My email from Sulawesi (11th Sep):
I love and miss you all,
Hi y’all. Loads of things have happened here since my last email: a wonderful trip to Tanjung Putting National Park, the departure of my volunteers, the flaring up of fires all over Kalimantan that made the air choky-smoky and the moon red, the eventful arrival of a baby bear in camp, my first very close encounter with a wild male orangutan, my introduction to bird surveys and the microscopic world of ants and my trip to Sulawesi for a week and a half with Eric, a friend from Sabangau.
I am now still in Sulawesi, and I can't really believe the amount of things I have experienced in a few days. I visited Torajaland, a place where people treat their death with as much importance as they treat their life, spending vast amounts of energy and money in their funerals and their burial sites. I attended a funeral ceremony in the most stunning of landscapes, among mountain lines and valleys streching out with rice paddies strewn with the wonderfully strange boat-shaped houses of the Toraja people. There, I watched people coming together to celebrate life and death with loads of palm wine drinking and pig and buffalo slaughtering and learnt about how closely tied their wise ancestors used to be to the land, the animals, the spirits and each other.
After Tana Toraja, I travelled up to Central Sulawesi for 16 hours on a bus crammed full of people and rice to reach Tentena, a town where people eat the most bizzare things, like pythons, bats, eels, cats and dogs. Here I met Alfi, an assistant pastor to a church, who guided us, with a wonderful ranger called Puli , for 2 days through the mountain jungle of Lore Lindu National Park. As I was ill from the food and exhaustion from travelling on that bus for so long, I thought I wouldn't make it to the top, but the sight of black macaques and beautiful hornbills on the way kept me going to the top, and Puli's cooking of noodles with carrots and rattan (which is good for everything!) made me regain my strength and enjoy a deep sleep under the jungle canopy to the sound of cicadas and the river flowing close by.
Puli invited us for breakfast to his house the next day, which overlooks his rice paddies and cocoa plantations. He made us sweet Indonesian tea, and let us try some of his homemade arak, a strong spirit made of palm, together with our warm cassava. Both Alfie and Puli said that I am the first Cypriot in the area EVER and they insisted on calling me Siprus, despite the fact that they think I come from Jerusalem and I speak Aramaic and am therefore a bearer of all knowledge relating to the Bible. After correcting them for the 50th time, and trying to explain my humbler origins, I decided to accept my new identity and joined Alfie today at his church, where people celebrate their love to God with music, singing and dancing (and a bit of preaching too).
I will remember Sulawesi as the place where I have met some of the friendliest people ever, and a land of spectacular landscapes with stunning rice paddies and grazing buffaloes, mountains covered with forest, colourful birds, wild orchids, cocoa and vanilla, and waterfalls. My trip ends in a few days, and I will be back to Palangkaraya and my temporary home in Sabangau very soon.