We made it (to our own great amazement)!

A whopping 3,563 kilometers around just one of Indonesia’s 18,307 islands. In comparison, London to Istanbul measures 2,994 kilometers.  Maine to Florida just 2,560 kilometers.

So we’ve covered a lot of kilometers on Sulawesi.  Most of them pretty painful.  I figure we had 3 days of relatively flat cycling.

Only in the Andes have we struggled so much.  Though I must say high altitude passes are far easier in one key respect: there’s a natural  drive and determination to get to the top.

Sulawesi, with its never-ending succession of hills, cheated us of the thrill of reaching the summit.

The terrain constantly tricked and teased us.  Sapped us of energy and resolve. After an hour grinding our way up an impossibly steep hill, we’d be forced to fly down to a river crossing only to be faced with another equally steep climb up to 300 or 400 meters.

I know, that probably doesn’t sound so difficult.  Just some short climbs, Amaya, stop your whining.  That’s what you’re probably thinking.

Well, it was tough.  Trust me.  Really, really tough.  By the end of the day, we could easily wring out a liter of sweat from our jerseys.

This was one of those roads that started out pretty good and got progressively worse. By the end it was like cycling on a dry river bed with a 25% grade. Big rocks. loose dirt… not a whole lot of fun.
This is a pretty stretch of road near Lake Matano, depth 590 meters. It’s the deepest Lake in Indonesia and the 10th deepest lake in the world. There’s a big nickel mine nearby, run by a Brazilian firm. We were told this road would be 100% flat! HAH! It twists it’s way through the mountains as you can see.
A nice stretch of forest near the town of Beteleme.

Enough is Enough

I won’t go so far as saying we regret the last couple of weeks.  No, the landscapes continued to amaze and delight us.  Primeval forests, rugged coastal riding and more fabulous Sulawesi sunrises.  Who could complain about that?

But we might have been better off ending our tour one month back, in Manado.  Back then we were still in the throes of the honeymoon stage.

Thoughts when everything is fresh and new:

These climbs sure are a fun challenge!  I must be getting stronger every day.

Look at those kids shouting hysterically at us… they’re so cute and energetic!

Yum!  This fried rice is such a delicious improvement from the food in the Philippines.

How nice…the locals want to have a photo with us.  And they’re so interested in our tour—asking all those questions.

Thoughts after 2 months on Sulawesi:

These climbs are torture.  Please, cycling gods, afflict my bicycle with an irreparable breakdown so we can hitch a ride and end this torment.

If one more kid shouts ‘Hello Mister’ and stares at me like a monkey in a zoo I just might explode.  Please, cycling gods, don’t allow the little monsters out to recess today.

What, instant noodles, again?  Please, cycling gods, don’t they grow vegetables on this island?  Send me a carrot, a potato, anything.

If one more jerk lays on the horn when he passes, I swear I’ll lob a great big stone through his windshield.  And don’t you dare ask me where I’m going.  It’s none of your damn business.  A photo?  Forget it.

Have we gone mad?

Of course, we never acted on any of these evil thoughts.  But they were there.  Even if only fleetingly.  An appallingly bad attitude, I admit it.  I chalk it up mostly to physical exhaustion.  And tensions caused by lack of privacy.

I realize now that being under constant scrutiny is a source of intense stress for me (less so for Eric—he lives in his own world and is not really bothered by the eyes of others).

It’s quite natural that people are curious when they spot foreigners riding bikes in a remote place that sees very few visitors.  We understand this.  But it’s still hard, after a long and exhausting day on the bikes, to pose for photos with complete strangers and answer the same 3 questions for the umpteenth time.

We’re used to garnering attention.  This happens to us all over the world from Ethiopia to Australia. But Sulawesi has been the hardest yet to deal with.  The concept of privacy appears to be a rather foreign concept.

  • Women have walked in on me as I was bathing (no lock on the door, but they knew I was in there).
  • Strangers rifle through our panniers just to see what’s inside (just curious–I’m certain they didn’t want to steal anything).
  • Crowds of 20 -30 regularly gather to watch the spectacle of foreigners preparing fried instant noodles with eggs (I don’t really mind since there’s actually something going on, but they crowd in suffocatingly close– within inches).
A stopped to snap some pictures of boats and a crowd quickly gathered around Eric. The maps are always a big draw and a good subject for chit-chat.

Villagers still work hard and sweat and suffer under the unforgiving tropical sun. I often feel as though I have more of a shared reality with these people than the city folk who speed by in air-conditioned comfort

Spectators at our evening cooking show! A satisfied crowd from all indications. Surprising, given the fact that all we prepared was fried instant noodles with egg. In fact this was probably our best school stay ever. The kids took me down to the river in the afternoon and helped me wash clothes. In the evening they came back with their English books and did a little revision. It was a wonderful time sharing, not just being observed like a strange alien creature.

The Best (and worst) for Last!

We love a good long climb up into the mountains.  And that’s just what we got on our final days in Sulawesi.  A beautiful ride up to the hill station of Malino at around 1,300 meters.  Now that was a FUN climb.   We trundled up gentle grades past patchwork gardens of strawberries, carrots and cabbages. Old men with weathered faces tended fat cows with big bells and women in bright floral print dresses hawked vegetables from tidy roadside stalls.

The crisp, cool air had an invigorating effect after the sultry lowlands.

All was well until the first flat.  And then the second.  And the third. After that the fourth, fifth and sixth in quick succession.  Finally, my bottom bracket busted.

Probably a dose of bad karma.   Pay back for all those uncharitable thoughts we’d been entertaining a few days back.

We limped into Makassar.  But we made it under our own steam.  And that’s what counts.

The region between Sinjai and Malino reminds me a bit of northern Luzon, in the Philippines. OK, the scenery is more spectacular in the Philippines but the terraced rice fields are still very beautiful on Sulawesi.
This was the first nice produce we’d seen in a long time.
A great selection of veggies near the top of the climb at Tombolo, way up at 1,300 meters.
Lucky I was riding slow because this one popped pretty fast.
This was the final puncture before reaching Makassar. Not a good spot for repairs because there was a rock quarry just down the road and trucks blasted past continuously. Hats off to Eric for all his patience in getting the bikes back in working order. All I did was keep watch on the traffic.
I try to forget about the mechanical difficulties and remember the quiet roads around Malino–almost felt like we were cycling Europe.
This was one of the three relatively flat days of cycling. Definitely enjoyed the ease of spinning my wheels without a 20% grade.
My best memories of Sulawesi will be setting off just before sunrise. The day was full of promise and the world never looked so beautiful.

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We made It (but just barely)!
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14 thoughts on “We made It (but just barely)!

  • March 29, 2014 at 2:59 PM

    Congratulations for A not jacking it in B not killing anyone. I too loathe lots of ups and downs and much prefer a 2000m climb although 2000m descents are a bit chilly.
    p.s I too am curious to know what is in your panniers and if you turned your back for a moment I too would rifle through them!

    • March 29, 2014 at 10:32 PM

      Even I’m not completely sure what’s tucked inside of Eric’s weighty panniers. I do know that when my bottom bracket broke Eric magically produced a spare.

  • March 29, 2014 at 3:28 PM

    I’ll bet that veggie stall looked like a glimpse of Heaven. Beautiful.

    • March 29, 2014 at 10:28 PM

      And to think you just have to step out the front door for fresh veggies!

  • March 29, 2014 at 10:14 PM

    Ha Indonesia, reading this brought back memories not all good shame really we ended up so happy to leave the place and go to Malaysia because of the attention that we got with the two motor bikes.

    stay safe

    • March 29, 2014 at 10:29 PM

      So glad somebody can relate! After this Sulawesi tour I fully comprehend why some stars go berserk on the paparazzi who stalk them.

  • March 30, 2014 at 12:08 AM

    Love your shots. Beautiful! How did sulawesi compare with sumatra? We found riding there very hard with steep hills and untold climbs in the Highlands. We wanted that though. Were people pushier than in sumatra?

    • April 3, 2014 at 1:46 AM

      Just an entry level Nikon DSLR–the D3100 plus I’ve got A tamron 18-250 telephoto lens(got it cheap second hand in Seoul). Would like to switch to a wide angle lens for better landscape photos–hope to pick one up second hand in Bangkok.

      The Tamron performs poorly under low light conditions (and I like early morning photos)

  • April 17, 2014 at 3:50 AM

    Hi guys,
    Amaya, it is actualy relieving to read somebody can have negative feelings as it come to cycling environment so to say.. I’ve heard similar opinions and this is why Idid not put Indonesia on my “first to go cycling” list. Not to suffer every day, tht’s not why I travel by bike for.
    Wish you a lot of strength and see you somewhere!

    regards from Yunnan, China.

    • April 23, 2014 at 12:42 AM

      Gosh, I didn’t mean to diss Indonesia so much! It can actually be a wonderful place for bicycle touring. Sulawesi was tough, but ultimately I don’t regret it. Of course I say that sitting here in a luxurious Jakarta apartment (swimming pool, servants and million dollar view of the city lights). Time and distance change everything.

  • May 1, 2015 at 12:31 PM

    Hey Eric and Amaya,

    Thanks for the informative and inspirational website! I found your post while researching my route through Kalimantan and Sulawesi. I have to say that I agree with you regarding the hills in Kalimantan, those were some of the steepest I have encountered, however I found Sulawesi almost flat compared the terrain between Tarakan and Balikpapan Kalimantan. Anyhow good luck and hopefully we will cross paths soon!




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