Mission Impossible

Trip Start Aug 22, 2005
1
28
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Trip End Feb 06, 2006


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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Sometimes it's hard to not be frustrated when things go utterly wrong! But then you realise that there is an inadvertent reason for travel being so hard... namely to keep the remote places remote, and to prevent the normal effects of tourism i.e. destruction.

It took us five whole days to reach these islands, but it was worth it. We left Manado at 12pm, having missed the 5am bus (lonely planet said 'regular' read one per day), it took us 10hrs to reach Gorontalo, where we missed the ferry by 30mins. We waited two days for another, Gorontalo being largely unremarkable except for meeting 'Goldmember', who spoke Dutch with a remarkable Dutch accent and constantly called Marcus 'Michael'. Marcus is also known as Marcoos, Micho and Marco by the way... It is great when we meet characters like Pak Alex. He was half Dutch half Indonesian and spoke fluent English, so we managed to have some excellent conversations about Indonesian culture and politics.

Unfortunately when we reached Gorontalo we heard some very bad news about Central Sulawesi. Four Christian girls had been attacked whilst walking through a coconut plantation on the way to school. Three were beheaded and one was seriously injured. We just couldn't believe people would do something like that. Poso has long been the site of various Muslim/Christian conflicts but by and large the violence has been one sided for the past 5 years. One of the heads was left outside a church so the police are pretty sure it was a Muslim. The fact that they would go to such lengths to show they are serious made us rethink our plans, i.e. we were told it would be suicide to travel through the region, especially seeing as Ramadan was 3 days away and retaliation was likely. Pak Alex said that the motive was not religious but political, but it's hard to know exactly why it happened.

We caught the 14hr ferry overnight to Pagimana and then caught a 4hr bus to Ampana for our connection to the islands. We missed the ferry by 10mins... ARRR!

We stayed the night in Ampana with a woman who calls herself 'Miss Harbour', a very strange lady who woke us up drunk in the middle of the night to ask if we wanted food... I didn't seeing as I was very sick. She then insisted that I wake her every time I went to the loo!! Honestly she wouldn't have got any sleep either if I had done that... She arranged a very expensive chartered boat to get to the Togians (Ramadan travel probs again, no boats for another five days) and we finally arrived after another 6hrs on a decrepit old tug. We did see some dolphins though and that made my day!

AH THE TOGIANS! We had a little bungalow right on the beach and a jetty to watch the sunset. Marcus decided to learn to dive to make the most of our week there. He absolutely loved it and got expert tuition from a German man with 27years experience. He was a bit arrogant but totally deserved to be seeing as he knew practically everything about diving!! He sorted out the weird rash on my knee (from a type of sea fan apparently) and gave me some good tips for underwater photos... yay!

Well, we saw some amazing things! The Togians are the only place in Indonesia with all three types of reef environment; fringing, barrier and lagoon. I went snorkeling in the lagoon and bumped into a shoal of sardines being hunted by a few mackerel. I have never been surrounded by so many fish! I floated above them and stayed still and pretty soon they had engulfed me completely, millions and millions of them!

The first dive I did was lovely, really calm and relaxed. The second dive was incredible. On May 9th 1943 a B24 American Bomber was forced to crash land near to Kadidiri island. The pilot decided that landing the plane on water would be safer than having everyone parachute out ,which would disperse them and possible cause injuries landing in the trees. He brought it down perfectly and it floated for about an hour, so the crew were able to salvage first aid kits, blood plasma etc and destroy sensitive information. Unfortunately they were being watched. The locals had seen them crash and tipped off the Japanese as to their whereabouts, who captured the crew as prisoners of war. The rescue team showed up and wondered what had happened! They managed to extract the information that they had been sold out and bombed the village to teach them a lesson.

The plane was about 20m down and covered in coral and barnacles. There was an immense amount of silt around it, which wouldn't affect visibility unless someone touched the ground... three very inexperienced divers descended and immediately kicked up a cloud of dirt!! I managed to get a few good pics in before they did. There was a very territorial Lionfish around the pilot's chair that tried to bully me every time I went near to have a look. It worked seeing as they're fatally venomous... It was just unreal. The silence when you're diving is just golden. All I could hear was the sound of bubbles dispersing from the regulator. It was so atmospheric as I floated about the plane peeking in the windows to look at the parachutes still hanging on the side and poking the tyres that were still filled with air. Anyone who hasn't tried diving, please please do it the next chance you get, you won't regret it I promise.

The last dive had a mild current, which made it very hard to take photos, but I got some good ones of a huge cuttlefish and some little nudibranches. The latter are little brightly coloured sea slugs, ranging from a few millimetres to 7cm long and cause obsessions amongst divers!!

On our last night we had a party with all the Indonesians and the 10 other tourists who were there (probably the only other tourists in Sulawesi!!). We drank 'Arak', the local moonshine and played twister... We were sad to leave, in no small part because the food was so good! Fresh sea fish with vegetables and fruit everyday, I am craving it right now.

We had a very good time because Indonesia has so much natural beauty and also because we got to spend some time with other tourists. It's great to learn random facts about life in Tasmania, Korea etc! I also enjoyed watching the dynamics of 8 different nationalities mixing together (anthrogeek)

Getting off the islands was just as hard, especially avoiding Poso. We took a 16hr overnight boat, where I stole a mattress and slept on the gangway... and then straight onto a flight from Gorontalo to Makassar, where we hopped off the plane onto a 9hr bus to Rantepao! Phew, paying for your safety aint cheap. It should have been but the Indonesian Government recently increased the price of petrol by 130%.... Apparently they are still in a dire position after the collapse of the economy in 1998 and the fact that corruption is so rife! The IMF lent them money to pay debts but refused to allow the money to subsidise petrol. Sounds fair enough, except a lot of people cook with petrol stoves... so although they are still subsiding food, the people can't cook any of it... common sense prevails yet again. It has hit the Indonesian people hard, mainly because no-one seems to know how much anything costs anymore and the bus&ferry companies, taxis etc have just passed the cost straight onto the consumer making even basic trips difficult.
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