was slow, especially on the first climb when the gradient was often so steep that we needed to stand in the saddle to not to loose our momentum. Combine that with the heat and a general lack of shade and our cycle-days/rest-days ratio began to change. Usually we cycle for a few days and then take a couple of rest days. Not so on Flores. After the big climbs we stayed in the cooler mountain cities such as Ruteng and Bajawa and also in Ende on the coast for a two nights each. Resting our muscles was priority number one.


But – and that is a big one – the views were something else. After cycling through Sumbawa’s arid lands it was pure bliss to be surrounded by lush green rice paddies and forests again.


One day we hid out under a not very rainproof roof during a storm and loved the rain and even the feeling of being cold. It all seems to turn around the longer we cycle in South East Asia. In Germany we longed for sunny days and warm weather and would make sure to stay in the sun as long as possible. Here we long for clouds and rain and the feeling of being cold. You can always wear more clothes but if you’re hot there’s not a lot you can do with the idea of cycling through the area.


So we loved being at a higher altitude for the cooler temperatures which gave our bodies much needed rest. We also finally got to camp again without feeling like being in a sauna. As it got dark we looked for a suitable spot to pitch our tent but as usual in Flores it was either pretty steep or inhabited land. So we asked a family if we could camp on their land about 50k before Ruteng and they happily agreed with the biggest smile on their faces. It was a fun evening with lots of make-do conversations in Bahasa Indonesia where we tried to explain our trip and show our tent and bags. We shared our coffee and it all was amazingly familiar: camping out in nature in between mountains reminded me a lot of our time in New Zealand and I’m very much looking forward to colder climates and more (comfortable) camping.


In Ruteng we stopped for some pancakes on the road side after climbing up. In the matter of seconds I was surrounded by at least 20 kids who were over the top excited about that sweaty red-faced cyclist sharing their lunch time snack idea. It was very cute and just a little bit overwhelming at the same time. While we were waiting someone offered us a coffee with our pancakes and who are we to say no to Flores grown and roasted coffee! Thinking he would show us to a cafe we followed him down some back roads and were soon sitting inside his living room.


Priscilla and her dad invited us to coffee, opened their heart and home to us and told us about their lives. Within minutes we went from climbing uphill and being exhausted to sharing stories and learning about family life in Ruteng. I cannot praise and value experiences like these  enough: they make me forget all the uphills in an instant.


A few days later we stopped for a while to talk to some travellers on a motorbike. As usual a small crowd gathered around us when a friend of ours called and in the midst of all that another guy appeared and invited us to stay with him and his family for the night – turned out he’s a fellow Couchsurfer! I had a hard time juggling the phone call and about three more people talking to me but then we happily accepted the invitation.


And oh – it was one of the most beautiful experiences so far! We were heartily welcomed by Victor’s parents, we talked with and without words and I had tears in my eyes when I listened to Victor’s dad telling us that he couldn’t offer much but that he was so happy to share it with us. I can’t put in words how grateful I am for moments like that. We didn’t share most of our language, but Victor translated a little and I just felt entirely comfortable with them all. For their smiles, for their openness towards us, for their willingness to share their food and space. This is all we need anyway.



As Flores was either sea level or mountains we decided to also spend a night at Pantai Koka, a small beach about 80k before Maumere.


With swimming, snorkelling and interesting conversations with fellow overland traveller Chantal we rested our muscles for the last leg on Flores.


As we came closer to Maumere I hard an increasingly hard time motivating myself to go on. After all the climbing I just wanted to be done. So reaching Maumere (from where we would take a boat to Sulawesi) felt amazing. I was looking forward to a few days without cycling and especially without the prospect of having to go up another mountain afterwards.


Staying with Lia and her beautiful family was just the right medicine. Lia is an english teacher which made communication very easy and we had so many interesting conversations about life on Flores, about her studies, the difficulty of finding work and so much more.



Her mum cooked some of the best Indonesian food we tasted so far and once again I am so grateful for getting a glimpse of their life as we cycle along.



So Flores really had it all: it was jaw-droppingly beautiful, it was hot and even a little bit cold sometimes, it was challenging and exhausting and all of that was forgotten when we met it’s people. I cannot recommend cycling there enough!


But for us it was already time to get moving again – the KM. Umsini was waiting in the harbour and would bring us towards Sulawesi!


Choosing where to go – on the beauty of cycle touring

To be honest, travelling the world has never been high on my list. I value change, I am interested in meeting new people and ever want to question my beliefs and prejudices about other people. But setting out to go around the world, going from one place to the next and always having to decide where to go and what to see and what to do is not something I wanted to do for a prolonged period of time.
So you might wonder why I am now cycling for quite some time and why it seems to be going well except for the usual complaints. Well, you see, because cycle touring is different. Sometimes it is not at all about the places to go to but all about everything in between. And that is so. much. more. fun. On the Indonesian island of Flores this became especially apparent.


The ferry from Sumbawa brought us to the small and rather touristy town of Labuan Bajo. It is well known as a starting point for diving and snorkelling tours and caters exceedingly well for the western backpacker.  There are bakeries, lovely cafes and a lot of shops that rent diving and snorkelling gear and organize tours. It was different from what we had in Sumbawa and I wouldn’t usually feel comfortable with the obvious focus on tourism.


But it was perfect at that time. In Sumbawa we were constantly in the centre of local attention whereas here we were just two out of many travellers. We ate exclusively local food before, we fought with the heat and stomach bugs and now it was time to indulge in some bread and a latte, use our hostel’s wifi and relax. In the end we didn’t go for a organized tour. They are rather expensive and we have so many beautiful experiences on the way that it was hard to justify spending so much money on one.


Further down the road we stopped for a night in Moni, another small town known as a starting point to the Kelimutu Lakes. These are volcanic lakes that change colours sometimes and thus are one of the major tourist attractions of Flores. Unfortunately the entry fees for foreigners went sky high in the last year, so once again we decided not to go for that.



Instead we ate pancakes and pasta in Moni and climbed down to a waterfall where we saw some locals wash their clothes.



We stayed in a woven bamboo house and enjoyed the panorama. It was beautiful and very relaxing.

And when we were in the rather unassuming town of Ende, Torsten found out that you can hike up a small volcano with supposedly quite nice views. You don’t need a guide nor pay entrance fees. So we set out to hike Gunung Iya.


We left our bicycles at a small store at the end of the road and walked through a rubbish dump. We found the trail head and walked up.


It was hot and exhausting and I was starting to regret it a little but all was forgotten once we got to the top.


The views down to Ende were absolutely stunning  and I fell in love with the colours of the volcano.

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And we could even see some smoke coming out!


So maybe we missed something in not going to the Komodo National Park for snorkelling. Maybe we would have enjoyed the Kelimutu Lakes. But who knows, we might have regretted paying three days budget just to view the lakes. Sometimes it’s hard to choose where to go and what to do when you could theoretically try and do it all. But for one I find it rather exhausting to go from one must-do to the next. I am rather surprised by people and things along the way. And I like not having so many expectations about what I am going to see and feel. And with tourist attractions it is harder to keep your expectations at bay. There are so many pictures about the Kelimutu Lakes that you might think you know what you are supposed to get. But of course it can still be different. The weather could make the lakes more or less impressive, the sun shine in a different angle or you might be in a bad mood and not enjoy it as much.


So this is why I want to free myself from checking things off an imaginary to-do list. Each journey differs from the next one and that’s good. I don’t want to fulfill a certain itinerary but rather work on having an open state of mind. I want to be open for the beauty of what’s right in front of me or for the challenge. I want to be surprised, I want to learn, I want to be overwhelmed and sometimes just do nothing.


It’s like having the choice of maybe seeing an elephant in the wild or going to the zoo to see one for sure. Or finding street art instead of going to an art gallery. I’m choosing street art and the chance of seeing an elephant over certainty. Somehow this seems more real to me.

Remarkable encounters on Sumbawa

Storytelling isn’t only about how to tell a story but a lot about the stories you choose to tell. Sometimes the process of choosing is a hard one.


Regarding our time in Sumbawa I could tell you about the relentless sun, the arid land and the dry air that made us crave iced drinks all the time. Or the evening sun that made everything so beautiful. I could tell you about stomach bugs that made cycling incredibly hard and progress slow. Or about water buffalos next to the road. But I choose to tell you about the people of Sumbawa, at least about some of them. Of all the stories that could be told, these seem to be the ones that are most important anyway.

In all of Indonesia (Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa so far) we constantly met people. By ‘met’ I mean we didn’t only see them but almost everyone greeted us. Mostly with a lot of excitement, a big smile and loud shouts of “Hello Mister”. Or “Bule” which means foreigner. And by ‘constantly’ I really mean all the time, every few seconds. In that sea of encounters there are a few that touched me deeply which shall be mentioned here. Sadly we never really caught their names, it didn’t seem important at the time. And I only have permission to publish one of the pictures, so you have to make do with the stories mostly!

On the first day

As we were low on water we stopped for a coffee, wanting to ask about filling our bottles. And it was there that we had the most heart warming encounter with the shop owners. They seemed delighted to see us and especially the woman and I had an instant connection. She was in awe of me and my heavy bicycle and remarked time and again on my leg muscles. It was one of these conversations where no one really speaks the language of the other person and still there is a deep conversation going on. There was something meaningful between us and I am still on the edge of tears when I think of her. I don’t think I will ever see her again but I will be forever grateful for that encounter. For the heartfelt interest in each other, for all the hugs she gave me and for their honesty.

Come here!


Another day we were just cycling through a village, waving and smiling at children passing by. It was long before noon and already unbearably hot. We were discussing having a break but not really sure if it was justified so soon. Just before leaving the village a man waved at us excitedly and shouted: “Come here! Come here!” We didn’t really need a lot of convincing to have that break after all.


So we joined a group of about 10 people who were passing the morning chatting and relaxing next to a small food stall. We were soon offered amazing food and coffee and enjoyed our meal all the while getting to know the man who invited us. To our luck he was a retired English teacher which made conversation easy. Once again we were humbled by this encounter. The group sent out so much warmth, interest in us and our journey and simply wanted to get to know us. In the next hour we learned some more Bahasa Indonesia, were invited repeatedly to stay the night and heard stories about life in this village. If anyone still needs a reason why to travel by bicycle – remember this! These chance encounters on the side of the road are worth sweating up a lot of hills after all.

Give me something cold and I will be in heaven


Later that week the sun was getting to me. The road was a good one, the traffic modest and the people friendly as could be. But I was once again fighting with a stomach bug which made cycling on flat ground more exhausting and cycling uphill seemingly impossible. I made use of every little piece of shade I could find (there weren’t many anyway) and we often stopped to ask for cold drinks.


Cycling in Indonesia has been exceptionally convenient as there are almost always food stalls around or at least small kiosks that sell biscuits and drinks. So it is not likely that you will ever go hungry or thirsty. Finding something cold to drink was a bit of a bigger challenge though. People in rural Sumbawa don’t usually have a fridge and rely on ice deliveries to make cold drinks. And ice doesn’t get delivered everywhere.


So when I spotted some ingredients to make Es Campur (Indonesian dish which mixes crushed ice and all sorts of ingredients like jelly, corn, condensed milk, fruit) on a table I turned around and begged Torsten to stop with me. We wheeled our bikes into a garden and looked around for the owners. A woman soon showed up, was visibly surprised about two foreigners turning up in her garden and invited us warmly to sit down and rest. She and her husband were amazing and we proceeded to have a conversation about our trip and about their lives in a mix of our broken Indonesian, a little English and with a lot of help of our dictionary. The couple originally came from Yogyakarta on Java and moved to Sumbawa to be near her parents. They do miss the culture and the people of Java quite a bit though and find it hard to cope with the quiet life in rural Sumbawa. On leaving we weren’t allowed to pay for anything and when I hinted at my stomach problems she whisked me into her house and gave me something to rub on my belly. I am so very grateful for the glimpse into their life and for their generosity with which they received us. Once again we were given a lot more than we needed.


Unfortunately – of course – this post doesn’t even come close to summing up all the beautiful encounters we had on Sumbawa. Not to mention the water buffalos, the salt fields or mountains that we saw. But it might give you a small glimpse into our time on Sumbawa and that’s really all a 1000 words can do!


A fiery welcome to Sumbawa

Imagine your ferry is getting closer to the harbour and you see smoke coming from the land. As we got off at the harbour in Pototano we saw a huge fire still roaring and a lot of people trying to save their belongings from about 20 shop houses and small eateries.


Luckily they seemed to have it under control and as far as we could see no one was hurt. Some time after the fire couldn’t get any further anyway, two fire fighter trucks arrived from the capital city Sumbawa Besar. We cycled away quietly talking about those people who  lost their existence in the matter of a few minutes with help too far away to get there in time.


When we stopped for a coffee a little while later we couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw two other cycle travellers coming towards us! Tony and Mbahpolenk are from Java and were cycling from East Timor back to Java. We had fun getting to know each other and comparing loads (they travelled a lot lighter but then again, they won’t be facing winter on their tour 😉 ). Sadly they didn’t have much time as they wanted to catch the next ferry to Lombok.


I love how the colours of the goats go with the colours of the landscape.


A little later we came by a lot of people dancing in the street around these girls on wooden horses, carried high up in the air. It was a lot of fun walking along for a bit and we were then told that it was a wedding ceremony and the people getting married actually came from Lombok. As did the traditional music and the horses.


When it got dark we found ourselves in a small town without formal accommodation. We coincidentally stood near a military station pondering whether to go on or ask someone if we could camp in their garden. By then a police officer gestured at us to come over and asked what we were looking for. We told him that we were looking for a place to sleep and after some discussion with his superiors we were offered a place on this beautiful platform. It came with a bathroom and we were officially guarded by the military throughout the night. What an introduction to Sumbawa!