- Tim Notier
Riding through the congested cities of Java felt like the scenes from Star Wars where storm troopers sped through the forests of Endor on speeder bikes. But instead of evading the trunks of tall trees, I weaved around automobiles while dodging oncoming traffic that utilized our lane to pass vehicles in their own. All of the small motorcycles clung together like a school of minnows that quickly darted around the sharks and whales that were the cars and trucks on the narrow streets. It was a trial by fire, and I was a little uncomfortable while still getting used to riding on the left side of the road. And I quickly found out that downshifting from 3rd completely bypassed 2nd gear and landed in neutral, leaving me wildly revving the engine as the RPM needle redlined on the gauge.
With a quick kick back into second gear, we would be off again while people looked at us awkwardly. It was blatantly obvious that we were still breaking in our horse. I was trying to build a partnership between man and machine, but the colt beneath us bucked and snorted as we made our way through the cities of Bogor and Bandung in West Java.
Marisa and I purposefully took every side road that led through small fishing and mountain villages off the main highways. And it didn’t take long for us to find our first set of twisty roads that weaved through the landscape like the Tail of the Komodo Dragon. Slicing back and forth through the hills was made a little more interesting due to the road looking like it was last maintained in 1982. The suspension on our motorcycle didn’t have a lot of travel, so every pothole felt like we had crossed the event horizon of a black hole and landed violently in an alternate universe with equally bad infrastructure. But our surroundings were beautiful, and we couldn’t help but giggle and laugh over our Cardo intercoms.
The narrow rocky roads weeded out the large trucks as we travelled from one picturesque village to the next. Each community was filled with kind and welcoming hosts that were just as excited to meet us as we were them. Through broken Indonesian and English, we could communicate where we were from, and made sure they knew how much we were loving every mile of Indonesia.
We were always greeted with smiles, and Marisa and I were never allowed to leave before mandatory selfies were taken. The two of us felt like rock stars in West Java. Without the attractions of Borobudur in Central Java, or the beaches in Bali, there weren’t a lot of tourists in West Java. But we liked it that way, and made a hundred new friends as we traveled through the small towns that were filled with the world’s friendliest people.
Marisa and I were having the time of our lives as we traveled across Java. I never knew what to expect around the next bend in the road but was thrilled when we entered a region where rice paddies crawled up the hillsides. I continuously pulled over as the views demanded more attention than I could allow while riding.
It was nice to find ourselves far from the hustle and bustle of Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta. We were now in an area with clean air and natural splendor. I couldn’t stop clicking my camera’s trigger while looking through the viewfinder as I stared out in awe. Everything was coming along perfectly. Even though our motorcycle struggled to get up some of the inclines, it always chugged up the roads and led us to the hidden wonders that lay in the heart of Java, Indonesia.
As usual, Marisa had a few surprises for me. She often plugs in destinations on my phone of places that she has researched. I sometimes have no idea where we are off to, but know that it will most likely be awesome if Marisa chose the point of interest. That day’s surprise was an old Hindu temple that lay in the center of an island. A bamboo raft was our vessel to Candi Cangkuang, an 8th century temple in a quiet location surrounded by forests.
We were once again the only Westerners around and Marisa quickly became the main attraction in place of the Hindu temple. We were swarmed by schoolchildren who lined up one by one for a photo opportunity. Marisa was in her element, and I was feeling blissful as I stood in the shade of a large tree on this small island, breathing in fresh air while children laughed and danced around my wife. It was a pretty epic moment that made me smile and fully appreciate how lucky we are to be traveling around the world together.
But once back on the road, the yin and the yang of the universe quickly balanced each other back out. Marisa had a slight stumble and a bad fall when she dismounted the motorcycle at one of our roadside photo pitstops. She landed hard on her hand, and we weren’t sure if any of the small bones in her wrist had fractured. She made a squeal that melted my heart as soon as I heard it over the intercom. She lay in a ditch holding her arm and wincing in pain. She was able to carefully get back on the bike and we quickly revised our day’s route to the nearest hotel.
I pulled over at a convenience store to plug in a new destination on my phone, but when I tried to restart the motorcycle, the engine refused to turn over. I tried to diagnose the issue, but without knowing very much about the Pulsar Bajaj 220, all I could do was check the battery terminals and confirm that there was gas in the tank. Thankfully, there were small bike mechanics nearly every other storefront and I was able to flag someone over to take a quick look at the motorcycle.
It turned out to be some corrosion on the battery terminal that was shorting out the main harness. It was something that I should have been able to figure out on my own, but my mind was focused on Marisa’s hurt wrist, and the need to get to a hotel as soon as possible. I paid the friendly roadside mechanic a handful of Rupiah, and Marisa and I got back on the road towards a much-needed hotel.
To confirm nothing was broken, we took a small bus to a hospital for an x-ray. After nervously waiting to see what the results of the x-rays were, it was verified that nothing had been broken! Marisa’s smile was back to full strength, and we were given some pain meds and a sling for her arm.
A lot had transpired since landing in Jakarta and we both needed a couple of days to reboot. We had seen amazing places and had met wonderful people in our short time on Java so far. The beauty of the rice fields, temples, and smiling faces of everyone that we came across outweighed the bumps in the road, our struggling motorcycle, body aches, and stomach issues.
Marisa and I were thankful for everything that we had experienced, and we couldn’t wait for what was around the next corner.
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