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Sulawesi 2012

Indonesia is the country that has compelled me more than any other; I became who I am today thanks to a happy chance of encountering my first ikat textiles from Borneo and Sumba hanging on a friend’s wall in Marin County on the last day of 1976. I was told to go there and find out about them, perhaps the best advice I ever received, and go I did and have been exploring ever since.

Sulawesi has always held a special place in my heart above almost all other places, near and far, and it was a return to the valleys of the megaliths that brought my friends Joanne Leach and Imron Chan with me. The first of my 60th birthday year megalith expeditions is described earlier, if you scroll down a bit to the images titled Central Sulawesi 2011. There you will find an introduction to this remote destination. 

This time, we made our way from Makassar, home of the famed wood sailboats that ply the seas up to the Toraja highlands and across to Mamasa, a relatively isolated sub culture of the Toraja. From there we foolishly took a short cut across a dirt track, called the forbidden road for a reason. With a cliff road collapsing behind and a flash flood blocking the way before us, we had to make peace with the fact we were not going anywhere until that monsoon rainstorm had passed…it was a blessing when we finally made our way to the coast, where we followed Jalan Trans Sulawesi from Mamuju to Palu. From there the challenge got even tougher as described by this report I prepared at the time:

This was the peak of our North Sulawesi megalith expedition...literally and figuratively. The hardest point in the whole trip, the greatest suffering, the greatest reward! 

After clambering for hours across a changing landscape that at times had to be opened with a machete wielded by our local guide (who looked much like a Cheyenne Indian), we first achieved ancient stone cisterns mid-way up the jungle trail...they were probably ancient burial jars or water containers, our trail sometimes doubling as a river beneath our feet (forget my new shoes!), other times sinking into quicksand, pulling on vines to get up the slippery rain soaked path, humid, hot, swatting malarial mosquitoes and deep in the dark rain forest, we saw the god-king come up on the horizon in a clearing...just a few more steps, then sliding back, and a few more, we finally made it to the crest...I include myself in the shot to give a sense of scale. Note the site-specific Besoa Valley stylized almond eyes. 

"Wrap it up, I'll take it!" I said, catching my breath! 

But better it stays where it is and has been for a thousand years...This place is so remote that even Google maps has a hard time finding it! 

It was the most fun I have had in a long time...but at times it seemed like total misery! 

However, in the moment this shot was taken, I managed to forget about all the aches, pains and bruises; it was easy to smile for the camera having gone that far! But my dread kicked in shortly after when I realized I was going to have to go down again, and that is another story...

We ended up seeing about 15 of these figures in the Besoa and Napu Valleys which completed as much as possible the mission started with my expedition to the Bada Valley last November memorialized on my birthday party invitation card of last year. And so this adventure comes to a close and another opens...

Next stop, The Silk Road! I will be there in 3 days!