Saturday, June 18, 2011

Davies Park Market

One of the biggest pleasures of living in the West End is the Saturday farmers’ market in Davies Park.  It’s a microcosm of the ethnic and cultural diversity that makes Brisbane so fun. The first dilemma lies in the choice of coffee vendor. Closest is a cute antique VW bus, complete with striped awning, somehow housing an espresso machine; alas, their brew is weak. My favorite barista inhabits the gypsy wagon under the shade of a large Ficus tree with drinkers sipping their flat whites while resting on curved buttress roots and listening to nearby folk singers.
The next challenge is food. Shall we indulge in Traditional Dutch Poffertjes, a freshly baked almond croissant or get a Big Brekky  in The Nest?  Other stalls sell Hungarian Lepe’ny made with chicken and paprika, fresh Turkish flat bread, filled with spinach and cheese, and Greek kabobs, falafel and gyros. Leah can’t resist the Nuttella crepes, but I’m tempted by the German sausages.
Lemonade leads to more choices, which each table claiming the best. My favorite is prepared fresh by a mixed couple who grind the sugar cane before your eyes and accent the lemon or lime juice with bit of mint.
Other vendors sell prepared food. A sun-weathered south African touts his home recipe for chili Biltong and dry Wors; free samples made me a loyal patron.  I was initially interested in a man selling lamb jerky before I realized he was after a different clientele. The sign “Pet treats” should have clued me in, but a closer look at trotters, pigs ear tucker and rawhide chews quelled my appetite.
The fresh fish, meat, cheese, butter and produce stall occupy much of the market, but all is not food. You can choose between a personal reading, eyebrow shaping, traditional Chinese massage or henna. Maybe buy some incense or crystals? There’s also less exotic fare: hand-made clothes, knitting, leather-ware, jewelry and the like. The atmosphere is festive with didgeridoo players and other musicians spaced about.
Vendors set up stalls in the crisp air at 5am and shopping starts early. By 9:30 the narrow lane has become so viscous with people that purposeful motion is almost excruciating and (worse) the lines for coffee have become clogged with contenders. But by noon the crowd has thinned and vendors are packing up.  “Wait!” I think silently “I’m not yet quite hungry enough for lunch!”

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Trekking in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi

(4/23-25/11) The highlight of April's Indonesia trip was a fabulous trek with interesting home-stays in the Tana Toraja region of Sulawesi. Led by attentive Agus Lamba, founder of IndoSella Tours, we were lucky to visit really remote villages that have seen very few tourists. The people were incredibly friendly and the scenery was stunning, with sculpted rice terracing, virgin forest and incredible waterfalls. 

Agus leads the way through newly-planted rice fields. 

There was no path; we just threaded our way on the narrow rims of dikes. 
In addition to stunning scenery, the trek afforded time for close conversations.  I never learned what Margaret and Leah were discussing, but they were chattering away.

It's a bit hard to see, but the rice rims were often quite exposed; a fall to the left could drop you 15-20'! I was constantly balancing the risk of a broken leg against the color of the muddy water...
The sculpted fields made wonderful patterns. 
The distant waterfall provides a sense of scale - we are soon to cross the hidden river gorge...
This rickety bamboo bridge (Agus called it a "Tarzan Bridge") is the only way to cross the river for 20km. Three days after we crossed the span, we white-water rafted down this section of the gorge, only to find that the bridge had been swept away in the previous night's torrential rain!

Leah & Adam rest under a traditionally-carved Torajan rice barn. These and the similarly-shaped houses were stunningly beautiful!

Water buffalo are prized possessions and are sacrificed during the elaborate Torajan funeral ceremonies. Albino animals are especially valuable. 
During our nights' homestays, it was especially fun to watch dinner being prepared. 

Pa'piong is a Torajan specialty; chopped meat and vegetables are mixed with special spices and cooked over a wood fire inside bamboo.  Speaking of wood fires, Agus boiled water each evening so the purified liquid cool cool over night and serve as drinking water the next day.  I came to really love the smoky flavor of our drinking water.

Unlike most of Sulawesi (and Indonesia itself), which is Muslim, the Toraja area practices Christianity - as this church attests. But their beliefs have a strong animist flavor and many old traditions remain.

After elaborate funeral ceremonies, bodies are placed in cliff-side graves.  These crypts have been hewn out of solid granite and are accompanied by miniature Torajan houses for offerings. 
Centuries of hillside sculpture have created these incredible fields.  The fertile land and climate support three rice crops a year. 

This picture gives a sense of relief - the fields just spill downwards into the chasm eroded by the fierce river. 

High up on the hillside the grade relaxes and larger fields are possible. 

This family is planting a new field with recently germinated rice seedlings... 

...while nearby a dog sleeps beside newly harvested rice. 

Near the end of our trek, we rested in a village and I had fun watching the kids playing. 

Without exception, the people were incredibly friendly.  It was a wonderful trip - a beautiful experience and a great chance to learn about a very different culture.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


(5/28/11) It seems as if Uluru, formerly known as "Ayers Rock" occupies an almost mythical spot in the Australian consciousness, and from what we had heard, a pilgrimage was mandatory. It did not disappoint. Rising over 1000' from featureless plains, the rock glows a deep burnished red even under the noontime sun. But at dawn and dusk, when low angles through the earth's atmosphere concentrate amber rays, the sandstone monolith emits a magical luminous radiance.
I'd seen photos like this before, but always assumed that someone had used photoshop to increase the saturation... Not necessary. 

As we walked part-way around the base (full circumference is 8km) the textures were amazing
I wanted to explore every nook and cranny, but we were short on time.

The climb to the top appears daunting from below - you can barely see the people at the picture's top, but they are far from the summit.

Climbing Uluru is not a solitary experience. 

The imagery becomes surreal as you reach the huge summit plateau; there's still a ways to go...

Our family on top: Galen, Adam, Dan, Margaret, Leah, Kathy & Sheldon

You don't want to get dizzy on the descent!

On the last steps back to the ground I got my favorite view - it feels more intimate - and just as the magic hour is hitting.

End to a great day!