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Published: January 16th 2020
I'm sitting in a little coffee shop on a cold and sunny Seattle day about 2 weeks after returning from my trip, memories flooding back as I write this. I never know I'm going to have free time until suddenly I do, the stars aligned Dec 10th or so. I had planned to go to Sudan, had my visa and everything. Had some intense reflection before my trip, decided that the democracy was too new, the demonstrations too large. I'd wait a year or so. Where to go instead? Sulawesi had been at the top of my list for awhile. Just like that, researched for a day, bought a ticket and was off to Jakarta, flying through Taipei.
EVA Air has been my go to for more than 20 years since my first trip to Asia. I get happy when I see their planes, they bring back many wonderful memories of trips I've had. Besides being courteous and having yummy food, the connections through Taiwan are very good for almost anywhere in Asia. Fun people on the flight as usual. There was a guy originally from Seattle who works 8 months of the year in Alaska as first mate on
a large cargo boat that delivers goods all over to remote places in Alaska. He had just finished his work time of the year and was heading back to Ko Samui Thailand, where he lives the other 4 months of the year. Nice guy. Also right next to me were a fun couple (the guy originally from Venezuela) who live in Snohomish. The woman is a real estate broker, they were off to Thailand for a couple weeks. The nice guy had sprained his leg badly the week before but had a special cast, scooter and wasn't going to let the injury stop him. I love people with passion, optimism, dreams, they inspire me.
Easy connection in Taipei and was back in the air, slept 4 of the 5 hours to Indonesia. Ugh, we had left late and arrived at a time that I missed my connecting flight to Sulawesi, the terminals were just too spread out to make it. I gathered my thoughts, booked a flight for the next morning, scurried around and found a cheap $20 room at the perfectly good Pop Hotel, about 2 miles (though 20 minutes with traffic) from Soekarno-Hatta airport. They were great,
the room was simple but cozy. I slept well and woke super early 4AM for my flight. The hotel had a shuttle that took me over to the terminal at non additional charge, good service. Just like that, my flight was an hour over to the large city of Makassar, then a connection to Bau Bau, Buton Island in SE Sulawesi. I had been to Indonesia 2 trips before but never had been to this supposedly fascinating island. I was excited to say the least.
There was a kind guy sitting next to me on the small commuter plane over to Bau Bau. He was native Torajan Christian but had been living and working as a physician in SE Sulawesi for 25 years. He told me he was chief of staff at the largest hospital in Bau Bau and had been back in Jakarta at high level healthcare policy meetings, something to do with building another hospital on the very south part of Buton Island. Super nice and welcoming guy, he invited me to come with him (he had a driver and car) when we landed, they zipped me into the city of Bau Bau. It is truly surreal
when you are sleep deprived, a new trip starts opening right in front of your eyes. They dropped me at the Pelni ferry office, I had told him I wanted to catch a boat and that's what he recommended, he went inside with me first to make sure it was the right place. I just knew a few words of Bahasa at this point and needed the help. I walked in and waved goodbye.
Pelni is the huge government owned ferry system all over Indonesia. I had seen their boats in previous trips. It was 11AM or so in the morning. The woman at the counter spoke a touch of English, I got a ticket for a 10 hour ferry leaving at 10PM that night, ticket in hand, common class. I had the whole day to burn in Bau Bau. It was hot, really hot. I lathered up with sunscreen, strapped on my big pack and walked down toward the port, if I had a ticket I wanted to be near where I would leave. Bad Bau is quite lush and hilly, beautiful actually. I walked down tropical foliage covered streets, people zipping all over on scooters, waving and
laughing at the foreigner. I saw a large historic looking building overlooking the sea, looked a bit like a hotel. Walked inside, met the owner, they were actually rehabbing an old building and not quite ready for guests. I asked nicely and he gave me a room for $6 for the day. I figured I could stash my bags, take a nap, shower, rest, explore a bit. Great idea, I threw down my bag, he brought me the first of many strong coffees I would have this trip.
I walked down toward the port, looked like it was going to be pretty seamless to get on that night. I was rather amazed that there were NO tourists in sight. Had a tasty seafood meal with calamari, rice, greens and more coffee, I chose the calamari I wanted and then they cooked to order. I think the whole meal was $1.50. Had a couple glasses of tasty fruit juice, the little cafes were under awnings or big banyan trees to provide relief from the heat. Not many people are out walking in intense the sun during the day, at night after it cools, they come out in droves. I walked
into a supermarket that was surprisingly well stocked to get a few things, then strolled through the old town, south down the waterfront a couple miles. Someone had mentioned a beach south of town called Nirwana, I though I would head down there but after walking awhile, learning that it was quite far, 10km south of town. A nice guy on his scooter came by, stopped, said he was going to meet his friends at the beach and would give me a life, asked me if I would join them. Why not? I had a few hours to burn.
He drove us down over hills and really pretty landscapes, dropped down to the beach, small but beautiful with nice sand. I chilled for a few hours, he and his friends (about 10 of them-girls and guys) played in the ocean, barbecued tasty meat and insisted on sharing all of it with me. They are moderate Muslim in this part of Sulawesi. The girls and women mostly had head coverings, some didn't though. Great, friendly people, they seemed like they were going to stay all day. The sun was really starting to take it out of me, I said good
bye, walked up the hill toward the main road, hitched a ride with another nice guy who came by. He took me right to me room, he had a more powerful motorcycle so the ride was faster. It's funny, I had only been here for 6 hours but the city was starting to seem much more familiar to me.
Grabbed some delicious tempeh at a street stall near my place, some more greens, headed in for a cool off shower, as I would take so often this trip to cast off the sweat. Often the showers are mandis, large buckets of water you scoop from and throw the water over your body with a scoop. It's really cool water for some reason and feels great, I associate that system with Indonesia. Caught a couple hours sleep, the owner of the place was nice enough to run me down to the ferry an hour before it was scheduled to leave. So lucky we did, maybe it was lost in translation but the giant boat was ready to go, leaving an hour early. They beckoned me from the boat, somehow new that there was a foreigner coming on (as I had
bought the ticket earlier) but not sure where I was. They were basically holding a massive ferry just for me. I sprinted down the dock, hopped on and we chugged out of port, the lights of Bau Bau twinkling in the distance as we got out on the water. What a great place to start my trip, I would be back in about 10 days or so and hope to spend another day exploring places I hadn't seen.
Years ago, I was on Flores Island with my parents in Eastern Indonesia. There was a giant ferry going to Sawu Island, they people seemed great and invited me on. Had I been alone, I would have gone. This time, I would take the boat. We sailed away, not sure exactly where I would end up but knew a good adventure was coming. I had planned to be at the boat an hour early to get a decent place to sit, as I was late there was almost nothing left. I had grabbed a $1 floor mat in port just before we left. I needed sleep so carved a little space out on the floor, took some of my clothes out
of my backpack to have a little padding between my back and the hard boat floor. It didn't work so well, my back hurt and people were playing loud music. I smiled, it was all good, I was alive, in this faraway place of the world that I had once only dreamed of.
There was an old sofa that didn't seem to have anyone on it, odd as the rest of the boat was full. I sat on it, it collapsed, I fell in a heap to the floor. People laughed, I did too. I figured out a way to turn it sideways on the floor, sleep on the back of it as if it were a bed. A little awkward, a little funny looking, but I slept about 6 hours pretty well. Woke up, had a strong coffee from the little snack bar, went out on the deck for some fresh air. Fresh air on boats doesn't really exist as outside space is shared with smokers, quite a few of those in Indo even though the cigarette packages have graphic warnings and images on them. One pretty poor guy I met along the way (when I told him
he should stop smoking) put me in my place by telling me "our lives aren't easy, we have just enough food and are able to enjoy a cigarette". I backed off my warnings the rest of the trip.
The sleeping passengers started to wake up, came over and visited, asked me about my plans. I told them I wasn't quite sure, asked some advice and directions. As the sun rose, we chugged into the harbor just south of the sizable Wanci city on Wangi Wangi Island. I had an idea to go to the farthest Wakatobi Island, called Binongko. My fellow passengers, as we walked off the boat, summoned a scooter and told me to hop on it quickly. It was someone they knew, they had him rush me down to another smaller port about 2km away, in order to catch a once a day smaller ferry going to outlying islands. I guess they called ahead and told the boat to wait for me. I got there, again rushed out to the boat, expecting to find a run down ferry with questionable safety standards. So funny, the ferry was small but high speed. The seats were very comfortable, AC
onboard and bad B action movies being shown. I settled in and just had to laugh.
We buzzed past Kaledupa Island, the largest in the chain and then pulled into Tomia Island. I learned this island is surrounded by coral reefs, very hard to get a larger boat into. A smaller transfer passenger flat bottom boat came out to meet us, some people got on our boat via ladders, quite the operation getting people, boxes, large things, even a scooter off and on while on the water. Some people on my boat got off here. I was rather intrigued by this boat/water transfer. The island looked hilly, lush and interesting from the water, I had heard that there was some exclusive scuba resort near here but the island itself wasn't touristed at all. I thought I would come back. We buzzed out of the harbor and headed toward Binongko Island, the last one in the chain. The people on board quizzed me and were all smiles, I guess almost no travelers come to this island each year, due to it's more remote location, lack of tourist infrastructure. I had also heard that it was really interesting, nice people, a
history of blacksmithing, more arid landscape.
In the distance, Binongko appeared. I felt like the adventure was all mine, loved it. It had been a 4 hour trip from Wangi Wangi to Binongko, we pulled up to the main dock at about 3PM, activity but not nearly as bustling as the other ports along the way had been. In the bright sunlight with an open heart, I strapped on my pack again and walked down the long dock, shiny bright gold mosque above the harbor. I walked up the steep hill off the dock, people crowded around me to say hi. A few spoke a bit of English, I had picked up a few more Bahasa words so had a bit more to offer in return. "Dimana penginapan?", where is a guesthouse? My outdated guidebook told me that there a few locals that might put a traveler up. I saw a decent sized town and thought there might be options. A guy directed me down a little lane along the bluff just to the east of the harbor, lots of nice people along the way.
I got to the building they mentioned, amazingly it was a real guesthouse,
with AC, view of the water, extremely comfortable, only $10/day. Dreamy, threw down my bags again, drank the coffee and ate the pastries that the surprised owner brought over to me. I guess she had developed this guesthouse (and lives here too) primarily to serve visiting teachers, businessmen and government officials who come this way. She was shy but very, very welcoming. The place was right above the sea and even had breezes coming through on this hot day. I strung my clothesline in my room (as I do when I have AC) as I knew I would be washing sweaty clothes daily. I lay down on my bed, laughed out loud and thought "fantastic"!
After settling in, I strolled out into the tidy little village, people mostly inside in the afternoon heat but smiling and waving from their porches. The houses were mostly stucco, mud/brick, colorful with porches, some had AC units outside. I saw many fruit trees, coconuts, mangoes, papaya. There was absolutely no trash in the streets or by the sea, these people seemed to have immense pride in their little island. I walked about a half mile to other side of town, saw a bunch
of scooters in one area with some tents set up, people bustling around. I walked over, quickly learned that the village was preparing for a funeral gathering and life celebration, a respected elder had passed away the week before. People were setting up tables, preparing food, eating together. There would be a larger party later that evening, and the new day too. Men were stirring large vats of goat meat, straining a coconut and green mixture that would be cooked later. I jumped in and helped, they thought it was funny but I kept at it and they actually put me to work.
"What are you doing here,?". "Only a few people come here, we are so glad you are here", they said. They invited me to eat, be part of the gathering, today and tomorrow. People kept coming, coming, all coming over and saying hello. Soon, there were hundreds here, "why are you here, where are you from?" Curious faces, smiles, endless offers of food, coffee, cigarettes. It seemed the whole village was here, I stayed the rest of the day and into the evening, met people who lived in other parts of Sulawesi and had come back
for the funeral. One young man, who now lived in Bau Bau, spoke decent English, he was a great help communicating with others. In the midst of the party, he told me to jump on his scooter with him, said "I want to show you some of our wonderful island", zipped me out little trails, all paved, way up to top ridge of island with great vistas. He took me by a beautiful underwater fresh water cave you could swim in, toured around for about an hour, stopped to introduce me to a few friends. This was just great to understand the topography of the island and where things were. We went back to the party until i was exhausted, Muslims so no alcohol, though loads of strong coffee, food and laughter. I wandered back about 9PM, happily, collapsed in my room.
Slept well until the predictable call to prayer at 4AM at the local mosque. I had an early morning coffee, walked out of my room about 5AM as the sun started to come up. In the (slightly cooler) morning air, local women set up a little fish, produce and fruit market near the port. Lots of early
morning hellos, offers of free fruit from the vendors, lots of smiles. The village is somewhat bustling at 5:30AM, people using the temps to get things done, physical work outside their homes. I heard hammering, saw gardening going on, prepping family food for the day, doing laundry and hanging it out. I just went around and visited, climber to the higher elevations of the not so little village and had some great views down over the harbor. Back to my room about 7AM for some tasty eggs and rice breakfast. I had made arrangements to pay a guy to pick me up and tour me around the island, I was a little disappointed when he showed up on this motorized cart instead of a moto. I guess it's a way of keeping people out of the sun, much slower than by scooter though and not as easy to get into little place.
The driver had his two little daughters in the back, one of them actually spoke a little English. We headed west past nice beaches and many coconut trees and yucca plantations. Stopped at another large "topa", the fresh water swimming holes underground. I climbed down, wished I
had worn something besides my flip flops as I scratched my leg on some coral. The swim was refreshing, went back in little cave. We carried on around the west side of island, stopping at a fascinating traditional blacksmithing village. Many of these guys were off for the day, we found a couple though hammering and shaping knives and machetes. I guess their work is considered very high quality (has been done for generations here) and is in demand all over Wakatobi and Buton Islands. My guy seemed to want to go a different direction than I did so I decided to part ways and have some freedom. He dropped me on the south sided of Binongko, a little settlement called Mole'. The people were shocked to see me, really kind and physically demonstrative, I guess they get pretty much no tourists here.
My luck again, they were getting ready for a wedding. You know the drill: visits, chatting, coffee, lots of food. They wanted me to stay all day, I pulled away and walked farther west, past a little village, really hot outside. Filled up with water and then kept walking west along a small road that ran
above the sea. The landscape here was really cool, stone "forest" formations everywhere. I walked on for a mile or so, realized it was getting more remote and i probably didn't have enough water to continue around the loop myself. Met a man who came by on his scooter, he reinforced my though that it wasn't wise to continue on, hardly anyone comes out this way and the paths get smaller, no settlement for like 7km. He and I did some exploring, he showed me an old lighthouse and some stunning beaches. I had my mask and snorkel with me and let him try it for the first time in his life. He was rather blown away to see fishes so clearly. After an hour or so, we headed back to his small village and he dropped me back by the wedding in Mole', which was now getting more into swing. It was probably 4PM, time to head on back.
More food and water given to me with many smiles on the way out of Mole', the food was really tasty here, they has a dish that tasted very much like beef rendang, coconut curry dishes too. I walked
a few blocks, a guy on another fast moto picked me up and had me back to my port village in 25 minutes. I chilled for awhile at my room, sucked down a quart of water, was feeling depleted in this intense sun. Another much needed shower, felt so so good. Headed back over to the funeral gathering, many more people were there now, the last day of festivities. On the way, passed a large assembly at the school/park grounds. They told me it was exercise, all the people wearing sports uniforms. To me, it looked like a large "electric slide" dance party, music was surprisingly raucous. These are not timid or repressed Muslims, they know how to shake it and get down.
I walked back toward the life celebration, after two days starting to be greeted regularly on the street by people I had met. I felt like I had a connection to this little village and island. I learned by my reading that these people were incredible navigators, Binongko Island isn't as fertile as the other islands so the people had to be great fishermen, tradesmen, develop the blacksmithing (which goes back hundreds of years) in order
to trade for foods and goods. I also learned that Islam came earlier to this island than the others, their faith is well developed, rooted, practical. They have also been the target of pirates over the years but had a reputation (perhaps the blacksmithing knives and machetes helped) for being fierce warriors and not to be messed with.
I had decided that it had been an exceptional couple days and I would be leaving in the morning. My new friends frowned a little when I told them that but also understood. I stayed for three hours at the party, heard traditional music played, got invited into the home of the elder who had passed. There were all kinds of foods I hadn't seen the first day, kind of like a potluck where different people brought things. The selection of fish was exceptional, lobsters too, rice, goat stew, greens, coconut, lots of sweets, desserts and always present coffee. They filled me up and sent me on my way with a big smile, what wonderful folks. As I strolled back through the village past the main mosque to my guesthouse, I smiled so big. These people gave and gave from their
hearts, wanting nothing in return, just glad I had come to their little corner of the world. I bucket washed some clothes when I got back to my room, cranked the AC up a bit to be confident that they would dry before the morning. I looked out to the north of the island, saw the moon high over the ocean, fell into a deep sleep.
Somehow, I managed to sleep right through the call to prayer, woke about 6AM and had one more early stroll around the village before it got too hot. Folded laundry, packed up my room, seems like I had been here a week instead of 2 1/2 days. The ferry was leaving in an hour or so, I got there with my pack in plenty of time, got a seat on the covered top deck this time, I had decided that i was going back to Tomia Island, the ride over there was going to be about 1 1/2 hours. We pulled away, I waved to a few new friends who had come down to the dock to say goodbye. Sad and happy, time to roll. I've talked many times about this, this was
the kind of place I could have easily spent a week, but there is always another gem around the bend.
It was overcast this morning, a welcome relief from the sun as we skimmed across the smooth water. I hadn't seen any rain yet, although this was supposed to be the start of the rainy season. I had heard from a number of people that it was really needed for the crops and drinking water supply. There also seemed to be awareness of global warming trends, these people were all saying that weather hadn't been doing what it was supposed to for a number of years now. I saw the women on my ferry going in door to the back of the upper level, i pushed through that door, they laughed that I was the only guy in there. The place had nice floor pads and AC, not sure if they had paid extra for it but I relaxed and enjoyed. And then, just like that, we did the harbor boat transfer to the flat bottom boat that I had seen on the way past the island before. There were some older people, the ladder was very steep as
the tide was low. We worked together to help them transfer, turned our little boat toward land.
There is one channel between the coral rocks on this part of Tomia, the tide rushes between reefs. We out our little boat on full power, I was told to sit at the back of the boat and lean back. It seemed like we were fighting an even battle with the water rushing out, the engines whined, we finally passed the inlet and the water calmed. Exciting. We carried across the bay to a little port, away from any settlement that I could see. I had no plan whatsoever, walked past a mangrovey area up a really steep paved road to a little settlement above. Some people at a little cottage were surprised to see me walk up the hill, it had gotten really hot so I was sweating bullets. No one at the house spoke English and my limited Bahasa wasn't accomplishing much, one of the guys got his neighbor who spoke a bit of English and had internet on his phone. I asked where I could find a little guesthouse, preferably in an area by the water with a few
shops, cafes nearby.
He suggested a little village on the north side of the island past Lakota Beach, we found a small guesthouse called Labore Stay on his phone, he ran me the 7 km up there on his scooter, I gave him a little money for gas. Although not many people around, i liked this little place instantly, greeted by the English speaking owner, I guess travelers pass through here semi regularly, scuba divers mostly. hey had an $8 room, no AC but a fan that worked fairly well. They told me the concrete floors kept is comfortable, as well as the sea breezes. The owner told me there was a place just down the street to get beer. This was sounding better and better. I took the room and threw my backpack down. It was probably 11AM by now.
The people who ran the place showed me around, offered me coffee and very tasty chocolate filled pastries and fresh rambutan fruit. There was a young woman from Banding, Java staying in the guesthouse with her two colleagues, they all had masters degrees and were working on Tomia, the last days of a three month spell. They
had masters degrees in cultural business, I guess the best way to describe it is that they work in remote locations of the country to help underserved communities develop and market income sources. In this case, Tomia, they helped them with crafts, fish trap marketing and coffee cultivation and marketing. They had another meeting to finish and then were leaving in a couple hours to head up into the hilly lush interior of the island, meeting with some village representatives about coffee. I asked if I could go and see, they agreed. After a walk down to the beach, out a cliff by the sea and a chilled out local meal of fried chicken and greens, they returned and popped me on the back of one of their scooters. We sped out little roads I never would have known up to the mountains, climbing higher until it got a bit cooler, vast bamboo forests all around, great views in all directions down over the island.
They had their meeting, I walked around the village and met super nice people, got to see the fish traps being woven out of bamboo. They tell me it is a dying art, they
are trying to get younger people interested in making them but it isn't going so well. My friends were purchasing some coffee from the village head and talking about a few more projects. I guess rain hadn't come here either and this village had been struggling with water supply. I walked around the outskirts of the village, a whole group of kids started following me, often how it goes in places that aren't very touristed. I got a cold drink in a little shop, reconnected with my friends and we said goodbye to the villagers, zipped down the hills at sunset with the golden sun orb falling into theater in front of us. This place was beautiful, and more lush than Binongko and interesting in a very different way. I felt so fortunate to have met these people, got back to our guesthouse and got some cold beers and dinner, chilled out for the evening with some more local food, even think I roused up some ice cream at a local shop. Packed it in rather early, about 9PM. Great day.
Slept well, up early and took a walk down to the beach, walking a lot though my flip
flops probably weren't the best for it. I had hiking shoes but it was just too damn hot to want to wear them. Back to my guesthouse for coffee, the owner helped me find a scooter to rent from a woman nearby that would give me the freedom I wanted all day to explore the island. $8/day, great deal, sign me up. I hadn't ridden one in awhile so got a quick lesson, they are more powerful than you might think. He showed me how to lock it if I was going to be away from the bike. Great day exploring, found a beautiful beach to swim, snorkel, ran into a sea urchin fisherman and bought fresh sea urchins (uni) by the beach, an urchin full of uni for just $4, would have been $100 back home. Went up little roads to the mountains again, ended up in the same village I had been in the day before, people waved. I asked directions and found my way to the next village, there apparently was one of those underground cave swimming holes. A local guy hopped on his scooter, he said the place was hard to find. He took me there,
great ride down little trails to near the coast. I went in for another swim, cooled off.
Back to my bike, sped all the way up north to Kulati Village, found some really pretty cliffs and desolate beaches. Poked around a lot of smaller roads and paths, actually ran through a whole tank of gas and refilled. There were signs to tourist spots, my friends from Java told me that the locals had been trained in giving tours, then the tourists never came. The ones here for the most part, seemed to be very diving focused. It's a pity, this island was so lovely that I wasn't thinking much about diving, so much to explore and see. Headed south from Kulati about 3PM, really confident about where I was at this point on the island. I felt so free on the scooter, it had been a great day. Bought some fruit at the market, headed back to the guesthouse. Showed the owner my photo of the underground swimming place, he told me he knew of a much nicer one. I hopped right back on the bike, headed up north on the island, found it, shocked a few amorous local
couples and hopped in the water for a swim. Really beautiful, cave like, crystal blue water. Back again to the guesthouse, showered, met up with my new friends.
It was their last night, we went to a hotel/pub run by a Dutch guy, got to hear a little about his dream and struggle to make it work here in paradise that wasn't always paradise. He had an Indonesian partner he had met while traveling, had built these stunning bungalows on the hill looking over the sea, not the most expensive but not the least either. He told me about how things were going, he was struggling to carve out a niche as most people seemed to go to the ultra expensive dive resort or the guesthouse I was at. His beer was really cold and delicious after a hot day, we said goodbye, hopped on scooters and headed out to a nice restaurant my friends knew about, I guess it was regular place they went. The tables were open air, closer to where I had first come in on the little boat, had some tasty chicken dish, tempeh and ginger tea. Cruised back the main road after dinner in
the cooling air, parked the scooter and felt the sea breeze before I headed off to sleep. Could have stayed longer, toyed around with doing some serious diving but felt like I had really had a good taste of this place, time to travel in the morning! I wanted to see if I could get to Lambusango Jungle and thought if I kept on the move I'd preserve time to see more things, how right I was!
One of the reasons I had opted to stay in the guesthouse I did was that the ferry heading to Wangi Wangi Island left from just a block away or so. I slept pretty well, though a had a few clothes that were a bit damp from the day before. I'd dry them in the wind on the next boat. Up the next morning about 6AM again, coffee and a stroll around, a little conflicted about leaving but mostly at peace. My Indonesian friends were taking the same boat I was, we packed our bags, had coffee and breakfast, a mellow morning and walked out to the boat. There was no rush, I think the ferry left about 10AM. It was definitely
bustling out on the dock, food and drinks for sale, more people heading back toward the more populated islands. Got a place for our mats on the breezy upper deck of the boat, we chugged out of harbor and headed north, first passing long Kaledupa Island and then to Wango Wangi, eventually pulling in 1 km or so south of the sizable town of Wanci, the first real busy place I had seen in almost a week. The ferry ride took about 3 1/2 hours.
I said goodbye to my friends, asked where the ferry to Kamaru was, there seemed to be a number of ferries from Wanci and I didn't want to mess up. I hopped a moto, asked at the port and ascertained that i had found the right boat, I hoped it would be a perfect way to get to Central Buton and Lambusango. It was scorching hot, I walked up from the ferry across a busy street, someone told me about a place called the Mira Hotel nearby. I wasn't expecting much, just wanted to be near my boat for the next day. It turned out fantastic, my room was gorgeous, spacious, clean, AC and
tile, really nice bed, though of course just across from a loud mosque. The woman at the front desk was actually originally from Binongko, she laughed out loud because her relatives there had posted photos of themselves with me on Facebook. The people at this place were great, got me settled in my room, plenty of time to relax for the afternoon, do some bucket laundry. I napped, went out for tasty food, trying the durian and big local prawns, great fruit juice too. There was a fun carnival I stumbled into that evening, only about a half mile from my room, As always, people came out more in the evening when it cooled a bit. There was a cultural dance and music performance, this was a Wakatobi wide festival winding down at the main town Wanci in the islands. I was tired and baled before it got too late, had some more tasty tempeh and fried tofu with very spicy sambal.
Woke the next morning excited to head back to Buton Island. There was no rush for the ferry as it left about 9AM and I was up naturally at 6AM. Wandered the fairly vibrant streets, always people
out in the morning, had some coffee, fresh mangos and eggs and fish. Believe it or not, got sweaty in the morning air so had one more shower, packed my bags and walked down to the ferry, just 4 blocks away. New chapter of the trip coming, exciting to be heading back to big Buton Island. There were only a few small mentions of going to Lambusango Jungle, mostly with a guide from Bau Bau. I saw some obscure mention on a Dutch travel blog of a possible homestay there. The map made it look possible the way I was proposing to do it, we would see.
The ferry was surprisingly large, it seemed to be a boat that came down from Kendari to Bau Bau, then over to Kamaru then wrapped all the way around to Bau Bau. It held cars, lots of freight and room for probably 500 people, quite reminiscent of Puget Sound ferries. I walked on board with lots of people, found a very cozy chair in an AC section in the front of boat that i don't think I paid for (travelers can get away with anything 😊. Sitting next to me were a
sweet couple who had met in Malaysia, she from Bau Bau, the guy from Egypt. They now live in Bali but had come back here for her grandfather's birthday. We chatted most of the way across the water on the 3 hour trip to Kamaru, a few of the people on the boat reinforced that my idea to get to the jungle seemed sensible, though they hadn't seen travelers pass this way before.
On the horizon, the pretty little port of Kamaru appeared, lush jungle hills rising in the background. The sound woman on my boat had told me that there had been a transmigration program 20 years before, quite a few Balinese Hindus came over here as prices got out of control for locals in Bali. She said that her grandfather (who is Muslim) lived in an area of many Balinese and that I might be able to see their rice field and temples if I searched a little bit. There was no settlement to speak of where the ferry came in. I walked past the not very aggressive touts offering rides, people laughed at me with my big pack as i continued walking the 2km toward the
main road. It seems ill conceived to walk like this on a hot day, I just love feeling the air and getting a sense for where I am before I make any commitments. At the main road junction, i headed to the right, saw a group of people who told they were waiting for a bus. Perfect, it came, I hopped on, not 30 minutes later it dropped me in the tiny village (though on the main road) Labundo Bundo, the place I had read about that might have a homestay.
The little blog I read said to ask for a guy named Hali, the village was very quiet in the midday heat. Finally found someone who knew him, they said "look over in the green house". I did, he was napping but quickly woke up with a big smile on his face when I walked up. He did indeed have a room for me, about $2 a night with breakfast included, amazing. Apparently there is a British scientific organization named Operation Wallacea that comes to this village each summer. They bring scientific volunteers and students and they explore and research the jungle. They have been instrumental in protecting
and designating vast tracts of nearby jungle as protected national park. So this village has experience with some people passing through, Hali actually serves each summer as a paid guide for them and they are housed in the village. I guess this organization has been coming for 20 years, mostly British kids but nowadays other Europeans and even some American students. The name "Wallacea" is based on Wallace's scientific work, he was a contemporary of Charles Darwin (many say he arrived at the theory of evolution before Darwin) and lived and researched in this area for years. He found Sulawesi particularly interesting, the only island where the primates of Asia (monkey don't exist father east of here) meet the marsupials of Australia.
So, fantastic connection, I told him I'd love to stay a couple nights, explore the jungle with him, see some animals and local culture. He was completely psyched for it, my own guide and buddy for a few days. I tossed down my bags, they had a full chicken and rice meal with coffee ready for me without asking, what was this magical place? Hali recommended we hop on scooters and head out little roads, then walk
into the jungle 30 minutes or so. Really beautiful area, surprised the guide books don't even mention it. Lush trees everywhere, vast bamboo forests, rivers coming through. Over the course of 2 1/2 days, I saw many stunning hornbill birds, lots of cuscus (a really cool marsupial), Buton macaque monkeys, tarsiers, monitor lizards and lots of pretty birds. We hiked to and swam in jungle waterfalls, a little dry as it hadn't rained much. Funny story, the rains came right after I got there and rained a fair amount off and on over two days, not enough to make it unpleasant, just for a couple hours or so. There had been no rain for 6 months and these people can be fairly superstitious, Hali told me. They looked at me with interest and fondness, no travelers come through this time of year and I came and maybe helped bring the rain.
The house I stayed in was his cousin's, really pleasant with tile floors, verandas. I don't think they needed my money, they seemed to grow and have huge bags of cashews around. Later in Bau Bau I saw a big cashew warehouse, learned that the main growing area
is where I was. It's clear that my hosts do quite well (reasonably speaking) with cashew growing. We each had our own scooter, cruised all over the region, visited the Balinese settlements and saw their architecture, temples. Interesting that Labundo Bundo was next to the jungle but also only 2 miles from the sea, so we had very good seafood and all kinds of fruits. There were many massive banyan trees, very fertile area. It was a hard place to rip myself away from this place a few days later, I know i keep saying that. This trip so far was just fantastic. I had seen so much, had quite an adventure. I felt healthy, really in the groove, strong.
One morning, Hali took me to the junction 5km west of Labundo Bundo, soon after a bus came through, my connections had been really good so fa. I waved goodbye to my new friend, settled in and watched the miles click by, about a 2 hour trip down to Bau Bau. They told me the roads had gotten much better lately in these areas, partly to do with the cashew cultivation and export patterns. We passed through lush, hilly
areas, quite a number of those Balinese lived in this area north of Bau Bau. Interesting after almost 10 days of being in Muslim areas to see the very recognizable Bali Hindu architecture and temples. I was told that neighbors of different faiths live in harmony here, no radicalism at all. Our bus stopped at a little cafe, I saw a cashew export place (that I had mentioned earlier) with acres of cashews drying in the sun, shimmering sea just beyond in the distance. We rolled finally back into Bau Bau, which I had first seen 10 days earlier. So much had happened but this little city (being my original launching site) put a big smile on my face.
I had heard of a great place to stay down close to the water, clean cozy room near all the excellent food for a good price. I got dropped off near there, there seemed to be a festival in town because many hotels were completely full. I got lucky, waited around for an hour ad a small room with AC opened up. It wasn't perfect but I grabbed it, strung my clothesline, did some bucket wash for the first time
in a few days and hung things to dry. Tasty food was everywhere on the street, I ate much more than I should have, going particularly crazy with fruit juice. It was about 1pm, hopped a motorcycle ride up to the old sultanate palace, call the "kraton". Really cool, even closed they let me into the old sultan palace, there were a number of structures sultans used to live in, all high in the hills surrounded by massive fortifications (they say the longest castle wall on earth) to protect from pirates back in the day. It was clear that this had been a prosperous sultanate, lots of beautiful, gracious old furniture and accoutrements in the houses, photos of the royalty over the years, exceptional views down over Bau Bau.
It was so hot, got a ride back to my room and showered up, relaxed until the evening got cooler. Stepped out for dinner and a bit of shopping, the waterfront had turned into a massive carnival/shopping/cafe extravaganza. Besides the older Dutch guy who owned the guesthouse on Tomia, I had seen NO westerners in 10 days. Amazing. Spent the rest of the evening wandering around, chatting with nice people,
empowered with my 75 words or so of Bahasa I knew now. Had a very early flight the next day, back to my room, packed up, slept well. Had arranged a very early 4AM moto to airport and set my alarm to be safe. The guy was waiting outside my place as promised, we sped down the empty roads to the airport in the cool morning air. I was there before the airport opened, all alone for about 20 minutes. Then, suddenly, there people all around me, the airport was buzzing. I checked in at the counter and we took off. I could see Bau Bau and the surrounding hills in the background, felt really happy inside.
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