Not so long ago I made an oblique reference to the difficulties my feet have visited upon me and, because I have a habit of endowing everything, pillows, bags, ears, extremities, you name it, with feelings and personalities, I now feel the need to publicly retract that compliant. In Tana Toraja, my feet were total champs. After stubbing them against every imaginable surface, cutting my foot and then submerging it in salt water for days, breaking nails below the skin on crumbling sidewalks and several more offenses that I won't even bother listing, my feet handled three days of walking from village to village to village with nary an ache. On the third day, when I stepped out of bed, I did have the brief sensation that alien beings were about to burst through the balls of my feet and my heels -- but twenty minutes later all pain was gone and my trusty kaki-kaki held out for the duration of the trip.
I rewarded them, on the final day of my trekking expedition, by falling in a huge mud pit.
The trip was beautiful. I spent the first day of my trek mostly on a dirt road, passing through the more accessible villages and venturing past endless tiers of rice paddies.
I'd been careful to bring everything I thought I might need on my trek: the rain poncho that was never even unfolded, an assortment of cheap cookies and crackers that someone should have paid me to eat, the flashlight I insisted I would never need and shouldn't bring (thanks again, love, good call on that), bug repellent, a camera, and water. Right? Obviously water is the most important accessory for three days of trekking in the tropics.
Yeah, I forgot the water. That was a low moment, about three hours into the trek, when I realized I had left my row of bottled waters in the store, perched above the hand towel shelf, while I had looked for a mosquito net. That little stumble also crystallized for me how critical even my minimal language abilities are for me in doing the kind of traveling I love to do, while still being the forgetful odd duck I will always be. The confidence in knowing I could ask any villager where I could find water and understand whatever direction they gave me was enough to keep me from turning back after the first three people told me the closest shop was behind me. And sure enough, that fourth person came along and told me walk here and turn there, and five minutes later I had enough bottled water to drown an army.
The thirty second conversation with strangers became a staple of trekking immediately: Where are you from, where are you going, why are you walking, do you want an ojek, ok then, hati-hati. When I was hungry or tired, these conversations quickly lead to invitations to sit for a while, visit, drink instant milk and coffee, eat rice and cubes of pig fat, nap in stranger's beds while the sun was overhead and spend the nights in their houses.
I was particularly (and retrospectively) grateful for the hospitality I received on the morning of my second day, which included lunch, coffee, milk, water, and a place to nap -- all things that proved critical in getting me through the sweltering afternoon. I spent the second half of the day scaling a mountain, completely alone. At one point, when I became concerned that I had confused the path with a dried riverbed and was no longer on course, I started calling out "Hello? Hellooooo?" hoping for the eager response of children that had been so constant during the previous day of trekking. But I was miles from anything. The rice paddies and farms were gone and the vegetation changed completely. By the time I reached the top and began to descend, I was so turned around I thought for a while I'd managed to walk in a giant circle and was reentering the village I'd left that morning.
While I did enter the village (from what I'd correctly identified as a dried riverbed and not the path), I gleefully discovered that I had in fact managed to get where I'd intended to go, a village called Palu-Palu. I watched the clean up of a funeral ceremony, which involved half the men in the village digging nearly a foot into the dirt to remove the seeping blood of sacrificed animals, and then spent the night sharing a large bed with a young couple and their infant daughter. The three of us woke up each time she began to cry, rolled over, looked at each other and smiled groggily, then drifted back to sleep as soon as her tears stopped.
I left later than I'd intended but far earlier than the village had hoped the next morning, hoping to get to Sapan before the heat became oppressive. From there, I planned to take an ojek back to Rante Pao, but just as I hobbled into the village, a truck came hurdling by me and my friends from Palu-Palu waved me over to hitch a ride with them. It was during the 45 minutes ride from Sapan to Rante Pao that I learned trekking is significantly easier than riding on this truck:
But probably only if your feet are rock stars like mine.