Morning in Kolaka brought brilliant sunshine and a queue for fuel that stretched down the road. Evidently a fuel tanker had just arrived, because the pumps were open and the queue was growing even longer as I watched.
I dropped a couple of gears and briefly considered topping up on fuel, then decided that I’d rather take my chances with the roadside vendors. This morning was just too nice to spend in a queue at the Kolaka Pertamina. So I turned up my music and was happily upshifting as I headed for the open road, when the police snared me.
The road block extended right across my side of the road, and the Pertamina queue blocked the other: there was no chance to avoid eye contact and keep riding today. I mentally cursed my bad luck as I was waved onto the roadside by an impeccably hijabed lady police officer. It was the same drill as the other day – checking licences. Unfortunately, it was first thing in the morning and I’d struck a scrupulous police office. She was intent on doing her job. She took my International Driver’s Permit and my NSW licence, and then she asked me for my Indonesian driver’s licence.
No, I explained, I don’t have one. I’m a tourist, I don’t need one. These documents are all I need.
She frowned and shook her head, and told me that I couldn’t ride in Indonesia without an Indonesian licence. She’d never seen an IDP before, and was frankly skeptical of the flimsy cardboard booklet that I’d offered her. I can’t blame her, it looks dodgy as hell.
She went off to get her boss. Ah dear, here we go, I thought.
He rocked up – complete with gold regalia flashing in the sun – and we attempted the same conversation again, going back and forth as I tried to make myself understood in my terrible Indonesian.
He said my paperwork could not be sufficient. I insisted that it most cetainly was. Then the policewoman decided to try a different approach.
How long have you been in Indonesia? she asked.
Many months, I told them.
And haven’t you been stopped by the police before? she asked.
Yes, I said. In Flores, in Java, in Sulawesi.
And what happened those times? she wanted to know.
Nothing, no problem, I said. I have permission, my documents are valid.
Both she and her boss were still looking skeptical. I smiled my best friendly, law abiding tourist smile. Then we hit a critical point: the boss was put on the spot. Here was his female subordinate who had come to him for direction, and everyone was looking at him, expecting him to know the answer. He didn’t. So, he made a decision.
Okay, he said. You can go.
And I did.
* * *
* * *
As I rode down the road, I spent a while congratulating myself on having learnt enough Indonesian to have the discussion that I’d just had. Milestones.
* * *
I was on flat land, hugging the coast. It was all coconut palms to my left, sea to my right. A few villages, nothing going on. Paradise.
And sooner than I expected, I was at the end of the island.
I rode out as far as I could, to the sandbar when land met sea. There was a brisk southerly breeze blowing and I could feel the salt sticking wisps of hair to my face.
The only sound was the rhythmic hammering from a man working on a wooden boat beached on the sandbar. He looked at me for a moment, then went back to work.
I stayed out there for a long time.
* * *
Having reached the end of the island, I turned north and again Sulawesi stretched before me. I was feeling peaceful today.
Within a few minutes I pulled over at one of the few places that looked like they served food, and discovered that I was in for a treat. They served coto makassar, and nothing else. It’s a rich, fatty beef stew – and beef is a pretty rare treat for me. It’s a bit expensive, and not widely available. But down here there was obviously enough space for a few cows to get nice and fat and end up in my soup. Even better, since there was nothing else on the menu, I couldn’t even be cheap and make myself eat nasi goreng instead.
So I settled in, and filled my belly, and I felt like a queen. Absolutely winning.
As I finished up, I realised I was attracting a bit of an audience. None of these people were customers – they were just here to check me out. I caught them looking, and there were smiles.
By the time I finished my coto makassar, we were friends.