Wednesday 22nd October started like a typical Indonesian Disaster Day. I'd already discovered that travel in Indonesia won't let a week pass without something going wrong, but I thought that after the food poisoning and horrific bus journeys, I was due a respite. Think again.
I woke up with liquid stools, presumably due to the roasted pig fat I'd tried at the funeral the day before, but they didn't seem that serious, so I popped a couple of Imodium, drank plenty of water, and prepared to tackle the day. Just as I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes, Rose in the next door room made a discovery of her own in the bathroom: a Peeping Tom looking through the window of her bathroom while she was taking a mandi. Sometimes you wonder how lone women travellers cope with the unwelcome affections of the local populace, something that the men don't have to put up with quite so much, but I soon found out: it was a good job that the pervert made good his escape, or he would have been a dead man. Luckily Rose had spent long enough travelling through Asia to take it all in her stride, and after a few strong words of complaint to the management, we went to pay for our rooms.
Only to discover that they were charging us more than we'd originally agreed on our arrival. There's a ten per cent government tax that all hotels have to put onto their bills, and if you don't make sure that tax is included in the price when you book in, you'll get it slapped on at check out time: the thing is, we'd specifically agreed that tax was included in the 8000rp per night rate, so what was this 8800rp per night business on the bill? Still, unless you've got something in writing, you're on shaky ground, and often it's not worth the argument, so we paid anyway. It's just another example of Indonesian 'business' ethics.
Our next destination was the tourist office in town. Bolstered by our amazing funeral experience, Rose and I had decided to go to another with Jenny and Sarah, who had wanted to see a funeral but hadn't wanted to go on the day they slaughtered the water buffalo; as today was mine and Rose's last day in Rantepao – we had tickets for the 8pm overnight bus to Ujung Pandang – we had booked a guide for 9am on Wednesday, to take us to a funeral in Tallunglipu, just up the road from Rantepao. So, there we all were, at the office to meet our guide, only to get told to come back at 11.30... I swear if I had a gun, I'd have been locked up many, many times when dealing with the frustrations of Indonesia.
We decided to take advantage of the extra time on our hands to make some phone calls. Indonesia has many public phones, but they use phone cards and can't make international calls, so most tourists nip down to the Wartel, an office with a number of phone booths from which you can make a call anywhere, and pay afterwards in cash. Rose needed to call Garuda, the Indonesian airline, to try to change the date of her flight from Ujung Pandang to Denpasar, so we popped into the Wartel, asked the price per minute to call Ujung Pandang – 1020rp per minute – and she dialled into the nightmare of Indonesian bureaucracy. She'd already tried once, the day before, but this time she actually got a human operator, and after going through the rigmarole of trying to get him to change her flight details – a pain, because he kept trying to tell her to ring these other numbers, which she'd already done, discovering nothing but answerphones and unobtainable tones – she asked him to confirm her new flight details. 'You need to ring this other number to do that,' he said, and you could see Rose's knuckles whiten round the already gasping receiver. Whether she actually managed to change her flight, I never found out. But I did learn a valuable lesson: airlines come in strata too, with Garuda down in the murky depths somewhere. One day computerised booking will reach the archipelago...
And to add insult to infuriation, Rose discovered that the telephone's computer had charged her 1800rp per minute, a considerable difference from 1020rp on such a long phone call, and spent half and hour arguing with the dopey assistant, who rued the day she'd ever crossed swords with an American tourist. She still didn't care, of course, and Rose ended up paying the full price, but by this stage I began to get a sinking feeling in my stomach, both at the way the day was turning out, and at the severe indigestion bubbling through my colon.
So I went to the chemist and tried to explain what I wanted: Oral Rehydration Salts. The assistant seemed rather confused when I tried to explain what I wanted, and after a while I decided that if she pointed me towards the diarrhoea section in the rows and rows of pills on display, I could look for myself. However, I wasn't prepared for her response, 'We don't have diarrhoea in Indonesia, sir.' What can you say to that? It's like saying America doesn't have heart disease, or Australia doesn't have skin cancer...
I gave up, and bought some bottles of Gatorade from the supermarket, which seemed to contain the sugar and salts I needed. And in a move that could only happen in the happy world of travellers, everyone fished out their spare ORS packets and diarrhoea tablets: how many other people do you know who regularly carry such medication around with them?
Finally we met our guide, Paulus, and walked for about an hour to get to the funeral ('Just a couple of kilometres away, honest.' Huh.) This was a much bigger affair than the previous one, more intimate event, and there were many more tourists, some dressed in garb that would offend in Europe, much less a funeral. Whatever, we found Paulus to be more informative than Sam, but so he should be: Paulus was a professional, and as a result the whole thing felt like a tour, unlike the previous day when we genuinely felt welcomed into the community.
Much to Jenny and Sarah's chagrin we saw more buffalo getting their throats slit, and to their credit they watched. There were processions, singing, roasted pig fat for lunch, and there was a problem with my guts. Discovering that the funeral was running out of water and couldn't spare any for the toilet, I hailed Paulus and explained that if I didn't get to a toilet soon, the buffalo wouldn't be the only ones spilling their guts everywhere, and he said, 'No problem: I live just 600m away. You can go there.' And he set off.
It was the longest 600m of my life.
The rest of the funeral was interesting, but pale in comparison with the one in Buntulepong. We saw buffalo fights, where two buffalo run amok, trying to gore each other, and quite often rushing off into the crowd, who run away like characters out of Hemingway's Fiesta. We saw Torajan kick-boxing, or sisemba, where young men tie themselves together by the wrist into pairs, and teams of pairs tackle each other with flying kicks and roundhouses. And finally we saw the long road home, through paddy fields and back to Rantepao.
By this stage my energy levels were pretty low, so Rose and I headed off to a restaurant in town, one we'd been frequenting a lot, and had a snack. Things began to perk up, and Jenny and Sarah, to whom we'd said goodbye earlier, wandered in. Conversation flowed, time ticked on towards eight o'clock, when the bus would leave, and then things started to go badly wrong. Paling and failing, I rushed off to the mandi, lost my toasted sandwich to the plumbing, and only just managed to get back to the table.
'I don't think you're in any state to travel,' asked Rose. 'Want me to change your ticket?'
'Umm. Yeah, I s'pose. Thanks,' I murmured. Things began to look bleak: the room started to spin as Rose went to the bus station, returning with an endorsed ticket for the next night. When you're ill, hang the plans and stay put.
'Are you OK, Mark?' inquired Jenny, who was sitting on my right. 'You've gone awfully pale, you know.'
I felt confused. My lips sagged, trembled, wouldn't work. Cold sweat kicked in, a familiar feeling started to grip my stomach.
'Dunno,' was all I could manage. And then I had what alcoholics call A Moment of Clarity, and realised that I was going to throw up. Badly. 'Bag. Gonna be sick,' I blurted out, grabbing a plastic bag I'd used to carry my bottle of water.
Jenny was superb. She held the plastic bag – a good, thick Aussie bag, I noted with relief – while I threw up violently and copiously, idly wondering where the hell all that food had come from. I didn't know where I was, the reflex of the upheavals confusing the brain and muddling the mind.
Jenny: 'Someone get a doctor. Hey Mark? Do you wanna lie down? On the floor? Mark?'
Sarah: 'Fuck, I'm glad I've got some beer left. I need it now, having seen that.'
Jenny: 'Yeah, same here. Never seen someone throw up so much. Where's the doctor? Come on, you lie here.'
Cold floor, my head resting on my arm. Where's the clear-headed feeling you normally get after being sick? My bare forearm on the tiled floor is leaving a patch of condensation on the white ceramic. I don't want to think about my stomach. Pins and needles shoot through my arms and legs, and I can't clench my hand: no energy, no muscle control. 'Burning up,' I mumble.
Jenny feels my forehead. 'He's bloody freezing. Where's the doctor, Sam?' Sam? What the hell's Sam doing here?
'How is he?' I recognise Acu, a local we've met over the last few nights. Good man. Not a doctor, though. There's a crowd around, smart people in smart clothes, looking concerned but spectator-like.
'Was there blood in his vomit?' That must be the doctor: slick, yuppie Chinese woman in a pink dress, glasses, stumbling English1. The girls think it's amusing: 'I wasn't exactly looking, you know. I'll check... the bag's over there, in the bin.'
'Nothing but chillies and tomatoes, I think.'
Doctor: 'We should take him into the back. To a bed.'
Sam and Acu, one under each arm, and I'm in a back room while the doctor's writing something on a pad. 'Injection, yes, and some pills.' Oh God, my worst fear: an injection in a dodgy backwater, and the needles I've carted across the world are back in my hotel.
'I'll go with her to check you get the right medicine,' says Jenny. She's a pharmacologist, I remember. A piece of sanity to grab onto in this spinning room.
After some time... 'Had to get them to find some stock that wasn't expired,' says Jenny. 'Got some.'
The jab goes in. Things start to swing back to normality.
Jenny: 'The jab is an anti-spasmodic, to stop your body muscles going crazy: your heart's been palpitating, you've had a body chill and this jab will stop the gut wrenches. Then there are antibiotics to kill the infection. I've checked the leaflets: they're strong, but I'm familiar with them all. Not a problem.'
And then I slept...
1 Many thanks to Lina Peters, who kindly emailed me to say that the doctor who helped me is called Dr Terry. So here's to you, Dr Terry – thanks for your timely jab!