I started my Indonesian trip from Manado, Sulawesi. Manado has an easy feel and leisurely pace that seems to go with the sunset.The locals are friendly and the food is so cheap. My favorite are nasi goreng and ikan panggang (fried rice and grilled fish).
I stayed at the cheapest hostel in Manado that was listed in my travel guidebook. At the hostel, I met two Danish guys and Endo, a Japanese guy with a great attitude and who had been traveling for 5 years straight without going back home. We all decided to check out Indonesia together.
We took a boat to Bunaken Island and rented a small cottage with the friendliest staff in Pantai Pangalisang, for 3 days. Whether you are a diver or snorkeler, Bunaken's corals and marine life is very much comparable to the best that the world can offer. Endo and I also rented a local canoe and paddled all the way to Siladen Island and back. Siladen looks close but do not let your eyes deceive you—it's hard work even on a calm sea. Endo and I were supermen at that time but still struggled to reach the island. The locals in Bunaken thought we were crazy going by paddling, and so are our Danish friends. (Our arms were stiff for 3 days following this adventure.) We were met by a group of friendly kids at Siladen beach who thought we were fishermen. We stopped and played volleyball game with them at the beach before heading back to Bunaken. We had a great time. I think it helped that I could speak the language.
From Manado we hired a van to send us to Gorontalo, a town where there are still old houses built in a Dutch architectural style—in fact we stayed at one of those accommodations with a pretty garden. The place was said to have been built sometime in the early 1900s. The owner was very friendly and entertained us with coffee and conversation. He looked to be of a mixed European heritage. Gorontalo is not that interesting so after staying for 2 nights, we took the bus to send us to Poso.
We stayed in Poso, a larger town, but did most of our activities in the next village, Tentena. . A local guy befriended us and showed us Danau Poso, a beautiful lake surrounded by clove-covered hills in Tentena. We did a lot of hiking, canoeing and swimming with him. Though we had heard a lot of bad things about violence in Poso, we had a very positive experience with the people and the beauty of the area. But please be careful, it is always a good idea to travel in a groups in this part of Indonesia. Poso is predominantly Muslim while Tentana is Christian and they have had some differences.
After Poso, we continued to Rantepao, in the highlands of Sulawesi. Rantepao is also known as Tana Toraja. The Toraja people are mostly Christian in this predominantly Muslim archipelago. Rantepao is located up a mountain and has pleasant, cool weather. We stayed in a friendly guesthouse with a continental breakfast included in the price. The people at the guesthouse invited us to witness a funeral that was taking place that day. They seem to celebrate their dead rather than grieve. We witnessed about 30 buffaloes and one horse being killed by slitting their throats. Everyone was welcome to help themselves to the meat— we had our share and helped carry it to our guesthouse—all for free.
We spent one day doing whitewater rafting which was more fun than exhilarating. Rantepao's attractions include hiking, tau tau (wooden effigies of the dead), hanging graves, and climbing cliffs with holes that serve as burial sites. We checked out several of these holes. We went inside and looked at the coffins and jars with human skeletons in them. How they managed to put their dead so high up on those cliffs is beyond me. Much more difficult seems to be putting a human inside a small jar in the first place. The Toraja culture is one of the most captivating, fascinating, and unique that you can experience.
After Rantepao, we took a bus to Ujung Pandang with a stop-over in Parepare. I had met many people in Malaysia from this place, so we took a day to check it out. Parepare is nothing special and not geared for tourists. At Ujung Pandang, Endo and I planned to take the boat to Flores but our Danish friends persuaded us to go with them to Bali, as they were running out of time. We flew from Ujung Pandang to Bali on Garuda Airline.
As cheap travelers, we headed for Kuta beach and started looking for accommodation. We found a nice place with a swimming pool for Rp 50,000 each with a good breakfast and twin beds. Bali caters to every kind of traveler. They seem to have everything from bungee jumping to surfing; even some sort of theme park. The first thing our Danish friends looked for was a "good, real meal." Guess what? It was a Subway. Endo and I decided to go for an authentic Indonesian local eatery along the back streets instead. We feasted on Gado-gado (vegetables with peanut sauce), sate (grilled chicken), ikan bakar with sambal (grilled fish with chillies & spicy) and nasi (rice) with a bottle of bintang beer. I think ours was the true good, real meal.
In Bali we had to say goodbye to our Danish friends as it was time for them to go back to Denmark. Endo and I took the bus and train all the way to Jakarta. We stayed at Jalan Jaksa, the equivalent of Khao San Road in Thailand, at that time. Then we proceeded to Jogya to visit the Sultan's old palace, the Borobudur and Prambanan Temple. We stayed at a very friendly guesthouse with breakfast and a basic room. The owner was a local and was very knowledgeable about the area. What was astonishing in this place is that there seemed to be no buddhists or hindus, and yet the majestic Borobudur and Prambanan sites proved that this once was a buddhist and hindu kingdom.
We continued our journey to Sumatra and stayed in Medan. We planned to go to Bukit Lawang to see my cousins, the Orangutans, and note the differences between the Orang's in Borneo and those in Sumatra. We had less than a week left on our visas for Indonesia so I suggested to Endo that since our guesthouse was offering a trip to Bukit Lawang , we had better sign up with them to make sure we could make it there and back in time to avoid overstaying our visas. Endo was sure we could make it by public bus from Parapat as we were also going to Lake Toba.
Parapat is a bustling, town full of tourists and a lively atmosphere. We decided to stay at Tuk Tuk, in a simple cottage overlooking the lake. Most of our activities centered around the lake—swimming with the local kids and canoeing. Lake Toba is very pretty, so if you just want to chill out, this is the place for you; the food is good, too. We met some long- term travelers that bugged us about how we could make a fortune by investing a half million rupiah to buy marijuana and then sell it overseas. I think they had been staying at Lake Toba too long.
I decided to go for our guesthouse trip while Endo went ahead by public transport. We decided to just meet up in Penang or Bangkok. The guesthouse decided to postpone the trip for a day so I waited but then they postponed it again for another day. I took the boat to Penang on the last day of my visa without making it to Bukit Lawang.
Note: Last report says the boat from Medan to Penang stopped operating but there are now many budget airlines operating for the same or maybe cheaper rates.
Please check the latest information for the safety situation in Poso, Indonesia from the State Department or any relevant authorities.
OneMonkeyMe at the Equator, Pontianak, Indonesia.