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Monthly Archives: July 2011

You don’t know what you’ve got…

It had been over a week since I drove my motor.Tthe sun was shining; the coastal road was flanked by palm trees on one side and a deep blue to bright green sea. Still I was sad.

I only realized this morning that I will soon leave Asia. What once seemed an eternity into the future, has now become a 2 week deadline I need to make. So many things to do: see a park or two, dive in Bunaken, sell my motorbike…

I’ve met great people recently: from Wana tribesmen to an amazing guide in Toradja. The tourists were eclectic: from a Lebanese ‘gypsy’ who had been traveling for 11 years to a Dutch 62 year old IT consultant, Italian documentary film makers and a Bosnian aid worker who establishes child abuse protection centers in Cambodia and Sierra Leone.

So why leave to the country of Burgers and Bush? Because I’ve got a festival to go to? Because I’ve bought a plane ticket? Help!


A perfect morning (almost)

The morning was perfect. Despite an entertainment filled night, I woke up early and in a perfect condition. I walked down the steps of my little bungalow onto the pristine white sand of the amazing beach. To my own surprise decided to do some yoga, something I hadn’t done in a long time. A bit stiff at first, but quickly stretching further than ever before. Helped by both the stunning ocean view and by being the first person awake, I continued with a short, but deep meditation. The first in a long long time.

Flexible and relaxed I decided to go for a morning swim and avoid the ‘breakfast crowd. As It was low tide I had to be careful not to cut myself on the coral, but I made it to the deeper part unscratched. I turned to swim on my back to see the early morning sun rise behind the mountain. The ocean was flat like a mirror and I couldn’t hear any sound but the distant splashes of fishes jumping out of the water.

A raging burn in my neck and shoulders. I looked around and couldn’t see anything, but I noticed that I wasn’t bleeding. I swam away as quickly as I could. And then I truly started to feel the pain. It was intenser than anything I’ve felt in years. I knew I could stand on solid ground just 20 meters away, but suddenly that seemed very far. I started to swim back to the coast.

The diagnosis at the beach was quick: a jellyfish. No, I didn’t manage to pee on my neck and neither did anybody else. The pain remained intense, most likely due to my sunburned skin the jellyfish managed to strike. After an hour the pain subsided and the perfect morning continued in my hammock.


A change of perspective

I decided it was time to continue my exploration of the Togean islands. I took a public ferry for an hour and arrived in another world.

When I approached the resort in a little boat I could that the luxury in my new location was unheard of. They had the lights turned on, even when it wasn’t fully dark! And why wasn’t there any noise of a generator? And how could they manage to put cute lights to light the beach, when at my previous location I was lucky if I could charge my phone?

A closer inspection revealed even more outrageous facilities like streaming water, doors with locks and (cold) water shower that I only needed to share with one other room… I had arrived in paradise!

I shared my joy of having access to water, electricity and clean sanitation with the other guests. They looked surprised at so much delight for a simple 8 euro / day (three meals included) room.

I’m the lizard king, I can do anything

The title of this post comes from Jim Morrisson, singer of The Doors. At the peak of his popularity, as controversial singer and poet. worldwide sex symbol, it seemed he could do no wrong. I feel like that sometimes after traveling for so long.

Today was a big day. After yesterday’s record breaking motorbike trip of 10 hours and over 400 km, I was finally going to the Togean Islands. They are almost literally the pearls of Sulawesi and provide diving, good food and people who speak my language. I have been trekking through jungle, living on rice with instant noodles is restaurant and haven’t even *seen* a tourist for almost 2 weeks (let alone talked to them).

The 4 hour boat trip was an excellent start. A 60 year old former IT consultant with enormous travel experience provided interesting diversion of the scorching heat. Once arrived at the quay of my destination the problems started immediately: discussion over the fee for the motorbike, angry locals and what not. It boiled down to a misunderstanding due to the language barrier, but my nerves had been tested.

Per tradition, I didn’t want to go to the ‘big famous place’ but to the intimate family / locals hang out. When I asked for directions for the motorbike trip they told me two things: a) road no good b) we can charter an expensive private boat for you (costing the equivalent of 5 hotel nights including food). Further agitated I continued my way.

It might be difficult to see, but the collapsed (!) bridge on the picture is still in service. Which should have been a hint for the quality of the road.


Soon afterwards I thought ‘this road will definitely make it into the top 3 of words roads of the trip’. Minutes later that changed into: ‘who are you kidding? This is the most difficult road of your trip!’. It’s difficult to describe the amount of mud and pools I’ve driven through, but let’s say there were many.

A picture of my motorcycle, giving an impression of the experience


Shared suffering is always better. Unfortunately, there was absolutely nobody on this road to share my suffering with. I just started to consider turning back, when my worst nightmare happened: after driving through yet another mud-pool my motorbike stopped working during the ascent of a small hill. And there I was: without tools (I wouldn’t be able to use them anyway), in the middle of nowhere, stuck in the mud with a motorbike and a heavy backpack. And it was slowly getting dark…

I knew my rations exactly, as I had bought them the previous night: half a liter of water, 2 small bottles of illegally imported rum, 1 packet of biscuits and 5 chewing gums. However, no tent and no desire to sleep unprotected in the Sulawesi jungle on my own. I pushed the bike twice up the hill and even a combination of the electric starter and kicking the bike into gear won’t get it running. I decided that I would start marching back to the capital, leaving my motorbike in the jungle after the last try.

If you’re reading this, you probably know that I’m one of the least superstitious people on this planet (my universe just doesn’t work like that). Somehow, when I was on the top of the hill I thought: ‘if you (the motorbike) start on this last run I promise you three things 1. We’re going back 2. The best wash you will ever get 3. A picture of a beautiful Italian Ducati motorbike to look at.

I’ve already kept the first two promises. The red bike below is the third.


Thanks buddy!

Who is more surprised?

I expressed my surprise in a previous post (www.gijsbos.com) about the living conditions of the ‘Wana’ tribe. They owned nearly nothing (everything fitted on 2 shelves).

The only things in the house that they hadn’t made themselves were a cooking pot, a couple of plates with forks and spoons (no knives) and some drinking glasses. The house was made entirely out of wood and few nails were used.

There was literally no decoration. Nothing to make the place look nicer than it was.

But probably the most amazing was the complete isolation. Morrowali park can only be reached by boat (2,5 hr trip) and then about an hour of walking to a village of around 10 houses. But the people I stayed with had voluntarily chosen to live even further away from society. Another hour boat trip or three hrs walking to arrive at a home and then still several more hrs of walking to this family. And then they were still living relatively close by civilization as the Wana people who live in the mountains (I didn’t visit them) are living much more remote still.

On my way back to the 10-house village I expressed concerns to the guide. ‘What if the husband of the family gets injured?, ‘how do they educate their children? And won’t they become sociopaths if they aren’t used to other people? How will they ever find a partner later on in their lives? Etc. As my guide spoke spoke no English and I’m not exactly fluent in Indonesian it was difficult to ask the questions and to understand his answer. What I did get was that ‘they do it their way’.

During the following night I couldn’t sleep. Not because of deep philosophical thought, but because the Wana tribe had recently discovered mobile phones. Naturally there was no coverage, but that didn’t withhold anybody from buying a Chinese BlackBerry imitation (for only $65). This phone is even ‘better’ than a BlackBerry as the speakers on the phone are sufficiently powerful to run a small dance party on. Anyway, during the different ‘happy house’ sessions of the Wana tribe I suddenly realized how awkward I must have looked to them. Living in Amsterdam together with 100s of thousands of people on a surface which is smaller than the lands of the Wana tribe. Carrying gadget that can do nearly magical things (the ‘GoSkyWatch’ app for the iPhone was the talk of the village for days). And then myself: unmarried and single at age 37, traveling for months alone. With my family further away than anybody of the Wana tribe has been. Ever.

I literally had an amazing time with the Wana tribe. And from their reactions I gathered hope that the feeling was mutual. Hopefully, it will inspire us to rethink our habits or at least see them in a different light.

Strangers in the night…

This probably is one of the most remote places I’ve ever been to.

Location: Indonesia / Sulawesi Morrowali park
#houses: 1
#families: 1
#inhabitants: 4
Situated at 2,5 hrs walk through dense jungle from the nearest group of huts (which are inhabited by in total 7 persons). 

I had just arrived in the hut and wasn’t fully at ease. That came from:
– being dependent on somebody else for directions (guide)
– not having my own food (my guide had it all)
– not having my own place to sleep (the hut had only 1 room)
– in the middle of the Sulawesi jungle, where I can’t get out independently
– surrounded by people from the “Wana’ tribe whose language I literally don’t understand a single word.

Anyway, the hut I’m staying in is ‘minimalist heaven’: no decoration at all. Each object is related to the acquisition, preparation or consumption of food. Most of the objects (like the hut) are made from wood and made by the family who owns the hut. You’d think nothing could happen here, but in the end it turned out to be quite scary.

After dinner and in the dark (it felt like 22.00, but it probably was more like 18.00), I heard screams and wild laughter from the forest. I asked the guide what it was. He answered that they were fishermen. The voices slowly approached the hut and now I could clearly make out their drunk laughing.

Our hut was lit with a small oil lamp as we silently watched them enter under a cloud of laughter and screams. One of the 3 guys immediately emerged as their leader. We were 3 men + an old man + 1 woman. My guide repositioned the oil lamp (the only source of light) so that his face was hidden in the shadows. He then offered the visitors some cigarettes. Everybody (except me) smoked in silence.

Finally, a conversation started between my guide and the leader of the band of three. From their bodylanguage I could gather that they were establishing where each group was from and whether they had any shared family or friends. As there are only 5.000 people in this park, all from the “Wana” tribe. A name, unknown to me, started appearing in the conversation, and it seemed they had found common ground.

Suddenly, two guys and the woman (all from my group) walked off  to sleep in another part of the hut. Leaving just my guide and me with the three newcomers. An hour had passed and in sharp contrast with usual encounters in Sulawesi, nobody had addressed me with ‘hello Mister!’ or ‘what’s your name?’. The tone of the conversation had softened and my fears subsided. I left a package of cigarettes to my guide and laid myself on the wooden floor of the hut, trying to get some sleep.

In the daylight of the following morning, I could see that the fishermen were more like ‘fisherboys’, the oldest maybe was 18 years old. They looked at me with great curiosity. My guide had bought Oreo cookies for breakfast, when I shared these there were smiles all around. We waited for the rain to end and continued our trek into the jungle.


Deadly encounters

It was 08.30 in the morning and I already stood in front of the first cave of the day. During my now 9 months trip I’ve seen many caves: 
– explore one of the largest cave systems in the world accompanied by a guide without a light? Easy!
– walk through a cave which 1 mio. bats call home? Done that already!
– climb up slippery cave walls where poisonous cave snakes wait at the top? Child’s play!

But this time it’s different. I’m alone and there are piles of human remains outside the cave so called “Tau Tau” watch me from above:

Despite this rather rough start of the morning, I continue into the cave. It’s small, it’s damp and it’s dripping from the ceiling. Especially the latter isn’t a pleasant sensation, as many coffins are above me:

As usual, my faithful iPhone serves as my only source of light and the battery is draining rapidly. The number of skulls per square meter increases steadily, my moving space decreases and when suddenly large animal sounds from inside the cave are thrown into the mix (even) my nerves give in. I quickly make my way for the exit and am relieved to get some fresh air again.



Musical interlude: Yoanna

It was love at first sight. Which wasn’t surprising, as it was a warm summer day in the south of France. The setting was the legendary open air theatre festival in Aurrillac. The audience varied from local farmers, to punks with their dogs, to art critics scouting up and coming acting or singing talent.

A French friend and I ran into her performance on the street by accident. She was pretty in a strange way, wearing a cute dress with a skull on it and she enchanted the audience with funny and profound lyrics. Like every good french singer songwriter she accompanied herself by (what else) accordion, a girl playing a harp and a bearded guy on percussion. Their show had the whole audience following them through the streets and band members used doors of random houses as percussion instruments. The grand finale had the entire audience sing “we don’t have time for love, we don’t have time for being unhappy” (it sounds way better in French). I subsequently drove my French friends crazy by insisting on seeing all her three performances during the festival.

Half a decade passed. I continued playing Yoanna’s music from her CD, but as she was Swiss and never made it big in The Netherlands, I resigned to the fact that I would never see her again. Fortunately, fate has it’s ways and an event popped up in the east of The Netherlands where she would perform. Obviously, I went to see her. The setting was very very different. It was a luxury art-food thingy, where most people fortunately didn’t understand that her biting French lyrics were about people like themselves. 

After the show, the few attendees who spoke French lined up to talk to her. I made sure I was the last one so I’d have unlimited time with her. When it was my turn to exchange my first words with Yoanna, I stuttered and my face turned bright red. I explained that I had seen her perform many years before and had driven 200 kilometers just to see her perform again. Understandingly she signed her CD with the dedication “for my first fan in The Netherlands”.


A bull fight with a twist

Like any sensible person I strongly oppose animal cruelty, so it was with mixed feelings that I attended the funeral celebrations that included such an event. Out of respect for the local traditions and that it would include ‘something with a statue’ convinced me to go.

The entranced of the statue of he deceased was one fit for a king. A police escort, 100’s of young people on a motorbike, the army and even the wife of the governor were present. The statue of the deceased was of solid concrete, needing more than 30 people for transport once it was loaded off a gigantic Toyota truck.


But then the main event could start: the bullfight! To my great surprise this wasn’t an unfair battle between a human equipped with weapons and a weakened bull, it were two massive buffalo’s that would determine amongst themselves who was the strongest (point of note: I’ve never seen people care so much about their animals as in Toradja). My guide explained that if a buffalo senses that he is weaker than the other he (never a she) won’t fight and flee. Only when they consider themselves equal, they will fight, just like in nature.

Needless to say that I found myself running for my life when one of the buffalos fled the scene in the face of a stronger opponent


The most amazing part of this funeral wasn’t the buffalo fight though. It was the humility of the family of the deceased. This is a family that is extremely well off and in Toraja society this means that everybody in the family is well off. Still, all members of the family served food to each of the attendees, of which nearly nobody had ever spoken to the deceased (the attendees were mostly villagers and 1 tourist: me). When everybody had found a seat for the bullfight, the family was still serving and cleaning up, so no good seating space was available when they turned up. Well mannered as I am, I stood up to offer my seat to one of the elder female members of the family, but my guide quickly pulled me down. He said that the family would rather stand (and not eat) than that any of their guests had a less than perfect experience during the funeral. Later, one of the deceased’ sisters even came to me and apologized for the poor quality of the seating. It takes a great culture to make it members so hospitable and humble.

Below you see about 10% of the temporary structure that was created for the events for this funeral, which will continue throughout the year.


How to drive like an astronomer

Astronomers use the bending of light due to the gravitational pull to detect large objects like planets or galaxies.

Cars and motorbikes regularly drive without light, making them impossible to detect for novice observers. Indonesians use a similar technique like astronomers whilst driving. By observing patterns in the lights of other cars, they can deduce the presence of large objects like cars or motorbikes. Based on these ‘facts’ one can make split second decisions on evasion strategies. Einstein would be so proud.