Where in the world is that?.....
21.07.2013 - 27.07.2013 30 °C
We arrived in Makassar the capital of Sulawesi, after a 4 hour flight from Singapore. For those of you who don't know where Sulawesi is (and we didn't know until a few months ago), it's an island in Indonesia between Borneo and Papua New Guinea. We came on advice from our friend Eidin and we will blame her if it all goes haywire! Only kidding Eidin...
What we didn't realise was that we were landing in Makassar at the start of Ramadan. The city's population is mainly muslim. No big deal really but during Ramadan, when people are fasting from sunrise to sunset, it's impolite to eat in public. Oh no, we are going to starve we thought! Fortunately there were many restaurants opened and as long as you eat inside you are fine. And boy did we eat. On our first night we ate in a very popular local restaurant called Lae Lae. They only serve fish caught from their own boat so if you don't like fish you are scuppered. The restaurant is really a big dining hall with long tables full of people. At the entrance their is a big grill full of fish, shrimps etc grilling away. We entered the door and hadn't a clue what to do as no one was paying any attention to us. Thankfully 3 men took pity on us and told us we had to choose our fish from a big plastic box of ice and then it would be cooked. The array of fish was mind boggling but they suggested a particular fish, two of which were brought to our table with grilled shrimps, rice and lots of fresh limes. It was delicious. Of course the local all eat with their hands so we did the same, with the help of a spoon every now and then.
Makassar is a mad city of 1.8million people. Noisy and a little smelly (semi-open sewers and lots of litter) but the people are very friendly. The favourite call seems to be "Hallo Meesterr" as Seamus was causing quite a stir in his Aussie Crocodile Dundee leather hat. Here the motor bike is king and nearly all the cars are Toyota (Go Toyota!) We were lullabied to sleep every night by the call to prayer from 2 of the largest mosques in the city which happened to be right next to our hotel. Thankfully I had earplugs for the 4 or 5am prayer call! Our mode of transport was the Becak which is a bicycle with 2 seats in the front and the guy pedalling behind. These guys do not obey road rules and often we found ourselves driving against the traffic on a four or five lane city street. Not for the fainthearted but quite fun when you get used to it. Driving in this city is a free for all - Italy is only in the halfpenny place.
The bathroom situation takes a little getting used to. Generally there is no toilet paper or flushing toilets. Every bathroom and toilet has a big plastic bin of water in which there is a smaller plastic 'jug' which you use to flush the loo and also for taking a bath, known as a Mandi bath. After a few days we are a dab hand at this but we go nowhere without our little wad of loo roll! Cheats!
After 3 days we were happy to head north to the countryside of the Tana Toraja region. This involved a bus ride of 11 hours to get 350km! Now you get an idea of what the roads are like. We were picked up by our guide (Amos) who we had organised for a few days to show us around. Next morning after doing our abolutions (showers are not common here, you wash by dousing yourself with a plastic jug of water), we headed into town with Amos. The town of Rantepao is mainly Christian and was celebrating 100 years of Christianity so everyone who was anyone had come to town. Think of a tribal St Patrick's Day. Every village came in their traditional dress and many were carrying pigs in elaborate hand held chariots. Lots of photos were taken to the now familiar call of 'Hallo Meesterr".
One of the main reasons to visit Toraja is for its famous funeral ceremonies. They are unlike anything else anywhere on earth. Death is big business here and you or your family can be saving all your life to afford a good send off. In fact it is common for people not to be buried immediately but kept in the house for up to 3 years so they can have a decent funeral. The event is a very public affair. Bamboo platforms are erected in the village so that the spectators can observe in comfort. These funerals can go on for 5 days! Animals are slaughtered on site. Sometimes up to 50 buffalo and even more pigs. The meat is shared out with all those who attend and is also brought home. The announcer announces who brought what to the funeral e.g. 'Aine Ryan brought 1 pig' and the family of the deceased take note and return the compliment when I snuff it. Buffalo can cost up to 2 Billion Rupiah - that's 150,000 Euro. Crazy I know. The most expensive are black and white buffalo and they are only expensive while they are alive, ie when their spirit is still alive. Once dead the meat is like any other buffalo meat. So growing buffalo elsewhere and selling in Toraja makes good business sense. In fact we are thinking of exporting them from Kakadu National Park in Oz where they are a pest and are shot to control numbers.......
We saw the body being removed from the family home and brought down the road in an elaborate bamboo 'carriage' which was held up by 50+ men and boys. Much messing occurs and there is a lot of pulling, pushing (like a tug of war) and even mud throwing. Not very somber but very entertaining and all part of the ceremony.
Next day after visiting the local market and seeing any amount of buffalo and pigs we headed off on a 2 day trek to the mountains with Amos. The trek started on the back of 2 motor bikes driven by two 15 year olds over very dodgy roads unpaved full of potholes. Scary but fun. The area is very mountainous with forests and terraced rice fields. A typical asian landscape. Everywhere is lush green vegetation from giant bamboo trees, to coffee trees to lemon grass. The hillsides and fields are full of people working in the rice fields. They have a very clever system of growing fish in the rice fields - carp and cat fish. They dig a hole in the field and when they drain it the fish gather in the hole. Ingenious. There are no roads here and most provisions are transported here by shanks mare as buffalo are too valuable to do menial work. Stone grave sides are scattered througoput the mountainside each of which is hewn out of rock by hammer and chisel.
We were joined on our walk by a lovely Dutch couple in their 60s, Nell and Martin, a fit pair. All along the dirt paths we were greeted by'Hallos' by smiling children. Lots of children. Here it is normal for people to start having kids at 16 so we were considered elderly! Like in South America people here work very hard and all the family is out in the fields helping. No shoes here only bare feet, which is just as well as it is very muddy.
We walked (in our muddy boots) through rice fields and jungle in the heat of the day. Sticky sticky sticky. SO humid. At 4.30 we arrived at the traditional house where we would spend the night; luckily just before the heavens opened and we had our first taste of tropical rain! The Torajan houses are also famous and unlike any others and are known as Tong Konan. They look like upturned boats and are very elaborately carved and painted. The rice barns next to the houses are the same only smaller. We were to sleep on the floor on mattresses. After our wash with the usual bowl of water we sat down to a lovely dinner of rice, chicken and pork cooked inside a bamboo stem in the fire. Delicious. To top off the evening Seamus played a few tunes on the tin whistle to thank our hostess only to get all the dogs in the village howling!
In the morning we had our first traditional breakfast of rice, noodles tea and leftovers from dinner. Again very tasty. Off we headed in the sun and met lots of children on their way to or from school. We were all watching our steps in the slippy mud and they were just running by laughing at us. The packet of lollipops we bought the day before came in very handy along the way and induced even bigger smiles. We walked and walked and walked in the sweaty heat. Most of it up up up. Finally we rounded the top of a mountain which was so high there were pine trees growing and finally we started our descent. Thankfully we didn't have to get motor bikes back to town as the road was horrendous with massive holes, landslides, fallen trees etc. Just the norm for Sulawesi we are beginning to think.