I had no idea what to expect as I travelled in a bright green angkot toward the starting point of a cycling tour through the congested streets of Bogor, a city of almost a million residents 60 km (40 miles) from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
I had set out from the home of ecotourism enterprise Bogor Mountain Biking in the leafy expat neighbourhood of Taman Kencana.
It was early in the morning. During the day, temperatures soon rise to 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) or more in Bogor, and afternoons are often ruined by torrential rainstorms. In my rush to leave home, I’d eaten no breakfast.
Ade Erwin, my guide, sat in the back of the angkot keeping a watchful eye on the bicycles while I sat scrunched in the front passenger seat with my feet on the vehicle’s spare tire – nervous without a safety belt as we bounced over potholes and careened through the traffic.
An angkot is a convenient and inexpensive mode of public transportation in Bogor, resembling a gutted green minivan with seats arranged around the perimeter of the interior and a door in the side allowing easy passenger access.
We were en route to “Gn Salak” according to an email received from company owner Doreen Biehle. Afraid to cycle alone in the madness of Bogor traffic, I had messaged her to find out about cycling tours and signed up right away without knowing what it meant. I was eager to go cycling despite the humidity and heat of Bogor.
I’m an urban commuter cyclist. A British-Canadian citizen, I learned to ride a bike in downtown Ottawa, but I’ve ridden in Washington, Toronto and London regularly in all kinds of weather — from frigid to sweltering temperatures — in ice, snow, rain, and sun.
For years, my transportation of choice was a beautiful black Bianchi road bike until I moved it to London. It was first sabotaged, and some months later stolen from the street outside my flat.
I replaced it with a small Mini Fixei, which I had converted into a free wheel rather than a fixed gear bike. I chose it because I could carry it up the steep stairs and into to my tiny flat.
We journeyed in the angkot for half an hour up narrow streets and along rocky roads through rice fields, where I thought we might wind up actually needing to use the spare tire. We disembarked on what turned out to be Mount Salak — Gunung Salak, in Indonesian.
I donned the provided helmet, knee and shoulder protector pads. Ade gave me a few quick tips on how to use the brakes and change the gears on the borrowed mountain bike and we were off.
“I can’t see!” I cried out, as I rolled down the slope on the bike with my feet slithering over the rocks in several directions. I had no idea how to ride and balance a mountain bike – the brakes were opposite to what is customary in North America.
Ade remained calm, suggesting I disembark and walk my bicycle over the rocky part of the trail. He switched the brakes to the opposite sides of the handlebars. He taught me how to use the gears while we were riding through an open, flat field.
The rest of the tour was an amazing journey by foot and bicycle through forest, rice paddy fields and small villages. Some of it was on mud trails and some on paved roads.
Local people shouted out “hello” or “bule” — a word I think means “white foreigner” — as we rode past. We stopped in a field and bought corn from men who were picking it from the stalk.
Ade carried first his bike, and then mine across a broken bamboo bridge we encountered, returning to help me cross too.
“Hold my hand and don’t look down,” he said, as we sidled across.
I had to walk my bike up a couple of hills – one was very steep and the other very long.
We cycled back down into the city. Revived by a break and some delectable fresh strawberry juice at a warung, we rode past Kebun Raya, Bogor’s famous historic botanical gardens.
I was shattered by the heat, but it was worth it.
It was a real thrill to cycle through the traffic with Ade in the lead, his hand held out to ward off the motorbikes and cars.
So much so, that the following week, I went on another outing – a tour that involved mainly road cycling with an Australian family.
Two other guides for that tour – Bugi Permana and Juheri, (Heri) joined Ade. Each guide took turns leading the pack.
At one point I had to disembark and walk uphill, and Ade not only pushed his bike, but he also pushed mine.
After a long, hot climb upward through some of Bogor’s wealthy neighborhoods, we went through narrow cantons and fields to a dam on the Ciliwung River, which runs through Jakarta.
Julie Mollins is a web journalist working for the Forests News blog in Bogor, Indonesia. Before joining CIFOR in March 2013, she worked for eight years at Reuters in Toronto and London. She also served as communities editor at AlertNet, the former Reuters humanitarian news website. Before Reuters, she was a researcher and reporter for several national news and business publications in Canada. An artist and crafts woman, in a former life she worked making theatre jewellery and props for almost 10 years.