Tamz Explores

Indonesia : Meet the Lovely Little Village of Balebo in South Sulawesi

Indonesia – a country I keep going back to. Yes I have only been to Bali and the Gili Islands before but still there is something about this country that pulls me every time. Now that I have the luxury of time by my side, I spent almost the entire month of April as a volunteer in Balebo village, South Sulawesi. Thanks to the wonderful folks of “I am from here”, I got to live and experience the place like a local. There is something about spending days in a rural setting as it brings back memories of my own childhood and my native home in India.

Living a life entirely different from what I was used to over the last eight years has taught me a few lessons. Funny, tough, soothing, realistic and pleasing at the same time, these few things that I have learnt after living for almost a month in Indonesia.

The virtue of Patience

This is something I have not technically learnt on this trip because I already am a quite patient guy. But what these 20 days made me realize is that I need to be even more patient when I am at an entirely new place, surrounded by new people and different cultures. For obvious reasons, English is not widely spoken or understood in the local communities, homes, shops, travel agents etc. That is where the need arises to be more patient when interacting with the people. I used to go to the local shop near my accommodation and it did take me some time to get across my points on what I wanted to buy and asking for the prices. After a while, continuous calls of “Hello Mr” from the kids while I was buying stuff at the shop felt like sweet music. Every place in the world and the people of those places work at a different pace which we might not be used to. With patience and a friendly smile, communicating with people becomes easy. The turnaround time of getting things done might not change but having more patience does allow us to slow down ourselves for good and actually be a part of this different life.


Playing with the village kids in the river

The doorways are not built for tall people  

Well this so true in the rural areas as much as I have seen. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hit my head when entering/exiting some of the sheds and houses. By the end of this trip, the top of my head resembled the landscape of Bali with two big bumps the size of Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung.

Masamba - Indonesia

A hut made from recycled stuff in Masamba village


House made from recycled stuff

Landscapes can be simple yet perfect

Oh the natural beauty of South Sulawesi!! Perfect nature does not always have to be about snow-capped peaks or white sand beaches. Something as simple as an open ground dotted with palm trees, thick green forests and steady flowing rivers. For me it was more of the river and a couple of visits to the nearby waterfall that made me fall for the scenic beauty of this place. Lying down on the grass banks or on the huge boulders by the river and listening to Sam Garret’s “The River” (thank you Emmiina). I could not help but realize that perfection is defined by our own perception of it. Sometimes you can find perfection during a stroll on a windy cloudy evening and sometimes you find it on the beaches of Bali. For me, the beautiful landscape of South Sulawesi will make me explore other parts of rural Indonesia.



Community is family and vice versa

Understanding the people and the community of Balebo village was an real eye-opener for me. When I left my corporate job, I was searching for an environment where respect for somebody would not be determined by the amount of wealth he/she has. I was looking for a place where people would not discriminate each other based on one’s financial abilities. More importantly, I was looking for a place where there would be smiles in abundance rather than faces filled with arrogance and ego. I found that place in this village, to a large extent. Here, the concept of family is not limited to just blood relatives or confined within the four walls of a house. 

A close-knit community where people actually know each other and the doors of homes are open to all. This is a place where people do not hesitate to talk to strangers because there are virtually no strangers in this village. Even foreigners like me were no more strangers after a few hours on our first day. There were days when after I woke up in the morning I took a stroll along the small road just to hear chants of “Hello Mr.” from all the neighbors and the kids. Ironic, because during my 6 years of stay in Singapore, I never knew who my neighbors were.


Playing cards  

Yeah I know I am thirty years old and I never learnt to play cards. That changed when one fine day as we were taking a break after some work at the garden, Katharina said “Do you wanna play cards?”. I wasn’t embarrassed but it did feel weird to say that I don’t know any card games but I would want to learn though. That’s when she taught me a game – which later became quite popular among others during our stay – and it was funnily named “Shithead” (according to her)!!! And spending the evenings with the local guys there led to me learning a couple more of these card games. So now I can at least say that I know how to play cards – although I am still an infant in the world of cards.


You don’t just run an adventure marathon, you train for it and then run it!!

My mind still goes back to that moment when I decided to postpone my departure from Masamba by a couple of days after I heard there was an adventure marathon happening on the 23rd of April. I just knew I wanted to be a part of this marathon because of two reasons – 1. This would be my first ever marathon.  2. If not now then who knows when I would get a next opportunity. But I overestimated the strength in my legs when I decided to just run this marathon. After starting steadily for the first 90 minutes on flat terrain, over the next 3 hours, my legs went through and endured what seemed like an advanced version of an army training exercise. All we had to do was walk fast, climb up, descend down, cross the river and repeat. It was purely due to my excitement (of my first marathon and anticipation of the finish line), some willpower and Alex egging me on, that I could reach the finish line. That entire evening and the next morning, I was just thinking of that episode from How I met your mother when Barney runs a marathon. I realized, you don’t just run a marathon without training for it. Would I run that marathon again? Hell yeah!! Even though my legs hurt and the sun was brutal, I loved it.


The world is huge but people are closer than we assume

Yes, the world is a big big place and somehow I feel that had led us to believe that people are far away from each other too. But I have realized that people are or could be much closer than what we assume. People living in different places have more in common that we can even think of. During my stay, I watched an Indian TV serial(dubbed in Bahasa of course) for far more times than I have watched it when I was in India. I listened to and sang “Tum Hi ho” with the folks there countless times, far more than I did before. While teaching English to the kids, I understood the importance of communication, real communication and not the Facebook/Watsapp stuff.

English Classes

Few friendships that were made during my stay, did not need months to grow. Exchanging cultural notes with Matewai, learning a few Spanish words from Marta, trying to pronounce German words from Katharina without choking myself or learning about an unknown place in India from Alex and Helen and finally calling the elderly couple – who’s family I was staying with – Mama and Papa, makes me believe that times have changed and people are open to us, now more than ever.


For all the memories, the work at the garden, carrying logs with the guys, sitting on top of a loaded truck holding onto a rope while the vehicles trudges through sharp curves on muddy roads with a steep fall into the river on one side, the caring smiles of Mama and Papa, my friends and my lovely students – everyone and everything has taught me something. Big or small – a lesson is always a lesson. Beautiful and near-perfect, Indonesia already feels like home to me.

Rural Indo Pin                   three-weeks-in


53 thoughts on “Indonesia : Meet the Lovely Little Village of Balebo in South Sulawesi

  1. thatguywithstories

    I love your post for the sheer innovation. The content is definitely quite different from the normal fare that is present in so many travel blogs. But, why are you a nervous flyer? Airlines are so much safe these days.

  2. aika loraine

    what do you call that house decorated with slippers? i am curious with that. i adore you for visiting a rural area in indonesia. it is a breather for travel blogs about beaches and others. i just love knowing people who learns about other tribe’s culture.

    Love lots,

    Aika | aikaloraine.com

  3. ASKSonnie

    One thiing I observed/read (so far) about rural places– regardless of nation, people in rural areas are very communal, hospitable and accommodating.

    So it’s not about national culture, but more of the simplicity of life that nurtures these values. Commercialism corrupted these values in urban areas.

  4. yogoandcream

    I totally agree with you that patience is really key when going to a non-English speaking place. It’s great to know that parts of Indonesia closely resemble my home country, Philippines.

  5. Sabine

    Family can be more than just blood related people, that’s what I read here and learned from this article. Great that this is such a strong community. However I can enjoy being my independent individual. However people are usually group “animals” if you know what I mean.

  6. Charm Gamboa

    Beautiful pictures! I can see that you love places that are somewhat rural and can really show you the real experiences in that place. I hope you learned a lot from them. I haven’t been to Indonesia but I hope I can visit the place someday.

  7. RUSS

    Great captures! It must have been last year when I started planning to go to Indonesia. Unfortunately it’s been set aside several times because my partner had some apprehensions about going there. I see that the rural side of Indonesia looks a lot like my country.

    Funny story about the door though and you do make a good point about patience. It’s something that if most people had, the world would be a more peaceful place to live in.

  8. Rowena Rose Conde

    I haven’t been to indonesia but it seems that the place is a bit similar to some of the provinces in the Philippines. The cards reminds me of a game we used to play in my mom’s province. The place looks relaxing specially the picture that you have when it is raining.

  9. Jessica Ayun

    One of the best countries I will keep coming back. Not only because it’s too big to explore one time but as well as its diversity and amazing charms, which most visitors tend to missed. Sulawesi is just simply a paradise. I am a Filipino and I was never treated as a foreigner so I was not disturbed by their Hello Mister or Hello Miss. Lol. Will be coming back in Indonesia next month! 🙂

  10. Berlin

    Another nice place Ive seen through reading and photos. The people there looks like Filipinos too, with their facial features and skin color.

  11. etsyexplores

    I really enjoyed this article, and know how hard it is to have that sense of neighbourliness, because I’m from Singapore and we aren’t exactly the best at that. It’s great that you’ve found this community in Indonesia and that your experience has been so meaningful! Looking forward to more stories of your experience there (:

  12. ivanaabroad

    I love the part about family being the whole community. I will be teaching in a village in Spain this fall and one of the biggest changes I am looking forward to is building a close connection with those around me.

  13. Ann

    I’ve visited Indonesia a few times but never rural Indonesia! I’ve always appreciated a sort of slow travel and experiencing places like a local. Loved your post though and your story!

  14. Sarah @ Expat of the World

    Lovely post Tamz! You’re totally on point about needed a huge amount of patience when traveling somewhere new- it can be so difficult though! I’ve found that I need patience plus the willing to adapt 🙂 The close-knit community sounds wonderful!

  15. siniciliya

    I love the way you write and I really enjoyed reading about your volunteering experience! I hope someday I will also volunteer abroad! You are setting a good example!

  16. Sanket D.

    It is amazing isn’t it? The more rural you go, the more you realize how communities are more intimate and have a sense of family and belonging. Here in the metropolitan areas, you spend entire lifetimes without really discovering what your neighbours lifestories really are!

  17. Ahammed

    Indonesia is in my bucket list and its nice a i good a brief description about rural Indonesia after reading your post ,Thanks for posting

  18. Evanne

    “The doorways are not built for tall people” haha! That cracked me up. I would be struggling with that as well. I only spent a few days in Indonesia but I would love to do something like this and see outside the main cities!

  19. 04tia

    I really enjoyed the way you write your stories! Its so nice to read. I think I will have a big problem with my hight there – you said the doors are only for tiny people? I am 1.83 cm high so it would be a bit of a challenge I suppose? Great pictures!

    1. Tamz Post author

      Thank You so much 🙂
      Well, you wont have any problems with the doorways in the main cities. Its just in the rural areas you might end up with headbumps 🙂

  20. Tae

    This looks like such a beautiful and touching experience. I LOLed at the doors – indo is built for small people like me 😛 I love it! I agree that we are closer than we seem – all of us have so many similar things in common no matter the culture 🙂

  21. Rashmi & Chalukya

    Visiting Indonesia is on cards probably early next year. The green landscapes of Bali and the plantations have always fascinated us. We would also love to experience a local life. Just wondering why wont they bulid taller doors?

    1. Tamz Post author

      Hahaha.. I really dont know the answer to that question.. Its just one of those “Thats the way it is” things

  22. blogginginpa

    This is a really interesting post, and a great to learn about another culture! Diving in headfirst for an almost month long stay sounds like a really hard, but valuable, experience. I can’t believe you ran a marathon on a whim!

    1. Tamz Post author

      Thank You 🙂
      Yeah, that marathon was a crazy idea but again, these days for me its like “better crazy now than dull never”

  23. john and Laurel Rodgers

    The first thing you addressed in your thread “patience” was the the one I had to learn and learn quickly. Living in the U.S. you expect everything “now” and it is not that way on the road. I was probably one of the worst and now I think much better. We have spent so much time in Asia and the people here are so laid back that it was not a hard lesson to learn. We went to Bali but you have gone much deeper into the country than we have. Perhaps we can follow your footsteps one day.

    1. Tamz Post author

      Thank You guys!!
      I am already a very patient guy but this stay in Indonesia has taught me to be even more patient.
      You should definitely go out of Bali and deeper into the country.

  24. A Busy Bees Life

    I especially love this post because it really brings out a lot of the culture,tradition and way of life. The feeling of being a community and family, all watching out for each other, and being together, a feeling which unfortunately gets lost when you live in the city.

    1. Tamz Post author

      Thank You!!
      One of the most amazing part of this experience was understanding how the community lives in harmony

  25. Jen Morrow

    Bumping your head on the doors is always my worry. I am pretty tall and forget my all the doors (or ceilings and walkways) are built for someone my size.

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