Diving, Dyke-a-likes and the Dutch

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
Trip End Jul 17, 2006

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Sunday, November 6, 2005

Sulawesi is a really difficult part of Indonesia to navigate. The Lonely Planet is as good as useless for bus and boat times and the recent petrol hike has meant that the prices are often up to double what you expect to pay. Add to this the concept of "Indonesian time" and it becomes very difficult to get anywhere in a hurry. From Manado there were only two buses per day south to the port of Gorontalo, so we had to hire a 4x4 to get us to the boat on time. For this privilege we paid $25, though when we were forced to share space (and air) with a load of chain-smoking locals I got the feeling that were were being taken for a ride. Even though we had been assured that we would rushed straight to the port in time for the boat to the Togean Islands, we arrived to be told that it had left about an hour earlier. Oh, and that there wasn't another one for two days!

Fortunately, Gorontalo wasn't such a bad place to relax while we waited for the next boat. We stayed in a pretty Dutch colonial house in which the port's harbour master used to reside. The place is now run as a guesthouse by the master's grandson Pak Alex, an interesting mix of Indonesian and Dutch who spoke good English, albeit with a comedy accent a la Goldmember ("yesh, that ish an intereshting queshtion"), and who persisted in calling me "Michael". He was a real character, sitting around all day in his underwear ordering his family about as they decorated the house. The town was full of colourful flowers and surrounded by hills and hot springs resorts. There was a lively night market with pumping techno music blaring from every stall. We even got "hello mister!", the standard Indonesian tourist greeting, shouted at us over the tannoy. Cute at first, but would seriously start to grate as the trip progressed. One night we decided to slob it, treating ourselves to fried chicken, beer and cards on the porch of our bungalow.

From Gorontalo we caught the overnight ferry to Pagimana, which was a hot and sweaty experience, and then took a bemo (minibus) to Ampana, again stressing the urgency of the situation to the driver. He smiled at us saying "ok, ok". It wasn't ok, as we missed the boat by 10 minutes - we could even see it sailing off towards the horizon. So, another night waiting at a port in the homestay of Ulfah, or "Miss Harbour", a Malboro red smoking dyke-a-like who fancied herself as the key tourist contact in Ampana. We decided to kill time by going on a snorkelling trip and to see some volcanic rocks. We went to bed assured by Ulfah that there would be a public boat in the morning, but we awoke to discover that in fact there wasn't and instead had to pay twice as much for a place on a private boat. Finally, after five days of travelling from Manado, we arrived on the idyllic island of Kadidiri in the Togean Islands. I could have kissed the ground!

We stayed in a small resort in a secluded cove owned by an English dive operator called Black Marlin. The other guests included two middle-aged Dutch lesbians, a 30 year-old English guy, an Aussie couple and a handful of others from Germany, Holland and Italy. The dive operation was run by a stacked German guy called Wolfgang and his Canadian girlfriend Michelle. Despite his navy background, shaved head, tattoos and self-assurance bordering on arrogance, beneath the surface "Wolf" was a really good guy, who cared immensely about his job and all manner of ocean life, from the biggest whale to the smallest nudibranch (sea slug). With 27 years of diving under his belt and a degree in marine biology, I thought he would be the perfect teacher to introduce me to the world of diving and so decided to take my PADI Open Water course on the island. Wolf turned out to be a fantastic teacher, and I learned so much from him under his one-to-one tuition. For those of you who have never dived before, it is impossible to describe it really. You are in another world, not spectating as you do when you snorkel, but actually in amongst it and interacting with it. During the course I completed a total of five dives, each one completely different to the last, and I intend to do many more as I pass through more of the world's finest dive sites.

Sunsets on the island were beautiful, watched either from the pagoda at the end of the pier or from the hammock on the front porch of our bamboo bungalow. The resort was truly isolated with no internet or even telephone connection, no running water (fresh water had to be brought every day by boat) and limited electricity powered by a generator. Meals were included, and I have never seen barracuda and snapper as big as the ones we were served on a daily basis. On our last night, which also coincided with bonfire night, a big party was organized with a fire on the beach, cocktails of fruit and tuak (home brewed spirit) and later on, dancing, limbo and a big game of twister. The next morning it was time to leave the island, and I did so with a heavy heart and a very fuzzy head!

Again, photos will follow asap...
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