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Islands hopped: 10
Years lived: 29 !
Current Location: Vanimo, Papua New Guinea
“Now I remembered that the real world was wide and that a varied field of hopes and fears, of sensations and excitements, awaited those who had courage to go forth into its expanse, to seek real knowledge of life amidst its perils”
- Jane Eyre
“Papua is the Siberia of Indonesia”
-Javanese saying, Periplus Travel Guide to Indonesia
After all the researching, waiting, sailing and charity work, I was finally now ready to continue the long, complicated course to Australia via the strung out chains of the Philippines, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Riding the tropical, sweaty islands south from Manila was a slightly stressful experience. Firstly, it was noisy. I shared the road with impatient truck drivers who made good use of their horns whenever they performed outrageously dangerous maneuvers (virtually the whole time). Smog clouded the air, whilst traffic jams sometimes went on for several kilometers. Caught behind one particularly stationary jam, I got off and pushed my bike along the verge in an effort to progress. After walking at least 3 km, I eventually spied the cause of this great hold up – it was a badly parked police car which blocked a whole lane of traffic (I had seen the policemen further back trying to keep the traffic moving!).
The other bad experiences I had in the Philippines (to get them out of the way), were:
1. The pessimists who chilled my imagination with their warnings that I would most likely be robbed, kidnapped or murdered (or all three) if I ventured through the bad-press Muslim majority Island of Mindanao (needless to say, this island actually turned out to be very friendly in my experience).
2. The day I was ill and had to lie feverishly on the floor of a ferry terminal feeling decidedly sorry for myself. It is never nice being ill, but it is even more unpleasant when you are alone, far from home and you haven’t had shower for a few days (and your head is spinning nauseously with images of imminent robbers, kidnappers and murderers).
3. One night as I lay in bed in a hosts house, I awoke to find somebody in my room rummaging though my things. I greeted the suspicious intruder with a friendly hello, at which point he bolted from the room and dashed out of the front door… unfortunately taking my wallet with him, but at least leaving me unharmed.
But there are many, many great aspects to the Philippines. The palm tree lined coastal roads, the gentle beaches, the clear seas, the smiling people. As it was so crowded everywhere, it was a rare nightfall when I was not offered a bed and a meal in a local church, village hall, or home. In fact I only had to put up my tent once in the whole country. A TV station who followed my ride with regular updates of my progress ensured that many Filipinos knew what I was up to before I even arrived.
Eventually, after a couple of weeks riding and then a bit of a wait on the southern coast (during which Christine managed to escape from her hard-working law firm to visit for a few days of extremely pleasant hanging out), I was given some deck space on a cargo ship heading across the sea to Indonesia. The cargo consisted of hundreds of sacks of little carbon brushes (apparently for cleaning ore from the mines), half a dozen aspiring business men and their wives, and one rather disheveled English cyclist. The crew took good care of us with big meals of rice and fish…and as we passed underneath smoking volcanic islands they would periodically chant their Muslim prayers Mecca-wards, kneeling and bowing their faces into the boiling western sun as it slinked below the empty, shimmering seas.
From my entry-port in Indonesia, I caught a passenger ferry to skirt around the edge of the archipelagos to land me finally on the Island of New Guinea. Until recently I knew almost nothing about this part of the world, so I should just explain a couple of important things. The island of New Guinea (the second biggest island in the world after Greenland) is split exactly down the middle – the eastern half is now Papua New Guinea (an Independent country), whilst the western half was formerly a Dutch Colony but now it belongs to Indonesia (this part of the island is known simply as Papua). Please see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4163300.stm for an important recent BBC report about the Indonesian half of the island.
One other rather depressing issue which has inevitably come up a lot is corruption. I spent a pleasant few days with one particular police man who was generously hosting me whilst I awaited a ferry. We talked in depth about the issue of corruption and how much it hindered the development of Indonesia – with officials throughout the command structure being guilty. The President is apparently now pushing a campaign to reduce corruption, but it seems unlikely that a campaign alone will be enough. As my policeman friend said, perhaps officials need to be paid better so they don’t feel the need to take bribes? In theory, in any case, my friend agreed that corruption should be stopped… and then (with a twist of unintentional irony) a few minutes later he was merrily explaining to me how he knew a man who locally ran an illegal liqueur store and who would pay him a cut of the profits in order for him to keep his mouth shut. If a good, intelligent policeman like my friend, so easily accepted a bribe, what hope might there be for ever eventually stamping out corruption?!
Yesterday, Boxing Day, I entered a new continent, Australasia. Riding east to the border, I passed out of the mountains and into the swampland where for the first time I caught sight of a man fishing using a bow and arrow. The road rolled on into the rainforests, where trees towered grand and throne-like above me. Branches and leaves littered the road and in my distracted state I came within a few centimeters of running over a one meter long black snake. Now across the border and in Papua New Guinea itself, I nervously set my face towards a 1500 km route of bumpy roads, unbridged rivers, tribal peoples and high mountain tracks which lie between me and the Capital city, Port Moresby.
A BIG WORD OF THANKS – AND A NEW TARGET:
I greatly appreciate all your emails, prayers and generous donations to Viva Network and their work with children at risk around the world throughout 2005. My initial fundraising target was ten thousand UK pounds, and I am most delighted to let you know that with all your help this target has now been passed (see www.justgiving.com/cyclinghomefromsiberia )… as my intended route has increased in length since I set this target, I have now increased my fundraising target to twenty thousand pounds. I will do my best to push through this with a combination of giving talks along my route, sending these emails, promoting my website and raising any other publicity I can muster. On one final practical note, as my internet access will be rather limited for the next couple of months, I apologize in advance if I do not reply to emails for some time.
Many thanks and best wishes and God bless you in 2006,
“It is a very strange sensation to inexperienced youth to feel itself quite alone in the world, cut adrift from every connection, uncertain whether the port to which it is bound can be reached, and prevented by many impediments from returning to that it has quitted. The charm of adventure sweetens that sensation, the glow of pride warms it: but then the throb of fear disturbs it, and fear with me became predominant when half an hour elapsed and still I was alone. I bethought myself to ring the bell.”
- Jane Eyre
“It is greed and laziness and selfishness, not hunger or weariness or cold that take the dignity out of a man and make him look mean.”-George Macdonald
At the Indonesia border