I rolled into Kendari on a high, just on dark. The city turned out to be larger than I’d hoped, which made finding budget accommodation more tricky. First, there are too many places to ask – you can spend all night asking for prices still without finding the cheap ones. Second, the really budget stuff in cities tends to be hidden away, without a sign, hard to find.
I tried a few properly signposted hotels, and asked the receptionists if they knew anywhere cheaper. Eventually, I ended up at a shifty old guesthouse run by a surly Chinese couple. They didn’t seem happy to see me, but hey, you can’t please all the people all the time. It wasn’t a great setup for me either because I couldn’t actually get my motorbike inside the building. The city was big enough that I didn’t want my bike visible from the street. So I spend a good half hour wedging it into an inaccessible space inside the porch area, chaining it to the building and covering it for maximum invisibility. The area was set at the bottom of a precipitously steep ramp, and was too narrow to turn the bike. I would need three people to help me get it out again in the morning, and that was fine by me.
Wash the sweat off; eat some street food; sleep. When I’m on the road, nights to me are usually just recovery periods in between the days of riding. You won’t find me out painting the town red.
Mornings are my favourite: a hot cup of coffee and a whole day’s riding ahead.
* * *
I could see the storm clouds brewing ahead of me as I rode north the next day. I was on a main road, plenty of traffic, lined with market stalls. In one section, all the stalls had gigantic silver pots out the front. I had to find out what was inside.
I pulled over by one of them – they all looked pretty much the same. ‘Ada apa?’ I asked and the lady obligingly lifted the lid of the pot. A cloud of steam engulfed me, and then I saw: scores and scores of corn on the cob, both yellow and white. Jagung rebus.
Yes please. After I’d scoffed three cobs of yellow corn with salt and chilli and oil, I was happy. The women from the neigbouring stalls had come by to check me out as well, so we all chatted for a little bit. They were surprised that I was travelling on my own, that I had no husband, that I wasn’t afraid; you can do these things too, I told them, do not be afraid. You are stronger than you know.
When I left, they wouldn’t let me pay, and insisted that I take an extra bottle of water for the journey.
* * *
The road climbed into the mountains and turned to dirt. I could smell the rain before I rode into it. At first I found the petrichor refreshing; but as I watched the raindrops lubricating the clay road surface, I wondered how things would go. I had maximum gear on the bike – the most I’ve ever carried. I hate to think how much it weighed. Forty kilos? Forty-five? All my belongings, my entire household.
Neatly balanced, it poses no problems under normal circumstances; but mud is another thing. Add to that the fact that I, at 5’5″, obviously cannot put both feet down at once on a 690 Enduro. So, judicious waddling will never be an option. Even the boldest bogs must simply be ridden.
And so it went. Rain, clay, mud, beautiful jungle, and then the bog I’d feared. The trucks were stuck, the cars queued. It was on a nasty little slope. There was a slightly firmer track around the left side, but then it too dumped suddenly into deep mud at the bottom of the slope, on a sideways angle. I could just see my front wheel sliding down the slope sideways into disaster.
But the truck drivers were all standing around, and they had complete faith in me. In fact, they were positively a cheer squad. They knew I could do it! Tidak apa-apa, no worries, they said, in total assurance, perplexed as to why I was hesitating at ll. I couldn’t let them down.
So I eased out the clutch, kept carefully on the left line, felt my front wheel squirming as it slid sideways into the mud… and, wait, I was through. Perfect! I couldn’t believe it. I laughed with joy.
And I thought to myself: if your riding partner is not as supportive as an Indonesian truck driver, then you need a new riding partner. Those guys set the gold standard.