When does the trip begin? When we leave Home, or maybe when we take the first photo? The first photo was at the boarding gate at the sight of the huge A380 we were about to board. Caught up in everyone’s excitement, I too snapped a shot…mmm… a bit boring. Does it count if I delete it? I didn’t really want the trip to begin on the flight to Singapore either, because, quite frankly it was miserable – I developed a migraine somewhere over Borneo and it tortured me throughout the eleven hours of transit at Changi Airport and onto our Silk Air flight to Manado. It was like some kind of painful re-birthing – a transition to our other life of adventure and joy…
SO I’LL START THE TRIP on our approach to Sam Ratalungi Airport. It was a spectacular descent; coral atolls and islets studded Teluk Tomini like turquoise jewels, we flew right over Gorontalo and could see the Togian Islands in the distance to the south. Then we corkscrewed around the volcanic cone of Gunung Klabat and buzzed Pulau Bunaken a couple of times before coming down between the hills just outside the city.
From the airport it was no trouble finding a relay of ‘mikrolets’ to take us downtown, the other passengers smiled warmly at us, and our Indonesian tongues worked to get us where we needed to be.
Finding suitable lodging was a little more difficult – even I was bathed in a lather of perspiration by the time we settled on Hotel Rex. Eighty thousand rupiah was okay for an air-conditioned room with soft beds, even if the mandi was down the hall. After refreshing ourselves with a cold water sluice we went for a quick look around town. Instantly we had returned to our travel personas of the rich and famous – we withdrew two and a half million rupiah from an ATM, and shopped for a few essentials smiling and waving to our legion of fans – it’s quite a culture shock, even if one has been accustomed to it in the past…
Manado itself was a pleasant city, the people were good-looking and happy, dokars clip-clopped around the streets and Gunung Klabat towered impressively behind it all. For our first taste of Indonesia we opted for the classics of sate ayam and gado-gado, then after our twenty-four hour journey we hit the hay for a real nights sleep.
On Sunday morning all the action in town centred around the pasar bersehati at the northern end of the harbour. We pressed our way through the labyrinth of stalls selling fresh examples of North Sulawesi produce. The fish market was vast, with bonito, tuna, coral trout and parrot fish featuring heavily. The smells were fantastic, especially the smoked fish artfully espaliered on bamboo frames. As we sloshed our way around my first photo opportunity was warmly invited by Yusup, a vegetable merchant with a firm handshake – that’s the best kind of photo to begin a trip with! In the butchery department my second photo was invited too – pork and dog meat were equally popular and one of the vendors made a special display of his freshly slaughtered mongrels for what he considered to be my photographic pleasure – what could I do?
Outside on the waterfront beyond the chilli and garlic sellers, we spied a truck unloading a live cargo of yelping canines – even though their condition was no worse than a chicken consignment, our Western sensibilities just wouldn’t permit us a closer look… There were some mosques around town, but we saw few hard-core Muslims, and the call to prayer was noticeably absent.
We mooched around the harbourside go-downs and prowled for a substantial breakfast, but it seemed that Minahasans liked coffee and cake to start the day, so we went home and our hotelier, Mohamed, provided teh manis, a bungkus of sweet rice with coconut and palm sugar, and a lot of conversation practice which really got our brains and our words flowing. We found more breakfast later, at around 10am everyone was out and we tried a local dish called loba, roasted pork served with cucumber and a sweet, spicy gelatinous sauce, in a crowded eatery; then wandered around town until the heat became too oppressive. We had a long siesta with a delicious pineapple and some salak to fill our daily fruit quota.
Hunger drove us out for a mid-afternoon meal, and following directions from some coffee shop patrons we walked through the empty streets to Rumah Makan Lidya, a simple eatery on Jalan Wakeke. Here we tried a particularly good example of tinutuan, another local speciality, pumpkin soup with corn and kangkung served with fried bonito, fish cakes and rica sauce – a spicy condiment to be used with great caution.
Later we wandered around to the Chinese temple where we eyed off the heavily laden mango trees, wondering whether they would ripen within the next two months. We found some interesting local snack foods in the neighbourhood also. So we watched the sunset over the Bunaken Islands across Manado Bay, and finished the day with some candied pala, nutmeg fruit and kenari nut cookies.
FEELING SATISFACTORILY ACCLIMATISED AND READY to tackle a long bus ride, we headed off from Manado the next morning. We were up early, and even at 5:30am it wasn’t exactly cool when we hopped on a crowded mikrolet heading for Malalayang bus terminal. There we were surprised to be assaulted by a melee of touts – ignorance was ineffective so Dave fended them off by fibbing about our destination. Initial excitement at the word “Makassar” turned to confusion then dispatch by the time he uttered “Pontianak” – he succeeded in annoying them even more than they had bothered us!! Then we had to assess which was the next bus departing for Gorontalo, and our indecision lowered the price by 25,000 rupiah! So for 55,000 rupiah a pop we were finally packed into a couple of seats on a somewhat unroadworthy-looking ‘Bahagia Express’ which pulled out of the station at 6:30am.
The coast road south was surprisingly hilly and our twenty-five seater spluttered up the ascents blowing more smoke than its occupants! The effect was dizzying, especially with a magnificent backdrop of massive volcanoes on one side and the Sulu Sea on the other. We continued through this lush equatorial land on a narrow strip of bitumen called the Trans-Sulawesi Highway for ten hours – it had taken us twenty minutes to cover the distance by plane. The scenery retained its allure for the entire 425 kilometres, the road was good and we stopped only once for a rest break at Bintauna, where the nasi campur was pretty ordinary.
GORONTALO DIDN’T MAKE A VERY good first impression. When we finally screamed into the bus terminal we were besieged by so many bentor drivers the sky darkened with them. We fled on foot, walking until we’d shaken them off and soon realising that this was a town with no public transport service. We found out the correct fare along the way by offering various amounts and letting them drive off – for each one that drove off another ten came in their wake – so soon a chatty young man named Rio zipped us into town and deposited us at the post office. A bentor is a motorised rickshaw with a difference – the passengers sit in the front catching the breeze, while more can dink on the back of the motorcycle if necessary.
From the post office it was a short stroll to a couple of hotels. The mosquito infested Hotel Saronde was the only one with an empty room, so there we stayed. After scrubbing off the road grime we went for a wander around town.
The city was attractive with wide tree-lined boulevards and grand Dutch era buildings set back bungalow-style even in the city centre. The night market didn’t offer much of interest, and even the next morning we had to walk two kilometres to the market just to find some nasi kuning for breakfast. We also found some fruit and then wandered back to Hotel Saronde with bananas, rambutans and a pineapple to find a plate of nasi goreng and kopi manis waiting for us outside our room!
For a bit of an excursion we found a mikrolet to take us about fifteen kilometres away to Lombongo, Dave found himself perched in the doorway on a bag of cement hoping desperately not to sweat too much. The trip was a bit of a fizzer however. We first met a sweet girl named Tiwi who claimed to want to practice her English, but in fact was a one-woman papparazzi seizing her once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity. The pools at the hot spring were disappointingly empty except for a twenty centimetre deep puddle, and the ticket seller was most affronted that we wouldn’t pay to not use the facilities. And our objective to walk to the waterfall three kilometres upstream was also not to be – the friendly park ranger wouldn’t allow us to walk in the forest without a guide. So we had a soak in the hot and cool waters of the stream in the nearby forest then returned to Gorontalo defeated.
Next we moved to superior lodgings across the lapangan at Hotel Melati, and later checked out the harbour to see if we could buy tickets for the next day’s sea voyage. We only succeeded in buying a durian on the way back and eating some of the delicious local speciality milu siram, corn soup with grated coconut and shredded bonito, flavoured with lemongrass, lime, orange, lemon basil, a dash of rica sauce – and of course a generous waft of kretek smoke.
The next morning we were up early again and went for a walk to the fish market before breakfast. Hotel Melati provided a couple of meagre slices of bread and a greasy omelette to fortify us for another walk out to the harbour, and we had more success this time. Lukas, the boat’s mechanic whom we had met the day before, was true to his word and saved us the best spots on the deck, and the ticket seller came along to make it official. We visited the bank to withdraw another two and a half million rupiah just in case, then freshened ourselves up before the twelve noon checkout. We killed the afternoon over a couple of bowls of milu siram and then a long conversation in the market place with Malik, an affable hijab merchant.
We made our way back to the harbour at around 6pm and found the K.M. Puspita Sari being busily prepared for its late night departure. We stalked out our territory on the forty metre long wooden vessel as a truck load of squawking chickens were being painstakingly loaded onto the roof two by two. Children played happily on the sleeping platforms and we stood on the pier watching the entertainment and chit-chatting with our fellow passengers, most of whom were travelling through to Ampana.
Due to the sleeping arrangements the interior resembled a convict ship, but we slept well considering we were stacked like spoons with our foreign companions, Katie from the UK and a Swedish couple Jessica and Andy. There was almost no swell and the still night air was frequently filled with choking clouds of kretek smoke.
AS DAWN BROKE WE APPROACHED the Togian Islands – Pulau Walea Kodi rose steeply forested from the deep blue waters of Teluk Tomini. We docked and unloaded supplies at the isolated village of Dolong, then continued on to Popoli and Malenge, enjoying animated conversations with new-found friends, namely fifteen year old Viki, Tiliwati and her beautiful daughter Delta, and naughty little Awir who terrorised everyone. We got to Malenge at 9:30am and bid heartfelt farewells amid the chaos of our arrival.
Malenge village was a tangle of thatched shacks built on stilts over the high tide. The air was heavy with the smell of durian and copra, cash crops stacked up on the pier. About a dozen other foreigners also alighted and filed into the Losman Lestari, we alone followed Hani, a grandma with a wide smile, into the rival Losman Indah, a rudimentary lodging over the clear water sparkling with remnant coral and exotic fishes.
We negotiated our accommodation arrangements with Hani’s son Udin, then waved goodbye to our friends on the Puspita Sari and waited for Udin to sort out our logistics. We ate durian and an early lunch of fish plucked straight from the sea off the verandah, then threw our bags into an outrigger for a transfer to even more salubrious surroundings. Hani casually tossed a sun-dried coral trout into the boat telling me that it was best fried with sambal, and then we were off, put-putting through crystal clear azure water to the other side of the island.
For thirty minutes we skirted the southern shore which was limestone undercut by the gently lapping sea, until we reached Pantai Nina, a beautiful crescent of white sand.
The tiny bay was shaded by coconut palms with three thatched bungalows nestled beneath them on the sand. The primary forest which surrounded the beach on all sides, droned loudly with the throbbing sounds of jungle insects and the hoots of tropical birds. In front of our bungalow pure white sand extended into the turquoise water, and coral gardens fringed the perimeters of the bay. At just 27 kilometres south of the equator, we had arrived in a true equatorial paradise – and we had it all to ourselves!
Our supply boat left us alone with just old Syukur, Hani’s husband, and Dahima, a sixty year old auntie to cook and look after our paradisical needs. Hani’s nephew, Dany, would come from Malenge village in the outrigger every few days, replenishing our water and food supplies and ensuring that everything was okay. He even took our camera battery back to the village for re-charging!
Our diet was limited to rice and fish, supplimented with some produce grown in the little garden patch up the hill behind the bungalows where Dahima lived in a hut with her mute son Anggu. Featuring on the menu as well as the said dried fish, was barbecued mackerel, red perch sambalan, and sayur santan with choko, plantain and various leaves. There were usually bananas available, little fat ones with sweet, dense flesh, which Dahima sometimes made into heavy cakes for breakfast. There was also coconut doughnuts, pandan pancakes and sago jelly flavoured with palm sugar. The food improved when a French/Swedish couple, Greg and Emma, came for a couple of nights – we then enjoyed barbecued trout steaks, tauhu goreng, pumpkin santan, sambalan telur and fresh papaya.
At night the traquility was heavenly. The stars really did twinkle like diamonds in the sky, lightening often flashed in the far distance, fireflies flittered all around the beach, and at the water’s edge the magic of phosphorescence sparkled in the lapping waves, the gentle swooshing sound of which was music to sleep by.
One night we were privileged to catch a glimpse of a rare kedang kenari, one of the coconut crabs which lived in holes in the limestone rock walls. Anggu was something of an expert at locating these creatures seen as he was previously one of the hunters who contributed to their near extinction. In the evening he laid out a couple of coconuts as bait and when night fell we took our flashlight to the rocks just a few metres from our bungalow and, sure enough, there was a small specimen for Anggu to point out to us before it retreated back into its hole.
The coral gardens just offshore were great to explore. There was plenty of fishes and just about every different type of coral was represented. There were table and brain corals, and smaller hard corals coloured in russets, greens and dazzling iridescent purples. Soft corals swayed with the motion of the sea proving food and shelter for a multitude of fishes. Adding colour were flamboyant black and yellow angel fish, technicoloured parrot fish, pouting trumpet and picasso fish, and everywhere fluorescent blue tetras. There were big cobalt starfish, multi-hued clams, lobsters, red and orange tubeworms, and shoals of whitebait teemed near the surface. Larger fish swam in schools which were fun to follow, and there was a resident black-tip reef shark on regular patrols.
Just around the corner from our cove there was a cave which we could snorkel into at high tide to be surrounded by scores of tiny twittering bats. On the shore around the undercut cliffs the jungle came right down to the sea and the sounds of the jungle could be heard as well as the crackling noises of the reef underwater.
On shore animal life began with hermit crabs and the excavations of large red sand crabs beneath our bungalow. In the swamp at the back of the beach, two monitor lizards would feed on our scraps and sometimes forage on the reef as well. In the early mornings we occasionally saw turtles feeding on the sea grass, but even with my precise directions from our balcony Dave’s comical efforts to snorkel with them failed…
In the air were kingfishers, brahminy kites and even an osprey. Green and scarlet parrots flitted through the jungle, yellow sunbirds fed on the coconut blossoms and hornbill soared high above, loudly honking their presence.
Excursions on land were rather limited. We could follow a rough track through the jungle to the east over a series of rocky headlands and small beaches. There was a hut in one cove occupied by Dahima’s toothless younger sister Rosni and her husband Arip, and a sea-gypsy shack on another, but after a kilometre and a half the trails became indistinct.
In the other direction we could only go as far as a clearing on the headland which looked down on the reef in the next bay, like looking into an aquarium we could see parrot fish feeding and the shark on patrol.
We followed a few other rough tracks here and there but they all petered out after a couple of hundred metres.
Besides snorkelling, our most usual pastime was sitting on our balcony or swinging in the hammock watching the tides come and go. One afternoon we energetically changed bungalows after a very pleasant tropical rainstorm washed us out – thereafter we had to walk further to the hammock…
The best excursion, however, was a thirty minute prahu ride away to the small atoll just visible on the horizon. A five square metre rubble of broken sun-bleached coral was all that broke the surface, but the atoll itself was quite large and teemed with underwater life. Water visibility was excellent, the coral heads were enormous, with forests of violet-coloured stag coral and table corals of lime green and pink. The fishes were numerous and varied – I enjoyed another sighting of a black-tip reef shark and some barracuda, but best of all were the clown fish which would come right out of their domiciles to face us off, bravely swimming to within centimetres of my mask to look me straight in the eye.
AFTER A WEEK OF THIS idyllic existence we decided to see a bit more of the Togians. So, early one morning everything was packed up and we waved goodbye to Dahima and a parang-wielding Rosni, then jumped into the prahu with a happy-looking Syukur as we motored back around to Malenge village.
Hani settled us into one of the rooms over the water and then we spent a pleasant day relaxing on the verandah and exploring the trails which led off from the village. Gigantic mango trees added to the shade of the coconut groves we walked through, and we even ran into someone that we knew – Arip was in town and up for a chat.
Hani really looked after us on our return, cooking not just tasty meals (fried sardines and terong santan) but also special treats like terang bulan, sweet pancakes and kolak durian, a hot drink made from coconut milk, palm sugar and durian – wow wee!
In the cool of the late afternoon we hiked to Batu Engkang on the other side of the island. The path took us through bamboo thickets and forests of mangrove and nipa palm. Together with the characters we encountered along the way it was a superb walk. There were a few people working in the coconut groves making copra, a man taking a mandi in a jungle spring who told us that he’d just seen some monkeys, and another chap photogenically carrying a pikul of breadfruit.
Throughout the day Udin did brisk business with the local fishermen who caught live fish, carefully checking and weighing each catch before throwing them into the netted enclosures beneath the verandah. That night a buyer arrived to take almost the entire stock of coral groupers on a long journey to the restaurants of Hong Kong.
Back in the land of electricity a good nights sleep was rather ellusive – besides the blazing light bulbs, nearby generator and late night boat arrivals, our heads lay on rock hard pillows.
IN THE MORNING WE PLAYED the waiting game with the Puspita Sari, catching it again on its weekly circuit. At 10am we were standing on the deck waving goodbye, and for the one hour ride to Katupat we rode on the prow with the breeze in our hair and beautiful Togian seascapes around us. We even saw a large pod of dolphins frolicking right beside the boat.
The village of Katupat was located at the northern end of Pulau Togian, and from the pier where we landed it was just three hundred metres to the small island of Pengempa. After a few quick negotiations on the pier we threw our bags in an outrigger and were zipped across to Fadhilla Cottages. This place was considerably more upmarket than our arrangement on Malenge and the best deal we could strike was 225,000 rupiah for a large bungalow with attached mandi and a big verandah in a shady garden surrounded by a wrap-around beach. The price included all our meals which were skillfully prepared by a couple of cooks, and included lots of vegetable dishes as well as the ubiquitous fish. Stand-outs were the ikan bumbu kuning, pumpkin and ubi leaves in coconut milk, roasted eggplant curry, stir-fried fern shoots, sayur nangka, bakwan kangkong and barbecued trevally. One evening kue prahu-prahu, coconut custard steamed in pandan leaf boats, was delivered to us by chef while we sat on the jetty watching the sunset.
But breakfasts were alarmingly insufficient, and we were only saved from starvation by the fact that it was durian season and salesmen came by boat to sell their fragrant produce on the beach – and they were a bargain at just 10,000 rupiah for three large fruits!
We shared the resort with a trio of flashpacking German girls Christina, Dianna and Viviana, and they spent their days glued to deck chairs in the blazing sun, so our paths rarely crossed! The entertainment staff Mardi and Anto were friendly and helpful, but the resident dive instructor, Tony (from Perth) was hungry to speak his native tongue and had the worst case of verbal diarrhoea we’d ever encountered – it wouldn’t have been so bad but the repetitive nature of his heavily opinionated rantings had us scrambling for escape routes at every mealtime, even his girlfriend Sari seemed unable to tolerate him for more than twenty minute stints.
More welcome were the kinky-tailed house cats, and even the little bats who flew through our room during the night and early morning.
The snorkelling was equally as good as Malenge’s with more fish and some different corals, notably the colourful anemone with more varieties of clown fish, a sting-ray, and a family of showy lion fish which lived beneath the jetty. There were also sea-squirts, pipefish and crocodile flathead.
There were a few hiking trails to follow here and there, and we could paddle around the island in the little wooden canoe at a leisurely pace in two hours. Much better, however, was a two kilometre paddle across to the neighbouring island of Pulau Bolilangga – there the snorkelling was exceptional. We added to our visual kitty moray eels and a banded sea snake amid prolific and colourful corals. There were plenty of fishes, water visibility was excellent, the sun shone, and with the water temperature at around 28 degrees we could enjoy it for a couple of hours without getting cold. And amazingly within thirty minutes of returning from our expedition the wind whipped up and it rained for the rest of the day – we couldn’t believe our luck!
We stayed at Fadhilla’s for three days, opting for the once weekly Wakai ferry to take us back to Gorontalo. It made for a very long journey to our next destination…
THE ONLY LOCAL BOATS GOING to Wakai left in the small hours of Sunday morning, so we were up early to watch our old friend Puspita chug toward Katupat. Everyone else was still asleep after a big night at the wedding party in the village. We too had attended the celebrations – speeches, feasting and bawdy dangdut – but the boys had gone back for more singing and dancing until 2am, so we had to physically rouse them to take us across to the pier.
At 6:30 we were standing again on the prow of Puspita waving goodbye to a bleary-eyed Mardi, Anto and the chef.
It was a pleasant one hour ride on to Wakai where we had nine hours to while away waiting for the kapal feri. We found a friendly warung and ate a breakfast of nasi kuning while exchanging pleasantries with a mild-mannered man named Mohamed Saleh – he too was a seller of pharmaceuticals, just like me!
It turned out that he was a travelling medicine man, and a little later in the market place we found him surrounded by a captivated crowd, loudly spruiking his wares. His son stroked a live crocodile while Saleh pulled various bits of a larger specimen from a fetid-looking tub, extolling the dubious health benefits with great showmanship.
The market was quite busy with plenty of durian changing hands, and our own spiky purchases much cause for comment. With our bag kindly stowed in the breakfast warung we spent the day mooching around Wakai. We made lots of acquaintances – in the market, at the harbour, and back in the warung over a lunch of milu siram. We also hung out at a boarding house as the guests of Saleh, but he was later hauled down to the police station to explain how his crocodile came to bite the hand of a small child – the same crocodile which I had been encouraged to pat just an hour earlier. The problem was ironed out with some gifts of reptilian balms and potions.
By the time the K.M.P Tuna Tomini sailed in at 4pm we were on first name terms with almost everyone in Wakai. We boarded the sturdy-looking vehicle ferry with a scrum of coolies bearing crates of durian, and a tangle of foreigners who were motored in on two launches from Kadadiri.
We opted for the reclining seats in ‘kelas bisnis’ and by 5 o’clock we were stretched out in relative comfort on our way to Gorontalo. The sun set spectacularly into the sea beside Una Una, and at around 10:30pm we crossed the equator without fan fare.
After a restful night we arrived in Gorontalo as the sun rose. And as we pulled in to the dock Dave and I achieved the truly amazing feat of being the first two passengers to fight our way through the dangerous maze of spiky durian cargo to pop from the gangway. Then out of a seething mass of hundreds of bentor drivers we met the same one who had taken us to the Puspita pier twelve days previously! We were soon whizzing along to the bus terminal chatting about our next objective when he suggested an alternative route to Doloduo which would save us a full day’s travel. So we were instead dropped off at an angkot terminal near the harbour – it seemed like a good idea at the time…
FIRSTLY WE WAITED FOUR HOURS for our chariot to finally depart, while quietly cursing the Indonesian concept of patience. When we finally left we were squeezed into a ten-seater with sixteen other punters, Dave up front on a nice padded seat next to the driver; me in the back with the womenfolk. Getting into my seat was like pulling on a pair of too-tight jeans, I was up to my ribs in sweating humanity, perched on a plank of wood like a chicken. No matter how many sharp brakes or sudden turns we took, nobody moved a centimetre. Dave tells me that the scenery for the first four hours was beautiful…
We stopped for lunch at the nondescript village of Posigadan, and the simple meal of vegetable soup, fish, and kangkung tasted great to our very empty stomachs. We also lost a few passengers there, so conditions inside the angkot improved along with the road conditions, the only real worries were the bridges. They looked seemingly impassable having collapsed in the middle, but we crossed cautiously without incident.
We continued for another three hours and after much discussion and a few phone calls, it was decided that Doloduo wasn’t for us after all, and we were taken instead to Mopuya, a place we’d never heard of, and the end of the line for our transport.
We dropped off some other passengers, one of whom, Yos, had a pet monkey, an endemic kera which jumped through the window of the vehicle and sat in Daves lap while the luggage was unloaded. A few minutes later we were deposited at Rumah Makan Syifa, a restaurant with a couple of rooms out the back – the only place that anybody knew of for us to spend the night. At just 40,000 rupiah it was clean and comfortable, and after thirty-five hours since we left our last room anything would have been acceptable.
We washed off two days of funk and took Yos up on his offer of “mampir nanti”, going to visit he and his family at the house of the monkey. They were all very welcoming and we learned about the town that we had somehow wound up in. It was an area of transmigration, which explained the mosque, the church, the Balinese pura, and the prosperity of the farming community (the mosque was most intrusive, especially at 4:15am when the mindlessly loud call also disturbed every rooster within earshot into a chorus of crowing). On the way home we ate excellent gado-gado and nasi goreng before falling into bed still moving with the rhythm of boats and angkots.
Our agenda was busy the next morning. First we had a date for breakfast at Yos’ house. His wife Asni was a fantasic cook and she’d been up since 5:30am making a banquet of tinotuan with all the traditional accompaniments – smoked fish, fried tofu, tempe, pisang goreng, sambal, and love from her heart. It was absolutely delicious.
Suitably fortified we embarked on a mission of gathering information about the national park which was our actual objective in visiting the region. The ojek drivers on the corner next to where we stayed indicated that there was a place which may be of interest to us, so we employed two of them to take us on a mystery tour to “Toraut” to see what was there.
Twelve kilometres is a long way on the back of a motorcycle, along hopelessly potholed roads and tracks, but it was very pretty with Balinese temples and villages, and rice fields through the fertile Dumoga Valley. Eventually we neared the forested hills of the almost unpronounceable Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park and a defunct looking complex which marked its entry point – this was “Toraut”.
A very surprised-looking ranger, Henri, appeared, then dressed himself and ushered us into an incongruously large hall with a table and a couple of worn tourist brochures. An enormous rhinoceros beetle casually floundered on the tiled floor. When we stated that we had no permit he winced with bureaucratic consternation, but he answered our questions with growing enthusiasm and when we told him that we would come back to stay the next day he beamed with surprise.
We returned to Mopuya on a single ojek which we found after walking for a couple of kilometres, and the ride was actually smoother with three of us on the motorbike…
That evening we called again on our friends Yos and Asni to say our goodbyes, then we took home some very good sate ayam from the kaki lima at the crossroads, and had an early night.
Breakfast the next morning was much less interesting than the previous day. We had to scour the alleyways to find some nasi kuning, and ended up being the subject of a photo frenzy as people appeared from everywhere at the previously deserted warung, snapping away with mobile phones. They asked politely first of course.
We then waited for ibu Syifa to cook makan siang for the restaurant so that we could pakai bungkus, take a picnic for lunch. We chatted with the travelling kretek salesmen staying in the other room, and Surahman, whose ten year old som Amar used the backyard animals as target practice with his air rifle. A stray dog copped it in the backside and yelped off down the road, while his little sister ceremoniously buried a sparrow with a solemn prayer. He was a good shot.
After ibu Syifa had lovingly prepared our lunch parcels with kangkung, tempe goreng berlada and fried fish, we piled onto two ojeks and, loaded down with our luggage, negotiated the potholes back to Toraut a little more smoothly than the day before.
HENRI WAS PLEASED TO SEE us return as promised. He had prepared a room for us, faded grandeur for 130,000 rupiah a night. In the guest book we noticed that the last foreign visitors had showed up six weeks previously, and before that the last random visit was November – no wonder he had been surprised to see us!
We spent the rest of the day doing little more than chasing butterflies and watching birds by the river.
The late afternoon was a good time to go into the forest, and as we waited for the regular afternoon rain storm to pass we haggled with Henri and Arip (the park warden) over the fee we would pay for their compulsory guiding services. By 5pm and agreement was reached, and we all headed off across the Kosinggolan River on a raft and into the jungle. Both Henri and Arip were shod in gumboots. We walked for an hour through fig, palm and rotan forest, with Henri slashing his way heroically with a parang that sliced through lianas like butter. Once we reached “daerah tarsius” in a clearing next to a massive clump of bamboo frequented by tarsiers, we sat on palm leaves laid out like tarpaulins and waited for the darkness of night to envelope us. We saw plenty of bats, and we did see one tarsier early on, but he was high up the trees and very quick. For us, wildlife spotting usually involves looking for birds or large mammals, the tiny primate that we were now seeking out was just fifteen centimetres tall and apparently rather elusive. When night had fallen completely, the jungle was an amazing place to be. A few fireflies flitted around, a strange kind of fungus illuminated the rotting wood on the forest floor, and tiny little glowworms wiggled around looking for each other in the pitch darkness. We sat for at least an hour patiently waiting for our prey, but it wasn’t to be and we slowly made our way back searching all the while. We found a jungle fowl nest with eggs, and Henri caught a yabbie-type creature which Arip put in his bag for a dinner accompaniment. Just what one would expect from the park warden…
Once we crossed the river again we clambered around in the bamboo forest and found an entire family of tarsiers jumping around within metres of our room! We enjoyed quite a good sighting of one in particular after some amount of trouble locating him from his high-pitched chirping calls. Our own whispered calls were at first of frustration “waduh”…”dekat sekali…”, then excitement, “disitu, disitu!” as Henri and Arip were just as happy as we were.
It was 8:30pm when we finally got back to our room. We made a rendevous for the next morning and met Henri and Arip again at 5:30am for another expedition.
Even though we weren’t at high altitude, the night-time temperature provided by our proximity to the rainforest was very conducive to sleep. So, well refreshed we retraced our steps to “daerah tarsius” and slashed our way onward, climbing a little as the jungle woke up around us. Our most exciting encounter was with a pair of spectacular Sulawesi hornbills – they flew in sounding like light aircraft, then perched in a tree right above us, honking loudly. We had a great view of them, with their colourful head plumage and casques we decided that they were the most beautiful of the hornbills.
We didn’t even move a step for our next animal sighting as a band of kera, tailless black macaques, moved in the trees beside us. We followed them for some distance with their watchman eyeing us suspiciously. We had now spotted three endemic species of wildlife that we’d never seen before in less than twelve hours.
We continued on with Henri and Arip tut-tutting over some damage caused by the villagers illegally harvesting rotan, eventually making a river crossing and continuing on to a waterfall where we found two of the prospective offenders. Arip donned his official cap and sternly took down names. Soon after we popped out of the wall of forest which marked the parks unofficial boundary, and walked back to base through fields of maize.
It was 9:30am – early enough to head off and see how far we could get along the road northward.
We cleaned ourselves up a bit and bid farewell to our minders, then walked off down the road to Doloduo until an ojek picked us up. Eight kilometres on a motorcycle with three people and our backpacks was fairly intimate.
In Doloduo we didn’t have to wait long for an angkot to Kotamobagu, we sat for just twenty minutes chatting with a bright thirteen year old named Bili and his friends who wanted to know all about what we had seen in the jungle. They eyed our mud-caked hiking shoes and guessed where we had just come from…
IT TOOK ONE HOUR TO reach Kotamobagu. It was twelve noon and we deemed it too late to continue on to Manado, so we motored into town looking out for a prospective place to stay. The likely-looking hotels Ramayana and Tenteram were full, which only left Hotel Wijaya – a windowless brothel down the road. We restricted our stay in Kotamobagu to one night.
Lunch made up for the accommodation. After having not eaten a meal for twenty-four hours, we hungrily devoured two plates of rice, three vegetable dishes, a plate of tempe, and a fish steak – served with lots of smiles for just 25,000 rupiah. A visit to the internet cafe then filled in more of the afternoon than we would have liked. The connection was so frustratingly slow that afterwards we spent another two hours at the Indosat shop across the road trying to get an e-mail SIM card to work in our phone. Young Fenli behind the counter was most helpful and his service included two escorted excursions to the kantor Indosat – however it still didn’t work…
We put off returning to our dingy room, ludicrously labelled “VIP 6”, for as long as possible by prowling around the Paris Supermarket for essentials, and then stopping in a friendly warung for tinotuan. There Medan and his family looked after us – we even got a kiss each from the baby before tucking into our soup which was delicious and cheap (4000 rupiah!).
FINDING TRANSPORT TO MANADO WAS our challenge the next morning. We first got a little exercise by walking to the market to find a breakfast of gingery bubur kacang hijau, served with a slurp of evaporated and a drizzle of condensed milk. We checked out of the brothel and began asking for opinions about where to head – the bus station suggestion only drew blank looks, so instead we followed directions to the popular consensus of “pangkalan Paris dekat rumah sakit”. There we found a kijang ready to depart, with a driver wound up like a toy Elmo ready to talk his way to Manado. He politely announced that he would speak in bahasa Indonesia rather than the local tongue out of courtesy to us, then launched into a string of non-stop conversation which only required the occasional grunt from a fellow passenger in reciprocation. Topics which he covered ranged from the life and times of a mikrolet driver whom he knew in Manado, to what a pain bentors were to mankind. At 9am we stopped for a meal so that he could catch his breath. While the other passengers quietly complained about his “banyak banyak bicara”, we were quite enjoying the passive aural language practice!
We continued northward with the conversation moving into the back of the kijang and the realm of politics, while the driver cleaned his teeth and rested his vocal chords. With his mouth finally shut, he put his efforts into driving, unbuckling his seatbelt he threw caution to the wind and we were in Manado by 11:30am, having driven through a rainstorm at high speed while the passengers loudly solved the problems of the world.
ONCE IN MANADO WE HAD intended to go straight across to Pulau Bunaken, but looking at the chop in the bay and the evil in the sky, we decisively changed our plans rather dramatically. Instead of hopping on a boat, we looked for a room, again trudging from hotel to hotel looking for a vacancy. We ended up finding comfortable lodging with a great view of Gunung Klabat, in Hotel Angkasa Raya Indah, as drizzle turned into a downpour which lasted all afternoon! We could only venture out as far as the noodle shop next door for nasi soto ayam, and the internet cafe to satiate the previous days e-mail frustrations, get our pocket internet working, and learn that Michael Jackson had just died…
Adding to the inconvenience of the rain, was the streetside filth being cleaned out of the cities drains. Mounds of stinking black sludge were being manually shovelled by a team of labourers who were in it up to their armpits. At the end of their working day they cheerfully swaggered back to their team truck thoroughly caked in black filth. They gave me pause for thought…
The rain eased in the evening so we ventured out as far as the next street to a little eatery which served “rw”, “rintek wuuk” – soft fur. It was time we tried dog meat cooked Minahasan-style. The propietor, of Chinese descent, was most pleased to serve us his signature dish, which was very popular in a take-home pack. It was cooked as a rendang, the dark meat was tender and heavily spiced, but the skin was a bit chewy and there were a few bones. It was served with stir-fried cabbage and red bean soup, and at 18,000 rupiah for both our meals it wasn’t expensive.
Much tamer was breakfast the next morning. In the dining room downstairs Ratna presented us with teh manis and a chocolate toasted sandwich. We fortified that with some local snacks, temo coe, panekak and wajik on our way to the harbour on an epic information gathering sortie. We had great success, finding out about transport to Siau, Ternate and Bunaken, as well as buying fruit in the Pasar Bersehati – ten mangoes for 5000 rupiah, but less appealingly, particularly in light of our previous evenings repast, was the sight of rigid canines being singed with a blowtorch next to the boat jetty…
Moving on we ploughed through the morning ticking off our chores. We did some shopping, withdrew another two and a half million rupiah, and sent some promised foto kenangan. In between, we rewarded ourselves with another local treat, es palubutong – banana and coconut custard topped with shaved ice, syrup and condensed milk – tooth-crackingly sweet.
For lunch we sought out more Minahasan delicasies. At a small warung we were enticed by a cheerful spruiker named Alfred to eat “babi rica – pedas, pedas!”. The babi kecap was also melt-in-the-mouth, and served with a tangy sayur acar. The “rw” on the menu was extremely popular, but we’d gone off it after the scene at the boat jetty.
Meanwhile, the chop out on the bay had abated, but the sky was still overcast and threatening, so we formulated a plan and decided to head for Pulau Siau on the kapal cepat which left in two days time. We rounded out our day with a scrumptious martabak malabar, and slept on our change of plan.
With one more day up our sleeves, we took ourselves on an excursion to Airmadidi, with swift angkot connections just half an hour out of the city on the slopes of Gunung Klabat. There we found our way to a cemetery filled with pre-Christian tombs. The waruga were stone sarcophogi carved with animist images and we sat amongst them for a while with the mountain brooding behind us.
Back in town we mooched in the city square practicing our language skills with Puji, Syalif (a gold merchant), and Roy, a newspaper seller who told us that Gunungapi Siau had blown its top with lava explosions the week before.
We then had lunch at Alfred’s warung with all the dishes lined up in the window. Alfred had gone to Sunday mass, but we were still looked after. I had the cakalang rica, skipjack tuna, and Dave had pork steamed in papaya leaves. Everyone else was still going for the dog meat, not even bothering with the niceties of “rintek wuuk” – how much is that doggy in the window?
Now more intrigued about our next destination we went home and googled Gunungapi Karengetang. It was indeed rated at “siaga” (prepare to evacuate), after recent eruptions. We digested this information along with our evening meal of gado-gado, followed by klappertaart, coconut custard tart – very colonial.
“Express Bahari” left the next morning at 9 o’clock. We presented ourselves at the loket at 7am and joined a scrum of other passengers, first buying tickets, then elbowing our way onto the vessel to ensure seating for the five hour journey. On board we were treated to cheesy karaoke videos with uniformly predictable themes – one lovesick couple in particular wailed about their amour “sama deng lahar gunung Karengatang” comparing their love to the heat of a mud flow from the active volcano on Pulau Siau.
After two hours the said volcano came into view – a bank of cloud in the distance marked the island of Siau, and the active cone penetrated out the top puffing clouds of smoke. By this time everyone around us was looking a bit green, but a large pod of dolphins next to the boat brightened them up, and soon we were in the lee of neighbouring Pulau Tagulandang.
There we stopped to put down and take on passengers, an exercise akin to a game of ‘Twister’, as a heaving plug of bodies exchanged with another waiting on the pier. Porters and vendors squeezing expertly through any gaps they could find in the commotion. We continued on to our target, now smouldering in and out of the clouds, finally arriving in the village of Ulu at 2:30pm.
IT WAS A NICE PLACE to arrive in. Once we’d wriggled our way off the boat, we asked directions to a place to stay and within a few minutes we were settled into a comfortable room at the waters edge, watching the rest of the passengers still unloading from the Express Bahari.
We had travelled northward halfway to The Philippines to find ourselves on this remarkable island. Gunungapi Karengetang rose to 1800 metres, overwhelming the small island, and it was at that time the most active of all the volcanoes in the Indonesian archepelago. From outside our room we could see the mountain right above us. Smoke belched constantly from the caldera like a chimney, and around the rim steam issued from fumeroles. Below the lip was blackened with ash and lava from the recent eruptions, and the rest of the mountain was a mix of jungle and plantations of coconut and nutmeg. The remainder of the twenty kilometre long island was made up of other dormant volcanoes with villages clinging to their slopes.
Ulu Siau was a friendly place where the streets were lined with nutmeg and mace drying in the tropical sun; the women dressed liberally and the bemos looked a bit like Filipino jeepneys. We wandered along the main road a few times, unable to take our eyes off the volcano as we sought provisions, and in the night we got up at 2am to see how it looked. The red glow of molten lava picked the peak out of a dark moonless sky – it was truly an awesome sight, and the excitement of seeing it snapped us wide awake.
The next morning an obvious excursion was to climb toward it as far as we could. First we fortified ourselves with a breakfast of nasi kuning at a friendly stall in the market, and had a quick prowl through the fishmongery, noting plenty of bonito and barracuda, some squid, octopus, and a large turtle carved unappetisingly between flippers and blubber.
Next we asked directions of Ramsi, the propietor of Wisata Bahari where we stayed, then headed off upward toward our smoking nemesis. We followed a road which became a track, then a footpath and a rough trail. Along the way people pointed us in the right direction after being assured that we weren’t attempting to summit.
It was a hot and sweaty hike through the shady nutmeg forests, with ripe pala squishing under foot, but it was very pleasant. After a couple of hours we lost the trail and continued by following a dry riverbed of black lahar and pumice. We reached an altitude of just over six hundred metres before we faced a twenty metre high wall of solidifed lava and we could find no path around it in the jungle of tree ferns and bamboo. It was eerily quiet and cool.
By now cloud had closed in and we couldn’t see the summit, so, nervous about rain in view of the pathway that we were following, we retreated, enjoying good vistas and interactions with the locals on the way down.
A great morning was finished off with plates of tinotuan at the same stall in the market. We also were implored to pose for photos, looking something less than our best – the shots were already being circulated via MMS around the market before we had even paid for our meal!
During the afternoon we went to the pier to learn about our return transport options, and spent several hours in the harbour masters office chatting with Jon, Menix, the coastguard, and comical Adolfo about everything from politics to cinema – they liked Megawati, but not Jackie Chan!
We ate bakso at the pasar malam that night, and had a nice chat with Beni, the local pharmacist, when we bought some antistreptococils for Dave’s sore throat.
It was too cloudy to see the mountain during the night, and in the morning Dave sounded like John Laws, so we decided to have an easy day. After breakfast in the market we stopped at the bakery for tea, and due to a sudden rainstorm, that took two hours.
Lunch of tinotuan in a little kedai kopi took another two hours as we got side-tracked by the cook Jeanet and her adorable son, Viki, who had plenty of time for a chat – we left with a gift of fresh salak straight from the tree.
All day the mountain played hide-and-seek in the clouds, revealing itself spectacularly after the rain, furiously puffing smoke, and the entire blackened cone steaming in indignation. For dinner we returned to Jeanets coffee shop for gurita, octopus cooked in a fiery sambal with basil.
It rained heavily that night, further angering Karengetang, we saw it glowing red again, and in the morning it puffed like a gigantic cloud factory with smoke billowing high into the sky. We made an excursion to Sawang by jumping on a bemo, but by the time we reached a good view point at the pier, rain had enveloped the island again.
That day Dave’s sore throat had expanded to include a cough, so we called to see Beni at the pharmacy again, and later took the Express Bahari back to Manado. We hastily ate one last bowl of tinotuan with our friends in the market, then back in our room we threw our things together as the boat rounded the point and powered in to the harbour.
We were on our way by 12:30pm, seated comfortably in ancient airline seats, having decided to splash out on “kelas eksekutif” to avoid the seatless discomfort in “ekonomi“. It was a rough ride, and with the B-grade American movie, and noise of the jet engine it felt like we were ditching into the sea on some dodgy DC10. I kept an eye on the escape exit, thoughtfully labelled “emergency room”!
After our stop in Tagulandang we moved onto a Thai martial arts film, but I got tired of reading the Indonesian sub-titles and, having consumed my complimentary ikan panada, I dozed off listening to the musical sound of the Thai language in between karate chops and sword fights.
WE WERE BACK IN MANADO by 5pm, the sky was perfectly clear and we could see the string of volcanic peaks which filled the skyline of the peninsula. Our pal Roy, the newspaper seller, was there at the pier to welcome us back, and we returned to Hotel Angkasa Raya Indah to find a room waiting for us.
The city was busy with evening shoppers, and the Muslim minority was loudly extolling the virtues of Islam – something absent from our airwaves for the past few days in the purely Christian community on Siau.
In the morning we supplemented our chocolate toasted sandwiches with lalampa, fish and sticky rice toasted in banana leaf, and decided to enjoy a day or two in Tangkoko National Park, hoping that would give Dave a chance to recover.
So Ratna and Jeffrey again wished us a safe journey and we took a mikrolet to Terminal Paal Dua for a bus to Bitung. The ride was quick, even if uncomfortable – I was sat next to an unusually overweight woman, and we were squeezed in so tightly that I was almost disappearing into her fat rolls.
It took just over an hour to cross the peninsula, and on arriving in Bitung we had to sift through the throng of charter-touts to find a mikrolet to take us on to Girian, a suburb of Bitung where we found a pick-up waiting for passengers to Batu Putih. For an hour we waited sitting adjacent to an open-air meat market observing the dog butchering methods. Having already had their fur singed, it was off with the penis, and out with its rear end and entrails, then it was off with its paws and snout. The livers, swimming in a bucket of blood, were the most sought after portions, being fished out by the handful to discerning consumers. The smell was frightful.
Our reward for being the unlucky passengers to wait the longest, was that we got to sit up front with the driver, while everyone else sweltered in the mid-day sun on wooden benches in the back – quite a good reward…
BATU PUTIH WAS ONLY SEVENTEEN kilometres away, along a winding road to the sea. We were there by lunchtime, choosing Ranger Homestay out of the various accommodation options. The inviting-looking entrance way to the Tangkoko National park led off opposite the losman, and a few hundred metres down the road was the beach, picturesque with its coarse black sand and colourful fishing boats. It cost 150,000 rupiah for a room, inclusive of meals.
We decided to make an evening excursion into the park, so having gathered information from the warden during the afternoon, we met the compulsory guide allocated to us at the park gate at 4pm and set off.
Tan set a cracking pace, charging off in the standard issue gumboots, chattering loudly, pleased that he didn’t have to torture his vocal chords into English. Wondering how we were going to see any wildlife at such speed and volume, we put our trust in his method and stomped along, barely breaking stride as he casually pointed out a kingfisher and a maleo kecil.
We hiked for a solid three kilometres at high speed until he suddenly ground to a halt, announced “tempat tarsius”, threw down his kit bag, and produced his tools of the trade – a flashlight and a bottle full of grasshoppers. Meanwhile two fabulous knobbed Sulawesi hornbills noisily landed in the tree above us, but he wasn’t to be distracted from his work. Inside a giant fig he was training his torch until he made an exclamation of satisfaction and whipped out a grasshopper. We watched in amazement as two tiny little tarsiers made their appearance, keeping a close eye on Tan and the meal he had brought for them. They were amazingly brazen – even taking the grasshopper straight from his hand, and retreating only a little to eat their prize. Far from the flashlight bothering their enormous eyes, it seemed to act as a signal for them to find an easy meal, and we observed them at such close range we could examine every detail. With their huge eyes, big ears, and tiny furry bodies they were extremely cute. Their tails and fingers were disproportionately long, and they seemed to look at us with as much curiosity as we did them.
Shortly an American couple came along and we walked on for another fifty metres or so to find a pair of cuscus feeding in a nearby tree. These relatively large bearlike animals were as slow moving as the tarsiers were quick, and we watched for a while as they munched leaves in the tree tops. When we returned to the “tempat tarsius” we then understood Tan’s earlier haste – the fig tree had turned into a three ring circus with a dozen or more foreign nature lovers climbing over each other to get a look at the tarsier. Our guide smirked with satisfaction, “dia tak lapar sekarang – dia jauh…” We had already fed him so many grasshoppers that he was no longer hungry, and was hiding further up inside the tree.
We stayed for a while watching the show , then ambled back slowly as darkness fell. Tan’s gumboots were giving him curry, but he remained cheerful, pointing out other objects of interest which he knew exactly where to find. Dave spotted a forest rat at one stage, and he nodded approvingly, “enak makan – tikus goreng!” He told me the best way to cook it, and claimed that it tasted a bit like dog…
Back at the gate we planned a rendezvous for 5:30 the next morning and returned to our homestay for a mandi, a fish dinner, and a good nights sleep.
Tan’s gumboots were still troubling him in the morning, so he borrowed a pair of loafers from his neighbour before we set off, this time at a more sedate pace. Tan walked with his ears pricked, now and then stopping to look up quizzically into the forest canopy, but before long his shoulders had slumped despondently, and he had to resort to his mobile phone for support.
After a quick call we hastened our step and were soon surrounded by a terrestrial troop of black macaques and German tourists. The tailless kera were called yaki in the local language, but they were the same species of monkey that we had seen in Wartabone National Park. There were sixty yaki in the extended family group (considerably less in the German group) and they scurried around us barely bothered by our presence. We could get quite close to them, so we had a good look at their coquettish tufted comb-ups and the pink pads on their bottoms (the monkeys – not the Germans). But we had clearly been snookered by the other tourists, and Tan was pretty disappointed.
He made up for it by taking us quite far into the forest, boasting that the others were going back already, “puhhh”. There were quite a few hornbill, and Tan would periodically do some hornbill honking of his own in between pointing out objects of interest. But he was most pleased to ultimately lead us to “pohon besar, bisa naik di dalam” – a one hundred year old strangler fig with a large vertical chamber inside, hollowed from the long dead host tree. He disappeared inside it, proudly beckoning us to follow, then went out and contentedly laid down for a nap with a kretek dangling from his lip while we played inside the ficus. Dave easily climbed up about twenty metres while I photographed his escapade!
We ambled back to the rangers station through a forest tangled with lianas and twittering with birds. We even took a detour to the beach, which was here still black sand, but streaked with whitened coral from the offshore reef. It was 9:30am by the time we got back, happy and hungry! We couldn’t help but compare our regimented experiences in Tangkoko National Park to those in the almost completely untouristed Nani Bogani Wartabone National Park – vastly different, but each great in their own way.
We ended up staying for another two days. The environs were pleasant, and the beach adjacent to the national park provided big shady jungle trees to lay under on sand which looked like black poppy seeds. A bizarre spot to relax, especially with a large band of black macaques playing and foraging nearby, cautiously skirting around our encampment – we could lay on our sarongs in our bathers whilst watching rare wild animals in the national park!
The only other guests at our homestay were a couple of students, a British/French pair, Helen and Audrey, doing short term research on the critically endangered black macaques. But they mostly kept to themselves – the main effect that their presence had on our stay was that our communal meals coming from the kitchen were determinedly bland, and we had to politely request a dish of dabu-dabu at every sitting. We did, however spend a lazy afternoon chatting with Helen, who interestingly stated that both she and Audrey hated the black macaques, and didn’t care if they became extinct! In the evening we went together to a tree about fifty metres away across the road to find a sweet little tarsier (which she much preferred to monkeys) sitting at the entrance to his lobang doing his wake-up stretches!
AN EARLY START WAS REQUIRED on the morning of our departure. We were waiting on the road outside the losman at 6:45am, and by 7:30 we were being slotted into the back of a pick-up for the breezy ride back to Girian – me safely tucked into the centre with the other cewek, and Dave precariously perched on a periphery balanced over a tub of fresh fish.
In Girian we barely had time to notice the canine spreadeagled on the chopping block before we were on a city angkot to the bus terminal. There we were turned around within minutes, riding in a bus to Manado after some robust sport in a boarding scrum.
We were back in downtown Manado by 10am, queuing in the Bank BCA to try and extract the princely sum of four million rupiah. Having triumphantly crossed ‘bank’ off our list of chores, we headed to the shops to pick up some essentials, including a fix of tinotuan, then down to the harbour to see what transport we could find to Pulau Bunaken.
As it happened we were in luck – a Bunaken resident, Frengky, was waiting at the boat station for his wife to finish her shopping and he took us with him for the same inflated price (25,000 rupiah) as the public boat – it was a quick and comfortable option.
SO BY ONE O’CLOCK WE had landed on Bunaken and had begun the search for a place to stay – a hot and sticky operation. We trudged along the mangrove lined shore of Pangalisang beach surprised at the expense of the accommodation on offer. A Spanish couple whom we’d shared the boat with walked with us and by the time we’d reached the other end of the stretch the woman had turned into a tarantula, furious that her budget was going to be broken, and blaming us for her woes.
We decided to retrace our steps to the deserted Jonath’s Cottages to wait for someone to turn up. We chatted with a hanger-on, Roberto, until the manager, Mina, and her boys finally made an appearance and negotiated a rate agreeable to both parties – 250,000 rupiah for a bungalow, including all our meals – the best deal on the block, and the most quiet and pleasant location. Then the feral Spaniard turned up. She spoke to Mina with the utmost rudeness, gesticulating wildly, madly scribbling figures in the sand and barking “rupiah, rupiah”. Keen to disassociate ourselves, I quietly explained that we were by no means together, and we too were offended by her. Ironically at the same time another couple, Kavita and Pierro also showed up, and they were really nice. They stayed elsewhere, but we spent time with them during the afternoon.
Our bungalow was right on the beach, a thin strip of sand sheltered by an offshore forest of big shady mangrove trees with a little clearing out to the reef. Beyond the world famous reef, the view through the clearing was across to the mountainous mainland. It could only have been more pleasant if the Spanish loudmouth hadn’t also taken up residence. There were no other guests.
As soon as the tide was high enough we slipped on our masks and snorkels and went for a look at what all the fuss was about. Once we got out past the mangrove and sea grass at about sixty metres offshore, the reef began and after swimming out to eighty metres it was stupendous. At the rim of a breathtaking drop-off was a wonderful crust of coral which disappeared into the big blue. Fish teemed in great numbers – large pelagic species out over the deep, and smaller colourful varieties amongst the corals. At one stage we were completely engulfed by a school of bright green fish, disturbed from a magnificent head of pink stag coral. We’d no sooner come ashore and rinsed off, than Dave was off on the hunt for a dive shop…
Dinner was a little awkward that night. The Spanish couple were non-conversant, so Ita (Mina’s cousin) came to save us – dislike of them was apparently universal. Ita was nice and friendly, she also helped Dave tee-up a meeting with the dive-master at Kuskus Divers, who had the least unreasonable rates at 25 euro per dive.
Sunrise the following morning was beautiful. We were woken by the mangrove birds singing as dawn lit the sky, and water lapped at the beach on the full moon high tide. The weather was perfect for diving. At Kuskus, Dave got himself sorted with gear and set off at 8:30am, with me along to snorkel the dive site – ‘Lekuan Satu’.
The dive-master, Demsy, was a local and the other diver, Damien, was from Slovenia. I had a ‘snorkel-master’, Yanci, who swam around me like Marine Boy without a snorkel. When I jumped in I watched Dave vanish into the depths, then the boat disappear out to sea. We were several hundred metres from the western shore of the island over the drop-off – just me and Marine Boy beside the five metre deep shelf and a blue abyss. If I swam out over it white light beams refracted through it to a focal point somewhere in the blue depths.
We drifted with the current southward, along the edge of the precipice with masses of pyramid butterfly fish. Most notable was a trepang, sea cucumber, a small ray, and a couple of large yellow fin grouper.
Eventually we found the dive boat, and waited for the divers to resurface with tales from the deep. They had seen turtles, four in fact – within touching distance! They also saw a variety of nudibranchs, a moray, and lobsters. We motored home and Dave made arrangements for his next session.
The meals which Mina cooked for us were very good. Exceptional was her ikan tongkol rica, and chicken curry simmered in a sauce laced with cloves and pieces of nutmeg. Even the sight of the Spanish woman with her face forced into a permanent scowl, didn’t disturb our appetites.
Breakfast was a different matter – stale bread and jam is not good in anyone’s language…
The following morning was all blue sky and calm conditions, so we went out to snorkel the house reef for a solid two hours. We swam with the current southward then enjoyed a workout back against it. Our highlight was a fabulous Napoleon wrasse, but we also delighted in scores of moorish idols, parrotfish and purple dottybacks. There were stripy batfish, ever present unicorn fish, angel fish, triggerfish, boxfish, and yellow trumpet fish. We saw black snapper, and a school of mackerel feeding in unison with their mouths wide open. Purple and red tube worms were beautiful, and we saw quite a few sweetlips, as well as striped eel catfish swimming in tight knit swarms.
As well as the usual hard corals, there was lots of leather corals with horned and blue sea stars, and feather and basket stars brightening the contrasting colours. The only low light was the rubbish and other debris floating along with the current. Indonesia’s premier dive site often resembled a garbage dump at water level – we ran into a bad drift of it and were swimming through mouldy waste products and plastic bags which would smack us in the head or stick revoltingly to our bodies. Manky sea grass got caught up in the drifts along with planks of wood and bamboo. At one stage I swam hard to reach Dave and found that it was actually a decaying coconut, rather than the love of my life! The nearby city of Manado had a lot to answer for…
An afternoon dive had been arranged for that day seen as it was polling day in the national elections, and the boys were all busy in the morning voting for their champion, Megawati. We set off at 1:30pm – there were eight divers, a Croatian couple, Dan and Katerina, an English couple on their honeymoon, Lane and Sean, their travel companion Jillian, Dave, and the dive-masters Demsy and Jimi. A combination of of poorly maintained equipment and some novice divers led to a farcical scene at the dive site – this time ‘Mandolin’ at the western end of the island.
Katerina had a faulty octopus, and had to abort her dive as her tank hissed alarmingly shortly after she jumped into the water. So Dave buddied with Dan, who had great trouble descending, and Jimi led the dive. Lane was already feeling nervous, and although she gave it a go, she lost her nerve as the second group prepared to descend, and she came back to the boat also! I had just gone along for the ride, so we girls easily passed the waiting hour together.
With the fiasco behind them, they did enjoy their dive – along a two hundred metre deep sheer wall of soft and hard corals, and a rip-roaring current sending them along at an estimated speed of fifteen kilometres per hour at a depth of twenty metres! Reports varied from “exhilarating” to “wicked”.
After dinner that night we spent the evening at Kuskus with our pals, laughing and helping to strategise the hectic remainder of their trips. And we were back again the next morning for Dave’s final dive at ‘Lekuan Dua’.
The girls all stayed behind while Dave, Sean and Dan braved the dodgy equipment on a slightly overcast day. I had decided to stay out of the water altogether due to the jellyfish stings which had reached saturation point on my body. The red lumps didn’t look all that impressive, but each day ever-increasing quantities of calamine were required, and anti-histamines moved to the top of the medicine bag.
The boys came back raving about their dive. They’d had a really close encounter with a huge green turtle and two Napoleon wrasse. It had been another wall dive with abundant coral and blue trigger fish. They were all happy.
We had decided to leave the next morning – we were all packed and ready to go, but as we ate our breakfast (we were treated to pancakes that day) we had a change of heart, and decided to snorkel the reef one more time.
So we unpacked and reclined on our bamboo daybed by the waters edge watching the tide sink to the optimal level. Conditions were very good that morning, it hadn’t rained so there were hardly any jellyfish, and the prevailing breeze meant that there were no big rubbish drifts, just the occasional water cup and cooking utensil. The coral looked at its best in the morning sun and we swam northward enjoying all the previously mentioned wonders as well as a scorpion fish, a banded sea snake at close quarters, and two bright red hermit crabs flamboyantly housed in pink and purple conical shells. We swam along with large shoals of bright blue fish and saw two more Napoleon Wrasse. Dave was even lucky enough to spot a manta ray before it disappeared into the deep. A few times I kicked out to sea, a disorienting experience as my eyes were unable to focus on anything in the blueness, then I could about face to the colossal view of the coral cliff face spread out before me with Dave suspended above it motionless.
There were some other snorkelers out, and we even saw a few divers, Indonesians tourists doing a ‘resort scuba’, each punter flailing about frantically with a suited up minder pushing them downward apparently against their will.
After a particularly good lunch of barbecued fish, we set off to check out a bit of the island. We took the cross-island pathway to Pantai Liang, a scruffy beach strewn with rubbish and souvenir peddlers. There were top-notch hotels with great views of the volcano, Manado Tua, but at ground level it was appallingly dirty. We continued on rough foot tracks through forest, then mangrove swamp quiet except for the eerie popping noises one hears in such places. The trail brought us out on the path to Bunaken village, prettily lined with rainbow coloured bougainvillea and shaded by giant breadfruit trees. We ambled back through the village and on to our bungalow, a two hour walk which left me exhausted after having done little more than float around in the sea for the past five days.
The next morning we did actually leave. We payed our bill with Yeni, the owner, then had an interesting conversation about who commissioned our stay – it seemed that Ita was claiming Roberto’s kick-back! Anyway, we said our goodbyes and headed for the village to take the public boat back to Manado. As we sat waiting we watched a small out-rigger capsize when its propeller caught in an anchor rope – the ensuing rescue kept us entertained, as did the view of the smoking Gunung Lokon across on the mainland, and some light conversation with a Russian named Vladimir also waiting for the boat.
The public boat looked just like one of those vessels that one sees on the news being towed into Christmas Island. We sat inside amid an energetic game of dominoes between some of the lively women folk. The men watched quietly puffing on kreteks while the ladies yahooed wildly!
Back in Manado we went to the lokets near the harbour and brought tickets for the next boat to Ternate (leaving on the afternoon of my birthday), visited a pharmacy where one of the staff was a German shepherd, then headed for the hill country to wait it out.
A city angkot took us to the Terminal Karombasan, where we found amongst the melee a bus going in the general direction of Tomohon, just twenty-five kilometres away. The ride up into the Minahasan highlands was very scenic, it was a clear day so we had views of Gunung Klabat, Gunung Lokon, and as we climbed views back down to Manado and the Bunaken Islands.
OUR EXACT DESTINATION WAS A little complicated, so we changed from the Tomohon bound bus to an angkot for the last few kilometres, then everyone on the angkot became involved to determine our set-down point. From there we asked directions and found our way down a side road to the ‘Volcano Resort’, with Gunung Lokon looming up behind it.
There were only 80,000 rupiah ‘ekonomi’ rooms available, but considering our elevation, a cold mandi was still do-able, so we threw down our bags and went off to explore the town.
Tomohon was just a few kilometres down the road from Kakaskasan Dua, and after a few minutes on an angkot we were in the market place checking out the exotic merchandise on offer. The fruit and vegetable sections were expansive, and amidst them we found warungs serving our favourite tinutuan, here more commonly called ‘midal’. We happily slurped our soup then went for a browse through the butchery. Pork was most popular and innumerable pigs heads sat staring blankly at the goings-on. There were plenty of singed dog carcasses, not to mention charred forest rats skewered onto bamboo sticks, and blackened fruit bat corpses with their wings removed and their tongues protruding out grotesquely past sharp little fangs, as if they had died in excruciating agony. There were cages of live chickens and, similarly, dogs awaiting their fate. As we looked on in disbelief, a customer made a selection, settling on a cute black one with brown ears and a shiny coat. A noose was lowered into the cage and around the neck of the unlucky pooch, he was then hauled out and bludgeoned to death in front of his cell mates. I looked away just in time to miss the killer strikes – but as we walked away I glanced back to see the executioner laying a few more blows into man’s best friend for good measure. We were both quite shocked, and glad that we’d opted for the midal for lunch.
We bought a bunch of bananas and a pineapple, then headed for home – we’d recovered enough for a jus advokat and es kacang in town before taking an angkot back to the Volcano Resort where we found Vladimir had arrived also.
During the afternoon we reconnoitred the trail to Gunung Lokon, then had dinner at a warung up on the main road – we opted for pork, babi rica, and fern sprouts.
At 750 metres in altitude, Tomohon was quite cool at night. We needed the quilt that our bed was equipped with, and multiple visits to the bathroom down the hall were most unwelcome, but otherwise we slept well.
Climbing Gunung Lokon the next morning was more of an endeavour than anticipated. We set off at 6am following the road we’d reconnoitred, and continuing up until it petered out. Then we followed an old lava flow up onto the saddle at 1100 metres, where the crater smoked below us. We stood on the rim catching our breath looking into the caldera softly hissing as it released poisonous gas into the air, and a gentle breeze sent it harmlessly away from us over the southern side of the mountain. The trees around us and for a kilometre or so behind us were all dead from a recent expulsion of noxious sulphur gas. From this point the path to the summit looked clear, and we ploughed on up the mountainside with concrete-like compressed ash underfoot.
As we climbed the views were very good – we could see Tomohon below us, Gunung Klabat soared in the distance, and we could see Manado and the Bunaken Islands. Further from the volatile crater grasses grew, and as we got higher they became thicker and taller until we found ourselves scrambling up through a tunnel of blady elephant grass, two metres tall and cutting our skin to pieces. The notion that it would soon thin out kept us going onward and upward, until we’d gone beyond the point of no return. Eventually we could see the summit, and a small clearing in the blady grass at 1560 metres allowed for a rest break, but disappointingly there was no obvious viewpoint.So we licked our wounds – there was blood, sweat and, although we did remain dry-eyed, good reason for tears!
Going back down was much easier, we were travelling with the flow of the elephant grass and once we’d reached the ash slopes we only had to contend with our tired legs and wobbly knees. We met a group plodding upwards, but our dishevelled state made them reconsider, and they wisely turned back…
We staggered back into the Volcano Resort at noon and collapsed in the lakeside gazebo barely able to sip our tea. We were still there chatting with Clement, a Swiss guy whose nocturnal arrival had woken everyone the previous night, when Vladimir dragged himself through the front gate, looking even worse than we did. He was caked in dirt with sweat rivulets running through it – he rinsed off at the sink and left a trail of mud across to our table. He hadn’t found the path – he’d just headed straight for the peak cross-country, bush-bashing up through ten kilometres of the baldy grass to be defeated before reaching the summit…
For the rest of the day we did nothing more than drift up to the main road for a bowl of midal at 5pm – the only nutrient to pass my lips all day.
Gluttons for punishment, we got an early start again the next morning to climb another volcano. It was my forty-second birthday, so we were hoping for an easier bash than the previous days adventure. We were given pancakes and fruit salad for breakfast in the gazebo, then took a mikrolet into town, and another along the road to Rurukan – as per our instructions. We got down at the road to Gunung Mahawu, and walked a couple of kilometres up a paved road through a pretty forest to a pathway which took us to the summit, a pleasant forty-five minute walk to an excellent viewpoint. The volcanoes caldera dropped away at our feet, a huge hole with mud lakes and sulphurous fumeroles at the bottom, way below us. We hiked all the way around the rim, a thin crust falling away dramatically on both sides. We enjoyed spectacular views of Gunung Lokon and all of North Sulawesi through strategic gaps in the elephant grass, where we could also see exactly how precarious our path was. We then effortlessly retraced our steps to the Volcano Resort, and the last mikrolet even dropped us right at our gate!
We freshened ourselves up, packed our bags, and ordered lunch in the lakeside gazebo. We chatted with Vladimir, who had again tackled Gunung Lokon, with more success after following our directions, while we enjoyed the protracted wait for our meal. We ordered the ikan mas, goldfish which had to be caught from the lake. Chef had to fetch coconut husks for the barbecue, and one of the children was sent to the shop for kangkung. When it finally came, our meal was delicious – the goldfish was sweet and delicate, and the rica was just right.
After our celebratory birthday lunch we headed back to Manado. A mikrolet to the terminal, a bus back down the windy road to the city, and an angkot back into town. Amusingly we passed Vladimir pressed into the rear of another angkot and even queued together at the same ATM! Then we just had time to send e-mail and do some quick shopping before reporting to the harbour.
K.M. THEODORA II WAS A BIT TRICKY to find, slotted as she was into a row of similar steel hulled vessels which we had to shuffle through – but not before greeting our old friend Roy, the newspaper seller – “apa khabar???”.
We plunged into the bowels of the ship then found our berths, carefully selected from a blind lottery two days previously. They were actually quite good spots on the second deck – two top bunks side by side next to a window. With three-hundred-odd people crammed into our quarters, it was sweltering inside, but everyone was exceptionally friendly.
It was 6:30pm, two and a half hours past our scheduled departure time, when the engines finally roared to life and notice of our imminent departure was announced over a crackly public address system. The handlers were still frantically trying to load cargo through a portal on the lower deck, and some porters stubbornly stood fast on the gangplank, but the captain wasn’t having any of it, and we pulled away regardless. The gangplank fell into the boat which was unloading the cargo with the porters yelling in surprise. We shoved the other vessels aside and powered out of the harbour leaving the lights of Manado behind.
As we passed Pulau Bunaken, cups of water were handed out and everyone promptly did their duty, drinking the water and throwing the cups into the sea, to the doubtless dismay of tomorrow’s snorkelers. We chatted with some of the other passengers into the night, and fell asleep to the gentle rocking of the boat, and a cool breeze finally coming through the window.
We slept well and were woken by the tea man banging his pot and a rooster crowing below deck. We could see the cone of Hiri straight ahead and 1700 metre tall Ternate disappearing into the clouds beside it. We socialised on the deck as Theodora II neared the islands and skirted the northern shore of Pulau Ternate with scores of flying fish taking fright beside us and shearwaters flying overhead.
THE VOLCANO OF GAMALAMA LOOKED fantastic, its cone rising straight from the sea with villages, and ultimately the city of Ternate, huddled around its shores. We finally landed at 10:30am after adding an hour to our timepiece, then said goodbye to our new friends from the voyage to begin the search for a place to stay, with the added discomfort of light drizzle and extreme hunger.
Several brothels near the harbour were very friendly, but too dingy even for our modest standards. Further along Jalan Pahlawan Revolusi the more respectable hotels were all full, so we ended up finding Hotel Anda Baru in Jalan Ketilang, a scruffy whorehouse with a transvestite named Beni behind the reception desk. The bathroom was so bad that I photographed it, but at least it was our own, and we had a fabulous view of smoking Gunungapi Gamalama from our bed to compensate for the spunk stains on the lime green walls. The view was all the more clear because most of the window panes were missing.
Immediately striking about Ternate was the switch from Christianity to Islam – more women were wearing the hijab, and pointy-roofed mosques popped up everywhere wailing loudly at the designated hours. Few dogs roamed the streets. The people looked less Malay and more Papuan. Food choices were more limited and typically Indonesian – we had nasi ikan with a fish curry for lunch and a very good sate ayam for dinner, with a jus alpokat and some jackfruit thrown in somewhere in between. We strolled around the four hundred year old Dutch fort Benteng Oranye eating mangoes thrown to us fresh from a tree, and wandered along Swering Promenade to be accosted by students desperate to practice their English.
The next morning we decided to go for a hike on the mountain. After finding a warung serving ‘bubur Manado’, alias tinutuan, we employed our logic and headed for a street on our map called Jalan Cengkeh Afu. We asked around for confirmation and followed the road to Air Tege Tege, a tough uphill slog through villages with the first of the seasons clove harvest out to dry. We kept getting the nod that we were on the right track, “Cengkeh Afu masih jauh, naik ojek…” and continued upward until a sign pointed us up a pathway. At 300 metres in altitude we found the historic clove tree supposedly four hundred years old, and looking as though its best days were behind it. Somewhat underwhelmed we spotted a track leading up behind it and were drawn irresistibly upward through nutmeg and clove plantations clinging to the mountainside.
We climbed higher and higher on a carpet of cengkeh leaves which, when crushed, smelled of the strong fragrance of cloves. Eventually the path became so steep that we could barely keep our balance, but we still climbed much further than intended, reluctantly stopping at an altitude of 830 metres when our water supply ran out. We were in the clouds, almost exactly halfway to the summit of Gunung Gamalama. Views of neighbouring Pulau Tidore and Kota Ternate were good on the way down, and we felt that we had earned our nasi ikan when we got back.
In the afternoon we wandered, rather conspicuously, through the city’s large market and sat on Swering Jetty enjoying the view of Pulau Tidore, and conversation firstly with the local children dripping from their afternoon swim, and then with some contractors from North Sulawesi, Marsel, Yopi and Yosepus. The sun set on a martabak telur at the waterfront night market.
We wanted to see a bit more of the island the following day, so after breakfasting on bubur kacang hijau at a roadside kaki lima, we jumped on a tricked-up mikrolet with no less than forty rear view mirrors and a stuffed ‘Taz’ on the windscreen, going to western Ternate.
We got down at the road to Danau Tolire Besar, a sheer-sided indentation in the side of the mountain with a deep green lake in the bottom reflecting Gunung Gamalama. The entire crater was heavily forested and we walked around the rim enjoying nature.
We took another mikrolet back as far as Sulamadaha, and went for a stroll on the black sand beach overlooking Pulau Hiri. Around the headland was a beautiful cove where we rested under the pandanus palms feeling that we were somewhere truly exotic.
Back in town that evening, as we sat on the Swering Jetty we were surprised by a group of scuba divers surfacing beside our dangling feet – they were a party of local government workers with a common interest in the sea, and their delightfully camp spokesman Kris sat and chatted with us (in English!) for a while before the requisite selfie. We always had to look presentable.
Hotel Anda Baru was subject to a police raid that night – at 3am we were woken by a loud knocking on our door, and opened it to be confronted by a dozen uniformed police with a video camera. We produced our passports and after a brief interrogation , “sudah lapor? kerja apa disini!?”. We were allowed back to sleep with an apology. Almost everyone else was hauled down to the police station, and it was all over in about fifteen minutes.
Those remaining in the morning were looking pretty melancoly, barely grunting a reply to our “pagi!”. For us, it was business as usual and we got on with our sight-seeing. We had our breakfast of bubur Manado, then the lady from the warung tucked us into a mikrolet bound for Bastiong and that dropped us off at Benteng Kalamata, a seaside Portuguese fortress originally built in 1540. We safely sat on a crenellated bastion contemplating the view of Gunung Kiematabu and wondering whether we could climb it, while 2500 kilometres away two hotels were being bombed in Jakarta.
Moving on we took another mikrolet a few kilometres further around the coast to Ngade, where another five hundred year old Portuguese fortress crumbled on a clifftop, and we sat for some hours in a precariously positioned restaurant named Floridas overlooking the strait between Tidore, Maitara and Ternate. Out on the terrace we sipped a delicious concoction called air guraka, sweet ginger tea with kenari nut slivers, as our friend K.M.P Theodora II came sailing past on her way back from Sanana. Later we ate a gastronomically delightful lunch. The ikan woku daun was one of the best things I’d ever tasted in my life, a red coral trout coated in a paste of kenari nuts, turmeric, whole chillies, lemon basil, galangal, tomato and spring onion, and grilled inside a banana leaf. With it we had another local speciality, sayur garu, shredded papaya leaf, banana stem, and green flower buds stir-fried with shrimp paste and chillies. And no perfect meal would be complete without a plate of kangkung cah. The amazing view was forgotten while we ate…
After lunch we wandered a bit further around the coast road to Fitu, where we sat on the beach looking at the drawing on the one-thousand rupiah note come to life before our eyes, right down to the fishing boat in the foreground!
When we got back to the Anda Baru everyone was in a better mood. One of the ladies was sprinkling a magic potion liberally around the premises, a cigarette dangled from her scarlet lips as she gave me too a flick of magic in a cloud of kretek smoke.
We met Kris and his diving buddies again on the Swering Jetty that evening, and had a very good ketoprak at a warung on the way home, the mouthwatering peanut sauce was expertly pounded out in a mortar and pestle on the spot.
There was another nocturnal disturbance at the Anda Baru that night, as a fight broke out in the laneway outside our window. It sounded as though a motorcycle was being dismantled and smashed to pieces amid much shouting and scuffling. It went on for a long time, but even in my fear the anthropologist in me noticed that the local dialect was strangely affected by a Portuguese lilt.
Eventually at 4:30am the sound of the muezzin from the mosque across the street drowned out the fracas and it moved away as Arabic prayers took over in interrupting our sleep.
We had already decided to leave that morning – the smell of disinfectant had disappeared from the bathroom to a point of unpleasantness signalling that it was time to move on. We checked out and had our usual breakfast of bubur Manado, then jumped on to the first mikrolet to pass by. The public transport system in Ternate wasn’t very regimented, the method of catching a mikrolet was to call out your destination to the driver, then letting him decide if he was willing to include that place in his route. So we were lucky first go, and were soon at Bastiong where the speedboats to Tidore departed from.
There was a boat waiting for two passengers just as we arrived, so we were slotted straight into one of the little twelve seaters equipped with two outboard motors. We zipped out of the harbour, the driver steering one outboard with his knee while he continually re-started the second, making for a jerky, bumpy ten minute ride.
LANDING IN THE VILLAGE OF Rum, we continued our journey by mikrolet, with everyone piling into a waiting vehicle for the thirty minute ride to Soasio, the main town on the other side of Pulau Tidore.
We drove into town with eyes on stalks looking for a place to stay, and immediately spotted Penginapan Saroja. I yelled “kiri!” and the mikrolet ground to a halt, conveniently depositing us at a suitable lodging. We then sat on a verandah looking across the water to the North Moluku mainland of Halmahera, waiting for a room to become available. An agriculture conference was just wrapping up in the waterside function room and we were painstakingly photographed with almost every participant.
It rained for the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. Actually it poured, one of those torrential tropical downpours. As the tide came in it seemed like the rain was filling the sea in front of us as we sat on the garden terrace watching it fall.
In the late afternoon we ventured into town to find something to eat. In the market we bought bananas and mangoes and found a rumah makan Padang, as authentic as it comes. Umar filled our table with plates of singkong in curry gravy and ikan rendang. He had moved from Solok a year earlier, and together we reminisced about West Sumatra.
We bought supplies at the little supermarket, including uncannily a cake of soap , then went home to find that a rat had stolen ours from the bathroom! We could hear him throwing it around in the ceiling…
We then climbed up to the nearby Benteng Tohuls, a crumbling fortress from the Spanish era, and watched the sun set from our pier.
We rose at dawn the next day with the rather ambitious aim of climbing Gunung Kiematubu, the beautifully symmetrical cone which we had been admiring for the past week. We asked advice of our hostess, Salma, and the first step was easy – a mikrolet took us to the market where we found a rudimentary breakfast of steamed cakes, then asked around at the mikrolet terminal for something going to Gurabunga. There was much head scratching, pained expressions and gesturing to a very empty corner of the terminal… “sebentar…”
We waited a while, being amused by a conversation with a by-stander, Jafar, “Agama kristen? Oh, tidak apa apa…”, then decided to take an ojek instead. A lonely ojek rider looked at us most disinterestedly and kindly ushered us back to the bench that we had already been sitting on. But all was not lost, a few minutes later an angkot wheeled into the Gurabunga hotspot and we were swept on board and on our way in seconds.
The road to Gurabunga went straight at the mountain. Any four-wheel-drive enthusiast would have been thrilled at the degree of the incline, but who needs a four-wheel-drive when you have a go-anywhere bongo van? Our driver was unfazed, throwing it into first gear and tackling it with aplomb. He even stopped to collect passengers and performed the mother-of-all ‘hill-starts’.
Gurabunga was just beneath the saddle which the road continued over to reach Lada Ake, and when we told the driver our target, he at first misunderstood – we had to re-iterate that we intended to climb to the top of the mountain, not just get driven to the pass. He dropped us off at the mosque (at 600 metres altitude) and pointed us down a likely-looking street telling us “pertanya disana”. We did as instructed, asking directions to the peak from two ladies who looked us up and down incredulously. After a brief discussion it was decided that for 50,000 rupiah Uncle Sawal would lead us through the plantations and point us in the right direction when we reached a point beyond the branching paths. It was 8am. After his summons, Sawal appeared stretching with comical exaggeration. He also looked us up and down doubtfully, then set off at a cracking pace, striding off through the spice gardens following what was actually an obvious path.
We continued across the saddle, climbing over stiles and traipsing through backyards where farmers were busy at work. We struggled to keep up – especially Dave, who was carrying three litres of water plus food rations – but as a fifty year old smoker, Sawal was doing plenty of huffing and puffing.
Finally, after half an hour, he threw himself down on a purpose-built resting platform and gestured into the forest. We were on quite a wide pathway in a bamboo grove, and we never would have picked the indistinct foot track barely visible in the jungle. He gave a few words of advice, followed behind for a short distance, then waved us off. We had by now climbed to 900 metres.
The trail to the top was rough, but easy to follow and with good footholds in the steep sections. It was cool in the jungle and the climb was really enjoyable. Not far from the top we popped out of the forest and proceeded up on grassy slopes, and the views were already something to get excited about. But when, after just over two hours of hiking, we reached the summit the panorama was just awesome.
One side of the volcano’s old caldera had completely blown out, so we hiked around the semi-circular crust looking down into the remnants of the sheer-sided crater over half a kilometre deep, and filled with lush vegetation. To the north was Gunung Gamalama with the city of Ternate spread around its shoreline. Below us was Tidore’s own coastline, and to the south the volcanoes of Mare, Moti and Makian jutted from the sea. In the distant south was Pulau Bacan, and stretching across the eastern horizon Halmahera was occasionally visible as clouds blew over the eastern face of the mountain below us. We stood just a few kilometres from the sea at an altitude of 1730 metres, and it felt like we were on top of the world.
We watched the cloud puffs blow around the view beneath us for an hour or so before beginning our descent. It took three hours to get back down to Gurabunga – even though it was the middle of the day, it was cool at that altitude in the forest, so we took our time to enjoy it. The gardens around the village were mostly growing nutmeg and cloves, but there was also cassia, cassava and sugarcane, and the village itself was full of brightly coloured flowers. The ladies from the house near the mosque kindly invited us inside for a rest. They nodded their approval at our previously-doubted mountain climbing abilities, but we were famished and all I could think of was Umar’s rendang.
We walked for a while down the road until a mikrolet picked us up for the roller coaster ride to the bottom. It was like riding in an overloaded bongo-van down Katoomba’s scenic railway line – but without the safety cable. The driver, who was alarmingly young, took her down in first gear as everyone nervously chewed gum.
But, of course, we made it and Umar was there in the Rumah Makan Sarunai Minang to again fill our table with Sumatran delicacies, and again he had time for a chat. Nothing could surpass his beef rendang, and he told us that his recipe was so good that it would keep for three months without refrigeration! It tasted devine.
On the way home we stopped for a refreshing es campur – it was sweet enough to make our teeth curl, but the vendor fretted as we spooned in the first few mouthfuls, “cukup manis?”…
Back at home we were surprised to find that another traveller had turned up – Oriel, a British woman living in Brunei. She had the useful information that it was a public holiday the next day, so our plans had to be rethought.
The 240 volt generator pounding away all night next to our room helped us to make a decision. We watched the sun rise from the end of the Sultan’s jetty, then packed our things, drank a potent brew of kopi manis and said goodbye to Salma with genuine warmth and a foto kenangan. She saw us onto an angkot to Rum, and we smoothly switched to a speedboat back to Ternate. It was a nice day, but the peak of Gunung Kiematubu had been shrouded in cloud all morning and we marvelled at our good luck the day before.
FROM BASTIONG WE HEADED INTO the city seeking any alternative lodging to our previous one, but EVERYTHING was full. And so we found ourselves again darkening the doorway of Hotel Anda Baru. The receptionist looked at us with a subtly raised eyebrow, checked behind him to see that key 19 was in its slot and nodded imperceptively – at least we didn’t have to spend the night on the street.
It turned out to be a good rest day for achy leg muscles. We had nasi ikan for lunch, lazed around and did some shopping in Ternate Mall.
It was all fun and games on the Swering Jetty that evening. Half of the city had turned out because of the public holiday and they were all swimming in the harbour, fully clothed, floating in inner-tubes and life jackets, or doing swan dives off the end of the jetty. We made a new friend, Hary, who had recently moved from Solo and was working as a ojek driver. Young Awal, from Tidore was there again for his evening run and he told us about a local superstition held about our mountain. Apparently tainting the soil on the summit with bodily waste is a dangerous persuit, which explained all the water bottles filled with murky-coloured liquid that we’d seen on the peak. Guiltily we cast our minds back to our own calls of nature – but that was okay, because we had been below the treeline – phew!!
We had ketoprak on the way home, this time from a young man operating from a kaki lima on Jalan Boisori, and he won us over.
Hotel Anda Baru had another horror in store for us that night. At midnight I was woken by the distinctive sensation of a bed-bug bite. I had visions of myself spending the night on the plastic chair, but disaster was averted – the culprit, an extremely large specimen, was working alone and after his execution and the application of cortisone and anti-histamine the drama was over.
A visit to the Sultan’s kraton was on our agenda for the next morning. We were just about to tuck into a breakfast of mie kua when we were bailed up by Rusni, an English teacher at the local SMP. She insisted that we make a date for us to visit her – at the school – but she never followed through with her threat…
The kraton was very royal-looking and beautifully positioned beneath the volcano, but it was sadly umkept. His Highness Faisal Sulaiman needed to get out the lawnmower. We ogled for a while, then pressed our noses to the front windows, but there was nobody around. We had to settle for a poster of the Sultan in his crown topped with cassowary feathers opposite the front gate.
Down on the royal pier we took in the view, Tidore’s peak was still in the clouds, and we formulated a plan for the next week. Setting it into motion, we then went to the Pelni office at the harbour and bought tickets for Fridays departure to Bitung. Feeling curious, we then stopped at a warung and ordered es pisang ijo to find out what it was – hunks of banana covered in fluorescent green pandan pancake swimming in a bright pink liquid of ice and sugar didn’t look all that appealing, but it tasted okay…
We then procured food supplies, checked out of the Anda Baru and headed for the terminal to find a mikrolet to Sulamadaha. The one we caught was loaded with shoppers from Pulau Hiri, so it was a squishy ride with boxes, bags of rice and sleeping grannies, but we were there in thirty minutes.
PANTAI INDAH HOTEL WAS AS we’d remembered from our reconnoitre – 50,000 rupiah for a clean and spacious room. And we were just settling in when Oriel arrived, struggling under the weight of her baggage.
After eating our nasi ikan bungkus, lovingly prepared by Ardi at our favoured warung, we went down to the gorgeous little cove we’d found on our previous visit for a swim and a snorkel. The water in the cove was aquamarine blue, a deep hole surrounded by the remnants of a coral garden. The shores were hemmed in by lush vegetation, and the smoking volcano Gamalama was visible above. The recovery coral that was there was good, some vivid purples and a white soft coral covered in little hands with fingers reaching out to grab food particles. There was also one amazingly big patch of anemone with dozens of clown fish all living together. It was enough to hold our attention whilst swimming in that paradisical cove.
Our hostess, Mila, thoughtfully provided an evening snack of lalampa and delicious custard cake with a cup of tea – nice to sit and have a chat over with Oriel.
In the peace and quiet of early morning, the cove was even more beautiful, there were more fishes to hold our snorkelling interest, and the little wooden platforms on the rocks under the trees provided idyllic spots to sit and while away the morning.
The only problem with Sulamadaha was that there was nowhere to buy food. At lunchtime we caught an angkot back to the city for our usual nasi ikan and picked up some snacks to tide us over – a pineapple, some delectable mangosteens and some crispy pisang molen, still piping hot.
Our little cove was busy in the afternoon and we provided countless photo opportunities to the fun-seekers. I don’t ever want to see those pictures of me with a red mask ring around my visage and my hair looking like a sea monsters.
THE NEXT MORNING WE RETURNED to Ternate for one last night before our Pelni departure. We were back in town by 9:30am, but despite every effort it seemed that we were doomed to stay at the Hotel Anda Baru – you can check out but you can never leave…
It was a drizzly day so we didn’t do much – we had nasi ikan at our favoured warung and said goodbye to Ardi, who had been preparing our lunch for almost two weeks. We ate with a Papuan man who tried to pay our bill and then kissed us both – a traditional South East Asian cium!
Swering Jettry was again our chosen venue for the afternoon, we sipped air guraka then enjoyed the scenery. Gunung Kiematubu was out of the clouds, and Gunung Gamalama was smoking furiously. I was chatting with a girl from Jailolo, when who should happen by but Vladimir!!! He had been walking in our footsteps for the past three days and was heading off on the 9pm Pelni ship to Ambon. Then we ran into Oriel, leaving on the same vessel that night! We went home greeting and waving like celebrities as we went, “hello misteeerr!”, “kemana misteeerr?”, “misteeerr…misteeerrr”. We ate ketoprak at the kaki lima on Jalan Boisori, then had an early night.
We had to take a different room at the Hotel Anda Baru, it had a big picture window with a memorable view of the concrete wall of the building next door – about five centimetres away. It also had a bed bug infestation, and in anticipation of a rough night I dosed with anti-histamines before the event.
The mosque woke us at 4:30am, and all I needed was a quick wash down with cortisone cream before we left for our early morning departure.
K.M. Dorolonda was already at the harbour. The massive ocean liner was all lit up like a Christmas tree, and its ten storeys of steel towered over the port and the city – an impressive sight even in the pre-dawn darkness. The fog horn boomed out as we elbowed our way up the gangplank, and we made straight for an upper deck, past the economy class sardine tins where spaces were allegedly allocated to us. We found a good spot on a wooden bench and as dawn broke the horn was sounded again and we made our 6am departure out between the volcanic cones of Ternate and Tidore.
The ship had begun its voyage in Sorong, so there were many Papuans on board, friendly people ready with big smiles and polite handshakes. After four hours of sailing we lost an engine. Dave’s GPS was the first to notice, when our speed reduced by half. A look into our wake over the stern confirmed the matter, which was apparently irreparable.
So our day on the deck was much longer than anticipated – the eight hour voyage took thirteen. We passed the time with the occasional conversation – a man going home to Bitung from where he was working in Sorong had cashed in his plane ticket to take the Pelni ship for a profit – Yhon from Namlea who wanted us to send him a metal detector for his new career in gold prospecting – and a Papuan albino who was on his way to Bali for tourism education (though any prospective tourist customer would have surely been put off by his grotesque betel stained mouth and his necklace of boars teeth – he stayed well clear of the musholla during prayer time). There were also students en route to universities in Surabaya, and children looking for a laugh with the ‘misters’.
After turning our watch back an hour, it was 6pm when we finally anchored in Port Bitung. The scene at the harbour was amusing at first – a throng of orange-clad porters had climbed up a gang-stairway which then had to be moved into place once we docked. But with all those porters on it, it was too heavy too move. In the ensuing scramble, a crowd of passengers got caught up in the excitement, and as soon as the porters began jumping across to the ship a crush developed, and it took a policeman beating people with a piece of wood to calm things down. Soon our gangway was lowered and we entered the fray ourselves, police on the dock warned everyone to watch their wallets and small bags as we barged along with the crowd, everyone with tempers frayed after a long day.
We forced our way through the exit gate and just kept walking – past the melee of mikrolets and buses, to the main road where we found an angkot waiting to sweep us off to the bus terminal. The city streets were congested after the arrival of the Pelni ship, there was no chance that we were going to reach our target of Tomohon that day, so we decided to head to Manado instead. We didn’t have to wait long at the terminal for an onward bus to leave, and a little two year old girl lightened everyones mood by sitting herself on Dave’s knee, laughing as she played with his beard. We were in Manado by 8:30pm.
Luckily Ratna had a room vacant at the Hotel Angkasa Raya Indah, and we crashed into bed after a mandi and a custard cake…
Nasi jaha made a good breakfast the next morning, black sticky rice flavoured with pork fat cooked inside bamboo went well with a chocolate toasted sandwich and a glass of tea…
We then completed our interrupted journey to Tomohon – a simple matter because we already knew the drill – mikrolet to Terminal Karombasan, bus up the scenic and windy Tomohon road, mikrolet to Kakaskasan Dua, walk from Gareja Pneil to Volcano Resort.
THE SAME ROOM WAS EVEN waiting for us, though we’d been hoping a bungalow would be available. A trip to the market for food supplies was our only outing for the rest of the day. Salak, bananas and a pineapple were our choices from the market day exotica. At a restaurant in town we tried another Minahasan dish, but the babi hutan (wild boar) left something to be desired, especially with tufts of hair still attached. Much better was the cakalang fufu (smoked tuna) which came with a tasty chilli sauce.
Back in the frog pond gazebo, a couple of Canadians, Chris and Becky, and an Englishman, Clive, were just tucking into a meal of snake, flying fox and forest rat, and we were invited for a taste test. The python was chewy and not very good, but the paniki and tikus hutan were quite alright, the rat especially had a nice barbecue flavour. Rain then saw us tucked into the gazebo for the remainder of the afternoon discussing our findings – popular consensus was that the bat tasted like beef…
The rain brought the temperature down considerably making the cold mandi a rather bracing experience. I had to put my jumper on for the first time on the trip, then we had a warming bowl of midal up on the corner, and snuggled under a down quilt all night!
Feeling like some exercise the next morning we offered to show a French couple, Claude and Justine, the first part of the route to Gunung Lokon. And the mountain proved again what a bastard it could be! Along the way a man told us that there was a much better path, and following his directions we ended up taking a route through coconut plantations more directly toward the crater. But the path was tricky to follow, it was a bit like a Hash run with paper chases down dead ends and Dave playing the hare, and it ended up narrowing to a track through the dreaded blady grass. Dave and I turned back, having already walked twice as far as intended, while Claude and Justine ploughed on with rugged determination. They did make it to the crater at least, and returned via the lava flow, happy with their adventure…
Meanwhile we went into town for an early lunch. Unimpressed by the previous days dining experience, we tried the restaurant next door, and it was much better. Mei, the chef, had cooked up a storm and from the assembled dishes we chose pakis (stir-fried fern fronds), brenebon (red bean and pork soup), babi kecap and paniki. The fruit bat was done in a curry sauce and although the taste was nothing special, the novelty of chewing on leathery bat wings was bizarre.
The afternoon melted away again in the gazebo chatting with our fellow travellers, our number expanding to include two Slovenian women and a Dutch couple, Rein and Mica. In the evening we found ragey (sate pork) being cooked in an all-encompassing cloud of sate smoke. Large chunks of skewered pork chops with the skin blistered into crackling, was served with dabu-dabu manis and stir-fried banana stems. As an extra treat I got a big kiss from Jose, the cook’s two year old son!
After our complimentary banana pancakes the next morning we took ourselves on an excursion to Danua Linau. An angkot from the terminal dropped us off in the village of Lahendong from where we walked up to the enormous crater of dormant Gunung Linau. The old crater was picturesquely filled with a jade green lake, and padi fields. Sulphur vents hissed around the shores discharging gasses which changed the colours of some patches of the lake to a milky green. Our explorations led us to a bamboo lesehan where we sat overlooking the tranquil scene.
On the walk back, wondering about all that geothermal activity, we asked around and got directions to a hot spring. It was just a few kilometres back down the road to the unfortunately named ‘Hutan Pinus’, a great little spot to spend a few hours.
Idyllically surrounded by pine forest, it was a vast area of bubbling volcanic activity. There were milky blue pools gurgling into streams, belching mud puddles, and chocolate-coloured ponds of water boiling furiously from the earth. Yellow steam vents hissed everywhere sending puffs of sulphurous gas steaming into the atmosphere. In front of a frothy green pond we found a bathing place – a little bathhouse with four rooms containing private tubs which we could fill with the hot, milky mineral water, and soak until our hearts content.
We emerged after an hour and a half with skin pruned and our tans sloughed off with half a kilo of epidermis, removed in our only contact with hot water in two months. The cool mountain air provided a great thermal contrast, and as we dried off our skin felt smooth and moisturised, but a little smelly. We also had the whole place to ourselves – the only other people we saw, rather strangely, was a bride and groom posing amid the mud pools with their photographer.
Back in town we returned to Mei’s kitchen for a late lunch of babi rica and cakalang bakar. Then after the requisite laze in the gazebo we only needed a light evening snack – up on the corner we had fried bananas, affectionately known as pisgor, and locally dipped into a sauce of chillies and shrimp paste – though we personally prefer a sauce of chocolate and coconut, it was still good.
The social scene in the gazebo dried up that day. There was an exchange of guests which saw all the friendly ones leave to be replaced by ‘flashpackers’. I’m sure it wasn’t to do with our sulphur soak, though we were still a bit on the nose until our next mandi…
The next morning was Tuesday market day, so we went early to check out the action. We spent two hours there, poking around in every corner – but it was the butchery which again held our attention the longest. We had already been seasoned to the initial horror of the scenes there, so we were more able to relax and enjoy the experience, and spent some time talking with the blood splattered butchers.
We learned that the fruit bats came all the way from South Sulawesi, and they arrived from there already deceased from a blow to the head with a piece of wood. Processing of the carcasses was all done in the market – a customer delicately sniffed at a wing while the bodies were being sorted and gutted.
The rats we knew were local because we had seen them being hunted with dogs in the gardens around town, but one of the vendors was happy to know that we had already sampled his merchandise and gave it the thumbs up!
The babi hutan, wild boar, came from Gorontalo where there was no local market for it. The pythons, one of which was eleven metres long, came from Central Sulawesi, and while we spoke to its vendor a lady came along and purchased three kilograms of it for 90,000 rupiah. The conversation became more intriguing when we asked about the black macaques – he told us that the meat was yellowish like human flesh, but with the addition of spices was quite edible if one was willing to risk the possibility of a fine.
The dogs were local, and we’d already witnessed an execution so we didn’t linger in that department except to examine a graphic cross section amongst the charred corpses. The pork was similarly dissected but somehow easier to look at.
Down the back we found a few oxen on the chopping block, their placid-looking heads seemingly watching over their own bodies being carved into manageable-sized pieces. Chicken was also popular, and there was a large fish market where we spoke to a cakalang fufu vendor who explained the smoking process to us. Further along were fresh tuna and fish heads as big as our backpack.
Things were a bit tamer in the fruit and vegetable sections – the bargain of the day was mangoes (four for 1000 rupiah!) and Dave entered the scrum with other eager shoppers. After all our browsing we still felt strong enough to eat a couple of bowls of midal before another stroll around and our eventual departure.
We headed next to the volcanology monitoring station, which was in a backstreet near to where we stayed. Farid, the geologist in charge, was happy to talk with us about the seismic activity in the surrounding areas. We were interested to learn of a tectonic earthquake the previous day, and a minor rumble from Gunung Lokon during the night at 12:30am. The centre made daily reports to Bandung about all the volcanoes in the region including Gunung Karengetang on Siau and the locally explosive Gunung Soputan which had gained fifty metres in height over the past few months.
We then walked through manicured fields to an out-of-place Chinese pagoda which offered a good view of the neighbourhood, before we headed back into town to check out Mei’s lunch dishes. We chose our favourites – cakalang fufu, babi kecap, and stir-fried banana stem, then went back home to wash off the sulphur fumes and relax by the frog pond eating our mangoes.
That night whilst relaxing in our room we noticed a foul doggy odour and realisation dawned that it was our camera case – I had accidentally dropped it in the market muck that morning, and in all the excitement forgot about the incident – until now, and the three second rule definitely didn’t apply…
We left the next morning, after breakfast listening to a whinging English couple who literally needed help to wipe their own arses (the gent had to employ Frangky to go and buy toilet paper for him). Manado was again our destination, and the ride back down from the highlands was the final leg of our Sulawesi exploits.
WE ARRIVED IN TOWN WITH the gods smiling upon us. There was lodging available at our first choice in accommodation. Hotel Anggrek had a room on the rooftop for 100,000 rupiah with a mandi, a fan and our own terrace, conveniently located in the downtown area of Jalan Kartini. Hebat!
We had allowed two days in Manado for shopping and eating (not necessarily in that order). We left our camera case soaking, and got cracking straight away with a visit to the Pasar Bersehati to buy some fruits. Then with a pineapple and 5000 rupiahs worth of jackfruit in tow, we proceeded to the Family Bakery on Jalan Walanda Maramis for a treat. Kue Susen was the name of the custard cakes we liked so much, and we enjoyed one each with a glass of cendol flavoured with gula Jawa, and full of jellies and sago.
That kept us going until well into the afternoon, and we amused ourselves in the Mega Mall buying oleh-oleh until we needed further nourishment. The best tinotuan was found very conveniently right next door to the Hotel Anggrek, located down an alleyway in the garden of a house, the only detraction to their top quality soup being their small boy who sat staring at us mouthing “bule” while we ate. He was being counselled by his mother as we left.
We browsed in Mega Mas and Mata Hari to work up an appetite for dinner, and had the warung staples of sate ayam and gado-gado.
Our breakfast venue didn’t open until 8am, so we went for some early morning exercise with the other punters wearing their ‘celana sports’ before our tinutuan. We lingered in the metro Swalayan as the day heated up, then jumped on an angkot for a mystery tour to the south of the city. We hopped out after a couple of kilometres and wandered until we found some waterfront restaurants serving ikan bakar. At Restoran Mana Lagi we ordered barbecued tude oci and settled back at a table overlooking Manado Bay and the Bunaken Islands for a very pleasant fish lunch served with a table full of accompaniments and a sea breeze.
That afternoon we completed our shopping at the Multi Mart, where we noticed that one could also buy flying fox and dog meat hygienically presented in a styrofoam pack. And we bumped into Kavita and Piero who were also back in Manado for an onward flight.
Repeating our morning routine the next day, we exercised around the neighbourhood of Pasar 45 before our tinutuan, then prepared for our departure. Some last minute shopping at the Golden Swalayan saw Dave cramming a pair of celana seperempat into our bag with all the edible oleh-oleh we had accumulated. Suitably loaded with goodies, we headed for the airport, catching a relay of angkots we wondered why every other traveller we’d met disliked Manado so much. People smiled and waved at us with the same genuine warmth that we’d been exposed to on our entire trip. How could that not make anyone feel good about the place?
As if to prove their goodness, our angkot was chased down by another because a lady who had transferred to ours had forgotten her change! Airport security was accordingly lax – praise be to our Owl lucky charm, because we’d forgotten to transfer our treasured penknife to the check-in luggage, so we carried it on board….
Silk Air flight MI273 took off from the rather spectacularly located Sam Ratulangi Airport and flew right over the smoking crater of Gunung Lokon. We left North Sulawesi without having met a single other Australian traveller!
WE LANDED AT CHANGI AFTER three hours flying, then called our Couchsurfer host Manikaran Govindaswami, aka Mani, and introduced ourselves to the MRT’s confounding ticketing system to find our way to Clementi.
Mani met us at the station and took us back to his place, where we met his wife Shanti and two children, Sonali and Kapilan. They lived in a typical Singapore flat in a village of towers set in pleasant gardens and served well by public transport and hawkers centres. Mani was in the throes of deciding whether or not to fly to Beijing – as a jounalist he had some reservations about his visa, and was waiting for advice from a colleague. He got the red light at about 8pm, so then everyone could relax. Shanti was particularly pleased.
After a late night we slept like logs on a mattress on the living room floor, but even a 7:30am sunrise couldn’t stooge us into a sleep-in the next morning – we were up early, and off to the closest hawkers centre. Our noses led us in the right direction and we found the much yearned for breakfast of roti canai and teh tarik. A great way to start a day.
A typical Saturday in the Govindaswamy household involved rest and relaxation, and we were happy to take part. We went for a few strolls, were called upon by friends, and ate lots of good South Indian home cooking – pongal, sambar, uppma, coconut chutney…
Saturday evening, however, was more active. We went with Mani and Shanti to their local Siva temple and while they made pooja we scoffed delicious prasad. Then we all went to Little India for the weekly shopping. Mani seemed to know every other person, so it was already 10pm when we found ourselves tucking into a masala dosa in Serangoon Road, and after midnight when we returned home with a fabulously aromatic bungkus for the kids.
Late nights and over-indulgence were the common thread of the next few days. We found time for a walk around McRitchie Resevoir, and did some shopping for kitchen supplies in Chinatown and Little India, but to me it seemed that Singapore was ‘a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there’. The things we enjoyed most were quite simply meal times in the neighbourhood hawkers centres and at home with Mani, who was a passionate cook, along with our long, interesting conversations about everything from Indian philosophy to where his family should go for their next vacation.
Conversation also blossomed in the hawkers centres as everybody enjoyed not only their own food choices, but also their neighbours very enjoyment. A lady sitting opposite me, watching me slurp laksa all over my face smiled broadly and asked what I would be having next, “now you go for second round ahhhh?”
At breakfast a concerned hawker had to intervene when I reached for my egg which was poaching on the table Chinese-style, “not so fast ahhhh!”, she even performed the cracking honours at the appropriate moment whilst I crunched on my kaya toast.
We favoured the buses as a means of getting around. It was very pleasant to sit upstairs at the front of a double-decker, and the signage featuring the local comedian Phua Chu Kang made us smile – “SLEEPING? DON’T PRETEND! GIVE UP YOUR SEAT TO SOMEONE WHO NEEDS IT MORE!”
Our time with Mani and his family and neighbours gave our stay in Singapore it’s whole dimension, and saying goodbye to people who have shared their home and their lives with one for several days is always difficult. Mani even came to the airport with us to see us off. But as we said farewell at the departure gate I felt that we would meet again someday…
After that we had to come to terms with the reality of returning Home. I tried to think of the positives – I don’t have to hand wash my underwear every night… um… there must be something else… no bedbugs… actually, hand washing underwear isn’t that bad….