The Indonesians, with a little monetary support from their Aussie neighbors, have embarked on a road building bonanza. Silky smooth tarmac roads soon will link most of the coastal settlements.
The thing is, on Sulawesi gravel sucks. The coastal climbs are often way too steep on a rough and rocky surface (at least if you’re seriously over-loaded like we are). In a few cases we ended up slipping and sliding, eventually having to push. That’s never fun.
The best part of a big hill is getting to rip down the other side. The problem with gravel on Sulawesi is that building up the necessary momentum to get your bike flying effortlessly half way up the next hill will likely get you a broken collar bone (or worse) after the big crash at the bottom.
We have ZERO desire to see the inside of a remote rural clinic manned by folks with limited medical training. So long live tarmac.
Once we got out of the busy Manado area (and its highly exotic markets) we were in for more stunning coastal riding. Tiny fishing villages, lush forests, emerald rice paddies and the big blue sea around every bend. Thankfully, the grades weren’t quite as steep as what we’d experienced around ToliToli, Buol and Paleleh.
That’s not to say we didn’t suffer. We did. But as usual, the wide open views out over the sea lessened the pain in our screaming calves.
As one blog reader recently pointed out, it’s the people, not the places, that really count. While we certainly can’t fault Indonesians for any lack of friendliness (foreigners are granted instant fame on arrival) we can’t help giving in to annoyance from time to time.
Anonymity, just for moment, would be bliss. Even popping out to the corner store (sans fully-loaded bicycle) will mean a slew of Hello Misters and sundry questions (Dari mana, mister? Mau kemana, mister? Mau cari apa, mister? Tujuan apa?/ Where are you from? Where are you going? What are you looking for? What is your goal?) Leave me ALONE, I want to shout.
The incessant gawking and greeting is just too much attention for introverts like us.
Luckily, there are those unforgettable moments of genuine kindness to keep our morale and attitudes in check. Seeing us hunker down to a desolate dinner of instant noodles, a village women returns an hour later with a platter of fresh seafood and rice. Now that’s just really, really nice (tasty, too).
After that kind of experience, posing for another round of cell phone snapshots with locals excited to have a Real Live Foreigner in their midst is a little less painful.