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From guest writer Nico ~ It is the end of the wet season and the land is a rich hue of greens. The deep terraced valleys and floodplains are covered in a quilted patchwork of rice paddy fields. The rice has been planted in rotation; some is ready to harvest, the stalks heavy with grain bend and shimmer in the breeze, while the short green shoots bursting through the soil in other places tell of a field freshly planted.
On the highest hills the paddy fields vanish and are replaced by endless rows of short coffee plants, sprinkled with the glistening red fruit of the ripe berries.
I am visiting Tana Toraja in the central highlands of the island of Sulawesi and it is simply stunning. For holiday makers visiting Indonesia seeking something a bit different from the classic tourism hotspots of Bali and Lombok, Tana Toraja is the perfect escape. Here are some of my favorite activities when visiting this exotic region.
Hiking in Tana Toraja
I was constantly amazed by the landscape in Tana Toraja, the fertility of the soil, the friendliness of the people and just how picturesque the villages are. They all make hiking in the region such a joy. While most tourists hire a guide, which officially costs Rp300,000 per day ($35), it is perfectly safe to simply walk off into the countryside by yourself.
Take a local bus out of Rantepao and have it stop in one of the small villages outside of the town. From there you can do a nice day walk through the rice paddy fields and down rutted country tracks. To find nice hiking trails talk to the receptionist at the hostel or hotel where you are staying.
A Cultural Tour of Tana Toraja
The traditional houses of Tana Toraja are a popular tourism highlight. The old-fashioned houses are large square structures built of wood and painted in geometric designs of gaudy red, black and yellow. The thatched roofs extends beyond the walls at the front and back of the building and curve upwards like buffalo horns.
Outside of these houses, normally in the front garden of the home, you will find family mausoleums. These buildings share many of the same architectural characteristics as the houses. They are a reflection of wealth, the largest homes will have up to six mausoleums lined up two rows deep in the front of the property.
The Sunday Water Buffalo Market
Water buffalo play a major role in the lives of the people of Tana Toraja. Every Sunday thousands of locals head to the Rantepao Water Buffalo Market. I watched over 300 buffalo waiting to be auctioned off. Most of the buffalo sat lazily in the middle of the muddy field, while the prime specimens stood proudly at the entrance to the market, the owners cooling them down with endless bottles of water.
A buffalo at the Rantepao Buffalo Market can cost as little as a few hundred dollars, while the prime specimens go for upwards of $40,000. Many of the buffaloes will be fattened up and then slaughtered at funeral celebrations.
The Arabica coffee grown in the hills of Tana Toraja is famous all over Indonesia for its rich flavor and earthy taste. One of the best places to sample this coffee is Mama Siska’s homestay in Batatumonga. Here you can see how coffee is traditionally prepared and sample the delicious beans.
Guest writer Nico spends his days balancing the need for a regular income with his desire to experience new things. For the last four years he has called Indonesia his home and uses the country as a base to explore the region and occasionally the wider world. He shares his thoughts and adventures on his personal travel blog A Travellers Journey.