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EINDHOVEN (THE NETHERLANDS) - On a usual early morning, around seven, I woke up from my last night in Bira, a small coastal town on the lifted coral sediments of the south-western tip of Sulawesi. It was time to get dressed, have some breakfast, which isnít much choice here, but well, itís Bira, a place with only a handful of people living here, compared to other places in Indonesia. Getting dressed and packing my backpack again I was thinking I would not be here for quite some time. I hadnít planned a second trip to Sulawesi yet, so this is probably the last I would see of Bira in quite some time.
The minibus was already cleaned from the days before, the driver, which also was the guide, was nowhere to be seen. He was just grabbing a quick breakfast or something. I put my bag inside and went for another small walk. Lighting a cigarette isnít easy here. Strong winds has probably caused people not to smoke here. It would not be strange to me if it was so. There is a constant gusty wind directly from sea here. It makes the climate a very nice one, even though the sun burns like everywhere.

The trip to Sengkang, along Danau Tempe, would take almost the entire day. Itís not the distance, but more the fact that there is no straight road to it. The first stretch is rather mountainous and roads will have to follow those curves. The best thing of all is that speeding on mountain roads is a little harder than on a straight stretch of highway. But if speeding is harder, it is not said that there is no speeding. With speeds between 50 and 70 km/h we are passing cliffs, resting places, restaurants and small villages.
At the end of the wet season there are less problems with banjir, landslides. It doesnít guarantee a free passage of course, because flash floods can still demolish roads in a matter of minutes. We would get our fair share of that as well, tough we were not involved in any flash floods, otherwise I would probably not be writing this. Tana Toraja is said to be wet all year long. Because of its high and concealed location in the Sulawesi mountains, it rains almost every day. When it does it will be heavy, causing flash floods and sometimes even flooding of some small or bigger rivers in the valleys. But that is for later.

A view over Sengkang with pasar and mosques
A view over Sengkang with pasar and mosques

Villages and towns with names like Bulukumba, Sinjai and Watampone I only know from maps which I have studied over the recent months. Not surprisingly this is a completely different Indonesia than on Java, Bali and Lombok. For sure everything is more quiet here. It does not seem more quiet when you are in Makassar, with itís 1,5 million residents, but outside the big cities you will be able to enjoy a road with much less traffic than on Java. There are less tourists here as well, but March and April are traditionally the most quiet period of the year, since tourists donít want to be stuck in a town after a flash flood or something.
Sengkang was unknown to me. "A city with several tens of thousands of people at the edge of Danau Tempe", as I was told by the printed document which I printed in Holland, but was created for me in Makassar, by Caraka Travelindo, which arranged this short trip as I asked them to make a trip of about ten days. That ten days was very short, I could only agree with, but at that moment there was not more time for me to explore Sulawesi.
Danau Tempe used to be a big lake, slowly but steadily the lake is drying up as it gets clogged with vegetation. People from the surrounding towns tap water from it as well. When itís the wet season, the lake can be tens of times bigger than at the end of the dry season. I would see a big Danau Tempe this time. Outside the lake, some buildings and the evening market, Sengkang was only used for sleeping. Knowing me, I wanted to see that all, and if possible even more than that.

The evening in Sengkang came soon after we arrived at the small hotel, located just outside the center of town. After dinner Yusri wanted to show me the evening market, along the banks of the river. It was crowded, but it looked cosy and friendly. He warned me for pickpockets. There was not much to gain from me though, my wallet was inside, small money in the pocket of my blouse, and the camera around my neck, battery almost empty. I know, itís not only what you do have, but also what they think you might have which attracts people you donít want near you.
The friendly ĎHello Misterí was back again. That doesnít happen anymore in most places on Jawa. Although I prefer people just going on with their life, I suppose this will be less easy for me to say, being completely different than the average person here. More hello misters as I was out for a drink. They have chilled The Botol here, I noticed. Pass me on some of those while Iím watching the games people play. These games are familiar with me, as I played them when I was a small kid as well. Throwing rings around bottles, in my experience they were plastic milk bottles filled with some sand, here they are Bir Bintang bottles.
Playing cards is done openly here when there is money involved, they are actually committing a crime here, as gambling is not allowed (outside some place on Batam if Iím not mistaken, but thatís far, far away from here). No one seems to mind that as police walks by and give a friendly greeting to the gamblers.. err, card players.
A narrow bridge, painted yellow probably decades ago, is decorated with white Philips light bulbs, none of them seems broken. The bridge could not be used for cars, it was too narrow and the over-crowded market on one side would prevent cars from getting there in the first place. A sign above the entrance of the bridge warns people not to enter the bridge when there are more than 40 people on it. Motorbikes are not allowed. People canít read sings hung up that high I assume.

The sign with instructions above the bridge
The sign with instructions above the bridge

Later that evening we found our way back to the hotel. We took the minibus to get to and from the market, but for me, I prefer walking though. Itís just that I didnít know which way to go in order to get to the hotel. The minibus was quicker indeed. Before it was too late, I was taking a warm shower to wash of the dayís dirt and touches of people who wanted to walk besides you so they could touch you for a fraction of a second. The day after they were probably bragging about the fact that they talked to the one foreigner in town that evening.

Then came another early morning. Ready as I was to leave for Tana Toraja, we had to consume a fresh breakfast on none of the terraces of the hotel, giving a partial view over Sengkang and, of course, Danau Tempe. Bag in the minibus and of we are. Before leaving the town, we made a trip to a higher point behind the hotel, which gives an overview over the entire town, including itís many mosques, the gentle river and the lake again. A good place to say goodbye to this provincial town.

Tana Toraja photobook
Caraka Travelindo



Posted in Travel @ 06 November 2004 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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