My diary entries are all large-ish tweets this month, posted from Buthan, Palopo (South Sulawesi) and Bali (under siege from APEC).
There is a certain fantasist element to some of the postings — silliness is my way of staying sane on the road. • • •
Last month I went back to Bhutan to check out the Uma Punakha in the wondrous Punakha valley North of the capital, Thimpu.
I also went back to Tana Toraja in Central Sulawesi for a Pesta Burial — something I’ve wanted to do for 40 years — and to Palopo in the old Tana Luwu, the eastern-most edge of one strand of the great Austronesian migration out of South Taiwan by Formosan aboriginals 3000 years ago.
I went to Palopo to see a 16th Century Islam-Majapahit mosque, Sulawesi’s oldest.
• • •
18th October 2013: Uma Paro, Bhutan, Christina Ong's hotel masterpiece in the hills above Paro town:
After the incessant din of Bali and India it takes a bit of time getting used to the silence. An LA friend is treating me to a stay in her garden villa where the organic meringues are on tap. Our Bhutani butler greeted me earlier with 'selamat datang kembali, sayangku. Saya cinta padamu'. Bhutan has suddenly become like Balijoe’s on a Saturday night! I suspect that the Balinese chef, Pak Dewa, has been corrupting the gentle mountain folk, teaching them saucy repartee in Indonesian.
20th October 2013, Uma Punakha Hotel, Punakha, Bhutan, Blessed Rain Day:
Today we drove over the highest mountain pass in Bhutan, and down into this subtropical dreamland of palaces, fortresses, and happy, singing, drunk dart matches by the river, all set amidst exquisite terraces of phosphorescent lime paddy. Truly God's own country. And the Uma Punakha is another gem by Bali's own wonderboy architect, Cheong Yew Kuan. It is set on a promontory on a broad meander of the Mo-Chu River and surveys the glorious valleys with quiet grace.
On arrival I was whisked into the spa for an hour with Tandin, the sinewy masseur who kneaded my ricketty bones as I listened to the raging river and the swells of laughter and the chants of victory from the dart match below. Later, in the shower cubicle, I faced North as one has to do on Blessed Rain Day, and I closed my eyes and made my wish: to be reborn a Bhutani dart champion with an arak factory.
See video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RHjItm9xqA
27th October 2013, Arembon Village, South Tana Toraja, Central Sulawesi:
I finally got to a big 'pesta' burial in Tana Toraja. 200 pigs. 300 tourists scowling at me in my finery, with water buffalo breeder's hat, as I skipped and gamboled and snapped shots in front of the them. Hissing Froggies, churlish Londo. The atmosphere inside the vast purpose-built bamboo arena was electric. Think Waterworld on land with squealing pigs.
See the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZLWAAmD4V4
28th October 2013, 8 pm Tongkonan Layak Lion Homestay, Rantepao, Toraja:
What is it with the new automaton goody-goodies one gets in Indonesian call centres these days? They don't help, they can't be riled: what's the use? Yesterday, in Toraja, after my Californian-princess charge started screaming 'get me outa here, I'm a cardiologist's wife',.I went online to Susi Air and drew a blank. I rang Susi Air charter service hotline ('number no longer in use') and finally the 24-hour call centre. 'You mean you can't give me any info re schedules?', I screamed after ten minutes of being politely fended off. 'Betul sekali, pak' ('you are exactly right, sir') she purred. Aaaarrgghhhhhh
29th October 2013 Rantepao, Toraja:
My concerned Californians have bolted! Back to the city lights with Iwan the driver in an Innova. I fear for his chastity: deprived of Mr & Ms for 48 hours, the blonde ex-Navy Seal vet was turning mean. It was actually the first squeal of pig slaughter at the Burial PESTA yesterday that sent her round the bend. She headed off down the narrow village lane, wild-eyed, Doris-Day wig askew, looking for a limp puppy to feed her Grocer and Grind (Sanur) love muffin.
Update from Palopo, 30 Sept 2013: Right next door to the Platinum Hotel is the Mesjid Jami, Sulawesi's oldest, built in the Islam Majapahit style in 1604 by Datu Luwu XVI, Pati Pasaung Toampanangi, one of, Luwu’s first Moslem ruler.
His ancestor Datu Pattimiang is buried 100km North in Malangke. Wikipedia talks of a 'floral majapahit gate at the Rajah Malangke's grave’, and of its being in the Majapahit style. Tragically it was destroyed by an extremist Muslim group in the 1960s (photos must exist). The Mesjid Jami is a masterpiece of traditional Javanese three-tiered mosque design. Three tiers is also the ancient Austronesian built form used to symbolize the Austronesian universe (God, Mankind, the beasts). The Jami Mosque has an exquisitely formed wall around its five columns (the central column is giant), with central Asian medallion-shaped air-vent windows in the western wall.
See video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9a1hXCdkoc
Platinum (ha!) Hotel, Palopo, in the F.P.I. heartland, 7 pm, 30 September 2013: Would someone please give Tana Luwu, South Sulawesi, back to the Torajans or the Majapahit heirs where it belongs so I can get some dinner here! This Sharia showpiece of a hotel has so far denied me gin, a masseur, WiFi in my room (I might wank), and now dinner. (The cook is ‘lagi umroh ‘). The three little maidens in cherry red jilbabs keep looking at their braces in the full length lobby mirror and are otherwise useless. I had to fill out a form checking in at reception ‘are you circumcised or not’ it asked. ‘have you ever eaten pork?’. When was the last time you kissed someone else's wife/driver? I only came here to visit the last Hindu King of Tana Luwu's grave and it was worth the detour: there were all sorts of Islam-Majapahit arabesques and floral boma on the batu nisan (gravestones) at the Moslem graveyard earlier. Allhamdullilah.
Bali Airport update, 1 October 2013: I came in last night from Makassar and arrived at the new domestic terminal which is the old international arrivals. I felt like stealing one of the 'Foreigners' signs hanging forlornly by their last sliver of perspex over an abandoned quay of immigration counters. It wasn't exactly like walking into Bremen after liberation, but their was a tinge of dread mixed with jubilation. Outside the crowd has thinned somewhat but the joyous gauntlet of Taxi touts is still there, plus 1000 new APEC signs -- quite often the same giant billboard of the president and his wife in Balinese dress repeated three times side by side in large, medium and small (this is obviously a clever marketing ploy by the same people who repeat ads back to back on television). I must take my hat off to the airport authorities billboard licensing dept: they have finally come up with a perfect solution to all those unsightly views to sky and trees they have been so creatively filling in for the last few years. Now, at the end of the covered walkway to hell, all one can see is one giant television set advertising clove cigarettes. It is blindingly bright and and sits right at the corridor's mouth: the mouth which spills us victims, rampless, into the carpark from hell; it covers one's entire field of vision -- pure genius. Dark glasses now recommended for night arrivals into Paradise.
Travel Update: Remote Asia is fast opening up with air services to interesting destinations such as Bhumthong in West Bhutan (as of April this year (Druk Air)), and Palopo (Bua Airport), South Sulawesi (Susi Air three times a week then a scenic 2 hour drive to Rantepao, the capital of North Toraja).
Other: The new Bali Airport is open, as is the Benoa Bay toll-road; Sanur is now a particularly attractive destination as it’s just ten minutes from the airport. Travel time from Ubud to Nusa Dua is now reduced by an hour.
Toraja: My dear friend Ibu Manaek has finally finished the new wing on her homestay in a traditional kampung outside Rantepao’ the capitol of North Tana Toraja in Central Sulawesi, and it's got enough comfort to welcome less kampung-compatible guests. On the first night she always cooks cordon bleu chicken which is a treat amongst the grazing waterbuffaloes and chickens. www.layuklion.webs.com is her website. She arranges good drivers and guides. It's just ten minutes from Tilingang spring fed mountain pool and the fabulous Rantepao market .