Thursday, 9 May 2013

Sulawesi (2) - Donggala and Diving with Germans

Sunset reflected on the clouds
After another gruelling 2 day journey involving local boat from Kadidiri to Wakai followed by a 5 hour ferry trip to Ampana, ojek (motorbike) ride to hotel where we overnighted before heading off the public minibus to Palu the next morning and finally an hour’s taxi ride to Donggala.  We were more than relieved to reach the Prince John Dive Resort situated in Tanjung Karang on mainland Sulawesi.

In Dutch colonial times, Donggala was the major port in this part of Sulawesi before the harbour silted up and they started to use the harbour at Palu instead.  Nowadays Donggala is a sleepy little town with lots of old traditional houses which we saw as we passed through on the taxi ride to the resort.  It is a town of little colourful houses and a small streets and it is hard to reconcile it with its important role in days gone by.

The view across the bay from the veranda
Tanjung Karang is a peninsular about 5km north of Donggala and is a protected marine national park.  The area is known for good beginner diving and lots of lovely coral reef for snorkelling and seems to be dismissed out of hand in favour of other locations which boast deeper or more difficult dives (because of current or other reasons) but we both came away really impressed with both the diving and snorkelling for wondering why it was so underrated. 

The coral off the beach was amazing, very well established with lots of fish and other underwater wildlife including a massive moray eel which you really didn’t want to mess with.

The taxi from Paul dropped us off at the entrance to the resort at about 8.00pm and we were relieved to have avoided spending a night in Paul.  However, it took some wandering aimlessly in the direct before we were found by two of the staff who led us to our wooden bungalow overlooking the bay. 

Once we had dumped our bags set off down to the beach restaurant for a late dinner.  Afterwards we went over the bar where we had a couple of cold beers.  To their credit, cold beer was always available and we put this down to the fact that it was German run and the availability of cold beer is something which is intrinsically understood by our fellow Europeans.

The mountains from our veranda
Cold beer in hand, we sat chatting to the manager Alex for a while and he told us a little bit about the area, the diving here and also other places he had been.  Alex had worked at and run the resort on and off for about 5 years.  Reading between the lines, he loves Indonesia but finds it irritating in equal measure.  This is true of many westerners in business in south east Asian countries and comes as no surprise.  After an hour or so we bid Alex goodnight and made our way back to our hut for the night.

Our large wooden bungalow was set on stilts overlooking the sea with a huge veranda, complete with hammock and 4 piece rattan furniture.  The bathroom only had an Indonesian bath but warm showers were available in the beach area.

We had spoken to other people who had visited this place in the past and had commented that there always seemed to be a lot of Germans staying and this did indeed turn out to be the case.  Most of the guests during our stay were German apart from one couple (he was French, she was Dutch) over from Balikpapan where they currently live as he works in the oil industry.

After dinner on our second evening we spent a few hours at the bar chatting to the German manager, the French and Dutch couple, and a German couple who have been coming over once or twice a year for the last decade.

Spot the geckos
We were to learn later that this German couple had been looking after a couple of local children for the last 10 years by paying for their education and their health care.  I suppose you would call it direct or unofficial sponsoring, rather than through a charity, but certainly they have provided a lot of help to these children and their family over the years.  They were happy to tell the story of how they met and what had happened to the family over the years although they went out of their way to play down their role, suggesting that the amounts of money involved were relatively small.

They told us that few years ago, after they had started helping with school fees etc, the family fell on hard times when the mother died of cancer and they lost their home.  The German couple were able to provide them with practical and financial assistance during this traumatic period, but in particular they helped the father find some land in the village that he was able to buy and he went on to build his family a new home.   

While we were chatting to the German couple we gathered that the father’s choice of a second wife hadn’t been a particularly good one and that marriage was now on the rocks.  They both remarked that they had tried to tell him to leave women alone for a while as, reading between the lines, he isn’t a particular good judge of character when it comes to women, but their advice and banter was all very good natured and the couple were happy to do the little they did to help the children, in particular, through their early years.  Their father obviously thought very highly of them too and it seemed that they had a close relationship.

A cat sheltering from the rain
Anyway, as we were at the bar were chatting to our fellow Europeans it struck us we never feel more European than when we meet other Europeans in a country like Indonesia.  It really brings it home to us how much we do have in common, discussing the same problems we have at home, the fact that we hold the same or similar standards (we none of us had anything nice to say about the family of American church missionaries that were staying for the weekend – while we shared misgivings about the role of religion in certain areas in a country like Indonesia we none of us felt we had the right to impose 
our religious beliefs on them!).  And it was obvious that we all missed the same things from home and items such as cheese, sausage, good beer and wine ranked high on the list for everyone!). 

That evening was oiled by a few rounds of arak, courtesy of Alex, shots of which appeared at regular intervals.  The arak served was of varying quality and we started with the best available, the quality diminishing as the evening wore on.  Certainly we were all suffering a little the next day but it was a good evening.
The view down the beach

Paul really enjoyed his diving and doesn’t believe it deserves its mediocre reputation as beginner diving.  Most of his dives weren’t particularly deep but he is not interested is going deep just for the sake of it, he is more interested in seeing fish and coral and just generally taking in the underwater landscape.  The coral was lovely, well established and in really good condition.  There was also lots of fish, many varieties, and he even saw sharks for the first time which was very exciting for him.  I am reliably informed they were white tipped sharks and they hide under the huge plate coral that you can find here and are (so they tell me) harmless.

Paul also snorkelled quite a bit but I only went once with the French and Dutch couple.  I saw the massive moray eel that Paul had already told me about and it was very impressive to see.  It was hiding in the coral, was a greenish colour, had a huge head and as it breathed you could see its teeth which looked very sharp and there were lots of them.  Although most of it was hidden in the coral going by the size of its head Paul reckoned it was about 3 metres long.  I stayed a safe distance from that little monster. 

The bar where we perched in the evening
Other than that there were masses of fish, huge schools of small fish hovering around certain types of coral, the usual Moorish idols, surgeon fish, parrot fish, crocodile needle fish, and other coral fish you seem to get everywhere but that I never tire of seeing.    I am amazed that the different colours, designs, shapes and sizes that fish seem to come in.  Some have spots, some have stripes, some have wavy lines or circles of colour and some have a combination of all of these in all the colours of the rainbow (and more).  I really can’t imagine that someone has catalogued all these species because even on a 30 minute snorkel I seem to see hundreds of different species.

Sadly, our underwater camera stopped working and seemed to be broken completely and I really missed taking it snorkelling.  For one thing, it took my mind off being eaten alive and for another, there are so many amazingly beautiful fish, having had a taste of photographing underwater I really miss it.  I can’t imagine I’ll want to do much of that in Australia, however, unless it’s in a swimming pool!  However this means that I will no longer be posting any pictures of pretty fish which may not be a bad thing.

Indonesians screaming with delight on the sea banana
Although where we stayed was an actual resort, the beach itself was open to all and at the weekend the place with packed with locals visiting from nearby Palu.  They also enjoyed splashing about in the water and snorkelling but the funniest thing was watching them in their droves queuing up to be dragged through the water on a bright yellow sea banana being hauled by a speedboat.  It all looked a little out of place.

The downside about the busy weekends was the fact that Indonesians, like everyone else in Asia, like a spot of karaoke at full blast and at all hours of the day.  On Sunday, the karaoke from the next door bar was deafening and the German couple took it in turns to go and complain.  This worked for about 10 minutes but and then the music would be cranked up again.  This resulted in one of them marching over again and at one point the German bloke actually pulled the plug and threatened to take the lead next time.  It didn’t seem to make any difference and although this was very amusing for us, we were also relieved when Monday arrived and quiet descended on Tanjung Karang once again. 

Another sunset reflected on the mountain
The resort was set in a tiny village but we never summoned up the energy to go for a wander which was a shame.  We really had no need to leave the beach – we had food, beer, snacks and cigarettes all available at the bar, so were happy enough to sit on the beach and watch the weather change over the mountains across the bay.  We both believe that the fact that during our 5 day stay we did not venture out once to explore the village is indicative of our running out of steam.  Certainly on the taxi ride to the airport, as we passed through the town of Donggala in the daylight it looked really charming and all the little villages we passed as we neared Palu were typical of others we had seen throughout Sulawesi and it was with a tinge of regret that we hadn’t made the effort to see more of our surroundings.

However, the reality was that Paul could just about muster up the energy to go diving, and I could just about muster up the energy to get out of my hammock, update the blog and read a book.   Other than that, we had to turn up for mealtimes and relax in the bar before heading to bed.  That was about our limit at this stage of our trip.

We ate well at Prince John Resort.  The food was tasty and served warm which in itself was a luxury.  Of course, there was an abundance of rice and fish but what did we expect? 

The resort had two resident ginger toms (they were definitely tomcats – there was never any doubt of their gender given the lack of attention by a vet or otherwise) and lots of other cats that seemed to enjoy trespassing on their territory as most evenings we could hear the cats howling and some nasty scraps going on in the darkness as they competed amongst themselves for supremacy as top cat. 

A drunken evening with some jolly Germans
We saw no dogs during our stay and this was something of an anomaly we noticed in certain parts of Indonesia.  Most places we had visited so far had more than its fair share of dogs roaming about but fewer cats.  However, we had also seen lots of cats on Kalimantan but hardly any dogs.  The same was true of mainland Sulawesi but oddly not on the Togean Islands where dogs seemed to reign supreme.   We found this a bit strange and haven’t been able to find an explanation.

One evening the family supported by the German couple threw a barbecue party on the beach where they built a bonfire and cooked yellowfin tuna on the coals.  There was a lot of throwing people in the water going on as more and more beer was consumed but we just quietly sat and observed the party from the sidelines.  Apparently this party is a traditional every time the German couple visit and it is to show their appreciation for all they do for the family although the Germans confided that in recent years they had to confiscate mobile phones for the evening otherwise everyone would be quietly talking/texting etc .  In the days before mobile phones and satellite television everyone owned a guitar or some other musical instrument and that was how they made their entertainment, whether they had talent or not!  Another sacrifice in the name of progress.

The gardens at the resort
Towards the end of our stay, friends of the manager turned up from South Africa for a 3 week holiday.  They had endured over a day of travelling and proceeded to drink the bar dry the evening they arrived.  That was another evening of too much beer not helped by the German’s generosity with the South African Schnapps they had brought with them.  Heads were sore the following day but it was a price worth paying.   Once again, we found ourselves enjoying the company of our fellow expat Europeans, only this time much hilarity was had making comments about the French (although it is widely and somewhat reluctantly conceded that although all Europeans seem to hate the French (of course we don’t really) we have to admit they do good cheese and excellent wine but no-one beats the Germans when it comes to sausage).

I should point out at this stage that we don't really the French or any of our other European neighbours (honestly, and I think (hope) this is true of most Brits) but the fact that we all have our stereotypical ideas of certain nations, including other Europeans' stereotypical view of us Brits, does in fact seem to bind us together.  And anyway, we know as soon as our backs are turned that all the stereotype banter will come out about the English and, let's face it, everyone hates the bloody English!

Typically, Paul and I shared many a private joke about how well run the place because it was run by Germans but in fairness it was true.  Electricity was provided between 6.00pm and 6.00am and was timed almost to the minute.  On one occasion, the power was down but a large generator made sure that the place ran like clockwork regardless.  Saying all this, the manager was actually really laid back and we enjoyed our time there.  We could easily have stayed longer and had we more energy explored the surrounding area a little more but time was now of the essence.

Our next and final stop on our travels was Bali.  It was hard to believe that 9 months of travelling, trekking half way around the world through Europe and much of Asia, mainly overland, was coming to an end and that we would shortly be expected to fit back into the real world and worry about things like finding a job and somewhere to live.

All a bit scary.


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