A cou­ple, trav­el­ling the re­gion by bike with their daugh­ter, es­cape Java’s teem­ing cap­i­tal to open up the far more en­tic­ing prospect of its gen­tle south­ern coast

Action Asia - - CONTENTS - Story by Cather­ine Law­son Photography by David Bris­tow

A cou­ple, trav­el­ling the re­gion by bike with their daugh­ter, es­cape Java’s teem­ing cap­i­tal to open up the far more en­tic­ing prospect of its gen­tle south­ern coast.

lan­guages, and cer­tainly not for cy­cle tour­ers with a four-year-old child on board. This is where the ad­ven­ture re­ally be­gins and the fact that our Google searches leave us in the dark, ex­cites us all the more. As we scurry around Ci­maja stock­ing up on cash and bis­cuits, we push away any thought of the gru­elling all-day climbs that our topo maps fore­tell, but pack camp­ing sup­plies as in­surance against vil­lages we may not reach be­fore dark.

Climb into the clouds

Be­yond Ci­maja we cy­cle out of our guide­book and into the un­known, be­gin­ning the long, un­re­lent­ing climb to­wards Jam­pang Ku­lon. Heads down, gears down, legs pump­ing, we inch ever up­wards past for­est giants draped with jungly vines and the odd makeshift shack sell­ing esky-cold drinks and fried ba­nanas. It’s hot, damn hot, and such is the gra­di­ent that it takes half a day to cy­cle 16km and con­quer the 1,000-me­tre al­ti­tude gain. It’s just kind enough to keep us in the sad­dle but never lev­els out enough to of­fer even the tini­est re­prieve. When our calves burn we stop to take in the ever-im­prov­ing views and give our four-year-old, Maya, her own leg stretch. Hav­ing al­ready rid­den pil­lion for over 1,100km from Sin­ga­pore to Thai­land the slow way, she’s as pa­tient as ever, hap­pily en­joy­ing her side-on view of the world from the back of dad David’s bike. Half­way up the range, at the only hole-in-the-wall shop for miles around, I sud­denly re­alise that it’s our 16th wed­ding an­niver­sary. Mirac­u­lously, there are tiny squares of home­made cho­co­late cake for sale, and we cel­e­brate and savour the first of a hun­dred de­li­cious small mo­ments over cof­fee milk and sweet iced tea. Back in the sad­dle, the slow, sunny day lulls Maya to sleep and while she snoozes, we top out and coast ef­fort­lessly through lofty tea plan­ta­tions, rolling along in chilly high-al­ti­tude air, rel­ish­ing the dramatic change of scene. It’s the high point of the day in every sense, be­cause af­ter five kilo­me­tres, the road tips us back down to­wards the sea, rum­bling over rugged gravel and brak­ing into ridicu­lously tight cor­ners.

We re­fuel mid-af­ter­noon on nasi goreng – sim­ple egg-fried rice – and pedal on to end our 65-kilo­me­tre day in Jam­pang Ku­lon, a mouldy room at the lo­cal peng­i­na­pan (homes­tay) as our prize. We shell out Rp100,000 (US$7.50) for the ‘deluxe’ suite and throw our sarongs over the least mildewy of the four beds on of­fer, la­dle our­selves with cold wa­ter scooped out of an over­sized mandi – a tall tank that fea­tures in most Indonesian bath­rooms – and sate our size­able ap­petites on plates of cold tem­peh, rice and fried greens. Af­ter an abortive search for nightlife in Jam­pang Ku­lon, we re­turn with ice creams and spend a less than ro­man­tic night sweat­ing un­der a sin­gle fan whirring hope­lessly against the hu­mid­ity.

Break­ing backs

It feels good to be out of bed and back on the bikes as we cruise down­hill in the cool hours af­ter dawn. Rolling past neigh­bour­hood mosques and ver­dant paddy fields, we spin down­hill to cross the wide, slow Cikaso River and won­der what dramatic wa­ter­falls might be reached if we could muster enough Ba­hasa to con­vince a lo­cal boat­man to take us up­river. The morn­ing’s free­wheel­ing ends with a rugged up­hill grind away from the river that is sim­ply too steep to pedal. I get off and push, curs­ing the cam­eras and the lap­tops, the drone and the camp­ing gear that are weigh­ing me down. The day stretches end­lessly in a rig­or­ous rhythm, the road ris­ing re­peat­edly up jun­gle-clad slopes to fall in swift suc­ces­sion for fleet­ing, beau­ti­ful glimpses of the sea in down­hill runs that quickly undo our hard labour. For­tu­nately, the scenery pro­vides a grand dis­trac­tion. At a tiny road­side shack sur­rounded by co­conut sugar plan­ta­tions, I suc­cess­fully string to­gether enough medi­ocre Ba­hasa to or­gan­ise two hot, creamy cof­fees and enough fried sweet potato and ba­nanas to fill our grum­bling bel­lies. Through­out the day, we break to pic­nic in the cool of rub­ber tree groves, far from towns and vil­lages and traf­fic, feel­ing the eu­pho­ria that peak fit­ness brings. But be­fore day’s end, the road tugs us up and in­land one more time. Be­fore we re­turn to the breezy coast, we have to en­dure a hot night in a win­dow-less box, plagued by power cuts and bed bugs and eluded by sleep. At dawn in Sin­dang Barang, I get wolf-whis­tled for the first time while buy­ing deep-fried tofu snacks from a street cart. So be­gins the best day of our Ja­vanese ad­ven­ture. Sud­denly there it is: our first, wide open view of the south coast: a tri­colour of white sand squeezed be­tween a fringe of co­conut palms and the big blue be­yond. This de­serted, rap­tur­ous scene ac­com­pa­nies us all the way to Ran­cabuaya Beach where we find sanc­tu­ary in a breezy hill­top bun­ga­low, perched atop a per­fectly arc­ing, bright blue cove where wooden fish­ing boats nudge onto a golden coral shore. Our daugh­ter cov­ets the bun­ga­low’s deep, cool swim­ming pool, and later, at a sea­side noo­dle bar, de­lights lo­cal food sell­ers with of­fer­ings of shells and peb­bles and chatty con­ver­sa­tions that need no trans­la­tion. There are sand pago­das to build and dis­crete cold beers rel­ished on our bal­cony while our beach-tired trav­eller sleeps and Indonesian bik­ers set off Satur­day night fire­works to sheer de­light.

At Rp300,000 a night (US$22), there’s lit­tle tempt­ing us away from Ran­cabuaya so we fill an­other day with beach­comb­ing and sand play and a gor­geous night spent swim­ming in the rain. When we do drag our lit­tle fish out of the pool and back onto the bike, the worst of the south coast’s hills are be­hind us. We ride on, par­al­lel­ing the beaches for two bliss­ful days spec­u­lat­ing – as shapely surf breaks peel off un­touch­able, de­serted head­lands – just where we might build that per­fect beach bun­ga­low.

The Green Canyon

Reach­ing Batu Karas is bittersweet. The lure of glid­ing be­tween the sculpted stone walls of Green Canyon has moved us many miles on the bikes, but hav­ing lived among lo­cals for five days, the sud­den rush of English chat­ter and fresh, white faces leaves us all at sea. In com­pen­sa­tion, up­mar­ket beach bun­ga­lows, good fresh food and easy, breezy bars, make life un­com­pli­cated and rest­ful. We make new friends and re­unite with old ones who join a farewell fam­ily din­ner with our lo­cal hosts, stok­ing a beach camp­fire and shar­ing a feast of just-caught, coal-cooked fish with fiery sam­bal and moun­tains of co­conut rice. Af­ter a cou­ple of days, the seden­tary life leaves us flat so we es­cape again on our bikes, cy­cling to Green Canyon where we pay a long­tail boat­man Rp100,000 to take us up­river. The banks whizz by and sud­denly the canyon walls flare up­wards, squeez­ing the emer­ald wa­ters into a rush­ing, nar­row tor­rent. We jump out and grab hold of a knot­ted rope to pull our­selves up­stream, de­light­ing in the force of the chilly flow push­ing us back. It’s a cheap, fleet­ing thrill that punc­tu­ates our ad­ven­ture but will ul­ti­mately pale against all the self-de­ter­mined kilo­me­tres and the tiny, in­tan­gi­ble achieve­ments that go into every day of every great jour­ney. Cov­er­ing new ground east of Batu Karas, the 38km of crowded, traf­fic-choked streets that lead to Pan­gan­daran’s hope­lessly touristy beach­front, quickly con­vince us that the best of our cy­cling is be­hind us. We de­cide to fin­ish in Java on a high and throw our bikes onto a lo­cal bus, place a stack of ru­piah in the bus driver’s hand and make a bee­line for Yo­gyakarta. Our 570km of cy­cling be­fore join­ing the surf groupies hol­i­day­ing in Batu Karas, have blown our ex­pec­ta­tions out of the wa­ter. Be­ing out-of-place never felt so awe­some. In au­then­tic beach-side vil­lages, lo­cals ogled us and chil­dren rushed to meet our tini­est trav­eller, en­dear­ing us to strangers at every turn. Con­ver­sa­tions were sparked by cu­rios­ity and ne­ces­sity both, gar­bled by lan­guage con­fu­sion of epic lev­els. Our coastal ad­ven­ture has proved that the road less trav­elled lies just around the cor­ner of your imag­i­na­tion. For once off our bikes, we head on, an his­toric Ja­vanese city to dis­cover, back streets to wan­der, cul­ture to un­earth, food in in­dulge in and a fam­ily trek through Nepal’s An­na­purna range to plan.

A TANG IN THE AIR Af­ter days cy­cling jun­gle-clad hills, the south coast daz­zles with per­fect curls of surf and end­less blue.

SWAP PED­ALS FOR PAD­DLES From Batu Karas, boats nav­i­gate the slen­der Ci­ju­lang River up to the Green Canyon.

SIM­PLY GORGE-OUS The chilly wa­ters of the Green Canyon at Batu Karas are a balm for road-weary cy­clists.

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