Cycling through Sumatra Part 3: Thirteen kilometers in seven hours

Dirty feet

I walked through deep mud, clear water and mud again. My toes stayed red-brown for weeks.

Cycling through Sumatra Part 3: Thirteen kilometers in seven hours

Country: Indonesia

From Katia Dusun Sungay Limau to Pulau Kijang

Lesson learned: River water is not potable, not even when boiled

Laughed about: Two dirty foreigners swinging their mosquito coils through the rain forest

Most wonderful miracle: Emergency-food: dried prunes

Food we ate: Instant noodle soup, one aniseed, banana-spring rolls, rice

Greatest challenge: mud, soil and mosquitos.

Days on the bike: 1 (more pushed than cycled)

Kilometers cycled: 12.94

Average Kilometers per day: 12.94

Total Kilometers cycled till Dusun Sungay Limau: 13968.85

Total days travelled till Dusun Sungay Limau: 801

February 2014: Cycling through Sumatra Part 3.

The floor was quite comfortable and I finally managed to sleep all night through – all night meaning until 3 am when the roosters outside started a competition to see who can reach the highest acoustic level. The winner was not clear for hours and the competition continued until 6 am when we got up. It was Monday and that means it was market day on the other side of the river. The kids got out of the house early, they went to school in the village with the market. Our host dolled herself up and even put a headscarf on. The shop was closed since the late afternoon so the only thing we were able to offer her as a present in the night were two packets of instant noodle soups. Our host had prepared them for us and served them as a breakfast.

Bike path in Sumatra

In the morning we had the most perfect cycling path

The little boat was big enough for all of us and our bikes and we were happy to pay for all the family. A paved jetty awaited us on the other side of the river. Great!

Many women sold vegetables, meat and fish, but we decided to skip the shopping and cooking for now and better wait until Pulau Kijang in about 10 kilometers.

Of course we were the market’s main attraction. Kids and adults stared at us but nobody greeted us. Instead the adults yelled something towards us after we had passed them, but we did not understand and when we turned around, they just giggled.

Forest bicycle path in Sumatra

Can’t complain. The soil is solid and the shade is cool.

The paved narrow path led us deep into the forest It got shady and a bit cooler with all the big trees, palm trees, fern and giant leaves around us. Every now and then we spotted a single house, then we were on our own. Soon the pavement disappeared and we rode on wood, then on sand, then soil and finally on soily mud. We pushed our bikes along a small black canal where about a million mosquitos spotted us. Just a few days ago we had finished the last bit of mosquito repellent and I was sure that the mosquitos knew about this mistake. Half of them attacked while I desperately searched for the zip-on parts of my trousers. I only found one and a few pieces of a broken mosquito coil. I lit three of them and we continued walking while we fanned the coils through the air like two priests with their incense.

When we left the forest, the sun hit us hard.

When we left the forest, the sun hit us hard.

I must have appeared like a broken robot-fish that was pulled out of the water, thrashing around and moving all limbs. I decided that it was an unbalanced fight when I nearly fell into the canal. There were just too many of them. We could not win this fight. All we could do was hope that none of the mosquitos carried malaria or dengue fever (edit: they didn’t).

The forest grew and the trees got taller. Undergrowth surrounded us to all sides and it would have been a very idyllic walk if it wasn’t for the mosquitos and the mix of mud, soil and goat poop that was so deep that half my lower leg sank into it with every single step.

El Camino en medio de la Jungla

The way was beautiful and partly we were even able to cycle.

We walked further and the deep forest cleared until we walked on a much wider but equally muddy path. Our protection from the hard sun disappeared and so did the mosquitos. It was too hot for them outside the forest. It was too hot for us too, what there was nothing we could do against that. We rarely saw any humans, but every now and then a monkey family, some goats or chicken crossed our path. The few humans were mostly school kids who were more than confused to see us standing in the sun, swearing and cursing in Spanish while we poked the biggest soil bricks out of our mudguards and brakes, just to continue pushing bikes with wheels that did not turn.

Around noon the sun shore even harder. We were soaking wet, but the puddles were as deep and wet as back in the humid forest. Our average walking meters between every stop went down on 20. We both were extremely bad tempered and did the most stupid thing that a team could do in such a situation: we started to argue.

We were not too happy about our situation and began to argue with each other

We were not too happy about our situation and began to argue with each other

While we stood there, shouting and yelling and pinning the blame for some inanity on the other one (fortunately without audience) I got a wave of dizziness and had to sit down. Roberto forgot his anger and offered me the last bit of water, but I refused – what will we drink when that bit was finished? We had left our loyal water filter in Malaysia, safely stored in a box together with winter gear and a few books. I really did not expect to be in need of it during rainy season in Indonesia.

So there we sat in the mud between ponds and savannah, wondering how we should continue, when a man walked straight towards us. He carried a few tools and a sharpened stick for the mud. I could have hugged him. Roberto asked our savior for water and 10 minutes later the two came back with two bull bottles of delicious water.

I wish I had a mountain bike.

I wish I had a mountain bike.

When I felt less dizzy we continued. After another hour we both decided that it was really time for a break and opened the emergency food: a bag of dried prunes and a little bag of electrolyte powder that we had bought back in Thailand. I felt how the power got back into my body and after some 15-20 minutes I was mentally prepared for the last part of the drudgery.

We knew that we were near a settlement because some of the biggest puddles were covered with a bit of scrub and some branches, so we wouldn’t sink too deep anymore. When we spotted a real bridge we knew that we had nearly made it. Behind the bridge our bikes jolted through a few pieces of concrete and soon we found ourselves on a holey concrete path. We mounted the bikes and rolled as slowly as just possible because we still could not close our brakes for all the mud that was in them. We had spent seven hours for less than 20 kilometers, 2 ½ of them walking and cycling the bikes, 15 minutes having a break and 4 ¼ hours trying to make the wheels turn again.

There are also advantages of cycling through Sumatra during rainy season: beautiful views like this one.

There are also advantages of cycling through Sumatra during rainy season: beautiful views like this one.

Pulau Kijang was a small town, so small, that it was not even mentioned on google maps. Some houses were made of concrete and most of them were old and the color had fallen off, but to us it was like entering a little paradise. There were shops, street stands and even a hotel.

We had two options: a room with fan and a communal bathroom (50.000 Rupiah or a bit less than 3 €) or the “luxury” version: a bigger room with our own bathroom and A/C (100.000 Rupiah or a bit less than 6 €).

We decided quickly that today we have earned ourselves a bit of luxury. Just 10 minutes later we were more than happy about our decision. Remember: a private bathroom is a great idea when you have breakfast cooked with maggot-water from the river. After an hour all noodles were out of our bodies and our guts slowly calmed down. I felt sorry for our yesterday’s host family. They probably prepare all their food and drinks with river water.

We grabbed our muddy bags, stored them in our room and set off to visit the car wash. There was not a single car in town, but quite some customers in the car wash, cleaning their motorbikes. We queued and enjoyed our bike’s shower nearly as much as we would enjoy scrubbing the mud off our own bodies.

Indonesian car wash

We are the town’s main attraction

The carwash’s owner even helped us with the mudguards and the bill for the transformation of two completely filthy and muddy bikes in some shining beauties was 10.000 Rupiah (0.60 €). During the cleaning process a few kids came closer and when we were done we found ourselves in the center of a big crowd of people who – at a respectful distance – stared at us. Cellphone-cameras clicked, young girls giggled and more and more people came to have a look at the town’s new attraction. Riidha, a fourteen year old girl, spoke some English. Together with her and her teacher Riska we left the carwash and went off to a restaurant. I was starving and ate as much as I could fit in. The bill was 4.18 €, we had not spent more than that during the entire past two days. Where could you leave your money if there were no shops around?

Riidha wanted to present us to her parents and we decided to meet her in the hotel at 7 pm, so we would have another 3 hours of time to scrub the dry mud off our legs and arms, write, do some laundry and get a bit of sleep.

Indonesian traditional dinner

Riidha’s family treated us with greatfood, but we could hardly chew for all the posing and chatting. Left to right: Riidha’s father, Annika, Riddha’s mother, Roberto, Riska and Riidha.

Everybody knows about everything in a small town. Rumors are of big importance and of course people want to see things with their own eyes. When we came back to the hotel we found a group of students waiting for us in the lobby, they came to take pictures with us and see if we really existed. When the girls left, I took a long cold shower and just laid down on the bed when somebody knocked the door. “Mister! Mister!”. We spent the next two hours smiling in a lot of cameras, posing and doing smalltalk and in the end we were completely exhausted.

The visitors gave us half an hour of break and when I just fell asleep, Riidha and Riska arrived. Half an hour early. They must have been quite excited. Both were rather surprised when we told them that we had never ridden a motorbike and so they decided to take each of us as a passenger. There was hardly any mud on the way but more potholes than concrete. Literally.

Riidhas mother had cooked dinner and we sat on the floor between 4 plates. Onl Riidha’s father, her teacher Riska, Roberto and I ate: The other visitors (10 inside and many more outside the door) just watched. While we still filled up our plates, Rhiida’s siblings, uncles, aunts, neighbors, cousins, taekwondo-students and friends prepared their cellphones and took one picture after another. I smiled until I bit an aniseed. The seed fell into many small pieces and the strong taste got all through my mouth in less than a second. How could I politely get rid of all those pieces while everybody was constantly watching me? I could not swallow it, unless I wanted to burp with aniseed-flavor for days. I could not search my mouth for all the pieces while 10 cameras were directed towards me either. There was nothing I could do, but continuing to smile, until Roberto gets the audience’s attention. Then I quickly turned around and placed the pieces in the corner of my plate.

Dinner at Riidha's place.

Dinner at Riidha’s place.

Being in the center of attraction for a while is not as easy as it may sound. It needs quite some planning to spit food, have a nap or scratch body parts that should not be scratched in public.

When we finished eating, the family took some more pictures before we set off – of course Riska’s parents also wanted to meet us. We had some coffee, sweets, smalltalk and more pictures. Some of Riska’s perent’s friends come to visit and two of them were introduced to us as the town’s policemen. They asked for our passports and while I started to explain where all the stamps and visas were from, they got up and took copies of the passports. I started to feel a bit uncomfortable and so did Roberto. We did not want the hotel owners to get into any trouble for hosting foreigners, because I did not know if they would have to register us. Somehow my notebook with all expenses, our friend’s addresses and my diary make the round on the table and when it came back to me, I put it away immediately. I don’t know what exactly the policemen were looking for but they made us feel uncomfortable and we have learned to listen to such feelings.

It was really really wet.

It was really really wet.

Riska’s unkle asked for my name. “And that?” he asked and pointed towards Roberto. “That” did not think that this was a very polite way to ask for my marriage status and answered himself. The two of them started a nice chat anyway and the uncle explained us the way from here to Pekanbaru. When we nearly fell asleep sitting, the girls gave us a ride back. I fall right into bed only to be woken up 5 minutes later. “Miss! Hello Miiiiiss!“ and some knocks on the door. Four young teenagers had come to see us. They had brought banana-springrolls and wanted to take some pictures. We had a chitchat with the google translator and after ten minutes I just couldn’t stay awake anymore. I really did not want to be that impolite but I was extremely exhausted, excused myself and went straight to bed.


Do you want to lose some weight, learn a new language, pamper your feet with a natural mud pack and meet plenty of new people? Get on your bike and visit Sumatra’s rain forests!





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  1. Michael says:

    Thank you so much for brightening up my day at work! This makes me really want to be on a bike again, I’m glad you two are still having fun and the adventures never stop!

    • admin says:

      We always enjoy. I am so happy we got lost there. There have been many many days when I thought “I wish we had the time to just get off the road and follow one of those little paths and see where it may lead us to”. Well, seems like we just found out.

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