Friday, 7 September 2012

Where we cycled

Sorry about the quality of the maps but we lost our trusty map on the 3rd last day.  It was a sad day but I'd already memorised the route and all the contour lines that we were going to meet as at 500m one contour line is a significant climb!

Online maps are generally poor, missing roads and have towns in the wrong places.  If you need a map of Sumatra this map is amazingly accurate, except Subbalsallam is in the wrong place (it is a nice little town with a great barber worth a visit).

The entire trip - 1100km cycling and probably 1500km in total.

The northern part of the trip.  Most of this was done by bus, though I'd love to go back and do the western coast when the roads are finished.

Up the coast and then back down through the centre.

Town planning and Tsunami (a little off topic)

Town Planning in Sumatra - A linear organic form

The towns and cities in Sumatra are linear.  Most towns, except for the larger cities, stretch along the road so much so that a small town will be 5kms in length.   The larger cities display a similar pattern but it is more of a spider web.

The linear nature of the towns have economic and social functions.  Nearly all properties along the road will have a small stall, selling anything from cold drinks, to fried bananas and coffee. Most stalls are staffed by females and kids (after school) and most represent a second source of income for the family.  The stalls also operate as a social hub. It is common to have people drop in, get fuel, drink a coffee, change a tyre and sit around.  The road is a source of entertainment – white people on bicycles (!), horse (kuda) in trailers, strange cargo loads and folk on motorbikes. 

If you want to get to the next town you also have to watch the road for a bus that could come at any time.  Longer distance travel is catered for by local buses which run to a timetable but the first bus leaves always departs late and then two buses race (and I mean seriously race) to pick up passengers.  The result is that people must wait at the small stalls for the bus that ‘datang di sini jam karat (comes here in rubber time)’.  Therefore, to freight both goods and people, the roads needs to be watched to allow a bus to be flagged down.

The streets become an integral part of the towns – they drive the economic and social activity. It is not a hub and spoke model like western towns and roads but on one of a continuous series of ‘micro-beads’.

Tsunami, the response and adaptation of time

The Tsunami that hit Sumatra on boxing day 2005. It is estimated that 250,000 died as a result, in some places this equaled 1 in 4 people.  The international community responded in force.   Now seven years on there are very few signs of the Tsunami unless you look hard – the regularity of the housing, the layout of the towns, the odd memorial and American style roads.

Example of post-Tsunami housing
The construction efforts have widely been commended.  It was truly impressive given the scale of reconstruction. The strategy for rebuilding the towns was based on a simple zoning system that laid out houses on regular streets away from the main highway.  The main highway, like highways around the world, becomes that main thoroughfare for traffic between towns. 

This fails to recognize the function and value of roads in Indonesia. To separate the main routes between towns undermines the social and economic value that is currently obtained from the roads in Sumatra.

The 'town' at the rear of a new build facing the highway
Seven years on the result is a relatively large empty highway that is starting to be reclaimed to the Indonesian way of ‘planning’.  It is now common along the highway that buildings are being built on the road, and extensions are being constructed extending houses onto the road (It was very difficult to capture good photos of this as our mini-bus driver was training for monaco gp).  This is an organic adaption of a western concept of separation of uses to their needs.

Disaster planning, though doing a great job at implementing a response that got communities housed quickly, did not fully seek to understand the socio-economic context of the region to inform the transport/town planning.   A concept that is very different in Indonesia!  

This is just my initial musings and I’m going to do some more research and planning to turn it into a more formal paper. Comments welcome!

At at road level rear extension to an new dwelling

An entire new dwelling on a highway.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Some Random Images

An ominous evening on the amazing Lake Toba. 
These buses are the kings of the road. The more BLING the better.
This shop was the dirtiest in the world. It also had AWESOME donuts.
Just a reminder how EPIC the mountains were.
How we felt after the hill "please can I sit in the shade and enjoy a cool drink..don't make me cycle again"
The rewards

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Gear and a bit about food and drink

Gear and a bit about food and drink


After a month of traveling the conclusion on gear is that it all worked well luckily we had no major problems/mechanicals during the trip.  (the first post that covers 'gear')

Things can always be improved and next time I’d make a few changes, these being:
  • Riding single speed is ok but changing the wheel around in the 34degree heat was hard.  Next time, I’d install a three-speed hub gear on the rear.This gives you some flexibility but doesn't give potential for mechanicals that gears open you up to.   The bikes really get battered!
  • Take less stuff. We were travelling light but you can always go lighter (eg. I didn’t need a fleece and I’d review tools I packed).
  • The handlebar bag was great as it had loads of pockets. Pockets are good for ordering stuff.
  •  Nancy’s cycling SPD sandals were great, versatile and gave her some awesome tan lines.
  •  Long sleeve white jerseys are great for riding in the sun.
  • Take a few extra cycling caps. They tend to go walkabout and would make good gifts.
  • Learn more Indonesian.  My 6-months studing beforehand were invaluable.

I should also mention the food, as it was amazing.  It is a pity that a lot of people go to Indonesia and only eat at hostels as the food around the place is simply amazing, if not fucking spicy.  We ate amazing fresh fish, drank fresh topical fruit juices and sipped strong coffee with donuts.  One thing for certain, with the exception of when we rode of the volcano, we were never very far from excellent food, friendly people and cheap drinks.

road was varied and interesting. this was BBQ corn with sticky hot chili sauce!

Food stops are everywhere. sometimes not the prettiest but this one had awesome fresh donuts!
Pocari Sweat - the drink of champions.

Katembe - Bukit Lawang

Katembe – Barastagi (day 1)

We rode to Takingon, which was 40kms, and then unsuccessfully tired every ATM in town to some money, which was pretty dull at the time.  We then jumped on a bus to Barastagi, what we didn’t realize that the driver of the bus had aspirations of formula 1 and that his beaten up 1980s people mover was his training vehicle.  We got to Barastagi in pretty good time.

At the time Barastagi felt like the high point of civilisation.  We had a few beers and some nice BBQ chicken / fish with some fellow travellers.  One traveler was born in 1990, which was a tad worrying.

Barastagi – Bukit Lawang (day 2)

This was a rerun of the first day but backward.  We  knew what to expect but also didn’t know how hard it would be.  I argued that it was all downhill (well most of it).

We were wary but it turned out to be great.  We walked most of the way down the very rocky parts and then rolled down the rest.  It was quiet and very pleasant indeed.  After we’d finished the descent we felt like we’d discovered the road and a small part of Indonesia our ourselves.

A quiet road all to ourselves

Once we hit the flats again it was hot.  At first we were moving along at a serious 30km average but then the 50kms and heat got the better of us (well me).  We had to fall into numerous road side stores for cool drinks, I seriously bonked and ate all the sugar I could find then a pig-rooting goat jumped in front of me, Nancy then ran into the back of me and skidded along the road.  Luckily the entire village was there to help! 

We made it to Bukit Lawang at 5 and were tired and very happy to be finished.  If you ever stay in Bukit Lawang stay at Green Hill guest house. Andrea, the host, will make the experience in an area plague by rogue guides so much more enjoyable and interesting.  I’d also recommend walking up the river with a tube and floating down – very pleasant and you get to see the same jungle that they trek through.

View from greenhill guesthouse

jungle trekking.

I hate the jungle.  I hate jungle trekking even more.  I could make a whole list of reasons why the jungle isn’t a great place  (bugs, heat, guides, ups, downs, leaches, bugs, stings, sweat, tree-roots to name a few) but I won’t.   Nancy thought up a good analogy, trekking in a jungle feels like being in a shopping mall.  You come out stressed and tired; you have collected a heap of stuff you don’t want need (in the case of the jungle mostly bites); there is too much stuff going on which causes sensory overload and at first you enjoy it but by the time you leave you never go back; and,  you always seem to go back.

Apart from my dislike of the jungle and that is pretty much where Katembe is, Katembe was a nice place but very quiet and not much to do.  So, if you dislike the jungle, and couldn’t really care less about seeing so-called ‘wild’ orangutans, stay away from there.  I’m not afraid to say that I prefer David Attenborough, a zoo or watching pets in the back garden any day of the week.

I prefer seeing life from the road.

Just too much stuff going on

You trek for three hrs to the hot springs and then when you get there the local school turn up via the road that also leads to the same place.