SYNOPSIS:  A  6-day plan, a 6-hour wait and an 8-hour trip.  Manifesting a guide.

I woke up with more bites than I could count.  Were all of these mosquitoes?  Or could there have been bedbugs?  The thought made me shudder!  I could not dwell on it.  It would just ruin my day.  I hope a good shower will take care of things for now.

A metered taxi sped me out of Surabaya via the toll road, a nice, smoothly paved highway bypassing downtown with all the “New York” high rises which I would not have minded seeing again in the daylight.  Oh well.

Srivijaya Air took me on my umptiest flight to Makassar, after Surabaya the third-largest city in Indonesia.  If the weather had been cooperating, I most likely would have seen the Fortress, one of the landmarks of Makassar and perhaps, even a nice sunset across the ocean.  But one major rain storm after another kept me under the ugly but protective tin roof of the Bintang Primo Bus Terminal where I arrived 6 hours before my departure to Rantepao — my base for the next week.

Why Sulawesi?  Why Rantepao?  Well, there is another distinct indigenous culture here, the Torajas.  They are known for some of the most distinct funerary rites and they are Christians.  And as I am in pursuit of different ethnic and religious groups and different islands, this one seemed to call out for a visit.

On my trip calendar I had scribbled:  ‘Need to get a guide.  Nothing is booked yet.  Have to figure it out once I get there.’  If you want to get into Toraja villages, or visit when there is something going on, like a funeral, you must have a local guide.  My guide book stressed that and I get it.  It is unfortunate because with a guide the pace of the trip is to some degree out of my hands, but presumably, I will get that much more out of it. 

So, where would I start?  No tourist information in sight.  My next best choice was a desk labeled “Hotel Reservations”  I asked for a map and how to get to the bus station.  After I answered the question as to where I was heading I was ordered to wait and within minutes Oscar appeared.  Oscar, yes.  That is the name on his card even if it is not his given Toraja name.  And over the next 1/2 hours he put down some options for traveling through Toraja territory for the next 6 days. 

He was a tour agent selling package tours to individual travelers just like the one in Probolinggo.  He is part of a Toraja Guide Association who work with the different villages and families who are interested in opening their place and their events to tourists.  In the end, I had another package tour; one I could not have planned ahead any better.  In fact, I could not have planned half of this in advance, funerals are not a predictable tourist event even though June-August is high season for funerals (since it is dry).  But there is a funeral tomorrow and the next day as well.   The person whose funeral I most likely will attend, will be buried, has been dead for a year and three months… That’s just one of the weird things, for starters. 🙂  I really could not have timed this any better.

Usually, there is room for negotiations when you purchase anything in Indonesia.  But I could tell, that Oscar was not going to budge much.  In the end, he gave me a few dollars off, just for good taste.  We made a contract, I paid 1/2 of the monies due and then Oscar drove me to the bus station. The deluxe night bus was part of the package.  That is the one in which you supposedly can sleep comfortably.  We shall see… I have been up a few nights over the course of this trip and that’s just part of the difference between travel and vacation.  I still have not seen a beach, speaking of vacation.  I hope I won’t have to leave Indonesia without swimming at least once in the ocean.  Let’s put that on the bucket list. 

For now I am stuck at the bus terminal awaiting my 10 PM departure.  I have spent my time writing on one of the old bus seats that have been lined up under this tin roof.  I am surrounded by non-stop smoking young men.  Not only are these guys smokers, they are chain smokers.  And BTW, I do not see any women smoking.  Either they don’t smoke at all, or only in private.  I have to ask about that. 

Let’s go!  My bus is getting ready.  All of the Bintang Prima buses are brightly colored Mercedes Benz.  The one I will be boarding is a Royal Coach with a lot of flowery red swirls and big cartoonish eyes.  To sleep on a dirty old (or even semi-new) bus seat can’t be any worse than the Andalus Hotel. 

Bon Voyage!