Tana Toraja and Lake Poso/Tentena (Sulawesi)

I didn’t know anything about Sulawesi but I didn’t expect being surprised like that! Sulawesi rocks more than Bali! It’s a crazy and beautiful place, and I really felt in love here.

On the ferry to Sulawesi
On the ferry to Sulawesi

I arrive by ferry in Pare Pare and take a bus to the Sulawesi’s capital Makassar. Makassar is a hot place. Too hot to stay longer than necessary. I spend only 3 days here and leave to Tana Toraja then.

Makassar
Makassar 05.10.07

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Tana Toraja – definitely not a place for vegetarians!

07.10. -11.10.07

I stay in the town of Rantepao and spend 5 days driving and walking through the valleys. One night I stay in a traditional village. There’s a sight every 10 km, the area is packed! And after each mountain there is a valley with rice fields and traditional houses much prettier than in the one you drove through before. Mamasa Valley
Mamasa Valley

Traditional Village
Traditional Village

img_0237.jpg
Thousand rice fields between mountains

I have never seen such a wild place before. How can I describe what is going on here? The area called Tana Toraja lays in the South Sulawesian highlands and is home of the Torajan people. It’s a vast, pretty and mostly unspoilt area of traditional houses, unique architecture and fascinating culture. Go to a funeral ceremony here, and you almost forget Bali’s cremation ceremonies!! A funeral is the most important thing in a life of a Torajan and some people work almost all their life to earn the money for it. How is a funeral like here?

How big a funeral is depends on the social status of the dead person and his family. The more money there is, the more impressive the ceremony. And without proper funeral rites the soul of the deceased will cause misfortune to its family.

They build extra houses for all the guest that come and kill hundreds pigs and buffalos in sacrifices. The soul of the deceased will be carried by the animals to the afterlife. They bury the dead in graves, and if a baby dies before it was one (or three?) month old it will be buried in a tree and then grow with the tree. They make Tau-Tau, life-size, wooden effigies of the dead. Since it takes a long time for some families to save the money for the funeral, they “store” the coffin with the dead in the house sometimes up to 4 years! The body are prepared these days to eliminate the smell but in former times they weren’t!

I didn’t become a specialist in Torajan culture since I stayed only a week there. You better read a more reliable resource if you are interested. I am simply impressed, how much there was to see of culture, and how beautiful the landscape is.

Traditional Clothes at a funeral
Traditional clothes at a funeral

Rice fields Rice Terasses

Funeral Ceremony
Funeral Ceremony

Market in Rantepao
Live stock market in Rantepao

Animal sacrificing at a funeral
Animal killing at a funeral

Baby Graves Baby Graves

Stone Graves
Stone Graves

Cave Grave
Cave Graves

a very expensive Albino Buffalo
Very expensive albino buffalo – to be killed at funerals…

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From Rantepao to Ampana

12.10.-14.10.07

Leaving Toraja to the coast of Central Sulawesi takes days. The winding roads through the mountains remind me of Flores. But here the smell of the cloves they dry along the roads follows you.

After 16 hours in a bus I arrive in Tentena. It’s the end of Ramadan, and there’s no bus on the weekend. I’ll have to wait. The landscape around the village is pretty, there’s a nice lake and I wish I had a bicycle. It is also very quiet, and I am almost a bit bored… But in the evening somebody knocks on my door – it’s Alice, a french girl I already met in Makassar. She’s on the way to Ampana with some others and they have a car. Lucky me. I don’t have to wait now for the bus!

Cloves along the road
Cloves are being dried along the road

Tentana
Lake Poso at Tentena

Wild Sight Borneo? – Three Weeks East Kalimantan

No tourists and no forest in Samarinda

I fly straight via Jakarta to Balikpapan in East Kalimantan and take the next bus to Samarinda the same day. After two weeks in Singapore I don’t want to stay any longer in a city but in the dschungel among natives and Orang Utans

Well, I have to be in another concrete dschungel first. Arriving in Samarinda I hope to find other tourists for a nice trek and to share the costs for guides and boat chartering. But there are no other whites in town, what I find is guide over guide over guide, all looking for a job. Or better, they find me. I experience there is a well working network in town: If a tourist arrives they start ringing up each other. The first guide gets the fish in the majority of cases since most tourists are too lazy to compare prizes and want to leave soon for a tour.

I have been waiting for 3 days and still there is no other tourist. I take the guide who had shown up first in my hotel, cause I’m also a lazy tourist and because I’m already staying in his house. Jumaid had invited me to stay with his family while waiting for other tourists. Good trick… For Indonesian rates I pay a fortune for a three day trip to the Lakes of Tanjung Issuy. Compared to western countries it is still ok, and since I could have a look at his poor living standard I don’t feel to bad with the high price.

Just the night before we leave there is a new tourist in town! The information is given by my guides daughter who works next to the hotel. I manage to meet him but he doesn’t want to come with me due to his own money restrictions. John is a student of philosophy from London, 23 years old. He wants to go all the way up the Mahakam River to Long Bagun and stay there for a week. Since I have already paid my guide and cannot cancel the tour anymore we arrange to meet in Muara Muntai three days later.Samarinda

Mahakam

Mahakam River

Marabu

Muara Muntai

Dayak Longhouse

Lake

Fishing Village in the lake

Two weeks on the Mahakam River and hunting with the Dayak people

Borneo is not the exotic wild sight I had expected. You have to go a long way into the country to see forest in Kalimantan. Along the river there is almost everywhere farmland instead of dschungel.

The lake trip with my guide Jumaid is nice though, I see many birds like Kingfishers and Marabus, stay in traditional Longhouse (there don’t live native Dayak people anymore though, it’s a home stay now) and watch the life in the fishing villages. But Jumaid seems to be bored to do his job and we don’t talk a lot although he speaks quite well English. I am happy when he leaves me in Muara Muntai, where I’m waiting now for the boat with John on board!

There are only two boats a day going upriver from Samarinda to Long Bagun, and I don’t know exactly what time they will drop in at Muara Muntai. I spend exciting 4 hours at the pier waiting for the boats. He is on the second and I jump: On the moving ship in the middle of the river- from a small boat that brings me.

For that you can figure the distances: Getting to the village of Long Bagun takes 3 days from Samarinda, getting back to Samarinda another to days.

John and I stay there 6 days among the Dayak people in Long Bagun. Don’t expect a tribal living there, those people are quite modern these days. More (or less) officially they are all Christians, cause everybody in Indonesia has to have a religion. And they can’t be Muslims since they love eating pork.

But for two days we go hunting pigs and deer with born-and-bred Dayak hunters, running through the rain forest with spears and dogs (those small people are quite fast, eh!), up and down, through small rivers, using machetes to make our way. Is that fun? Being dirty, dripping with sweat and collecting leeches on our legs, washing the sweat and dirt down with the water from the river, sleeping in a houseboat with 15 persons, watching TV in the midst of the dschungel, eating tradional food made in banana leaves – is that fun? Yes, it is fun! If you don’t mind blood, sweat and mud 🙂

I’m happy though that we neither catch a pig nor a deer, that we don’t even see one of them. To be honest, I didn’t really want to be the wisdom of a killing… But, unlucky pigs! The hunter find them on the next day and bring us the meat into our home stay. Already cooked.

On the House Boat

John and the hunters

Drinking

Longhouse in Long Bagung

River Mahakam at Long Bagung

Visiting the black Orang Utans of Kutai National Park

Before I leave Kalimantan to go to Sulawesi I head for Sangatta in the Kutai National Park, 6 hours north of Samarinda, to see Orang Utans. That’s what you actually come for in Borneo, don’t you?

I bring my own food and a mosquito net and stay 2 nights in the Orang Utan Research Center, that was founded by an Japanese scientist in the 1980ies. The monkeys are always around there and easy to see. They sit in the trees eating Jackfruit or sleep. And they are black! I didn’t know, there are black Orang Utans!(I’m happy now I bought a new camera with a good zoom in Singapore…)

It’s almost a bit like in a zoo, they are used to humans. But, well, they still live in the wilderness even if it is only in a small area of protected forest. One of the last places, Orang Utans can live wildly. There’s not much forest left in Borneo. There were bad fires some years ago that destroyed a lot of old, big trees. And there is logging, illegal and legal.

When you go to Sangatta from Samarinda there is only logging and burning, even in areas that are part of the Kutai NP. It’s so sad to see that. And it is not better in other parts of Indonesia or Malaysia. Most people here just don’t care. They have to deal with their current lifes and refuse to think of the future.

What can we do?

For further information check the following pages:

www.orangutans-sos.org

www.actionnetwork.org/campaign/neusex

www.eu-ldp.co.id

Mama

Male eating Jackfruit

Orang Utan Research Center, Kutai NP

Logging in Kutai National Park