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Transmigration in Central Sulawesi

Central Sulawesi has been tortured by violence between Christians and Muslims. The area around Lake Poso is certainly worth a visit, but tourism has reduced to near zero here.

The bus ride from Rantepao is along one again. We are picked up at 8.30 AM, but leave town at 9.45.Eel traps in Lake Poso While we are waiting we meet the Canadian Daniel and the Englishman Oliver, who are taking the same bus as us and the Swiss girl Fabienne. We bought a ticket to Pendolo at Lake Poso, Daniel and Oliver move on to Tentena, on the other side of the lake.

When the bus starts moving it starts winding the mountain roads again, breaking and accelerating all the time. We don't even mind the lunch break at 11 AM. After another hour of winding roads the sea appears, and the road becomes flat. In Palopo the bus stops. It's Friday and so the nearby mosque is probably full with the passengers the bus is waiting for. Especially Daniel and Oliver fear they will arrive in Tentena in the middle of the night. But people assure us that the bus is still on schedule.

After a few hours along the coast the bus moves up again into the mountains. We get to see some of the unique Sulawesi nature. Some of the plants and trees that grow here are seen nowhere else. Just before dark we stop at a waterfall along the road. And when we stop a few hours later for dinner, we ask how far we need to go. It appears that Pendolo is only 7 kilometers away. It's a mystery to us why buses always make a stop just before arrival.

Arrival at Lake Poso

Ferry on Lake PosoWe are dropped off in the dark on the lakeside, where there are supposed to be a few guesthouses. Oliver and Daniel leave the bus as well, it's 8 PM and Tentena is still far away. We find a room at Victoria hotel, just beside the ferry which is leaving the next morning at 7 AM to Tentena.

The night is a restless one under the mosquitonet, which we installed because of the huge cockroaches we found in our room. When we wake up, we have to hurry to catch the ferry, so we see very little of the town of Pendolo. What we do see are a few burned down houses. These are the result of the recent violence between Muslims and Christians in the area. Although it appears to be safe now, it's not a pretty sight.

The ferry to Tentena is lovely. We sit on top of the roof enjoying the view over the lake and the mountains around it. After 2,5 hours we arrive in Tentena, where we search for a place to stay. But the hotels in our guide are either closed, abandoned, or very expensive. We finally find a homestay on the other side of town.

Homestay Eu Datu is run by an English speaking local young man. As a coincidence, the Dutch owners of the homestay will pay a visit this afternoon. The young manager is very nervous but kind, and the staff is terrible. The meal we are served in the afternoon is not very good, and our dinner is even worse. We advise the manager not to serve this to the owners. But the next morning at breakfast, we hear the owners complain.

Christian Tentena

Tentena and Lake PosoTentena is a lovely village. The people aren't pushy, and the "Hello Mister" sounds more friendly than we heard elsewhere. The people here are Christians, and because it's Sunday we hear the singing from the churches. Later, from a viewpoint near the lake, we can also see a mosque, but after the violence, the Muslims here have gone. In nearby Poso, it's the other way around, the Christians there have moved out.

When we ask for the reasons of the recent violence, the locals refer to the transmigration the Indonesian government is pursuing. People in overcrowded Java are urged to move to less populated islands within the archipelago. But they do not consider the cultural and religious differences between the different islands. Sooner or later, riots occur, which happened not only on Sulawesi, but also on the Maluku islands and Kalimantan.

Taking the bemo to the falls

Unfortunately, we have no time to visit Lore Lindu national park. Instead, we decide to visit the waterfalls near Tentena. At the new bridge across the river we get into a crowded bemo. The other passengers just return from the market and carry boxes and bags full of stuff. Bemos in Indonesia bring the people to their front door, so we make several detours. But at every stop we have more room in the little van, so we won't complain.

When we are the last ones in the bemo, it makes a detour for us as well to drop us off at the waterfalls, some 3 kilometers from the main road where it would normally stop. There is a small cabin where they would use to charge visitors to the waterfalls, but it is abandoned now. There are not enough tourists left to make a living we guess. Behind the cabin we cross a small bridge over a stream, and follow a path into the jungle. Once in the jungle we cross another stream, this time without a bridge, and we follow that stream until we reach the waterfalls.

The waterfalls near TentenaBecause of the small stream we expect to see a few small rapids. But instead, we are surprised by an enormous water spectacle. Over many large round rocks the water thunders down, where it is divided into many small streams, like the one we followed. We are gazing at the scene, but also notice the rubbish lying around. The picknick area beneath the waterfalls is full of cans, paper, and plastic.

Left of the waterfalls is a path upwards, where more waterfalls can be admired. We cross the water, balancing on the rocks, and climb up. At first via a concrete stairway, but after that via tree roots in the jungle. We are awarded with one beautiful waterfall after another. At a certain point it seems we cannot go further, but via another path we can, and we arrive at a natural swimming pond, including a natural Jacuzzi. Here we stay and relax for a while.

Plantations and Rice Fields

When we are finished bathing we slip and slide down through the jungle and to the road. This time we have to walk to the main road, but we enjoy the views while we pass several plantations and rice fields. Suddenly, a bemo arrives from the opposite directions, but it turns around and brings us back to Tentena. Public transport in Indonesia works just fine this way.

The rest of the day we spend buying bus tickets and relaxing. From the veranda we can see how the manager of the homestay is busy with the Dutch owner. They are walking around, pointing out what needs to be changed, which is quite a lot. But the manager is willing to work, which is recognised by the owner. Later, the manager calls us to show a big eel he caught in the river. It will probably be fed to his important guests this evening.

We also dare to try the restaurant again, and under the influence of the Dutch owners, it has been improved immensely. But there is not enough beer in stock to stay up late. So after hearing the battle with the cockroaches at our neighbours, we go to bed early.

Via Poso to Palu

After three days in Tentena, we move on to Palu. The bus is full of locals, and the road is going down until Poso. When we are near Poso, more burned down houses can be seen, and we realise the violence here must have been excessive. In Poso, the situation is not different, but we can still see some churches which are intact. We wonder whether there are no Christians left.

From Poso the bus moves over flat terrain along the coast north. Slowly, the burned down houses make room for nice houses with Hindu temples in the gardens. Apparently, this part of Sulawesi is mainly populated with Hindu people from Bali. The gardens are a pretty sight, but we wonder if this transmigration will also lead to problems.

When we are far enough north we have to cross the mountain range to get to the other coast at Palu. Although there is a stop half-way, the winding roads lead to nausea, especially with the locals. One of them is puking near the doorway, and another one out an open window. Unfortunately, some of the puke enters the bus again via another open window. After a few hours, we reach the other coast and Palu, and we are all glad to leave the bus.


The bus station appears to be a few kilometres out of town. Via a bemo we travel these, and we are dropped right in front of the hotel of our choice. The hotel must have seen more visitors in the past than it has now. An old lady helps us, but doesn't speak any English. The room isn't very clean, but finding another place would probably not be easy, so we take it. At least the people here are very friendly.

Palu is just another big city. Most of the people here are Muslim, although there is a church right beside our hotel. We spend our time on the Internet and with finding information about the boat to Kalimantan. The following morning we buy our tickets and take a bemo to the harbor of Panteloan, from where the boat to Kalimantan leaves with a few hours delay.

In Cetral Sulawesi we saw the consequences of the Indonesian policy of transmigration. A lot of burned houses, and villages occupied by only Muslims or only Christians, where they used to live peacefully next to each other. Still, the people are very nice, and are tired of the violence. But later, we hear that another bomb exploded on a bus near Poso. It will probably take a lot of time before tourism in this beautiful part of Sulawesi is back to its old level.

Follow our World Journey!! Next Stop: To Malaysia to extend our visa
Return from Central Sulawesi to Southeast Asia
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