We went to Sulawesi just for a single reason: to cross the jungle, pure and wild. To cross it through a narrow path where is only possible go on foot, motor-bike, or bicycle. A remote and mountainous area lost in the center of this Indonesian island.
A couple of cyclist, Salva and Nico, of those few who go trhough all kind of terrains, the most inhospitable corners, those few who already have toured muuuuuch of the most lost and remotes routes of the world, are who shared with us the information about this journey. Both already made other jungles, also in Africa, but they were still pointing it as: “of the most impressive, amazing experience, hard but unique, unforgettable and pure”
so… who can hear it and not go?
We got off the boat with everything, everything, everything overused. From the saddlebags that are repared and glued many times, the components of the bikes, to the very clothes even the underwears… all very old about to say “stop it, until here we can go, this is the end!! .
We crossed fingers to not get stranded in the middle of the route, probably for many would be crazy to start this adventure in the jungle as we were going to do it: Aitor´s rear tire was cracked, the wheels so worn out that they seemed funny, and my gears jumping when they wanted to (due to the old, to the use)but it was either that or nothing, or now or never… and we didn´t think to much about (that normally is the best trick).
In Makassar (the capital city of the island that we reached by boat) Elvis hosted us in his home, a friend of another friend who had welcomed us on Java island, who turned,to be also a friend of another guy that also welcomed us, so happens in Indonesia continuously, one passes you to another one, and all of them open to you the doors of the home and the heart with a naturalness and simplicity that teaches you a lot. Giving and sharing everything.
There, in his home we left the things that we weren’t going to need in the jungle to cycle as light as possible, we knew that it was going to be really tough, that there inside there would be no jokes. When the way is extreme, to go light means quality of life and enjoyment of the place.
Everything happened as a time trial, the boat arrived at night and we were able to cross the city quiet, no traffic nor heat, Elvis helped us that morning to get a bus which accept bikes and that came out that evening to the Northward. To have the visa about to expire, we had the days numbered and only had time to make the crossing and quickly leave the island, so we had to travel about 600kms by bus go and back to be on time to catch the plane and leave Indonesia.
Aitor´s front wheel´s hub was broken!, and the closest bike shop was 200kms away through the mountains.!
-You can´t imagine Laura, 6 hours going and 5 hours back and everything to reach the store yes, but they sell plastic tricycles! -commented Aitor as he came in through the door of the room of the hostel where I was waiting, with a exhausted face and almost at midnight – tricycles and toys! a joke shop, i could not believe it when I have come, but well I got this, maybe it fits… I am tired but I can’t wait, I’m going to see if it works right now.
And yes, it fitted and it worked.
I must admit that I was afraid of the route, yes, i feared it in secret, but i knew that Aitor would not leave indonesia fully satisfied without having it done, he loves challenges, toughness is something that he turns into motivation and that is why i didn´t alllow to myslef to feed that feeling of “lazyness-fear -oh my good what i´m doing here”.
I didn’t tell him anything, just I said to myself…
-Well, die I will not die, to suffer yes and surely much, so i just have to prepare myself mentally for this and it is enough.
We started in the morning taking the pleasant bordering road along the west side of the lake, an old and broken asphalted road wellcomed us. There were only motorbikes and occasionally, small vans packed with people.
After a few kms of bucolic small hidden beaches between vegetation, beautyfull villages that are just a line of houses on the edge of the road, beautiful and quiet views, finally we arrived at the crossroads where started the first and serious ascension:
In 17 kms a desnivel of 1.500 m.
We go without a map, without gps or things like that, and this time without speedometer (mine long ago passed to better life and Aitor´s one after the rains on other islands, one day literally, drowned and has not returned to react since then).
We had the names of 3 villages and the desire, courage and motivation ready. So we started climbing from the first meter a tough and never ending up-road. Tough slopes which left us out of breath, subway in a hard and never-ending slope, ledges of being out of breath, pushing (me) at times, feeling sometimes legs weakened not having power to end the climb, you see up there the end but the legs… failed get off and push.
Aitor again left me in a state of surprise, disbelief and admiration to see him climbing the up-hills, always pedalling, giving everything, to a pace enough to stop up there and to come back to help me to push my bike.
Something to see, I look at him while the sweat slips on the body, flowing literally to the ground by the tip of the nose, elbows, Chin…. Stop, breathe and everything makes sense again, the jungle, the life, the peace, no trace of people or villages, nor traffic, then it is worthy the suffering that has brought us so far until here, and this has only just begun.
and to keep on moving… We still have quite a few kilometers to get to the beginning of the route.
And a surprising gift… the asphalt is not finished!, according to our info few years ago this road was blown, was track, with sand and stones and we were ready for that but, from the crossroad below some kms ago the asphalt has not stopped, continues and continues.!!
As we ascend and we climb cycling, we go, laughing giving thanks to those who made the new road, who had the idea and who accepted it, who put the money… we had time during the long climb to thank to everyone.
Mountains full of lush vegetation, a feast for the senses and the soul.
We slept once passed the top and already starting the descent, still high, always, if we can choose in these lands of tropical heat, to sleep high, it is a way to ensure a cool night and without moisture which means rest. One night in which the jungle made us an unforgettable gift, fireflies but… many, many!! As we had never seen before, lots of them all around, piled up in some trees, floating around the tent everywhere!, something really unforgettable.!!
The next day we enjoyed the Bada Valley views, even from the top, it was still giving us moments of exultation and happiness just being its witness.
Down on a plain 3 small towns and plantations of rice, the rest jungle, mountains covered in its entirety by an abundant forest that gave no space to anything else, nor a clear area.
We could not resist to rest one day in Gintu village, this special place so quiet, we could not stand the impulse of visiting at least one of the monoliths that populate this area like mushrooms.
Finally we left, here started the most interesting part of the route, finally the day had arrived, the moment.
A narrow path between 40 to 70 cms appeared in front of us, the jungle closed around us on both sides, above also, 360º, forest, vegetation, abundance… something really exciting. So it began the ups and downs, climbing and descending, which does not stop in every kms in the jungle way.
The trail was varying between stone, sand, mud, puddles and small rivers crossings. Even being dry season has not pass a day in which it didn´t rain since we arrived to this island, people tell us that it is due to the global warming, that nobody knows when it will rain, and when not, that the weather is crazy.
For us, the last rains meant more added hardness.
Surrounded by so much, so much, so much life we were moving in a kind of ecstasy that somehow drove us… giant trees, strange Palm trees, flowers and plants of all kinds that ones with others, intertwined, mixed, they flooded all around us.
In those times however hard it is, you don´t think, you continue, continue, you give your best, that is all, it is not the momment to think, there is not space, only you live, you keep on, you stop, you rest a bit and after you keep on giving your best!.!
If you can not pass the River because it is deep, then removed the saddlebags and loaded cross it several times… and bikes?… you also take them on your shoulders!! .
Moving forward is the key, the word and the only guideline. Nothing else matters in those moments, you are going to the limit. In those moments in which you stop to breathe… you look… you see… the jungle all around you, that sounds, that screams which shouts, that roars, that vibrates.
Turns on a curve and find the next waterfall, the next tree soo huge that makes you stop, to look at it a little more time, greet it and pay respects to such enormous beauty.
You receive, you constantly receive just being there, you get the experience itself, overcoming this slope or passing that landslide blocking the way… get back.
Not having any reference of kms, being aware of the threat of the rain seing the sky almost black (when rarely appears between the tops of the trees) and the poor state of the track, made us decide not to stop more than what we just minimum needed, reduce the stops and time stopped, so we make sure that we are going to reach the village , which is situated in the half distance of the path.
As we knew it was the only place in which to camp, the abundance and density of the forest has not open a meter of space, heat and mosquitoes were almost impossible to spend the night here in the middle… also arriving to the village we also ensure to reached the next day to the next point where to sleep, get food and be able to go on… had to get , so we weren’t going to stop to cook or anything like that, with some biscuits and small breads we were fine.
There was something that made us stop longer than expected and was having to change brakes patch, due to so much mud and small stones that came between, the rubber disappeared to the speed of light!.! We never changed so many in so little time, in two days 7 pairs, yes 7 pairs! .
There was a time in which we begun to perceive signs of change on the trail, in the jungle, as i said, due to not having speedometer we had no clue of how many kms remained, and were this time, our senses that told about nearness of the village:
A few logs cut and stacked to one side of the road indicate that there are people nearby, after coffee and cacao trees among the weeds, they are plantations, a narrow path that leaves aside full of footprints… we are close!, we were arriving and both of us were breathing, releasing the tension because the downpour was threatening to fall! Finally it didn´t fall.
The rain fell later in the evening.
After a curve appeared on the trail, a guy walking barefoot, very strong and slim at the same time, light and harmonious movements, stylized figure, with his huge machete, tied at the waist, inside the typical wooden cover of the area:
-Jalan bagus! (good road) – tells us when we pass beside him at the time that he withdraws himself from the narrow path getting between the plants so we could pass, he pointed ahead gifting us, a bright and beautiful smile that contrasted with his dark skin.
After the next bend, and for the last 500 m a layer of cement about 40cms wide, made us feel suddenly like Alice in Wonderland … we got Moa!.!
The curiosity overflowed us wanting to know who and how live here… here!! … literally in the middle of the jungle (as still there is another day having the same conditions ahead to exit most dense forest again).
When we arrived, in a second we had a good handful of villagers around us but keeping the distance, observing but calm, smiling without saying a word. Curious eyes and beautiful smiles.
After the first questions we were headed to the “Kepala Desa”`s home (head of the village) who hosted us without almost saying a word. It was then later, once after having a bath that his son arrived, he talked little English and with that and the small Indonesian that we have learned, we had enough to enjoy the time sharing ideas, dreams, getting to know a little more, until the fatigue of the day took us.
Night of fleas and itchiness.
We had breakfast early, very early, we made ourselves ready and we started under the curious gaze of people of the house, neighbors and some others that passed through there.
The first kilometer was again cement, and thanks to it to cycle and at the same time to observe the landscape, watching how the men at that time, go out to the rice fields that surround the village, or beyond, to the jungle to make his day. Peculiar characters these people, with strong faces and bodies, tough, fit, thin and strong, elegant, beautiful and with wide smiles.
The day was exactly as the previous one although this somewhat longer in kms, also we found more water in the form of streams, but also a wide river with very strong current. One of the landslice this time was hard to overcome, those that remain for ever recorded, made us sweat big drops and made us to give our best crossing it portering things, walking on many trunks full og mud while descending the huge slope to reach the crossing point.
More toughness, more jungle, more delight and scares, more bites and discoveries, more beauty and toughness. Hardness and life, pure life, 360º around us for hundred of kms.
What gift! !! what a great gift!.!
We finished the day exhausted, broken and full, all at a time.
Joyful and sad, we arrived but that meant that already… we left it behind.
That night we were hosted in a church, also on the next day we sleet in another one. The following two days were going out of the jungle gradually, through a valley sorrounded of high mountains. Small and quiet villages, jungle still around, hospitality and little traffic to be awaking from the dream.
So with this we ended up with Indonesia, this was the last and most flavorful adventure, so we said goodbye to these beautiful islands where we sweat giving our best but that finally left us a sweet taste on our lips and a mark on the heart.
One more time… Terima Kasih! (thank you)