Day 2, 6 Sep, Geisenheim and Rudesheim – doing the tourist thing.

Geisenheim is a delightful little town on the Rhine. With a population of about 15,000, it’s the kind of suburbia that many city folk apparently liked to lived in. Property prices weren’t exactly soft in this town and rental is at a premium for some of the older and more charming houses.

It was a new experience for me; staying literally a stone’s throw away from a cathedral. The bell tolled at every quarter, half and on the hour faithfully. The quarter and half hour chimes were soft 1-bell tolls while the hourly tolls would start with soft chimes followed by louder ones that corresponded to the number of the hour. I absolutely loved it.

The view from my (Mavin’s) room…the town church. You don’t need an alarm clock or even a clock when you stay next to a church like these. The bells toll on the hour, every hour of the day.

The sun rises at about 6.30 in this part of the world and, just as I do at every new place I visit, I was up and raring to go by then. But, it was a Sunday, and nothing stirred in the cobbled streets below … neither were there any signs of life in the platz in front of the church. At about 8 o’clock, while the boys and Eva were still blissfully asleep, I decided to do a little exploring of my own.

While admiring the façade of the church, I saw a little procession trooping out of the main entrance of the church and the congregation … all of 50 or so people including the priest and altar boys and girls carrying flags. (Apparently, attendance is a little lacking these days; so much so it now takes 1 priest to mind the flock for 3 churches instead of the normal 1-priest-1-church arrangement. It was also an economically influenced decision, for obvious reasons.)

The majestic facade of the church. The congregation can be seen coming out of the main entrance.

 

Intrigued, I decided to follow the silent procession from a discreet distance, not wanting to come across as a gawking tourist (which, in fact, I was :). The wind was a little chilly but it was clear the sun would warm things up soon. The road began to wind up a gentle slope and I could see Geisenheim’s vineyards just behind. Still they continued. Soon, the procession stopped by the side of the road fringed by vineyards.

Their destination was a cross, with a fresco of Jesus in the arms of Mary below. They started singing and praying and one of them would read some kind of liturgy to the group. It was a solemn affair, and when they finished, they continued their way again but I decided I was done with my ‘Sunday church attendance’ and slowly walked back to the house.

It seemed like a great start to a great journey for me.

Back at the Pohs, Eva was the perfect host, preparing a German-style breakfast for me..

 

Freshly baked bread from bakery

‘The tourist doesn’t know where he’s been, and the traveller doesn’t know where he’s going’

As much as the romantic notion of unencumbered travelling was espoused in that phrase, I was happily going to be a tourist for a day – compliments of Eva. She was taking me to the town of Rudesheim, just a few kilometers down the road, to walk along the world-famous, Unesco World Heritage Drosselgasse.

We would also be riding a cable car to the top of a hill that featured an impressive monument called Niedwewald-denkmal – a tribute to one of Germany’s most famous kings, Wilhem Kaiser , and to the German people who fought the French army that was literally at their doorstep across the Rhine during the 1800s.

Riding the cable car that took us to the top of Niedwewald-denkmal

 

At the top is the monument Niedwewald-denkmal – a tribute to one of Germany’s most famous kings, Wilhem Kaiser , and to the German people who fought the French army that was literally at their doorstep across the Rhine during the 1800s.

The view of the Mainz from the hill…vineyards and the town of Bingen, across the river.

 

At the top of the hill, a modern-day organ grinder and his not-so-real monkey entertaining the crowds.

 

Back in Rudesheim, enjoying an al-fresco lunch at a restaurant along Drosselgasse.

 

Lunch was a lovely German dish of marinated beef with sauerkraut and dough balls.

 

Tomorrow, the bike shops would be open and I could finally get the front rack and panniers that I had planned to add to my on-bike ensemble of Tubus/Ortlieb collection. Eva would see to that 🙂

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Mt Bromo, June 2006, Days 6-7. Malang and home

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.

A cobbled path, and the start of a long downhill to the city of Malang.

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.

The downhill ride takes you through parts of Bromo National Park.

The more remote you go, the friendlier they are.

Mother-daughter team manning a drinks stall on the trail.

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.

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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.

Gubukklakah apple growers with their harvest. That should keep many a doctor away.

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.

Playful banter between husband and wife.

Intoxicating stuff?

Rice that goes airborne? (nasi piring terbang = flying saucer rice) Javanese food goes by the most intriguing of names.

Good old-fashioned chompers ('bikin gigi' literally means 'make teeth'). Some users have a very practiced way of unhinging it with the tongue and pushing it out of the mouth for the briefest of moment ... usually to clear a delinquent sliver of meat or vege that refused to be dislodge from the false teeth. Not a pretty sight at all.

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.

Helpful passers-by helping... themselves! And this was in spite of some choice expletives being hurled at them by the hapless owner.

Mt Bromo, June 2006, Days 3-5 – Atop Mt Bromo

Mt Bromo is a sight to behold.

As you stand on the lip of the crater and gaze out at the vast, almost lunar-like landscape, you cannot help but wonder at the beauty that is so harsh and yet so inspiring at the same time.

The top of the mountain is actually a crater — 15km across at its widest! Look closely at the picture above and you’ll see a puff of white smoke — that’s the living, breathing volcano.

Indonesia is a land of many live volcanoes dotted across the archipelago. And most of the people who live in the shadow of these hot spots live dangerously. But it’s not by choice. What spews out of these living volcanoes will just as easily wipe out entire villages as it does sustain their life-giving plots of greens with ease. A curse and a blessing.

The village at the top of Bromo is called Cemoro Lawang and the guest-house that I stayed in is located right on the lip of the crater. If you look closely, you will see the road that lead down to the crater.

Early morning over Bromo. The air is cool, crisp and clean

And the sky, amazingly blue.

This is the only volcano here that's safe for visitors

To go right up to the mouth of the volcano, I exchanged pedal power for horse power. One doesn’t need to go far to find one. One or two of these horses with their owners would always be hanging around the guesthouses. Show the slightest interest and they’ll stick to you like a leech. There was one such young man who hounded me. The modus operandi is deadly simple — stick to the tourist and bug the hell out of them.

In the end, I went with a guy who wasn’t as insistent. That’s him below. With a face like that, I didn’t have the heart to bargain him down either as vociferously as I normally would.


At the foot of the volcano; you can choose to walk up, or ride the horse all the way to the stairs. I rode.

At the foot of the volcano; you can choose to walk up, or ride the horse all the way to the stairs. I rode.

Sulphur stinks. If you get a whiff of it square in your face, you’ll feel as if you’re being suffocated.
Not nice at all. Check out the video below and you’ll see what I mean.

Cycling inside the crater is like cycling on a sandy beach. You can’t go very fast, and you have to air down your tyres — way down. Even so, I was struggling. Some sections of the crater are like quicksand; they just suck you in and won’t let go. I found that sticking to a well-worn track where the Toyota BJ40s rule with their massive desert tyres was the only way I could pedal about.

Every tourist to Bromo gets about by 2 ways — a horse or a 4-wheel drive. The 4-wheel drives here are mostly the legendary Toyota BJ40s; some were 30-40 yrs old but still as reliable as ever. They’re the original Land Cruisers that was born during the Korean War in the 50’s.