Chasing Hedonia - Sydney to Paris with no schedule, no plan

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by BHedonia, Aug 29, 2018.

  1. BHedonia

    BHedonia BikeHedonia

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    What better place to start than in the middle? I've been on the road for a year and a half but guys, some of the places I've been are just so too good not to share. So I hope you don't mind if I launch a thread late rather than never.

    I started out in Sydney in February 2017 to ride my KTM 690 Enduro overland to Paris. Why Paris? I had a bunch of reasons to leave town and Paris is a hell of a long way away from Sydney, so I thought that would do as well as anywhere. The point, really, is to keep riding into the unknown for a very, very long time.

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    Anyway, I spent six months crossing Australia, up through Birdsville and western Queensland, with a side trip to the Gulf; that blue sky and red dirt make my heart sing. From there, a month in Timor Leste. What an adventure rider's dream: even the "main roads" are off road. Even when there is asphalt, the local traffic calming devices (children, chickens, goats, large rocks, dogs, drying crops) keep you on your toes. It never, ever gets boring.

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    Then, into Indonesia, island hopping through Timor Barat and Flores, which is where I'm picking the story up now.

    The North coast of Flores is still pretty isolated. The northern road is largely still dirt and follows the hilly, winding coastline; all day, you've got hills and cliffs on your left, blue sea and white beaches on your right. There's hardly anyone around and all the people you meet are friendly as hell; makes you love humanity again. The dry season sun will roast you hard, but oh how it's worth it. It's also, actually, a really good place to travel alone: even on a dirt track with no phone reception and feeling like you could disappear off the edge of the earth... someone will appear sooner or later. Whether it's kids on their way to school, or a farmer walking to a far field... there's always someone to help you out that in that wild landscape if you need it. The downside is that it's damn hard to find a truly secluded spot to camp - someone always find you, which can scare the hell out of you in the middle of the night. But, they're usually just there to tell you come inside and sleep in their house.

    Even the cops are awesome. In Timor and Indonesia, plenty of cops have yelled out me and waved me down - but only to tell me how much they like my bike. And heading along the north coast of Flores, from Riung to Reo, I even met up with a whole bunch of them out for a braap.

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    Absolute legends, every single one of them.



    {Mods, is the video allowed? If not, please let me know.}

    Each day, I plan my route based on how I feel. I look at maps.me and google maps and try to pick the lines on the map that look the most squiggly, and the most skinny. I don't have a gps, just my phone. And then I ask the locals what the road is like; if they can't do it on their scooters, I can't do it on my fancy KTM. (Denigrate the offroading ability of an Indonesian local on a Honda Vario at your peril!)

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    Anyway, there's lots more to tell. But in summary: Indonesia is an adventure rider's paradise. Great food, friendly people, all the off-road tracks you could even hope for, almost no rules, and from April to November, blue skies every day. Shipping your own bike over here is expensive, but getting hold of a KLX150 and going nuts for a couple of weeks - easiest thing in the world.

    Catch you later,

    Grace
    #1
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  2. Cro59

    Cro59 Been here awhile

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    Good to meet you last night at Rider’s Corner. Hope you decide to add to the ride report.
    #2
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  3. BHedonia

    BHedonia BikeHedonia

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    Okay, ride report. Timor Leste.

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    I have a blog where I write about my feelings but this is advrider where we don't have feelings so here's the bare bones ride report. Roads, motorbikes, misadventures.
    Summary: You should definitely go ride a dirtbike around Timor Leste.

    So, Timor Leste is the eastern half of that big island called Timor which sits to the north of Australia, on the eastern edge of Indonesia. "Timor" means "East" in bahasa Indonesia; "Leste" also means "East", but in Portuguese. So the place is called East East. It's fucking East.

    It's also very poor, and very new. You may or may not have noticed that there was a bit of a war of independence recently, which culminated in 1999 when the United Nations (and Australia, and a few others) intervened and the Indonesians retreated back to the western end of the island, leaving the Timorese to their own devices. This is relevant to motorcycling in Timor because this is why (with the exception of one strip of road between Dili and the Indonesian border) almost none of the roads have been maintained since 1999. This is why you'll be wanting a dirtbike, and having a fantastic time on it. It's also relevant because that's why you'll be buying your fuel in USD. And finally, it explains why Timor Leste is a country where the majority of the population is under 15 years of age, everyone is very poor, 40% of people are a bit stunted because of malnutrition, and there's basically no economy to speak of.

    Not really selling it to you, am I?

    Stay with me. This is a giant island covered with looming mountains, dirt tracks, generous people and it's like nowhere you've been before.

    So Dili is the capital, and it's a pretty big town with plenty of NGOs. It's dusty and hot and dirty and you can get most things, including a flight in or out; visa on arrival is $30 USD for 30 days, make sure you have cash when you land. For a dirt-poor country, everything's pretty expensive in Dili too, because everything is rare and everything is imported. It'll cost you $20 USD for a nice hostel, $3 USD for a beer. Get out of Dili ASAP.

    If you're renting or buying a bike, I highly suggest a KLX150 because they're pretty much the only dirtbikes available in Timor Leste and they're perfect for the terrain. You're probably thinking that's a tiny bike but trust me, in Timor it seems pretty big. You can go anywhere on it, you can get parts for it, you can fix it. I imported my KTM 690 Enduro as part of my rtw trip, and it was excessively huge for the conditions. KLX is where it's at.

    Anyway, it took me two days to get the 690 out of Customs - nothing happens quickly here, just chill - and then I rolled east out of Dili, heading for the easternmost tip. Now, for Timor, time of year matters. I was there in late September, and it was witheringly hot. The road out of Dili had some roadworks and the bulldust just hung over the coastline and settled in drifts; it mixes with the sweat on your face, turns to mud, but who cares; still too hot to close the visor on your helmet. No worries. You get to Baucau. There are some cheap hotels there. Ask the locals, they're awesome. The hotels don't have signs.

    You can also stay with the religious orders. I stayed with nuns at the convent for a few days before I found an ever cheaper hotel, unmarked, ten dollars a night, where the kids would come and teach me tetum. The brothers are further up the hill. Bacuau has an old town - with old Portuguse-era buildings nestled amoung gigantic outcrops, even a 400 year old fort ruin down near the misty blue, heat-hazed sea. Further up the hill is new town, which is where you'll find the fuel station and the illegal casino, you're welcome to gamble but no photos please.

    From Baucau you're heading into the villages, the kids smile when they see you and wave and shout 'bom dia!', good day, hello mister! (If you are female, in Timor, you must also learn to answer to Hello Mister.) Food can be hard to find; there are little shanty-shops selling biscuits and phone credit everywhere, but fresh food is hard to find. The local people know who grows what; in the afternoons they just walk to the relevant neighbour's house and buy vegetables and fruit as needed. Restaurants - eating shacks - are few and far between, but as you ride along the coast you'll see a few clusters of structures, where freshly caught fish is fried sold in the evening. Now is the time to learn to love white rice and small fish, fried whole with salt.

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    Don't worry, you're going to love it: after riding dirt in searing heat all day, any animal or fish based oil that touches your lips is going to taste like mana from heaven.

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    There are a few settlements scattered along the coast; there is a guesthouse in Com, and a "resort" which is, like most things, rapidly disintegrating. But Timor is not a place that you come to for the facilities.

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    Once you reach the eastern end of the island, you have to descend the mountainside to the beach. It's a steep, hairpinned dirt road; buckets of fun on a KLX, but anxiety-inducing if you're riding a big heavy bike. Nevermind, you'll be right. If you get stuck down there, someone will come and help you eventually.

    So you ride right down to the beach; there's a community campground for a few dollars a night, or otherwise there's an actual guest house if you're rich. There are basically no people; just the fishermen on the beach. Go down there and buy a fresh fish from them for your dinner, but know that you may not be able to get any vegetables for love or money. If you forewarn the people at the guesthouse or camp ground, they might be able to cook for you.

    So the attraction here is Jaco Island - you can see it from the beach, a tiny desert island, sweet paradise surrounded by white beaches and coral reefs. No-one lives out there; the locals believe it to be sacred, inhabited by spirits; the fishermen will go there by day but return by night.

    Now, you don't want to be swimming on the beaches or in the rivers of Timor in general, because Timor has saltwater crocodiles and nobody likes getting eaten. It happens sometimes. The crocodile is the animal emblem of Timor; you've been warned. However, you can swim and snorkel on Jaco Island. The locals swear that no crocodiles have ever been seen out there, and they go swimming out there too - so I'm going to back their judgement. You go down to the beach in the morning and pay the fishermen $10 to take you out to the island; they'll come back and pick you up again in the afternoon.

    So you go out there, and have an entire tropical paradise to yourself all day. Perhaps a dozen other local tourists might come out to the island in the course of the day, but it's unlikely. Private paradise.

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    Next day you get to do the rocky road back up the mountain, and that'll keep you on your toes.

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    Now head to Los Palos. There's still a bit of bitumen around at this stage, but it's crumbling away.

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    Los Palos is supposed to be a cultural centre; music, art. They tell me that lots of white women go to Los Palos and fall in love and marry the locals. Well, that wasn't what I was there for; love is for motorcycles. I fueled up and headed straight out of town again for the south coast, and that's where the fun really starts. Some of the roads have little broken bits of bitumen - quite sharp edges, be careful not to dent a rim - but it's mostly gravelly chaos. Soon you'll be up in the mountain range, windy gravel roads, up close to the sky; stop to drinks and snacks and photos at the frequent hilltop shrines to the Virgin Mary. Timor is very Catholic - 97% Catholic according to surveys - but don't worry, if anything goes seriously wrong the locals will have you off to see the shaman.

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    So, now you're on the main road along the south coast, it looks like a highway the way it's marked on the map, but it isn't. It's a skinny, windy little dirt road, up through the cool mountains then down to the coast again. The next day, things straighten out a bit - you're clinging to the coast for maybe a hundred kilometres, it's low relatively flat ground - and then you can get a little bit more speed up. 60km/h? You feel like you're flying. Dirt road, potholes, bulldust, stupidly hot. Mostly you can buy petrol out of plastic water bottles (get some guglatech filters or something of that ilk, because you can see the bits floating in the dregs) and drinks, but usually there's no refrigeration. Smash those hydration salts, because if you're here in September-October, it's hot as Hades. Lucky you're tough, eh.

    After a long day, you'll be winding up through the hills and down the through the river valleys again, then you'll wade through a big stretch of dirty roadworks to get to Suai. Suai is a frontier town, there'd be no reason to be there but there's a bit of oil and gas offshore, they're just starting to develop it, that's why there's roadworks, that's why there are people from other parts of the island. Dusty little boomtown, a couple of hotels. There's the new Chinese hotel with air conditioning, and there's the old Hotel Suai that has just built some rooms with air conditioning, but if you're like me you can bunk down in front of the rattly fan in the old building for very little money, and pour cold water over your head in the communal bathroom.

    In Suai, you'll find the covered market at the top of the town; not much to buy there except for a few vegetables and the usual selection of instant noodles and cooking oil, but it has its charms. If the teenage boys on the scooters try to catcall you - suspect this is solely a female problem - just front up to them and they'll run away squealing. The old ladies will have a good laugh.

    West of Suai is the Indonesian border; you could cross over there, but then you'd miss the best bit of Timor. Head north instead, it's a rocky mongrel road through the mountains, breathtakingly beautiful. Hardly anyone up there; mostly just locals on foot, old ladies with machetes and school children running along barefoot. The shady jungle will calm you, and lead you to massive gravelly rivers, and narrow peaceful valleys. I know it's hot, but don't go swimming; there's crocodiles, remember.
    This road will lead you up into the mountains to Morobo, there are massive hot springs there at the base of the hill. Go bathe to your heart's content. The village is at the top of the hill, if you choose to overnight down there you'll be alone because the locals don't like to be down by the water at night: there are spirits. Well, hopefully alone. My night was interrupted by a slightly deranged man with a machete, but it was alright because I also had a machete, and we had a little stand-off, and... but nevermind, that's another story.

    Beautiful spot up there, in the mountains. Google maps doesn't know there are roads up there, but of course there are. Take your KLX and follow those winding dirt tracks clinging to the sides of hills... get lost. Everyone you meet with be astounded to see you.

    I realise that I've actually skipped a bit here. When you're about halfway along the east-west coast of Timor Leste, you have the option of heading into the mountainous centre of the island again. You can turn north at Viqueque, and that's a wonderful, winding dirt road up into the mountains. It will eventually take you to Venillale, where the air cool and clear, nothing like at sea level. The nuns run a co-ed hospitality school up there, with a guest house on top of the mountain - gigantic, sold Portuguese-era stone buildings looking out over the mountains, with guest rooms at the top. This is the best food you will get in Timor. Go to Venillale and eat your fill of delicious vegetables, fish and eggs cooked by the students. If you're a woman, you can sit on the steps at sunset and gossip with the Catholic schoolgirls; I suspect the nuns will be keeping a damn strict eye on you if you're a man. Nevermind: the sunset is beautiful and the air so fresh, tinged only with the smell of woodsmoke from the cooking fires in the old stone kitchen.

    When you're finally ready to leave Timor, the road from Dili to the main Indonesian border crossing at Atambua is a pretty good strip of bitumen; but I'd suggest taking the slow way; perhaps from Morobo through the Ermera coffee growing district; there are no major roads, and it will take you a day or so to cover a few hundred winding kilometers. The people will treat you well and the coffee is some of the best on earth.

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    Timor is undeveloped, mountainous, safe. You can go where you please. Pay attention to the seasons, as the wet season will lead to heavens and hells of mud; but if you're on a klx and a little bit of a masochist (which always helps), you'll love it then too.

    It's like nowhere you've ridden yet.

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    #3
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  4. kook175

    kook175 n00b

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    Grace that is freakin awesome, thank you for posting and I'm looking forward to more.
    #4
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  5. nephron

    nephron countercurrent exchanger Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2005
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    SW Oregon
    Takes guts to travel alone, more so as a woman. Can’t wait to see the rest
    #5
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  6. PeaceMan

    PeaceMan The Fool Lives On.

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2006
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    Terrace, B.C.
    Ride on!
    #6
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  7. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Edmonton, Alberta
    This looks good. :thumb
    #7
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  8. steved57

    steved57 Been here awhile Supporter

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2007
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    East Texas
    I'm in and looking forward to more
    #8
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  9. BHedonia

    BHedonia BikeHedonia

    Joined:
    May 16, 2016
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    39
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    Somewhere in South-East Asia
    Well I've been a bit slack on the ride report front, but look at it this way: if I'm spending all my time on the forums instead of riding, something must have gone horribly wrong! Let me tell you about Indonesia. Oh, I love this place. Amazing volcanic terrain - big soaring mountains, cool at high altitude, but usually only about an hour's ride from beaches and coconut palms for whenever the fancy takes you.

    Eastern Indonesia is great fun, no tourists, not so many people, not so many proper roads. North Coast of Flores is mostly a dirt road flanked by green and blue seas. One day I ran into almost ALL of the local policemen at once, out ripping it up on their KLXs - I guess crime can wait!

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    But it's Sulawesi that stole my heart. It's a pretty big island - I've done about 5,000km around it so far, and those are not fast kilometres and not in a straight line either. The south eastern arm is pretty remote, the only problem I had was that the police had never even heard of an international driver's permit and thought it must be fake! But, that really wasn't a problem. In the end, they just told me to have a nice day - and how could you not.

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    This spot was a treat to get to, although I was a bit ginger on my 70/30 road tires at first!

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    The place is called Ollon, after the place in Switzerland - apparently someone thought the hills looked kind of Swiss? Except here you are free to ride pretty much anywhere you please.

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    The rules are: have fun, try not to die. And when you arrive, the locals will welcome you and make coffee. Perfect!

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    There are so many different language groups here, different religions, the locals tell me that there's even still a nomadic tribe living in the jungle up in the mountains, hunter gatherers as they have been for millennia. (But I feel that the old 690 is about 500ccs and 70kg too much to be venturing into their neck of the woods. Next time!) So for now, I am just hanging with more accessible peoples of Sulawesi.

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    And when you're feeling a bit tired from all that fun, the beach awaits. Not bad, eh?

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    I camped here for days - until I ran out of food! Woman cannot live on sunshine alone.

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    Anyway, there's more fun to be had.

    Sulawesi. I rate it.
    #9
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  10. oldbeer

    oldbeer Grandadventurer

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    I enjoyed reading this and looking at the piccies. Huge respect for what you are doing and more for the way you are doing it.
    Going to show this to my grand daughters.
    Thanks for taking the time to post.
    Have you got a link for your blog??
    #10
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  11. BHedonia

    BHedonia BikeHedonia

    Joined:
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    That's so awesome, it sounds like your granddaughters have your support to be fearless and adventurous in their lives, whatever they choose to do. Makes me happy!

    My blog is www.bikehedonia.wordpress.com (I hope it's okay to post that here on the forum).

    Thanks so much for the kind words. :)
    #11
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  12. 95Monster

    95Monster Long timer

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    Los Angeles
    Okay, thank you Grace. Now I’ve got an idea of where to go next! Great writing. Great report!
    #12
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  13. third eye

    third eye back road loon Supporter

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    Concord, CA
    great report!
    #13
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  14. BHedonia

    BHedonia BikeHedonia

    Joined:
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    Location:
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    So, still in Sulawesi, heading for the south-eastern arm of the island (it's a funny, four-limbed shape). Before I headed south, I spent some time near Lake Matano. The lake is over half a kilometre deep, and you cross it on these dodgy wooden ferries that sometimes sink, taking vehicles and motorbikes to a watery grave. In fact, a ferry sank during a dirt biking event here a couple of years ago, and nearly took a whole bunch of KLXs and CRFs down, which would have been a tragedy. Happily another ferry reached them in time. Looking at the lake in weather like this, you'd hardly believe it; but the weather changes quickly and dramatically.

    From this:

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    To this:

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    Oh, and here's a video of those dirt bikes sinking into the lake.... This is literally my nightmare. I literally have nightmares where I drop my 690 into deep water and it sinks and sinks away and there's nothing I can do. The horror, the horror.

    So I stayed there beside Lake Matano for a while because I kind of got adopted by one of the local mamas - Ibu Salma had heard that there was this weird white girl camping on her own beside the lake (very stranger behaviour by Indonesian standards, don't you have any friends??) so she marched down one morning with a thermos of coffee and promptly adopted me.

    It turns out that her village is actually an illegal settlement, because the Christian Dongi people all fled an Islamic insurgency during the 1950s and by the time they came back, a mining company had built a golf course on their village. So now they're squatters, living across the road from the golf course, with no electricity and frankly a pretty raw deal.

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    Absolutely the nicest people in the world. The kids tried to teach me some of their dances but I was pretty shit at it, I think I'd better stick to riding motorbikes.

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    Anyway, back on the road, I didn't cross the lake and take the dirt road that heads straight east to the coast from Lake Matano, although I was sorely tempted. It sounds like a bunch of fun. However, for some reason I really wanted to ride all the way to southernmost tip of this part of the island, so I headed back to the west coast of this arm, and started following the coast down through Tolala towards Kolaka.

    Now I'm getting into the more sparsely inhabited parts of Sulawesi. Indonesia has some crazy population density but definitely not here.

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    Apparently there are a few bandits around Tolala but I didn't see any in broad daylight. In fact, I didn't see anyone at all- not even a shopkeeper to sell me a coffee here at this little warung overlooking the sea. Which is fine, because I brought my own.

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    Self service, no worries!

    Speaking of self service, that makes me think of fuel stations. Here in Indonesia you don't pump your own gas, there's always an attendant to do it for you. You don't even have to get off the bike - in fact people think you're weird and holding everyone up if you do - but let's not talk about safety and setting our crotches on fire. Every time I fuel up here, I also have to have a little fight with the pump attendant who always tries to remove my Guglatech intank filter - I see them reaching for it, and I put my fingers on it first so they can't pull it out! Totally worth it as well. The fuel here can be a bit dodgy; one of my friends here is a mechanic, and he tells me how he replaces all the spark plugs on the bigger road bikes (e.g. Versys, ER6) after one circuit of the island, because the plugs get that badly fouled, that quickly.

    Anyway, the reason I started talking about fuel stations is that I've started noticing that most of them have no fuel in this part of the island. You'll ride past, and there will be this massive queue of parked vehicles extending out into the road. People just park their vehicles in the queue and go away; they'll come back when the next tanker gets into town, which might be the next day or the day after. It must suck a lot for the locals. I am lucky enough that I can afford to pay the extra mark up to buy fuel out of the glass bottles of roadside vendors - another reason why it's nice to have a good prefilter, especially with an injected bike like the 690.

    So, keep riding... caught some afternoon storms. Procrastinated too long about putting on wet weather gear and got soaked. No problem - I'm not made of sugar, I won't melt!

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    #14
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  15. RobBD

    RobBD Been here awhile

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    Perth Australia
    Fantastic report and great pics - thanks for taking the time to write
    #15
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  16. steved57

    steved57 Been here awhile Supporter

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    East Texas
    Glad to see you posting again and that you're ok
    #16
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  17. RedDogAlberta

    RedDogAlberta High Plains Drifter

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    Edmonton, Alberta
    Loving this.
    #17
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  18. BHedonia

    BHedonia BikeHedonia

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    Not dead yet !
    #18
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  19. BHedonia

    BHedonia BikeHedonia

    Joined:
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    Somewhere in South-East Asia
    So the coronavirus has caught up with me too, as much as I tried to evade it by hanging out in rural Sulawesi.

    IMG_-vvefu4.jpg

    Everything was going pretty well on this little island until some clever people decided to hold an event down south even though the government refused them a permit because of the risk of covid19. The event went ahead anyway - 8,000 people, with about 500 of them coming in from other parts of Asia - and bam, the good times are over. Most people here have a poor understanding of the principles of disease transmission, and live in close physical proximity to one another. There is virtually no medical treatment available; the population is defenceless. My heart breaks for them.

    All around me, the borders are closing. Go home and stay home is the advice, but of course that's a bit tricky when you don't have a home. And the last thing that any population needs is me roaming around on my motorcycle from place to place like Typhoid Mary. So I locked up the bike and grabbed a flight to Thailand to wait it out. I've got a roof over my head, a sack of rice - all the essentials of life EXCEPT MY MOTORCYCLE and, well, the withdrawal tremors are setting in already. But what can you do. Time for me to suck it up, princess. I'm going to take the opportunity to spam you all with photos of motorbikes instead.

    On which topic, this is just a normal day riding around Sulawesi like a homeless person:

    IMG_20200319_174624_184.jpg

    Not bad, eh?

    IMG_20200316_194521_477.jpg

    I totally recommend it. Strip off the armour, head straight for the water, it's bloody paradise.

    IMG_20200317_194434_162.jpg

    Worst thing to happen on a day like that? The mental pain as you try to decide whether to ride more (YES) or to swim and camp in paradise (ALSO YES) when you come across a spot like this at 10am.

    And then, typically, you're going to meet a local family who are going to adopt you and feed you until you nearly pass out in a food coma. So then there's absolutely no incentive to move at all. You start the day as this fearless adventure rider and finish the day as a nicely sunned seal with a good layer of blubber and a light sprinkling of sand.

    IMG_20200320_161540_618.jpg

    20200323_093146.jpg
    Problems, eh.

    Well, I guess those were my problems BC - i.e. before coronavirus. Now, I worry for these lovely people. We are cursed to live in interesting times.
    #19
    kook175, squadraquota, MrKiwi and 4 others like this.
  20. James59

    James59 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Dec 10, 2017
    Oddometer:
    92
    Location:
    Beijing China
    Fantastic, I met a load of Indonesians in Shanghai China and they were great people. Stay safe.
    #20
    BHedonia likes this.