For years I’d always scorned about visiting Bali. It epitomized everything I hated about travel – mass tourism, overzealous hawkers and an abundance of Australian’s behaving badly. Statistically speaking, Indonesia (i.e. Bali), would be the most dangerous place I would visit, with an Australian dying every nine days. Sitting in the departure lounge of Darwin Airport, with the main demographic being males between the ages of 20-30, wearing singlet’s, snapback hats and sporting a cliché sleeve tattoo, I wondered which one of us would help contribute to the above statistic. The reaffirmation continued well into the 2.5 hour flight, with Bintang cans being ferried through the plane with reckless abandon. I stepped off the air-conditioned plane and took my first breaths of the hot, muggy South East Asian air and all my built up misgivings about coming to Bali were instantly removed. Looking back over the last month I still can’t believe most Australian’s never leave Kuta Beach or Seminyak.
After clearing customs, I marched past the gauntlet of touts offering a diverse range of amenities – taxis, hotels, beers, and even valium and weed. I guess it must have been my beard? No taxi or hotel was needed as I planned on sleeping at the airport. I guess I wasn’t really surprised to see other Australians wasting no time in getting started, with their favourite tour guide excitedly handing them a popped Bintang, which they proceeded to skull. It was in those moments that I actually considered turning to the dark side and saying that I was from New Zealand.
After setting up my bicycle in the morning I rode south to Uluwatu visiting a Buddist temple and watching some of the world’s most famous surf breaks. Later on in the afternoon I met up with PJ, my first Warmshowers host. Warmshowers is a little like Couchsurfing, but is exclusive for cycle tourers like me and after a few days in and around Kuta, the road was calling and I headed north through the mountains. Within three hours I’d managed to have my first accident. Going up a slight incline on a single lined country road, a truck didn’t give me any room at all, even though he had the ability to. My front wheel was forced into soft sand and I inadvertently fell inwards to the truck. My head smacked into the tire and my elbow broke the fall. Luckily it wasn’t too bad, but if I were going downhill I would have been on the 6pm news for all the wrong reasons. Anxiety started to kick in with my mind, contemplating how on earth I’d get through Java if I couldn’t even negotiate Bali.
After a quick ferry crossing I was on the island of Java – the most populous island in the world with 150 million people. The transition from the tranquil Hindi Bali to the frenzied Muslim Java couldn’t have been more noticeable. Alas it was good to be back in the Muslim world. Women wore headscarfs, beards were commonplace and various mosques all throughout the day would sing the call to prayer. Wild camping would become a thing of the past, cooking my own meals would be pointless, and constantly being the centre of attention would never make for a dull day. Shouts of “Helloooo Mister”, “Hey” and “Photo” would consistently be yelled out from all directions. Whilst many cyclists despise this sort of behaviour, I found it quite entertaining; the Javanese people only had the best intentions for a foreigner. Even the police, noted for their corruption by locals, were nice enough to let me sleep in their police station each night. I’d be given a shower, tea and a healthy side serving of photo taking. In return all I had to do was answer the uniform questions about my marital status, religion, if I was a bachelor and if I think Indonesian girls were beautiful. One night I even managed to score a bed in an actual cell – thankfully unlocked.