Brian Milton! Yelled someone at Bima airport just after I arrived. To say I was astonished is a bit of an understatement. Not only is it, what? 20 years since Brian came here in his CFM Shadow en-route from London to Australia, but of course he's intimately associated with this journey having completed the first week with Miles across Europe until I picked up the baton in Rhodes.
Golly that seems like months ago but is actually only 5 weeks today. With a bit of luck we'll be in Australia in the next few days. To my intense surprise we're running only three or four days behind the original very difficult schedule. There's still the Timor Sea and then Australia to cross but it looks like we really could be in Sydney before the end of the month.
We got a reasonably early start out of Jakarta bound for Semarang; 213 Nm. The first twenty or thirty miles were in the same Jakarta soup as we'd encountered on the way in but it soon cleared into a rather pleasant flight along the north coast of Java. As the day progressed it began to brew up inland and I never got a sight of the mountains and volcanoes there but it was clear and pleasantly calm at 3000 ft just offshore.
Java is extremely densely populated, between the occasional larger town there are a great number of tile roofed villages scattered more or less evenly between paddy fields inland and fish farms along the coast. I am beginning to understand how there can be 220 million Indonesians, the whole archipelago is simply vast, stretching thousands of miles from the top of Sumatra to the north west to Papua in the east.
Semarang is a nice little provincial town about three quarters of the way down Java. No hangars except at a military helicopter installation. Some soldiers came over to see us on the apron so with little hope of success I asked if they might be able to fit us in one of their nice green hangars.
Delighted! Was the answer - I was so surprised I had to ask again to make sure I heard correctly the first time, never once has it been possible to find space in an air force hangar - too much permissions required. It turns out the difference was this lot were army rather than air force and this is their training centre. A much better lot, the army.
With hangarage already sorted, Suganda's man turned up to fix fuel and hotel for us, it was all very painless. We got news from Jon that the microlighters were unable to get any fuel to Bima and the decision was to go for option 2 where Miles would go Bali - Kupang commercially while I would fly solo to Kupang via Bima carrying as much fuel in cans as I could get in the back seat. No sign of those fuel tanks yet though... I imagined Jon must be sweating a bit by now.
Next day was quite a long flight to Bali, 322 miles, somewhere around the limit of our range depending on the wind, but there was the option of dropping into Surabaya at about the half way mark if things were looking a bit slow.
Coming up on Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city, I couldn't decide; go on or refuel? It looked like we'd just make it, on the other hand I could see some big storms brewing on the mountains to our right and Bali airport is on the south side of the island so it looked likely we'd be weaving between big stuff at some stage later on and as Bali is a big international airport there was no saying how long they might make us wait before we could land.
Miles and I discussed the options for some time, no harm in refuelling was our final decision, so I did something of a crash dive from 6000ft down to the airport at sea level. On final approach I noticed a 737 in a secluded parking area near the threshold which had been landed so heavily it had bent in half, the tail was nearly on the ground and there was a big crease in the fuselage just behind the wings. They'd painted out the airline name.
I had a moment of panic as a car arrived towing a trailer with drums of avgas on it; I hoped this wasn't another case of 200 litres or nothing or I'd be off on another hot and slow Pertamax hunt like at Palembang which would seriously reduce the chance of us getting to Bali that day, but they were perfectly happy to open a virgin drum and just sell me the 40 litres we needed.
After the business of unacceptable dollars earlier on in Indonesia I was loaded with Rupiah but at all these places landing fees and fuel were priced in USD so every time we had to go through the performance of negotiating a reasonable exchange rate. Surabaya was the one place where I thought I'd ended up ahead of the game.
Somehow a journalist had found out we were there and wanted some photos and an interview before we left. I was fretting about a big black cloud which seemed to be approaching the airport at an alarming rate from where we'd just come.
Pursued, but not wetted by the cloud we got out of Surabaya in the nick of time. The first bit was straight out over the sea over a large bay to the far end of Java. As usual for an early afternoon takeoff, Miles had to hold up the left side pannier to keep the oil temperature under control but it settled down once we were cruising at 5000 ft. As we went along I became increasingly glad we'd plenty of fuel on board as there seemed to be no end to the line of thunderstorms over the mountains to our right and at some stage we had to go that way. We got beyond the end of Java and things weren't looking too good but then suddenly there was a big gap, 10 miles or so wide, on our right towards Bali. We weaved past some equally big clouds over Bali itself but the south coast was clear and dry and it was a pleasant flight down a very long black volcanic sand beach.
Suganda's man Abdullah was waiting for us when we landed with a couple of 25 litre cans which fitted nicely together in the back seat. There was no hangarage, but I found a safe place for the machine round the back of a big storage shed.
Of course Bali is supposed to be a beautiful place but I saw hardly any of it, we arrived at our hotel after dark and I left before it was light, but I did nevertheless manage a nice swim in the sea with Miles in the dark. It didn't rain this time.
I normally read the dinner menu to Miles but since he got sick in Dhaka it has become very easy; a mixed salad with vinaigrette and then steak with peppercorn sauce and chips. The only difficult thing is that the salad must come first as a starter, not at the same time as the steak.
We met an Australian family on holiday with their two young children who declared that their home town of Newcastle was the best place in the World to live.
The TV news was carrying a story of disastrous flooding in Thailand where loads of people had been swept away in a flash flood, looks like that tremendously heavy rain we got in Malaysia was just the start of it.
They're all wanting to know exactly when we're likely to turn up in Sydney. My answer is "I simply don't know!" For one thing, there's no doubt the prevailing wind is against us and even if the long range tanks turn up in time we may be days waiting for the right weather to cross to Darwin or Truscott. Second, I don't have any maps of Australia at all, you-know-who hadn't got any south of Singapore and I've only got them to Darwin.
My brother Luke has sent me an enormously long text message with details of lots of weather websites and automatic fax numbers for the Timor sea. I rang him to say thanks, but as I was unlikely to have access to the web or a FAX machine at five o'clock in the morning in Kupang it would be a lot easier if he could try to get the number of a real human I could talk to in Darwin. He said he would see what he could find.
At last I've seen a volcano! We've passed loads of them down Sumatra and Java but they've always been buried in cloud. It was a lovely clear morning as I left Bali and there was Mt Agung, just over 10,000 ft, clear as anything at the eastern end of the island, it last erupted in 1963. Just as clear was 12,224 ft Rinjani on the next island, Lombok, which erupted much more recently in 2004 but is all quiet now.
In the middle of Lombok I passed over a frightfully smart country club complete with golf course, swimming pools and guest bungalows. Quite a remote sort of a place to come for a game of golf, I thought.
My third island of the flight was Sumbawa which has a series of extraordinary fishing villages along the north coast which seemed to be almost completely afloat.
Sumbawa also had my third volcano of the day. Tambora last exploded in 1815 with roughly four times the energy of the 1883 Krakatoa eruption and is rated as the largest observed eruption in recorded history. The mountain was reduced in height by over one thousand metres and it put so much smoke, dust and ash into the atmosphere that 1816 became known as the 'Year without a summer'. Agricultural crops failed and livestock died in much of the Northern Hemisphere resulting in the worst famine of the 19th century. Unfortunately by the time I got there Tambora was deeply buried inside a big black cloud and I never saw it, but there was nothing nasty actually along my exact route I needed to avoid.
There was rain on the hills beyond Bima airport as I arrived and I caught a bit of drizzle on final approach. Rather curiously, one third of the runway was under water, I suppose some sort of geological activity has dropped the ground and it floods at high tide. They told me that they now have to schedule the daily flight to Bali around the tides. There was no hangar but the machine fitted nicely into the fire station.
I'm in the best hotel in town which isn't saying much; I chose a 'VIP' room which has aircon but the shower is over the loo and all windows look inwards to the stairwell in rather a curious manner, I suppose it might have been open once but now is an airless oven. At least it's cheap; about $6 a night.
There's no restaurant either but my taxi driver is coming later to take me to it - there's only one in town.
It was a longer than expected four hour flight into a headwind to get here. The engine of my very ordinary taxi pinked merrily on the 20 Km drive into town. I'm glad I'll only have to put maybe 10 litres of the ghastly premium in to top it up for the long flight tomorrow. If I get the same wind as today it's going to be quite tight getting the 318 miles to Kupang solo, nearly all sea - I'm thinking it would be quite impossible if Miles was with me.
I hear the extra fuel tanks have arrived in Kupang. I bet Jon's breathed a few big sighs of relief.