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Memories of the trip so far: Weeks 10 to 11

Before leaving Singapore, news came through of a large earthquake off north western Sumatra.... Not far from my destination. After just a moment of thought I decided that the only way this should stop me is if the flight were either cancelled or filled with rescue crews. I was after adventure, and Sumatra was offering it in a big way.

Sumatra is the second largest Indonesian island. It's about 1000 miles long, sits right on the equator and is covered in volcanic mountains and rain forest; where the Orangutan and other exotic creatures still survive. I flew to the city of Medan on the east coast - my original plan had been to take the ferry there, but I'd missed this weeks sailing.

Vin on the road in Indonesia

Medan airport felt more like a bus station, but had a very friendly tourist information man and money changers. Said, the tourist info guy, recommended a low price hotel, but somehow I missed it and went for a posh one - about 25 English pounds for the night. I found that basic hotels on Sumatra cost about 7 pounds a night.

I heard about Lake Toba from Said and from locals asking if that's where I was heading; they said it was beautiful, so I looked it up online... Beautiful and also the crater of the worlds biggest supervolcano. I would like that. The only problem was that my planned route forked away from it. I spoke to my wife and she simply advised not to regret whatever I did... So I went to Lake Toba and committed to a route through the west of Sumatra rather than the east.

Lake Toba was indeed very impressive and the climb up to the rim of the crater and decent down to the lake in twilight was great. Of course there was another climb to do out of the crater, but I had to spend most of the next day going around the lake before that climb. I found that 'around the lake' actually meant up and down the near vertical cliffs and hills around, but it was very very beautiful.

People were very friendly and had been taught basic English at school, so I was always greeted with 'hello mishtairrr'. I chuckled to myself and wondered if they would greet a lady differently, then I found a village where they'd not been taught well; 'hello miss!' shouted everyone. Some more advanced speakers called out 'how are you?', I replied always with a wave and a smile as I rode by.

A fierce storm made me shelter in a shop, and as it raged harder and harder outside, locals came running in from all around. Trees were falling, crops were being flattened, and buildings were being damaged. We retreated into the house behind the shop and I chatted with boy who translated proudly for his family. After an earthquake, the last thing these people needed was this storm, but they still had good spirits. Continuing as the storm subsided I was amazed to be on dry roads only 2 miles down the road - it had been a very localised bit of weather.

The roads were not busy except when I was in a town or city; 'Kota' in Indonesian. In any Sumatran kota, micro-buses rule the roads: they are shared taxis which simply drive up and down a main street making pick-ups and drop-offs. They are modified with big exhaust, spoilers, fancy paint-jobs, and flashing lights, and they are driven by twenty somethings inspired by F1 and arcade games. To pick-up they swerve toward the roadside hooting when they spot a potential customer, hoping they'll respond by leaping aboard. To drop-off they stamp on the breaks whenever a passenger shouts up. This makes for quite erratic driving for other traffic to cope with.

Most of the time I was in the countryside, and the traffic was quite light. On my 3rd day, I found there were very few other vehicles on my road. My road also had very little tarmac and many landslides affected it. It was a beautiful route through mountainous rainforest but it was also like riding the three peaks cyclo-cross race, twice.

On day 4 I heard that the rough roads of day 3 were in-part due to the earthquake 5 days before. There was some surprise I'd even got through on the road I had. This did make me feel better about how tough it had felt. I just had to hope the road ahead was less affected or I'd finish Sumatra with bike, body, and world record chances destroyed.

While fixing a puncture at the roadside next to some parked police cars, a group approached me and a familiar looking smartly dressed man asked me 'how are you?'. He turned out to be the chief of police and looked familiar because I'd seen him on his re-election campaign posters. We chatted a short while and he offered the use of police stations if there were no hotels for me.

Crossing the equator on my bike was something I felt was important to a circumnavigation - it's not required in GWR's rules, but I think it should be. I had looked on one map and remembered which town I saw the equatorial line running through, but then I met a lad called John at a shop on day 5 who told me it ran through a town called Banjol about 50 miles ahead: I re-checked the map, then cross checked with GPS and found the map was wrong. John also gave me a coffee, but giving me that information was priceless; a motivator to get me to Banjol that day and enter the southern hemisphere. As it turns out, Banjol is a beautiful village with a large arch and visitor centre on the equator line. However, it lacks any hotel or guest house, and I'd rather banked on it having one.... I had to cycle on, and on, and up, to Bukkitingi high in the hills 35 miles away. This was actually a blessing because I enjoyed the evening ride through rainforested hills with monkeys playing in the canopy above me, I got some decent miles clocked for the day, and I found a very nice hotel.

Back in England, my wife Helen had been talking to Guinness World Records about possibly re-routing to Java early to avoid spending too long on these earthquake damaged slow roads. I didn't think it would be allowed until I'd travelled much further east, but Helen got an OK from GWR and so I headed for Padang airport down the most amazing road decent from Bukkitingi. There was still serious earthquake damage here, landslides, weak bridges, huge cracks in the road, and lots of repair work in progress, but the decent was still amazing.

Leaving Sumatra was a bit sad. I'd planned to stay longer, I was enjoying it, and it certainly was an adventure... But I had seen some amazing views, crossed the equator, met the people, survived the rough roads, and now I was also thinking of the world record. Java would be the place to chase that with vigour again.

As I unpacked the bike in the arrivals hall of Jakarta airport, many airline staff surrounded me and offered assistance. There was nothing they could do really, but I got one to sign my witness book for the record and chatted with them all. They said I'd find flatter roads here than Sumatra, but warned me about the traffic.

I headed out to travel across the city and on across the island. Jakarta is big, really big. I didn't really leave it that day. There were always buildings at the roadside, no green belt of fields or trees. But when I was finally guided to a hotel by a friendly moped rider I met at some traffic lights, everyone was amazed I'd cycled from Jakarta - so I must have left it at some point!

I stayed for breakfast next morning at the hotel and enjoyed some good Java coffee to get me going. I headed up to the coast and enjoyed a day with tail winds. I feel silly in retrospect for stopping 'early' at nearly 130 miles - it was such an easy ride. Finally I was in rural lands too; with massive rice paddies, edged with banana and coconut.

The traffic was worse than Sumatra: The real difference was away from the towns, when the roads were slightly less busy but much less wide or well maintained. Coaches ruled due to size, speed, aggression, and no doubt competitive pressure.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about it because it's very negative to moan about the traffic when there was so much great about Java. I did have a run-it with a bus and the police though, and though I was a victim of some dangerous diving, I did escalate it. I spent a good half day convincing the police I really was the victim, and I feel very stupid for the waste of time.

As I moved east across the land day by day, I noticed the mornings becoming brighter ever-earlier and the darkness descending sooner each evening. That was a measurable sign of progress around the globe.

Crops altered from region to region according to local traditions, climate, topography and soil. Rice was ever present, and it's just hard to believe how much they grow here. Rice only completely disappeared in the Teak forests, and these were a real treat to ride through. The temperature was noticeably cooler than around the crops, and the sounds of forest insects and birds such a pleasant rival to engines and horns of the road. Sugar cane seemed to be a more popular crop the further east I travelled. As did chili peppers - distilling heat from their surroundings. Small stands of maze were dotted near houses. Dorian and mangos hung from trees in gardens, but the noticeable thing around houses was chickens; cocks crowed all day and chicks followed the hens down the road and through gardens scratching at the ground searching for food.

On what I decided would be my final day to Bali, I woke in a beautiful beach resort which I'd wobbled into late the night before. I was stiff and slow to get going, then I punctured before I reached the road. It was an appropriate start to a long day. Had I not been utterly determined to finish Indonesia before going to bed I'd have had a short day. In the end the day included headwinds, rain, many climbs, running out of water in the longest uninhabited section, a rough ferry crossing to Bali, some very angry dogs, lots of bats flying around, and a finish at 2am. I got my witness book signed for GWR at the airport then went to the nearest hotel... Which was full. But then they said they had one windowless room in the annex available, so I took it.

I had a day and a half before my flight, so in the morning I saw some TV and discovered why the hotel was so full; a volcano in Iceland. It was a strange effect, but Europeans around the world were filling up airport hotels while they waited for flights. I also found the UK was having an election; and I felt very detached from current affairs. I washed my clothes, cleaned the bike, and wandered away from the hotel to find packaging for it. Next to the hotel was a Dutch bar which did food; so I had a frikendel and frites before continuing my packaging search. The next building was a hair dresser; so I got a haircut. The one after was a convenience store; so I got an icecream. Finally I found an appliance store, bought packaging tape, and was given 6 large cardboard boxes. This was a perfect expedition to prepare for flying, and an hour or so later I had the bike packed and ready for Darwin, Australia.