Sulawesi- Land of the Toraja


The next step in our Indonesian journey is to get to the island of Sulawesi. We have been told the ferry leaves every Tuesday a 1300 for Bira and that we should be at the terminal at 9, so we showed up at 830. It is a bit confusing, but there is a small sign on the main road before the main terminal, which directs you right on a dirt road thru a construction site to the ASDP dock.

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Here there are dozens of bikes parked, a few cars, and some small trucks. The ticket office is off to the right and we had scouted this out last week. We arrived and confirmed the boat is going today at 1300 and we can buy tickets at 10. You can not pre buy tickets at the terminal or on line. This is because the staff on the ferry actually come off and sell the tickets after they dock. There is some mayhem as the ferry to near by Bima leaves daily at 9 and most people are going there.




The Bira ferry docked at 930 and people  poured off. The unloading took 2 hours as they would drive empty buses and small trucks onboard and load them with cargo from the deck. Then vehicle came off packed to the rafters and with towers of stuff on the roofs. Jo a rider from Jakarta also showed up to get in line. He had hedged his bets as he was not sure he could get a ticket and he left all his gear at his hostel. Finally at 10 they started selling tickets for the sailing. You have to buy 2 the first to Pulau Jampea and the second from there to Bira.

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After the ticket sales started the foot passengers and moto-riders all went on board to claim their spot for the night. We had planned to ask the crew for a bunk room and so waited until we were allowed to board with the bikes. We finally loaded after 1.





They crammed all the vehicles into the rear of the ship. We were asked to park as close to the wall as possible and so close Sara had to put a piece of cardboard between her pannier and the wall. We did the tying down, but several crew members came to check on it.






Sara went upstairs to check on Jo (on the very top deck at a table under the shade cover) and see what was up (not a place we wanted to be as it was too exposed and would be the most sea sick inducing for the 26 hour trip).




EVERY surface that was flat was covered with people and their luggage on the 2 upper decks and the tops of the main car deck cargo areas. There are several hundred humans on board and bunk beds for about 60. There are people lying on every floor surface except small walkways. It is insane with the screaming babies, loud music, smoking, and roosters crowing. (They actually had cock fighting and gambling on deck in the middle of the night). The place is already a mess from the voyage over. The bathrooms however were quite clean as they are squat toilets with bucket for flush. People actually were “showering” in here and so it was very wet, but clean. They also leave there shoes outside , which helps.







Sara managed to get one of the crew to rent us a 3 berth bunk room for the 26 hour trip (for way too much, but with very cent). This had clean linens and air con! But best of all did not smell like goat urine from the trucks full of goats and was nearly silent except for mild engine noise. We even had a port hole.





It would have  been a very difficult crossing if we had to sit on our chairs on the deck in the garbage and animal mess. In fact we had a pretty good night. We bought the usual instant noodles for lunch and watched the craziness going on around us.

We were needless to say the only foreigners on board and quite a novelty. When Dan went up to the toilet the men in line for “showers” let him to the front of the line. We were up at 4 am when we docked at Pulau Jampea and Dan went out to buy some rice, noodles, and chicken in wax paper packs from one of the ladies that came on board to sell them. We also could get pretty good hot coffees. The sea was a bit rough on the way here and Sara did sleep well with some Gravol. We ate our meals after 9am  and then relaxed in our sanctuary.








At 3 our ship tied up beside another ship that was already docked in the birth at Bira and was almost fully loaded and all our foot passengers climbed off the upper deck onto the main dock itself.


We had to wait until this other ferry was loaded and left the only docking station. We finally were almost off after 26 hours, but the truck blocking us in was dead and they had to push it off.





Then we rode toward the main road to meet up with Jo for a photo and to say goodbye. We will stay here near Bira tonight and head west on the coastal route towards Makassar, while he will go up the east coast a bit today.






Our plan on Sulawesi

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Makassar is only 189 km from Bira, but google says it takes 5 hours….should be lots of traffic then? There are a lot more Muslims here so far than we have seen on Timor or Flores (where they were very sparse) and so a lot of Mosques.

Off the ferry we had just a few km to ride. Arriving to the guest house we were already very hot after just 30 min in the suits. We had our cold water only shower and then walked down to the beach. Several people asked to have their photo taken with us?! The tide is out and all the boats are beached! The sand is white, but has a clay like feel. It is pretty humid here and so after a quick meal we retreated to our fan and air con.






A Christian kids camp retreat at a nearby hotel provided some good clean entertainment while we had dinner in the restaurant with a few of the locals.




We had a “halal” breakfast of deep fried brewed plantains and donuts and coffee so strong it was thick with grounds we had to let them settle.

We set out a bit late at 9 and headed back to the road thru Bira the 189 km to Makassar.

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Initially there was little traffic and we headed north west and along the sea. There is a history of boat building here and there are quite a few on the shore between the garbage!


There then was a lot of vehicles and almost constant urbanization and a stream of traffic. Several of the villages had roadside hand pumps with regular benzene. We also passed many villages drying the seaweed from the nearby beaches.

We also saw the greenest rice  fields  so far. This 39 km to the main road at Jalan Poros took 90 minutes. It included 30 minutes at the gas station waiting in line at the 2 pumps that were in use. We passed other stations later during the day and though not as bad all had lines. There is no gas in Bira except from water bottles on the side of the road.






On the main road the traffic was almost constant, but mostly moving. The flow is hampered by cars driving  for some reason at 20 km per hour that need passing, but there is an oncoming stream of vehicles as well. There are slow moving scooters and tuk tuks and horse drawn carts as well. Add to this scooter boys who think they are in the moto GP in passing close to you in both directions and the cars oncoming who are often half in your lane. We have an aggressively defensive style that serves us well in this situation and though intense we survived unscathed. We passed huge salt farms as well.





We stopped at 1300 after 4 hours and only 90 km for lunch of fried chicken!


The traffic after entering the city was actually much better as there were finally 2 lanes. Because of Ramadan the hotels are empty and we could get a room at the 4 points Sheraton for 45$. We paid more for the sketch cold shower no flush toilet place in Bira. They have a nice pool area on the 9 th floor and even their own mosque. We had a simple dinner in the hotel restaurant.



We had been contacted by a local rider Aditya, who had seen our friend Jo’s post on What’s app Overland Indonesia thread. Jo was letting people know to watch out for us. Actually Orvar is on this stream and so even he was sending us messages about this guy looking for us.

We had only planned one night here, but we could not miss the opportunity to join in the annual Hari Lebaran celebration to mark the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. On the first day of Lebaran you go from house to house of the senior relatives. We had a convoy of 10 vehicles. Aditya with  his wife Isti, and the very cute Mika chauffeured  us all day. You greet everyone with “Selamat Aidil Fitri”. We were warmly welcomed by the entire family and fed very well at each of the 6 stops. This was a very special day for us to experience!






We did not eat dinner of course, but met up with Aditya, Isti, and Mika for breakfast. Well at least we ate as they are parents and up at 630 so have eaten, plus it is day 2 of Lebaran and they have a lot of food to get thru again today! He also took us to a station that sold 98 octane and also on the route out of town.


We are headed north, but by the central route that is supposed to have less traffic and also leads us to the Toraja region with its unique culture. The plan it to get 193 km to the lake at Singkang.

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We set out on the main road north in fairly light traffic. The turn off is about 28 km from the hotel.


The traffic here is worse actually and this was accentuated when we hit the curvy tight road up over the mountains. There are swarms of scooters who pass dangerously and we are stuck behind a line of 10 cars behind an old man driving the corners at 16 km per hour. It took over 20 minutes for us to get past him.




The rest of the day at least we made 45-50 km/hr. The middle section of the road is more sweeping curves, but the last is much straighter and we made better time. We stopped after 2 1/2 hours and 90 km for a drink and then made the last 90 km in 1 1/2 hours.





We arrived to the town of Singkang and there was quite a bit of traffic jam, which was so awesome in the heat. The first hotel we tried was sold out, but luckily the second had a room left. It is petty intense riding with all the noise and honking and people parked in the middle of the road and the scooters whizzing past. We did not get lunch and both the restaurants near by are closed due to the holiday. In the end it was ramen in the room and a roll of Oreos. There was some riveting TV from Mecca!


We had breakfast at the hotel and there were actually other foreigners, which we have not seen in ages. Today we are going to the culturally unique Torajan Area.

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The first order of business for the day was to find the ATM type that works for our card and this was easy as we passed one after 5 minutes. Then to buy gas. This was easy, but they only had 88 octane “premium” and no pertomax or max turbo (92 or 95). It was ok as we have a half tank of turbo. The first 64 km to Rupang took 3 hours as it was a continuous line of traffic and was exhausting.

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We stopped here for a cold drink and then headed north with much less traffic and especially very few scooter maniacs. The road condition is pretty good in most places except in the towns. This is a mostly Christian area and there are a lot of churches.





We entered the Toraja region  and the traffic was thicker again. We had booked into a home stay in a traditional Torajan house, but found that her google listing, her bookings listing, and are all incorrect. After 45 min of driving around very hot, tired and extremely frustrated we finally called her for instructions. These were go south to the Catholic church and turn right and go across the bridge and then turn left and then turn past the restaurant. This was all good until the turn left at the bridge… this leads down a one lane road to nowhere and then deteriorated into a track and we turned back. Another call to the owner and a “meet us at the bridge”. She rode up on a scooter “a right turn” off the bridge. Seriously we are pissed and hot and tired. Luckily for her she is a very nice woman and the house is very cool. She must know her listings are wrong since she gave us the GPS coord some other travelers gave her, but a bit late now. That said she served us tea and sesame cookies and then we had a nap before dinner. This was a very nice home cooked meal on our patio.










We have a lot of sights we want to see here and they are quite spread out, poorly signed, and involve a lot of walking around = do not want to deal with the bikes and the gear. We hired a driver for the whole day for about 45$ Canadian. Papa Dia arrived as we were having breakfast and then we set out for the  day.

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Our first stop was the Water Buffalo market in Bori  and we had been told there was a traditional death ceremonial sacrifice today. We rode up the narrow winding back road thru the lush green rice paddies.


There was quite a  crown at the even, but we were the only foreigners. There are 20 or so Buffalo here and they are going about spraying them with letters with a can of spray paint.




After quite a lot of discussion most of the animals were led out, but 4 remained. There was a procession of 8-10 men that splashed water from a bamboo tube on the back of the animal and then a spear was tapped on the haunch.




In the centre of the ring 2 men were banging in posts that looked like they were to tie the animals to. This is what did happen and one was lashed by its forefoot to the posts. Suddenly the man slashed his throat (not well enough) and the scene was quite graphic with spurting blood and the poor creature jumping and staggering. The job was poorly done as he trashed about and fell and then rose and fell and trashed about some more, which was impossible to watch. Families are all here to watch this even with children. I did not watch the next, but Dan said that the cut was much deeper and the animal looks to have died quite quickly. He did however have to watch his fellow suffer a few minutes before! It was actually pretty horrific. We had seen enough and left. Driving past later we  saw that they were butchering all 4 animals right there. NOTE GRAPHIC PHOTOS BELOW!





We drove up the road to Kalimbuang where they have standing stones. Each represents a death and most of them from higher society. There are some stone stair cases from the main area and these lead to ancient graves that are carved into man made caves in the rocks.












From here we droves south again to the burial caves at Londa. There was quite a traffic jam and on this narrow road a tight squeeze.



Here you can see the cliff face from the viewpoint and then when you get close you can see the coffins and bones. There are also quite a few effigies. The caves itself have ancient and new (2 months old) burials.













The next stop was at Leno where they have a lot of cliff burial and a huge number of effigy.









From here we droves almost back to Makale and then up the mountain to the Jesus statue. The traffic was mayhem and people  were parked on both sides of the narrow road up the tight switch backs and some were double parked. There are a huge number of people here at the mountain top with the massive Jesus Christos on top. They seem more interested in us a many came running up and asked us is they could take a photo with us. We also had a very nice school group that wanted to practice there English with us (they did very well).






Back at the car Dan and I had to block traffic in both direction mostly for the unruly scooter kids so the driver could turn his car around. We headed back down the mountain and then up into the village of Kambira to see the ancient baby graves in the tree trunks.




It is now after 4 and we are pretty tired and so we skipped the last stop on my agenda and headed home. This still took and hour to go 18 km on the narrow back road as we were slowed by cars parked on the verge inhibiting the flow of the 2 way traffic on the 1 lane road, the scooters, and the pretty poor road condition. This did give us lots of opportunity to hop out for photos though.





It is Monday today and we confirmed  today with Aditya that the ferry from Pula to Balikpopan on Borneo does go twice a week on Tuesday and Saturday at 2200 h and it takes 22 hours (oh Joy). Pula or the ferry dock just north  is 567 km from here and at our pace of 200 km per day taking 7 hours this is 3-4 days, which puts us there Friday June 22 (6 year anniversary of our trip and 21 of our wedding).

The plan today was to ride about 1/3 of the way to the ferry and this would be about 200 km. Based on where we can get accommodation this would be 180 km in M where there is 1 Hotel Sikumbang.

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Setting out from our Torajan house at 830 we had about 2 km to back track down the 1 lane back road thru the rice fields and then across the bridge.



This dumps you on the main road, which is a steady stream of traffic in both directions. This is made worse by several buses, slow trucks, the usual people parked on the road, and washed out pavement sections. Luckily we only have about 8 km of this to get thru the town of T and turn towards W.


Once we were away from the city there was less and less traffic all day.


The first section rises up over the mountains and we were not impeded on the way up as we had passed several slow moving lines and a particularly slow truck and this gave us smooth sailing ahead.


This lasted until about 15 km from Palopo when we ran into a few difficult to pass vehicles on the down side. One especially unfriendly bus driver purposefully would block the lane when there was a place we could pass. Dan eventually got by and then basically stopped on the road so the bus would have to let me by on the corner! Once we arrived to Palopo we made the left turn and the road was wide sweeping turns or basically straight. The traffic began to really thin especially the number of scooters.  We had taken 90 minutes to go the first 65 km to Palopo, but once passed here we got up some speed and even spent time over 80! I have not been in 6 th gear since I arrived to Indonesia.


We made great time and arrived to our destination at Tomoni at 1330. It a pretty hot humid day and we decided to push on the 2 hours and 76 km to Pindolo on the lake.

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This means another mountain to cross, but also some cooler temperatures. The road up is steep and switchbacks with a lot of disrupted and heaved up pavement on some of the hair pins, which were a challenge at times. We managed to pass a number of trucks and cars and then one final long line of vehicles following a very big slow truck and then we basically had a free run the rest of the way. It started to rain about half way and at the 1 hour mark and this did slow us down a bit especially on the dirty corners. The sun was out on the far side and there is about 20 km of new road to the town of Pindolo . Here there is one hotel on the lake and we are the only guests. It is still the holiday week and most Muslims will be home with family and the hotels are empty. There are 2 small beds with foam mats, cold shower only and a bucket flush toilet. No sink oddly enough! They did however make us some sate for dinner. We were exhausted and asleep by just after 9. Dan was awake at 2 am reading and I was awoken by the torrential rain.






Not sure how far we can make it today. The weather forecast is not that good and Pula where the ferry sails from is a 7 hour trip on google! There are a few hotel in Tolai in 213 km.

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We woke up after a 10 hour sleep to cloudy skies. Our breakfast was “crepes” which were ok but not that filling. We headed out of town north again and there is almost no traffic. The initial terrain is flat along the lake and then it climbs over the first of the ranges. We had few vehicles to deal with passing on the curvy road.





We had a brief 15 min of heavy rain, but welcomed the soaking as then we had some air cooling. In the rain shadow on the down side it was sunny and we stopped in Ratodena at the far end of the lake for gas and to check the oil. The bikes have been burning oil lately and we are having to top them up. Dan however had found a trick to deal with his valve issue. If he rocks the bike before he starts it it fires right up. Yeah its not the starter!


Leaving town you have to head back towards the black rain cloud an this time we donned the rain jackets as it was very heavy for about 20 minutes.


The road turns north again along the big northern Sulawesi peninsula. Here we again had almost no traffic, but we did have some vehicles to pass on the next mountain section, but at least it was dry.




We made for Poso at the coast this 106 KM took us 2 hours. Dan found a Warung to have some lunch of spicy chicken, vegetable soup, curried fish and rice (4.50$). Lunch what a novel concept, but after the crepes we would need a real meal breakfast bars and Pocky like yesterday would not do. We had 107 km to go at 1230 after lunch and was a hot, but easy ride as there was still few other vehicles except scooters. The road is windy, but wider and more high speed.


Arriving to Tolai we checked out the hotel we had seen on Google and it was simple, but comfortable.

Now to make for Palu in 114 km, the town where the ferry will leave in 2 days time.

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The forecast was for it to be pouring by 10. When we set out it was sunny, but it was actually still raining on us from some cloud near by.



The road goes up the coast for 46 km until Toboli and is 4 lane divided for a while. It then turns west over the mountains. We were very lucky as we passed 6-7 very slow (12 km/hr) moving big trucks near then beginning, which were not too difficult to pass and then we had just a few cars the rest of the 43 km.

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At the cross road we turned north to where the port was listed on Google. We “chatted” to the guys there and then one drove up on a scooter who spoke some English. He said we needed to go “towards the city 9 km and turn left before the bridge”.


Well at least we got the 9 km back part. We actually crossed the bridge and at the next light we stopped on the side of the road. A minute later a man who was actually a port customs agent pulled up and asked what we were looking for. When we said the Balikpapan ferry he said to go back and then lead us there! He also went into the ticket office to help Dan get information. We confirmed the ferry leaves in 2 day on June 23 and they say at 1900. We have to be there at 1400! We think it loads at 1900 and leaves at 2200.



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Then we made for the city and they only decent hotel we could find to spend out anniversary The Best Western. Well it is nice to have a western standard hotel.

It is super hot here and we did not venture too far from the hotel. We dropped the laundry just up the street.


On the way there was a small kiosk with a line up and several GRAB moto taxi guys waiting to delivery from the Banana Bim. These are deep fried banana fritters covered in various sauces! We chose chocolate and peanuts. WOW amazing.





Also near by was this restaurant with good food some very friendly staff.


We also found a Yamaha shop near by to but some oil for the bikes. Both have been burning some more oil recently, but the 650 is a real issue. HMMMM!

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