A Travellerspoint blog

Sengkang - Malino


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Breakfast at the Sermani Hotel in Sengkang is very much a traditional Indonesian affair, with some interesting local dishes.

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I try a few of them.

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The round ball is filled with chocolate, the flat oval is like a thick pancake, and the round oval is an unfilled doughnut.

Sengkang

Acho, our driver, takes us to a viewpoint over the city, which happens to be the front drive of some VIP's private mansion, and we have to be quick before the security guard discovers us.

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Paddupa Suspension Bridge

In the town itself, we stop at a park, and I am fascinated by this pedestrian suspension bridge that is also used by motorcycles.

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Sengkang Market

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I constantly stop Nadja, our guide, for him to explain about the various goods on sale. Knowing what I am looking at, makes the visit to the market much more interesting for me.

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Duck eggs preserved with salt and rice flour

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Palm sugar

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Cooked coconut rice in banana leaves

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Tapioca

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Dried shrimp

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Galangal powder

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Parcels filled with cooked rice

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Tamarind

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Tapioca leaves - used as a vegetable

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Their aubergines are very different to ones we get at home

Kalu’ak fruit

The fruit from the pangium tree contains hydrogen cyanide when fresh and as such is deadly poisonous. The seeds are first boiled and then buried in ash, banana leaves, and earth for forty days, during which time the poison is released, and the fruit turns from a creamy white colour to dark brown, and edible.

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The seeds are used in powdered form to make a thick black gravy, such as the one we had with pork in Toraja.

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Buroncong

Nadja points out how they make the oval doughnut-type dish we enjoyed at breakfast.

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We make our way further south, stopping several times at rice fields along the way, for me to take photos of the people working.

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Threshing machine on the road

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Egrets

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Black kite

Lunch in Sinjai

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Love the sign on the tissue container on the table

Rempeyek Kacang – a traditional crispy peanut snack made from rice flour, coconut milk, fennel, cumin, and peanuts.

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Coto Ayam – shredded chicken, compacted lumps of rice, boiled egg, crispy fried onion, and vermicelli noodles.

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Rice terraces appear, with mountains in the background.

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Cloves are also grown in this area, and we see the flower buds from the Syzygium aromaticum tree (that turn into the spice as we know it) drying on the road.

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Malino Highland Resort

Built on a fairly steep incline, the hotel’s reception is up a number of steps, so while David goes with Nadja to check in, Acho drives me and our luggage up the slope to our room.

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The Japanese-inspired room offers little in the way of comfort, with a hard bed and a minimalistic approach to furnishings and decorations.

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Japanese-style screen by the front door, with the main part of the room located on a 'platform'.

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The rock hard bed

While their website advertises that there is a restaurant on site, we are asked to order room service this evening from a menu featuring 16 different items.

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As with the simplistic design of the room, there is no telephone, so David pops down to reception to order his choice of Nasi Goreng Marina Highlands and Pisang Goreng which is what I fancy.

A few minutes after he returns to the room, a young lady arrives at the door, to let us know that the Pisang Goreng is unavailable. I suggest a Tapai Roll instead. She phones the restaurant with our new order, but it seems the Tapai Roll is off too. “How about Ubi Goreng?” I suggest. Another phone call to the restaurant confirms that they cannot make that either. The spring roll is my next choice. Not available. “What about Ramen?” She asks the restaurant, but it is not possible. At this stage, I suggest it might be easier if they let us know the dishes they can make, rather than the ones that are off the menu. Apparently, they have Ayam Goreng, Nasi Goreng, and Mie Goreng. I choose the Ayam Goreng to go with David’s Nasi Goreng.

All this could have been made so much simpler if the right hand had been talking to the left hand and letting us know at the outset that they only have three different dishes available.

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The food arrives reasonably quickly and comes with a plate of chips

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My Ayam Goreng is very plain, and I am not at all sure about the ‘smashed fried chicken’.

This amazing Grand Tour of South East Asia was organised by Undiscovered Destinations.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:36 Archived in Indonesia Tagged rice_fields indonesia market palm_sugar rice_terraces sulawesi egrets poisonous tamarind cloves undiscovered_destinations suspension_bridge sangkang black_kite room_service sermani_hotel sermani_market paddupa duck_eggs coconut_rice tapioca galangal kaluak_fruit hydrogen_cyanide pangium_tree buroncong sinjai rempeyek_kacang malino maliono_highlands maslino_highlands_resort japanese_inspired Comments (0)

Toraja - Sengkang


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Today we leave Tana Toraja with all its intriguing death rituals behind and head back down the same way we came.

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Rumah Makan & Art Shop Jemz Gunung Nona

We stop at the same ridge-side café as we did on our way up, where the girls recognise us and we chat with them for ages about their desire to visit the UK.

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We enjoy a couple of iced cappuccinos while making the most of the great views over the valley and Nona Mountain beyond.

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Some cute little Pacific Swallows flit about on the wires just beyond the balcony.

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We continue on our journey down the mountain.

Cahaya Mario Restaurant

With tables and benches each made from a single piece of wood, our lunch restaurant in Rappang is pretty impressive. It is also completely empty when we arrive.

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We both get caught out when washing our hands before lunch, adding plenty of soap to the palms, and then finding there is no water. Doh! Thankfully we have some bottled water at the table, which we use to rinse our now sticky fingers.

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Choosing our own dishes from the menu, we share once the food arrives.

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Mie Goreng Korea - tasty with a slight kick to it

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Mie Kering - crunchy fried noodles. I didn't realise just how much I'd missed a bit of crunch!

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Interesting toilet at a service station later on in the journey

Losari Silks

Once we reach the city of Sengkang, we stop at a silk weaving workshop, where the weaving is carried out manually with old-fashioned looms.

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The embroidery, on the other hand, is completely automated!

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Exit through the shop, of course.

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Sermani Hotel

While modern in appearance, the hotel is run on strict traditional Muslim doctrines, as the sign in the reception indicates.

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During my research prior to this trip, I discovered that the Sermani Hotel does not offer evening meals, so we made a point of buying some snacks at the coffee stop this morning. We are therefore very surprised when the receptionist asks us what time we would like dinner. We explain that we will be just having snacks in the room.

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Room picnic

Half an hour later, a young boy arrives with a basket of snacks, and with a beaming smile, stating that it is “free”.

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The obligatory Koran in the room

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible Grand South East Asia Tour for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 16:38 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia toilet sulawesi silk noodles toraja embroidery squat_toilet swallows silk_weaving undiscovered_destinations room_picnic iced_cappuccino rantepao grand_south_east_asia_tour tana_toraja rumah_makan_&_art_shop jemz_gunung_nona gunung_nona none_mountain mount_nona mie_goreng_korea mie_kering pacific_swallows cayaha_mario_restaurant losari_silks looms machine_embroidery sermani_hotel Comments (0)

Tanah Torajah - Buffalo Market - Bori - Ma'Nene - Lo'Ko Mata


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We have one more day here in Rantepao, at the Toraja Heritage Hotel, to explore more of the surroundings.

But first, breakfast.

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Chicken noodles and omelette

Catholic Mass

One of the great things about having a car, driver, and guide when we travel, is that if we see something interesting, not only will the guide know what it is (or be able to find out), but it also means we can stop and investigate.

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This particular mass is held by the Bishop, and is attracting thousands of people, creating all sorts of chaos including road closures. We can get nowhere near the church, but it doesn’t matter, because it all spills over into the pavement, waste ground, and road, with temporary structures erected to accommodate all the attendees.

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Youngsters, some in their traditional outfits, others in matching shirts.

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A lady in her Sunday finery (on a Saturday)

We don’t stay long, as we have a lot to see today.

Bolu Buffalo Market

The market officially operates every Tuesday and Saturday, and the starting date of our whole trip was planned to ensure our visit to Toraja coincided with a market day.

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The buffalo in the market come from various parts of Indonesia and not just Toraja. They are bought as calves and are reared and later resold at the market at a much higher price. Nadja (our guide) explains that the price varies from 60 to 100 million Rupiah (between £3,000 and £5,000) – no wonder families have to save up for years to be able to afford a funeral, when you think that they sacrificed eight buffalo yesterday.

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When a buffalo is sold, the profit is shared between the broker, owner, and workers in the buffalo trade, with the broker receiving 50% of the sale, and the others sharing the rest.

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Customers come from far and wide to purchase the much-prized buffalo here in Toraja, not just Sulawesi, but also from other islands, and sometimes even from abroad.

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Pig Market

Not far away from the buffalo market is the pig stables.

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Pigs, which are also used for death rituals (as we saw yesterday), are valued according to the diameter of their bodies, and are nowhere near as expensive as the buffalo.

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A purchase has just been made, and cash has changed hands

The pigs are held in raised pens with floors made from bamboo, which helps to drain their waste materials, keeping the pens reasonably clean. It also means that the pigs struggle to stand on their trotters, preferring to lie down and await their fate.

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The pigs are fed ground husks of rice.

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Bori Kalimbuang Menhirs (Standing Stones)

The sacred site of Bori is a combination of ceremonial grounds and a burial place, and is of enormous cultural significance for the people in Toraja.

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More than 100 menhirs stand on the ceremonial ground, each a different height and diameter. Despite the difference in size, they are all considered to be of the same value, and during elaborate ceremonies to honour their ancestors, 24 buffalo have to be sacrificed for any one of the standing stones. The animals are slaughtered and cut up amongst the stones, with the meat then taken up into the tower where names of the family are called out for the meat to be distributed.

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Each menhir represents a feast of merit performed in the past by a person of nobility whose body is buried in a nearby rock grave. The stones are said to be around 500 years old, and are inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site. The practice of erecting menhirs is still very much alive today.

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The standing stones at Bori are often referred to as megaliths, which can be confusing, as it makes you think they are very much older than they are. Megaliths do not necessarily originate from the Megalithic period, it simply means ‘tall stones’.

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We see a couple of youngsters taking pictures, running around between the stones, creating provocative poses, something I find quite offensive and disrespectful.

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Nearby is the burial site (there are no human remains at the ceremonial area where the standing stones are), with rock-hewn tombs and miniature tongkonan (traditional Torajan houses). The construction of these smaller buildings is believed to accompany the soul of the deceased to the afterlife and to provide them with a comfortable dwelling place in the spiritual realm.

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We leave the Bori ceremonial site behind and travel further up into the mountains, on tracks that consist of a series of potholes with small areas of road between them. Many huge boulders are scattered here and there on the hillside, with several featuring graves cut out of the rock.

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In one place we see a huge rock with an unfinished carving of a buffalo.

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We also spot a buffalo enjoying a mud bath.

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Ma’Nene Ritual

This ritual involves exhuming the dead from their graves, washing and grooming the corpse, and even putting on fresh clothes. While this may seem odd to most Westerners, to the Torajan people it is a great sign of respect, making sure the deceased is still relevant to society. In addition, according to local belief, performing the rite will result in a better harvest in the following year. The grave itself is also cleaned, and the tau tau (life-sized effigies) are repainted and redressed too. This ritual takes place annually or biannually, and offers great comfort to grieving relatives.

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Sometimes the corpse is paraded around their old village, with family members taking photographs with the deceased relative. Treating the body as a living, breathing person helps family members recall memories of their loved one. It is also considered a way of introducing younger family members to their dead ancestors. While this practice may seem strange or disturbing to many of us, the Torajans have no fear of the dead, and their love for the person outweighs any concerns or feelings of discomfort about seeing death and decomposition.

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Family members preparing for the ceremony under a blue tarpaulin.

Lunch at Batutumonga

The restaurant, which is built on stilts on a hillside, offers great views over the beautiful countryside.

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Today we are given a menu to choose from. David orders a simple nasi goreng (fried rice), whereas I opt for the nasi goreng special.

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The ‘special’ part of the dish consists of an inedible-looking emaciated chicken head, with no apparent sustenance attached to it.

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The fried rice is extremely bland (I have to confess that I cannot stomach the idea of even attempting to tackle eating the chicken head), but becomes a little less dull with the addition of chilli sauce and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).

We also each order banana pancakes for dessert – which turns out to be a savoury starter, complete with sweet and salty flavours.

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Lo’Ko Mata

While in essence this rock burial site is no different from the one we saw in Lemo yesterday, its situation right next to the main road, and the sheer size of it, makes it a popular place to visit for tourists.

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Each burial chamber belongs to a single family and generations of deceased family members are placed in these vaults. As with other cliff graves, it is believed that the higher the burial chamber, the higher the social status of the deceased and their family. On the balcony of some of the graves, you can find a tau tau – a life-sized and life-like effigy of the person buried inside.

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The ladder indicates that the ritual of cleaning the tomb is taking place within the very top grave.

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As part of that process, family members will often destroy the duba-duba (small replicas of the Torajan traditional houses known as tongkonan) that were used to carry the dead person’s coffin to the burial site.

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Duba duba

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The duba duba are discarded into the ditch

Buffalo have great symbolic importance in life, and more importantly, death, for the Torajans, as they are considered to be the vehicle the deceased will use to transport them to Puya, the afterlife.

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We leave the cliff tombs behind and start making our way back

Alongside the road buffalo skin hangs up to dry. It will later be cut up into small pieces and sold as snacks. Having eaten crispy buffalo skin in Laos many years ago, I can confirm that it can be quite enjoyable.

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By the time we return to the hotel, the scrawny chicken extorts its revenge by way of explosive diarrhea (if that is what happens when I don’t eat the chicken, I would dread to think what it would be like if I had). Feeling very unwell, I crawl into bed for a couple of hours, and by the time I get up and have a shower, I feel almost normal again.

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The delightful outdoor shower at Toraja Heritage Hotel

Dinner in the hotel restaurant

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We both opt for the chicken satay this evening, which is absolutely delicious, with just the right amount of kick, and it’s a delight not to have to try and fight with bones to get to the meat (as well as not having my meal looking back at me)

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Thank you for another great day, and to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this fascinating visit to Toraja, part of our Grand South East Asia Tour.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:45 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia market standing_stones unesco burial buffalo bishop sulawesi ice_cream funeral pigs corpse pig_market toraja bolu menhir undiscovered_destinations megaliths mud_bath stone_carving nasi_goreng tongkonan rantepao tau_tau catholic_mass bolu_buffalo_market buffalo_market bori_standing_stones bori ceremonial_ground buffalo_mud_bath manene_ritual ma'nene buffalo_skin land_of_death batutumonga chciken_head lokomata loko_mata lo'ko_mata burial_site duba_duba Comments (0)

Toraja Funeral Animal Sacrifice - WARNING: DISTURBING IMAGES


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Below are some images from the buffalo sacrifice at the Toraja funeral we attended in Rantepao. You can read the story and explanations in the full blog entry here.

The animals, which are tied to a tree by one leg, are given a short slice to the neck, causing copious amounts of blood to spurt out.

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The squirting blood is considered sacred, and it is important for the blood to be seeping into the earth.

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A 'butcher' covered in blood, much to the amusement of the onlookers. Several people take it in turn to perform the killings.

It isn’t so much the actual killings that I find so hard to accept (after all, I eat meat, and most of my father’s family were farmers), it’s the fact that the buffalo do not die instantly, they thrash about for several minutes afterwards in obvious pain and distress. The guttural sound of the buffalo cries, which doesn't come out through the now-severed larynx, but instead escapes through the cut in the throat, will haunt me forever.

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Cleaning the knife between each sacrifice

You can return to the original blog entry here.

Posted by Grete Howard 12:06 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia buffalo sulawesi funeral sacrifice toraja rituals buffalo_sacrifice funeral_ritual tanah_toraja ranteapo Comments (0)

Tanah Toraja - Funeral, Tombs and Traditional Houses


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Having arrived after dark last night, we take a quick walk around the grounds of the hotel this morning to take some photos and familiarise ourselves with the facilities.

Toraja Heritage Hotel

The architecture of the rooms is based on the traditional boat-shaped Tongokan ancestral houses with their dramatically upswept roofs, which are unique to this area.

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It's a large hotel, although it doesn't appear to be anywhere near full, judging by the number of people out and about this morning.

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The large, open reception / lobby area

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Toraja Funeral

This area is home to an ethnic group of people known as Toraja (meaning the ‘people of the mountains’). They live according to rules defined by their ancestors and traditional religion, known as ‘Aluk to Dolo. The most important ceremony of the Torajan people is the funeral (more important than weddings or births), which includes pig and buffalo sacrifices, and can last for many days. We have been invited to such a funeral, but first, we must buy a gift to bring to the party.

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200 cigarettes to give as a gift / offering at the funeral

Animal Sacrifice

We arrive at the site just after the first buffalo has been sacrificed, with the animal lying in a pool of blood on the ground. The next victim soon follows.

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I struggle to watch the process, although seeing it entirely through the viewfinder of my camera makes it less ‘real’. I have deliberately not included any more photos from the killings here, but have made a separate entry for those who are interested. You can see that here.

Eight buffalo are slaughtered in total, which I understand is average for a funeral. The exact number of animals to be offered depends on the status of the deceased. The sacrifices are believed to aid the spirit's journey to the afterlife (Puya) and showcase the family's prestige.

The slaughtered buffalo are later expertly chopped up and distributed to the attending families. This ritual is considered an act of ‘returning the meat to the community’. The rationale behind this is that when the deceased was alive, she will have attended death ceremonies and thus taken meat from those death ceremonies. Hence, the meat of the buffaloes at her funeral ceremony is to ‘be returned back to the community'.

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A group of youngsters watch the procedure with total indifference.

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The funeral is held in an enclosure with several buildings, each of which is numbered: Number one is the main building where the family is sitting and the coffin is stored on the floor above.

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We are directed to building number five where we are offered tea and cake.

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The green cake is called bolu and is flavoured with pandan.

This is the point where we hand over our offering.

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Next door to us is the MC Building, number six, where the Master of Ceremonies announces visitors, reads out poems, and lets people know what is happening. We even receive a personal welcome in English. Being a Master of Ceremonies at a Toraja funeral is more than just being able to chat into a microphone, in order to gain a recognised qualification they have to be fluent in the Torajan high-language because the announcement and pronunciation of the guest names should be flawless and accurate.

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There are two official photographers (one with a 360° camera), a videographer, and a dronographer.

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The buildings reserved for the locals do not have chairs, however, with guests sitting around on low platforms.

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Buffalo and pigs are paraded down through the enclosure for the family to inspect them before they are taken off to be killed.

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After slaughtering the pigs, the hair is burned off, and the carcass is taken back for inspection.

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Clearing up the mess left behind by the terrified animals.

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Family and friends arrive in long processions, one after the other, with some of the people closest to the deceased dressing up in traditional outfits associated with funerals.

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We are surprised to see the Western girl who was in front of us in the queue for immigration at Makassar a few days ago.

The Aluk – the Way of the Ancestors – dictates that only noble members of the society can have the most elaborate and lavish funeral, which over one thousand people will attend. These ceremonies are so expensive that families may need months or years to save up enough money. Meanwhile, the body is kept in the house (injected with formaldehyde), and family members will place food next to the deceased, and talk to them. The Torajans believe that a person doesn’t die, they are just sleeping while waiting to enter the next life. For the Torajans, it’s of utmost importance to send off their deceased loved ones with full respect and celebration. Death is a social event for the whole community.

It is time for us to leave the funeral and move on to see what else is around in the Toraja Highlands. We follow a couple of pigs on bikes.

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It’s school pick-up time, and mums come along on small mopeds to collect their little darlings – and their friends.

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Lemo

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Having been lucky enough to attend a funeral, we will now find out what the next step is in the traditional ritual. Here at Lemo, a number of tombs are hand-carved into the rock face, with the remains carefully placed inside the tombs.

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What makes these hanging graves so unusual, are the balconies created in front of the tombs, on which Tau Tau – life-sized and life-like effigies of the dead, complete with realistic facial features – stand and stare at visitors.

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These are the oldest burial cliffs in the area and date back to the 16th century. Prior to that time, the final resting place of the deceased was elaborate, boat-shaped wooden coffins placed at the base of cliffs. After these tombs were extensively plundered, locals began burying their dead in high cliff-face vaults. It is also thought that the higher up on the cliff face your body is placed, the shorter the journey to the afterlife. These days family vaults may contain several generations of family members - each balcony represents one family

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Standing amongst the dead and their life-like guardians is a beautiful, albeit slightly eerie, experience: the way the Torajans revere their deceased ancestors with the lovingly carved tau tau, the respect, the celebration of life, the integration of the deceased into the family even after death.

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There are a total of 75 graves here at Lemo, each one carefully carved out by hand.

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Tau Tau

The carving of the tau tau requires great skill, as each is created to closely resemble the deceased, with special attention given to facial features, body shape, and height. Usually jackfruit wood is used for this carving as it tends to yellow with age, to a colour very much like human skin. There is a great deal of prestige attached to these statues, and the greater the status the more intricate the carving, as you can see from the image below, taken outside a nearby woodworking shop.

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Inside, the shop is full of completed effigies waiting to be collected. I can only assume that they are carved ready for when the family accumulates enough wealth to be able to pay for an elaborate funeral. Fewer people choose to use tau tau at their relatives’ tombs these days, as a result of thieves consistently stealing the effigies from the stone graves. Instead, families now often choose to keep the effigies at home.

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While the woodworking is extremely creative and talented, I can’t help but be a little freaked out by these life-like icons of dead people.

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Today the woodworker is not making tau tau, but a small carving that he will later put up for sale to tourists.

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Panorama Restaurant

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Funerals seem to have been turned into a brand in this area, even the napkin is folded to resemble a tau tau.

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Pumpkin soup to start

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The main course is pork in ‘black sauce’ with white and black rice and a plate of vegetables.

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When all this has been served and we are just about to dig in, the waiter brings out a traditional local dish of chicken cooked inside a bamboo stick.

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There is certainly plenty of food, especially for lunch.

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Dessert is a sweet soup with banana, papaya, and tamarind.

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The restaurant overlooks a pond and beyond, hence the name Panorama Restaurant.

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Panga Fruit

On the road we see seed kernels drying in the sun. Nadja calls them Panga fruit and explains that while these fruits and seeds are still pale like this, they are poisonous, whereas once they are dried they turn black and they are then safe to eat.

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Tampang Allo

Unlike Lemo, where coffins were placed in graves carved into the sheer rock face, here at Tampang Allo, they were left in a naturally formed semi-open cave. The ancestral graves are said to belong to the Sangalla royal family.

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Customs state that should one of the coffins fall down, it must be left where it is – hence there are skulls and bones scattered around inside the cave.

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All the pictures were taken by David, using his mobile phone and/or screenshots from his camcorder.

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Kembira

This is the saddest of all the Toraja burial sites, with little niches carved into a tree where babies are buried. Infants who have not yet teethed were traditionally believed to be more pure than adults, and that their bodies and spirits would be absorbed into the tree and continue to grow with it, holding the belief that the tree would act as the child’s new ‘mother’. The sap of the tree acts as the breast milk, to assist in the rebirth – or continuing growth.

Jackfruit trees are usually the preferred grave site of infants, as the softer wood makes it easier to carve. The holes are covered with bark from the palm tree in order to protect the grave from would-be animal raiders, as well as protect it from evil spirits. The position of the grave in the tree is important, and should be on the opposite side of the trunk to where the house is so that it does not face its ‘old mother’. The mother does not attend the funeral, nor is she supposed to visit the grave afterwards. She needs to let go of her baby to the new ‘mother’.

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Unlike adult funerals, where the deceased is kept in the house for weeks, months or even years, babies are usually buried the day after they die. The position of the grave in the tree depends on the family’s social class, with babies from higher classes buried higher in the tree, and lower classes nearer the bottom.

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While the death of any child is incredibly sad, I think this tradition is also very beautiful, with the belief that the birth mother hands over the baby to nature for another ‘mother’ to look after the baby as it continues to grow. The practice of burying infants in trees no longer takes place – the last tree funeral was around fifty years ago.

Tongkonan Houses

Seeing images of this style of architecture online in the past, is what initially attracted me to visit Sulawesi.

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As we make our way through the countryside, we stop at regular intervals to admire the many tongokans found at the side of the road. When literally translated, ‘tongk’ means sit, and ‘onan’ means ‘together’. Tongkonan therefore means “sit together”. These unusual buildings are the traditional ancestral houses of the Torajan people who have lived in this area for centuries. Originally it was only the nobility who were permitted to construct such elaborate buildings, but these days the rules are not so strictly enforced. Before the 20th century, most Torajans lived in autonomous villages and the vast majority practised animism, effectively untouched by the outside world.

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The tongokan structures are traditionally built on stilts, facing north-south (north is considered the symbol of life), and have distinctive boat-shaped saddleback roofs with huge upswept gables. The original Torajans who inhabited this area came from China and were boat sellers.

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In some places, such as here in Karuaya, the houses are arranged in a row, side by side, with the families’ rice barns opposite, a customary symbol of wealth. Usually built next to rice fields, the barns are considered the ‘wife’ of the rice fields and the field is her husband, according to the traditional division of labour, where the wife would be at home preparing food while the husband’s duty would be to search for that food outside the home.

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Tongkonan Karuaya

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Rice barns

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Next to the rice fields

The rice barns are constructed on stilts from a hard wood that is capable of withstanding rats and other small creatures attempting to claw or bite their way into the structures. Rice is stored in complete darkness inside.

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The buildings are richly decorated, with the walls of some of the buildings entirely covered in colourful designs. Buffalo heads denote whether this is a traditional ancestral structure or just merely a family house (no buffalo head). The rooster head protruding from the top of the buffalo symbolises justice and law.

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Intricate wall paintings

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Buffalo head and rooster

The buffalo horns are said to ward against evil spirits, especially when there is a dead body in the house awaiting burial (which would be indicated by a white flag flying). The horns also denote the wealth and status of the family, as they would indicate the number of buffalo that have been sacrificed during a family member’s funeral.

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Interiors are typically cramped and dark with few windows, however, most of daily life is lived outside the homes, with interiors simply intended for sleeping, storage, meetings, and occasionally protection. There are usually three rooms inside: in the north is a sleeping room for guests and also a place where offerings to god are made, the middle room contains the living area with kitchen, and on the south side is the sleeping area for the elders. Dead bodies are usually kept in separate tongokans without a living area.

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Tongakan Karuaya also includes a petrol station.

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Young boys hanging around

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Sweet potato leaves – while these are perfectly edible, and often used as a vegetable, picking them means the potatoes do not grow as large as they otherwise would have done.

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A young girl playing in the sand

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A tail-less cat

Kete Kesu

This is said to be the oldest tongkonan in Tanah Toraja, at some 500 years old. Now a UNESCO Heritage Site, the area is firmly on the tourist circuit, and often perform traditional ceremonies such as funerals, and today we see several of the tongokans being prepared for the death rituals. Kete Kesu means ‘centre of activity’.

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While it may be the most famous of the tongokans in this area, I am sad to say that find it a little bit of an anticlimax after visiting the other, much less touristy villages earlier, especially as these houses have scaffolding attached for the funeral preparations.

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Photobombing

I spot a group of girls who are taking lots of photos of themselves in various combinations of ‘models’ and ‘photographers’ as youngsters do everywhere in the world.

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On the spur of the moment, I decide to have a little fun ‘photobombing’ their pictures, running to stand at the back of the group. While I expected them to (hopefully) enjoy my little game, I am not prepared for the reaction I get: a massive repeated shriek of “Oh my gawd, that’s not fair!” Fearing that I have misjudged the situation, it soon becomes evident that the young girl taking the photos is most upset because she too wants to be in the picture with the foreigner.

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Several combinations of photographs are taken over the next half an hour, and we chat to the girls at length. They are part of an English study group at a college in Makassar, and are absolutely delighted to be able to practice their English, and even more so when they find out that we are actually from England! Their command of the language is excellent, and we share jokes and stories. When we part, they claim that it has been the highlight of their visit to this area.

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What a fabulously enjoyable way to finish a thrilling day of explorations.

Back at the hotel, we order drinks from room service, and sit on the balcony re-living some of the many incredible experiences from this, the most intense days on the trip so far, while sipping ice cold beers. Life is good, and we count our lucky stars that we are so fortunate to be able to travel and enjoy such adventures.

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Neither of us are feeling hungry after the huge lunch, so we swap dinner for another beer (or two).

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Thank you so much to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this wondrous trip.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:05 Archived in Indonesia Tagged beer rice_fields indonesia cat cake tombs death party balcony unesco photographer parade buffalo traditions carving sulawesi graves coffin status bones procession ancestors funeral sacrifice slaughter woodcarving pigs visitors poison adventure_travel toraja cigarettes formalin videographer lemo prestige undiscovered_destinations deceased room_servce panga petrol_station toraja_heritage_hotel sweet_soup fruit_soup panga_frui tampang_allo semi_open_cave cave_burial skulss human_bones skull_and_bones kembira baby_graves tree_burial tongkonan traditional_architecture rice_barns buffalo_horms protection_from_evil kete_kesu photo_bombing burial_cliffs jackfruit_wood pumpkin_soup pork_in_black_sauce chciken_cooked_in_bamboo torajah tanah_torajah rantepao aluk_to_dolo buffalo_sacrifice animal_sacrifice death_ceremony death_ritual funeral_ceremony funeral_ritual afterlife dead_person tea_and_cake dronographer masters_of_ceremonies torajan_language pig_sacrifice friends_and_family animists school_pick_up_time pig_on_a_bike tau_tau Comments (0)

Makassar - Tanah Toraja (Rantepao)


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We are leaving the capital of Sulawesi behind this morning and heading north. As we drive out of Makassar, it seems one town blends into the next, with plenty of streetlife, shops, and restaurants to entertain our senses.

Pomelo

One of the many delights of travelling with a guide, is that we get the opportunity to try different foods along the way. We make a stop at a stand selling pomelo, a fruit that is new to me.

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Resembling a large grapefruit, its taste is not as bitter as a grapefruit, nor is it as sweet as an orange.

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Dange Pulu Bolong

These traditional cookies are made from sticky rice, coconut, and sugar, and are baked on the fire in special irons.

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Soft when hot, the cookies turn crispy as they cool.

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Fisheries

Travelling along the coast, we pass several fisheries, where nets are strung between wooden sticks and lowered into the water. The fishermen sitting atop the towers monitor the amount of fish in the nets, and when suitably full, the nets are hauled back up again.

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Seaweed is also farmed in this area, for export to China and Japan where it is used as food or in the production of cosmetics.

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Tile Workshop

Intrigued by the brightly coloured domes at the side of the road, I ask Nadja (our guide) if we can stop and take a look. By the time the message has got through to Acho, our driver, we have passed the point by around 100 metres. Acho, however, stops, and thinks nothing of reversing back along the dual carriageway. Thankfully the traffic is light, so it is not a problem.

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The lads working in a small shed around the back are more than happy to explain to us how tiles, imported from Java, are sprayed in different colours, and then assembled into the domes we see.

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The enclosure used for spraying

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Getting the tiles ready

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I'm surprised they don't wear long gloves - that paint can't be good for their skin

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Freshly sprayed tiles

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Tiles hanging to dry

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These tiles are all ready to be assembled

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Shaping the support structure

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The domes are used to top mosques and other important buildings.

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Mate’ne Village

Operating the fishing boats after dark, and using floodlights to attract the fish, the workers bring the catch back to the village to dry.

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Sumpang Minangey

Further along the coast, these fishing boats, on the other hand, go out for several days at a time.

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Kupa Beach Restaurant

Set in beautiful gardens on the coast, we are shown to a covered seating area and offered a welcome drink and a very much appreciated refreshingly cool face cloth.

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The gentle breeze on a wet face helps to cool us down too, and helps to wake me up from the deep sleep I was in when the car stopped.

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The grounds are extensive and the interesting layout of the property compliments the little knick-knacks around the place, making it all very quaint.

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The asparagus soup is very salty, which, along with a sweet Sprite, will probably do me good as I am suffering from an angry and upset tummy.

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Fearing the repercussions, I avoid the fish, but try three of the delicious-looking tiger prawns with plenty of rice and kecap manis (sweet soy sauce).

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Fresh fruit for dessert

After my somewhat unpleasant encounter with a very basic Indonesian style hole-in-the-floor toilet at a service station earlier, I am grateful that the facilities here are Western style, albeit made for local people whose height is very much less than mine. With my arthritis, getting up from a low seat is not the easiest of manoeuvres.

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Back in the car, I snooze again for a while, until we start climbing up into the hills. The road is winding, narrow, and suffering from severe erosion in places, as well as deep, huge potholes.

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The driving culture is.... not for the faint-hearted. Cars, including ours, overtake huge, slow, heavy trucks uphill on hairpin bends, while dodging kamikaze motorcyclists, pedestrians, dogs, and chickens. Narrow misses that would make us scream back home and talk about for days, are commonplace every few hundred yards here, and no-one bats an eyelid.

Gunung Bamapuang

We make a brief stop to take some photos of one of the mountain peaks we see along the way.

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Rumah Makan & Art Shop ‘Jemz Gunung Nona’

At one of the many restaurants that have been created where the landscape offers some ground between the road and the deep, steep valley beyond, we break for a comfort stop.

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The sweet girls who serve us are keen to practice their English and after ordering iced cappuccinos, we are presented with complimentary roast potatoes.

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An ice cream is always welcome, as we enjoy the spectacular view of Gunung Nona mountains from their balcony.

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It’s a long eleven-hour drive today, and darkness sets in before we reach our destination. If we thought the roads were perilous, with crazy driving, before, add trucks and motorcycles without lights to that mix and you have a terrifying cocktail.

Toraja Heritage Hotel

The grand entrance, with its many steps, is impressive, and the cold fruit drink offered on arrival is equally as welcome as the hot towel.

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Our room is in one of the many traditional Tongokan buildings with their pointy roofs, and is large and airy with a sizeable indoor bathroom and a further outdoor shower.

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Having struggled to keep awake on the journey up here, I feel way too tired to go for dinner, so we just have a little picnic in the room with some of the snacks we bought earlier.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this trip of a lifetime.

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Posted by Grete Howard 10:43 Archived in Indonesia Tagged boats fishing road_trip indonesia seaweed sulawesi ice_cream dried_fish makassar undiscovered_destinations outdoor_shower room_picnic fisheries toraj tanahtorajah pomelo dange_pulu_bolong seaweed_farming tile_workshop metal_workshop tile_spraying matene_village fishing_after_dark fishing_by_floodlight kupa_beach_restaurant gunung_bamapuang rumah_makan guning_nona iced_cappuccino toraja_heritage_hotel Comments (4)

Makassar


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The choices for breakfast in the Santika Hotel here in Makassar are overwhelmingly Indonesian, which is hardly surprising considering we are the only Westerners here this morning.

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Kway Teoh Goreng

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Tahu Goreng Renyah

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Tumis Sayuran

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Ayam Goreng Wijem

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Lamuru Woku

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Nasi Goreng Merah

I have never understood the notion that certain foods should only be enjoyed at certain times of day – or more to the point, that certain foods are not suitable for breakfast. The number of times I have heard comments such as “I like curry, but not for breakfast”. Does it taste different at different times of the day?

With just the local name for the dish, I have no idea what any of them contain, so I just choose a few that look appetising.

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In addition to the buffet, there is a chef who is making omelettes and fried eggs.

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Love the luminous chilli sauce

We meet our guide Nadja and driver Acho in the lobby and head out to the fish market to purchase some ingredients for our cooking lesson later on.

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The spacious vehicle we were provided with for the duration of the tour

Makassar Fish Market

We can smell it before we see it, with the muddy approach from the road giving us a preview of the condition of the market itself.

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With frequent calls of “Mister!” “Photo”, the vendors are mostly very keen to be photographed, unlike some markets elsewhere in the world.

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While the fish and seafood look fresh (it will have come out of the sea earlier this morning), the sanitary conditions are a long way from our Western standards.

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Ice being brought in to keep the seafood cool

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Being used to a small selection of fish in the local British supermarkets, most of which are of a very dull colour, I am amazed at the many colourful species found here.

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We are surprised and a little horrified to see that a number of the vendors are smoking while handling the food.

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Nadja closely inspects the produce before selecting some suitable fish for us.

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Some of the fishing boats that brought today's catch

Fruit and Vegetable Market

The next stop is to buy some vegetables to go with the seafood, as well as some fruit for dessert.

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The traders here are as friendly as those in the fish market; we see a number of women stall holders here too, whereas in the fish market it was exclusively men.

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Chillies

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Dragon Fruit

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Cucumber

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Chayote

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Snake Fruit

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Nadja shopping

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Vegetables to go with our fish

Tallo River Ferry

Making our way down rough dirt tracks to the ferry point, we get ‘geographically misplaced’ a couple of times. As this is a new addition to the local programme, Acho has never been here before, so Nadja consults his phone, stops and asks directions from some kids on motorbikes, turns around, gets lost again on a university campus, and holds up his phone and asks a student if he “recognises this”.

Finally, we arrive at the edge of the river where the ferry departs from. ‘Ferry’ is perhaps too a grandiose word for the craft that connects the villages along the riverbank – two canoes joined together with some wooden planks for flooring, and a structure providing protection against inclement weather, plus some rudimentary seating (not to mention the 'gangplank' providing access to the boat. Health and safety anyone?)

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The ferry is powered by a small, but incredibly noisy, outboard engine, helped by an assistant with a long stake.

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The ferries do not have set departure times, they leave when they have enough passengers to make it worth their while. As we are on a private tour, we get the ferry to ourselves.

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Another ferry on the river

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Nadja and Acho with our food

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Javan Pond Heron on the river bank

Lakkang Island

Located in a delta slightly away from Makassar City, Lakkang Island is surrounded by Tallo and Pampang rivers. The majority of the 300 or so inhabitants here belong to the Bugis ethnic group, and are mostly farmers or fishermen, with their own traditions and language.

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The arrival jetty on Lakkang Island

Walking on paths along rice fields, we soon reach a small settlement, where we continue along brick paved shaded paths, between traditional Bugis houses and fruit trees, before reaching the home of our lunchtime host.

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Mangoes

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Custard apple

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The home of our host

Upon arrival, we are immediately given cups of strong, sweet. black tea, and some traditional sweet snacks.

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Roko Roko Unti - sticky banana cake

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Putu Cangkir - rice cookies filled with coconut

Cookery Lesson

The kitchen is fairly basic but with a few nice mod cons, such as a large American-style fridge.

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The cook adds some chillies to the mix for making corn patties. They are delicious, but David manages to catch a piece of chilli at the back of the throat, making him cough, which Nadja seems to find extremely funny and it results in no more chillies being added to the food.

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The patty mix

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The finished patties

Fried shallots, garlic and sugar are added to a pot with chepa fish.

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Prawns being cooked

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Kangkung - water spinach

All the finished dishes.

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Traditionally, food would be eaten while sitting on the floor, but as old and decrepit Western tourists, we are offered seats at the table.

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Nadja and Acho eat the traditional way

For dessert, we are offered a selection of fruits.

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Red Dragon Fruit - my first experience with the red variety, the ones I have had before, and that are (occasionally) on sale in the UK, have a white centre with black seeds

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Papaya

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Small finger bananas - they are sweeter than the traditionally bigger variety

After saying goodbye to our gracious host, we make our way back to the river, where our ferryman is waiting to take us across to Makassar.

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Fisherman on the river

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Another ferry

Paotere Harbour

Dating from the 14th century, Paotere Harbour is said to be the oldest in the country and used to be a thriving hub in its heyday.

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Old fishing boats never die, they come to Makassar to live out their lives in Paotere Harbour

Fishermen's huts
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Phinisi

Traditionally, the term Phinisi (or pinisi) referred to a type of rig, masts, sails, and configuration of ropes in Indonesian sailing vessels, with seven or eight sails over two masts - such as the ship we sailed on in Nusa Tenggara in 2006 when we visited Komodo Island.

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As is the case with many Indonesian sailing craft, the word 'pinisi' only refers to a type of rig, and does not describe the shape of the hull of a vessel that uses such sails. Phinisi-rigged ships were built by the Konjo, a sub-ethnic tribe of the Bugis, and are very typical of this region.

These days the word is often used to describe any type of small to mid-sized wooden sailing ship.

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Trucks on the quayside waiting to receive goods from the boats

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Three young girls playing to my camera

Asmaul Husna 99 Dome Mosque

Our last stop of the day is the spectacular 99 Dome Mosque on the edge of Losari Beach. Completed in 2022, it is constructed on reclaimed land in an area full of stunning new-build houses, the like of which you might find in the Middle East rather than in Sulawesi.

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Why 99 domes? It refers to the 99 Names of Allah – Asmaul Husna in Arabic. It’s a unique and beautiful building, for sure.

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By the time we get back to the hotel, I am in a lot of pain with my back, and do not feel up to walking the two blocks down to Losari Boulevard to find a restaurant. As the hotel only serves food at breakfast, we resort to getting another MacDonald's this evening, which David goes to fetch while I relax in a comfortable chair.

Thank you so much to Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this amazing bespoke private tour for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:50 Archived in Indonesia Tagged fish indonesia kitchen cooking fishermen ferry crabs sulawesi bugis chillies smoking papaya prawns dragon_fruit fish_market muddy mangoes south_east_asia custard_apple pinisi makassar private_tour unhygienic undiscovered_destinations unsanitary cucumber bespoke_tour santika_hotel macdonalds chayote snake_fruit tallo_river lakkang_island cooking_lesson roko_roko_unti puti_cangkir corn_patties chepa_fish chepa red_dragon_fruit finger_bananas paotere_harbour phinisi seal_boats konjo ethnic_tribes asmaul_husna 99_names_of_allah losari Comments (6)

Singapore - Makassar


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After yesterday’s excitement, we oversleep this morning, completely missing the alarm, meaning we have to rush down for breakfast before they stop serving.

Breakfast

Yet again I enjoy some smoked salmon, whereas David sticks to fried eggs. I love the sign on the table – I didn’t notice that yesterday – indicating whether you are just getting more food, or have completely finished your breakfast and departed, so that the staff know when they can clear your table. What a great idea!

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Changi Airport

We arrive at the airport with plenty of time to allow us to reclaim tax for the drone we bought yesterday. After an uneventful check-in for Scoot Airlines, followed by finding a wheelchair, a porter grabs our boarding cards and instructs us to sit down and wait. Apparently, they are only allowed to push us through immigration one hour before departure. So much for us arriving three hours early to arrange for the tax refund.

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With the flight originally scheduled to leave at 15:15, we are dismayed to see a new departure time of 16:00. Chatting to a disgruntled Australian man also travelling in a wheelchair, we learn that this is the norm with Scoot Airlines. The designated waiting area for mobility-impaired passengers leaves much to be desired, with nothing around: no shops or cafés to get a drink, no comfortable seats, nothing.

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With a bit of pleading, and explaining about the tax refund, a porter eventually agrees to take us through before the ‘allocated’ time. David sits in the front of the mobility buggy, while I am at the end, facing backwards. The porter appears to have Formula One ambitions, and not only do I feel dizzy as he races across the swirly-patterned carpet, but I also fear I am going to fall out of the cart as he swerves at full speed to avoid wayward pedestrians.

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Claiming the tax back proves to be easier than anticipated, via a self-service booth.

Singapore to Makassar

FlyScoot is new to us, one of the many budget airlines in South East Asia. While budget airlines in the West are bad enough, here they seem to be made for people who are a fraction of our size, and to say the aircraft is cramped would be an understatement. Every time the chap in the seat in front of me moves, he throws himself back into the seat, crushing my knees in the process.

Boarding is painfully slow, with seemingly everyone carrying hard roller cases that they struggle to fit in the overhead compartments, holding up everyone behind them in the process.

The plane doesn’t fill up until 16:15, a quarter of an hour after the revised departure time, and to add to the delay, an announcement is made that a black bag has been left in the gate hall. No-one owns up. Passengers are just milling about, unsure of what is happening – the whole thing reeks of chaos and lack of control. Fearing a security issue, the announcement is repeated. It takes 20 minutes, three more announcements later, and just as the bag is about to be taken away and destroyed, someone finally realises that they do not have their hand luggage in the plane with them. We finally depart at 17:30, 2 hours 15 minutes late.

Makassar Airport

As with boarding, passengers are painfully slow disembarking, and when we arrive in the immigration hall, my heart sinks. Thank goodness I am in a wheelchair, as the lines snake around the room, and I would have struggled to stand for the duration of the wait. There are only two other westerners, a young lady, and her son – they are in front of us in the queue.

After some 45 minutes or so, we finally reach the immigration desk and hand our passports over with the e-visa. The official asks where we are staying. I hand her my list of hotels for the entire trip. She calls a colleague across and they study the list, then ask what my itinerary is and the dates. I dig out the dossier sent to us by Undiscovered Destinations. As she continues to ask for further information, I am eternally grateful that I am so incredibly organised, printing off all the paperwork prior to departure from home, and placing it in a folder in chronological order: onward tickets to Timor Leste, tickets from Timor Leste back to Bali, onward tickets from Bali, hotel confirmations, details of local agents…. The list goes on. Soon she has most of the pieces of paper for the next 3 weeks, and eventually, we are let through to collect our bags.

The next hurdle makes immigration seem like a walk in the park. Most of the passengers on the flight are part of a large group returning from Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca), and I would hazard a guess that the vast majority of them have never been on a flight, or abroad before. Confused, upset, tired, and angsty, they mill around, leaving trolleys and baggage blocking the route for anyone else. As with everything else these days, the Customs Declaration is totally online. Convinced that we completed this a few days ago, I am dismayed, and slightly panicking, when I can’t find it on my phone. When David is unable to locate it on his phone either, we assume that we most likely DID NOT do it - having filled in so many online forms over the last week, we must have missed it (Post Note: two weeks later we come across it – no idea where it has been hiding meanwhile). After much to and fro with an official whose English is barely better than my Indonesian, we are pointed to a QR code on a pillar in the hall which takes us to the form, using the free wifi in the airport.

David volunteers to complete the form, but with so many people trying to access the website at the same time, it keeps crashing. After three unsuccessful attempts, I have a go and get a little further than David, but then suddenly the system wipes all the information I have put in, three times in a row. When I eventually manage to complete the details for both of us, it adds a second husband. Groan. One is more than enough. Finally, some 25 minutes after we started this debacle, I have that all-important QR code on my phone. I quickly take a screenshot, just in case…

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Now all we have to do is to try and get out of this bedlam, which is easier said than done, with a couple of trolleys blocking our exit, and no space to move those trolleys into with all the people still standing around, dazed and zombie-like. Eventually, the aforementioned official uses his authority to get people moving, by loud shouting and some pushing and shoving, and we can see light at the end of the tunnel.

We’re out. Or rather in. In Indonesia, that is. Theo, the young and delightful representative from Undiscovered Destinations' local agent, is waiting in the arrivals hall for us, a little concerned and baffled about the amount of time it has taken us to get through. He leads us to a generously proportioned people-carrier with comfortable seats and a friendly driver, Acho.

Aston Hotel

With an impressive lobby, the hotel looks very welcoming. The friendly and cheerful receptionist, however, is thoroughly bewildered, as he has no record of our stay. As anguish creeps across Theo’s face, I point out that the itinerary we received before leaving home, mentions Santika Hotel, Not Aston. Relief and embarrassment replace the apprehension on Theo’s face, and he is full of apologies. “Guests from Undiscovered Destinations always stay at the Aston” he explains, as he orders Acho to help the porters return our luggage to the car.

Santika Hotel

By the time we arrive at the much-less-impressive Santika Hotel, it is 22:30 and I am feeling tired and hungry. “I’m afraid the restaurant only opens for breakfast” Theo explains, “and the room service is closed now.” Great. Not at all feeling like wandering around an unknown town at this time of night looking for a place to eat (most restaurants stop serving around 21:30 we are told), David offers to pop along to the MacDonalds we spotted on the way here, just a couple of doors down. It is not something I would normally choose to eat at home, but needs must, and I have to reluctantly admit that the sorry-looking sandwich is very welcome and actually quite tasty.

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Despite the initial disappointment of this hotel over the Aston, we are very happy with the spacious bedroom, with its two large beds and a couple of chairs on which to enjoy our late-night culinary delight.

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Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this once-in-a-lifetime grand tour.

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Posted by Grete Howard 12:00 Archived in Indonesia Tagged indonesia singapore airport breakfast visa sulawesi airline passport changi immigration porter wheelchair umrah makassar marina_bay_sands_hotel qr_code flyscoot scoot_airlines budget_airline red-tape customs_declaration aston_hotel santika_hotel macdonalds Comments (5)

Singapore - Rooftop Pool and Gardens by the Bay


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

“What is that noise?” I am dragged, quite unwillingly, out of a deep sleep at some ungodly hour this morning. Switching my alarm off, I am sorely tempted to capitulate to my body’s demand that I immediately return to the land of slumber… but then I remember where I am and the reason why I set the alarm.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel Swimming Pool

Being the very first people in the rooftop swimming pool as it opens at 06:00 justifies getting out of bed at 05:30 on holiday.

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Not another person in sight

It is still dark at this time in the morning, and the views over the twinkling lights of Singapore from the edge of the infinity pool are stunning. The city that never sleeps.

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This, the world’s largest rooftop infinity pool, is one of the main reasons we are spending time here in Singapore, so we make the most of it by floating around in the warm water, leaning out over the edge admiring the view, and just generally chilling, until it gets light.

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Breakfast

It is no surprise that the choice of food at the Hotel’s Rise Breakfast Restaurant is nothing short of incredible. There is something for everyone here: Japanese, Chinese, local dishes, American, and Continental.
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With a lavish selection of sumptuous-looking dishes from all over the world, what does my darling husband pick? Chocopops. Each to their own, I guess.

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Without any guilt whatsoever, I make an absolute glutton of myself, taking advantage of the many choices available – we are unlikely to see a spread comparable to this for the next few weeks, at least not until we arrive in Kuala Lumpur.

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Round 1 - fruit

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Round 2 - bacon (making the most of it, as we will be in a Muslim country for the next couple of weeks)

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Round 3 - smoked salmon - one of my favourite breakfast dishes

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Round 4 - Cinnamon muffin

David is more restrained, but he does go up for seconds of egg and bacon.

DJI Mini 3 PRO

Having looked into the drone laws of the different destinations on this trip, it seemed a great opportunity to do some drone photography along the way. Most of the countries we are visiting are very relaxed about their use… except Qatar, which not only forbids the use of unmanned flying aircraft by foreigners, but they go as far as banning the import of drones completely, punishable by a heavy fine. Having read about travellers who were not just fined, but also had their drones confiscated, as they explained that all the luggage is X-rayed upon entry, we did not want to risk it. As the law-abiding citizens that we are, we will not entertain the idea of even trying to break the laws of another country, so we left our drone at home.

The more I looked at photographs online before our departure (from the Philippines in particular), the more my disappointment grew. Until I came up with an idea: what if we buy a basic drone set-up in Singapore, bring all our extra accessories with us from home, and then sell the drone on our return to the UK at the end of the trip? Any financial loss can then be counted as a ‘rental charge’.

Once this idea grew into a proper plan, I checked out camera stores in Singapore, and found one where I could pre-order the drone from the UK, and pick it up from their store in Singapore.

Cathay Photo

We grab a cab from outside the hotel for the short journey to the other side of the bay, and immediately locate the store in the Peninsula shopping plaza.

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While it seemed like a simple execution when I was planning it back home, once we are there, the formalities (checking credit cards and passports, and arranging the paperwork for a tax refund) seem to drag on. And on. Eventually, I am the proud owners of a new drone, and we quickly pick up another taxi back to Marina Bay Sands.

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Rather than driving around the block to the main entrance of the hotel, the driver drops us off at the far end of the complex. This suits us fine, as we want to stop for some lunch in a café we saw advertised on the in-room TV hotel channel.

Black Tap Craft Burgers and Beer

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This place is casual and fun, but with nice little touches that I have not seen elsewhere, such as this basket supplied for our bags, rather than having to place our precious items on the floor.

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As a true ‘cider-head’, David is delighted to find some on the drinks menu. The bizarreness of it all is not lost on me: An Englishman and a Norwegian drinking French cider, served by an Indian in a New York style restaurant in Singapore. I guess that is what they call truly cosmopolitan.

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It is not the burgers, nor the beer (or cider), that attracts us to this place, but their famous Crazyshakes ®.

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What can I say?

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Advertised as milkshakes, they are more like luxury sundaes, visual masterpieces, and absolutely enormous.

Sweet and Salty Peanut Butter Shake

Chocolate frosted rim with chocolate gems, and peanut butter cups, topped with a sugar daddy, pretzel rods, chocolate covered pretzels, whipped cream, and chocolate drizzle.

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Churro Choco Taco Cinnamon Toast Crunch Shake

Vanilla frosted rim with cinnamon toast crunch topped with choco taco, two churros, whipped cream, and dulce de leche drizzle.

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We both make a brave attempt at these mountains of sugary overload, but find ourselves beaten, and have to retire to the room for a snooze!

Gardens by the Bay

During the initial planning stages of this trip, I was particularly keen to add a stopover in Singapore, purely because of these gardens and their nightly light show. Having visited Singapore three times previously (albeit the last visit was over 20 years ago), we are not really interested in spending time seeing the sites of the city, especially not in this heat and humidity.

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Another reason for choosing to stay at Marina Bay Sands Hotel, is that they are within walking distance of the park, accessed via an elevated walkway, which incidentally is not easy to find. Following the signposts, we make our way along the ground floor of the hotel, exit through one of the many doors, take a lift up a couple of floors, and then back through the hotel and out the other side to reach the walkway.

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The walkway with our hotel in the background

The park is divided into several zones, some of which are free to enter, others require the purchase of tickets.

The Dragonfly Lake

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The Chinese Gardens

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The World’s Longest Sculpture
Stretching over 192m, the artwork features 60 endangered animals cast in bronze to raise awareness of wildlife conservation.

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The Indian Garden

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Mid-Autumn Festival

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Supertree Grove
This is what I have come to see – the ‘forest’ of 18 tall metal ‘trees’ connected by an elevated skywalk.

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Having checked the website for information prior to leaving home, we head for the Information Centre, in order to hire a wheelchair for me. It is not so much the walking that is a problem for me, it’s standing still. While the Information Office is closed, the ticket counter arranges a chair for me, as well as selling us tickets for the skywalk.

The skywalk

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After a quick pit-stop in one of the many cafés within the gardens, we take the wheelchair back and perch ourselves on a low wall, waiting for the light show to start. Along with hundreds of other people.

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The Garden Rhapsody
As the sky loses its colour, and darkness envelopes the park, music fills the air, and the trees come alive with dazzling lights in every colour imaginable, synchronised in time to the beat of the music.

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Once the extravaganza is over, we join the throng of people making their way back across the walkway to Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

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A Chinese temple in the middle of the Supertree Grove is beautifully lit.

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As is this covered walkway

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View from the walkway over the Dragonfly Lake to the Singapore Wheel behind

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Even our hotel has some impressive lights after dark

The Garden Rhapsody from Marina Bay Sands Hotel

Taking advantage of the spectacular views over the gardens for the rooftop bar of our hotel, we settle down with a drink and a sandwich to wait for the second show of the evening. The view from up here gives a totally different perspective of the show.

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Drone Light Show

As we finish our drinks before going back to the room, we spot some moving lights over the Marina Bay area, and work out that they must be drones. We are then treated to the added bonus of a surprise drone show, no doubt a practice session for the forthcoming F1 event, as the displays feature the names of some of the sponsors.

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With the bar now closed, and both of us still trying to catch up from the jet lag, we make our way back to the room.

Thank you very much to Undiscovered Destinations for creating this exciting itinerary for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:18 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore breakfast swimming pool light_show skywalk swimming-pool cider wheelchair infinity_pool drone gardens_by_the_bay dji supertree_grove undiscovereddestination the_grand_south_east_asia_tour marina_bay_sand_hotel marina_bay_sands-swimming_pool dji_mini_pro_3 drone_laws cathay_phone black_tap crazyshakes gardens_by_the_bay_light_show drone_show drone_light_show the_garden_rhapsody Comments (3)

Arrival in Singapore


View South East Asia Grand Tour 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

As we start our descent into Singapore Changi Airport, an announcement is made “Please remain seated until the row in front of you has vacated”. We’ve seen how well this works when adhered to in Brazil, where everyone stays calm in their seat waiting their turn. Here, however, no one takes any notice whatsoever, and the usual chaos ensues as soon as the plane has come to a standstill.

There is a wheelchair waiting for me just outside the door of the plane, and at the end of the corridor, I am transferred to a buggy that takes me to immigration. For some reason I am instructed to walk through immigration itself, and although there are only a couple of people in front of me at the special assistance lane, by the time I reach the other side, my back is hurting. Having completed the arrival card online a couple of days ago, once I reach the counter everything goes quickly and smoothly.

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The same porter, with the same chair, is waiting for me there, and takes me all the way to the well-organised taxi rank.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel

There’s a frisson of excitement as we turn up outside, in the four-lane drop-off zone, which is organised to the point of appearing regimented. As soon as the car doors are opened, two porters grab out luggage, immediately asking if any items are fragile. When I explain that my backpack is full of camera gear, a fragile tag is attached as well as a very noticeable CAUTION tag.

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A stunning lady in a beautiful traditional Chinese cheongsam dress, greets us at the door, and leads us to the VIP check-in area where we are immediately offered a seat and very personal treatment. We appreciate this nice touch, as the general check-in area has a roped-off queueing system with a handful of people waiting.

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Marina Bay Sands is the only hotel we booked independently on this trip, as Undiscovered Destinations were unable to secure a comparative price. Having dreamed of staying in this incredible hotel since I saw videos of it when it first opened in 2010, I have to pinch myself that I am finally here, having just been allocated an upgraded Premier room. And what a room it is.

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As soon as we walk in through the door, the light comes on automatically and the curtains open.

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The room consists of a corridor leading to the main bedroom, a bathroom with a bathtub, a separate shower and double basins, and a separate toilet off a dressing room.

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The bathroom features lots of nice touches, such as the tap being in the middle of the bath (so that two people can share a soak together without either getting the tap in their back), a handheld shower attachment at one end, and a number of complimentary toiletries.

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The toilet is like something out of a sci-fi movie, and will take a lot longer than the two days we are staying to try and figure out what all the buttons and switches do.

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Again, as soon as we enter the small room, the lights come on, and the toilet bowl lid lifts. Everything is programmable: the built-in bidet offers different water angles, shapes and positions of the spray. The hot air dryer has similar options. All this can be programmed for two different users (including toilet seat up or down), as well as other features that I didn’t have the time, nor inclination, to work out.

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As soon as you get up from the toilet seat, the flush starts, and a blue light appears under the rim of the toilet bowl. Once the flush has finished, the lid closes again. I just know that I will get too used to that and forget to manually flush the toilet of the next hotel.

In the corridor leading from the door to the bedroom, is a tea station inside a mirrored cupboard, complimentary water and coffee, and a drawer full of Chinese and Western snacks.

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The enormous TV does not just have numerous channels in various languages, it also has a complete guide to the hotel, which is actually very useful.

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The mini bar is complete with a cocktail-making kit, and there is a box of complimentary chocolate biscuits.

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It is no surprise to find that everything is controllable remotely from the bed: all the lights, (including those in the bathroom), some of which are dimmable, the DO NOT DISTURB sign outside the door, the TV, the curtains, the very modern-looking telephone, and an alarm clock. As ‘gadget freaks', we both love this leading edge technology.

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Our room looks out over the shopping complex.

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My only two niggles about the room, are that I would have liked a desk and chair where I could comfortably use a laptop (I hate using it on my lap), and that the two settees are rather too low, making it difficult to get up again.

As soon as the porter arrives with the luggage, we go off to explore the rest of the hotel.

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The bags in the dressing room

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Marina Bay Sand Hotel consists of three towers topped by a skyway, which features a 150m long infinity swimming pool. It is a spectacular piece of architecture, and although we don’t generally like big hotels, I have to admit that this is rather fabulous.

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My top priority is to check out that swimming pool. Being a massive tourist attraction in Singapore, the hotel has strict security measures. From our room, we take the lift to the 22nd floor, where we change into the dedicated Skyview lift that takes us right up to the 57th floor. This area is open to pre-booked members of the public, whereas we just flash our room card to proceed.

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Looking down on the restaurant in the lobby from the corridor outside our room.

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The view over Singapore from the roof deck is stunning! I take a few photos while it is still some daylight left.

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Cruise ship in the marina

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The famous Gardens by the Bay

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Singapore is preparing to host the Formula One road race in a few days.

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Having not eaten since breakfast on the plane, I am getting rather hangry, so we try and find a restaurant that will accept us without reservation. With around 50 restaurants in the hotel complex, it should be possible.

Lavo Italian Restaurant

With just a short 15 minute wait, the first restaurant we enter (I want to be on the rooftop still) is able to fit us in.

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It would be rude not to start with cocktails: I have a Lovo Mule, while David chooses a Limonito.

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While we enjoy our pre-dinner drinks, a small dish of complimentary bread and olives arrives.

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Penne alla Vodka – onions, prosciutto, peas, and light cream sauce. The kick from extra chilli flakes makes this dish rather yummy.

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David declares his Chicken Dominick “perfect”, with white balsamic, roasted potatoes and chilli flakes.

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Spectra

Just as we have finished the main course, the nightly light show starts. We ask the server if it is OK to pop out to watch for a few minutes and take some photos.

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Back inside the AC restaurant we order another drink and peruse the dessert menu. Watching a young couple on the next table tucking into what looks like a delectable dessert, I ask them what it is. Tiramisu. On their suggestion we order one to share. It arrives with a bit of fanfare, as the waitress removes the outer casing and the dessert erupts like a volcano.


I am delighted to confirm that the tiramisu tastes every bit as good as it looks.

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Once we’ve paid, we go back out on the deck to admire the dynamic lights of Singapore by night.

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It’s been a very long, and exciting day. The initial plan was to take a cab over to the Merlion statue on the opposite side of the bay to take some photos from there of the hotel, but neither of us have the energy, so we just collapse into bed, knowing we’ll be up at 05:30 tomorrow morning.

Thank you to Undiscovered Destinations for allowing us to fit our own arrangement into this amazing Grand Tour of South East Asia.

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Posted by Grete Howard 14:36 Archived in Singapore Tagged singapore changi f1 wheelchair undiscovered_destinations night_photography marina_bay_sands_hotel leading_edge_technology formula_one_racing lavo_italian_restaurant electra_light_show simgapore_by_night Comments (3)

Doha - Desert - Singapore


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Having been up a couple of times in the night with an upset tummy, I don’t feel great this morning. It was inevitable that I would suffer from stomach problems on this trip, but I was hoping it wouldn’t start quite this early on in the journey.

We have another excursion booked through Viator today, this time out into the desert for a different side of Qatar. Bilal picks us up at 09:00, he also just messages me from the car to say he is waiting outside for us. Perhaps this is a Qatari thing – it doesn’t come across as very welcoming, though.

Al Khor Port

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In years gone by, locals used to go fishing from here; these days it is mainly Asians, although some of the boats are still owned by Qatari.

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Jazirat Bin Ghannam (Purple Island)

Known for the purple dye industry in the 2nd millennium BC, Bin Ghannam Island is the country’s oldest registered archaeological site. What we are seeing today, however, is a mangrove ecosystem, which provides habitat, food, and shelter for organisms that live on or in the bottom sediments.

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Salt flats are an important habitat for marine life, including burrowing worms, crabs, snails, and microbes living within the sand. We spot a couple of little crabs and some small fish, including this photo of a sole.

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Can you spot the sand-coloured fish?

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David's video shows the marine life better than my photos do.



The island is set beyond the city and port of Al Khor, and the mangroves reach all the way out to the sea.

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Photo from Visit Qatar website

It is said to be a great place for bird watching, with a number of migratory species passing through between August and October. Not a single bird is in attendance this morning – I guess they are hiding in the shade, and who can blame them?

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Zubara Fort

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Built in 1938, the fort functioned as a military and police post until the 1980s and was restored in 2011.

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The impressive fort, with its one-metre-thick walls, is now a museum where visitors can learn about Qatar’s history.

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Along with a nearby archaeological site, the fort was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

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David climbs the steep stairs to the roof, while I sit in the shade chatting to some fellow British tourists who are also on a stopover here in Qatar, they are on their way to Australia and Papua New Guinea.

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Located quite some distance from the sea, the fort has never come under attack. It was constructed on the orders of Sheikh Abdullah bin Jassim Al Thani to guard and protect Qatar's northwest coast. Together with a series of forts along Qatar's coastline, it formed part of a complex defence system controlling the sea and the fresh water resources of the region. What I cannot understand, is why it was built so far inland. Bilal tries to explain to me, but I still don’t quite grasp the logistics behind it.

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You can barely see the coastline from the top

Zeekreet Limestone Formations

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In an area known as Bir Zeekreet, or Ras Abrouq, are several rock formations caused by the erosion of softer sedimentary rock by strong winds and rain, leaving behind just the harder limestone skeleton exposed. The rocks here are so soft that you can scrape them away with your fingers. Not that we try.

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At 60m above sea level, this is one of the highest points in Qatar, with the tallest ‘mountain’ being only 103m high. The whole experience is quite surreal, as the surrounding area is flat, flat, flat for miles, and then suddenly these rock formations appear.

We stop at a rock known as ‘The Eye’ due to an arch covering an eye-shaped hole in the mound.

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Despite the searing heat, David and Bilal climb to the opening in the rock, while I stay in the airconditioned car.

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Back in the car, we drive over the top to the side of the Eye, where the rock dips down a little. The mound is covered in soft sand, and it reminds me of some exhilarating dune bashing we have previously done elsewhere in the Middle East.

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Continuing on our way, we spot another rock formation that has an uncanny resemblance to a lizard. Strangely enough, we almost run over a small sand-coloured lizard close by.
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Most tour agencies advertise a stop at ‘Mushroom Rock’, one of the most famous of these formations.

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Today there is a film crew here, which apparently happens quite often, so we have to make do with photographing it from a different angle.

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Camel Farm

In a nearby small settlement, we visit a camel farm where animals are kept for producing milk.

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Zeekreet Village

The linguistic meaning of Zekreet is the ‘filling of a vessel’, describing the village’s ample access to water. Archaeologists have excavated a 19th century fort and a date press here.

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The rooms dedicated to madabis (date pressing) are of the same age as the fort.

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It is hard to distinguish here where the desert ends and the beach starts. We spot several campervans on the beach – this is a popular area for weekenders.

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Back in the desert, Bilal suddenly stops, reverses back for a bit, and gets out of the car. He has seen a small wild watermelon plant. As well as picking up a tiny fruit, he pours a whole bottle of water over the plant to give it a chance to grow.

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East West, West East

This unique art installation was created by America’s most famous living sculptor, Richard Serra, following a commission by Sheikha al-Mayassa al-Thani.

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Consisting of four standing steel plates, the artwork is said to celebrate man’s frailty in the face of nature’s immensity.

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The four plates, which are four metres wide, but only about 10cm thick (as you can see below), are arranged at regular intervals in a straight line for around one kilometre in the desert along the East-West compass points.

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The height of the pillars varies between 14 and 16 metres to allow for the different elevations of the terrain as the tops of the slabs are calibrated to be exactly even with one another.

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The installation is constructed from German steel, chosen for the different shades and hues it acquires while rusting. Erected less than 10 years ago, in 2014, the plates are already showing a significant amount of rust.

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Apart from a security guard in a car, posted to protect the installation from vandals, we are alone. Standing close to the plates, we can feel the heat radiating from the metal. Touching it is not recommended.

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Retiring to the car to get out of the blistering heat, Bilial serves us some refreshing tropical juice, and a couple of packets of local biscuits as a small car picnic. In this heat a large meal in the middle of the day is not required – or even desired – so this is ‘just what the doctor ordered’.

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Al Shahaniya Camel Racetrack

Camels are big business all over the Middle East, and Qatar has a long tradition of racing camels. In the old days, families would run their camels up and down the street at special occasions such as weddings, which then later developed into a sport.

The track was constructed in 1972 by the previous king and features three race tracks at differing lengths (4/6/8 kilometres). These days camels do not carry jockeys, but are led by robots operated remotely by the owners. With no race meeting taking place today, there is very little to photograph, and I do as the locals do: refuse to get out of the car!

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Warwick Hotel

Back at base, the security guards let us slip in without passing through the body scanners – we must be VIPs now! Ha!

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After a snooze and a shower, we visit the restaurant – still no Qatari food.

We order from the menu this evening – I choose biriyani with chicken, while David has nasi goreng with chicken.

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David's nasi goreng

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My chicken biriyani. Two large chicken pieces are hidden underneath the rice, making it a huge portion.

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My biriyani is accompanied by a refreshing raita

Both dishes are very good, I particularly like the crispy fried onion on top.

Doha Airport

We order an Uber to take us to the airport for our flight onwards to Singapore. On arrival, I ask the porter outside where I can find a wheelchair, and he not only rushes off to bring me one, he also pushes me to the check-in desk.

The lady at the counter is very kind and attaches ‘First Class’ tags onto our luggage.

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I change into another wheelchair to the waiting area, then a buggy to the meeting point, and a new chair to the gate. We go through a lovely indoor garden, with tall trees and flowering plants, piped bird song, and a complete wall of water.

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On the mezzanine floor, there is a train leading to some of the gates. The airport is huge, but surprisingly quiet at this time of night (midnight)

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There is a long, long wait at the gate for the porter to arrive, and we are getting a little concerned when all the other groups have finished boarding, including Business Class. A delicious coffee ice cream – one of the best ice creams I have ever had – helps to pass the time.

Eventually the porter turns up, and wheels me out to the bus, which takes us on what appears to be a convoluted journey to the plane. The plane seems to be very much higher than usual, I guess normally when I have boarded an Airbus in the past, it has been via a tunnel, not the 35 steep steps from the tarmac. Thankfully I don’t have to, as we go up in the lift, and are the very last to board.

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The flight is anything but pleasant, with my knees, coccyx, foot, back and hip all hurting at some stage. After the rather ghastly wet chicken sandwich served earlier in the flight, I make a point of missing the main meal, instead taking extra painkillers which means that I manage to get some sleep. When I wake up we will be approaching Singapore, which will be the subject of the next blog entry.

Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this incredible trip of a lifetime for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 17:31 Archived in Qatar Tagged fish fishing desert fort airport the_eye unesco limestone crabs fishing_boats qatar rock_formations marine_life mangroves wheelchair doha watermelon filming viator undiscovered_destinations check-in qatar_airways upset_tummy camel_farm richard_serra warwick_hotel al_khor_port purple_island jazirat_bin_ghannam purple_dye zubara al_zubarah zubara_fort zeekreet abrouq mushroom_rock watermelon_plant east_west_west_east art_installation al_shahaniya_race_track camel_racing biriyani nasi_goreng doha_airport wheelchair_travel Comments (4)

Doha


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Breakfast at Warwick Hotel

We both slept really well last night, and got up at 6am this morning for some breakfast. There is an extensive buffet with lots of choices including baked beans and chicken livers, plus eggs to order, which unfortunately we have to remind them about as they seem to have forgotten.

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The food from the buffet is barely warm, with the bread still only slightly tanned after four rounds in the toaster. The salt is refusing to leave the shaker, and the orange juice is so pale and sweet that I would never have known it was orange (the urn needs stirring, I think, as it looks darker at the bottom). All in all, the breakfast is a rather sad affair.

City Tour

As Undiscovered Destinations (who arranged this whole tour for us) do not have any contacts in Qatar, I booked this day trip myself through Viator. We wait in the lobby at the pick-up time and see a car pull up just beyond the door. As no one gets out of the vehicle to collect us, we assume it is not for us. A couple of minutes later I get a WhatsApp message to let us know he is here. I feel a little peeved that he hasn’t even got the courtesy to get out of his car to meet us in reception.

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National Museum of Qatar – AKA Desert Rose

Inspired by the iconic Desert Rose crystal, found in the desert surrounding the city, the building was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and opened in 2019. “Qatar has a deep rapport with the desert, with its flora and fauna, its nomadic people, its long traditions. To fuse these contrasting stories, I needed a symbolic element. Eventually, I remembered the phenomenon of the desert rose: crystalline forms, like miniature architectural events, that emerge from the ground through the work of wind, salt water, and sand,” said Nouvel about his design.

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A desert rose crystal we brought home from the Sahara on one of our travels a long time ago. You can see the similarities with the architectural design

In addition to the unique architecture, the building features a 220-seat auditorium, two restaurants, a café and a traditional food forum. Unfortunately, today being Friday, the museum is closed. We are, however, permitted to walk around the (deserted) area to take photographs. Sajid, our guide, does not leave his car, he makes his explanations before we get out. I can totally understand that, as it is 40 °C already at 9 am.

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There are no straight lines anywhere, and we explore the various areas, totally in awe of the architecture.

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Doha Old Port

The Old Doha Port area was transformed and reshaped into a marina for cruise ships ready for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, and is now a thriving and colourful area, with over 50 cafés and restaurants (some converted from old shipping containers), 100 shops, and 150 hotel apartments.

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The area is now known as Mina District

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I love the Mediterranean feel of the hotel area.

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We see some luxury yachts moored here too.

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974 Stadium

In 2022, Doha hosted the World Cup, and this is one of the many stadiums built for the occasion. It is so named as it was constructed of 974 containers, which is also the telephone country code for Qatar. It was designed so that it could be deconstructed reasonably easily. It will be used again for the Asian Cup in January 2024, after which it will travel to South America as Uruguay bought the stadium at a recent auction.

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Chabrat al Mina Fish Market

Again Sajid stays in the car (in fact he doesn’t get out at any point during our tour) while we wander around the very clean – and beautifully air-conditioned indoor market.

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The hall has a beautifully tiled floor, counters and benches, and a stained glass ceiling

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Detail of the ceiling

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One of the pretty benches

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Detail of wall decoration

The produce looks fresh and appetising.

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Prawns

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Shrimps

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Faskar

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Parrot Fish

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Kanad Khpat

We continue to a viewpoint looking across the water to the Doha skyline.

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Some cool modern architecture. The pyramid-looking building on the right-hand side is the Sheraton Hotel, the oldest hotel in Doha, from 1992. It's amazing to think that all the other hotels in the city are less than 30 years old. This area is known as West Bay.

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Selfie point leftover from the World Cup

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Our car for the day

As we travel through this modern town, Sajid will often slow down enough so that I can practise what I call my ‘drive by shooting’ – taking photos from a moving car.

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Museum of Islamic Art - designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect I.M. Pei, best known for the glass pyramid at the Louvre in Paris

Katara Cultural Village

Known as Doha’s go-to destination for art, culture, and cuisine, the area is deserted today.

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Traditional bird towers provide shelter from the sun, food, and water; the guano is collected and used as fertiliser, and it helps to keep birds (pigeons and doves in particular) away from residential areas.

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Katara Mosque was designed by the Turkish architect Zeynep Fadilloglu, who is believed to be the first female architect to specialise in mosques.

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Katara man-made beach. The beach is closed to visitors when the temperature exceeds 40 °C.

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Galleries Lafayette - an upmarket and expensive shopping centre

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A toy shop in the shape of a gift-wrapped present

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A transformer stands at the base of the building

Falcon Information Centre

The most striking building in Katara, is the Giant Hood, which houses interactive multimedia exhibits for visitors wishing to learn about the rich heritage of Qatar falconry. Also in the complex is the oldest veterinary clinic for falcons in the Middle East. Falcons are part of the core culture of Qatar, and hoods are used as a way of controlling the birds and keeping them calm.

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Corniche

This 7-kilometre-long seaside promenade is overflowing with restaurants, clubs, parks, and cultural attractions. Today it is eerily quiet. And hot.

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Pearl Island

Constructed on a former pearl-diving site, this 4 square kilometres island of reclaimed land, is divided into three main areas.

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Porto Arabia

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Qanat Quartier
Venice-inspired neighbourhood with its colourful buildings, 1.6km of canals, and foot-bridges, including a replica of Rialto Bridge.

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Crescent Tower, Lusail

Also known as Katara Tower, this 211-metre high building was constructed and opened in time for the 2022 World Cup. The towers are described as an architectural translation of Qatar’s national seal, representing the traditional scimitar swords. One of the towers houses Fairmont Hotel, and on the other side, you will find Raffles Hotel.

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Lunch – or is that afternoon tea?

Sajid drops us off back at Warwick Hotel in time for us to have a late lunch. As we don’t want a big meal (it is too hot to eat much), we wander down to the cafeteria on the ground floor. There are no customers and no-one serving, so we ask at reception.

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The security guard ambles over after a while. “You want service?” Hmm, really? I would have thought that would be obvious. He goes off, but returns a few minutes later. “You want coffee?” We explain, as we did to the receptionist, that we would like something to eat. Finally, a young lady arrives, and we order a pot of something, and what looks a little like a Portuguese pastel de nata.

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The tart is quite pleasant, whereas the pot of yogurt with fruit and nuts is not as nice as it looks.

There is a selection of ice creams behind the counter, so we have a couple of scoops each. I go for vanilla and cooking and cream, whereas David chooses chocolate and coffee.

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We retire to the room and check the outside temperature on the phone. Hmm, no wonder Sajid didn’t want to leave the comfort of the air-conditioned car during our city tour this morning.

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Bureaucracy

One of the problems with travelling to so many countries in one trip, is the entry formalities for each country. These days they are mostly online, but often require you to complete the application no more than 72 hours before arrival. This means that we were not able to sort all the necessary permissions and paperwork prior to leaving the UK. We spend this afternoon completing the application forms for Arrival Cards for Singapore.

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Dinner

Wanting a change from last night’s disappointing restaurant, we head for the Italian place on the ground floor. It is closed for a private function: the birthday party for a 1-year-old. The entrance is covered in balloons and there is a large poster of the birthday-girl with her picture and name.

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The original plan was to get a taxi down to the souq, grab some food in a restaurant there, as recommended by Sajid, and then head down to the waterside to take some photos of reflections of the city at night. With the current temperatures, however, neither of us has any inclination to leave the air conditioning and head out, so we end up in the French restaurant from last night.

We try the buffet tonight, and I pick some Middle Eastern Dishes: kibbe in labneh, kebab khashkhash, and chicken in BBQ sauce. Although not a great fan of buffets, I have to admit that it is all very good.

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The dessert buffet looks amazing.

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What I love about it, is the fact that each of the dishes is so small (mostly around 3cm square), which means I can try a few different ones without feeling (too) guilty.

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Thank you Undiscovered Destinations for arranging this once-in-a-lifetime trip for us.

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Posted by Grete Howard 11:47 Archived in Qatar Tagged fish architecture mosque beach breakfast port stadium qatar buffet world_cup toast bureaucracy ice_cream doha kebab corniche fish_market fifa pearl_island viator undiscovered_destinations raffles_hotel labneh dessert_buffet national_museum_of_qatar desert_rose kibbe khashkhash warwick_hotel jean_nouvel doha_old_port shipping_containers mina_district 974_stadium chabrat_al_mina bird_towers pigeon_towers katara man_made_beach zeynep_fadilloglu falcon_information_centre porto_arabia qanat_quartier crescent_tower lusaiil katara_tower fairmont_hotel singapore_arrival_form Comments (5)

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