Out of time on Sulawesi

Hey there,

long time since my last blog for my idea to hide from the world worked very well. From Bali I flew via Makassar to Gorontalo in North Sulawesi just to catch the ferry from there to the Togian Islands in the middle of the Gulf of Tomini. On the flights I found myself as only “bule” (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bule) amongst nice, but not really englishspeaking Indonesians. The night ferry was an adventurous ride and helped to meet other travellers.

Kids at Gorontalo port ask for photos and pose:


Having arrived at the port of Wakai I went to “Sunset Beach” with the other bules: some had called before and so the Russian owner Irina waited for us with a small fisherman’s boat. We reached a basic but incredibly nice beach resort. No running water made us shower with “Mandis”, the same little plastic buckets you use to flush the toilet. 2 big barrells in the bathroom: fresh water that the indonesian family working in the resort brought from a well only accessible by boat (used for tea, showers and cooking). Salt water for the toilet straight taken from the sea. At night the salt water bucket was lighted as there’s fluorescent bacteria in the sea. 4 hours of electricity per day per petrol-run generator. No Internet, only sparse phone connection. 3 meals a day cooked by the mother of the indonesian family. There’s fish, rice and sometimes this or that sort of vegetables, due to availibility in Wakai’s market. Wakai itself is ugly and poor, people live on fishing, some need rice donated from indonesian government. With this background it’s easy to reach what’s so difficult back home: full awareness of basic needs and their fulfillment, gratefulness and joy in simple trades like buying fresh water. After a few days a nice group of 4 formed out of the 10 bules from the ferry. A German couple, a self-dependendly retired Englishman and me. With help of Irina who also happened to be a dive master we booked 5 dives in 5 days in different locations all over the Togian Islands.


..this part for example seems to be proposed for Unesco’s list of natural heritage. On our rides with the simple boat of the father of the indonesian family we passed furthermore Mangrove forests, lonesome beaches, Bajau villages. A typical scene:


One day we went to an island with a salt water lake inhabited by stingless (and touchy) jellyfish. Weird creatures.  At all dive sites we visited we were alone. We saw amongst many others a family of gigantic humphead parrotfish, cuttlefish changing colours and shape (video see on my Facebook page). We dove a wreck of an American B24 jet which crushed down here in world War two (US vs Japan). Almost every day the sunset was a “touchdown”..



..to be watched e.g. from here:


Leaving the Togians was definitely harder than to get there as predicted by lonely planet. Travelling is a practice of leaving and letting go. Ironically I left because I needed an Internet connection to sort out visa and flights to Myanmar.

Having left this kind of paradise it was not easy for the town of Ampana to positively impact me. The ferry went on indonesian time which I usually like: I literally can’t be late here as everything related to transport leaves up to 1 or 2 hours later. The ferry from Wakai to Ampana in Central Sulawesi, however, left 5 hours late for no clear reason. A social worker told me about his work: having counted people that need rice in the Togians he went back to visit violence-plagued families in Ampana..

Lonesome as bule can be in the far too hot standard room. Pay to get airconditioning. Got stolen my mobile phone in the same hotel. All the numbers gone, lock the SIM-card. No Englis, no help, but pay. Next day to Poso. Public transport isn’t the nicest theme in all the parts of Indonesia I’ve visited so far, but here it’s nothing but a catastrophe. The driver stops and you don’t know why. Not once, every half an hour. 3 goats in bags are put like things in the trunk of the minivan. The driver tells me something and gestically insinuates butchering. In Poso sitting at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. Waiting for a bus to Tentena that leaves in 2 or 3 or 4 hours. In Poso took place violent outrages of young Muslims and Christians from 98 until 2006, they apparently attacked each other with machetes etc. As I learned later there’s a lot of “transmigrasi” to Sulawesi from within Indonesia as there’s still enough space and cheap land. The conflict in Poso seemed to have arisen due to that. The week before apparently happened 3 murders.. Just want to get away but the bus doesn’t show up.

Arriving in Tentana I was relieved to be out of the area of the former conflict. Quiet place (as can be in Indonesia 😉) next to a huge lake called Danau Poso. They even had beer in the restaurant. The receptionist spoke brilliant English and was very helpful so I was tempted to stay a few days even if being the only bule…for that night. Next day I walked around visiting the market where they sold the local speciality of roasted bats:


Spent the day reading on yoga psychology. Some more tourists had arrived so the evenings were more communicative and I finally stayed 4 nights. Having no experience in riding scooters I had up to now avoided to ride them, but as the place was less busy and the roads OK I lent a scooter. Passing a beautiful balinese village (..transmigrasi!) I got to Saluopa Waterfall, which was very gentle and altogether about 100 m or so in steps amidst beautiful rainforest.


I stayed a whole day there enjoying nature’s beauty- completely alone until the French-German couple from my Hostal turned up and we visited the nearby cocoa farm together. We saw an eel of 1,5 m there, another speciality of the region. They can grow up to 2 or 3 m and are caught using huge bamboo traps in the river right before the river mouth.

I was lucky to get a private car from Tentena to Rantepao as that was the longest piece of journey on Sulawesi. The driver came back from the north where he brought some tourists that obviously were not on a budget. He had to go back anyway and so made a really good price. During the journey we visited relatives in Pandajora where I was invited to lunch in their house, very nice:


The guy with the moustache is a protestant priest and had just changed his position from south to central Sulawesi (rotation every 5 years).

The 12-hour ride to Rantepao went first through clove (Nelkenbäume) and cocoa plantations, then through vast and untouched rainforest. You lamentably couldn’t see far because of the huge clouds of smoke from slash burning (killing forest for more palm oil, cloves and cocoa) and campfires: Malaysia already had had trouble with Indonesia because the same thing happens in Sumatra and then the smoke went to Malaysian territory impeding tourism and aviation. However, finally we got to south Sulawesi where actually were so many campfires (burning rubbish) that it would be enough for that cloud. I couldn’t believe that before. Since then, the picture of an Indonesian staring in the campfire became a characteristical one for me.

Finally we arrived in Rantepao where I spent the next few days. Rantepao itself was much more touristy again, ugly and full of creapy stray dogs. The landscape surrounding it is however spectacular:


Apart from the nice landscape the inhabitants of the area, the proud Toraja people, surprise through their elaborate and vivid traditions revolving around the theme of death and afterlife they call Puja. Their funeral ceremonies last for several days, are prepared for months and involve the offering, slaughter and consumption of Buffalos and pigs. The spirits of the animals are said to go with the deceased. For a more elaborate description see http://weltreiseforum.com/blog/tana-toraja-zu-besuch-bei-den-bizarren-totenritualen/

With the group that formed in the Homestay I stayed in (two English, a Canadian and one originally French, now Canadian) I went for beautiful hikes in the area visiting traditional villages and spectacular burial sites. Traditional villages contain the characteristic Tongkonan, ancestral houses:


Londa. Hanging coffins are of the middle class, bones and skulls of noble class in the cave and high in the massive cliff above it. Some coffins contain the bones of a whole family. Bones and skulls lie around everywhere in the cave:




With 3 Spanish doctors I furthermore visited one of the burial ceremonies on a day of pigs’ offering. They had hired a guide that told enthusiastically about the complex rules behind such ceremonies. The status of a family is expressed in the number offered animals, there’s a lot of gossip clustered on the behavior of individuals, groups and communities at ceremonies. Penetrated by magical thinking, the violation of customs is related to all kinds of sicknesses. Here you see the village community standing in a circle around offered meat. They sing all the time. Behind, in ever new processions groups enter the stage to meet the family of the deceased. The master of ceremony reads the names and current places of residence along with the number of offered pigs or presents. Toraja living in the rest of Indonesia and the world return for such ceremonies or at least send presents. Their whole live revolves around death and the ceremonies cost fortunes.


Before being christianized 100 years ago by the Dutch they used to be animist and the ceremonies used to be even more complicated than today involving shamanist trance rituals to cure illnesses. Until today there’s a lot of magical thinking around.

On the last evening with all the fellow travellers present we had a traditional dish called Pa’Piong, which is meat and vegetables cooked in a bamboo stick accompanied by black rice. Delicious.

Finally I went another 10 hours by bus to Makassar. Originally I wanted to visit Pantai Bira on the southern tip of Sulawesi but the transport situation made me rethink that (another 5-7 hours one way from wherever). Even if the night bus from Rantepao to Makassar was a finest Mercedes-Benz luxury bus the guys managed to make it a horror trip: airconditioning as a fridge, too good subwoover under my seat with alternately Abba or indonesian pop ballads vibrating in my head, breaks every now and then with full lights on, several intense breaks and even slides. In the end, I was left at a closed bus terminal in creepy suburbs of metropolis at dawn at 5 o’clock. Some youngsters mocking immediately about a ojek (motorcycle) ride and a coffin maker (!) were all that were there. I caught a cab  and went to a hotel where I intend not to leave the room for the next three days (http://gorgeousglobe.com/2013/12/16/culture-shock-makassar/). I need a break from my break 😉. Furthermore, I want to sort all the experienced, calm down my stomach and prepare for the next load of input:

From October the 5th on I meet my sister in Rangon to discover Myanmar for 2 weeks!

Best wishes from Makassar!


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