The Jakarta-Surabaya Off Road Xpedition is undoubtedly one of the toughest jungle adventures on earth. A 900km epic journey from Indonesia’s West Java to East Java, some of the most inhospitable terrain imaginable. This year, 91 vehicles and around 270 competitors lined up at Monumen Nasional (the national Monument), a 132m tower in the centre of Merdeka Square, Central Jakarta, to take on this incredible off road challenge.
Teams from all over Indonesia transported their vehicles to the starting point for this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Competitors were hailed from the island of Java itself, as well as Bali, Sumatra and Kalimantan, there was even a team from Vietnam and Thailand (which included yours truly), taking on the Xpedition in a locally rented vehicle.
As competitors gathered for the start, there was time to look over their well prepared and stunning vehicles. Knowing there would be little time to take a breather until we reached the finish line at Heroes Monument in Surabaya, this was also a chance to take care of final preparations for the journey ahead; fuelling up the vehicles, stocking up on water and packing enough food to survive 16 days deep in the jungle.
The Jakarta-Surabaya Off Road Xpedition is unlike most off road events as you can see from the photos, all of the competitors decided to paint their rigs orange for this year’s event. Another unique aspect of the Jakarta-Surabaya Off Road Xpedition is that all competitors in the convoy share all of the costs, from making the road book, t-shirts and stickers, to paying for the hotels at the halfway point and at the end of the trip. Oh, and there’s no one winner of the expedition; everyone finishes equally. Where else in the world will you find an event like this?!
I teamed up with my usual expedition partners – Herman Harsoyo and Ero Kebo Ireng – both of whom I’ve travelled with previously (in the 2012 Borneo Safari, as well as last year’s jungle expedition in Sumatra). Our rented vehicle for 2015 was a well-prepared Toyota Fortuner with the starting number 120, plastered in ‘Official Media Team’ stickers. Other competitors were in a range of different vehicle makes including Jeep, Suzuki, LandCruiser, Land Rover, Range Rover and Discovery. All vehicles were equipped with Warn’s fastest winch, the M8274, which would not only cop plenty of use overcoming the slippery mud and deep water crossings, but also see use in fixing old broken log bridges.
“We would spend the next 21 hours trying to conquer that hill.”
Although the temperatures were soaring, the rain had held off over the first two days (which was a little unusual as this was the monsoon season), allowing us to get used to the jungle tracks, a few river crossings and some steep hill climbs. Nevertheless, the teams were working around the clock, with co-drivers guiding their teammates over tracks and running winch cables in and out.
On day three, the real work started. Our media car was in a group of 16 vehicles at the front of the convoy and as soon as we crossed a major river, we had to then tackle a steep 3km incline that didn’t offer any anchor points to winch off. This meant that each vehicle on the hill became the anchor point for the vehicle behind… and it was so steep that a single-cable pull was of no use – we needed two snatch blocks to get enough pulling power to make the climb. We ended up camping here and after a good nights rest we resumed our battle. With winch cables stretched to the max, double-line and triple-line pulls, deep, sticky mud and hot and humid weather, we would spend the next 21 hours trying to conquer that hill before we succumbed and took a three-hour rest.
Some competitors slept on banana leaves, while others crashed out in their vehicles. Then, after the three-hour hiatus, we hooked into some muesli bars for breakfast and resumed the attack. By late afternoon we finally reached Kamong, a small village at the top of the hill. It had taken our group of 16 vehicles and 45 men, three whole days to make the summit. We were fortunate… I found out later that another group spent eight days on that same hill, and they had experienced broken shafts, broken axles, overheated winch motors and even an engine explosion with fire!
The convoy leader suggested an alternate route for the following groups. By the end of the first week, the entire convoy had regrouped, and each and every competitor had his own jungle experience to share, of broken axles, overheated engines and rollovers.
After a delightful rest at the Ibis Hotel in Semarang, we were back into action on Monday morning, with eight days to go before we’d reach Surabaya. There were some changes to the convoy, with some broken vehicles having to pull out and head back to Jakarta, while others suffering mechanical woes would continue the journey, but via sealed roads to Surabaya. Our media truck would head back into the jungle, and it wouldn’t be long before my jungle boots were once again covered in the sticky mud.
We continued east from Semarang, tackling some amazing jungle tracks; there were overgrown sections, steep hills and muddy river crossings that saw teams struggle to make progress, with lots of wheel spin, roaring engines and stretched winch cables. Campsites were set up in the jungle near little streams, with tarps stretched between vehicles to keep us dry at night. Cooking was a basic set-up but the food was fantastic, to be honest, I would come to Indonesia for the food alone.
Prior to our arrival in Surabaya, our last base camp in the jungle was in a wide, clear space where the entire convoy could regroup. But we had to wait for other groups to overcome the trying conditions; some had to back-track and find alternative routes to this base camp due to landslides, while heavy rainfall meant that other groups had to find their way around now impossible river crossings.
Eventually, everyone made it to the campsite and the following morning we were ready to tackle the busy sealed road into Surabaya; jammed with cars, trucks, buses and mopeds, this was a jungle challenge of a different kind. As we rolled into town, we were given a warm welcome by several hundred enthusiastic 4×4 fans that had assembled at the Heroes Monument.
We could finally celebrate the completion of this once-in-a-lifetime jungle expedition. It really was a fantastic experience, and despite the challenges and the obstacles (and how exhausted everyone was), I’m happy to report that everyone made it through safely in the end.