About an hour after I arrived in Medan a Garuda 747 landed and I could welcome Anna, my neighbor who had just completed a long flight directly from Amsterdam, needles to say she was exhausted. After we collected her luggage we took a taxi to Bukitingi where we found quite a basic guesthouse to stay. I still remember Anna returning in shock from the bathroom ‘’I am not going to have a bath in that…”, describing the small mandi basin. After I explained her the Indonesian way of showering she went back and returned refreshed but still not looking very convinced.
The next couple of days we rented a motorbike and toured the area. It turned out to be very rural area with little traffic and definitely the two orang Belanda’s (Dutch) on their motorbike and still not used to the left-sided driving caught a lot of attention.
Somehow we ended up in a small village where we were given a demonstration of folklore dancing and we ended up in one of the houses drinking tea and getting dressed according local tradition. As almost everywhere in Indonesia the hospitality of the locals was amazing.
Our next destination was Lake Toba, the largest volcanic lake in the world. We found a nice place to stay and once again renting a motorbike turned out to be the most practical way to explore the island in the lake where we were staying.
During one of our trips we ended up at a wedding and fortunately it was not a problem for us to hang around and make some pictures of the ceremony.
There was so much to discover, we loved the Sumatran architecture and watching the locals during their everyday life.
Our Guesthouse was idyllically located on the shoreline of Lake Toba and always a good spot to relax after a full day of driving our bike and exploring the island.
Of course we could not avoid another cultural show and in spite of being quite simple and over the top touristy it was a nice way to see what was going on during the real ceremonies.
At the end our our last day it was time to wash our motorbikes before returning them to their owners and enjoy our final moments at Lake Toba.
The next day we returned to Medan and boarded a flight towards Jakarta, another one to Bali where we stayed in Kuta for the night and drank more cocktails than were good for us. Another early rise, another flight and we had arrived at our next destination.
Ujung Pandang, now known as Makassar, is a city with strong Dutch roots. Therefor we could not mis out on visiting the remainders of Fort Rotterdam, one of the Dutch strongholds during the VOC. Fortunately there was much more to be seen and our becak driver brought us to some beautiful Chinese temples and the harbor where we could see the famous wooden sailing boats.
We were told there were some beautiful waterfalls in the area and of course we could not resist a splash in there. It’s always fun and a good way to relax as the heat could be demanding at times.
We met Ton and Laura, a nice Dutch couple, in the evening so we decided to travel with the four of us to Tanah Toraja in Central Sulawesi. The 300 kilometer trip was done by an old bus which seemed to fall apart every moment and I must admit I’m still getting goosebumps when I think of this hair-raising trip. On more than one occasion we felt we would drop off the narrow roads and disappear in the depths of the valleys which were much closer than we were comfortable with.
The Toraja ethnic group ist most likely best known for it’s elaborate funeral ceremonies so immediately after arrival we checked out whether it was possible to visit such a ceremony. We were lucky indeed as one of the villages in the area was hosting a massive ceremony that week. As there was so much to be seen and we only had a couple of days we decided to arrange a multiple day tour in order to make most of our time. On the first day we visited the village where the funeral took place, I can only say all of us where overwhelmed by the beautiful costumes and everything what was going on.
For us it was unbelievable that it was possible for us foreigners to witness this very special event and even got invited for a cup of tea. It definitely was an out of this world experience, but more was awaiting us as the next day we visited some villages where the characteristic houses were decorated with bull the horns of water buffalos that were slaughtered during a previous funeral ceremony.
Whilst driving with our rented bemo through the breathtaking landscape with lush valleys, rice terraces and coffee plantations we visited some other villages and in one of them we found some women weaving beautiful ikat clothes.
Of course we could not miss out on the impressive cemetries, memorials and burying sites with their famous tau tau puppets, which symbolize the people who passed away and are being created after their image. In spite of seeing numerous skulls and skeletons in the caves. The Toraja’s adhere still to their age old believe of the after-life so who are we to take that in doubt.
The markets were another place that strongly attracted us and we could not leave Toraja without visiting at least one of them. Vegetables, coffee, but also pigs and buffalos were being auctioned.
More villages, more rice barns, and even more breathtaking scenery. We were blown away by the sheer beauty of Tanah Toraja and impressed by the locals who until then were still living the life that cannot be much different from their ancestors.
With typical Toraja funeral ceremonies lasting over a week and some of them finding place simultaniously at several places we took the opportunity to visit to another village from in order to witness and experience some more of this extrordinary phenomena.
One week had flown by like crazy and needles to say we were deeply impressed by all we had seen and experienced. Tanah Toraja definitely was an extraordinary destination in the vast Indonesian archipelago and we were happy to have made the decision to visit it. With the terrific bus ride still in the back of our minds none of us really felt like on repeating that so we decided to take a plane back from Rantepeau to Ujung Pandang and then on to our next destination. The island of the Gods, Bali!
After about a day of traveling we safely arrived in Bali and of course we headed directly to Guci Guesthouses in Ubud so I could meet my friends Ulli and Nyoman again! It was 2 years ago since I first met them and since then we have been writing letters. It was going to be an extraordinary visit as it was the first time I would meet their newly born son Daniel.
It felt I just left Guci Guesthouses the week before and we simply took up our conversation where we left it two years ago.
The first day on Bali we decided to relax, what better place to find but a pool whilst enjoying one of the fabulous cocktails on the menu.
But Bali had so much more to offer so after one day we started our exploration of the island. First goal was Taman Ayun, the royal temple in Mengwi.
We loved wandering around the temple with it’s many statues and decorations but of course the main goal of that day was Tanah Lot. A very touristic destination perhaps but the spectacular views of sunset over Tanah Lot justified every moment of our journey.
Next morning we headed towards a performance of the Barong, one of Bali’s classical dance performances. It deals with the classic battle between good and bad and as usual good conquers bad in the end.
The rest of the day we strolled through the streets of Ubud and of course a visit to Monkey Forest. The monkeys over there are quite used to tourists and can be quite brutal at times. Anna experienced that herself when a monkey pulled her trousers down, apparently being angry as he did not get the banana she was carrying. Not that funny at the time perhaps but now we are still laughing when we recall that moment.
Ton and Laura, the Dutch couple with who we travelled through Tanah Toraja, were back in town and when we met up we spontaneously decided for a relaxing afternoon at the pool. With so many cocktails on the menu we could not make our choice and boldly decided to order all of them. Needless to say we all got a bit ehh… drunk. The atmosphere was fantastic though, something we still recall today and that is all that matters.
Surprisingly we did not have a headache the next morning which was a good thing as we had to drive quit a bit on our motorbikes. We had decided to leave Guci Guesthouses for a couple of days and tour the island. First stop, Goa Gajah, the bat cave where we witnessed a temple ceremony going on.
The scenery was simply breathtaking with rice fields surrounding us everywhere. Sometimes it was difficult to keep an eye on the road with such a beautiful scenery around us.
At Candi Dasa we found a beautiful place to stay, right at the beach and whilst having dinner we witnessed the most spectacular sunset.
Next morning we were lucky enough to witness a ceremony of spreading the ashes. It was the last ceremony in a series of events that helps a passed away person in his/her journey into a new life.
After that we hit the road again and crossed the extremely dry part of North East Java on our way to Singaraja.
No trip to Singaraja goes without an early rise in order to see the dolphins whilst enjoying breakfast at sea. That morning we were lucky as we saw plenty of them playfully jumping out of the water surrounding us.
After that spectecular morning it was time to head back towards Ubus. On the way we paid a visit to the Git Git waterfalls and Lake Betul but after a many hours drive we were glad to return to Guci Guesthouses. Back in Ubud we were lucky to witness yet another ceremony where we were blown away by the beautiful decorations, the gifts for the Gods.
It was great being back with Ulli and Nyoman again and we spend quite some time chatting or just watching Nyoman work on one of his beautiful paintings.
Wonderful things do come to an end though and far to quick for my liking it was time to say goodbye again and go to Denpasar Airport. It was just an hour and a half before our final destination, Java.
Once in Yogyakarta we returned to Metro Guesthouse where Charl and myself stayed during our trip in 1987. Not a lot had changed but it was comfortable enough to stay for a couple of days. We met up again with Pascal who I had met earlier in Singapore and with the three of us we went out for dinner at the famous street restaurant Tante Lies.
After being totally satisfied with the delicious food we were served we headed to the centre of Yogyakarta where we ended up at a local fun-fair.
Next day we did a tour of some of the highlights of Yogyakarta and quite predictably we started of at the Kraton, The Sultans Palace.
Not far away were the water palace and the bird markt but it was for sure the bacak ride that made us enjoy this your through Yogyakarta. What a wonderful way to enjoy the local attractions.
The evening we spent at the pool of Metro Guesthouses, a couple of drinks and the atmosphere got really funny. Sometimes it’s nice just to switch off from all impressions for a while.
No visit to Yogyakarta would be complete without visiting the Borobodur, the biggest Buddhist temple on Java so we took a bus towards this spectacular monument. Up to now it is still one of my favourite places on Java. It’s difficult to describe but I just love the serenity of the place. The Buddha’s just have that effect on me, it’s difficult to explain.
The final evening we visited a performance of the Ramayana ballet, another thing one cannot miss whilst in Yogyakarta. The control of the dancers over their fingers, toes and eyes is just amazing and it’s an absolute joy to see the gracious dance moments.
We could not believe time went by that fast but the next day we traveled on to Jakarta where we met up again with Pascal and his girlfriend who were living there. They took us on a tour to Monas (The national monument) and from the top we had a stunning view over the cacophony of streets and alleys that formed Jakarta.
The absolute highlight however was a visit to Sunda Kelapa Timor, the old harbor. The amount of dirt in the slums was unbelievable but we must admit that the trip in a little rowing boat sailing through all the majestic schooners was unforgettable.
The visit of Sunda Kelap Timor was also the last visit of my two month trip through South-East Asia. Although it almost stopped by the time it had hardly begun I am glad I overcame the initial problems. I can only say I had a great time in Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia but without doubt the best part was when Anna joined me in Medan for our Indonesian adventure. Shared joy is double the joy. It was time to leave Indonesia behind and board another plane for our long flight home. From Jakarta via Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam followed by a city hopper flight to Maastricht.
After (too) many hours of traveling we were safely home again. What an adventure it had been. We were picked up by Loek and Petra, Anna’s brother and sister in law. That morning we did not stop talking as there were so many stories to tell. Do you remember?