October 18, 2004

Hello Mistair

I've now been in Indonesia for going on several weeks and it's been some of the most challenging but in many ways also the most rewarding of my travels so far. The people here in Sulawesi are very friendly so far. I walk down the street and am constantly hailed with "Hello Mistair", which unfortunately is the extent of many of the local's grasp of English, with the possible exception of "Where are you from?" So I've been doing my best to learn at least the basics of Indonesian, with some comic results.

I rented a scooter yesterday, complete with driver/guide. He of course spoke no English. I asked him to take me to a restaurant listed in my guidebook, so he starts taking me miles out of town and I keep trying to ask him if he's sure it's this far, to which he quite insistently replies yes. So we finally get there, and of course it's not the right place. The right place is, of course, in the "kota" or downtown. So we sit down and have a drink anyway as I try to piece together sentences from the limited dictionary included in my guidebook and everyone gathers around to laugh at the silly "bule" (Indonesian for gringo). It was all good fun.

I have also spent a week in another tropical dive paradise known as Bunaken Island on the northern tip of Sulawesi. It's all volcano country around there so there's big volcanoes rising up into the sky, but they also rise up out of the water, so the island is surrounded by dramatic wall dives with the depths quickly plunging to 1000 meters or so.

I also met some local kids that were camping out on the island. They were very friendly and offered to show me around the mainland. Fortunately, several of them spoke English very well. So I got their mobile numbers and hooked up with them once I got back to the mainland. True to their word, they took me around the nightlife of Manado and then up into the highlands to a national park called Tangkoko, where I got to see these little mug-sized monkeys called Tarsiers (Pictures coming as soon as I get to a place that has half-decent bandwidth to upload).

We met some other kids there and they told us about this other place they were heading to with a bunch of waterfalls and invited us along. Why not? It's truly amazing the way it's so easy to hook up with people like that. It was sometimes confusing to me whether or not these people knew each other from before since they were so instantly open and friendly with each other. But that's just the way it seems to work around here.

I'm now in an old Dutch colonial town called Gorontalo. Some of the older residents still speak Dutch. Ramadan has just started and this is a predominantly Muslim town so in the evenings, everyone is dressed in Muslim garb on the way to the mosques and Muslim prayers are broadcast from speakers at the various mosques around the city. I've got to say I have yet to sense any hostility at being a Westerner. Quite the opposite, as mentioned earlier, everyone goes out of their way to greet me and usually gives the big thumbs up when I tell them that I'm from America.

So, contrary to my earlier post, I have decided to proceed cautiously through some of the areas that are meant to be potentially dangerous. I have met several travellers that have come through there and report no problems. There is one place, Poso, that seems to have a lot of problems between Christians and Muslims. But it seems to be exclusively flare-ups between the locals, never with tourists. Nevertheless, I plan to make my way as quickly as possible through there, hopefully staying no longer than to change buses and head on to the next town.

Below there, however, is supposed to be one of the most culturally rich places on the island of Sulawesi, a place called Torajaland. They have their own indigenous culture and religion, and their ceremonies, particularly the funerals, are meant to be quite spectacular multi-day affairs. They include sacrificing of animals, kick-boxing tournees and generally just blow-out gatherings of friends, family, neighbors, and anyone else who can be gathered up. So hopefully I will get to see one of those or some other similar type of ceremony. Regardless, it promises to be quite an interesting leg of my journey.

So I'll leave it at that. Stay tuned for further updates from here at the center of the Earth. Incidentally, I should be crossing over the equator in the next day or two.

Posted by Pedro at October 18, 2004 07:46 PM | TrackBack

Hey, your email is bouncing. Danielle and I have been trying to reach you. Pls, email us.

Posted by: Philip at October 24, 2004 09:38 PM

Hey Peter,
Nice pictures from Cameron Highlands. Well it is a nice site. After the last time we met at Perhentian Islands, i spend some time in Taman Negara, Mellaka and Singapore. I had a chat with Jenie this week. She's now in Vietnam. It seems you enjoy yourself very well. Look forward to see some more pictures and stories from Indonesia.
Well talk to you later.

Posted by: Gunther gastmans at November 1, 2004 07:05 AM
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