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.

Mystery tour beginning tomorrow

Today, I went snorkeling. It was lovely, lots of fish, many turtles, moray eels, colorful fish, unusual and weird fish, and a lot of dead coral. Whether from dynamic fishing of years past or heating of the ocean, a lot of the coral was dead. When I was near live coral, the fish population exploded. Schools of Jack Fish, Dolphinhead Fish, Barracuda, a school of squid, tiny fish, huge fish, the population exploded. Kind of eerie looking up to see 30 or more Barracuda swimming together keeping a watchful eye on me!

Tomorrow morning, I’ll get up early, catch a shuttle bus to Tawau, and begin my mystery tour. It’s a mystery because there is little information here about how things operate on the other side of the border. I was able to find out that the minivans drop me near customs. I am fairly certain that is also the area where the ferries operate. That’s it, I’ll be making it up from there.

I might wander down the East coast of Kalimantan but have read it takes at least three days to get to the next major town. I also learned that Tarakan has an airport so I may be able to catch a flight from there. Some time tomorrow, I’ll have to decide where in Sulawesi I want to go. At the top of my list is the Tana Toraja area where the burial caves and excellent day hiking is.

I’ve read that I can to to Palu and take a bus South. The dive resort recommended there is no longer open, a sign. I’ve just learned a flight to Manado may stop at the city nearest to Tana Toraja so I may do that? Manado is the Northern most section of Sulawesi but is renowned for wonderful diving and snorkeling. However, the Togean Islands are nearer where I’ll be so….decisions, decisions.

I’ll be dropping off the grid quite probably so next time I write, the mystery will be more clarified!

Found an amazing Mango Sago Icy tonight, wyw! Fresh mango mixed with some grape like fruit, icy and oh so refreshing after a day of snorkeling in the sun. I may have to go get another before heading pack and get some sleep!

Ciao…Larry