It took a while, but here is the next blog.
The blog is about the cycling trip on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, which I made together with cycling buddy Sjoukje between 23 September and 20 November 2018.
On 21 September, after a few delays in my flight flight to Indonesia, I have to transfer Ulaanbaatar-Beijing – Jakarta to the more complicated route via Beijing and Kuala Lumpur. The planned travel time of 11 hours is therefore amply exceeded and changes in 32 hours. Tired, I arrive in Jakarta where I discover that my luggage including bicycle has been left behind in Beijing. After a forced short night’s rest in busy Jakarta, the next morning I can take the plane to Makassar without luggage and therefore without any additional payment for the bike. Yes also here: Every disadvantage has its advantage. The next morning I can receive the luggage in good order at the airport of Makassar. That same morning I meet, as planned, Sjoukje in the hotel
The upcoming blogs are written by Sjoukje and tell her personal experiences of this bike trip. I myself do not really get to write and get permission to publish her story on my website.
Here is her story:
When we prepare to land in Makassar, I see a lot of minarets spread out over the entire city. It will later become apparent that every city, district, village or hamlet on this island has its own mosque or is building one.With money from the faithful, with the help of the state or subsidy from abroad?
Makassar is a large, busy town with a wide boulevard with two large mosques, a harbour with beautiful traditional wooden ships and a 16th century, neatly restored, Dutch fort, Fort Rotterdam, with a nice museum about the history of the island. .
After two days of looking around the town and taking care of a few practical matters, we get on our bikes on September 27.The going is not easy.
The 2-lane road is good, but very busy. Cars, pick-ups, trucks and very, very many scooters and motorbikes. And they all honk when they see us on our bicycles. Very exhausting and I’m not even talking about all the people and children who call out: Hello Mistèrrr.
People seem not to respect very many traffic rules, but they allow each other space. Despite the fact that to our eyes incredible risks are being all the time, it all goes surprisingly smoothly.
Yet, after 2 days of toil, with a raw throat and watering eyes from all the exhaust fumes, we give up and arrange a small pick-up truck that brings us to Bira, a fishing village on the southeastern tip of South Sulawesi.
Here the traditional wooden ships are built, that we saw earlier in Makassar.
Because of the beautiful beaches, it is also a tourist resort and we find a comfortable guesthouse where we stay for 2 nights. A wonderful day at the beach, swimming, snorkelling and watching beautiful fishes lazily gliding through the crystalclear water, gives us enough courage to get back on the bikes again.
And although we largely continue to follow the main road, there is now much less traffic and it becomes fun, though still very hot and humid. And that will not change.
We follow the road to the north, more hilly where it goes a bit inland, a little flatter as it gets closer to the sea, but almost never really flat.
So far the road surface was pretty good generally , but between Watampone and Sinjay the asphalt suddenly stops and we are treated to a poorly maintained gravel road. Large stones, sand and potholes make cycling a challenge. There are no bridges here and twice we are transferred across a river on a bamboo raft. Very local and very scenic. But also quite nice when, after 15 km., we are back on asphalt.
The landscape is not very beautiful at this time of the year, towards the end of the dry season. Fields with yellow stubble where the rice has been harvested and now some cows are grazing. Some nice views. Along the entire route there is ribbon development. And also in every hamlet a mosque or one under construction. One muezzin still reverberates in the background when the next one announces itself somewhere out front.
Fear of being hungry and / or thirsty is unnecessary, everywhere are shops and warungs (eateries) with all kinds of tasty snacks and chilled drinks. Only a cold beer as a reward at the end of the day is often difficult to find in this very Islamic country, where fortunately nobody seems to take offense at a woman in cycling shorts.
A lot of drinking is necessary, because while cycling one loses a lot of moisture. So much so that despite the 4 liters of water I drink along the way, I hardly have to pee during the day.
Here and there at the villages we see large, high, rectangular buildings, with small round screened holes in the walls and on the roof a small structure with a windowlike opening and a loudspeaker on top emitting loud bird sounds. When we finally find someone who speaks enough English to explain to us what they are for, we hear that it is all about the nests of the swallows that are kept inside. Swallows build their nests with saliva and they are a popular ingredient of traditional Chinese medicine and birds’s nests soup and therefore costly. Good business!
Gradually the landscape becomes greener, especially in the vicinity of rivers. There the water is pumped through thick pipes that go under the road into the irrigation channels that water the newly planted rice fields.
After a few days we arrive in Sengkang, located at the Tempe lake, known for the mulberry plantations and the silk spinning and weaving mills in the area.
We spend a whole day in the morning to see the spinning mill, which unfortunately is not active, and a weaving mill, which is. In the afternoon, we take a boat trip on the lake to a small cluster of fishermen’s houses , floating on bamboo-made platforms. Primitive and picturesque.
In many places, the fishermen have placed very long bamboo sticks, bound together by 3 or 4, just like the ones for beans in an allotment, upright in the shallow water to anchor large rafts of floating water plants. Below those, the fish can hide from the hungry fish-eating birds and also spawn.
Our next goal is Palopo, which we reach after two and a half days of cycling. It is a nice, fairly flat route. Green rice fields, many banana trees. Along the way occasional stalls with fruit. Nothing is as tasty as a ripe watermelon, eating and drinking at the same time.
A stop every hour or 10/15 km. is necessary to refuel again. We try to find shady places where we can rest and are occasionally invited into a house. Two friendly ladies offer us comfortable chairs, chilled water and pisang goreng. Somewhere else we apparently look so tired, that a lady spreads out a blanket on the porch, puts down two pillows and invites us to take a siesta.
These are nice encounters.
On the way we pass, for the first time, a few Christian churches in this Muslim-dominated country. It is Sunday and hearing a gospel-like song we stop. But the church door is closed, so we cannot see what’s happening inside.
Palopa is a city with allure. We drive to the centre along a wide 2-lane avenue with impressive government buildings, one of which looks like the cathedral of Oudenbosch.
Soon we find a wisma. That is a small kind of hotel, sometimes pretty neat and clean, sometimes less so. Always with air conditioning and bathroom, sometimes with a shower, more often with a bucket and jug or can to mandi, the Indonesian way to shower.
The beds often have not only pillows, but also a long round pillow like a big roll of licorice, the kind that the English call a Dutch wife.
In the afternoon we drive around the city and in the evening we eat a delicious grilled fish.
And those were our first two weeks in Sulawesi.
Today is Monday October 8. Our plan is to go from Palopo to Rantepao in the Toraja area, the (cultural) highlight of everyone’s Sulawesi journey.
But first Bert has to arrange the extension of his visa here. It is unclear how long that will take, because the server with the head office in Jakarta does not work. I decide to go ahead, because it is definitely better to spend some extra time in Toraja-land than in Palopo. The road to it is 55km. long and very much uphill. So it is worth 6 Euro to get a place for myself and the bike on a bemo (small passenger van). It is a beautiful trip into the mountains with incredible views. On arrival in Rantepao, Rosalina’s Homestay is quickly found. A wonderfully comfortable and clean accommodation on the edge of town with a terrace overlooking the rice fields. And, what very normal for us, but quite special here, a sink in the bathroom! And that is also called a ‘wastafel’ here.
Many words you encounter along the way go back to colonial times: handdoek, knalpot, koekje, lekker, notaris, kantor, kuitansi, es (ice), ban (band), leveransi and korupsi. It seems that often Dutch words were used for those things that were not known here before the Dutch arrived in the 16th century. But apart from a guide at Fort Rotterdam, we have hardly spoken to anyone who still speaks the language. On the other hand, many words in Bahasa Indonesia, especially those about food, are very recognizable to Dutch-speaking people.
Rosalina and her husband speak reasonable English, which is very useful and not always the case.
Bert, meanwhile, has decided to come after me and pick up the visa on the way back.
That night it rains for the first time and that will happen again every now and then. But always at the end of the afternoon, in the evening or at night, so that it hardly bothers us.
The next morning we go to the market. It is very extensive, absolutely everything is for sale here. I have never seen so many different types of rice, both in terms of grain shape and colour. From white to black and everything in between.
But the most interesting part is the livestock market, divided into a buffalo and a pig section. The the buffalo section is by far the largest and most important. The animals represent whole family capitals and are well cared for, they get tasty green food and a regular shower against the heat. At the end there are also a number of men with fighting cocks, who are being pampered like lapdogs.
Rantepao is located in the heart of the Toraja area and thereforethe perfect place to be based.
There are three things that characterize the culture of the Torajas: the architecture, the burial ceremonies and the fact that Christianity is the predominant religion here. There are Protestant and Catholic churches, which can be distinguished from each other by the cross or the cock on the tower, just like at home
The three most important animal species here are the buffalo, the pig and the (fighting) cock. Wooden buffalo heads decorate the facades of the houses, as well as the horns of the many buffaloes that have been slaughtered in the past. Both houses and barns are also decorated with stylized cocks. All show beautifull, intricate wood carvings, colored in earthy shades. See also the wooden buffalo head and the horns in the picture below, where you can see the houses on the right and the barns on the left (on stilts just like in Wallis in Switserland). The barns are opposite the houses, usually three per house. A group of barns and houses is called a tongkonan, an impressive complex because the houses sometimes are around 30 meters tall.
The burial ceremonies are long-lasting and bloody, as many pigs and buffalo’s are
slaughtered. The higher the status of the deceased, the more animals are involved.
On day 1 the guests arrive and the pigs are killed and usually also one buffalo. On day 2 more guests will arrive, day 3 is the end for the remaining buffalo’s and on day 4 is the actual funeral takes place. Traditionally the coffin is buried in a natural or man-made cave in the rocks, but if that is not possible a small burial monument is erected. The coffin is transported to the last resting place on a bier looking like a miniature house, which is left behind at the cemetery, making cemeteries looking quite messy sometimes.
Above a picture of a rock with graves. The openings where the coffins are placed are closed off by a kind of balcony, on which dolls, called tau tau’s, that commemorate the deceased are placed. This collection is the most beautiful group that we have seen in this area.
We attend the first day of a funeral. The ceremony starts around 9.30 am, when the guests start to arrive. Black is the color of mourning here also. There are two deceased, lower middle class we are told. Grandpa died last July (and kept in his coffin at home) and Grandma in September. We join up with two Spaniards with a guide, who also speaks good English and tells us what is happening.
There are tents with platforms to sit on (no shoes allowed), sperately for men and women, but this separation is not very strict. We are invited and offered coffee and tea with koekjes (biscuits), while all kinds of announcements and speeches are being made. The guide, himself a Toraja, says that for the official speeches the High-Toraja language is used, which he understands, but does not speak well.
Meanwhile, all the time men carrying a pig tied to two sticks that rest on their shoulders, are passing on their way to the slaughter place in the back. For at least about fifteen pigs this day means the end.
Such a ceremony is a costly affair. A bit of buffalo soon costs 1800 Euro’s, a pig about the tenth of that amount. It all looks very messy to us, but there is indeed structure and organization in every part of the ceremonies, all governed by tradition.