Saturday, 30 October 2010

Trails and Tribulations

Well, it’s been a while since my last blog update, so I’ll get you up to speed with what’s been happening in my world.

I’m currently in Penang having just received a new engine from BMW.
It’s taken 6 weeks for BMW Germany to say yes to a new engine under warranty. After providing service history, photos of the broken engine parts and test results the go ahead was finally given and 10 days later a brand new shinny engine, if only for a short time which I’ll talk about later, arrived at the BMW Penang offices in Georgetown.
The offending item had been a broken piston. The ribs that sit around the piston holding in the piston rings had broken off explaining why engine oil had been seeping into the combustion chamber and burning 1 litre every 150k’s.

I would like to give a big thanks to BMW Malaysia who have been fantastic during all of my problems and have bent over backwards to help me in my time of need. I’d like to give a special mention to their head mechanic Mikah, he’s been an absolute star, really going out of his way to help me out.

It’s actually been a bit of an eventful 7 weeks, during which time I caught Dengue Fever and suffered an ear infection that involved a doctor puncturing my eardrum to drain it. It’s left me with a predisposition of subsequent bouts of Dengue and annoying Tinnitus which hopefully will fade over time……..

Memo turned up a week before I was due to leave, he was shipping his bike back to Turkey and heading home. He’d bought me a bottle of Taliskar from duty free on his way back from Sumatra so we immediately set about demolishing the whiskey. It was the end of his trip but we’d surely see each other again, the list of people to visit on the way home was now building.

I’d roped in Bram for a ride over to the east coast., we’d become good friends during my time in Penang. Bram would join me for half the trip before heading home and I’d continue on to the East coast to run the engine in before returning back to Penang and shipping the bike back to Indonesia. One thing I’ve learned is things don’t always go to plan.

We headed out to the hills…..

Bram had pushed slightly ahead.
I was really enjoying being back on the bike and winding my way through the fast twisties of the Malaysian hills.

About 100km’s out of Penang I ran wide on a corner and hit some gravel on the side of the road traveling at about 100km/hr. The bike went down and ended up going backwards down a concrete drainage ditch with me still attached, we eventually came to a stop facing the direction I had come from…

Initially I was amazing that I’d got away unscathed. Looking down I noticed the third finger on my right hand was bent in the middle at a 45 degree angle, instinctively I grabbed the finger and snapped it back into place. Only a dislocation but a pretty painful one at that.
There was no way of pushing the bike out of the ditch, the only way out was to ride up the storm drain and jump the bike up a small wall at the end to get it back out and on to the roadside.
I’d made a genuine riding mistake and it had been a lesson well learnt…

Crash Site

Apart from the dislocation and a scraped on my knee I’d got away lightly and so had the beamer. The only damage being a grated off pillion foot peg, a scrap down the engine block, a bend hand guard and I’d torn off one of the panniers.
Bram arrived and found me attempting to beat the pannier back into shape with my trusty hammer, the single most useful tool I’d brought on the trip. I decided it wasn’t a good idea to continue so we headed back to Penang after I’d strapped the pannier back on, it would mean another visit to the welders before I headed back to Indonesia.

Bram kindly offered to let me stay at his house with the family for a few days while I recovered. After 3 days the swelling on my hand had gone down enough to allow me to ride the bike to the mechanics to make sure there was nothing more serious than a few scrapes.

5 days later I was heading off to ship the bike back to Indonesia…

I’d like to say a big thanks to Bram, Emily, James and Arthur for looking after me and making me feel really welcome in your home. I really enjoyed my time with you guys.

Bram and Neil on Neil's leaving do

Left to right: Bram, Arthur, Harry Potter, James and Emily

Sumatra part 2

I’d already planned on visiting Helen for a couple of weeks on my way back through Medan, a side trip was needed….

I stuck Helen on the back of the bike and we headed off to Brastagi for the weekend. It was my second time there but Helen had never seen the place and after speaking to Memo I was eager to climb Sibayak, a still active volcano.

Arriving after a very wet journey we checked into a hotel and settled in for the night.
The great thing about Sibayak is that you can ride the bike ¾ of the way up to an old disused spar and then walk for 40 minutes to get to the crater, perfect for the lazy hiker.

Sibayak crater is a lunar landscape of strewn boulders and gushing sulphur plumbs giving it an other worldly feel. It was the first time I’d peered into an active volcano evoking feelings of the immense power of nature.

Gungung Sibayak

It was time for me to head South, I had a pressing deadline. The plan was to go home for a mates wedding and see the family for 3 weeks, I needed to make a flight from Bali on the 13th and also give myself enough time to find a safe place to store the bike while away.

After dropping Helen off in Medan and saying our farewells I started the long haul South towards java. It would be 12 hour riding days, not my preferred way of travel but it had to be done.

5 days,2000k’s, 4 offers of daughters from their parents and a dead dog later, leaving me on the hat-trick after my first victim in Kyrgyzstan, I reached the bottom of Sumatra. On the way down I spent a day at Bukittinggi and took a walk up into the jungle to see the fabled Raflesia, the largest flower in the world.

Raflesia gets it’s name from Raffles of the famous Raffles Hotel in Singapore, purported to have re-discovered the flower on a trip to the jungles of Sumatra.
Famed for it’s stench of rotting meat Raflesia is in fact a fungus, it emits the unpleasant smell to attract flies for pollination purposes. Measuring up to a metre across it flowers very infrequently, quite often once every year, with blooms lasting for up to a week. I was lucky enough to catch one in full blossom.


Southern Sumatra

After a short stay in Lampung I took the ferry to Java to continue my journey South and East……


Being home to the capital Jakarta, the financial powerhouse of Indonesia and half the countries population it’s immediately obvious that Java is more modern and developed than Sumatra. The people of Java are very warm, jovial and welcoming, more so than their brothers across the water in Sumatra, whom at times, maybe due to the harsh nature of life in the region, can sometimes seem stern and a bit removed.

Within 10 minutes of being off the ferry I was in one of the famed Javanese traffic jams…..

Traffic is a real problem in Java, the cities being almost constantly gridlocked. Jakarta has legendary status as the most traffic chocked city in the world and with the Indonesian population growing at 1.5% a year the problem is only going to get worse in the future. My friends in Medan had advised me to travel through western Java in the middle of the night. Generally i don’t like traveling at night so I decided to stick to daylight hours and just bite the bullet for the next few days. The plan was to take the Southern route across the volcanic chain, the best scenery in Java, skirt the major cities of Jakarta and Jogjakarta leaving the unavoidable Bandung as the major traffic hot-spot on my journey East…

After 3 days I arrived at Borobudur in East Central Java, home to one of the most important archaeologically sites in Indonesia. After getting lost in the traffic, Bandung hadn’t been that bad in the end. As happens so many times in countries round the world, a friendly local appeared with precision timing and guided me through the city, sending me on way on the right road heading East.
I often ask myself would this happen at home. We in Europe can learn a lot from other, less privileged countries about how to treat our fellow man. It inspires me to become a better person and to treat travelers new to UK with the same friendliness and helpfulness I’ve been shown on my journey. It’s very humbling indeed.

The Borneo Bike Club

Road to Borobudur


Surrounded by lush green rice fields and the mighty hulk of Gugung Merapi, Borobudur has a pleasant temperate climate, a nice place to spend a couple of days. The star attraction is of course the large Buddhist monument that gives the area it’s name. Being a bit of anomaly in Indonesia, Buddhism is largely confined to the modern day Chinese immigrant community who’s temples and monuments have their own unique look and feel; Borobudur has the appearance of the great temples of Thailand and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Little is known about the history but it’s believed to be built by the Sailendra dynasty in AD750 and was then abandoned after the decline of Buddhism and the seat of power shifted to Eastern Java.
The monument was then restored in 1815 under the order of Stamford Raffles during his period as governor of Java. Tons of volcanic ash was cleared from a previous eruption of Merapi to reveal a monument of intricate carvings. After surviving a terrorist bomb attack in 1985 Borobudur was given World Heritage Status in 1991.

Borobudur, situated on the top of hill, is built on a square base of 118m by 118m with 6 tiers gradually reducing in size creating a series of walkways from which the worshiper gradually makes his way towards the top. The true beauty of the monument comes from the relief’s carved into the walkway walls, charting a journey from hell at the base leading through various stages of enlightenment finally reaching nirvana at the top when the 5km walk has been completed.


Another long days ride took me to the rim of mount Bromo just as nightfall was approaching. I cut my way down through the sand of the caldera and up the other side to find a room in a small hotel a couple of km’s from the lip. It would be another early start to reach a viewpoint on an adjacent mountain for sunrise.

Road to Bromo

The king of fried rice, Mutton Nasi Goreng


Making the journey back across the floor of the volcano I reached the viewpoint just before sunrise. On reaching the mountain summit I discovered 500 other tourists desperately trying to elbow a space to take a photo of the sunrise, it was more tourists on one small piece of land than I’d seen in the whole of my time in Indonesia.
I took a few photos of the pantomime going on in front of me and sat down to chat to a guy from Jakarta for half an hour until the the hordes had jumped back into their 4 wheel drives and headed off into the crater. Within 15 minutes of sunrise I was left to enjoy the amazing view with a dozen other people for company.

Spotting the sunrise over the tourist throng

While not the largest volcano in Indonesia, Bromo has to be the candidate for the most beautiful, so picture perfect it almost takes your breath away. Made up of 3 smaller volcanoes, the still active one being Bromo, surrounded by the caldera of a large volcano with the smoking gun of Gunung Semeru in the distance. It casts a surreal picture perfect view that only nature could produce, probably the single most jaw-dropping view I’ve seen in the whole of my time in Indonesia.

Stunning Bromo

Spending a morning razing round in the sea of sand and visiting a lovely little village over the rim at the far side of the caldera had been nice but it was time to head for Bali and my flight back to the UK.

In the sea of sand and surrounding villages

Road to Bali


Bali as seen from Java

I took the ferry and made the 3 hour journey down Bali’s Southern coast and hit Kuta. Famed as the party area of Bali, Kuta can be described as the Australian version of Magaluf, pretty grim but good for a laugh if you need to let off a bit of steam. I rolled into the hostel and met up with Elvis (Norwegian biker) and hit the town for a night out.

After one night I relocated to Jimbaran, South of the airport, a good place to leave the bike.
Two days later I was on a flight back to the UK…..

With this being a travel blog, I don’t really want to write about my 3 week visit home, suffice to say I’d like to congratulate Jim and Eve on their marriage, it was a fantastic day.
Thanks to Andy and Emma for making sure I wasn’t sleeping on the streets during my time in London.
It was also good to see my family, I really enjoyed the BBQ’s and Northern banter, I miss that.

Also, congratulations to my cousin Kara on her engagement, I look forward to the wedding next year.

Once I’d eaten and drunk all the Sunday roasts, cheese and red wine I could possible take, it was time to get back on the flight with a few spare parts, a bike frame for my friends in Medan, a new passport and visa.
It was time to head back to Indonesia and of course the beamer…..