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    Tour of Duty in Minahasa - North Sulawesi - Indonesia

    When Alfred Russel Wallace, that paragon of English endeavour and observation, toured though this region in the 1850s, he noted that "the little town of Menado [sic] is one of the prettiest in the East...To the west and south the country is mountainous, with groups of fine volcanic peaks 6,000 or 7,000 feet high, forming grand and picturesque backgrounds to the landscape."

    Those fine volcanic peaks that he talks of are the Minahasa highlands. North Sulawesi is the only part of this strangely sprawling island that has volcanoes, and they are magnificent smokey beasts to behold. Nestled as it between two active volcanoes (one of which, Lokon, is given to erupting every few years, the last one was in May, 2001, showering Manado and surrounding areas with ash) itís little surprise that the name of the village means ďpeople who prayĒ. Even the most casual observer will notice that North Sulawesi has a proliferation of churches, many of them seemingly stuck at various stages of construction. Given their precarious situation though itís no surprise that the people of Tomohon were given to praying more than most.

    For energetic travellers a trek to the top of either of Tomohonís two adjacent peaks, Lokon or Mahawu, will both challenge and reward you with spectacular views. On a clear morning from the rim of Mahawuís steaming crater we got a birdís eye view of the whole region right down to the city of Manado and Bunaken island to the north and as far as Bitung and Mt Duasaudara to the east.

    The fertile soils of the Minahasa highlands have made them some of the most productive for agriculture, and it seems everywhere you look up here are neat rows of cabbages, carrots, spring onions and other vegetables that eventually find their way to the Tomohon market, and later onto dining tables around the region.

    Lake Linow in Minahasa, North Sulawesi Being volcanic highlands you might also expect to see some highland lakes, and you wonít be disappointed. Lake Tondano is the largest and most well known, with its colourful restaurants built on stilts over the water for a fresh seafood lunch. Then thereís the remarkable Lake Linow fed by a steaming volcanic spring, on a hot day it is famed for its colour changes from deep blue to turquoise, green and sulfur yellow. Also nearby is Kali waterfall. Just a short drive from Tomohon, from the carpark itís a moderately energetic walk along a narrow path which winds through some luxuriant rainforest. The waterfall itself has a charming fairy tale quality to it with an arched bridge having been put in place and the rock walls around are covered with beard moss blowing in the breeze and spray from the powerful falls. Best to take a raincoat and something cover your camera.

    Around two hours drive from Tomohon is one of the most remarkable cultural sites of all North Sulawesi. In the village of Sawangan in the Airmadidi district you will find a collection of stone sarcophagi. Varying in age, the oldest reportedly dates back as far as 900AD. The Waruga as they are called consist two distinct parts; the hollowed out square or rectangular base, and a rooflike lid into which some have carved scenes depicting the life, and sometimes death of the occupant. According to the wizened old crone who tends the grounds here, the oldest of the sarcophagi have no decorations. It was only a relatively recent practice, from 1700s on, to add the low relief carvings. One scene clearly shows a woman giving birth and suggests that she must have died during labour. Surrounded by gnarled frangipani trees this is an eery place, especially when you consider that the dead were not buried underground but merely placed, inside the vessel in a fetal position squatting atop a china plate. An outbreak of cholera and tuberculosis in the early 1800s meant that the Dutch colonial government outlawed the practice, and many of the waruga from around the region were gathered up and relocated to Sawangan. There are now 144 of them gathered together here, and a small museum was added which displays some ceramics, and huge copper jewellery (bracelets and necklaces) which were used to adorn the otherwise naked bodies.

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    by der Willy

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    Video by: nixland

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2011