INDONESIA: A+ adventure and/or deluxe travel.

Click on images to enlarge them.

Landed in Bali Nov 19, 2009; crossed to East Timor Feb 20, 2010.
Three months in total.

Kids delighted by our attention.

. . . . . . . . . Indonesia is not merely big, it's huge.
. . . . . . . . . - 17,500 islands; 6,000 of them inhabited.
. . . . . . . . . - Almost 5,000 km east-to-west; straddles equator
. . . . . . . . . - 230 million people make it #4 in world population
. . . . . . . . . - #1 population among Muslim nations


The variety in this enormous island-chain nation is astounding.

It has more islands than any other country. If you had a helicopter to visit an island per day non-stop, you'd need 50 years to visit all of Indonesia's islands.

No one knows precisely how many islands there actually are. They form part of the huge bagel of volcanoes called the Ring of Fire.

A lifetime of human and nature experiences is needed just to explore this one country.

Sumatra. Borneo. Java. New Guinea. Bali. Komodo. Thousands more.

In three months we barely scratched the surface. But we'll be back.


Black Bike landed by ship in Surabaya [link] on the island of Java (see Getting to Indonesia blog.) We humans landed in Bali by Air Asia, flew to Surabaya when the bike arrived a couple days later.


Slide show [show link] by artist-friend Bill Andersen. This one is from Malaysia toIndonesia. What a guy, and such a fine talent, he does these shows without even telling me – and makes our pics look better than we can do! Thanks again Bill!


Surabaya to Denpasar [route map link] during this rainy season, was characterized in the biggish city of Surabaya by exceptionally bad road drainage, resulting in our being stuck in traffic for a crawling 65 km (40 mi) for about three hours.

It’s of course indicative of local government management, when predictable monsoon regions do not take basics like drainage into account while building roads. This is neither high tech nor that costly after all; sewers and ditches are a 101 that the Romans had figured out. They do have the money for roads, so what were the civil engineers doing that day?

Another two-edged sword: Civilian guys become self-appointed traffic cops all over Indonesia we noticed from the start – directing jammed traffic through deeply potholed washed-out roads. People pass them small change through car windows; it’s a living.

These guys seemed to do an acceptable traffic-directing job, a good civic service. At other times we found them fixing muddy areas with rakes and shovels, clearing fallen trees, etc.

We fought
Surabaya traffic on horrid urban roads for a few hours. Finally exhausted and heavily rained upon, we stayed in a nice clean hotel the name of which we unfortunately lost. It’s in Pasuruah [map link] some 50 km outside Surabaya. Good safe parking, decent food and a launch pad for next morning’s early morning road attack.

At 0500 next pre-dawn, back in the saddle with the hope of covering two days’ riding plus a ferry hop all in one day – fortunately on a Moslem Friday holiday, meaning empty streets especially at this hour. It was blessedly cool both temp-and-traffic wise, Black Bike flying past the occasional bike and truck on narrow smooth two-lane at almost 80 kph (50 mph); gobbling up 250 km (150 mi) in 4 hrs. A high five ride: That’s truly envelope-pushing fast in this narrow-twisty-animal-and-human-lined-road-through-villages context.

We were also riding in a new country, so didn’t know the local rules – yet. One learns fast: Oncoming means 'get out of the way' in his lane or yours. That’s the #1 local rule in Indonesia – survival of the biggest and fastest-dodging. Even so, riding here is no problem after some time here, actually an enjoyable challenge. They seem to aim their wheels well, in spite of occasional envelope-pushing close calls.

No Fear becomes No 'Coment'
But not a bad Rocky rendering!
Encountered another, weeks later in Flores.

Added to the early hour and holiday – the pavement once one leaves Surabaya was in very good condition. Plus, being morning, we had no monsoon rains. What a treat to be riding again after a couple weeks of no wheels. And fast yet!

We mistakenly assumed we'd be back to see the stunning mountains including Mount Bromo [map link], but subsequent reality dictated otherwise; we didn't make the two-day detour to explore them, so they'll have to wait for another visit. But here are three photos that Matt took:

Mount Bromo and Semeru in Java, Matt's photos.
Rather spectacular, huh?

Arrived at the ferry dock in
Banyuwangi [route map link] for a Bali crossing at 0900, were quickly ushered aboard, the fare being a walloping $3 for the bike and two of us. A perfectly OK small ferry, didn’t look in the slightest as if about to sink to this nervous boat guy. Two trucks, a couple cars plus some scooters aboard, even some warm sodas in dirty cans for sale. An easy smooth crossing – got to port at the Bali side in an hour and a half, only to wait in the sun offshore for an hour or more: No dock space.

Not great organization of harbors we noticed for the first of several times – in a many-thousand-island nation that literally depends on its harbors.

Off the ferry at about noon as the sun did its work on us; at Matt’s recommendation we rode the surprisingly long south shore of Bali island to the main city of
Denpasar [route map link], past stunning beaches, rice-field scenery, on fine twisty and often hilly roads.

I kept thinking ‘I’d like to own that stretch of beach’ – many times. That same thought has recurred frequently on Bali and other islands of Indonesia. Some great, world-class superb real estate is sitting awaiting our dreamt-of luxury beach home here!

At the outskirts of very urban
Denpasar [map link] we cut north to Ubud, through an hour of busy village roads, asking directions frequently as there’s virtually no signage.

A Bali temple.
photo by Matt


Big bike in Scooterland: Even though it’s too big at 1.8 litres and 600 kg (1300 lb) in a land of light 150 cc scooters, Black Bike’s passing and hill-climbing power is nonetheless a major blessing here. Quite literally, we’re aboard among the most powerful wheels in this country – and the often cheering roadside groups evidently notice. Passing, passing, cutting in and out, passing again – it’s non-stop and makes a huge difference, especially on endurance runs. Being on under-powered wheels could make a Type-A westerner like me a bit nuts here – although almost everyone else is under-powered; hence I’m guessing there’s not many Type-A locals.

Finally pulled into
Ubud's Melati Cottages parking area around 5 PM – where Matt has his own rented and covered carport for his small Ford SUV and three bikes. Tired, sweaty, but glad the past few days are behind us.

Matt was my first yacht customer and always a great guy and true gent; he still looks incredibly fit, and is so, especially for a guy a decade my senior; slim and living his chosen new life really, really well. His compact open air home in the village outskirts is where he’d lived the past eight years, a tastefully decorated place with all the amenities, including a perfect pool he does daily laps in. Hat’s off to him and a great new way of life he found.


Recommended Ubud Hotel: Because it's next to Matt, we stayed at Melati Cottages [link], [reviews link]. Lovely gardens and pool, scooters for rent, charming unpretentious rooms with no TV but free and good wi-fi in dining area. Spent perhaps two weeks here at $30 and its worth it. They'll pick you up at the airport which is strongly suggested, it's not easy to find first time!

Not just Melati is hard to find – getting around Indonesia and Bali specifically, is a challenge of narrow winding roads, minimal or no signage, driving habits that include ignoring the lane markings and passing with a sense of immortality. I'm used to it after a year and a half ride, but suggest you hire a taxi your first trip here, then decide if driving is for you.

If you stay there, specify one of the newer air conditioned rooms – the ceiling fans don’t do it well enough for me. Plus we recommend a spray can of insect killer; I got badly mosquito-bitten my first night and malaria exists here, as does dengue fever. We carry bug killer and repellant everywhere in Indonesia.


The white 'alternative characters' factor: Melati, and probably many other places in the Ubud area, seems to have attracted a leftie alternatives group-booking clientele from around white parts of the globe, a laid-back kind of place, where Euro-American people watching is mostly fun.

An outstanding memorable exception was the annoying-as-hell, single, wannabe-centre-of-attention, loud, super-gay, overly-tanned Italian with the André Rieu (whom we despise) throw-about long hairdo [photo
link]. He hung around the Melati public areas, loudly and incessantly posing semi-naked in g-string, and talking the polite staff’s ears off in hour-long soliloquies so loud that everyone else had no choice but to listen and suffer – or leave. Eyes rolled as one man’s vanity dominated the hotel while a bunch of us just tried to do our internet stuff or eat. Finally, after days of suffering, I asked him un-vaguely to tone it down while he did a purposefully theatrical phone chat overseas in Italian. It worked. He became immediately scarce. The rest of our stay was mercifully quieter.

Passing through Melati – indeed much of Bali – are the various ‘self-discovery & self-enlightenment’ groups that seem to find it a fashionable destination locale. We stayed a while, so got to observe their passing through; it was mostly just interesting and not annoying, but frequently caused silent head-shaking.

The unobtrusive international yoga group led by a California fellow, evidently comes annually for a week or two.

The drumming-dancing amateur arts group ditto – artistes from Chicago (one girl loudly boasted) and New York judging by his accent. Having worked with many significant stage artists over the decades, many of them impecunious, the amateurs who can afford to come here remind one how rich our society truly is, that the spare change from our economy is able to sustain these few on an arts holiday.

. . . • As elsewhere, in Bali one encounters abundant and too-loud
. . . . 'I’ve found greater truths’ whites. It’s not just in India.
. . . • We view them as ‘left-leaning propaganda bullies’ who impose their
. . . . currently-PC views on both other whites and the less-fortunate
. . . . locals they have invaded for a week.
. . . • Truly embarrassing to be a fellow white at times:
. . . . That dreadlocked white guy’s week vacation cost a few decades
. . . . of local wages; on what grounds the 'I'm poor too' pretence?
. . . • The wearing of silly quasi-native clothes and cheap trinkets to loudly
. . . . make the point, mostly to other whites: ‘I’ve gone native for a week.’
. . . • The fifty-something hippie with the pigtail and Elton John red glasses
. . . . wearing the ‘babies do not make war’ t-shirt and Birkenstocks.
. . . • At which audience, whose benefit, do you insensitively preach abroad?

But what the heck, Bali is a truly mellow, spiritual, peaceful-feeling and artsy place, hence attracts searching-for-self-enlightenment white types. Since tourism enriches the locals substantially, that’s generally to the good; the locals seem to tolerate us well enough, at least for now. What the low-key and impecunious Hindu locals must think of the insensitive, ever-on-display, loud, money-flashing while pretending to be poor, condescending, trying-to-go-local white freaks – that remains an open question in Thao's and Wheezy's minds.

Many whites we meet do condescend, so stupidly. One day Thao was sitting in the dining area using our computer and having dinner, clearly a hotel guest, not Indonesian in appearance. One American female 'visiting artiste' comes up to her and demands: 'Can you bring me a coffee?' – just because Thao was Asian. 'Vietnamese, Indonesian, Chinese – who cares, you're not white' is the depth of cultural awareness. Thao directed her to the nice lady sitting behind the bar. Just a stoopud, uncultured hick overseas – and no apology. She just went to the next Asian to demand her coffee. A giant 'ugh.' We watch this stuff happen too often.

Another passing-through Melati group was kind of fun: A multinational all-white but four-continent group of astrologists – led by a Zimbabwean (formerly-Rhodesia) white. The eternal truths of astrology, no harm, no foul. I shared a computer-wi-fi dining table and befriended a family of white French Sikhs; who knew about French white Sikhs? They are truly nice, indeed sweet folks, mom, dad and son, with Sikh turbans and all. We chatted about the fabulous Golden Temple in
Amtrisar (see India blog) which they had often attended of course.

They had skimmed this blog, found out I’m a business guy, so dad asked if he could pick my brain about an ‘ecological organic commune’ being started by a Chinese fellow in
Malaysia who needed to sell some land; they were about to buy into it. I believe and sincerely hope I gently talked him out of it, pointed out what can go wrong and his low chances in Malaysian courts. One sensed their money being flushed down the drain in naïve, trusting innocence. They’d also been taken out of thousands by an American selling a camping van online, this could easily be more of same … they fortunately agreed.

I liked them very much and sure hope they can find a safer way to farm organically – my guess is they face far better odds in France or USA.


Alternative accommodation suggestion in Ubud: Gerebig Bungalows, literally right next to Melati Cottages with no block bookings [email: phone: 62-0361-974582. No website.]

Specify you want the lovely stand-alone house they have, or downstairs in the house next to it, both are large and lovely. At $25-$30 with a good little kitchen, it is very, very quiet, charming and in a local neighborhood. We stayed there a few nights when Melati was booked solid by groups and really liked it. High recommendation.


Bali is Paradise. The Nicest Island in the World? That's its rap. We can see why. Travel & Leisure Magazine ranked it #1 in the world, for 8 consecutive years (it slipped to #2 in 2008) [ranking and article link.]

We've toured some 35 countries so far on this trip.

Bali wins as an extremely charming; never-over 33˚C (91˚F); mild rainy season; ocean-encircled; mountainous; volcanic; tropical rain forest; rural-traditional bucolic; plus semi-modern-urban; spiritual-mystical; serene; friendly; highly artistic; skilled craftsmanship; Hindu in a Muslim land; 'we-could-live-here and explore the region for years' ... kind of place.

Parts of Turkey are a runner-up however.

And subsequently the island of Lombok right next door to Bali (see below). Not as interesting culturally, but geographically a serious contest. Those endless mountains and miles upon miles of empty white beaches ...

Rita, Matt's fine lady showed Thao around by scooter.
Matt and Peter.
We go back 10-12 yrs to yacht building 101: my first Cape Horn customer.
Ubud [map link] is where Matt lives. It's up in the hills a bit, inland, reputably a bit cooler than the beach, about an hour from the airport.

Calling Ubud a charming town is unfair to it, an understatement; one will never forget its unique people, their clothes, deportment, sweetness, the town's whole human and physical character.

Statue in front of house outside town.
(Someone has their priorities right.)

Many westerners come here for just plain tourism and sometimes spiritual pursuits. Whatever your personal reasons, do come here. Like many others, you just might stay.

Matt's front porch seating area.
photo by Matt
A typical outdoor bathing area in private home.
Workmanship and design in Bali is superb.
One can live here so well, so tastefully, for so little ...

Amazing crafts on display in hundreds of competing shops all over the area. Stone carved statues of high quality. Remarkable sinks and tubs cut out of rocks. Carvings in wood and various stones. What their craftsmen do with huge masses of tree roots, just beautiful, if you have a big enough building. Glass work. Some bronze. Furniture galore. There is one sculptor here who works brilliantly in stainless steel – it seems pretty significant albeit expensive. And on. Much of it is of very high quality. Some is art.


Retreat house rental suggestion: Check out Naga-Naga [link]. Right next door to friend Matt's house, we toured it – simply splendid, in the best of taste, magazine-spread quality, true art. I'd buy all of it right now. You can rent a stunning house/villa for maybe the price of a motel back home, live in serenity and luxury, in a residential part of Ubud; consider it seriously as a luxury-economy (both) vacation option. The owners are a fine couple Duggi and Dieter we had several great meals with.

Also party of the same two-residence plot is Ulla's House [link]: We spent quite a bit of time with Wolfgang and Ulla who built it – such nice people! Great place to rent, superb staff on duty year round, highest recommendation. Tell them we sent you – but friendship aside, last year they were fully booked, so contact them well in advance!

All four Germans who own these places are medical professionals who have started a second life here part time. All speak perfect English. Either home is in many ways preferable to the hotel options.


Scuba Diving in Tulamben [map link]. Rent your stuff from one of many well-equipped Tulamben outfits; included in the price is female village porters carrying the heavy tanks and BC (Buoyancy Compensator jacket) for 5-10 minutes' walk along the pebble beach.

This stuff is heavy!
Photos by Matt
Pebble beach

You don your gear then walk into the lovely warm calm water, versus diving from a boat or dock.

Matt has done the rocky beach entry often, it was my first time; I'm used to diving from boats and doing a backwards-fall into the water. Yet we both found the rocky beach hard to walk on especially loaded up with heavy gear; entry and exits were difficult balance acts, but we managed.

Rocky beach = difficult scuba entry with heavy gear.

Some fancier outfits in the area, especially those too far to walk to the two major dive sites, also offer boat dives at more costly rates – but a ladder is a much easier water entry and exit! Next time I'll go for the boat.

Although I have a PADI certificate, it was my first dive in 4-5 years and I admit to nervousness the first five minutes, having forgotten some of my 101 calmness skills. Very happy to have had a skilled guide along.

We didn't discover this place: There are lots of divers here from USA, Australia, UK, Europe. One American-led multinational group I encountered was doing a hard-core PADI certificate course with four tanks of air for one dive – serious diving.

Two dives in a day with Matt: just 22 metres (72') down to a US Liberty ship that was torpedoed by the Japanese during WWII; plus in the afternoon a lovely 20-metre cliff dive. With just 35 minutes of air in my case (not good breathing, I'm rusty) we just skimmed both sites. I'd like to explore much more.

. . . The miracle, the hard-to-grasp realty, of sharing for a few moments
. . . another part of our planet with the most lovely sea creatures, growths,
. . . plants of all kinds, the colours, the shapes of those animals and fish –
. . . altogether mind blowing.

. . . Actually being there, swimming with these brilliant fishies and corals,
. . . studying their remarkable colours, shapes, up close 'n personal,
. . . realizing this parallel reality co-exists with ours. One of life's greatest
. . . miracles of discovery. So easy to stay un-jaded down there, wide-eyed
. . . and wondrous like a kid seeing things for the first time. Every time.

Including all rented equipment, air and the guide in Tulamben, two dives in a day came to US$60 including a $10 tip for the guide who deserved it. This is a reasonable price by world diving standards, another good reason to visit Bali.

Other parts of Indonesia are also apparently stunning diving. I hope to find out.

Swimming pool of a luxury $300 hotel with superb view.
Matt took me there for a preposterous $90 breakfast.
En route to Tulamben, lovely but never again for either of us.

Recommended economy diving hotel: Paradise Palm Beach Bungalows [link]. It was the first to open of many hotels in the area, quite acceptable albeit not deluxe, if you came mainly to dive as we did. You get a very acceptable clean bungalow for $30 including a good breakfast, plus their restaurant is actually quite good and reasonable. No TV or internet.

Some fancier places along the beach offer both and very nice facilities for double or triple the price. And there are some really nice places if coming for a week, many owned and run by Germans and Swiss – which shows.


Wheezy's Christmas ride, the circumference of Bali: Thao went home to Canada for the holidays, so I went exploring the coastline alone. It took me almost a week, but I stopped for a few days here 'n there because I liked the hotel or the town. However the circumference can be driven in 2-3 days if you have limited time.

It is superb riding! Here's a [map link] outlining the major roads we have covered of the island so far.

If you zoom in on the Google map you'll see great twisties in many sections, serious switchbacks, steep-ish hills that require considerable truck-passing – a few of them unfortunately belching black clouds of diesel smoke in your face.

Just some kids posing.

When you get to the north shore, you will certainly stop in the beach town of Lovina [map link].

It's a charming tourist-geared town but is only reachable by road right now, about two hours by taxi up though the middle of the island. If flying from overseas and thus exhausted, it possibly means you will spend a night near the airport in Danpasar [map link] at the southern end of the island.

Recommended destination resort in Lovina: A fine hotel I stumbled upon and negotiated a $55 rate (versus $65 offered) is Nugraha Lovina Seaview Resort & Spa [link] which gets very highest recommendations. It is beautifully, tastefully decorated in a Balinese flavor but has all the best European comforts and conveniences. TV in the room albeit just one English channel, great balcony on the ocean, big private sandy beach, wonderful friendly efficient staff, very good restaurant and wi-fi at a reasonable $5 for ten hours (versus a gouging of €5 per hour in one Tulamben hotel!) I ended up three nights there just because I liked it so much.

Some great coasts, lovely ocean views, excellent roads, perfect riding most of the way around.

Encountered a very popular surfing area in the Antap [map link] region, spent the night in a surfer's hotel for about $12. Mosquito net, fan, cold shower and a good American breakfast included. Lost the name but there are several to choose from. It's true surfer turf, cheap and fun – with some serious surf!

Surfing shots by Matt


Black Bike's 18 month Report Card = A+: (Ignore this part if you do not care about motorcycles – this is a biker's blog after all!)

Last week has included some serious all-paved twisty riding.
So here's an updated Black Bike report.

Everything on this bike works perfectly. Even the smallest electronic gizmo. I had frankly anticipated many of the electronics would bite the dust by now, awaiting repair in Oz or USA. But nope, nothing broken so far.

Everyone comments that Black Bike looks remarkably new. Runs that way too. It's sometimes hard to get people to believe we actually rode it here; they assume we shipped it.

So far ... touch wood. Touring bikes do not get more reliable or comfortable than this one. And we have the worst of the roads behind us.

Some Indonesia adventure riding remains. After that it's mostly paved glory (and mechanical heaven) of Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada. It is looking increasingly likely this might become the first round-world GL1800.

But the fat lady ain't sung just yet.
Do you wonder as I did where that proverb came from? Wikipedia [link.]


Indonesia's Economy: GDP per capita (PPP) is low at $3,500 ranking it #155 out of 225 countries [source link.] It is an emerging economy.

However its huge population of almost 230 million makes it the largest mostly-Moslem country in the world, and the largest economy in SE Asia.

To be completed later ....


Visa extensions over 30 days in Indonesia: It's a major pain but necessary to have a plan if touring this huge varied country.
. . . Plan A. One can leave, for example to Singapore or East Timor, and at the
. .. .border upon re-entry and get a second 30 day visa-on-arrival for $30.
. . . Plan B. The local Indonesian Embassy can give you a 60-day one if you
. .. .have airline tickets proving your dates of entry/exit and are willing to wait
. .. .a couple days. That’s it: 60 days is evidently the max for tourists.
. . . Plan C. Pay a local firm that knows its way through the bureaucracy,
. .. .knows the right people, give them your passport, a few days later you get
. .. .it back with a new completely legal 30-day visa for $100-$200 cash.
. .. .Some places advertise in the local Bali expat paper. I used Highway
. .. .Bali Consulting Services [link] [+62-361-972107]. However I found
. .. .out later I was charged double by them versus what another Canadian
. .. .traveler paid them in identical 'rush' circumstances. $200 me; $100 him.
. .. .Oops I got taken – $100 is the correct price; $75 for no-rush service.

$100 is a lot less that the cost of flying in and out for a couple days. Definitely worth it. I’d like to have given Indonesia 3-4 months of driving and island hopping, short-changing Australia and USA of time if necessary. Indonesia is that good.

But the visa thing forced us out sooner – it cost Indonesia thousands of dollars in our case.

Riding a narrow country side road.
Two lanes? No way, call it 1.33 lanes.

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