This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tana Toraja - The Sights

Coming Tana Toraja there are two main things people do: visit the sights and visit the ceremonies. There is also rafting, hiking and village homestays, but I think the majority of tourists just go to sights and ceremonies. Many of the sights in the region are based around death and the Torajans unique brand of burial practices. The sights are spread out in the villages outside of the large towns, Rantepao and Mekale, and can be reached by erratic public transportation. Most people seem to hire guides and drivers to see as much as possible in one or two days, while less will rent motorbikes, use the shared taxis or hike on foot.

We do not have a desire to see every burial ground in the region. Plus Mika and I have currently developed an unhealthy disdain for Indonesian guides, so we pick a few of the sights which sound interesting and figure out how to get there on our own.

Ke'te Kesu'
One late afternoon I go to Ke'te Kesu' myself. They have traditional style homes and rice barns still using a thatched roof instead of the corrugated tin now used everywhere. They also have old hanging graves which have been used for aristocrats. The boxes are rotted and filled with piles of bones and skulls.
Cliff burial site with hanging graves

The traditional village

A photo shoot for the Garuda Airlines 2011 calendar using Ke'te Kesu' as its backdrop
We arrive to the village Kambira by motorbike. It has baby graves inside a living Banyan tree. These are for infants who died under six months old. The white sap of the Banyan tree is supposed to be like milk to nourish the babies.
To get to Londa we take a shared taxi (which is a SUV with up to 10 passengers) to a junction and walk the remaining 1.8 km in the rain. Londa has a grave in a limestone cave. Locals hang around the entrance and for a fee will guide you through the cave with a gas light. Not wanting to shell out more cash, we opt out of this option and realize too late that caves are really dark without light. Luckily, a soccer team visiting from another part of Sulawesi takes a liking to us foreigners and coaxes us to join them and their lamp guide through the cave. Afterwards we pose for team photos.
"Tau-tau" are wooden life-like effigies that sit high on the cliff to guard the graves
Mika, cave, lamp guide and soccer team
Torajan star-crossed lovers whose love was shunned by their parents. They both committed suicide
Some other sights to see are stone monolith graves and gravestones in boulders. Being a bit "graved-out" we do not pay to see any of these. We do, however, see some examples by just passing them on the road without the 10,000 Rp fee.
Stone Monoliths
A stone grave
If all this death has you feeling a bit macabre then there are a few other activities to choose from. My favorite is the buffalo market in Bolu. It happens every six days. Mika decides not to pay the ubiquitous 10,000 Rp ticket and watches the buffalo from afar while I go in and slop around for a while bonding with livestock sellers and walking through mud and buffalo urine and excrement. I love markets.

Key Coffee Plantation
We also decide to go to a coffee plantation. We have a motorbike, but the road is tortuous. A steep uphill climb on a rocky road more suited for a four-wheeler or, better yet, a Humvee not our scooter. Mika has to walk up some of the worst hills and then ditches me to ride with the plantation security guard who easily passes us. I am left on my own and cursing the idea to come here. I finally arrive to Toraca Jaya Coffee plantation. The security guard is probably wondering what took me so long. This plantation was started by a Japanese man and is now producing coffee solely for Key Coffee - a Japanese company. My Japanese readers may be familiar with Key Coffee's Toraja label. All the coffee produced here goes to Japan. We are charged 10,000 Rp (US$1.10) here too. I only have about $3 and need gas money so he gives us 2-for-1 tour with free coffee included. We have a cup of Arabica. Mika says it tastes exactly like the Key coffee in Japan

Sorting beans

Headed for Yokohama
Just Rambling Around
In Tana Toraja there is also a village with a natural swimming pool and another with a bat cave. Because of time and poor planning we missed these. But to be honest, some of the best parts of the area is not running around trying to see everything marked on the tourist info brochure or some guide's "must see" list. Always plopping down 10,000 Rp to see dead people in a tree or rock or cave is interesting but gets redundant. We end up really enjoying just to ride around on our motorbike and becoming part of the scenery. The sky is so blue. The rice fields and mountain jungles are shimmering green. The unmistakable Torajan roofs, buffaloes, chickens, dogs and children saying "hello Mister" are at every turn. It is so full of life.


  1. Where are you? Just say hi or post a new blog so I know you and Mika are safe.

  2. We are now safely in Manado, Sulawesi. We have been without internet for about 8 days which is great, but not great for blogging. I will try to get caught up soon.