Papua - Ambon - Sulawesi - Kalimantan - Sumatra
October - November 1987
Part II - Ambon/Sulawesi

If you want to skip directly to the other parts, then just hit
Part I   - Papua or
Part III - Kalimantan or
Part IV - Sumatra.


Ambon is the provincial capital of the Moluccas, the spice islands. The former name of Sulawesi was Celebes. I always dreamt about the Moluccas and Celebes to visit since I read an old book with many pictures from the colonial time when I was a boy. Ambon itself was not so interesting (except for one thing, described below), but I couldn't get to the islands around, especially the Banda Islands, because the next flight was in three days and only once a week. But as far as Celebes was concerned I was not disappointed. You will see for yourself.

Ambon (Moluccas)

Ambon was not different than many other cities or towns in Indonesia, even if they (mainly the Christian population) wanted an independent Moluccas by staging revolts in the Fifties against the Indonesian government, which lingered till the Sixties. Even terroristic actions (like taking hostages) were committed in the Seventies, but by immigrated Moluccans in the Netherland. The Muslims who are now the majority with 60 % of the population started a massacre against the Christians in the Nineties. So, as you can see, the Moluccans have a latent readiness to violence (not only they, though).

But I fearlessly walked around and even wanted to swim, but the beaches were not so inviting and the spring water pools have already been fully peed by so many naked boys and spoiled by detergent of the laundry women.

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Deserted beach in Ambon Rotten boats around Ambon
Old fishing village in Ambon Nice spring water pool in Ambon
There, at the spring, I met a doctor with his nurse who just happened to have a lunch break from their work, which was implanting a contraceptive device into the women's arm. His English was excellent and we had an interesting chat and eventually invited me to come with him to watch him operate.
My family planning doctor with his nurse doing the contraceptive implantation
The result was impressive: Around twenty women received the implant on that day, without being charged but discharged right away. The Indonesian government propagates a birth control program with a picture of two children and the slogan: "Two are enough" on bill boards around the country.
It's no miracle: no pregnancy for five years But the miracle healer should not be trusted
So, that was my short stopover in Ambon. Walking around the market place is always a pastime, while being looked at and looking at the medicine man's demonstration and at the nicely piled up veggies and the market folks behind.
Many veggies and chillies keeps you really more healthy

Makassar (Sulawesi)

Next day I flew to Makassar (or Ujung Pandang at the time I was there), the province capital of southwestern Sulawesi (or former Celebes). The city was nicer and had more flair than Ambon. Just right on the main road between the airport and the city center I found the
Hotel Ramayana
Jalan G. Bawakaraeng 121
where I settled down in a "first class" single room (with bath and aircon) for 15 USD per night. At number 120 was the Hotel Marlin with similar rooms and rates.
Old Dutch fort in Makassar Street performer in the bazaar
Very interesting was the fish market and especially the harbor with its fantastic sail boats, built by the Buginese and Makassar in southern Sulawesi. They have been sailing all around the Malay Archipelago for 400 years and even to Arnhem Land in northern Australia (see my travel report Australia 2007, Part IV).
Didn't want to buy a manta but rather become a deck hand
I asked the harbor master when the next boat is scheduled to sail to Kalimantan, but there was none (unfortunately or lucky?) to leave at around the time I wanted to be back after Toraja Land, because there was no direct flight between Sulawesi to Kalimantan, my next planned destination.
Many Bugi schooners in the harbor A relaxing bay walk before going to Toraja

First day in Toraja Land

But for now, let's go to Rantepao, the only one town in Toraja Land. Best to go by bus. As soon as we arrived in the late afternoon we heard words of a funeral going on close by. Next morning we hopped on a shuttle van to get there.
Meeting a German couple on the bus to Rantepao and we are arriving just in time to attend a big funeral
We were really lucky to be able to visit a Toraja funeral and also to be invited as a foreigner being accommodated in one of the viewing galleries, if not killed later on to become the servants of the deceased in his after-life.
The corpse is supposed to lie up there and these are quarters for all the guests
The funeral site looked like an old small village but it has been just built for the funeral only to be torn down after all the ceremonies are finished. What a waste. Not the only one.
Many guests are already there because they stayed overnight
What are the boys waiting for while the girls are watching us foreigners
The family might have felt grief the day the guy died. Now it looks like a happy event. Maybe because the dead will be happy to resurrect in a better life.
Mourning close relatives seem not to be very sad
Happy daughters of the deceased?
When will the real event start. Definitely not before lunch. Otherwise we may loose our appetite?
Lunch is being prepared and delivered
Lunch is ready now. We, two Americans and me (the German couple somehow disappeared), were led to another house where we are served tender pork and rice and something like tea to drink.
This pretty hostess has been assigned to us Enough provision to feed everybody
After lunch we went back to our viewing gallery. The inner circle, which was almost empty before except for some hanging belly pigs lying on the ground, is being slowly filled with buffalos and positioned all around.
Something is brewing now Many men appear with their cow
The water buffalo will not yet know that they will be killed as part of the show
The Americans, Bruce and Paul - two brothers from San Francisco, and me had to laugh a lot, until the first buffalo was killed on the spot. Then we really went silent and I even got dizzy a bit with every hit into the throat of another cow. What a show.
Soon the sharp machete is cutting the first throat
Long standing and jumping time is being applauded by the crowd
Around twenty buffalos we saw being killed while we were there. Maybe more to be killed on another day. The funeral was still not over and may last up to a week. What an effort for a dead man that he can lead a rich life with a herd of buffalos on the other side. But what about his wife? She did not follow him and the cows. But somebody had to be left to live and pay for the debts, which also mostly incur. The government is trying to forbid this "nonsense" slaughtering, but to no avail.
And then the bloody crowd is rushing to the bloody ground
The people who did get the most of from such an event are the other relatives and guests, who had a free stay and food and even get a doggy bag full with delicious "leftovers".
To get the best chunk of meat to take home
Then came the highlight, at least for us foreigners, after we have survived the massacre: The parade of the buffalo men pressing a deep loud shout out of their mouth in sync with their alternate stomp. Bruce was still imitating that movement with the sound several times while we were trekking around later on.
Then came the buffalo men around while shouting a strange sound
Men circling solemnly the bloody grounds where we foreigners were out of bounds

Second day in Toraja Land

Next day, I explored, together with my American friends, the surrounding of Rantepao. The country is very fertile with all the rice paddies and the many water buffalos. The Torajas living here are generally very well off. The expensive funerals even prove that they have money to waste. Some may not be able to spend that much, but they all go to their limit. Rather delay the renovation of their traditional houses or temporarily bury the corpse for a while until enough money is available.
Next day walking through the countrysides accompanied by my funny American guys
And it's not only the funeral itself which costs a lot of money, but also for the burial sites in carved out caves high up in the rocks for the coffin and a gallery for the image puppet of the deceased.
Looking for the burying sites now Puppets of the deceased all in a row
Nobody takes care of dead old daddy, because he is believed to live in the after-world already. Some are also not easy to reach if the coffin is high up in a rocky niche. No visiting any day, no flowers on the grave.
The real dead in the nicely decorated coffin After the fancy funeral the bones are forgotten
A lot of decaying remains of dead bodies themselves Some skulls may be lucky to be put on shelves
However, there must have been somebody to shovel the bones of a decayed wooded coffin to another younger or better survived one until all the bones have been turned to dust. There we will all end up, dust or ashes. The Torajas may be right: why visiting mommy's or daddy's bones, you can commemorate them from everywhere.
With all the skulls lying around like stones I felt a little like in the Crystal Skull of Indiana Jones
The graves were really interesting but shivering Now we go to where the people are living
So where did the Torajas come from with their unique customs. Probably not from England (Stonehenge), not from France (Carnac). Maybe from Polynesia, where also megaliths have been found. But they must have come by ship, because of their traditional houses shaped like a ship. But why come back from Polynesia once they went there from the Malay Archipelago. And why did the Torajas settle in the interior with no shore? Nobody really knows.
Who has put the menhirs here? same people who build Stonehenge?
In the evening we celebrated Bruce and Paul's farewell (they had to leave next morning) in a traveler's hangout in Rantepao. Susanne from Hamburg just arrived and was looking for company, so I had a smooth transition to a different position: As her guide I agreed to show her around next day.

Third day in Toraja Land

I was not only showing her around, she also made herself useful by translating what the locals were telling her. Because she had learned already some Bahasa Indonesia during her six month stay around Indonesia.
Next day I walked around with the new arrival and she was making friends with everybody
Unfortunately, it looked now pretty dull where yesterday's funeral took place. Only cock fights seemed to be on the agenda today. So the water buffalos can relax and enjoy the muddy pool ... until it will be his turn to be slaughtered on the next funeral. So not much action to see right now but more walking and just looking around with her in tow.
Rushed back with her to the funeral but only cock fights are scheduled today
Thus the water buffalo can feel save today But the next funeral is already in the making
It was an interesting walk to an idyllic village with nice houses with beautiful carvings and paintings, even the barns. They are all made from natural material and are nicely ornamented with their buffalo horns (from past funerals).
Houses are nicely decorated and are all built on stilts
How many buffalos must have died but it did not make the people poor
The houses are neatly arranged in a row and all shaped like a vessel's bow. It really looks like the schooners of the Makassar in the harbor of Makassar.
Even the storage houses are traditionally styled
My guide book recommended to walk a scenic road seven kilometers up the hill. We decided to take a mini bus up and leisurely walk down. But on the way up, but almost on the top, we had a car breakdown.
Then we took the "bus" up the hill off Rantepao and enjoyed the view during a breakdown
More sights when walking seven km down the hill while watching a woman working in the rice paddy
Also here you meet the dead in different burial grounds and spread all over the country's rocky mounds. There might have been a funeral just at this spot not long ago: the casket carriage looked like just as it has been abandoned after it has served its purpose or so.
Rocky mounds as a burial ground are also found here around
Then finally we reached the base of the hill, only to walk the flat road straight into Rantepao town. At the road a last encounter with a dead man, carved in stone and placed like in a mausoleum.
A life size dead man carved in stone If you drink that liquor in the bamboo you'll be stoned too
Good bye, beautiful Toraja Land Someday, maybe seeing you again
In the evening my feet were killing me. That special Toraja brandy was my farewell treat, but I rather should have used it for treating my feet. Next day morning I went back by bus to Makassar to board the flight to Manado.


The view was magnificent from the plane while approaching the airport of Manado: Coconut palm trees, coconut palm trees as far as you could see, and then the turquoise sea around the Bunaken Islands. But before I swam around there I stayed one night for 12 USD in the
Ahlan City Hotel
Jalan Yos Soedarso
For even this was the provincial capital in northern Sulawesi, I seemed to be the only Caucasian, so I was some kind of an alien from another star to be watched and also to be looked at and up, but also being taken care of. The hotel reception lady dropped everything and wanted to accompany me right away when I asked her how to get to the diving resorts at the coast. She called her also pretty girl friend and both took me by their hands and didn't let me loose and led me through town by foot and then by bus along the coast until we reached a resort. It looked pretty good so I booked a full board four night's stay and the diving course for three days for 100 USD.

Next day I went there myself and met Detlef who was also on a traveling tour around Indonesia like me. Now I was not the only Caucasian around here anymore. We've got almost the whole day and decided to go on a sight-seeing tour. But we became more alien in the countryside: Everybody was staring at us and not just that: a throng was built up around us wherever we stopped. Police tried to disperse the crowd.

But then, what a surprise, a girl encountered us and spoke to us in our "alien" language: a perfect German. She told us that she studies Germanist at the university in Manado, but has never been in Germany.
Detlef and I are being watched like we are aliens wherever we went But this girl recognized us as Germans and also spoke it perfectly
The Japanese were everywhere in Southeast Asia during WW II, also here, what the people almost forgot if not for some remnants which cannot rot . Better preserve some antique graves in good condition, especially these ones with corpses standing in an almost upright position.
Inspecting Japanese ammunition caves and very strange local graves
In the evening I read in a scuba diving manual what all can happen. I was a little bit afraid, because I never did it before. I knew that in other diving resorts you have to practice in a swimming pool first for a week or so before they let you into the open water. I couldn't sleep much during the night for excitement.

Then finally I set off on my first scuba diving trip the following day. Detlef, whom I met the day before, and Ute, who was married to an Indonesian living here, joined me on that first day but only to snorkel.
Finally going on a scuba diving trip with Detlef and Ute
There was one dive session in the morning and another in the afternoon with lunch from a lunch box in between on one of the Bunaken Islands. I plunged into the water with all my gear like a pro and wasn't afraid at all while having my diving instructor around me all the time. The sight was fantastic. You could see 30 meters far in the crystal clear water. The underwater cliff went down a couple of hundred meters but I made only up to 22 meters down. Fish abound. No shark around (was instructed to stay close to the wall of the cliff if a shark is in sight, because he will not hit his nose on the reef). I also had to watch out for any sea snakes.

With a lunch break on Bunaken Island which has only modest accom-modation
It's fringed with palm trees and inhabited by fisher folks
What an experience. On another day I encountered a swarm of seven Napoleon fish as large as automobiles coming directly towards and over me like dived down submarines, but they didn't do me any harm. There may have been only one dangerous incident the other day when all of a sudden the sea ground under me moved very fast: I was in a strong current. My diving instructor signaled me to get hold on a big corral with both hands, hanging there like a flag in the wind, while he shot up to the surface to wave the boatman to come over to pick us up. Then we moved to another spot before we went back to the resort with my entourage.
My last dive around Bunaken accompanied by my local fans
Actually it was taboo to kill anything with a harpoon during a scuba dive and I would not have done it. But my diving instructor was a local and thus did harpoon-fishing before for his living, thus I accepted his treat for me (still much better than dynamite-fishing).
A harpooned lobster for my last supper Finally next day: Good bye Manado
Ok, that was Sulawesi, though only a small part of it. There could have been seen and done a lot more. Also I could have written more. If you want to know more all about the places I have visited, then just look up any of the many guidebooks or in the internet.

If you want to skip now to the other parts, then just hit
Part I   - Papua or
Part III - Kalimantan or
Part IV - Sumatra.

© WEW Tours