Below is the second part of the bicycle trip through Sulawesi together with Sjoukje. Again, this is Sjoukje’s personal diary and a continuation of her story in the previous blog that ended with the funeral ritual of the Torajas.
The meat from the slaughtered pigs is distributed on the spot, so now and then one can see someone walking around, carrying an unidentifiable bloody piece of pig on a string. The highlight is the slaughtering of the buffalo which is done later and not somewhere behind the scenes, but in a central place so everybody can enjoy the spectacle.
This time the beast struggles fiercely to defend itself and there is a lot of activity with big knives before he finally lies immobile in a big pool of blood. He is immediately skinned, which is done surprisingly quickly, and cut into pieces. A very realistic anatomical lesson. Meanwhile, we get a nice lunch of rice with all kinds of side dishes and pieces of grilled pork. Afterwards a cup of tea or coffee with something sweet and then around 14.00 it is over for that day.
In the following days we make a few more very scenic bike tours from our centrally located homestay and go for a a two-day walk to a village, beautifully situated in the surrounding hills.
The landscape is fantastic, both in terms of nature and architecture. Occasionally the high points of the Toraja roofs of the houses rise like the prows of large ships from the green sea of the wooded slopes.
We spend five days leisurely looking around this scenic and interesting part of Sulawesi, but on sunday it is time to descend to Palopo and the immigrant office.
Before we can start the great descent to sea-level, we first have to go up from Rantepao to the top of the ridge, a stiff climb of two and a half hours. But then we are rewarded by a wonderful descent of about 35 km, with unfortunately halfway a counter-rise of about 3 km. which takes at least half an hour.
It is Monday, October 15, and at 8.15 am we are at the Immigrasi Kantor. The man who has to give the last stamp is in a meeting, but at 9.30 am Bert finally obtains his passport with the coveted visa extension and we can climb on the bikes for the next bit of cycling, which bring us from Palopo to Tentena on the shore of Lake Poso via Masamba, Wotu and Pendolo.
The first two days through the coastal plain are an easy ride. The road is good and not too crowded and the landscape is beautifully green, brightened by flowering bougainvillea in many colors, hibiscus and other flowers of which I do not know the names. Alongside the road you can see rice drying on large sheets of plastic here and there. Later, after having climbed a bit, we also see peppers, coffee beans and cloves, distributing a wonderful smell.
Now and then there are large shade trees on both sides of the road, which make a (relatively) cool tunnel for us to ride through.
We arrive at Wotu at about three o’clock in the afternoon and before finding a place to sleep we decide to go and see where we have to go tomorrow to find a minibus to take us to Pendolo, which is about 800 meters higher up in the hills. After some searching, we find the Terminal and when we ask for transport options for the next day, we are directed to a van a few meters away, that is already fully loaded in our eyes and about to leave with destination Pendolo. We are sweaty and tired after 80 km. of cycling and doubt there will be room for us, the bikes and our total of 10 pieces of luggage. Sure there is room for us, everyone gestures, and the decision seems to be taken out of our hands when one of the men climbs onto the roof of the van and gestures to the bikes. Under Bert’s supervision, the bags are put on top first to cushion the bikes, skilfully tied down without risk to the vulnerable parts. Inside there appear to be two surprisingly spacious and comfortable seats for us and so after a beautiful and indeed steeply climbing ride with many turns and twists after almost four hours we reach Pendolo unexpectedly that same day.
It is now dark, but we have chosen a place to stay in advance and are delivered on the doorstep. It is one of a row of a simple wooden cabins on the shore of the lake and after a tasty plate of nasi at a nearby roadside restaurant we fall asleep to the sound of the waves after this long day.
In the morning, during a early swim in the lake before breakfast, we meet our three neighbors. They are all Dutch and they have rented a boat to bring them to Tentena this morning. The boat is big enough to take us and the bycicles as well, so we can join them!
That means not only a wonderfully scenic and relaxed boattrip, but looking at the shore we see that it saves us a probably pretty hard day cycling too.
We are dropped off at a (for us) quite luxurious resort, which is run by a Dutchman. With the revenues from the resort he finances the adjacent orphanage, where, as we are told, also some children from the Palu disaster area have been given shelter.
It is a lovely place with good food, which we appreciate fully after all the wisma’s.
But the next day we go on again, towards Poso on the Tomini Bay.
But first we go to the market of Tentena. Special delicacies here are large bats (flying dogs) and very long thick eels. We do not see the last ones (only the traps in the lake), but the first ones we certainly do get to admire, both whole and cut into tasty pieces. I must confess that I do not mind not having the opportunity to taste them!
As we hoped and expected, the rest of the day the road goes down to sea level, another great day of cycling. Arriving in Poso we are glad to find a bank that is open, for this is the last place where we can exchange some Euros for several million rupees before going on to spend a few days on the Togean Islands, which are quite remote and where one can only pay cash.
Our next goal is Ampana, a small town 160 km. and two cycling days further along, from where we will take a boat to the Togean Islands.
The first day all goes well, almost everything on the middle blade. Along the way we do not see any wisma’s or other possibilities to stay overnight. Around five o’clock, when the sun is already low in the sky, we stop in a village and ask if thre is a hotel or something like it somewhere in the neighborhood.
Yes they tell us, 23 km. further along the road. That is not an option for us at this time of the day, we explain. The villagers discuss the problem among themselves and then a young man who speaks a little bit of English invites us to come to his house. We are warmly welcomed with tea and a few rolled-out mats on the floor to sleep. The toilet and the mandi-bathroom are quite as good as those of a simple wisma, clean and with plenty of water. All in all a very nice experience, albeit a tiring one because one is not left alone for a moment, no privacy at all. Everyone wants to communicate and show their three words of English and of course take a selfie. Even the mayor also comes along on his scooter to pay a visit.
Despite the rather hard soil and family life with crying baby around us, we are still manage to get a decent nights sleep. An offer from our host to take a walk through the village before leaving we decline, using the 75 km which are on the program for today as an excuse.
One more group photo and then we are on our way.
It turns out to be a tough day, involving much more and steeper climbing than yesterday. It takes lot of sweat using only the small blade and a lot of effort to get to the top each time, not really going much faster than 5 to 6 km. per hour. But we succeeded and tired but satisfied we reach Ampana, with the happy prospect that in the coming days we will not travel by bike but by boat.
We buy tickets for tomorrow’s ferry and reserve a cottage on one of the islands for the next few nights.
It is a fairly large boat that takes us to Wakai the next morning. Our tickets entitle us to seats in the cabin below, but it is much more scenic and more relaxed to stay on deck.
From Wakai all kinds of local boats (narrow long outriggers) go to the various islands and we are picked up by the people from Lestari Cottages on Kadidiri island, where we have reserved a cabin.
Two nights we stay in this tropical paradise, where Bert goes diving a few times for the first time in years and I explore the underwater world snorkling, enjoying the beautiful colors and shapes of the coral and the fish.
We meet a French couple who wants to move to a nearby island the next day and we decide to go with them. Not a bad decision for there it is even better! On the way we stop at a lake with brackish water, which is connected to the sea, and where you can swim amidst the non-stinging jellyfish that live in it. A very special experience.
Then one more stop for snorkeling at a reef with an enchanting amount and variety of coral and fish, most impressive,
There is a fishing boat near by and our captain surprises us with a plate of ceviche of freshly caught fish with peppers and lime.
Completely satisfied we arrive at our next home, a wooden house on a white sandy beach with two rows of coconut palms and a beautiful view over the small bay.
Who wants to ever leave this paradise? We decide to stay here as long as we can, until next monday, when we have to leave to take the ferry to Gorontalo.
It will be a very relaxing few days, diving, snorkling and taking some walks on the island. After a walk to the other side of the island we even see some dolphins when we go back by boat. The only negative thing we encounter is all the plastic floating in and on the water. Most people here are not very environmentally aware, unfortunately. We spend our time reading, doing nothing and updating this story. And speaking French, because the majority of the other guests are French. And even playing a card-game in that language. Definitely a slice of paradise.
Another last snorkel expedition (every time I discover new fish) to a super nice reef, a final game of cards in the evening and a last night on the island of Malenga before we go first with the small boat to Wakai tomorrow and then on to Gorontalo with the big boat.
It is now Monday, October 29, the day that we leave the Togean Islands. First with a comfortable outrigger back to Wakai (where we immediately buy a big papaya and a watermelon, because we have not seen any fruit other than bananas during the last week) and from there with the night boat to Gorontalo.
On board we have a nice reunion with a few people that we met before on the islands.
While we enjoy a cold Bintang (Indonesian beer) on the deck, two dolphins swim alonsideg the boat for a while, occasionally leaping out of the water. Beautiful show!
Together with two ladies from Malenga we share a 4-person cabin and manage to sleep quite well. But not for long, because we dock already at 3.30. Half an hour later we ride without lights through a pitch dark Gorontalo from the harbour to the city itself. Fortunately, there is more and more street lighting as we get closer to the center and we even find a cafe that is already open and offers cups of tea.
At the homestay they are already awake and a little later we have a lovely clean room with air conditioning, so we can catch up on some sleep.
After a rest and a breakfast we drive around the city to see if we can find a Lion Air office. That is, as far as we can discover, the only airline that flies from Manado to Bali. But it is also the airline that suffered a plane crash yesterday, when a plane was lost at sea. All occupants, 189 people, were killed. One of the biggest aircraft disasters in Indonesian history.
We do not find the office, but spend a nice day driving around Gorontalo. There are still some interesting buildings left over from colonial times and here and there I also discover an Art Deco style facade.
That evening we treat ourselves to a delicious rice table with tuna and chicken satay. Unfortunately no beer to go with it, because here definitely Islam rules.