By bike through Sumatra part 1: Winter clothes at the equator

Taxifahrer in Kuala Tungkal, Jambi, Sumatra, Indonesien

Taxi in Kuala Tungkal

By bike through Indonesia part 1: Winter clothes at the equator

Country: Indonesia

From Batam to Katia Maju Ponga Muan

Lesson learned: It is always a good idea to have some winter clothes handy, even at 30°C.

Laughed about: Pressing the nose against a window to accidentally scare little children

Most wonderful miracle: To speak a couple of words Indonesian

Food we ate: Plenty of Nasi Goreng

Greatest challenge: Not to freak out when a scorpion falls from the ceiling on the floor

Days on the bike: 2

Kilometers cycled: 43.93

Average Kilometers per day: 21.97

Total Kilometers cycled till Batam: 13936.54

Total days travelled till Batam: 799

December 2013,  By bike through Sumatra Part 1

Präsentation für die Schüler von Total English, Phils Schule

Holding a presentation for the students of Total English, Phil’s school

The Visa days were counted, we could not stay in Batam forever. But where in Sumatra should we go? I wanted to cycle over the equator rather than just flying over it.

Boaz y Phil

Boaz and Phil

After plenty of research in several Indonesian websites I got interested in a small town called Kuala Tungkal on the river of Sungai Pangabuan in the state of Jambi.  Several small side streets led from there up to the north.


Beautiful memories: jumping off a waterfall in Batam

It was not a long way to reach Dumai, where ferries head back to Malaysia, but we did not want any time pressure anymore. We wanted to go slow, make breaks, maybe take a detour through a national park, learn to fish and enjoy the cycling.

Boaz' Familie und Freunde

Boaz’ family and friends

The ferry left at 9.00 am. Jack rode his motorbike with us to the port. He was still a bit ill. In the following days he would go out and explore Batam by bike – north to south and east to west.

Annika disfruando del agua.

Inside the waterfall

It was raining cats and dogs and after cycling some 15 Kilometers to the West of the island we were soaking wet. I had read several blogs about using ferries in Indonesia and I was prepared.

Fährtickets von Batam nach Kuala Tungkal

Tickets to Kuala Tungkal

Travellers wrote about packed boats, rough seas, vomit, people who sit and even stand on deck because all seats are taken. I thought back on our train adventures in China. We had standing tickets for a 36 hours trip from Beijing to Kunming. This was only going to take some 6-8 hours.

Camino hacia la Cascada

On the way to Batam’s waterfall

When the ferry took of I was more than surprised. Less than half of the seats were taken. Our bikes were gently lifted on the deck and we had plenty of empty seats to chose from.

Der Fußmarsch lohnt sich

It’s worth the walk.

When the doors closed, the temperature inside the ferry dropped at about -2°C. I tried to avoid direct wind of the air conditioner, but it did not help at all. and fail miserably. My teeth did not stop chattering until I got out of my wet clothes and into all dry clothes that I had brought.

10000 Layers of clothes on a sunny afternoon in Kuala Tungkal's harbour.

10000 Layers of clothes on a sunny afternoon in Kuala Tungkal’s harbour.

With the only pair of socks, my thermal shirt, various other shirts and pants and some scarves I still felt cold until I curled up under the sleeping bag inlet.  We wanted to celebrate the moment when we crossed the equator, but the crew crossed it every day and they did not celebrate.

Erste Eindrücke von Kuala Tungkal

First impressions of Kuala Tungkal

 We had no GPS to tell us when the special moment happened. So we stayed under our inlet deciding that we would better celebrate when we cycle back into the Northern hemisphere some days later.

Kuala Tungkal

Kuala Tungkal

After eight hours we arrived in Kuala Tungkal. There were plenty of people in the small harbor, asking us were we were heading to. They were all surprised hearing that Kuala Tungkal was our last ferry station.

Gütertransport in Kuala Tungkal, Jambi

Transportation in Kuala Tungkal

Men hauled a surprisingly large number of Angry Birds mattresses ashore, followed by several big suitcases and heaps of bags filled with all kind of food. Last came our bikes. No damage at all.

Somewhere outside the center was the Hotel City. I had looked it up but since we had no map I only knew it was going to be in the Southwest of town.

Essen gibt es an jeder Ecke

There are plenty of food strolls to chose from

We rode in wild zigzag through town and found it surprisingly quickly. The roads were filled with many cyclists, bicycle taxis, some mopeds and a few cars.

The next day we went out to explore the center. Kuala Tungkal was a fairly small town.



I could not find any map of the area and searching for Wifi was told that I should better go to the city of Jambi, some 130 Kilometers further southwest. We got ourselves some fried rice for 0,50 € for each portion.  The liveliest area was the one around the harbor.



Men were pulling wooden carts to the port and filled them sky-high with all sorts of things that the morning ferry had brought. They pulled the carts across the city. The traffic was quite disorganized and the roads were in a pretty bad condition. Good thing: people could not speed up too much and traffic was not too dangerous.

Neugierige Kinder

Curious kids

Many of the children were very shy. They ran away giggling when we addressed them. But when I got out my camera suddenly they were all back and want to be photographed. Very few women wore a headscarf, some even used shorts in public.



Only the motorcyclists put on several layers of jackets and pants as if it was deep winter. Goats and chickens ran through the streets people honked nonstop.

After a second night in the “Ekonomi” room (about 5 € for a room with fan and bathroom down the hall) we made our way. Our sleeping rhythms were completely destroyed since Batam, where we sometimes stayed up till 4 am working chatting and watching movies. It was 1 pm when we woke up and 2.30 when we left.

Jeder scheint irgendetwas zu transportieren

Everybody seemed to be transporting something

The large main road led south to Jambi, the capital of the same-named state. But we anted to go north. We started in the main road nevertheless, because it is the only one that led out of the city. Then we reached a crossroad.

Foto! Foto! Foto Mister!

Foto! Foto! Foto Mister!

Straight towards Jambi, right somewhere else apparently. We did not want to go to Jambi, so I supposed we would have to turn right. It was in this crossroad that the grey clouds finally started to pour rain and just in time before a bad storm down began we found ourselves a street restaurant.

El Camino desde mi Bici

The view from the seat

We ate and I asked for directions.

Nobody spoke any English. Fortunately, I had learned a little Malay. Malay the Indonesian are very similar and I could comunicate in a very limited way.

Las Bicis de Kuala Tungkal

Bike shop in Kuala Tungkal

“Road to Pulau Kijang. This?” (pointing towards the little road )

” Ferry.” (Pointing in the direction that we came from)

“There is street?”

” Yes, there is. Small way.” (pointing towards the little road)

“Problem not there is. To own bicycle”


Motorbike rider

Great! That was exactly what I was looking for: a small cozy street away from the wild traffic. We wanted to get to know the rural Sumatra. When the rain fell more gently, we continued.

Las Bicis de Kuala Tungkal

Plenty of cyclists in Kuala Tungkal

The trail passed through coconut plantations, palm oil fields, crossed a lot of small channels and continued past wooden houses on stilts with corrugated iron roofs or palm thatch roofs. Half an hour before sunset Roberto asked somebody for a place to pitch the tent.

Familienausflug mit dem Mofa

Family vacation by motorbike? No problem.

A nice man accompanied us to Sulbaktis and Muinahs house. The two were – if I have understood correctly – the village chiefs and they invited us to spend the night with them. Sulbaktis friend translated for one half hour, then he went home. We were on our own. Muinah brught some sugar with a sip of tea and then sat down next to her daughter Atika, helping her with the homework. The Indonesians love extremely sweetened hot drinks. So do I. I digged out my notebook, the Indonesian-German PhraseBook and the Without-Words-Dictionary (a little booklet full of pictures to point on). Indonesian lessons 101.

Sulbakti und Roberto

Sulbakti and Roberto

We chatted for a while until Atika suddenly jumped up screaming. A large black scorpion had fallen through the boards in the ceiling to the floor directly in front of her nose. Now it was confusedly running through the living room. While Roberto and I were trying to hide our panic so we wouldn’t look like frightened fools, Sulbakti grabbed a shoe and corpsed the intruder.

Das Mädchen klettert flotter als jeder Affe.

This girl is the fstest climber I have ever seen.

Before we went off to bed, we enjoyed a fresh shower. This is how having a shower is done in Indonesia:

Most houses would have a small wooden terrace in the backyard or on the side of the house. There usually stand one or two big bowls full of water with a ladle floating in it. I only wasted time searching for a shower curtain or something else to preserve my privacy. In order to avoid attracting all the neighbor’s attention, I did not hesitate and showered with my towel. By the first time I did this, my towel ended up being wetter than I was, but with the time I have developed a system to get the body clean and keep the towel rather dry.

Die Kinder strahlen in die Kamera ...

The kids loved the camera, they always gathered around it.

Muinah showed us the spare room that was going to be ours for the night and I collapsed into a wooden box disguised as a bed. Loud rumbling in the entire house. The cats were the only ones who did not notice and stayed curled up between the sheets, sleeping peacefully.

At midnight, both of us were wide awake. What was wrong with our sleeping patterns lately? It was 5 am when we found sleep and only an hour later everybody got up.

... bis Roberto den Auslöser drückt.


We decided it was best for us to get up too, have a cup of sugar with coffee and get ready. As I entered the living room, a considerably large group of friends, neighbors and acquaintances had found their way to Sulbaktis and Muinahs house. ” Family” explained Sulbakti. In Indonesia, most neighbors symbolically belong to the family.

a Bella Gente de Indonesia

Kuala Tungkal isn’t very known for its tourist attractions. So everybody wants to meet the few foreign visitors

The adults sat with us while the kids stayed out and flattened their noses on the reflecting windows to see what was going on inside. I accidentally scared two little boys terribly when I flattened my nose against the window as well, because they did not see anything for a while with the reflections. I doubt that there were many foreigners finding their way through this area.

Morgens um halb sieben macht der erste Besuch es sich auf dem Boden bequem.

Visitors at 6.30 am.

At 8 am we left. Sulbakti warned us: “The road can get pretty bumpy, especially now after the rain ” . I smiled “Never mind, we got bikes”. I had no idea how much I would regret having said that soonafter.

6384 Total Views 2 Views Today
  1. Pingback: Cycling Sumatra Part 5: Honks and hills | Tasting the cultures of the world by bike

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *