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.

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