Sulawesi 1 – Rantepao

Rantepao: Hotel Indra

That’s the end of three years teaching, and now before pastures new there’s a month plus in Sulawesi with Sam. Of course, as at the start of many breaks, I’ve got a heavy cold to shake off, and the readjustment to no schedule and life on a whim and a prayer.

It’s the rainy season here, so Sam is being forced, as I force myself, to get up early in order to see things before the afternoon rains start. The one advantage is that it’s not the high tourist season: there are a few package tours, possibly here for a few days from Bali, and a few intrepid wanderers like us.

To get here, we flew to Ujang Pandang (renamed Makassar in 1999), a city we avoided as we were quickly in a small bus heading for Pare-Pare. This is a small pleasant town and easy to explore, something that few tourists do judging by the kids who traipsed after us saying “Hello Miss.” There seemed to be little else to do, so we ate, slept at Hotel Gandaria (Rp.13,000), got up earlyish and departed for here.

One person of note observed from the hotel balcony was a street musician who had welded together sections of metal biscuit tins to make a portable set of tin drums/gamelan which, hanging from a strap around his neck, he played by tapping with his fingers. It was a found sound I’d have liked to record.

Our journey here yesterday by large bemo was notable for a couple of things: the driver actually refused to take extra passengers – “Sudah cukup“, and Sam wasn’t sick: his pressure point wrist bands seem to work. The scenery en route ~ rice paddies, jutting rocks, some stunning mountain valleys, green wild and virtually unclimbable ~ uplifted my jaded flu-ey spirits.

We ended up here paying Rp.23,000 per night, maybe a bit over-budget but we do enjoy the hot water. After checking in we strolled up a slight hill to Karassik to view some megaliths ‘guarded’ by traditional style houses arranged in a horseshoe. All in all, a quiet day to get the feel of Toraja,

Today, we really began to feel it. We were told of a pesta rumah, a house-warming party about three kms away. We arrived early having chatted with passers-by and an elderly man who accompanied us along narrow paths. Yes, too early, so we travelled on a while through paddy fields with ducks diving and families threshing until we reached Tallunglipu and saw a sign: Rest. Chez Dodeng.

This turned out to be the home of Bitty who was mentioned in the Lonely Planet Guide. Over a fresh pineapple, coffee and a roll up of Drum, the Dutch tobacco grown in Java, he told us of his intention to set up a homestay (Rp.6,000 inc. breakfast. But “step-step”. With seven children – the youngest is five, and three grandchildren,times are hard. With mud floors and a tin roof, his house isn’t ‘traditional’.

He couldn’t afford to go to the pesta rumah. He seemed quite glad to have not received an invite. Pigs cost from Rp.100,000 to Rp.1 million for a really fat one which would be an indication of wealth and success to the Torajans.

We were in time to see the pigs being ceremoniously carried into the area in front of the new house. They were strapped into elaborate bamboo biers borne by teams of strapping young men who were shouting and grumbling as they struggled up the slippery grass slopes. Maybe 20 pigs were there, distinctly disgruntled by the proceedings however decorative their biers were. They had ringside resting places, a grandstand view over the heads of the various family branches of which seven generations were said to be represented.

The prettiest young ladies danced, all fingers and knees flexing to the accompaniment of beduk, the large drums seen outside mosques, which were rhythmically hit by teams of three handsome young men. And while this was going on, the large crowd showed their respect for the family by sticking banknotes through the girls’ hair.

Given that the butchering and cooking, then the eating and parcelling out of leftover meat would obviously take several hours more, we left.

Some very cold Sprites were very welcome back in town. We still have to find the best food however, and supper beckons.

But where?


A new day, a new year.

Here in Rantepao the women went to church, men strolled around the square and a rock band played Indonesian pop songs – badly – in the covered area where buses to Palopo (motto: Beautiful, Safe, Pleasant) depart from. The shops shut early so there seemed little sense of excitement or expectation that is engendered in large sophisticated cities.

Sam expected more.


We leave tomorrow with some memories of fine walks, of storks and eagles as we climbed Sesean above Batutumonga with its fine views over rice fields and settlements to Rantepao way off yonder. Sam had problems on the walk back with some kind of stomach bug, possible a contra-indication/side effect of taking malaria tablets.

Generally, though, we had a fine time and think this is a place to return to, if a dose of beach life doesn’t beckon first.

Toraja Land
Toraja Photo Gallery
Ghosts of Sulawesi – a documentary about Tana Toraja
Most of the links on this page come with embedded music.


About Jakartass

A Brit Abroad
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