Tag Archives: Java

Vespa Across Indonesia Part II

Nusa Tenggara, Traveling at the Speed of Whim

Story and Photos by Terry Donohue
Published in Indonesia Expat, May 21, 2018

Living in board shorts, riding from swimming hole to swimming hole and leaning into the next curve. This is freedom, this is touring Indonesia by Vespa.

The first part of my trip from Jakarta to Bali sharpened my appetite for the upcoming ride across Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Timor, Sumba, Nusa Penida and back to Jakarta. I reunited with my Vespa in Bali and headed straight for the ferry terminal. The next morning, I woke up in Lombok…

Lombok, Pantai Mawan, Terry Donohue, Mawan, Mawan Beach
A kindred soul on Mawan Beach

I spent a few days exploring the south coast. To the west of Kuta are the quiet beaches of Mawan and Mawi where you can swim between the fishing boats and talk with the locals over a green coconut. Nearby Semeti Beach has pyramid-shaped rocks pocketed with tidal pools fed by crashing waves and sea spray.

To the east of Kuta is the spectacular Tanjung Bongo, a rolling green peninsula with hidden beaches, coves and caves that will entice you to become a castaway for the day. To really get away from it all, meditate atop the vertigo-inducing cliffs at Tanjung Poki, where the distant views of Sumbawa will make you feel like you are at end of the world. Return to a civilization at Pink Beach and enjoy the catch of the day.

Traveling north, I rode to Semaru on the cool slopes of Mt. Rinjani. This makes a good base for hiking to waterfalls. The most popular waterfall is the two-tiered Sedang Gile. Following the same trail is Tiu Kelep, where the powerful upper falls arc dramatically over the lower falls. Further afield is Mangku Sakti with its sculpted rock formations and milky blue water.

Sedang Gile, Lombok, Air Terjun, Sedang Gile Waterfall
Sedang Gile Waterfall

During the dry season you can climb Mt. Rinjani, a geological wonder and Indonesia’s second highest peak. The crater lake is a great place to cool off in the midday sun and your tired legs will appreciate a soak in the hot springs at sunset. If you are lucky, you will see troops of Black Ebony Leaf Monkeys along the way. This is an incredible two or three-day trip.


It only takes an hour and a half by ferry to reach Sumbawa. Getting off the ferry, I wove through a herd of goats and headed south down the west coast. Check out the beautiful bay at Maluk and stay at Rantung Beach where you can watch families net fish every morning while having your morning coffee. Cap off your west coast visit at Jelenga, the beach that has it all. Here you can surf, snorkel, enjoy some of the world’s best sunsets, and spend the nights counting shooting stars. This place is paradise.


The road across the island eastward is perfect for motorcycle touring. Void of traffic, it meanders along the north coast of Sumbawa and eventually climbs above the expansive Saleh Bay before continuing eastward to Bima and the ferry terminal at Sape. Let the road be your destination.

Indonesian Ferry, Labuan Bajo, Arriving in Labuan Bajo
Arriving in Labuan Bajo

It’s a six-hour ferry ride from Sape to Flores. The town of Labuan Bajo makes a great base for exploring the Komodo Islands, home of the famous Komodo Dragons and some of the world’s best diving. Here you can dive with five-meter oceanic mantas that swim so close you will feel the water move when they pass.

The road out of Labuan Bajo will take you over mountains and into valleys with sweeping views along the way. Near Wae Belang are the symmetrical Spider Web rice terraces. North of Ruteng, vast rice terraces cascade down the mountainsides like they do in Bali.

Outside of Bajawa, visit Bena village with its megalithic stones, ancestral shrines and traditional houses. Continuing eastward along the south coast you will pass Blue Stone Beach and the town of Ende, which is nestled between two extinct volcanos.


I stopped at a gas kiosk where an eight-year-old boy filled up my tank using a hand pump. The entire family gathered around. They advised me to go to Koka Beach, a small peninsula flanked by white sand and clear water. I spent the night there in a ramshackle beach bungalow and woke in the morning to the sound of fishermen readying their boats.

Koka Beach, Flores
Boats on Koka Beach

From Koka it was a steep ride up the valley towards the crater lakes of Kelimutu. Along the way I saw a single waterfall drop for hundreds of meters in two tiers. Stopping to take a picture I was greeted by a woman carrying a load of wood on her head. She directed me through the rice terraces to a local swimming hole.

That evening I spent the night in Moni and at sunrise was riding to Kelimutu National Park with its different colored lakes. The lakes are the homes of those who have passed away. One is for the virtuous, one for those who do evil and the third lake for the rest of us. I pondered my fate over a cup of ginger-infused Kelimutu coffee made by an elderly ikat-clad women squatting near the crater rim.


Over the next couple of days, I continued to explore eastern Flores, meeting fishermen and diving out of mangrove trees with local kids. I watched my final sunset submerged in a hot spring on a beach near Larantuka, then caught the lazy morning ferry to Kupang, a 12-hour journey.


Kupang, a thriving metropolis, makes a good temporary base for exploration. About an hour out of town descend into Kristal Cave with the local kids and swim in the shimmering waters by the light of your hand phone. Another hour away, cool off at Oenesu waterfall where dragonflies land on your head and multicolored spiders, the size of your hand, are suspended in the bamboo groves.

Leaving Kupang for the Central Highlands, spend a couple of hours hiking to Oesusu Falls, then buy snacks from the kids on the bridge over the Noel Mina river before visiting the fascinating beehive huts of the None tribe. If you are lucky, you may get an impromptu demonstration on how to chew betel nut.

For a transformational experience visit the Boti tribe, one of the last vestiges of humanity to resist modern culture. The Boti’s shun the use of electricity, weave their own ikat and live off the land. They have a king and to this day still uphold their animist beliefs. I spent the night in the village under a sky full of stars and it left me with a genuine appreciation of their uncomplicated lifestyle.

Kolbano Beach, Timor, Indonesia, Terry Donohue
On the pier at Kolbano Beach

Dropping down from the central highlands, head to Kolbano Beach where the white limestone sands mingle with the blue Indian Ocean making a dazzling shade of turquoise. Stop for some gas before the long ride back to Kupang where you can catch the ferry to Sumba.


It took a full 28 hours to reach Sumba from Kupang as the ferry made a stop in Flores. I shared the rooftop with the crew where we watched an angry storm morph into a Michelangelo-inspired sunset. Then a pod of whales swam off the port bow. At night the crew played cards and in the morning beams of light seemed to radiate from the depths of the Savu Sea. I felt like I was on my own private cruise ship.

Sumba had a surreal quality. East of Waingapu, in the clear waters off of Walakiri Beach I discovered a forest of pygmy mangrove trees. Nearby, families worked together netting fish and kids played on long spits of white sand wrapping around translucent blue tidal pools. To the west, a storm inundated the city while we played in the sun. It was pure magic.

Crossing the island from east to west be sure to stop at the megalithic stones of Pasunga, where you will probably be greeted by throngs of children rolling tires with sticks. The west coast, sometimes described as Sumba on steroids, has many places of cultural and natural beauty. Visit the spectacular Weekuri Lagoon, a sparkling body of water created by seawater surging under the cliffs. Then take the dirt road heading along the coast to the traditional villages of Wanno Be’u and Ratenggaro where the houses are built with towering roofs so there is room for the ancestor spirits.

Ratenggaro, sits on a beautiful estuary where a pristine river merges with the pounding Indian Ocean. White sand bars divide the estuary and from the sea creating a scene from your imagination. I entered the beach and was boxed in by a gang of betel nut-chewing men wielding swords. They demanded that I sign their book and pay an entrance fee.

Desiring to keep all of my limbs, I did as they asked and then joined a group of kids that were hurling themselves off the rocks into the water below and having a great time. Overall, it was interesting to experience a slice of life in Ratenggaro, a place that operates in its own little universe.

Back to Sumbawa, Lombok, Bali and on to Nusa Penida
Zipping across the other-worldly landscape of Sumbawa

I left Sumba on the daily ferry to Sumbawa. People spit betel nut juice over the railing as I contemplated my success. I had looped around Nusa Tenggara, but I still had one island left to explore: Nusa Penida.

Zipping across Sumbawa and Lombok, I arrived in Bali in a couple of days. From there I took the ferry to Nusa Penida and stayed in a rickety treehouse with a distant view of Bali and Mt. Agung through the coconut trees.

By day I visited the majestic Kelingking Beach and the sun-bleached Baniff Cliffs. I snorkelled the secluded bay at Atun Beach and marvelled at the natural arch and sparkling lagoon at Broken Beach. From the cliffs above the infinity pool at Angel’s Billabong I watched oceanic mantas perform a ballet and at sunset I snorkelled with mantas in Crystal Bay. In the evenings I reflected on life with a cold beer from the porch of my treehouse. Life was good.

Marathon Back to Jakarta

From Nusa Penida it was two ferries and a five-day ride to Jakarta. A marathon, but Indonesia continued to surprise me.  After day of riding on the busy national road, I would arrive at the hotel with my face caked with road grime, looking more like a raccoon than a human. And this is exactly how I looked when I pulled up the driveway to my house in Jakarta.

The entire trip had taken me 61 days. I looked down at my odometer and realized I clocked a little over 7,250 kilometers, about the same distance as riding from Key West, Florida to Juneau, Alaska. It had been an epic ride – and most of it at the speed of whim…

Practical Information

The following ferries will take both you and your motorcycle and are very reasonably priced. People at the port will point you in the right direction. Note that It’s best to buy food from the vendors before the ferry takes off, otherwise your choices will be limited. Overall, I really enjoyed the ferries. Check online for the latest schedule, but this will give you an idea.

  • Bali (Padang Bai) to Lombok (Lembar): 5 hours, there are a couple every day
  • Lombok (Labuan) to Sumbawa (Poto Tano): 1.5 hours, there are a few every day
  • Sumbawa (Sapi) to Flores (Labuan Bajo): 6 hours, once a day
  • Flores (Larantuka) to Timor (Kupang): 12 hours, twice a week
  • Timor (Kupang) to Sumba (Waingapu): 28 hours via Aimere, Flores, once a week. There is also a direct ferry, 18 hours, once a week
  • Sumba (Waikelo) to Sumbawa (Sape), 7 hours, three times a week

Google Maps is my favorite, but it’s good to have maps.me as it works offline. Take both.

Booking Accommodations

Nineteen out of twenty times, booking.com does the best job. Put this app on your phone.

More Info

There are two great websites, search for TripCanvas and TravelFish. These will get you off the beaten path.

More Pix


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Vespa Across Indonesia Part I

Jakarta to Bali, Traveling at the Speed of Whim.

Text and Photos Terry Donohue
Published in “Indonesian Expat”, March 2018, Issue 209
Follow the trip on Instagram @donohueterry

fishing boats, indonesian fishing boats, Java, Terry Donohue
Fishing boats, north Java

Ever had a crazy notion to ride a Vespa across Indonesia? Well, for years I’ve had this idea stewing in the back of my mind. Pouring over the maps and talking with friends and motorcycle enthusiasts, I plotted a trip from Jakarta through Nusa Tenggara all the way to Timur. Sure enough, most people thought I was crazy.

Recently freed from the “nine to five”, I set out on this solo adventure one hazy Jakarta morning last January. Riding my Vespa GTS, affectionately known as “Big Budi”, I spent weeks zigzagging across Java and Bali, visiting places that I have always wanted to see and discovering places that were totally off my radar. This trip confirmed that Indonesia is as fascinating as ever, and one of the world’s great touring destinations.

There is a long list of cultural and natural wonders that can guide you across the archipelago. Just pull out a map, start drooling and stick some pins in it. You can climb volcanos, explore rainforest, surf, dive and snorkel, however, one thing I learned is that the real thrill is in the journey, not in the destination. After a few days you will find yourself not caring where you are going or how long it’ll take to get there – and the feeling is liberating!

Java, Gunung Bromo, Bromo, Mt Bromo, Bromo Crater, Terry Donohue
The abyss of Bromo Crater

There are a lot of big name places to pin on your map like Bromo, Borobudur and Ubud, just to name a few. And though there is nothing like gazing into the fuming abyss of Bromo Crater, realize that many not-so-famous places will feed your adventurous spirit. Like following the bamboo bridges and walkways over headlands on the south coast of Java, or body surfing perfect waves in Bali at a beach more popular with cows than people, or cleansing your soul in sacred baths nestled amongst the oldest Hindu ruins in Java. There are also little-known waterfalls, canyons and villages throughout Java and Bali where you can hike into the clouds, stumble upon Viking-like fishing boats bedecked in Hindu and Muslim motifs, or be the first traveler that people have ever seen. You can do this if you have your own wheels and take the roads less traveled.

After a few days you will find yourself
not caring where you are going or how
long it’ll take to get there …

Java, Indonesia, Terry Donohue, mattresses
Stacked high with mattresses

Then there are the little things in life. Take time to have breakfast at a tiny warung on a busy street corner. Watch life go by. Men pushing carts stacked high with mattresses, becak drivers in search of the day’s first customer, or jamu ladies pedaling bicycles jingling with bottles of herbal medicine. Life in Indonesia is rich.

I stopped in a small town one morning to watch villagers carry their bananas to market. Sipping coffee and munching on fried bananas, I was approached by an old woman in a tattered batik dress. She lifted the load off her head and sat down next to me. Silently, she unwrapped a banana leaf and ate a steamed banana, and together we gazed onto the busy street. It was our “banana moment”. A precious slice of life.

When you speak Bahasa, people in the countryside may be shocked. In rural Java I stopped at a crossroad to ask directions from a group of farmers. They looked at me, eyes dilating as I spoke, and when I finished they all just burst out laughing! I asked again, but they couldn’t stop laughing. I never did get an answer…

Java, Indonesia, Terry Donohue, south Java, beach, green coconut
Go local with a green coconut, it’s a drink and a meal all in one – only 50 cents

Adapt to the Indonesian way of life and you’ll never have to worry about food or gas. Almost every village has a warung serving up nasi goreng or bakso. And if there aren’t any gas stations, who cares? Eventually you will see someone squatting and smoking next to a rack of recycled bottles filled with bensin. Let them finish their cigarette, then fill up your tank.

Though national roads will often get you to places faster than back roads, avoid them when you can. National roads are the domain of speed freaks racing from point A to point B. It’s unnerving when a behemoth, like a Pariwisata bus, sneaks up from behind and sounds a horn so loud that it blows your helmet forward.

Then there are the long-suffering traffic lights where you will bake in the sun while people indiscriminately flick cigarette butts out the window in your direction. No thank you. Get on the back roads where smiles beam from beneath coolie hats and people wave to you from fields so arrestingly green that you will have to stop and take a picture. This is the real Indonesia.

Bali, Indonesia, Terry Donohue, Ubud, Ubud market, puja
Daily puja at a Balinese temple

Besides packable clothing, a bathing suit, mask and snorkel, hiking sneakers and a warm jacket all you really need are the following:

  • A Scooter: Contrary to western belief, you don’t need (or want) a 1500 cc motorcycle in Indonesia. In fact, 125 cc will do just fine. I can see my friends back in North America falling out of their chairs as they read this, but it is true. If you have a scooter, buy a top box and go! If you don’t have a scooter, pack light and rent one at your next destination.
  • A Map App: There are many good apps, but I prefer Google Maps as I like the lady’s perky voice. Just be aware that she knows your every move. So when mother nature calls and you sneak off into the bushes with your phone in your pocket, you may be caught off guard by one of her sudden tirades: “Turn right! Continue north! In 400 meters do a U-turn!” which, of course, will alert anyone nearby of your whereabouts. Google Maps also offers alternative routes that will get you off the main roads and into some spectacular countryside.
  • A Booking App: When booking homestays and hotels, I find that Booking.com works great in Indonesia. Don’t book too far in advance, as you may find a gem along the way and change your plans.
  • Music: Load up your phone before you go as you will have lots of time to hear your favorite tunes and explore new music. Tip: I found that the Bebop will help you improvise your way through any convoluted traffic jam!
  • Language: Lastly, learn enough Bahasa to greet people and ask directions. Then load a Bahasa podcast onto your phone, learn more along the way and dazzle everyone.

Yes, maybe heading across Indonesia on Big Budi was a crazy idea, but what a great way to intimately explore this fascinating country – traveling at the speed of whim.

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