This particular destination was not originally on our SE Asia radar of things to do, but a landslide covering a large section of road created a major detour for us. Arriving in Tentena, we learned that an already 20-hour long bus ride to Tana Toroja was about to be made a lot longer by the closure, and, that the rain in that area just kept on coming. The prospect of sitting for so long to reach a rain drenched destination put us in the perfect state of mind for the arrival of Mr. Karel and his photo albums. A man of few words, Karel set down 3 albums with letters of recommendations and photos from past satisfied trekking tourists. Noting that most of the letters were dated from the early to mid-90’s, we looked skeptically at the ancient looking man (72-years old as we would later learn) and wondered if he could still deliver. Our curiosities would be satisfied as we signed on for a 4-day tour.
Day 1: We faithfully put our backpacks and all our belongs, save for the few items we take on the trek, into a car that will drive them to Palu where our excursion will finally end. Dag, Lotte, Karel, Scotty and I get into a different car that drives us 6-hours over a nasty, narrow, dirt road that bumps us mercilessly along but provides good views as we climb higher and higher over the mountainous road. Down the other side, we arrive in quaint little Bomba. After some tasty tea at the no frills losman we head 1 kilometer out of the small town and into the country and are rewarded with our first megalith: a sweet-looking smiling female. Backtracking we head back in the other direction to another female figure, this one looking a bit more angry than the first, perched so that she is looking over above a bunch of rolling hills and a clearing below.
Ok, so the thing I loved about the megaliths is how wildly they inspired my imagination. No one really knows who made them, how old they are, why they were made, what they mean, or what cultural significance they may have had. There is only speculation and guesses, so I figure my guesses are probably as good as any. Let the flood gates be opened and the mischievousness begin! While I did thoughtfully ponder the possible motives of an ancient people, I also indulged in the silly side supposing the most unbalanced, asinine explanations my brain would wrap around.
The sun was getting low so we headed back to our losman. We are starving but not really; because if we were truly starving we would have been able to get past the dismal state of the fare cooked for us that night. Instead, we picked critically through the sub-standard food and decided to go to bed hungry instead.
Day 2: Today is all about megaliths. We see ones of various sizes, standing, lying down and in water. Unlike yesterday, all the megaliths are male, except for the smallest one that is said to be a monkey,which I think is really odd. I invented stories about why I thought ancient people would make all representations of human figures and then include one monkey…hmmm. Ideas anyone?
While the megaliths were awesome in their own right, the trek leading us from one to another was a treat in itself. Our hike lead us through a beautiful country side and through rice paddys. We walk over the narrow terraces, through the water-filled fields, ignoring fences (the concept of private property has a fairly loose meaning for those walking about) and pasted men with shotguns!?! We stop for lunch at a local woman’s house and are treated to fresh coconut water (opened skillfully by her machete), bananas, and the antics of her children as they alternated between showing off (like kids will do) and staring at us in wonder.
Back at the hotel, we feel nourished by our day but sadly, again, not by our dinner. Bravely, we drink some more arrack, even though Scotty’s eye problem started the day after the last time we drank the stuff!
Day 3: Rise and shine. We check out of our loseman and into the jungle. We walk to the next small town over, meet up with the porter (a mini-man named Unice- shorter than me even!) and start our journey. Not 5-minutes into the walk, Unice tears down a small tree and makes us all walking sticks. Thank goodness as these walking sticks would prove invaluable along the steep, slippery terrain. Also, they were an excellent way to check before hand if the ground we were walking upon was actually, legitimately, solid ground or just a mirage conglomeration of leaves and sparse roots.
The walk was treaterous all around. Not only due to the faux-ground in places, but the narrowness of the trail, leeches, spots of rain causing more slips and mud and the swarming bees. But the views were beautiful and we all had fun, despite moments of doubt about our choices for activities.
The trek was really long and by the time we saw the shelter we were to sleep at, precariously set at the very edge of a hillside, we didn’t care how dilapidated the platform of bamboo planks was; we just wanted to sit down. The Germans, Dag and Lotta, decided to “take a shower” first, down in the river. They were rewarded with cooling water, refreshed, rinsed skin, and leeches on their feet. Scotty and I decided to forego the river (and the leeches) and be total dirtbags instead. Unice makes us a delicous fish dinner over an open fire and like campfood everywhere, it is delicious. We are ravenous from the days activity and eat through the meal like animals.
Tired and full, Scotty and I and the Germans squish under one mosquito net, side by side like tightly packed sardines; it is a bit cold out so we don’t mind as long as no body makes any sudden moves. Things are cozy until the rain gets heavier and as the shelter has no walls, rain is blown in as well as penetrating our not-so-superiorly crafted roof. Lucky for me, earlier in the day, Lotta lent me a hoody that cinched all the way around my face leaving only my nose exposed. Needless to say, I slept like a baby while the others, sadly, struggled through the night.
Day 4: Today we mentally prepare for another long day. Walking downhill is always a challenge and I worry about the added difficulty given the hard rain through the night. Karel promises us it will not be all downhill but instead an up-and-down sawtooth pattern. Oh goody cry my tired legs, as I again have to remind myself–If a 72-year old man can do it, so can I. It rains off and on again, but the terrain today changes as we cover some distance and provides us with not only lush trees, but ferns, grasses, open rolling hills, exquisite skies, and 7 small river crossings as well. By the end, we reach a small maticulously manicured village and are ecstatic to get our blistered feet out of our wet shoes and bathe, properly!! Ahhh, indoor plumbing, definitely not overrated.
Overall, we covered just over 30 miles and I am feeling a bit tougher for experiencing this unexpected, but worthwhile trip.