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.

I ask him why I have to stop, I’m indignant, and I don’t understand his answer in Indonesian. He’s asking for something and I don’t know the word in Indonesian. I pull out my passport from my top pocket and give it to him, and then start rooting around for my licence and international driver’s permit. It takes me a minute because everything is sealed in plastic sandwich bags, insurance against soaking rain. But now he’s looked at my passport, and before I can even find my licence he smiles at me and asks me how many CCs is my motorbike? I tell him, 690, and he smiles and gives me back my passport and tells me to have a safe journey. Hati-hati di jalan. I’m surprised – in my head, I’d been gearing up for all kinds of grief. But there’s none here. I’m surprised, I’m sweaty, and I ride on.

Later, I come to understand that there’s a special police blitz happening all over Sulawesi – maybe all of Indonesia – where the police simply stop everyone to check that they are licensed. My alarm was unfounded. And ultimately it seemed that the police officer had made an executive decision that pursuing the whole thing with a foreigner was not worth the trouble.

In hindsight, he was a tall, good looking young man, and he looked very sharp in his tan police uniform with flashing gold badges. I thought back to my previous interaction with a tall young man in Palopo – the pushy casanova from the breakwater – and shrugged. I guess not all tall young men from Palopo are so bad after all.

* * *

I am wildly behind schedule. Sun going down, evening food stalls appearing by the roadsides. I am on a long straight road in the midst of the evening rush as everyone goes out to get food for dinner. I don’t see any affordable guest houses where I can stop and sleep.

So I just keep riding, on and on. I’m listening to a podcast about class in Australia – about how far we are from the mythical “classless society” that politicians used to like to talk about. The main finding of the research is that the more privileged you are, the more blind you are to class. They are talking about basic things, like the kind of educational opportunities that you get as a child, and how class and race will influence those opportunities. I’m thinking about when I was 17, trying to finish highschool, and I was working shifts in a bakery to pay my rent, and some old lady came in and asked me how old I was and scolded me because I “should be home studying”. I remember wanting to scream at her, well who’s going to pay my damn rent then, missus? but I of course I didn’t because that’s too hard to explain in the time betwen slicing a loaf of bread and giving change. And I think about how lucky I was that, even though I had those struggles – even though I was actually a homeless teenage runaway – I had the intangible advantages of my mother’s manners and way of speaking, which let me pretend that I was something I wasn’t, and let me talk my way into jobs and social strata where I didn’t really belong.

Anyway, it’s a very good podcast: Class Act, by ABC Radio National. I recommend it.

Darkness falls and I keep listening, keep riding. I had meant to stop, but now, suddenly, there are no towns or villages. I am riding through mountains, dense jungle on each side, nowhere to camp. I put my spotlights on high and started to enjoy the smooth bitumen, following the sweeping white lines through the corners. I don’t usually ride at night, but this evening seems different. Peaceful. I stop looking for places to stop, and just go with it.

The only traffic on the road is the occasional expensive new Hilux. They all seemed flat out, seem to know the road.

I see a small town, a night market, stop for chicken satay, then carry on. I’m getting tired but the lake seems not that far off. Then suddenly, I see it: an unearthly red glow in the sky ahead of me. In the pitch dark of the jungle, the glow is unmissable and unnatural.

I am riding into it. It occurs to me that nobody on earth knows where I am. It would be easy to disappear into this dense black jungle, under this red sky, and no-one would ever know.

Suddenly I come over the ridge and there is – the open maw of the earth, flooded with orange light and looming superstructures. A massive mine. It goes on forever. I stop on top of a hill and look out over a glowing valley; there’s no-one around. I think of that movie Silent Hill.


Carry on. The lake should be only a little way further. I’m looking forward to pitching my tent and crawling inside. But I’m not done with the surprises for tonight. Riding along, riding along, and suddenly the road is barred by a boom gate. There are two security guards. I look at my map in surprise – this is definitely the only road to the lake, and nothing on the map suggests it’s restricted.

I come to a stop and try to think of where I’ll go now. I put up my visor to talk to the guards but then suddenly – wait, what? – they’re opening the gates and ushering me through. Huh? If they’re not meant to be keeping out random lost foreigners, I don’t know who they’re supposed to be keeping out – but anyway! It’s easier to keep riding than ask questions. Chuck her in gear, and off I go.

The mindfuck continues. I am suddenly in suburbia. AUSTRALIAN SUBURBIA. There are actual WHEELIE BINS here. Finished curbs, weatherboard houses, street lights. Hiluxes in the driveways. A mowed park with children’s play equipment. I could be in Brisbane. I could be in Queanbeyan. What is actually going on?

Well, I’ve found the lake. I’m just across the road from the houses, but there’s trees and grass. I ride the bike off the road, down to the lake’s edge. I seem to have accidentally gatecrashed a restricted gated community. Little Australia. It’s got to be full of foreigners. The security guards must have seen my foreign face and assumed that I was meant to be there.

Well, I’m not. I decide stealth camping is the order of the day. I put up my tent in the dark, stash the bike under its black cover so that no-one will see any light reflecting off it. Time to sleep. I’ll think about this in the morning.


Dawn breaks over my stealth camp. Nothing to see here.

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