In between some serious diving, we ended up going to Toraja, an area in the middle of south Sulawesi. Toraja is famous for its weird and interesting funeral traditions, and man we were not disappointed with those!
To get there, you can either hire a driver and a car, or take a bus trip for 9/10 hours. This is the option we picked, and decided to do the trip overnight. We booked over the phone a "business class" bus ticket, and we got exactly this: huge seats that almost turn into beds, with blanket and pillow provided, great comfort for 250,000rp!! It was honestly luxury!
Early morning came and so we arrived and found our hotel. Laurie had booked us a "Toraja suite" and once again no disappointment, we ended up staying in a lovely traditional house that had been adapted for some modern comfort.
The area is mainly small villages and super lush hills and mountains. People were super super friendly and of course as in many places in Indonesia where there are not a lot of foreign tourists we got our picture taken about 247 times in a few days, making us feel like Madonna and Beyoncé on tour.
On the first day we found a guide and after endless negotiations we ended up signing up with him for two days of tours and two days of bike rental to explore on our own.
We got taken that same first day to a huge funeral ceremony which is one of the reasons why the area is famous. The funeral lasts for 6 days (although in this case the Grandma passed away 2 years ago, but there is always time in between as the family needs to gather money for the funeral). For 6 days, they feed and host hundreds of people coming from everywhere in the country and related closely or vaguely to the deceased. Pigs and buffalos are slaughtered, dances are performed, rituals are carried every day for 6 days. The richer the family, the bigger the funeral. When you know that an average buffalo is 50 millions (about 4000USD) but the rare/white/big ones can go for up to 700 millions (about 50,000 USD), you see it takes money to bury someone!
The funeral itself was absolutely fascinating (minus the slaughtering part that was more disgusting), everyone was superbly welcoming, we got our photo taken 50 times, we got to sit with the people and share food and coffee, and got explained the how's and why's of things.
Over the next 3 days we drove around the area to visit traditional villages, graveyards (they are indeed "tourist interest point", believe it or not) and other places of interest. Most of the graves are holes on rocks or mountains close by each village, and each family has a hole where you bury the dead. I could go on for hours on all the interesting or bizarre things I learnt about the rituals, but best to come and check it out for yourself because it is truly a fascinating and beautiful place. I have seen more graveyards in 4 days than I did in the rest of my lifetime and it got me thinking once again how in areas of the world that are not the Western world, we deal with death and grief and the departed loved ones differently.
On a more general note, it is so good to be traveling around again. Sitting on buses and planes, going to new places, diving new sites, seeing stuff, it makes me feel alert, alive, creative, excited and full of ideas. Bring it on 2017!!
Next stops: Ambon in Molluca and Raja Ampat in Papua.