On Glory and Failure
Every village has its idiot, and yesterday – that was me.
I traveled to the small Javanese Sultanate of Yogyakarta to spend a weekend away from Jakarta, after working on a new product there the week before. What was I expecting to find in a small Javanese Sultanate? No idea! A few people said it was beautiful and that I should go, so taking the advice of a few locals, I went.
After an 8 hour train ride through the mountains of interior Java, I arrived late my first night and chowed down on the local fried rice cooked street-side over a wood burning stove.
The next day, bright and early, I decided to rent a motorcycle. I’ve ridden before all over Nepal and Taiwan (multiple times! and I’ve been saved more than once!), so I figured, how hard could this be?
It was actually really easy going at first. The roads are in much better shape than Nepal (it’s a legitimate question, in Nepal, if you can count a slow moving river bed as a road…) and the drivers are much less aggressive than Taiwan. That is actually one of the strangest things about driving in Indonesia – the traffic is quite heavy, but there’s no aggression to it at all.
I rode about two hours out to Borobudur, a 9th century Buddhist temple, considered the largest in the world. I rode through roads cutting across rice fields and tropical forests. I rode as if the wind carried me, birds flying alongside me, farmers shouting “hello mister” to the odd foreigner on a motorcycle in rural Java.
I stopped for coconuts and durian on the way, the local vendors and patrons taking selfies with me.
Borobudur was grand and beautiful.
The sun beat down on me, but I persevered. The hundreds of seated Buddha’s, too many headless, and the intricate carvings of the life of the Buddha inspired me to take my time, to try to read the stories from the reliefs.
I went to two other nearby Candi, from the same period. Smaller, less intricate, but worth seeing. From there, the trouble begins.
There’s a tea plantation in Yogyakarta, up on a mountain side, about a one hour ride from Borobudur. I needed to go there. Even though I didn’t expect the tea to be good, and even though I’ve never had tea from Indonesia, even though I’ve been on tons of tea plantations – I needed to go there. I wanted the glory. I wanted to be able to say I rode my motorcycle to a tropical tea plantation in a small Javanese Sultanate.
So I set off – seeking glory. But what I found was an ever worsening road. I rode for hours, all the while, conditions slowly worsening. I was like the slowly boiled frog. It never occurred to me just how precarious the situation was becoming.
First the asphalt became pocked and potholed.
Then there were the fallen trees and mud and landslides on the road. And then the road ended.
I found one road too steep and gravel based for my motorcycle to climb, so I turned around, and plotted an alternate route. I rode another 30 minutes, until the road ended again, with a bridge leading into the jungle.
So I rode my motorcycle into the jungle.
Now – you may say, what in the world would possess you to ride your motorcycle into the jungle? But you weren’t there dear friend. You weren’t dehydrated, sunburned, sore, and tired from hours of riding. You weren’t alone and lacking a voice of reason. You weren’t bound for glory and faced with such an obstacle.
I mean, really, I just road my motorcycle into the jungle onto a monotrack that would have been hard on a mountain bike; mud trail, rocks and trees, and a steep sheer cliff face on one side.
This seemed reasonable because of Google Maps. Google maps told me that there was a road here somewhere! At first, I thought that the road would appear just around the corner.
But as the trail got longer, and steeper, and more dangerous, I found it impossible to retreat. It got so bad, I dismounted my bike and walked alongside of it in case I lost control – so that it wouldn’t drag me down the cliff face with it. Which it did. I lost my footing and the bike and I took a thankfully small tumble down the muddy cliff. We got caught by a tangle of trees, and I was still wearing my helmet, so the impact didn’t hurt too much. I scrambled with the bike back to the trail and pressed on.
And then I came to a swift river, with a steep bank on the other side. That’s when I realized I was totally fucked. I couldn’t turn around, I couldn’t press on, and I had nearly died ridding my motorcycle into the jungle. This was like a scene from the attempt to cross the Darién gap. Only I was alone.
The magnitude of the situation hit me harder than the bike and I had the worlds quietest temper tantrum, muttering “fuck” and gingerly placing my helmet onto the patch of jungle I laid the bike on, so as to not draw the attention to my location – I wasn’t sure what animals I was sharing this path with!
My options were grim, but I eventually opted to walk back to the nearest village and try to rally a few men to help me haul the bike out of the jungle – which I did!
I got to the nearest village, and had a short conversation with a toothless old woman pantomiming riding my bike into the jungle, and she responded in rapid fire Indonesian… but she probably couldn’t believe that anyone would be stupid enough to take their bike on that path, so wasn’t willing to believe the story I was telling through my game of charades.
I then ran over to a young man and tried the same game. He got a few people together, and they followed me into the jungle, laughing about the absurdity of the situation – or me. I couldn’t follow the conversation, but they they found something hilarious.
We got the bike out after about an hour of hauling with 4 people, nearly carrying the bike back up the treacherous mud path most of the way.
This is the hero, and his son, who rallied the villagers:
They asked for nothing in return, and helped only out of their own good will.
They invited me into their home after the ordeal, giving me water and a ice popsicle, and I look haggard and worn and sun-burnt in all the selfies they took with me:
So. I was the village idiot yesterday.
My near death experience at my own hands has reminded me that to seek glory is to relinquish control over your destiny – that glory is a vanity built of pride.
I failed in my quest to make it to the tea plantation, but I certainly had an adventure.
This is a timely article about the dificulty of decison making “in the moment”:
The desire to press on is strong!
You were not an idiot. You had NO way of knowing. and it was worth trying to locate the plantation. Only an idiot would do what you had accidentally done after having all information given to them. YOU were an Heroic intrepid Explorer. checking out the Unknown. Different story
Its hard to know in the moment,
and while hindsight is 20/20,
I probably would have made the same choices given the same situation again!
I’m just lucky I survived the experience.
Hope to see you at a tea event soon!