We arrived to be greeted by even more formidable giant karst structures. Covered in beautifully green vegetation, we were told that these mysterious karsts were home to a myriad of caves and prehistoric secrets.
We were greeted by a group of young, brightly dressed schoolgirls frolicking about in the grass on their bikes. They giggled and smiled at the sight of us bules (foreigners), cheerfully saying, ‘Hi mister! Hi mister!’
Not long after, we were led to the park’s museum by one of the guides working there. Jack acted as translator as the guide showed us a few of the museum’s historic and geological artefacts. Despite the museum being rather small and basic, the historic magnitude of the few items it possessed was enormous. It was apparently only during the 50s and 70s that the caves of Leang Leang were officially studied. After studying some rock samples, they approximated that the age of the fossils, shells and shards of caveman jewellery that were contained in the small glass display cabinets to being around thirty thousand years old.
‘What?!’ A small firecracker exploded inside my mind. ‘ Hoooold on a sec… thirty thousand years old?! Are you sure?’ Jack verified this fact with our guide. He nodded. ‘That is well and truly mental.’
Our guide then led us down the steps of the museum and onto the caves. The group of schoolgirls followed not far behind us, completely intrigued by our presence.
‘Mister, where are you from?’ they asked Tukimin.
‘We’re from England,’ he answered, which caused them all to giggle with nervous but delighted laughter.
We walked parallel to the base of one of the massive mountains until we came to a set of metal steps that led up to large chasm in the mountains’ rock face high above us. At the top of the rickety staircase there were three deep caves. The first one was only deep and big enough for one person to fit crouching on the floor. The second was a little bigger and with a higher ceiling and spacious to walk in without having to crouch. In the top of the roof of this cave however, was an even deeper, darker crevice in the wall – big enough to get into, but high and scary looking enough to deter our curiosity. The third cave’s roof was much lower. I crouched down to pose for a photo with Layla, but then realised that this cave delved much deeper into the mountain than the other two did. I looked behind me; the ceiling seemed to rise a little higher and I could see a trickle of light in the distance. We decided to follow the cave’s path to find out where it would lead us.
After a few steps of darkness we came to a little dip where the cave became two levels. The second level led out to another entrance of the cave. The cave ceiling was high and the walls were tall, the sunlight lit up the cream limestone colour giving it an unexpectedly warm glow. Jack and I looked around – this actually wouldn’t be a bad place to live if you were a caveman. Could we just give up the fast life of Jakarta and come live here in this cave? My inner Laurence Llewyellen Bowen was brought out as interior design ideas sprang into my mind.
We returned to our guide who was standing on a high rock that sat at the mouth of the cave. He pointed to the cave walls high above. Caveman drawings. With a little help from each other, we climbed on top of the rock to get a closer look; a number of red printed hands were patterned and dancing on the grey rock above us. The guide pointed to the right of the rock – a slightly faded, brown-red wild boar had been painted next to the hands.
The rudimentary drawings exhuded mystery and a rush of questions sprinted through my mind; Why did these people make these prints? Why did they draw a boar? Why up here in this high space? What did they use to make them? What was the purpose of it all? Did they all live together? Was it a family? Was it just one person? How long had they been here?
Our guide muttered a few more words in Indonesian. Jack translated, ‘These prints are about fifty thousand years old.’
Fifty thousand years old?! Another firecracker burst inside my brain, and I longed to be able to time travel, just so I could catch a glimpse of the people who had lived here high up over what would have been expanses of jungle and see how different it would have been.
The brightly dressed schoolgirls followed right up until our departure from Leang Leang. Skipping and springing behind us, and, in unison we sang ‘If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands’ (and after a mini English tutorial from Jack, an extra verse of ‘if you’re bule and you know it twist your bum’ was added.) After a few token group photographs, we piled back into Munir’s car and drove off to our next and final stop of the day.
* Tune in next time, for some butterflies, waterfalls and army boys…
Go Go Go!
Where: Leang Leang Caves, Maros in South Sulawesi, Indonesia.
Why: 50,000 year old caveman handprints and cave exploring.
How: Unlike Rammang Rammang, this is am official park and site of historical significance, so the locals are more aware of it. Entrance cost 20,000 RP (around £1). It’s not compulsory but leaving a tip of around 10,000RP for your guide will be greatly appreciated.