Days 6 – The End; Christians, Muslims, Jungle Mayhem, Bandits and Bob Marley
We arrived in the town of Bada on the evening of Day 6. We had a contact named Schuman (spelling?) who welcomed us to a little homestay on the edge of the town. There was something really nice about this town. A sense of a happy welcoming people. After some noodles, Schuman took us to see a standing stone. The stone was on top of a small hill which afforded us beautiful views of the surrounding countryside. He explained that there were many similar stones in the region. Here’s some info on the stones from Wikipedia;
In Central Sulawesi there are over 400 granite megaliths, which various archaeological studies have dated to be from 3000 BC to 1300 AD. They vary in size from a few centimetres to ca.4.5 metres (15 ft.). The original purpose of the megaliths is unknown. About 30 of the megaliths represent human forms. Other megaliths are in form of large pots (Kalamba) and stone plates (Tutu’na).[12
[image animation=”left-to-right” size=”dont_scale” align=”alignnone” alt=”the standing stone on the hill” title=”the standing stone on the hill”]https://kayaking.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2014-12-22-17.15.40.jpg[/image]
By this time we had managed to see fair bit of the island of Sulawesi. Wherever we went, I was very aware of the presence of religion. Indonesia is a Muslim country and the majority of Sulawesi’s population are Muslim. Roughly 19% are Christian and there is a small % of Buddhist and Hindus. As we were concentrated mostly in areas where there was a larger than average Christian population and where Muslim and Christian people live in close proximity to each other, it seemed to me that the religions were embroiled in some sort of competition. Everywhere we went we saw evidence of new churches and mosque buildings. Buildings which had not yet been painted or finished seemed to be squashed in somewhere or other. It looked like church building tit for tat. I’ll see your Church and raise you a new Mosque and vice versa. Nonetheless it seemed the communities lived peacefully side by side.
When talking to local people, the subject of religion came up regularly. What religion are you? Do you do things this way in your country? The other frequently asked question being where is your husband or do you have a husband and do the other girls have a husband.
We knew that in other parts of Central Sulawesi there had been fighting between the Muslim and Christian populations and over 1,000 people had been killed over the past decade. According to my limited research and reading, the government had now regained control of the area and peace had been restored.
As we were walking with Schuman to see the megaliths he explained to us that a missionary woman had come to his town and had converted the area to Christianity over a number of years. The community had been fundraising for a long time to raise enough money to build a Church. The church had recently been finished and we were in luck because that very evening there was to be a “women’s” Christmas mass. It was the 22nd of December. He invited us along. We politely agreed to go.
I wondered what the town was like before this conversion and was honestly amazed at how one person could have such influence over a large number of people. Although history is full of that sort of thing so I shouldn’t have been that surprised. It’s just different when you see it in front of you. I suppose it’s easier to see it when you are an outsider, it tends to be a bit harder to spot on your own doorstep or on your own TV or smart phone as the case may be.
We arrived back at the homestay to find a group of local children playing with our kayaks. We had a lot of fun listening to them singing while they bounced around on our boats. I really enjoyed those few minutes. I really believe that the behaviour of children proves what wonderful harmony humanity is capable of.
it goes the right way around after a second!
Then as promised we went to the Church where the whole community were gathered, well dressed and in good spirits. They invited us to sit at the front of the Church and we did our best to sing along with some of the Christmas carols we vaguely recognised. It went on for a quite a while as these things do. At the end of the service, little snack boxes arrived for everyone in the audience. They were filled with rice and a vegetable which we called the green stuff. That green stuff is tasty.
It was nice to feel the community spirit. I don’t subscribe to any religion but I could recognise the value in something that brings people together and encourages people to be kind to each other. It’s such a pity that religion so often becomes something else. Just like politics and our prevailing systems of social order.
[image animation=”left-to-right” size=”dont_scale” align=”alignnone” alt=” it was very rock and roll” title=” it was very rock and roll”]https://kayaking.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2014-12-22-20.58.11.jpg[/image]
So back to the kayaking. The next day we started our journey to the Lariang. It was a short journey to the little tributary which was our starting point. As I had had done more or less no research on any of the rivers we were going to be paddling, I had no expectations one way or the other. Que sera sera I said to one of the others as we hopped on in the morning sunshine. Let the journey begin..
The tributary (can’t remember what is was called) was really mellow and we paddled along taking in the beauty of the valley. Just like every river valley, it was somehow different to all the others with its own unique colours, plant life and twists and turns.
As we joined the Lariang, it wasn’t long before the rapids started to get bigger. A lot bigger. Woo hoo. I absolutely love big volume paddling. We don’t have any in Ireland so it’s something I only get to do when I’m abroad. I felt quite comfortable on the big waves although I did agree with the girls that losing a boat in here would be a disaster as it would be really hard to get it back. Considering that we were heading into a very remote section of Indonesian jungle we decided not to take any chances and we took our time with every rapid, keeping it fun and safe.
After about 7 hours paddling, we were starting to think about making camp. We agreed to pull in at the next available spot. We had been in a bit of a gorge for while which we expected to finish after a couple of rapids. Perfect. As we came around the corner we saw a fairly ominous horizon line. One of those horizon lines where there is water and spray spitting up into the air. Hmm. Let’s have a look at this. We all got out of our boats to scout. We had been told that all the rapids on the Lariang were easily scouted or portaged but it seemed that we had arrived in higher water meaning that it was actually a bit of mission to portage anything. We hadn’t needed to portage anything till then but we decided the start of this rapid was a bit messy and we would be better off to portage most of it. Especially as it was so late in the day and we didn’t want to risk any problems.
Actually looking at that video it looks really easy! You’ll have to take my word for it that it wasn’t.
There was no away around the rapid on the river bank so we had to climb up through the jungle. We were introduced to barbed vines. Those things hurt and they are everywhere. Aaaargh. Bamboo on the other hand is much easier to get through because it’s bendy and light. Bamboo good. Barbed wire vine thingies bad. We did a bit of bashing and a bit of track following and a bit of ascending and descending and we managed to walk around most of the rapid. It was getting quite late now and we were happy with our responsible decision.
But you know it’s never a good thing to congratulate yourself too early. It’s like seeing yourself on the podium before you’ve crossed the finish line. It’s asking for trouble!
We lined our kayaks up on a rock and had a little look at the last bit of the rapid. A bit of boily water, nothing major. Grand let’s get going. Sue slid off the rock into the water first. Next up was Amy. Unfortunately as she was moving her kayak to get ready to get into the water, her kayak hit my kayak knocking it off the rock and sending it into the river. I tried to grab it, nearly falling in myself in the process but it was too late. Amy grabbed the back of my buoyancy aid to stop me going into the water.
Sue had been sitting in a boily eddy and went to get my boat. Unfortunately she ended up capsizing and swimming in the process so now we had two kayaks (with our food, sleeping equipment, dry clothes etc), one swimmer and one paddle in the water. I thought about jumping in after my boat but the next rapid was fairly big and a little bit close to give me enough time to swim out with the boat, plus I couldn’t see the end of it. I shouted to the others. Go go go . Beth H was first in and gone. Amy paddled after Sue who had just about managed to swim to an eddy above the next rapid. Beth Morgan flew in to the river and followed Beth H down the next rapid where the boats had already gone. I stood on the rock watching it all unfold. Completely powerless to run down the bank because there was no bank to run down. Not for the first time in my life I thought, this is another fine mess I’ve gotten myself into!
I could see the eddy where Sue was now standing with Amy beside her. I managed to make my way down to the girls with a bit of swimming and clambering over rocks. When I got to them we decided that Amy would run the next rapid in her kayak while Sue and I tried to walk around it. It didn’t look good for swimming. I looked around. There was no way to walk this rapid from the bank. We needed to go up into the jungle to get around the rocky knoll which lay between us and the bottom of the rapid. I asked Amy for her head torch as I could see that it would be getting dark soon and off we went.
Sue and I found a gully and managed to scramble our way up. The rock was loose and brittle but it wasn’t such a bad climb. The only problem was that there was no sign of the land flattening out so we had to keep climbing up and up the valley wall. Eventually the terrain flattened enough for us to start traversing. Around this time it started to get dark and it also started to rain heavily. More than once we became entangled in barbed vines. Ouch. At one point I got one wrapped around my neck. We bashed our way through the jungle until we figured we were above the end of the rapid. Unfortunately the valley was too steep for us to climb down. I figured we were fine so long as one of us didn’t fall. Then we would be in a world of trouble considering our remote location. So long as we took our time, stayed together and didn’t make the situation worse then we could easily survive the night even if we couldn’t make our way back to the river. In the end we did make our way back to the river thanks to our waist ropes. We were able to abseil down a less steep part of jungle by taking it in sections and wrapping our ropes around the more solid looking trees. We eventually saw a light (Amy was shining the light from the torch on her phone) and we followed it. We finally found Amy in a clearing by the river, a little further down than we had originally planned. There was no sign of the other two girls. No lights shining. We couldn’t really see very far down river as it was quite twisty turny. We tried to make our way down river but we couldn’t get there. We had no idea how far down the river they had gone, if they had our boats or if they were together. I knew they would only have gone a few rapids down at most before they would have given up on the boats. I knew they would be fine but I still worried that they weren’t.
While Sue and I had been having our little jungle bashing adventure, Amy had set up her tarp on the beach beside the river and put her hammock on the ground underneath. Thankfully as she still had her kayak, she still had her gear and equipment. We’ll all sleep here she announced. Good idea. Although it was raining heavily, it was still very warm and I was really thirsty. Amy put her cup underneath the tarp and collected the rain water for us to drink. Ever drank rain water? I can tell you it’s delish J Most of the group food was in my kayak or with Beth and Beth but luckily Amy did have some sachets of emergency food. We decided to share one between us as we didn’t know how long we might be in the jungle and decided to ration what we had. Amy had the stove but the other girls had the fuel. Freeze dried meals can be a bit rough at the best of times but freeze dried blueberry porridge sloshed around for a min or two with a bit of cold rain water isn’t the most appetising thing in the world. Around that time though it tasted really good. We ate the porridge by taking a sporkful each and then passing it to the next person. We didn’t say very much. It was absolutely lashing rain and we huddled under the tarp. Once that was finished it was time to sleep.
We all climbed into the one person hammock because the hammock had a mosquito net attached to it. Not surprisingly when you put three people in a one person hammock on the ground it feels a little squashed. When two out of three of you are wearing soaking wet thermals a little bit of squashing is a good thing. We were keeping each other warm. We lay there hoping the other two girls were ok and not really knowing how on earth we were going to get of this jungle. Amy had the sat phone but we would only use it as a last resort. I asked if I could sing a song. Think Father Ted in the caravan. Please do came the response. I sang some Christmas songs. The Pogues and Joni Mitchell. Followed by the complete collection of Christy Moore. Wedding, Funeral, Birthday party, lost in the jungle. There’s just no occasion where Christy can’t be sung. I sang every Christy song I could think of. All the songs with loads and loads of verses. All the depressing sad ones and the ones about being drunk on the surf board and Eamon Casey and the daddy longlegs dancing in the flickering light.
We were just starting to drift off to sleep when Sue reckoned that the river sounded a bit close. We opened the hammock and looked out. Aaaaargh. The river was rising very quickly and was only a few feet away from where we were lying. We moved as quickly as three people in a one person hammock could and managed to move all of our gear to the last bit of rough land before the valley walls steepened. We were as far from the river as we could be without going back into the jungle. We climbed into the hammock again. I decided to take my wet thermal top off. I was finding it really uncomfortable. Before we moved, we had been lying on a bit of a slope with our feet pointing down the slope and our heads at the top. Now we were lying sideways on a slope and I was on the outside. The rain water pouring off the hammock was dripping on top of me and I felt really cold without my top on. Next time I’ll leave it on. I decided that there wasn’t a whole lot I could do so I just lay there feeling cold and wet and every second of that night seemed to last for a very long time. I didn’t sleep at all and as soon as it was light I couldn’t get out of that hammock quickly enough.
We tucked into freeze dried porridge avec rain water number 2 for breakfast, packed up the gear and got going again. Our plan was the same as the night before. Amy would run a rapid while we watched to make sure she was ok (although I’m not really sure what we were going to do about it if she wasn’t) and then Sue and I would make our way through the jungle and back down to the river. Amy headed off down the river and as Sue and I were trying to negotiate a climb over a rocky outcrop, we saw Beth and Beth. They had rescued our kayaks and then spent the night trying to get back up river to us with our gear as they knew that we had none of our stuff. We had an emotional reunion and then we all made our way through the jungle and down river to where all the kayaks were safely on the bank and Amy was sitting in an eddy. Phew. They were only two rapids down.
We stayed in that spot for a while swapping stories of the night and eating as much as we could. We then hopped back on the river and decided to make camp at the first available spot. As we were more or less at the end of the gorge, the river banks flattened and it wasn’t long before we found a perfect camp spot. We were all very relieved. We washed in the river and set up camp. It was Christmas eve. As I climbed into my hammock at 6 o’clock that evening I felt like I was lying in the most comfortable bed in the world and sleep felt blissful. I was no longer worried about the sounds of the jungle. I had just bashed my way through it. I was asleep in seconds.
still looking a bit tired!
The next day on the Lariang was one of the best day’s paddling we had had. Just so many big fun rapids. To be honest I was feeling a bit underpowered and at one point I rolly pollyed down one of the rapids (that’s what I call it when someone keeps falling over and trying to roll on a rapid). But otherwise it was all good. No problems and everyone paddling really well.
It’s a great river.
It was Christmas day and later that evening we used our satellite phone to ring our families at home so that we could wish them a happy Christmas. Are the rivers very difficult? My mother asked. No no not really. We’ve just been doing lots of sight-seeing. This wasn’t necessarily untrue.
how’s the turkey?
The next day we reached our take out at Gimpu. I think it’s fair to say that we were all very relieved. Not really because the river had given us any problems just because of our little jungle epic and also because we all felt on edge on a multi-day self-supported trip a long way from help.
Sue and I left the others and walked into the town to try to find a truck to the nearest big town of Palu. We were in a mostly Muslim area from what we could gather so we hoped people would not be celebrating Christmas and would be able to help us out. The people we met were so helpful and friendly. Everyone did their best to help us find a truck. We communicated by drawing pictures with a pencil in a copybook.
We went back to the river to get the others and we all carried our gear and equipment along the path to the village until we a came to a house where the local people told us to stop. They asked us to sit and wait here. While we waited, the woman in the house started to bring us food and drinks. Trays of tea, water, rice and green stuff. She then cut a large fruit from a tree in the garden and sliced it up with her machete for us. She allowed us to use her washroom and signalled that we could change in her house. We were a bit embarrassed that we had actually already changed and the clothes we were wearing were our dry clothes. She was spotless. Her house was simple and made from basic materials. Her family were of simple means apart from the mini van parked outside!? She asked for nothing from us in return for her kindness. It was just accepted that strangers should be welcomed and fed. We were sitting there for a few hours. Some of the kids gathered to have a look at us and passers-by on the road would stop and laugh before carrying on.
[image animation=”left-to-right” size=”dont_scale” align=”alignnone” alt=”enjoying the hospitatlity of our hostess (pic courtesy Amy Elworthy)” title=”enjoying the hospitatlity of our hostess (pic courtesy Amy Elworthy)”]https://kayaking.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/10806234_10155061349840385_3098227115463559340_n.jpg[/image]
When our truck finally arrived, the cab was completely covered in pink fur. Well I suppose why not. We piled into a mini-van and followed behind the truck. Apart from our kayaks, the truck also had a crate of chickens balancing precariously on the back. I’m sorry to say that those poor chickens fell off the back of that truck more than once. And I know because I was sitting in the front seat of the mini-van behind. I was starting to feel a little strange. I wasn’t sure if it was the very loud wailing music that the driver was playing, the fact that he was driving on muck roads with a little more speed than he should have (a lot more speed in fact), that he was smoking or that he was fairly drunk and the smell of alcohol from his breadth was fairly powerful but for whatever reason I felt very unwell. Missus, Missus he kept saying. This would be followed by a random question of some sort or other. The other girls giggled in the back. Missus Missus. Where you come from. My head started to spin and I managed signal to him just in time for him to stop so I could get out of the van and throw up everywhere. (now you might be wondering why I’m telling you this. ..patience it’s part of the story to come). I’m not sure if that was before or after he spotted a roughly 10 foot long snake on the side of the road and got out of the car to throw a rock at him. I think it was after because I remember being a bit worried about where I was puking.
By the time we got to the city of Palu, Sue had started to feel unwell too. We were sharing a room and she spent most of the night being sick. The next morning neither of us was in a fit state to travel. The other girls decided to push on without us. They took a 24 hour bus back to Rantepao and we said that we would meet them there as soon as we were well enough to travel. We spent most of the day in bed trying to sleep off whatever bug we had contracted.
The next morning we decided that we would try to get back to Rantepao. After some enquiries we realised that the 24 hour bus was booked out. However our receptionist said that she could get us a private driver. Ok great. The price was less than the bus too. Sue and I were delighted. We were still feeling ropey and when we realised that we had our very own private mini-van to travel in, we hoped that we would be able to get some sleep during the night and arrive in Rantepao ready to paddle the next day.
Our excitement did not last too long as after collecting us, our driver swiftly drove to the nearest bus station where he picked up 9 more people. We found it hilarious. Now there were 4 people sitting on seats designed for 3. We were wedged in like sardines and just our luck that the first very overweight person we had seen in Sulawesi was sitting on our row. It was pretty funny really. We were enjoying it. We started chatting to the other people on the bus. The two guys on our row were smoking. No smoking I pleaded. Cigarette companies are free to market here as they wish and it’s apparent that smoking is still considered cool and they really couldn’t understand why I didn’t want them to smoke in our little minivan. Anyway, Sue and I were having a laugh and we got chatting to some nice people on the rest stops. Our kayaks were strapped to the roof of the van and most people were politely curious as to what we were doing.
At around 1.30am, just as I was starting to think about trying to get some sleep, the van stopped on the outskirts of a town. We were taking the main road from Palu back down south and we had already passed through loads of little towns. They guy beside me jumped out of the van. That was a relief because Sue and I had been swapping seats throughout the journey and he had been snuggling into whichever one of us happened to be beside him! We were making a nice pillow for him. As Irish people, I think that we are quite fond of our personal space. Probably because we come from a sparsely populated company. It would not be cool at home to snuggle up to whoever happened to be beside you on the bus. In more densely populated countries, it’s perfectly normal. How else are you going to get a good night’s sleep. Anyway he got out of the van and went into a house for 10 mins or so while the rest of us waited outside.
When he came back he seemed to be sitting up very alertly in the van. He had is hands on the seats in front of him and was staring ahead through the front windshield. I noticed it and thought it was odd because he had been sprawled across the seat fast asleep up until then.
After a few minutes our van was brought to a halt by a gang of about 15 – 20 men who had blocked the road in front of us. They surrounded the van and were shining bright torches in through the windows. My eyes struggled to adjust. It wasn’t necessarily unusual for vehicles to be stopped on the road. We had been stopped lots of times in various vehicles at various times by the police looking for bribes. This however was different. Our driver rolled down the window while one of the men outside asked him a series of questions. I could hear other men in the group arguing and some were banging on our van. I have no idea what they were saying. After a few minutes they pulled aside and let us go on. I was extremely relieved.
My relief was short-lived. As we journeyed on, we met another road block around 100m along the same road. Again there were between 15 and 20 men armed with machetes and sticks. Some of them had scarves and shirts over their faces. They were far more aggressive than the previous group. They were banging a lot harder on the van from all sides and again shining torches in at us. They were shouting in the window at the driver and the others in the vehicle. They seemed to be arguing amongst themselves. They were questioning the driver. They seemed to be asking where we had come from. Sue buried her head in my shoulder as she was trying to hide the fact that we were in the van but as she said to me afterwards; “you fairly stood out with the big blonde head on you!” She was right I did. I never should have gotten those highlights. The woman sitting behind us had a child with her of about 11 years old. He was very frightened and I felt very sorry for her. I stared straight ahead. My heart pounded. I’m normally quick to see the solution to a problem but in this case there was absolutely nothing I could do. We were sitting sardines in a small vehicle. Even if the driver did try to drive through the gang (which I think he was contemplating as he was revving the engine), those guys could probably run faster than our over laden vehicle could travel. And so I just kept looking ahead and didn’t move at all, my heart beating faster and faster. They kept banging and shaking the vehicle and shouting. I was wondering if maybe I would be able to use my smart phone to let someone know where we were. The other passengers in the van began taking out their wallets and their identity cards. At that point, the mob seemed to realise that Sue and I were in the vehicle. They were still shouting in through the open window but I saw the driver smile a bit and sensed the tension easing. They finally signalled to us to carry on. Just as we went to pull off, one of the men stuck his head in the window again. That’s it I thought. We are in serious trouble now. “Sorry misses” he shouted in. Normally I’d laugh. I wasn’t laughing. We drove on. For the rest of the journey I was absolutely terrified that we would be pulled over again. And we were. But only by the police looking for money from the driver. Interestingly, no one mentioned what had happened to the police. And so it was that I spent another night without sleep with every second seeming to go on and on. This was much worse than the night in the jungle. I really was very scared. At least nature only hurts people by mistake.
So it seems that contrary to our very limited research, the centre of Sulawesi still has some problems. I have no idea what side these men were on. I’m not sure what they were looking for and I don’t really care. In fact I don’t know if they were on any side or if they were looking for anything in particular. I’m not sure what would have happened to the people in the van if Sue and I hadn’t been there. We knew that there were very serious ramifications for hurting or robbing tourists and we wondered if this was why they let us go. Sue said that the same thing could have happened in Manchester or Liverpool. Yes I said and for the same reason. Because people are poor and people are angry. Every trend has a counter trend, every action creates a ripple of reaction. For all I know they were a bunch of opportunists taking advantage of an area which was thrown into turmoil after conflict. This kind of thing happens everywhere. I’m inclined to think there’s a mathematical formula for it. Some type of conflict or aggressive behaviour leads to all sorts of off shoots of turmoil invariably getting everyone nowhere. But on the other hand, I think that the same is same is true of kind deeds and positivity.
The only thing left to figure out was whether or not our van was actually going to Rantepao as on questioning it seemed no one else on the bus was going there. Of course they weren’t. We were squished into a van in bandit country with a load of people who were going somewhere else. Ha. Well it’s a little funny now. In the end our mini-van did make it back to Rantapao. We called our local friend Ucok who escorted us from the town to the guesthouse in the paddy fields where just before 5am we finally got some sleep. Thanks Ucok J
Jammin with Bob Marley
After a day of rest in Rantapao, Sue and I travelled a little further south to meet the others who had gone kayaking ahead of us. They hadn’t met any bandits. How banal. They ended up finishing the river a little earlier than planned. We met up along the road and headed to the town of Entregang. We stayed in a small hotel near the mosque. We had a few knocks on our door during the night which we ignored. We heard the prayers and call to payers throughout the day. Everyone asked us where our husbands were. We stayed there for a day and the following day, Beth commandeered an unsuspecting hi lux owner in his own front garden and convinced him to take us to close to the put on of our final river. He agreed. Once he and his brother in law had collected us and put the kayaks and the other girls in the back of the hi lux, he drove passed his house so we could meet some of his family and his wife. They came out laughing and greeted us. I’m fairly sure that they get more or less no tourists in the area. I think I can say with certainty that they have never seen 5 women and their kayaks passing through. We must have looked a bit odd. Everyone was enjoying the randomness of the whole thing.
[image animation=”left-to-right” size=”dont_scale” align=”alignnone” alt=” Sue and Amy in the hi lux” title=” Sue and Amy in the hi lux”]https://kayaking.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/2014-12-31-17.38.40.jpg[/image]
Everyone was waving at us as we passed. I sat in the front seat chatting away to the men and it occurred to me how similar people are the world over. It also occurred to me that wherever I go in the world, two things are common. Chickens. Yes there are chickens everywhere. Two of them had just run across the road. And Bob Marley. Everyone the world over is Jammin.
It was around 7pm on New Year’s eve when we got the put on for the Sa’dan river. We managed to put our hammocks in a little cow shed beside the river. We were fast asleep before midnight. I slept really well.
so many butterflies
The next day we put on to our final river. And what a fun river it was. We weren’t expecting much and we were absolutely delighted with what we found. Lots of fun rapids. The weather was perfect. Warm and sunny. That night we found a beautiful beach to camp. The moon was bright and the fire was warm. It was a perfect last night on the river. We stayed up chatting for ages.