SULAWESI (THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT)

Sulawesi is one of the largest islands in Indonesia but it’s not as popular with tourists as other islands of this beautiful country. Mainly due to the distances and how long it takes to cover those distances … there is simply so much to take in. Traveling there is a case of sensory overload. The landscapes and history of Torajan culture and architecture are simply stunning.

Finally we landed
Finally we landed
Coffee before we go forward
Coffee before we go forward

Our Air Asia flight from Jakarta landed in Makassar, the capital of the island. Minivan with our guide was spot on time and it took us to Coklat Hotel (http://www.hotelcoklat.co.id/) we only spend a night here with water tap in the bathroom running all night so we didn’t get much sleep. We didn’t allow ourselves the luxury of sleeping too long because we knew it would mess up our plans, if we did. We had a long 8 hour drive to Rantepao ahead of us. We arrived in Rantepao and found a hotel room. The first thing we noticed was how much cooler it was because we were in the mountains. Tana Toraja which is a spread out mountainous area in the middle of Sulawesi Island is cut across by the Sa’dan River. To get there, most people fly first to Makassar (used to be known as Ujung Pandang). From Makassar you can take a rented car or a bus to cover the 325 km distance for about eight hours or so. You will drive past green rice fields with the sea on your left, dotted with the colorful Buginese stilt houses and mosques. After around two and a half hour drive, you will arrive in Pare Pare, a good place for a seafood lunch. Another two hour drive will take you to the Bambapuang Mountain, where a cup of hot coffee will energize you.

 

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Bambapuang Mountain

Another two hours and you will reach Rantepao, the capital of North Toraja, that most people use as a base.

Entrance to Toraja region
Entrance to Toraja region

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The Torajan people possess such a unique culture. Their life revolves around their ancestors and funerals are the most important ceremony in Torajan life. Preparations for funerals can take up to a year after the person has died – money needs to be saved up, relatives from overseas need to return home and buffaloes and pigs needs to be purchased for the ceremony. The buffalo is considered a status symbol and sacrificed during these elaborate funeral ceremonies. Their horns adorn the boat-shaped houses, In addition to looking at the different burial sites; we were admiring the architecture that can only be found in Tana Toraja. The houses are built with the roof shaped like a boat (it’s to resemble the buffalo horns) with the roof rising at each end. They also always pointed north-south. These homes are called tongkonan houses, and were traditionally used as 3 room homes. 1st room was used for cooking, the 2nd room was used as a living area and the 3rd room was used as a sleeping area. The homes were fairly small back then, but the modern houses are built much larger, some with 2 or 3 story but all with the boat shaped roof. the Tongkonan, that the Torajan people either live in or have as a place for family gatherings.

Torajan house (buffalo horns at the entrance)
Torajan house (buffalo horns at the entrance)

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Bones inside
Bones inside

Thanks to our guide we were lucky enough to be able to attend a funeral (feels wrong to use the word lucky in the same sentence as funeral) .  The area of Tana Toraja is known for their elaborate burial ceremonies as well as the unique way they bury their dead. The ceremonies are so elaborate and cost so much money sometimes the funeral doesn’t happen until 4-12 months after the person has passed away! Our goal was to see one of these ceremonies while we were there. That day however, we went to see the burial sites of the dead. In the past, the Toraja people used to hide their dead, in their coffins, in the cliffs surrounding the region. The main reason was to deter people from stealing the burial offerings. These days it’s a tradition rather than fear of items being stolen. In addition, life size statues are sometimes built of the person who is buried there to stand and watch over the coffins.

Puppets that represents the dead
Puppets that represents the deceased

Their families are obligated to change the statues clothes, on a regular basis. It’s a very eerie feeling when you enter one of these caves. They’re very accessible and the area is known for this so a lot of the burial sites are marked on a map. You have to walk into the dark cave with a flashlight and everywhere you shine your light you see a coffin squeezed into a small space.

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Deep into the caves we went
Bodies inside the caves

Some of the coffins have the statues standing over them fully dressed, which gives it a more eerie feeling, and others are just crumbling apart with, perhaps, a thigh bone sticking out.

Scattered bones
Scattered bones
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Dancing
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Every family that attended the ceremony received some buffalo meat
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Pig offerings
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Presenting the gifts

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We also checked out the cliff face graves at Lemo – the balconies still hold the traditional tau-tau (effigies of the deceased), and then a cave with hanging coffins and more tau-tau. So the coffins are not only on the ground, they are also above you.

Hanging graves
Hanging graves

The baby grave at Kambira was especially interesting. In previous times if a child died before they had grown any teeth, a space was hollowed out in the trunk of tree and the baby placed inside. It was believed that the baby would then still grow, as long as the tree was still alive and growing.

Baby graves
Baby graves

Tana Toraja has started to receive more tourists after being hit badly by impact of the financial crisis in 1998, the Bali bombing in 2002 and avian flu. So, the hotels are getting busier every year, especially during the holiday season in July and August.

People usually ask themselves when is the best time to visit this special island. During the dry season from April to October, there is a lot of ceremonies: funeral, wedding, harvest thanksgiving and more. During the rainy season from October to April, the terraced rice fields are green and lush, the rainbow will usually appear across the valley. So, take your pick!

Beautiful scenery
Beautiful scenery
Trekking
Trekking
Instant friendship
Instant friendship

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What can you do in Tana Toraja? You can hike from village to village. You can go white water rafting. You can visit the biggest cattle market this side of the world, which happens every six days. You can try the different foods of Tana Toraja, or you can simply get lost in their rich culture. Whatever your reason are to come here, you won’t regret it.

WHY YOU NEED INSURANCE WHILE ON YOUR HOLIDAY

My piece of advice: read the fine-print on your insurance policy. Always!
It doesn’t matter who your insurer is or how many times you’ve traveled. When you book your travel insurance you need to read the fine-print to discover what you are and are not covered for. Even after reading all of the tips and pitfalls in this story, you still need to read the fine-print. Every insurer is different and every policy is different.
Of course, every traveler knows they really should get travel insurance. But plenty still don’t. A recent survey found that at least 40 % of people didn’t bother taking it, despite the risk of overseas medical bills and the chance of all manner of things going wrong. That’s simply crazy. Especially if you traveling around with your kids.
It’s pretty simple.  “Of the travelers we surveyed,” says Dean Van Es, director at Fast Cover Insurance, “we found that one in five needed help while they were on holidays. It’s not necessarily that they were getting in trouble, but they needed some assistance.”
One of five? Do you really want to gamble with it? That’s a pretty huge number, especially when you consider the amounts of money we’re talking. For egg. If you’re spending seven days in Bali, the insurance for that, including the 24-hour emergency assistance, is $38.70. It’s not much when you compare it to what you’ve paid for the holiday.
We had our share of luck until this year’s Indonesia trip. We never needed any medical help, but this time both of our kids were in need for some. On Bali Svit had a case of »Bali belly« so we went to Kuta international hospital (http://www.bimcbali.com/ ) where he was treated so he was back on his feet in few days. And in Singapore, Nia got some serious case of high fever just one night before our flight back to Europe. We were treated  at Raffles Hospital (http://www.rafflesmedicalgroup.com/ ) in less than one hour from when we left our hotel. She was prescribed  anti-fever pills and some antibiotics. After that we had a pleasant flight home. So, just for these two simple things, with no overnight hospital stay our bills totaled over 300 $, that we of course got back from our insurance company on return. So please NEVER take a risk of traveling without the insurance!
But then again you’re not covered for everything. It’s a common mistake: you buy a travel insurance policy, and you think you’re covered for absolutely anything. Reality is that you’re not covered for everything. There are conditions. But polices usually cover over 100 different sports and activities – you just need to check.

Record your belongings
Even before you leave, if you’ve got insurance, it’s a make a record of all of those items that are insured. You should make a list of the things that you’re bringing, particularly if you’ve got any high-value item. Take a photo of them. It will help you get paid much faster.

Don’t be an idiot

Insurance policy is essentially a contract. The insurance company will cover you for any unforeseen event that happens. But you’re promising to act in a way that’s not going to expose yourself to unnecessary risk. That’s the crux of it. If you’re thinking, ‘Is this a good idea; is it a bit risky, can I get around it by doing another thing?’ Then do the other thing.
That includes taking care of your belongings. You need to keep your luggage within your sight. So if you’re sitting at an airport and you walk away from your bag, you can’t see it, that wouldn’t be covered. If you leave it in a locked hotel room, that’s fine. If you leave it overnight in an unlocked car, that’s not fine.

Don’t drink and claim

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Here’s a trick: if you get stupidly drunk on holidays and injure yourself falling into a ditch, you probably won’t be covered by your insurance. A lot of people will have a few drinks when they’re on holiday, and that’s fine, but if they make a claim and alcohol or drugs are shown to be a factor, then the insurance may not cover that. If alcohol or drugs aren’t a factor, then that’s fine. So if someone has a few drinks at a bar and they’re walking along the street and a motorbike hits them, then alcohol didn’t play a part in that and you’re covered.

Renting a motorbike

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Plenty of insurers won’t cover you if you ride a scooter or motorbike overseas. Though some are more lenient. Usually if it’s 50cc or less and you have an international driver’s license, you can rent that and you’ll have full cover. That goes for the co-rider passenger too – if you’re on the back of a bike and the person riding isn’t licensed, there could be a problem.

Skiing

SKI INDUSTRY LIABILITY
With some companies you will need a separate policy for snow sports. You need specialty cover for that. The thing to note there, and I think this is the same for most policies, is if you go outside the ski boundaries, or you ski on a run that has been closed, your policy won’t cover you. Just follow the rules.

You’re covered for things you don’t realize

Read your policy – you might be surprised at what you’re allowed to claim. Car rental insurance excess fees are covered, so you know when you rock up to the car rental desk and they say, »Do you want to reduce your excess by paying bazillion dollars? « Don’t pay that – you’re already covered with your insurance.

Bungee jumping used to be excluded by insurers, but now it’s automatically included. Zip lining is another sport like that. Things do change over time. If you’re not sure if a particular activity is covered, just give you insurance company a call.