Thoughts on Indonesia – of Tourists, Garbage and Beautiful People

As with most other countries we have been to on this trip (see for China, Myanmar, Vietnam, The Philippines, Malaysia), we would like to summarize a few key observations we have accumulated in Indonesia. We felt very welcome here in this country with incredibly warm, open and friendly people (and beautiful women!).

The places we visited stick to their traditions and religions

In the land of the Bugis in South Sulawesi, people still live in colourful stilt houses and ships are built without plans but according to age-old traditions. Pantai Bira for example is a fairly sleepy place, but even here change has come in the form of a little tourism and some expats. Yet, still the boats are made manually and take at least a year (and often more than two) to complete. Also in the south of Sulawesi, people still produce salt manually from the sea. This can easily be seen since the main route from Makassar to Bira often runs along side countless salt fields.

A local ship builder in Pantai Bira, Sulawesi

In Tana Toraja the traditional lifestyle clearly still strengthens the community. When people gather for funerals they discuss how to keep the community together and preserve traditions. Young people may leave for other islands but will always return for important festivities. Given that even very remote acquaintances are invited to funerals, people seem to meet at them all the time – given them many chances to bond and keep up their relations. The funerals itself follow a very detailed etiquette and seem to have hardly changed at all over time – see our post on this here.

Christoph’s grandparents were in Tana Toraja in 1979 and the way they describe their trip sounds surprisingly like our trip in 2018… ๐Ÿ™‚

A new group of guests arriving at one of the numerous funerals in Tana Toraja

Despite being overrun by tourists, the Balinese still practice their own form of Hinduism devotedly. A hard to miss example of this are the little offerings that are presented everywhere to the spirits. We also saw many locals praying and celebrating during holidays in temples – a very different sight to the many churches back home in Europe.

Maybe this is in defiance of the change that mass tourism brought to their island – religion might be the only constant in an otherwise rapidly changing environment… See more in our post on Bali here.

A Balinese women placing offerings on a table in a temple

Garbage is a huge problem and no one seems to care

We have not seen this much garbage beside the road since Myanmar. When we were going by minibus to Pantai Bira a lady in front of us just dumped her trash out of the window while we were driving. Beach tourists indiscriminately throw their trash on the beaches they come to admire. The problem is that the government does not seem to raise any awareness to the issue. One Balinese guide explained this phenomenon to us like this: In the past people used banana leaves as wrapping and simply threw them away into the bush. Now, people do the same with plastic, not realising that this is not the same.

In order to be able to grasp the magnitude of this problem we can only but recommend the movie “A Plastic Ocean” in which it becomes clear that South-East Asia in general and Indonesia and the Philippines in particular are a big part of this problem.

Trash on the beaches of Bara on Sulawesi

South Sulawesi does not see many foreign tourists

In Sulawesi we took a lot of selfies with random strangers who started to talk to us on the street. Quite often we were surprised how much attention we attracted…. Driving through a political rally, Christoph was sitting at the window and actually said this is what a celebrity must feel like while people shouted “hey mister” and were trying to catch a high-five with him through the window.

In general we were surprised how few tourists we met here. Even in Tana Toraja there were few and, if you believe the guide books, this is the number one attraction in all of Southern Sulawesi. We were told that there were more tourists here in the 90s but locals believe now it is more convenient for people to fly e.g. to Bali or Java. Good to know that Indonesia “off the beaten track” is just one more flight and a night bus away… ๐Ÿ™‚

Christoph with a local tourist in Tana Toraja

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