A pocket of paradise in Sulawesi

Gorontalo Travel Blog

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 We headed back to Manado from Tangkoko and immediately started our quest to try to get to the Togean islands. After being sent in circles by people for about an hour we finally got to the correct bus terminal (Malayang) and boarded possibly the worst bus of our trip for what we thought would be a 10 hour bus journey to Gorontalo which is where you get the ferry to the Togean islands. We were hustled onto the battered up old bus which we believed to be the only one leaving for Gorontalo and had to laugh once we sat down and looked around. The bus must have been at least 20 years old, had no back windscreen just lots of cellotape, holes in the roof which were covered by cardboard (really useful when it rained...) and the biggest crack I have ever seen in the front windscreen, how it was still intact defies all logic but this is Indonesia for you... The journey actually took 14 hours, and there were many moments when we thought the bus had come to the end of it\'s life, mainly when going up hill (at about 1 mph), seeing as the majority of the journey included driving up and around mountains this happened a lot, another issue which is most probably a large reason why the bus was so battered was the condition of the roads. In alot of places the road was non existent and villagers had just patched these areas with logs and mud and then stood at the road with buckets wanting money for their efforts which was fair enough, but as these areas were only large enough for 1 car to get through so the trouble began. However, with cricks in our necks and sore backs we arrived in Gorontalo and caught a bento (a man riding bicycle or motorbike with a small carriage on the front) to our hotel (Melati) where we crashed for a night of much needed sleep. In the morning we explored the sights of Gorontalo, of which there were none, and then caught the ferry to Wakai (a town on one of the largest of the islands) in the evening. The journey on the ferry was about 11/12 hours but it went quickly as we slept and was actually much better than I was expecting it to be, a word of advice if you ever get the ferry to the Togeans, sit in Business class, its more comfy than Economy and only a pound more expensive.

 

  The Togean islands are an archipelago of 56 pristine coral and volcanic islands and islets located in the Gulf of Tomini in Central Sulawesi, the perfect place to spend our last week in Asia. Although the Togeans is made up of many islands you can only access about 5 of them. We arrived in Wakai at about 9 a.m and as we were getting off the ferry bumped into a couple from Belgium, Peter and Josephine, that we met in Tangkoko, it was really good to see them again and they had 2 other couples with them so the 8 of us chartered a boat to the island of Melenge and after 15 minutes or so of leaving the boys to barter whilst the girls watched the bags (i.e. chatted) we were on our way. We all clamboured into the little fishing boat with our huge bags bundled under the floor and hoped that the sun would continue to shine for us for the next 3 hours whilst we slowly motored along the edges of the islands to our chosen destination. The journey on the fishing boat was beautiful, travelling passed tropical paradise islands with white sand, a sea so clear that you could see the array of life beneath you, no cars, no electicity pilons or mobile phone masts just nature and the only houses dotted along the coasts of the inhabited islands small bamboo or palm huts, no concrete or brick in sight.... perfect. The small fishing villages which you see along the coast are home to sea gypsies, although sadly no eye patches or pirate hats were seen... The reason we chose the island of Melenge is purely because it is the only island that you may have a chance of seeing the Babirusa in the forest which is on the island (a weird large pig, with large curly tusks, the name translated means pig deer) the island is also meant to have good snorkling and is just meant to generally be a beautiful tropical island paradise. When we arrived we definately believed this to be true. We arrived on our own private beach and for the next 5 days our home was to be a beatiful beach hut. The only other people in sight were the other guys who joined us on the boat, an Italian guy who had already been there for 1 month (he was meant to be staying for just 1 week) and the owners of the losman (guesthouse). Upon arrival and after we had all got over being gob smacked at how beautiful it was, the owner then said \"do you want to see the lagoon\" to which we all laughed and said \"yes!\". The water was so blue in the lagoon and a place that was only accessible to the people staying on the beach, we all donned our swimming stuff and couldnt resist jumping into the cool water sraight away, it was bliss to cool off after the sweltering heat of the sun. We spent the next 5 days purely enjoying the peace and tranquility that comes with being stranded on a stunning tropical island. Snorkling, trekking though the forest, lying on the beach, chilling in the hammocks, and in the evening sharpening our card shark skills playing with the group of guys we met on the way over. We were really lucky to have been in such a fantastic place with great company. Ben made it his mission to find the babirusa and was in the forest night and day, he even took the other guys on treks acting as a quide which was cool and saved everyone money. There was a great bat cave on the island, possibly the most impressive we have ever seen, and we have seen alot! The smell of it hit you as soon as you entered and the amount of bats was staggering, normally in caves you only catch a quick glimpse of the bats as they nearly fly into you or they are small brown dots above your heads, but in this cave the bats were low enough for you to make out every feature from their long naked ears, to their little clawed toes, the cave was home to maybe 4 different species of bat as well as a host of different insects. As well as the Babirusa the island is also home to Red Knobbed hornbills, the Togean Macaque, coconut crabs (we only saw 1) and a few species of frogs and lizards. Sadly Ben never found the Babirusa even though we were all willing that he would, so I am sure that we will be back to Sulawesi one day as I dont believe Ben will ever rest quite so sweetly again until he has caught a glimpse of at least one in the wild. Before we knew it our time on Melenge had come to an end and although browner and more relaxed, we could have done with a few more days of chill out time and to find the blasted pig deer that had somehow evaded Bens keen senses. We left the island at 5 a.m to catch the local ferry from Melenge village which was a 20 minute boat ride away from us, back to Wakai to catch the ferry back to Gorontalo. The ferry didnt leave until 5 p.m so we sat in a little cafe for the whole day chatting to the locals (mainly using picture and sign language) which was really nice, apart from the smell of fish wafting our way due to the huge amount of little fish laid out in the sun to dry. This made me thankful that I didnt eat fish as the number of dogs and cats we saw trying to eat the fish was crazy and the amusing sight of a tom cat spraying the fish cementing my dislike for the taste.... Eventually the evening rolled around and it was time to say goodbye to the Togeans and start the long journey back to Manado, it really was a great end to Asia in an amazingly beautiful place with great people, definately worth the 24 hour journey to get there.

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Gorontalo
photo by: iramalama