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"This Breathtaking World: Around the World by Bicycle" - Excerpt 3

note: the copyright for all text and images on this website belongs to Tim Doherty


Java, Indonesia

  The numb feeling began to take over my whole body, my legs turning to jelly and my vision becoming blurred. All I knew was that I must try to run. Get away from this man. Must try to run. Get some adrenalin going. Reach the main road before I fall unconscious…

   Having made it to Java on time, I got up the next morning and mended a couple of slow punctures I’d been trying to ignore. There was now a new challenge, to get to Bali on time!

Java basically has two kinds of roads. One is the “far-too-narrow-with-five-times-too-many-crazy-buses-and-trucks” type of road. The other is of the “climb-vertically-up-the-side-of-a-volcano-in-the-unbearable-heat-and-take-three-times-as-long” variety.


I ended up switching from one to the other and back again. Somehow I made it across this over-congested and politically volatile island in just two weeks, where even a month wouldn’t have done it justice, as there were so many wonderful things I had to ride past without stopping. I didn’t meet any tourists in Indonesia until I reached Bali, and they all said the same thing;


“Why are we only allowed to stay for sixty days? There are so many islands, all completely different, and the economy here is in a desperate state, surely our being here can only help...blah blah blah.”


A lot happened during those two weeks on Java, but one incident has had me pondering ever since.


After an evening of stomach-ache, I woke up feeling queasy and set off up a very hot and sweaty fifteen-mile ascent. After half an hour the nausea passed off and I ended up having the best ride for a long time, around a volcano called Mt. Tang-Kubanperahu. Never straight and never flat, the road flew up and down the many hills and valleys radiating out from the mountain, hidden in cloud from halfway up its rugged flanks.


I was back into a region of rubber plantations at first, followed by tea plantations. The landscape was a patchwork of paddy fields when I finally dropped down from the mountainside, and all of the fields were in different stages of growth. On the roadside, men carried loads in baskets hung from lengths of bamboo across their shoulders. Their houses were built of stone, whitewashed and with tiled roofs, which overhung at the front to create some shade.


I was passed by two groups of motorcyclists riding the other way, flying the green flags of the Islamic political parties. All had stern looks on their faces, getting ready for the general election in six weeks. I didn’t know whether to be worried or not, but they were practically the only people not to greet me all day. I saw more groups later, and in the villages were the same green flags, both the PPP and the PNU.


For the last hour I was cycling in torrential rain, the road covered in dancing raindrops. When it cleared, the palm trees stood in milky swirls of mist, and I cruised down the last few miles into Sumedang. A man on a moped showed me to a losmen, costing twelve thousand Rupiah for the night, less than a pound but not really a bargain.


“So, you stay here?” said the moped man.

“I think so. Thank you for your help.”

“I own a video and DVD rental shop here in Sumedang,” he told me. “Maybe you come later for a cup of tea?”

“Yes, I’ll do that. There’s nothing going on here!”


He drew a map of the local streets, showing my losmen and his shop, and when I got there we chatted about travelling. He said his name was Rusty, and he claimed to have travelled extensively in forty-two different countries, and married a Dutch woman. He gave me tea and some useful information about the eastern islands, where I would be going after Bali. He also told me about the up-coming election on June the seventh; fortunately for me I would be in Australia by then.


“Do you think President Habibi should go?” I asked him.

“Oh, yes!” he said. “The new leader should be Megawati Sukarnoputri.”

“I think that this will happen,” I ventured. “She seems to have great popularity.”

“Depending on which of our islands you are on. We have so many islands! But she is the daughter of Indonesia’s first president.”

“I know. Do you think that the election will happen democratically?”

“I doubt it,” Rusty said, raising his arms as if in surrender. “There is much corruption.”

“What about violence? Some of the Fundamentalist groups seem quite intimidating.”

“Possibly some violence, yes. But you have no need to worry.”


Rusty and I went to a hawker to get some satay chicken, which we ate in the video shop. I had a third and last cup of tea and then he said it was time to go.


Rusty insisted on walking me home, but started walking up the road instead of down. He said that this way was parallel to the main road but much quieter. It was also very dark, and I didn’t like it. After about two hundred metres I started to get a dry throat, then my head felt funny, like it was going numb. I walked on for a few more steps and it became worse. I suddenly got a deep suspicion about what was in the last cup of tea, and why he was so adamant that we should be on this dark road.


“My head feels funny! I’m going back to the hotel.” I said in a blurred, distant voice.


I turned around and started running back down the road. As if in a dream, I could hear Rusty calling after me. I got to the main road and started asking people, “Kantor Polisi?”


Nobody could give me a clear answer and I was swaying like a drunk. I decided I didn’t have time to find the police station, I had to have water immediately. I stumbled my way across the road and into a shop. Picking up a big bottle of mineral water, I drank the whole lot while sitting on a chair, with a few concerned people around.


I gradually regained myself, but still felt incredibly weak, so I ate some bars of chocolate. I told the people what had happened, but didn’t tell them where the guy was or that he owned a video shop. After all, I wasn’t totally sure that I’d been drugged. I could have been suffering from the effects of the sun and dehydration. Worse still, I thought that I might be coming down with malaria or dengue fever. When I got back to the hotel half an hour later, there was a note from Rusty...


Dear Mr Tim!

I am really not understood: what hapened with you? I am not a bad man; you run from me, when we walk together.

I really confushed; please trust me; I am not a bad man! and hopely you can give me some reason.

If I maked mistake, tell me what hapened or you don´t want to talk with me.

I need your explanation of that


Rusty Muchfree.


Quite possibly a man with a made up name, but then I’d met plenty of people in Indonesia with such names. In the morning I felt off-colour, but I didn’t have malaria or dengue fever, and I suppose I’ll never know what was in the third cup of tea.

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