I could have happily idled away many more days at Ibu Salma’s house, watching the children run wild and eating oranges under the mango tree.
But eventually the road called to me and I packed panniers again.
Pak gifted me a thick balaclava to keep me warm when I got to the Himalayas. Ibu Salma, my compatriot in coffee drinking, filled a small glass bottle with sweet coffee to give me energy along the way. I packed that little bottle carefully, and it became a morning ritual that would make me think of Ibu Salma every day: make my morning coffee, and make an extra cup, and pour it into the little glass bottle for morning tea somewhere down the road.
And then I was gone. Back on the road, listening to music inside my helmet, eating up the sweet bitumen curves as I made my way back to the coast. I had been warned about the next stretch of road – once I got back to the coast, and turned left to head south towards Kolaka. For that stretch of the road, around Tolala, I was warned not to stop for anything or more especially, for anyone. Why, I asked? Because there are bad people there, I was told. What do you mean? People who have no jobs, they are are lazy, they will rob you, I was told.
So I didn’t linger by the roadsides, and all I saw was jungle giving way to coconut palms, and empty road. It was peaceful. The further south I rode – descending the south-eastern arm of the island – the more I got a sense that this was a forgotten part of Sulawesi. On the western side of Sulawesi, there are lively currents of goods and people travelling between the big cities of Makassar in the south and Manado in the far north. But here in the south eastern arm – it’s not on the way to anywhere, really. Indonesia is known for having one of the highest population densities in the world, but not here.
I passed several fuel stations that day, and all but one were preceded by a queue of abandoned vehicles and scooters that stretched out of the driveway and along the road. There was no fuel. People had queued their vehicles and left them there, and would return when the next tanker arrived, whenever that was.
There is an Australian ballad which opines that ‘there is nothing so lonesome or drear / than to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer’, but I’ve got to say, the petrol station with no fuel is pretty sad too. There was no-one around; just abandoned vehicles and padlocked pumps. Clearly no one expected the tanker anytime soon.
This wasn’t an immediate problem for me: the roadside vendors still had fuel to sell in their glass 1L bottles. Most of them were out of the cheaper RON 87 – the yellow one – but there were still bottles of the greeny-blue Pertamax, RON 92 for when you’re feeling fancy . It was available at a mark-up, and I was lucky because I could afford to pay it.
I was also lucky to have the best fuel filters money can buy.
There’s a certain technique to decanting a litre of fuel from a glass bottle as quickly as possible. What you do is swirl the liquid around until it forms a vortex, and then you upend the bottle into the fuel tank quickly. Air is sucked up the middle of the vortex and the fuel dumps out in a matter of seconds.
As you do this – as you swirl the fuel around to create the vortex – you get an excellent view of all the particles and chunky bits that you find floating around in these roadside fuel bottles. And in those moments I mentally thank Guglielmo in Italy for his dogged passion for designing filtration media. At times like this, the Guglatech filters in my fuel tank are really the only things keeping me on the road, instead of spending half my life trying to back-flush a blocked injector beside the highway. KTM injectors just don’t tolerate chunky fuel.
As it is, I just dump whatever fuel is available into my tank, and waltz on down the coast. Peace of mind is a beautiful thing.
* * *