Lost in translation – Finding my way to Tana Toraja, Sulawesi (Indonesia)

In all honesty, I did not like Makassar at all and was reluctant to go out and explore.

Even though I made an effort (as I had done in most of Indonesia) to cover myself up, wearing long trousers and a scarf wrapped around my shoulders and chest, men stared and shouted at me.

I was studying my book and talking to the only other person in my dorm (who as a fellow solo female traveller, also did not have the highest reviews of Makassar or indeed her general experience in Indonesia), bemoaning the fact that I had read so much about the interesting culture of Indonesia that I could not seem to find. She suggested I make my way to Tana Toraja up in the highlands of Sulawesi, where there were small ethnic villages that followed their unique and traditional ways of life.

Upon further research, I realised this was more what I had been looking for when I decided to come to Sulawesi.

I booked a night bus to Tana Toraja via the hostel reception. The young man at reception assured me that he had reserved me a seat on the bus which I could pay for at the bus station, and he had booked me a cab and explained to the driver where to take me.

This turned out not to be the case. The driver spoke no English and clearly had no idea where to take me. He was obviously trying to ask me a question but I had no idea what he was saying, and I had no idea what bus station to tell him because the receptionist had assured me he had organised it all.

He grew increasingly agitated and started shouting at me. All I could do was shake my head, shrug, and say repeatedly “I do not understand, sorry.”

The cab driver tried to drop me off at a dark, empty station which I refused to get out at.

Eventually, we pulled up at a bus station and after enquiring at the desk, I was relieved to find I had eventually made it to the right place.

The only problem was, she told me there was no reservation for me, and that there were no seats available on the bus. I sat for a while, smoking to try and relieve the stress I felt building up and wondered what the hell I was going to do.

The cab driver had gone, it was late at night, the hostel was at least a half hours drive away if not more. I asked them how much and how far away the airport was and sat there thinking, perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be and I should just get out of here.

Then the lady approached me and informed me there was in fact, one seat, which I promptly took.

I met a friendly bunch of local girls, one of whom owned a bakery in Makassar and gave me lots of delicious cakes and buns to eat.

If there is anything that makes me feel happy, it’s cake.

After about seven hours, we arrived in Tana Toraja early in the morning, the girls had booked the same hotel as me seeing as it was quite inexpensive, and had asked the driver to drop us off outside.

We arrived on Sunday and the hotel was empty, devoid of staff. From down the road, I could hear what sounded like hymns and so I assumed they were all in church…

We sat and waited, tucking into some delicious chocolate bread that the bakery owner offered us.

I was quite proud of myself for persevering and actually getting here after two nightmare cab journeys in the space of a few days.

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Freelance writer who loves reading, cooking & travelling. Rarely spotted without red lipstick. Penchant for whiskey on the rocks.

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