Sulawesi: Land of Sand, Suffering and Instant Stardom

Hello Mister!  Hello Mister!  Hello Mister!

And so it goes from dawn till dusk.  The attention never lets up.  Gangs of teenage girls on motorbikes screech to a halt and demand a photo shoot with the odd foreigners.  Shy kids sneak a peek as we set up camp in their elementary school.  Bold young men surround us at markets and hurl question after question as to what we’re up to in their seldom visited corner of Indonesia.

Not since the remotest corners of Africa have we caused such a stir.

To be honest, it’s a bit baffling.  I mean, these people all have television and mobile phones.  They’re in no way cut off from the rest of the world.  Why on earth are they so damn curious about two smelly tourists on beat up bikes?

I suppose we ought to just be grateful for all the undeserved adoration.  A far warmer welcome than the showers of stones we received from some Ethiopian youngsters.

If your idea of paradise is a sandy beach all to yourself then by all means come to Sulawesi.  And bring along your bicycle if you don’t mind risking cardiac arrest on the steepest climbs in Southeast Asia.  Yes, STEEPER than Borneo.  Just goes to show that there’s always greater suffering somewhere down the road.

But of course we love it at the same time.  Why else we keep slogging away for almost eight years?  Even after so many countries and kilometers I never tire of the excitement of hitting the road at daybreak.  I love the cool and calm of the tropics just before sunrise.

Unless you’re on the Trans-Sulawesi highway near a major city (of which there are few in Sulawesi) most roads see fairly light traffic. Highways are mostly narrow two-lane affairs with no shoulder.

 

In villages lots of people still bathe and wash clothes in rivers and lakes. For a Muslim country, women are surprisingly uninhibited about stripping down to a sarong to wash up in public.

 

Within an hour or two the roads are bustling with kids hustling to school, men roaring by on motorbikes and arrogant drivers of fancy SUVs blasting their horns in an attempt to bully everybody off the road.

By 10 AM we’re drenched in sweat and when the sun hits its zenith and we’re struggling on a 20% grade,

Just then,  nothing sounds sweeter than being confined to a climate controlled office block.

4 PM and the heat slowly dissipates, the sky turns lovely pastel hues and finally it’s time to call it a day.  Rest, recuperate and repeat.

 

Indonesian school boys looking spiffy in their smart uniforms. What’s got them so enthralled is the sight of Eric posing for a photo with a group of teachers. Who’d have guessed that could be so hilarious.

 

Seriously folks, Sulawesi has some of the absolute steepest climbs we’ve ever encountered. This was not one of them.

 

Nothing better than a dive into the sea to wash off all the accumulated sweat and wipe away the memory of too many tough climbs beneath the scorching equatorial sun.

 

After heavy late afternoon rains, the sky lights up for a spectacular sunset and beautiful reflections. This was shot at the local school where we were offered hospitality for the evening. The neighbors across the way invited us in for a refreshing mandi (Indonesian style bucket shower).

 

 

 

The Sulawesi coast is dotted with busy fishing villages that take you back in time. Visitors are welcome to wander around but you’ll be swarmed with requests from proud fisherman demanding that you take a shot of them with their big catch.

 

 

Showing off his catch.

 

Coconut harvesting is the other big business in coastal Sulawesi. Locals dry them by the side of the road which results in a less than pleasant odor.

 

 

Even cows enjoy a day out at the beach.

 

In fact, cows seem to have pretty much free range on the entire island.

 

 

Fish is ultra fresh and you can have the latest catch grilled up for lunch with all the fixings for around $1.

 

Of course there’s more to Sulawesi than just the sea. You’ve also got stunning Lake Poso.

 

And the high mountains of the Toraja Region–famous for its coffee, distinct architecture and mysterious burial traditions.

 

Offerings for the long departed.

 

 

Traditional boat shaped Toraja houses known as Tongkonan.

 

High up in the Toraja highlands life is still much the same as it was hundreds of years ago.

 

So far, Sulawesi is turning out to be our favorite island in Indonesia. It’s remote enough not to be swarmed by tourists, developed enough to mean you’re never far from basic comforts and the locals couldn’t be friendlier. Food’s a bit spicy for my liking but you can’t have everything.

 

 

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15 Responses to Sulawesi: Land of Sand, Suffering and Instant Stardom

  1. Doug W
    Doug W February 13, 2014 at 1:55 am #

    Wow. One of your best assortment of photos yet. Sounds — and looks — fantastic!

    • World Biking
      World Biking February 13, 2014 at 2:36 am #

      Really happy to hear that–certainly helps that Sulawesi is such a photogenic place and Indonesians so camera crazy.

  2. Mark Watson
    Mark Watson February 13, 2014 at 2:10 am #

    Great photos. Love your site!

    • World Biking
      World Biking February 13, 2014 at 2:35 am #

      Thanks, Mark–means a lot coming from someone of your talent. New lens is helping but I really want a wide angle now for better landscapes.

  3. Alee
    Alee February 13, 2014 at 3:14 am #

    Great shots as always! Cambodians are very excited to see us too; our arms don’t get much of a rest!

  4. Casey Jeszenka
    Casey Jeszenka February 13, 2014 at 6:55 am #

    Hi Andrea and Eric,

    Great photos as usual. When will you be putting a book together of your adventures biking around the world?

    Take care!

    Casey

    • World Biking
      World Biking February 13, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

      I’ll start hammering out a book as soon as Penguin offers me a fat advance (i.e. NEVER)! Maybe a photo book though.

  5. arby
    arby February 15, 2014 at 7:48 pm #

    *sigh*

  6. Heike Pirngruber
    Heike Pirngruber February 19, 2014 at 7:12 am #

    Wow, this island looks amazing…great pictures….!!!
    Thanks for sharing.

    Cheers Heike
    http://www.pushbikegirl.com

  7. GypsyPunk
    GypsyPunk February 25, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    Your stories and photos rock! They just keep getting better!

    TC you guys!

  8. Dave Victor
    Dave Victor March 16, 2014 at 3:18 pm #

    Eric & Amaya…you have a lot of good picture of indonesia. have your best journey by biking ;) Please come again to Beteleme… We still have good place for you

    • World Biking
      World Biking March 22, 2014 at 4:05 am #

      Thanks again for the wonderful hospitality in Beteleme! We desperately needed a break and it’s good we rested at your place because the road the following day was really, REALLY rough. Great meeting you and best of luck with all your projects!

  9. ZiDD
    ZiDD March 17, 2014 at 3:27 am #

    Very nice photos.

    • World Biking
      World Biking March 22, 2014 at 4:02 am #

      Thanks…photos must be getting better thanks to a few tips I got in Dumaguete!

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