High in the volcanic mountains of Sulawesi, just scraping the underside of the clouds, is a land for both the living and the dead. In the West we tend to fear our mortality and hide away the corporeal reminders, but in Tanah Toraja I found myself sitting on a cliffside ledge, watching little boys play in front of the skulls of their ancestors.

* * *

The air cools and the roads narrow as you gain altitude, climbing further up the jagged spine of the island. Signs advertising beer start to appear on the roadside shops and warungs, signposting a transition from a Muslim area to one where the people profess a mix of Christianity and the old beliefs.


I have a phone number and a map location. My friend Aditya in Makassar has sent me off northward with an introduction to a friend of his, a fellow biker who lives up here in the mountains. Tony is orang Toraja, and on the hill opposite his home, the ancient village of Kete Kesu houses his ancestors in ornate tombs and ossuaries.

Since this is Indonesia, where bikers are family, I have an invitation to stay at Tony’s place and my only challenge is finding it. After a few wrong turns, I have success: the rain is just starting to fall as I find Tony and park the bike in front of one of his cousin’s houses. Tony’s place is built further up the hill – one modern style home in a row of traditional Toraja houses – but the track is too slippery to get the bike up there in the rain.

No problem: the bike is safe here. Tony and some of his cousins help me carry my bags up the hill. He is a bachelor, but he lives surrounded by family. It’s almost a family compound, with a row of ordinary houses facing a row of traditional meeting houses.


Tony’s place – when the sun came out later.

Soon I am comfortably installed in a spare bedroom at Tony’s place. My damp boots have been set out to dry and I dig into my pack to find the gift that I’m carrying for Tony from Aditya. It’s a fabulous orange riding jersey commemorating a ride up the length and breadth of Sulawesi. They had stopped and visited with Tony on their way through Tana Toraja too, and the jersey is a thank you gift.


On the back, it says ‘TUA’ – ostensibly an acronym for ‘Together, United, Adventure’ but of course ‘tua’ also means old. It’s a cheeky stab at the age of the your average big bike adventure rider, and I love it. I look forward to aging into mine.

Thanks Tony, thanks Aditya – you’re both legends.


4 thoughts on “Arrival in Tana Toraja

  1. Gareth McGrillan says:

    Hopeful you’re settled in for a few days break!
    Keep her lit!

    1. Yep, not going anywhere too soon – I got a cold to nurse haha… all sniffly and feeling like a pussy haha!

  2. Riel says:

    Thanks for continuing to take us along.

    Perhaps when you are ready to put a bow around it all send Mike your manuscript: http://www.roaddogpub.com/

    You will surely inspire others.

    1. Thanks very much! And very glad to know that you’re enjoying the ride.

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