Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Sulawesi (1) - The Long Trek to the Togean Islands via Ampana

The noisy mosque in Berau
We braced ourselves for the gruelling 3 day journey from Pulau Derawan to our first destination in the Togean Islands.  Needless to say we weren’t looking forward to it.  We travelled as far as Balikpapan with Boris and Léa who were heading to Flores from there.

First we left Pulau Derawan by speedboat, a 30 minute journey followed by 3 hours in a kijang to Berau which seemed to pass painfully slowly. 

Once we arrived in Berau we all checked into the same hotel.  Paul and I opted for the deluxe room but all this meant was that we had a window which wouldn’t shut.  Unfortunately this also meant that we heard the call to prayer loud and clear from the mosque about 50 metres down the road which on occasion had to compete with some kind of Indonesian rave music played by the people next door.

We all spent a little time on the internet as we had been off the radar for a week so it was a quick catch up of emails and Facebook before heading out to grab some dinner which turned out to be easier said than done.  Indonesians must eat quite late because when we were wandering the streets at around 7.00pm no warung we stopped at was serving food. 

We eventually came across a very western style café which was advertising latte coffee and pastries.  We first tried to ask whether they served any food apart from the cakes on offer and they solemnly shook their heads.  When we then tried to ask, this time using very stilted Indonesian (and a lot of hand signals) where there was somewhere we could find food and they enthusiastically conjured up a full menu.  I still can’t quite fathom what occurred but they did indeed serve food (although this fact wasn’t advertised) and we all ended up ordering something which vaguely resembled a cheeseburger and some fries.

The next morning Boris and Léa caught the same flight as us to Balikpapan and from there they were boarding a connecting flight to Makassar 2 hours later.  We had a 4 hour stopover before our flight to Palu so we were able to have one last meal with them before we parted company.

Our hut at Marina Cottages, Ampana
Boris and Léa were meeting her sisters in Bali around the same time as us but they were undecided as to where to spend the time.  We were headed to Tulamben on the north east coast, good diving for Paul and far enough away from the marauding Australians getting blind drunk in Kuta.  Boris and Léa were leaning towards the Gili Islands but Tulamben also appealed but Emily had told us it was a 5 hour transfer there from the airport.  We therefore had strict instructions to email with details of the drive from the airport to Tulamben on the east coast of Bali.  If it was 3 hours or less it was possible we would meet with them again, but if the journey was longer they would skip it and head straight to the Gili Islands.  That is what the internet is good for when you are travelling;  up to the minute information from people on the road!

After bidding farewell to our Swiss friends we spent our remaining 2 hour wait in a coffee shop before it was time for us to catch the 45 minute flight to Palu.  When we arrived in Palu there was a worrying moment as we waited for our luggage but Paul’s backpack eventually materialised as the last one on the conveyor belt.  We then took a taxi to the hotel we had booked in the centre of town.  The hotel was rather nice (all marble floors and hot and cold running water) and way above our usual budget but options in Palu were limited.  It was the sort of hotel that we suspect had we wandered in off the street we would have been informed that regrettably there were no rooms available but as we had already booked and paid online they had no choice but to accommodate us.

At this stage in our trip we are beginning to look very scruffy and a bit rough around the edges!

The yellow boat - our transport to Bomba
We had already booked ahead our accommodation at Island Retreat resort near Bomba on Pulau Batudaka in the Togeans and Sylvie, the Californian who runs the place, had arranged for our transport from Palu which involves a 10 to 12 hour car drive to Ampana, overnight in Ampana and then early ferry to Bomba and local boat to the resort.

We set out at 5.30am from Palu on the long and arduous car journey which takes you east through mountains for part of the trip and then the part of it  follows the coast from Poso to Ampana.  The scenery is stunning and as you wind your way through the mountain roads you pass above forests of coconut palms one minute and then for the next hour or two you are travelling on long straight roads through rice paddies with the mountains on the far side and the sea just visible on the other. 

The mountain villages we passed through were either Muslim or Christian but we noticed that some of the houses had a little cemetery built in the front yard consisting of several structures which looked a like shrines or altars similar to the the spirit houses we had seen throughout Vietnam and Cambodia.  There were usually about half a dozen of these structures of varying sizes and they were enclosed by a high wall.  Some of them were very plain and made out of wood, but some were far more elaborate painted in all colours across the spectrum, and a few were incredibly ornate and carefully decorated in shimmering metallic paint.  

The houses themselves were mainly one storey wooden houses painted a variety of mainly pastel colours (pink, yellow, blue, purple), all with painted (usually a contrasting colour) wooden frames and a veranda out front. 

The coastal scenery was also stunning.  It really was an interesting and pretty road trip but about 9 hours too long.

And the roads are patchy to say the least.  In places there are tarmacked roads in relatively good condition but every so often the tarmac simply stops and the driver has to negotiate his way on dirt track for a considerable distance.  We can only assume that in the rainy season the relentless downpours cause damage to the roads.  Our driver was fairly good and drove quite slowly but you can’t account for all the other nutters on the road as well as random goats and chickens wandering into the middle of the road causing hazards left right and centre.

A cat up a palm tree - not an everyday sight
We were therefore relieved to get to Ampana after 11 hour trip (our driver stopped 3 times) to stay overnight at one of the lovely little wooden cottages in Marina Cottages on the beach next to the pier where we were due to catch the ferry to Bomba the following morning. 

Our wooden hut at Marina Cottages was on the pebbly beach overlooking the sea and we had a warm shower and air conditioning.  We made the most of these facilities during our short one night stay and we were very glad we did.  We didn't realise that this was the last time we would have access to running water and mains electricity for a while.

When we arrived at Marina Cottages, we were told that Sylvie from Island Retreat was actually over from Bomba catching up on her emails and when we caught up with her she offered to take us straight to Island Retreat on her own boat the next day instead of taking the public ferry.  This saved us a little money and hassle as we would not have the hassle of getting a local boat from Bomba to Island Retreat.  Although we left later than planned, we chilled out around Marina Cottages and once we arrived at Island Retreat we were able to begin 7 days of serious relaxation immediately.

So after a refreshing night's sleep in our beachside cottage, we set off at about 1.00pm in Sylvie's little yellow boat.  The 2 hour journey from Ampana was noisy and a little damp from sea spray but we saw dozens of flying fish on the way.  They are amazing little creatures that look like birds when you first glimpse them but as you follow their flight path and they eventually splash into the water you realise that they are actually fish.  They can travel a really long way over the sea and change direction at will.  They kept us amused on the 2 hour trip.
The amazingly clear waters at Ampana
All this travelling was uneventful but it took time.  Looking back, it’s amazing that all went to plan particularly when travelling around Indonesia is such a lottery subject to Indonesian time (very unreliable and often dependent upon the bus driver, taxi driver, boat skipper having one last stint on the karaoke - I kid you not as we know ferries have been delayed for hours on this basis), and Indonesian timetables (subject to constant change without notice).

The time and effort it takes to get around Indonesia was beginning to take its toll on us.  We are not sure whether we would have found it so difficult had Indonesia been near the beginning of our trip and therefore when we would have had more time and energy but everyone we have met agrees that travelling around this vast country of 17,000 islands takes patience and, depending where you are travelling to and from, considerable determination.  So near to the end of our trip, 3 days travelling does seem a waste of time but we had the required determination and believed it would be worth the effort and we had been warned!

And when they say it takes determination to get to the Togean Islands, that is not an exaggeration.   When we finally arrived at Island Retreat on Pulau Batudaka it was about 3.00pm and after the 3 long days it had taken us to get here from Pulau Derawan we were absolutely worn out and looking forward to stopping in one place for a while.

The plan was for Paul would do some diving and snorkelling, for me to do some reading and snorkelling, and for the rest of the time to just chill out and do nothing much else.  We were definitely ready for a bit of that.

1 comment:

  1. In places there are tarmacked roads in relatively good condition but every so often the tarmac simply stops and the driver has to negotiate his way on dirt track for a considerable distance.

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