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August 22nd, 2011 | Asia

Labuanbajo to Ende… A Ride to Remember…!!

After a quick breakfast consisting of two cups of black coffee and a banana pancake, I left Labuanbajo just as the sun was beginning to light up the sky…

I could see how it would take this guy four hours to get to Ruteng...!!

With Simon’s warnings about biting off too much in a single day still ringing in my ears, I pointed the Big Fella east and let him rip…!!

The road began climbing immediately… It wound it’s twisted way out of town and up into the first of many mountain ranges we would be climbing that day…

I figured I would ride the first part of today’s trip as quickly as I could, as this was after all, according to the locals, “the easy part”…

I had dictated a passage on Flores from Simon’s guide book onto my Dictaphone while we were on the ferry from Sumbawa, and I had listened to it again the evening before…

“The island of Flores is a fascinating and beautiful island, and has a volcanic topography that has long shaped its destiny…

A chain of volcanoes stretches the length of the island, provoking a complicated relief of V-shaped valleys and knife-edged ridges… This terrain was nearly impenetrable until very recently…

The rugged nature of the island makes road construction extremely difficult, and the serpentine east-west highway is impossible to traverse quickly, so you’ll have to draw on extra reserves of patience to complete it safely..”. (I clearly forgot all about this last bit of advice, when about 7 hours later, and having covered barely 260 km, my ride came to tar-scraping and drain-diving, halt…!!)

Typical wooden house on Flores...

Ruteng was 140 km away, and I hoped to do it in two hours… I covered 55 km in the first hour, 48 km in the second hour and rode into Ruteng at 9.00 am… I was rather pleased with my progress at that point, as the guide book had foretold of a four hour trip…!!

It had been a difficult ride up to that stage, and although the scenery was amazing, I did not bother to take too many photographs, as I felt it was too dangerous to stop the bike on the hundreds of hairpin bends I had been negotiating, and besides that, not only did I no longer have a camera, but I had also dropped the video camera (that I had been taking low resolutions photos with) on a gravel section, while trying to avoid an oncoming bus…!!

Enough with the gravel for goodness sake...!!

I had seen the bus trying to avoid a large pothole by swerving onto my side of the road, and in what was normally a fluid movement for me, I dropped the camera into the open zip of my tank bag, got my left hand onto the handlebar and yanked the Big Fella to the left to avoid the bus…!!

My Canon D10 is a lot slimmer than my Sony video camera, and from the corner of my eye I saw that it had not fallen neatly into place as expected… As I hit a bump in the road, the video camera bounced out of my tank bag, and disappeared under the bus…!!

After waiting for the dust to clear, I walked back expecting to find the camera in pieces… It lay in the dirt, still intact. By some miracle, the wheels of the bus had not touched it…!!

When I opened the side panel that held the screen, the picture that sprang up was completely out of focus… I figured that the lens had been damaged in the fall, and resigned myself to not being able to record the rest of my ride, until I could replace both my Canon D10 and my Sony Video Camera… And yes, my resignation at this might well have included an obscenity or three…!!

I cruised through the quiet streets of Ruteng, and on impulse stopped at the main intersection in town, where a police officer was directing traffic…

he owner of the Camera shop in Ruteng and I pose for the first picture with my new camera...

“Selamat Pagi…!!” I greeted him… (Good Morning…!)

“Swastiastu Ruteng…!! He replied with a huge smile on his face… (Welcome to Ruteng…!!)

“Is there a camera shop in town…?” I asked..

“Yes, but it is closed today…!!”

“Why…?? I need a camera urgently…!!”

“It is Sunday sir, everything is closed…!!”

“Sunday…?? Are you sure…??” As usual, I had lost all track of which day of the week it was, and had only a vague idea of the date as well…!!

“Yes sir, I am sure…!! See all the people going to church…!!” he said pointing at a large group of folk dressed in their Sunday best…

Seeing the disappointment etched on my face, he went on to explain that he knew where the owner of the shop lived and jumping on his scooter, beckoned me to follow him…

The “camera shop”, which turned out to be more of a general dealer than anything else, actually fronted the house of its owner, and a short while later, the shop was being opened especially for me by a young and eager to please Chinese gentleman…

He had both a camera and video camera in stock, and I began negotiating with him while he was unpacking them from their boxes… I managed to get him to accept Rp 1 200 000 for a Nikon Coolpix Digital Camera, not nearly as good as my trusty Canon, but under the circumstances, I had little choice if I wanted to record the area I was riding through, until I could find another Canon D10…

When I opened my Sony video camera to show him what was wrong with it, I was elated to find that the lens was now focusing properly and the camera was in perfect working order again…!!

He hid his disappointment at not being able to make another sale quite well, I thought, and then asked to have his picture taken with the bike and I… At a shout from him, his family appeared from the house and all began snapping away with cell phones and cameras…

An hour had passed since I entered Ruteng, and I was eager to get back on the road again… Waving the family goodbye, I headed out of town with church bells ringing loudly in my ears… Flores is a predominantly Catholic island, with as many as 90 % of its inhabitants following the faith… In every village I passed through, simple churches stood… Plain buildings with either a cross painted on the wall or one perched on the roof…

Steep ridges and deep valleys... I spent most of the day riding through terrian such as this....!!

For the next three hours I battled through steep sections of narrow road that in many places had been washed away by previous heavy rains, and were reduced to patches of tar and gravel… We tip-toed through the corners, the back wheel often threatening to slide out from under me…

The area surrounding us was littered with the domes of what were hopefully dormant volcanoes, including Gunung Inerle… A never-ending series of hairpin bends and switchbacks made their way around the bases and lower slopes of the mountain range we battled our way through…

Do I look amused...?? A saying from an old friend came back to me at this point... "When masturbating with a cheese grater just isn't doing it for you, try this...!!"...

My neck and shoulders ached from both the exertion and the tension of hauling the big bike through the corners, constantly changing down to 2nd gear to hook the bike into a sharp corner that climbed away from me… My chin was forever pointing at either my left or right shoulder it seemed, as I squinted ahead to see what the next short section of road would bring… I hung on grimly as we climbed out of one valley, crested a rise and then began yet another descent into the next one…

Seven hours after beginning the day's ride, I neared the ill-fated village of Bajawa...

I was feeling much like this chap looked by that stage...

On the outskirts of Bajawa, I ran out of petrol, and had to stop to empty the contents of one of my fuel bottles into the tank, to get me to the Pertamina service station which was apparently just a few kilometres up the road, according to an elderly gentleman I had stopped to enquire about “bensin” from…

Fuel in Indonesia is relatively cheap, as it is heavily subsidized by the government… Pertamina is on the only official fuel outlet in the country, and charges Rp 4500 a litre, about R3.80… On the black market, it goes for almost double this…!!

While bending over the tank to ensure that the nozzle was properly placed, I had a sudden spell of dizziness, seeing spots before my eyes… I stood blinking rapidly to clear my vision and after paying for the fuel, parked the Big Fella nearby and took a breather…

I drank a litre of water brought to me by one of the attendants, and watched as a large group of kids gathered around the bike to gawk at what was the “biggest scooter” many of them had ever seen…!!

I stopped to refuel a few minutes after exiting Bajawa... While I rested, these guys gathered around for a photo...

“How much further to Ende…??” I asked a young guy named Micky, who spoke perfect English, taught to him by an elder brother who worked on a cruise ship…

“Ende is four hours from here…” he said. Very few people knew the distances between towns, but everybody could tell you how long it would take to get there…!!

The area around Bajawa is famous for its Ngada people, who live a very traditional life in homes built on short stilts, and whose roofs have a very high and narrow pitch to them… Many tourists passed through here, and I briefly considered stopping here and spending the night…

“Briefly” being the operative word… I had set out to reach Ende before nightfall, and in order to keep to my schedule of getting to Larantuka by Wednesday night, I could not afford to stop in Bajawa…

Little house on the ridgie...

Despite the altitude (1200 m.a.s.l.) it was uncomfortably hot and with hardly a breath of wind to cool things down, I had to rely on my forward motion to get air to travel through the vents in my jacket and pants… When I stopped to take a photo, I felt sweat trickle down my spine, and beads of it trace lines down my cheeks…

I began riding quicker on the flatter sections east of Bajawa, trying to make up time before we began the climb of yet another range of mountains I could see in the distance ahead… On a long flat section I passed a large Seminary College, and a short while later the road began dipping through a series of sharp bends, from the plateau we had been riding on and into the first steep valley close to the mountains…

I came up behind a mini-bus taxi which was pulling over to collect a passenger on the outside of what looked like a sharp bend… The driver signaled me to pass by waving his arm out of the window… I slowed down, looked ahead, saw an empty road that dipped away to my right, and just as a voice in my head said “Don’t…!!”, I did…!!

Turned out I was on the apex of a hairpin bend, and as I dropped my shoulder into the corner, I saw too late that the road disappeared behind my right shoulder… I was already in the corner and could not straighten the bike up without overshooting and flying off into a maize field that dipped away on the left, I braked hard and had no choice but to take a line that took me onto the wrong side of the road…

A split second later a black scooter appeared right in front of me, and with the Big Fella already at a sharp angle, I was powerless to avoid it… We both braked hard, the rider on the scooter yanking his bike to his right to avoid a direct head on with the Big Fella… Luckily we were both traveling at speeds of probably 30km/h when we saw each other and with both bikes braking so sharply, even slower than that when we came together…

Too much haste, a large dash of fatigue, too little brain, and the journey comes to a temporary halt...!!

My handlebars went over his, and narrowly missed the rider’s shoulder, as he fell away from the impact… His fairing smashed into the Big Fella’s right hand crash bars, and disintegrated… I heard the scooter hit the ground as I was going over on my right hand side… Although it took only a second or two, it seemed to all happen in slow motion…

I saw the wall looming up, and the drain at its base; put my right leg down in a vain effort to hold the bike up, but it was already leaning too far over… The bike went down, throwing me against the wall… I tried to put my hand up against the wall and let the bike slide out from under me, but my glove slid off the wall and I pitched head first into the drain, ending up under the bike, with my right ankle pinned beneath it…

As I lay there watching petrol leaking out from either the spare fuel bottles or the tank, I heard cars screech to a halt from both directions, and the babble of people running towards us… A few guys lifted the bike so I could free my ankle…

By the time I dragged myself up from the drain and clambered over the Big Fella, the scooter was already up on its wheels, the rider appearing not to have a scratch on him…!! His helmet-less passenger did not have the same luck…!! He lay in road, holding a bloodied hand over his mouth, his glasses lay on the ground nearby, his flip-flops even further away…!! He had landed about three metres in front of the scooter…!!

With the Big Fella still on its side, I took a few photos with my new camera which had fallen out of the tank bag, and was lying next to me in the drain, and then helped by a group of guys who had just exited a bus, we got my bike upright again and pushed it across the road to allow traffic to begin flowing past us…

By now the scooter passenger had found his glasses and shoes and after a brief consultation, I suggested we get to the nearest clinic to check out his injuries… I wanted to get away from the crowd that had gathered as quickly as possible, fearing that they might start making “a mountain out of a mole hill” and making demands I might be unable to meet…

Both rider and passenger spoke perfect English and we agreed to get to the clinic and discuss matters further when we got there… Collecting pieces of the scooter and handing them to the passenger, we took off back in the direction I had come from and stopped at the Seminary College, attached to which was a small clinic, where a young nurse began attending to the injured passenger immediately…

While this was going on, the rider of the scooter was making phone call after phone call on his mobile, no doubt summoning reinforcements to assist with the negotiations… I deliberately chose not to examine the damage to my bike, and concentrated rather on making sure the injured guy was being taken care of…

I spoke slowly and calmly to everybody, watching as the nurse stitched his lip and the toes on his left foot, and then bathed the numerous scratches and scrapes on his hands… Knowing that there was to be a reckoning very soon, I decided to make a few points that might stand me in good stead later…

“Why aren’t you wearing a helmet…??” I asked the injured young man… “Do your parents know that you are riding on a scooter without a helmet…??” he looked a bit frightened at the mention of his parents and I pushed home the advantage by lecturing him about the dangers of riding without proper protection…

These Flame Trees dot the landscape, making a nice change from the monotony of greens and browns...

I then turned to the rider and gently scolded him for putting his friend’s life in danger… I also deflected some of the blame for me being on the wrong side of the road, by telling him that the taxi driver had waved me past, and that it was this driver who was mostly to blame for the accident…!! He nodded in apparent agreement with me, and then pointed to his badly damaged bike…

“What about this…!!” he asked, my father will be very angry…!!”

“Don’t worry about that…!!” I said, “I will pay for the damage, but what is most important is that you and your friend are OK…!!”

At that point a few of his family members began arriving, all shouting at the tops of their voices and pointing fingers at me… I smiled back at them, and put my arm around the scooter rider, telling them all to calm down and speak one at a time… One guy then demanded that I pay Rp 1 000 000 to the rider… I shook my head and decided to take a firm stand rather than buckle under the pressure they were trying to exert on me…

Nerves jangling, I stopped here for a drink an hour later...

I did not have that much money on me, and was in no mood to ride back to Bajawa to find an ATM… I looked squarely at the guy who had made the demand, and told him that I was not prepared to pay that much, and that if he insisted, then we should call the police and let them handle the situation…

This struck an unwelcome  chord with him and him and all the people around him lapsed into silence… I turned to the rider and asked him how much he thought I should pay… He mumbled Rp 600 000 under his breath… I turned my back to the small crowd and taking a chance, told him I was prepared to pay him Rp 400 000 and no more… (R340.00…)

I fully expected him to baulk at my offer and would have been satisfied to meet him halfway…

After only a moment’s hesitation, he agreed to my offer…!! I handed over the money, we shook hands, and then I suggested we go into the clinic to see how his friend was doing…

The last ridge we had to climb before we reached the coastal road...

We found him rinsing his mouth and spitting blood tinged water into a bowl… I hung around for a while until I saw the crowd outside begin drifting away, and then shook hands with both guys again, wished them well, apolagised for the accident, advised both that they should never ride without helmets again, and then took my leave…!!

I bumped down the narrow dirt lane, back onto the tarred road and then rode slowly away in the direction of Ende…

Once out of sight of the clinic, I rolled the power on, determined to get as far away as possible from the scene before somebody changed their minds…!!

I stopped half an hour later, having covered about 30 km on a thankfully decent stretch of road that allowed for reasonable speeds… It was only then that I walked around the bike to assess the damage… Most of it was cosmetic as I mentioned in a previous post, and the Big Fella handled no differently to what he had before the accident… I specifically checked for oil leaks of any kind, and found none… I breathed a sigh of relief and went back into the little restaurant where I had parked…

While I sat drinking a bottle of water, I smiled to myself, mightily pleased that I had handled the situation as calmly as I did… There are many horror stories about bikers involved in accidents causing injury, and having been locked up in a dingy police cell before being forced to pay huge sums of money to get their bikes and gear back… I had gotten myself out of what could have been a very sticky situation, despite the fact that I was 100% at fault…!!

I rode on through Boawae, past yet another volcano, this one known as Ebulobo, and then climbed a final range of mountains before coming out on the southern coastline… The road ran along the sea shore all the way to Ende from this point, at times so close to the water’s edge, that sea-spray was flung across the surface of the road by the light winds that were blowing…

The final 30 km to Ende wound around wide bays and jutting headlands...

People were collecting smooth green stones off some of the rocky beaches, and piling them up on the road side to sell to passing motorists…

I rode this last section as quickly as I could, wanting to maintain the good rhythm that I had managed to ride with after the accident, desperate not to let the shock get the better of me…

After a light meal and a great cup of coffee, Cornelius makes ready to lead me to a decent hotel...

When I got to the outskirts of Ende, I called Cornelius, whom I had befriended on the ferry from Sumbawa, and advised him that I was in town and looking for a reasonably priced place to stay…

He came to meet me on his scooter and then escorted me to his home where we enjoyed a cup of coffee and a simple meal of rice and fish… As the sun was going down, we rode back into town together, to the Safari Hotel, where I would spend the next two nights…

In my room close to reception, I struggled out of my kit, seeing the large bruise on my left shin for the first time…My right ankle was a little swollen, my left shoulder hurt like hell, and my lower back ached from the long day spent in the saddle… Apart from that, I was fine…!!

I headed for the shower, only to discover that there was little or no running water in the hotel, and I would have to bathe using a jug and a bucket…!!

Not the perfect end to what had been a hard ride and a very long day…

The hotel did not have a restaurant, and I had not eaten since leaving Labuanbajo… I walked out onto the dark street and saw a Warung of sorts nearby… The locals there lapsed into silence as I walked in, and sat down to order…

I ate my meal of curried vegetables and rice while watching them eat their meals… None of them had made an effort to greet me, even when I nodded in their direction… “Surly buggers…!!” I thought to myself…

Ende was not the like the sleepy towns I had ridden through all day… There was a larger Muslim population here than anywhere else on the island, and there seemed to be tension between them and the Catholics…

I am pretty sure I was charged far more for the simple meal than I would have paid anywhere else, and gave the owner a very long look before reluctantly parting with my money…

Parked on the patio of the Safari Hotel, Ende... Battered but still in one piece...!!

Despite the tension I still felt after the ride, I sat thinking about how differently I would have handled the accident a few years ago… There would have been an awful lot of cursing and hot-tempered-ness on show for starters…!!

I probably would have given the taxi driver who waved me to pass, an earful at least…!!

I realised that night in Ende, that a subtle change in my mental make-up had occurred…!! I was thinking more calmly and clearly in tense situations…

I put this down to not only being  a little older and perhaps a little wiser, but to the time I had spent in Bali, thinking more deeply about the “meaning of it all” than I ever had before…

That and the calming influence that being with Patricia had begun to exert on me… I had become far more accepting of things that were beyond my ability to control, and spent less time on wasted thoughts than I would have before…

I was quick to recognise how very lucky I had been that day, how differently things would have turned out if it had been a bus or a car, instead of a scooter that I had tangled with…!! I took all the blame for the accident, heaped it on myself, and then just as quickly forgave myself, and went through all the lessons I had learned… I just hoped that the Big Fella would be as forgiving…!!

I took a certain amount of pride with me as I closed my eyes and fell into a deep sleep…

©GBWT 2011

3 comments to Labuanbajo to Ende… A Ride to Remember…!!

  • Mark Behr

    Oi Man – don’t go taking chances to keep on schedule – I think you know by now how important it is to enjoy each part of your ride. Look at the great things you may have missed if you rushed bye!!!
    Stay safe.

  • Mark Behr

    A calm Ronnie – now that is a pleasant change. I think it must have something to do with the tickling of his heart strings in Bali 🙂

  • Franz

    hahaha…. you put my photo too… ^^

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