One of the key draw factors for this Indonesian island could be said to be bordering on the macabre. Unique funeral ceremonies here are a celebration of life and a preparation for the afterlife. And I got to observe one take place in Toraja, the Central Highlands.
When a relative passes away, they are embalmed and kept within the famiy home for anything up to ten years. This is to both plan the funeral and save money for the ceremony itself. During this interim period a place continues to be set for the deceased at meal times, and they remain very much part of proceedings.
Funeral preparations include the building of an elaborate temporary bamboo structure to house all attendees, designing an itinerary for the three day event and buying sacrificial animals. Note that here in Sulawesi where you can get a good meal and large beer for approx. $7 they spend significant sums apparently up to *$80k to buy a single buffalo for imminent departure into the next life (hence the requirement to save) . Price is dependent on the quality of specimen, where factors such as colour, eye colour, tail length and of course horn shape are key.
The funeral parade itself was a cacophony of noise and colour. There was a unique chanting and dance routine from the character leading the parade, and a melancholy tune from a solo wind instrument mixed with the confusion of braying animals. Family wearing traditional dress, incorporating beads and ritual weaponry, rubbed shoulders with local villagers in black clothing and Vietnamese cone shaped hats. The gist of the parade was for attendees in small groups to deliver offerings and pay respect to the deceased, this continued loop of activity only paused for lunch – stewed buffalo and rice.
It was an interesting experience, and not one for animal lovers. I had expected more celebration and joy, but there was definitely a sombre note in the air for the day.
So here’s a scattering of other facts about this island, which is firmly nestled amongst the World’s largest archipelago:
* This sounds like a vast amount but it’s what I was advised by a local.
…. so that’s two more sleeps till swimming in a lake full of jellyfish. Just because I can!
Sometimes life is full of wow moments, surely this will be another one of them – fingers crossed!
…. this time it’s Sulawesi, Indonesia. The shape of this island destination is said to resemble the petals of an orchid, which all sounds very whimsical and romantic.
Though for the more hardened traveller there is the prospect of a nocturnal adventure looking for tarsiers, and uncovering the history of head hunter tribes. Definitely more my cup of tea. Although I draw the line at trying the local delicacy of stewed forest rat!
A bit scary looking!
51 sleeps to go…..
It’s the silk road
…. to peruse the photographs from my latest adventures (The Stans and Iran) simply use this link to my flickr account. Enjoy!!
… and I think I know why!! This country is tough even for the hardy traveller, into which category I firmly place myself. The difficulty in getting a visa and then enduring the immigration experience, places you in good stead for what is to come.
Lone travellers are rare, and women even more so, as most visitors are on organised tours. This makes finding an English speaker tricky, including in hotels. In my three days there, I found just one person who I could converse with. So lots of gesticulating and smiling occurred. Everyone was friendly and wanted to have a conversation, people just kept repeating the same thing again and again, as if I’d suddenly become fluent in Turkmen in their presence.
Interesting things about this relatively unknown former Soviet state:
- The forlorn beautiful UNESCO world heritage sight of Konye Urgench, has several ancient buildings all leaning perilously due to earthquake damage. I was convinced the 59m tower was going to topple at any time.
- Prestige and opulence are the order of the day in the cities, particularly the capital Ashgabat. Huge sweeping avenues are lined with large sparkling white buildings, but where are the people? Only officials and gardeners were present in the newest area of the city.
- The previous president seems to have been a character – filling the cities with gold statutes of himself, renaming the months with names of his family, and banning television reporters from wearing make-up because he said he found it difficult to distinguish males from females.
I visited Turkmenistan en route from Uzbekistan to Iran, with the view of just spending three days there. I think this is a country worthy of more attention, but the transport limitations, difficulty communicating and most importantly the government restrictions make Turkmenistan a challenge.
… and so much more. Genghis Khan did a reasonable amount of damage to this fair land, as have numerous serious earthquakes over the ages. However several amazing historic structures remain – huge domed mosques, medrassas in brilliant hues of blue, and ornate grand entrance portals. In each town these seemed to generally be grouped together surrounding a central courtyard for the ultimate wow factor.
To fight the fierce heats of summer and cold harsh winters the older towns are all walled, with mud houses accessible through low doors off the numerous twisting turning alleys. Bazaars here are typical to the region, brick structures with arched roofs crammed full of stalls selling all kinds of paraphernalia. This is where all the action happens. People congregate to shop, chat and get out of the cold biting wind – I know as I happily joined them.
Now whilst Uzbekistan has a fairly quiet backpacker trail, a certain amount of tenacity is still required to surpass the language barrier. There is an expectation that as a tourist you speak Russian, which was a rather optimistic view in my case!
So what else did I experience in this interesting far flung destination? Well….
- Taxi? What taxi? Just flag down a car driving past and if it’s going your way it’s a win all round.
- I thought that the imaginings of Roald Dahl’s character *Veronica Beauregarde and her chewing gum habits were one of pure fantasy. But oh no, not here. I saw chewing gum stored behind ears and on fingernails for re-chewing later, all a bit yukky!
Simply stunning architecture!
- Finance was interesting, I changed $200 into the local currency of Som. My new currency was so vast it came in a carrier bag containing 600 physical notes! Only recently has a note for a larger amount been introduced, however these are still rare. Hence the requirement for carrying your funds in a backpack as opposed to a wallet.
- A previous post mentioned the tradition of not turning bread upside down. I had dinner with two locals, and one actually reached over to the others plate and turned his bread the correct way around. I was flabbergasted, but it seemed quite usual behaviour here.
*Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s third golden ticket winner and claimed to be the world record holder for chewing gum.
… and still my passport is missing in transit. Hoping beyond hope it will arrive in time!!
This trip could be described as one of my more challenging adventures yet. Slightly off the beaten track, but well and truly on the Silk Road is my
Sheep head in a can!!
first destination – Uzbekistan. Labelled the regions’ “cradle of culture” it’s full of history and intrigue; whilst boasting towns with amazing 5th Century BC architecture. All of which excitingly awaits my discovery.
However I am feeling very unprepared, and not for the first time. Ever since arriving in Ethiopia without any accommodation organised you’d have thought I’d learnt my lesson!! Errr no, not exactly. On the plus side I have two of my three visas in my passport ready to go – hooray! Although as mentioned earlier I don’t actually have my passport as yet which is rather concerning.
Worthy of a mention following my research are these facts:
- Bread is sacred, do not turn it upside down.
- Sheep head, mainly the brains, eyeballs and right cheek are a delicacy. Did someone say Indiana Jones?
- The worlds largest hand-woven rug is on my route, unsure exactly how big it is. But seems like a bold claim and I am expecting it to be huge.
My timing is all wrong for these events however
- Turkmenistan’s “A drop of water is a grain of gold day” which sounds like an interesting day, and is amazing name for a public holiday.
- Kupkari, a traditional game similar to polo but using a goat’s carcass minus the head. Nowadays I believe it’s part of a festival, but would definitely be an eye-opener for the uninitiated.
I am unsure as to the ease and speed of internet access whilst I’m away, but nevertheless stay tuned to find out how this adventure goes!
… until I head off on what can only be described as one of my more challenging adventures yet. Slightly off the beaten track, but well and truly on the Silk Road is my first destination – Uzbekistan. Labelled the regions’ “cradle of culture” it’s full of history and intrigue; whilst boasting towns with amazing 5th Century BC architecture. All of which excitingly awaits my discovery.
Don’t mind if I do… Shiraz
However I am feeling very unprepared, and not for the first time. Ever since arriving in Ethiopia without any accommodation organised you’d have thought I’d learnt my lesson!! Errr no, not exactly. On the plus side I have two of my three visas in my passport ready to go – hooray! And I’ve invested in a couple of long tops and scarves in order to adhere to Iranian culture and customs.
I’ll be visiting the ancient city of Shiraz, but as an alcohol free zone they’ll be no wine tasting for me…
and even more so than usual. I have four months before my next trip but am currently researching the nuances of obtaining Central Asian visas. To be honest this ranks up there with completing a Rubik’s cube!!
In no particular order, and with the added complication of travelling solo, for my visas I need the following:
- Passport photographs taken wearing a traditional headscarf or hijab on. So sadly my recent pictures won’t suffice.
- Letters of invitations from the necessary countries.
- A money order, didn’t even know what this was and had to google it!
- Comprehensive hard-core travel insurance.
- Proof of visas to the other places I’ll be visiting, so I have to get the visas in a specific order…
Note whilst researching this blog I found that the quickest time recorded to solve a Rubik’s cube blindfolded (yes, blindfolded) is 23.80 seconds, which includes time to examine the cube prior to being blindfolded. So maybe this visa malarkey isn’t so complex after all 🙂
Categories: Asia, culture
I personally find it hard to summarise Timor-Leste. It’s struggle for independence was finalised over a decade ago, and it is continuing to grow into itself as a solo country. Mixed political views (particularly around language), crazy Chinese led construction everywhere and a high rate of poverty add diversity to what is a beautifully scenic place to visit.
Whilst a well versed traveller and no stranger to adventures, this country was a difficult one to get to grips with. A strong influx of well paid overseas workers has put high cost voyeuristic tourism on the map, driving disparity between the local population and visitors. Subsequently it makes backpacking and integrating with locals difficult, though any effort you make goes a long way with people.
Enough of this negative spiel, there were gems to be discovered in Timor-Leste. The island of Atauro across the Wetar Strait from Dili was idyllic, climbing Mt Ramelau for sunrise was breath-taking and of course taking the public bus along with a host of local people, their shopping and farmyard animals always proves interesting.
In a nutshell, here are some of the facts and figures…
- Apparently an average of one person a month gets taken by a crocodile, no mention of that in the Lonely Planet. Reassuring to know I’d been swimming in safe waters…
- “Chester” graffiti in Dili. Never expected to see my name emblazoned in pink spray paint all over the capital!!
- In 1991 the Santa Cruz cemetery saw the massacre of over a hundred unarmed people protesting for independence, it led to the World putting Timor-Leste on the map. This colourful, crowded cemetery still hosts groups of wailing mourners and is a moving place to visit. Several graves were recently adorned with personal gifts and decorations. One grave had a teacup and saucer, whilst on another two lit cigarettes were smoking away, a unique offering to the deceased.
- When on a long bus ride and the driver stops for a break, it appears essential for everyone to buy a Pot Noodle. Once the journey continues, the perilous task of eating the boiling hot water snack whilst sitting on the bus roof and gripping on for dear life is commonplace.
- The official language has been designated as Portuguese, which only 5% of the population speak. This has caused controversy, with a general preference appearing to be Indonesian or English in alignment with neighbouring countries.
- And did I mention the crocodiles….