Sunday, 30 October 2011


Banggai Island 

Our first sailing on Indonesia’s famous ferry line, Pelni, was an eye-opener to say the least. It almost goes without saying, that when we turned up at 7am to board our ship to Banggai, we discovered it was late, and didn’t end up leaving until 1.30 pm. We expect these things, but what we didn’t expect was the ridiculous scrum to board the ship. Instead of letting everybody who was getting off in Bau Bau disembark first, someone decided it would be a good idea to open all the gates, so hundreds of people were getting on and off at the same time through a opening big enough only for single file. The situation was made worse by porters shoving their way through the thick crowds to nab a job carrying someone’s luggage and cargo.

Chaos at Bau Bau port

Bau Bau port (a quiet moment)

Bau Bau port

We finally made it on, and set off to find our seats. Sea travel isn’t quite as cheap as we expected here, so we opted for deck class (the cheapest). We had a deck number and a seat number, but as the ship was coming from Java, a trip of several days away, everyone was well and truly settled into their bunks. It was pretty grotty down there, and extremely hot, so we found a quiet-ish space on the deck, spread out our rice sacks that Richard has been carrying around since India, and enjoyed the first part of the journey, with sunny weather and views of uninhabited islands, as well as fishing villages. The night was not so enjoyable, as we tried to sleep on the rock hard deck, and we were happy to arrive in Banggai in the wee hours of the morning. 

Pelni ferry, deck

Pelni ferry, inside

Not having any idea about Banggai, we decided for a couple more hours of hard semi-sleep in the ferry terminal, to wait for the sun to rise. When it did, we found a ramshackle, busy and tiny town, with the same welcoming and responsive people we have found everywhere so far on our Sulawesi trip. It seems Banggai is another place rarely visited by foreigners, and everyone immediately wanted to be friendly and say hello and talk to us as much as possible. We were amazed to find one hotel (and not too bad, either), and collapsed into bed without even a shower, for a deep catch up sleep for several hours. 

Hotel room, Banggai

Our hotel welcome

Cloves drying

Banggai girls

After attempting to hire a motor bike for the day to look around the island (a concept not understood at all), we opted for a combination of walking and minibuses, and explored some of the area for the next couple of days. We did have visions of beautiful isolated beaches, but what we got was small villages with bamboo huts, some on stilts over the sea, people making a living from fishing, a lot of rubbish, markets and lots and lots of smiling faces everywhere. 

Banggai chooks

Starting early

Banggai village

Banggai village

Banggai village

Banggai village

Crab traps

Banggai village

One highlight was a visit to the local market, where the stall owners, especially in the fish section, were outrageously happy to see us, and all wanted their pictures taken- we had a fun time there!

Fish market, Banggai

Big fish (on the left)

Fish market, Banggai

Fish market, Banggai

Market colour

Yet another boat ride awaited us from Banggai. We were becoming naturals (of course, Richard is very experienced on boats, but Sally’s annoying habit of sea-sickness seemed to have been cured!), and knew this time to show up super early at the port on the other side of the island for the 9am boat to Luwuk. Although we had visited the harbour the previous day and checked (in Indonesian) about the day and time of the boat, when we arrived we were told it wasn’t leaving today, but there was another boat leaving from the port five minutes from where we had been staying! So we rushed back to find it actually wasn’t leaving until 1 pm (in other words, between 2pm and 3pm). We had a few reservations upon seeing the rickety old ferry, but when we boarded we found a great boat with mattresses all set out to sleep on, plenty of fresh air (it was entirely open at the sides), and the ticket lady had given us the best bunks right at the back, so we could lie down and still see the view! As usual, everyone else rushed on at the last minute, were curious about us, and to the strains of the theme from Titanic on someone’s mobile phone, we set sail!  We spent the next eight hours, snoozing and watching out for sea mammals, which are supposed to be common in that area. Right near the end of the trip, we were lucky enough to see a pod of dolphins very close by following the boat. The scenery was beautiful, and similar to our other trips by sea along the east coast.

Banggai to Luwuk ferry

Banggai to Luwuk ferry

View from Banggai to Luwuk ferry

We had an unfortunately terrible hotel in Luwuk, and decided, because of that mainly, to leave immediately the next morning. Again, confusion with where we caught the bus, but we finally sorted it out, and found ourselves on a swanky kijang (share 4-wheel drive taxi) heading to Ampana. The trip along this peninsula was one of the most stunning of our travels, with us driving through secluded beaches, mangroves and jungle. We had advice to stay in a village just outside of Ampana for the night to be near the ferry for the Togean Islands the next morning, and we headed straight there. A good thing about the kijangs is they will generally drop passengers where-ever they want to go within the town, often saving another trip from an inevitably far flung bus terminal.

Togean Islands
We were now to find out where all the other travellers we hadn’t seen for nearly three weeks had been hiding! On our little ferry from Ampana to Poyalisa Island (part of the Togean Island group), four other tourists all going to the same resort. It was a shock, but nice for us to chat with English speakers again.  Typically, half way into the three hour trip, our ferry lost half its power, and we limped into dock at Poyalisa Island, much to the relief of the crew, who were having to hand pump the water out of the boat (the pump had stopped working!).

Nearly there, Poyalisa Island

Togean ferries

The Togeans, along with Rantepao and Pulau Bunaken in the north, are the most popular destinations on Sulawesi, and when we arrived at the island, we found out why! Poyalisa is a true tropical paradise, and everything looks absolutely perfect, as it would on a postcard. It is about one acre of gleaming white sand, crystal clear water, surrounded by coral, with eight simple, pretty, wooden huts, no running water or electricity (only a generator at night), and a basic restaurant. We were surprised at the tiny size of the place, and also that it was full! As we stayed here, people came and went- sometimes there were 20 people, and at other times just the two of us. We scored a hut with sweeping views of both side of the island, as well as a bird’s eye view of who was coming and going! Good for sticky beaks like us! The deal with most places in the Togeans is a package, where all food is included in the price of the hut (most places are remote and there are no restaurants). At Poyalisa, the amazing food was cooked in Bomba, a small village five minutes away by boat, and brought over four times a day. Yes, four times a day! For us, who usually only eat once or twice a day, it was a struggle, but the food was so delicious, we ate everything put in front of us! The snorkeling we were doing every day off the island did help us to work up an appetite. It was like being inside a tropical aquarium in those waters, definitely the best underwater sights we have seen- hundreds of different sorts of brightly colored fish, and some colorful coral, although dynamite fishing has been rampant around here in the not too distant past, and destroyed a lot of it. We aren’t the best snorkelers in the world, but we practiced a lot around the island, and eventually went out of a few of the free snorkeling trips organized with other guests. We were very happy, and decided to stay a while. We grew used to being pampered, with the women who worked on the island so welcoming and hospitable, and always making sure we had enough to eat and drink, bringing us afternoon tea on our verandah, and doing an amazing job of cleaning up around the place- they swept the entire island every day! Being away from all noise (except the put-put of the small boat engines), and the pollution of the towns was wonderful.

Short video of the entire island, including our bungalow, the ladies sweeping the beach, and the restaurant:

View from verandah

Our bungalow


"Our" beach

Gorgeous trip to mangroves

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