Tomahon to Siladen

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June 11th 2018
Published: June 12th 2018
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A day that started well, went downhill but recovered.

After a night disturbed by the sound of loud music from very nearby that went till after midnight (‘It’s the Baptists, you know, always celebrating something’ muttered the hotel owner, somewhat mysteriously) we said a sad farewell to the Gardenia Country Inn. It has been like staying at a friend's home, and we have chatted twice with Leonard the owner, a retired pathologist. We are still the only residents. A nervous young man who is always desperate to please has been hovering our room since around 630am (we are making a 9am departure) with a red wheelbarrow. We realise Lesley the manager had deputed him to move our luggage when we were ready to check out and he did not want not to be there when the Thomases made their stately procession to the front desk. As our door opens he is there, gesturing to his wheelbarrow. The luggage is moved in the wheelbarrow at a run, in two journeys. I give him a tip and he looks stunned. What a nice boy!

Mido took us to Tomahon market. We started with the usual fruit and vegetables, then progressed to the meat section after Mido checked if we were OK with this. Why the question? Because the market is renowned for selling unusual meat. We start with the beef section, where cows are being expertly butchered. Unlike England, every single part of the animal is being chopped and sold. Blood, bone, sinew, viscera and bits fly in all directions off the long flashing cleavers. A skinned head leers out, one man is carving pieces off a hanging carcass, another is wielding a cleaver to chop a leg into small pieces while a third works at a table full of glistening offal. Blood and slime are underfoot and you have to tread carefully. But the revulsion factor comes from the next section which features dogs. These are apparently a popular meat in the Minahasa region. The dogs are not all bred specially, as some families will sell (or just cook) some of their pets as needed if they are short of money or meat for a festival or celebration (“Let's eat Fido at your birthday party!”). Oh no! The dogs have been killed and then attacked with a flame thrower to burn off the hairs, just like the pigs at the Toraja funeral. They look as if they died in a massive house fire and were then cut in half. You have the opportunity to buy the head, or the head and forequarters, separately if that is to your taste. Equally gruesome, though much less distressing, is a table of bats. The bodies and wings are sold separately (“wings very delicious” we are told, though that seems as pointless as eating chicken feet), and they too seem to have been immolated. There are also a couple of massive pythons (dead!), displayed in a curled pile, so customers can buy whatever size slice they’d like. There are no dead monkeys for sale today, as it is a Monday and the best selection of disgusting offerings is found for sale on a Saturday. The extensive fish market with fish being battered to death and gutted in one flash of a filleting knife is tame after the meat market.

Reeling and feeling slightly disturbed by all that, we drive to nearby Tondano and drive half way round the lake, which isn’t much to write home about, being in a massive caldera of a long extinct super-volcano), and then a village where 70% of the people make pottery. We stop to watch a man decorating a huge flower vase, but it’s really not very interesting. Lake Linow, however, is. It’s a geothermal lake, with bubbling sulphurous hot springs and bubbling mudpools at one end. This part of North Sulawesi derives a lot of power from geothermal and pipes run back and forth carrying superheated steam.

Now it’s time to drive to Manado to catch the boat to Siladen island, where we’re booked for 3 nights of doing absolutely nothing. Mido tells it will take 90 minutes, so we should arrive by 1.15 in time for our 2.00pm boat. Travelling on Indonesian roads is slower than anywhere else we’ve ever been. The roads are all narrow, and motorbikes weave in and out of the traffic, so a single parked car can cause a delay of a minute or so while we wait to pass it. That doesn’t sound much, but there are a lot of parked vehicles. The towns are all gaudy with coloured flags angled into the road on bamboo poles. There is a regional election next month, so the various parties are all exhorting voters to support them. The red and yellow parties predominate. Every town also has a military barracks, easily recognisable as they are all painted a rather bilious shade of green. Most also feature a poster with four slightly portly airmen in flight suits wearing aviator glasses. Clearly a bid to make military service seem more glamorous than it actually is. Even the tiniest villages are full of cigarette advertising, and cigarettes cost less than £1 a packet. Clearly the adverse health effects of tobacco are not yet a government priority. The worst slogan of all is for a brand called Surya Pro, which features pictures of an action man fighting through the jungle with the strapline ‘ Never quit’. Oh dear...

We reach Manado but, confusingly, carry on round the ring road. Apparently we are leaving from the more distant pier and it’s quicker to do this than to drive through Manado. Or not..... 1.15 comes and goes with no sign of the sea, as does 1.30. Every time we ask, we’re told it will be another 10 minutes. Mido’s phone rings several times, and the conversation clearly suggests it’s the boat crew asking where we are. The driver, who up to this point has been cautious to the point of aggravation, clearly realises we need to speed up and drives like a maniac along the winding but fortunately deserted roads. We both start to feel car sick. We finally arrive at 2.00, only to find we have to wait for three people who are being brought from the airport. We sit and sweat profusely until they arrive, when we get going and cool down a bit. We see our first English person for three weeks who is one of the fellow passengers. The other passengers are all dressed in their shorts and singlets and flip flops and we look incongruous in our all covering trekking gear.

Arriving in Siladen, the rain begins to hammer down – not what we are looking for. But it soon stops and the sun sets in a blaze of orange and pink.

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