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Old 03-19-2007, 07:41 AM   #1
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Diplomat Challenge of Indonesia - Sulawesi 2006, 1400 km of jungle and mountains

37 4WD vehicles, and 9 bikes. 1400 km of jungles and mountains. This was some trip.

We were required to ship the bikes over to Jakarta (2000 km away) for late November as the organisers had chartered a ship to get all the vehicles to Kendari in SE Sulawesi for the start on the 10th of December. The ship would take about 10 days to get there.

In the weeks leading up to the boat leaving I was pretty stressed out as I had a problem. I had paid for a new 200EXC out of country but it had not arrived. Although I also have a 400 EXC, 6 of the other guys had 200 EXC's and we had a complete 04 200 in parts, so I really wanted to bring along the new 200 just in case of problems on the trail. Much to my relief it arrived 2 days before the boat left one early Sunday morning.



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Old 03-19-2007, 07:50 AM   #2
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So 2 weeks later Pascal my French riding buddy here in Bali and me fly over to Makassar the capital of Sulawesi island.



In the airport we meet up with Rudy, Teddy, Freddy and Didi all from Jakarta. I have ridden with everyone but Teddy previously in events in Java. They all ride 200EXC's. Teddy rides a WR 250. From Makassar we fly to Kendari in South East Sulawesi another hour away.

Once in Kendari we get to the official hotel to find our bikes waiting for us all wrapped in bubble plastic and cardboard.


I had just managed to bolt the bike together in time to fly it to Jakarta to catch the boat. When I took this photo it had only been ridden for 15 minutes. I was going to have to run it in untested on the trip.

Rudy is quite the organiser and we discover that along with the 2 vehicles to carry our gear we also have 2 mechanics !



Aji the "Chief Mechanic" was soon busy fitting a sharks fin and new Fastways to my bike. It was amazing to watch him improvise the stand out of a length of wood and some zip ties - and it bode well for the rest of the trip that we would have him along.
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Old 03-19-2007, 07:54 AM   #3
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Next morning it was time for the opening ceremony. Indonesians love a ceremony and this was a great opportunity for the local VIP's in this remote corner of Indo to get themselves in the limelight.





Pascal and me wrapped in our national flags for the TV cameras. The organisers loved it that there were a couple of foreigners along on the trip and so gave us the flags. They made a big song and dance over us whenever there were any media to expose us to. We are getting pretty used to this now as usually we are normally the only foreigners riding at any of these events.



The Bupati ( the local Raja) of Kendari welcomes us.



Local beauties performed traditional dances and waved us on our way.
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Old 03-19-2007, 08:03 AM   #4
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The riders line up. 7 KTM 200's, 1 WR250 and Pascal with his WR400 sporting a new chain and a new sparkplug.
Our back up vehicles are a heavily modified Cherokee and a CJ7 Jeep which was to become a problem - but more of that later.



On the road at last. The riding is fairly easy as we are following dusty dirt roads and we quickly lose the 4WD's. We had expected mud - loads of mud but this part of Sulawesi and much of Eastern Indonesia seems to be suffering from drought (global warming again) and the rainy season is already 2 months late.



We ride for about 6 hours of pretty easy, fast trails following an excellent route book given to each of us, which is easy to follow with our enduro computers.

Base Camp 1 is beside a river. The camp is spread out over a wide area as theres not much open space. We pitch our tents right alongside the river. The first night a large portion of our vodka supply is finished.



Pascal



View from my tent at dawn



After breakfast the 4WD's start to take off. Of the 37 vehicles, the majority were heavily modified Japanese 4WD jeeps and pickup trucks. There were also a bunch of Land Rovers. I was to be very impressed with what these guys could go through and over in their machines. We gave them half an hour head start and went after them. It was a bad move as it soon proved to be very difficult to get past them as the trail we were following followed a ridge line with steep drop offs on either side and there was very few places to squeeze past. Anyway eventually we got out to open trail.



Didi



Pascal

The riding was excellent passing through really spectacular countryside with some difficult hillclimbs and fun overgrown single track. The bike was behaving great although I was still trying to take it easy on the break in. It seemed a whole lot stronger engine wise from my old 05, and with the novelty of riding for the first time with a GPR damper I'm having a ball !

Coming off the top of a mountain ridge Rudy and I begin the first of many races we are to have on the trip, only for me to lose the back end on a gravel corner the bike sliding out beneath me. Fortunatly I'm unhurt and the bikes OK although no longer new . Already we are in the middle of nowhere and getting injured out here would not be fun. I decide to take it easy for what - all of 5 minutes.



Early afternoon and we are coming down from the hills when we are met by another reception commitee of local officialdom. They know we are coming and have travelled up the mountain to meet us. This mixture of local cops, army and civil servants line us up again and take photos of us with their mobile phones !
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Old 03-19-2007, 08:08 AM   #5
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If you look at a map we have passed right across the spur of SE Sulawesi from east to west and we are entering the town of Kolaka.

http://www.indonesia-tourism.com/south-eas...lawesi_high.png

Here we are to have a late lunch with the local VIP's. It was really really hot and none of us were really in the mood for another reception like this - we wanted to be riding, but we put on a brave face. I guess that if you live in such a place as Kolaka you will never see a carnival such as ours go through ever again, so we smiled. sipped water and watched the dancing whilst making small talk with the dignitaries in our sweat and dust covered gear. The protocol that has to be followed in an event of this size is definitly proving to be an eyeopener !



Under the Eyes of the Media



What they were seeing !
The guy next to me is the Bupati who presented us with traditional sashes of welcome which is the custom here. The other European dudes are husband and wife and are from Belgium and they were in a 4WD. I do not see very much more of them on the trip for some reason.

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Old 03-19-2007, 08:16 AM   #6
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Epic journey!!!

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Old 03-19-2007, 08:27 AM   #7
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I snuck off and found Aji and we changed the oil for the first time. I wanted to do it last night, but someone opened the vodka.........

We head off on a sealed road immediatly cooling down. Kolaka had been a furnace. I get a superb view of an enormous hornbill slowly flying overhead. It is an amazing sight and I am probably lucky not to drive off the road watching it.

Soon we are back onto dirt



Me, Rudy and Dicky - one of the 3 riders from Semerang another city in Java.

The afternoons riding is once again fast and open. At one stage we are passing through a section of really thick deep bull dust . Pascal and I are head to head - I cannot see a thing and slow down. Visibility must be 2 metres due to the dust in the air - suddenly I see a huge pile of rocks right in front of me right in the middle of the track. I jump of my bike and the bike crashes into the rocks. The bikes OK and I'm OK. A lucky escape.

A couple of hours later we arrive at the Base Camp 2 near Mt. Watuwila. This is on the flood plain of a large river surrounded by jungle clad hills. We jump into the river with monkeys watching us from the other bank. It is an awesome place. What I imagined jungle to be like when I was a kid.



Pascal and I covered in bull dust, BC 2.
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Old 03-19-2007, 08:33 AM   #8
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Dawn BC 2

Today the organisers were not planning on going anywhere and we are to camp in the same place. They are doing 2 special competition stages (SCS) in the area. This was pretty cool to watch for a while, but soon we wanted to go out and explore.



SCS - Only 2 made it out of here !

We drove out of the campsite and an hour down the trail and came to this village. The whole village came out to meet us - mind boggling. They had never seen bikes like ours, never seen foreigners in the village and went totally berserk.







The novelty of this took a while to get over ! It is very cool. But in the end we high tail it out of there to much cheering and screaming and we found us some great single track for a couple of hours in amongst some cocoa plantations.



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Old 03-19-2007, 08:36 AM   #9
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More Later.......
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Old 03-19-2007, 08:38 AM   #10
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Old 03-19-2007, 05:08 PM   #11
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We get back to camp and the SCS is finished, but Samsir our head honcho, trail finder and expedition boss wants us riders to put on a MX style race for the locals and has pegged out a course during our absence. Our own SCS. Nothing very extreme but in very deep sand with a large shallow lake in the middle of one section. We will go 2 at a time and will be timed for 4 laps. Fastest rider to get first turn at the remaining beer later...



Pascal and Rudy. Pascal was to flood the WR in the lake, push it back to camp and promtly forget about it until the next morning but I'm getting in front of myself.



After the oil change I decided to see what I could get out of the 200. Wow - this thing is real fast - opened her up and ended up being 5 seconds quicker than Rudy my nearest competitor. What a great bike and still nothing has fallen off it yet The locals loved the whole event and had obviously never seen anything quite like our circus before and came over for our autographs at the tents - An unbeleivable day.



Hanging out our dinner.
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Old 03-19-2007, 05:19 PM   #12
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The going gets tough

Next morning - its another line up for the sponsors - but this time it is well impressive. I wish I have the photo and computer skills to crop these 3 photos together, but I hope you get the idea.









Then we are ready to take off, only for Pascal to remember he drowned his bike last night !

We left without him leaving Aji to save his day. More fast dusty trails this morning. We stopped for breakfast at a hut in a large clearing in the jungle and bought quite possibly the most expensive chicken this side of Makassar. US$15 - once fried it had the texture of my rear 752 and was totally unedible. Funny that Teddy had organised some sponsorship from KFC !!

(The Jakarta guys actually had done quite a good job at paying their way and getting freebies from some sponsors. )



Pascal either laughing at our breakfast or his mechanical aptitude when he caught us up.



With aching jaws we managed to get in front of the 4Wd's who had passed us earlier, again with some difficulty. Soon the track started climbing through the trees.



We are on an old rattan cutters track going up Mt. Mengkoka the highest mountain in SE Sulawesi. As we climb higher up the trail the jungle gets thicker and more inpenetrable on each side. The riding is now getting very varied. One minute we are on lush grass, the next hopping over logs hidden under piles of dry leaves, the next traversing swampy sections. Lots of twists and turns made it the best riding of the trip so far.







We stopped here as Rudy and I are racing once again and narrowly avoided riding head on into a ravine. He crashes into the back of me as I brake hard to avoid the drop off. The bikes are beginning to get a bit battered.
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Old 03-19-2007, 05:21 PM   #13
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Next installment - a KTM is caught in an animal trap....
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Old 03-20-2007, 07:11 AM   #14
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After narrrowly missing the ravine and taking some time out to take group shots, we are back in the woods - Rudy and me trading places - probably not the smartest thing to be doing especially so far from civilisation.

Anyway he's in front of me and suddenly he flys over the bars of his bike.......

He is unhurt, but its immediatly obvious that he had been snared in a trap The whole set up is made from a bent over tree connected to a length of rattan with an initial loop made from nylon rope. The whole thing is strong enough to stop the bike in its tracks. It is obviously extremly effective and I could imagine a wild pig or deer being catapulted off the ground if caught in it.
It is quite a job to untangle the front wheel, but but before doing this Rudy poses for a few photos to comemorate the moment. Something I doubt he will ever forget !





Thats rattan around the wheel - not wire or rope ! We are going to get more than enough of close encounters with this plant in the next day or so. It is a creeper that grows up trees and then hangs down covered in sharp thorns. My Dianese safety jacket and my arms are slowly disintegrating in front of my eyes. We are getting ripped to pieces.

The trail continued to climb in elavation and the terrain changed frequently. Back in Bali (where most of the jungle dissapeared years ago) I had imagined huge tracts of the same endless jungle for kilometres on end. Not.

In fact one minute we are fighting through overgrown jungle getting ripped to pieces by the rattan.......



only for the trail to open up into a rocky clearing with fantastic views across where we had ridden. The variety is a real suprise.






Our route book tells us that BC 4 is on top of Mt. Mekonga. We arrive at an exposed rocky summit and after checking with our GPS we think we have arrived. We reckon that the 4Wd's are probably at least 2 or 3 hours behind us, due to some of the things they would have to navigate through.



Looking at the summit we have no idea where 37 4WD's are going to park, but we start to mark out the riders camping area.

Only 20 minutes pass and Samsir arrives in his jeep driving point.



Soon the whole convoy is pulling up, and within 5 minutes the summit is full.



I watch in awe as Samsir and crew pitch camp. Most of these guys run successful business's and are not short of a few bob. Inside (or sometimes outside if they drive pickups) they bring along all manner of hired help to make life more comfortable in the woods. In 5 minute the kettle is on, their tents are up and somebody is preparing their dinner. We however are still without a tent let alone dinner.

We then hear rumours that only one of our vehicles has made it. With the summit full, the other 4WD's are forced to park up back along the trail so we head off down the hill to find out what is going on.
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Old 03-20-2007, 07:26 AM   #15
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We found the Cherokee and the CJ7 about 15 vehicles back. They are both in fact here at the summit but Totok the Cherokee driver tells us that the CJ7 driver had freaked out and wants to return to Kolaka The CJ7 had had a few problems - on the second day it had rolled over as it was too high and tall for the conditions it found itself in. WIth all the equipment in the convoy it had not been too difficult to get it rubber side down but the driver was a younger kid and the whole experience had shaken him up a bit. The trail up Mt Megonka was proving too much for him.

We also are told that the organisers felt that the following 2 days coming off the mountain were going to be so difficult, that they were going to change the itinerary of the expedition and cut out a chunk of the route avoiding the area of Toraja across the water in SE Sulawesi, an area Pascal and I really wanted to ride in.

We sit down and after some heated discussion (and lots more protocol attempting to avoid the organisers and Samsir losing face) decide to continue alone without the 4WD's. The CJ7 would go back and meet up later with the 4WD's at their ferry crossing point across to SE Sulawesi and the Cherokke would try to manouver itself nearer to the front of the column and then when off the mountain would follow us a day or so later on a different ferry across to Toraja. We would try to meet up with the convoy just before the end of the trip in Makassar.
As it starts to rain, we split up our gear and food between the 2 jeeps, and set up the tents for the night.


In the morning we prep the bikes and get ready to leave. Didi is having a problem with his bike as he is losing power. He needs new rings so we hang around for an hour whilst Aji works his magic.
In the meantime half the convoy is now infront of us. It is a nightmare to pass them, and it takes about an hour to get past the 12 or so vehicles in front of us. The going is now really hard.

The trail has all but dissapeared completly and several times my head nearly gets ripped of after getting rattan caught across my neck. I find myself infront as some of the boys are yet to pass the 4WD's I guess. For the first time I find the way down completly blocked.



I park the bike up and proceed to clear it with my bare hands and a tyre iron. There's logs, saplings and rattan all in a huge tangled mess. Teddy turns up and together we slowly clear enough to get our bikes through the gap.



I fall off riding through, narrowly avoiding impaling myself on a real nasty sharp piece of wood that bounces of the spine protection of my jacket. Yikes. I feel very vulnerable out here.

This is some of the toughest riding I have ever done. In places the whole jungle has decended ontop of me and I have to ride crouched along the saddle. If I sit up my neck and upper body is really exposed. Other places I push the bike for what seems an eternity.
Due to the rain last night everything is dripping wet and my goggles are fogging up as I cannot keep enough speed to keep them clear. I try to ride without them, with my head pointed down so all the branches, rattan and vegetation hit the top of my helmet, but immediatly realise that I risk losing an eye if I ride too long unprotected. It is a real pain and I wish that I have the safety specs I brought with me. (They are currently packed with the things I thought I would not need in the CJ7 heading down the other side of the mountain. )



I stop to dry out the goggles and in 15 minutes we are all here together. The 3 Semerang guys are finding it really hard going, are shaken up and want to go back with the CJ7. We talk them out of it, but I am beginning to wonder the wisdom in leading like this. Last night Samsir had suggessted that we ride behind the 4WD's as they would clear a path for us, but what fun would that have been ? I think we all have our fears as we take a breather - we are only 2 hours into a trip the 4WD'd plan to take 2 days to cover and I feel exhausted.

I decide to let Rudy take over the lead.



Rudy takes point and this happenn straight away - literally within 10 seconds of us taking off. The whole area is awash in huge hidden rain ruts / crevasses. This one is so deep it would have swallowed him and his bike up completly if he was going any faster.



This is now becoming a real battle to keep going. Our way is blocked so often it is a nightmare.



By early afternoon we get to BC5 and consider staying and waiting for the 4WD's, but we are not sure if they will even make it by nightfall so we decide to push on to the coast. My GPS tells me we are 30km away from the nearest village down by the ocean.
We are now out on a limb gambling that we can get off the mountain before nightfall.



We work our way down the mountain.



Knackered



As we decend in altitude the forest slowly changes and the riding becomes easier as the trail reappears. Without realising it Rudy and I are back to it bashing bars as we can now open the bikes up again. We feel we have made it.

We meet the first local people in the late afternoon, wood cutters returning to their village. The riding is now good flowing single track with some rocky climbs and slippery decents, but it feels great to get up to speed and unfog my bloody goggles.



The coast.

We make our way down to a village on a black sand beach and Pascal and I find out that we are the first foreigners to stay here. We find a place to stay easily. They are very friendly humble people and are facinated by Pascal and me.

The next day we drive on a sealed road for half an hour to Susua where we load our bikes onto a ferry for the 4 hour crossing to Siwa and then onto Toraja.



To be continued in Part 2 ......................
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