5th-13th November, 2014
The backpacking scene is quite well networked these days. During my time on the road I have made lots of friends – from both this trip, and the one I went on a few years ago – and many of them I am still in touch with via Facebook, email and Skype. Occasionally my path will cross with one of theirs again but, even if it doesn’t, it is still interesting to find out where they wind up on their journey.
One of the benefits of this networking between travellers is the sharing of information. When we notice that others are about to venture to an area we have already been to we will often throw tips to each other. A cheap hostel to stay in, perhaps; or a one of those “travellers’ secrets” (places that are played down or barely mentioned in the Lonely Planet, often purposefully and/or by request); or, more often, somewhere that is in the guide book, but we just want to make sure they are going see it.
Such was the case when I reached Sulawesi: I received a stream of private messages and Facebook comments. “Go to the Togians!” they said. “Are you going to the Togians?” “You HAVE to go to the TOGIANS!”
So, we went to the Togians.
Kate was, sadly, no longer with us: her spider-bite which we thought was healing got infected again so she was told she would not be allowed to swim nor hike for a while and – as that is pretty much all there is to do in Sulawesi – she decided her time might be better spent in an area with attractions which are easier to access and had better hospitals, such as Bali, or Java.
So it was back down to the original duo again; me and Roy.
The journey to the Togians took almost three days, in all. I won’t bore you with too many details. There was a stomach churning bus through south-Sulawelian mountains (Roy threw up, I merely felt nauseous), followed by a night in a dingy hotel in Poso. Then, in the morning, we hopped onto another bus, this time along the coast, to Ampana, where we had an afternoon to relax before we caught the boat.
In the early evening, just as it was getting dark, we arrived on Malenge Island.
We didn’t have much time other than to claim a bungalow each at Lestari Cottages (where we were stayed) and eat dinner that night. In the morning we finally saw the place in the daylight and realised that it was paradise.
Lestari Cottages is perched on the narrow straight between the joining of a small peninsular to the rest of the island. One side of the resort opens out to a stunning sandy beach, dotted with grass and trees.
Walking through to the other side of the decked out restaurant area brings you out into a small lagoon.
We swiftly found out that the owners of Lestari Cottages also own a small canoe which is free for guests to use so, on our first day there, we commandeered it and rowed out to a nearby Bajo village.
The Bajo (also referred to as “sea gypsies”) are the oldest inhabitants of the Togians, and many of them still live in villages built on stilts over the reef.
Many of them are even said to possess evolutionary adaptations, such as changes to the muscles of their eyes to help them see clearer underwater and bodies which are more efficient at conserving oxygen (indeed, when Roy snorkelled out this way a day later, a boy swam out to meet him and, without any mask, fins, or breather, was ducking beneath the surface, holding his breath, opening his eyes, and swimming around with a grace which put Roy’s own efforts to shame).
They were very friendly and enthusiastic, and happy to show us around their village. The children kept asking us to take photos of them so they could stare in wonder at the screen, and never at any point did any of them ask us for money, or ”gula” (sugar), like many of the kids on the mainland (who live comparatively much more comfortable and modern lives) have been trained to.
I stocked up on some snack foods at a small shop and was quoted prices which were much lower than I what people often try to charge foreigners on the mainland. By the time we got back onto our canoe and began rowing back, I realised that these sea gypsies were possibly the happiest and most honest of the people I have met in Indonesia so far.
Much of the exploration we did around Malenge was below the water. We didn’t see big creatures such as sharks or turtles, but the micro-life was spectacular and the coral was some of the healthiest and most intact that I have ever seen. One afternoon I simply jumped into the water and followed the coral gardens along the coast until I reached a mangrove forest a couple of hours later. When I emerged from the water a sighting of a pale snake slithering in the shallows put me off exploring, as I was barefoot and wearing only my swimming trunks, so instead, I just sat there for a while and rested while enjoying the sounds of the birds.
I am not one of those flashy travellers who owns a GoPro, I’m afraid, so I have no photos. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
Birds were another attractive feature on this island. The lagoon was a great place to lounge in a hammock and watch them fly by, and bright green parakeets were a fairly common sighting. Roy and I also went on a walk through the jungle early one morning and spotted some other interesting species which we couldn’t name. We were past the Wallace Line by this point, so much of the fauna was unfamiliar to us.
The rest of our time in Malenge was spent relaxing: reading books, playing chess, laying in the shallows of the water, and staring out at the sea. We were tempted to stay there much, much longer, but there was more of the Togians to explore so, almost reluctantly, we left on the fifth day.
Sorry Tioman, you are now my second favourite island in the world.
We went to Kadidiri next. We were a little bit underwhelmed by the location: the sandy cove, with three different resorts to choose from, was nice, but it didn’t have a spot on Malenge.
Or maybe Roy and I have been a bit spoilt recently, when it comes to islands and beaches.
Kadidiri is, however, – with its larger population of tourists – a much better location for booking tours and venturing out to places. On our first day there Amal (the son of the family were staying with) look us on a free trip to nearly Taipi Island for some snorkelling.
We also ended up visiting a lake nearby which had a very unique eco-system; it was absolutely full of stingless jellyfish, and many other curious creatures.
We swam around for a while with our snorkels. I ended up spending much of my time childishly swishing my hands around and, without touching them, casting the jellyfish off in different directions with the waves I created.
“Feeling powerful, Tej?” Roy asked me, lifting his head up from the water and removing his snorkel.
He ended up doing the same thing for a while, and discovered its rather addictive quality. I have since named this art “Jellyfish Kinesis”.
Click here for more photos from the Togians.