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The road to Rantepao
Idyllic ascend to the highlands

Outside Parepare the road heads of Rantepao inmland and starts to ascend steeply, into the hills. Every now and then there is a nice view on the city below, with shiny tin roofs of mosques. Behind that is the sea with it's high rock formations. Houses are replaced by farmlands as the road ascends on a series of low hills, through picturesque villages and scattered fields with rice, corn and tapioca. Bananas, papaya and breadfruits are abundant. The road is surrounded with stalls of bamboo and wood, with high stacks of fruits and vegetables. Then a splendid view to the east all of a sudden announces the short descent to the plain.
Shortly afterwards the road reaches the plain near the village of Lawada, where it splits: the road to the left brings you to ricefields - the most important source of ricestock of South-Sulawesi - to the market village of RTapang. To the right you will go to Sidrap and Palopo. The tough peaks can be seen at the horison. Along the side of the road are women weaving colorfull silk in the shade of their houses.
Rapang is an attractive little town with tree-embraced streets. Rattan furniture is sold in the wooden shops. On the market day the town comes to life, when trucks filled with products and cattle with large horns are brought in. Upon leaving Rapang you can maybe see a Buginese wedding, to be recognised by the sunscreens in front of the window, the loads of people in their best silk sarungs and the loudspeakers which play music and announce speeches.

Picture: Buffalo ride

Past Rapang even more ricefields. The road gets smaller in the foothils, where bamboo grows between small cultivated valleys, and where you can find a house in the forest every now and then. In the neighborhood of Kabere you can see Sungai Sa'dan for the first time, wide and brown after the long trip through the mountains. The next stop is Enrekang, where Sungai Sa'dan and Sungai Mata Allo merge. It's a mainly islamic city; along the aorad are impressive mosques and pesantren (islamic religious schools). Enrekang is also famous for it's dangke, a cheese-like delicatesse made from buffalo milk and available in the biggest losmen which overviews the river and the bridge.
Beyond Enrekang the road narrows when it starts is steep ascend into the mountains. In the wet season road construction crews and landslides battle for the roads; in recent years many fast-growing trees have been planted on the steepest slopes to prevent them from washing away. This part of the trip offers splendid panoramic views of rough mountains and valleys, with villages stuck onto the steep hills. A stop in Kotu gives you the possiblity to buy a baje, a local favorite of sticky rice and palmsugar, wrapped in sheets of rice.

Heavenly stairs, erotic mountain

This area is known as Bamba Puang, to the spectacular mountain which dominates the area. The area is rich of mythical and historical meaning. According to legends of the Toraja, the first humans descended from the heaven at this place. Next the gods threw down the stairs and it broke. Elderly Toraja can point the pieces, they have now become rocky terrain. In the early 20th century the mountains formed the background of fights with the Dutch troops with tried to occupy the area.
About 20 km past Enrekang, along the other side of the western cliff, is the Butu Kabobong ('erotic mountain'). it is said that the terrain on the slopes of the mountan looks like the male and female genitals. Local legends tell how an incestuous couple was punished and turned into stone. The stones were put aside, separated forever by a river.
Several kilometers beyond Butu Kabobong is Puncak Lakawan, where modest restaurants offer wide views over the deforested valleys and mountain ranges. Strong coffee and tastefull local dishes give you the much needed power to make the three hour trip to Rantepao. In the limestone hills across the river are old gravetombs with excavated chambers which contain old coffins. Who wants to have a closer look at them, has to drive to Cakke and then take the road to the right towards Barakka. After three kilometers you will find the gravetombs at the left side.
After the restaurant, the road continues it's ascend along crop fields where silk-catarpillars are grown, towards Salubarani. This is the entrance to Tana Toraja, at an altitude of 800 meters. The road runs though a concrete porch which features a miniature tongkonan. On top of the porch you have a view over the river and the city. The residents of this area are more attached to maintaining the traditions of the Toraja than others, because ideas as well as many other things, don't spread very quickly through this area. The Toraja are mainly Christian, but this southern area has a higher percentage os muslems and aluk to dolo.
Eventually the road reaches a hilly plain with clove fields, pineforests and every once in a while a ricefield. After that it slowly descends to the valleys of Makale and Rantepao. From Makale it ascends again into the small and narrow valley, eroded by Sungai Sa'dan, which seems very peacefull. The early morning fog hangs over the quiet villages, settled between green ricefields and fast flowing streams. Where the road nears Rantepao, woodcarved tongkonan complete this beautifull image. Here is Tana Toraja.

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