mercoledì 31 dicembre 2014

relaxing on the beach of Selayar island

While planning this 3 weeks in Indonesia my first idea was to spend a few days relaxing in a beautful Indonesian beach. The first problem was to localize one of the thousand lovely places which could be reached in a reasonable time and at a reasonable cost, immediately. looking at the map I thought about Sulawesi, this huge island with the shape of a beast. Around it there are too many islands like Togean, Bunaken (near Manado), Sangihe and many more but we opted for kepulauan Wakatobi. Pity that a few days before we discovered that all the little accommodation (no more than 50 places available actually) of Wakatobi had already been booked by a group of Koreans thus we decided to spend our 3 days in the near Selayar island. The second problem was to find a good, reliable, sturdy, experienced travel companion who could speak a decent bahasa and could bear my sometimes heavy and childish behaviour not to mention my nosy attitude toward any aspect of a new country and culture.
No need to say that Ibu Galuh was definitively my first choice given all her travel tales with her friends in every corner of Java and in even basic accommodation.
Thanks to my good luck she was able to take a one week vacation and work for free as  my personal travel guide.
We arrived in Makassar, a huge, polluted, extremely hot city and got a nice comfortable hotel not far from the marina area. In the weekend there were some festivals with foodstalls, live music and lot of locals enjoying the festival despite the usual motorbike jungle and the lack of sidewalks.
Galuh got phone number of local guides arranging a rented car with driver(700KIDR) who took us from Makassar to the  easternmost coastal tip of the left "leg" of Sulawesi island, travelling around lovely rice paddies, green emerald fields and already harvested ones gold coloured, coconut trees and water basins used to produce salt until we got to the ferry dock toward Selayar island.
We arrived on the late afternoon in the island and I immediately loved it's silence, dark and quiet atmosphere totally opposite to the chaotic traffic and noise of Makassar.
I can't remember the name of the ugly and shabby hotel with its ridiculous uninspiring breakfast BUT  our lovely guidetook us to the small Oriente restaurant which served delicious homemade food whith a huge choice of fish, noodles, vegetables and soups in a very relaxing atmosphere. We loved this place! The following morning we bought some food at a local Padang (Elizabeth Pisani describes this food as the In donesian McDonald for its ubiquity thanks to the Sumatra tribe which travelled all around this huge country) and by a typical 2 stranded roofed pirogue we cruised toward the marvellous Liang Kereta Beach with its white soft sand and pristing, emerald, phenomenal, enticing water. By the time the boat landed on the beach we took thousands photos of this magnificent cove I immediately took fins and snorkel and hurried in the warm water, the reef was nice but not super, I mean not so many fishes and not too many colors.
Once returned on the island we visited an ancient hamlet with old cosy wooden houses built on stealts, some of them lovely painted, all of them with lot of flowers, little friendly dogs and nice smiling dwellers then we have been shown some old big cannons, a huge metal bell.
I's a pity we could not visit other beautiful island b ut it was anyway a great relaxing experience!

giovedì 18 dicembre 2014

Tana Toraja: The City of Deads

Before talking with Galuh I knew very little about Tana Toraja. I thought it was just a place where  a strong and sour high quality Arabica Coffee (its cultivation was first introduced 50 years ago by the Japaneses) cultivated as well as a couple of delicious types of rice , a red and a black one. The second one, in the ancient times, was produced in tiny amounts just for high rank religious, governors and politicians (I bought both of them by the way).
As the bus arrived in Toraja, a local guide, Adrian, "grabbed" us, took us to the near, central and comfortable Indra Toraja Hotel (480K IDR per day) and offered us a 2 days tour which costed, after a long bargain, 1300K IDR plus 150K IDR for some cigarettes as a present to the chief of the local tribe.
Toraja has a mild climate thanks to its location on a hill and lies 70km to the sea and has a population of 1 million inhabitants, mostly Protestant Catholic (considering all Sulawesi island, muslims are prevalent only in Makassar), religion brought by the Dutch colonizers.
Later on I discovered that the main feature of Toraja, the one which makes it famous all around the world, is its Funeral Ceremonies. We were very lucky to get there during one of this ceremony.
The siblings of the dead spend all their life collecting all the money they can for these huge and expensive ceremonies and sometimes they need to keep the corpse on their homes (the body get a formalin injection) while saving this money.
The best ceremonies are those organized by middle and upper-class families (the poors are commonly intrred) and often take place on december during Christmas time. All the siblings organize music, dances, buffalo fightings, eat together plenty of food even for the not infrequent foreigner visitors, a big number of poor pigs (crying and shouting desperately) and buffaloes are slaughtered and immediately grilled and served.
There is a general climate of happiness, smiles and curiousity by the families and friends of the dead relatives, no problem i taking photos and eating some local dish with them.
Our guide said that in the ancient times someone was able to make the dead do little works like a zombie just performing special magical prayers...who knows it really happened????
The coffin is then put inside a handcarved grave (a mountain side or, like on the slopes of the anciently erupted blouders around Mentirotiku Batutumonga dormant Volcano), grave that needs the hard work of 2 men who spend on this task 1 or more years.
Along with the graves there are also some wooden made puppets reproducing the dead. The families bring on their shoulders the coffin climbing until 10 or 20 meters using bamboo stairs, and a variant of it requires, instead of the puppets, huge rock pillars, also handcarved, that are transported by the relatives until the field that works like a cemetery. here too we can see small pillars that represent dead kids, the medium ones are for dead women while the tallest ones are reserved for men or important people. The tallest the pillar or the more buffaloes are sacrificed (the Albino buffaloes cost a fortune!) or in other words the more important the dead and the more expensive should be.
Just to give you a clue, it's like if a guy who earns 500US$ a month would save enough money to pay a 500.000 US$ worth funeral ceremony...just imagine that someone so desperate about this scaring future scenario prefers to change religion!
Last but not least we were just amazed by the way they use to bury the small babies (when they die and have not teeth yet which means they are still pure): during the night the baby family bring the tiny corpse in the countryside and dig a hole inside the trunk of a Tarra tree, put inside the body in a standing position (to help the baby sould to fly faster toward the heaven) and cover it with a fiber palm tree using its releasing material (kulimbang fibers). They live it until the tree absorb compltely the small corpse releasing all the fibers and leaving just some light "scars" on the trunk. You can use the same location on the trunk just once, we visited a famous huge
300 years old Tarra tree, no more used, which assimilated tens old baby's body in it. This tree is located in Kampung Kambira Kambira, Sangalla District, about 20 km from the town of Rantepao.
For sure Tana Toraja was one of the highlight of my trip and a place to be visited at least once in your life! 

Bandung the "Paris" of Indonesia????

Last year I had been suggested to visit this big city of two and a half million people because it is considered by Javanese ti be a very refined city with lot of eating and shopping opportunities as well as for it's lovely mild climate. I and Valeria took a minibus from Blok M that in 3 hrs took us to Bandung. We found a great bargain in Hotel California not far from jl.Champelas, hoever the overall experience in Bandung was quite disappointing for several reasons: yes the climate was fine and mild compared with the hot and humid weather of Jakarta but traffic jam was nasty and intense, pollution disturbing and almost impossible to walk around because sidewalks were absent, spoiled, invaded by tree roots or just occupied by mootorbiks or food stalls. For sure there were too many restaurants serving good food at very reasonable price but all of them were closing at 21:30 and even at 21 they were DESERT! No better luck we had searching for some live music/nightlife in the suggested areas of Braga and Dago, both had some interesting bars, pity they were almost empty.
In Bandung there are also many massage centers for a ny kind of price, we chose Zen (upstairs with entrance in common to a cloth shop) which charged us 99.000IDR for a good 90min massage.
Another place not bad for eating and strolling around is the mall Champelas Walk where we had a delicious Korean dinner for 60.000IDR.
Even the many clothes Outlets in my opinion had nothing special and for sure Thailand has much wider and higher quality clothes, although maybe at a higher price.
The highlights of Bandung can be done in a daily excursion as we did thanks to the marvellous and warm friendship of Anissa and her 2 friends: Gunung Tangkuban Parahu with it's dormant volcano (75.000IDR for the entrance), Ciater Water Park with its thermal hot water where you can swim, slide or just relax (75.000IDR it was also desert) and Saung Angklung Udjo (100.000IDR) which was a very lovely spectacle with a local school who trains kids, girls and adults with typical dances, puppet shows and angklung (it's a nice instrument made of banboo canes) concert which delighted us and other few foreigner tourists with its relaxing and celestial melodies.
Probably the city change totally at the weekends when Jakarta relax seekers crowd it but I cannot say if Bandung can be a better or a worse(too crowded???) place from Friday to Sunday.

domenica 7 dicembre 2014

Yogyakarta the friendly city

We took an executive wagon train from Bandung to Yogya (or Jogja) and in 8 hours of comfortable trip, with very nice landscape, we arrived to this nice city. We paid 340.000 IDR, by plane it's nearly the same price!
Everybody in Jakarta was repeating how hot, beautiful and cheap was Yogya. Yes they were almost right.
We got a very nice Istana Batik hotel with swimming pool next to the railway station and to the central jl. Malioboro. It was nice to walk around a big concert at the end of Malioboro, lot of Indo tourists, lovely young students, shy residents with whom we had nice chats but once again the problem to find a place to eat...being stubborn Italians we thought we could relax in the room, surf on the web, have a swim in the pool and then have a good dinner at 22 or 23 as we usually do in our country in summertime...HUGE MISTAKE, after 22 or even 21:30 in Yogya you can only have some local food on those small food stalls in jl Malioboro, although often this food was very spicy and not so tasty, I was able to fill up my stomach BUT my poor buddy obliged me to search around for a decent small restaurant. No way, NO luck, we had to learn to have dinner EARLIER, it allowed us to discover nice restaurants like Pizzeria Nanamia where we liked to joke as kids disturbing our Indo neighbours. Another good place to suggest is the pub and Legend pub and restaurant, nice people, good music, lovely and cheap food!
One morning while renting a motorbike (50.000IDR a day) we got friend with a nice guy from Malang, Mifta, who suggested us to join him, his brother and his pretty veiled girlfriend to Borobudur Buddhist temple. We left at 10:30 and after filled up the motorbikes left toward our temple.
No need to say that I was the worst, slowest and always last positioned biker, the traffic jam was frantic, the Indo drive style unpredictable if not crazy (it reminded me Phnom Pen silly way to snake among the other motorbikes and cars), as a result we all, especially I and Valerio (who is however an experienced biker), had to pay attention and keep very well concentrated. You can also add the at midday the sun in Yogya area is so strong, harsh and bitter and despite the locals we were not well equipped (which means we were not totally covered in a Saudy-style so useful while travelling in Asian countries), we arrived after this 40km and 45 min totally spoiled, shattered, drenched in sweat!
In Borobudur we were wise enough to rent an umbrella("sewa payung" in Bahasa eheheh) bsolutely useful there, the temple is very beautiful, quite big but not huge, well preserved, maybe too crowded with local tourists and school groups and once again we were overwhelmed by the locals curiosity and kindness with their questions, smiles and photos.
In Borobudur too we paid 8 times the entrance fee asked to the locals (240.000 and 30.000IDR) for locals.
In our last day in Yogyakarta, that was fo sure the most interesting and livable city we have seen, we tried to visit the Keraton, the sultanate compound with it's marvellous examples of portraits, photos, documents, instrumental music and furniture of ancient Javanese culture.
During the time of Dutch occupation there were two principalities, the Yogyakarta Sultanate (Kasultanan Yogyakarta) and the smallerPakualaman Duchy / Principality (Kadipaten Pakualaman).
The Dutch Colonial Government arranged for the carrying out autonomous self-government, arranged under a political contract. When the Indonesian independence was proclaimed, the rulers, the Sultan of Yogyakarta and Prince of Pakualaman made a declaration they would become part of the Republic of Indonesia. Everyday there is a different spectacle, entrance fee was very cheap. Pity we could not visit the queen palace because it was unbearable hot(visitors are not allowed to wear their hats yet) and preferd to recover in a Ambarukmo Plaza Mall to have lunch and a good massage.

giovedì 27 novembre 2014

The Charm of Indo People even...Veiled Women

As you may have already read in my previous posts, my unique, short and latest experience was a handful of days in Jakarta only. When I returned to Bangkok an old, fine retired American man who had travelled around the world but NEVER to this country, described me Indonesia as a den of muslim bloodthirsty fondamentalist willing to slaughter any fucking westerner...especially Americans. Moreover as soon as I started to visit places different from the huge capital city of Jakarta I noticed so many veiled women and kids, compared to Thailand or Vietnam and Cambodia (in these last 2 countries people are covered just for sun protection actually). No need to say it made me feel a bit uncomfortable, thinking they were very so strange...I was asking myself what's the point in concealing your hair? How wierd should be these girls/women who cover themselves and their kids?Then I started to talk with some of these girls during my trip in Sulawesi, in Bandung, in Yogyakarta e got surprised how smart, fine, friendly, open mind they could be. In other words they were as normal, sensual, clever and interesting as a not veiled one could be, no difference! Unbelievable isn't it ahahaha and those small kids so sweet.
I would add that so far Indonesian people, along with Cambodians, are my favourite, definitively the frendliest Asian people I have so far met, always ready to help you, always curious of your country and your habits, not racist at all like too many Thai people are (you are a FARANG never forget it), they are NOT as rude and aggressive as many Vietnamese were in the most touristic places (I was told that Vietnamese in small hamlets are also nice). Of course we were often overcharged but always in a polite/smiling way and just at the beginning, once you master a few words of Indonesian language, and I hope I will do it soon, you can get local price especially when you learn what "local price" is like. The only 2 things I disliked in Indonesia were:
1) The terrible traffic jam and it's highly dangerous driving style.
2) The non-sense huge difference of entrance fee in most government natural parks where foreigners are asked fees 8 or 10 or 15 or 20 times more expensive than local. It's like if an Indonesian tourist coming to visit the Colosseo in Rome would be charged 400 instead of 20 euro...
A special mention to Anissa (she explained me about "Universalist Muslims" which is a cathegory that inclide middle and high-class, open mind, professional, often travelling muslims who feel like citizens of the world but ALWAYS put Allah at the first place, prayingand her 2 lovely friends who took me and my friend Valerio around Bandung highlights, I'll never forget it and for sure they will be our "special Guests" when they come to Italy.

lunedì 24 novembre 2014

Tujuan Indonesia

Here we are guys, finally after a shattering and not so full of satisfation summer season of hard work I am on the train leading me to Malpensa airport where the Emirates flight is waiting for this Italian passenger  heading to Jakarta. At the begin of forties a traveler, an experienced one as I think to be(such a foolish I am ehehe), I should be fine, quiet, relaxed and self controlled but I am not afraid to confess that I didn’t sleep all these nights preceding the departure day. Gradually all the doubts, all the questions, all the reasons start to invade, to emerge in my mind with silly questions: “will I enjoy Indonesia?”, “ will my friend Galuh regret  to have accepted being my first week  companion/translator/protector angel?”, “will it be raining all the time?”, “will I have problems with any corrupted local policeman ?(last night while having a pizza my friend Walter told me he had discovered that Indonesia is the winner on the not fair classific of world corruption…)? But gradually the traveler instinct grows inside me and make me realize how lucky I am just to have the chance to RISK. Yes to risk. We spend so much time working in the same place, eating the same food, meeting the same people, being connected all the day visiting the same few websites (Gazzetta, Tagged, Memrise…J)and suddenly I have such a huge privilege to have a scary, exciting, rewarding (at least I hope it will be) chance to break my routine, to meet new people, to eat strange food and taste new flavors, to listen to new sounds, even road sounds. In other words I have the chance to make a change, a temporary but radical change. Last year it was about a few days in Jakarta, neighter the time to feel the huge, polluted but friendly and charming city, this time I hope that a 3 weeks stay can help me much more in order to understand a little bit of this huge country in order to keep every second of this experience well preserved in my heart but also to talk and explain to those few friends who will be patient enough to bear it.