After travelling down Sulawesi for about three weeks, long transportation days on bad roads and a cultural highlight in Tanah Toraja, my Sulawesi trip was coming to an end. Before taking off to Flores, I figured I would need a couple of relaxed days somewhere on the beach. Since my ferry to Flores would depart from Makassar, the sleepy beach town of Pantai Bira sounded like a worthwhile option. A five hour drive from Makassar, the town was supposed to be small, not too touristy and very very laid back. Exactly what I was looking for to top off my Sulawesian experience.
After yet another long day of driving, I made to Pantai Bira in the late afternoon. Just enough time to check for a nice guesthouse and have a cold sun-downer at the local beach. There I met Luke from England who also had just recently arrived. He also stayed at the same guesthouse and we decided to have dinner together. Thierry, another long term traveler from France, joined in and our team for the next couple of days was complete. We enjoyed some good food, some more cold drinks and made plans for the next day. The guys wanted to chill out on the beach whereas I planned to rent a motorbike and cruise around for a bit.
Shipbuilding the traditional way
The owner of our guesthouse mentioned that the local shipbuilders are definitely one of the highlights. There are actually two sites where the locals build traditional ships like they used to do already a couple of hundred years ago. All by hand with traditional tools and only basic machinery involved. I went to the closest site first which was also the smaller of the two. But the sight was already amazing The guys were working on a huge vessel right on the beach and another one was being built right beside it. It looked awesome and the fact that it was all built by hand made it even more impressive.
My second stop was Tanah Meru, the most renowned shipbuilding site and also the biggest. Things here were even more impressive. One shipbuilder beside the other and all kinds of different ships being built. On some the construction must have just been begun, only a few wooden beams put together, some were almost finished with only a coat of paint missing. The craftsmanship of the people there was amazing. Once I walked through the shipbuilders construction sites onto the beach, the scene was different. No ships being built but old ones rotting away on the beach or in the water. I guess it is a cycle that has been going on like that for ages. Definitely an interesting contrast.
On my way back, I stopped at a little fishermen village. People there were friendly as usual but a little bit more distant. It was still nice to walk around for a while and checking the place out. The sun was about to set and the atmosphere was relaxed with people finishing their daily business. An entertaining event was the spontaneous cockfight some guys had going on in the middle of the road. Looked like training for the real thing which is still popular in that part of the world. After a while it was time to go back and meet Luke and Thierry for our sunset beer on the beach.
Paradise on Bara Beach
The next day I only wanted to relax and refuel my batteries before heading back to Makassar and boarding my ferry to Flores. I drove a bit to make it to Bara Beach, the beach west of Pantai Bira. I arrived at the beach, parked my bike and walked down the small steps. I was struck … this might be one of the most beautiful beaches I have been to. Totally unexpected and almost deserted, only a few tourists present. The sand was as white as it can get and big, green palmtrees were lining the beach. The sea was a mix of turquoise and blue with little waves touching the fine sand here and there. It was great and I picked a shady place underneath a palmtree to chill for the next few hours. Apart from swimming a few times, that was all I did that day and it felt very good after the last three weeks which had been rather exhausting.
Our last evening we spent having our standard sundowner by the beach and some fresh fish afterwards. Luke, Thierry and I had arranged our transport to Makassar for the next day and planned to spend one night there. Then we would all head for different destinations.
Last thoughts …
Pantai Bira was a nice break after having traveled a lot from North to South Sulawesi. I was a bit exhausted by that point and the relaxed atmosphere in Bira was just right to recover again and get some energy to move on. Tourism is yet not that developed there with only a few, rather basic guesthouses and a small number of options to eat out. This made for the original charm of the town. It was good there and honestly, even if there wasn’t so much to do, I easily could have stayed longer to live the lazy life.