Our Togean Island Escape – Part 2

Part 2 of our Togean Island adventure:

As said, the more relaxed we get, the bigger the curiosity to go and see a different place again gets as well. Thus after 6 days we do decide to leave Sifa cottages and make our way to Poyalisa island. We take the boat back to Malenge at 5 in the morning in order to catch the ferry there back to Wakai at 6. We arrive at Wakai at 9 and have to charter a boat to Poyalisa, as there is no ferry that stops there from Wakai. On the ferry we met Galang though, a chatty local who says he will take us there for 350 IDR with the boat of his brother. As we knew this is a good price for this 2 hour trip we go with him. The boat is on the other side of the harbor and once there he starts preparing the boat and then suddenly asks for 400 IDR, as otherwise the money would only pay for the petrol. Knowing that this cannot be true and telling him he lured us for 350, so he has to take us for 350, it takes another 15 minutes of discussion until we finally agree in the 350 and leave. We are really glad, as our cash only lasts for exactly the next 6 nights at Poyalisa and the ferry and boats back at expected low prices. There are no cash machines on the Togeans, so if you run out of cash you are stuck. So you need to go back to the mainland before you run out to get more. Needless to say they don’t take credit cards there.

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So we embark on the small wooden boat and enjoy a 2 hour boat trip through the Togean islands. At some point I see Galang lifting one of the wooden panels of the boat and to scoop water out of the bottom of the boat with a small bucket. He smiles at me and says that it is normal and I needn’t worry. I look around and see we are not that far away from land at any given time and sit back again. And indeed, throughout our journey we see several locals with even older wooden boats scooping out water much more vigorously. When we arrive at Poyalisa we are stunned how small it is. You can literally walk from one end to the other in less than 5 minutes. We get greeted by Uli who manages the place with her husband. We ask if they still have a bungalow free up on the cliff and we are lucky to get a brand new one that was recently finished. We go up to have a look at it. The bungalow looks really clean and as we walk onto the balcony we lose all sense of speech. I only need to catch one glimpse of Mathias to see he is thinking the same thing: This is how our paradise looks like, we are staying!

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The balcony looks out onto open water and is situated on the right side to watch the sun go down in the water every night. In addition you have a constant cool breeze there. The best thing however is that you have the feeling you have the whole island to yourself as you cannot see any of the other bungalows, only a tiny bit of the next one to the left which is however far enough away to have total privacy, and the rest of island life is happening behind you. So we unpack our bags and lie down on the bed, still stunned about this beauty, and discover already another reason why to love this place: the architecture of the bungalow. Unlike the one at Sifa where they tried to have only little open spaces to keep animals out, here there are air holes and tiny windows everywhere, 1 big door at each side and additionally 4 windows on each side that when opened completely would leave little wall left altogether. It means there is a constant air flow like a natural fan and we can already tell that nights will be much more comfortable. It actually almost makes you want to stay in this bungalow the whole time. And this is actually what we do for most of the rest of the day. When we walk over to the restaurant terrace for dinner in the evening we see that the island isn’t so empty as we thought. Most of the guest were on a snorkeling trip earlier when we arrived. We are about 10 people that night and learn that they are all long-term travelers. Most of them are at the end of there travels and initially came here for a few days during there trip through Indonesia. Quite a few got stuck on this island though and skipped there other travel plans or even just left to extend their visa and get more cash and came back. We would realize in the coming days how tempting this is! After dinner everyone usually sticks around and starts playing dice games together with the staff. It is this wonderful warm family atmosphere combined with the privacy you have in your bungalow with the stunning view at any given time that makes this place so special.

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Getting up in the morning and going out onto the balcony to hear and smell and see the sea is just priceless. The next morning we spent the whole time on the balcony reading and as we do so we suddenly see a group of 5-6 dolphins passing by, some time later we hear strange breathing noises and see that a turtle is feeding just underneath our balcony and almost throughout the whole day we can see swarms of flying fishes jumping out of the water escaping from bigger fishes. Now if that isn’t paradise I don’t know what is. The only thing disturbing this idyllic scene is Mathias swollen eye when he wakes up. He caught a lid infection somehow, potentially when wearing his contact lenses for the snorkeling trip 2 days earlier. Being miles away from any decent medical center, we start treating it with a combination of things some guests recommend helped them in similar situations and what we have available. A cocktail mix of anti-histamine and cortisone tablets, antibiotic eye ointment and some Chinese medicine (massaging the lid with a hot boiled egg) does the trick after a few days. If that wasn’t enough, Mathias decides to get another injury the day we had booked a group excursion to the volcanic island Unauna 3 hours boat ride away. He slipped on a loose wooden stair panel running down too quickly and barked his shin.

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So I treat the wound with iodine and cover it up properly so no dirt will enter the wound on our trip through the volcanic jungle the next day. And this brings us to our volcanic adventure. We decide to join 7 other guests on a tour to the volcanic island Unauna, where we would track up the volcano for 3 hours with a local guide and 3 hours down. Breakfast and lunch was to be provided. So we leave at 5 in the morning to drive over there on a boat for 3 hours. We get some cake and coffee for breakfast on the boat. When we arrive everyone takes there water bottle and goes on land. Having had some experience in Australia with tracking in the heat, we take 6 liters of water with us despite the weight. Uli from our cottage had joined us on the trip as well. With her help we look for the local guide. As it turns out he has very different price expectation than what we were told he costs us. He wants the named price per person while we got told it is the price for the group. A lively discussion and negotiation starts with considerations of just going up there on our own along the track. In the end, we can agree on a price and we start with half an hour delay.

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We first walk through the dry river bed for about 1 hour until the jungle starts. It is luckily a bit overcast, but still very hot and humid. Once we enter the jungle we follow a small track that quickly isn’t a track anymore as we know it. We simply keep walking along the water stream, climbing over rocks and over and under fallen trees until we get to a small waterfall. We think we took the wrong way, but no the guide persists this is the ‚track‘. He cuts of a palm tree, cuts three foot holes into it and leans the trunk against the water fall. He had built stairs and wanted us to go up that way. Seeing no other choice we take our shoes off and climb up one by one, reaching the top totally soaked. It doesn’t matter though, it is actually quite refreshing. The track however gets steeper and the jungle denser with every step. The guide has to start cutting plants away to create space to walk through. By the time we reach the top, everyone has emptied their water bottles apart from us and is starving. When Uli takes out what we think is lunch excitement changes to pure frustration. She had brought 1 pack of biscuits for 9 starving Westerners, proper lunch was on the boat.

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Oh my god, the state of everyone walking down the same way for another 3 hours was movie- like. People were totally lethargic, stopped talking and instead counted every step to the finish line. It is a miracle nothing worse than a few headaches happened. Another lesson learned, don’t trust Asians whose bodies sweat less and need a lot less food and water than ours to organize a hiking trip for us. Throughout the whole 6 1/3 hours of trekking the guide only drank a small 500ml bottle of water and was totally fine. During the whole 3 hours boat ride back, everyone was asleep. Luckily we had one more day of relaxing left before we had to leave Poyalisa again to catch our booked flight in Gorontalo.

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Another couple from the cottage, Mark and Marissa, were also planning to go to Gorontalo the next day to extent their visa, so we decided to travel together. It all sounded very easy. We had chartered a boat to get from Poyalisa to Wakai with Galang, who had broad us to Poyalisa a week before. The ferry at Wakai was to leave at 5 pm towards Gorontalo. We wanted to be on the safe side and asked him to pick us up at 12 o’clock. We would get to Wakai at 2 and would have enough time to buy our tickets and allow for unknown circumstances, or so we thought…

It is Monday morning and we get up in perfect sunshine, feeling a bit gloomy about leaving the island. For a moment we are thinking about not taking the flight and staying longer, but unlike the rest who get stuck here, we still have most of our travels in front of us with hopefully many more such beautiful places waiting for us. So we decide to stick to our plan. We go to the restaurant terrace and see Galang already there. He had arrived the night before when we were already in bed and spent the night on the boat. We are glad to see him, as it means we can leave on time. We have a last beautiful morning, pack our bags and go to have an early lunch at 11:30 that is prepared for us. We sit down and have a nice last chat, when it suddenly starts raining heavily about 11:45. Galang looks at us and says not to worry it usually only last 30 minutes and happens about once a week. We are not worried first, as we have enough time, but then heavy rain turns into a storm and does not want to stop. It is 1 o’clock now and we start discussing what to do, as suddenly there is conflicting information as to when the ferry actually leaves, 4 or 5 o’clock. Galang persists it is at 5 and says as long as we leave by 2:30 we will still be fine. So we sit and wait but the storm goes on. We start to discuss our options. We learn that worst comes to worst and we cannot leave and miss the ferry, we could take another smaller ferry into the other direction to Ampana the next day, take a 5 hour bus from there to the next airport, buy a new flight to Jakarta and still make it in time to at least catch that last flight to Kuala Lumpur. It will costs us more money and be a lot of hassle but at least we would still make one of our 3 booked flights. It is 1:30 and I look at Galang and ask him what he thinks about the weather. He says he just went to the balcony at the bungalow to look out onto the open water and says the waves are too big, the wooden boat might not make it, we should wait another hour. We go to have a look out onto the open sea as well and it does look like madness. So we already come to peace with the idea in our heads that we will miss our ferry. That is what you get, when you stay on such a remote island. There is no other way out. We sit down to read a book and at 2 the rain suddenly stops. It is still quite windy and the waves are still too high for my taste, but the boys talk to Galang and he says he feels confident now, we would just have to go slower. We have another discussion if he is sure the ferry leaves at 5, as otherwise we would not make it anyway. He is absolutely sure and after some back and forth of what to do it is 3 against 1 for going. I have a very bad feeling in my gut about going, as the waves for me are still too high, but agree in the end. The others seem to trust Galang. So at about 2:15 we leave. The boat is really shaky and Galang is driving very slowly. He stops after 10 minutes at the opposite island and we wonder if he changed his mind, but no. Instead he asks us to pay part of the trip now so he can buy petrol. Right, surely he could have done that earlier. We are so short on time already. After another 15 minutes we are finally on our way.

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The waves are still big for a trip like this in a wooden boat and water splashes inside now and then. Usually the water is so flat and calm here that you would think it doesn’t move at all. Just look at the pictures when we arrived here. That is what these boats are made for, but Galang drives really carefully and slowly. Nevertheless it is not a relaxed boat trip for me and I am concentrating on not thinking the worst the whole time. Mathias on the other hand seems to enjoy the trip and even manages to sleep a bit. At about 4:30 we see a big boat passing by some smaller islands away and Marissa says: ‚Is this our ferry?‘. We look at each other and think, this can’t be, it is only 4:30. Galang is suddenly very quiet and only says ‚let’s get to Wakai and see‘. When we can see Wakai in the distance a few minutes later, there is no ferry boat in sight.

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We reach the shore at 5 o’clock and get greeted by Galangs brother we had met the week before already. We get out and ask if the ferry has left, already knowing the answer. ‚Of course‘ he says , ‚it always leaves at 4.‘ What?! We turn to Galang and a heated discussion starts. We are really angry that he lied to us just to make the trip. He knew we had an alternative option the next day, now we were stranded in Wakai. The next ferry would only leave in 3 days, we paid for a boat trip that is useless to us now. Most of all though, we are angry that he lied to us knowing that missing the ferry to Gorontalo would mean we miss our flights and that we had another option for the next day. If he had been honest about the ferry leaving at 4, we would have never left the island past 1:30. Galang is very quiet by that time and only says the ferry sometimes leaves late at 5 o’clock. Galang’s brother puts a scene on that we are not sure we should believe, telling us he is very angry with him now as he was waiting for his boat for the last 2 days, that he works for the government tourist office and Galang is his employee not brother, and that he intends to fire him now as he shouldn’t lie to tourist like that. In the next sentence he tells us we can charter his boat for 2,5 Mio Rupiah to take us to Marisa early in the morning, a 4-5 hour boat trip, from where it is another 3 hours bus ride to Gorontalo. We can’t help but think now that this whole thing is set up. 2,5 Mio Rupiah (160 EUR) instead of 60 T Rupiah (4 EUR) for the ferry! We don’t think so! We rather go back to the island again tonight to then take the alternative route the next morning. So we start a discussion with Galang to at least have the decency to take us back to the island on his costs, but of course he thinks very differently about this. A trip is a trip and he wants to get paid the normal price. After an intense back and forth he goes down a bit with the price and we see we don’t have a choice. It is already dark by then and no one else is around. So we agree and of course he asks for some money up front to buy some petrol. Again, we have no choice and give him the first half. He tells us he also has to go into the village and find someone who will go with him to hold the light and tell him the way, as in the dark he cannot see where he is going. So he leaves us standing there in the dark. While we wait and try to calm down, we start going through the options and calculating them through. Option 1 is to go back tonight, take the ferry the other way the next morning, take the 5 hour bus to the airport, buy a new plane ticket, and at least arrive in time Wednesday afternoon to still catch our flight from Jakarta. Option 2 is to take the chartered boat from where we were to Marisa, then a 3 hour bus to Gorontalo to get there Tuesday afternoon, and still be able to catch all our booked flights on Wednesday from Gorontalo. Despite us despising the idea of chartering the same boat again and putting more money into their pockets, it turns out to be the easier and cheaper option actually. We would not have the costs of new flights. And divided by four it is only 40 EUR per person. So we already warm to that idea while we wait, wondering why Galang is taking so long. After almost an hour of waiting, Galang’s ‚brother‘ comes back giving us our money back and saying Galang decided he doesn’t want to leave anymore that late at night. Wow, this guy just lost the last little respect we had left for him. He cannot tell us in person, but sends someone else to deliver the message!? Well, so now we don’t even have a choice anymore and have to go with option two. Galang’s ‚brother‘ (we forgot his name, so we keep calling him that), brings us to the one homestay place in Wakai and then to a restaurant to get some food. In the meantime he organises everything for the trip, saying we will leave at 5 in the morning and he will add another engine to make the boat faster, so we would have 3 engines to make sure we get there in 4 hours. While we sit and eat, tension slowly leaves our bodies and we start seeing this whole situation more relaxed. Isn’t this why we travel in parts, to have these unexpected adventures ?! Otherwise it would be quite boring. Mark and Marissa, who had traveled 3 months through India already, tell us about many more stories they had like this there and we start thinking, it isn’t all that bad. Before we finally go to bed to catch some sleep for a few hours, we get asked again to pay 1,2 Mio up front to go and buy petrol. We really do not want to do this, but they know we have no choice and we don’t. So Mathias and Mark at least go with them to see them buy it and then we are off to bed. The alarm rings at 4:45 and we are in front of the house by 5. Guess what, no one is there to pick us up. After 30 minutes, finally they arrive to tell us they have to get the boat ready and another 15 minutes later we get asked to embark. It is still totally dark, so we can’t see much of what they are doing. We slowly make our way out of the harbor towards the open sea with only one engine on. As we go, night turns into day. By the time the sun has fully risen, we are surrounded by open water for miles and miles on end.

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I turn around to look at our boat drivers sitting in the back next to 2(!) engines and 3 canisters of petrol, smoking! And then just in that moment a thought hits me: What on earth are we doing, sitting in a small wooden boat, with no life jackets or any other emergency device on board, with 2 guys lighting cigarettes next to hundred liter of petrol, trying to cross the open sea for 4 hours, the same sea that was raged by a massive storm not even 12 hours ago. Insanity is all that comes to mind!! You have to look at the route map to understand the full extent of this journey and our madness! I look at the others, but they are sleeping or enjoying the view. Oh well, it is not like we can change anything now, we are in it. I do wonder though, why he is still only using one engine. Of course they do not understand a word of English and any attempt to ask him fails either because he doesn’t understand or doesn’t want to. So there is nothing else to do other than accept the situation we are in and pray we make it to the other side. There is no land in sight for hours and hours. 4 hours become 5, then 6. Then one of the skippers goes to the front and points at land. I cannot believe it, we almost made it. And indeed, not quite 7 hours later than we started that morning, we put our feed on the ground of the town Marisa.

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The harbor is full of life with fishermen who are distributing their catch to local sellers. A guy approaches us saying he was waiting for us and can organize a taxi to Gorontalo. We are surprised and ask how he knew we were coming. He received a call, he said. Of course, why are we even asking! We said we would like to take a bus, as we were told there are several buses a day running to Gorontalo from here. He says that is not true, there is only one tonight and for some reason we are not surprised anymore. So we negotiate the taxi fare and a stop at a restaurant on the way to get some lunch. And off we are, getting closer to our destination by the minute. Except that it of course doesn’t take 3 hours to get there, but almost 5! By then we know that we just have to add one hour to either side when you get told a time and you get the actual duration :). The drive to Gorontalo is very nice though and we see a bit more of the country than we had planned.

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It is already evening when we arrive. We check into our hotel and have a last dinner together with Mark and Marissa on the night street market. The next morning everything goes smoothly for once and we get to the airport in time. At the counter we get told that our bags will get checked through to Kuala Lumpur. Yeah right, I am thinking, just like last time. So we get off the plane in Makassar and wait at the baggage belt for our bags, but they don’t come out. We ask a staff member and he looks at our ticket and says it is checked through. Ok, I guess we have to believe that at this point. We do the same procedure in Jakarta and again our bags don’t come out. I cannot see a staff member around, so I stick my head through to the other side at the beginning of the belt and see our bags! I turn around excitedly to tell Mathias and then a stuff member sticks his head through to our side saying: ‚Are these your bags? They are going to Kuala Lumpur, yes?‘ Mathias just starts laughing hard at this ridiculous scene and says: ‚I don’t think there is any other airport where you can stick your head through the end of the baggage belt and talk to the staff on the other side!‘ I am just happy that our bags made it this far. And indeed, we arrive in Kuala Lumpur together with our bags. Happy but tired we make it to our hotel and sleep like babies in our comfy air-con room.

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What a fantastic time we had in Indonesia with lots of relaxation and unexpected adventure. And looking back now, we wouldn’t want to miss any of the experiences we had there, but rather are incredibly happy we did have them. We will certainly be back to Indonesia again.

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