November 30th 1983

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The “Tobelo”

We postponed breakfast, thinking first to checkout boats + airlines to Java or Bali.  And we were struck by our first piece of luck for quite some time.  The Pelni ship “Tobelo”, we learned from one of the shipping agents, had been due to sail yesterday but was running a day late, + would be leaving today at 12 for Surubaya, Java’s main port.  We went down to the harbour to see if we could grab a look, once again, hoping for some magic private deal.  It wasn’t, tho’ tied up at the wharf, so this proved impossible.  Instead, there was a Panama-registered ship (not that one expected to find it full of Panamanians.)  We got talking to a guy on the wharf who told us he was a member of the crew, + when he told us it was going to Singapore, + when we expressed some interest in this, he invited us aboard, saying he would ask the captain if we could come along.

So we went aboard, + the 3 of us sat together in the crew lounge + chatted, tho’ in rather stilted Indonesian.  The Captain was asleep, he said, but after a time he disappeared, presumably to make some enquiries on our behalf.  Shortly, we were joined by the ship’s engineer.  He was Singaporean, + hence spoke excellent English, + after some initial chit-chat, he gave us some interesting news: a) nobody knew just yet where the ship was headed, b) it was highly unlikely we would be taken on, c) our first friend was not a member of the crew.  So it came to naught, but it had been an interesting blind alley, + we had been given teas + a fine sort of jelly cake.  Normally it’s the sort of thing I detest, but this one was delicious.

So we returned to our plan of travelling to Surubaya, via the Tobelo.  Win some, lose some – only lose more than win at the moment.  We now had not a great deal of time left to buy our ticket, rushing rapidly from one office to another, as each in turn told us they weren’t qualified to sell tickets.  It wasn’t an easy or pleasant experience, as the rain was simply bucketing down, but eventually it was done.  I groaned inwardly at the ticket-office when we were given forms to fill in (could you imagine such a thing at a railway station back home?) but in fact it was reasonably simple, then all we had to do was pay to receive our tickets.  Cheap too – Rp 16,000 each.  This was for deck class, which didn’t promise to be too wonderful in the rain, but we had no choice as there was nothing else available.

Time was a little short now, + we still had to return to the Nusantara to collect our belongings.  We were considerably hampered by the conditions – the rain had flooded many of the streets, + the one our losmen was on was about the worst – we had to wade thro’ water that lapped over our boots.  On the way back to the harbour, we loaded ourselves with provisions – bread, margarine, cheese, eggs, fruit juices, biscuits, sweets, + a large bunch of bananas – we’d been warned about the quality of the food. 

Climbing the narrow gangplank was a problem, laden down as we were, + it was even trickier to move around the ship, so we made for the main deck area, + dumped our bags.  I looked after them while Val, our resident linguist, set off to search for the best spot.  If she was unsuccessful, we would have to remain there, or somewhere like it, + the prospect was not pleasing.  There was a vast tarpaulin hung to furnish a roof, but there were gaping tears in it thro’ which the rain poured.  Thus the deck was soaking, as well as filthy – even with the sea so close, the Indonesians dropped their cigarette packets, their banana + mango skins, where they stood.  It was already squalid + depressing, + the journey had not yet begun.  Fortunately, Val returned with good news –she had met the radio officer aboard ship, + he said it was fine for us to sleep in one of the corridors inside, so we carried our bags there straight away – at least it was clean + dry.

Even better news came 30 mins or so later, when we met the 3rd officer – he gave us the key to a small store cupboard, in which we could safely stow our bags.  (Not quite safely, we soon discovered – there were mice there.  But it was fine once we’d hung the food up.)  This meant we could relax a lot more, + go out onto deck to watch us cast off, + at last leave UP behind.  This didn’t happen for a long time tho’ – the official departure time was noon, but it was around 3 before we were at last on our way.

There was quite a lot of natural theatre on the quayside to entertain us while we waited.  The lady selling mangoes hurling them up to the people on deck, one very ugly incident when a black guy was taunted by the whole ship, a crowd of strutting + unpleasant youths – we hoped these would not be coming with us, but regrettably, they did.

Soon after we finally set sail, we received our first taste of ship food – a large bowl of white rice, some cabbage (really not too bad this) + a fish head.  I picked at the cabbage + left the rest.  Thank God we’d brought the other food.

We sat for a while in the 3rd officer’s cabin, which was pleasant, since this way we were able to escape the attentions of the young men.  They weren’t exactly hostile, but they weren’t friendly either, demanding cigarettes.  When the time came for us to sleep, they were even more unpleasant, asking for bread, which they’d obviously seen hanging in our cupboard.  Val tried to ignore them, unrolled her mat, + laid down, but they showed no signs of going away.  The 3rd officer came to our rescue, saying we could sleep next to the wheelhouse, where our friends were not permitted.  On reflection, we shouldn’t have gone – it was giving in to the yobs, + we also surrendered a reasonably comfortable sleeping space for an exposed, tho’ private, one, but as with so many other things, it seemed a good idea at the time.  It was windy up there, but we laid out our mats, climbed into our sheets, wrapped the blanket tight around us, + huddled together, warm + relatively cosy.

And so we are on the move again. Having to pay for it, and not all that pleasant, but at least we would be getting away from Ujung Pandang at last. Throughout Indonesia, from time to time we encountered problems with local youths, and here, being in a place where it was impossible to escape their attentions, it was even worse. And in attempting to do so, we seemed to be making things worse.

November 29th 1983

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A seller of es campur, a very tasty but usually lethal soft drink

The Captain did make another appearance in the  morning, + we, or rather Val, were finally able to talk to him.  He promptly dashed all hopes of our travelling with them by telling us that no, he didn’t expect to be sailing tomorrow, or the day after, or indeed at all for the next few days at least.  It was more or less as expected in fact – knowing our fate was much better than the uncertainty we’d been contending with.  So we picked up our belongings, said goodbye to our friends, + walked out, once more, from Paotere.  Not the way we had hoped to be leaving the place, but not to be helped.

Our revised plan was to head up the coast to Pare Pare, where several people had told us there were many boats to Kalimantan.  The annoying thing was that we had passed thro’ Pare Pare on the way down from Rantepao, but had not known that information at the time.  Back to the town centre, + from there the tortuous business of finding a bemo to take us.  It is a hideous business.  Lots of people are willing to help you, when you appear at the Central bus area.  Eager hands will take your bag, lead you to a bus.  But these are no altruists, but ticket touts.  Ideally, they will get you to charter a whole bemo to yourself at an extravagant price (of which they no doubt receive their due share) but failing that you will be pushed into a bus with other people, + charged at the other end.  The problem with this is that one could then have to pay a good deal.  And asking the price beforehand is  no help at all –  as soon as one reveals ignorance of the fare, the price goes up, + no amount of bargaining will ever reduce that to a proper level.  This is not a problem of philosophy or academic interest, but survival.

We marched steadfastly past the touts, but were still left with the problem of finding a bus.  We were tired + weary, the packs were heavy, + awkward to manoeuvre along the tiniest of spaces between the trucks, + then it began to rain, + then pour.  Val slipped thro’ a gap between 2 bemos, + ran for shelter.  I was sure that with my bulky pack I wouldn’t be able to get thro’, + then all of a sudden it seemed that every bemo in the place was on the move, effectively trapping me where I was, with the rain torrenting down.  I was furious with Val, myself, the bemo drivers, the touts, God.  I finally made it to where Val was sheltering, + when the rain eased we plodded off to find a bemo, agreeing to take one at the same rate that we’d earlier rejected.  I was in a pretty sorry state, but felt better once I’d changed my shirt, + sat back to enjoy the ride, more or less.

It was growing a little tedious by now – this was the 3rd time we’d travelled the road – but it passed comfortably enough.  We chatted with a girl on the bus, + she arranged for us to be dropped off at a hotel in Pare Pare.  We weren’t at all sure we wanted to stay there – it looked a bit too pricey for us – but the young manager was very helpful, + even rang to check up on the prices of boats for us.  We were horrified at what he told us – Rp30,000 each just across to Balikpapan, the nearest port, + even more to get up to Tarakou, the town up on the border with Sabah (Malaysia.)  We couldn’t believe they could want so much for what seemed a relatively short distance.  And, not exactly disbelieving the guy, but wanting to check for ourselves, we walked down to the port.  We had a notion of perhaps getting on board, + making some advantageous deal with the Captain, but immediately we were at the dock gates we were led to the Pelni office, + all that we had heard was confirmed.  They even got so far as writing out the tickets for us, but we were sol pissed off with the whole affair that we told them to forget it.

We walked back to the hotel to collect our bags, + then walked to the bus station, determined to return to UP +, if necessary, fly to Denpasar.  We got a better deal financially for the trip down.  Tho’ there were plenty of touts there giving us a bad time, but when a bus came in Val went over to speak to the driver, + exacted a promise from him of a cheaper fare.  We then put our bags on, + when the tout/collector collected the money, we simply refused to pay more than the agreed amount.  The guy was furious, with us + the driver, but there was nothing he could do.

Despite this small victory, we both felt very down, travelling back once more to UP, a town we hated, + had thought + hoped we had seen the last of.  I cheered myself a little by a passage I read in “The Greening of America”, describing how a certain sort of person who did everything perfectly – skiing, fucking, travelling – lost, simultaneously with the possibility of failure, the possibility of success.  Our venture had most assuredly failed, but at least, in the words of McMurphy, we had tried. 

We chatted a bit with a guy on the bus, + made a casual arrangement with him to eat together tonight.  He even got out with us upon arrival at our hostel – we were dropped at the door, which was lucky as it was pouring down.  But with the weather, + the thick mud on the streets, plus the fear that he would expect us to pay for him, we told him we had changed our minds.  He was very nice, in fact, + just left, but immediately he had departed, I was plunged into a deep + dark depression, feeling that we had let him down terribly.  As indeed we had.  Our surroundings did not help my mood – we were sampling yet another UP hotel, this one the Nusantara, somewhat squalid, + with the tiniest rooms imaginable.  And not so cheap.  But it did have a reasonably pleasant balcony, so we bought eggs + bread from the shop next door, + had boiled egg sandwiches + coffee.

After the restrained optimism of the day before, rather a downer to have our hopes dashed (even though, as I said, we were never entirely convinced it wold work.) And all a bit of a wild goose chase up to Pare Pare, and ultimatyely returning to Ujung Pandang in no better state, in terms of knowing where we were going next.

November 28th 1983

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The crew of the Tridaya

A walk to Paotere once more.  We’d been told the captain was expected at 9 am, so we were determined not to miss him.  We needn’t have bothered tho’, since when we arrived we were given a new time, of around noon.  This left us in a bit of a quandary.  If, as the guys on board still insisted, the boat was leaving first thing in the morning, we needed to get to a bank, + we had a feeling the banks shut at 12.  Paotere being the grotty little fishing village it was, there was hardly likely to be a bank there, so it meant another trip into town.  We had to go together too – UP, + Paotere even more so, were not the sort of places I would feel safe at Val being alone in.

So back to town it was, tho’ we lightened our load this time when I persuaded Val it was sensible to take a becak – she usually has to be persuaded to spend any money at all.  We were dropped off right outside a large bank, which did us not the slightest bit of good as they didn’t change travellers’ cheques there.  And neither did the next 3 that we tried, tho’ luckily we were in the banking area so didn’t have to walk far.  (Tho’ even just crossing the street can be a major hassle in UP.)  We were finally successful tho’ – the people were reasonably efficient too.  And reasonably friendly, which makes a bit of a change.

We returned to the Ramayana then, + checked out.  Even if we weren’t going on the boat, we didn’t think we could afford another night of R7000 luxury, pleasant tho’ it was.  So we took a swift final shower – we were both dripping with sweat – + girded ourselves for the walk to Paotere once more, this time laden down with packs.  In fact, it wasn’t at all difficult, because we jumped on a bemo which took us along the longest stretch of the route, + after that it was a piece of cake.  Once again (as always) we attracted enormous attention as we walked thro’ Paotere – we’ve decided the best way to cope with it is not to be unfriendly, to say hello back to as many of the callers as one can manage, but on all accounts to keep moving.  As soon as one stops a huge crowd develops + surrounds one.

The crew on board the boat (the Tridaya) were quite friendly + invited us aboard.  As expected tho’, still no captain.  The story had changed a little too.  It was now expected that the sailing date would not be tomorrow, but certainly the day after.  It was also agreed that we could sleep on the boat tonight, so, particularly since we had our bags with us, I thought we might as well accept what fate had thrown at us (or thrown us at.)  There was also a promise that the captain would arrive this evening, tho’ we set little store by that.

It wasn’t exactly an exciting afternoon that we spent with our hosts, rather a rough bunch of seamen, but the time passed pleasantly enough.  Val’s Indonesian has reached the standard where she can maintain a simple conversation, + I communicated by dumbshow.  I also caused quite a stir when I went to have a game of football with a bunch of youths on the quayside.  At first they wouldn’t let me play, which was fair enough since I was wearing heavy boots + most of them were barefoot, but the problem was got around to everyone’s satisfaction by putting me in goal.  I certainly had quite a following, but I’m afraid my performance was only fair.  I was also assisted by some kind refereeing (it was refereeing by consensus).  I rather think we lost in the end, tho’ only one allowed goal went past me.  My only mishap was a skinned knee, which everyone in Paotere seemed anxious to bring to my attention.

There were quite a few visitors to the ship during the day, coming + going, but I was quite dumbfounded when, as one guest in particular had just left + was in fact cycling away, we were told that that had been the captain.  But it was quite alright, our informant told us – he’d spoken with the Captain + it was quite alright for us to travel with them.  It was impossible to explain that we needed to talk with the Captain to discuss the price, + also to discover exactly when the Tridaya was likely to sail.  Ah well.

We were given a fine meal – rice, of course, with really chunky fish steaks in a spicy sauce, with, regrettably, a rather stringy spinach-like vegetable.  I was also surprised at the drink we were given – plain hot water – but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  In the evening we started to play cards – I was going to teach them pairs, that being the simplest to explain, but rain messed that one up, + we were driven into the wheelhouse to watch some incomprehensible programme, followed by one of bland Indonesian pop.  When the rain ceased, we were given the wheelhouse as our cabin.  It was reasonably comfortable until another rainstorm drove an extra crew member to share our nest- we never did find out who he was.  He curled up considerately at first, but soon began to stretch out.  Not, Val thought, with amorous intent, but we switched places to thwart any further plans in that direction.

We do seem to have happened upon a convivial bunch, even down to feeding us and providing us with somewhere to stay, but it does seem rather haphazard, and even at this (apparently advanced)stage of negotiation, I have my doubts about this turning out quite as successfully. Still, we shall just have to hang on and see.

November 27th 1983

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The Tridaya – one of the Makassar schooners we tried

Finding a boat to Kalimantan was the number one priority for the day, so tho’ we took time to eat a large bowl of porridge, + then stop off to collect our photos, that is what we set our sights on.  Before we had left for Toraja, there had been many boats listed as heading for Balikpapan, in Kalimantan, but now that we had returned + wanted to go there, there was nothing.  By contrast, a couple of boats were shortly off to Surubaya, which we had crossed off our list.  That, I suppose, is life.

We still had one card to play, to try the Makassar schooners in Paotere, but while we were still in town, we went to the Kodak 1 hour developing shop.  We hadn’t been entirely happy with the Sakura developing we’d had done, + had another film to put thro’.  This turned out to be a real curate’s egg, good + bad in places, some brilliant photos, some washed our as before, some missing completely.  It occurred to Val thast it might be the camera battery causing the problem, + on examination this proved to be the case.  Fortunately tho’, we were able to replace it there + then, + at not at all a bad price.  Then to Paotere.

We walked, since it really isn‘t that far, tho’ we had all sorts of problems making people understand our pronunciation of the place.  We arrived just after 4 tour buses had pulled in to the place, but fortunately they didn’t stay more than about 20 mins.  We asked around the various schooners, + generally received an excellent reception.  The first one in particular they were all magnificently friendly.  The captain gave us his address in UP (I think), + another one in Balikpapan to which we should apply, mentioning his name.  The boat was going to Balikpapan, + they were perfectly willing to take us, for nothing, the man said… only they weren’t leaving for about 12 days.

On another boat, I was taught a game they were playing up on the bridge, a sort of cross between billiards + shove-ha’apenny, played on a large flat polished board.  They too weren’t able to take us tho’ – in fact the only possibility was a boat the guys on board said was leaving for Balikpapan, in 2 days time.  The captain, tho’, wasn’t present, so we would have to return tomorrow morning to find out if it would be any good for us.

Playing the game

We walked back, checking another hotel on the way to see if it would be cheaper than the Ramayana.  We were given a lift there from a shop at which we asked the way, which was very  nice indeed of the people, but the hotel did not prove a sensible alternative – it was cheaper by R1000, but considerably smaller, so the Ramayana it was to remain.  We siestaed during the afternoon, + then went into town again at about 5.  It did not begin as a good outing.  Val wanted to go to the market to buy some sugar, so we headed down a side-street that she thought led down to it.  We were tho’ assailed by hordes of unpleasant youths + kids.  We had obviously wandered into what was more or less a slum area, where few if any white faces were seen, + even when people didn’t shout out or crowd round, the atmosphere was thick with curiosity + hostility.  However, once we’d gone so far, we reckoned we were in for more troubles by turning back, so we just kept going, + tried to work our way round, but the road became narrower as we went, + we were only too delighted finally to regain the main road + catch a bemo to town.

Immediately we lighted from that tho’, kids swarmed round, asking for something, I don’t know what – I didn’t take the time to enquire.  First stop, once I’d sent our friends packing, was the Kodak shop once more.  Val had compiled a whole list of reprints she wanted done – film processing + printing is very cheap here (about the same as England I suppose) so it seems silly not to take advantage of it.  (On the other hand, as we agreed later, we had probably gone too far.)  The people in the shop were very nice, which cheered me up – they even showed us some Canon cameras.

And then, looking for somewhere to eat, we happened upon a fine place.  They had satays (meat cooked on skewers like kebabs) frying outside, which tempted us in, + immediately we walked in we were greeted by some youths, asking us what we wanted to drink.  (We ended up paying for our beer, but I didn’t mind.)  I was a bit nervous at first – more hassles I didn’t need – but in fact it turned out splendidly.  The food was fabulous, the 3 young guys all spoke halting English, + were excellent company, and we laughed + chatted for quite a while.

By no means as negative a response as we might have got on the various boats we tried, though no actual result, so maybe we are just being humoured. And our encounters with local people are not enjoyable. I know that in theory I should try to keep my good temper, but it can prove challenging when one is already in an anxious state. But then our later encounter proved that it was possible to have friendly encounters too.

That rain came down heavily while we were there, so it was a soggy run back to the Photo Shop – more smiles there – and then to the bemo centre.  We were charged over the odds, but as the difference in effect amounted to about 9p for the 2 of us (+ it was still raining) I persuaded Val to climb aboard.  Chatted with a preacher on board who came from Ke’le in Toraja.  Showed him our phots of the ceremony.  He’d been there too, + one of our pictures was of his house.  Amazing!

November 26th 1983

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Ujung Pandang

Very little to report today, since we spent most of it on the bus.  We travelled back on the Flora’s own bus-line, since that seemed the simplest – we wouldn’t have to worry about carrying our bags very far – but it proved to be a mistake, since the bus wasn’t in as good condition as the Liman Express, so it was a much bumpier ride.  We then made things worse for ourselves, from moving from the seats by the door we had booked, to the unoccupied rear seats.  It was far bumpier back there, + the extra room we had was more of a con than a pro.  Nonetheless, altho’ the ride was long, it wasn’t really unpleasant.  We looked at the scenery, listened to the Walkman, weaved + dreamed.  We stopped once for lunch + once for dinner, both welcome breaks, but it was better to arrive once more at UP, at the Ramayana. 

We were remembered, it seemed, + given the same room.  We dumped our bags, + immediately shot out again, to the Sakura film processing shop, to have a film developed, + order some re-prints, + to the bakery, where we over-indulged in rolls + cakes – all the foods here seem to be heavy on starch, whether it be rice or dough.  If I could only turn them on to potatoes.  Still, we enjoyed our meal back in our room, washing it down with home-made tea.

Then, discussion-time.  We’d already decided to shelve plan A, of sailing to Java, + shall instead look, probably tomorrow, for a boat to Kalimantan, + then work our way around the coast to Sabah, Brunei, + Sarawak.  We are carrying too many things at the moment, + are a bit laden down.  As well as the presents I was given from school, Val has bought a hat + a big woven basket, so we have to ship them off home as soon as possible.

During the last part of the evening, I began a letter to Tony Wheeler, the author of our Yellow Guide.  He invites contributions, + Tom + Jan have written to him on several occasions, each time receiving a copy of one of his other publications as a reward.

Back in Ujung Pandang, one of the most unpleasant cities we visited in all of Asia, though clearly it did have its attractions, at least in terms of a bakery and other amenities. I either didn’t finish the letter to Tony Wheeler (entirely possible) or it bore no fruit.

November 25th 1983

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I was the first up for a change, as I had to mandi + shave for school.  A familiar feeling of pre-school anxiety assailed me, even tho’ I was only going in on a visit – could I ever stand being a teacher again?  Val had decided to leave me to it, + visit the markets instead today, being the big market day.  It was just a hundred yards or so from Losmen Flora to the school, so it was but a few moments’ stroll + I was walking in thro’ the gates.

Like many other schools, a stranger, especially one as different as myself, attracts attention, so I could feel the atmosphere of curiosity as I was directed to the office.  Mr X, when he was located + brought to me, was all welcoming smiles – I suspect he was a little surprised that I had actually turned up.  My visit was, however, fortuitous, as the Head of English had to be absent during the morning, to visit the hospital, so I was not only able to visit a class or 2, but take them as well, tho’ fortunately Mr X was also present, for most of the time at least, to re-inforce my discipline + to explain certain things.  The class also had an exercise set for them to do, tho’ I did interrupt that for a while to try some oral work, acting out a situation or 2, tho’ that was less than successful.  They were shy, the situation was strange, + they weren’t used to that sort of approach.  We did, tho’, have some fun, I think, + it does no harm at all to realise that English is not just  a school subject, but a living breathing language.

The other class I taught were more or less the same age, tho’ not as bright, + I immediately rejected the lesson they had reached in their bookos – the Adjective Clause.  I wouldn’t be able to tell you any more what it is myself, let alone explain it to a class of Indonesian children – a criminal waste of time, I’d say.  Instead, I attempted to give an oral lesson on Time, tho’ without any training in foreign language teaching, my efforts were naturally scrappy.  I also didn’t know how long the lesson was going on for, so made a mess of things, + had to fill the time by teaching a song.  The best I could think of was, “If you’re happy + you know it clap your hands” which they certainly enjoyed, even if it wasn’t exactly educational.

So, my ordeal over – they had been 2 very long classes – I was taken back to the staffroom, given tea + boiled banana (not as bad as it sounds), asked to sign the visitor’s book, which I was happy to do, + given a present, or rather 2 presents, both hand-made by children at the school.  One was a sort of abstract wool-collage, the other a postcard of the entrance to Toraja, framed in bamboo.  Not really my cup of tea, tho’ I was immensely grateful for the thought behind them.

I returned to find Val sitting on the balcony.  She had had an interesting morning, it seemed, visiting both the regular food-produce market, which was busy enough, + even more fascinating, the pig + cattle market.  After we had had some lunch, she took me to see it, + tho’ it had died down a little by now, it was still quite amazing.  There were buffaloes everywhere, from the most huge to the youngest calves, each with a rope thro’ its nose + an attendant on the end of that.  Plus the pigs, row after row of them, tied down to their own individually tailored bamboo platform, + laid out together under their concrete shelter.  The piglets even had a small handle attached to their bamboo, so that they could be carried around like handbags.  Val had earlier seen much money changing hands – it seems that the buffaloes in particular are almost like a stock market (in its most literal sense) investment.

We spent the rest of the afternoon quietly sitting on our balcony + relaxing, writing + watching the world pass by.  Eventually we decided to go eat, + once again called in on Tom + Jan.  They were, for once, in + rather apologetic about not having contacted us before.  They were also full of tales about the things they had done over the past couple of days, + I was, as I had anticipated I would be, jealous.  Still, we went out with them to a little restaurant, + had a fine evening.  The food was OK – rice, pork + buffalo, washed down with tuak – + the conversation much to my liking – light, humorous, somewhat cynical.  I only hope we meet them again, for I enjoy their company.

I have realised that I have entirely omitted to do what I intended earlier, to give my impressions of the school.  Physically, the school is in a bad way, being in old buildings in poor repair.  The classrooms do not inspire warmth – they are barren rooms, with cracked + peeling paint, the only decoration in each one being the same – small framed photos of President Suharto + his vice-president.  The classes are, by English standards, enormous, up to 50 on the roll, + frequently packed 3 to a desk built for 2.  Text books seem to be in short supply, frequently being just one of a type to a class, with all exercises copied onto a  blackboard (no easy matter – the blackboards in the classes I was in were both split, cracked + peeling).  But despite these problems the school seems to be doing a fine job.  The pupils are certainly well-behaved (tho’ obviously the presence of the headmaster did no harm at all) + tho’ on such a short visit I couldn’t judge standards, they seemed keen to learn.

On a different  note, I was interested to see a game being played  on the grassy playground in the middle of the buildings.  It was a sort of volleyball, tho’ played with head + feet, + using a ball woven from bamboo.  The boys were very skilful indeed at this.

During the time we were away, I visited a few schools, but this, I think, was the most successful, in that I actually got to do some teaching, and to gain more of an impression of the whole school. And I enjoyed myself; despite my professed dislike of children, I do enjoy seizing the opportunity to perform. And every teacher is (or ought to be) a performer.

November 24th 1983

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Once again we had received vague information about a ceremony taking place, this time at a village near Sa’dan,  but nobody else seemed to be able to verify this, + it seemed a long way to go on the off chance, so we decided to give it a miss, + elected instead to visit some of the villages between Rantepao and Makale, the capital of Tana Toraja, 17 kms south.  We caught the bemo to Lemo, a cheap ride, presumably because the main road is in good condition – it’s the only one in the area which is.  From the road it’s just a short walk to where they have rows of effigies of the dead, standing in holes in the cliff-face for all the world like spectators in a grandstand, 2 or 3 dozen of them.  That, however, for all we know, is all there is of Lemo, so we soon had that ticked off, + walked back along the main road to the next village, Loden.  This involved a 2 km gentle climb, with good views, to some caves, containing more burial sites – since the Torajans load their dead with material possessions to take with them, they have a correspondingly difficult time with grave-robbers, so have been forced to resort to all sorts of methods of keeping them out. 

When we arrived at the site tho’, we were in for a shock.  Our Yellow Guide advises us to keep some loose coins for the kids with lamps who show you around.  This has now changed, + there is a fee of R2000 per person entrance fee, plus R500 for the lamp, + tho’ the young guide was prepared to bargain, he wouldn’t come down sufficiently to suit Val, who was determined not to be ripped off.  So we didn’t get to see the caves.  I was pissed off: at the guides (not content with robbing the dead, they’re now robbing the living); at Val, for her self-righteous inflexibility; + at myself, for not pushing myself into going – at one stage, Val + I agreed that just I should see the caves, + save money,  but the guide had lost interest in us by now, + had walked off.  So we walked away, hoping he would follow us.  When he didn’t, we could scarcely turn back.  So I was  not very good company for a while, brooding in silence, + only gradually regaining some humour.

We started to walk back to Rantepao by a slightly longer route, crossing the river by a rickety old wooden bridge, + taking a more or less parallel but less direct road.  We took a little diversion into the paddy-fields to take a couple of pictures – a boy was winnowing the rice while his mother looked on – they were both very nice, and we gave them what every kid + quite a few of the adults round here ask for incessantly – gula gula, or sweets.  Then, heading for home, we happened to pass a shop just as a bemo laden with people arrived + stopped there, + the driver asked if we were going to the ceremony.  It was a little late, we thought, being 2 or so in the afternoon, but it looked like being a different sort of affair from the one at Keti, so we were game to try.

For a while, tho’, nothing happened.  The bemo discharged its load + drove off, while all the people made themselves comfortable for a while.  If it hadn’t been for the trussed pig, I would have thought we had been misled.  However, just when we were about to give up + set off once more for town, everybody began to move, so we tagged along at the end of the procession.  It wasn’t a long walk, just a few hundred metres across the fields, + then a climb up to a small village nestling on the side of a hill.  We were made more than welcome, first by a man who, we discovered, was a teacher (in fact, he turned out to be the Headmaster of Rantepao’s largest secondary school) + then by other members of the village.

A very strange lady took our hands + gave us a brief instruction in the movements  of the dance which would be taking place that night, + then we were shown to one of the pavilions especially built for the ceremony, + invited to sit down.  It was very nice to be treated rather as a welcome guest than an unwarranted intruder.  We were given coffee, cake, + biscuits, + later buffalo meat, rice + tuak.  The tuak as nice, better than before, but the rest of the meal was  not much to my taste, since the meat was very stringy + tough (hardly surprising when the beast had only been killed this morning – his head was still lying in the middle of the arena) + the rice was plain boiled, + having been doused with the gravy from the meat, very fatty.  Especially when it cooled down, it left the whole mouth coated with grease.  Ugh.

We were invited to stay for the dancing in the evening as well, but as that would have meant staying the night, + we only had thin clothes with us, we decided to decline.  On reflection, I am sure we chose unwisely – we are most unlikely to have the opportunity to witness the like again.  So we returned to Rantepao with the headmaster, his wife, + daughter on a very crowded bemo – not only many many people but butchered pig as well, most of him, so far as I could tell, except the head.  We were invited in to take coffee with the family, + were shown the house, an old bamboo structure,  but comfortable.  Out the back they had a traditional rice barn, plus prize buffalo (worth R2 million, which sounds a lot, till translated, plus dogs, cats, chickens, pigs… even a pigeon.  And beyond this, our friend told us, he had rice fields, + more buffalo.  Even as headmaster of the school, he only receives R30,000 a month.  That was the figure he quoted us, tho’ it sounds so unbelievable there may have been some mistake in the translation.  In any case, it is a pittance, plus he has a large family: 6 boys + a girl, + 2 of the boys are going to university at the moment, so he has to involve himself in animal husbandry on quite a large scale in order to survive.  I obtained permission to visit the school tomorrow, + we said farewell.

During the rest of the day we wandered around the shops, returning to the losmen for a respectably early night.  We did make a couple of attempts to track down Tom + Jan,  but they were elusive, so we had to give in.  We had a restless night, because of the over-zealous attention of too many mosquitoes.

Definitely feel very annoyed that we prioritised our own comfort, and so missed out on a somewhat smaller and possibly more authentic funeral celebration; we can be remarkably timid at times. But we have enjoyed our time in Tana Toraja, allowing us time and space to visit more, to see more, to take our time.

November 23rd 1983

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We had received a sort of half-invitation by a local guy to take us to a ceremony in a village some way away, + being of a suspicious turn of mind, wondering as we often do what’s in it for him, we had made a sort of half-promise to be at the main square at 10 to 8 this morning.  Our obvious lack of enthusiasm had obviously put him off tho’, since he didn’t turn up.  So we put plan B into action, and walked out on the road north, to the villages that way.  It was a pleasant enough, tho’ long + unexciting, walk out to the first one, Palawa.  It was enlivened, however, by the picturesque sight of various old men + women walking in towards town, carrying their bamboo poles full of palm wine, presumably to sell there.  We eventually arrived at what we thought was the turn-off for the village, + this seemed to be borne out when we came on a row of traditional houses with their barns facing them.  We caused quite a stir among the people when we arrived there – a bunch of old ladies, not so old ladies, + very young children.  They were chatting + intermittently looking after mats of rice drying in the sun, protecting them from marauding chickens by waving long bamboo poles at the creatures.  We caused a welcome diversion, especially when we handed round biscuits.  There was, tho’, little or no conversation, once we’d exhausted the very basic sentences.  Some of the ladies were chewing on what I imagine is a variety of betel – it produces the same red spittle.  They look even more repulsive when they’re chewing it tho’, since it’s too big to be contained within their mouths, + sticks out obscenely.  A man came along just as Val was taking a photo of the women, + he made it clear he was very annoyed about it, tho’ I don’t know what it had to do with him.  He did later give us “permission” to photograph one of the houses.

We didn’t stay much longer tho’, having seen all we could see, so we walked back to the road, + continued our journey.  A few hundred metres later, we discovered the “real” Palawa, so I don’t know where we had been before.  Palawa was quite an attractive village, laid out, again, traditionally, but was rather spoilt for me by the more aggressive attitude towards the tourists.  Each house had a collection of various artefacts + antiques which a woman would try to sell to you as you passed.  We would look at what was offered out of politeness, but we had no intention of buying, + I felt uncomfortable about it all.  Palawa is clearly on the tour bus trail, + knows it.  So we soon moved on.

We soon attracted the attention of a young man who spoke some English, who when we discovered we were on our way to Sa’dan, the next village, came along with us.  When we arrived he showed us the way up to the weaving centre, Sa’dan’s claim to fame.  It was very interesting, especially for Val of course, who was able to look at the difference between this style + the Guatemalan she had learnt.  The finished product, in fact, was remarkably similar in style, tho’ obviously this had its own distinctive motifs – representations of buffaloes + Torajan houses.  We bought a small shoulder bag in the end, a mere R1500.

Walking back down the road, still accompanied by our friend, it started to rain, so we sheltered under the eaves of a small shop.  We started talking to the people, + ended up going in for coffee (tho’ we were expected to pay for it.)  They were nice friendly people, + between their broken English + Val’s broken Indonesian, we were able to communicate a fair bit.  It was a fairly broken-down shack that they were living in, so it was quite a surprise to discover the guy is a teacher.  Evidently it’s a profession which commands even less reward here than back home.  We took their photo, + promised to send them a copy.

Back to the main road again, + just a few further yards on to where a bemo was waiting to go back to Rantepao.  They were in no hurry to go tho’, + we spent a while chatting with the driver – he was a friendly sort.  He gave us what looked to be the spitting image of a Tahitian pamplemousse – it was quite a disappointment when we cut it open later to discover it was as sour as a grapefruit back home.  Nice with sugar tho’.

An amazingly bumpy ride back to town – the bus must need a service every week.  In the evening we went to a small restaurant recommended by Tom + Jan, where Val had gado gado, a sort of salad covered in peanut sauce, + I had nasi goreng, or a special fried rice, the national dish.  Both were very tasty + very cheap.  We were trapped there for a while by a heavy thunderstorm, but escaped during a slight lull, + spent the rest of the evening sitting in the lounge/foyer, listening to the Walkman + respectively writing + biluming.

More exploration of the area, the local villages, etc. Without the high drama of yesterday’s antics, but none the less enjoyable for all that.

November 22nd 1983

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We were a bit sluggish getting started this morning, taking our time over getting up, mandying (the water that one tips over oneself to wash is called mandi water) + breakfasting.  Our excuse was that we were fatigued after our journey,  but that may have been pure self-justification.  We went to the money-changer to cash another cheque – tho’ the lady didn’t have enough money to change more than $20, she did tell us that there was a funeral service taking place at Keite, a village just 6 kms from town.  This may not sound like too much of an attraction, but in Tana Toraja one of the musts to see are these ceremonies, which are, by all accounts, elaborate affairs.  So we immediately found a bemo heading out there, + leapt on. 

And immediately we arrived there were strange things to see – ladies wearing the wide-brimmed straw hats that one associates with China or Vietnam, men carrying pigs.  These were slung on bamboo poles, which the men carried on their shoulders, like hunters carrying a dead stag, except the pigs weren’t upside down.  They obviously has some intimation of their imminent fate, or else they were simply uncomfortable.  Either way, they were making a squealing racket.

As we came within sight of the village, we were greeted by a very pleasant sight.  The village was in traditional style, a row of ship-shaped houses all facing N-S, with each one’s rice-barn, a smaller version of itself, facing it.  The whole village was draped with red cloth, with extra temporary shelters built to accommodate the guests.  The funeral takes place some months after the death, so that enough money can be raised to do it in style.  The more important the person, the bigger the affair, the more guests, the more gifts, the more pigs + buffaloes are slaughtered.  The local religion takes the view that you can take it with you, + the more the better.  So all morning guests processed into the village, bringing gifts of rice, tuak, pigs, buffaloes – it is quite a sight, most extraordinary.

We were just congratulating ourselves on having escaped the rest of the tourists, when we spotted them, half a dozen or so, including our German friends, wielding a cine camera on a tripod.  Worse was to come, however, when 2 large groups of tourists filed in as part of the procession.  They had brought gifts for the dead man, so had earned themselves, or bought themselves, the right to join in in this way.  I felt it rather made a mockery of the whole thing, tho’ one group had gone to the trouble of dressing themselves in the appropriate costumes, while the others were in the usual tourist assortment of Bermuda shorts, baggy cotton trousers, etc.  Just after they arrived, + presumably delayed until their arrival, the fun began.

A buffalo was led into the centre + tied to a stake there by a rope around his foot.    His attendant stroked him under his chin, so that he lifted his nose, his head, to the sky, so trusting, so trusting.  And the betrayal.  The man took  a large heavy knife, like a machete, + with one heavy blow like a forehand drive at tennis, slashed + leapt back.  The beast’s neck erupted blood, + the animal heaved + pulled at the stake, fell, pulled himself up again, fell.  And all the while, the red blood poured into the earth.  I don’t know how I can describe it, since I’m not aware I saw it, I’m sure that at the moment the knife struck, my head was in my hands.  I knew it was going to happen, yet still couldn’t believe it would, till it did.  And then, when the animal finally had no strength left, was dead, bar the occasional twitch + the look in the eyes, another was led in, tied to the stake, + it was gone thro’ again.  Not such a skilful slaughterer this time, tho’ it seems to require more strength than finesse, or perhaps this one had more will to live.  In any event, he lived, struggled + suffered longer, tho’ the end was the same.

I left at this point, + went for a walk, returning when it was over, + 7 buffaloes lay dead or dying in the mud + blood + shit.  I missed too, the obtaining of blood, when men inserted sharpened pieces of bamboo into the necks of the creatures to collect what blood was still flowing.  I also missed, tho’ Val witnessed it, the even more horrific killing of the pigs when, while still trussed + unable to move, they had small knives or sharpened bamboo thrust again + again into the heart.  They took a hell of a long time to die, + squealed hideously.

I don’t know what I think about it really.  I eat meat, so shouldn’t object to seeing meat killed.  (Should be prepared, I’m told + logically accept, to kill it myself, if necessary.)  Also, the people weren’t cruel to the animals, were gentle + kind, in fact – up to the moment of killing.  The buffaloes anyway; the pigs had a bit of a raw deal.  My distaste was turned more upon the watchers than the doers.  And not so much the villagers, who at least have some legitimate beliefs to account for their interest.  It was the tourists I didn’t like, the cheap voyeurs, getting a cheap + vicarious thrill out of the barbarous customs of this strange people.  And I do not exclude myself from censure.  The ceremony certainly had the effect of focusing one’s mind upon death, much more so than a western funeral.  When death comes my way, will I be a buffalo, accepting my coming fate with dignity, fighting against it but not protesting.  For they must have known what was about to happen, for as they were brought in they could see their dead + dying comrades.  Or would I be more like the pig, squealing all the while.  I’m afraid I detect porkish tendencies.  Anyway, the meat was not wasted.  When the slaughter had finished, the hides were removed, the meat cut up, + then distributed among the guests, according to the gifts they had brought.

During my walk I had explored a path leading to some hanging coffins, some of which had decayed so far as to fall to the ground.  Because of this, there were many human bones on display, as well as carved wooden effigies of the dead.  Val stayed to watch the killing – one becomes immune after a time, she said – but when it was over I took her up there.  Unfortunately, all the other tourists were also now unoccupied, so they were there too – it had been better when I had had the place to myself.

We wandered around the village for a while, looking at what there was to see, but ending up chatting to 2 of the other tourists, tho’ perhaps I should say travellers, since they have been on the road as long as us.  And as they haven’t travelled the same distances, they’ve obviously seen the South Pacific in considerably more detail.  Plus Japan, China, Hong Kong, the Philippines, etc etc.  They told us a lot about Sarawak, which converted me to visiting the place (Val, to her credit, has long been keen.)  They’re Americans, Tom + Jan – I enjoyed their company.  We started to walk back with them, tho’ they hopped on a passing bemo – they had walked out.  I had my usual feeling, when meeting other travellers, that their experiences have been so much better than ours.  (And in this case, I think my inferiority complex is justified.)  We decided to look them up in the evening, to see if they would like to eat out with us, but this proved more difficult than anticipated.  They had mentioned the hotel they were staying in, but the first time we went there the receptionist denied having any Americans in the place, the second time another guest showed us what he thought was their room, but there was no-one in, + the 3rd time they were in…  but had already eaten.  Still, I was pleased we had tracked them down – I had become extremely depressed when it looked as tho’ we wouldn’t, since I’m starved of company + anything approaching friendship.  We spent all evening with them, swapping stories, listening to the BBC news, drinking beer, having a generally good time.  Or at least I thought so.  So we never did eat a meal.  Tho’ we did have some bread + jam when we got in.  Not that getting in was easy – it was now 11.45 + the losmen was locked.  We knocked up the young guy who more or less runs the place tho’, + he was fine about it.  Quite a day.

Quite a day indeed, and one to live long in the memory. Of course, it had been somewhat corrupted by the presence of the tourists (present company included) but it was still pretty special, and I guess the sort of event that ought to be maintained, barbaric though aspects of it were (though worse than factory farming? I think not.) And good to make contact with some like-minded fellow-travellers, with a similar sense of humour. Tom is still a good friend, though he and Jan have parted ways now, and still the most inveterate traveller I have ever known.

November 21st 1983

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Tana Toraja

I had a rotten night.  It was desperately hot, my missing tooth was aching, + I was foolishly worrying about R3000 we had been talked into spending for a guide book to Tana Toraja.  It had turned out to be, while not a complete waste, certainly not worth the money outlayed for it.  However, I vowed to recover the money by depriving myself of coke and/or beer until I estimated it was paid for, + that cheered me a little.  Penance is reassuring, isn’t it.  That must be why the Catholics like it so much.

The morning came, of course,+ none too soon for me.  It was an early start for us, as we had to be up to catch the bus at 7, so as you can imagine, a frantic time of getting ready.  And all for nothing, as it turned out, since it didn’t turn up till 8.  There was a biman bus there at 7, on the dot,  but we were assured it was a different one, so we had to take their word for it.  We were squeezed in a bit tight.  The seats were in rows of 5, with the gangway splitting them 2 + 3, + we were 2 of the 3, with a pleasant enough little man in the 3rd seat.  And it was a 10 hour journey, so we were preparing ourselves for a rough ride.  But in fact it wasn’t too bad at all, quite enjoyable even, in some ways.  We had prepared ourselves well, keeping all the things we might need during the journey in one pack, which stayed with us, + putting everything else into the big one, which was stowed.  We had the Walkman with us, so that helped while away an hour or 2, and also drowned out the execrable stuff pouring out from the speaker above our heads – either Indonesian reggae or Jim Reeves.  I did offer them a tape to play, but it lasted approx. 30 secs before being switched off.

The people on the bus were, apart from this small lapse of musical taste, all very nice, + for the second half of the journey in particular, the scenery was fabulous.  The first part was mostly flat, tho’ there were some very odd mountains, rising sheer out of an entirely flat plain, so that one could bicycle literally into a mountain.  There were lots of them too, dotted around the plain.  Later on, tho’ things got really spectacular, with magnificent vistas over mountainous valleys, or crags of rick suddenly appearing on the skyline, thrusting their massive fingers skyward.  And then, once we’d entered Tana Toraja itself, there were the houses.  Taraja has a totally unique architecture, the roofs of their traditional houses rearing up at each end, + strongly resembling either a ship or the horns of a buffalo ( of which there are also plenty), depending on which book you read.  They are marvellous to look at, + it’s a living art – they’re still being made.  So, with all that, + with frequent stops for leg-stretching + buying provisions, it wasn’t at all a bad ride.  Even Val, normally an appalling bus traveller, had no problems. 

Accommodation was soon sorted out on arrival.  The yellow guide lists several places, so we picked the first, which turned out to be close, clean + cheap.  There were also a couple of Germans staying there, who’ve been in Ruantepeo for nearly a week, + they took us along to a restaurant they frequent.  The place made a cock-up of our orders, + when it came was nothing special, but the price was fair, the portions big, + we got the chance to try tuak, the local rice wine.  It’s still fermenting, + tastes like it, but it is strong.  Once is enough for me tho’.

When travel is pleasant, as this trfip seemed to be, all seems well with the world. And it would appear that we are becoming more accustomed to this sort of life; we are better prepared for the journey, combining ways of escaping (a good book, some music) with appreciating what there is to offer in terms of company within the bus and scenery outside.