We leave Manado early and head to Gorontalo, to catch the ferry to the Togean Islands. We had two choices for our return journey, drive 750miles all the way back round, or pay for the car ferry which would firstly drop us in Wakai on the Togeans and then another ferry on to Ampana on the mainland.
There are no roads linking the villages on the Togeans, however we are able to disembark in Wakai, where we had been offered to leave our car at the home of one of the boys who worked at the resort.
The route back along the coast line to Gorantalo is just as beautiful on the way there, weaving in and out of stunning bays all along the coast, we wish we had time to stop and explore some of the reef around the bays.
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We arrive in Gorantalo around 5:30pm, with the ferry due to leave at 7pm. Now stuck in an unbelievably slow queue of traffic, we hope the ferry ticket office is still open, and the boat is not full. No-one could tell us where the port was, we just hope that we are heading to the right one, if not, it would mean waiting another 5 days for the next boat or not going at all.
Luckily, we spot a line of tiny auto-rickshaws going up a side road and hope they’re heading towards the port, eventually seeing a sign for the ferry terminal and breathing a sigh of relief. Martin buys the ticket costing 968,000Rp, but before being allowed to board we need to have the car weighed at a weighing station.
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We board around 8pm and end up leaving at 9.20pm; the ferry journey is so bumpy that we are continually sprayed with waves coming over the deck. Crew offer us a cabin for 350,000Rp but decide it is cool enough to sleep in the car. We eventually arrive in the Togeans at 9:10am, on route passing many stunning islands and beaches.
3rd August The Togean Islands
The Togean islands are an archipelago of 56 islands and islets in the Gulf of Tomini, located on an active volcanic belt between the north and east arms of Sulawesi. The Togeans are well known for fantastic diving, one of only a few places in the world where you can dive in 3 different types of reef, fringe, barrier and atoll.
We had arranged to stay at Kadidiri Paradise on Pulau Kadidiri, and leave our car with one of the relatives of a boy from the resort, but when we arrive there is no-one to pick us up. Reluctantly we leave the car at the port, with hundreds of inquisitive kids just waiting to climb all over it! We pay for a tiny motorised boat to take us over which takes about 40min.
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Deciding on a beach front room which is quite pricey, as all the standard rooms are full, we have a lunch of gado gado and battered squid on dinner tables reminiscent of boarding school, speaking to a group travelling for a few weeks and a Brazilian couple who had the same idea as us, given up their jobs 13 months ago, and were now full time travellers!
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We had read in the Lonely Planet that there are supposed to be many sea horses on the reef in front of the resort so we snorkel off shore in search, but to no avail. However we do see plenty of large groups of long pipefish at the surface, mouths open ready to catch the plankton being carried in the current. We see porcupine fish and clams, a large shoal of white fish who let us swim really near, a sea snake, a camouflaged flat fish which shuffles along the sea bottom, and a large pike type fish lurking in the shallows amongst the grass. However, Bunaken is still ten times better for snorkelling in comparison!
As usual with Lonely planet, the information is incorrect, not only are there no sea horses, there actually never were, as confirmed by the dive centre, just a few pipefish sea horses, which are not the same. Throughout Indonesia, we have found the information in the Lonely planet’s guide to be materially incorrect and out of date despite being the 2010 version. You do start to wonder if they did actually travel to all these places…….
By 5pm the electricity is on and then off again by 11pm, but at least we have running water 24hrs a day, unlike Kadidiri’s neighbours and competitors, Black Marlin. Martin books a couple of dives for tomorrow.
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Breakfast is some unappealing hard cake and bits of fruit, for the amount of money we are paying we would have expected at least some toast or some eggs, which surely can’t cost that much more!
Martin leaves for his dive at Una Una so I decide to have a walk around and take some photos. It feels like I have the whole place to myself (almost), it is so quiet, just the rustling of the trees and the lapping of the waves breaking the silence. Walking to the end of the long pier, I have a view of the beach, a small stretch which seems even smaller from up here. The cool clear waters bring a refreshing accompaniment to the hot sun and I start to wonder what Martin is up to on his dive…
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Una Una’a volcano, Gunung Colo, last blew in 1983 for the first time in 100 years, covering the island in ash and destroying all houses and livestock. The population were safely evacuated and today a handful of people still call the island home.
On the way to Una Una, we spot a pod of about 30 dolphins, and turn the boat around to have a better look, but they disappear under the water, they don’t seem to want to play today.
The first dive is off Turtle Point; we have lunch on the beach, and the whole village comes out to give us the onceover. As we leave we have about 30 children sitting on the pier waving us goodbye!
The Pinnacle aka Fish O Mania, is a fantastic site, with hundreds and hundreds of schooling Jack fish. We swim right into the middle of them, and they swim around, past us. Suddenly you have hundreds of Jacks with their big bulging eyes coming straight towards you, it’s fantastic! As they approach, the school splits around us, just like water calmly flowing around a rock in a river.
We dive together today; the first site is Batu Pancing, a gently sloping wall with a sudden drop off. We spot bump head parrotfish down below us which are about a metre long and large tuna. As we move further along, a shoal of napoleon fish are swimming straight towards us.
After lunch we go to Taipi Wall, a beautiful wall with overhangs and bright colours, covered in gorgonian fans and colourful corals. The dive starts off swimming alongside the colossal wall which stretches up to the surface and down into an abyss. The visibility is amazing, close to 40m. It’s just the two of us and our dive master and we go as deep as 27m and stay under the water for an hour, circling around some large boulders, then arrive at a looming huge pretty rock covered in coral and sponges. It is definitely a unique dive as up until now all the dives have mainly been following a wall, but today we swim around giant rocks, peering into caves, and over deep canyons, it’s an amazing experience!
We spot sweet lips, trevally, napoleons, bump heads, a school of tuna and fire goby, tiny bright fish which are easily scared, darting out of the way as our hands come closer!
Swimming along at a depth of about 25metres I spot a large fish. Turning around to get Nicole’s attention, I see a humongous black shadow coming towards her. As it gets closer, I make out that it’s a massive six metre long shark, and immediately try to get Nicole to turn round. At this point I’m not too sure what type of shark it is. I turn to the dive master to get her attention but she is too far away. As the shark gets closer, spots us and then turns, its white spots come into view, there is no mistaking that it’s a Whale Shark! Wow!
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Our dive master is ecstatic at the sighting, explaining that they are rare in the waters here and that she has never seen one before today!
Later we read up and learn that they are in fact docile and harmless, if we had known that before we would have tried swimming closer to it! They can reach up to 12 metres in length, with a lifespan of 70 years, and despite being the largest fish species feed mainly on plankton and microscopic plants.
The speedboat takes us to Wakai on Pulau Batu Daka where we pick up the car and drive around to the port. It is around 9am and the boy from Kadidiri warns us that the ferry will be late. Two and a half hours later it pulls in, but then a line of cars and trucks move closer and we notice sacks and sacks of what looks like sweet corn which need to be unloaded. It is not until 1.15 that the ferry actually leaves!
Six hours on the ferry and we are back in Ampana; we had planned to drive onto Tentena but as it is now dark, we decide to stay the night and leave in the morning.
The road from Ampana to Pendolo seems to be in worse condition than when we came up this way the first time, more gaping pot holes and muddy sections, not the safest roads to drive on. We have a close call with a car hurtling around the tight corner which doesn’t see the huge mounds of gravel on either side of the road, consequently flying over it. He stops for a second then carries on.
We consider stopping at Pendolo, looking at Pendolo Cottages, some sweet rooms overlooking Danau Poso with a friendly owner, but decide to continue all the way to Palopo, a port town, eventually arriving around 9pm.
Leave Palopo and head south for the 200 mile journey towards Makassar. As we near, we are glad to be on a two lane toll highway, but it’s not quite finished yet which means continually moving onto the other side, with oncoming traffic, and back over again, not exactly safe!
9-11th August Makassar
We have a rest stop in the city and head out to a couple of the malls for supplies, including the sparkling new G mall, which is completely deserted. Walking through the food court, all the restaurants have curtains or shutters covering their fronts due to it being Ramadan.
12th August Bira
We head to Bira, 120 miles away, along the bumpy, traffic clogged roads. We had indented to stay until Sunday when the next boat to Flores leaves.
Thinking our Indonesian adventure is coming to an end with just two more islands left, Flores and Timor, we head to the port, to check the timing of the ferry, only to be told that there is no ferry this week, and there will not be another for a month as the ship has to go to a dry dock for routine repairs. I can’t believe this and ask the guys again and again if they are joking! They say the best bet is to get a 36h ferry from Makassar to Surabaya, Java. However this would entail having to retrace our steps, through Java, Bali, Lombok and Sumbawa, with various ferries in-between!!! We don’t really have much choice as we have to be in Australia soon so immediately drive back to Makassar, to find out when the next ferry leaves.
Arriving late in Makassar, we head to a hotel for the night, and find out on the internet that the next ferry is on Monday, and also have the hotel double check for us too.
13th -14th August
The next day we head to the PT Darma office to buy our tickets; it’s mayhem, the office is in the middle of the market and there is just no where to park. Driving round for about an hour we eventually find a space down a side street. Buying the ticket is straight forward, but very costly at 2,600,000Rp.
We spend the next few days relaxing in the hotel, before our gruelling 36 hour journey!
15th-16th August Ferry to Java
We head to the port at 6am as advised by the ticketing agent. It is still dark, and we are having difficulty finding the right gate for the ship, being given lots of different information.
We are told its gate 104, but there is no one else here, and are then told the ship will be late and we will not be able to board until 9am.
As 9am approaches there’s a lot more movement as trucks, cars and bikes turn up. However come noon, we are still not on the ship, it’s here but taking forever to unload. It’s so disorganised; the docking vehicles are unable to move, as cars waiting to board are blocking the road. It is not until 1pm, 7 hours later that we actually board and eventually leave around 2pm.
The ship is currently undergoing a refit, which means we are not able to get a private cabin, although the main seating area is brand new and air-conditioned, so we find a couple of seats, with enough floor place to sleep, such luxury! The handful of kids on board seem to be making enough noise for a hundred, blowing their party whistles every second, got to love them! To look on the bright side at least it’s just two days and one night of inescapable noise and no more!
A couple of meals are provided on board, including rice and a boiled egg, all of which are not too appetising. Later that evening a band appears with two girl singers; the music has a Carlos Santana rhythm and a few men are also dancing on stage. They look like they are having a great time, with strange hula dancing movements in full swing!
The next day, the music starts earlier to stem the boredom. 15 hours down, 21 to go!
Finally we see land, the ferry edges its way to the shore, but we are stationary for another two hours, driving off at 2am in the morning, a whopping 44 hours later!
17th August Java to Bali
The ferry docks at Surabaya, Java, and we drive to a hotel a few miles away. The streets look relatively clean and orderly, a surprise considering it is Java’s second largest city, after Jakarta. By the time we get there we are both starving, and order some room service, only to be given two cold near raw beef burgers and some burnt chips!
However, things brighten up the next morning with a huge buffet breakfast to keep us going. It takes another 5 hours to get to the port. On route we pass a large forest fire and immediately feel the intensity of the burning flames, billowing smoke obscuring our vision of the road.
We get on to the ferry straight away and 55 minutes later, are back in Bali! Driving to Lovina on the north coast, we find a room and decide to treat ourselves to some delicious grilled prawns and fresh tuna.
18th August Bali to Lombok
On route to the port at Padangbai, we are held up by a festival, people parading down the street with banners and loud music playing. Boarding the ferry at 3pm, it takes four hours, along bumpy seas, we are back in Lombok! We decide to stay in Mataram, a short drive away from the port, passing a kid riding a bike with just one wheel on the main road, a surreal sight! Unsure of where we will spend the night, we luckily find a decent hotel with Star movies and HBO!
19th August Lombok to Sumbawa
We drive straight across Lombok to catch the ferry to Sumbawa, which takes a couple of hours. We hear a loud crash and a bang, the boat is being thrown side to side by a small swell, and all the motorbikes have toppled over. Once in Sumbawa we drive the 240miles to Sape, to get our names on the list for the ferry tomorrow morning, arriving at the port at 8pm. After our last experience of having to pay double for the ticket, we are determined not to have a repeat performance! We stay in a hotel next to the port for the night.
20th August Sumbawa to Flores
The process of buying the ticket is simpler this time around, paying 10,000Rp to the guy who puts our name on the list, another 10,000Rp to the guy who then puts a stamp on it and finally paying for the ticket which costs 798,000Rp!
We board the ferry in the blazing hot sun, at 9 in the morning (there’s just one ferry a day). As the sun is directly on the car, it’s boiling inside so can’t stay and have sit on deck for 8 hours, on uncomfortable plastic chairs, but with stunning views of uninhabited nearby islands, consisting mainly of colossal mountains, including Komodo and Rinca. Arriving at 5pm, we are back in Flores! Mission accomplished! It just took an extra 5 days, 5 ferries for 58 hours, and around 700 miles, but we made it!!
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Martin & Nicole