indonesia part 3: fancy foods and foreign funerals (tentena and rantepao)

previous parts:

tentena: the bridge for pedestrians and motorcycles taking the public boat out of the togeans, we arrived in the little town of ampana, which if i’m not mistaken, is pretty much only there because there are public boats to the togeans.
we had been warned not to trust a woman called “ufa” or a man named “mr. coral”, and it didn’t take long until a woman with an american accent offered to help us find our way. however, she turned out to be the owner of “island retreat”, the second of two accommodation options in bomba, and she did indeed help us by making a few phone calls.

the typical tourist track in sulawesi starts in the south (makassar) and via tana toraja (rantepao) leads up to the togeans. because it’s a long way, many use the semi-private 4-wheel-drive transport option to go north, but few want to go in the other direction. thus, it was fairly cheap (only 2x the public bus fare) to get on one of the 4-wheel-drives on their often passenger-less way back south.

after a 6+ hour ride with an extremely talkative german family of three, we made a 2 day stop in tentena, at the north tip of lake poso. it’s a sympathetic little town that has to offer daytime temperatures around 20 °C (an effect of the altitude), the waterfall “air terjun salopa”[] in close vicinity, some hard-to-find megalithic remains, and the local specialty “sugili” (eel). we also found a stewed bat dish at a “rumah makan” (small restaurant) and dared to try it – it was disgusting on so many levels. the sugili, on the other hand was delicious and is a must-try!

rice terraces in tana toraja (near buntao, sulawesi) it took us about 10 more hours by semi-private car, and we arrived at the next major destination of our trip: rantepao in torajaland (tana toraja) – “a cultural documentary brought to life”, as put by lonely planet. some of the highlights in the region include elaborate and fascinating funeral ceremonies, beautiful scenery and architecture, and various types of graves everywhere.

tongkonan building (torajan funeral ceremony) in short, we visited pasar bolu (bolu market), where people sell and buy water buffalos and pigs as gifts or for sacrifice at the funerals. we went to see a torajan funeral ceremony including the sacrifice and dismantling of an entire buffalo, drove our scooter through amazing rice landscapes, saw a baby grave tree, kings’ grave and cave graves, listened to a youth bamboo orchestra, tasted pig’s feet and water buffalo (guess which was better!), and, in the end, fell ill and had to skip the hiking part.
within just one week, virtually all of our senses were violated.

a few other notes:

  • the local menus had some ingrish highlights in them, such as “advocado with srimps”, or “large bear” among the drinks.
  • we enjoyed an evening at mart’s cafe, which featured some of the local guides, a guitar, and some all-time classics where just one or two place names in the lyrics were replaced by “toraja”. :)
  • our guide, ucu, was a bit late when we first met him, because he came straight from a cock fight. (he was an excellent guide!)
  • when i went into a pharmacy to ask for electrolyte powder, i couldn’t finish my question before he said, repeatedly, “abis!” (we’re out of it) he wasn’t very interested in what i wanted, as long as he could avoid talking to me in english.
  • there’s a single travel agency in town, and it took us 90+ minutes to book a flight for two.

we checked out several accommodation options in rantepao, and these are our hotel recommendations:

tentena:

  • losmen tropicana: nice location, sitting on top of a hill overlooking the town. friendly, clean, smallish rooms with bright pictures. breakfast is not included.
  • hotel victory: we didn’t stay here, but probably should have. mrs. doris, the owner, is a friendly, very helpful woman who can refer guides for the nearby national park, and she has the right contacts for semi-private transport.

rantepao:

  • pias poppies: this may have been the top place in 2009 (lonely planet), but the prices have since doubled, breakfast is no longer included, and we didn’t find it that nice after all. rooms were ok.
  • hotel pison: right next to pias poppies. this hotel has similar prices, but seemed decidedly worse than the other.
  • wisma maria I: plain, good-sized and clean rooms for a good price (incl. breakfast). there’s a board with current funeral schedules, and somehow the travellers we met here seemed the most sympathetic. we switched hotels, though, after the both of us, as well as a neighbour, all got sick on the same day. a breakfast incident, maybe?
  • duta 88: this place is a little oasis right in the center of town. quiet tongkonan (typical torajan) cottages in a lush garden. the higher price was justified by very clean rooms, hot water and staff that allowed us to stay in our cottage until the bus departed at 8 pm.

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