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Thursday 28 May
Era, Indonesia

Uekuli – Malino – Era

We got up at 4, mainly so we could climb the large mountain before it got too hot. This also had the effect that we ust left some money to pay for our room and left town without talking to anyone except for asking a few people for directions to our chosen road. Maybe this was all a good idea - we will never know what would have happened if we went to Poso.

We had to climb from the coast to a height of about 1250 m. The road was steep, but sealed. I was weak. I couldn't summon up the bloody-minded persistence that is required to climb a road like this. So I dawdled, then I was annoyed at myself for being slow, and it all took forever.

However we did get to the top of the climb, and then there was a thunderous descent to the small and strange village of Malino. The people in Malino disapproved of us. We were exhausted and we went into a shop and then asked if anyone could cook some instant noodles for us. One lady said we could use her kitchen to cook them ourselves. We accepted this offer and it turned out that we weren't very good at using the wood fired kitchen and she basically did it for us, as well as giving us coffee. She asked a lot of probing questions about where we were going and basically said we would be better to stay in Malino for the night.

But we wanted to go to Luo, the next village on the map to the south. This name generated no response at all and we tried asking for Tomata, a larger town, and eventually after asking a lot of people and causing a lot of confusion, we got an answer and we headed off down a road. Pretty soon we got confused about the next turn and we followed an instruction that was inconsistent with the previous directions.

But we were on a road going somewhere. It quickly turned into a gravel road through villages and rice paddies. One of the villages was conspicuously (and fascinatingly) filled with hindu shrines. There were narrow wooden bridges of the kind that you either ride over straight and fast, or fall off completely. We didn't fall off. This was a real cycle tour with excitement and exploring.

Then the rice fields ran out and we were in a rainforest. The road became less gravel and more mud. There were prodigious amounts of butterflies, almost no people and a few cows. We did occasional GPS checks and plotted positions on our map with a ruler, and they did not correspond with the road on the map, though the actual road made more sense with respect to the topography. But on the whole, we had no idea where we were and there was nothing to suggest the village we were aiming for was going to exist. The road got so bad that not even motorbikes would be able to get through, and for a long stretch we only saw one person leading a buffalo through the mud dragging some timber.

We had been riding since 4 in the morning, eating up the changing country, and my speedometer was not working so we had no idea of the distance. It occurred to me that we might end up sleeping in the rainforest and need to find some water somewhere. But the forest started to thin and we came into sight of some palm oil plantations, with their distinctive hemispherical dark green trees. After winding around several hills through this plantation, we finally found some people who confirmed there was a village nearby. It wasn't all that nearby.

But we rolled into Era, a large village that is not on the map. We could tell it was Christian because here was Bintang beer for sale in the shop. We asked the usual questions and were eventually directed to someone's house where we could stay. We were very warmly received and had an extensive conversation with our host and some visitors. I think our host was the head of the village (kepala desa), but this was only alluded to by someone else. His wife was a pastor. Everyone was very interested to look at our maps. We found out that visitors had stayed in the village before, but we were the first tourists. The others were engineers working on an electricity survey or something. There were also allusions to the inter-religious conflict which was going on not that long ago between christians and muslims in this area. Later it occurred to me that maybe one reason the (muslim) people in Malino didn't know the way to Era was that no-one has any reason to travel between these two places.

We were completely exhausted and dirty, and had the awkward problem of not being sure how we could get something to eat and didn't want to ask. But of course everything was taken care of, we had a mandi at the well outside and then dinner was served.

Our hosts were quite emphatic about being Christian, possibly because they assumed we were. In Indonesia if asked I generally say that I am Christian, because it's not possible to have no religion, and because in the broad sense of cultural identity which is part of the meaning, it is an accurate answer. A further test in his case was to ask if we like pork, to which we said yes. We then had pork for dinner, among other things.

Our secondary awkwardness was wondering if we could get a beer without it being inappropriate. In Sulawesi this enquiry was always awkward and generally unsuccessful, and this village might have been an exception, but we decided to let it go as we had already benefited from a large amount of hospitality.

Apologetically, we announced that we wanted to leave at 5 the following morning. I can’t remember why we planned this, probably we intended to ride to Pendolo that day.

90km? Who knows how far we went, my bike computer doesn’t work even though it’s based on very simple technology and they used to be reliable and keep working for years.

Location of Era for future reference: 01°53’40”S, 121°07’03”E (in Mori Utara, Morowali regency, Sulawesi Tengah).

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Sulawesi Cycle Tour 2015

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