Sulawesi. That big island with four limbs, spreadeagled the way you sleep alone in a king sized bed on a summer night. One arm tossed above your head, fingers trailing; legs slightly akimbo for the breeze.

I decide that I’m going there. Fresh off my budget flight from Kuala Lumpur, I have a new visa in my sweaty little hand and plans of further adventure.

There’s a roro ferry that runs out of Surabaya to Makassar, once or twice a week, but nobody seems particularly sure when it will actually arrive, or when it will actually leave. So I pack the bike and head out into the city. I figure that I will find a cheap homestay for the night and then devote the day to exploring the docks until I find what I’m looking for.

Surabaya is a big, humming organism, sweating under a blanket of humidity. It’s too big to do my usual trick of trawling for guesthouses, just looking for signs; I am in a residential area and don’t even know where to start. So I ask google maps and pick what looks like the most budget, ordinary homestay on the list. Hit the navigate button, and down the rabbit hole we go.

Almost literally. I mean, I don’t know if Indonesia has any rabbits, but the overgrown vacant lot that I end up in looks like an accommodating place for rabbits to dig holes. It does not, however, seem to be the homestay I’m looking for.

I’m at the end of a little dirt track with a small house, a bunch of chickens and swamp all around. The children playing in front of the house stare as I turn around awkwardly in the gravel. I’m too short to back the bike up with my toes when she’s fully loaded on uneven ground so I do a many-pointed turn, hauling the bike backwards by using the front brake to compress the forks.

Well google, I say, I think we’re lost.

As I ride back the gravel track towards the last row of houses on the edge of the swamp, I am flagged down by a man about my own age. He saw me ride past his house on the way out and he knows I’m lost.

I stop and turn off the bike so that we can speak to each other.

– Saya cari homestay murah… I tell him, and he looks puzzled. He doesn’t know any homestays around here.

Together we look at the map on my phone. He knows how to get me to the location shown, even though he doesn’t remember a homestay being there. He jumps on his scooter, and says that I should follow him.

His wife and little son have been watching us; she waves and smiles and the little boy jumps on the front of dad’s scooter; what kid would miss such an opportunity! And off we go.


Hunting the phantom homestay!

Soon we are at the map location, but it’s hopeless: there’s no homestay. We pull over in front a large building that might once have been something of the kind; now, however, its just an ordinary family home and we are baking in the sun.

Suddenly I see a scooter pull out of the passing traffic, do a u-turn and pull over next to us. A stranger gets off and greets my erstwhile guide; then he comes over to me.

– Hello, Grace, he says.

I am momentarily speechless, then I am laughing in surprise. How does he know who I am? Kerry has a Kawasaki Z800 in his garage, and he knows my friends from the Kawasaki Z Owners Club of Indonesia. He saw me rolling with his friends on Instagram, and recognised me on the street.



And then there ensues a moment which will forever be one of my favourite memories of Indonesia. Kerry chats with the guy who was trying to help me find a homestay, to see if he can help. They don’t know each other, but they’re neighbours, and they both like to ride. My guide doesn’t have a flash motorcycle like Kerry’s z800, but that doesn’t matter. After a few minutes of conversation, they exchange phone numbers; they might go for a ride sometime. A new friendship. Then, in the absence of the phantom homestay, Kerry invites me to stay with his family at his home.

And I’m so filled with joy by this. Not just by the kindness and hospitality shown to me, but by the fact that the same friendliness and openness is applied to one’s neighbour. This is not just special treatment for me because I’m a foreigner, or have a big expensive motorbike; this is actually just how people choose to treat each other. I’m humbled and uplifted to see it.

So I follow Kerry around the corner to his house, and meet his wonderful family.


0 thoughts on “Random Acts of Friendship

  1. Gareth McGrillan says:

    Aren’t people just wonderful!!
    Glad to see/ hear you are back on the road.
    Was a bit too quiet there for a while..
    They say no news is good news !!

    Enjoy he next part of the trip.

  2. geoffkeys says:

    A wonderful story Grace.

  3. Joan says:

    Kindness and friendships. Great ingredients. Safe travels.

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