Even in paradise, the world eventually reaches you.

I knew that the coronavirus would be in Indonesia long before its presence was recorded. In the villages, people simply become ill and die. Dengue, typhoid, bacterial pneumonia, septicaemia, influenza, caronavirus – in most cases, you will never know which one.

At first I heard rumours of the virus in Sumatra, far to the west. For a long time, though, the official numbers remained zero, because who was testing?


I picnicked on a remote beach in central Sulawesi.


Just me and my motorcycle, and then an extended family who arrived to spend the morning at the beach.


The kids and women all splashed in the perfect shallows, and later an enormous spread of food emerged from carefully packed containers – home cooked yellow rice, chicken and vegetables and sambal, fresh tempeh fried with chili jam.


As ever in Sulawesi, I was immediately adopted. The kids wanted me to play a crazy game of marine dodgeball, and grandma kept telling me to eat more, eat more until I needed a siesta solely for the purposes of digestion.

It was like the last days of summer – idyllic, bountiful. Characterised by generosity and joy and sharing.


Tragically, the virus was coming to turn all these acts of kindness into vectors of disease.

* * *

I watched the borders closing all over Asia, day by day. The provinces and cities and towns all starting to lock down.

It is not the time to be travelling overland: I am not especially concerned for myself, but of course I am concerned for others. For the elderly; for the medically vulnerable; for the poor. It is a time to be patient.

The world is locking down, and so I must choose where – and with whom – I want to be locked down while we wait for this to pass.

Everyone talks of “going home”. In the cities, the people talk of going back to their villages, back to their kampung halaman. I understand the impulse, but I worry that they – the young people, the workers – will bring the disease back to their old people. Perhaps it is better to stay away.

The foreigners, too, talk of ‘going home’. Everyone is scrambling for international flights, frightened and frustrated as they struggle to be allowed to traverse the world again, in reverse. Back to where you came from. Back to the theoretical comfort of world class healthcare, a public hospital with an ICU. The Australian and New Zealand governments have both told their citizens to ‘come home’ immediately, issued warnings against all international travel. This means my health and accident insurances are completely void. I am on my own.

So of course, people ask me if I am going to go home, and this is the point where you start to see the difference between taking a holiday, or a trip, and choosing a different life: I have no home to go back to.

Since the day I rode out of Sydney three years ago, I have never been back. My resources are limited, but moreover they are focussed on the road ahead. On fuel in the tank, on food in my belly, on buying time and buying kilometres. I am all in.

So now the world’s temperature is rising. When I signed up for an adventure, I didn’t imagine that this is how things would transpire; but I signed up for everything, whatever may come, and it turns out that this is it.

So I checked flights, and I checked the fast-changing border regulations. And I flew into Thailand to wait it out.

* * *

Flying in the time of Covid-19 is a reality check. I came from a place where everything felt normal – the people on the streets, the food in the restaurants, ordinary chaos. But once you enter the airport you feel the apprehension. The halls are deserted, the shops shuttered. Everyone you see is wearing a mask, tense. The flights are mostly empty.

As ever, it is the poor people will be most harshly impacted, but now it is the rich people who are the most afraid. The poor are accustomed to dying from infectious disease; the rich have grown conceited and think we are above such deaths. The novel coronavirus reminds us that we are not.

* * *

I am separated from my bike, but only by a little distance, a short flight. Now is not the time to be riding from place to place. She is locked up, securely. As the weeks go by, I will have problems with paperwork for the bike, and visas for me. I will endeavour to resolve them. Better this, than clamouring for shipping and paperwork and long haul flights, and trying to cross districts and islands and borders now, when what we all need is to be calm and quiet and still.

I remain in Asia, and we will wait it out together.

* * *

In the meantime, I have so many stories to tell, which I have not told yet. More stories of Sulawesi. I ride faster than I tell write; so now that I am still, let me tell you more of those stories that have nothing to do with a pandemic. Let me tell you stories that have nothing to do with global disruption, selfishness, hoarding, contagion or despair. Let me remind you of this beautiful world, which is waiting for us all to explore again.


10 thoughts on “Paradise Lost

  1. Elliot says:

    Beautiful and deeply touching.

  2. Daniel Ankenbrandt says:

    Well written and look forward to the “other stories”
    Be safe

  3. Bec Nugent says:

    Great writing Ms G – hells bells, has it really been 3 years !? I’ve laughed and cried all the way… from the simple beginnings of laying out “stuff” & packing choices, riding to your dad’s place, the roos, dogs & other animals, breaking & fixing things, getting stuck & getting help, rain, heat, the joy of an orange or cold beer… sore eyes & homesickness , the beautiful people you’ve met (and the #wits) … the thousands of unique moments, good, bad, ugly & scary moments and, all wrapped up in spectacular sights, sounds & smells… forever etched.
    Now as you take shelter , waiting for the latest virus to pass you by, we wait with you… stay alert & keep well xx

    1. Bec that was an awesome recap, thank you for taking me back down through the memories too… wow some stuff has happened hasn’t it! Sometimes I look at my motorbike parked on a strange beach in Asia and remember the day I bought it from a bloke in Queensland, and think to myself damn girl you’ve come a long way!! Maybe not so much in miles but certainly in living. 🙂 Thank you for living this journey vicariously with me!

      May all this craziness touch you and your family gently. More stories to come 🙂

  4. Clint says:

    Ahhh Miss Grace, your writing has indeed achieved the relaxed flow of your chosen lifestyle. Camille and I just finished yesterday’s “4 Thoughts…”, and we long for more. Camille especially requests video of the trip across the backbone and down toward the dive area. She was never a knee dragger, but as you swooped and swerved through the last video we watched, I noticed her trying to look “farther left or right” to see the scenery beyond the turn. She also enjoyed the false diziness generated by all that swooping and swerving.
    Clint and Camille

    1. Camille, that was absolutely my favourite part of Sulawesi – you keep coming over the crest of a hill and just seeing coconut palms and white beaches out to your left, with the setting sun turning everything a dusty gold. Glad to hear that you’re coping with the vertigo induced by the movement of the video camera on my helmet, I haven’t made the giant investment into gimbals and drones etc which produce an undoubtedly more watchable video quality, but I just love to share some of this beautiful scenery anyway. 🙂

      As always, it’s so lovely to have you along for the ride. Hope everyone remains safe and healthy and comfortable in your part of the world. 🙂

  5. widhibrata says:

    The world is changing very fast. Keep safe.
    Do let me know if you happen to need a secure place to keep your bike in java.

    1. Yes it is! Thank you very much.

  6. Jeff Weaverling says:

    You are a great writer! and rider!

  7. Paul says:

    What a beautiful beach and such kind people. Good to be safe now Grace, we all have to wait it out with solemn reflection for the bereaved and empathy for the doctors and nurses. Stay safe ✌️

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