Manado arrival, it was “today” then….

Today is…..well, today. I’d have to find my watch and look up the day to know any different. After three days of traveling, the last one being the longest, I landed in Manado.

Manado is the largest city in Northern Sulawesi with a major airport and harbour. Before arriving, I had called a couple hotels and emailed several more. The only rooms left were the premium deluxe rooms for $350,000 a night. My last place was $110,00 and the highest I’ve paid in Indonesia yet.

I didn’t make reservations thinking I could look around once I got into town. I left Tarakan at 8:30 for the airport and landed in Manado at 8:30 pm after a seven hour layover in Balikpapan. The airport was nearly shut down, lights out on one concourse, no businesses open and no people around other than those getting off my flight.

In baggage claim, I was approached by several people selling tickets for taxi. No other options available at this time of the night so I bought a ticket for $80,000 and was soon off into the city.

Where was I headed? I remembered the name of one hotel that was described as close to the ferry to Bunaken so gave them that name, Hotel Celebes. The driver parked and waited while I went inside. It was true, all their budget rooms were full so I took a room for $350,000….gulp. Then again, that splurge computes to roughly $38. It’s the most I’ve spent on a hotel in any of my travels in SE Asia.

It was a large room with TV, AC, hot showers and a tub. The showers were really hot which is a rarity. Most of the time, cold showers are preferred. After a day of travel, the comfort of AC and hot showers was perfect.

The streets outside were very dark and a bit intimidating. I didn’t feel unsafe, mostly it simply wasn’t inviting to go out and wander about any. Nothing was open so there was no ice cream available. I went back to the hotel and read.

Breakfast was included and the restaurant was on the top floor. There was an elevator, a first on this trip. It stopped at the 4th floor. Walking up the final two flights of stairs, I was presented with a great aerial overview of the city.

Just behind the hotel was a harbour and on the other side, Sunday market activity dominated. Boats were arriving, small canoe’s were lining up beside and people were jumping onboard with plastic buckets.

These were the fishing boats returning and the canoe’s were people wanting first pick. An interesting activity to watch!

The front desk told me there was a boat to Bunaken at 1:00. It was not 7:30 so I set off with a map to explore the city a little. Normally, I’m not big on cities and would have chosen to leave soon. This city, even with aerial overview, didn’t offer a lot of appeal.

Out the front door, I walked about 10 steps when a man walked around the corner and said “Hello” with an Australian accent. We both stopped as it’s been days since I’ve seen another tourist. His name is Leo and he’s been here three years building a resort on a small island four hours South of Manado. He invited me around the corner with him and we sat in a small engine repair shop.

Leo started giving me the download on Manado and Bunaken. This shop came with “engine wizards” working with only the most basic of tools but able to completely rebuild a couple engines for his boats. He invited me to visit the island where he lives and snorkel.

A man walked up and asked if I was going to Bunaken. I told him I was going on the public boat. He replied, “Sunday. No boat.” That wasn’t what I really wanted to hear however, seeing all the activity in the harbour, I was sure someone was going out. He then offered to take me. “How many people” he asked? He wanted $250,000.

Being in no hurry, I told him I would wait and get a later boat. He asked if I wanted to go on a local boat and share, he’d go ask. Then he asked where I was staying? Only one day before, I had read a report about a place called “Daniel’s Homestay” so I gave him that name.

Excitedly, he told me he’s friends with them and pulled out his phone calling them. He said maybe Daniel was coming to town and I could ride back with him for free? Moments later, he learned they weren’t coming and told me to wait while he went to ask some people.

A few minutes later, he came back and said there was a local boat for $50,000 and I needed to be at the dock by 9:00. Suddenly, plans formed around me and I was off to grab my backpack.

There were three passenger beside myself and we went on a private boat driven by his father. He drove us directly to Daniel’s place, wonderful bungalows right at the edge of the sea. How convenient and easy was that?

I got a room as did the French couple I met at the dock. Mine is the closest to the sea facing the mangroves. Meals are included, the room is $150,000, coffee (if you can call it that) and tea are available all day.

I rented fins and headed off snorkeling before lunch. Amazingly unspectacular, I was underwhelmed when I went back and showered for lunch. The Renald and Camille asked me, excitedly, how I enjoyed the snorkel? I wondered why they were so excited about it? I saw a few fish and mostly sea grass fields with a few pieces of coral here and there?

Later, I learned that there is coral here and I needed to swim out farther. As the full tide came in, I headed out again. I decided to keep swimming until I reached the wall.

Amazingly awed, I couldn’t believe the variety of fish in all colors and sizes. The first thing I saw was a little sea snake just off shore, a first. Then, with the clouds having cleared and the water clarity brilliant, I was amazed by the rich colors of the fish.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw something larger. Looking up and out beyond the wall, a turtle swam by looking at me warily. I stopped swimming and gazed at it. It hung suspended for a bit watching me. I wonder how such a huge and awkward appearing creature can swim so effortlessly. It is beautiful to watch! Floating with graceful sweeps of it’s fins. Soon, it disappeared into the dark beyond.

Today, I opted not to take part of the dive trip to go snorkeling. Diving isn’t about snorkeling and the first spot they go to isn’t recommended even by the staff. Perhaps I’ll extend my stay here another day and a group of us will do a snorkel trip tomorrow.

And now, for the lodging scoop, something that would never happen in the US. I selected my room. It has two beds but the same price. I like being able to lay things out of my pack on the other bed. After selecting the room, I head to the office to register and put my things in the safe. I complete the registration form complete with my passport information and instructions to call me Larry, now LAWRENCE and then proceed to pay.

However, they don’t want me to pay. Really, NO money now, they say it’s easier at the end! The restaurant has a book and a page with your name for purchases like beer and water. It’s the honor system.

Last night, it rained, very gently, playing a melody on my tin roof. When it stopped, the “tide” section took over. I listened to the sounds of the gentle waves as the high tide returned. Once the tide quieted, the wind section took over, branches swaying and singing in the breeze. After three days of travel to get here, this is a wonderful retreat.

After only a few hours here yesterday, I already felt like I had been here for days!

Hope this works so you can have a little of what I experienced. This is from the front porch of my bungalow.

Travel realities as I sit in Balikpapan waiting nearly 7 hours….

The reality of traveling the way I am is that it does take time. Two days ago, I left Semporna by minivan and headed to the harbour. Through the downtown area, stumbling along to find the harbour and immigration, I finally made it to my boat. It cost for travel so much more than days relaxing and looking around a town.

My days in Tana Rata were very inexpensive. My hostel bed cost me $12 ringgit a day, I could easily eat for another $15 or $20 ringgit a day and was thus spending about $32 ringgit or $10.50 US.

My shuttle cost me $15 from Semporna, the ferry cost another $130, port fees were another $5, and then the zero shift happened. After spending around $50 US for travel, I was now in Indonesia where the currency is the rupiah and is calculated in thousands. Suddenly, the mind has to shift back to calculating very differently.

I looked at rooms that were $300,000 rupiah a night and finally settled on one that was $110,000 or $12 US plus change. Now, I’m at the airport still adjusting to the currency change where food and beverage tend to cost more and a tax is added. I stopped for lunch and wound up spending $84,000 rupiah.

With nearly six more hours to do something with, I found a wonderful air conditioned restaurant overlooking the runway. I got a Kopi Susu iced (coffee with sweet milk), some traditionally made chicken wings and a bottle of water. I’ve no idea what that will cost?

When I leave here on my flight that cost $1,226,000 rupiah, I’ve got another $40,000 departure fee to pay on top of the $30,000 I paid leaving Tarakan. I’ll land in Manado after 9:00 where they have no hostels listed, no budget hotels and the few I’ve called have rooms starting at $350,000 rupiah. I’ll walk around and find something and head to the islands tomorrow.

My other option would be to choose traveling by bus and boat. It would have taken me at least two days to get here by bus, another day by boat IF I could make quick connections here, then days by boat wandering through Sulawesi to the North.

Thus, my past few days have looked like this. First, the minivan and ferry traveling to Tarakan taking one full day and arriving late.

Second, a day or orienting and looking around Tarakan for travel options in the area. Quickly, I realized the options took time and were somewhat distant and it became clear I really wanted to save experiences here for a longer journey around Kalimantan. When I did finally find a travel agency with a staff member who spoke English, I had my ticket and the next phase of my journey solidified.

Third, today leaving by taxi at 8:30, two flights and lots of waiting and arriving in Manado after 9:00 pm tomorrow.

Next, if things go smoothly, I’ll be on a public boat headed for Bunaken Island and a few days of snorkeling and island exploring. If things don’t go that smoothly, it will take another day to organize before heading off.

That means I’ve spent the past four days traveling and orienting, a travel flow only possible when months are available to explore. The challenge on shorter trips is to pick one location or two, keep travel to a minimum and explore the local options thoroughly.

I knew I was on sort of a “discovery” trip this time so was prepared for the travel and delays. Now, I’ll probably continue that trend through Sulawesi until I reach Komodo or some other interesting island location in route.


Paradise is evasive!

OK, figured out why they call it “paradise”, no one knows what I’m talking about or where it might be? When I ask about an island close to here for snorkeling, they all refer to Derawan which is a long trip. So, I’m off looking for a new paradise which in many ways, I’ve found every day.

So, here’s the latest scoop. I’ve met only a couple of people here who speak English. I’m definitely back in Indonesia where the infrastructure is very different from Malaysia. Malaysia if familiar not only with tourist but with things like schedules, information, mopping floors, menu’s with prices on them, internet and WiFi. I found only one internet cafe in my wandering about. It was full of kids playing games, every single computer.

A look bordering on terror passed the face of the man when I asked about using my laptop. I don’t need WiFi, have an ethernet cable and should easily be able to plug it into their router and be in business. Even in Ranau, the little village in the middle of nowhere in Sabah, they had one cable already connected for just such a purpose.

Now, for me, I really need to learn more Indonesian language. I learned a couple new words today: Berapa which is how much and Enak with is delicious. I’m going to find my little book and start building a vocabulary.

My room here is nice especially by Indonesian standards. It’s the first time I’ve had a room with: private bath and shower; AC; telephone; and TV. So much for amenities as the shower doesn’t work and I kept waking up very hot last night as the AC apparently shuts off every hour or so. The TV carried five Indonesian channels and with what little I’ve tested it, they all seem to carry soap opera’s. The telephone, I haven’t used that uet.

When I woke this morning, I had a few things I wanted to accomplish today. I expected to be met by money changers at the border like I have at most border crossings. Since none were there, I had Malaysian Ringgit to change. Speaking no Indonesian and the man at the front desk not speaking English, I held up the Malaysian money. He shook his head no. I raised my shoulders in a question while simultaneously circling my finger in the air as if “around here”. He gave me a name, I asked him to write it down.

I also wanted to get a handle on finding the island near here or deciding to go directly to Sulawesi tomorrow and I needed to find an ATM for money. First order of business, leave the hotel, wander around and get some bearings.

Down a side street, I found the first travel agency of my trip. However, neither this one or the next five I entered spoke any English so I kept looking. Finally, I took a taxi to the money changer, changed the ringgit for rupiah and walked out the front door to discover a travel agency next door. This one had people who spoke English. Uncertain, I walked down the street and found a place to sit out of the rain called the “Cake House” serving very nutritious Chocolate Coconut Crunchy rolls and other delicacies. On the way, I stopped by three more agencies for questions about the island to no avail.

Suddenly, it became clear: go to Sulawesi. It is clearly the path of least resistance and the path opening with the greatest ease. The island felt like a struggle. Back to the agency and checking on bookings, I decided to head all the way North to Manado, Sulawesi tomorrow.

A little information on where that is and what is available there, click either of these links:
Manado Info

It will take a full day to get there with a 7 hour layover for me here in Balikpapan, then a flight direct to Manado landing around 9:00.

Very quickly, everything I wanted to do today was completed! Now, I’m looking for a room in Manado so I don’t have to look for a room when I get in late.

People here are curious and very nice. They are helpful when they can be and honest when they can’t. Now I’m off to learn a little more Indonesian!

Map of Sabah, the state I left yesterday: Sabah

Map of Kalimantan where Tarakan is: Tarakan and East Kalimantan

And, this map will give you an overview of Indonesia so you can see where Sulawesi is in relation to Borneo as well as get an idea of how large Indonesia is. There is other information at this National Geographic site:
Indonesia Map