Okay so here’s how it goes.

I’m riding through southern Sulawesi, heading for the mountains in the middle of the island – windy roads. As always I’m chasing the smallest lines on the map. It’s beautiful, I get up higher, the air is cooler and I’m riding through rice paddies. The road is this skinny concrete causeway between the flooded fields, with a few houses and palm trees perched on the raised earth.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lmduiw-9ANY&w=560&h=315]

The fields are rectangular, but not lined up in a grid, so the road dead-ends and right-angles at the corner of each field. Pay attention or you’ll end up in the mud.

Sun’s shining. Bike’s thumping along. I’m happy.

Somehow I never spot anywhere to eat, so I just keep riding, lunchtime slips away. Light’s fading by the time I hit a small market town; where to sleep? The road gets narrower and narrower; I squeeze across a suspension bridge then I’m in the fresh food market. Buy some eggplant and kangkung and bananas from ladies who are looking at me curiously.

I can see on the map that there’s a large lake nearby – I think I’ll head there and camp by the lakeside. You can usually find an inconspicuous spot to stash a bike and a tent beside a large body of water.

I chat briefly with a man about my bike; he says that wherever I decide to spend the night, I should stop by the house of the village head and ask permission first. That sounds right to me. I’m keen to get moving now, though: I’m starving hungry and need to pee something desperate. I don’t mind peeing discreetly in the bushes but no suitably discreet locations have presented themselves to me over the last few hours, and the urgency is mounting.

I get back on the bike, ride out of town. Start exploring the smaller roads branching off on my left, looking for the lakeshore. They terminate in fields, at houses, at ditches. I start to realise that there’s no real lakeshore here like I had imagined – it’s just rice fields leading into marshes which get more and more watery until it’s lake. Not so great for camping.

So when I eventually see a little shade sala between the fields and the marshes – deserted, away from any houses – I think it will have to do. I can sleep here without bothering anyone. I’m deadly tired.

But I do as I know I should, and turn around, heading back to the village to find the head of the village – the kepala desa – to request permission. I ask for his house in Indonesian; I get directions; I find the place.

I find the local soccer team, too. They’ve just finished playing against a neighbouring village and the kepala desa’s house is full of fresh faced young men, buzzing from their afternoon on the field.

To speak with the head of the village, I am ushered into a formal seating area. Hot tea is served. The man who gave me the most recent batch of directions is here too: he introduces me, and explains to the kepala desa that I have a request to make, and then we sit and drink tea politely. I cross my ankles in my dirty old riding gear, the sweat of a day on my face. I would have liked to dress nicely, or at least cleanly, in order to honour the unexpected formality of the occassion.

In my broken Indonesian, I manage to explain that I want to sleep beside the lake. The kepala desa frowns: why would I want to sleep beside a lake? Then he is worried: what if I am not safe there on my own?

By the end of the conversation, he is convinced that I am mad but he has also agreed that I may sleep beside the lake if that’s what I want. He invites me into his house to wash, and to share a meal.

So I disappear upstairs with his wife, who shows me to the bathroom and lends me a long cotton sarong for dressing. It’s not so uncommon in Indonesia to be invited inside to wash before a meal – people ordinarily wash several times a day – but eac time I am still so grateful for the generosity of people who invite me, a stranger, into their personal living spaces. There’s something kind of intimate about a family’s shared bathroom, the cold water bak mandi, with everyone’s toothbrushes perched on ledges.

So I eat with the soccer team, cross legged on the floor downstairs. The boys are full of good humour and energy, and they insist that I eat more, eat more.

* * *

I am so tired, though.

I get back on my bike and head down to the spot where I’ll sleep tonight. I’ve acquired an entourage now, and we take photos at the edge of the lake. There is talking and joking about next time I come back, how we’ll barbecue fish down by the lake. Ikan bakar. Literally translated it means burning fish, but it means a barbecue.



Then everyone disperses. The light is fading and the normal tasks of life are calling, I figure. I am exhausted. I set up my tent, inflate my sleeping pad. I now just need to crawl inside and collapse. I am grateful for the shared afternoon meal, light as it was, because I am too tired to cook.


But there is this guy on a scooter who’s shown up, I don’t know who he is. He isn’t one of my new friends from soccer team. He’s not really trying to talk to me, either. He’s just hanging out there, with me, in the middle of the fields, for no reason. Which is slightly creepy.

It puts me just a little bit on edge. He’s not a threat, just an annoyance. More than anything, I am irritable, because I just need to lie down and sleep.

I take off my boots and socks, armour and outer layers, and crawl into my tent. This is how I sleep when I’m on the road: in my long underlayers, and armed.

I lie there listening, waiting for him to get sick of looking at the outside of a tent. It takes a while, but then eventually I hear him kickstart the scooter and ride away.

Thank goodness.

I’ve already fallen asleep and it’s pitch dark when I hear engines again, and then there are voices, and lights on the side of my tent.

For crying out loud, I think. I AM SO TIRED. Suddenly I’m tearful with frustration and exhaustion. I fumble with the tent zips, crawl out, and I’m kind of begging, the words come out, why can’t you just let me sleep? Mau tidur saja. Am I crying? I don’t know, I don’t think I’m crying, there are tears in my eyes but maybe that’s just fatigue.

I can’t see anyone’s faces because of the lights of a car shining in my eyes. I don’t understand why they’ve picked this spot to congregate in the middle of the night. Why can’t they let me sleep? Why can’t they have a party in a different corner of a different field? I’m so, so tired.

There’s a moment of quiet, and then the people start packing up things that had been unpacked. In a few minutes, everyone has gone and the corner of the field, by the lake, is quiet and dark again.

Slowly, my brain makes sense of what I just saw, of what it was that I saw the people pack up from the road before they left. It was a metal box with a grill over the top. For ikan bakar.


The realisation sinks into me like a cold stone.

This was what the boys from the soccer team had been talking about earlier – how when I came back we would have a barbecue. I must have misunderstood: it wasn’t going to be when I came back, it was going to be when THEY came back. When they came back later, after nightfall, to put on a barbecue for me.

I am the. Worst. Person. On. Earth.

Also the most tired.

I crawl back into my tent, and place my hands over my face. This will keep me awake at night, but another night. Exhaustion closes the curtains on today’s performance.

0 thoughts on “That time I offended a whole village

  1. Brian Lee says:

    You’re the mad crazy lady on a motorbike. They would have just thought it normal behaviour. The generosity though, is amazing.

    1. Brian I think you might actually be right… everyone was surprised but I still got invited back! “We don’t understand her, but that’s okay.” Maybe we should all be more like that.

  2. Geoff says:

    Hi Grace,
    Glad to hear you’re still out there!
    Being tired sucks, don’t worry.
    Every one has been tired at some point. Someone will understand, and explain. Sooner or later!!

    I was supposed to help you on that clutch problem which I never got to as the dreaded fuel pump failure bit me. Rottweiler in the US have a geat kit.
    Glad you found a competent mechanic to fix your clutch.

    All the best, Geoff

    1. I hope so!! My clutch? Well if by a competent mechanic you mean me pouring baby oil through it for three thousand kilometres until I could replace the damn master cyclinder again… yes I did!! Haha, good times.

      Sorry to hear about the fuel pump. Unfiltered fuel kills them so quick, I have a Gulgatech filtration system to which I owe 95,000km on my stock fuel pump and still going strong

  3. Gareth McGrillan says:


    Your explanation will suffice… other people look for the best in you just as you do for them!

    Keep her lit!

    1. Thank you Gareth, I’ll subscribe to that!

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