overland-underwater.com - A charity drive from the UK to New Zealand
Pic of the week: (previous - fav video clip)
Pic of the week
Final Statistics: Alex & Maz Total distance: 93,550km
Furthest Point: Rotorua, NZ Now settled in Sydney, Australia
Final Statistics: Martin Total distance: 79,698km
Furthest Point: Hobart, Australia Now settled in Bristol, UK

‘Bulls’ to it!

Written by Maz Towns. Uploaded 16 November 2006.

Indonesia, Country 24, Diary entry 5 - 11th Sept 2006, Total distance in Indonesia: 8396KM


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The die had been thrown and as the dice man once said, ‘fate is now in their hands’. We were to drive the length of Sulawesi through war-torn Poso carrying on to Makassar. With things looking so positive for the last few days, the sudden change felt like the death sentence had just been passed and our execution was imminent. Still, being one not to brood over these things (for too long anyway) it was time to accept it and move on - literally! We had no other choice but to drive. We had managed to find out a general timeline of how long sections of the trip should take from someone who had recently done the trip in reverse. It was definitely a help – the weekly ferry to Surabaya in Java left on Monday, 6 days time. The village petrol stn - thankfully we had leftovers from our fill in Palu

After leaving KBR, our first stop was Manado where we made a quick dash to the Mares shop to find hoods and neoprene socks as we knew we were now heading south and the water temperature was on the decline. We managed to get a hood for Alex and socks for me – it was a start. On to our next important stop, a return trip to the garage. Having not had the time to grease the windscreen when we first arrived, we decided it would be nice to stop the squeak as well as clean the injectors with a whizzy bit of kit the garage had. With it only being a fiver and knowing the difference it had made when we had spent a hell of a lot more on it back in the UK before leaving for our adventures, we decided to blow the cobwebs out of Tinfish. I’m sure she’d appreciate it. We managed one out of the two. Unfortunately the greaser was broken and so we were to live with the mouse who had found its way invisibly into the car. We camped half an hour outside Manado. Officers line up - not sure I make the squad!

The next two days we made good progress, retracing our tracks from a week previous. Passing the chintz, small town America style villages, the independence anniversary banners were still in place and friendly faces continued to peer from behind shacks and wave enthusiastically as we drove by. One day I was stopped 3 times by the police for routine license checks, the first two times happy to just see my document and let us go. We’d been warned that bribes might be the order of the day, but having been in Indonesia 2 weeks already without the first sign of such practice we took it with a pinch of salt. These stops were no different and we were always greeted with smiles and left with handshakes.

The final sunset stop of the day we slowed to about 10 officers in the road stopping every car passing through. A little flummoxed by our arrival, they checked my license and scratched their heads, passing it from one man to the next. We were then told we had to go back 5km to the police station. Politely we declined. They repeated the command and again we said we did not want to drive 5km back. We asked what the problem was, knowing full well they couldn’t understand the license, which was no bad thing as it had expired a month back. “Intelligence” the officer said. “You go to intelligence”. Knowing we were getting nowhere fast, we asked to be escorted to the police station as they couldn’t give us directions apart from pointing back the way we came and saying 5km, maybe 3, maybe 2! We arrived at the ‘intelligence headquarters’ to more policemen who didn’t know what to do with us. This time we were armed with all our documents and after a quick check of our passports and a group photo with everyone and anyone who cold squeeze in it, we were on our way again. Hand picked dinner - yum

This has been only the second time on the trip we have been asked for our license since leaving the UK, the first when Alex had made an illegal U-turn in Cambodia costing us a whole $2 for the privilege. We passed the police line again and they cheerfully waved us on. A quick stop at the supermarket to stock up on mee and Oreos we asked the checkout assistant where a good restaurant was. He told us to go back the way we had come and head for the beach where there was as great seafood restaurant. Back pass the waving policemen who must have thought we were really lost by now and found a small, blue wooden hut on stilts standing on the waters edge. We had a choice of fresh fish of which we handpicked a lovely red snapper before they stuck it on the BBQ. Delicious. The mosques begin to take precidence in the area

Once replete we carried on our journey south and found camp late. Back at the equator we decided to carry out a little science experiment. I felt like I was a presenter on Blue Peter, armed with two water bottles cut off at the top, one filled with water we poured from one to the other to see if the vortex was as it was supposed to be. With the help of Got, one of the locals, we performed the experiment a few times managing to soak me and him – Alex who was pouring the water managed to stay dry! It seemed to work, but I don’t think it will make Nature anytime soon. :)

A perfect nights camp Carrying on south, the houses turned to wooden huts, the churches began to disappear and mosques became more apparent. We stopped in one small town for an oil change and while Alex was supervising a text came through; ‘bomb exploded in Poso yesterday killing one – be careful’. Why do we always manage to find the most inappropriate times to drive through unsettled areas? Onto Poso after our short stop, managing to hit a chicken as we drove through the outskirts of the town (Alex not me) and easily out the other side of the town with no problems. As we were driving away we passed a fully armoured truck followed by two police trucks with armed riot police whizzing up to Poso, I guess it was cautious of us to drive through quickly.

Over our last mountain pass before finding camp, hairpin bend after hairpin bend played with our nerves and tensions as it snaked round the mountain side. After a near head on collision with a 40 tonne truck, we decided it was time to find camp. As with the typical landscape of a mountainside, there isn’t much flat land around, however, we found a magical place not too far into the search, of a flat stoned river bed. With the full moon beaming down on us, we cooked mee goreng with egg on top before crashing for another night. We had made good progress and covered 1300km over 28 hours driving.

A typical Tana Torajan village with tongkonan houses After a surprising turn of events and the locals entertaining us rather than the other way round in the morning, working in the river with huge black rubber rings collecting stones, we carried on another 5 hours to Tana Toraja. Having paid penance with two and a half hard days driving we could relax here for a day or so before carrying on our journey, or so we thought.

Slowing to enter the next town the dreaded grating noise resounded from the front wheels…. not the damn brakes again! Alex had checked them only recently - at least the outer pads, the inners need the wheel removing. There had been plenty of meat left on those, so Alex was somewhat confused. All was revealed when the wheel came off… the outer was indeed barely half used, whereas the inner had worn completely away to the metal and with it now being metal pad on metal disc, once again had seriously scored the disc.. @rse! Fortunately we had spare pads, so changed them all round, deciding to rectify the disc and obviously faulty callipers once we arrived in Surabaya.

Tana Toraja is probably the most popular place to visit in Sulawesi, with the exquisite architecture, graves and Tau Tau there is a lot to see. One of the most popular reasons to visit Toraja is to witness a funeral, as of all the ceremonies performed, the most important are those concerned with sending a dead person to the afterworld. Unfortunately we didn't get to see this colourful ritual; the closest we got was seeing newly washed buffaloes being paraded down the street ready for slaughter. Buffaloes are a status symbol for the Toraja people and are of paramount importance, normally saved for the biggest celebration of all – funeral feasts.

They are extremely beautiful houses We filled up on a late lunch with two typical Torajan dishes, ‘Pa’piong’ – a spinach-like vegetable with pork cooked in a bamboo tube and ‘Pamerasan’ – a chicken dish with a very peppery sauce. Both delicious and gave us the energy needed to begin exploring. First stop was Kete Kesu, a typical Toraja village with tongkonan houses. Raised on piles topped with massive roofs they are an incredible sight. Most have rice barns nearby. These houses are closely bound up with Torajan traditions – one of their important functions is as a constant reminder of the authority of the original noble families whose descendants alone have the right to build such houses. The state of a tongkonan also symbolises the unity of a clan and is the meeting place for family gatherings. It may not be bought or sold.

Rows of buffalo horns adorn the front of the houses from ceremonies past representing gifts given and honour bestowed on the deceased ancestors. A cows head normally resides above these. The wooden houses are intricately carved and painted in bright reds, yellows, whites, and blacks all with symbolic meaning, along with drawings of buffaloes, chickens and pigs. They even paint underneath the barns, not a space is missed. They are extremely picturesque and photogenic. Tau tau - A life-sized carved wooden effigies of the dead

Behind this small village is a cliff face with some grave caves and very old hanging graves. Rotting coffins are suspended on wooden beams under an overhang carved in the shape of a tongkonan dwelling while there are other coffins full of bones and skulls lying along the path which takes you to a grave cave at the top. Climbing up the stairs, we passed life-sized carved wooden effigies of the dead, the infamous tau tau, caged by a grid as thieves have once too often visited. Staring out with their huge, wide, open white eyes, they looked like zombies. Very strange looking.

The hanging graves Some are extremely ornate

A couple of the coffins were fantastically carved, one of a pig and one of a cow. No idea what the symbolism meant, but the carvings were incredible. Having taken more than enough photos we walked back to the car, via the souvenir shop. Well it would have been rude not too. The normal, prefabricated copies of miniature houses, buffaloes and anything wooden which someone might have bought were on display. After roaming round the nooks and crannies of the shop, Alex found some old doors which had been used on the barns. Made from jack wood, they were heavy and beautifully carved with a buffalo on the front. Too good to resist and after a bit of hard bargaining we managed to secure the deal. Where it was going to go was another matter!

Having read in the LP that the majority of Torajan families now live in modern houses and keep the tongkonan houses for ceremonies and as a symbol of the family’s status, we were surprised to see once off the tourist track, how different we would find it. It was dusk when we left Kete Kesu and drove north into the mountains. We eventually found a very steep dirt path that led down from the tarmac road, which happened to be flat enough on one of the bends for us to position the car precariously for the night. We went to sleep hoping that no one would be driving up or down it too early. Smiling after the deal is done

We woke to little peoples voices and giggles which changed to ooh’s n ahh’s as we played with the side lights and triggered the car alarm on and off whilst hidden in the tent. Eventually we decided it was time to get up and greet the masses who had found us. Opening the tent we saw dirty little feet and legs rising up to 4 smudged faces with wide eyes wondering what was going to emerge from the tent. Beaming smiles lit up their faces as soon as we poked our heads out of the tent and waved. We gave them the flyer and word perfectly one of the little girls who couldn’t have been older than 8 or 9 read it out. We then tried to take their picture and the two girls who seemed to be the ringleaders ran away. Alex took a picture of me and showed it to them demonstrating what he was doing. That transformed the morning. Not only did they relax, they took charge of the camera and suddenly became supermodels strutting their stuff. We lost the camera for over an hour. One little boy who must have been only a few years old, had eyes as big as saucers and had no idea what was going on. He looked petrified on a permanent basis.

Our new friends and tour leaders I think he's trying to imitate the tau tau

We had suddenly made life long friends and were taken by the hand by Melan & Bertin Bedang followed closely by Jeri & Lucas Lapu and led down the steep pathway we had parked the car on. Past two small houses, down steep tracks, another house and chickens caged under weaved baskets. We followed the well trodden paths on the edges of the paddy fields, worn from the endless trudging by the farmers out to the open valley where the sun reflected off the waterlogged bays and buffaloes basking in the muck, tethered by ropes. After an hour or so we turned round. It was then time to go fruit hunting and the kids climbed trees like professionals, dropping down the big, round, green skinned fruits and began to peel them. Looking at the kids faces, they seemed a bit sour and although we politely took a fruit each, managed to give it as a present later in the day to some other kids who I was sure would appreciate them more.

The rice fields of Taraja The bull keeping charge

We returned to the first two houses we passed and managed to decipher that Bertin Bedang lived there. Through smiles and hand shakes she introduced us to her mother, who offered us a cup of kopi (coffee). Kopi being the main cash crop in this area producing some of the best in Indonesia, we were not going to refuse. Unlike the sophisticated technology of the western world with caffetieres and percolators, we were handed a cup with black sludge. You let it settle, wipe the bits away stuck to the top of the cup and you’re sorted, just be careful not to drink it all the way to the bottom! For the next hour we signed, smiled and used the guidebooks few phrases to converse with Swartin. In her best sign language she invited us to stay the night with her and her family, much to the delight of Bertin Bedang.

They had a lot of fun climbing the trees for fruit We said we’d love to but we wanted to go and see a bit of the area for the afternoon and would return in a few hours. We walked up to where we had left the car and after a quick conflab as to whether to drive further down the slope or just reverse, we decided on the latter. We’ve found some great camps in the night and we’ve also found some pretty poor ones. I think this site must rate as possibility one of the worst we had ever gotten ourselves in to. Reversing up while Alex was directing me, it was fine to begin with until we got to one particularly steep bit. Tinfish wasn’t happy, dug in her feet and refused to climb any further. It was just too steep and slippery. Alex however had different ideas, deciding it was my poor reversing so dropped into the driver’s seat. I am pleased to say his male prowess did not manage to get any further than me. Not sure what inspired the next move but he then decided to try a three point turn. Needless to say we ended up in a rather compromising position and were well and truly stuck. Shame the fruit wasn't a little sweeter

Only one option left if we were to ever get back to the road, we had to winch. Slowly easing our way round with the winch and the help of all the local children, we managed to get the car facing upslope and then with a huge lot of welly managed to get it nearly to the top of the slope. One last bit of winching ensured tarmac! We wouldn’t be venturing down there again in a hurry! Stopping at the side of the road further down the mountain to cook up a quick mee goreng, the only dish we seem to be able to cook at the moment, we drove to see a few more cave graves.

Rows of buffalo horns from ceremonies past The cows head resides at the top of these horns

We returned to Swartin’s home before sunset. Upon entering one of these dwellings, you’re immediately swept back to your childhood days reminiscing about tree houses. Up the initial stairs to climb through a small doorway, watching your head otherwise you DO bang it, you enter the main living area. A bedroom leads off the front and back of this room. This is the house. Swartin has an extension on the side of the house for the kitchen. Having been in this situation a few times where the host and the guests have limited means to converse, we brought the laptop down to show then some pictures we’d taken during the day. We needn’t have worried, as is the normal pastime in Asia, we had the good old karaoke machine to keep us company! Bertin Bedang gave us a few renditions of those well known Indonesian songs before passing the microphone over!!! No thanks; karaoke does not feature highly in my repertoire at home, never mind in far off Asia where I can’t even pronounce the words.

The houses are carved and painted from corner to corner Cave graves

We had a delicious dinner, Pamerasan, maybe even better than the restaurant dish we had yesterday before looking at more pictures which Alex managed to burn to VCD for their collection and then early to bed. As the sun peeps over the horizon, the cockerels join in with the dawn call and it was time to get up. A breakfast of rice, vegetables and more chicken of which we were served first and what was left given to the children, it was a far cry from the cornflakes and milk we’d recently become accustomed to in a morning. It was time to have another photo session then say our thanks and goodbyes and head to another site before carrying on to Makassar, the last thing we wanted to do was miss the boat!

Maz trying out the lastest handbag fashion Alex with Swartin and Bertin Bedang

Our last stop was Lemo, one of the main sites in Tana Toraja. The sheer rock face has a whole series of balconies for tau tau, with white eyes and black pupils and outstretched arms like spectators at a sports event cheering the home team. Carrying on round the cave and seeing more and more grave doors we ended up at the tat shops. Not interested, not interested, OK then, just a peek…….a quick barter later and I was one proud owner of another barn door :) slightly smaller than the last, but just as lovely. Fingers crossed Australian quarantine like the wood artefact as much as we do! Now it really was time to move on before I spent all our money, well after another couple of shops – interest only of course.

The rock face with a whole series of balconies for tau tau All that shopping had built up a thirst so we sat down for a coke. The man opened them with a rusty old screwdriver. Apart from the last two couple of purchases, our repertoire of artefacts since leaving the UK has either been textile or weapons. So, following on this theme, the man who served us just happened to be wearing a very nice knife round his waist. Alex began the negotiations and after a hard round of talks, after all this was the chap’s favourite knife (not like the tourist tat that sells next door!) another deal was completed. Suddenly remembering something Alex ran back to the car.

After Max’s arrival gift in Nepal of reversing our car into Martin’s buckling the rear wheel carrier, we had to remove our bottle opener so it would close properly. What an excellent gift to a gentleman who had just sold us his knife and has to open his customers drinks with a rusty screwdriver! Unsure as to what we’d just given him, we showed him he needed to attach it to the wall and demonstrated how to open a drink. He was delighted and did a little dance as we presented it to him, as never in his life had he seen such a contraption! He was still dancing as we drove off – seeing the smile on his face really was the highlight of our day. Back to the road, we had 8 more hours before reaching Makassar and our morning ferry… which would be our home for the coming 35 hours!

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