Living by night: Makassar
Some cities spend the whole day waking up. Life in Makassar plods along slowly in the midday heat, people sheltering indoors from the sun and smog. In the afternoon, the rains come and the air clears. As night begins to fall, the call to prayer rings out above the rooftops and the streets begin to fill with locals.
Getting there: Pelni boat
Escaping: from Terminal Daya, coach to Rantepao (Rp 100k); bemo to airport
Eat: coto Makassar
Avoid: Jalan Vagina
Makassar is Sulawesi’s boom town. In the 1600s, when the Dutch first came to Sulawesi, a resource-rich octopus-shaped island east of Borneo, they found its capital, Makassar, thriving with free trade from the Spice Islands.
Unlike the islands around Bali, Makassar sees little tourism. Gijs, a 6’2” Dutchman, attracted even more attention than I as we wandered the streets.He and I shared a real hotel room: such are the joys of finding company when travelling! We even had a lovely chat with the housekeeper when we found him sleeping in one of our beds. Hungry after the Pelni trip, we gorged ourselves on fast food and coto Makassar, the rich beef stew eaten with slugs of sticky rice steamed in palm leaves.
Most of Makassar’s history has been trampled beneath shopping malls and congested highways. Yet squeezed between street stalls and rusting fishing vessels in the city centre is Fort Rotterdam. The fort, forgotten since its last restoration in the 1970s, was the seat of Dutch power and used to hold Japanese POWs in WWII. The buildings were crumbling and closed but young people sat chatting and laughing on the battlements. A schoolteacher approached us with a group of young students and asked us to listen to the English speeches they had been preparing, but they were too shy to talk.
At night, the long beachfront promendade at Pantai Losari fills with strolling families and couples. At the end of the beach, a floodlit mosque stands on stilts over the water. The mosque overlooks the port, which may not be by mistake: next to the port – and, much to our surprise, right by our hotel – is an area of bars so notorious that the locals call it Jalan Vagina. Compared to devout Lombok and Flores, this place was unimaginable. Women in bikinis strolled along the street past hotels displaying hourly rates. We didn’t stay long.
I turned up early one morning at Pantai Losari to find a weekly festival of markets, street food and animal shows. At a tiny café where I squeezed my way to a plastic stool, I fielded endless curious stares, photos and giggles as I had hot bubur ayam, rice porridge, for breakfast. Everyone shouted, “Anda sendiri?” – are you alone? I spent a while in an internet café opposite glitzy Mall Ratu Indah until I looked down and realised that what I thought were cockroaches around my legs were rats.
I was sad to leave Makassar, a city surprisingly lively and diverse behind its seedy exterior – liked a downsized version of Bangkok. But I was heading west and my next destination was still more exotic: Papua.