A Traveller's Tale - part 7
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And that meant my knees were knocking the day I decided to cross to the other side of Timor, the West side, where Indonesia still rules. I didn't know what to expect, I think to be tortured and buried in the woods with the 200,000 East Timorese the Indonesians had reportedly made dead the last 25 years. But in fact the men at the border were very friendly. Helpful even. We were through in half an hour and my conclusion was wrong. Or so it seemed.
Already being late in the day we decided to stay in Atambua, a wild west town just over the border where three UN personnel had been murdered a few years back. It felt like that kind of town, with one local man following me to the hotel, asking too many questions then being there in the morning to follow me to the phone shop. I said "are you following me?" He shook his head. He clearly was, so me and Dot got the hell out of there, raced towards the port town of Kupang and then kicked ourselves when we realised the fortnightly ferry had sailed that very morning. Bugger.
Thankfully smaller, local ferries were running, but not just yet because of the weather. In Kupang then we waited a week, me developing a serious case of man flu and Dot getting an essential change of fluids for the road ahead. Finally a ferry came. Just a hard metal deck on which a woman with an over active sinus gobbed big chunks of her gooey lungs. Worse, throughout the entire 20 hour journey I was harassed by a local guy, snide looking with a shifty grin. He scared me, I hated him, and so I could happily have pushed him overboard along with the spitting bitch.
Finally we reached Flores, a long mountainous island with hills that Dot could barely make it up. She huffed and puffed past all these local villages that occupy every inch of the road and make stopping for a pic-nic or a quick pee incredibly difficult. Sumbawi, the next island was the same, as was the next, Lombok. With Indonesia being so big and me foolishly applying only for a 30-day visa - not a 60 - we dashed across these three islands in four days before arriving in Bali for a breather.
Despite the big boozers and the idiots falling off their mopeds the island's a great place. Especially a town in the hills called Ubud. There I stayed in a cottage by a rice field and sat in cafes drinking ginger tea all day. It was just what me and Dot needed before we head-butted the buses and lorries of Java. After the mint Toblerone mountains of Flores and the all-day siesta of typical Indonesia life, Java is like being hit in the head with a shovel. Or in my case, a bus.
It was the coming the other way on the wrong side of the road and I had no where to go. 'It's going to hit me, it's going to hit me, it's going t…..' BANG. The bus belted Dot on her right side and walloped us into the side of a second bus that I was over-taking at the time. Like a pinball I ricocheted between the two at 50mph and came out the other side somehow alive, unlike my two opponents which must have had been bent and mangled judging by the amount of their paint Dot was wearing when I pulled over to empty my underpants. She's a tough old bird.
And she's had to be. In few days that followed we would fall off three times, get stranded down a ditch in the rain and be chased by the police for running a red light. 'TOOOOT TOOOOT,' went the policeman's whistle as we sailed past. I wondered what best to do. Stop or carry on? Then Dot stood up and made the call. 'Just ride man, just ride.' So we gunned it, flat out at 80km/h with me looking in the mirror every minute for the flashing blue light. But it never came, Dot was too fast. We were free…. to be ripped off by cunning locals.
But that was Java; crowded, noisy and dirty with just one too many tourist scams for me to recommend it. Unlike the much calmer Sumatra, the next and last of the Indonesian islands where I was made honorary member of an Indonesian biker gang and felt safe enough to sleep by the road in my tent. Since East Timor I'd covered 4,000 kilometres in two weeks, I now had just one week to cover 2,000 kilometres and get out the country before my visa ran out. Big problems I was told if I didn't.
For Dot that meant her poor throttle had to wrung dry for kilometre after kilometre. The roads though were terrible. Potholes and landslides with big trucks blasting past the other way on your side of the road. Sometimes the speed dropped to 10 km/h and I'd curse and swear at the government for not fixing them. The last few days were really tough going and with so little time I had no choice but to sail past Parapat and all the other tourist attractions just to make Medan and a ferry to Malaysia before the visa ran out.
Only we failed. Sort of. Because actually we made it with a day to go. The problem was the ferry wouldn't take motorbikes and no one knew when the next cargo ship sailed. We rode back into town deflated, defeated and feeling very much alone. At the internet cafe the owner presented her daughter. "She make good wife," the mother said. Sure, she was beautiful and made a cracking ice tea, but I need a boat, not a bride. I rode back to the port and began to ask anyone I could find about a big ship to Malaysia.
Finally we found someone who could help. He was a stout man, looking every inch like an Asian Forest Whittaker from The Last King of Scotland. In a derelict warehouse somewhere on the dodgy side of the docks he said he could take Dot across the pond for 1million RP. About sixty quid. Here that's a lot, but I was desperate. I agreed, handed over Dot, the money, and then left with no receipt. "Not necessary," he assured me.
Later that week, with Dot already on her way to Malaysia and me two days over my visa, I caught the passenger ferry, paid a fine for overstaying to Indonesian Government plc and kept my fingers crossed that Dot would be waiting for me when I got there.
That she was, but I'd been conned. The guy in Medan was only an agent and the fee I'd paid him was just to line his own back pocket. On the Malaysian side I was asked to pay the 'real' fee, another million RP. I was fuming, livid, steaming, but what do you do? They had Dot held ransom, I need her back to press on to England so I had no choice but to pay the price and set her free. The boss laughed when I complained. I could have pushed him overboard as well.
But that was yesterday, today's another day, with the two of us now in the Malaysia highlands drinking tea and singing songs around the hostel's campfire until we decide to pack up once again and make the short journey north to Thailand.
Since leaving Sydney we've covered 11,000kms and reckon another 20,000 stands between us and England. It's tough and everyday presents a whole new heap of challenges, but at the same time it's awesome. The freedom, the adventure, not knowing where the road will take you or what trials and tribulations will come your way. I'm loving every minute of it. And so, I hope, is Dot.