Java – crazy mayhem

July 26, 2013 in Indonesia, On the road

JakartaWe only wanted to go from the airport to the city centre of Jakarta – a distance of about 20 kilometres. But two hours later we were still stuck somewhere in the middle in that huge traffic jam that blocks the entire city – every day. Several times we had to stop and wait for the boxer engine of the 1150 to cool down, because it was overheating due to the low speed and the high temperatures. With our luggage we could not wriggle our way through the standing cars, like the locals with their little scooters. Our bikes were too wide. And the fact that some roads were flooded and we had to ride through knee-deep water through the crazy traffic didn’t help…

At this point, we already had enough of Java in general and of Jakarta in particular. Nevertheless, in the end we stayed three weeks in Java. For some days we were joined by Heike’s dad and aunt that had come to visit us. So we have actually seen a lot of Java.

Old harbour Jakarta Borobodur temple

Java is the centre and the heart of Indonesia, and probably one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Only the city of Jakarta and its surroundings has 35 Million, and Java in total for 130 Million people – and we had the feeling that every single of them owns a car, and spends most of the time driving it over the terrible roads of Java that are full of potholes. The infrastructure is very bad, only few kilometres of motorways exist, and motorcycles are not allowed on them.

Bad roads in Java Surprise! - the bridge is gone...

However, there are also a lot of places and things to see in Java. We were extremely fascinated by the many volcanoes. They are present everywhere and in all states of activity. Smoking peaks, sparkling crater lakes, poisonous sulphur fumes, plains of volcanic ashes, fresh lava-domes, but also massive peaks that aren’t active anymore, and that are now completely covered with tea- and coffee plantations – we saw all of them.

Merapi volcano near Yogyakarta Lava dome

Our personal highlight was our visit to the Tengger crater, with the famous Mt. Bromo volcano.

Tengger crater and Mt. Bromo - smoking Mt. Semeru in the back

We watched the sunset over this stunning landscape, we cruised through the mists over the ashes around the crater, we played with the motorcycles in the so called “sea of sand”, and we set camp in the middle of this fantastic scenery – an unique experience, and one of the absolute highlights of our trip. To have your morning coffee surrounded by the early morning mist at the foot of a steaming volcano is simply awesome ….

Playing around in the volcanic ashes Early morning coffee at Mt. Bromo
Through the sea of sand

But also our visit to the Ijen crater, with its turquoise crater lake, where sulphuric fumes escape, was absolutely fascinating. The sulphur that is deposited from the exhalations is harvested by hand and carried first out of the crater, and then all the way down to the road on the shoulders of the workers. So it is not only the scenery and the sulphuric fumes that are, literally, breath-taking, but also the work of the men that carry the sulphur down the steep mountain paths left us deeply impressed. We were exhausted after the steep 45 minutes climb up the mountain, and on the way down we were complaining about our hurting knees. But the workers there, they do the same climb, probably several times a day, with 80 to 90 kilograms on their back, and only flip-flop on their feet. Many have completely deformed feet from carrying the heavy load down the steep paths. Filippo actually tried to lift the baskets, but he couldn’t do it without the risk of damaging his back… so no wonder that we were told that the carriers on average reach only an age of 35 years.

Sulphur fumes at Ijen crater Each worker carries 90 kilograms of sulphur

One thing that really got onto our nerves was the sheer amount of people on Java, with their noise, their pollution, their cars and scooters, their chaos, and also with their often impertinent behaviour. Most of the people are actually friendly, but they often have no feeling for respectful behaviour (but still not as extreme as in India). Being stared at and photographed all the time, and without asking, was really annoying after a while. People that approached us were usually not really interested in us, in what we were doing, and where we came from. The only thing they wanted was a photo of the white foreigner, a trophy they could show around and post on Facebook. We can only guess on how many profiles pages we were presented as their “friends” without the people actually knowing who we were.

Well, that’s just how it is – that’s Java: chaos, volcanoes, culture, people, noise…. lots of everything, all thrown into a big pot, and then well stirred into a crazy mayhem.

Travel Information

Money: Indonesian Rupiah. 1  EUR are approx. 13000 Rupiah. ATMs can be found in all cities, and along the main roads.

Visa: You can get 1 month on arrival at the international airports, and at the major sea ports. We organized our 2-month visas in advance at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Traffic: The traffic in Java is mad – the sheer amount of vehicles, and the very bad road conditions allow you only to travel very slow – the driving style is chaotic and absolutely careless, but still better than in India.

Roads: Main roads are paved, but full of potholes and in quite bad condition. Small side roads can lead to adventures. Only few motorways exist, but motorcycles are not allowed on them.

Motorcycles: The import is rather difficult, you need some kind of invitation letter from the transportation ministry or so…. We shipped our motorcycles from Penang/Malaysia to Sumatra with Cakrashipping, in which case you don’t need that letter, and it still seem to be the cheapest option. For the latest information you should consult the forums at

Fuel: Petrol can be found everywhere, but the quality („Premium“) is terrible (less than 90 Octane), 92 Octane can be found in the cities. It costs about 0.50 EUR per litre (6000 Indonesian Rupiah)

Accommodation: Hotels in Indonesia are often terrible, if you want a clean room you will have to pay more. Don’t expect western standards. But Breakfast or at least coffee/tea is usually included.