Now that we’re going ‘down market’, to areas which haven’t heard of Visit Indonesia Year 1991, we’re experiencing overwhelming curiosity. We were the only white people in Palapo last night: stroke the hair, hello mister.
A walk down a country lane produced an escort of some 50 kids. “Hello mister, hello mister, hello mister, hello mister, hello mister, hello misses.”
Sam has been remarkably good-natured about it all, and I’m somewhat grateful that he’s been more the centre of attraction than I.
Our bemo from Palapo had an ex-policeman from my locale in Jakarta as a fellow passenger! When we alighted, we took the wrong turning and ended up being invited into a house, presumably by a, if not the, village elder, for a cup of sweet tea, The rest of the village joined us. They stared at us, and we smiled at them.
We overpaid the becak driver who brought us here where we await tomorrow’s drive up the Central Sulawesi Highway through to Lake Poso. Now that should be a hell of a travelling experience.
13.1.91 (a week later)
Losmen Surya, Batudaka, Togian Islands
That was an experience.
After some hassling we got the front seats of a Toyota Land Cruiser, necessary for leg room and a view of the panoramas as the road climbed into the mountains. For a while it was a surprisingly good road, newly smoothly tarmacked. Then we reached a stretch that was impassable because of dynamiting ahead.
The time passed slowly, but there were three warungs in place for the roadwork camp followers. We ate doughnuts, sheltered from intermittent rain showers, and played cards. We also chatted with a merchant navy student returning to tentena from Ujang Pandang for a holiday with his family. We discussed the nature of ‘free choice’, the necessity for organised religion, as stated in Pancasila, the state ideology. As an analogy, I pointed out that if his navigation instruments failed, he would have to use the stars and other heavenly (i.e. ‘natural’) signs.
We were informed that the road would reopen at 5pm. At that time, I watched Sam and the young sailor set off past the barrier, presumably to check the state of the mud, rocks and ruts ahead.
A hour later, our driver had had enough of waiting around and decided to go, permission or no. He wasn’t concerned about the missing twosome, and I figured and prayed that they’d soon come into view. We shortly met a few vehicles heading our way. We let them pass and slithered on as far as a truck that was bogged down to axle depth. It was now dark, raining a little and we had to be careful because of the steep drops to the left which they plunged down to the jungle below.
We pushed, shoved and eventually shifted the bogged down truck. We then did the same to another which, having been stuck all day, carried a load of, we presumed from the smell, of ikan sakit (sick fish).
Around 8.30 or 9 we drove on. But still no sight or sign of Sam or the sailor and various fantasies rampaged through my brain. They eventually appeared in our headlights at a distance I would have thought quite impossible for them to have walked.
When we met, tears and anger were our expressions of relief. I spewed a mouthful of invective about irresponsibility and Sam said that he’d never been so frightened. Although they had reached a warung, dark had fallen rapidly, as it does, I told him, in the tropics. Thinking because of our non-appearance that we might have been waiting for them back at the road block, Sam tried to ‘bribe’ some night road workers to escort him back, until he realised that they were going to walk. Eventually they hitched a ride on the back bumper of a jeep heading our way.
The young sailor, apprenticed to PELNI, the state shipping line, made a gross error of navigation. There were no stars to steer by, and he hadn’t told his captain, me, about his proposed walk.
It was with a feeling of relief and exhaustion that we eventually arrived at the homestay in Pendolo on the south shore of Lake Poso. Our transport drove on to no doubt encounter more collapsed bridges and muddy ruts on the road to Tentana at the far end.