After my last update we (the Togean crew) rented a van to Manado, a surprisingly pleasant and uneventful nine hours, if a little cramped. Manado had been described as a “clean” and “modern” place that you might like to stay for a while. Well, I’m guessing that the mayor’s brother wrote that because, while not a bad place, it is pretty much like all the other Indonesian cities we’ve been to. Actually, with a few exceptions, anywhere you go, “cities are cities”. Yeah, I’ll give you all a second to write that little nugget down. Either way, the only real pluses I could see about Manado were lots of banks and good donuts. Come to think of it, neither one of those is anything to scoff at, not here. Oh yeah, and fast Internet (merely in relative terms, of course).
So, a couple nights in Manado, then we were off to Tangkoko National Park to invade the natural habitat of some of the local wildlife. The bus dropped us off about an hour out of Manado, in a town called Girian, and we were directed, along with another Danish guy (Milan) and his Belgian girlfriend (Sophie), to the place where we were to catch another bus to the park itself. As we were walking down the street a bunch of locals (like a dozen or more) packed into the box of a tiny truck asked us if we wanted a ride. We were greatly amused. “Nah, I think we’ll take the bus, but thanks anyway!”, we laughed heartily. Man, we’re glad we’re not riding in there. Soooo, three and a half hours later the bus pulled away, full to the brim. In fact, it was so full that the cockfighting roosters along for the ride had to be jammed under the back seat (right under Milan and Sophie’s legs) for the 1 hour ride (bounce, jolt?) to the park. But, hey, we got there, right. We then spent the night in such a disgustingly infested room that we were thrilled to be up and out of there at five AM to go for a guided jungle hike. Along the way we saw a whole herd (tribe, pack, ensemble?) of black macaque monkeys (stop giggling, Shawn, they didn’t get to choose their name) up close and personal, as well as a rare hornbill and some amazing jungle scenery. Very impressive. After that we decided against another night but couldn’t seem to find any way to get back to town. Apparently, buses are a bit of a sporadic luxury around here. Eventually, we managed to track down a tiny little truck very similar to the one we had laughed off on the way up and begged them to squeeze us in, backpacks and all, for the ride back. We were wrong to doubt you, please let us in! It turned out to be much faster and more comfortable. Figures.
Meanwhile, on our way to Tangkoko we met a Canadian guy who called himself Jimmy (his real name was Duncan, he didn’t explain any further), and was from Vancouver. He’s about 35 or 40, tall, overweight and slightly balding, although he was able to cleverly conceal that fact with a stubby ponytail that pulled his final wisps across his bald spot. A self-proclaimed hippy, (“just like my dad”), he says he’s hitchhiked through 39 countries. Unfortunately, according to his stories, most of his time traveling was spent getting ripped off by the “damn – <insert racial slur here>”. Inevitably, the story would go on to describe how he then outwitted them by telling them to fuck off and leaving without paying. Sounds like fun. I’d have to say that it is a real tribute to his perseverance that he has been able to spend that much time travelling when he hates people from other countries, and despises customs other than his own. On top of all that, from what I saw his idea of hitchhiking was more or less getting rides and then taking off without paying for them. Innovative. Before we left we were fortunate enough to see him being “ripped off” with our very own eyes. He spent 3 days in Tangkoko and, although the guides cost 30,000/hike (about $5) and he hiked every day at five in the morning and gave the money to the guide, he claimed that he was told that he was paying for the room and thought that Armando (the guide) was taking him hiking every morning because they were buddies. Needless to say, this caused quite a commotion when he was about to leave and was presented with a bill for 35,000/night for the room. The poor devil. I’m not sure how it was all resolved (I didn’t feel like asking him when we saw him in Manado a few days later) but I’m sure that someone in the Philippines or wherever he goes next will hear a story about how “those goddamn Indos are slippery, always trying to fuck you. You gotta keep your eyes open, be alert.”
Moving right along, after our little jungle adventure we headed back through Manado to the ocean once again. This time to Bunaken National Marine Park, where we got a room at MC Homestay on Bunaken Island. All things considered, this is probably the best all-around place we’ve stayed yet, although not fancy by any stretch. Then Jens and Lene, who we met in the Togeans, showed up at MC just a day after us. If we could have afforded to dive every day we might have had a hard time finding a reason to leave. Unfortunately, we capped ourselves to four dives each (budgetary constraints, you know) and without diving it could get a little dull. The diving itself was amazing, the best we’ve seen yet (in our vast month of experience). Some people claim it’s the best in SE Asia and it’s hard to argue with that. Most of the dives are along coral-covered walls that drop from 1-2 metres to, supposedly, 2000. We didn’t make it right to the bottom, though. Close, maybe 1,975 metres shy. Along with the “usual” multitude of fish, sponges, and coral we saw sea turtles, eagle rays (they “buzzed” Laynni, I thought it might be laundry day after that), a moray eel, and several sea snakes. On our last dive we saw our very first sharks, a couple of little white-tip reef sharks, maybe a metre long. One was sleeping in a cave; the other was circling under an overhang like he was on figure eight rail. Amazingly graceful to watch up close. That will likely be our last dive for at least a month so it was great to see some memorable stuff. Keep us coming back for more.
The time has come to move on again. By plane, I mean, since we’ve never really stopped moving for very long, although a week can seem like a pretty long time when you only read, dive, and wait for your next meal.
Aaaannnyway…..tomorrow morning we fly from Manado, Sulawesi to Surabaya, Java, ending our 5-week Sulawesi tour. All in all, it was great, and although we don’t have much to compare it to yet, we can say that it was far better than Bali, but also much more difficult. Always a trade-off, right? And if Surabaya sounds familiar, it should (if you’ve been reading, not skimming) because you may recall me bitching and whining about how horrible a place it was. So why are we going back, you ask? Because, A) we’re cheap, and that is the least expensive place to fly that is anywhere near where we want to go, and B) we plan to get the hell out of there within hours of landing. We’re conveniently ignoring the fact that our plan was similar last time and we still ended up staying for 2 days. Selective memory paves the way for blind optimism.
Well, gotta go, we’re gonna try to get our movie fix in. We have a choice between Wings of the Dove (never heard of it, sounds weepy), Turbulence 2 – Garbage In The Sky, and some other crap that in North America would be classified as “straight to video”. But a movie’s a movie, and they have popcorn here that is just as unhealthy and addictive as the stuff at home. Buh-bye, all.