Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cycling Ramadan!

Ram-a-dan is here is again,
the skies above are clear again,
let us sing a song of cheer again,
Ram-a-dan is here again!

To the tune of ‘Happy days are here again!’

Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Contrary to popular wisdom, cycling during Ramadan is a good gig. In fact, believe it or not, it’s ‘tailor fit’ for cycling and has become my favourite time to hit the road at the Muslim end of the Southeast Asia.

I can’t speak for the rest of the Great Islamic Geographic Arc. Iran, they tell me is good. Iraq and Afghanistan might be dicey - I don’t fancy chugging down Highway 1, whistling and ending up on Fox News. Jordan, Syria… who knows?

But back to Indonesia….

A student of mine in Banjarmasin, the capital of South Kalimantan, recently asked me why the international media gives Indonesia such a ‘bad face’. It was a good question.

Moving along…

Despite the earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunamis, floods, mud-flows that swallow whole villages, sinking ferry boats, falling airplanes, raging seasonal smoke-clouds that envelope the whole region, ongoing separatist uprisings, Avian Flu outbreaks, occasional Christian-Muslim bloodshed, and, it has to be said, the odd bomb, Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, knows how to throw a good ‘cyclist friendly’ Ramadan. It is also, as I said to my student, a rookie media mogul’s wet dream.
“Get into media!” I said.
“Thank you, Pak Felix, for your sagely advice!” he replied.
“No sweat…” I said.

‘To ride Ramadan, or not ride Ramadan?’, is the real question, though.

Option #1: Not the Ramadan Ride!
Place: Some totally God forsaken, ramshackle town in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Season: Not Ramadan.
Time: Evening.
After a hard day cranking kilometres, I wander around alone looking for some ‘action’. I find it in Warung Mustafa.
Night descends, inky black, and the highway never sleeps. Trucks rumble by, dust clouds kick high in the air. I sit on a wooden bench sipping hot sweet tea. I say a few words to Mustafa, the proprietor. Conversation dies. A dog wanders in. Against my better judgement, I pat it, but that’s boredom for you, and the inescapable longing for contact.
I start to itch. Fleas! “This freakin’ dog’s got fleas, Pak!” I say. Mustafa nods sagely. I go back to my room, lie on the bed and stare at the ceiling.

Option #2: The Ramadan Ride!
Place: Same totally God forsaken, ramshackle town in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Season: Ramadan.
Time: Evening.
During Ramadan, on the road, you can eat and drink during the day, as per normal, but at night, the world explodes - OK, a bad choice of word, considering the context, but let me go on… Mums, dads and kids, dressed in their colourful Ramadan best, venture out in the cool evening air to take in cakes and sweets, juices and teas, each other and as luck would have it, one lone Cyclist from another Planet.
“You want another cake, Pak Cyclist from another Planet?” asks Ibu.
“Thanks, ‘bu, don’t mind if I do!” I reply.

It’s a lot of fun.

Some philosophical comments:

Option #1, above, does have a certain stark beauty to it. Not to everyone’s taste, but to the (usually male) cyclist living in the West who feels that his Inner Being is slowly turning into Bananas in Pajamas, Option #1 can be the go.

Option #2, on the other hand, speaks for itself.

1 comment:

david w said...

Hi Mr Felix - good to see you back, but how come no facial shots? Have you grown a mo? Is it even really you??