We were strongly attracted by the crazy, twisted “K” shape of Sulawesi, an island just east of Borneo. Such bizarre geography must conceal some strange beast or folk. The island is renowned for its seafaring people: the Makassarese and the Bugis. We had already come across them in Flores, where their stilt villages occupy deserted coasts and their large fishing trawlers prowl the nearby waters.
It was blazing hot when we landed in Makassar, the major city on the southern peninsula. We could barely breathe in our cheap, fan-cooled, windowless room. A few hasty days in Makassar were enough to visit the harbor, where the massive wooden “pinsi”, or Bugis steamers, dock to unload their cargo. We visited the tombs of the Makassar kings, laid in Moslem graves near the sacred rock on a low hill above the coast where they were traditionally coronated. Every night, as the heat subsided after sunset, we walked to the stone jetty in front of a red Dutch fort to eat fresh grilled seafood and drink cold “es jeruk” (freshly pressed orange juice).