Tales from the togean beach queen
Trip Start May 19, 2008
7Trip End Jul 16, 2008
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It may seem like I disappeared off the face of the earth, but in fact, I was very thoroughly perfecting my beach bum skills. But let me begin where I left off last time..I flew to Sulawesi, Makassar, spent one night there and took an 8 hour bus to Tana Toraja, where life after death does perhaps exist. Torajans are known for their elaborate funerals and burials. My first day I took a local bus that let me off at the end of a little dirt road, where I walked about 20 minutes until I reached a mountainside, with coffins hanging outside of a large cave opening. Inside skeletons and skulls were spread out carefully, usually with some belongings such as reading glasses or something special from their lives. People from the village are buried here, small babies are often put in hanging graves in the trees surrounding the area. The noble people of the village are not buried in the caves however, their bodies are taken up to the top of the mountain and buried there, but replicas of their bodies are carved extremely intricately out of wood, then painted and are then dresses in their actual clothing and displayed together out above the cave opening on a porch. Every night a keeper comes to board them in and every morning, the doors are opened again. I met a guide while eating dinner one night, and he invited me to a funeral ceremony the following day. The funerals last days, and I was there on a day where the family was receiving guests. The young man who died had been quite influential, and hundreds of people came to see the family, some all the way from Borneo and Papua. Every guest brought a gift: pigs being one of the best gifts to give, or if you have a lot of money, a buffalo. Sacrifices are a very big part of the funerals, and I had made sure the day before that I wasn't showing up on the day of the sacrifices, where sometimes up to 40 buffalo are slaughtered and many many pigs. I heard from a few other tourists who had shown up on the day of the sacrifices...not for me. Pigs were brought in hanging upside down, their feet tied to two bamboo sticks, carried by two men usually...and then were taken to be weighed; apparently each gift is recorded by the family. I have come to the conclusion that "Charlotte's Web" was not a popular book in Indonesia. Toraja's traditional houses are very unique, the roof like a tower and then scooping up on either side, some say like the horns of a water buffalo, or like an upside down boat. Rantepao was the town that I was staying in, green and very lush. The young guides there were amazing, they not only knew everything about every ceremony, they each must have spoke at least 3 or 4 languages fluently. From Toraja I had decided to go to the Togean Islands, which were quite a trip to get to. A ten hour bus ride turned into a 14 hour bus trip because of numerous flat tires, getting stuck in the mud because of a down pour etc...made it to Tentene at about midnight, sopping wet...in a hauling truck because my bus left me off somewhere on the side of the road and I had to hitch a ride the rest of the way. From Tentene I took a small bus to a turn off for Ampana -our wheel fell off as we were going around a corner and we had to look for it in the forest for a while, ended up catching another ride in the back of a pick up truck instead. I decided to get off at a road junction to Ampana and try to get a ride there rather than going to the next city called Poso and then turning around again, because although Poso has been safe for the past 2 years or so, there were some problems there before and I was hearing mixed things about it. I was immediately surrounded by a group of guys that would NOT leave me alone for about 2 hours, until I finally caught a ride with a car. Thankful to be on my way and not on a bus, my relief soon turned to frustration, because the driver completely ignored me when I asked several times to slow down-in Indonesian. We drove SOOOOO fast, and I'm pretty sure there were some animal casualties as a result. FINALLY made it to Ampana, feeling really frustrated with just about everything, but to make up for it I ate one of my favorite meals so far in Indonesia at a small vendor on the side of the road, so my frustration lessened. :) The next day I left Ampana on a little boat, and 7 hours later I was in the Togean Islands, on the island of Kadidiri. There are three places to stay on this island, and not only did I stay at the absolute cheapest of them all, I'm positive that anyone who stayed at the other two, were missing out immensely. There were three little bungalows at my guest house called Lestari, and the other two were occupied by an Aussi couple in their late 50's and an Italian guy. For about $7 USD/day, I stayed in my bungalow only meters from the ocean, and ate 3 DELICIOUS meals (included in the price),every day. Lestari is family owned, really basic;no electricity in the bungalows, but a little solar panel in the dining area that lit up the space every night. Two daughters were there during the time that I spent there, Ana who is 9 and Teteng who is 16. Both girls were so sweet and I became very fond of them...Ana would do my hair every morning and practice her English on me. My days consisted of writing (reached my goal of finishing-almost- 3 songs!), snorkeling in the morning, having badminton tournaments, reading in the hammock, and attempting to help in the kitchen in the evenings in order to learn some new recipes...pretty rough I realize, but some one has to do it. :) I had only planned to do this for about one week, but.....plans change. After one week I was already feeling like part of the family, and I really had no reason to leave. We'd go out with the father, Aka, at night and go fishing with him. Unlike the other 2 guest houses, we didn't have to pay extra to go snorkeling in the mornings, it was included in the $7...and the coral was beautiful. Blue spotted sting rays, sea snakes, blue, yellow, purple fish, and reefs that stretched on forever. I fell in love. The Maluku Sea is very calm also, and feels more like a great lake than a sea. I was curious to go to another island and do some hiking, so we took the boat for two hours to an island called Una Una. We went snorkeling the first day, and saw 3 or 4 huge turtles. Aka, who usually spear fished with us while we snorkeled, could spot anything. Over the weeks, I had gone from praying that I would not see a shark, to secretly hoping that I would catch a glimpse of a reef shark, (just a little one) and on this day I did finally see a black tip reef shark about 1 meter long. We were in pretty deep water in between 2 reefs, and the other 2 people were ahead of me when I spotted it, so I didn't look for too long before swimming to catch up. My theory is that if I'm swimming with other people, they'll get bit first, although I didn't really feel like testing it out-or sharing my theory with the other two. We set up camp on the beach that night, after an intense down pour, and cooked our fish and rice over the fire. I had brought my little sleeping bag with me, and for the first time on this trip, I was very proud of my over packing. Mauro, is one of those backpackers who boasts about the fact that they travel for months with just a tooth brush and one change of clothing, but as I slept peacefully, warm and cozy in my bag, he hardly slept at all and he begrudgingly admitted to me in the morning that he wished he had brought something warm. Ha! Sometimes is pays off to be the one who packs the "just in case" stuff, even if it is heavier. The following day we began our trek to the top of the volcano Una Una, which soon turned into the hike from hell. Aka had done the hike once before, but the guides, 2 local boys from the village, took us on a very different "trail." The first two hours were as expected, but soon we were in the thick of the jungle, climbing on our hands and knees. I had to take off my shoes because it was too muddy and they wouldn't grip, so I was climbing in my bare feet, COVERED in mud. It was so damp and wet, that even the trees that looked stable enough to grab a hold of, would fall down because they were rotten inside. I felt like amazon woman, in my bare feet, knocking trees over. There were areas where we had to use rope to get up and down because it was far too steep to climb. Just to add some more fun, I got my first migraine headache of my trip, so I was feeling extremely sick to my stomach. By the time we reached the top of the volcano, none of us could have cared less about some steam coming out from the ground. In total, we hiked for almost 8 hours, me with my head throbbing, Mauro with a rash from his shorts, Aka muttering under his breath that he would never do this hike ever again, while the two guides effortlessly skipped over the slick slabs of rock, cigarettes dangling from their mouths.
I celebrated my birthday in Kadidiri, nothing special, although I think the fact that I was with such a cool family in one of the most amazing places, is pretty special. I took a night ferry on Sunday to Gorontalo, and then a shared car to Manado, where I am now. I struck up a conversation with one of the older men on the ride to Manado, turns out he was a logistics manager for a huge mining company in Papua called Free Port. He is retired now and collects insects, particularly butterflies. We exchanged phone numbers and today he picked me up from my hotel and took me to a little town outside of Manado called Tomohon, which is beautiful and full of flowers., where we ate lunch. He also funds several schools in Sulawesi, and has four students from surrounding islands boarding with him and his wife at their house. We stopped by his home before he dropped me off and he showed me a few of his butterflies he has collected. I cannot even describe how stunningly amazing they were. Butterflies are something I keep meaning to mention in my letters but keep forgetting. There are such beautiful ones here, and BIG! Sometimes I have to look twice to make sure it's not a small bird, but they are everywhere and the colors!
So that in short, has been my past few weeks, although I wish I could better describe...everything! It's overwhelming and I often forget to mention things. I have about one more week left of my trip, I'm thinking I may go to Bunaken Island tomorrow..but we'll see. I was woken up this morning at 4 am by a Scottish guy sleeping in the room next door, I heard him talking on his phone and realized that something was wrong. I went out into the hall and he came out near tears, having just received a call from his sisters that his mom had a stroke and was in the hospital and to come home right away. Everything was closed because it was too early and he was too stunned to think of what to do, so I helped him pack and get a taxi to the airport. He only just got to Indonesia 3 days ago and his mom had driven him to the airport....the moral of this story being: everyone be careful and take care of yourselves!! I don't want to have to come home early. :) And yes..I will be safe too.
Love to you all!