Backtrack in Asia

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Along with being a writer for Impose, Reggie McCafferty is photographer who recently had a show and zine release with Valencia Spain's Julio Pardo last week in Brooklyn. These photos, some of which were in his show, were taken when Reggie was in the band Backtrack on a month-long tour of Asia.

We were in Indonesia for a week, driving through the country on a coach bus with four Indonesian bands. It was the first leg of our Southeast Asian tour, a month of shows that would take us through almost a dozen different countries. The bus was overcrowded and damp, the humidity of the sort that seeps down into your pores leaving everything coated with a thick layer of goo. It was like a dilapidated greyhound, dirty and decaying, with just enough space to fit a pair of legs between the rows if the seat in front was leaned all the way forward. The climate control seemed to be broken, only operating at levels of extreme hot and cold, making for an unending process of donning and shedding in an impossible struggle for comfort.

We could never be sure just how long the drives would really take. It was six hours anytime we asked, but more often than not they stretched on to last 16 or 17 hours. Many of the roads were in such a state of disrepair that we had to move at a snails pace, pulling over at times to let others pass. The good roads were only slightly better, but seemed to imbue drivers with an elevated sense of confidence, spurring them onward to drive at recklessly high speeds. Not to mention the motorbikes. They were everywhere, weaving in and out of oncoming traffic, only narrowly avoiding colliding head on with the cars and buses travelling in the opposite direction.

Entire families would ride on these two-passenger bikes, the children clinging to the necks of their mothers or hanging off the sides. The father would navigate, driving as if in the final stretch of the Daytona 500. I spent a good many hours staring out the window watching them pass us. Every now and then one would zip by with a huge load of firewood or produce strapped behind them, looking more like an overgrown shrub than any sort of motor vehicle.

We had a crew of 3 middle-aged Indonesian men driving our bus. They took turns behind the wheel, giving the others a chance to rest, each new driver just as reckless as the one before. Our bus moved along in much the same manner as the motorbikes, weaving through traffic, sometimes running oncoming vehicles onto the shoulder as we passed in their lane.

We drove from Jogjakarta to Jakarta about five days into the trip. It was another of those “six hour” drives that stretched on and on. I woke up a few hours into the drive to the sound of rain pounding on the roof. It was storming hard and the bus was bouncing all around. Still, the driver drove on just as recklessly as ever, the wind blowing us all over the road and almost off it on a few different occasions. The equipment slid around beneath the bus, hitting the wall with a loud thud each time we turned swerved a bit too sharply. All the while, cars, buses and motorbikes flew by us in both directions, the rain pounding down all over as I held my breath, sure that we wouldn’t make it through the night unless the weather let up.

As I was finally drifting off to sleep, I heard a loud crash followed by some commotion at the front of the bus. The driver pulled to the side of the road and a few people jumped out. They rummaged around beneath the bus for a few moments, sorting through the mess of equipment. It was too dark to see, but suddenly a thick Indonesian accent shouted out, asking John if he’d stored his cymbals beneath the bus.

No one bothered to tell any of us what had happened. It seemed that one of the storage doors hadn’t been closed properly and had been jarred open by all the bouncing. Some of the equipment had fallen out, but no one was really quite sure what we’d lost, nor how long we’d been driving with it open. Then suddenly we were turned around, in the midst of the storm, bikes and cars, and had begun driving back along slowly the way we’d come. It took a good two hours of driving back and forth over the same 5 km stretch before someone finally spotted John’s symbols lying in a ditch on the side of the road.

That next morning we took stock at a roadside restaurant. I’d been unable to sleep the remainder of the night, sitting there wondering if anything else of ours had fallen out and been missed in all the commotion. Luckily, John’s cymbals seemed to have been the only thing, but his cowbell had disappeared and a few of his cymbals had already begun to rust from sitting in the rain. We told one of the bus drivers and he simply shrugged his shoulders, nothing he could do about it. The bus company didn’t have insurance for that sort of thing.

A photographer’s old band spends a week in Indonesia.