Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tangkoko National Park

We met a man named George from Belgium on the Togean Islands.  George is in his late 40’s and has been travelling for over 20 years.  He’s an artist in Belgium which gives him a lot of time to travel.  He lived in Indonesia for 2 years at one point so he speaks Bahasa Indonesian pretty fluently.  One of the places he told us about was Tangkoko National Park, about an hour from Manado, the capital of Northern Sulawesi.  We had decided to visit Bunaken Island, which is an hour away from Manado in the opposite direction of Tangkoko, but we figured since we were there we should go see it.  George took the ferry with us from Togean to Gorontalo, which takes 13 hours.  We arrived in Gorontalo at 4am, but George wasn’t looking too great.  Unfortunately with all the chaos that usually ensues when we you get off a boat or a bus with the locals fighting to get your business to take you somewhere, we were separated from George.

At first we, along with another couple, tried negotiating a deal with the driver of a car to take us all the way to Manado, but his price was too much so we opted for an ojek (a motorcycle with 2 seats and a roof attached out front) to take us to the public bus station.  At the bus station we were able to get a bus to Manado right away.  That bus ride took another 9 hours.  Once we arrived in Manado, we decided since we had been travelling 22 hours already, we might as well go all the way.  We took a bemo to another bus station, that bus took us to a town called Bitung.  Once we arrived there, we had to negotiate hard for another Bemo to take us to town (everyone wanted $15!), where we could get a ride on the back of a pick-up truck to the Tangkoko National Park for $1.  After 29 hours of non-stop travelling, 8 different modes of transportation, we finally arrived in Tangkoko.

We found a guest house to stay at but told them we didn’t want to go on any tours the following day because we were just too tired.  We just wanted to sleep in.  That was the plan, but unfortunately the children playing right outside our room at 6am didn’t allow us the luxury of sleep.  I finally understood the meaning of torture by sleep deprivation.  I was so tired that I was literally crying to Andrew.  We were both so tired and frustrated but unfortunately that’s Asia.  Any privacy or quite is a luxury and unless you’re willing to pay big bucks, you’re not getting it.  We spent the day hanging around and reading and that evening we hired a guide to take us on a tour into the jungle to see the Tarsiers.

Our guide’s name was Bobby and he has been a guide for 20 years so he knew a lot.  He was able to point out different birds to us, even when we hadn’t spotted them yet, he had heard them from far away.  The Tarsiers we were going to see are a kind of monkey, but a tiny monkey.  They are literally the size of my palm.  They kind of look like Yoda from Star Wars.  They live in big trees but are nocturnal creatures and only come out at night, that’s why the tour is in the evening.  The tree we visited had a family of about 6 – 8 of them living in it; at least that we could see.  Their hands are similar to that of a frog.  They are quite interesting little creatures.  We started heading back and Bobby received a call on his cell phone that a couple of tourists had shown up at the park office without their guide, and had he seen the guide.  He said no and the hunt began.  A couple of motorcycles went looking for the guide.  They found him at the end of the road leading into the jungle in his car.  Apparently he had made arrangements with the tourists to meet them there but his car was so well hidden they couldn’t find it so they went back to the park office.  Since he had to drive back to pick them up, he gave us a lift.  On the way back to the guest house Bobby promised he would show us a tarantula.  And he wasn’t kidding.  As we were walking along the path, he told us to turn our lights off, and then pointed his at a tree.  At about shoulder height, there was a hole in the tree and out of it was sticking out a large tarantula.  It was disgusting…at least to me.  Andrew was very intrigued by it of course and took a lot of photos.  I was just grossed out.  I guess it was kind of cool to see one in the wild but I wouldn’t want to come across one by myself.  Bobby walked us back to our guest house and we made arrangements for the following morning at 5am to go for a 5-6 hour hike into the jungle to see more animals.

The next day Bobby picked us up and we went on our hike.  The hike lasted around 6 hours, and although we got to see quite a few interesting animals, the spotting were spotty (pardon the pun) and most of the time we spent looking for them.  The animals we were able to see were the Kus Kus (only from faraway) and the best we could tell it was a smaller version of a brown raccoon mixed with a fox and a monkey and it lives in trees.  We saw 2 small owls up close, but the highlight would have to be the Hornbill.  This is quite a large bird and it looks like tucan sam from the cereal commercials, except that its beak is yellow and he has a big red bump at the top of his head.  When he flies and flaps his wings, it sounds like a helicopter is flying over you.  We were able to see him while he was bringing food to the female and the baby in his nest.  He sat and fed them for a good 10 minutes.  Although we weren’t that close, we still had a good view and I’m happy we were able to see him.  Another highlight were the Macaque monkeys.  They’re black monkeys that live in groups of 80 or more.  Bobby took us to the beach where they like to hang out, and once we walked a little into the jungle, Andrew and I were able to be alone with a group of 50 or so of them alone.  It was amazing watching them be together and grooming themselves.  They were very relaxed and if we didn’t make any sudden movements, our presence didn’t seem to bother them.

After the trek we went back to our guest house, showered, ate lunch and went to see if we could catch a pick-up truck to Bitung.  It turned out since it was Sunday, almost everyone took the day off to go to church.  Northern Sulawesi is mainly Christian and even the smallest store is closed on Sundays.  We met a police officer who was taking his girlfiend back to Manado and he offered to drive us.  We agreed and it was a really pleasant ride back.  He didn’t speak English but his wife did so she did all the talking with us.  It turns out for the past 6 months there has been a BBC crew filming a documentary on the Tarsiers and he has been assigned to be their security.  His girlfriend studies accounting in Manado, but she comes over to help him communicate with them.  They were a really nice couple and drove us around Manado to show us where we had to go to catch a boat to Bunaken and where our hotel was.  We were glad there are still people that don’t treat you like a walking wallet.

We had trouble finding a hotel mostly because they were either full or the hotel was really dirty.  The one we settled on was reasonable priced and reasonably clean.  The catch was it didn’t have any fan or A/C.  We thought we would tough it out.  Our main goal in Manado was to get our laundry done, but when Andrew went to inquire about the prices, it turned out they were closed.  Because it was Sunday.  The first thing we went to do was eat at McDonald’s.  For 2 weeks straight we had been eating rice and fish and we needed something “normal”.  After that we bummed around the city for a while and found a mall with a supermarket.  We went on a small shopping spree, since we hadn’t  been able to purchase toothpaste (and have been squeezing what we could out of what we had left in our tube) or deodorant in a while.  In the mall they had displays of new Hondas and Nissans so we went to look at them.  It was great fun, pretending we were going to buy a car.  None of the sales people bothered us however because they didn’t speak English.  After we left the mall, we were walking on the street and saw a sign in front of a hotel for reasonably priced coffee.  We decided to stop in and it turned out to be a very nice hotel.  It even had wi-fi.  At first they didn’t want to give us the password as they said it was for guests of the hotel only, but Andrew told them we are guests of their restaurant and they agreed.  That is how we came to kill 4 or 5 hours in this nice hotel.  We surfed the net, drank good coffee at a reasonable price, called our friends and family and used their very nice washrooms.  This is the only time I loved being a tourist.  No one questions why you’re sitting in the lobby of a hotel for 5 hours when you’ve only spent a $1 on coffee.

The next morning Andrew went to look for a boat to take us to Bunaken, while I took a shower.  Except that I didn’t because as soon as Andrew walked out the door and I tried to take one, I learned the shower doesn’t work.  I was really angry!  We hadn’t bothered to check the night before if it worked with the assumption that it did and that we would shower the next morning.  It’s another thing we have learned to check before committing to a hotel room.  So I sat for an hour and a half waiting for Andrew to come back.  And when he did he was drenched with sweat as it was very hot outside.  He had found where we needed to go and also looked into doing laundry.  They wanted $17 a kilo!  We decided to continue wearing dirty clothes.  There wasn’t much to do but get breakfast and go.  A public boat is supposed to leave around 2pm and it costs 25,000 Rupiah per person (roughly $2.50) but we met a local guy, Frankie, who lives on Bunaken and was going back and he agreed to takes us there for the same price on his boat.  Usually the private boats want at least $15-$20 to take you one way.  This was a good deal and we took him up on it.  Pulling into Bunaken, Frankie showed us the corals through his glass bottom boat and they were stunning.  Then he dropped us off in front of Daniel’s home stay.

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