Sometimes I’m in the right place at the right time. It usually involves food. Like that time many years ago when I first moved to NYC and my friend and I decided to use our day off to go to the Chelsea Piers driving range. We were walking on 23rd Street and as we approached a Krispy Kreme my friend excitedly pointed at the illuminated “Hot Now” sign. At that time I wasn’t familiar with this KK phenomenon, but my very knowledgeable friend walked right into the shop and I followed him. As we approached the counter, an angel disguised as a Krispy Kreme employee asked us if we wanted a free sample of the fresh, hot donuts. We both managed to drool an affirmative response. The Krispy Kreme angel handed us each a fresh, hot glazed donut. Say WHAT?!?!?! A free, fresh, hot donut?!?!?! Talk about being in the right place at the right time. If you don’t see the magic in this then you need to re-evaluate your life.
Anyway, I recently found myself in the right place at the right time again and this time it didn’t involve food. Crazy, I know.
We were in the town of Makassar where most people only spend a day or two before heading up to Torajaland or down to Bali or Flores. We didn’t have plans to stay long, but we both fell ill at different points during our stay so we ended up spending a lot more time than we had planned. Before we had arrived in Makassar we read in the news that a huge discovery was made regarding the cave paintings at Maros-Pangkep on Sulawesi. These cave paintings were thought to be no more than 10,000 years old, but very recent research now dates them back to around 40,000 years old. This makes them the oldest cave paintings in the world! We don’t know shit about archaeology, but the possibility of seeing the cave paintings with our own eyes was something that we couldn’t pass up. I mean, how often are you in Sulawesi and close enough to see cave paintings from 40,000 years ago? Exactly.
We asked the manager of the hotel if he knew about the caves and how to get there. He was familiar with the area and knew exactly where we needed to go, but he couldn’t understand why we wouldn’t want to go rafting or do something touristy in the area instead of just going to see the paintings. He said he could take us there, but wanted to charge us quite a bit to be our driver and tour guide for the day. Since we were only interested in seeing the paintings we negotiated the price down and met him after lunch to head over to the caves.
The drive to the Leang Leang caves was about 45 minutes through the city. It wasn’t a pretty ride at all because, like many cities in Indonesia, the roadside litter is quite appalling. They haven’t quite figured out a waste management system yet and most people don’t see a problem with tossing a plastic bottle right out of their car window.
When we arrived at the cave, our hotel manager tour guide fella took us to the office to sign the guest book and pay the entrance fee. Of course, the tourist rate was double the local rate, but it was still under $2 per person if I remember correctly. We paid and signed the guest book which we noticed had about 10 names in it. I guess the cave paintings aren’t that popular yet. An unenthusiastic security guard walked us over to the painted caves. The cave where the paintings were found are behind a locked fence because there are people who don’t appreciate history and think it would be so much fun to etch their names into the walls. Fools.
The walk to the caves was easy and short and within minutes we were face-to-face with hand stencils and pig-deer paintings from 40,000 years ago. Our hotel manager and the security guard weren’t nearly as impressed as we were. Both were standing around, smoking cigarettes and chatting about whatever Indonesian people chat about when they are waiting for tourists to hurry up and look at old cave paintings. Like I said, we’re not archaeology buffs and our combined knowledge of archaeology wouldn’t even fill a thimble, but come on! This is some cool shit! The cave art was surprisingly well preserved and being able to see something that other humans created over 40,000 years ago was quite thrilling. Well, it was for us.
I think the experience would’ve been even better if I got a fresh, hot donut at the end. Alas, I was without donut, but it was still memorable and I know we were incredibly lucky to be able to see the paintings.
Check our Flickr album for more photos from our amateur archaeological exploration.