Cycling around Yogyakarta
Yogyakarta is an amazing city with loads of bike culture. The city was dominated by bicycles as recently as the 1970’s but has since been encroached upon by legions of motor scooters whizzing around. Despite recent history Yogya maintains one of the best city-wide systems of bike infrastructure we have seen in Southeast Asia. Not only are there tons of well posted alternative bike routes to give cyclists an easy way to navigate the city while avoiding main roads, but there are even bike boxes at major intersections. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a bike box near the main square of Yogyakarta.
During our visit to Yogya we were happy to connect with a couchsurfer who took us on an all day bicycle tour of the countryside around the city. We left from the backpacker’s neighborhood on Sosrowijayan and headed straight out of town towards the ancient Hindu temple of Prambanan. On the way we rode gorgeous tiny back roads past rice paddies and banana trees and saw several other minor ruins including one that was partially submerged by a seasonal pond that the locals stock fish in.
Prambanan is about 17km out of town but on our scenic ride we spent a few hours getting there while winding through the countryside. According to our couchsurfing hosts, legend has it that there was once a beautiful princess who told her suitor that she would marry him only if he built 1,000 temples in one night. She thought it was an impossible task but he made a pact with a demon who hired evil spirits to help out. Well before sunrise he had completed 999 of the temples and the princess got worried. She hired henchmen of some sort to travel east and burn a bunch of haystacks . The demon saw the light from the fire and thought it was sunrise. Apparently allergic to the sun he decided he had to peace out and the 1,000th temple could not be finished. The suitor was angry at the princess so he made her into the 1,000th temple—so much for happily ever after.
After admiring Prambanan through the gates we continued on to a great lunch of soto ayam (chicken soup) and pedaled to some more temples in the surrounding countryside. We climbed a small bluff and got to do a little bit of off-roading (including carrying our bikes) down a rice-paddied hillside. At the bottom of the hill our friend Ardian got a flat so we decided to stop for a cup of iced tea while he took the tube to be patched.
Like Bali there are services everywhere on Java so there is no real reason to carry a patch kit or spare tubes around (provided you’re not in a hurry, which no one seems to be in Indonesia). The population is so dense that a scooter shop is never beyond walking distance. We sat down with our friends to enjoy the shade and the iced tea but right after Ardian took off it started to rain. Like most tropical downpours it was incredibly heavy but didn’t last long. As soon as the rain stopped we could see huge amounts of steam rising from the hot pavement of the road. Quite a sight.
When Ardian returned (dry, luckily) he replaced the newly patched tube and set about putting his wheel back on. Only then did everyone realize that the nut for his quick release skewer had disappeared. It must have been dropped at some point when they were all taking the wheel off and after scouring the ground for a half an hour we couldn’t find it. Being quite the resourceful bunch they just tied the wheel back on with some plastic twine. It was quite a process and looked super sketchy but it held for the rest of the ride.
Our final stop was the little village of New Ngelepen aka the teletubbies village. There was a huge earthquake and landslide in Java in 2004 and 2006 that left old Ngelepen completely destroyed. As part of the aid effort a few NGOs built a whole village of igloo-like dome houses that are supposed to be extremely earthquake resistant. Like many NGO projects in Indonesia this one is unfortunately considered to be of mixed success. A lot of the houses given to the villagers sit empty because people in the area typically live with several generation under one roof. The claustrophobic two bedroom domes can’t accommodate that many people nor be easily expanded so many have moved elsewhere. Biking through there was a little like being in an episode of the twilight zone.
With the teletubbies checked off the list we circled back to town on some beautiful backroads. The last 5 miles or so we did on a main highway mostly with a bike lane and like most of our experience in Indonesia, drivers were pretty good about giving us enough space and the ride in was just fine. Having only junky rental bikes we have no clue how far we rode, but we were gone almost all day and returned to our guest house happy and exhausted with quite a few saddle sores as souvenirs.