Gatecrashing, stealth camping

I fuel up, and it’s hot. I’ve got a headache by the time I leave town, and now that I’m on the coast road, there’s traffic. Cars and trucks and scooters and tractors, all the these mofos in my way. I’m tired, and it’s only mid afternoon, and I’ve covered no distance at all.

Suddenly, the traffic slows into an eddy of chaos, and there are police everywhere. I try to ride through unobtrusively but a police officer sees me, indicates that I must stop. I’m not in a good frame of mind. Continue reading

Sunshine in Palopo

My second attempt to leave Tana Toraja features wild amounts of sunshine. The birds are singing, the chickens gleeful; the only reminder of yesterday’s downpour is the damp ground spongily giving way under each booted footstep. Continue reading

The broken road to perfection

Another cool morning in Tana Toraja. The house is silent – Tony is away for a few days on business – and all I can hear are the chickens under my window. I boil water and pour it over the finely powdered coffee that I’d bought in the market the previous morning; stir, and wait for it to settle as sediment in the bottom of the glass. I wonder if this is why Indonesians always drink hot coffee from glasses, rather than ceramic cups? So that you can see whether the coffee has settled – and, as you finish it, when your lips are approaching the sediment zone?

This coffee is rich and dark, full bodied but not bitter; grown up here in the coolness of altitude with the gift of volcanic soil. As I travel through Indonesia, I always try to buy fresh coffee in the local markets, chasing the particular flavours of each region. The highlands of Tana Toraja, Sumatra and Timor produce wonderful toasty flavours that make you happy to be alive; Continue reading

Kete Kesu: A long passing on

The Toraja people are known for their elaborate funerary rites. It can take years to prepare and complete all the proper ceremonies to lay a relative to rest and release the soul from the body. Until this is done, they are described as sick, and the slowly mummifying body is cared for like a living person. After the massive and elaborate funeral – often years later – the mummified deceased are interred in carved ossuaries clinging to the cliffs and caves that tower over the village.

The people go and visit their ancestors there. Gradually the ancestors become bones, skeletons. Over the centuries, wood will disintegrate and bones will spill out. They are sometimes gathered up again, skulls placed in rows; other times, the bones are allowed to remain in place, tangled, distinctly human.

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That time I offended a whole village

Okay so here’s how it goes.

I’m riding through southern Sulawesi, heading for the mountains in the middle of the island – windy roads. As always I’m chasing the smallest lines on the map. It’s beautiful, I get up higher, the air is cooler and I’m riding through rice paddies. The road is this skinny concrete causeway between the flooded fields, with a few houses and palm trees perched on the raised earth.

The fields are rectangular, but not lined up in a grid, so the road dead-ends and right-angles at the corner of each field. Pay attention or you’ll end up in the mud.

Sun’s shining. Bike’s thumping along. I’m happy. Continue reading

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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