Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Soaking in its people

Today is Australia Day - as the name suggests a day to celebrate our national identity, and a public holiday as well!   On the radio the lives of ordinary Australians are being told - how they came here, how they adapted, what Australia is to them.   As the countries of the world grow closer and closer, the story of Australia is becoming a global one, and for me anyway, one where there is so much to learn and enjoy about other cultures.

Last year on Australia Day I was in the last week of a month long cycling tour of Sulawesi in Indonesia.  The Australians in the group sang Advance Australia Fair (our anthem) before we headed out for what was to be the hardest 14km of our 1200km trip - uphill and around bends, and uphill again, the sun beating down on us in the way that it does when you are inland away from the ocean and major waterways.

At the end of this ride, still early in the morning we arrived at a national park, and spent the day and night at thermal pools, underneath a canopy of lush green bushland.  There were several pools with water of varying temperatures, and as we sat and lay on the edge of the pool we were cooled by gentle rain falling through the trees.

Eventually as the day progressed, the pool and surrounding grounds filled with Indonesian family groups of all ages, middle aged couples with children and uncles and aunties, and groups of young Indonesian, out on picnics to celebrate what is one of their public holidays - Tahun Baru Imlek or Chinese New Year.  Needless to say we made many new friends who were very interested in what we were doing, and keen to practice their English and take photos, as Indonesians do.

That night after dinner we met with the workers from the national park who asked what could be done to make the park better - much of that conversation being about the need to find ways to remove the rubbish in the park.  Much had been piled up prominently along the 500m walk to where many of our group were sleeping in fairly basic huts.  The lucky among us enjoyed a night in the wooden cabins on stilts, among the trees, and near the stream that fed the pools.

It was an idylic day, and a nice mixing of different cultures.  Indonesia itself a country that has developed its identity through the many different cultures that have colonised and traded with it over time - the chinese, portugese and dutch influences layered over ancient hindu and islamic traditions.

The night before our Australia Day ride was also a cultural experience - we stayed in traditional Buginese long houses at Batu-Batu.  The houses were owned by an academic from Java, who had set them up as a living museum, and we slept in and among the four poster beds, did yoga around the chinese ceramics jars, and sat on the wooden floors to eat our dinner.  Needless to say we did this as respectfully as we could but not before the need for some bargaining with the doctor's second wife.

I don't have photos of the thermal pools, but here are some in and around the Buginese houses.

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