Hiking Through Toraya’s Rice Harvest
If I thought about it in blunt terms, I was going to take a plane from Jakarta on the island of Java to Makassar on the octopus-shaped island of Sulawesi. Then, I would board a bus that would travel for eight or more hours on winding roads of questionable quality. I would arrive in the town of Rantepao, the capital of the Toraja regency, late in the evening. Why the exhausting journey? Well, to go to a funeral of a complete stranger.
Good thing I’m a bit of a romantic, or maybe good thing I’m a writer. Because Chloe had talked me into a trip that in blunt terms was a bit appalling. But in cheerier parlance, this was an adventure to a part of Indonesia I had never been to, to a community whose traditions and Christianity have blended and become renowned throughout Indonesia for their elaborate multi-day funerals with water buffalo sacrifices. And, my favorite coffee from all of Indonesia comes from Toraja (the locals speak bahasa Toraya, the ‘j’ they told us comes from bahasa Indonesia, the national language), so if all else failed, I would fill my bags with coffee beans and call it a day.
But as always, Indonesia surprised me and our 5-day trip ended up being one of the most incredible of my whole time in the vast archipelago. Lucky for us, Chloe and I had friends who had traveled to Toraja before and we both knew a former-Fulbright fellow who had lived and worked in the area, so we were prepared (see bottom of the post for tips).
A friend of a friend suggested a guide, Pak Agust. We decided to spend two days with him, one hiking and another going to a funeral. Pak Agust has the most wonderful smile and laugh, he truly lights up a room. We spent a day hiking through rice fields in the middle of harvest season. Women gathered heaping bundles of rice and the men carried over 50 pounds worth on wooden poles (see photo above). It was a terrific day and Pak Agust would tell us interesting facts every now and again, but for the most part we hiked and took it all in, just the way we both wanted.
A modern variation on traditional Torajan homes:
Rice is left out in the sun to dry — on tarps on the ground, on rocks, and for dogs to guard:
At one point during our hike, we stopped near a home and Pak Agust told us a bit about the education system in Toraja regency. Some areas don’t have teachers for all grades and it can be hard for parents to keep a tab on things when they are working in the field all day. As we spoke, the kids who lived in the home came towards us. They shyly asked, “bon bon?” Since we were standing in their yard, I managed to find some mango flavored Tic Tacs for them in my bag. They didn’t speak any Indonesian yet, still too young, so our communication involved smiles. They snuck as close to Chloe as they could. I took their photo and showed it to them, and they were amused. Many people in the area have gotten used to tourists, so as we continued our hike, kids screamed “BON BON!” at us. What a strange dynamic to develop at a young age: expecting candy from foreigners and some obliging and carrying big bags of candy while hiking. When we had stopped earlier, it seemed OK because Chloe and I and the kids all had some Tic Tacs and sat around. Issues like this always fall into the gray area of travel.
While hiking we passed coffee plants. Pak Agust told us the plants were a hybrid robusta-arabica blend. And yes, I did leave Toraja with many bags full of coffee.
Our hike up towards Batutomonga, there’s a restaurant at the top of the hill with a nice view:
On our last day with Pak Agust, he invited us to join him and his friends, mostly other guides, for some singing and drinking. We listened and learned the refrain “Siska, dimana rumahmu?” Siska is the name of a beautiful girl, and a man is mischievously asking her where her home is. I asked Pak Agust if it would be OK for me to share his information on my blog. He got so excited and thought I was going to put it into the next Lonely Planet for Indonesia (that book drives so much of the tourism industry and causes problems too). I had to sadly tell him that it’s just a blog. Towards the end of the evening, we decided to contribute with a song from our parents’ generation. Chloe plays a bit of guitar so we sang “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. And in case you were wondering, language is no barrier, that song makes even the toughest looking Indonesian man tear up.
Getting There: From Makassar, there are several bus companies running to Toraja. We took Metro and it was a nice bus with A/C. Bintang Prima is another option. Buses run from the main terminal in Makassar.
Where to Stay: We went with a cheaper option, Pia’s Poppies Hotel (phone: 21121). Dinner with traditional Torajan food was tasty, but be sure to order a day in advance unless you want to wait for two hours. If you want a more upscale option, our friends recommended a new hotel, Luta.
Guide Information: Agustinus Galugu (Pak Agust), firstname.lastname@example.org, M: 6285 255 570 938. He is a wonderful guide, if you go, I highly recommend contacting him. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll get to hang out with his friends too (see above photo).
Up next: the funeral. Stay tuned!