The plane descends toward Medan, hits the runway with a thump and we’re here, the north end of Sumatra, ready to start the next leg of our WorldbyBike global motorcycling epic. This is Year 16 and this East Indies Indulgence just a 5,000km meander to keep our appetite for riding the world sharp, until the next big leg begins(2018 we hope, Lisbon to Tokyo).
The train into the city is efficient and fast and within a jiffy the three of us are bundled into a cab, gear squashed around us and en route to the downtown offices of SDV Logistics to cough up the do ray me before we can head out to the docks at Belawan and open the container with our 3 bikes in it.
Irawanto, the shipping agent greets Dave like a long lost cousin and smiles expectantly as he hands over the invoice. At about US$500 each the deal can be done and there just happens to be a bank downstairs which can do the exchange for the requisite Indonesian rupiah. Dave’s accompanied to the tellers, the guards seem to have more than their share of heavy artillery, suggesting this particular branch is somewhat subject to untrustworthy customers.
But our particular exchange is done without a hitch and we’re back into another cab for the 40minute ride to the port. It’s hot – hot and sticky – and we’re already deciding we will minimise any riding today. The plan is to find a hotel and spend the rest of the day setting the bikes up for tomorrow’s start.
Arriving at the container docks we await to be joined by Irawanto who has transitioned by motorcycle. He gets in about 10 minutes later because being on a motorbike he is prohibited from using the far quicker toll road out to Belawan. There’s Lesson 1 for riding in Indonesia. Enter “Avoid Toll Roads” into the GPS as one invoked avoidance. Lesson 2 is that they drive on the left here – surprising since I thought it was a former Dutch colony. Oh well I’ll have to look up where that came from (Okay I googled that and when the Dutch got here in 1596 they brought their habit of driving on the left. Wonder what cars they had back then? The Dutch only changed to the right once Napoleon told them to. I remember now – when we rode across Suriname, a former Dutch colony, we drove on the left there as well).
Breaking the seal on the container and opening the doors reveals the three bikes as we left them – with the single addittion that the containers reeks of petrol fumes, so much so one wonders whether it might explode in the intense heat of midday in Northern Sumatra. Of course we’re supposed to drain the bikes of all fuel but being slack and used to this we didn’t. After all the last thing you want to do when taking possession of your machine again for the first time in a strange land, is the hassle of finding fuel. What we didn’t count on of course was the intense heat inside these containers when they’re sitting for a few days on the docks in the equatorial heat. Oh well, apart from the smell no damage appears to have been done.
It’s time to reattach the ignition, break out the riding gear and ride 500 metres down the road to the nearest hotel. The heat quickly takes it’s toll and Joanne fails to attach her wires correctly but concludes the battery is dead anyway and proceeds to search for jumper leads. Dave meanwhile – in front of an audience of curious dock workers – similarly muffs his restarting routine and provides a little shoreside amusement for the locals. The opening night hiccups overcome, we get all three bikes going fine and then Dave concludes from his new electronic tyre gauge that his tyre only has 3 PSI so can’t ride anywhere. It’s pointed out that this is 3 Bar (a total different measure) and in fact his PSI is more like 40 so he’ll be bouncing the bike off the walls.
There certainly is a case for a short day given these displays of midday sun-induced delirium, so it’s a relief just to get the 500 metres down the road intact and retreat into the cool of air-conditioned rooms. We conclude over a beer that night that if this heat is the norm then 6 am starts are going to be the order of the day for this ride. And with Ramadan in full swing it’s more than likely the only breakfast food that’s going to be available will need to be eaten before dawn anyway.
We spend the rest of the evening getting the bikes set up and the gear sorted. Tomorrow we ride.