Cliff Tombs and Black Coffee (Tana Toraja and Southern Sulawesi)

Tana Toraja's prized Arabika coffee plants. The red beans are ready to be picked, dried and roosted.

Tana Toraja’s prized Arabika coffee plants. The red beans are ready to be picked, dried and roasted.

Guest of honor down a long, steep dirt road, the village of Panici in Toraja.

Guest of honor down a long, steep dirt road, the village of Panici in Toraja.


The roads in Sulawesi are in far better condition and in many ways seem flat compared to those of Kalimantan. Leaving the lake side city of Palopo, in central Sulawesi, I was surprised to find the 60 km climb to Tana Toraja rather enjoyable. The heat quickly gave way to thick fog, and I climbed almost effortlessly passed wild coffee plants and small villages. Soon a unique house-like structure began popping up in each village, and I began to wonder what was inside.  Tana Toraja is a large, mountainous area consisting of two cities Rantepao and Makale and many villages. Famed for its ancient burial traditions, cliff tombs and coffee I pedaled on looking forward to a few days rest out of the heat and in the seclusion of the jungle.

Alang. Torajan structures found throughout Tana Toraja

Alang. Torajan structures found throughout Tana Toraja. I at first thought these contained human remains but quickly found that they are used to keep and dry rice grain.

Empty offering bowl to the gods beside the closed Alang (rice storage structure)

Close up of an Alang, many of these structures are elaborately decorated and sometimes contain several tons of rice.

The busy city of Rantepao gives a rather poor impression of what Tana Toraja has to offer. From entrance to departure, it is a typical Indonesian city; loud, stinky and filled with street vendors selling tourist trinkets and overly priced maps to unknown grave sites. Christianity is the dominate religion throughout Toraja making pork the main staple. I soon began to see sign after sign advertising the local favorite Bakso, a pork ball soup usually accompanied with noodles and lots of chili sauce.
mie-bakso-koperasi

Street vendors selling Batu Aki on the streets of Rantepao (Gemstone rings)

Street vendors selling Batu Aki (gemstone rings) to government officials on the streets of Rantepao

Burial mountain Kete Kesu

Burial mountain in the Torajan village of  Kete Kesu. There must have been hundreds of bodies buried in this mountain, many in unmarked graves.

After many conversations in broken English and Indonesian I learned that when a Torajan dies the body is immediately injected with a preservative preventing further decay. The body is then place either in the home (with the family) or in a separate building nearby where the body rests until the funeral. The funeral often take place many months or years after death away, giving the family and friends of the deceased an adjustment time to deal with the loss. This is practiced by most of the Torajans in the area, however there is a small percentage of Muslim Torajans that have stopped following the tradition.

Bones and human remains were scattered all over the steep climb to the central tomb, cigarettes were placed next to some of the remains as offerings. ( I actual wonder how many of the deceased died of lung disease or smoking related illnesses)

Bones and human remains found inside wooden coffins, cigarettes were placed next to some of the remains as offerings. ( I wonder how many of the deceased died of lung disease or smoking related illnesses)

Rice processing across the street from the Kete Kesu tomb.

Mobile rice processing across the street from the Kete Kesu tomb.

The dried brown rice in-  -white out

Beautiful brown rice on it way to becoming white.

I passed this old lady on the road. She must have been close to 80! preparing fuel for cooking dinner.

DCIM100GOPROI passed this old lady carrying fire wood. She must have been close to 80! Just another day in Tana Toraja.

 

More roadside ladies, they were returning to their village from a long day in the fields

More roadside villagers, these ladies were returning home after a day in the fields.

Rice fields in the upper mountains

Rice fields in the upper mountains of Toraja.

DCIM100GOPRO

I met a few locals in the village of Panici, who invited me to stay the evening. This was breakfast the next day, fried pork fat and rice.

I met a few locals in the village of Panici, who invited me to stay. This was breakfast the next day, fried pork fat and rice. Agrei worked for the local coffee plantation and is pictured here with his daughter.

Near by Panici was a large coffee plantation. The company mainly exported to Japan whole, unroasted Arabika beans

A tour of the coffee plantation. The plantation is owned by a Japanese man who exports most of the harvested beans.

Inside the coffee plantation. Each bean is individually inspected by a local Torajan! Only 10% make it into coffee.

Inside the plantation. Each bean is individually inspected by a local Torajan! Only 10% make it into a cup of this plantations top notch coffee.

Classification of coffee beans

Classification of beans

Fresh roast, I bought 4 pounds of coffee which now fills the majority of my rear right pannier

Fresh roast, I bought 4 pounds of Arabika coffee from the store house of the plantation at an expensive local price of $3 a pound. The grounds now fill the majority of my rear right pannier

Ever heard of "Tuak"?

Ever heard of “Tuak”? Local alcohol made from the juice of an “E-Ju” tree. This is the local brewer’s house, he gave me a complementary bottle.

"E-Ju" tree and bamboo ladder apparatus. The brewer slowly collects the juice from the tree which is fermented into a wine like beverage. Tuak can be sold in two forms "Tuak Manis" which is sweet and contains were little alcohol and "Tuak Alcohol" which is similar in concentration to wine. While staying in the village of Panici I drank a bottle of Tuak alcohol that was infused with durian.

“E-Ju” tree and bamboo ladder apparatus. The brewer slowly collects the juice which is then naturally fermented into a wine like beverage. Tuak is sold in two forms “Tuak Manis” which is sweet and contains were little alcohol and “Tuak Alcohol”. While staying in the village of Panici I drank a bottle of Tuak alcohol that was infused with durian.

Bamboo ladder used to climb "E-ju"/Tuak tree

Bamboo ladder used to climb “E-ju”/Tuak tree

Village kids playing on a temporarily blue sky

Village kids playing under a temporarily blue sky

Lower hills of Tana Toraja, Corn drying in the sun.

Lower hills of Tana Toraja, Corn drying in the sun.

Tomorrow I leave the remote and exotic island of Sulawesi  and begin my travels on the central island of Java. I will head to the Buddhist monument of Borobudur then pedal towards Bali. Touch base again soon!!

-Julian

 

 

3 thoughts on “Cliff Tombs and Black Coffee (Tana Toraja and Southern Sulawesi)

  1. Hi Julian!
    Wooow your trip sounds just amazing! So impressing!!!
    I am Jana from Switzerland and I just cycled from Kuching (sarawak) to Balikpapan. I cycled through Kalbar, Kalteng, Kalsel and finally arrived in Kaltim 😉 It took me a full month 😉
    I read your blog about Sulawesi. I am not sure yet if I should cycle Sulawesi and after go to Java or if I should go directly to Java. Anyway may I ask you why you took the route in Sulawesi inland and not along the coast?
    I am riding on my bycicle from Sarawak, an old lady called Alumy ;-)…single gear haha but she is lovely!
    Oki hope to hear from you, you might have some tips for Sulawesi or Java (in Java I would like to visit a friend in Malang)
    Once again you are amazing! All the best!
    Jana

    • Hey Jana!!

      I am so happy that you are cycling Indonesia’s “backroads”. Though the hills were some of the steepest I have encountered, I really enjoyed the culture and beautiful jungle. Regarding your questions I rode the inland route because the coastal route was deemed by local advice, in that it rarely had paved roads and was mostly sand. But to me it sounds like you got the spirit and can do it, I just was in a bit of a crunch to meet up with my girl friend in Bali. I do recommend Sulawesi, especially Tana Toraja, cycle out to where the coffee plantation is there is a really nice village there near the river. The landscape in Sulawesi becomes more open, and less choked by jungles. I took the boat to Java and then cycled east to Bromo mountain which was a bit of a climb but super cool!! I also took a brief detour and took the train to Borobudur which I also enjoyed. I am in the lobby of an indian hotel right now near the border of Myanmar. I will think a bit more and get back to you with some more recommendations! Take care and great to hear from you!!
      Julian

      • Hey Julian!
        Thanks a lot for your answer and recommendations!
        The last few weeks I really got homesick and I think slowly slowly I will be heading back to Europe. So I will skip Sulawesi and take the ferry straight to Surabaya. I will also go to Malang and Mt. Bromo sounds really amazing!
        Thanks again a lot, you are such an inspiring person! Take care and enjoy India!
        All the best!
        Jana

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