Hit the Road Jack

When in Toraja I met some friendly locals over tuak drinking. They took me with them to a market in the mountains and for some sightseeing, nice people. I agreed to meet them in another town when back from my trekking as we were going same direction. Road trip, yeah! Apparently 2 of them work as kind of detectives for a magazine that search for corruption cases. Really? corruption in Indonesia? You kidding…

My gang
My gang

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As well they were selling traditional medicine and other stuff at village markets, task in which I joined them for a couple of days. If you go to Sulawesi middle of nowhere markets you can find a picture of me promoting Papuan magic remedies next to the ones of naked men with penis gourds.

Cheap Julio on sale. You just need to feed him with rice and beer
Cheap Julio on sale. You just need to feed him with rice and beer

I had a great time and even taught them how to play shithead in Indonesian. They wouldn’t let me pay for anything. One of them seemed quite well-off. He has 4 wives and still some love left to share at the evenings with the professionals.

The Partying Dead

Torajan architecture looks as crazy as Sulawesi island shape on the map. Pretty and absolutely non-functional, not for Bauhaus fans. Same can be said about their life style, they spent their life saving for the ostentatious funeral ceremonies.

When someone dies they have a small party and then they keep the body till the parties season to the big one that will last for 5 days which involves a lot of buffaloes and pigs slaughtered, buffalo fighting, chanting in circles, tongkonan (traditional boat shaped houses) shaped coffins, wooden statues of the deceased and many more colorful festive rituals… Around the area there are stone-carver burial sites (takes 2 months for coffin), cliff hanging coffins, cave graves, baby grave trees. Strongly recommended to Google for Torajan culture and pics.

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During m;y time there I attended 1 wedding and 3 funeral parties. This time I refused to see the animal slaughtering. One of the families holding a funeral was quite wealthy so they killed more than 100 buffaloes. And that’s not small affair, a buffalo cost around $3000 and an albino one can be more expensive than a car.

Chained buffalo… she likes it from behind… oh yes
Albino buff

I checked the buffalo fighting and I was glad to see that is not a really violent thing. They just push each other till one admits defeat and runs away. Usually it takes a few seconds tough I saw a couple of them lasting 15 min. A funny moment was when another two run away down a king of cliff and people have to run to find them, luckily they didn’t get injured. To get the picture of a buffalo fighting think about two fat chicks mud wrestling.

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Around Tana Toraja the evenings are full of tuak fueled happiness. No need to look for the white drink, tuak will find you. Even when you don’t want tuak will chase you down and force its way to your mouth, so merciless tuak is.

Drinking tuak with a batak toba guy! Yes, I found one there... Horas
Drinking tuak with a batak toba dude! Yes, I found one there, amazing!… Horas!

A lot of people around were willing to marry me to their relatives/friends. I should have tried to see how many buffaloes I could get for my wedding

To escape the parties and the tuak and check what people are up to there I went for a 2 days trek to the mountains. Beautiful landscapes. I got to sleep in a tongkonan with a friendly family.

The tongkonan I slept in
The tongkonan I slept in

More pics here

You Know You Have Been Too Long in Indonesia When…

My second visa extension means 3 months already but there are other signs:

  • 18ºC is fucking cold
  • A meal without rice is like the internet without porn. Rice should be eaten in generous portions at least 3 times per day. Fish with rice is the best breakfast, preferably eating with the hands which will leave your fingers with that nice familiar smell…
  • Western toilets and showers are rare luxuries. Squatting toilets and mandis (water bucket and small scoop) are the way to go. With the first I improved a lot, Currently my dumping field goal is above 90%.
  • Bahasa Indonesia is the language I speak most of the time, nice but lots of small talk and headaches at night.  I even learn some words in local languages. They have over 700. That would be a nightmare for Spanish right wingers, how would they manage to eliminate all of them?
  • Waking up after 7am is a late sleep and very seldom happens. Mosques and chicken are reliable alarm clocks
  • I’d never think about eating at McDonalds or KFC but, here, apart from decent toilets as usual, they offer free WI-fi and sometimes even computers
  • You drink hot water and wash yourself in cold water
  • More than $1 for a meal is bloody expensive! $2 for a beer is a need.
  • Meeting someone from Sumatra gives me homesick feeling, especially if they are Batak Toba  or Minang kabau.
  • Indonesia is my 2nd country in FB friends number and I get way more phone calls than when in Europe
  • I am able to discuss ferry timetables with locals, even sometimes to give advice. This is not a small issue here. I am even getting into pelni, government-owned huge ships that wander around the country following what at first sight look like random routes/schedules (they are not). Currently I even can name a few (tilongkabila, sirimau…).
  • I know everything can be made of bamboo, banana leaves and coconuts. McGyver could conquer the world with these.
  • I buy cigarettes to offer the friendly people who give me lifts or feed me. When they offer me cigarettes and I say that I don’t smoke they always ask “why not?”
  • I found myself riding around town on the back of a motorbike with an alive chicken in one hand and a bottle of arak (strong booze) in the other. It felt natural.

Jesus Christ Superstar

On arrival to Toraja I was told about a funeral in one of the most visited villages, Kete Kesu. Funeral ceremonies are a big thing there and will write more about in the next post. On my way I met a friendly local who took me on his motorbike and showed me around. As the place sees some tourist an entrance donation is requested. As I was with my new friend I didn’t have to pay and even was invited to eat with the family.

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Locals chanting at the funeral. In front of the coffin a wooden image of the deceased.

That night I stayed at his place. Next morning I was planning to go to trek to the mountains but I couldn’t. I had a sore foot and the thing got really bad. It was an infection and my foot was so huge I couldn’t wear any shoe. It was due to some new flip-flops I was wearing. From all the insensible things I did, a stupid sandal was the one to take me down.

I wanted to go to hospital but it was Sunday and my host a religious man so he asked me to join him to church first. My problems to say no and the fact I barely could walk lead me to the temple, this time the Pentecostal Church. It was a new experience which reminded me of the theater. There was a band, singers, a couple of dancers (no strippers unfortunately), a power-point on a projector with karaoke lyrics and plenty of sunsets and a bunch of actors, sorry, preachers I mean.  Very entertaining and I kind of liked the show mainly because I didn’t understand what they were saying, I guess some reason non Spanish speakers may like Latino music. A friendly woman who could speak English sat next to me and wrote on a paper the translation of the speeches,

At some point actors, I mean people, sorry again. started jumping on stage to give testimony of God. My host wanted to go and give mine. Too much, I kindly declined. Tough it could have been fun: “I was 15 and my life was very lame. Then the Jesus dude showed up in one of my dreams with a beer in one hand and a joint in the other. I saw the light!. The almighty showed me the way and from that moment my life became fucking awesome. Haleluya!”.

Apparently a prominent surgeon was in Church. He told me no need to go to hospital. He prescribed me some medicines and advice me to pray a lot. Love science. I was in good hands. I spend the following 3 days in bed, with fever and lots of shit coming out of my foot. As the pain was not enough the maiden of the house  was insisting on burning my foot with taro oil. The thing was doing by heating a spoon with a candle, junkie style. She was very nice tough, and took care of me as a mum. As usual no English was spoken there.

As things were not getting better and I went to hospital to do what I should have done from the beginning, getting my foot properly cleaned by a nurse and I started to recover slowly.

Not Pretty Woman

From Flores I went to Makassar (Sulawesi) by pelni, yeah finally my first one. It was a huge ship, overcrowded and overloaded. I’d say there were 3 times the people that looks sensible. Thanks to a local I managed to get a spot to lie down on the floor for the 20 hours the trip takes. There were plenty of cockroaches to pet around. Getting in and out was a big struggle and an interesting experience.

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Spotless pelni toilet
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Getting on board

I got my visa extension at the immigration office, where for a $5 bribe the officers are happy to let you use your own sponsor, not bad, better than Lombok at least. “The worst thing about corruption as a system of governance is that it works so well.”Quote from Shantaram. I don’t agree.

Makassar is a large city with the contrast of posh western and poor areas so common in Asia. Food is great there, lots of delicious grilled fish. When walking in the street an old lady wearing a hijab looked at me ant with a big smile said “Gun’s and Roses” while making the hand horns sing, priceless.

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hijab fassion

The city has a huge port. Dozens of karaokes line up in the streets next to it, one after another. Impressive how many they are, probably more than in Bangkok or Amsterdam well-known districts. But here the oldest business is conducted in a very different way. Forget about sparkling lights, ping pong shows, striptease, shop-windows or any glamorous stuff. From the outside nothing can be seen. The places are not aimed to the tourists but to the drunken sailors and others of the same kind looking for quick cheap love. It’s a rough dark affair. Inside groups of men sit around tables where lots of warm beer and glasses are brought. A waitress  will sit on the table to make sure anytime someone takes a sip the glass is refilled to the top. Meanwhile unsurprisingly a karaoke is happening, sometimes men will sing, or the waitresses or even the bule if the public demands it… The music and videos are extremely cheesy, even for Asian standards, woman with cosmetic covered faces and men with mustaches and big bellies  are usually on screen. The ladies are not pretty at all and don’t display much flesh. The atmosphere is quite sad but the grotesque of the situation and the booze will make you laugh. I didn’t want to go there but a local I stayed with forced me inside.

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karaoke

By the way, there is tuak in town.

Breaking the Law

Kelimutu is a pretty volcano with 3 lakes that when they feel like change colors. So I was in Moni (base for Kelimutu) about to sleep in order to see the place at sunrise when someone knocked on my door. It was the room owner: “Sorry mister, they just close Kelimutu area due to volcanic activity. You can’t go tomorrow” – “Wtf? does it happen very often?” – “1st time in my life”. OK, it had to be the day I arrived. He went on: “They closed the gate” – “How big is that gate?” – “It is very dangerous, you can’t go”.

I was already sleeping and again someone on my door. The  owner with a soldier this time who wanted to make sure I don’t try. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!. How many men do you have? Guns? (of course I didn’t dare to ask these questions)

So I decided to forget about sunrise (mistake) and try later. When I woke up the owner saw me and insisted on me not trying, or at least not alone. There was another local with him who wanted to take me in his motorbike to the gate and check the situation. I thought he was a mototaxi driver trying with the owner to scam me so I asked the price. The guy told me he was not doing it for the money and I could give him   what I wished.

My first impression couldn’t be more wrong. He was a rastaman sad because his friends left the village and now he doesn’t have a band to play anymore. He works washing cars. He was a very good guy who really wanted to help me and check on Kelimutu situation. Maybe for him it was the last chance. I was not alone in the battle. I am very grateful to the dude.

We arrived to the gate and waited till the guards got distracted to cross. We started to walk up the road. After a while 2 angry soldiers on a motorbike reached us and ordered us to go back. We pretended so till they left, then we went on with our plan. Authorities and rastaman are not usually good friends. I was a bit worried about what they could do to him. I, as a tourist, shouldn’t have any mayor trouble apart from a possible fine. We agreed to go as fast as we could and if hearing someone we would jump into the forest. A bit later a ranger was coming from the top. As the bitch had the engine switched off we couldn’t hear him. Again he was very angry and wanted to take me down with him. I insisted for long time “if my friend walks down I go with him, I don’t need your motorbike”. When he finally left we kept on going up.

We took a shortcut before the parking place where we could hear some of them talking. In order not to be seen we had to run or squat in some parts of the track. We started to smell sulfur, this time the smell of victory. My friend took me to the crater rim to see 2 of the lakes. It was cloudy so we couldn’t see much. Still we were very happy. He told me that going to the main  view point would be too risky as the soldiers may see us so we went down with the same caution and a big smile in our faces.

Wake up. Stand up. Stand up for your lakes.
Wake up. Stand up. Stand up for your lakes.

But for me that was not enough. It was a long way to Kelimutu so I decided to stay another and try to see it properly. My friend told me not to.

During the day I was working on a plan B. I searched for info in the internet and I found lots of porn and a couple of maps. The idea was to find alternative paths in the forest to avoid the control checks. Then I went to do some field research on the trails, walking some of the shortcuts in order not to get lost in the night. I was asking locals on the way to gather all the info I could. Most people were trying to discourage me from trying. I even check the weather forecast and the moon phase for visibility.

Finally I went to my friend. He was proud and surprised with my work so this time he decided to give me the final advice: “about 1 km after village X you will see one house standing alone, knock on the door to wake up the man and ask him to you the shortcut to Kelimutu, it is the best one and really hidden”. He wished me good luck. Later the manager asked me again not to try. I told him I wouldn’t. We looked at each other in the eyes and smiled. We knew, no need for words.

Bamboo bridges on the trails. Love them
Bamboo bridges on the trails. Love them

So at 2:30 am I started walking. The plan A worked like a charm. all that work was not required 😦 When I arrived to the gate everyone was sleeping and I knew from the previous days there weren’t dogs. I crossed the gate.

So at 2:30 am I started walking. The plan A worked like a charm so all that work wasn’t required. When I arrived to the gate everyone was sleeping and I knew from the previous day there weren’t dogs. I walked fast the way up and at 4:30 I reached the top without being seen by anyone.

Victory!
Victory! Enjoying the smell of fresh sulfur in the morning

I waited for the sunrise. The sky was perfect, very clear and I had the place just for myself. Amazing views!. Even when I left at 8 no one was in the parking. I descended all the way to the gate and politely said good morning to the law forces. There were only 2 police officers, a soldier and one ranger. A few minutes later, when walking down from the gate one of the policemen reached me on his motorbike. I felt not like Indurain but like Merckx (only cycling geeks will get this…). I halted him and ask for a lift which he happily gave me. They were lucky I didn’t want to fuck their wives.

When down I met my friend. He was very happy. Without him it wouldn’t have been possible. The locals were very curious and wanted to see my pics, even my room owner made a copy of them. Somehow they liked I went and I didn’t find any “volcanic issue” there. They are very worried about their business which relies on Kelimutu and some implied the closure maybe due to politic reasons. They were never happy about having people from “Jakarta” around.

And this story is an example of what NOT to do. If authorities close a place it should be for a reason and there is a risk not worth taking unless you don’t give a fuck, of course.

By the way, about the colors of the lakes. Nowadays one is blue-green (I think turquoise in women colors), the 2nd light blue (no idea how chicks call that) and the last one asshole black.

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Where are my Dragons?

I had to...
I had to…

For some reason, Komodo dragons are confined to the small islands of Rinca and Komodo. I don’t understand the reason of their punishment but the only way the lizards could see me is me going there. OK, any creature in this world should have a chance to check my awesomeness and I didn’t want to disappoint them. It was hard work to find a public boat going there, but after lots of asking I succeed.

The not very comfortable boat took more than 4 hours which I spent mostly playing domino with new friends. One of them was a park ranger and proposed me to stay at his place. He thought he could make a lot of money and asked me 4 times the fair amount. It took him a long time downing the prices to come to terms, even I had to pretend leaving. Finally, he accepted and he and his family were very nice to me.

The ear stone is for losers. I couldn't hear very well for a while
The ear stone is for losers. I couldn’t hear very well for a while

So finally I saw the huge geckos. They are a friendly lazy bunch that seem to have a good stress-free life.  I was a bit disappointed as for the entry fee I’d expect sex with one of them to be included.

Awakening a sleeping dragon just cos I was bored
Awakening a sleeping dragon just cos I was bored
This dragon clearly doesn't give a fuck
This dragon clearly doesn’t give a fuck

Apart from the reptiles I was gladly surprised by the island beauty and the charming village. I had a great time there with the children playing football, ping pong, swimming… They were very curious and it was an awkward moment when they wouldn’t stop asking onanism related questions.

My little friends came to the jetty to say goodbye
My little friends came to the jetty to say goodbye
A few even jumped to the boat
A few even jumped into the boat