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Published: July 11th 2019
Rantepao to Makassar
The route between the two cities, as shown on google maps. The 7+ hour transit time on the map is for private vehicles; public transit takes way longer.
By most standards, The 50 Year Old Backpacker (“T50YOB”) is much more (fool)hardy than his peers. He loves to travel the rustic way because it is more interesting and fun. His peers roll their eyes when he talks excitedly about his travels; they cannot fathom why he doesn’t just want to sip mai tais at a resort. Or, even worse, go on a cruise. But, T50YOB knows that he cannot travel like he used to 25 years ago, so he makes concessions. Despite this, from time to time, he needs to get his a** kicked to remind him that sometimes, age is more than a number.
Upon conclusion of the amazing time he had in Tana Toraja, T50YOB had two options to get back to Makassar for his onward trip to Bali. He could: (1) hire a driver to take him to Palopo Airport, located three hours from Rantepao, and from there fly to Makassar; or (2) take the bus, a 10-hour ride. The former option would probably cost up to $100, the latter $11. He chose the latter option. “What the heck”, he thought to himself. “I handled the journey up here fine, I’ll be fine for the reverse journey. Besides, I have a chill time in Bali coming up. Also, WWEPD?” (What Would Elizabeth Pisani Do? - see book recommendation below).
T50YOB has been on the road for six days now, and, despite flying business class most of the way over, he was sleep deprived. Since he landed in Indonesia, he has had four consecutive early wake up calls due to roosters and/or calls to prayer. And, his time in Indonesia so far has been nothing but GO GO GO as he needed to maximize his precious paid time off work now that he was once again a responsible working adult. In short, he was exhausted. While he enjoyed his stay at his budget hotel, he had been kept awake the night before by someone smoking on the floor below his. T50YOB knows this is par for the course when staying in accommodations with European backpackers. Regardless, T50YOB knew he needed a good sleep, ideally in a soundproof room with aircon, good water pressure, and hot water, so he’d booked himself a four star hotel in Makassar for the princely sum of $29.
T50YOB awoke to torrential rain. Undeterred, he took out his raincoat and walked the short distance from his hotel to the main road. He knew the bus would not run on time but he didn’t want to chance it. He took shelter under an aluminum roof in front of a house. The kindly couple there brought out a chair for him to sit on.
The bus arrived 40 minutes late. T50YOB sank into his plush recliner chair and enjoyed the rain soaked landscape as it passed by. He had taken a motion sickness tablet while waiting for the bus, and so he was feeling all smug. He knew that, before long, all the locals around him would be barfing, but no, not him.
About an hour into the journey, the bus started to go down the mountain, and, right on cue, all the Indonesians around him, save for the one across the aisle, started hurling. T50YOB reveled in his superior constitution. But, before long, he realized something was amiss. Going downhill, the bus went round the hairpin turns much faster than it did on the uphill journey. And, to add to that, the bus’ suspension rocked the cabin from side to side. But, T50YOB had confidence in dramamine. Suddenly, however, the smell of overheated brakes permeated the cabin. T50YOB started feeling queasy. He knew he was in trouble. At the first rest stop about two hours into the journey, T50YOB disembarked and his legs felt wobbly. He stumbled to the toilet and threw up. He reluctantly took a second dramamine - the maximum recommended dosage - and resigned himself to being drowsy. But then, something happened to temporarily distract him from his nausea. Walking down the steep concrete slope, his new sandals failed to get traction and he slipped. He thanked his lucky stars he was wearing long pants because the journey went through a Muslim area and he didn’t want to offend anyone with the sight of his bare knees. Despite this, he felt abrasions on his knee under his pants. The pain was a welcome distraction from the nausea.
The next stop was lunch. T50YOB debated whether to eat, but he decided that some rice and vegetables would help settle his stomach. He bought some snacks and even accepted it in a plastic bag, thinking it might come in useful as a barf bag.
The rest of the journey down the mountain was a hellish blur. T50YOB cursed his misguided backpacker mindset. It doesn’t take him long to earn $100. Why did he have to be so cheap at this critical moment? OMG how much longer is this ride? The second dramamine kicks in, and T50YOB gets drowsy. His consciousness goes into this weird no man’s land where he starts dreaming, but while dreaming he is fully aware that he is on a bus in a desperate situation. OMG how much longer is this ride? Self-pity sinks in.
Six hours in, T50YOB spots the coastline. He knows this means that the roads will be flat and relatively straight from that point on. He has never been so happy to see a coastline, noting the irony that it is usually people approaching a coastline from sea who feel this sort of relief. The next two hours coast by - pun intended - and T50YOB is in a sunny mood. Then, the bus hits the hellish Makassar traffic and it takes a further two hours to get through the gridlocked roads to the bus station. T50YOB is drowsy but determined to make it to his four star accommodation.
Just before disembarking at the bus station, T50YOB strikes up a conversation with the guy across the aisle. “Tuan, di sini ada taxi
”? The young gentleman replies in English that there aren’t many taxis in this area, but he will help him call one. It turns out this guy works as a seaman based in Singapore. This explains why the roller coaster bus didn’t affect him. He whips out his phone. T50YOB excuses himself to go to the bathroom.
When T50YOB returns, the young gentleman tells him that his car is one minute away. This is when T50YOB discovers, to his horror, that his new friend had ordered a car via Grab (Southeast Asia’s version of Uber) and that he has already paid for the ride. He refuses reimbursement from T50YOB. Stunned, T50YOB immediately forgets his new friend’s name. T50YOB desperately scans the area for something to buy for his benefactor, but, alas, the car has arrived. T50YOB thanks his rescuer profusely and gratefully boards his ride.
When T50YOB arrives at his four star accommodation, he asks the driver to show him his Grab app, thinking maybe he can track down his benefactor. Alas, due to privacy concerns, the driver can only see one name - Arnold. T50YOB is relieved to see that the fare was under $3. As he enters the hotel lobby, the Javanese lady with the perfectly coiffed hair sitting in the lobby stares at him.
T50YOB’s hotel room at Citadines Royal Bay Makassar is palatial compared to his prior accommodation. The number of light switches confuses him. He gratefully takes a hot shower, and dresses his wound. He resists the urge to wash his t-shirt in the hotel sink. Refreshed, T50YOB realizes he is hungry. He briefly considers going out to the famous ikan bakar warungs
(makeshift street stalls selling grilled fish) a quarter mile away, but he’s too tired. He eats at the hotel restaurant, and sinks into a sound sleep by 9pm. He blissfully sleeps through the calls to prayer, and wakes up refreshed the next morning.
At the breakfast buffet, T50YOB stares bewildered at the huge choice of breakfast items. He tucks in, and then returns to his luxurious room to chill before checking out.
: I hope you enjoyed this silly third person narrative. One of my favorite travel books ever is “Indonesia, Etc.”, by Elizabeth Pisani. I’ve read it four times and I’m sure I will read it again. Ms. Pisani took a year off from her job as a journalist and as an epidemiologist to travel around Indonesia. She took local transport (including a cargo boat that took five days, stopping at remote islands), struck up conversations with locals, and stayed with them. Her journey took her to islands I had never heard of, where corn or sago - not rice - is the staple. She describes in rich detail the lives of the people she encountered, yet manages to connect mundane details to larger politico-social issues. Her book is one of the rare travelogues that blends empathy with detached observation. It is my travel fantasy to bump into her while I am traveling in Indonesia, and it would be my honor to buy Ibu Eliz a coffee and have a conversation with her.
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