South Eastern Sulawesi: blue skies, bluer water, white sand and some of the top diving in the world. We had looked forward to this trip with anticipation. Being so used to the service and comfort of Bali, and based on the relative cost of accommodation and services in Sulawesi, I was expecting a somewhat luxurious break. This was not to be. However, it was a magical experience in so many ways. The beaches met expectations and the diving was far from disappointing. I could have stayed in Sulawesi…
When we walked out of the airport at Makassar we were greeted with a strip of booths selling taxi rides. We paid 150 thousand rupiah to be driven the 40-60 minute trip to Malingkeri Terminal where we planned to get a local car to Pantai Bira.
Our driver dropped us almost 2 kilometers away from the terminal at another car. He had obviously pre arranged the ride – perhaps they were his mates, perhaps he was getting a cut. We didn’t particularly care, provided that we got our way to our destination.
It was only after the car that had driven us from the airport had left that we realized what we were stuck with. The car – a panther – looked like it would fall apart if you blew on it. The driver told us it would cost 300 thousand rupiah for the trip – 3 times what we had expected to pay. We bargained him down to 200 thousand, thinking it would just be us in the car and we would leave immediately. The extra few dollars seemed a small price to pay to get there quicker and in more comfort than a full car. But it wasn’t just us, and we didn’t leave immediately. They overfilled the car – 7 men and 2 women in 8 seats. We spent the next 5 hours in a hot vehicle with people smoking, other passengers virtually in our laps, seat springs in our asses and mosquitoes biting our ears and ankles.
At this point I’d like to add that I was suffering from a mild case of food poisoning. Need I say more?
Our spirits began to lift as we neared our destination and passengers started to file out of the car. As we approached Bira we showed the driver where our resort was on the map and he continued happily until he reached the gravel road and started rubbing his fingers together in the international gesture asking for more money. Of course we agreed to the extra charge to avoid his threats of making us “walk from here”, and he was happy and seemingly grateful for an extra 40 thousand rupiah.
BARA BEACH BUNGALOWS
They could have been absolutely spectacular. They were reasonably new, large, concrete bungalows on the sea shore, surrounded by a gorgeous bougainvillea garden and overlooking white powdery sand and turquoise waters. The rooms were spacious with high ceilings and large bathrooms and had air conditioning and hot water. Supposedly.
Unfortunately the AC was barely a fan and the warm air that cycled through did exactly zero to cool down the baked concrete bungalows. The water in the shower was hot but the pressure was so weak that it was barely enough to wash soap off your body, never mind shampoo out of your hair. The staff was extremely friendly bud didn’t seem to know much about what was going on and were unable to help with most things. A board at “reception” advertised a laundry service “upon request” but when we requested the service we were told they were too busy. The board also advertised a “transfer to Bira” service, but when I asked for the transfer I was told “maybe” and then no effort was made to change that maybe to a definite answer (either positive or negative). When we asked about the ferry schedule from Bira to Palau Selayar we were told maybe 8, maybe 10, maybe 12. Of course no one was able to give us a number to call, or confirm a transfer to Bira so we could find out for ourselves…
The gorgeous white powdered sand that stretched between the bungalows and the sea was covered in trash. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve seen trash on beaches – I live in Bali and have spent the last year travelling in Indonesia – but this… We were totally gobsmacked, floored by the fact that they didn’t clean the beach. Usually, particularly at holiday destinations, people clean the beach. Resorts in Bali (and everywhere else we’ve been in Indonesia) have had staff that does it, but not at Bara Beach Bungalows. Logs, lightbulbs, toys, shoes and plastic cups and bottles dominated the seas shore for as far as the eye could see.
DIVING AT BIRA
We got a boat for an afternoon to take us for some freediving at a few sites at Lui Kanglue – the closest island to Bara beach. The water was warm and crystal clear. We drifted along the side of the island in a reasonable swift current for the first dive, and explored the peak for the second. There was a gorgeous coral garden between 3 and 6 meters deep so it made for beautiful surface snorkeling as well. Nathan took his spear gun out, but there wasn’t many fish for him to shoot.
Directly off the beach from the bungalows, from the south western point, and stretching north east was a very pretty coral garden and wall. During our time there there were no fish for spearing but it was easy to spend hours exploring. Sharks, turtles, thousands of trigger fish, bommies, and all in beautiful, bathable water.
SCUBA DIVING WITH MANGGA LODGE DIVE RESORT
In my opinion, this experience was far too expensive. We paid 70 Euro for the day – 2 dives. The local boat was dangerously difficult to get to, lunch was packet noodles, and the car transfer to the harbor involved guests sitting in the back of a truck.
We dove one site of Kamping. The water was quite rough and the boat seemed as though it was going to tip over in the swell. Getting back into the boat after the dive was particularly frightening. The dive itself was nice (a wall, and finishing in a beautiful coral garden) but for me, no more exciting than the free-diving we had already experienced. Because of the rough seas the second dive was done closer to the harbor at a site off the main island.
Overall the water was warm and the visibility good, but I’ve done better dives, and had the best day without scuba gear straight off Bara beach where we were staying.
Despite some disappointments, we enjoyed our time at Bara beach. Our expectations about food and accommodation may have been slightly out of line with reality, but the water was stunning, the weather divine, and our daily dives satisfying.
To be continued…