Togian Islands, trip from Gorontalo

While sitting in Melenge Lestari, I did some writing reflecting on my experiences so I’d have them ready when posting. This is one of those.

The last day in Gorontalo was a lazy day of relaxing, eating, writing and waiting for the evening ferry. As the day passed, more people showed up who were going to Wakai as well. A couple from Barcelona showed up suddenly. They had taken the shared car from Manado and their car took 13 hours delivering them to the Melati Hotel at 4:00 am. They slept on sofa’s in the neighboring room.

A woman from France, Alice, arrived after two days of travel and was headed for the ferry. A man from Australia, a man from England, pretty soon a travel family of sorts showed up.

Our drive Frenke promised to be there to pick us up at 6:00 pm with two Tuk Tuks since there were three of us. That would work perfectly because now Michael from England was going and we could share.

One of the men working the desk was taking the couple from Spain on his Tuk Tuk so we loaded our packs and headed to the front of the hotel. Two drivers were waiting for passengers and were a bit upset when we told them we already had drivers. “Why you not go with us when we are here already”? Because we made a commitment…., well, never mind.

After 10 minutes of waiting, we walked to the street and found two drivers who would take us. Loaded we headed off warranting MUCH attention along the way. Two large men with packs on a small Tuk Tuk apparently stood out. Even motor bike drivers passing turned around with a smile and stared at us.

At the ferry, the parking lot was hectic with people, food, vendors, cars and drivers. We found the entrance and the ticket booth. There were three classes of ticket from economy class to business class with something in between. There were also a few sleeping cabins. I took business class on the recommendation of the people I met. 

It was nearly deserted, plenty of room, and pads on the floor for sleeping. Before the pads disappeared, I grabbed one to stretch between my seat and the one in front. The seat back in front folded all the way down. I laid my seat all the way back, laid out the pad and stretched out. Quite comfortable!

Our drive to the terminal and the ticketing process was very quick. By 6:45, I was walking on the street looking for cold beer for myself and Michael. I’ve only had two beers on the trip so far and this seemed like as good of an occasion as any. Keeping in mind that this is a Muslim area, I was surprised to find Bintang ad the first place I visited. However, it took stops at five more before I found one with cold beer! It wasn’t that expensive either at only $25,000 per beer, a little under $3.00.

In Kuala Lumpur, beers were $5.00 US, clearly they are knowledgable that’s tourist want and they will pay for it. I met budget travelers staying in a dorm to keep expenses down paying $15 or less per night on a dorm room. Later, I’d see them at a table in China Town with three or four empty bottles of beer in front of them. Travel priorities vary greatly from one person to the next!

Travel information in Indonesia is very sketchy. This is off season and the schedule changes when someone decides it needs to. At the Lestari in Kadidiri, they had a schedule on the wall of ferry times to and from Gorontalo. Three of the five days were incorrect. They can’t even keep up.

Eventually, the 8:00 pm ferry left at 10:00. I’d been fighting sleep so I could sleep en-route. Shortly after we started, a man came by charging $5,000 for the mats. Two of my friends surrendered theirs laughing at the thought and asked how much it was to sleep on the floor. I gladly paid.

Within half an hour, I had my mats (yes, plural, so it was long enough for my body) stretched out on the floor beneath my seat. With ear plugs, neck pillow and packs stored, I was quickly asleep and slept through most of the night. I woke a couple times to look at the times and noticed my two friends now with mats on the floor sleeping away.

Sunrise on the top deck was gorgeous. The “Togian Cafe” had Moka Coffee from packets and I had one. It taste better to me than the local coffee! I bought about 15 packets in three varieties for those moments I simply can’t have another cup of this local coffee! This was good and I returned for another.

Standing on top of the ferry, watching the islands go by, it was another of those “pinch myself: moments! “Oh My God, I’m on a boat in the middle of Sulawesi in the Togian Islands”!…..pinch, pinch. A dolphin was sighted, flying fish regularly skirted away from the bow of the ferry as we methodically made our way to Waiki.

We arrived at 10:00, almost exactly 12 hours after we departed! Off the boat, up the ramp, into a crowd of people asking “where are you going” and we stumbled into two people from Lestari. They took us to where their boat would depart and we waited. The group grew! First myself and Renald and Camille (French), then Jerry (Dutch) and Deanne (Chinese), then Michael (England), then David (Australia), and Kiku (Madrid, Spain)….we had a boat load.

An older woman asked a question about who called. I’m so glad we kept asking the Melati Hotel to call as they confirmed that three guests would be arriving for pick-up. They wanted to make sure they had us! Before leaving the Melati, Lali gave me a piece of paper addressed to Mr. Aka at the Lestari and stamped it with the Melati Hotel stamp. Because of that, we were the first to get rooms. They ran out and others went to either the Black Marlin or Paradise hotels next door.

Both were nicer but also more expensive. Our rooms here were $100,000 including free snorkeling and all meals. Very rustic accommodations and I felt like the early residents must have felt. We had a shared outhouse and shower outside. The front porch had a hammock which made me happy and that’s where I parked my butt until lunch was ready!

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
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

The Borneo Adventure overview