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EINDHOVEN (THE NETHERLANDS) - As soon as Tana Toraja was introduced to me, it was taken away as well. I still remember the fact that I agreed on those meagre four days in Tana Toraja ‘because my schedule is too tight’, as it always is. In the van, just leaving the hotel for the last time, I was asking myself when I would really stop taking about schedules at all. Probably never, because I will always have to take an airplane in and out Indonesia again, but the time between those fixed points is merely a collection of things to do and things done in the past. For now, I was on my way to Makassar again, this very same evening I would have dinner with the owner of Caraka Travelindo, which has provided me with this wonderful trip.

Again it was quite early in the morning, but since I’m used to get up about seven in the morning ever since I was twelve, it’s not a problem to do the same on the other side of the world. Okay, I admit, sometimes it’s good to have a long night’s sleep, but a real after-lunch nap will do here as well. I was in the van, enjoying a fresh iced tea before we were on the main road outside Rantepao. The town is a real market location, on market days it’s quite hard to find a way to get across the city via the main road, but I was fortunate today, no markets.
After we had passed Makale – the biggest town in Tana Toraja – it was over with the bustling activity in the towns. We were still on the main road, but soon it started to get hill again. Just as we had entered the area a few days before, we would now leave it. Over hills and along mountain passes. But we would leave it on another route than the road we used to enter the area, which made it quite interesting for me not to get a nap as soon as I was in the car.
Somewhere along the road from Makale to Makassar, about seven hours by car if nothing odd was waiting for us, we would make a stop to view the mountain. Since it was a simple mountain and we had left over an hour late, I was calculating at what time we would be back in Makassar. Arriving during office hours would make it easy for me to meet with Jan, but then we had to skip the mountain site seeing. I told Yusri, the guide, driver and whatever else he was, that it was okay that we went straight to Makassar to catch up some lost time in order to meet Jan at his office.

A small landslide nearly blocks the road
A small landslide nearly blocks the road

With quite some mountain roads to go, there was something I needed to see from nearby. When the van slowed down I looked up and saw a pile of rubble, sand and trees on the road, narrowly blocking all of the road. The van could still pass and we parked the car around the corner (which corner, there are corners everywhere here). I walked back to take a look at what happened. I’m not a geologist, but I could clearly see it was a small landslide, probably triggered by last nights heavy rain, though it probably was a very local thundershower.
After taking some pictures and a walk back to the van we could continue our trip back to Makassar. This slight delay was more important than being on time, I mean.. how often do I encounter a landslide (even this small) in my own home country? I have never seen such a thing before, so now I had the chance to meet one up, close and personal. Soon I doused away again, forgetting about the last pieces of Tana Toraja which I might miss now.

We broke the trip in two with a short stop along the road. There was another van of the same company at the stop. They also carried Dutch tourists. Complaining about the toilets! O my.. as if I was back in Holland again. How on earth can you complain about a toilet on the edge of Tana Toraja, 14.000 kilometres from home. Above all the toilet was free! After a cold Aqua I needed to bring a visit to that ‘heel vies’ (very dirty) toilet. Not because I didn’t believe the women, but just because I needed to ger rid of some used products.
When I opened the door there was a horrible smell overwhelming me. I made a step back. I opened the door and saw the toilet bowl completely filled with human excrements. The floor was flooded with a water-like substance as well. As soon as I saw it, I had the feeling I had to gag. I turned around and walked away to get some fresh air. I had rarely seen such a dirty toilet. I know, it’s free, but either clean it, ask money for it, or close it, but this was a complete mess. I didn’t eat anything and got in the van after stretching my legs, I also forgot to go to the toilet myself. Oh dear.

Slowly the landscape changed from high mountain peaks and narrow valleys to the more open landscapes of southern Sulawesi. The road here is one long stretch towards Makassar now, just at the very western side of the peninsula. Time flies when I can douse in a fast-driving car. Just happy moments flash by in my memories. More to come when I was back on mainland Jawa, but for now there was much to ponder about. Things I wanted to write down later, I was putting away in my virtual ‘to-do list’.
When we were reaching Maros in a speed of nearly 90 km/h, the sky started to get dark, very dark. I could not see what was ahead of us, so the weather there must be bad just a few kilometres ahead of us. The current schedule was tight and a long down poor was not coming in handy after all. Soon after I saw it getting dark, the first big droplets started falling on the tarmac and the van. I closed the windows – I like fresh air much more than air conditioned environments.
Within a few minutes we had to slow down dramatically, water was everywhere and visibility had dropped to a mere dozens of meters. It was a complete down poor with wind gusts and some lightning in the distance. However I was enjoying this weather as well, there was some worry about the speed we were still maintaining, about 40 km/h in this heavy weather is not what I would call very smart. I moved towards the left side of the van – if anything happened I would at least crash into the front seat and not into the windscreen or vehicle in front of us – as there were no proper seatbelts to buckle up with.

After we made it to Maros, the airport city and in fact one big city-like agglomeration with Makassar with it’s many suburbs, we were finally really on our way to the office, somewhere in downtown Makassar. It still was one hell of a road straight (well, not really straight) through the big city. It had rained here as well, which caused the ditches along the road to be flooded with mercy brown water. This, together with the fact that I noticed the ditches being shallow here and some other things, made me wonder about hygiene here.
A phone rang, not mine. It was the driver’s one. If he could go to the hospital, because his daughter was admitted there just hours before. All of a sudden things become very personal. We drove to the hospital, informing the office about our slight delay. It was only four o’clock, so it shouldn’t be a problem to go back to the office as well, however I wasn’t really worrying about that anymore. The little kid, however I didn’t even meet her before, was much more important of course.
The local government hospital, with it’s write walls and white tiled floors, was overcrowded with people. Most of them were of younger age and were admitted because of dengue fever. I knew it was still raging in parts of Indonesia. I was told in the hospital that my guides little daughter had contracted dengue fever as well, together with at least 200 other people, which were in the same hospital. It was just good to know it was not contagious, so there was nothing to worry about for me.
My entry to the room with family caused some hilarity, but after I was properly introduced, the little child got all the care and attention it needed from her dad. I felt kind of sorry though, but outside raising my tip, which I wanted to give him anyway, there wasn’t much I could do. When he dropped me off at the office, I wished him luck with his daughter and went on with my own life. Sounds selfish, but there was little to do for someone who was already in hospital, undergoing medical treatment.
Soon after it started to rain heavily. My trip along the worlds longest strip of food stalls was cancelled because I was not in the mood to get all wet tonight. The strip of food stalls used to be on the main boulevard of Makassar, but the city government moved them to a location at the edge of the city centre while ago, because they wanted to revamp the boulevard. Unfortunately most of the atmosphere was moved with the food stalls as well. Only a handful of youngsters, smoking, enjoyed the distant lights at sea.
The food was wonderful, a freshly baked fish. It was time for me to wrap up my short first trip to Sulawesi. Gaining new memories and thinking about future trips already. What was I thinking? I have to spend another several weeks before I had to go home any way, long live Indonesia!

Posted in Travel @ 27 November 2004 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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