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Surabaya: Your Nightmare Is Our Vacation

Outrain arrived in Surabaya on time and without a hiccup. AsiaWheeling is pleased to report, that in stark contrast in Indian trains, the trains in Indonesia run quite impressively on time.
At the station, we found ourselves badly in need of water, sustenance, and an ATM. The water and the ATM were no problem. The food issue could have been dispatched quite easily as well, but we decided we might as well make out way to a hotel before finding sustenance. As we are slowly learning is always the case, this proved a poor idea, because the madness began to descend, manifesting itself in a number of ways. The first was that we jumped at the first hotel we came to, which was a place nearby the train station, with a glorious and comfortable lobby, where a fellow was raging on a greasy and distorted sounding CasioTone keyboard, a nice restaurant upstairs, with a big projection television displaying Indonesian daytime soaps, with free wifi, and rooms that proved to be windowless cells, with no hot water, grungy molding bathrooms, and reeking like an an el salvidorian taxicab driver after 3 packs of cheap cigarettes and a 12 hour shift.
Sweating and in a compromised mental state, I began to dyslexically mis-speak my indonesian, turning “Makasa” (thanks) into “Kamasa”, and “Masaka.” All very nice sounding words as well, but resulting only in outpourings of laughter. I had misplaced my sunglasses, and was generally disheveled.
Allow me to make excuses for myself. One particularly pertinent factor here is that the AsiaWheeling mobile team has been experiencing a quite aggressive increase in our metabolic rates. What once was enough caloric intake to justify a meal, has since become simply too little. Also, we have been eating foods which are primiarrally vegetables refined grains, and oil, so the overall sustenance contained therein is less and the half-life of the food in the intestine has diminished. The resulting state of perpetual peckishness is actually quite lovely most of the time since an affordable abundance of snacks is usually easy to come by. But from time to time we get burned.
Meanwhile, despite our generously slathered sunscreen, that was exactly what was happening in Surabaya. Traffic was dense, and the number of people calling out to us had spiked sharply. The subset of those who were literally screaming out at us in a most shrill and terrifying “hello mister!” and “Where are you going mister!” proved a sizable and quite vocal minority.
With the sun beating down on our Panama hats, and the shrieks of what was beginning to sound like ghouls and cackling witches soaring over the growl and bark of thousands of mopeds, we wheeled on towards a large shopping center which advertised all kinds of restaurants therin. We wheeled into entrance after entrance, through multiple parking garages. Each possible parking location waved us away, either deeper into the lot or our of the area completely. Each time we would dismount, a smiling fellow in a policeman-like uniform would come over to us and explain “no here,” or “cycle no.”
It is at times like these, racked by hunger, lost in the infinite that I wonder: where does the hope live? Where in our battered and wind torn frames did this small flame reside, such that it could not be extinguished by blustering wind of rejection, could not be blacked out by the acrid exhaust of an overloaded cement truck burning oil? Such questions I cannot answer, but I can bravely report that hope still burned strong in the hearts of asiawheeling, rejection after rejection. Why would these people not take our moneys and harbor our cycles? We may never know.
Disgusted and frothing with maddening hunger, we left the mall and wheeled on, finding ourselves on a giant highway, which gutted its way through the city center heading north. Cars, motorcycles, and other cyclists battled for space as flows emerged within the traffic, and were soon destroyed as other traffic piled in.
Scott called a waypoint, to consult the map, and we heaved the bikes up onto the crumbling sidewalk. It was then that I spotted a restaurant! It looked sanitary enough, and was just across the street, separated from us by a mere 100 meters, and 8 lines of raging traffic. Spotting a pedestrian bridge in the distance, we made a break for it, hoisting our bikes onto our shoulders and bounding up the steep steps. And then down again, carried in a half run half fall by the weight of the Speed TRs.
And then we were rolling into the parking lot of the restaurant. The parking attendants rose in standing ovation, screaming at us and directing us towards a basement parking garage. Down in the garage, we found even more parking attendants, probably 7 or 8 in all, clamoring and suggesting possible parking locations.
<<pic of Scott and Attendants>>
The gargantuan squad of parking staff was made all the more puzzling by the fact the the interior of the restaurant was completely empty. I’d like to say the food was tasty but I was in no position to judge. Let it suffice to say that the food was transformative. We took a moment, to relax and feel the surging ecstasy of our blood sugar uptake curve.
Then it was time for more wheeling. Refueled and refreshed, we took to the streets with new vigor. The traffic was still bad, and the verbal assault from the locals still quite banshee like, but we were able to much more effectively channel the duck’s back and we wheeled north towards the central mosque, the Muslim quarter, and the Surabaya old city.
At one point, we called a waypoint to buy bottles of water from a small shop tucked into a cubby in a crumbling wall. As we transacted, a giant crowd of kids arrived. They began to tug at the bikes, attempting to climb aboard, singing local songs in screeching pre-pubescent counter tenor, and shouting in indonesian with the occasional western naughty word. We attempted to leave, but they were blocking our path. Executing a classic fake to the left, I then dashed to the right and mounted the Speed TR, I broke free of the crowd and laid in. Tarnation! The gearing was set way too high, and she was eating road slowly. As I struggled to downshift., a number of children caught up to me and began pulling at the rear rack and fenders, causing me to wobble quite parlously. Finally, with a lower gear successfully engaged, I shouted a final taunt back at the kids, and really let’r eat.
I turned back to see Scott had broken free as well, and we were off, soaring like condors northwards, asking directions from time to time, and relying on our compasses, which strangely enough, were refusing to agree in this bizarre city.
Finally we arrived in the Muslim quarter. It was crowded, with rows upon rows of bicycle rickshaw drivers, lazing in the sun. As we approached, it seemed, word spread and they awoke to heckle us. Finally, we saw the entrance to the inner sanctum of the old city on the mosque.  In order to reach it, one had to travel through a long meandering ally full of merchants.
We first attempted to take the bikes in, but this proved impossible. So we scanned for the nearest parking spot and a crowd of gentleman formed around us. One on them handed us little tickets proclaiming that parking was 5 cents per bike. Immediately, some others began to goad him for disclosing the price. We locked the bikes to a fence, and the crowd of men began to demand a wide range of amounts of money from us. We knew never to pay until we returned, so we repeatedly communicated this to them with words, gestures, and pantomime. Finally, a woman selling dried apricots and yoghurt drinks, dressed in full burka came over to scold the men and in the moment of confusion we slipped away and entered the market ally.
We looked behind us where the men were now scrutinizing the Speed TRs, ringing the bells, lifting them to test the weight, changing the gears, and tapping at the tires to attempt to determine pressure. Thank goodness they are such solid and reliable cycles.
We gestured and called to them with smiles just letting them know that while we relatively powerless, we were at least watching them and they replied in kind. A few more steps and they were out of view and we were into the market. People called as us from every angle, and some walked by us with very stern looks. We were asked again and again where are you from. “US,” we would say, or “California.” Invariably these responses were met with a small frown.
We walked by a local shop which was playing a very entrancing middle eastern/Javanese type of music, and we began haggling with them for a copy of the disc. We no doubt paid enough for 12 of the CDs, but were also successful in decreasing the asking price to %40 of it’s original value, and for about a dollar we walked away with some of this stuff:
Scott stopped to sample some dates and began to collect quite a few locals around him, conversing with him in spare bits of English. We wandered to the gates of the mosque, but decided since it was technically illegal for us to enter, and due the the high chance that it would be a venue for extracting cash from us in the form of admittance fees, donations, and bribes, we decided to enjoy it from the exterior.
Back in the cycle parking lot, the fellow appeared to have finally lost interest in the Speed TRs. When they caught sight of us, however, they perked right back up again, and began demanding parking charges in excess of the agreed upon amount by orders of magnitude. We paid the 10 cents that were owed, and despite the proclamations of a growing hoard of indonesian men, we took a cue from the burka-clad woman and hit the streets.
The sun was now hanging low in the sky, so we pulled an uber-rousch back towards the godforsaken hotel. The wheel back was brisk and full of interactions with our fellow traffic., which now consisted mostly of those commuting home by motorbike after a day’s work. A fellow with a giant leather jacket proclaiming “Star Rider” in sequined cursive, screamed at us to follow him, and he roared off into the distance. Needless, to say we appreciated the gesture but did not indulge in the pursuit.
Back outside our hotel we decided to relax in a nearby park, which apart from hoards of rats included a very strange walking path which included many many sharp stones, affixed to the pavement so as to point upwards. This allowed the park-goers to remove their shoes and walk on this bed-of-nails-esque pathway, perhaps to strengthen the feet? If you have a better idea, please let us know in the comments.
We spent the rest of the evening strolling through the city, past bombed out looking buildings, reeking and bubbling open sewers, and piles of burning garbage.
The extremes of experience, indeed.

Our train arrived in Surabaya on time and without a hiccup. AsiaWheeling is pleased to report, that in stark contrast to Indian trains, the trains in Indonesia run quite impressively on time.

At the station, we found ourselves badly in need of water, sustenance, and an ATM. The water and the ATM were no problem. The food issue could have been dispatched quite easily as well, but we decided we might as well make our way to a hotel before finding sustenance. As we are slowly learning is always the case, this proved a poor idea, because the madness began to descend, manifesting itself in a number of ways.

Cycling to Hotel

The first was that we jumped at the first hotel we came to, which was a place nearby the train station, with a glorious and comfortable lobby, where a fellow was raging on a greasy and distorted sounding CasioTone keyboard, a nice restaurant upstairs, with a big projection television displaying Indonesian daytime soaps, with free WiFi, and rooms that proved to be windowless cells, with no hot water, grungy molding bathrooms, and reeking like a cab driver after three packs of cheap cigarettes and a 12 hour shift.  The bathrooms at this hotel actually locked the visitor in once the door was closed.  Even when inside trying to pry the door open, it took a swift kick from the other side to actually break free before the cholera would take hold.

Surabaya Hotel

Sweating and in a compromised mental state, I began to jumble my Indonesian, turning “Makasi” (thanks) into “Kamasa”, and “Masaki.” All very nice sounding words as well, but resulting only in outpourings of laughter. I had misplaced my sunglasses, and was generally disheveled.

Allow me to make excuses for myself. One particularly pertinent factor here is that the AsiaWheeling mobile team has been experiencing quite an aggressive increase in our metabolic rates. What once was enough caloric intake to justify a meal, has since become simply too little. Also, we have been eating foods that are primarily vegetables, refined grains, and oil, so the overall sustenance contained therein is less and the half-life of the food in the intestine has diminished. The resulting state of perpetual peckishness is actually quite lovely most of the time since an affordable abundance of snacks is usually easy to come by. But from time to time we get burned.

Meanwhile, despite our generously slathered sunscreen, that was exactly what was happening in Surabaya. Traffic was dense, and the number of people calling out to us had spiked sharply. The subset of those who were literally screaming out at us in a most shrill and terrifying “hello mister!” and “Where are you going mister?” proved a sizable and quite vocal minority.

With the sun beating down on our Panama hats, and the shrieks of what was beginning to sound like ghouls and cackling witches soaring over the growl and bark of thousands of mopeds, we wheeled on toward a large shopping center that advertised all kinds of restaurants therein. We wheeled into entrance after entrance, through multiple parking garages. Each possible parking location waved us away, either deeper into the lot or out of the area completely. Each time we would dismount, a smiling fellow in a policeman-like uniform would come over to us and explain “no here,” or “cycle no.”

It is at times like these, racked by hunger, lost in the infinite that I wonder: “Where does the hope live?” Where in our battered and wind torn frames did this small flame reside, such that it could not be extinguished by the blustering wind of rejection, could not be blacked out by the acrid exhaust of an overloaded cement truck burning oil? Such questions I cannot answer, but I can bravely report that hope still burned strong in the hearts of AsiaWheeling, rejection after rejection. Why would these people not take our money and harbor our cycles? We may never know.

Disgusted and frothing with maddening hunger, we left the mall and wheeled on, finding ourselves on a giant highway, which gutted its way through the city center heading north. Cars, motorcycles, and other cyclists battled for space as flows emerged within the traffic, and were soon destroyed as other traffic piled in.

Scott called a waypoint on a street warning against the presence of bicycles and rickshaws, to consult the map, and we heaved the bikes up onto the crumbling sidewalk. It was then that I spotted a restaurant! It looked sanitary enough, and was just across the street, separated from us by a mere 100 meters, and eight lines of raging traffic. Spotting a pedestrian bridge in the distance, we made a break for it, hoisting our bikes onto our shoulders and bounding up the steep steps. And then down again, carried in a half-run half-fall by the weight of the Speed TRs.

And then we were rolling into the parking lot of the restaurant. The parking attendants rose in standing ovation, screaming at us and directing us toward a basement parking garage. Down in the garage, we found even more parking attendants, probably seven or eight in all, clamoring and suggesting possible parking locations.  They seemed to be excited and friendly, taking photos with us and asking questions about the bicycles.

The gargantuan squad of parking staff was made all the more puzzling by the fact the the interior of the restaurant was completely empty. I’d like to say the food was tasty but I was in no position to judge.

Feast in Surabaya

Let it suffice to say that the food was transformative. We took a moment, to relax and feel the surging ecstasy of our blood sugar uptake curve.

After the Feast

Then it was time for more wheeling. Refueled and refreshed, we took to the streets with new vigor. The traffic was still bad, and the verbal assault from the locals still quite banshee-like, but we were able to much more effectively channel the duck’s back and we wheeled north toward the central mosque, the Arab quarter, and the Surabaya old city.

Surabaya Warehouse

During the wheel, we experienced the longest traffic stop for passing railways to date.  The full ordeal lasted five minutes and consisted of deafening bells, but we will spare you, our dear reader, by furnishing merely a 12 second video:

At one point, we called a waypoint to buy bottles of water from a small shop tucked into a cubby in a crumbling wall. As we transacted, a giant crowd of kids arrived.

Kids Raging

They began to tug at the bikes, attempting to climb aboard, singing local songs in screeching pre-pubescent counter tenor, and shouting in Indonesian with the occasional western naughty word. We attempted to leave, but they were blocking our path. Executing a classic fake to the left, I dashed to the right and mounted the Speed TR, I broke free of the crowd and laid in. Tarnation! The gearing was set way too high, and she was eating road slowly. As I struggled to downshift, a number of children caught up to me and began pulling at the rear rack and fenders, causing me to wobble quite perilously. Finally, with a lower gear successfully engaged, I shouted a final taunt back at the kids, and really let’r rip.

I turned back to see Scott had broken free as well, and we were off, soaring like condors northward, asking directions from time to time, and relying on our compasses, which strangely enough, were refusing to agree in this bizarre city.  Finally we found a father and a son reconstructing what seemed to be the solenoid of a giant internal combustion engine; they pointed us to our destination, the great mosque of the city, the Masjid Ampel.

Coconuts in Surabaya

Finally we arrived in the Muslim quarter. It was crowded, with row upon row of bicycle rickshaw drivers, lazing in the sun. As we approached, it seemed, word spread and they awoke to heckle us. Finally, we saw the entrance to the inner sanctum of the Masjid Ampel.  In order to reach it, we traveled through a long meandering alley full of merchants.

Ally of Merchants in Surabaya Arab Quarter

We first attempted to take the bikes in, but this proved impossible and met with hoots of instruction. So we scanned for the nearest parking spot and a crowd of gentleman formed around us. One on them handed us little tickets proclaiming that parking was five cents per bike. Immediately, some others began to scold him for disclosing the price. We locked the bikes to a fence, and the crowd of men began to demand a wide range of amounts of money from us. We knew never to pay until we returned, so we repeatedly communicated this to them with words, gestures, and pantomime. Finally, a woman selling dried apricots and yoghurt drinks, dressed in full headscarf came over to scold the men and in the moment of confusion we slipped away and entered the market alley.

We looked behind us where the men were now scrutinizing the Speed TRs, ringing the bells, lifting them to test the weight, changing the gears, and tapping at the tires to attempt to determine pressure. Thank goodness they are such solid and reliable cycles.

We gestured and called to them with smiles just letting them know that while we were relatively powerless, we were at least watching them and they replied in kind. A few more steps and they were out of view and we were into the market. People called at us from every angle, and some walked by us with very stern looks. We were asked again and again where are you from. “U.S.” we would say or “California.” Invariably these responses were met with a small frown.

We walked by a local shop that was playing a very entrancing middle eastern/Javanese type of music, and we began haggling with them for a copy of the disc. We no doubt paid enough for 12 of the CDs, but were also successful in decreasing the asking price to %40 of its original value, and for about a dollar we walked away with some of these gems:

Scott stopped to sample some dates and began to collect quite a few locals conversing with him in spare bits of English.

Sampling Dates

We wandered to the gates of the mosque, but decided since it was technically illegal for us to enter, and due the the high chance that it would be a venue for extracting cash from us in the form of admittance fees, donations, and bribes, we decided to enjoy it from the exterior.

Back in the cycle parking lot, the fellows appeared to have finally lost interest in the Speed TRs. When they caught sight of us, however, they perked right back up again, and began demanding parking charges in excess of the agreed-upon amount by orders of magnitude. We paid the 10 cents that were owed, and despite the proclamations of a growing hoard of Indonesian men, we took a cue from the headscarf-clad woman and hit the streets.

Hitting the Streets of Surubaya

The sun was now hanging low in the sky, so we pulled an uber-rausch back towards the godforsaken hotel. The wheel back was brisk and full of interactions with our fellow traffic, which now consisted mostly of those commuting home by motorbike after a day’s work. A fellow with a giant leather jacket proclaiming “Star Rider” in sequined cursive, screamed at us to follow him, and he roared off into the distance. Needless, to say we appreciated the gesture but did not indulge in the pursuit.

Back outside our hotel we decided to relax in a nearby park, which apart from hoards of rats included a very strange walking path that included many, many sharp stones, affixed to the pavement so as to point upwards.

Masochistic City Park

This allowed the park-goers to remove their shoes and walk on this bed-of-nails-esque pathway, perhaps to strengthen the feet? If you have a better idea, please let us know in the comments.

We spent the rest of the evening strolling through the city, past bombed-out looking buildings, reeking and bubbling open sewers, and piles of burning garbage.

The extremes of experience, indeed.


Comments

  1. Lauren | January 21st, 2010 | 10:54 pm

    Hi Brave Wheelers,

    Each new entry tokes my burning [multi-part] question: Why Asia? Why have you chosen to wheel this continent above the six others, and twice? What are you seeking in 2.0 that was not found in 1.0?

    My apologies if this has been answered in a previous post.
    Your faithful reader,
    Lauren

  2. Rachel | January 22nd, 2010 | 9:32 am

    This may be a little obvious, but why not carry around “emergency snacks” for blood sugar replenishment for such instances when you can’t find somewhere to eat immediately?

  3. Hud | January 22nd, 2010 | 10:24 am

    You guys should live stream…

  4. Angela | January 22nd, 2010 | 8:51 pm

    Happy Birthday Woody. Eat well, sleep lots, and wheel on.

  5. Richard | January 23rd, 2010 | 9:33 am

    Happiest of birthdays from me, too!

    Butchie

  6. Woody & Scott | January 24th, 2010 | 1:29 pm

    Rachel,

    Good question. This is actually something we’ve started to do, and are a huge fan of Indonesian “Taro Net” for this purpose. The main reason that we don’t carry snacks around is that it adds to the amount we carry, as we assume we can just get food anywhere. The problem is that we forget to eat. We’ve been getting much better recently and have been eating lunch earlier in the day. Thanks for your concern!

  7. Woody | January 24th, 2010 | 2:00 pm

    All the birthday cheers… Thanks, Ya’ll.

  8. Woody & Scott | January 24th, 2010 | 2:07 pm

    Lauren,

    Great question, and I will try to keep the answer brief and direct given the nature of this medium. First, Asia is huge. Containing four billion people, it is home to 60% of the population of planet earth. It also contains extremely diverse environments ranging from the Gobi desert to the Indonesian archipelago to the Frozen tundra of Russia. As a large landmass, it provides a wide breadth of experience “under one roof.”

    Much of this population is developing rapidly from economic, urban, and cultural standpoints, making it a diverse and intricate subject of study that our readers in the west have not been exposed to. Catalyzed by information technology and liberalized global trade regulations, as well as the ejection of colonial forces during the 20th century, countries of Asia will play a much larger role on the world stage. Additionally, Asia represents a vast number of people that will go from being relatively impoverished to prosperous in our lifetimes. It is our goal to both experience and communicate the ways that this will happen, and in what locales it will happen most quickly and most recognizably.

    Third, the logistics of Asia lend themselves very well to this venture. Trains connect almost all of China, India, Russia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Central Asia. Low cost airlines proliferate when air travel is necessary, and for the most part, Asia is an safe place to be. No trains connect Africa or Latin America like in such a way, and while fascinating, these continents offer less cultural diversity and more security issues than our current itinerary.

    The other fantastic synchronicity about Asia is that it is bicycle friendly.

    We love the tough questions like this, so keep them coming!

  9. Stew | January 24th, 2010 | 3:05 pm

    So the stones that stick up into your feet are a type of reflexology technique. The stones are shaped in such a way that they can apply pressure to the various qi spots that are linked to vital organs. This is meant to improve your body’s energy flow, feel the qi.

  10. Woody | January 24th, 2010 | 3:31 pm

    @ Stew

    Nice. We are always looking for ways to augment our flow of qi here at AsiaWheeling.

    Thanks for the clarification. Keep them coming!

  11. Mark/Dad | January 24th, 2010 | 11:42 pm

    The music brought me back into a mellow zone after the cacophonous train crossing. What was the bicycle cart loaded with? Coconuts? Melons? And I loved the picture of the kids, despite the harrowing escape. Hints of “Lord of the Flies.”

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