Sunday, April 30, 2017

On the Go in Manado 8: The Southeast Coast of North Sulawesi

The island of Sulawesi has a starfish-like appearance with legs or tentacles jutting out in all directions. Manado is near the tip of the northernmost peninsula in an area the curves its way up like a banana. Consequently, it's kind of hard to define each of its many coastlines. The next phase of my motorcycle journey can be best described as the southeast.

This would have been tragically ironic. I had stopped to make
a charitable donation at a roadside collection site and was
almost run over by a speeding ambulance.
This 4th day riding the bike was perhaps the strangest. The day started in Kotamobagu where, if you've been reading along know, I didn't intend to be so early in the trip. I needed to slow down, look for additional places to stop and see.

Lake Moat (MOH-aht) seemed like an ideal place to go. There's not a lot of tourist information for that part of North Sulawesi, but when I read this review on TripAdvisor, I decided to make the short trip up to the lake... (sic)
In the morning, with a light mist covered the lake shore where you can browse and headed to the nature reserve area. Within this nature reserve, you can see the different types of flora and fauna Sulawesi.

The first thing I noticed on arriving at Moat Village, other than the lovely picturesque lake of course, was the smell of vegetables, cabbage and green onions to be specific.
Everywhere you turned, there were cabbages, bok choy, scallions, and several other types of leafy vegetables I couldn't identify. If nothing else, this lake is at the heart of the cabbage capital of North Sulawesi! 
Lake Moat, vegetable fields in the foreground
 Even though it was still quite early in the day, the next thing to do was to secure lodgings. Google maps showed only one hotel in the area, the Modoinding Lodge in Modoinding, a few klicks north of the lake itself. I went to the spot on the map where it was supposed to be and there was no sign, nothing. There were some buildings that looked like they might be accommodations, but they also looked quite locked up and shut down. This wasn't the first time I'd gone to a place on Google maps only to find it didn't actually exist. No worries, some locals told me, you can stay at the cottages down at the "tourist area". Indeed, I remembered these words from the glowing review I'd read...
If you want to stay in the vicinity of the lake, you can rent accommodation such as cabins and houses on stilts. In addition, if you want a natural feel, you can set up a tent on the banks of the lake. There is also a jetski rental, art galleries and restaurants.
Ooh, jetski rental. Sounds fun! 

They looked quite cozy
I pulled up to what looked like the daerah wisata (tourist area) office and inquired about the cottages I could see on the lake. 
I don't see any jetskis.
They're not ready yet, I was told. What did that mean? Like for the day or for the season? Turned out it was the latter. See, I had arrived in Sulawesi on the very tail end of the rainy season, when few tourists are out and about yet. Oh. Once again, no room at the inn. 
A strange thing happened as I was getting ready to leave. You'll see in the video as a scraggly, but cute, black and white kitten of about maybe 4 months of age coming hobbling across the parking lot towards me. He takes a couple sniffs of the floor board of the scooter and then jumps on, ready to go. He had planted himself firmly and was definitely coming with me.  
C'mon! Let's go!
Could the cat sense that I was a 'cat person'? Read my aura or something? I don't know, because if I hadn't been visiting a country other than the one where I live, Badger would have had a new friend. 
Now where to? Onward to the coast, I thought, and I'll just head northwards until I find a nice town with some type of place to stay. Once again, on the road with no clear idea where I was going to be spending the night at the end of the day. It was one beautiful stretch of road with lots of amazing vistas and other things to see including one beach park where there was
something I never thought I'd see here in what had otherwise seemed like a very religiously segregated region: a church and a mosque standing right next to one another. 
Eventually, I found my way to Tababo, a suburb of the medium sized town of Belang. It took some time, but I found what is seemingly the only accommodation on that whole sections of coast. Again, there was no sign, nothing to indicate to the passerby that this was a place to stay.
One whole side of the building had either fallen away or was in the midst of renovation. I didn't see any signs of life except for a chicken which disappeared into the kitchen. Kitchen chickens...someone lived there. 
Despite it's Bates Hotel exterior, inside, apart from the side of the house which was gone, it was quite nice. The room was basic, but clean. I had my own bathroom. And in the common areas, there were many sitting rooms with elegant and expensive, albeit a bit worn, furnishings. 
Apparently, the place was built as a lodging for a private organization of some kind, and only now has been converted into a guesthouse.
 I never would have found it had it not been described as being adjacent to the soccer field. On my visit, there was some lower division match being played there and I went to watch. As not many foreigners get to this part of Sulawesi, it seemed at points that more of the thousand or so people there were watching me rather than the game.  
Enjoy the video. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

On the Go in Manado 7: Boroko to Kotamobagu

In the last blog/leg of the journey, I described how the motorcycle rental agency had identified my location as being outside the contractual ‘green zone’.  I hadn’t left the North Sulawesi province itself, but as I was on its fringes, I was being charged an additional 50K Rupiah ($3.79) per day. Worse yet, they were threatening to deactivate my motorcycle remotely if I didn’t respond to their message.

I responded via text message. It read something like this: “I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to come this far. When I was in Amurang, my friend there told me that the road to Boroko was very beautiful so I wanted to see it. The problem is that I’m almost to Boroko. Please allow me to spend the night there, and then tomorrow will return to Kotamobagu. Again, I am very sorry.”  Another lie to cover for the first lie. I had intended to go to Boroko all along. I also intended to continue from there to a place called Gorontalo, the capital of the next province over. Of course, I could no longer do that. I had to turn around and go back down the road which I’d driven the day before and then make a turn up into Kotamobagu.  

An interesting looking mosque in Kotamobago
Kotamobagu is a mostly Muslim city. I’d mentioned in a previous blog that North Sulawesi was the “most Chrsitian” place I’d ever visited. Well, about 20% of the population is Muslim, the majority religion in most of the rest of Indonesia. However, I noticed in my travels that the two religions are rather segregated.  You’d drive through one village and see all the roadside crosses saying Happy Easter along with many, many churches and it was obviously a Christian village.  The next village down the road would have no crosses, but there were mosques and women wearing the hijab, a Muslim village. In larger towns, there would be both kinds of houses of worship, but the segregation was by neighborhood. There were Christian and Muslim parts of town. So whereas it’s accurate to say that North Sulawesi is 80% Christian and 20% Muslim, it’s more accurate to say that 80% of the people live in areas that are 99% Christian and 20% live in areas that are 99% Muslim. 

Enjoy the video. 


Thursday, April 27, 2017

On the Go in Manado 6: Amurang to Boroko

I didn't know what the roads were going to be like. I've been on lots of different kinds off roads here in SE Asia. Some are smooth as the best highway and you can go as fast as you want. Some are pure hell. Many are somewhere in between; the kind of road where you've can go fairly fast but need to be aware of the constant danger of massive potholes. 
Drinking coffee with the locals

The leg of the journey you're about to watch was 90% of the best quality road. That was nice, but what I couldn't have anticipated were the views along the way. At 220 km, this was the longest single leg of the trip. And perhaps novelty plays into my hyerbole, but it was also the most breathtakingly beautiful. 

When I was almost at my destination, I got a text message that would shape the entire rest of the journey. It was from the rental company. I replied with multiple apologies and a promise to return to the agreed upon area. Don't deactivate my bike! 


Sunday, April 23, 2017

On the Go in Manado 5: On the Road

Finally, it was time to get my motorcycle rental and hit the road. The agency's rep was going to meet me at the dock where the boat from Bunaken lands, so I'd be on my way with no time lost. I was so excited.

After doing some paperwork there at the same warung where I'd waited to go to Bunaken (no fork-wielding toddlers around this time), I climbed on the Honda Vario 150, and vroom! I was on the road.
Even though it was fully automatic, meaning I had no controls over the gears whatsoever, I was immediately impressed by the motorbike. I normally drive (or rent) bikes that are 125cc, and that extra 25cc of this one's motor was noticeable. Secondly, it's a Honday and it was brand new, less than 1100 km on the odometer. It had some pick up and was perfect for negotiating my way through Manado's relatively modest traffic. 

First stop was IT World, Manado's largest technology mall. Among it's dozens of camera shops, there were a plethora of models to choose from to replace my broken GoPro.
Can't tell from the pic, but this little guy is
about 2.5" x 4" x 1" in size.
Based on some recommendations, I settled on a Xiaomi Action Cam. It came with a waterproof case that fit the same mount that my GoPro uses, so it was helmet friendly. And at less than $100, it didn't break the travel budget. 

Like with any new technology, there's been a bit of a learning curve. Sometimes, I thought I was recording and I wasn't. Other times, I thought I was recording and instead I was taking pictures. It also occurred to me that when it was inside it's casing, the audio would certainly be effected. Would it even pick up sound inside the case? I found out along the way.

Next stop on the journey was lunch with Steve. He'd been reading my posts about this trip on an online forum for expats in Indonesia which I've been participating in, and he invited me to meet, and after a lunch of my favorite Indonesian food, Siomay Bandung, it was off to his home to meet his wife Penny and their dog, Bosco (who had made the trip with them from America).
Video frame grabs are fun. It looks like Steve has gone
berzerk here.
It turned out Steve was from San Francisco and Penny was from Morgan Hill, both towns very close to where I went to high school and the region to which I feel most connected. Steve and Penny had a lovely 3 bedroom house and grounds 20 minutes outside Manado for which they pay less in rent than I do on my little Yangon apartment. Manado is a nice place to spend retirement. 

A road in Steve & Penny's village.. Crosses everywhere.
After a tour of the home (which I thought I was recording) and a couple glasses of cap tikus, It was already 3:00 and I still had quite some ways to go. Because of its relative position within its time zone, the sun sets early here; I didn't have a lot of time. Steve had recommended that I take the coastal route all the way down to Anurang, my planned destination for the first leg. When I left, I decided to take the shorter route; I don't like looking for new places in the dark. 

When I got the crossroads, I stopped and thought about it for a second. I thought about if I'd ever get a chance to check out this road ever again in my whole life. What's a little inconvenience in place of the joy of driving through the jungle alongside a beautiful tropical coastline? As you can see on the map at the top of the page, there's an obvious shortcut that I didn't take. I'm quite glad I didn't. The views were amazing.  

Steve had also mentioned that if I stopped anywhere along the way, not to be surprised if the locals asked if they could have their picture taken with me.
At a beautiful beach out on the tip of the peninsula, that's exactly what happened. An older man started talking to me, and when he found out I was from America, he said, "Trump, good! Lots of money!" That's a bit different than the reaction I got in Myanmar from a Muslim guy. His daughter wanted her picture taken with me. Then the old guy grabs his son and says it's his turn.
I know how these things go; I'd be there a long time. I made my apologies, saying "it's already late afternoon..." and was back on the road. 

Also because the camera was brand new, it didn't have a fully charged battery and so the video today kind of ends abruptly as I was coming around a corner. 

Saturday, April 22, 2017

On the Go in Manado 4: Bunaken Island

I don't think I've ever been in a more Christian area than Manado. I don't mean christian in that they subscribe to certain moral values and ways of living.
From Jonath's Lodge in Bunaken... high tide.
They seem to be very decent and nice people, sure, but I mean Christian in the sheer number of churches and zeal with which they celebrate and express their faith. You'll see more of this in later videos, but as I wandered around Bunaken village, I saw no one around. See, it was Good Friday morning and everyone was in church. 

The mangroves at low tide - big tides there.
Perhaps God was punishing me for not being there myself when I tried snorkeling that morning. I was successful and I enjoyed it; I saw a great variety of colorful fishes and invertabrates. The coral looked healthy and the water was as clear as could be. Unfortunately, you won't see that in the video as my beloved GoPro decided after 18 months of being dropped, vibrated and abused that it wasn't going to be waterproof anymore. Underwater, I noticed bubbles coming out of the camera. Bubbles don't come out of something unless water is going in. 

It's a short video; it took me longer to edit the new title sequence. 

For those in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, watch this next version. 
The video above is blocked in those countries for copyright reasons, so I did something a little different. I made a video with no background music, which given how quiet Bunaken is, it kinda works.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

On the Go in Manado 3: To Bunaken

I was eager for the motorcycle part of the journey to begin so that I could get out on the road, doing what I enjoy most.  At the same time, I realized that I wasn't going to be getting any closer to Bunaken, a world renowned island famous for its marine park. So whereas in journeys past, I have typically ended my trips at a beach, this time, I've started there. 

The ferry to Bunaken leaves only once per day, sometime between 1:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon depending on the tides. See, the boat can only depart at high tide. Actually, I later came to find out that it can only land at Bunaken at high tide; they could depart Manado whenever. This left me a morning with a lot of time to kill. 

After a quick visit to a hypermart, I'd already found the electrical adapter I'd needed. Note to future tourists to remote parts of Indonesia: they do not use the universal outlets so common in other parts of Asia. The ferry dock was just next to a place called "Pasar Persehatan" or the Healthy Market. Asian outdoor markets are always a feast for the senses. Even though I've visited dozens, they're never less interesting. So many interesting sights and sounds and smells. 

I did come across something I was surprised by. I knew Manado people like to eat dog, but it's something else entirely when you see their still furry carcasses stacked up like produce on a market table. Intellectually, I know that I shouldn't be judgmental of other cultures based on their culinary choices. Now, if that includes eating endangered species which might soon disappear, well then they're robbing the world of a species. Eating dog isn't like that, so I have no right to call their dog-eating immoral or wrong. My head knows that. My stomach is another matter. When I saw those dead dogs, some of them half-butchered, I had a physical reaction. I wanted to vomit. I couldn't look at them; I just had to get out of there. Now, from a video-making point of view, it would have been interesting to have gone back, spoken to stallholder, ask questions about where the dogs come from and how much they cost. But I couldn't do it. I don't think most of the people who watch my videos want to see that either. 

The guy in the background is saying
"Hello Meester!"
One general thought about Indonesians: they're very friendly to foreigners. Walking down the street o through a market, you get a lot more "Hello meester!"s than you would in say Myanmar or Thailand.  In Thailand they do call out greetings a bit, but that's because they want to sell you something. Here, it's genuine friendliness and curiosity. And as I speak the language here, I'm more obliging about stopping and talking to people. 

With still a few more hours to kill, I had lunch, went back to my hotel to shower and retrieve my things and returned to the boat launch. There, at a riverside coffee shop, I encountered a toddler who had found a new toy: a fork. I don't know at what age toddlers begin to recognize racial differences. Before a certain age, kids don't know I look different than they or their families do. So as this kid attacked my backpack with a fork, it wasn't because I was an interesting tourist, and when  he started
poking me in the belly with the fork, that was only because my belly is very poke-able shaped. 

The ferry was actually 3 smallish boats, maybe 40 feet tip to stern. The sea was smooth and the waters were the bluest I'd ever seen. The trip took 45 minutes, and my hotel picked me up in a tuk-tuk at the boat landing. It was already late afternoon by this point, so no snorkeling on the first day, but I did enjoy the hammock as they waves gently crashed through the mangroves. 

Enjoy the video. 


Monday, April 17, 2017

On the Go to Manado 2: First Impressions

I woke up bright and early in Singapore, ready for my morning flight to Manado.  I was a bit lighter in the wallet (not just from the gambling; everything in Singapore is SO expensive!), but glad that the journey to my destination had required two days. Part of travel's whole appeal to me is seeing unique, new places. Singapore is one of the most singular places I had ever been. Truly remarkable. 

I would be driving down the very road in this picture just a few
days after it was taken
The flight to Manado was fascinating. See, I'd been planning this trip for some time, or, at least, day dreaming about it while viewing Google Earth. I'd spent hours studying the satellite imagery of Sulwesi's north coast, looking for possible places of interest and stopping points. As it came to an end, the flight path of the plane took it directly parallel to that north coast. Here, I was seeing in real life what I'd spent so long looking at on a computer screen. Ooh! I know that island! Aha! I know where we are! 

As a middle-aged guy who's spent a lot of times in planes, getting a window seat shouldn't be such a thrill anymore.  One might think that I've gotten used to it by now.  Well, I haven't.  I'm still filled with a childlike sense of wonder when I get to stare out at billowy clouds, fascinating coastlines and even miles and miles of empty ocean. I hope I never lose that, and it's sights like this that help rekindle it. These two atolls didn't show up on the Google Earth. 
Striking similar, looking like cat's eyes and positioned in just the right proportion to each other and to the concave sloping coast of mainland below, it looked like the island of Sulawesi was looking up and smiling at me. 

Manado isn't that big of a city, and my hotel was fairly well located in it's heart. It was a short mini-van-bus ride into downtown, where I spent some time wandering and looking for a couple more items for my trip.  As dinner time came, I found exactly what I was looking for: a nice clean restaurant overlooking the water. 

After sunset, I went the other way from my hotel into the older part of town. This was on eve of Good Friday, and Manado is a fervently Christian town.
In the Western church, they've never reconciled the notion  of Christ's resurrection with all the pagan Easter stuff that goes on with eggs, and chocolate and bunnies. Well, here in Manado, they don't have that problem. In this mural, it kinda looks like the Easter Bunny was there at Calvary Hill.

At just two minutes, this is likely going to be the shortest video in this series.  Enjoy. 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

On the Go to Manado - Part One: Singapore

In talking with other expats and from my own feelings, I’ve come to believe we’ve all got a ‘second country’: that one place outside your own native land where you feel most at home. Whether that country is determined by fate and circumstance or if it’s got something to do with temperament and compatibility, I’m not sure. I do know that for me, that second country is Indonesia.

Over the last two and a half years, I had been to Indonesia three times. I left for my fourth visit this last Tuesday, the 11th, and I sit here now writing on my fifth day out of the three week journey. My destination: Manado – the economic and political capital of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. 

If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. It doesn’t make the news. It’s not well known by tourists. And other than the remarkable SCUBA and snorkeling to be had, it’s attractions are limited.

Still, I’ve wanted to visit Manado ever since I was told about it 25 years ago when I lived in Java. It seemed enticingly remote, yet still accessible. Culturally, it’s a mix of Malay, Dutch, Spanish and now more mainstream Indonesian influences. All this is laid over the local culture, a group of tribes collectively known as the Minahasa. Lastly, it didn’t hurt that Manadoese women are thought of as some of the most beautiful in the world. On top of that, me, I like a nice, quiet road, some interesting people to talk to and some dramatic geography. Manado is packed full of all of those.

Distance wise, Yangon and Manado are about as far apart as Seattle and Cuba, so I couldn’t get there all in one go.  Instead, I had to layover in Singapore.  Now, I had never been to Singapore before, at least, not outside the airport, so I was looking forward to this pre-Indonesian pit stop.

The iconic Merlion in front of the Singaporean skyline
Of course, I’d heard all about Singapore and its draconian laws and strict culture before. Spitting on the sidewalk will get you 4 lashes of the cane. Chewing gum is forbidden by law. Not flushing a public toilet is a hefty fine (who’s reporting that?). I’d heard of the clean streets and how developed it was. Truth be told, although remarkable in many ways, Singapore is still a Southeast Asian city. It has its rough edges. There’s some dirt under that fa├žade.  The immutable natural forces of being an equatorial city never stop grinding. There’s mold and cockroaches. Funny smells and flash flooding when it rains. 

Just a regular, old Singaporean building
That said, I was duly impressed. The skyline and the river walk were breathtaking. Smooth sidewalks and efficient public transportation made getting around a breeze. I enjoyed my afternoon and evening there in the Lion City.
Enjoy the First Episode of “On The Go in Manado”

Yes, that’s the best I could come up with for a title for the next series of videos.  Hey, it rhymes! 


I thought I was going to retire there. I was the senior staff member. I'd been there longer than anyone. It. Is. Not. Fair.  But on the ...