Traveling in Sulawesi

Traveling in Sulawesi can a logistical nightmare.  With each seemingly unaccountable problem I was reminded “yes, but this is Indonesia”. 

It started with the money I gave Rich for the tour.  Rich urged me to keep the bills as crisp and new as humanly possible.  When I got the bills at my bank in New York, I specifically asked for new bills.  I kept the bills in a metal-plated box so they would not get folded, blotched or crumpled.  The tellers at the bank in Manado carefully inspected each bill, and they rejected nearly half the bills.  They were the first persons to remind me ‘yes, but this is Indonesia’.

Another bizarre event occurred the next evening as we boarded the overnight ferry.  Rich managed to reserve a room on the boat with Air Conditioning, and he reserved the room a week in advance.  The day of the trip we biked pass the ferry, and we stopped to inspect the room.  Rich confirmed the reservation and everything seemed settled. 

That evening, we arrived at the ferry, got up to our room, and we found someone else had unpacked their suitcase and scattered their personal items across the room.  Apparently an Indonesian government official decided he to take ownership of the room and he sold the room to a wealthy Indonesian woman.  The Indonesian official saw us walk into ‘his’ room with our suitcases and he began to argue with Rich.  The argument looked like it had potential to get messy.  After a minute or so the captain walked past us and had a copy of Rich’s receipt in his folder.  The captain agreed that we should keep the room.  Luckily, there was a room the Indonesian woman could share with someone else.


The next ferry ride was another truly Indonesian experience.  The morning of Day 4 we were to take a four-hour boat ride from Luwuk to Peling Island.  Rich confirmed with the ferry office that the ferry would leave at 9AM. 

The morning we were to take the ferry, Rich’s assistant went to the boat landing to confirm the time of departure.  The assistant came running back.  The ferry was to leave at 8AM, one hour earlier than previously confirmed, and it was 7:40!  Luckily we had our belongings mostly packed and ready, and we made a quick dash and made the ferry.  Yes, but this is Indonesia.


One picture I regret not taking was a photo of the public boat between Manado and Bunaken Island.  The entrance ramp to get from the Manado landing onto the boat was a six-inch wide piece of wood.  You had to walk about eight feet on this plank to get from the dock to the boat.  Falling off the plank meant plunging into the mucky brown Manado Harbor water. 

I was a bit nervous on the ramp, but the Indonesians had no problem with the ramp.  Even older women seemed to do it effortlessly.  Regrettably, I missed the opportunity to take a photo of a man walking across the plank smoking a cigarette, carrying a case of beer in one arm, and in the other arm carrying two cages of live chickens.

Some tourists I spoke with in Bunaken warned me to avoid returning on the public boat to Manado during low tide.  The public boat tries to make its run to Manado during high tide, but if the waters are too choppy during high tide, arriving at Manado during low tide might be unavoidable. 

During low tide, the boat must stop about 50 meters from the dock at Manado, and everyone must get out and walk through the slurpy mud.  We can only guess what one had to walk through -- rotten fish, rotten fruits and vegetables, perhaps sewage.  ‘Just make sure you rinse your feet off when you get to the dock’, one German tourist reminded me.  Thanks.


Another thing to get used to was the lack of dependability of the electricity.  Most places had electricity, but there were constant brownouts.  In many areas, electricity was available only a few hours a day.  In Peling, it was available only in the early morning, and from about 4PM to 11PM.


Despite the logistical problems we faced, Sulawesi is a wonderful place to visit.  The people are friendly and fun-loving, and the scenery is spectacular.  The photos on this web site will clearly demonstrate this.

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