Three months earlier in July 2010, a group of us was somewhere in its vicinity, admiring the majesty of Merapi. Then, I saw a trail of smoke at its peak but thought nothing of what lies ahead. So did the countless villagers dotting the foothills and its surrounding.
The cool weather and fresh air were just the right tonics for us city dwellers from Malaysia. The lush green vegetation along its foothills and the plains in the valley, was a by-product of the fertile soil that Merapi spewed out in series of eruptions, latest being 2006 prior to this eruption.
We started on this tour some 6 months ago, precisely on July 13, 2010. Six of us from Bkt Jelutong Cycling Club flew in to Jogjakarta for a 6 day tour. We had the experience of Shambo (in black in the middle) who made frequent trips to Jogjakarta and could easily passed as "one of them". Shambo made all the ground arrangements. Razak (on extreme left) goes wherever Shambo goes, almost classified as non-identical twins. Then we had Affendi, sandwiched between the two non-identical twins. Affendi is a strong cyclist who can proudly claim that "there ain't no mountain high enough". Third from right is Rambo Zaba, a real photogenic guy that gets photographed with SYT's. To Zaba's left is Hatim, a buddy we could not leave behind. He doubles as my co-cyclist, a role he played very efficiently on the fast downhills. Last but not least, and the oldest of the lot, would be yours sincerely on extreme right.
The planned route would take us direct from the airport to Boyolali, passing through the historic site of Prambanan, onto Klaten into Boyolali on the day of arrival. Day 2 would have us cycling to Selo, the mountainous region where Mount Merapi would welcome us. Day 3 is a downhill to Borobudur, much loved by several of us in the entourage. We called these buddies "the downhillers". I can be counted as one of them but did not have a chance to experience much downhill on this trip.
Day 4 would have us cycling the village routes into Jogjakarta. Day 5 is the touristy part of visiting the Kraton and shopping for souvenirs to bring home. We flew back on Day 6.
Back in July 2008, I had made a solo cycling trip to Jogjakarta, covering the coastal areas towards Cilacap. With a day free prior to heading for home, a local boy I befriended at Borobudur offered to bring me to the foothills of Merapi. Then, the mist of the foothill was too thick and I left disappointed without capturing the majesty of Merapi.
This time around, Merapi was in its full splendor offering itself to be photographed, visited and climbed if one has the appetite to do so. It was indeed a perfect period to visit. If only we knew what would happen three months later, we would probably spent half a day hiking up Mount Merapi.
Fast forwarding to the present, this is therefore a much overdue blog. One can call this write-up as history. My other cycling colleagues who went with me on this trip rightly had given up, not on me, but on this blog. Even Merapi has returned to its slumber.
DAY 1 - AIRPORT TO BOYOLALI
I always looked forward to begin any cycling trip at the point of arrival, literally speaking. The point of arrival would be the airport. Upon claiming the panniers (bags) and the bicycle, we proceeded to assemble the bicycles, choosing a space and corner with the least disruption to other passengers and visitors. Usually, the activity will draw attention and questions from curious but always friendly onlookers. I can predict the usual question of "mau ke mana Pak dengan speda?" and have my ready made answer of "jalan jalan jelajah ....... (depending where my destination would be).
As I said earlier, this is a supported trip, arranged by the veteran Jogja visitor, Shambo. A van would follow us on parts of the trip and my co-cyclist Hatim would be on a motorbike. Hatim would take over my bike on the difficult section, the downhill rides. Hatim would proudly claim such rides as his all time favorite :-))).
Several kilometres out of the airport, Zaba had to abruptly stop. His bike's rear derailleur broke. It could have happened during the air transportation. I had never experienced this mishap in all my previous air travels with my bike. Bike shops along this route are very small and would not carry spare derailleurs.
Zaba thus had to get a taxi to find a bike shop in Jogjakarta while we waited for him at Prambanan. Visitors visit Prambanan to look at the Hindu relics that abounds in its vicinity. Even as we cycled passed Prambanan, we would occasionally see temple relics in the lush padi-fields of the villages.
From Prambanan we cycled through Klaten. My mind raced back during my trip to the Minangkabau region where I passed a village called Kota Baru. Now I almost passed through my own birth state of "KLATEN". Pray there is no Desa Dalam Ru along this route, or I will faint! (Dalam Ru is my birthplace in Kelantan)
We would also pass the locals of both gender, carrying bales of cut grass presumably to feed their cows. Such are the livelihood of the less fortunate. We remained thankful for what we have.
At one stretch along the village road, Mount Merapi was on our left away in the far horizon. We captured Merapi in the failing lights, with the knowledge that we would be quite close to Merapi the next day.
We cycled in the early part of the night to reach Boyolali, stopping over for dinner at a warong before proceeding to the hotel Shambo had pre-booked prior to the trip. Boyolali is 50kms from the airport and the journey was mainly on flat land.
Tomorrow would be a different story as we head for Selo, at the foot of Mount Merapi. We expect to climb and therefore, a good night rest would be the order of the day