Monday, April 28, 2008

Vik's tikit Blog

I was absolutely delighted to "meet" this folding bike nut from freezing cold and snowy Calgary, Canada on the internet. Vik has perhaps one of the most comprehensive blog on the Bike Friday tikit (note spelling, no capital T). It is a minefield of useful info ranging from tires, mods, accessories, upgrades, how to wheel it around etc.

He has other bikes as well including my fav touring bike, the Surly LHT (heh, great minds thing alike), Dahon D7 and the list goes on. He is quite a shutterbug too and offers great photo tips.

Do check out his blog at:

Disclosure: Vik very kindly linked me to his blog so one good blog deserves another... here is what he wrote.

Love the fold? Who doesn't?

If you enjoy well written travel stories with pictures of far flung bicycle adventures you should tune into the Love the Fold Blog. I've been to India a few times, but haven't made it to SE Asia yet. So I find photos of bike travels in the area captivating.When you read the latest posts you'll see some full size bikes [great taste BTW - I've got a Surly LHT as well!], but if you dig a bit deeper you find lots of folding bike content including some great Tikit adventures.

A tikit to a free lunch!

No such thing as a free lunch? Think again...

I had a lunch appointment today at the other side of the island with my good friends Seng Chor, Richard and Jenny. They were going to introduce me to some fantastically healthy Tofu and veggie meal. The mark of strong friendship in my books is the willingness to share secret food places.

It was a 60km round trip drive for me and at S$2.04 per litre for gas, it was going to cost me over $10 excluding parking. Good thing I had my "Save the World" evergreen Bike Friday Tikit on standby. Cycling to the train station and hopping on the ever efficient aircon MRT train, the fare costs me only $3 return and I saved enough to buy lunch for 3 folks.

What's more, I could use the travelling time getting in touch with so many people including one in Taiwan on my mobile, traffic free.

There are indeed free lunches in life, provided you have the right tikit!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

A harrowing drive with Mr Pacino

Coast to coast - across Sumatra. We made it!
Pic - Chris Wee

The real McCoy

The Indonesian Al Pacino

"Hi, my name is Sleepy Al, and I'll be your driver for the next 12 hrs"
Chris Wee's witty humour at its best.

Our 8 seater "limo" - all to ourselves!

One of the great things about this trip is how little we spent on food, accommodations etc thanks to the strong S$ and low RP prices. S$250 for a week was unbelievable value. Since we were under budget, we decided to hire a newish Suzuki APV 8 seater for the whole 2 of us and our precious steeds.

It was going to be a long and bumpy 350km drive back to Medan from Sibolga, along the notorious Trans Sumatra Highway and a little pampering was in order. It worked out to be S$105 which is about 3 times more than taking shared transport.

The truth really was the thought of spending 12 hours in secondhand smoke. That scared us stiff! Little did we know (silly us) that our driver, who shared a remarkable resemblance to Al Pacino, was quite a smoker too. But at least, one cigarette at a time is better than five.

Problem was that Mr Pacino was up driving the whole of the previous night and kept falling asleep at the wheel. Even the loud but priceless rock music of Deep Purple, Bon Jovi, Bad Company etc blasting away on the stereo could not do the trick. We had to force him to take compulsory stop-naps many times along the way.

Strangely, we discovered later that the only thing that could catch Sleepy Al's attention was the sound of incoming SMS. How I wished I had his mobile no!!!

We left Sibloga at 945am and arrived in Medan 930pm in one piece but pretty stressed and agitated. A complain to his Godfather was in order but Mr Pacino wisely gave me the great Rock CD that earned him a "tip" of $1.50 (generous in light of our experience). That somehow appeased me as those classic songs reminded me of a special time in my life... and bad memories of the endless and harrowing drive dissipated quickly.
You must check out Chris Wee's excellent account of our trip on CGOAB.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Sliming down fast to Sibolga

Great descents!

Watch for big holes around hairpin bends

And crazy drivers too!

This 80 yo man selling drinks proudly proclaimed, "My God is LOVE!"

Old shop house in Sibloga

Indian Ocean at last!

Traded in my Surly for this baby - ultimate carrying bike

Our last riding day had to start uphill, again. But by now, our legs seemed stronger and fitter or we have gotten used to the pain. Leaving Taruntung seemed the right thing to do and we were soon out in the open country, with views of the small town behind us. The weather was cool as it was still 900m above sea level but in just a matter of 60km, we would descend to humid sea level. Heading southwest, traffic was lighter than usual with the occassional Bemo or truck honking us to get out of its way. This was the first time we got chased by dogs too!

The climb ended 10km later where a Makanan Islam restaurant perched on a hill top beckoned us to refresh. It proved a great decision as it was the cleanest place we've ever been. Instant noodles never tasted so good and this turned out to be a smart choice as every stop and village below this place was really bad, smelly and dirty. A blue delivery truck kindly offered us a ride down to Sibolga but heh, we came exactly for the descent of our life.

The long descent was beyond our wildest dreams - wicked corners, long straights on good roads (some parts) and challenging surprises. The beautiful roads got worse as we lost altitude till some stretches were simply mud, pebble and dirt. Flying down at 40 plus kmh only to see these conditions after a blind corner was scary, requiring hard braking and utmost concentration. At times, my Surly hit the dirt real hard that the shock threw my hands off the handlebar grips.

If that was not exciting enough, two stretches required us to enter dark tunnels carved through the mountainside. Just go in and hope that no oncoming crazy Indonesian driver will be flying up into you.

When we finally saw the Indian Ocean and the town of Sibolga, I felt a tinge of sadness that our ride was soon to be over. It was amazing that 2 wheels on some metal tubes, powered just by our legs with a chain, could take us from sea to sea, across Sumatra.

Sibolga used to be a trading post for the colonial powers and features old shophouses and period buildings. It is also referred to as the slime pit of Sumatra as it has a reputation of ripping people off with all sorts of scams and tricks. But that is another story altogether. It was simply great to be splashed with the sea in our faces - something that literally happened when we stood too close to the waves!

Looking back, we have somewhat "tamed" the volcanoes of Sumatra on our saddles. The famous words of the great James Brown say it all - "I feel good, I knew that I would... so good, so good, yeah!"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tele-climbing and beyond

Winded after 21km of climbing... another 2 to go. Thanks for the pic Chris.

Inspirational or what?

Landslide is not a problem for bicycles

Steep hills are!

Worth every pedal

Fitting in with the locals - butt style!

Innovative use of the iconic Vespa

Taruntung - faster out, the better

We left Nothingsville enthusiastically at 0700 as it was a long day of riding ahead. The 23km climb out of the crater basin to Tele promised to be the most scenic and provided for some great photos. Being Sunday, we passed by many villagers going to churches all dressed up. It was also the first time I heard the famous singing of the Bataks as I rode passed packed Sunday Services - hymns I instantly recognized beautifully sung in their language. It was unmistakable that this day was set aside through the atmosphere of worship, even in the distant rice fields.

The road was unpaved, pot-holed and muddy and I was starting to get worried. The few motorbikes that came in our opposite direction warned us something about the road being closed due to a landslide - 'Jalan tutup!' How bad was it? Could we pass? No one could give us a proper answer so we cycled with great trepidation to find out for ourselves. Soon, the path in front of us disappeared into huge heap of earth. Nothing could get through, nothing... except bicycles, carried by foot. Fortunately, 3 keretek smoking guys were hanging around and they kindly offered us much needed help to cross over the 40 x 3m natural disaster. We were so grateful to these nicotine addicted angels!

If that was an adventure, the twisty climb up to Tele was even more so. It was almost double the 10km climb out of Harrunggoal but the morning sunlight, green lush plains, sparkling waters and of course, imposing highlands made it worth every hard pedal. Think Lord of the Rings here! I was truly struggling here while Chris seemed to be flying. Our energy gels and chocolates were eagerly consumed and when the top was finally reached, a sign that said, "Feel the miracle" greeted us. It was apt.

Lunch at Tele was at a typical Indonesian roadside warung serving cold curries with lukewarm rice. The curry chicken head with comb intact did not make for a satisfying meal but we had to replenish our spent energy, one way or the other. The road to the next town had to start uphill for another 7km but we were rewarded with high speed downhills which was exhilarating. Top speed hit was 53km/h!

As it was getting really late, we had to jump onto a public minivan to make our destination, Taruntung before sundown. 14 folks sardined together in a 30 year old moving rusted can is bad enough. Add all the fellow male passengers lighting up in closed quarters, Chris and I breathed in enough secondhand smoke to last two lifetimes.

It was raining as we entered Taruntung. The sky got dark, and we were so glad to be out of the smoke can and on our bikes again. Nothing going for this town as well - just a sleepover place for us. The Bali Hotel we crashed in had a helpful guy recep who looked very much like Gurmit Singh, a famous TV star in Singapore. It looked promising but with dark stained, grimy toilet with broken fixtures, I didn't spend much time on the 'throne'. Perhaps it was the bleak weather but Taruntung with its unlighted, dirty streets and run-downed dingy shops, felt like we were slowly but surely beginning our descend into the armpit of Sumatra.

Heading West was beginning to look like a bad idea...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Cycling anti-clockwise into the doldrums...

Typical bay view in Samosir Island

Entrance to the King's "Kitchen"

Many heads were put on this chopping block

No shortage of rice here!

Straight into Nothingsville

A vivid rainbow to brighten a dull town

It took us 42km to cycle the top part of the 120km permimeter of Samosir Island to reach our destination on the west side, Pangururang - the admin centre. Quiet roads that mostly hug the coastline with views of the the lake, the highlands and the low lying clouds. We visited some ancient royal sites where the old Batak Kings would lop off the heads of their enemies and eat their bodies ritually not too long ago. Raffles and Marco Polo seem to mentioned this as well. Its unimaginable the Bataks are better known now for their melodious music and their Christian faith.

Was delightful to pass through small villages where people shouted the traditional greeting "Horus" ever so often! Once again, the number of churches even in the remoteness places caught my attention.

The town of Pangururang is supposed to be the government hub of the island but it was pretty pathetic in very sense of the word. The best hotel we stayed in featured squart-style toilets -enough said. There was not a single place for a decent meal. Everything closed real early too. At least, I could get my hair wash and pampered at Betty's Beauty Saloon for 20,000 Rp ($3). Here, we bumped into a young Nicholas Cage lookalike policeman who seemed better suited as a male underwear model. He was fascinated with our cycling adventure and Chris was making all sorts of eyes at me while we were talking. Interesting, to say the least.

At night, we wandered around and stumbled upon a most beautiful new church right at the lake side. The Pastor, a dark Batak warrior built gentleman impeccably dressed in a dark full suit, took time to chat with us. He proudly said that there is 4 million Batak believers in Sumatra and they even had missionaries in the USA and Singapore.

That enlightening conversation compensated a little for the doldrums offered at "Nothingsville" Pangururang.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Watching laundry dry in scenic Tuk Tuk

Loading our steeds for an easy cruise to Samosir Island

The lovely Samosir Cottages - highly recommended

Great food too!

HKBP Batak Church, almost omnipresent due to the work of Ludwig Nommenson, 1850s

Batak King burial ground

Only in this part of Indonesia do these magnificent style of roof exists...

Some things in life cannot be rushed - laundry

We cycled 2km to catch the morning ferry to Samosir Island. This island is as big as Singapore and it even has a small lake in the central highlands. After yesterday's hard ride, today we played the tourist. It was so relaxing cruising Lake Toba on the ferry on the mirror smooth waters surrounded by majestic highlands shrouded with clouds.

Our ferry dropped us right at the Samosir Cottages doorstep. This hotel is our best so far, only 110,000 RP with a view to die for. With a dive board that went straight into the lake, I could not resist a splash in. Spacious rooms, hot water that came from the shower, firm beds and a restaurant that served satisfying food. We are contemplating staying here longer but Chris had promised to all his fans at Crazy Guy on a Bike a trip to Sibolga, a town on the other side of Sumatra Island and our end point.

Did an evening cycle where we visited the famous grave sites of the ancient kings in Tomak but were pestered by all the shop touts. Good thing we could make a quick getaway on our bikes. We also enjoyed a wonderful deep tissue massage that my sore legs badly needed. Problem was the massage oil used was coconut based and I ended up smelling like 'Kuay Doldol' - a delicious Malay cake.

We took advantage of the beautiful sunny weather and did our laundry. Just sitting and relaxing on our room's balcony and watching our laundry dry, with stunning views is about as good as life can get. These are blessings we must savour and appreciate.

Arh, this is THE life!

PS - Unfortunately, our neighbours decided to hold a rock party guitar singing and all at night that didn't stop till 4am. Bummer...

The Looooooooooong ride to Parapat

Mr & Mrs Parapat welcoming us. Horus!

Wheels taking a break after the 10km steep climb out of Harunggoal

The most beautiful and luxurious tea stop - Siantar Hotel 30km before Parapet

The view from the crater ridge - north of Samosir Island straight ahead

Hot water promised - yeah right!

Getting to Harrungoal was easy but getting out drained us completely. Our 10km climb started at 930am, was the toughest I've ever done. We were hoping to get a ride up from some kind soul but was unsuccessful. All the vehicles did not want to stop for 2 scruffing looking guys who smelled real bad from sweat. So we had no choice but to inch our way up. It took us 2 hours to get to the top but we did it! If ever I deserved a medal, this must be it.

Back to the crater rim road, we were back to cruising our regular 25-28km/h heading towards Parapat. Some parts of the road was pretty bad with huge pot holes but the flip side was that traffic was relatively light. We rode passed many churches and at about 1pm, came across hundreds of students spilling onto the road. Some of the them were on bicycles and were so excited to ride with us. I felt like the Pipe Piper with all the kids trailing behind on their tiny wheels.

The fun soon ended as we had to climb again. This time, it was about 40 km of long ups and fast downs. My legs felt really soft and we had no choice but to grind up slowly up mountain roads. At least the scenery was superb but it was hard to appreciate it breathless. I will confess with no shame, that I pushed my fully loaded bike up twice! The downs though exhilarating could not compensate for the hard climbs (Chris disagrees) and I wished I had an electric bicycle. We videoed our fast descents, clearing 3km in 5 mins!

Reaching Parapat at about 6pm, through wet weather and totally exhausted by all the mountain torture, I was so glad to hit our abode for the night. 149000 RP (S$22) with breakfast and hot water was promised. Unfortunately, the only hot water we found came in a flask with 2 glasses so an ice cold bath had to do.

Not a great way to end a long ride but at least we had a superb Chinese dinner. I'm still wondering why no one gave us a ride at the start of the trip but I have learnt that He who holds our lives in His hands knows what is best for us. Things can only get better from here...

An unexpected blessing in Harunggoal

Chris before flying down the hill to Harunggoal

Our first glimpse of the magnificent Lake Toba

This is largely a Christian town!

Our humble hotel - The Horisan on the lake's edge

Priceless views just outside your window

Breakfast - Lontong, rice cakes in mild curry with tea

Inspiring Batak folks -Deaconess Masarina and friends

What a relief it was to leave Berstagi. We began our ride just coasting down for kms on end passing by farms, a shifting and priceless view of the smoking Sinabu Volcano on our right and churches after churches. The cool mountain air made it a bit chilly as we whiz down silently with only the sound of our wheels spinning.

Of course what comes down must eventually go up and we attacked our first climbs with much gusto. After 40km, we arrived at the famous Sipiso waterfall and had a sneak preview of the magnificient Lake Toba. It was breathtaking to say the least. Its the biggest lake in Asia, and is like a huge bowl. Words cannot describe the beauty of this place and it made me in awe of the creativity of the One who made it.

At a simple warung (small eatery), we had a very average fried rice cooked by a slighty effeminated guy. But we enjoyed a lovely chat with the owner of the warung, a final year law student named Lina. It was fun learning a bit about her culture and her faith as we sat through heavy showers. The ride to Haranggoal was easy enough especially the last 10km as we turn off the crater rim road and descended down into the small lakeside town. We passed by many elaborate graves and the Bataks here seem to spend a fortune remembering their loved ones.

Harrunggoal is definitely off the tourist route which is great for us. We came here for the photos and wanted to capture life in the quiet and quaint kampong town. We stayed at the Horisan, a very rundown motel but compensated by its scenic beauty and helpful staff. We found out later that Ibu, the 63 year old owner is a Deaconness in her church and preaches regularly. She was so honored to know that I'm a fellow believer and servant that she insisted on buying us Babi Panggang (BBQ Pork). We enjoyed heart warming fellowship together, singing hymns (she in Batak, I in English version), shared favourite scripture passages and prayed. It was a special evening that continued again in the morning before we left.

It's amazing how God brings special people into our life - what an unexpected blessing indeed!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Choking in the Highlands of Berstagi

Volcano Sibayak - still active!

Old Dutch bungalow - $8 per nite

Churches abound, cigarette ads more so

Fresh produce!

Horses here and there

Tobacco everywhere!

Berstagi is the Cameron H'lands of Sumatra, cool weather of 22c, lush green valleys, fresh vegetables and fruit. Its no wonder that the Dutch built many bungalows here and today, Bertsagi is the getaway chill out spot for 2 million people who live in Medan, just 65km away. We cycled out of crazy, congested Medan and after 18km, decided to hire a van. 2 reasons. Firstly, we paid 150k instead of 350k at the airport and secondly, the uphill and winding road to Berstagi is simply not worth it.

Our first night was in a Mr Bean, terribly run down hotel that did not even have constant running water and it is the first time I stayed in a room with no hot water and no TV. Chris came here years ago and it was good. Zero maintenance over the years have taken its toll. Today, we moved to a much nice hotel, The Sibayake Intl Hotel with swimming pool, 24 hrs hot water & cable TV. The Front Office Manager (known uncharacteristically as the FO Manager) gave us a deal of 60% off rack rates. Perhaps he took pity on us as poor cyclists.

As much as we love the cool weather, fresh breezes, beautiful scenery with 2 smoking volcanoes nearby, we are annoyed by the loud horns and noisy exhausts of the Bemo van taxis, motorbikes and pickup trucks. Whats worse is that everyone smokes like crazy, even indoors.

As I write in this internet cafe, I'm shortening my life breathing in all the secondhand smoke. If I get diagnosed for lung cancer, it will be due to these 2 days! But then again, this seems to be part and parcel of life in Indonesia so I can't wait to be on the road - 75km to Harrangaol which is our destination tomorrow.

Got to leave this place now, someone just lighted up his 76th cigarette for the day!