The Toraja and their funeral customs
Over the mountains and through the clouds we drive into Toraja. When we drive down the hills we see the first houses with pointed roofs that stand out between the green sawa’s. We go around one bend after another and see more and more houses with pointed roofs and even whole villages. Wow, we hadn’t expected to see so many of the houses.
We are dropped off at Pias Poppies, a guesthouse with a huge garden full of butterflies and is said to be the best in Toraja with a really good restaurant. The manager of the hotel has a son Noa’s age, it’s like his Indonesian twin in personality, and it doesn’t take long for them to hit it off. They run around screaming, wrestling and cuddling through the restaurant and the reception of the hotel.
When we arrived at the hotel there were a number of guides waiting and we are approached by Arru while waiting for our dinner.
We are both really tired and have trouble following Arru’s talking. We don’t feel a connection with him and don’t feel like take huge financial decision for the next couple of days. He keeps on trying to convince us and when we ask for his daily rate we are shocked. It’s a full day budget, about three times as expensive as we have read online. All prices in Indonesia have increased, which means we are struggling to live off of the daily budget as it is. We tell him straight up that we don’t have the budget to hire him, but we will thing about it and call him the next morning.
Later that night, when Noa’s asleep Michiel checks out the trips that Arru proposed and they are very similar to treks that we found elsewhere and we have specific directions for.
Because both of us don’t have a good feeling about Arru and he’s asking too much money we decide to do a trek ourselves. If the treks turn out to be to difficult to do by ourselves we can always resort to hiring Arru or someone else at a later time.
The first rock graves
After a good night sleep we are feeling really excited to go trekking, but when we sit down to have breakfast the same guide as the night before comes and sits at our breakfast table. Even when we leave the guesthouse he follows us, still trying to convince us to hire him although we told him no.
By now we are really fed up with him and we take a tricycle to the busstation to find the right bemo (a small open bus in which long benches are built) to bring us to the start of our trek.
The village that we picked does not have a bemo service, we have to take a Kijang because not enough people take the trip there and back. After waiting for half an hour there are still not enough people to fill the kijang. But we have met all the bemo and kijang drivers at the busstation and Noa is watching them play chess. We decide to pay for all the seats on the kijang because we have a lot of hours trekking ahead of us and if we have to wait a couple of more hours we won’t be able to do the trek.
We drive through gorgeous mountains and green rice fields, and see a lot of places we would love to go back to on another day. We are dropped off at the beginning of the village and have lunch there before we head of.
We walk through a couple of villages where everybody comes out of their houses to greet us and watch Noa. Our first destination is a huge rock with tens of graves dug into the hard rock. We are baffled that there are no other tourists and we are left to ourselves to admire the gorgeous woodcarvings that make up the doors to the graves.
In the background we hear water flowing and see a waterfall that flows through a green valley. What a beautiful and quiet spot to burry the dead.
We walk back the same way we came to a turn in the road. After a couple of kilometres we arrive at a village made up of traditional houses. We are welcomed by a man that let’s us sign the guestbook. The last tourist was here a week ago. He points to the way to the a very very steep rock formation. Noa doesn’t feel like joining us and goes to play with the children in the village.
We climb the stairs to the top of the rocks and stand in front of a deep cliff, twenty or so meters in front of us is a rock wall from which tens of coffins are hanging, some are so old that the human bones have fallen to the ground.
On top of the cliff there is an old tree that has it’s branches protectively spread over the cliff. On the left of us is a big tree with baby graves. The Toraja burry their dead baby’s in trees, believing that the tree will continue growing, taking with it the bodies. Death is viewed upon so differently than what we are used to, and all we can do is observe how beautiful this place is. So much that the bones laying at the bottom of the cliff almost seem natural.
When we get back to the village there is a big group of children that have come to see and play with Noa. While Noa is playing Michiel walks into the village to photograph houses and I am invited to take a look at the houses on the inside and shown traditional headdresses that are still used in their ceremonies. After an elaborate goodbye we leave the village and walk slowly over a very bad road down to the valley.
We walk from one village to the next and are greeted and looked over everywhere until we meet a young girl that speaks very good English and tells us there are no more bemo running for the day. It’s a long, long walk back to Rantepao but there is no other option so we keep on walking until a bemo starts honking at us.
Pff how lucky, our calves and knees are burning from walking downhill and carrying Noa. We thank the driver for stopping. Of course the bemo is full of people staring at us and asking Noa his name and age.
Singing Twinkle, twinkle little star in a church
Our guesthouse is just like a warm blanket, the family that runs the guesthouse is very very welcoming. Everyday all the guests get a treat – fruit salad made from the home grown fruits from the garden, fried banana, or tapioca balls with a bit of sugar on the inside and fried, hmmmm.
All the way around the rooms is a wonderful garden where birds and butterflies enjoy the pond, trees, plants and thousands of flowers that are scattered all over. Marion, the manager’s son, has introduced Noa to the kids in the neighbourhood and he loves playing with a huge group of kids while we enjoy the garden.
Now and then we go and check on him, when Michiel goes to check he doesn’t see any of the children but someone points him to the church that is a couple of steps away from the guesthouse. When he opens the church door he doesn’t believe his eyes, there are children playing everywhere in the church, they are playing on tables, chairs and benches. Noa is on the podium with two girls singing Twinkle, Twinkle little star in a microphone.
We spend the next couple of days exploring old villages, with walks, viewpoints, rock graves and relaxing at the guesthouse so that Noa has plenty of time to play with the kids in the neighbourhood. We don’t really feel like leaving Rantepao, Marion’s mom gives us a picnic lunch for our long bus ride to Masamba. It will take two days of traveling to reach our next destination, lake Poso.
It takes a couple of hours to climb the Toraja mountains because the bus makes numerous stops. When the bus is finally moving at a decent speed we hear a loud cracking sound. When the bus stops we find out that the suspension has broken. It takes hours before it is fixed while all the passengers wait in the shadow at some roadside booths with food.
We are lucky that once the bus is fixed it’s only another hour before we get off at Masamba. We are approached by a girl that speaks English very well but shows her surprise at us getting of at the small village. We know there should be at least one guesthouse in this village and she points us in the right direction. The guesthouse turns out to be very basic and without a shower or mandi (Indonesian way of showering with a bucket of water), we really want to freshen up after the long day. So we walk to the only hotel in town. It’s very dirty and expensive, but we don’t really have another choice so we take a room. The guys at the reception don’t speak any English but are very friendly.
In the middle of nowhere
Michiel tries to explain at the reception that we want to continue on travelling the next morning to a small village at a lake called Poso, from which we can arrange transport to an even smaller village at the lake. Michiel doesn’t speak much Bahasa and the guy running the reception speaks even less English, but somehow he tells Michiel he will call a friend who can arrange transport. Late at night we get a confirmation that we will be picked up from the hotel at nine o’clock the next day.
When we wake up at seven o’clock we find an Indonesian breakfast waiting for us outside of nasi, noodles, an egg cooked in sambal and Indonesian coffee. When we have just started eating our breakfast the guy from the reception comes to tells us the bus will pick us up at eight o’clock instead of seven o’clock, ok, no problem we tell each other, plenty of time. Until a van pulls up a couple of minutes later, huh it’s only 07:30.
We pack our backpacks within minutes and shove our breakfast in a plastic bag and walk to the van which is already packed with an Indonesian family that all think it’s the best thing that we are coming along. The minivan looks like it’s tens of years old and wouldn’t pass any test from a garage in the west, no speedometer, no mirrors, the front window is covered with stickers and at my feet I can see the road passing by. But we have found a bus in the middle of nowhere to our next destination, so we are really thrilled.
The man from the reception comes to wave goodbye and then we are on our way, the driver drives really carefully but fast and stops whenever he sees people he knows to show us off. Look who I have sitting in my bus, and do you know the name of the baby he asks his friends in Indonesian? Than he asks Noa in English – what’s your name? And Noa answers him time after time, Noa! After which everybody in the bus starts yelling and laughing, every time.
The ride of our lives
After one and a half hours we suddenly stop at a small restaurant at the side of the road and the driver tells us that he is hungry. He asks us where we are going, when we tell him Siuri he tells us that he can take us there and that we don’t have to get off at the village Pendolo what we had originally planned. Such good luck, we take him up on his offer right away.
The owner of the restaurant wants her daughter and Noa to be in a picture together, but Noa is fed up with people taking pictures of him. He politely says, No thank you, but she doesn’t give up. She points to a papaya tree and asks in Indonesian if Noa wants one of them. Noa understands her without any problems and shakes his head, yes, her daughter picks Noa up to reach the papaya’s and she quickly takes a photograph. He is incredibly proud of his papaya and gets a plastic bag to carry it in.
We continue on our way and hope we will reach it soon to be able to take a cooling dip in the lake, but a couple of hundred meters further we stop to pick up a lady with a baby and a lot of luggage. The driver scratches himself behind the ears and walks away to come back with a long rope and ties the luggage to the front of the bus (to the windshield wipers), the back and on top of the minivan and we continue on again.
We stop again when the driver starts shopping for a stove, and calls over one of the women in the bus to help pick one out. We can’t believe it, they are going shopping while there is a van full of people waiting for them. When they finish we think we’ll finally be on our way, but five minutes later we stop once again to load six gas bottles. Half of the passengers gets off and we drive off. I think I know what’s going to happen because I heard the driver tell the lady with the baby that there would still be three more passengers joining us. And yes, we pick up another man and a women with a huge carpet, a weekend bag and rims of a car.
And after that we go back to pick up the people he let off, and we pick up another old man with a bag. In the minivan which normally fits nine adults are now fourteen passengers, three children and on top, behind and on the front of the bus are a cupboard, six gas bottles, a baby bath, our backpacks, a carpet, rims, a rooster, two suitcases, a weekend bag and everybody’s hand luggage. You can imagine how comfortable the ride is.
Now that we are full to the rim we think we will finally continue on to our destination, but at the end of the street the bus stops again and the driver disappears into a store. He comes back with a bag of candy off which Noa gets a handful and the rest is given to the other passengers.
We are pushed together very uncomfortably, but the atmosphere is great and the driver is in a very good mood. At every police checkpoint he shows us off at has Noa wave to them. And with every driver he sees he becomes funnier, he shows us to the other car and says in his barbaric English: do you speak English? to the other driver. If the driver says no everybody on the bus starts laughing and he says he does, than he asks Noa: Whats your name? Noa answers and than everybody laughs again. This joke is repeated tens of times and we laugh along. The drivers in the other car’s and busses are impressed, and all windows open to look at us and laugh or shout at us.
After driving for eight hours we stop at a beautiful viewpoint and the driver points to a small village in the distance, Siuri, he says, he points to his watch, satu jam, 1 hour left. The road is one of the worst we’ve ever driven on, every one and a half meters there are huge holes in the road and repeatedly there are a couple of hundred meters without any asphalt, just muddy road. And even the bridges are missing and the have been replaced by a couple of fallen palmtrees. We hold on but the old minivan keeps going.
When we reach the next village we drop off some of the luggage at the driver’s house, within minutes tens of children surround the bus to look at us and try to touch Noa through the open windows. The wife of the driver comes out of the house and says hi. She wants to come along, it turns out she lived and worked in Singapore for two years as a nanny and maid and speaks enough English to translate some of the passers questions and explain to us what the relationship of the passengers is on the bus.
When we get to our resort everybody gets of the bus to say goodbye to us, and we wave to them until they turn a corner. Wow, that was one of the longest, most uncomfortable rides but what an adventure and atmosphere!!
If you want to see some more pictures of Toraja than take a look here.
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