Published: January 22nd 2012January 22nd 2012
No wait! Before you hit the censorship button there is a purely botanical explanation for the blog title. Many many years ago while I was a teenager I had found a picture of a plant known as Clitoria in a Nat Geo Magazine. My brain obviously filed this tidbit of information in the archived files circa 1978 of stuff you may want to remember one day and closed up the file and put it into sleep mode. It turns out, those old worn neurosynapses fired when needed and retrieved this information when I did need it....in a jungle in Sulawesi Utara.
I was back in Sulawesi after Diving Bangka and Bunakin and some of the mainland sites again and had set aside a few days for ''land based activities'' - I actually wrote that on my rough itinery which usually includes more to the point notations such as ''find Sambo the elephant in Phnom Penh". After catching the local ferry back in from Bunaken with Benny, Froggies ever charming manager, a bunch of villagers, some live chickens, a few mattresses and sacks of corn we docked up the river where I was treated to a front seat view of locals
preparing dog for dinner. I decided after my last trip to Manado that the budget hotel Celebes where glass in the windows is not guaranteed but drunken sailors yakking up or trotting hookers up and down the elevator is was not for me so booked at the Hotel Gran Puri which had 4 stars, room service and a flatscreen tvs might be more my style this time.
I checked in island style, barefoot and grubby, smiling broadly at the business suited delegates checking out of the ASEAN tourism forum, got my room key and ran a huge bubble bath and sat there soaking while reading the Whats On Manado magazine. Last time I was in Sulawesi Utara I had wanted to go and find the Tarsier at Mount Tangkoko but the weather had other ideas. Not this time..I was determined to find Tarsiers. So at the age of 45 I decided trekking through jungles and climbing up the sides of volcanos should be a nice gentle afternoon - many people of my age climb everest. Granted, that is bigger and they have probably prepared for it physically so this shouldnt be too hard. Except organising things in Manado is
by nature..hard. I went down to the hotel desk with the magazine and asked to book this tour - no, the concierge had a friend who would do it instead. How much?..he will tell you. When can I speak to him?..after I find him. I only have tommorow are you sure you can organise this?..much smiling and assurances that tomorow he would be waiting. Except of course, he wasnt. I tried again the next morning with the magazine pointing to the phone number for the tour agency..but again..no, the concierge who isnt here has a friend who is taking you. When will he be here?..Who? The conceirge or the guide?..Both. But I only have TODAY! - (I found myself morphing into horrible whiney tourist and quickly kicked my toe against the ornate desk to remind myself I am a peaceful hippy). Ok! Ok! You go sit we call you. That guide was on Bunaken that day but of course he had a friend who would take me. Eventually they did sort it out. A driver showed up and scanned the lobby for a middle aged grumpy woman and wandered over and said Tangkoko? You? Yes! Yes! Me...how much?...Sorry I dont
speak English...But you just did!. Eventually one of the reception staff negotiated what I felt to be a fair price and I zipped off to find appropriate jungle trekking clothing. Camo Pants? Check. Drab shirt? Will a foo fighters tshirt in black do? Check. Shoes...oh...now thats a problem. I gave them to a member of my new found family back at Surabaya beach which is of course, nowhere near Surabaya. One member of my family spoke English and did all the translating..you have beautiful shoes..what these old joggers?..much hugging and laughing and comparing feet with a lovely lady around my age who wanted photos of me with her kids, her grandkids, her mother, her mothers mother and her father. We had the same feet size so I gave her my joggers. She had put them on and done a pretty mean Nutbush on the beach with them on while feeding me more corn, mangosteens and rambutans as I had waited for the boat to Bangka island. Our translator told me she had one dream....to buy a nose like mine..a big one....because it was sexy and it could hold eyeglasses. Ive never felt my nose to be my best feature, in
fact, i rather dislike it and wouldve happily sold her my nose. Hers was one of those nice neat Asian noses that dont meander around your face and hook over like a toucans beak.
This wasnt solving my shoe problem so I grabbed my dive booties. Well, they should do the trick and they did, admirably. Should you ever find yourself in this situation, feel free to substitute dive gear for land gear. I grabbed a few bottles of water and off we set. Mount Tangkoko is only 60km from Manado but the problem is, well, volcanos. They are bloody everywhere. As my son said before I left..who puts a volcano 6km from an airport, thats just stupid!..Indeed, Ryan, Indeed. Although I think the volcano got there first. From a civil engineering viewpoint, Volcanos are a pain in the arse. You cant lop the top off them and build a scenic road. You cant tunnel through them like those civilized swiss alps, you cant blow them up and flatten the terrain and build a nice 6 lane highway..you cant do anything with them except..go around. This makes the 60km a two hour trip. With a near death head on
collision experience thrown in every 10kms for added excitement. The road to Tangkoko itself is not far off those roads you sometimes see on Discovery channel's worlds deadliest roads - well not quite but when there is a truck with a shipping container coming one way and you are overtaking a truck carrying pumpkins, a family of 6 and a hog tied hog you are allowed a bit of poetic licence and chainsmoking is permissable. Recommended even.
We finally made it to Tangkoko rangers station where a guide would walk the reserve with me to find the Yaki, AKA Macaque Nigras - who makes an appearance on the UN Red List of species that are critically endangered and of course the Tarsier. Now if my brain can file away info from 1978 what part of it forgot to process the need for cash and that ATMs in a jungle would be probably harder to find than the elusive cuscus. There I am in the rangers office with USD, Euros, AUD, PNG Kina, Vietnamese Dong and a few left over Thai baht but no Rupes. Eventually we settled on $10 AUD for the guide but I gave them a $20
because that was the smallest I had and these guys do the best they can to stop the macaques being poached for bushmeat. Cash crisis over, we set off walking along the beach and didnt find the Yaki swimming there so kept walking. The guide whos name I cannot recall was excellent, spotting my interest in plants and butterflies he tried to tell me what they were. And suddenly my eyes focused on a small pink flower attached to a verdant rambling vine. I stepped closer to have a look and there it was..the elusive Clitoria. I had found my clitoria in a jungle in Sulawesi..who wouldve thought? The brain went searching instantly through the archives and linked the visual with the latin name and fired a few more electrical impulses that included directing various nerves and muscles to proceed with the necessary functions for laughing loudly and making hands work to grab camera and start snapping away.
I looked over at the guide who had a perplexed and amused look on his face too. Most people come here to see the Tarsier and thats it not spend an hour studying the finer points of Clitoria. Eventually we ventured
on. It was hot as hell and steamy but that kind of goes with the territory when you are in jungles. It seemed we had walked another hour when suddenly he said..there, Yaki, family number 1. And there they were, the Yaki, with their black slickback mohawk hair do's and the unmissable pink loveheart on their bums. Having had a lifelong ''issue'' with monkeys I found the Yaki awesome. These guys must be the Bob Marleys of the Macaques. Not interested in stealing anything or biting me which most monkeys seem to like to do, I sat down and chilled out with them. They went about their monkey business, mothers keeping an eye on rambunctious teenagers swinging wildly through the trees, new mothers holding their babies close and flirtatious female monkeys with hugely swollen and bright red lovehearts smooching up to the boss monkey for a bit of grooming. I laughed at the monkey kids fighting like our kids..one had grabbed his brother by the head and was attempting to throttle him or rip his head off over some monkey version of its my turn on the playstation next. Boss Yaki was also doing his best to not become extinct
by bonking madly any female who happened to be wandering past.
We left the Yakis and headed further up into the jungle to look for the tarsier tree. The guide suddenly stopped and craned his neck to scan the forest canopy and spotted a pair of also endangered cuscus - grabbing his binoculars we watched them languidly feeding eachother leaves and doing cuscus things together for a while. The guide told me he was happy to see this male with a female up there because..well, theres only one way to not become extinct. They retired to a more secluded spot when they saw us.
Finally my legs were really starting to complain when we got to the Tarsier tree. This tree holds the tarsiers who wake up at 5pm, another tree further up the side of the mountain has the 6pm family. Its sad to see these guys come out on the dot as a conditioning of tourist interaction but its better to see them here in the wild than in a Phillipino Zoo where they are known to regularly ''commit suicide'' due to the stress of being in a concrete jungle with humans within inches of them.
Apparently you can buy voltaged up bovines..I did let them know they probably meant electic KETTLE not CATTLE..would make a mess of your room!
Or for sale on the internet to collectors..live delivery guaranteed. Tarsiers are prosimians, not monkeys, remnants of another epoch. They look both hilarious and a little disturbing, like Yoda had a love child with Gizmo from Gremlins. They look insanely old and serious and for the most part, bloody terrified of me sticking my head against their tree to snap pictures. I absolutely loved the time spent watching the tarsiers and as I was the only guest in Tangkoko that day I decided to not take too many pics and just let them be - that and the fact that when they do come out of their trees they move so incredibly fast taking pictures of them would result in a lot of loud noises and moving around when all the tarsiers want to do is go about the business of being a tarsier.
Walking back down to the rangers station with my guide in the misty darkness we talked about how to best conserve and help these beautiful animals. The guide told me they have to be extra vigilant around christmas time as Yaki is the Turkey of Sulawesi and bushmeat is in hot demand so the poachers are out in force. You can sneak into tangkoko via one of the homestays and walk yourself around without a guide but is it worth saving 65000 rupiah when the guides are often called out to find hikers who have gone missing which apparently happens regularly. If you do go hiking by yourself and get bitten/stung/ fall over and break your arm..give the guides who find you a decent tip, they work hard for their money and are genuinely keen to protect the animals - they are the last line of defence for the endangered species that call Tangkoko home.
I made it back to the hotel in one peice, tired, hungry and unwittingly with my dive/hiking boots now home to a resident colony of nasty bitey itchy tiny whitebummed mites. I made a coffee using the electric cattle (I think they meant kettle) and ordered up a massage and food. However, when transitting through denpassar I found the colony of mites were alive and well - which resulted in AQIS quarantining my entire bag when I got back to Aus and delaying the unloading of all the other passengers bags...my apologies to everyone onboard JQ111. Australia started out as a prison and even those supposedly bright enough to start a prison on an island half way around the world seem to have been chosen for fortitude not brains - we are still dealing with the epidemic of rabbits that one gentleman imported from the motherland so he could do a spot of sporting shooting. As a person who lectures environmental issues I did not want to be the person who introduced the itchy scratchy bitey whitebummed mite that ate the jarrah forests. They still have my bag...
If you get a chance to go and spend a hot steamy afternoon in the jungle - Im sure you will enjoy it. Just make sure you give away your shoes afterwards :-)