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 •

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