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 •

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