Meet the Australian Riding from Banda Aceh to Jakarta

Posted on 20 August, 2014

Sam Bashfield studied Indonesian and was the chapter president of AIYA Victoria. After finishing a semester studying abroad in South Korea, he’s riding the length of Sumatra from Banda Aceh to Jakarta to raise money for the Heart Foundation — a journey which will cover 3,000km over one month.

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First up, we asked him why he chose a motorbike trip.

I have always enjoyed motorcycle riding, and during my ACICIS semester in Yogyakarta I completed several multi-day motorcycle tours around Central and East Java. While this journey is a step up from the trips I have previously experienced, I feel I am capable of riding the kilometres and feel it is an experience I must attempt.

But why Sumatra? This trip is will be my first visit to Sumatra. While I have travelled around Bali and Java reasonably extensively, this trip is my first adventure further afield. During high school, I completed an exchange program to Malaysia. In Australia I studied Indonesian, so while in Malaysia I always wondered about Sumatra, as it is so close to Malaysia. During my time in Malaysia I never got the chance to cross to Sumatra, so now is my chance! Furthermore, the province of Aceh has always been a dream destination for me. Politically and geographically I find Aceh a fascinating place. Coupled with the tragic tsunami of 2004, I have always wanted to visit the region.

Aceh aside, I am very interested in exploring the various cities of Sumatra, and to experience the landscape. While I am completing this journey alone, I anticipate I will meet many new fiends along the way. Already during the preparation for this journey I have had offers of city tours, and beds to stay in at many of Sumatra’s larger cities. I anticipate that I will meet many more people who will be able to show me around their respective cities when I arrive.

My decision to support the Heart Foundation is due to my grandfather, Bill Bashfield, who passed away last year. He was an avid traveller, who owned and ran his own travel company. He would tell me fascinating stories of travel in Indonesia, including taking a group to Yogyakarta over 20 years ago, which featured enjoying a dinner reception with the Sultan. His stories about Asia and Indonesia, and time we spent looking at atlases really kindled my interest in Asia and travelling.

My aim for the trip is to raise $3,000, of which 100% goes directly to the Heart Foundation. While I acknowledge that this money is not going directly into helping Sumatra, I am sure that the research and work of the Heart Foundation has global implications.

One of my blog entries discussed how much I should pay, if anything, in the event that I run over an ayam kampung (village chicken). While I hope I don’t hit one, I’d rather flatten a chicken than ride into oncoming traffic. My former Indonesian honours supervisor at Monash University, Paul Thomas, advised me to simply pay and keep riding. I think that’s the best course of action, but the price is still a point of contention. I have asked many Indonesian friends, and the consensus is to pay IDR 100,000. While I’ll try my best to avoid killing an ayam kampung, I’ll also keep a crisp pink IDR 100,000 note ready just in case!

My itinerary is definitely not set in stone, and at the moment is constantly changing. The basic outline is to ride from Banda Aceh to Jakarta using the ‘main road’ only when absolutely necessary. From past experience motorcycle touring in Java, taking the Jalan Kabupaten ( regional roads) and the Jalan Desa (village roads) provide the best riding experience (despite the increased chance of flattening ayam kampung).

My first week though is planned. I will begin riding west then south from Banda Aceh down towards Meulaboh, which was the worst hit town during the 2004 tsunami. The road between Banda Aceh and Meulaboh was completely destroyed by the tsunami, and has been rebuilt by USAid. That 250 kilometre stretch I am told will only take four hours due to the quality of the road. From there I will head inland and into the mountains eventually reaching Bukit Lawang and Danau Toba. That stretch will take about four days, so some rest days in Bukit Lawang will be welcome. From there, I am not sure my exact route, but I won’t miss Pekan Baru, Bukit Tinggi, Padang and Palembang, before the push to Jakarta. When I reach these provinces, I will map out a suitable route, ensuring I see as many points of interest as possible.

The majority of the trip will be riding days, during which I hope to cover around 200 kilometres. Spending a month covering the distance from Aceh to Jakarta should ensure quite a leisurely timeframe. I have read blogs written by motorcyclists who raced down the island in under two weeks, but I fear that those riders fail to adequately enjoy the sights.

I have also read the blog of some New Zealanders who cycled the length of Sumatra in two months, so a month on a motorbike will allow me time to stop and soak in the atmosphere. The last thing I want to be doing is riding ridiculous amounts of kilometres all day and night in order to keep to abstract schedules, essentially missing the beauty which is Sumatra. One month will allow me the time to take detours, and to spend a few extra nights in places of interest.

As the start date fast approaches, I am very keen to get riding. I am ecstatic to be able to see Sumatra, and even more pleased at being able to do it from the back of a motorcycle. I can’t think of a better way to spend a month!

You can follow Sam’s journey on his blog or Facebook page. To make a contribution to his fundraising campaign, visit MyCause.