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Biking on Saturday afternoon YOGYAKARTA - It was a Saturday afternoon as any other, but sometimes I just feel the need to get out for a while. This is not always possible, but when there is a possibility and there are no other appointments in the agenda, then it just might happen that after lunch I decide to grab my stuff for a trip on the motorbike. It's not too far away, within the borders of the province of Yogyakarta, but at least I can get away from the daily life for a while. Helmet, keys and a wallet is enough. To store some of the memories I have I also bring a camera with me and within a matter of minutes I leave the area. Where do I go then? Ooh, I felt like having a drink in Wonosari, so that became my first destination, knowing that most likely it would be something in that direction, but that doesn't really matter.

Before leaving the city I needed to buy some gas. Not that there were no gas stations anymore, because even in the most remote villages and the most quiet of roads you can still buy fuel in recycled liquor bottles. You will have to pay a little bit more than the original selling price, but 5,000 Rupiah for one liter is not really remarkable. It's just good that this is possible, because you will see running out of gas always happens at the most inconvenient location; whether it's a mountain slope or in between two villages. At those times it's still quite a distance before you are re-fuelled again. These roads are so quiet normally that there are times without traffic. And what passes by it usually a bicycle with a load of freshly cut corn plants, grass or hay.

For as little as 10,000 Rupiah (83 eurocents at the moment) I filled up, over two liters, close the tank and get away from there. Because the fastest way out of the city at this time of day is via the ring road, I choose this option in the search for something green. Since I live in the northern part of the city, I would have to travel virtually direct through the heart of the city towards the direction I was intending to go. That would take me about half an hour, while if I was to follow the main roads for that period of time, I would be in the rural area by then. It was somewhat of an emergency, but it's also nice just to enjoy the fast lanes and diesel fumes before you enter the world of peace. Seventy kilometers per hour is possible as long as you don't use your brakes to much but your horn instead, even if it's you that should slow down.

Destination unknown

As said before above here, I don't have problems departing without having a clear destination for such short trips. Earlier this year I left for the foothills of the Merapi volcano - north of here. Three hours later I was enjoying a cold drink on a bench on the beach of Samas, way south from Mount Merapi. Why ending up there? Fairly soon I remembered tat I wanted to take a look at the construction of the double-track railroad just west of the city, in the area of Godean. That is what I did and after that I continued my trip south. I would only see Mount Merapi again early in the evening when I returned home and the clouds started to fade away. Today it would not be that different. I didn't have to do anything in fact. If I wanted to sit down somewhere for the rest of the day, that would be possible. Sitting under a tree with a cigarette or something is what many people do here for entire days, so then I would simply join them.

Sitting down for a long time, doing nothing and smoking that is nothing for me, and I am not even going to try it. I can not sit down in general, that might be the reason I need to get out every once in a while. For be it's also no problem to visit the same place more than one time. Visiting the same locations is not that easy here as well as many things change and along the way I might see other things that I want to do. In fact this freedom is very enjoyable, even if it may be a small thing. Enjoying it is something I certainly do, especially when I have escaped the business of the city and I can see the first green fields and forests. But well, I was on my way to Wonosari, southeast of Yogyakarta. A nice trip.

At the location of a nowadays new bridge over the small river Gendol, I remembered that I also had to take a look at prices for halved oil drums. Yes, that sounds strange, but I needed halved oil drums, empty with two grips, which can also be used as flower basket and can be moved in the future as well. That is what I was looking for to finish off my newly created garden. Unfortunately these are too big to be picked up by motorbike. However the average Indonesian would probably succeed in bringing one I didn't even do the effort in the first place and I arranged someone to pick them up for me. That's just as easy and the extra cost doesn't compare to trying it myself.

Directly after I passed the bridge I noticed some metal workshops. They were displaying all kinds of products from oil drums to trash cans and all kinds of other handy stuff that I hadn't seen for sale in the city until now. This was typically something that you just needed to know where to find. This spot itself as well, I didn't know it, but my contractor - also to be used as know-all-answers-to-my-questions - did know where to find it and after asking it was on my whiteboard for over a week before I could match it into my schedule. I saw some nice drums and stopped to ask the price. However I didn't want to buy them now, I at least wanted to know the price. With a starting price of 80,000 Rupiah there was still some negotiating to go, but at least it was a proper indication.

The small roads

After this only 'obligation' during my trip I was able to continue. Slowly I was getting thirsty, which I tend to get rather quickly with warm weather and driving around on a motorbike under the tropical sun. It may be clear that I protected myself with sun block before departure, because an earlier experience with the sun in the Netherlands during my early teens were a good lesson after all. As a red head (it's dark blond by now) you can't be in direct sunlight for too long without protection. Even a trip from home to the city center (let's say Jalan Malioboro) - a distance of about 15 minutes - can cause me to bun. Now is getting a tan not dramatic, but sunburn is worse because I only notice it when it's too late.

A part of the former main road got deserted when the new road was constructed. This now is a bay of tranquility.
A part of the former main road got deserted when the new road was constructed. This now is a bay of tranquility.

I didn't bring water or any other fluid. I didn't plan to make a full days' trip and I was able to take a break where I wanted. That is what I did in the area of Patuk, a little town directly along the main road to Wonosari. I didn't have to look for a nice spot here. It was matter of ordering iced tea, drinking it and getting ahead again. Of course it was not possible to leave without answering the handful of basic questions, the usual basa-basi.
"Where are you from?" is almost always the first question.
"From Jogja," is my answer in that case.
I know that when I answer that, there will be a laugh. What they really want to know is from which country you are, since you must be a tourist here. Some directly change gears and ask me whether I'm in school here. I always answer in entire honesty that that is not the case, but that I am here to enjoy the country. Then a smile follows again. If this question is not asked, then it will most likely continue as following.
"Where are you originally from?"
"From The Netherlands," with some pride, right?
"Aah, Roet Goeliet," or "Ajak" is what follows then. Some will be able to pronounce "pan Basten", but that is about it. Such kind of answers always trick me into asking whether they also know PSV, because that is top soccer from Eindhoven (not that soccer is that important, it's mainly Eindhoven). That smile again here too.. "jaaa... pee-es-vee". Nice, the tea is finished that will be 1,000 Rupiah. I want to go on to the next place where I can play that tape.

At the first intersection that I see after my departure I decide to take the smaller road, not knowing where it will bring me this time. The eventual destination is a little town with the hard to pronounce name of Nglipar. From there it must be possible to get back to Wonosari again, but the afternoon was still young, so I wasn't really worried about that right now. Directly after the turn to the left I had to follow a yellow truck for some time. The road here was too crowded to overtake it and the driver seemed not sure about his destination as far as I could see. When he eventually parked his truck on the left side of the road instead of the right side as his intentions were I could pass him. All of a sudden the road was for me alone. There was virtually no traffic. In the distance I could see some motorbikes and a lost farmer walked on the middle of the road besides his bicycle loaded with two bags of grass. That is what I was looking for.

The road became more quiet and I ended up in a peaceful environment with some rice paddies every once in a while, then a patch of forests and a small village. Here no banners, big advertisements and noise. But peace, trees and a local lazy Indonesian spending his afternoon with a cigarette in his mouth sitting on a piece of concrete. The only thing that I noticed here was that all of these villages also had their own advertisement boards for isi ulang pulsa, upgrading your mobile phone credit, something that is possible virtually everywhere here. Here as well, and every village had it's own few people waiting the entire day for their first customer to arrive. I still had enough though. Fuel, food and drinks were also available of course, people had to eat here as well.

At one of the many small rivers that cross this area I parked my motorbike at the side of the road, however in the middle of the road would nog bring me into problems as well. At the middle of the fairly new bridge I had more than enough open space to make some pictures of the almost dry riverbed and the still green environment, still at the end of the wet season. No traffic at all, I only heard some motorbikes in the distance, but that might as well be on another small road near from me, because I wasn't able to see them. At some distance there was a person cutting grass in the burning sun, probably for the animals at home. The big white bag was the most remarkable thing in this splendid area.

These are places where I can actually sit down for a while to enjoy the environment. I don't need a cigarette, but if they are available I wouldn't say no to it, however you should be with friends then. I was alone here though. Alone but not lonely. Just away from the city life knowing that I would be back in it later that afternoon. No problem with that as long as these escapes are possible. However the road is wide and properly maintained, there are no tourists here. Maybe that is just how it should be, because if they came here, this place would already be turned into a market place and the trash would be dumped in the river below. No, it's better to keep it this way.

After taking some pictures and a short break - at the bridge I was in the direct sun, so that is not that pleasant - I got back on the motorbike. In contrary to most people here, I put on my helmet again. The excuse that there is no police here is not a valid argument for me not to wear one. It's in fact true that you will hardly find any police here, unless they are on their way home, but the asphalt is just as hard here as it is elsewhere and an accident can happen when you don't expect it. I am virtually unknown here, so I am more alert, but that doesn't guarantee there will not be any accident as well. So that makes not wearing a helmet at least very naive, if not simply dumb.

Directly after I departed I approached the working person. It was an old woman that was working at the hottest point of the day, cutting grass for the cattle back home. Where her house was I didn't know. The bicycle which was probably made by the Dutch was parked against a tree. At the back an empty white bag, the other one was partly filled. She had probably noticed me before, because she kept looking at me until I was close enough. A friendly bow of the head, from me as well. Here our ways separated again. I drove off to look for a new place to stop for some pictures.

Hundreds of others, with their heads unprotected passed me by that afternoon. Girls with tight trousers and a thin white shirt, but without helmet, all look up if they see something they are not familiar with. Smiling is the next thing, sometimes an effort to say something, but by then we have already passed each other. The helmet may be strange, but when there is a foreigner under it, that is even more fun. Always smiling and gossiping. Some guys which think they are tough guys yell something from their chair at the time I have already passed them, that's the only time they dare to do that. They are just like little kids in this way, only their painted hair is remarkable, for the rest they are completely unimportant. Working on the farmlands is for their mothers and grandma's because they don't want to get tired of course.

The main road back

All good things end. After making a few more pictures I had already passed Nglipar, where I found a sign that brought me in the right direction of Wonosari again. If that sign wasn't there, then you can always ask for directions. I didn't bring a map this time. That thing is only of use when you are traveling from city to city. Small towns and villages are not on those kind of maps, furthermore most people don't know how to read it anyway. In those cases it's better just to ask for the direction to Wonosari. It's not that difficult and the chance that someone is playing a trick on you is small as long as you don't ask one of those intersection-junkies.

And this is how I got back to the main road again. It was not crowded here, the afternoon was about to end and traffic decreased. With a long curve I turned back on the main road again, in the direction of home again. However I was only half way for distance concerned, the main road of course was a lot faster. It's almost dangerous here to drive 40 kilometers per hour because of the big trucks and buses that will overtake you with much higher speeds. Here I encountered the first real pollution again, which I had last seen when I left the main road several hours before. Well, that makes it very clear where most people nowadays live in. Not in those quiet villages but in polluted agglomerations.

Lat year they were still making a new bridge at the first river crossing from Yogyakarta in the direction of Wonosari. This caused frequent traffic problems, but that wasn't really of my concern since I didn't have to go here every day. Now, most bridges were finished and the road looked perfect; newer and wider than ever before. The earlier relatively quiet road had become a main road for intercity buses and trucks with all kind of goods. Too bad to see that, but unfortunately the other main routes on Java are already that crowded that this is pure necessity. There are no properly functioning double railroad tracks here as well, so the only cheap alternative is transport over the roads.

Almost like an optical illusion there is a traffic light on the middle of the road, and it's working as well. Fortunately it was used as well.
Almost like an optical illusion there is a traffic light on the middle of the road, and it's working as well. Fortunately it was used as well.

As some distance from the point where I entered the main road I thought I saw an optical illusion. It was changing colors from green to red and was placed in the middle of the road. Soon I found out it wasn't an illusion at all, but a working traffic light. Indeed in a strange place, in the middle of the road, but even that had it's reason. There were still people working to improve the channel below the road here. The slab of concrete below the road surface was replaced as well, the new one was about 30 cm thick. That wasn't a small job. I stopped to make some pictures after I had a chat with an elderly man who was enjoying himself watching the men work below him. It is not clear to me whether he was part of that workforce or not, but at least he was able to answer my questions at that moment.

People were working at four other locations along the total length of the road between Wonosari and Yogyakarta. One of them was bigger, they were building a new bridge there. That was near the village of Bunder, where I still had to go, since that was on the way back. This man as well was curious and asked the questions as you can find above. Read it again if you have forgotten them, because as soon as you are in Indonesia, you will never forget them anymore. After the pictures I watched the men building a channel with little more than bare hands and some simple tools. Buckets of cement were lowered as empty ones were thrown back. A man with a big hammer is breaking big rocks into pieces.

Approaching Bunder there was indeed some work to be done. The clear water in the river was partially diverted via barriers from stone and there were big holes drilled on both sides of the river, here in solid rock that has been deposited here during the course of millions of years, because the island of Java is partially lifted from the sea over time. Of course that lifting didn't happen in a perfect vertical way, so the river had to cross diagonal layers of stone and history. A beautiful sight to see that in a different way every time throughout the region here.

From the current bridge you can perfectly oversee the construction of a third brigde at the location. The first bridge however can not be used anymore.
From the current bridge you can perfectly oversee the construction of a third brigde at the location. The first bridge however can not be used anymore.

Because it was almost four o'clock, most workers had just left for home. A small group was still working in front of the oldest bridge - a small bridge from iron with not much of a floor left - they were bending iron bars to be used for the concrete supports later on. Near the river, at the site of the future pillars, someone was talking to the crane driver and some villagers were watching this show from above. I parked my motorbike once again and walked over the current bridge - one made from steel which started to wobble every time a vehicle passed - to make some pictures. There I was noticed by a woman. She waved and I waved back. I had to go there.

When I entered the building site a few minutes later, more people noticed me. The woman that waved at me earlier obviously wanted to share something with me and slowly approached me when I found a place for the motorbike once again. She indeed wanted to tell me that her house was the first one from the bridge here. It was partially broken down on one side and was added a few rooms on the other side. Exactly there would be the location of the new road. She used to live directly along the main road when it was still small, and now she would be living directly along it again, with much more traffic however. The current road was still some 20 meters away, but that kind of things are far from permanent here.

Towards four o'clock I had seen, heard and photographed enough here as well and it really became time to go home. The new road is also more straight than the old version. At some places the old curves can be seen, and they even cross the road as a crossing. Turning left or right here doesn't bring you anywhere, because several hundred meters ahead you will be back on the main road again, however these kind of places are quiet enough to slow down your travels. And that at just a stone's throw from the new main road. If you are lucky you can even find an old bridge. If the floor is still in tact you could even try to cross it, but that's for your own risk, just as not wearing that helmet.

Posted in Travel @ 09 May 2007 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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