Be warned, Indonesia is a full on assault on all the senses for sure – which was a real surprise. We had prepared ourselves mentally for China, but Indonesia is up there with it in terms of being hectic, polluted in parts and in us standing out like a sore thumb.
In summary, bike touring is feasible here. We have a tent and camping equipment just in case and we probably could/should have used it. But we sure do like hotels that are affordable and thankfully these have so far been well positioned at day ride distances. Roads have been ok and the food cheap.
So why would you want to visit? Well, the people we have met so far have been truly lovely. Yes they heckle us as we pass on our bikes-: “Hey Misterrrr! Where you go? Do speak Englisss?”. Yes most scream or grunt from their doorways. Yes trucks belt out their horns with their fumes and drivers swerve as they rubber-neck. But it’s not aggression. We think this is mainly because there really are no foreigners here and they really do just want to communicate with ‘one of us’. We certainly did not see any other foreigners in our crossing of the island. We really are an oddity.
Admittedly, I tried not to do too much research and planning before setting foot in the vast bunch of islands, currently unified as one nation. It hasn’t always been the case and we are starting to witness a lot more of the intriguing history now that we are away from the industrial province of Riau. Pipelines, oilfields, palm oil plantations, factories and therefore trucks were everywhere there. Locals speak of their disapointment that the wealth from these ventures is not trickling down to improve the lives of the regular family.
Visiting a school in Duri (an oil and gas town), to run a Ted Web session opened our eyes to the lack of investment in education, to name but one public service. As is often the case; natural resources, and the claim to own them, fuels the drive of the rich to get richer and tickles the tendency of greed.
No surprise then that as the economy is growing at around 5% each year, bringing it to 7th (PPP adjusted) in the world in terms of output, 11% of the population still live below the poverty line. The Jakarta Post reported in 2016 that only about 20% of Indonesia’s population has benefited from the decade of steady growth, leaving 80% behind.
We will post weekly accounts of our journey through Indonesia. Partly because we have noticed a distinct lack of web pages on touring here, so we hope that this may be of some use to people considering a visit.
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