I was last a bit vague other than it being very dry, stinking hot and not very interesting. Nearly 20 years later, it’s still pretty hot albeit with a good breeze that has been helping to keep things manageable; it’s been very dry aside from some brief overnight rain and the people here have been some of the friendliest that I have ever come across in SE Asia.
We intended to stay for 2-3 days only before skipping out of town – but ended up staying here for 6 nights. Of the 1.3 million population that live here, I think we have spoken to 40%, have photographed 60%, and have been photographed by 80% of the population! I know have some idea of what the likes of Angelina Jolie, Justin Bieber and other celebrities go through when they are hounded by paparazzi. As we walk through the streets, we are continually stopped by people wanting to say hello and to shake our hands.
Children are pushed forward to us to shake (and even kiss) our hands, old men and women, and teenagers alike ask to take our photograph and then have us take theirs. It has taken us by surprise, and it’s somewhat endearing if not embarrassing – but it can also get a bit tiresome as you just want to head back to the hotel when you are hot, sweaty and hungry and you’re asked for the 4732nd time to have you photograph taken when all you want to do is to get back, have a cool shower and put your feet up! But they are so genuinely friendly and welcoming you just can’t refuse one more photo.
Sulawesi is primarily a Muslim population, and Makassar is no exception. There are a couple of very attractive mosques around, and several times a day a muezzin can be heard on the loudspeakers, making the calls to prayer. I’ve found it quite pleasant to listen– as long as it’s not outside your hotel room at 4am! If you’re standing halfway between two or more mosques you can hear it in stereo – but not in synch, of course.
When we arrived at the hotel it was already around 6pm – time to grab some dinner and explore the waterfront of Makassar. A waterfront food court (Kampong Popsa) offered a range of local foods as well as some Western standards like fried chicken and pizza. We went for the local fare, obviously, and enjoyed an excellent bakso – a meatball noodle soup.
The waterfront comes to life at night, with family groups and friends coming to the parks to meet, eat, play and hang out. It almost had a carnival atmosphere: there are people selling balloons, cotton candy, various trinkets and toys. Small motorised cars were popular with the very young kids – dozens of 3-4 year olds were cruising around the park in their Barbie-pink cars with the flashing lights.
There are dozens of small mobile carts selling various food items including a Makassar speciality: Pisang Epe (grilled bananas).
For just a dollar or so, you get a plate of small lady-finger banana’s that have been grilled, flattened in a press, then covered in a palm-sugar syrup, chocolate sauce and grated cheese or coconut.
I have to say I didn’t particularly like it: the banana seemed like it had been dehydrated rather than just grilled, and well… the sprinkled cheese on chocolate and banana just didn’t really do it for me. But the process of sitting down with the chef, having a laugh and trying his wares was worth it. Later on, we tried the fried bananas, dipped in batter, and these were delicious.
Pelabuhan Paotere (Paotere Port/Harbour)
After visiting Fort Rotterdam (an old Dutch fort built in the 1600’s) the next morning we took a becak (cycle rickshaw) about 3km up the road to the port where all the old wooden fishing boats can be found. I always feel so guilt taking a becak – the poor drivers are old, small men but they obviously have very powerful muscles and can manage to haul us around OK without too much struggle. I gave the poor guys a bit extra at the end our ride.
Although pretty grubby, the port area was actually really interesting and we spent a bit of time chatting to the local fisherman and others who live in pretty grim conditions but are there trying to earn a few dollars any way they can.
These families who had nothing invited to sit with them, offered us small biscuits and were just keen to talk to us to find out where we were from. They’re always so friendly, and interested to find out about us. Speaking the Indonesian language goes a long way to help get the most that we can from these experiences.
A couple of days later we got up early and headed down to the Pasar Ikan (fish markets) breakfast to watch the boats unloading their fish, and the sales process to buy and sell the fish. Unfortunately I left the memory card out of my camera so didn’t get many photos.