Bira's a beach resort for local tourists, though it sees a fair number of foreigners too. It's a bit out on a limb... the jeep driver who took a few of us there stopped at every second shop for the first hour, and finally got going with an assortment of goods for various small businesses on the way... He then drove like crazy, hooting before passing each other vehicle or pedestrian, moving or stationary (as is often standard practice), with halts to drop things off... and waits for goats to get off the road...
My first impression was not great... Lonely Planet's somehow appealing description of 'lethargic' was not what it looked like on a Saturday evening. I think people flood in for the weekend from Makassar - come early Sunday evening, it was, if not deserted, then certainly quiet.
The Bugis people are noted seafarers, and near the village of Bira, at the end of a narrowing point of land, you can freely walk around a ship-yard on the beach, where they construct wooden ships much as you would imagine they have done for centuries, save for the use of chain-saws and the like.
A bunch of other foreigners staying at the same guest-house suggested chartering a boat to go snorkelling for the day. It turned out to be a great day-trip. The boat weighed anchor just off Bira, and we jumped in. As soon as you put your head under, the sea-floor is covered with numerous varieties of coral, with all manner of fish swimming in amongst it. I know the names of virtually nothing I saw, but the fish came in any colour you can think of, frequently striped or patterned, and the shapes of the coral were amazing. The clams which open and close while you watch were fascinating, and the dramatic large vivid blue starfish stood out.
We crossed to a nearby island, off the shore of which we snorkelled again before heading for the beach, where we had a top lunch of coconut, vegetable soup, tuna steak and rice, served of course with spicy 'sambal'.
We finished with another snorkelling stop in the afternoon (each time we would swim with the current, the boat picking us up a little further on), with the sun out and the water as clear as you could wish for.