I had been told by many that the second largest city on Java was very much like it’s overgrown big brother Jakarta, in all ways bad. I found a large city for sure. I found a city with a lot of noise, a lot of traffic, a lot of people, and all the issues that go along with that.
I also found a city in contrast, battling between historic and modern. A city of wide open boulevards, charming neighborhoods, and a diverse population.
I may be repeating myself and if so that just gives credence to the point that Javanese are friendly and not shy about introducing themselves.
My stay in Surabaya brought me in contact with people that wanted me to experience Surabaya like the Javanese. They wanted me to see all the highlights of the city and they wanted me to have an adventure.
I was about to have one!
Riding through town on the back of a motorbike maybe an everyday occurrence for most in Java but for me the experience proved… “enlightening”.
I arrived in Surabaya by bus after schlepping through a traffic jam for about an hour. Like most traffic jams this one was man-made but unlike most traffic jams this had little to do with drivers having accidents, crazy drivers, too many drivers, injured drivers, etc.
This had to do with one of the worlds largest man-made disasters.
I am not joking.
This and the oil disaster in the gulf are right up there looking for top spot. Both were caused in the name of “bubblin crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea”!
“Lusi” as the flow is termed is the result of drilling.
You poke the earth in the right spot at the right depth and you may find the gold you were looking for has turned to mud. This is what happened back in 2006 and it is not going away anytime soon.
The amount of mud being released is measured at 1 million cubic feet ; equivalent to a dozen Olympic size swimming pools and this is per day over the last several years.
The kicker is that the life expectancy of this gusher is another 10 to 30 years. As you drive along the highway to Surabaya there are massive levees continually being added to in order to contain the mud.
These levees currently stand about 50 feet high!
I am not a motorbike rider.
When I was in my early teens my friend did have a 50cc minibike that we would zoom about on but I don’t think that counts. Especially since the side streets of Manurewa, my home town, are considerably less trafficked than the main streets of Surabaya.
Once I got inside the city and transferred to my two-wheeled form of transport we headed for the old part of town; taking in the colonial district, town hall and old residential villas.
Then we moved on to Chinatown, the Arab section, and Ampel Mosque.
All of these areas were crazy chaotic yet we sliced through the crowds with ease. Horn constantly tooting, brakes constantly being applied causing my helmeted head to collide with the drivers, and swerving dodging weaving all in mockery of our four-wheeled counterparts.
This mode of sightseeing although exciting does have a major drawback. Photo taking is difficult and potentially very dangerous.
I did mention earlier that the ride was enlightening. It was.
The chaos I had always witnessed on the roads now turned into a very fluid easily manageable river of combustion. As long as you adhere to the rules of the chaos then everything goes along fine. If you deviate from these rules and say, try to drive like a westerner; that’s when you become out of sync and collisions happen.
No-one can anticipate your next logical move. The established road rule of chaos!
From Jakarta to Surabaya, Java is an island of incredible beauty, diversity, and history.
My days are always full. Whether planned or by surprise I am never at a loss for something to do. Markets, mountains, restaurants, temples, colonial neighborhoods, heritage sites, cultural experiences of dance, music, and batik.
Java is an island I find difficult to leave; but with that said I am looking forward to my arrival in Bali.
For photos of Indonesia click here.