Sorry if my previous Tirade Against Sightseeing didn’t satisfy you. Don’t worry, no more about Juliet’s breast or balcony or Verona. This time we’ll make it a story, true of course. And to be on the safe side we’ll set it in Indonesia. In Sulawesi, that crazy shaped island, a few decades back called “Celebes,” and known for Celebes coffee. But that was then. (Peet’s still sells “Sulawesi-Kalosi” coffee, which in fact is my favorite blend.)
My late wife Grace and I have arrived from Jakarta at Makassar, a city which in that period was known as Ujung Pandang, and knocked around a few days. This is on the west coast of the southwest corner of the island, and not to be confused with the Bugis-dominated area (with their famous huge cargo-heavy sailboats plying the region) on the east coast of this southwest arm.
But Makassar was far from our real destination. Eventually, bags in tow, we found ourselves at the bus station en route to Rantepou, the ‘capital’ of Torajaland (“Tana Toraja”). Grace got into a gab with a man who owned a down-home lodging (“wisma”) up there and collected all the information we needed for now.
Seven hours of mostly twisty roads later we arrived in the mountains, at Rantepou, and followed Bapak to his quarters and settled in. We had also arranged for him to conduct us on various tours where we could observe the tau-tau, carved effigies of the dead. That was a big part of why Sightseers came to Toraja. Bapak also got us invited to a bona fide funeral where villagers slaughtered many desperate squealing pigs and most important, a caribao, so expensive that it took years to raise the money for such a funeral. And villagers would for once go home with caribao flesh that they could cook. They also served that wonderful coffee — the high point for me.
Well, we obediently trooped around with Bapak but after 24 hours of this we arrived at the conclusion that we’d had enough. This vacation wasn’t a job where we had to touch all these bases and be able to prove what we’d seen and done. All those items were just items. If we didn’t do them — if we didn’t do any of them — would the sun refuse to rise, or fall into the sea? How much, truly, would our family and friends really care? Would they really commit us to an institution? In short we grasped that it was a vacation and we could do or not do whatever the hell we wanted, even relax… After this “epiphany” — to use the most pretentious term I can think of, why not? — we wandered around aimlessly, ate when and what we wanted and started to have a much better time… In the remaining days in Tana Toraja we did a little Sightseeing but only when we happened to feel like it.
So much for sightseeing. But this is a big subject… Maybe you have had other experiences…