The road less travelled; off the beaten path – they both mean the same to me. The intrinsic joy of cycle touring is that with every pedal stroke, the canvas of life unfolds before you, and you behold with innocent wonder the colour, the sights, the sounds, and the smells of a foreign culture that pervade the air around you.
You readily absorb it all in. As one writer puts it, “To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world”.
And so, the return leg of my Mt Bromo adventure simply had to have that one-way route approach; just so everything was new to my eyes. I would barrel down the other side of the mountain, and into the town of Malang. An ominous sounding name – ‘malang’ means ‘unfortunate’. Oh well…
Going down Bromo meant I had to cross the crater to get to its southern wall. After the initial quicksand, I was stopped in my tracks at in awe of the landscape that surrounded me. Tall, brown brush dancing in the breeze on one side of the trail – an intense contrast with the verdurous greenery of the crater wall. Behind, and beyond, the cobalt blue sky was smeared with cheery puffs of white clouds that formed a grand backdrop to one of God’s masterpieces.
I wouldn’t have been mesmerised by it all had I gone back the same way I came to Bromo.
The ride down to Malang is almost all on unpaved double-track, some of it cobbled and some of it raw laterite. The Toyotas 4x4are still the only vehicles that rule here, and it’s a bumpy ride if you’re a passenger. Not me — I was having fun on 2 wheels. As usual, I stopped when Ifelt like it – to take a shot, to talk to the locals, or simply to take in the scenery.
Gubukklakah. I was absolutely enchanted with the name. It’s a small village I passed through on my way to Malang. Gubukklakah, Gubukklakah, Gubukklakah … but that wasn’t the only fascinating thing — it was the apple trees that were growing on both sides of the road, fenced in by bamboo stockades. Apple trees – now, that’s a novelty to me. I stopped for a closer look.
The apples here weren’t your usual Cold Storage type. They were smaller. I wondered if that had anything to do with the dwarfish-looking trees.
By afternoon, I was in Malang. It’s not much of a town by Indonesian standards although it’ll welcome you with the customary dust, noise and crazy traffic that Javanese towns seemed to be blessed with. There wasn’t a lot that attracted me either. But, if there was one place in every town that I make it a must to visit, it’s the market. Here’s where the real action is to be found. The sights, sounds and smells are simply amazing.
I wrote earlier that the Javanese are somewhat of a lawless people when they’re behind the wheel… well, I was wrong — they’re just plain lawless anywhere. They bore full testimony to my observations of Javanese anthropology when a cart carrying fruit upended, as the owner was attempting to run away from some local council enforcement goons.