Following my gut

I stayed on the beach for a few more days after the night of the fishermen. They didn’t come back to disturb me, and my sunbaked utopia stretched from aquamarine shallows to the blue midday sky. Each afternoon, cumulus clouds would bank on the western horizon, but they always vanished overnight, taking their illusion of rain with them.

The strength of the midday sun was searing, elemental. Reflecting off sea and sand, you could feel it burning your skin in realtime. As an Australian child, you are trained to fear and respect the sun in all seasons and behind clouds; but even though I buttered myself in SPF50 I could see the freckles emerging from my skin with every foray into the paradisically warm water. My back burnt lightly through the fabric of my long underlayers.

Eventually, I got hungry. Continue reading


The Matriarchy

My time at Bira Beach was peaceful; I ate fruit and drank coffee with the family at my homestay, and the father, Riswan insisted that I take his phone number when I went out riding – just in case something happened. They made sure that I ate, and suggested that if I wanted to save money, I could buy a fish from the local fishermen, and bring it home, and mother would cook it for me. Continue reading

At home in Makassar

In Makassar, I followed Google’s cyborg-voiced directions into the scrum of morning traffic.

Indonesians tell me that Makassar drivers are the most aggressive in Indonesia, and Makassar people the most likely to end up in a fight. When I was a small child, I remember my father introducing me as, ‘Grace, my youngest daughter, the one who starts bar fights’, so you’ll be surprised to learn that I never tested the fisticuffs hypothesis. However, I can confirm that Makassar drivers take no prisoners. Whereas on other islands, drivers and riders yield politely and make way for others, in Makassar every day is just a glorious new opportunity to play chicken. I adjusted my riding style accordingly.

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All aboard: Sulawesi

The stretch of sea between Java and Sulawesi is quite big, and in the rainy season, wild enough. The scheduled departure day for my ferry from Surabaya to Makassar came and went, and still the boat didn’t show up. The seas, apparently, had been rough.

Day after day, my friend Kerry would telephone the ferry company and ask when the boat might come, and when we should call back in order to be sure not to miss it. Continue reading

Sleep with the lights on

Landing in Kuala Lumpur, I am immediately assailed by vistas of glass and plastic and concrete. The airport is all bright lighting, smooth surfaces, fast food chains. Everything is in English. I am clearly lost, and nobody stops to help me.

I am in culture shock.

After so many months of easy bustle and open curiosity in Indonesia, I have a familiar feeling of isolation. The people are well dressed, I recognise all the clothing brands. Am I in Sydney? Has my old life reached out and pulled me back? Continue reading

Unspeakable Bliss

After the night in my private dungeon, I was less than refreshed but perfectly safe. Could be worse.

I dug out my cooking pots and used the communal gas ring to boil some porridge; by the time I’d managed to repack everything onto the bike, I was hungry again.

Never mind.

The sun was shining, I was back on Route 3, and within the next few towns all the traffic had gone away. The road started winding up into the hills again, cutting away from the coast, and the afternoon became grey and damp. I could see that there had been a lot of rain around here; red clay from the hillsides was slumping onto the road in places, and in others the edge of the road itself had started to fall down the hill. Areas of subsidence were marked with plastic tape if older, but if new, sometimes only with rocks and branches placed on the road ahead.

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My dungeon on Route 3

So I was in East Java, overnighting in Jember, town of clean cheap hotels and nasi rawon. The next night I wasn’t so lucky.

I’d been on Route 3 all day, the smaller road that runs along the southern coast of Java, but by afternoon the traffic had thickened to a crawl. For much of it, not even scooters could squeeze between the trucks and the oncoming traffic, and the windows of clear sight – from corner to corner – were dangerously brief. I got through, but playing cat-and-mouse with the angel of death gets tiring after a while.

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