Wednesday, 8 February 2017

INDONESIA (2)

CYCLING INDONESIA (2)


                        (1222km -  30days)


9 January 2017 – Cape Town, South Africa – Bali, Indonesia
The time has come for me to say goodbye to my lovely family and all of my awesome friends. Once again, I did not get so see everyone, but I did spend time with my mom and met up with my longstanding Facebook friend, Diana, who I spent a lovely day within and around the Winelands of the Cape. We watched a hilarious duck parade and had a glass of wine on the lawn. Bliss! I walked in the mountains, ran along the beachfront, paddled with my dragon boat friends, and spent countless nights shooting the breeze next to the “braai” fires. In all that time, I only cycled once; I could just as well have left the bicycle in the box! On January 9, I boarded a plane for Indonesia, from where I will slowly make my way to Malaysia and meet up with Janice for our “Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok” cycle. Watch this space! Now, it's time to get back to my normal life on the bike as I wonder what Indonesia will hold!

10 January - Bali
After nearly 24 hours of flying, I finally landed in Bali, and I could not wait to get out of the airport and into the fresh air. It was hot and humid, as could be expected, as Bali is only a short distance south of the equator. I flagged down a taxi (bicycle and all, as I was in no mood to put the bicycle together) and headed for Komala Indah 11 Cottages. The rooms were simple but spacious and consisted of ground-floor bungalows that came at a very reasonable price of 100 000 Indonesian Rupiah ($1 – 13 000RP). Although the room only had a fan and cold water, it was set in a lush garden, and the price included breakfast, consisting of coffee and toast with jam or bananas.

I drew 2 000 000RP, bought a SIM card, paid for the room, and bought a large Bintang beer, which I drank while sitting on the steps and talking to other travellers. I fell asleep rather early but woke again at around 3 a.m. and was wide awake. Bali is five hours ahead of where I came from, and it is, therefore, no wonder that my time was slightly out of sync.

11 January – Bali
I did, however, fall asleep again and only woke at 9 a.m. I quickly got dressed and went for a jog, but it was a rather unpleasant affair, as it was already too late and far too hot and humid.

I put the bike together and rearranged my stuff back into the panniers where it belonged. Then I was off to the shop to get all the little bits and pieces I needed but don’t usually carry with when flying.

I took a walk along the beach, and although Bali is as touristy as they come, it remains a pleasant enough place to hang out for a day or two. In fact, I quite like the madness of it all. I'm sure that there are enough tie-dyed T-shirts and sarongs for sale to dress all of Africa, and one wonders how all the eateries make a living. I watched the sun set over the Indian Ocean while the waves rolled in and surfers caught the last waves of the day, all while doing my fair share for the sale of Bintang beer.

12 January – Bali
At first, I had thought of heading out, but then I encountered software problems on my laptop and thought it best to sort those out first. It took hours and hours; eventually, I had to call in Microsoft support, but even they had difficulty, and the upload was so slow that it was 10 p.m. before everything was back to normal.

Consequently, I did not see much of Bali and its beaches on that day. I only walked out once (while the slow upload was in progress) to marvel at all Bali holds. With its colourful stores and Hindu temples, it remains surprisingly Balinese for such a touristy island.

It was rather hot and humid, so I waited until sunset before heading out on my run. It was a most glorious evening, and the sunset was truly spectacular. I was once again extremely grateful that I had had the desire and will to go for a run. I had plans about jumping in the ocean; however, by the time I was done, it was already pitch dark, and I still wanted to rinse my sweaty running gear. By then, it was time for my daily Bintang and my usual plate of Mie Goreng (stir-fried noodles), loaded with chilli from the street vendor around the corner.

13 January – Bali – Mengwi – Ubud – app 50 km
After breakfast, I cycled to the Pelini ferry service office to enquire about a ferry to Singapore. The answer was positive, and according to the Bali office, there was a ferry leaving Tanjung Priok, Jakarta, on 3 February for the island of Batang, arriving there the following day. From Batang to Singapore there appeared to be various ferries leaving several times a day (one hour).

Then it was back to my room where I loaded the bike and first swung by the bike shop to buy a set of new pedals as the bearings on mine packed up. Therefore, it was after midday when I finally left, sporting two bright red pedals. (LOL, I have never seen red pedals before!) I headed for the small village of Mengwi as it is home to the Taman Ayun Temple, which is a group of temples situated in a most beautiful garden. It looked like the entire stretch between Kuta and Mengwi was one big temple with vendors selling temple paraphernalia. Just as I arrived, it started raining with the result that I could not even take any pictures. There was no accommodation that I could see, and I, therefore, headed in the direction of Ubud along a small back road that leads past bright green rice terraces and (once again) some beautiful temples.

Just before Ubud, there was one huge clap of thunder, and the rain came pouring down; I continued until I reached Ubud. I pulled into the first sign I spotted, Ayu Bungalows, and must have looked rather bedraggled as the room (at 250,000RP) was more than I wanted to pay. The owners, however, were kind enough to give it to me for 150,000RP, including breakfast. I felt guilty when they did this as it was such a nice room with aircon and hot water.

14 January - Ayu Bungalows, Ubud – Medewi Beach – 80 km
“Did you sleep well?” she asked with a friendly smile, hands touching her forehead and palms together. What lovely people the Balinese are. Included in the price of the room was a breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, fruit and Indonesian coffee, which I enjoyed op my little veranda while the sweet smell of incense drifted across from the offerings.

One can’t just sit staring into space all day, so I loaded the bike and waved my friendly host goodbye. I first paid a visit to the nearby Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave, which was situated just down the road. It is said that the cave dates back to the ninth century, but I’m not sure if that means that the cave was dug out (as it is quite small inside) or if it is referring to the carvings around the cave entrance and the bathing ghats (which were only excavated in the 1950s). To enter the cave (now a temple), one gets given a sarong to wear, which I did with pleasure, as I did not want to anger the fierce-looking demons carved into the rock on the outside of the cave.

The ride today was fairly up and down, but once over most of it, I sped downhill to the coast past scenic rice terraces and had to take the obligatory Bali rice terrace shot. In fact, I did not just take one; I took about 100!!! I guess I’m going to spend the rest of the evening sifting through them. I found the coastal road busy and narrow but very scenic. I tried to stick as much to the side of the road as possible, but even then, it was a challenge. I passed a good number of surf camps and other nice-looking beaches and settled for Medewi Beach, where they have a handful of rooms, all at a very reasonable price.  Once I had my shower, it was off to the nearest food cart for my daily bowl of bakso soup and a beer.

15-16 January Medewi Beach, Bali – Banyuwangi Beach Hotel, Java – 60 km
Breakfast was a rather interesting affair known as a parcel and coffee. The parcel consisted of rice and other stuff wrapped in a bamboo leaf (or maybe it was a banana leaf) and closed with a toothpick or thin bamboo stick. It was delicious! I then headed for Gilimanuk where I could get the ferry to the Island of Java. It was, once again, an enjoyable ride with mountains on the one side and the ocean on the other, and past the ever-present rice paddies. The last part of the day the road ran through a national park, and it was even more lush and green than normal with the trees forming a tunnel to drive through. Monkeys risked their lives darting across the busy main road, and even the temple statues looked more friendly than else where.

The ferry from Gilimanuk to Java Island only costs 7000IR (for me and the bike). It was a rather short crossing and only took about 10 minutes, but I had to wait for about an hour for the ferry to depart.

Once on the island of Java, I found a room at the Banyuwangi Beach Hotel which sounds far more upmarket than what it is. But, then again, what can one expect for $3–$6 a night! I went upmarket and took the $6 room—living the high life! Hahahaha!

The reason for the stay here is to see if I could arrange for a trip up to the crater lake. I found a “travel agent” that could arrange just such a thing. I got picked up at midnight, and we drove up the mountain for about an hour and a half. We then walked up a very steep path for another hour to the crater rim. This was where things became rather surreal. We descended into the crater to Kawah Ijen Lake and the sulphur deposits. Noxious and sulphurous smoke billowed from the volcano’s vent. The fact that both a guide and a mask was included should have warned me about the conditions. More bizarre was passing miners digging sulphur out of the crater floor and lugging it on shoulder poles up the steep path. The conditions these guys work in can only be described as “a medieval vision of hell” and one could hardly make them out as they slowly headed up the path in a cloud of sulphurous smoke. Down on the crater floor, one could see the bright blue sulphur fires burning, and I felt extremely sorry for the guys working down there, digging out the sulphur with no masks or any kind of protection.

By the time I got back to my room it was 7:00 and I had not slept or eaten since breakfast the previous morning. It was time for food and a nap.

17 January - Banyuwangi Beach Hotel – Situbondo 88 km
With a population of 260 million people, Indonesia is rather crowded, and 58% living on the island of Java makes it the world’s most populous island. Needless to say, the narrow roads are rather busy, and the potholes do not make things any easier. Broken down trucks have nowhere to go and stay put, and I passed one this morning that seemed to have been there for a while, as the driver was playing board games (on a board drawn on the road) while the others were collecting money from passing traffic. I think if I wrote down everything I saw today, it would be a book.

Sometimes when I get to a new country, I find it quite overwhelming. It all started early morning as I came out the shop where I bought water for the road and found someone measuring my bike. He seemed to go around measuring everything, from cutters to paving stones, and he was very conscientious! On two occasions, I saw a person walking along the road stark naked! Don’t know what that was all about. I know there is the Dani tribe from New Guinea who wears hardly anything, but I somehow don’t think these guys were from there. That was bizarre.

The more usual included numerous small villages, bright green rice fields with the ever-present cone-shaped mountains as a backdrop, banana stores selling nothing but bananas, in all shapes and sizes. There were men sitting on their haunches cutting grass by the side of the road (as animal feed, I guess) and hijab-wearing women tending sheep. In fact, I passed some colourful stores selling only hijabs (I should get one). There were young boys running around the rice fields flying kites and old men walking along selling woven baskets. Women dried small fish on wooden tables, and men transported wood on the back of motorbikes stacked sky-high, all this in the company of muezzins calling people to prayer from the mosque’s minarets (they should pay more attention to the quality of their speakers).

It was a hilly ride, and by the time I reached Situbondo, it was time to start looking for a place to rest my head. I found an even less expensive room than the night before, and at 60,000IR, I could not complain about the state of the bathroom (LOL). The bathroom was not bad at all; unusual maybe, but not bad. Stranger was the beds facing the bathroom instead of the door. There was plenty of street food to be found, but beer was becoming more difficult. I bought one at the Indomaret but, once in my room, discovered it was a Bintang Zero (LOL).

18-19 January – Situbondo – Probolinggo – 95 km
“Hello, Mister” is the standard greeting around here. I must say that the Indonesians are very friendly and I get the thumbs up, numerous times a day, as they zoot past me on their motorbikes. I, however, remain a novelty and I’m sure that (in this area) they have seldom seen a western woman, except for the faded poster girls in the workshops, and the sexy-looking ones on the truck tyre flaps.

The road hugged the coast for most of the day, making for easy and scenic cycling. The road was therefore lined with “warungs” (restaurants) selling “Ikan Bakar” (grilled fish). In the process, my Basa Indonesian is coming along just fine. In the food department, Basa Indonesian is fairly easy as long as one knows the words for rice (nasi), noodles (mie, mee or mi), fried (goreng), grilled (bakar), chicken (ayam), and fish (ikan). If also learned to say where I’m from (Africa Selatan) and that a bicycle is a sepeda.

Besides the restaurants, there were plenty of fish and rice drying along the road which is understandable as it is their staples around here.

With about 90% of the population being Muslim it is no wonder that there are so many mosques - the problem is that they all seem to be short of money and collect from passing traffic, making the already narrow road even more so. Phew, cycling here can be quite a challenge!

I stopped in Probolinggo and found a room at the Hotel Paramita. This time it was somewhat more expensive, but it came with the luxury of a clean room. My reason for stopping here was that I wanted to organise a lift up to Mount Bromo, but that worked out too expensive, so I may give it a miss altogether or take the bus up there in the morning. I may also decide to stay put here as I desperately need to do some laundry, but I will sleep on it and decide in the morning. For now, it is Selamat Malam as it is already 11.45 p.m. and I'm falling asleep as I'm typing.

20 January – Probolinggo – Mt. Bromo
I packed up and left Probolinggo, but when I got to the turn-off for Mt Bromo, I changed my mind and decided to go up there after all. Instead of cycling there, I found another real cheap hotel to leave my bicycle, and I grabbed a motorbike taxi to the top of the mountain.

Although I visited Mt Bromo six years ago, while cycling Indonesia, I thought it worth my while to pay it another visit. Although it was a most spectacular ride up the mountain, it was a rather unsuccessful day when it came to taking pictures. I'm of the opinion that the pictures I took six years ago came out miles better. In any event, it was still spectacular and remains a sight to behold.

As one enters the vast caldera, the fume-belching cone of Mt Bromo stares you right in the face and, from a distance, one can hear the hissing and splattering of the volcano. A short trek across the sand and up to the summit brings you to the brim of the crater, where you can gaze down into the belly of the beast. It splatters and roars while steam and smoke rise high above the cone. One can also walk along the edge for quite a distance, giving the whole volcano an other-worldly feel.

Then it was back down the mountain, past the vegetable plantation, and one wonders just how they manage to farm on such steep terrain. Up on the mountain, it is an entirely different feel from the lowlands, as it is much cooler, wet and misty, with blanket-clad farmers on horseback inspecting their farmlands. Wooden houses on stilts cling precariously to the mountainside, and red-cheeked kids skip their way to school.

Soon, I was back to reality and at my hotel where I ordered a bowl of bakso before cycling back into town to stock up on some needed supplies.

21 January – Probolinggo – Surabaya – 102 km
It was easy cycling, but it was the road condition and the heavy traffic that made for slow going. I, nevertheless, had a fantastic day, and although not much happened, it was the general everyday life that once again fascinated me. Roadside stalls sold the most interesting and beautiful woven articles, and I cycled past gangs of school girls on scooters, giggling their way to school. Mothers steered motorbikes one-handed while holding (what looked like) a near one-day-old baby on the other arm. Bicycle rickshaws carted hijab-clad pre-schoolers to and from school, while toothless men sat chewing their nasi goreng. Ladies dried corn in the sun, and others were cutting grass along the road as cattle feed (she appeared very impressed that I knew it was for her “kambing”).

There’s never a shortage of eateries in Indonesia and, as always, the road was lined with “warungs”, selling the normal “nasi goreng”, “mee goreng” and “ayam”. Every so often, I would get the pungent smell of durian as I cycled past roadside stalls, where stall owners looked up in utter surprise. There were plenty of “Hello Mister” from locals selling the biggest jackfruit I have ever seen, all making the day so quintessentially Indonesian.

Just before Surabaya, it started raining, making for a nerve wrecking ride into Indonesia’s second largest city. I was more than happy to reach my destination but found that cheap rooms were hard to come by in this city. Eventually, I settled for a pricier room than normal, and it did not even come with a better-quality room than the cheapies!

22 January - Surabaya
Once in Surabaya, I thought it worth my while to go exploring (seeing that it was such a mission to get into the city). The Qubah (the city’s labyrinthine Arab quarters), situated around the Mesjid Ampel Mosque, was an ideal place for doing so.

The mosque is said to mark the burial place of Sunam Ampel, one of the holy men who brought Islam to Java, and at the back of the mosque is a grave where devotees offer rose petals and chant prayers. The area surrounding the mosque forms a large souk with typical Arab merchandise, including dates, fezzes, samosa, prayer bead, perfumes, and lots more. The area is not touristy, and I stood out like a sore thumb as I wandered the alleys, camera in hand. Residents peeked through curtains and through doors slightly ajar, most likely wondering just what a foreigner is doing in their area. “Photo, photo,” the youngsters shouted, making for easy photography, although not always with the best of backgrounds. I nibbled on food for sale and watched in amazement as ducks were slaughtered right there on the pavement!

The local Chinatown also did not disappoint and was as colourful and vibrant as always, with beautiful temples and the ever-present colourful dragons, not to mention interesting eats. Unfortunately, the local fish market was already finished by the time I arrived, but the rest of the market was still in full swing, selling anything from meat to vegetables and fruit. The area surrounding the market was equally busy, with bicycle rickshaws waiting in line to cart anyone away to their destination.

23 Surabaya – Bojonegoro – 117 km
What a mission it was getting out of Surabaya! I first made a bit of a loop as the road I had in mind was a toll road, and bicycles were not allowed. Eventually, I got on the right road, and I followed men on bicycles dressed in shalwar kameezes and fezzes out of the busy city centre.

It took about two hours to get on—and I hesitate to call it this—the open road. There is no such thing as an “open road” in Indonesia, but at least I was out of the thick of things. The road remained busy the entire way, and I hardly took out the camera as I had my eyes on the road trying to avoid potholes and keeping my line as one cannot afford to swerve out for anything, and it felt like I was constantly surrounded by motorbikes.
Fortunately, it was once again easy cycling, and the day passed quickly. Only once did I try a smaller road, but although very scenic, the road was in such poor condition and the going so slow that I was happy to get back on the big road again. A truck overturned and spilt its entire load of rice all over the road. It caused a huge traffic jam, with trucks backed up for tens of kilometres. Phew, I was happy to be on a bicycle. The self-appointed traffic wardens also seemed to help; I don’t know how the traffic would flow without them. In Bojonegoro, I found myself a nice homestay and was very comfortable for the night.

24 January – Bojonegoro – Sragen – 125 km
Between the cocks crowing and the muezzins calling people to prayer, there was no sleeping in. Good thing as well, as the day turned out to be rather slow going. It started off very scenic, with rice paddies and mosques; unfortunately, the road deteriorated even more, and I rattled, shook, and bounced my way along, something that became quite irritating as the day wore on. I had to laugh as motorbikes would pass me, and then the heads would spin around to see just who or what was on this bicycle. I don’t blame them, as I looked a bit like a clown with my yoga pants and skirt over it. Every now and again, I would spot a mobile phone and hand popping out a car window for a quick snap. I do find it a bit tiring to be so constantly in the public eye; I wonder if other cycle tourers also find it so.

At midday, the heat became more intense and the road hillier. It was very much a country road through a very rural area, where woodcraft appeared to be the primary income. The road was lined with stalls selling some beautiful wooden items, from furniture to statues, and even skulls!

I managed to stay dry all day and found a room at the Graha Hotel in Sragen just before the rain came down. It was a fairly nice hotel, and I feared they would not have a cheap room, but fortunately, they had an economy room at 90,000IR. It was only a fan room, but it was on the ground floor, and I could wheel my bike right in. My kind of place!

25 January – Sragen – Surakarta (Solo) – 32 km
The traffic was already hectic by the time I left, but soon I was between the rice paddies and mosques again. I had no intention of turning into Solo but then changed my mind as there were quite a few interesting things to see. I found a room at Warung Baru Homestay and set off on foot to explore the old part. I was hardly on my way, and it started bucketing down. I thought I would wait it out but, eventually, I took a bicycle rickshaw back to my room as I had no umbrella with me.

Nothing much came of my sightseeing as the rain never subsided. I popped out only once for a bowl of bakso and to buy a plastic raincoat. To make use of my time, I did the laundry in the hopes that it would dry by morning. Fortunately, my laptop came back to life and I could sort out my pictures.

26 January - Surakarta – Prambanan Temple – 53 km
I think the wallpaper was way too busy as I could not fall asleep, or maybe it had something to do with the fact that I hardly did anything at all the previous day. I must have fallen asleep at around 3 a.m., but then the muezzin started singing at 4 a.m., and on top of that, someone in the alley where I stayed died during the night, and funeral procedures started at around 6 a.m.

Eventually, I got up and loaded the bike up as there was no point in trying to sleep. By the time I left, the entire lane was covered to provide shelter from the threatening rain, chairs were put out, and the body laid covered for people to say their last goodbyes. Speakers blasted verses from the Quran for the entire neighbourhood to hear. In a way, it was quite nice, as friends came by, sat down, chatted for a while, and then moved on again.

The price of my room included breakfast, and what a feast it was! They served rice with what looked like a tofu stew and other stuff; it was an all vegetarian affair, and it was delicious.

I then got on my bike and cycled the short distance to the Prambanan temple. The temple complex has been declared a UNESCO site and consists of beautiful Hindu temples from the ninth century. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and was constructed by the king of the ancient Mataram Kingdom in 856 AD.

I found myself a room nearby and then set off on foot to explore the complex. Unfortunately, the weather did not play along (photography wise), but the temples are located in a beautiful garden setting, and it was a pleasure just strolling around enjoying all of the old temples.

Early morning I spotted these guys loading flour, and thought it could make a few nice pics, but when they came out again they had cleaned their faces. How sweet is that?

27 January Prambanan Tempele – Borobudur – 55 km
Again, it was a short day in the famous Borobudur, home to one of the most important Buddhist sites in the world. Built with two million stone blocks in the form of the asymmetrical stupa, it is also one of the finest temples in all of Indonesia. It is said that viewed from the air, the temple resembles a colossal three-dimensional tantric mandala. In any event, I’m ahead of myself.

First, I had to get there, and to that purpose, I followed country roads through the smallest of villages. It was a beautiful ride, with the famous smoking cone of Gunung Merapi in the distance and past bunches of school children waving enthusiastically. I feel sorry for these small kids, all bundled up as if they lived on the Arctic Circle instead of the equator. It surely can’t be good for a person; in fact, I have read somewhere that most people here suffer from a lack of vitamin D. If that is so, it would be very sad because they live in such a sunny country. I also can’t see how kids can play dressed like that, and it is really sad as they did not choose their religion. No wonder most of the people here are so unhealthy. I’m shocked when I go to the temples and see the majority of people struggling up an ordinary set of stairs. I’m talking about young people who should be running up the stairs with ease. Instead, they are huffing and puffing and hanging on to the railings.

In Borobudur, I found a room at the very impressive Pondok Tinggal Hotel. At first, it looked far too expensive for my budget, but they were very kind and gave me a good discount, and I had a most lovely room for the night. The hotel is beautiful, built of bamboo and timber, with rooms surrounding a large courtyard garden.

This time, I was not going straight to the temple, but the plan was to go at six the next morning and see if I can get a few pictures. In any case, it soon started raining, and even if I wanted to go, it would not have been possible.

28 January – Borobudur
Most of the rooms at the hotel were occupied by art students who came on a field trip, and I was entertained by a cultural show in the courtyard. The performance carried on until 2 a.m. but I was up again at five to be at the temple by six.

This time, the light was slightly better, but it being a Saturday also meant that half of Indonesia was there! It was nearly impossible to take a picture without someone in it. I was clearly not the only one who wanted to see famous Borobudur. The temple has also been declared a UNESCO site, and the price for visiting is, therefore, quite steep at $20 for foreigners.

It is, however, a fascinating site, and it is believed that its construction started around 750 AD. The temple is wrapped around a small hill, but while renovating the temple, it was discovered that the hill was not a natural one, as had been assumed, but manmade. It is also believed that the temple was abandoned around the twelfth century, most likely due to volcanic eruptions in the area. The site was rediscovered by British Sir Stamford Raffles in 1814, and the temple dug out from underneath volcanic ash.

Back at the hotel the students left and the local car club moved in, I got invited to join in the festivities as they had a band playing and there was plenty of local food and drink to enjoy.

In the foyer of the hotel, a Javanese puppet show took place; it was most fascinating as it featured the famous wayang kulit puppets, also known as shadow puppets. The performance often goes on all night; it is not uncommon for the audience and even the musicians to doze off from time to time. Wayang puppets are made from dried buffalo skin and buffalo horn. The puppets are manoeuvred by the master puppeteer using a very thin stick. I did not stay very long as I did not understand the language and felt a bit sleepy although no one would have been offended if I had fallen asleep.

29 January – Borobudur – Kebumen – 83 km
It was a short ride, mostly due to the weather as it drizzled for most of the day. At first, it was a good climb out of Borobudur, but then came the downhill. I flew down as I was able to pick up quite a good speed with all the weight behind me. All the while, I kept an eye out for potholes, which were numerous, as I sailed past rice fields, raging streams, terracotta-tiled houses and friendly locals.

I realised just how history had shaped the language of this country. The Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch and British were all here, and each civilisation left a few words behind. Words like “solo,” “mas,” “handuk,” and “kantor pos” are clearly borrowed from other languages. I found it interesting that they used the word “handuk” for "towel." Obviously, this word comes from Dutch, and, of course, it was not a word they had in their language when towels were introduced to them.

I reached Kebumen early, but it was so wet that I decided to stay for the night and continue in the morning. I found a room at the Sejahtera Hotel, which was not a bad place to stay. They had an economy room for 90,000IR and I could keep my bike in my room.

30 January – Kebumen – Hotel & Rumah Makan Karanganyar Indah – 100 km
Indonesia is a country with such a natural beauty that I’m amazed at the scenery every day. Shortly after leaving, I spotted a sign for Benteng Van Der Wijck, a Dutch fort built in the 1800s.

I had just left the fort when I spotted another sign, this time for a cave, and I decided to explore it. The cave was interesting as it had four underground springs. I should have scooped out some water as it is believed that the water from the springs will make one ageless! Inside the cave were various statues, 32 in all. Apparently, they tell the legend of Raden Kamandaka, the crown prince who was once imprisoned in the cave. It was all very interesting.

I continued, following the coastal road to Cilacap but found that the road did not go through to Pangandaran. Instead, one has to make a wide loop to get there. In the process, the weather came in, and after one almighty clap of thunder, the heavens opened up to such an extent that the roads quickly became flooded. I donned my plastic raincoat and carried on regardless. Around 5 p.m., I found a roadside hotel and was more than happy to call it a day.

31 January - Hotel & Rumah Makan Karanganyar Indah – Banjar – 90 km
Together with the morning traffic, I snaked my way out of the village where I had stayed, all moving at a snail’s pace to avoid the potholes (not that there is any avoiding the potholes, try as you might!). If there were a prize for bad roads, Indonesia would win, hands down.

It was a hilly day in Central Java as I headed over the mountains in the direction of Merak where I planned to get the ferry to the island of Sumatra. The poor road, however, made the going extremely slow and, in the end, I realised there was nothing I could do but relax, slow down, and follow the traffic. It remained a frustrating day, as my gears were slipping making the uphills even more difficult. The stunning scenery, however, half made up for the bad roads and the slipping gears. I needed to find a bike shop ASAP.

Along the way, I passed a sign saying something like “Watch Out – Crocodile Estuary,” and I wondered how many people were taken before it warranted a sign like that. I stopped at the most colourful fruit stalls and was tempted to buy a whole bunch of stuff but realised I could not eat that much, so I just took a picture and continued on my way. The Indonesians are super-friendly and are always keen for you to take photos, making it rather easy to take pictures of them.

By 3 p.m. the weather came in again, and just as I reached the village of Banjar, it started raining again. I did not feel like cycling in the rain yet again, so I slipped into the first hotel I saw. Maybe I was overly keen, as it was a terrible place with no shops in close proximity. I didn’t think I would get breakfast in the morning.

1 February - Banjar - Tasikmalaya – 47 km
No two days are ever the same. I cycled the two or three kilometres into Banjar, looking for a shop where I could buy internet time for my phone (I can't run out of internet time now, can I?). I cycled around, but most shops were still closed, so I headed out on Route 3 and found the Indomaret mini-mart, where one can get just about anything.

While sitting there having a cup of coffee, I scanned at the map and saw it indicated a bicycle shop just down the road. I thought it a good idea to give it a try and was pleasantly surprised to find a very competent and super-friendly Ikey bike shop. Not only did they adjust the derailleur but also replaced the chain, making for extra-smooth gear changing. I cannot explain how happy I was with that! Cycling uphill with gears slipping is just no fun at all!

The plan was to push on to Bandung, but I was a bit over-optimistic as it was close to 170 kilometres away. In any event, I moved along slowly as it was a gentle but steady climb to Tasikmalaya. Jatnika, from the Ikey bike shop, advised me to take to the secondary road, and what a pleasure it was. The road surface was much better, and the road was not that busy. It also came with some hidden gems (i.e. the knife makers) and beautiful vistas.

Close to Tasikmalaya, I stopped to consult my Google map as to which road to take from there, when two cyclists out on their daily ride stopped and offered to show me a nice hotel. I got escorted into Tasikmalaya right to the door of the Abadi Hotel, which turned out to be just perfect! A ground-floor outside room with mandi, what more could I ask for?

I passed a bandy-legged old man, scavenging for something to recycle, I passed salak stalls where sellers were calling “Mister, Mister” for me to stop and sample their fruit. Most interesting of all was the talented knife makers along the way, selling the most beautiful knives and sheaths in all shapes and sizes.

2-3 February - Tasikmalaya – Jakarta - by train – bus to Merak - 45 km
I realised that my time in Indonesia was running out and I had one more look at the map and knew I had to start moving towards Dumai as it was more than 1 500 kilometres away. I cycled to the train station and bought a train ticket for Jakarta as I reasoned that it would be easier there to find onward transport.

The bicycle cost more than double my ticket (I'm sure they pocketed some of the fees). The train trip, albeit long, was very comfortable and we arrived in Jakarta at around six. My bicycle was not on the same train, and I was told to come back in the morning. I grabbed a motorbike taxi to Hostel 35, in the backpacker area.

The next morning I headed back to the parcel office by Uber moto. Fortunately, the bicycle was there, and I loaded up and cycled to the harbour just to check if the Pelni ferry had left already but I was too late, and the ferry was long gone. I just thought if it was still there I could hop on, but I cycled to the bus terminal which was about 15 kilometres away where I finally got a bus to Merak, the most western point in Java from where ferries depart for Sumatra. It was after nine by the time we arrived, and I took a room at the local “losmen” (guesthouse) for the night.

4-6 February – Merak – Dumai by bus
From the losmen, it was a short cycle to the harbour where I found a very large car ferry ready to leave for Sumatra. The ferry runs throughout the day and although further than the Bali – Java ferry it was still a quick crossing and soon we arrived in the tropical island of Sumatra.

On arrival in Sumatra, I also found that there was not much of a system when it came to public transport, especially for a long trip like the one to Dumai and it was 17h00 that afternoon before I finally got a bus that would take both the bicycle and me. I’m sure I was overcharged, but at 500 0000RP, it was still a bargain, taking into account that the trip was 1 400 kilometres. The bus was old without any air conditioning, and we rattled along the equator on poorly maintained roads. I honestly don’t know how backpackers do it. The bus drivers all need a medal as they hardly ever stopped. They stopped to eat at around 9 p.m. after which we all settled in for an uncomfortable night’s sleep.

The next morning at around 7h00 the bus stopped again for breakfast after which it was straight through till supper time again. I had no intention of not drinking any water in order not to use a toilet, so I drank my usual amount, and when I wanted to go to the toilet I asked the bus driver to stop, which they did without a problem. In fact, every time I asked the entire bus got off and used the toilet, so maybe it was the way to do it.
During the day, I played on the internet. Fortunately, I had three power banks! I also realised that the bus trip was not going to be over before the end of the day and once again we settled in for another night on the bus. The following morning (6th) I was let off the bus at the Dumai/Medan junction, leaving about a 50-kilometre cycle to Dumai.

I was never happier to cycle 50 kilometres! Although sleepy, it was great to be back on the bike, and it felt downhill all the way to Dumai. While cycling this short stretch, memories of cycling this very road seven years ago (albeit in the opposite direction), came flooding back! Things were very much as I remembered it. The potholed road, oil palm plantations, oil pipelines and houses on stilts selling pineapples were still exactly as they were seven years ago.

Once in Dumai, I checked on the ferries but both ferries had already left, and I was left with two options for the following morning. (1) The 9h30 ferry to Malaka, Malaysia or (2) the 11h00 ferry to Port Dickson, Malaysia. There is also a third ferry leaving for Port Klang, but that only leaves on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. Once that was sorted I found myself a really good hotel at the City Hotel for $20!! My excuse for doing so was that I spent two nights on a bus!!! I had a good shower, washed my hair for a change and handed my laundry in for washing!

7 February Dumai, Indonesia – Port Dickson, Malaysia by boat
After a good Indonesian breakfast, I loaded the bicycle and cycled the few 100 meters to the ferry ticket office. I was far too early but cycled to the harbour anyway, checked in and waited for the Port Dickson ferry, which departed at 11h00. The weather came in, and it was a rough ride over the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia. The ferry rocked and rolled and could have been called the “pitch and puke” as seasick bags were in high demand.

We arrived in Malaysia at 15h00 but the hour time difference made it 16h00. The weather was rather stormy making for poor light as I headed out of town in the direction of KL. I did not get very far and once I spotted the Grandpa Hotel (here I have stayed before), I weakened at the thought of a nice dry and comfortable room. I was not going to make Peter’s place, so it made little difference whether I stayed here or further down the road. I took a walk to the Giant shopping mall, just across the road and was like a kid in a candy store! I did not buy anything, just looked at all the luxury times for sale.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

CYCLING INDONESIA (2)

10 January Bali

After nearly 24 hours of flying, I finally landed in Bali, and I could not wait to get out of the airport and into the fresh air.  It was hot and humid, as could be expected, as Bali is only a short distance south of the equator.  I flagged down a taxi (bicycle and all, as I was in no mood to put the bicycle together) and headed for Komala Indah 11 Cottages.  The rooms were simple but spacious and consisted of ground-floor bungalows that came at a very reasonable price of 100 000 Indonesian Rupiah ($1 – 13 000RP).  Although the room only had a fan and cold water, it was set in a lush garden, and the price included breakfast, consisting of coffee and toast with jam or bananas.

I drew 2 000 000Rp, bought a sim card, paid for the room, and bought a large Bintang beer, which I drank while sitting on the steps and talking to other travellers.  I fell asleep rather early but woke again at around 3 am and was wide awake.  Bali is 5 hours ahead of where I came from, and it is, therefore, no wonder that my time was slightly out of sync.






Monday, 9 January 2017

CYCLING INDONESIA (2)

9 January 2017 – Cape Town, South Africa – Bali, Indonesia


The time has come for me to say goodbye to my lovely family and all of my awesome friends. Once again, I did not get so see everyone, but I did spend time with my mom and met up with my longstanding Facebook friend, Diana, who I spent a lovely day within and around the Winelands of the Cape. We watched a hilarious duck parade and had a glass of wine on the lawn. Bliss! I walked in the mountains, ran along the beachfront, paddled with my dragon boat friends, and spent countless nights shooting the breeze next to the “braai” fires. In all that time, I only cycled once; I could just as well have left the bicycle in the box! On January 9, I boarded a plane for Indonesia, from where I will slowly make my way to Malaysia and meet up with Janice for our “Kaula Lumpur to Bangkok” cycle. Watch this space! Now, it's time to get back to my normal life on the bike as I wonder what Indonesia will hold!

Thursday, 1 December 2016

CYCLING CHINA (3)

CYCLING CHINA (3)


                        (1003km -  25days)

26 October - Qinzhou – Nanning – 127 km
The price of my room included breakfast, which was a rather interesting affair. Loads of stir-fried veggies with chili, boiled eggs, and soy milk was the order of the day. With a belly full of Chinese food and enough heartburn to make me feel like the fire-breathing dragon, I searched for a road that would lead me to Nanning. Getting out was rather easy, but soon the dreaded roadworks started again, and it was slow going through potholes and muddy ponds. It did not take long for both me and the bike to be totally covered in mud. Again, there was not much I could do but try and avoid the biggest holes and stay out of the way of the trucks as much as I could.

Fortunately, everything comes to an end, and I was back in the countryside again. Although very scenic, I thought it a bit sad that so many of the old villages were now abandoned as the occupants had moved to the city in an attempt to elevate poverty (which it did). Cycling into Nanning was quite a mission as not only is it home to 7.1 million people, but there were also massive highways, flyovers, and roadworks, and then there was me trying to get into the city centre.

People stopped to photograph me; others hung out of car windows with mobile phone in hand trying to snap me as they drove past. Gosh, haven't they seen a "Big nose" on a bicycle before? It took forever to get to the city centre and, halfway there, my GPS directions stopped working! Arghhh! Eventually, I arrived at the hostel, which was conveniently situated right in the city centre. Unfortunately, it was on the third floor. I was in no mood for schlepping my stuff up the stairs, but there is little I can do about it. After a few huffs and puffs, I was comfortably ensconced in my nice room.

27/28/29 October, Nanning
I had plans of doing loads of things, but in the end, I wasn't able to do anything. I had to make up my mind in what direction I wanted to go; it made the most sense to take a train to Beijing and cycle south to Xiamen, where I left off last time.

Armed with a note from the hostel as to where and when I want to take the train, I took a walk to the train station. It was large and busy, like most places in China, but eventually I had a ticket. Unfortunately, I could only get a top bunk, which everyone warned me to avoid. Once that was done, I took a bus to Yangmei, an old village on the outskirts of Nanning. The bus ride took 1.5 hours for 25 kilometres, giving an idea of the condition of the road! I walked around for an hour or so, and as the last bus back to Nanning was at 4:30 p.m., I soon had to start heading back to the bus station.

The following morning, I loaded the bike up and cycled the short distance to the train station. Fortunately, I already had my ticket as, although there are about four or six trains a day, the trains were all full. Getting the bicycle on the train was also a fairly painless affair. The baggage area was in the next-door building where they weighed the bike and bags and placed all the panniers in one large bag. In the end, I paid about as much for the bike and panniers as for myself. I was warned that the bicycle may not arrive at the same time as me and that I should then go back to the collection centre the following day to collect it. I rearranged my panniers and took one with all I needed with me, keeping in mind that the bike and panniers may not be there for a day or two.

The train bunks were like most trains, stacked three high with the top bunk having no window and very little head room. As everyone is lying down, there are very few places to sit except for two passenger foldout chairs and a little table with the result that one is very much in the public eye. Not only did everyone in the vicinity want a photo with the foreigner, but they seemed to come from the other coaches, as well. Word must have spread! In the end, I climbed to my bunk and pretended to sleep, giving myself a break from the photo shoot.

At the end of the coach was a large urn with hot water, which was in high demand as the snack trolley came around every so often, loaded with cup noodles and other popular Chinese snacks. It was all terribly well organised, with each bunk having a set of snow white linen, and the cleaning staff came around on a regular basis, mopping and sweeping the passage.

I slept well as the train ran smoothly, and I hardly knew I was in a moving vehicle. The following day went by uneventfully as we chugged our way past beautiful scenery, flying past way too quickly to my liking. We arrived in Beijing after 5 p.m., and by then it was already dark.

My bicycle was not on the same train (something I had expected), so I went in search of a hotel near the train station. I walked and walked but could find nothing at a reasonable price, and to my frustration, the cheapies did not allow foreigners. What made matters worse was that it was not the central train station (which I thought it would be). Instead, we stopped at Beijing West, 10 kilometres west of my intended destination. I also discovered that Beijing is an expensive mega city, easily on par with Europe and America. In the end, I opted for a taxi ride to the hostel I had in mind from the start. Interestingly enough, the first two taxis wanted 200 yuan (which I though was a bit steep), so I made my way back to the taxi stand at the train station where I managed to get a taxi at 50 yuan. Even a bed in a dorm was more expensive than what I normally pay for a room! I also made the shocking discovery that it was already too late in the season for this part of the world. It was cold and in my skimpy clothes I was ill-suited for this climate. Fortunately, the room had heating, and I slept well.

31 October/ 3 November – Beijing
My priorities had changed, and first thing in the morning I was off looking for cold weather gear. With teeth chattering, I found The North Face and requested their warmest jacket they had in store. Thank goodness for a translating app.

Another unpleasant surprise awaited me as I wanted to pay as both my cards were declined! I was in utter shock and took a brisk walk back to the hostel where I contacted the visa office. The verdict being that I have incorrectly entered my pin too many times. That was weird because I know that number by heart. The result was that the card was blocked, and to make a long story short, it could not be rectified. The debit card still worked; the only problem was that most of my money was on the credit card, which I used as a debit card. By then, it was fairly late, and I headed off to the train station to collect the bicycle and panniers.

On cycling back, freezing as it was, I managed a frozen half-smile as I realised that there I was cycling in Beijing with its 23 million people, and I felt small as I cycled past the famous or infamous Tiananmen Square. It was marvellous, absolutely marvellous! I ducked and dove through the traffic back to the hostel and tried the debit card again. At least this time, it spat out some money, enough to pay for a rather expensive goose down jacket. With money in my wallet and a warm jacket on my back, I could breathe a sigh of relief, and for the first time in 24 hours, I felt relaxed in spite of the cold. I donned my new jacket and gloves, grabbed the camera, and set off on a walkabout past the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. What a remarkable city it is!

I finally packed up and cycled out of Beijing. I had all the warm clothes I could possibly wear, from beanies to gloves and from a down jacket to thermal underwear. Leaving Beijing is not interesting, but at least it's easy with wide cycle lanes on most streets. My idea was to follow the ancient Grand Canal of China. I therefore headed to the "start" of the canal at Tongzhou Canal Park.

The Grand Canal is a vast waterway system running from Beijing to Hangzhou further south constructed in the fifth century BC onwards, creating the world's largest and most extensive engineering project before the Industrial Revolution. By the 13th century, it consisted of more than 2 000 kilometres of artificial waterways, far surpassing the next two of the world, the Suez and Panama Canals. The canal was placed on the UNESCO's World Heritage List in 2014, and although I did not think one could cycle right next to the canal all the way, I wanted to give it a try and expected to see many interesting and historical things along the way.

After about 30 kilometres, I reached the official start/finish of the canal and found a lovely cycling path for a good stretch along the canal. The air pollution was so bad, though, that one could hardly see anything. In fact, the air quality was so poor that I could hardly breathe and had a blocked nose despite using a nasal spray. I was seriously considering a face mask like what most Chinese use around here. I'm sure it is just a matter of time before I get a lung infection. I left so late, and the travel was so slow that I only did about 80 kilometres before stopping for the night. With it being winter, the sun went down fairly early (around 17h00), and I did not want to push my luck too far.

4 November – Anping – Tianjin – 80 km
I was in no particular hurry as I anticipated another short ride to Tianjin. It was, however, even colder than the previous day, and it was extremely foggy. I doubted whether the traffic could see me, and I made myself as visible as possible and stuck as much to the side of the road as I could. The fog never lifted, and I could only see a few meters ahead. It was bitterly cold, and I tied plastic bags around my feet and hands to try and keep them warmer. As can be expected in weather like this, there were a few very bad pile-ups, with traffic backed up for kilometres and kilometres. For once, I was happy to be on a bicycle as I weaved my way through the backed-up traffic and was soon on the open road.

I hardly stopped as there was no need for water stops and there were no photo opportunities along the way, so I pulled my new jacket tight, put my head down and headed straight for Tianjin where I believed they had a lovely old town. During the foreign era, the British and French settled in, joined by the Japanese, Germans, Hungarians, Italians and Belgians. Each concession was a self-contained world with its world prison, school, barracks and hospital, the result being that the old town is littered with impressive Western architecture.

After booking into the Three Brothers Hostel, I took a walk around the Wudadao area with its charming European-style houses. The old town stood in sharp contrast to the modern city with its KFC, Burger King and McDonald's, and for a second there, I had to rethink whether I was in America or China. Soon, it got too cold for me, and I headed back to the warmth of the hostel where I was the only person in an 8-bed dorm — bliss!

5 November – Tianjin
Waking up at 9h30 made me decide to stay the day and explore. I had to make peace with the fact that the old China is no more and that the new China is westernised, modern, sleek, and funky. Young people sat sipping coffee in hip-looking caf├ęs, and white-dress wedding stores abound. I walked and walked, looking to see if there were still signs of the old China, but except for a view small lanes tucked in behind Walmart, McDonald's, KFC, Carrefour, and Starbucks, there was (sadly) no sign of it.

The riverfront (which forms part of the ancient Grand Canal) is now a modern high-rise business area, and one can't help but think about where it is all going to end. At least the few side roads provided interesting and cheap eats; I made sure that I had my fill before returning to the hostel and the more expensive shops in the old town. There is nothing quite like a bowl of steaming dumplings in a dark, low-ceiling hole-in-the-wall eatery in China.

6 November – Tianjin – Cangzhou – 110 km
It was a miserable day on the road. Yes, sometimes I must remind myself that there are days like this. At least the weather was marginally warmer, and around midday, I could lose the down jacket. There was no sign of the ancient canal, and I cut a straight line to Cangzhou. The entire way remained busy and built up, except for about 20 kilometres through sad-looking farmlands, the highlight being one or two forgotten villages where old men shuffled along past corn drying on the road and villagers stared at me, mouths agape.

It was a day of corn and trucks, and I cycled through a large town, easily 20 - 30 kilometres in length, consisting entirely of truck repair workshops. Cycling into Cangzhou was not a pretty sight either, with dirty graffiti walls, half-built high-rise apartment blocks, abandoned residential areas, and the ever-ongoing roadworks.

It was getting late, and I wanted to find a room. The first three hotels did not rent rooms to foreigners, and the only one I could find was a rather expensive international hotel. I needed money, but the first bank wanted nothing to do with me and spat my card out again, something that always gets me nervous. Fortunately, the second bank was kind enough to give me a few bucks, enough to pay for my expensive room. It was a rather fancy room, I must admit, large as a dance hall with just about all the mod-cons one could wish for in a hotel room. I had a quick shower and then popped across the road to get food. The food was dirt cheap and delicious, something that always makes up for a not-so-interesting day on the road.

7 November Cangzhou – Dezhou – 117 km
I don't know why I slept so late; it must have had something to do with the cold. It was 9h30 by the time I left, and it took nearly an hour to do the 10 kilometres out of the city centre. Again, like the day before, there was little of interest along the way, so I gunned it to Dezhou - not that I could gun it; a better description, maybe, would be that I picked up the pace a bit. LOL.

As it was cold, I didn't stop as often as I usually do. At first, I was concerned that I might not make it to Dezhou before dark - not that it would have been a big deal if I didn't, as I could pitch my tent just about anywhere. It is, however, nice to be in a room when it is this cold. Fortunately, the going was good, and I arrived in Dezhou in good time.

It has become a bit of a pain in the ass to find a room here in China, as most of the cheap hotels don't rent rooms to foreigners, and I, therefore, must go from hotel to hotel, checking first if they allow foreigners and, secondly, what the room rate is. Looking for accommodation is one of my pet hates, and this shopping around at the end of a day leaves me a bit long-lipped. Today I was lucky: The third hotel allowed foreigners, the room came at a very reasonable rate, and the receptionist could even speak a bit of English; what a bargain! I dropped my bags and headed straight for the dumpling stand. I typically ordered so much food that it is assumed that the food is for two people as I always get two sets of chopsticks!

8 November – Dezhou – Ji'nan – 127 km
Lately, the best part of the day seems to be in the morning when I leave when all the markets and stalls are in full swing. Steam from the dumpling stands rise thick and high in the cold morning air, while people in warm coats gather around, rubbing their hands together in an attempt to keep warm. I could not help myself and had to follow suit to the great amusement of the locals. They chatted away, but, of course, I did not understand a word of Chinese, so I followed their example and rubbed my hands together while smiling at them.

I set off, with my steaming bag of dumplings, in the direction of Ji'nan. Going was slow as I was into a slight breeze, and I did not appreciate getting a flat tyre along the way. The most common cause of flat tyres, for me, is riding over exploded truck tyres. Their insidious steel wires will work their way through most tyres, and today, I found no less than two of them stuck in the tyre, even Schwalbe tyres. The Schwalbe tyres are excellent but a real pain to get on and off. Eventually, the new tube was in and the tyre was back on.

I continued past large areas of vegetable farms and past a few brand-new towns not even on the map as yet! I wonder how many trees have been planted in China in the last ten years or so. I'm wondering as most roads are lined with trees, and each town has a number of huge parks. Then, there is the very impressive Great Green Wall, which will eventually consist of nearly 90 million acres of new forest in a land stretching 2,800 miles across northern China.

In any event, it was already late by the time I cycled into Ji'nan, and once again, it was a massive city that took forever to get through. I was looking for the Chengbei Hostel but could not locate it. After looking around, for what felt like forever, I eventually found a room at the Home Inn. By then, it was already dark and cold, and I was starving. No sooner had I settled in and I was off to the closest restaurant and spent the next two hours eating!

9-10 November – Ji’nan
I stayed put as I desperately needed to do laundry and pick up a few things from the supermarket. I also went in search of the hostel, which I found, but it also did not accept foreigners, despite being listed in the Lonely Planet.

It was also with great sadness that I learned the outcome of the US election. Not that I’m at all interested in American politics, or that I care which political party or person runs their government, to me, the picture is far bigger than that. I was sad that so many people back a person who is clearly hateful towards others, racist, and chauvinistic; the fact that Trump is backed by the KKK is an indication to me that there is something seriously wrong with this world. I know that nothing will change, and I know that American politics will not affect me and that what they do in their country is their own business. Still, it saddens me that so many people backed a person who boasts about violating women. For me, as a feminist, this is truly a sad day for all women. I have lived under an apartheid government for far too long and, quite frankly, I am sick and tired of racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and sexism, and I’m equally tired of people who practice them. I have, however, never met anyone who claims to be any of the above. I have, however, met plenty of “but” people, always stating, I’m not a racist “but” or I’m not homophobic “but”, and I will, therefore, include the “but” people in the above list! It feels to me that we are going backwards, and soon, we will be burning women at the stake again.

In a sombre mood, I packed up the following morning, but once outside, I encountered a 35 mile an hour wind. There and then, I offloaded again and planned on waiting the weather out. There is no need for me to cycle into such inhospitable weather, and I, most likely, would not have made it to my next destination. Instead, I wandered around the very shiny new city of Ji'nan with all the brand names one can imagine, but mostly spent my time in the allies of Ji’nan, where I sampled as much as I could of their interesting and delicious food. Completely stuffed, I returned to the warmth of my hotel room to check on the weather forecast, which did not look all that promising for the following day.

11 November – Ji’nan – Taishan – 80 km
I had no intention of staying another day in Ji’nan and was happy that at least the wind had calmed to some extent. It was a slow day travelling into the wind. Fortunately, it was not far to Taishan. Taishan is one of the very few sacred mountains in China, and it is said that it has been worshipped since the 11th century BC! The area is, therefore, a major attraction and tourist destination, and I was not sure if I was in a mood to walk up the mountain in the cold.

Although the day did not provide interesting cycling, it is always a delight to cycle into a typical Chinese town. The hostel I had in mind was, fortunately, situated right in the heart of the old town, with all the temples traditionally visited by pilgrims, before heading up the mountain in close proximity. The narrow lanes were lined with food stalls spewing steam and heavenly aromas, but by the time I had a shower and ate it was already too late to look around, so I'm considering staying another day.

12 -13 November – Taishan – Qufu – 73 km
The weather man predicted a slight tailwind and warmer-than-usual weather, and I wasted no time in hopping on the bike and heading to Qufu. It was a pleasurable ride, and soon I reached Qufu, hometown of Confusions and a UNESCO world heritage site.

The old walled city is beautifully restored, and the youth hostel is in a lovely old building. I dropped my bags and took a stroll around town, first to the Kong Mansion. Interestingly, Confucius's family name was Kong Qiu, but he was also known by the honorific Kong Fuzi. I understand that the Latinised name "Confucius" is derived from "Kong Fuzi," and was first coined by 16th-century Jesuit missionaries to China. In any event, the Kong Mansion, although stunning, is not where he lived (I think, seeing that he lived between 551–479 BC!); it is, however, his ancestral home.

I also made a turn at the Temple of Yan (521–490 BC), said to be the favourite temple of Confucius. Soon, I was getting hungry as I had not eaten since breakfast, and it was time to go in search of my favourite dumplings.

While eating, I checked on the Facebook comments from my American friends about the recent election; it made me realise that I will never make a good American. So many of them stated that they would support their new president, and I'm gobsmacked and can't believe that one can trade one set of personal values for another in the space of a day! I'm saying this as I have lived, nearly all my life, under a government whose values and beliefs I did not share, and I would never have supported them just because they were in power. I don't see it as my duty as a citizen of a country to support the government in power as it is completely random where one is born, and your country does not define you. I'm obviously not patriotic, but that is a totally different issue as I am not for patriotism either, LOL.

The current political situation in my country is equally interesting as I do support the current political party and have voted for them, but I do not agree with or support our president as I believe that he is not reflecting the values of the ANC and is not doing good for the country. I think he is corrupt and dishonest, and I will never support him or anyone like him. I, therefore, find it difficult to believe that one can go from one set of values to supporting someone with a completely different value system.

I spent another day in Qufu as there was so much to see and I just loved this little walled village from ancient times. I must have taken about 200 pictures as the light and the colours were beautiful. I also found a pharmacy where I could get some nasal spray as my nose seemed to be constantly blocked. I also managed to put some more data on my phone, all things not so easy if one does not speak the language.

14 November – Qufu – Tengzhou - 66 km
I was in no mood for cycling, and it took me forever to pack up. It was already late by the time I cycled out of foggy Qufu. Fortunately, it was a lovely warm day with no wind, and it was a pleasure to be out. Even so, I seemed to drag my heels (figuratively speaking) and made slow progress. This part of China is planted under so many trees that it feels like I'm cycling in a forest, making for some lovely scenery and colours. In Tengzhou I called it a day, as there is no point in cycling when I don't feel like it.

15 November Tengzhou – Tai'erzhuang – 93 km
About 40 kilometres into my ride, I spotted a sign for Tai'erzhuang ancient village. There and then, I decided to throw a sharp left and head in that direction to see what it was all about. It was once again a lovely ride, and the village turned out to be a pleasant surprise.

Tai’erzhuang, located in the centre of the Beijing – Hangzhou Grand Canal, was established in 221–207 BC. The town was mostly destroyed during the famous or rather infamous Battle of Tai'erzhuang in 1938; most of it has, however, been reconstructed, and today, it is a popular tourist destination. I sought out a rather inconspicuous-looking hotel where the male receptionist was sleeping behind the counter. Once I woke him, he was in total shock to see a foreigner standing in front of him. I handed him my passport, which he gave one glance and returned it. Without me being able to speak a word of Mandarin and him, obviously, not a word of English, there was a lot of OK, OK, OK, and hands-together bowing! What a spectacle we must have made! In any event, it was a nice room if one overlooked the soiled carpet and the hair on the bathroom floor. The price was right and the bedding clean, so no complaints there. Right outside the hotel, I found a lady making and selling a kind of crispy pancake with stir-fried veggies inside, which came with a glass of hot soymilk, all for 8 yuan!

16 November – Tai'erzhuang – Pizhou– 50 km
I first cycled through town to see the "ancient town" and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. I thought it would be only one or two buildings, but in fact, it was a whole village, mostly reconstructed but still a lovely place to wander around. The Battle of Tai’erzhuang took place during the Second World War and was an important victory for China over Japan who was trying to invade China at the time. Tai’erzhuang was an old city, situated on strategic railroad and canal junctions. This was the first major victory for Chinese in the war and it broke the myth of Japanese military invincibility.  The result was that it was 13h00 before I was done.

On my way back to where I had left the bicycle, I wanted to check the map and discovered that I had left it in the handlebar-phone holder. Arghhhh! I'm such a "loskop." To my utter surprise, it was exactly where I'd left it!! I love China!!! As there was not much time left for cycling, I changed my route and cycled the short distance to the next town via some small country roads. Not a touristy area, by the looks I got! I also discovered that the Grand Canal is still in use after all these years - fantastic stuff.

17 - 18 November – Pizhou – Xuxhou – 80 km
In Pizhou I had a good look at my options as I was coming to the end of my one-month visa and had to extend it or get out of China. The flight tickets to South Africa, where I want to visit after China, seemed to be increasing by the day, reaching its highest around middle December. It looked the better options to fly out at this stage and return to China later in 2017.

I was out of time to reach Shanghai in time for my flight and decided to take the train, something that sounded easier that what it turned out. It was, in fact, better to cycle to the next town, that was much larger, and catch a train there. Off I went and it was a pleasant ride with a slight tailwind, making for easy cycling. Xazhou turned out to be a massive city and not all that attractive either. I cycled straight to the train station where there were plenty of hotels to choose from. I settled for the 7 Days Inn and then it was off to the train station to buy a ticket. I took a soft sleeper, slightly more expensive but I thought it a good idea to be a bit more comfortable.

The following morning I took the bicycle and panniers to the baggage department where, once again, it was weighed and booked in. I paid a bit more to stay in the room until the evening and around 20h00 headed for the train. Once there, I discovered that my train was actually 9h30 in the morning and not in the evening, so I don’t know what all the fuss was about the sleeping car. Fortunately, I could change the ticket to a later train but this time could only get a seat and not a sleeper.

It was a rather uncomfortable ride in a very full train. At around midnight I asked the conductor if there was a sleeper available and I was in luck. There was, at first, much talking over the two-way radio with everyone in the coach looking on at the foreigner now causing such a disturbance. Then I was led off to another coach where I could stretch out until the morning.

19 November - Shanghai
We arrived in Shanghai at the ungodly hour of 5h00 in the morning and the streets were still eerily quiet. I caught a taxi to the hostel in downtown but once there found that they were still closed. There was, however, a night watchman and I could sit in their restaurant area until staff arrived.

Unfortunately, the hostel was fully booked and by that time I had enough and took a room at the hotel around the corner. I never had a burning desire to visit Shanghai but what a pleasant surprise it turned out to be and to think I nearly missed it altogether. I walked the short distance to The Bund, a former concession area and today home to some lovely art deco architecture. Originally, The Bund was the place where most of the concession era trading took place; from rice to opium, it all happened here, it was the “Wall Street” of that time. I walked back via East Nanjing Road where the first department stores in China opened in the 1920s. Today it is a busy pedestrian mall, home to some of the world’s leading fashion names and a massive Apple store.

All that was wonderful but I still had to collect my bicycle from the train station and as it was only about four kilometres away, I took a walk here and cycled back. The search for a bike box started and with the rapid development in China the first three bike shops were long gone. Fortunately, I found a Giant store down the road and arranged with them to box the bike for me the following day. How I hate flying! I will much rather be cycling.