As I was leaving the hostel and the lovely people I had met, the situation became complicated. Jakarta’s roads are a real nightmare, and every way out of the city was blocked. I took me all morning to get away from the capital, and I could not get rid of the traffic until around 2 in the afternoon. My original plan was to stay at a place called Dieng Plateau, known for its natural and wild beauty, a sort of little haven of peace between mountains and forests. Unfortunately, I had planned my day very poorly…
Somewhere around the plateau
I was normally supposed to arrive from the North or the South, but my GPS (which I had not quite taken the time to set up the day before, my mistake) made me follow a road from the West. Hours passed quickly, and roads shrank visibly. I really had to go as fast as possible, in order not to get surprised by the night. Paved roads became smaller rocky roads, and I was carefully following instructions from my GPS. I arrived at the bottom of a steep slope, in very poor condition. As I approached, I could see with dismay that the slope was only made of slippery mud and therefore very dangerous. I did not have a choice though : it was late and I could not turn back now. I took a deep breath, and crossed the first few meters without much problem. On the steepest bit, I found myself stuck several times, and was forced to let the bike slide back a few meters and open the throttle again, hoping that the rear wheel would unblock from the mud. But it got worse, and I was stuck and trapped. On a bad impulse, I lost balance and my boots slipped in the mud. I fell. Night had now fallen, and I had to remove all my bags to be able to pick it up. A scooter driver driver passing by stopped to help me lift it up. He was on his bare feet , and pushed me a few times to unblock me. The top of the hill’s ground was hard again, and my bike stopped slipping. I proceeded to put all the stuff back on, and found with horror that I was still 60 kms away from my destination.
After a really tough ride through the mud
Only one of my two headlights, very weak, was painfully trying to illuminate the road. It was night time, and I was lost. I had no other option, I had to go on. I rode by a few huts without seeing anyone, and realized that the actual way was not as accurate as it looked on the GPS. It now became clear to me that I could not reach my initial destination in the evening. I had to find a place to sleep. I reached a village with a few lights on, and stopped the bike next to two people on a scooter. I drew their attention and attempted to communicate in English, to no avail. I went for plan B, took out my phone and translated my request: “Could you take me to a hotel? I can give you some money if you escort me, my lights are not working!”. Villagers exchanged sorry looks, and explained that there are no hotels around here. I was not going to let this get me down. “Do you think somebody could host me for the night? I am lost”. I was told to follow a young man on a scooter. A few hundred meters further, I reached a lovely house and was greeted by Ali. They talked between them for a while, and Ali told me to come in. About 5 or 6 people were in the room, and I was offered some tea. I tried to explain my problem, and used my phone again to translate my story. The old man understood, and explained that he is the head of the village. He would allow me to stay at his place and sleep here for the night. People congregated at the entrance, very intrigued by the motorcycle and the sight of this white man. They brought me some more tea, and we shared several “kretek” cigarettes, the Indonesian clove cigarettes that I love. I cleaned myself quickly, and went to get some well deserved rest on a small mattress in the corner of the room.
At my host’s house (black hat)
I rose with the lark that morning. It was 5 am, and people were already active. I decided to also start my day early to try and go back on the main roads, but I was offered tea again as well as a lovely breakfast. While I was eating up, the same phenomenon that had happened the day before happened again at the leader’s door: they were this time no fewer than fifty people puzzledly looking at me as I was eating my food. Most were children, and I was starting to suspect that none of them had ever seen a foreigner before (in Indonesia called “bule”, pronounce “boulay”). I was able to confirm my thoughts when I asked people around to know how many white people had already visited their village. Their answers were unanimous : I was the first one. We laughed and talked together, and pictures of me were taken on countless occasions.
The head of the village offered to show me around, and I gladly accepted. The short walk in the morning was perfect, and he told me about every sort of jobs the people had. The Elder of the village even came to shake my hand. We continued our walk towards the school, where children literally congregated around me and were laughing and smiling heartedly. I thanked Ali and all those who welcomed me with their incredible hospitality, and left the village of Bubak, a big smile on my face.
Little visit to Bubak village’s school
But I was far from being out of trouble, and my mood deteriorated quickly. The roads were still difficult, I was still lost, and my GPS kept sending me deeper in forests and mountains. I was slowly beginning to feel desperate. I could really feel like I was going too deep for it to be the right way, and that it would now be hard to turn back. I went through a village, and the already narrow roads became a sort of dirt track made of rocks and grass. I slipped and dropped the bike, for the second time since the day before. Nobody was around, and the tension was rising.
I lifted up the bike and tried to keep going down the steep track, crossing my fingers that it would finally take me back to a main road. Further down, I fell for the second time that morning, and really started struggling with the situation.
I had just been thrown to the side of the track, and had to reach out for whatever was available – brambles – to avoid falling further down. Here I was, with cuts on my hands now. I lifted the bike up again and continued. The descent was now very steep, and I slipped again for the 3rd time. This time, the bike fell right into the ditch on the side, and was entirely upside down, wheels facing the sky and little Flo stuck underneath. My left leg was trapped under 300 kilos of metal, and the last village I had gone by was about 3-4 kms away. It did not really hurt, but my heart started beating very fast. The fall kind of shocked me, and my leg was really blocked.
It dawned on me that I could be in great danger here. I had just crossed a limit that I had hoped I would never have to cross. My first reaction was to laugh out loud about my misadventure, and I thought about the film “127 hours” that tells the real story of Aron Ralston, an American outdoorsman who got trapped by a boulder in a mountain in Utah, and ended up having to amputate his own arm to survive. I still needed my left leg to change gears (and walk, when I am not riding too!) , so I decided to slow down my breath and assess the situation without panicking. I analysed the area and tried to figure out exactly which part of the motorcycle was touching which part of the ground. I think it is important to have a good understanding of the environment before attempting anything, as it could be pretty dangerous otherwise. I concluded that I could attempt to lift the bike from its side with all my strength without risking anything (that the bike falls down even further and hurt me bad, for example). I contracted every muscles in my arms, and pushed hard on the footrest, temporarily releasing the pressure of the motorcycle to pull my leg out. I got out of the ditch, and was now sweating profusely. The bike could obviously not be lifted back on the main track on my own. I took all the bags and stuff I could off it, and went to sit down in the shade. I was completely soaked, and my heart was still beating really hard. I could feel every beat through my temples, which is the sign for my body that I have to remain calm for a while. I had no water and my throat was really starting to get dry.
My heartbeat almost being back to normal, I decided to walk down to try and find some help. 1 km, 2 kms … The descent was tough and I understood as I was going that even if I could get the bike back on its wheels, I would never be able to go down the path without dropping it down again and again. I went back towards the bike, and abdicated the idea of solving this on my own. I called for help. My voice echoed through the mountains, and got lost in the horizon. I shouted a good fifteen times, but failed to attract the attention of anyone. Worse, I was just getting even drier.
The kind of track I had been riding on
I always try not to panic, and control my emotions as much as I can. My experience in the Australian Outback has taught me to stay calm in difficult times. I jumped on my phone. Who could I call? Police ? Firemen? No one would understand me, and it would be impossible for me to indicate my exact position. No, I needed an interpreter. The signal was very bad, but I finally got my friend Adi from Jakarta on the line. “Adi, this is an emergency, I need your help. I had an accident and I am lost. I can send you my GPS coordinates.” His reaction was immediate and he took control of the situation. He checked my position on his computer. “Flo,” he said with dismay. “How could I explain this… You’re in a very wild and remote area. I will contact the nearest police station and arrange the some back-up, please stay put.” A few minutes later, he called me again and told me to go to the nearest village. I decided to go up the 3-4 kilometres I had come from, and texted him the name of the next village.
After a long and hard walk, I was covered in sweat and completely dried out. I got to the first houses and used the little Indonesian I could remember to ask help from a lady. “Air, air, minuman, silakan!” (“water, water, drink, please!”). She brought me a bottle of water, which I finished in one go. “Terima kasih, terima kasih!” (“thank you, thank you !”). I walked over to a man and handed him my phone after dialling Adi’s number. They talked for a while, and Adi explained that I had to follow the guy to a building in the village, where the police would come and find me. Meanwhile, a horde of about 60 children were gathering around me and trying to use the few sentences they could remember in English to impress me. I was not impressed. I followed the man to the building where people greeted me with several cups of tea, that I drank with great relief.
A few hours later, under a threatening rain, a police 4-wheel-drive arrived. A group of 5 people came out of it and shaked my hand. We started driving towards the hellish descent. The 4×4 trudged through the way, and we finally arrived nearby. The good mood was with us, and I felt comforted. Funny jokes were shared in the Jeep and the policemen posed proudly in front of the motorcycle, with me in the middle. They told me to do a thumbs-up for the photo. I made a sign of flowing tears instead, creating general laughter. The impromptu photo shoot completed, they started trying to get the bike out of its hole.
1, 2, “POLICE INDONESIAAAAAA”. The bike was up again. They hang chains to the front, which they pulled bare-handed to keep the balance and help rotate the bike towards the top of the hill. What followed was a very difficult ascent, I almost fell again several times. I was blocked a few times on slippery rocks, and my rear wheel kept rotating aimlessly. The 4×4 followed me, and stopped every time I was stuck for the guys to come and push me.
We reached the village at the top again, and I let out a big sigh of relief. I was far from being back on the main roads, but I was on something that actually looked like a road (more or less…). I followed my rescuers to their police station, some long tens of kilometres away. One of them used his phone to translate many questions, and they filled up a report of the incident. I called Adi to thank him, and asked him how much money I should give them. He negotiated with one of them, and explained that ideally it would be the equivalent of 50 dollars. I was more than happy to give away that money. At the end, they decided to refuse my money and only accepted around 10 dollars to cover the gasoline costs. “We are friends”, they said.
Later, one of them even took out the equivalent of 5 dollars from his wallet and gave it to me. “For the kids”, he said with a wink. Another one also handed me a cut stone as a souvenir, explaining that I could easily have it set into a pendant or a ring in the city. They asked me if I had any one-dollar note with me that they could keep as a souvenir. I said that I sadly did not, but remembered that I had something else. I told them I had some coins left from Thailand, and dropped around 20 coins out of my bag on the table. They observed timidly, and took one each, a big smile on their face. “No no, guys. You can take them all! This is for you!”. One hand fight later, the coins were shared to the delight of my favourite police team. They explained the right direction to get back to the main road, and I entered with great patience the names of all the villages I had to go through in my GPS, to make 100% sure that I was going the right way this time. I said goodbye, and thanked them with all my heart.
Goodbye, my friends !
One of them led me to the next village with his scooter, then stopped on the side of the road. I went a bit further, and observed with pain a new vision of horror in front of me : when I thought everything was over, a muddy and slippery descent was standing right before my eyes. “Last one!”, my friend assured me. He stood in front of the motorcycle, and helped me maintain balance. I went in with great apprehension, and managed to overcome the final obstacle without falling. I was free again. I thanked him, rode through countless villages and found myself, some 40 kilometres further, on a real road again. I stopped at the first hotel I found, took a well deserved shower and fell asleep instantly.
It was the most difficult challenge of my whole trip. There was something terribly claustrophobic about getting stuck in those mountains and forest, and I think the very steep slopes are the main cause of it. The gravity generates a lot more tension than if the roads were flat. The relief of finally getting away from it is the same as finally getting out of a dark room when you cannot find the exit. I really want to thank the whole village and their warm welcome, Adi for assisting me all along and offering me all his skills, and of course my friends from the police for the rescue. So close to the goal, yet still so far. It was an adventure. A real one.