We have passed through Makassar airport so often that I know the fish in the tank at Gate 4 by name. This was the first time (but probably not the last) that we would spend a few days sorting stuff and taking a breather before we headed off again to a more far flung destination.
A three night stay was planned. We needed to buy a cheap phone for access to the internet when WiFi was unavailable so shopping was on the cards (always a chore). We also needed to book our flight tickets to Wakatobi and make our booking at Hoga Island. Otherwise there wasn’t really a lot to see or do in Makassar and other people we had spoken to recently had the misfortune to experience persistent and torrential rainfall during their stay in Makassar (one place in Indonesia where the rains have finally arrived) and they didn’t have good things to say about the city. We were lucky that it was dry during our visit and believe that this influenced our overall impression of the place.
Makassar is the capital of south Sulawesi with a population of about 1 million and is largely Muslim but not exclusively. Beer was a bit hard to come by and not served in our hotel restaurant but we found it. They also speak incredibly fast in Makassar and Paul struggled at first to understand a single word.
Although a big city, with tall buildings and the usual western fast food outlets, there are still the telltale signs that you are in Sulawesi and the narrow side streets are full of small traditionally coloured houses. There were also a fair few parks and gardens dotted throughout the city giving it a sense of space and, and the harbour area was in the process of huge redevelopment. In fact everywhere we visited in Sulawesi seemed to be benefiting from huge investment and new building.
We travelled by taxi to Makassar with Laura and Hannah from Bira leaving early evening. The journey was relatively short (4 hours) and uneventful apart from a flying cockroach incident at a toilet stop on the way which Hannah took in her stride but nearly sent me screaming from the bathroom (well I didn’t know they could fly!). It was late by the time we arrived at our hotel however there was a welcoming hot shower and air conditioning although no beer.
Our hotel was south of the main central part of Makassar city and the area was a bit run down but only a 20 minute walk to the beachfront area and a couple of restaurants where beer was allegedly available.
On our first day we tackled the shopping challenge. It can safely be said that shopping is not our favourite pastime. Internet shopping is always our preferred method but in the absence of a delivery address and the Indonesian postal system being a bit of an unknown quantity we had no choice but to attempt it the old fashioned way so the day after we arrived, duly showered and air conditioned, we geared ourselves up for a morning of hell.
After breakfast we ventured out by taxi to the biggest shopping centre in city, Trans Studio, which also housed a cinema and indoor theme park. It was our idea of hell but we figured that if we were going to go to a shopping centre we might as well go to a big one.
We caught a taxi and traipsed around the complex for an hour before giving up and returning to our hotel. To be fair we didn’t try very hard but it was all a bit much and we couldn’t get back to the hotel quick enough. When we got there we did what we should have done in the first place and asked the reception staff where the best place to buy a cheap mobile phone and were directed to the MTC centre about 10 minutes up the road.
The MTC centre was in fact the place to buy anything mobile phone related and we picked up an Asus smart phone for about £60. It works perfectly and is ideal for surfing the net when we are without WiFi. Mission accomplished (although we are still getting to grips with the credit system where basically you buy credit but have to convert it to data – we’re still really none the wiser).
Enough time was left on that first day to book flights to Wakatobi and print out the tickets at the hotel. We also emailed the Hoga Island Dive Resort and booked in for a week. So we had achieved all we set out to do and still had 2 days to kill so we spent much of it in the hotel making the most of the air conditioning, the internet and the substantial buffet breakfast.
On two occasions we ventured out to eat at two places – the first was a place called Hostario Numero Uno which was supposed to be an Italian themed restaurant but the reviews warned us not to expect much to be available from the vast menu. That turned out to an accurate description but the pizza we ordered pizza was passable and, more to the point, they had beer.
Hostario Numero Uno is a popular place for westerners (due to the availability of beer and not, I imagine, the culinary delights missing from the menu). While we were there that evening a group of people turned up for a few drinks at the next table and we could hear English being spoken. After a while one of them approached our table asking if we could settle an argument for them. They wanted to know where we were from as they could not agree. Some thought we were French or Dutch (which happens a lot) but no-one guessed English. We chatted for a while and it turned out they were all expats from Europe living in Makassar and working doing a variety at a variety of jobs from running a dive business to teaching English. Makassar isn’t known for having a huge expat community but it is fairly close knit and the general consensus is that it is a great place to be based. Makassar wouldn’t be anyone’s first choice because it is not that well known and there’s not a lot there but we could both see the attraction. It is a fairly laid back city, really well placed for easy access to other parts of Indonesia both in terms of its central location and the international airport.
When we ventured out the next evening it would have been easy to head back to Hostario Numero Uno but we decided to break the habit of a lifetime and be adventurous. We are notorious for finding a place we like and end up going there all the time and not sampling other options (generally because when we do we are disappointed and return to the first place anyway). In Makassar we took the leap and headed slightly further afield to Café Kareba.
Café Kareba overlooked Losari Beach but we arrived too late to enjoy the sunset and there was no moon so we could barely make out the water. It was quiet with about 20 staff most of whom were lying behind the bar either asleep or surfing the net on their phones. The Wooky ordered the most delicious squid cooked in ink (it looked disgusting but I am assured it was very tasty) and I had deep fried breaded prawns with hot chili sauce. And beer. We had beer again. We were getting good at this.
We liked Makassar. We were lucky with the weather and imagine our experience would be tainted if the rain was torrential as the roads get muddy and the drains tend to overflow.
Like many Indonesian cities it is not very pedestrian friendly (hardly anyone walks anywhere in Indonesia – like most of Asia if they can ride a scooter, they will) so it makes it a little hair raising to make your way about on foot. In a busy city like Makassar with wide roads and so much traffic you wonder how on earth you are ever going to cross 8 lanes of traffic and it is a wonder that there are not more accidents in Indonesia.
Crossing a road resembles taking part in a carefully choreographed ballet (to the tune of car horns and scooters beeping) but the traffic weaves in and out with a grace and skill that is something to behold. To cross a road you have to take a leap of faith, step out into the mayhem, make eye contact with the approaching riders/drivers and trust them to manoeuvre around you. The cars and scooters wind around you like water around rocks and miraculously you reach the other side unscathed.
And walking along the pavements, such as they are, you have to have your eyes pretty much glued to the way ahead to make sure there are no gaps in the walkway or missing slabs balanced over the city’s drainage system.
Along with trying not to disappear down a hole into the sewers you also have to contend with the Indonesian equivalent of drainage covers with large inflexible metal hoops which seem to be purely to trip you up. And then the kerbs are also often about a foot off the ground so you really have to have your eyes peeled and your wits about you negotiating your way around on foot. Again, how people aren’t sprawled across the streets of Indonesian cities falling over these hoops is anyone’s guess. The lack of any decent street lighting only adds to the excitement.
Such is the charm (and equally the frustration) of visiting Indonesian cities. It becomes part of the experience and you quickly realise that you need to take responsibility for yourself because I don’t imagine you would get very far suing the local authorities here. Maybe that’s why people look where they’re going!
We were lucky that we didn’t end up falling up to our knees in sewage or flat on our faces or run over by the mad traffic. It’s really quite amazing how quickly you become accustomed to watching where you place your feet if there is the slightest chance you’ll end up sprawling flat on your face or up to your eyes in poo.
Our impression of Makassar was positive. It had a charm about it and although mainly Muslim meaning finding restaurants with beer challenging (but in no way impossible) we would like to go back and explore a bit more. However, after a few days in a hot and humid city we were ready to head to Wakatobi for more beach and diving.
[Apologies for the lack of picture and picture quality – I didn’t get the camera out once and the photos here are from the Asus which as can been see is not a brilliant camera!]