Sumbawa to Singaraja on a Bike

Just back in Singaraja from Sumbawa. Another one of those long strange trips (what would we have done without the Dead?). 15.5 hours from Sumbawa to Singaraja on a 125 cc motorbike. My old Honda has taken a beating over the past five years in Sumbawa. I’ve run into a kampong dog and dumped the bike resulting in more injuries to me than to the bike; I took a broadside from a wild boar one night returning from a late school meeting; my teenage daughter had an over libidinous suitor smash into her while he was trying to show her his motorbike skills; and five years of rocky roads, pot holes, salt air corrosion and she’s still running.

My trip from Sumbawa to Singaraja on a motorbike has been a point of contention that has drawn in ex-wives, children, my wife (leading the “take the plane” group), and a few close friends. The pro-bike group included my colleague – the school driver – and my first wife and my first child. Everyone else was in the “you’re too old to be driving a motorbike across three islands alone”. My contrary nature has always led me to challenge anything that someone told me I couldn’t do. 35 years ago, one friend supported me when I decided to try to be a single parent, work a full time job, and go to school full time. I ended up with a Ph.D. and a son who is happily married and raising my new granddaughter. So driving a motorbike across three islands seemed like a piece of cake.

My plan was to leave my house in Sumbawa at 3:00 and arrive in my house at 18:00 so that I would miss the night traffic in Bali (I’m developing cataracts and the light from oncoming vehicles blinds me completely now). The night traffic in Sumbawa consists of water buffalo and horses out grazing and the occasional musang. I can deal with night traffic like that.

I spent a little longer than usual over coffee and cigarettes with my wife who was trying to delay my trip until sunrise, so I took off at 3:25. Despite driving slowly to negotiate the terrible roads in the south of Sumbawa, I made it to the harbor in Poto Tano in exactly 2 hours – only 20 minutes slower than usual. The harbor master waved me on the ferry that was just about to leave. I could see the lower deck filled with buses and trucks; the upper deck was filled with passengers checking out the final boarding. Just as I was about to enter, I noticed that the last truck was having some difficulty negotiating its entrance. I had to wait and wait and wait. The ferry crew was able to maneuver the truck in but I couldn’t get the bike in. The harbor master said that another ferry would be in in just a few minutes.

An hour later I was sitting up on the deck with Pak Hussan who works the ferries back and forth between Sumbawa and Lombok. He works and lives on the ferry; his wife and kids are back in Jakarta. “It’s not the best of lives”, he says, “but I make a living and my children will get though high school and inshallah college. What more can someone with a junior high education hope for. I’ve been working on ships since I was a boy. This is all I know.”

We sit and chat about Indonesia for a while until he goes off to work the snack bar. I sit and smoke and try to catch a bit of sleep. A few guys come up and slide in next to me on my perch on the back of the boat. I notice that they are checking out my rather used black Chinese slippers. “hey pak look at the bule. His shoes are worse than ours. He must be too poor to have some good shoes.” They enjoy a good laugh. Oh, I love this – just to be a little naughty as my daughter said. “Yah dong, pasti miskin sekali.” The folks sitting around us had a good laugh as the joker lost a little face.

I get off the ferry at 8:30 and take off across Lombok which has an incredible road that crosses the middle of the island. I do 90 on the desa sections and weave around the cidomos and bemos that clog up traffic in the village markets. I make the harbor in two hours – a record for me. I get directly on the ferry – a good piece of luck. We leave in 30 minutes but the ferry is almost full and I’m lucky to secure a seat on an uncomfortable wood bench on the back of the ferry. The currents are good and we make it to Bali in 3.5 hours and then wait for 1.5 hours to dock.

The ferry is full of people smsing about the arrival time. I haven’t slept yet and I’m looking at clouds over Bali. I don’t want to do the 3 hour drive in the rain. I’m feeling cranky and dirty and thinking for some reason about a chocolate malt from a little coffee shop in Chicago.

The police at Padang Bai almost always check your papers. Mine are in order and I take off wanting to make up a little lost time and get to Singaraja before nightfall. The road from Padang Bai up along the east coast has been repaired over the years and is an incredible piece of work. I do 90 easily until the road gives out and then I drop down to sixty.

I hit Tejakula and there’s a huge ceremony. We’re all backed up. How come my Hindu friends didn’t give me notice about this? They know I’m coming today. I hang around watching the ceremony pass by along with the inevitable van of tourists in ceremonial clothes snapping photos. I get through by walking my bike along the side of the road. I don’t want to bother anyone’s ceremony anymore than I want anyone to bother mine, but the reality is that I want to get home before dark and it’s getting dark. Heavy clouds but no rain yet.

I hit Bukti up farther north and have to wait for another ceremony. What did I miss here? Is this a Bali holy day? I wait and suddenly it’s dark. I take off the sunglasses and switch to nightglasses. The traffic is still relatively benign but it’s sundown and Balinese seem to enjoy wandering around the road after the afternoon mandi. I know this from years of taking the Denpasar-Singaraja road, but I hadn’t yet made a connection to it being an island wide cultural trait. Everyone seems to be out walking along the road just when my vision is at its worst.

Suddenly the sign for Kubutambahan looms up. What happened to Air Sanih? I realize that I’m sliding into the zone and pinch myself a few times. I glide though Kubutambahan and the sign for Singaraja pops up. Fifteen minutes more and I’m at home. So what’s the lesson here?

It ain’t over until the Fat Lady sings.

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~ by drbrucepk on March 22, 2008.

One Response to “Sumbawa to Singaraja on a Bike”

  1. WELL DONE DR BRUCE

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