This fellow, Victor Esbensen, I hold him solely responsible for getting me into this bicycle touring, and sometimes camping enigma that I can’t shake off for the last two decades. I’m sure there are few others scattered around this blue planet that have fond memories of their times cycling and camping out with ‘Victor Bicycle’

He even stayed and worked close to where I lived. In late 80’s Singapore, it was rare to see a tall foreigner on a big white and blue mountain bike, buying takeaway rice and side dishes. Each time I see a sweat soaked Victor, always in a Hawaiian shirt and cotton bermuda shorts, I had to stop and say hello.

I think I’ve gotten rid of this itch to cycle off road in East Java’s mountains. Looking at some maps there’s Central and West Java to think off now. Better stop drifting away again, this page is for Victor.

 

Victor Esbensen, Jan 1989 heading home to Singapore

 

How Victor got to convincing 10 people who showed up at his house to see slides of volcanoes, to bike and camp the Bromo area, was a mystery in itself. He seemed the loner type, but opened up once anyone took interest in geology, photography and Indonesia. What started as a slide show, soon turned into a full blown meeting to organise a small expedition with people taking notes and pointers like a professor giving precise tips on what to study for final exams.

I recall some in the group buying new mountain bikes and racks, lovingly smothered with Saran Wrap, ready to be checked in at the airport. Victor and a few self appointed deputies took it upon themselves to guide and shepherd the rest for 10 days. As I mentioned before, as long as he had enough time to photograph in the morning and evening light, it didn’t matter if some of the the flock were brushing teeth or doing the laundry at 11 am in the morning when, we really needed to cycle off at 7 am. We would just reach our day’s destination a few hours later, mostly in total darkness. These delays happened a few times but all he could do was smile, pull up a chair and make another coffee. As much as he loved cycling, he also loved chilling out and watching people pack their stuff, I suppose. He reminded us that the only appointment to keep on trips like this was the flight back home, assuming one felt like going home, as there was always another flight.

In 1993, while cycling, kayaking and camping in the jungles of Malaysia, I remember Victor being rushed out to civilzation in the middle of the night. It took a whole 6 hours by riverboat and a Land Rover before he reached a hospital. His health deteriorated in the following 2 years. No doctor or specialist in Singapore, the US or Canada could precisely diagnose what really ailed him. He simply withered away. Maybe some exotic yet to be found tropical disease got him, as most of us would like to believe. There were no comforting answers.

In May of 95, a bunch of his friends, local and foreign, hired two bumboats and scattered his ashes in the Straits of of Singapore, close to the Indonesian Riau Islands. We figured that his final resting place would be the seas close to the country he loved so much, Indonesia.

Well Victor, I hope you’ve had a good read back in time, you know you’re responsible for my umpteenth time flying into Surabaya. Things have certainly changed a lot here, the man made ones at least. You would love all this digital stuff that’s going around, but stlll carry that big Pentax, just in case. Thanks also for putting in some good words with the guy in charge of the weather, while Paul and I were on our bikes. That helped a lot.

The mountains will be here forever, and so will you, smiling on us. I’m sure of it.

 

Would you ride your mountain bike here ? Nov 1995

 

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Comments
  1. Al says:

    Baba, a very nice collection of yr inteprid adventures indeed. Feel very honoured to share in some of it. I must say that WordPress is much nicer in format.

    Keep riding, keep shooting and keep writing! God bless you lah.

    Like

  2. ChrisW says:

    Thanks Al. this ‘back up’ is a visual treat

    Like

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