We had had enough energies to ride across the jungle, but it was only a few days after the odyssey was over that we truly realized the huge amount of energy we had used. We left for Palu on a radiant day as soon as we woke up, there would be the place where we could finally spend a few days resting. The sun was shining, the sky was fully clear and ever so blue, and the immeasurable satisfaction that we felt inside drew a huge smile on our faces when we were leaving Gimpu. But it didn't take more than a few kilometers to realize that we were still very tired despite the good rest we had had the night before and that the bicycles had suffered more than what we had imagined.
To begin with, none of us had brakes. Both bikes were full of mud, stones and twigs and who knows what else. Rust became visible all over. My waterproof speedometer had drowned and needed a couple of hours under direct sunshine to evaporate the water inside and come back to life. What was even worse was that my rims, which had been already compromised since some time ago, now were fully cracked all along their diameter on both sides. The cracks weren't less than 3 to 4 mm, I simply couldn't believe myself that I was still being able to ride.
All of this wouldn't have been a big issue if 60 km out of the 100 km that separated us from Palu weren't fully downhill and if Palu were a place with good bicycle shops. We started riding with no brakes, we were back on a real road, no more trails, and as we moved ahead the road condition became increasingly better. During the first 40 km we had no problems, other than our own exhaustion since the road was fully flat, but once past that stage, the slopes downhill became so long and with so many curves that we were simply not able to control the bicycles anymore. I had to fall in one curve trying to stop my fully loaded bicycle with my feet and end up lying on the hot asphalt all scraped with the bike lying on top of me to realize that I had just had enough. After several failed attempts, we came to the healthy decision of hitching a ride with a pick up truck that would take us to Palu. As we were sitting at the back of the truck, we didn't take long to realize that having tried to continue cycling without brakes would've basically been suicidal as the steep slopes and their length were simply too much.
We finally got to Palu, an ugly city sitting by a beautiful ocean, and found a place to sleep. For two consecutive days we only left the room for eating; we were having trouble to actually stop sleeping. We could feel our muscles sore and worn out due to the exhaustion. On the third day we got some energy (and will) to leave the room in a useless attempt to find a good bike shop and mechanic, there were virtually none. This represented a huge problem since we were now 900 km away from Makassar, the city from which we had to leave Sulawesi. After riding aimlessly around town for a couple of hours we finally got to a small bike shop whose owner was a lawyer and whose hobby was cycling. He knew quite a lot about bicycles and he sweated his life away for two hours in order to help us fix Julia's brakes, but after all he was a litigation specialist not a bike mechanic and he was only able to half-repair her front brake. He was very generous giving us new disc brakes for free as Julia had completely destroyed her original ones. As for myself, I got a new pair of cheap brake pads that I hoped would last me until Makassar where I could finally replace my two rims. I would have to ride in the uttermost unpredictable conditions as my rims were almost completely shattered and a collapse could happen anytime. At least we had got something, at this stage we simply had no other alternatives, it was the only place in Palu and the only decent bike shop in hundreds of kilometers around. With all this patches in place we decided to leave the next day and go slowly, taking as much time as possible until getting to Makassar.
The road that would take us there follows all along the western coast of the island. It is very quiet and had just been paved all the way, but it still doesn't show in the maps as an asphalt road and no guidebook includes any information about what's found along the way. Sounds like something like paradise to me! As such it barely see foreigners and has very little local traffic since nobody takes that road to get to Makassar, the capital of Sulawesi. The first 200 km were easy and difficult. Easy because they didn't represent any major technical challenge, but difficult because we weren't still fully recovered, because we still had to go through some mountain climbs before getting to the ocean, because now the heat was back at full force and because it was painful to ride the bikes in such poor condition and especially with so little brakes. On the other hand, the landscape remained very nice all the way, although after what we had just gone through in the jungle, it was really hard to be impressed again. There were still cacao plantations all over. The people of the small villages have their own cacao trees and they use to dry the beans in front of their houses at the edge of the road.
People here are very simple, they smile easily, they were genuinely happy and surprised to see us there. As we passed by, we constantly heard them saying out loud "Hello Mr.", the greeting that pretty much defines Indonesians themselves. It never ceases, everybody effusively goes "Hello Mr.!" to me, and to Julia as well, because "Miss" hasn't reached the vocabulary of most Indonesians yet, which in most cases comprises only two words: "Hello" and "Mister". After a few weeks in Indonesia you can even hear "Hello Mr." in your dreams, it is omnipresent. People are very kind, super friendly and they are always willing to have some kind of pleasant exchange with us. It is inevitable to say "hello Mr." back, I actually felt guilty whenever I didn't, so getting back to them with a "Hello Mr." every 5 to 10 m is part of life when cycling here. Once past the mountains and after 40 km of the same shit palm that is planted in Borneo after annihilating the jungle, the road reached the coast and became completely flat. The whole coast is populated by a long succession of very small and poor fishing villages sitting on bays of quiet and clear waters where time seems to stand still. Every day ended with a postcard-like sunset in some small desa where its kepalaand his family would welcome us in his humble home and would treat us with an abundant dinner and breakfast the day after, while all the village would quickly crowd his house in order to have a glimpse at us as if we were two aliens coming from some other planet. "Bulé's" (the way Indonesians call us foreigners, meaning something like "white-foreigner") rarely ever come through these traditional villages so our presence triggered an unbelievable amount of curiosity within their communities.
All the region is quite poor and under developed. Work is tough, people have years of effort traced on their bodies, whether it is due to life on the sea, the rice plantations or a mud-brick factory but they don't seem to have the time to stop and lament about their fate, instead they are quick to give you a warm smile and engage in a pleasant conversation, without resentments. They carry on life with dignity and stoicism.
Despite the road having become so easy and still remaining very beautiful, we were pretty much cycling out of habit now, we really had very little energy left and we were dying to get to Makassar in order to have some proper rest and fully recover. The last two days we found some truly amazing empty stretches of beaches, true paradise for camping in a silence that was only broken by the eventual break of very gentle waves on the shore, black nights and skies painted with stars, revitalizing breezes, deep blue oceans and unforgettable sunrises.
Like this, we slowly completed the 863 km until Makassar. There, I was finally able to find some brand new good-quality rims, grease the hubs, adjust the derailleurs and Julia repair her brakes and service her bike as well. We spent 5 days there at Ikhsan's house, a young Indonesian with a huge heart, and his lovely and crazy family. Their home was ours during those days. We slept, we ate, we bathed thoroughly, we watched movies, we played games, we relaxed and we waited until the day our ferry would sail towards West Timor.