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.
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).
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. Not 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.
You can see more bicycle touring photos of Sulawesi on the World Biking Flickr page.