Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Road to Togean Islands

When we booked the tickets for the bus to Poso, we were told the bus ride would take around 13 hours.  In reality it took 17 hours and we arrived in Poso at 1am.  By hour 10 I was ready to pull my hair out as the bus was LOADED and there wasn’t any space to stretch your legs.  Every single seat was occupied and the aisle was loaded with different items like grains and baskets and generators, in some places as much as waist high.  The distance to Poso from Rantepao is not that far, it’s the terrain you have to travel through that hampers how quickly you get there.  The first section is comprised of a wild jungle in the mountains, so the road is very windy and curvy, with very steep drops right on the edge of the road.  The jungle is so wild that, according to Andrew, it looks like Jurrasic Park and at any moment you expect a dinosaur to pop its head up from amongst the trees.  The second part is flat land and the bus covers this part fairly quickly, but then you reach the third part, which is exactly like the first part.  High, steep mountains and wild Jungle.  This combined with the bus driver stopping for a ½ hour break every 3 hours, adds to the delay.  It’s funny because a guy at a different agency was trying to tell us yes, the ride takes 13 hours, but Indonesian time, 17 hours.  He didn’t speak any English so it was hard to know what he was saying, but after the 17 hour bus ride, we finally understood.

We stayed at hotel right across the street from where the bus dropped us off.  It wasn’t pretty or even clean but it would do for the night.  The next morning we woke up to find a bus that would take us to Ampana, the second stop on the way to the Togean islands.  We couldn’t find a bus station but we met a guy who said he would take us, and 2 other people for 70,000 Rupiah each.  Roughly $7 per person.  We agreed, packed up the car and filed in.  He started the car and drove across the street and parked.  We waited a couple of minutes and then we asked, “are we going?”  He said yes yes but still we did not go.  Finally another guy told us we needed more tourists to fill the car and then we would go.  We knew this trick from Mount Bromo, but we still allowed ourselves to get annoyed.  Poso is a very small town and we knew there were no other tourists, and the likelihood of more tourists coming was very very slim…closer to none.  This was just a tactic to get us to pay more.  We talked with the other couple and they had met someone else who would take us for the same price so we told them to give us our luggage and that we were leaving.  They were upset and started telling us that we tourists expect “Public bus prices for a chartered car”.  The reality is much different.  He offers us a ride and we ask how much, he gives us the price and we agree.  We agree on the price and want to leave right away.  He does not explain to us if we want to leave right away we will have to charter the whole car at a different price.  If that was the case, we never would have gotten in the car anyway and would have just found the public bus terminal.  That is exactly what they are trying to avoid, but it’s a complete waste of time for the tourists.  Some tourists cave and pay more (which is what they’re hoping you will do) but we’re on a tight budget and we can’t afford to charter a whole car.  It makes me angry because they are basically holding us hostage.  They pack the bags and make you wait, but won’t tell you that until you start asking questions.  Nothing is ever as easy as asking a price and obtaining an answer.  We left the first guy and walked over to the one the other couple had found.

After some negotiations, we agreed on the same price as with the other people, and we would leave right away.  The car wasn’t as good as the first one (no ac, ripped seats) but we weren’t going to complain as long as we got there sooner rather than later.  The road to Ampana from Poso is a mix of bad and terrible.  There aren’t just pot holes, there are sections of missing asphalt, and they just creep up on you with no warning.  This is true in a lot of places in Indonesia however most buses or cars tend to slow down or try to avoid the potholes.  Not our driver.  He was under the impression anything under top speed was unacceptable and (I assume) under the hope our shocks would last the ride.  It was a very very bumpy, rough ride.  After a few hours of this, we decided the car must be stolen.  No one drives their car this way if they want it to arrive at the destination.  This was confirmed when we stopped at a tiny village and we smelled burning oil and saw smoke coming from the engine.  Our driver was not in the car so we thought it was a good idea to evacuate the car, just in case.  There was a lot of smoke coming from the engine.  This was one of those cars that has the engine under the 2 front seats of the car, not outside.  The driver came back with a bottle of water, propped up the 2 front seats and started pouring water on the engine.  This created a lot of steam and the water to explode, just barely missing our driver’s face.  Andrew, who’s happy to participate in any situation where “shit’s happening” (this is a direct quote) kept trying to see what our driver was doing and what was actually wrong with the car.  Our driver was not happy to have a tourist intrude and kept telling him “No problem.  No problem!”  And with every passing minute the “No problem” was more and more forceful.  After looking under the car, but unable to get anywhere with the driver, defeated, Andrew joined the rest of us to watch.  We were pretty sure the car was a write off, so we purchased a couple of cold cokes, and sat down to watch and wait.

While we were sitting and waiting for the driver to figure out the car was dead, the 4 of us chatted about where we had been in Indonesia so far.  We got on the topic of how sick I had been in Yogyakarta and our experience with the Indonesian doctor.  The couple we were travelling with told us she had been sick as well, however in Rantepao.  After 3 days of a high fever they decided to take her to the hospital.  When she arrived, 40 nurses surrounded her and just watched.  She was such a novelty to them, I guest tourists don’t frequent the hospital in Rantepao.  When a doctor finally did arrive, to take some blood work, instead of tying her arm off with a rubber band to help find the vain, he had a nurse come and put her hands around her arm and squeeze.  Not sure if there is a shortage of rubber bands in Indonesia, but there could be a shortage of rubber in general, as apparently the rubber gloves used by the doctors and nurses are washed, dried and re-used.  This too was witnessed by our travelling companions.  Apparently the finger tips of the gloves are brown from the blood they were unable to wash off.  Unfortunately the squeezing of the arm is not as effective as the rubber band, as the doctor still had trouble locating a vain.  She showed me her bruises and I counted at least 5 on one arm.  In the end she stayed in the hospital for 1 day but she thinks she would have gotten better just as quickly on her own.  This is why I try to avoid doctors or hospitals in other countries.  I may be worried about my health, but sometimes the environment I’m in is more sterile than the hospital.

After pouring water on the engine for 20 minutes, our driver was optimistic enough to try and start the car.  Amazingly, it actually worked!  The car started and he told us to climb back in.  I wasn’t very optimistic the car would get very far, but I hopped in.  We weren’t sure how much further we had to go.  The ride is supposed to take 5 hours and we had been travelling for 2 so we assumed we had at least another 3 to go.  I thought the smoky engine might cause our driver to slow down and be careful, but no such luck.  He drove at the same breakneck speed without a care for any potholes, just as he had previously.  This did pay off however, since we arrived in Ampana an hour later.  The ride which was supposed to take us 5 hours ended up taking us 3.  The couple with us were the first to be dropped off at their choice of hotel, and unfortunately for Andrew and I, the car started to smoke again.  We had another 20 minutes where we had to sit through our driver pouring water on the engine.  Again it came back to life.  This car was indestructible!

We asked the driver to drop us off at the ferry terminal, but our driver didn’t really speak English and our Indonesian isn’t any good, so we were dropped off at the bus terminal.  We managed, via hand gestures, to find out the schedule for the ferry, except we later realized it was the bus schedule.  Defeated we went to find a hotel room.  Oasis hotel is recommended in Lonely Planet, however it was extremely difficult to find anyone to help us.  The only person we found was sleeping on a mattress on the floor of the office and he seemed stunned that we would wake him up.  After some hand gestures, he took us to a room, which we said we would take once he told us the price.  He couldn’t tell us (no English) but another lady started talking to us and telling us it was 100,000 Rupiah.  We said we saw a sign outside that said 90,000 Rupiah.  She said she didn’t know and that we would need to talk to the manager later.  (Later it turned out she was the manager!)  So we sat outside waiting for the manager, but after an hour we were fed up and found someone to give us another room.

Since we had been on the road for over 24 hours without much food we decided to get something to eat.  After we walked the whole town (literally) we couldn’t find 1 restaurant that was open!  It was Ramadan and the restaurants didn’t open until 6pm.  That meant we had 6 hours of hunger to endure.  We couldn’t even find anyone who sold chips.  Then we remembered the hotel where the couple travelling with us had a restaurant.  We decided to check out of our hotel, take 2 motor taxis and go to that hotel.  We arrived there, checked into a room and went to get food.  Then we were told they have no food and any other restaurant is “far away”.  At this point I was livid.  I wasn’t sure if this was a joke or what?  So after some discussion, Andrew and I took another 2 taxis and went back to our original hotel.  That one was at least in the heart of the city and we knew at 6 pm there would be at least 1 restaurant that would be open.   The people in Oasis hotel must have thought we were crazy, but since they didn’t speak English they couldn’t say anything and just check us back into our room.

Andrew went to get some info on accommodation at the Togean Islands while I showered.  When he came back it was after 6pm and we were able to finally go eat something.  At the foodstall we were eating at we met a few tourists who had just come back from Togeans and they said to ask for a guy name Eddie at the Oasis hotel and that he would help us with accommodation in the Togeans.    After a delicious meal of chicken, rice and veggies, we asked for Eddie.  He arrived and essentially told us what we already knew.  We would find out if accommodation is available once we got there.  He did arrange for transport to the ferry for the next day, however.  This was a good thing because it turned out the ferry leaves 19km from Ampana.

The next morning we shared a car with a couple of girls to the ferry.  One of them kept asking us questions about flights in Indonesia and if it’s easy to book them.  Her friend seemed to reset either her asking us questions or our willingness to help because she made it very clear our help was not wanted.  It was a weird situation.  We arrived at the ferry and purchased “business class” seats for $1 extra.  It turned out to be a small room with some old leather chairs, half of which were broken, with 2 A/C units to cool the air.  Unfortunately 1 of the units didn’t work and 1 of the units was not powerful enough to cool the air in the room, so we baked for 6 hours, in the mid-day sun on the way to the Togean Islands.  Right before we arrived in the town of Wakai, where the ferry stops for the Togeans, we tried to ask one of the staff a question but they pointed their finger at a local girl sitting next to us.  It turned out she was the daughter of the owners of one of the Lestari resort (the cheapest resort on Kadidiri Island) and she said there might be rooms available.  We stuck to her like glue for the remainder of the ferry ride.  Right before we got off a guy approached us and asked if we were going to Lestari and that he was the boat driver for Lestari.  We thanked him and told him we were going with Teteng, the daughter of the owner.  Once off the boat (a feat in itself with all the people pushing and shoving trying to get on and off) she directed us to a smaller boat that would take us to Kadidir Island.  It turned out the guy who had approached us on the boat really was the boat driver for Lestari.  His name was Tommy, and him along with Teteng and her family would be the ones who gave us such great memories of the Togean Islands.

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