Thursday, October 6, 2011

Manado & Back to the Togean Islands

We spent the night in Manado, again hanging out at a very nice hotel using their free wi-fi and calling our families.  Of course we also made time to stop at the local McDonald’s to get our fix for western food.  We woke up at 5am to catch the 6am bus to Gorontalo.  We took a bemo (the blue bus/taxi) to the bus station and before we could even get out of the bemo people were yelling at us and pulling at us.  It turns out they were from all the different bus companies which were going to Gorontalo and they were all trying to get our business.  Initially our cynical minds told us this was because we were westerners, but later we saw they did this with everyone.  We finally settled on a bus company and made ourselves comfortable for the 9 hour bus ride. 

As a side note, I have to say we will never again complain about travelling anywhere in Canada.  The amount of buses/trains/taxies/planes we have had to take, and the amount of time we have spent in each, will never compare to travel in Canada.  We have now reached a point where we don’t even blink at the mention of a 10 hour bus journey.  We now consider this normal. 

We arrived in Gorontalo in the afternoon, and since we had a couple of hours to kill before we needed to get on the ferry, we went to grab some food at KFC.  Now it might seem like we eat at western fast food chains a lot, I have to assure you it’s not as often as you might think.  There are days where we just can’t think about eating another fried rice or fried noodle.  The thought just repels us.  And then we go months without seeing any western food at all.  The interesting thing is, food chains we would never even consider eating at at home, we run to them with big smiles on our faces when we see them.  Mainly because we know we get something other than fried rice there.

We hired an ojek (motor taxi) to take us to the ferry.  It was 2 hours before the ferry would depart but there was already a line up at the ticket counter.  There was even a live band playing in the parking lot.  This was obviously an event here.  We lined up in the queue, but right away we noticed people were just butting in left and right.  After 15 minutes of standing in the same spot (behind only 6 other people) I decided to see if we can just get on the boat.  This is how it worked when we were leaving the Togean Islands.  First you boarded the ferry, picked your seats and then you went to buy your ticket.  Unfortunately no such luck here.  You first had to buy your ticket, and then you could board the ferry.  So back in line.  Again, everyone butting in front.  And not just in front of us, but each other.  It was blatant butting in.  We saw a couple of westerners up at the front.  They were second inline but they had been there since we had arrived.  Too many people had butted in in front of them and the first people in line.  (And no one said anything!  No one tried to protest!)  So Andrew approached the western couple (turned out they were from Germany) and asked them if they could buy the tickets for us.  They agreed and we acted as the bodyguards around them to prevent others from butting in.  After pushing (literally pushing…but gently) people out of the way it was our turn.  We finally bought the tickets (with the German’s help) and boarded the boat, and picked our seats. 

We had bought business class seats but don’t let the name fool you, there were no business people in this section.  I don’t think a business person had ever seen the inside of this cabin.  The business section was really just an air conditioned room where smoking was no allowed with some old broken leather chairs.  Since we had done this trip before but backwards, we knew to get a seat with another empty seat in front of us so we could put our legs up.  We found some seats and put our bags on the ones in front of us.  After 2 hours the boat was ready to leave.  The first thing that happens is an announcement comes on telling us our tickets would be checked.  This mostly applied to the locals since it’s very rare for the tourists not to have a ticket.  This time there was a bit of a scene.  We couldn’t really understand much since it was in Indonesian, but it was pretty obvious some of the locals were upset that we had put our bags on the seats in front of us to use as leg rests, and they had to sit squashed together or on mats on the floor.  Normally I would feel bad about this and would have moved my stuff to make room for them.  This time, I didn’t feel too bad because as far as I was concerned, they were getting the better deal with the mats on the floors because they could at least lie down and go to sleep for the night.  Also, they wanted to use those seats for the exact same reasons we wanted them…as leg rests.  But mainly, I didn’t feel bad because they had bought economy seats and weren’t even supposed to be in the business section.  That was also why the ticket guys didn’t ask us to move our stuff, because those people weren’t even supposed to be there.  Also, right at that moment we saw one of the guys from Lestari Resort in the Togean Islands and he came to sit on the chairs our bags were occupying.  Eli was a local and he sat at chatted with us for the next couple of hours and the whole commotion about our seats went away and we were able to stretch our legs for the night.

We arrived in Wakai at the Togean Islands early in the morning and the first person we saw was Tommy.  He was so happy to see us again!  We made our way to the boat and waited for him to get the other tourists.  When they joined us some of them were complaining that the prices were very expensive and that it was out of their budget.  The truth was, it was expensive.  Lestari charges 150,000 Rupiah per person per night, which is roughly $15 per person per night.  It might not sound that expensive, but if you’re on a budget, you like to spend half of that.  The only upside is the price included food.  But there were no cheaper options.  There was nowhere else to go.  And this was not unique to the Togeans, this was all of Indonesia.  I think the number of tourists that visit from Australia for a short vacation, really affects the prices.  They mostly come for a short vacation and $30 a night with food is a good price.  It’s the backpackers that suffer as we try to spend as little as possible.  Unfortunately the other tourists just kept going on about it and wouldn’t stop.  When we arrived at Lestari Aka was very happy to see us again.  The other tourists were travelling in a group of 4 and they tried to negotiate that the 4 of them could stay in 1 room for a cheaper price, but all they really managed to negotiate was that the 4 of them stayed in 1 room for the same price we were already paying.  So in the end I’m not really sure what the point of that was.  The rest of the night they kept telling us how they were leaving the next day because it was too expensive and to tell you the truth, I couldn’t wait.

Unfortunately they didn’t leave the next day.  We spent the day being lazy and catching up on sleep.  We wanted to go diving again but the trips were only going to where we had already been.  That evening Tommy started teaching me Bahas Indonesian.  And it wasn’t that hard.  We spent the evening drinking arak with him, his friend and Aka.  After dinner I started feeling unwell and went to sleep, even though it was 7am.  But Andrew, the other 4 tourists and Tommy, Aka and Puddin stayed up late into the night drinking and having a bit of a “disco”.  I could hear them but I couldn’t get out of bed to join them.  I’m not sure what it was but I was exhausted.

The next day the other tourists did leave for a “camping trip” Puddin had organized for them, and Andrew and I were the only tourists left at Lestari.  It was actually really weird being the only ones there, but also quite nice.  We again didn’t do anything of significance, except for reading, sleeping, taking walks and eating.  It was quite relaxing.  The following morning we left on the ferry to go to Ampana.

We were heading back to Rantepao (Tana Toraja) but it was at least another 17 hours from Ampana by bus.  We decided to get as far as we could that day and found a car that would take us for the same price as the public bus to Poso.  From there it was another 12 hours but at least we would be 5 hours closer.  On the way we were telling our driver about where we wanted to go, and he got in touch with is friend and found out he was heading our way that night.  We agreed on a very cheap price and that should have tipped us off.  We met up with his friend in Poso and it turned out it was him and 4 other army guys travelling south to Makassar, another 9 hours past Rantepao.  They were going in an SUV and we would have to sit in the back.  This SUV was not how you picture our typical SUV’s.  The leg room in the back was non-existent.  To the point Andrew and I had to sit sideways just to fit.  Initially we thought it would be okay but after a few hours of that it became very very uncomfortable.  The only upside was the driver was driving really fast and we were hoping to arrive in Rantepao early.  We somehow managed to fall asleep with Andrew sprawled across my chest.  When I woke up I couldn’t breathe.   We stopped for something to eat and the driver told us it was only 2 more hours to our destination!  That was great news because it was about 4 hours ahead of schedule.  Except we ran out of gas and the gas stations were closed so we had to wait another 2 hours for them to open and then drive another 2 hours.   So really we were only 2 hours ahead of schedule.   We could barely get out of the car.  Our legs had gone completely numb.  And we weren’t in Rantepao, we were in a town an hour outside of Rantepao.  It turned out they were not passing through Rantepao at all so we had to find another car to take us there.   Which we did.  But he, apparently, couldn’t get inside the city because the bemo drivers would get mad so we had to hire a bemo driver to take us to our hotel.  And finally we were there!  After 6 different modes of transport (small boat, ferry, 3 cars, 1 bemo) and almost 24 hours, we had arrived in Rantepao.  And obviously we were exhausted so the first thing we did was go to sleep.


  1. my friend and i are headed to the Togeans this winter, so this has been a nice read to ready ourselves.

  2. Wonderful well told story.could you recommend any snorkelling places in togian/togeans

  3. Wonderful well told story.could you recommend any snorkelling places in togian/togeans