Did Someone Say Sulawedge? The Planning Stages and Day 1
I’ve just arrived in beautiful Bali after almost 3 weeks of kayaking fun, adventure and misadventure on the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi.
I was on an exploratory kayak trip in the region with 4 other women from the Pyranha Kayak Team; Susan Doyle (IRL), Beth Morgan (GB), Beth Hume (GB) and Amy Elworthy (GB).
To be honest I’d never even heard of Sulawesi until thanks to a Facebook update I noticed that Facebook friend Amy Elworthy was planning to go kayaking there in December. I mentioned to my friend Susan that kayaking in Indonesia sounded like an ideal winter trip for us and after a few emails and messages, we had invited ourselves along. The trip was being organised by Beth Hume with help from Beth Morgan. Beth and Beth had been on other kayak adventures together in the past. I had never met or heard of either kayaker but decided if they were kind enough to let us come along on their trip, they must be decent. I could also see from the Facebook group set up to communicate before we left that both were very well organised and seemed to have covered all the bases re safety gear and equipment. So that was that. I booked a flight and resolved to figure out where Sulawesi was on the map just as soon as I had two minutes.
Our addition to the team was fairly late. Sue and I had about 4 ½ weeks before it was time to go.
By the time I went to get my travel vaccinations I still hadn’t quite figured out where we were going. So what part of Indonesia will you be travelling to? the TMB doc asked. Sulawedge I said. She looked puzzled. I adopted an “I know exactly what I’m talking about face”. Can you show me on a map? Hmm yes of course. She swivelled the computer around. Feic. No names on any of the islands. I hovered my finger in the general direction, circling it slightly to take in 3 or 4 islands at the same time. Yes it’s around here I pronounced. Yes of course. Sulawedge. Never heard of it. So I assume you will be staying away from paddy fields, dense jungle, using hand sanitiser, will be careful where you get your water from and so on. Oh yes of course I said. You know yourself you can never be too careful……
And so it went between running a business and catching up with friends and family who I wouldn’t be seeing over the Christmas break, picking up all of the gear and equipment for the trip and doing a bit of this and bit of that, I finally bought a Lonely Planet guide to Indonesia at our stopover in Dubai airport and figured out where we were actually going. Ah yes Sulawesi. Sure that’s practically the same thing as Sulawedge.

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can you point out Sulawesi?
Sue and I travelled via Jakarta where we finally got to meet Beth and Beth and to see Amy again (having met her once before at a kayak event in Austria). We then travelled to Makassar airport in Sulawesi with kayaks (thanks Emirates and Garuda Indonesia). From there we took a 7 hour van journey to Rantapao in the Taranja region of Sulawesi. As we were asleep for most of the way and we arrived in the dark, it was the next day before we got to take in the serenity of the place. The region is famous for rice barns and elaborate burial ceremonies. We stayed in a little hotel out of town which was surrounded by green and yellow paddy fields with ring nosed water buffalo rolling in muddy pools. The buffalo is sacred here and most paddy fields seem to have a buffalo sized water hole somewhere. In the distance I could see plenty of jungle and hills and I knew that’s where we were headed. I was excited and jet lagged after 3 days of travelling.

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   traditional rice barn

The first river was to be the Malu. It’s a frequently rafted river only a few hours from Rantapao and would serve as an ideal warm up. As we ate our toast and bananas and chatted to local expert Ucok, our transport arrived. Woo hoo. A truck. I absolutely love sitting in the back of a truck with the kayaks. It’s such a great way to see a place and I always feel a sense of freedom which can be hard to experience at home.

very short clip of riding in the truck (practicing embedding video for all the longer clips to come in next few posts)
We piled in and headed to the river. Beth H told us that this was the river she knew the most about so we all felt quite relaxed. After a really enjoyable journey doing lots of waving to the people we passed (who were more than a little surprised by the spectacle) and a little bit of ducking under trees and power lines, we made it to the river. The road close to the river was washed away so we drove as far as we could and started to walk in with our boats from there. We were in a very rural area surrounded by hills and jungle. We passed through a hamlet of wooden shacks with excited children running out to say hi and followed a path to the river. At some point we lost the path and it took us over an hour to find our way again. We had to do a bit of scouting through terraced paddy fields and thick shrubbery on the valley walls. I found myself knee deep in the brown clay more than once. My mind reverted to a snake refuge in Costa Rica where the proprietor had told me that most snake bites happen in the paddy fields. Jaysus I hoped the snakes were off in some other feicin paddy field and I also thought about all the people who work in paddy fields the world over. I don’t have to worry about being bitten by a snake when I go to work. We found the path in the end and made our way to the river. My boat felt heavy. Probably a sign of winter fatigue and the jet lag.
It was great to get on the river. Woo hoo. After all the planning (well some planning) and the anticipation and the travelling we were finally on the water. The adventure had begun and so far it was all fun and friendly….
The river was a really fun class 3 run with some sections of 4. Beth and Beth led without any problems and I was impressed by their paddling ability and their skill in reading the water. Excellent. I knew we had a good team. I felt a bit rusty and was happy enough to have the warm up day. And it certainly was warm. Like most Irish people, I find anything above 15 degrees Celsius to be a heat wave