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The perfect time to plan your cycling in Indonesia

Indonesia is hardly known as a cycle destination.  This is surprising because, particularly on the island of Sulawesi, that spidery shaped island north of Bali and formerly known as the Celebes, there is some really good cycling to be had.

What makes it doubly attractive is the absence of western style mass tourist development. There are many different cultures on Sulawesi and most have been hardly touched by the commercial development that has impacted upon much of the rest of Indonesia and other countries in South East Asia.  As well the people of Sulawesi are incredibly friendly and foreign cyclists are always made most welcome by the locals.

The geography of Sulawesi is wonderfully varied and unpredictable.  One moment you’re pedalling through coastal coconut groves, the next you’reoverlooking intricate rice terraces on steep sided mountains, then teak forests, chocolate tree gardens. Clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and pepper trees, stuff of the 15th century Spice Trade, abound. One moment you’re among the traditional boat shaped houses of the Toraja people, then the stilt houses of the Bugis seafarers, then you’re among Balinese temples. As there is a variety of cultures so there is a variety of religions. Many of the peoples on Sulawesi are Muslim, then there are large Christian minorities and the Balinese people are Hindu. There is a very high degree of religioustolerance. Fanatic Islam is a non-issue on Sulawesi. Inter-marriage between people with different religions and different ethnic backgrounds is common.

Food in Sulawesi is traditional; spiced grilled fish, rice, fresh vegetables. In a population of 20 million there’s no more than a handful of American fast food outlets. Exotic fruits such as durian (the spiky fruit), rambutan (the hairy fruit), salak (the snake skin fruit) amd mangosteen are there in season. Traditional cakes made from sticky rice, coconut, bananaand palm sugar abound at morning markets and roadside stalls. Modern hotels, such as Novatel, are in the big cities while simpler, traditional family run guest houses provide accommodation outside the cities.

There is a variety of cycle routes on Sulawesi including those to Toraja Land with its exotic funerary customs, pristine Lake Poso and idyllic Togian islands in Central Sulawesi, volcanoes and lakes in North Sulawesi, and the beaches and boat building of Bira and Bulukumba in the far south.

Sulawesi lies on the equator so temperatures are hardly polar but given that much of the riding is in the mountains heat is usually not an issue.

In the ‘good old days’ before global warming it was possible to rely upon historic climate patterns but  in these days weather forecasts are notably unreliable, but in any case rain storms never last for very long, a few hours at most and they do serve to cool you down and wash your bike.

Some good cycling can be had on Bali too.  But it is different to Sulawesi.

Much of it, particularly in the south of the island, is tourized whereas little of Sulawesi is. The roads in Bali are far busier than in Sulawesi and the drivers are a little less considerate of cyclists. Both islands are mountainous
but the ascents in Bali are steeper than those in Sulawesi. On both islands it is possible to experience traditional culture but it is far easier to access in Sulawesi than in Bali. In Bali there is a ‘tourist layer’ that does not exist in Sulawesi and it does take some time to penetrate.

If you’re thinking of cycling Indonesia …..go for it.   But make sure that you prepare yourself physically, particularly if you’ve coming out of an Australian winter.

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