Our Professor had just arrived in Makassar the night before, so we met him in the hotel lobby for a quick breakfast at 0730, before we set off for Malino Highlands to visit the tea plantation. We had read about Dr John's work, and were definitely eager to learn from him and his wealth of knowledge.
The drive to our destination took about 2 hours. During which, we managed to observe the amazing Indonesian traffic - somehow, with little traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, the city's transport system still managed to function. Even though cars were moving in different directions, we had not observed any traffic accidents in our entire trip. As we were headed straight out of the city, however, the urban landscape was traded in for a much scenic one. Our route up the mountain was lined by lush green fields and cloudless blue skies, and the rythmic soft jerking of the bus gently rocked me to sleep. When I awoke, we were driving uphill towards the top of the mountain. Our driver, Herman, dropped us off near the top of the mountain, where we paid an entrance fee of 50,000 rp per person. The air in the mountains was cool and crisp, a nice respite from the heat of the city. The view there was picturesque to say the least, and I could see why so many recommended this place. We could have stayed for hours, watching the clouds shift, casting light on different parts of the plantation. The way the sunlight played on the fields was captivating.
As we followed that path down the plantation, we saw a sign that said "mini zoo". Intrigued, we followed it, and came to an elevated enclosure with a single crocodile in it, lazing by a muddy pool of water. Since mountains were not the natural habitat of crocodiles, it was likely that it was poached elsewhere and brought up here. We took a quick glance around, and did not see any other enclosures, thus were quite amused that this "mini zoo" in question had a singular main attraction of the severely out-of-place crocodile. As we walked further down the path, however, we saw another enclosure, this time sunken into the ground. It was a Southern Cassowary. This curious looking flightless bird was huge, and had feathers so thin and long that it was almost fur-like. It had a pair of pretty pink long wattles, and a long neck of a vibrant, striking blue and pink colours. The feathers on its body were a shiny black. By far, its most captivating feature was perhaps its eyes. They were large and golden, which looked very different from most birds we usually see around Singapore. Dr John commented that we were looking at dinosaur eyes.
Further down the walking path, we saw in cages, some black tailess monkeys, and the Sulawesi Bear Cuscus. The cuscus bear was a curious looking creature, with yellow eyes and a small face, a little like a sloth. This docile creature fed on leaves, and had a huge and strong tail that it used to grip branches. It was facinating to watch this creature we've never seen, just casually munching on leaves. The tailess monkeys were also really playful, and one of them even snatched a stick from Yilin.
As some of us stayed to play with the monkeys, some headed further into the mini zoo. A friendly keeper beckoned us over, and led us into an area with more animals. There were eagles and parrots in some large cages. Unfortunately, as the signs were weathered through and written in bahasa, we were unable to identify these species right away. The keeper brought one of the eagles (white bellied sea eagle)over to a stump, and taught us how to have it climb onto our arm for photographs to be taken. The eagle itself seemed trained to spread its wings when raised higher, too. Although these animals were kept in captivity, it seems they were well-taken care of, as the cages were huge, and they seemed to have ample room and food. There were also rabbit cages and pigeon houses, and even a pond with geese splashing around gleefully. While these animals were more common than the cus cus and cassowary, I was glad to have seen them up close, as they looked beautiful as well.
We made our way back to the bus, and Herman drove us to find lunch. Unfortunately, Ramadhan meant that the hunt for food was extra difficult. We drove down the mountain, trying to find a place to eat, making multiple stops to no avail. It was close to 2pm, and I was close to settling for cup noodles, when Herman finally found a place that was open for business. We quickly ordered our food, which was promptly prepared and sent to us.
After a long-awaited and satisfying lunch, we visited the Pinus Forest, which was a forest of towering pine trees. There, we learnt a thing or two about pine trees and the other flora and fauna that resided within the forest, from Dr John. There were many interesting species of insects and flowers on the mountain that is not usually seen in tropical climates, due to the low humidity and temperatures on the mountain. The locals also seem to have capitalized on this fact, with many strawberry farms that charged tourists to pick strawberries. The forest had many play areas like swings and a large bamboo trunk to climb on. The afternoon sunlight, filtered through the leaves on the pine tree, illuminated everything with a soft light.
As we left, we managed to see a gorgeous rainbow between the trees and above the plantations - simply a marvellous sight. Unfortunately, our camera phones were unable to capture the full extent of its beauty. It was easily the widest rainbow I’ve ever seen as it appeared so close to us, too.
We then left for a stop at the local market. The market was located about halfway down of the mountain. There were some stalls selling local snacks and coffee, as well as some dried goods. However, the snacks across different stalls were packaged exactly the same way, albeit looking homemade, thus I suspected they were purchased in bulk and distributed to the stall owners. The prices were different, though, with stalls deeper in the market being cheaper. As we walked through the market, some called out to us "Markisa, markisa", which we found to be a fruit grown locally. It is a local variant of passion fruit. While a couple of us decided to purchase the syrup as souvenirs, I went straight for the fruit itself, and shared a couple with the others. I think it is always a joy to visit the local market whenever I go overseas, as I get a first-hand experience of what locals eat. It is a great way to know more about the culture, and there’s always the thrill of finding something new to me. Even though some of the stalls weren’t open and we only spent half an hour there, I was still glad we made the stop.
The day ended off with a scrumptious dinner with the Mayor’s right-hand man, Pak Najiran, who hosted us very well, in a restaurant intended for foreign officials on diplomacy trips. Our original programme intended for us to meet Mayor Pomanto himself, but he had to travel to Jakarta for an urgent meeting that night, thus sent Pak Najiran to have dinner with us instead. He was extremely hospitable, even sending his men to pick us up from the hotel in a car, even though the restaurant was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel.
He introduced us to the dutch eggplant juice, which we continued to enjoy for the rest of the trip (although none was as good as this first one we had), and many, many other delicious dishes. The fried squid pieces and fish were among my favourite dishes. The food was more than abundant and extremely palatable, and all paid for. We had a great time interacting with him, also learning more about the Mayor, Makassar and Sulawesi. He truly exhibited the “sombere” spirit we first heard of at UNHAS, and we felt right at home despite his affiliation with the mayor.
With our hearts full and our bellies stuffed, we were escorted back to the hotel to rest for our adventure the next day.