Indonesia - Danau Tempe & Bantimurung

The next day we were to leave Tana Toraja. We could drive the full 8 hours and go straight to airport and take the flight back to Jakarta but the itinerary I chose for this trip put a break in Sengkang where we would be going to Lake Tempe and stay the night. It was like 4-6 hours drive from Toraja to Sengkang and again I took motion sickness pill so I was asleep in many parts of the journey which was stupid since I missed taking a final look at Toraja landscape. My mom who is ever so quickly to fall asleep surprisingly rarely slept in the car ride. There are so many long drive in this trip and after what felt like pretty long, we made a stop at the shop overlooking Gunung Nona (Buttu Kabobong) again, the same place we had our tea break on day 1. Mom and my aunt took the chance to shop at the pregnant lady whose place they shopped in in the first day. Mom feeling that we (or she to be more exact) have been deprived of adequate fruits for far too long bought a big papaya and cut it on the spot and that papaya was like gone within 15 minutes. I only got 1 piece. When I had papaya back in Jakarta, it made me realized that the papayas we had in Toraja really weren't amazing. Now I also feel the papayas here in Singapore are not as nice as what I had in Jakarta. Anyway Mom and my aunt had been asking what the nice local produce are, but they don't seem to have any, though my aunt and brother did buy some Torajan coffee. I don't know if those were nice, since I don't drink coffee. We got it from a roaster who didn't roast a whole lot of beans and we're shown how they sort the coffee beans manually between the good ones to sell and the bad ones that they use for their personal consumption.

So anyway, after that stop overlooking Buttu Kabobong, we continued with our drive, more and more away from the mountains. Long drive, it's getting hotter and hotter and finally we reached Sengkang and found a place to have lunch. Mom decided we should just go to the lake straight and after that go to the hotel instead of the other around. Following the itinerary, we would be taking a boat to explore the lake. Since we were earlier than we should have been, we had to wait awhile in the car by the bridge waiting for the boatman. It was really really hot there in Sengkang and I started to feel if this was a good idea after all, especially after looking the river we're at that is not looking beautiful. It's like in between I want to do this but I don't know if this is a good idea and my aunt also seemed to be losing interest too. Eventually the fisherman came and on we got on the small boat (motorized canoe) that has 4 seats exactly for us. The fisherman just sat by the end. We started by traversing the river with houses on either sides and some boats and really it's not looking amazing and there's a thought in my head that my mom and aunt would complain that it's a waste of time and we're wasting away in the hot sun.
At one point our boat stopped by the bank and my mom thought that it's time to get off and explore the fishing village but I wasn't sure because I wasn't aware of this. It turned out we're changing fisherman. Turned out this older man knew the way to the house we're supposed to go. At this point, I didn't know we're even stopping at a house. So anyway, the landscape by the river started to change. No more houses, but fields of corns on the right and unidentified vegetables plant on the left. As I got splashes of water, I was thinking of flesh eating bacteria! I am fine though, perhaps there's no such thing in that river, but really the dark murky water was too icky and we just couldn't imagine how these people can use the water to bath, play, and perhaps look for clams and such. By the way, since it's the dry season the water is actually not very high. Maybe it's less than 1 m. After some time in the river, it opened out to the vast space of the lake, where we started to see a few floating houses.
In the lake, the landscape changes with many of these poles / sticks forming some sort of a triangle. There were also a lot of these plants which in Indonesian we called eceng gondok. My mother theorized that the purpose of the poles was so that the plants can grow on them and beautify the lake while our fisherman said that the poles are used to catch fish under it. I'm not sure how that works and I am still intrigued what these poles are for.
Then we stopped at this floating house in what I would say middle of nowhere. To this day, I am still confused and curious on how the fisherman knows how to get to wherever he wants to go. It's not like there's a street marker in a lake. I don't know how he does that, everything looked the same to me. There were 2 other houses near this house. We're a bit confused when we're told to get off. Apparently this is what they do to tourists, tell them to get off at a local's house and just rest and relax a bit. Apparently the owner of the house we're in is not at home because her daughter or son of grandchild is sick so she's at the doctor and we're there at her empty house. Our fisherman told us that sometime foreign tourists would come and stay the night at this type of house, to which we could only say "aah ... bule ..." (aaah ... foreigners). My brother saw the guest book and indeed there were some people there and we found out that they were served fried banana which we obviously also wanted. So our fisherman went to the house some metres away, he just used a paddle to push the boat and I think the depth of the lake in our area is really not very high, maybe knee length but the turbidity was indeed awful. The house itself was very simple like the picture above. We only sat at the front of the house. I took a peek at the inside where it's a big open space for sleeping and entertaining and behind is the kitchen.

So we sat there waiting for our fried banana looking at the view, absorbing this unique experience. On another house, they're drying fish, which we think make for salted fish. Our fisherman told us that when it's the rainy season or when the water level is higher, the houses are pushed to a different place, so their location is not always the same. Again I wonder how the fisherman knows where the location of the house is and how to get there. As we sat there, another boat with foreign tourists with 2 toddlers arrived at the other house. My mom commented on how amazing is that that foreigners often take their young kids on pretty "hard trip" (for Indonesian standard) such as this with their young kids without much fuss. Yes, Asians can be really spoilt with their kids. Then another 2 boats dropped their tourists at our house, a couple from the Netherlands and 2 ladies from France. I am most impressed with the french-speaking Indonesian guide because he speaks much better french than me. We talked a bit with him. He too was bringing the ladies from Toraja and he commented about there are many guides with many language skills in Toraja, but only 2 could speak Chinese, something that he said it's quite a shame and he's working on learning that too. Anyways, we finished our 2 plates of bananas and mom said let's just go to give more space for these people. Later on my aunt told us that when she went to the kitchen all the fishermen were congregating and making fried banana for us tourists. It was truly a different experience as I told the Dutch tourist :) It was late afternoon when we left and the sun was bright but not too hot and I thought the lake looked more beautiful.
We passed a piece of dry land where there were quite a few birds standing and we saw more and more birds as we entered the river. I'm not sure what birds they were, the inside of their bodies were white but perhaps their wings were black. At one point there were many of them and they're feeding in the river. We don't know what they caught, but sometime they dropped off their catch. Maybe it was little fish.
By the time we reached the bridge where our driver was waiting, the sun was setting and it was a big bright orange, too bad I have no picture of it. I think it's a good thing we left earlier making us not arrived too late or too dark, but I supposed going to the lake later would be great too as it wouldn't be so hot. Anyways, so we went to our hotel. It seemed to be the only hotel there is in Lake Tempe. It has the same name as me, Pondok Eka. I was bracing for it to be so simple and worse than the one we had in Toraja, but it turned out the hotel is undergoing renovation and we got newly built rooms in level 3 which are really really really nice. Maybe the only downside of this hotel is it doesn't have a nice view and no wifi. By the way our Toraja hotel has a good wifi and it made me think that very often we think of Indonesia as backwards but there are some good developments going on.

The next day was the day where we're flying back to Jakarta. Our driver was always ready early and my family is also an early riser type so we set off even earlier than the planned 8 am. First we stopped at this house where the ladies of the house did traditional silk weaving. I found it strange that our driver brought us to this house, normally people would be taken to a proper store no? I wonder if it's because we're so early or because he knows these people are poor and maybe something would strike the fancy of my mom and aunt and these people get to make some money, because I really think our driver did not get any commission from things bought here. The house is really rundown, a poor house, but I saw that their 2 weaving boards (I don't know what these are called) are very well maintained. After much looking and bargaining, my aunt and mom bought a few scarfs. I think the silk is not real silk, more like a mixture or something. Anyways, here I began to understand that sometime when my mom and aunt buy things, often it is to help the people who sell it. Yes, they may want some things but they may also end up buying more because it could help these people who really do not look rich and may really need the money. Some part of it is also perhaps because our family make money by selling things so they understand how hard it is to sell something and it's like making good karma by buying things from other people, you hope that many people will buy from you.

This also makes me think how domestic tourists and perhaps to a greater extend regional tourists is important in Indonesia. Yes it's good to have all the big money tourists like the Europeans coming in, but let's face it some of them are backpackers who have low spending power and may benefit only the cheap hotels and guides. The rich ones coming may not be able to spend much because some of them may continue their trip to other parts of Indonesia like Bali, like a group I met in Buttu Kabobong, so they may not be keen on buying many things because it'll be difficult to bring around. So it's the Indonesians tourists like my mom and aunt who can bring more money to the people who sell the fabrics, the t-shirts, the strange snacks, the passion fruits syrup, and all other trinkets - the overlooked places which may only interest Indonesians who's only a short flight away to bring all these things as souvenirs. So I began to see the spending of my mom and my aunt not as silly but as good for the local economy.

Anyways, it's another 4-6 hours drive from Sengkang to Makassar. We made a stop somewhere after my mom saw many signs of this local snack and was curious and we got off to one roadside shop and got some dange which is made from glutinous rice and some palm sugar. It was interesting watching the lady made it. She burned the mould to heat it up and then stuffed the ingredients into the mould, waited for awhile for it to set and took it out. Another nice thing travelling with my mom and aunt, without them, I wouldn't be tasting all these different food. Did I mention how I love that they always stock up on snacks? Yeah, it's great that they love to buy things. Anyway we stopped for lunch at Pare Pare and we also passed the coast with the beautiful blue sea. Saw many houses on stilts. Some of them were so rundown and even oblique that I thought the people living in these houses must be very poor. Maybe they are, the ones who are living in houses that are like horizontally oblique they can collapse anytime. My mom thinks these people are just preserving tradition and there are stilts houses which look very nice with ceramic tiles for the staircases to the house.

Our flight was 5 pm something and in the itinerary we have time to go to Bantimurung where there's a waterfall. After a long drive, we made it. Ticket price is differentiated between the local (25,000 IDR / ~ 2.6 USD) and foreigners (225,000 IDR / ~ 24 USD). While I think it's kinda okay to differentiate prices, I thought the price for foreigners are too steep for what's inside and I would have liked it if the differences is not that jarring. We're in the dry season so the waterfall is not that full with only these 3 streams. I have seen pictures where the waterfall is fuller.
My aunt being nice agreed to pay for photos taken by a worker there. This guy and his friend accompanied us as we walked up the stairs and walked to see the river providing water for the waterfall. Kinda creepy if you ask me, but my mom and aunt were (or acted) cool about it. He explained that there's not much water because it's the dry season but during the rainy season the river would get flooded and it can get really scary. People may not be allowed to play at the waterfall. There's nothing much to see here actually that we didn't spend much time there, that's why I felt the ticket price for the foreigners are too high. We're approached by a boy who's selling a set of key chains with butterfly in it. Oh yeah, this park is famous for its butterfly too but I only saw perhaps at most 5. The guy said that the butterfly season is in May when there are more water too. When I was there, everything was just too dry. Anyways, the boy was like telling my mom and aunt he's selling it cheap and outside it will not be as cheap. I don't enjoy being peddled and I thought if you have paid to enter something it should free you from sellers approaching you to sell something. The boy pleaded and he said he needed the money for school and my aunt relented. I checked outside, we could actually get it cheaper and hopefully the boy really uses the money for school not like buying things like cigarettes. That's another example of my aunt buying something to help out.

We asked the boy if the butterflies were killed to make these key chains, he said no, they collected dead butterflies from the conservatory. Hopefully he's not lying again. I took a fancy on the bright color ones and I got an orange one which after some time looking at it, I was suspicious that they were dyed. There were bright red, green, and yellow ones too. Upon closer inspection, I'm convinced they're dyed because the body was a bit orange too. Either way, I still really like the orange butterfly key chain that I got. As we're leaving I thought we should enter the butterfly museum, but you have to pay to enter what seems to be just a room. Again I feel like once you pay for ticket, you should have access to everything. Yes it's only 5000 IDR (50 cents USD), but it's the principle of it. In the end we decided not to enter it, I'm not sure if the foreign couple we saw as we're walking in the same direction would go in or if they would feel incensed about it too.

After the short visit in Bantimurung, we went straight to the airport. We arrived way early. Tried to ask if we could get to an earlier flight, but was told we have to pay. If an airline doesn't pay us when the flight is delayed, why do we have to pay them if we want to get on an earlier flight when there are seats available? Tell me where is justice in this world?! Stupidly we just waited at the ground floor of the airport instead of going to the second floor where the gates are, where it is much much nicer than the first floor. The airport is new and it's really nice. Anyways, so that's pretty much it, our trip to Tana Toraja, first time in Sulawesi. I'm really glad that I got to do this and had the family with me :) For pictures from the trip to Lake Tempe and Bantimurung Waterfall, please go here.

Other things worth writing. My brother is a very generous tipper. There was discussion about how much we should tip our driver and he got annoyed with our cheapness that he said he would take care of it. He also pointed out that it's better to tip daily because that would make the driver happier in serving us. Another nice things about domestic tourists like my mom and aunt is that they're more caring on people like the driver and guide, always making sure they have things to eat. Day 1 in Toraja, they even invited the driver and guide to have dinner with us, alas they're too shy to join in. Then there's the language realization. Indonesians generally speak the local language except for people in Jakarta who I think speak Indonesian the most. Everyone we meet can converse in Indonesian but I realized that sometime they took times to compose what they're going to say and I wonder if we sounded too fast for them. There were times when I tried to simplify my question just like when I would speak in a simpler english with people here in Singapore who's not fluent in English. Also one time I saw a sign encouraging people to speak Indonesian first and foremost. Then in Sengkang, I saw that on the street signs, below the word in roman alphabets, there's the word in symbols, in what I think is the Buginese language. The characters look triangular. Seriously Indonesia is so diverse. Mom said that she saw in Toraja there were local language with unique symbols too, but I didn't see any. Other things that I noticed in Toraja that I perhaps haven't written is that some of the people I met have this very light brown eyes that it's kinda mesmerizing for me. Then there are a lot of skinny dogs around. I think they're more like guardians of the area rather than pets. It can be rather disturbing seeing these skinny dogs. Many of them were sleeping lazily too. That being said, one morning I saw a group of dogs chasing something, I think one of them may have gotten a rat in the paddy field.

Let me end this post with my last morning in Jakarta. Dad got home and got me noodle or what we call in Indonesian as bakmi. It's your usual minced pork (I think) noodle and he also got some wonton too and though he forgot to bring the soup which caused me having to eat this noodle in a rather dry mode, it tasted heavenly. It was really really good and moment like this make me think how I feel quite miserable with the food in Singapore. There's no one food I will miss dearly when I leave this place and there's so many that I miss in Indonesia, even this simple noodle which is perhaps not even the best in the area it was sold.

In my last morning, my mom also asked me to go to the bank, BCA, to get a new bank book. My dad brought me there and I was surprised that the security officer outside was holding umbrella and shielding people from the hot sun, though he didn't offer his service to us. Is it because we came in a bike? He was alone though. Anyway then inside of course everyone were so friendly and cheerful and it can be overwhelming for me having to deal with all this nicety when I am not feeling chatty (which perhaps happens way too often, me not being social). The security guards inside the bank and other staffs were saying good morning and asked what we wanted to do so that they can point us to the correct counter. As I was waiting, the office boy (man to be more precise) came around to all customers and offered us water! His boss was even asking him to offer me because the boss thought I wasn't offered since I didn't take any when the staff came around the first time. I was stunned and I wonder if one day they would upgrade and offer us snack too, donuts will be great! Then as we're leaving of course we had to hear many of the staff saying thank you. I told this story to mom and she said that it's not the case in the bank near the market where she works. Perhaps it is depending on branch, but the nice service like this just makes me feel like how it's can be super duper nice in Indonesia. Just last week, I had to deal with a really rude girl in the photo developing store. She was so rude that I had to say forget it and walked away. It took me some time to get over it and how I wish I can just punch people. The next day, I went to a different store and the lady there wasn't like extraordinarily friendly or anything, but she helped me and listened to my instruction, she also helped another customer, and she just doing her job made me feel like she's the nicest person in the world after the treatment from the girl the day before. Point is things like this make me feel it could be so different in Indonesia. Alright, enough lamenting and it's been a long post. See you when I see you. Take care peeps!

:) eKa @ 10:00:00 PM • 0 comments

Indonesia - Tana Toraja Day 2

Day 2 in Tana Toraja was spent first at Pasar Kerbau (Water Buffalo Market). It's not only for buffalo actually, it's a real market with produces like vegetables and other things, but we only went to the buffalo and pig field. The interesting part about this market is that the market changes places everyday to a different town and will only come back after 6 days and we're lucky to be in the area when there is market. The field where the buffaloes are is very very big, we didn't go all the way through. From what I could see, it seems it's the space of a soccer field. I'm not sure it it extends more at the back and there are many many many buffaloes! It's a real tourist attraction. I saw the french group from lunch in Pare Pare and many other foreigners. Buffalo is actually not cheap. Well there are those which is below 100 million IDR (~ 8,274 USD), but the average good one I think will average out to around 200 - 400 million IDR (~ 16,500 USD - 33,000 USD), while the really good ones shoot up above 500 million IDR. The one that definitely can fetch a good price are the ones with pinkish white skin (like a pig) and also black, like this. Buffaloes who also win in fights can also fetch a good price. While buffalo that's all white is like tainted meat. The guide said people will just slaughter it and sell it at the market, but the Torajan believe it's not good for them to consume it, they would get rashes. Now, buffaloes sacrifice is important for a funeral ceremony, the guide told us that for Torajan royalty, they would need to sacrifice at least 24 buffaloes! This is not including pigs and chickens. I googled and for average people, they would need like 8-10 buffaloes. Still it's a lot of money. You may need to sell a house or land to pay for all this. It's a big affair a funeral ceremony in Toraja.

I am pretty sure there is no audit in this market, like no one counting how many buffaloes are sold and the total money changing hands, but I think they could be in billions of IDR, maybe even millions of USD. All these buffaloes just for local consumption. Yes funeral is a big family event, but it's still curious how these people, common people, have that much spending power. Another interesting thing for me was that this market is over by 2 pm, I wonder how the logistic is to bring all these animals and get them prepared for the market. Also the logistic on getting them all out. It must be so chaotic. I didn't take many pictures because I was focusing on not stepping into the dung. It smelled of course, but none of us was as troubled about it as was my aunt. She struggled so we didn't linger long. We went to the pig section and my mom was amused that all of them were black pigs. There was an area where the pigs were tied in bamboos, I guess so that they don't run around and buyers could inspect them better and I have to say it's quite sad hearing the pig squealed in there. It sounded like they're so stressed out and I would be too if I am in that situation. The interesting thing is the pigs are sold by the meters. So I guess the longer they are, the more money they could fetch. Side note, on one of the drive, we saw a man just casually walked a pig like one would walk a dog. Our guide told us that the pig is a male and it's very common that the owner of the male get a call to another house so that the male can mate with a female. It's very funny seeing that man walking the dog. Anyway this pig below was in a small pen with the others, it looked concerned, didn't it?

After that, we went to another cluster of Tongkonan houses where we saw a grandma weaving under her lumbung (barn). I really couldn't understand how weaving works, how one does the pattern. That time the grandma was weaving a simple cloth without any pattern it seemed and I saw that there are 2 groups or boards (I don't know what you call it) with different colors and she inserted a thread in each iteration and somehow a cloth will be weaved. Unclear explanation? My point is it seemed there were 3 groups of threads with different colors for the fabric she's weaving. I'm really curious about this and I wish I can get lessons on how this works. Anyway after that we actually tried to go to a wedding party or a funeral, I'm not sure what. However as we were nearing, the car couldn't go in anymore because there were already too many cars inside and when the guide proposed we walk, my aunt and mom were not keen on doing that. I think there could have been many tourists in there. Anyway so we decided to just go straight to Batutumonga which is higher up in the mountain. I took motion sickness pill because I know there will be sharp turns all the way, so I kinda slept on parts of the journey. I kinda fell asleep quite a lot during many of the drives, so I missed out on seeing interesting things. As we were nearing Batutumonga we saw long stretch of paddy fields. Again too bad we're there after harvest in the dry season, so what we saw were many brown areas. We then arrived at a homestay which was quite cool. The rooms were in a form of a small tongkonan. There were foreign tourists too there and that amazed me. Maybe it's not a big deal for them, but for me thinking of the fact that they braved long flights from wherever they are to get to Indonesia and another flight to Makassar, then long drive perhaps in local buses to get to Toraja and then to Batutumonga, it's a very very long journey. They're willing to do all this to be there. Amazing and kinda humbling when you think about it.

We stayed for awhile sitting on big rocks looking at the view then we found out that inside that big rocks are used for funerals and there are bodies inside it, but I think it's alright for us to be sitting there, hopefully. After that it's another long drive back to Rantepao, the area of Toraja we're staying in. Had lunch and I decided we should go to Bori before we end the day. Chose Bori because it's actually in the itinerary. What interesting about Bori is that in addition to carving spaces inside big rocks to store the bodies, the people also erect megaliths for a funeral ceremony. Some of the megaliths were short and small were pretty tall and the space is not very spacious so it's amazing that they could put these stones in and not knock existing megaliths. I don't know how they manage to do it, amazing. Nearby we saw one megalith was in the process of being shaped, maybe to be used for a funeral ceremony in the near future. We also saw a tongkonan being built nearby. The workers use bamboos to erect the structure. These people pretty sure don't have a degree in engineering, but the fact that they know how to build the roof and make a sound and safe house is amazing.

Here we kinda managed to convince my aunt who didn't want to go up and see the burial rocks to wait at the bottom, so my mom came along to see the big rocks being used to store the bodies. These are like the ones we sat on on Batutumonga. Each rock belongs to a family and they built like little windows for each of the body or perhaps bodies. Family members who visit sometime left things like cigarettes or beers or other things in the little windows. By the way the Torajan are usually buried (can you say bury when no burying involved?) with many of their belongings like their best clothes and their jewelries. So it's like they prepare their life, their savings for their funeral ceremony. The guide told stories of a family member who refused to wear the one good clothes he had because he wanted to wear it for his funeral. It sounds silly, but you know like the phrase of how wearing your Sunday best, maybe these people just want to be on their very best when they meet the Lord :)

Alright, that was the end of our Toraja adventure. Many hours were spent on the road. We didn't explore every bit of Toraja as I would have liked to but I'm really glad to have my mom and aunt there. Again for photos, please go here here. We still had another day in Sulawesi before we left, will try to write about that adventure soon.

:) eKa @ 1:14:00 PM • 0 comments

Indonesia - Tana Toraja Day 1

So last week I went back to Indonesia. Didn't really spend much hours at home. The purpose of the visit was to go to Tana Toraja. It was planned and booked before my uncle was admitted to the hospital for the first time. The one going were to be me, mom, my aunt, and brother. As his condition worsen, I did wonder if this was going to happen. Dad was saying that we should cancel the whole thing and there was a point that mom said she and my aunt would have to cancel on this. I understood the situation but I couldn't help feeling slightly sad about it and I thought I'm such a bad person for feeling that way. As the day of the trip coming closer, I was bracing to do the trip only with my brother. I don't know how that would have worked out. Then my uncle died 1 week before the day of the trip. Mom and the family managed to settle his funeral pretty fast and after that she said it's a go. My uncle was buried on a Saturday and we went on the trip on a Thursday. It sounds heartless? Perhaps not, people deal with death differently. My family seems to be the type who think proceeding with normal programming to be the best way to deal with this. My mother stayed longer with my aunt after the funeral to help out but there were relatives who went to work the next day. There are apparently still some tradition being observed like they're doing weekly prayers which I don't know will last how long and mom has been participating in it. We managed to get back in time for mom to participate on the second one this week. I was already back to Singapore so I didn't join in. I didn't manage to see how my aunt is doing. Truth be told, I don't even see much of my dad. I arrived in Jakarta last week Wednesday and by Thursday dawn we're on our way to Makassar. 4 am Jakarta is not all quiet. Seriously it's like Jakarta never sleeps. There were more cars at the road than I expected and the airport was as busy as it was during daylight. I was seriously in awe. Indonesia doesn't strike you as being particularly hardworking, but it's like there are always people working in Jakarta at any hours.

By the way, I didn't keep a journal on this trip because this is a rare opportunity travelling with my mom so I didn't want to spend the free time writing away. As such, I have forgotten many details of the trip and have to google to cross check things. In the early stages of planning, I thought of this trip like my version of Appa Odiga but it's with mom, so it should be called Eomma Odiga. I even thought mom will have boiled potatoes like she usually does when she goes on trips, that would be so like Appa Odiga, but alas she didn't do it on this trip. People asked me why I chose Toraja. Well from travelling overseas a few times, I began to feel like I should visit more places in Indonesia. You see I have visited more places in Italy than I have in Indonesia. That's a pity no, especially when there are many foreigners who are so eager to explore Indonesia, like for example the Italian dad I met in Cappadocia who said he had gone and explored many places in Indonesia before he has the 2 toddlers. Indonesian have this national song whose first lyric says, Dari Sabang sampai Merauke (from Sabang to Merauke), which are places on the most eastern and western of Indonesia. From the story, it seems that's exactly what that Italian dad did. So it's kinda embarrassing no if foreigners know your country more than you? So this is like the other side of the life list paper, explore more of Indonesia. I am starting slow. Tana Toraja is one of those unique place which is featured in travel articles and tv programme. I am just beyond curious and I am thankful I got to do this. Double thankful because my mom and aunt were there. Not sure how I would have hold up with my brother alone.

Tana Toraja is located in the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and the nearest airport is Makassar and by near it's not that near. It's still 8 hours drive away. I decided to use a travel agency to handle our trip. It has a 5 days / 4 nights itinerary which I quite like so I chose that. We got a car and driver and a guide for 2 days in Toraja. The trip didn't follow the itinerary exactly though, so in a way I feel dissatisfied, but considering my aunt is not so keen on seeing burial sites, I guess there's no point in pushing further. Okay backtrack a bit. The flight from Jakarta to Makassar is around 2 hours, enough to make me think how I start to really hate flying. I hate being cramped in such a small place, the woes of being poor and not being able to afford nicer seats. Our flight was 5.55 am Jakarta time and Makassar is 1 hour ahead of Jakarta (the same time zone as Singapore) and so we arrived after 9 am Makassar time. By the way, my mom is like a backpacker. She insisted that all bags to be carry on. That made me quite stressed out with the liquid restriction, but thankfully it seems it's not so strict in Indonesian domestic flights(?). She's also not so fussy about accommodation, so I am kinda being pushed to be more acceptant with things. Anyway, arrived in Makassar, paid the travel guy, met our driver and off we went. 8 hours drive. It's really hot there. Getting out of the airport, my aunt commented that the streets we're kinda stuck in traffic for awhile looked like another place in Jakarta, which is a true observation. Different islands and culture, but things are strikingly similar. It's just Indonesia, we're kinda the same everywhere. A weird realization to have perhaps. I even wonder how we could be so the same when we are distance apart and culturally can be different with different local languages being spoken and different traditions.

First stop was Pare Pare for lunch. The city changes to villages with houses on stilts on each side of the roads. There are many houses, no one is isolated. Another realization that perhaps in Indonesia, though it's big, you can't really find a place with no one around. The only place I have ever been where I felt like there's no one for miles and miles was during one of the drives in Cappadocia. That being said, I am sure that there are places in Indonesia where there aren't people for miles and miles around (I think??!?). Anyway, getting to Pare Pare we passed a coast with fishing villages around. The sea looked really nice and blue. We didn't stop though so I don't have any picture of this. Entering the eating place, there were 2 other groups of foreigners having their lunch. There were like 6-10 people in their groups. One of the group is french. This is repeated often, seeing french tourists (they do travel a lot, don't they the French?) and us being the only Indonesian tourists there (well it's not holiday season for Indonesian when we were there). Anyways, lunch was seafood and it was good. Then on we continued with the drive. After some hours, we stopped for tea break at a roadside shop overlooking Buttu Kabobong or also called as Gunung Nona in Indonesian. The same french group was already there. The view from that shop overlooking the mountain was great. We passed by the shop again when we're leaving Toraja. Here my mom and the auntie had their first chance of buying stuff. They bought a local snack, a dodol like thing wrapped in corn husks.

We arrived when it's already dark at our hotel. All were tired. The aunt and mom decided to get a room with 3 beds for us girls and the staff managed to get that for us. Throughout this trip, my brother had been luckily having a room for himself. Dinner was at the hotel and it wasn't amazing. The room was simple and okay, but I don't like the toilet. I sucked it up better because I was there with my mom and aunt, so I didn't feel too devastated. The next day being the early risers that all my family are, we finished breakfast earlier and we walked around our hotel while waiting to set off for the day at 9 am. We could see mountains all around. In fact Toraja is like a highland surrounded by mountains all around. It's not cold there though, in fact it's rather hot. Indonesia itself is having a rather dry hot season right now. There are sawah (paddy fields) surrounding our hotel. We saw water buffaloes in one of the sawah and there were also ducks having their breakfast.

We then met our guide and our first stop was to Londa. We saw a prize winning (from bull fighting) water buffalo there and it is big, beautiful, and black and it cost a whooping 800 million IDR or around 66,225 USD. More on this in my next post. Londa is a cliff where there are coffins being put in the caves and on the cliffs. My auntie didn't want to go in and explore this place which is very strange because she's a strong christian so why did she hesitate? or fear? I am not sure if she's afraid. So it's just me and my brother, with my mom accompanying my aunt. I think my mom would have liked to at least see the cliff up close. This cliff has caves inside it and it's still being used by the Torajans to store the coffins of their loved ones. The Torajans do not bury the deaths, they either put the coffins with the body inside caves, or hang it on the cliffs, or carve storage place inside a big rock. This is the cliffs of Londa overlooking a paddy field. You can't see much details in the picture, but right up to the top there are coffins. It is actually a rather beautiful place.

The royalties get to choose higher places which is the prime estate. It's amazing how they can put the coffins in there. The guide said that they lower it down and there'll be people waiting to push it into the caves on top. The royalties also get to put the tau tau of their family at the balcony. It's very interesting, there were some really old ones which look simple and then there were newer ones (but still old) with more details on the carving and clothing.

Then the guide brought us to explore the caves at the bottom using 2 entrances, on the left and right. He got the help of the worker there with a lantern because the caves are really dark and not lighted up. It's very cramped inside and there were times where we had to duck and bend. Definitely the most challenging caves I have entered, because there isn't actually any walkway and because it's really dark. We saw a French couple who are like my mom's age who didn't use the worker with the lantern, they just used the light from their phone. I don't know if it helped them much and that it's quite daring of them to just explore the inside on their own. I was thinking that my mom really couldn't do this. Inside there were coffins and remains of bones and skulls. I wonder how deep the caves go but I wasn't keen of going deep inside. By the way, if you're wondering, it doesn't smell there. The Torajan do not immediately perform the funeral ceremony for the death. The funeral ceremony requires many animals sacrifice and they need to save up for this. So when someone died, they're preserved with formaldehyde and kept in what they call "rumah adat" which is basically a traditional house designated to house this body which they just call as being sick until they are ready with the funeral ceremony and this can take years.

After that we went to what I think is Kambira, this is to see the baby graves in the tree. Upon entering we saw our first cluster of Tongkonan houses. They are actual houses with people living in it. People who also sell souvenirs and that got my mom and aunt's attention. They also sell vanilla pod coming from their own backyard and that was the first time I saw the vanilla plant. It turns out it's like a vine growing around another plant, in this case, it was climbing up a cassava plant. The lady also told me it's an orchid. Apparently many of them stop growing vanilla because one time the price dropped and people got upset. Other plants that we often saw were chocolate cocoa trees. Anyway the guide gave us explanation of a tongkonan house. The carving design may be different from one house to another but certain elements are the same. Like the first thing on top is the picture of hen / rooster which symbolizes justice. Then there will be the sun and the buffaloes. We're allowed to get up to the house and explore around. I didn't go in because I feel bad because it's an actual house people live in. I just saw that the inside are divided into 3 sections. Very simple for this family. My mom and aunt got up and went to the front section, popped their heads from the window, and then I took their picture. The houses are very interesting with all the carvings. I asked the guide if the wood were carved first then assembled or the other way around. They were assembled first and then carved and painted. It took like 3 months for a few carvers to carve the entire house. Amazing.

Since again auntie wasn't interested in seeing the baby graves, it's just me and my brother. The Torajan babies who died before having teeth were buried inside the tree. So the people carve like little spaces inside the tree and put the baby in and then cover it with twigs and such. They look like little windows. The guide said the tree is like the same species of banyan tree and it's chosen because the sap is white like milk and putting the baby inside is like putting the baby in a womb. Over a really long time, the twigs will fall off and the space will be fully sealed and you could only see a faint outline of a rectangle in the tree.

Then we went to lunch. A topic that is more agreeable to my aunt who inquired on the local specialty. The guide took us to a small warung (small roadside eating place) which serve pa' piong (meat cooked inside a burned bamboo) and pork satay. We ordered the pork pa' piong, grilled fish (mom's obsessed with grilled fish), and also the pork satay because I am curious since it's definitely different from my family's pork satay. Everyone seems to be excited about eating pork as if we do not already eat pork almost everyday. It's very refreshing though to see stores openly have BABI written on their signs. Pork serving establishment in Jakarta do not seem to be able to advertise that openly. My mom said even in North Sumatra in areas where there are many Christians, they also couldn't be that open. Honestly, I say everyone should just be able to write BABI in big signs if they are serving pork and if it's halal, go and put big signs too. Fair play for all, no? By the way, most of Torajans are Christians. The one with this unique funeral customs are Christians. In many cultures in Indonesia, Indonesians can reconcile their faiths with ancestral traditions. Even with the muslims, the javanese muslims like the sultanate in Central Java for example still practice tradition which one may feel to be not quite Islamic. Anyway, I didn't like the black looking pork pa' piong because it contains the fat part, under the skin thing which I don't eat unless it's already reduced to become pork rind. The pork satay on the other hand was amazing. My mom was amused because it's big. It reminded me of Turkish chicken kebab because the cut is that big, but this pork satay is still using wood skewers. It was reddish orange because they put chili, so it has a tinge of spiciness. It's unique in that the meat was alternated between the fatty skin part which I don't eat and the lean meat. Too bad we only ordered one and it came later, only after we kinda finished with our meal. We're also given one big glass of Torajan alcoholic drink which I only took a sip because it's not looking appetizing for me, but the rest kinda finished it off :D I would describe the taste to be like cassava tapai water, which is strange. Anyway, from the window of the warung, you can see pretty beautiful sawah which is looking green and a little stream. It's the dry season in Indonesia so many paddy fields are actually empty. In many of them, you can see the cracked mud ground. This one was looking a bit green though.

Last stop for the day was Kete Kesu, another little village with many Tongkonan houses. By the way, in front of each Tongkonan house, there is a rice barn of what we call in Indonesian as lumbung. I think it is used to store other produces other than rice. It's very interesting for me to finally be able to see a lumbung and not be it just a concept that I don't experience. You know it's a lumbung because it's smaller and there's no stairs going into it. In another village, the lady who lives there told me that it's a taboo to leave your lumbung empty. I can understand it can be bad luck. So they always have a little something and though they look run down with plants growing on the roof, the lady told me that rain water does not go into it. My brother managed to got up and see what it's like inside it in one of the villages. The ladder that was used was this one bamboo which have little hole in it for you to put your foot in. Anyway, in Kete Kesu there are another type of burial method like this one where they built this interesting container with an egg like face. There are shelves inside this container and they can put many bodies of the family.

It started to drizzle a bit. So we went into a shop where my mom and aunt shopped quite a lot to the point that the lady dressed them in traditional accessories and sarong and we took picture of it. When the drizzle stopped and they're still shopping, I went up to see more of the coffins by the cliff. Here they kinda hammered wooden stake on the cliff and place the coffin on top of the stakes. The guide lifted one of the coffin and showed it to me. Apparently new body would just be put inside the same coffin, so you see many bones. By the way, I only saw bones never remains that still looked like a body. For the coffins on the stakes some of it was rotting away and the bones would just fall off. It's not a big deal for the people there. They most probably just arrange the fallen skulls and bones on top of any coffin. Kinda too bad that I didn't go up all the way to the top. The stairs were quite easy to walk on. That was day 1. Dinner was at this restaurant that served local cuisine and it involved chicken pa' piong which was better than the pork and another local specialty, babi pamerasan, which is pork which appeared black because it's cooked with buah keluak. For pictures, you can go here. I will try to write day 2 soon.

:) eKa @ 6:21:00 PM • 0 comments

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