Skip to navigation

Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

Indonesia: Unwell in Tana Toraja

The arena at the Tallunglipu funeral
Overlooking the arena at Tallunglipu

Wednesday started like a typical Indonesian Disaster Day. I've already discovered that travel in Indonesia won't let a week pass without something going wrong, but I thought that after my recent food poisoning and horrific bus journeys, I was due a respite. Think again.

Phones and Pharmacies

Guests arriving at the funeral
Guests arriving at the funeral

We decided to take advantage of the extra time on our hands by making 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, as Rose's knuckles whitened around 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... but until then, you just have to get used to this sort of thing.

The Funeral

People bringing food for the family
Bringing food for the family

Finally we met our guide, Paulus, and walked for over an hour to get to the funeral. It was a much bigger affair than the previous, more intimate event, and there were many more tourists, some of them even dressed in skimpy garb that would offend in Europe, much less an Indonesian funeral. However, 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 rather more like a tour, unlike the previous day when we'd genuinely felt welcomed into the community.

My Funeral

Organised buffalo fighting
Buffalo fighting is an energetic event

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. I soon began to perk up, and Jenny and Sarah wandered in to say goodbye; conversation flowed, time ticked on towards eight o'clock, when our bus would leave, and then things suddenly 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 drag myself back to the table.

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!