Comm to Jaco Island – East Timor

In the morning I woke early at lovely Comm Beach Resort, East Timor, and prepared for my adventure to the far east of the island to Jaco Island, renowned for its beautiful beach and great snorkelling.

Before I set off I rode to the end of the road east of Comm which the Resort Manager, Yono (nice guy from Indonesia) told me ended at a lovely beach. As the forest closed in around me there was a time when I thought I’d taken the wrong path…

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As the forest started closing in on me, and the ‘road’ became narrower, something told me I’d gone the wrong way…

After fighting through the undergrowth for a bit, I eventually found the beach Yono was talking about – a gorgeous, deserted beach as far as you could ‘ride’ on the north-east coast.

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After fighting through the undergrowth for a bit, I eventually found the beach Yono was talking about

Back-tracking through the undergrowth to Comm I carried on southeast towards Tutuala, a village close to Jaco.  Along the way the roads were quiet and the scenery became more breathtaking.

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The road back to Comm

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Nice in the shade of the trees out of the sun

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Everywhere I looked the scenery became better and better as I approached Jaco Island

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It’s a pain to keep changing tyre pressures, but when I hit the tarmac again it’s worth the time to reinflate the tyres to reduce wear, reduce the risk of punctures and improve handling

Within an hour I was there and faced the final 8km steep decent I’d been warned about, which led down courtesy of a very rocky path just wide enough for one vehicle. No-one else seemed to be going down there either (not that there were many people around).

In possibly in a foolish move, I let the air back down in the tyres (I’ve found 25 psi works well with the Heidenaus on dirt), started her up and went for it. Almost immediately I was standing on the back brake using the rear wheel to check my speed (ABS off) as I slid, banged and bumped down the track, hoping I wouldn’t go over the edge and no-one else was coming up the other way.

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This photo doesn’t do it justice, but the last 8km to Jaco Island were VERY steep and rocky!

8km later I made it (sweating) to Valu Beach below which looked out over the crystal clear waters around Jaco Island. There was another group of tourists there who had come down in a 4WD jeep (more sensible than a heavy motorbike), but apart from them, nobody except 3 local fishermen.

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Valu Beach, at the bottom of the steep, rocky 8km road from Tutuala

I asked one of the fishermen if he could take me across to the island, and he said he could for the sum of 6 USD return. “Hmm, deal!” I said as I handed over the money and grabbed my snorkelling gear.

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My taxi to Jaco Island

It only took 15 minutes or so to reach the island, and I asked the fisherman to pick me up an hour later. Then he left and I was alone on a pristine, golden sandy island, surrounded by a stunning coral reef.

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Prestine Jaco Island

I have done quite a lot of diving in my time, but the snorkelling around Jaco was better than much of the diving I’ve done. Although not very big, the coral bommies on the sheltered side of the island were immaculate and teeming with reef fish at depths of only 1-2m (3-6 foot). Unfortunately I didn’t have my underwater camera case with me, and even if I did, I’d lost that camera (reminder – buy a new underwater case for my new camera!) I’d also forgotten the underwater case for my GoPro video camera, but at least the experience will live on in my memory…

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Enjoying my own personal deserted island

Unfortunately, when it came to riding back up the steep 8km rocky road my clutch burnt out half way up. I knew it was the clutch straight away because it disappeared in a cloud of clutch plate smoke as I tried to gain traction on a particularly steep and gravelly section. After that, the gears just wouldn’t catch and I was left in a somewhat precarious predicament, balancing mid-slope.

It was about 16:00 when the clutch went, and unable to move ahead I managed to rolled her backwards onto a level section of track 50m astern and waited for the cavalry to arrive (to do what, I’m not sure).

An hour later I was still there and no-one had passed, so I decided to hike back down to the bottom, Valu Beach, to see if I could get help there in any form. I guess I needed either someone with a large 4WD pickup, or several strong people to help me push her to the top.

Earlier that day as I was riding back uphill, just before I’d broken down, as luck would have it (or not), down rolled two 4WD trucks with ‘Timor Adventures’ advertised on the side. I had stopped (on a steep incline) and spoken briefly to the Australian tour leader Shirley for a while, so thought it would be a good start to seek her out again and see if she could help me in any way.

One thing I learnt from this little incident is never leave all your money back at the hotel when you disappear on what should be a short, straight-forward day-outing.

I found Shirley & the tour group accommodated in nice palm cabins at Valu Beach, sipping beer and cocktails at sunset. Oh how I wished I could have swapped places with them! Shirley very kindly got to work phoning around for me looking for a lift, but ultimately the only option that presented itself was hiring 2 local men from Tutuala to meet me at 08:00 in the morning and give me a hand pushing the bike 4km back uphill for 50 USD.

I spent the last 20 dollars I had (luckily I had at least some money left) on a cabin at the ‘budget’ camp down the road and turned in early, feeling a little better about the situation.

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My ‘buget camp resort’ at Valu Beach, complete with free bed bugs

I was rudely awoken around 2am by something biting me. In fact there were several things biting me, and I jumped out of bed to investigate. I knew it was bed bugs straight away, and looking carefully I found them crawling on the sheets, and removed one from my arm. Could the past 24hrs get any better?

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Don’t sleep here, unless you like being woken up by man-eating bed bugs at 2am

I ran straight into the sea to wash them off and drown the little buggers, and spent the rest of the night/morning sitting outside waiting for the sun to rise. It was a pleasant night with thousands of stars visible, and warm at least. I couldn’t wait until sunrise so I could get cracking recovering my bike.

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Waiting for sunrise and the long job of recovering my injured motorbike

When the sun finally woke up I climbed 4km back up the hill to my bike and waited for the 2 locals to show. Shirley had very kindly lent me 50 USD to pay them, and I promised I’d return it to her in Dili, when (if) I eventually made it back there.

After a while the 2 locals, Gonzales and his son Ricky, arrived. On seeing how big and heavy my bike was they immediately entered a long period of gestation to see what other options there were. As they own a motorcycle repair garage nearby, they set about trying to repair it. They may have been good at repairing Indonesian motorcycles, but when Ricky started trying to take off the left hand engine crankcase cover, I started to suspect he hadn’t worked on many new Triumph Tigers. Granted, there was a language barrier to content with, but Ricky could speak half decent English and I soon worked out he was actually looking for the front chain sprocket. Close calamity averted, I showed him how to get to it, and he looked at it and said it was the clutch. Good – I’m glad we settled that one.

Anyone who knows anything about motorcycle clutches will know you can adjust them. I am certainly not a proficient motorcycle mechanic (unfortunately), but I can Google problems, sometimes find the answer, and sometimes do a half decent job of fixing it (such as my clogged Idle Stepper Motor, although my fix didn’t completely work!). My major weakness here was I didn’t have internet, and although I had already adjusted the clutch half-heartedly (with no effect), I assumed that once a clutch had burnt out it was gone, and a new one was needed.

After an hour or so of further deliberation and chewing the cud, Gonzales and Ricky finally faced the reality that the only way of getting my bike 4km to the top of the hill was to push her. I could tell they were not keen. I, on the other hand, was very keen to recover my bike, and managed to convince them it would be easy and we’d be done in no time at all.

Three hours later we were still pushing.

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Pushing a 215kg motorbike up a very steep, rocky mountain is VERY thirsty work! Unfortunately we had no water…

I’ve done some pretty tough things in the past, but pushing a 215 kg (470 lbs) motorbike 4km up a very steep and rocky hill ranks as one of the most difficult. The heat of the midday sun did not help, and I was literally swimming in sweat. I’d finished the last of my water 2 hours ago, and was beginning to feel somewhat dehydrated.

I’ve got to hand it to Gonzales and Ricky though – they are both very strong and didn’t give up at any point, although we had regular rest (or collapse) breaks. Midway Ricky probably saved me from collapsing of heatstroke by climbing a tree and getting us all coconuts to drink; that was certainly the best coconut water I’ve ever guzzled!

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Ricky saving me from heatstroke by feeding me coconuts

When we finally made the top Gonzales spent some of the 50 USD I’d paid them on bottles of water and biscuits for me, as I’d also missed breakfast. Such nice people – I’m forever indebted to them. Ricky told me it was the first time they’d pushed a motorbike up that hill at all, and it was the last! All the local motorbikes are much smaller and lighter (usually 150cc max) and small enough to lift into the back of a jeep and drive up the hill, which is a lot easier!

The next logistical problem was getting my bike back to Comm Beach Resort, where all my luggage was, and then getting her to Dili where I thought I’d have to order a new clutch. The first part of this problem was solved when Ricky found me an old truck and driver willing to take me to Comm for 70 USD.

It took 5 of us to lift her into the back and then we set off, with me & 2 others trying to hold onto her as we bounced and bumped over the rocky, uneven roads. With no tie-downs I’m not sure we would have passed any health & safety risk assessments, but I was well happy, as it worked! That’s one thing I love about ‘developing countries’ – whatever it takes, they get it done with whatever they have.

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The East Timor Motorcycle Recovery Service – don’t leave home without it!

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A miracle, but made it safely back to Comm Beach Resort in one piece

Now here comes the fairytale bit of the story where I almost end up kissing an Indonesian man. Back at Comm Beach Resort, the manager Yono is keen to look at my bike as he thinks he can fix it. Armed with spanner, pliers and a lit cigarette hanging precariously from his lips, he swings off the clutch adjustments both ends as far as they can go.

Amazingly (to me anyway) it worked, and my bike was resurrected from the grave! However, I did feel pretty stupid and scolded myself for not fully adjusting it myself earlier. It meant I could hopefully ride my bike to Dili and see how she went, but I had no more room for adjustments and so a new clutch was still needed ASAP.

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