Cyclist nears end of epic 11-year journey

by Rudy Madanir

Kyodo News

JAKARTA (Kyodo) After nearly 11 years and changing tires 78 times, Daisuke Nakanishi is now in Indonesia, the 125th country he has visited on a round-the-world cycling tour.

Wearing a white shirt bearing the message “Bike to Work,” a gift from Jakarta-based cyclists, the 39-year-old showed off the small odometer that keeps track of how far he’s gone.

“It is 144,257 km by now,” he said.

Tanned and fit, Nakanishi received a warm welcome in Jakarta and was told to park his bicycle in a special spot just in front of the main entrance of the National Monument, the capital’s main tourist spot.

Dozens of tourist guides in colorful uniforms, monument staffers and some visitors looked with curiosity at his bicycle. Under the seat hangs a triangle-shaped metal plate on which is handwritten the names of the 124 countries he had already visited.

“Indonesia” will be added when he ends his travel in the country.

The remaining space is reserved for the five countries he plans to visit after Indonesia before ending his journey.

“I don’t feel like I am in a Muslim-populated country,” he said of Indonesia, adding there were more women without veils than in many Muslim countries he’s cycled through.

Among the first things he did after arriving in Jakarta was go to the Ragunan Zoo, where he saw for the first time the protected Komodo dragons, native to a few tiny islands in eastern Indonesia.

With a visa good for only 30 days, Nakanishi’s cycling will be limited to Java and Bali among the world’s largest archipelagic nation of more than 17,000 islands.

But by cycling 100 km a day, he vows to see some of Indonesia’s must-see spots, including the centuries-old Borobudur Temple and Hindu temple of Prambanan, the Javanese cultural center of Yogyakarta, and East Java’s famous Mount Bromo before catching a ferry to Bali, the island of gods and goddesses.

Aside from a plan go swimming at some of the country’s ubiquitous beaches, his itinerary includes some mountains, including Merapi, an active volcano.

Staying in a cheap hostel in Jakarta’s popular area for backpackers in the Jalan Jaksa area, Nakanishi has cycled in some parts of the city, which is notorious for traffic congestion.

“It is one of the most dangerous places to bicycle, as motor vehicles dominate the road, and there is no special lane for bicycles. But it is still less dangerous compared with Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, where high-speed cars are threatening cyclists,” he said.

After graduating with a degree in economics, Nakanishi saved for six years while working in a construction company.

Armed with around ¥5 million, he embarked in July 1998, starting in Alaska.

The trip was initially planned to last 3 1/2 years but was later extended and is now set to end in October, when the Osaka-based Japan Adventure Cyclist Club will present him with its most prestigious award.

The club, which will coincidentally celebrate its 30th anniversary in October, has several hundred members, and Nakanishi is among a select few who have traveled the world for an extended period.

South America, where he cycled for four years, is his favorite region. Calling the people spirited and amiable, he came away with many friends and two adoptive families.

He spent the second-longest amount of time in Europe, almost four years.

Speaking just a little English when he set out, over time he has developed a fluency in that language and Spanish, and can get by in Portuguese.

After Bali, he will cycle in Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Mongolia and South Korea before returning home.

“I will write a book on my journey, and probably will speak before students at schools and find work,” he said.

Asked whether he is interested in working for a travel agency, he said “No way!”