Water World

Off-The-Beaten Track
Water World
Although the Central Sulawesi Department of Culture and Tourism recently launched a new international initiative dubbed Sail Togian 2011, the fact still remains that not many people know of the Togian Islands, despite the fact that they make up one of the largest national marine parks in Indonesia. Novieta Tourisia explores the islands.

Situated slap bang in the middle of Tomini Bay, Central Sulawesi, the Togian Islands National Marine Park covers a massive area and is filled with underwater forests and 56 amazing islands. The six largest islands in the park are Waleabahi, Waleakodi, Togian, Talatakoh, Batudaka and Una-Una.
There are several ways to get to the Togians. One of them is via the northern route, namely through Port Talumolo in Gorontalo, aboard a ferry which departs at night and which takes at least 15 hours to reach its final destination—Ampana in Central Sulawesi. The ship has several disembarkation points, which include Dolong, Katupat and Wakai, all of which are all located in the Togian Islands chain.
My ship departed on time at 9pm. The next morning, I woke up as it was making its first stop at Dolong, and we ended up docking for around an hour. Apparently, there is a regular weekly market on Dolong, which is held to coincide with the arrival of the passenger ship.
Initially, our goal was to reach Kadidiri Island. However, a Gorontalo local recommended that we instead transit at one of the more interesting points in the Togian Islands, namely Malenge Island. We thrive on spontaneity and like to be flexible and so, after our ship had already stopped at Dolong and Mapoli, we promptly disembarked at Malenge. The first impression that hit me as I set foot on the island was how boisterous the atmosphere was.
Crowds of people were hawking fruit, while others shouted at us persuasively, “Hotel?” or “Lodging?” I approached a kindly bespectacled woman wearing a striped yellow shirt and asked her, “Ma’am, do you know of any inn?” She nodded happily, and we followed her as she weaved her way through the crowd. Mrs. Shiva was her name, and she introduced us to Pak Rudi, the inn’s owner. We waited for Pak Rudi to prepare the boat that would take us to the inn while sipping coffee and eating durian.

As we glided towards the inn on the boat, I could see dozens of sea urchins lying on the shallow seabed, and the seawater gradually turned from deep blue to green as we approached the inn, which was called Lester Cottages. There were only four cottages in fact, however a few dozen metres to the west, we could see that Mr. Rudi was building several new cottages. “If there are no new cottages, it will be difficult to accommodate all of the tourists who usually come here during the mid-year holiday season,” he explained.
Our adventure began with a visit to the village of Bajo. Rows of wooden houses stood above the sea, and one or two canoes were tied to each house. Bajo’s children proved to be very jovial and just love conversing with tourists and having their photographs taken. The adults were no less friendly and many allowed us to peek inside their houses. A single house is usually occupied by three families, and some even contain five families. The Bajo tribe is no longer as isolated as it once was and the people have come to embrace modern technology in their daily lives. TVs, radios and mobile phones are now commonplace in the village, although telecommunications signals are still not strong. The Bajo still cling to their traditions however, which they consider important. A father, for example, will take a few-day old baby and dive with it as a way of introducing the newborn to the marine way of life at an early age. The Bajo believe that this ritual initiation brings blessings both to the family and to the entire tribe as a whole.
We traversed a long bridge accompanied by the cheerful laughter of the Bajo children, who soon broke into spontaneous renditions of some well-known Indonesian national songs. I was touched and we soon found ourselves singing along with the kids. I certainly never hear kids singing national songs back in the capital, save at special Indonesian-themed events.

We weren’t quite sure where we were headed however a kid suddenly shouted, “This is our school!” Mr. Rudi, who also doubled as our guide, explained to us that the bridge had only been built several years ago and I was taken aback upon hearing this. So how did these kids get to school before there was any bridge? By canoe? “No, they swam. One arm was used for swimming, while the other held textbooks and bag aloft over the head. They’re used to swimming far as all of them have known the sea since they were babies,” Mr. Rudi explained. I was shocked. The thought of these kids swimming long distances to get to their school made me realise how lucky city slickers are with our cars and buses.
After the trip, we went snorkelling not far from the Bajo settlement. There was a stunning variety of fish and coral to check out, and I saw a barracuda for the first time ever. Not just one in fact, but an entire shoal, with each member measuring over a metre in length. I also had the opportunity to see a group of orbicular batfish, as well as some leather umbrella coral which is a rare species of soft coral.
Our next destination was Pangempa Island. To reach the island, we took a two minute motorboat ride from the village of Katupat. That evening, we watched the locals playing beach volleyball while we sat at the end of the local bridge. We also met a couple from Denmark, Oscar and Yanick, who were exploring Indonesia over the course of a month. At sunset, we fell silent as we watched the sky turn from amber to deep red, and the dying light finally left a trace of fuchsia on the horizon. It was indescribably beautiful.
The next morning, we skipped breakfast and ran straight onto the beach next to the cottage.
We soon found ourselves snorkelling and being treated to a vast jungle of underwater splendour. Just a few feet ahead of us swam a school of lionfish, which were darting to and fro in a dazzling display of grace and beauty. For the next three hours, I feasted on a rainbow riot of aquatic life, including triggerfish, clownfish, damsels, butterflyfish, angelfish, scorpionfish, stingrays, and an equally dazzling array of coral, including brain coral and acropora aspera. In fact, there are no fewer than 518 species of hard coral in the Togian Islands. In addition, the islands are also home to populations of up to a hundred hawksbill turtles and green turtles.
Later that day, we sailed all the way down to Reef One, which is one of the best points for snorkelling. There wasn’t much of a difference from the spot at which we’d spent the morning to be honest, except for the addition of the yellow tang, sea snakes patterned in black and white, and a flock of yellowfin tuna.
On our fifth day, we headed over to Kadidiri Island, which should be a familiar name to divers in the know. There are no fewer than 25 amazing dive sites here, ranging from Kadidiri House Reef to a WWII B-24 bomber plane wreck to The Pinnacle, which is located close to the island of Una-Una. Dive virgins are well catered for here at two dive centres (Kadidiri Paradise [www.kadidiriparadise.com] and Black Marlin [www.blackmarlindiving.com]).
I’m no diver, though, and so I spent the next two days snorkelling around our resort, writing, reading books and chatting with Crispin Gibbs, the owner of the Black Marlin Dive Resort, and his diving instructors. We also shot the breeze with several of the resort’s guests. I appeared to be the only non-diver in the area, but no matter!
We soon found ourselves enjoying our final night out on the porch; the crashing waves on the beach serving as background music and sweetened hot tea as our wine. Suddenly something heavy hit the deck of our porch. It was dark and so we turned on a torch so as to ascertain the source of the noise. And there it was: a coconut crab as big as my two fists, scrambling to once again ascend the coconut tree that it had just fallen from. After it had scurried away, we returned to our reveries. We had discovered a true sanctuary: The Togian Islands.

Source : http://www.garudamagazine.com  - 2011

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