Star Date: November 2007
| Hello Dear Family & Friends!
(Good day -Bahasa Indonesian)
“Your vision will become clearer only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside awakens.”
The spice of life! Cinnamon, nutmeg, and even pepper were once luxuries more highly prized and coveted than gold. Used by Europeans for burial rituals, preservatives and flavoring, Marco Polo and his 1292a.d. tales of Asia are often credited with tantalizing Europe’s taste buds and starting the quest for spices in the hidden forests of Indonesia. Suluweisi’s Gowa Kingdom was known for additional rare delicacies such as pearls, birds’ nests, sea cucumbers, tortoiseshells; and attracted free spirit traders from around the world. Gowa’s Sultan Hassanudin was known for tolerance and they encouraged free trading that excluded the tight control by the Dutch on the nearby Spice Islands. Makassar grew quickly and became a lively international, ‘cosmopolitan’ port. Not taking kindly to losing their monopolistic control, in 1660 the Dutch sank 6 Portuguese ships off shore and forced the Sultan to effectively shut down trade and centuries of exciting free trade disappeared.
This bizarrely shaped island, known as Celebes to the Portuguese, is located in the Maluku Sea, next to Indonesia’s Spice Islands (The Malukus). West of Papua, this was the logical destination for us to explore next in the Indonesian chain. Depending on the ancestry of traders in the region Suluweisi has pockets of both Christians and Muslims. Surviving peacefully side by side for centuries, it is only recently with the money and influence of outside factions that inter-communal violence has broken out in the central Poso region. For this reason, as with Mindanao in the neighboring Philippines, many travelers choose to only visit the southern portion of this stretched out island. Lack of infrastructure and great distances make for slow, arduous bus rides on Suluweisi. Time is the key. Having a two month visa for Indonesia allowed us to explore from the northern tip all the way to the south of this remote island.
As we flew over the smoldering volcanoes offshore we found out that the Manado airport had been closed two days earlier due to an eruption that filled the sky with ash. On the Pacific Circle of Fire, we felt right at home as Kilauea currently pumps out lava on our home island of Hawaii. After the quiet, darkness of Baliem Valley we weren’t prepared for the eruption of technology and mall fever that blasted us in Manado. This predominantly Christian area has exploded with the help of outside Asian developers and business is booming. Not being able to buy even the smallest modern trinket in remote Papua we were soon overwhelmed at being surrounded by mountains of superfluous stuff. Consumerism is waved in the faces of poor locals as glitzy hotels and malls appear. On the positive side Manado is soon to be on the tour circuit in Asia and it has cleaned up it’s garbage, infrastructure is improving and they are enhancing it’s waterfront, (unlike it’s shabby counterpart of Makassar in the south).
The attitude of locals remains small town and smiles abound. Like grout holding tiles together, the old neighborhoods cling tenaciously amidst the encroaching development. Tired from our tough traveling on Papua, when I arrived in Manado I was in a slump; discouraged, down and homesick. This sort of thing is bound to happen from time to time – after all we are living over seas not just pumped up for a short trip abroad. Everyone’s life has ups and downs but after resting and having a quiet reflective couple of days, my down was ‘roller coasted’ up immediately when I got lost on one of Joseph’s famous ‘Gill Tours’ of the back alleys. Seems that with all the new glitzy tourist attractions in Manado what few tourists do visit here never make it down the side streets. We were a novelty and warmly welcomed everywhere we went. Crowds of bubbling kids enveloped us and led us down the lanes to meet friends and family. We were invited into tiny, meager houses, fed tasty vegetable dishes, and hounded for group shots in each little neighborhood. Someone learning English suggested places to visit on the north island and we were sure we broke hearts when we couldn’t return that evening for a ‘block party’. From the size of the speakers almost blocking the lane and the stash of booze being assembled we knew that trying to converse would be impossible. In any country loud and drunk is the same. Our visit in the pre-party early evening was a more genuine experience. As we crossed out of the Christian area into the adjacent (alcohol free) Muslim district we were welcomed with similar excitement. Once ducking into a large mosque to escape the fray we were surprised to find a large following of our ‘public’ lingering, hoping to spend more time with the foreigners. After visiting a couple more neighborhoods where we were serenaded by children, to which we retaliated by humming and dancing hula, we pleaded with the parents to keep their kids home for a few minutes, while we made our getaway down a quiet backstreet. The energy and excitement of 40 kids is fun for awhile, even a couple of hours, but their understanding parents laughed as we did our disappearing act.
Well, quiet, side street may be a misnomer. Five times a day the surrounding mosques vied for attention of their followers. Infidels such as us must be armed with good earplugs as day breaks with an ear shattering bang. ‘Call to Prayer’ isn’t noticed much through out the day but sitting up on our rooftop at sunset with Call to Prayer echoing throughout the red skyline is an exotic experience that still sends chills up our spine. As I cooked dinner in the room where the hotel employees ate, Joseph would set up a table on the roof and we would dine as the purple sky and stars enveloped the day, reminiscent of the exotic Arabian Nights.
Not to be outdone, as darkness descended the neighboring cathedral rang it’s bells reminding followers that they have a choice. We hoped to have Buddhist monks chime in with a rowdy puja complete with cymbals and chanting, but not in Manado. Competition within society and religions can be quite childish at times, even as the 3 surrounding mosques tried to outdo each other until the resulting gibberish would send Mohammed heading for the hills.
Situated along the Wallace Line, Suluweisi has unique animal species belonging to both Australia and Asia. Rumor had it that our favorite tiny tarsier monkeys were lurking in the tropical rainforests of nearby Tangkoko Nature Reserve and off we went to one of the most impressive and accessible reserves in Indonesia. Arriving via 2 minibuses, a large bus, and finally over the mountain in the back of a public pick-up truck we descended through the lush forest to the sea. The sleepy little village, without any mosque loudspeakers or church bells, and lacking even electricity was quietly lulled to sleep nightly with the chirping of crickets and chorus of frogs. Only able to access the trails of the park with a guide we arranged to be up at 6am in search of the many monkeys, kingfishers and other exotic birds such as the elusive 4 ft tall red-knobbed hornbill. Not disappointed we feasted our eyes as a rare nesting hornbill male delivered breakfast in bed to his lovely lady sitting hidden on her nest. Such service! Kingfishers, 13 varieties total flashed amongst the trees and the black macaques, complete with their own little pink cushions attached to their butts, woke up, scratched and greeted the day. Having experienced the wonders of this stunning forest totally alone, with it’s vanishing old growth trees and unique flora and fauna, we decided to skip the tarsier ‘viewing’ at dusk, as this has become a side tour from Manado complete with throngs of noisy tourists who end up scaring all but a few of the little primates away, and those are no doubt bribed into making a guest appearance. As interesting as forest flora and fauna, was observing life amongst the fishermen in the village, having a swim along the palm fringed black sand beaches or catching the sunset with locals. This place is a winner, catch it while it’s still pristine!
Hitching a ride back to town with a pick-up truck carrying so much copra (dried coconut) in back that when the neophyte driver slid dangerously close to the edge at one point, we bailed. The laughing driver carried on, launching a series of questionable rides down island including barely banging along buses, motorcycles, crammed minibuses, backs of pick-up trucks, air conditioned cabs of motorcycle transport trucks in convoy, and riding high atop a fish truck in the pouring rain. Our standards unaffected, we staunchly refused to board an unsafe wooden tub of a ferry boat in pitching seas. Flexibility and creativity fills in the gaps of public transport on Suluweisi. A few of the tourists we did meet got frustrated and ended up hiring private cars. As we luxuriated along the serene shores of Danue Poso, they would be whisked off early for another long day of travel, as drivers are paid by the day. Having extra time allows the process of trusting that things will just happen. And they ALWAYS do!
Heading to Gorontolo, we were dropped off at a gas station and waited 2 hours for a bus that never came. Hopping in the back of a pick-up truck we stopped at town after town, looking for accommodation. It wasn’t that there was no room at the inn, there simply were no inns. We bought dinner for the family along a beautiful deserted beach and climbed back in our little nest. We had endless fun waving and playing games with people as we passed through towns and villages. They couldn’t believe what they saw and would always smile and wave frantically, yelling at their neighbors to have a look at the foreigners in the back of the pick up. Sometimes even jumping on motorbikes, riding with us for a few miles. A sunny afternoon offered a look at the trees and mountains that only being outside could provide. With numb buns and only slightly damp from a freak downpour we surfaced from under the provided tarp in time to catch a tri-cycle into Gorontolo 30km from the junction. We slept like babies that night.
Meeting a few rugged souls who had just spent a week in the remote Togean Islands we changed our route and decided to catch a ferry. The ‘better’ ship supposedly in refit, we bought passage on an old wooden ferry. Checked out and on our way, we took a motorcycle out to the dock. The boat was rolling so bad that the entryway disappeared down to 3 feet high with each swell. Taking your life in your hands just getting onboard we looked at each other and said, “No way in hell are we going to spend 10 hours on that thing!” People were throwing up just looking at it, but then again the islanders had no other way to get home. We luckily had a choice and we faced our 20 hour bus trip to Palu the following morning with more enthusiasm, knowing other options were nil. (Next time we would approach the islands from Ampana in the south, returning in a loop south towards Tentena, Danue Poso, Toraja and Makassar.
Palu was ‘there’. Looking for a reprieve from dirty walls we caught a bus out to the Coral Peninsula, 5 km. north of Donggala. Feeling adventuresome and looking for a place to hide away we took a motorcycle across the peninsula to the Kaluku Cottages. Let’s just say that the guide book was outdated, as no one had stayed there since 2006. Even the moto guys didn’t know where it was. Hilarious really and stuck out there without a paddle, we were fortunate to have the owner visiting there for the Sunday afternoon from Palu. We combined the mattresses, sheets, the one mosquito net without holes, water buckets, etc from all the 4 thatched beach huts and set up headquarters in the end unit, next to the resident coconut land crabs and the beach. We would just peel and throw our compost near the holes of these large 7 inch crabs and watch them have a nibble in stealth mode. We went snorkeling and enjoyed walks along the beach, chuckling as mud hopper fish walked along the rocks on their flippers. No lights, the stars twinkled, and the fireflies flickered. Our host spoke a little English so he took down a list of fruits and vegetables and headed off to the market by motorbike 15 miles away; a necessary condition for us to stay in his huts. Food besides fish and rice is often hard to come by in remote coastal villages with sandy, salty soil. With smoky water boiled over the fire we were all set as we cooked our meals with the totally non English speaking caretaker family. It turned out to be a fun, unique experience, but not the relaxing week by the beach we were looking for.
With the violent trouble in Poso within the last few years, we were the only foreign visitors registered in the ledger for over 4 years. The hotel had totally decayed with the lack of business and we gladly moved on towards Tentena, on the shores of beautiful Danue Poso, snuggled in the surrounding hills. We made friends with Pa’a, a teacher and her husband who showed us family photos in their new home along the lake. Her father was killed in a violent uprising when she was 14. Her home was burned to the ground in Poso in 2001, and they fled to this quiet lakeside community to escape. This bustling little town, mainly Christian, was catapulted out of it’s peaceful existence when 2 bombs ripped through their morning market in 2005 killing at least 20 people, injuring 40. We also made friends with 3 young policemen, stationed here to keep the peace. Outside money and activists are blamed for the recent flare up in this long standing religious conflict.
Lore Lindu National Park, hiding the intriguing 3000 year old megaliths, is virtually unexplored and accessible only by trekking or on dirt roads consisting of mud and holes. A crumpled photo on the wall in our hotel in Tentena caught our eye. How could we go see these remarkable stones? Scoffing at the $100 a day private jeep offered us we set out exploring the options. The next day we were on the back of a truck carrying supplies into Bada Valley. After settling into the only guesthouse in town we met a local from Bomba, who knew which hiking trails led to the megalith stone carvings. Our ‘guide’ was David, (80,000r/day) who lived down the road. A gentle soul, he excitedly led us down small trails, through rice paddies and amongst groves of cacao trees with vanilla vines hanging on them and along dusty roads through remote villages. When the path stopped abruptly, we carefully crossed the fast flowing river on a flimsy bamboo raft. During our 10 mile trek we were intrigued to see these ancient unexplained megaliths just standing out in grassy areas, miles from anything, far from any similar rocks. We spent time gazing over the surrounding countryside with ‘Langke Bulava’ (only 5 feet high), ‘Loga’ (the 7 ft high female) and ‘Watu Palindo’ (the granddaddy 15 foot male symbol), promising good energy to those who happened upon him. Little is known about the ancient stone carvings but these icons on Suluweisi, as in many places and with endless cultures on earth, honor the phallus and sun; representing creation.
It was a day full of surprises and the following morning getting out of the valley was just as much of an adventure as we hitched a ride back to Tentena with an empty cargo truck. Lightened of his load he was useless going up the unbelievably muddy inclines and we traveled in tandem with a pick up truck who ended up pulling us out of bottomless mud holes several times. Still buzzing with our promised good energy from Loga, we decided to push on south down the lake towards Pendolo.
Travel in Suluweisi is a challenge and after waiting two hours along the road, without a bus or even a fish truck to be seen, Joseph flagged down the leader of a convoy of 6 trucks, heading south from delivering motorcycles. Relaxing in the comfort of a modern air conditioned cab we stopped at a private home where all 18 guys showered, ate and slept during the usual Indonesian siesta time. A real close team of drivers it took the advice of all 14 guys to change a blown tire. We bought our driver his lunch and parted ways 5 hours later at the junction leading up to the hills of Toraja.
The mountains of Tana Toraja hide many secrets, most dealing with life after death. Elaborately decorated graves are made in caves, coffins are hung from cliffs or life size wooden effigies (tau tau) are perched like spectators in balconies along the rock faces. Hiking through rice fields, amongst the high roof batak style wooden houses, there is always a communal or family burial site on display. The most bizarre of these animist practices are the yearly funeral ceremonies held each summer, honoring all family members who have passed on in the last year. The Torajas worshipped Puang Matua, or god of their clan. Legend says their ancestors came from the south by boat and they were forced into the mountains by encroaching tribes. Christianity has wiped out many beliefs but the worshipping of water buffaloes still prevails. Considered a status symbol, a single prized albino water buffalo can cost $8000-$10,000. The family prepares the ceremony for months and hundreds of attenders, dressed in black, gather in the remote family village. The quiet little compound is transformed into a colorful display of local costumes, singing, and dancing, all led by old martial arts masters sporting bull horn hats. Hiking through serene mountain valleys to attend 2 of these events, we were amazed at the colorful rituals surrounding the afterlife. The bizarre aspect enters when you witness the endless procession of pigs and water buffalo paraded around the compound courtyard then one by one sacrificed, butchered and handed out to local residents. Warned about how bloody it is we chose to go the day before the animal sacrificing began, but it was still enough to turn your stomach. The worst part was seeing the caretaker of each buffalo stand by as his beloved ‘pet’ raised from birth was slaughtered. Told to bring a gift of a carton of cigarettes to the family, we instead chose chocolates in decorated glasses, a big hit. Joseph made friends with grandson, an engineer from Java, returning to the home village for the first time. His sister was studying medicine in China and they warmly welcomed us to join the family in the activities. I’ve heard of crashing wedding parties but never funerals. But then again Joseph and I met at a funeral so I guess this would be a fitting outing. Amid the carnage, which we chose to face away from, the reality of this ceremony in modern times was revealed. Representing social status, the number of bulls slaughtered shows the ‘Jones’ next door how rich and powerful the family is. Totally out of control, up to 30 buffaloes are sacrificed and the family is left with a monstrous debt, which is passed down to each generation. Having lived with the Kwaikutl in northern British Columbia I told them about the similarities of the potlatches amongst the west coast Canadian Indian tribes. Giving everything they had for show, the families were poor following the potlatch, but rich in status. When they started raiding neighboring villages and sacrificing slaves as a sign of status the government intervened and the ‘one upping’ craziness stopped abruptly. These young Toraja folks, and their parents, hoped that these costly funerals will end as the grandparents die. Families believe that souls of the deceased or ‘tomate’ will cause misfortune if the rites aren’t properly performed. Seems that with the large debts incurred this is already the case.
Rantepao’s Pasar Bolu is a lively regional market selling everything from coffee to mountains of fruits and vegetables and a large yard of unlucky water buffalo. Villagers from the surrounding mountains converge and exchange goods and gossip. Need to know which village is having a ceremony or where water buffalo fighting is happening, just put your finger on the pulse at Bolu?!!
Coming into the home stretch we took a bus down to Makassar. This crumbling capital in the south has seen better days. Suluweisi seafarers have sailed these rough seas for centuries and it is still possible to catch a glimpse of the billowing sails of a Bugis schooner, racing towards far off ports, reminiscent of the glory of the Kingdom of Gowa.
And so it goes…………………………………..Next Bali, Jakarta & Kuala Lumpur. We have enjoyed your emails and thank you for keeping in touch. It means a lot to hear even a few lines from you. Whatever far corner of the globe we end up, remember that we still think of you and look forward to our paths crossing again. We send you our Love and Big Holiday Hugs. May You & Yours have a Very Merry Christmas and a pleasant, relaxed Holiday Season! Until next month Keep Smiling and remember a few heartfelt words of kindness mean more than the most expensive gift under the tree. Let’s try to bring the love back into the Christmas Season. We are glad you stopped by. Take care.
Love, Light & Laughter,
$1.00US = 10,000Rp Indonesian Rupiah
Get a 2 month Indonesian visa (only 1 month on arrival) and never count on extending without great hassle and expense. Indonesia takes top billing on corruption and immigration officers may try to extort money from travelers at ports of entry and exit.
Flying into Makassar and traveling by land to the mountainous Toraja area is a priority. If you have the time take a boat over to the Togean Islands from Ampana or fly into Manado and dive on Borakan Island offshore. In-between is long, hard traveling, without a lot of highlights.
Tangkoko Nature Reserve:
Tarsier? Homestay: Next to Mama Roos, this place is run by a friendly local family and is a good option among the very basic row of places to stay. (60,000 -100,000Rp, depending on meals eaten). They make great vegetarian food (with eggs), included in overall room rate. We found the only table of fruits and vegetables in the village and cooked side by side with the family, reducing our cost and getting the vegan fare we like. Want a truck out? Just sit by the road and see what arrives. The owner is also a ranger and a good, dependable guide.
The Festival Danua Poso has not been held since 2004, due to the conflict.
We found out where the ceremonies were held and took a motorcycle or bemo up the mountain to within a km of the village, walking back down the valley, enjoying the serenity of the beautiful countryside.
Transportation on Suluweisi: