2 August. Three motorcycles left the office of this environmental group based in Kendari. I was a backseat passenger on one, with this fortyish Indonesian guy as my driver and travelling buddy. Pendoks and Junet rode together. Amir took the third bike going to Anda's place where we would be picking him up. Anda would later be driving, with Amir as his passenger. Coming from the hotel with my backpack and laptop, I kept wondering how I'll be able to balance myself on a two-wheeled vehicle with my hands full. But somehow, I managed to do it. And so I was off now on this 8-hour journey into the Sulawesi forests. Our convoy rode on northwards for about an hour or so. My knees were shaking, though I was trying hard to relax. Kept thinking that Kantan could lose his balance if I were to make any sudden movements. I was limited to shifting my body weight from left to right and vice versa. Or to wiggling my toes. The wind hit my face hard. And I found out that if I opened my lips slightly, it would curl backwards towards my gums. Did it a couple of times, just for fun. By 9 a.m., we were still on paved roads. We've been on the bikes since about 7 in the morning.
9:30-11 a.m. Our first stop coming from Anda's place was a gasoline station. The next one would be some food stalls standing by the roadside. Ate corn direct from the cob and two hard-boiled eggs. Then pushed it all down with extra sweet native coffee. I would have also eaten noodles with chili sauce. But I was thinking we were just having our breakfast, and would soon be stopping again somewhere along the way for lunch (which was not so, as I would find out later). We were soon back on the road again after that belly-filling stopover. By around 10:30, Kantan motioned to a sign on one of the establishments by the roadside to indicate that we have just entered Konawe district. Had no idea how large a district in Indonesia was. But I knew that after Konawe would be Kolaka district. And that's where Alaaha village would be located. The road was still good, and Kantan and I were riding at full speed, sometimes overtaking Anda and Amir who were at the lead of the convoy most of the time. By 11, we came upon this fork in the road: the paved road continuing to the right, and a rough road going straight ahead towards the mountains.
11-2 p.m. My first taste of rough road on a bike was not so bad. After almost an hour of passing through it, we saw Anda and Amir resting by the roadside, in front of this big native house (which I learned later was built by members of an indigenous mountain tribe who have assimilated a number of those mainstream Indonesian ways). After a few minutes with no sign of the third motorcycle, the Indonesians decided to send Kantan back and look for Pendoks and Junet. Meanwhile, the owners of the house offered us some chairs in the front yard. Citing the heat from the noonday sun, they asked us later to wait inside the house. My companions shared with the owners a few information about where our group was going and what yayasan we belonged to. Kantan came back a few minutes later, followed by the third bike. Apparently, Pendoks had some mechanical problems with his motorcycle and they had to stop by a shop for some repairs. We were soon on our way again. By around 1 p.m. we encountered our first whiffs of cool mountain air. The road had also turned from bad to worse with all the gaps or streams we had to cross using the log bridges. Some of the logs were worn out or not placed properly, so I had to get off at times and cross these muddy and slippery logs on foot. The routine however provided some relief to my sore butt, and was a welcome activity.