N.Sulawesi the Perfect Place for..err..Everything!

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
Trip End Feb 06, 2006

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Sunday, October 23, 2005

Wow wow WOW. This place has everything you could possibly dream of for a perfect holiday. For those of you who know me, you know I don't rave (too much!) so this place must be good.

So I left the last entry in a little cottage under a volcano? I climbed the volcano at 5am to see the sunrise. After 3hrs I reached 2/3 of the way to the summit and almost stumbled straight into the biggest smoking crater I've ever seen! I climbed a few volcanoes in Guatemala but this was totally different. The sulpherous smell was a lot less pungent and the slopes consisted of dried lava flow rather than volcanic silt. That meant I couldn't run down it in quite the same way (like walking on the moon!), but I did feel like I was on a totally different planet seeing the crater filled with red, purple and yellow rocks. I spent about an hour throwing stones down the sheer 40 ft drop into the crater and listening to the echo. I did that until I realised I knew nothing about volcanoes and panicked that it might be a bit like shouting on a snow covered mountain!! So I got down pretty sharpish...

I waited for Marcus to feel a bit better about his 48hr dash across India to join me, then dragged him off to the proposed UNESCO heritage site that is Bunaken Marine Park. We found a group of deserted little beach huts run by a very lovely family with two puppies, oh make my day! The mother cooked us fresh fish with rice, vegetables and lots of fruit whenever we wanted it AND the beach was literally right on our doorstep.

I have never seen a sea with such good visibility and diversity. I'm a diver so I know the value of visibility. It was saying something that I only did one dive, and only then a night dive to look at the true colour of the coral. We could see at least 20m down. The fringing coral reef was pristine and jam packed with all sorts of strange and crazy animals. The reef went out about 50m from the beach and then abruptly dropped off into a deep blue abyss. It reminded me of that scene from Finding Nemo, when Nemo was getting ready to prove his worth by swimming out to the boat...! It was absolutely fascinating, like a fifth dimension you happen to stumble upon by opening the airing cupboard. We spent hours and hours snorkelling up and down. To make it even better I road tested my new camera case. I won't say I didn't crap myself putting over 150 quids worth of equipment into a plastic case and plunging it underwater!! Damn this country for being so shite with internet, the photos are unreal. We saw massive manta rays swooping past the reef and in the distance.

The night dive was scary as hell. The current was really strong and I kept getting dragged into the coral, with one hand strapped to the camera and the other to a torch... coupled with the fact I haven't dived in two years I was exhausted by the end!! However, for the non-marine biologists amongst you, coral is indeed a living animal, the polpys of which come out at night to feed. During the day they mostly retreat into the hard limestone skeleton that many think of as coral in it's entirety. The reef at night looks like an art shop that's been attacked by an insane picasso fan. I have dived at night before but I will never forget this one, the colours are imprinted on my mind. I even saw a big Green turtle surfacing for air. I was a bit worried as Marcus was above us snorkelling and I think the turtle might have just missed him. Honestly though, hats off to him. It's a scary thing to be floating atop a dark ocean.

To cap it all, I saw sharks... No more needed really.

After four days we decided to go visit the 'Tarsies' in Tangkoko National Park. We set off at 5am in the hope that some of the lazier nocturnals might be dining late. Our guide kept pointing out far off birds and stuff. Admittedly the Hornbills were mightily impressive, like oversized toucans with more colourful beaks. I had to try really hard to be interested in the other birds and not tell him we were there for one thing and one thing only; The Tarsiers. They are the smallest primates in the world, measuring just 10cm with eyes literally bigger than their stomachs. We searched and searched and were giving up hope, but then we found 'The Sleeping Tree'. Not anymore it's not... no tarsier in the world would dare go back to that tree after the awakening we gave the poor things! I had to stick my camera into the hollow of the tree and point upwards to FLASH photograph them. They can't blink either so I think I really pissed them off! I got a perfect photo to show you, but my favourite is one of it's little bottom whilst it's running away up the tree. Much cuter than a puppy. The guide was eyeing me suspiciously when I started babbling to Marcus about what we could feed it if we took one home.

N.b. A few words of advice to anyone travelling in Sulawesi; burn the Lonely Planet. It's worse than useless due to it being so misleading. Maybe the next edition will be better but the authors seem not to have actually visited any of the places they comment on. It's also expensive to travel here, especially due to the petrol crisis, but on the plus side there are no tourists, apart from the odd diver (and trust me they are odd.. we found one obsessed with sea slugs). Best to follow the online lonely planet thorn tree for information from recent travelers. Manado is the closest airport and can be reached from anywhere in Indonesia (approx 500,000 - 800,000 rupiah for a flight from Jakarta), Singapore, Borneo etc.
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