Thanks to all those Aussie tax dollars, Sulawesi’s got some first rate roads.

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.

This is a good thing.  We love riding rough (maybe not as much as the Pikes on Bikes or Cass Gilbert, but we’re up for shakes and rattles when it’s worth it—which is most of the time).

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.

Grilled bats are just one of Sulawesi’s exotic specialties. Dogs and cats are also find their way to the dinner table.

I’ll stick with the grilled fish.

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).

But, as we all know, stardom has a dark underside. In Indonesia, annonymity—even for moment —would be bliss.

Popping out to the corner store (sans fully-loaded bicycle) garners 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.

The kids are always friendly and fun, but they really go berserk sometimes. In the west, they’ll probably all be diagnosed with ADD.
One of the best parts of riding is that you just never know what kind of strange stuff will pop up on the road. This guy operates his human-powered carnival ride in small towns and villages.
Who can ever tire of a good sunset? Sulawesi’s got some of the best yet.
Family pet at one of the small roadside restaurants we pulled into in order to shelter from a tropical shower. Rain comes in short, intense bursts.
Lucky us, a rainbow as reward for sticking it out through the downpour.
Pancake flat for change. That didn’t last long.
We’d like Indonesia even more if they banished all those noisy motorcycle taxis with their broken exhaust systems and everybody had to use cycle rickshaws instead.
The last hills before reaching Gorontalo! Tonight we hop on an overnight ferry to Pagimana. Next we’ll make our way towards Makassar. The highlight should be Lake Matano and the coastal road from Pagimana to Uekuli. More mountains ahead.
Long Live Tarmac
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12 thoughts on “Long Live Tarmac

  • March 10, 2014 at 4:57 PM

    Beautiful photographs! We’re glad to see you’re still having a ball on the road. Where’s your travels taking you after Indo? X

    • March 16, 2014 at 10:39 AM

      Back up through Southeast Asia and eventually India and Central Asia–the plan is to be back in Europe in the summer of 2016 to celebrate a decade on the road. Are you two headed down to Patagonia!

      • April 19, 2014 at 8:32 PM

        A decade! That’s so exciting. All the best for the long ride home 🙂 We’ve been diverted due to work commitments and have jumped continents. We’re in Spain at the moment heading to Barcelona before weaving our way north and finishing our travels in the UK.

  • March 10, 2014 at 9:23 PM

    We are not completely against tarmac especially at the moment when it is rainy season in Peru and the roads are a bit squishy. Just found a brilliant 54 switchback 2000m paved climb. It is quite nice to be able to look around and not have to focus on the ground in front of your wheel. Does that carousel bike have gears? H x

    • March 16, 2014 at 10:37 AM

      Oh yes, the squishy stuff is hard going–remember that from Brazil–all mud and much on the road from Guyana. Anyway, glad to hear that even the intrepid Pikes sometimes do tarmac. You two remain a great inspiration to us.

  • March 11, 2014 at 5:19 AM

    Fantastic photos Amaya. I can see how you won the photo competition in the cycle magazine. The one a day project must have paid off. Safe and happy travels. Leon

    • March 16, 2014 at 10:34 AM

      Great to hear from you, Leon! Yes, the photo project really helped discipline me to take photos regularly and I got a lot of inspiration and support from the members on project 365. A shout out to South African cyclist Leana Niemand for introducing me to the project. Hope all is well in beautiful NZ!

  • March 24, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    One more time thank you for amazing pictures and letting us get a taste of your adventures. Safe roads and friendly people all the way. Looking forward to your next post.

    Michal (Prague)

  • April 2, 2014 at 6:08 PM

    Grilled bats? Incredible!! Lovely shots.

    What you need, is a Fat Bike (-;

  • May 9, 2014 at 5:19 AM

    Absolutely loved the photos and living in Australia where I am only a short flight away, I am scheming out ways to get my bike there for a ride. I know what you mean about the bikes and noise as well. Was in Jakarta for my son’s engagement, fighting the traffic with 5 million cars and 8 millions motor bikes. Chaotic to say the least.

  • December 27, 2015 at 7:54 AM


    Fantastic blog and great pictures. I am cycling from Australia to Poland, my home. Leaving Australia soon and choosing my next country. After reading your blog Sulawesi north coast sounds really good. Got a few questions for you:
    – do you know how to get to Sulawesi from Dili (East Timor) ?
    – did you have vaccinations for Japanese Encephalitis? do you recommend getting one?
    All the best in the upcoming year 2016!


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