I move around fast when I'm researching for Lonely Planet but every now and then there's something I want to do so badly, I'll slow down and make time for it. The trek between Mamasa and Tana Toraja on the culturally-overloaded island of Sulawesi in Indonesia, was one of those things. There are two ways to get to Tana Toraja from Mamasa: a 13-hour barf-inducing bus ride over pot-holed mountain roads, or a three-day hike through a region of boat-shaped roofs, terraced rice fields, isolated villages and jungle mountains. Walking it seemed like the obvious choice.
Traditional Mamasa houses
Unfortunately for my travel buddy Emre, the long, long trip began straight from the airport. Her flight from Turkey arrived in Makassar, Sulawesi's capital, in the early morning and I hadn't been able to reach her via email to tell her the plan, so at 5am I met her at the gate, explained what we were doing (in hopes she was OK with this which fortunately she was) and took her directly to a bus station. The minibus from Makassar to Mamasa was a rickety, non-air-con tin can of a rumbler that was soon jammed packed with clove cigarette smoking locals, big boxes stuffed with food supplies and two giant television sets. It took over 14 hours to get to Mamasa, and half that time was spent bumping over the last 60km on a rutted dirt road that wound like a coil up into the mountains.
It was dark when we arrived so it wasn't until morning that we awoke to the green-hills and cool temperatures of Mamasa Village where we had a day to explore by motorbike. The traditional roofed houses here are similar to the famous, dramatically arched ones of Tana Toraja but are less curved and shorter so they don't pack such a punch. The biggest difference however between these oft-compared regions is that Mamasa has hardly any tourists. So while popular Torajan villages are swarming with photo-snapping visitors and insistent hawkers, in Mamasa families invite you in for tea and everyone wants to chat. We saw no other foreigners and were welcomed everywhere like royalty. It was magic.
The lunch crew - near Mamasa Village
We spent the night before our trek began in a traditional house where we soon discovered the reality of what we were in for. There are no mattresses in Mamasa, just thick quilts on the floor and a synthetic blanket to cover you. It was so freezing that first night that Emre and I ended up under the "mattress" to keep warm. The floor with or without this light padding felt equally hard. Dinner had been noodle soup with hunks of home-butchered, gamey-tasting pork floating in it, that tasted as if it had been sitting in storage (no refrigeration) a bit too long. Emre puked hers up in the middle of the night. Dogs howled and a mosquito kept buzzing in my ear even though it felt far too cold for them to survive here. Neither Emre or I got more than a few hours of sleep.
Our house the first night
But rest or no rest, we were up by six, breakfasted on sugary tea and omelets, said good bye to our smiling hosts promising we had slept marvelously, and were off to theoretically walk up hill until the end of the day. We had no idea what we were going to encounter and that was just fine.