Togean Paradise Found

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January 9th 2012
Published: January 13th 2012
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As we sat around the dinner table, the man, British but now a permanent resident of the Togean Islands, remarked to us how you “don’t get here by accident” and how right he was...

The journey began in Tana Toraja where we were told that there were no buses running to Poso over New Year, a necessary stopping point on the way to the Togeans. Our hearts sank like heavy stones in our bellies... Since we had both been battling with sickness, physically and with regards to missing home, we had been looking forward to our stay in the Togean Islands, and to be honest we needed the respite more than we would care to admit. We were approached by another European couple who wanted to share transport to a lake which is en route to Poso but the car would be too expensive and still we would not reach our intended destination. Further, I really couldn’t stand the couple with their too firm handshakes and militant approach to organising the transport. Exhausted, I felt tears burning the corner of my eyes... for the first time in almost two years abroad I was ready to call it a day. Deflated, we headed back to our overpriced hotel room. Then, by chance, we found a bus headed to Poso!

Having felt so down the previous night our high spirits the next morning felt nothing short of euphoric by comparison. The bus, scheduled to collect us at 7.30am was two hours late, but whatever! The bus was small and uncomfortable, and the ride long, but it didn’t matter! The condition of the potholed road was the worst we have ever experienced, but we didn’t care! The bus suffered multiple punctures and a problem with its axel, but we were happy to be on our way!

It took us 16 hours to cover the approximate 200 miles from Rantepao to Poso; a fact that still leaves me feeling a little queasy when remembering how tough the journey was. Transport in Sulawesi is unreliable and the information limited. Initially, we had thought the bus to Poso would be overnight allowing us to catch a bus to the port in Ampana the next morning where we would have to spend the night before catching the ferry the next day. Wrong. We arrived in Poso at 2am and had learned that the ferry was leaving at 10am that morning. There wouldn’t be another for many days.

We teamed with an Italian couple and an Indonesian woman who lives in the Togeans (without whom we wouldn’t have been so successful in our journey). At a motel we made an attempt to charter our own kijang but the drivers were being uncooperative and greedy, charging far over the odds. They had also told us that there would be no buses, however a bus happened to pass us, but it was not meant to be. The men with whom we were negotiating threatened the bus driver not to take us as they were about to strike a very lucrative deal. We were so appalled by their dishonesty that we no longer had any intention of dealing with them. Instead we headed up the street with our heavy bags hoping that the bus driver might regain some moral strength and pick us up. Sadly, he drove past.

By this time the male counterpart of the Italian couple had transformed into a hot-headed stereotype; shouting in his native tongue and gesticulating wildly. Chris and I looked at each other, “another bloody nutter.” Thankfully he returned to his senses (and really, he was a nice guy) when a small blue van stopped, promising to take us to a village halfway to Ampana for a small sum. From there we would arrange another car. Ten minutes into the journey we overtook the bus that had refused us a ride earlier. We waved, triumphant. The driver sped up and forced us to pull over, bargaining with our driver for his human cargo, but for his dishonesty we couldn’t be won. We had eight hours until the ferry would depart, with or without us...

In the back of the van I made myself reasonably comfortable, sandwiched between our backpacks. I managed to sleep a while, which had been impossible on the bus; one attempt at which resulted in a minor injury (i.e. I whacked my head against the window as I nodded. It really, really hurt). By the time we arrived in the small, nameless village somewhere between Poso and Ampana I couldn’t care less about what would happen next and I remained in my nest, allowing others to procure our next ride. In my state of semi consciousness, I recall driving around the village at 5am-ish, asking neighbours to drive us the remaining distance for a price. Eventually a deal was struck and we were in the back of a very dirty minivan, the door of which would not close. The journey took about twice as long as it should have and we made it to the ferry with only 20 minutes to spare. It had been, quite literally, a rollercoaster ride, a description befitting our nerves and the way our poor bodies were shook around on those terrible roads.

The ferry was ready to leave, but would not be going all the way to Wakai as planned, so sadly the Indonesian woman who had been so helpful to us could go no further and instead stayed in Ampana at the home of her brother. So, a further uncomfortable five hours were spent on a dubious looking ferry. I tried to catch up on my sleep but the noise of the engine combined with an empty belly (the nasi gorgeng I had bought from a woman before getting on the boat was laden with fish, therefore I couldn’t eat it) gave me a migraine and sleep was impossible.

Getting off the ferry we arrived in Lubiti on the eastern side of Togean Island itself. It was here that we met Uni, a delightful, dark skinned Indonesian woman with a canny wit and kind heart. With her and the other few foreigners we chartered a boat the rest of the way to Wakai where the others alighted but we remained, along with the Italians, to continue on to Uni’s place a further 15 minutes away called “Sunset Beach.” It was New Years Eve, we had made it against all odds to this tropical paradise for the turn of the New Year, but by 9.30pm, following a delicious dinner, we would be snoring our little heads off in bed. We did however muster the energy for a sunset swim, the very last of 2011.

An early start the next morning allowed us to “celebrate” the turn of the year in English time (7.00am) over pancakes and tea. We had arranged to charter a boat to take us the further hour and a half to the small island of Pulau Pangempa, opposite the fishing village of Katupat, where we had read many good things about the single resort on the island, Fadhilla Cottages. This proved to be a very good decision, as we were the only guests... We would have the place all to ourselves!

Upon our arrival we were greeted by the friendly staff along with Mike and Bomber, our canine companions and a dynamic father-son double act we grew to love. We were taken to our bungalow, right on the beach, for which we paid 150,000 rupiah (or $15) per person, per night which included three set meals a day. The food at Fadhilla was generally very good, always too much for us to eat, and Chris was treated to “enak” (delicious!) fresh seafood twice daily. Cheese even made an appearance! As did homemade bread; luxury indeed for this far flung isle. As little produce seems to grow naturally on the Togeans, everything from rice to tomatoes to pineapple must be imported. Combined with a lack of running electricity, obtained just a few hours a day from a generator ran on petrol that also requires importing, preserving fresh vegetables is very difficult and providing guests with varied and enjoyable meals must be quite a challenge.

Once we had settled down we reflected on the wearisome journey and could happily say that the destination was worth the effort! A true paradise; the most beautiful beach we had ever seen with its clear waters, white sand and green jungle setting. The peninsular shape to the beach also afforded great sunset and sunrise views, the sunrise being particularly outstanding. As we sat suffused in the golden light of early evening, drinking milk from fresh coconuts we could physically feel ourselves relax. Starting as we mean to go on, 2012 promises to be another great year...

Just a stone’s throw from the shore at Fadhilla are fine corals, a blessing since some areas of coral in these islands have been destroyed by irresponsible dynamite fishing. We rented snorkels from reception and swam out to explore and what we found amazed us! Recently we were snorkelling in Pulau Weh, one of the world’s best diving spots (so we have been told). After reading our blog a friend (a diving enthusiast) observed, quite rightly and to our amusement, that we were lucky enough to visit the area but in our blog we ignorantly reported only trivial sea life such as starfish! So, in the endless endeavour for self improvement and in the name of our friend “Martha” we made use of the available books and compiled a concise list of what we believe we saw (Which Chris has just informed me we have misplaced, so from memory, some of the more spectacular...):

Oriental Sweetlips, Regal Angelfish, Racoon Butterflyfish, Triangular Butterfly fish, Stripeface Unicornfish, Yellow Dotted Butterflyfish, Bat fish (my personal favourite), Parrot fish, and Lionfish

But back to the starfish; there were some really big blue ones which I was quite impressed with! Sometimes I can get quite freaked out when snorkelling, especially if there are fish around big enough to remove a finger or a toe. After browsing through the books I got a little fixated on Stone Fish which are by all accounts poisonous enough to kill a person and found in the area. Just as well I lived to tell the tale when what I really should have been worrying about were the salt water crocodiles that reside in the mangroves on Togean Island, which I was in fact warned about but took to be a joke. However, danger lay even closer to home as Chris discovered a scorpion in our outdoor bathroom as he stumbled outside to fit his contact lenses in the morning!

Above or beneath the water the place was really idyllic. Should we not have been found floating above the coral reef or swinging in our hammock we could be easily located in our favourite spot on the pier, reading in the sun which was very strong due to the islands being precariously balanced just below the Equator.

So, for three of the four days we spent at Fadhilla we were completely alone, much to our antisocial contentment. Each time we heard the engine of a passing boat our ears pricked and we sent bad vibes to any potential new guests. We even discussed making a “Closed” sign. However, more people arrived on our final day, which wasn’t too bad really, especially as one played the ukulele quite beautifully.

After dinner on our final night we changed up our adopted routine and took to the pier to watch the stars, wondering why we hadn’t thought to do so earlier. The bright moon, though beautiful, was a hindrance, but we were still able to see shooting stars and Chris was still able to provide me with the same astronomical lesson he does each time we stargaze. Having made our way through the entire second album of Paulo Nuttini acapella we were starting to yawn which told us it was way past our bedtime.

Waking early the next morning was not a problem as we have adopted the habit of rising early. After breakfast we took the public boat leaving for Wakai at 7am, but begrudgingly so, as we found it ever so difficult to leave. On board was Mister Jaffar, the owner of Fadhilla Cottages, an obviously intelligent self made man who started his career as a guide before buying the land he now owns back in 1994 for the equivalent of 20 USD! Upon learning this Chris was visibly distressed at what he would consider a missed opportunity despite that fact that he was only six years old in 1994.

Uni’s face was the first we saw in Wakai and she invited us to her home in the village to leave our bags and hang around until the ferry would depart in the afternoon. Accepting her hospitality but not wanting to be in the way we walked towards the market for lunch. The place reminded us of the Wild West. Our two hours of competitive card games were oversaw by a cockerel who seemed confused with regards to its species, barking like a dog, the effect of which was disastrous for our poker faces.

The ferry which would take us to Gorantalo, from where we had a flight the following morning, arrived only a little late but didn’t sail for two hours. We had planned to share a cabin with another couple we recognised from an earlier boat ride but it didn’t transpire as they were already taken. The ferry was particularly busy with it being the first of the New Year; the others scheduled hadn’t set sail on account of Indonesian superstition that a boat would sink at this time of the year.

We did manage to bag ourselves seats in “business class” for about $9, unsatisfying though that the cabin would have cost the same price. The only difference between business and economy is that for the “upper echelon” the seat will recline. However, Chris and I decided to sleep on the top deck, the advantages being the sea breeze, starry night sky and relative quite other than the sound of the engine, however we didn’t find a mattress so at some time in the morning my old bones could handle it no longer and we were sadly forced inside, but not before seeing the most incredible falling star which burned it’s way right across the sky and left me quite literally in awe.

Back in business class I discovered that my seat was on top of a box of durians, which if you’re not familiar, are the most putrid smelling fruit known to mankind. Soon enough a baby started crying, the parents of which crouched besides me whispering “Mrs. Amy... Mrs. Amy...” as earlier on they discovered my face to be a soothing remedy to their daughters tears. Feeling a little aggrieved by their audacity of trying to wake me, I kept my eyes tight shut.

Twelve hours had passed and we arrived in Gorantalo. Having taken a minor overdose for yet another headache and with the memory of that special star still fresh, I felt quite euphoric during the beautiful hour long ride to the airport in our “tuk-tuk with a twist” (they’re back to front here!). The brightly painted houses were cheerful despite obvious dilapidation, and everyone we passed smiled and waved, calling out to us “Mister! Mister..!”

Additional photos below
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The last of 2011

14th January 2012
Fresh coconut

Great photo!

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