Fresh and fattened from my days in Makassar, I rolled out in brilliant sunshine and high humidity. The objective was the white sand beaches around Bira, but of course I was taking the long way – up through the mountains, and down the other side. I could see plenty of squiggly lines on my map.

After a little bit of playing chicken down the middle of opposing lanes of traffic in true Makassar style, I was out of town and ascending rapidly. Soon we had some nice corners, then the cool air dried my sweat, and then suddenly I was in pine forest. Yes, Indonesia has pine forests, and the spicy almost-forgotten scent of pine sap started to tickle my nose. There were lots of warung and camping grounds among the pine needles; local tourists like to come up here for a totally different biome, and the novelty of being chilly.


Coffee stop.

The clouds were down on the mountain and a light rain cooled me efficiently. I decided that I already had enough memories of what it’s like to be chilly next to a pine tree, and headed down the mountain.

At first, I was plunged into paradise: valleys of verdant greenery. Rice fields, jungle, greens so luminous that they shouldn’t be true. I had one of those moments: I can’t believe I rode here. From the desert, to this. What a crazy, awesome thing to do.


Later, the rain got harder. The bitumen disappeared for a while. Soon I was in the back roads, just me and locals on scooters, the odd small truck. My maps started suggesting that I should turn right in order to take a direct route east, but each time the sight that greeted me was a precipitous clay track heading straight down the mountain. With the rain falling harder, I decided I wasn’t in the mood. I continued to cling to the mountainside, ending up further and further north as I descended slowly. There was a waterfall and a couple of small landslips over the road; it was enough to keep me entertained.

The afternoon was getting late and I resigned myself to a damp night on the mountain; the cold was making me tired, so I started looking for suitable flat spots beside the road. There weren’t any. My visor was fogging up, so I raised it.


Now my face was wet and cold too. My nose started running. The snot mixed with rain; super sexy. Suddenly, the road dropped out of the bottom of the clouds.

Just when I was so cold that I could no longer imagine being warm, the road dropped through the underbelly of the clouds. A few more kilometres put me on a strip of stupendously smooth bitumen, four lanes curving up a hill in an arc that had me gagging for a gixxer. Ugh, the torment.

I let the quality of the road seduce me into riding on as the light faded through dusk to black. I didn’t know where I was going; somewhere, anywhere to eat and sleep. On spec, I followed a back road until it turned to dirt and rocks, thinking that I’d surely find a secluded spot for my tent. Instead, big fences and gates appeared until I reached a dive camp. Bright lights, cold beer, Europeans. They said it would be $20 for a bed in a shared mixed dorm. They conceded that I was entitled to camp on the beach for free, but wouldn’t let me bring my motorbike down the hill to be close to my tent. It had been a long day; I was stiff, tired and hungry and losing my coordination, but I wasn’t going to leave my bike out of sight and earshot.

Where will you go? they said. You won’t find anywhere cheaper.

I shrugged. I’ll find something, I told them. I always do.

Forty five minutes later I was still threading the side roads near Bira Beach. I went to a small hotel that had been recommended to me, but they too wanted $20 for me to camp on the beach in front of their premises. I said no, thank you.

Momentarily demoralised, I parked in front of the bright lights of an Indomart, Indonesia’s omnipresent convenience store. I bought UHT milk for my morning coffee, paracetamol for my headache. I was opposite the masjid and I could see light spilling from the doorways; a young man came out, dressed for prayer in a knitted skullcap and white robes. He stopped to look at my bike, and asked where I was from. ‘Dari Australi,’ I told him, and we had a brief chat about my trip, and about my motorbike. Cool, he told me – mantap – with a smile and a thumbs up, before disappearing back into the mosque. I was left smiling too, my mood lifted, the earlier ‘special price’ of the hotel people completely forgotten.

Later that evening, I followed a tiny ‘homestay’ sign into a back alley and found a comfortable room at a modest cost. The family were surprised to see me; I fielded the usual questions about how I was alone and where was my husband, and we agreed on a price. I parked the bike inside their courtyard, covered and tucked out sight, and gratefully sluiced off the day’s sweat with cold water.

I was too tired to look for food, but in Makassar that morning, Isti had made sure that I left with sandwiches for my journey. Sweet kaya – a sort of coconut jam – on doorstop slices of soft white bread; after a day on the road and no food since breakfast, it seemed a meal fit for royalty.

It was now long after dark; the sheets were clean, I felt safe. I also felt exhausted. It had been a nice day of riding – beautiful scenery, unexpected altitude, the feeling of following a road into the unknown. But it had also been tiring: as the day draws on, there is the perennial anxiety around finding a safe place to sleep. That feeling ramps up each day as the sun gets lower and tiredness sets it; it’s familiar, but as a woman travelling alone, it rarely altogether abates.

Sometimes, it makes me tired. My mother always used to say, life wasn’t meant to be easy. Perhaps; but then I peek out the window at my dirty KTM, and I know that it’s good.


0 thoughts on “Where will you sleep?

  1. Sylvia Heger says:

    Can totally agree on your feelings of finding a safe place to sleep. And get food at the right time. If not!!!!????

    1. Trying to find a place to sleep while hungry is just unholy, right ????

  2. Atcha says:

    I’ve been reading your blog posts now and then. As an Indonesian I just want to tell you, many mosques are open 24 hrs and people usually let you to park/sleep/use the toilet there at night. I did that several times. Most often than not, you don’t have to ask permission since no one around anyway. Just remember you should not be sleeping inside the main prayer area (porches are okay) and that you are awake when prayer time… If the mosque gate is closed, it doesn’t mean locked. It just to prevent animals wandering around.
    Oh, I don’t know where you’re heading, but if you happen to be in area with drinking culture and it’s common for youth to drink (and get drunk at night) you might want to consider to not camping outside… Stay safe..

    1. Atcha, thank you so much for this kind advice, it’s much appreciated. I’ve never actually ended up sleeping in the grounds of a mosque before, but it has been suggested to me by several kind Indonesians that I should look for the mosque if it is late and I am in need of a safe place to sleep. So thank you, and I will keep it in mind. 🙂 It has also been suggested that in places like Kalimantaan that I could ask to camp in the police compounds if it is getting dark and I have not yet found a safe place.

  3. James says:

    Grace, just curious if you’ve ever read Ghost Rider by Neil Peart (drummer, lyricist for Rush, sadly now deceased). It’s an excellent read, introspective and immersed in describing the open road going solo on a motorcycle/motorbike. I think you’d like it. A lot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *