It was time for our annual girls trip. My group of girls consisted of 3 moms (myself included) and 3 non-moms, ready to abandon the mothership for a 4-day getaway filled with sand, carbs and selfies. Our yearly trips started with an overnight treat at Javana Spa, and through the years we have expanded our horizons to areas outside Java such as Beloam in Lombok, Komodo, and now Tanjung Bira in South Sulawesi.
A 2,5hour flight took us to Makassar, and it would take us another 5 hours in a chartered bus to get to Tanjung Bira. As working girls, we like the idea of not having to do a lot of work during our mini vacay. Kakaban Tour is known for their unusual destinations and reasonably priced packages. Our package was all-in, and it included Ayub, a resourceful, kind and simply the best kind of guide. He was our art director, photographer, crab hustler and tour guide in one.
The best thing about a guided tour is not having to think, and only having to ask. Ayub politely and patiently met the demands of six alpha females. Despite our differences in travel preferences, we could all agree on one thing: a good sightseeing spot is great, but a good food spot is better.
In that spirit, we were quick to agree on our dinner and snack spots in Makassar before deciding where to go for sightseeing. Our first stop is the picturesque (read: incredibly instagrammy) Rammang Rammang karst village. A wild yet serene combination of deep green nipa palms, set off against the yellow limestone hills greeted us on our boatride through the Pute river. We entered the karst area that looked like the jungle scenery from my kids’ dinosaur books. It was lush and rocky at the same time. Of course many pictures were taken because that is our traveling style. We would stand still not only to absorb the view, but also to strike a pose. Safe to say that 80 % of our standing still time is used for the latter.
Fast forward culinary Muda Mudi pisang ijo, Fort Rotterdam and Apong crabs, and we were in the van on our way to Tanjung Bira. Unlike our previous destinations Beloam and (some parts of ) Komodo, we had plenty of 4G in the South of Sulawesi. Half of our travelling time was filled with posting, streaming and stalking. The other half was spent sleeping or looking at the cows and horses in the fields of Jeneponto and Bulukumba. After 5 hours we finally arrived at the vast and quiet Bara beach for some sunset boomerangs before checking into the beautiful Amatoa resort.
Tanjung Bira is a long drive and feels like the edge of the continent. Maybe the effort doesn’t make this a popular spot for a beach crowd that normally populate Bali in the holidays. It is a small harbor town, and we passed several guesthouses that are simple and rather undermaintained. “Most of the visitors here are pejabat on duty trip, or families in nearby towns who come over during the summer break” said our driver. “They don’t stay at places like Amatoa. They like to stay at these guest houses”.
On our first night we had dinner at Warung Bamboo, the best place to eat in Tanjung Bira. Here, we got a glimpse of the vibe that we’ll pick up in the coming 3 days. The staff was kind, but not in a subservient way. They spoke when it’s necessary, so we did not hear any unnecessary thank you’s, let alone courtesy ‘please’ or mohon maaf. They nodded after taking our order and went to the kitchen to prepare our order. I guess an hour for fried fish and chicken in a quiet warung isn’t something to complain about. Staying true to our spoiled Jakarta city girl nature, we were getting restless and ready to drop complaints. But when we looked around, we seemed to be the only one with that intention.
There was just one other guest sitting at the corner of the warung. She ordered fried rice, and her cold beer was halfway getting into hot sand temperature when her food finally arrived. Yet, she waited out and enjoyed her book instead of throwing a tantrum or inpatient glimpses at the owner.
The next day we went to the harbor to board a motorboat that will take us to nearby islands. We walked past the souvenir stalls, and none of the stall owners called us out or shoved the Enjoy Tanjung Bira dasters in our faces. They stayed in their stall and attended their kids while sometimes looking up to answer how much something costs. My friend commented, “it seems like they don’t need the money. They are so chill and unbothered”.
After a half an hour of roller coaster boating against the waves, we arrived at the breathtaking blue hues of Pulau Kambing and Pulau Liukang Loe. The snorkeling and swimming made us hungry and we stopped for lunch at a well-known cottage warung in Liukang Loe. The owners did not waste time on pleasantries and again, we waited an hour in a quiet warung before fried fish came to table. Slowly, we were getting along with the laidback and unbothered disposition that everyone here had in common. Their motto seemed to be: Yes, tourism is great, but on our time, and on our terms.
The sales oriented side of me thought of how much more can be made out of tourism if people would crank it up, and meet certain “Bali-ish” standards. But my non-sales side was impressed by the way people stick to their rhythm. On our last day, we stopped by the cliffs and overwhelmingly blue waters of the relatively unknown Appalarang beach. Ayub told me that the villagers refused the government’s involvement in developing the area. There were a couple of foodstalls with laidback owners who didn’t shove their cold drinks into our faces. We also saw some gazebos being built, and Ayub mentioned that these were initiatives from the people of surrounding villages. Appalarang has that magical postcard view and deep blue waters, worthy of a Nusa Dua resort. But the inhabitants want to do things their way on their terms, on their time.
It bothered us a bit, but we quickly adjusted our expectations. Perhaps being constantly surrounded by stunning blue waters makes up for it. Perhaps it is the gorgeous Mykonos themed Amatoa resort and its many photogenic corners. Perhaps we were just too busy enjoying to be bothered.
If you want to travel the unbeaten paths, but also demand to be pampered according to a generally known standard of service, then you shouldn’t go to Tanjung Bira. But if you are willing to travel long hours to clear waters, and if you are willing to adapt to your host’s interpretation of service, then no doubt Tanjung Bira is your hidden gem at the end of that unbeaten path.
Pak, makanan berapa lama lagi?
Ya, sementara* bu
And off we go, doing crow poses and multiple planks and numerous boomerangs on the white sands of a quiet beach while waiting for our food.
*sementara is Makasarrese for sebentar