Thursday, May 25, 2017

On the Go in Manado 15: Where to Next? Pulisan!

By this time in the journey, I was still very far ahead of schedule, and not really sure where to go next. My last night at the Tangkoko Guesthouse, I sat on the stoop with Pak Nestor, my guide from earlier in the day, talking about a wide of variety of topics, sampling drinks of Fanta and "arak", a type of palm liquor prevalent there in North Sulawesi. "Cap tikus", as it's also known, is sold in reused plastic water bottles, and as ours got more and more empty, we shared more and more.

Eventually, I got to asking where northwards of Batuputih I might find reasonable accommodations. Go to Bahoi, he told me. There were homestays there. I looked at it on the map, and it looked sufficiently far away that it would qualify as a day's worth of travel.

My very circuitous route that day
Slowly, I made my way north. Along the way, I found myself at a place called Pantai Pal (Pal Beach). Wow, that place took my breath away. I know I've used a lot of hyperbole during the
Pantal Pal
Manado series, but that place had perhaps the bluest waters I've ever seen on a beach. So incredibly beautiful. 

Also along the way was the town of Likupang, the largest town in the very northern tip of Sulawesi. Meh.
The harbor at Likupang
Not much to see there, except for me. What stands out about Likupang was the "stare factor". For what was far from some tiny village, I hadn't been in a place where I felt so scrutinized. EVERYONE was staring at the foreigner. 

When I go to Bahoi, I was very much underwhelmed. Maybe because it was low-tide and the waterfront wad kinda disgusting.
Maybe because I had no interest in all the eco-tourism stuff that they had on offer at the entirely deserted tourist information center. So, it was time to the next place.. which was?.... Determined by a coin. 

On the map, the Pulisan Jungle Beach Resort looked like it was adjacent to the amazing Pal Beach I had seen earlier in the day. Not quite.
It was nearby, but it had it's own 'road' leading to it. I use the term loosely. In fact, I learned later from the proprietress that all their guests arrive on foot. 

Well, not all of them. I managed to navigate the horrible road and rolled up on my motorcycle without a reservation. The lady who ran the place and I didn't get off on the best of terms. As I rolled further into the resort proper, she came running up, yelling at me.
How dare I disturb the peace of this remote garden resort with the noise of my motorbike! I was sorry. The parking area wasn't marked. The barricade at the entrance she said was there wasn't there. I hadn't felt less welcomed at a hotel in my life. 

It turned out to be a nice place. 

Sunday, May 21, 2017

On the Go In Manado 14: Black Crested Macaques

The black macaque, which I had come to see
in Tangkoko. I didn't take this pic. It's the
famous 'monkey selfie' pic which it took of
itself and raised all kinds of interesting copy-
right questions.

Why do we enjoy looking at animals? Maybe it’s because of some primal instinct based on predator and prey. Animals are food and who doesn’t like food? Maybe in the case of creatures like monkeys, it’s a higher need to connect with what we once were. We see aspects of our own feelings and behaviors reflected in the eyes and actions of other primates and we find this fascinating. Whatever the reason, I undoubtedly enjoy watching monkeys do their thing. 

Here's me, 25 years ago, being bitten by a
monkey at a Balinese monkey forest.
The cur really wanted the banana and
didn't want to wait for the camera.
Here in SE Asia, I’ve also been to the occasional tourist-driven  ‘monkey-forest’ or a temple somewhere where they’re tolerated, and fed, by visitors. Other than that, my monkey viewing  enjoyment has been limited to nature documentaries and zoos. 

We saw such a zoo in the last blog, and whereas some of the animals were well-treated, the monkeys were in 1 cubic meter hellholes of cages. To say the least, that dampens my experience and it certainly kills any human-like activity and interaction on their part. 

Consequently, I was very excited to visit the Tangkoko National Nature Reserve (mislabeled on the Google maps as a national park). On the evening of my arrival, I had negotiated a trip with a local guide, getting a substantial discount for being able to speak Indonesian, thus making the guide’s job a lot easier). He warned me that we weren’t absolutely guaranteed to see anything on our monkey safari, but since he knew where the local troupe had bedded down (or up – they sleep in the trees) for the night, provided we got there early enough, we could catch them as they came down in the morning. 
Giant ficus

The next morning, we left the Tangkoko Guesthouse at 5:00 AM  for the short motorbike journey to the entrance of the preserve. It was still dark, and as we trekked through the jungle, we did so by flashlight. 

I was taken by the immensity of the ficus trees.  Not nearly as tall as the redwoods around my old family home in California, their trunks splayed out wider than a redwood, giving their roots a head start in spreading out and gripping the soft, wet tropical rainforest soil. To think, these monsters are the same species as the common houseplant that resided in the dining room of that same California home. 
Pak Nestor and I talking about the monkeys

Eventually, we came upon the area where my guide, Nestor (they’re Christians there in Manado so they got biblical names) had seen them the night before. Then, we waited. Nestor proved quite knowledgeable in monkey facts. The crested black macaque (Macaca nigra)  only lives in this little corner of Sulawesi. They eat mostly fruit and are only eaten by the occasional hawk or eagle (and people, of course). They live in family groups of 25 to 70 members, led by an alpha male. It was this troupe’s alpha male who we were waiting for. He’s always the first to descend from the canopy, signaling to the rest of the clan that it’s time to begin their monkey work day. 

Nestor told me to stay put while he went scouting around elsewhere. We could hear rustling up above, but hadn’t seen a monkey yet. It was with a sense of awe when I, by myself, got to see the alpha male, the boss, make his way down a tree not more than 40 feet away from me. For a minute, it was just me and the top banana, his family still upstairs and my guide somewhere else. 

It didn’t take long for us to be surrounded by monkeys. They didn’t get too close to use, nor we to them, but they weren’t particularly phased by our presence. 

We were able to move with them, they paying no more attention to us than the trees they clamored over. These were still wild jungle monkeys, but if monkeys are hunted for meat in other parts of Sulawesi, not this troupe.

Nestor assured me that the alpha male would soon lead the group to a different part of the forest, maybe even down to the coast to do some beach combing. We just had to wait for him to make up his mind as to where to go. Evidently, he never did, as we spent the next hour or so wandering around in a circle. 
None shall pass!  The Black Macaque Knight.

Still, it was fascinating to be so in and amongst wild animals that I had seen locked up just a day earlier.  It was like being in one of the wildlife documentaries I’ve loved for years. 

Unfortunately, I hadn’t brought my good camera on this trip. All I had was the newly purchased mini GoPro clone, so the footage is nowhere near documentary quality. I hope you enjoy it anyways. 

Monday, May 15, 2017

On the Go in Manado 13: From Bitung to Batu Putih

In the last week of my loop traveling on motorbike through North Sulawesi, none of the legs of the journey were particularly long. They were all an hour or two, at most, and so I was able to visit every spot of interest nearby along the way. 

For example, near Bitung there was a private zoo at a place called Tandarusa. I didn't have high hopes for the place. When I visit a zoo, I judge it in a visibility
A tarsier. This primate, the smallest one in the
world, is indigenous to Sulawesi and live
there in the jungle adjacent to the zoo.
vs cruelty ratio. I go to a zoo to see interesting animals, but I don't want to see them in a some hellhole of a prison. How would this "private zoo" rank on the visibility-cruelty scale?

Well, sadly, it was dependent on where the display was.
A kus kus. Back in the early 90's, I bought one of these
as a pet. I had it for one night and then it escaped out 
a window.
For the tarsiers, kus kus and sulawesi eagles at the front of the zoo, they had nice, clean cages. Their conditions were high on the scale. I was the only visitor at the private zoo, and so I got showed around the place by what seemed to be one of the managers. 

Oh, she was so embarrassed when we came upon this. A dead animal in a cage. As a zookeeper, that has to be the ultimate shame. I don't know the species, but based on the number of ants chowing down on the carcass, this blue bird had been dead for at least a day. 

As we got towards the back of the kebung binatang the conditions for the animals got worse. The wild boar, the emu, the turtles, and the two crocodiles were living in squalor. I chalk it up to laziness. These exhibits were harder to maintain because they were a few hundred meters further from the zoo HQs. Sad. Very Sad. 

Skirting another volcano, I arrived in White Rock, Sulawesi. The name of the village was Batu Putih, and it had the darkest sands of any beach I've ever visited.  

 Enjoy the video. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On the Go in Manado 12: Tomohon to Bitung

I really enjoyed my time in Tomohon. The cool air, the volcanoes, and the intense greenery of the place will stick in my memories of the Tour d'Manado. But of course, the journey continued. 

The next stop was the port city of Bitung, North Sulawesi's second largest town.
Manado doesn't have a deep water port so all the shipping goes through Bitung. Being a sea port gives Bitung a particularly gritty feel to it, although you can tell with the wide open streets that a lot of investment has gone into the place. 

One thing I wasn't able to do for which Bitung is particularly famous was explore the Lembeh Straights. Lembeh is the island just off the coast and although it's reportedly a bit mucky, the diving and snorkeling in the waters there are supposed to be some of the best in the world. 


Monday, May 8, 2017

On the Go in Manado 11: Tomohon Two

I liked the mountain town of Tomohon so much that I extended my stay, spending three days up in the hills. 

On the ride down from the Mahawu Volcano, I ran into a bit of an obstacle. This was a Thursday following the Sunday of Easter. Perfect time for an Easter parade, right?

The drum majors directed the band while marching backwards
The parade was down the Jalan Raya, Main Street. No way to get through. No way around it. I just got to hunker down and watch the middle schoolers march down the road in costume. 

Whip it. Whip it good.
Interestingly, I got to witness the Stanford Experiment in full effect. In an Easter parade, you got one kid who's Jesus. You got three kids as centurians whose job was to whip Jesus. Some of these kids got really into their role. They're kids. Boys, at that. Of course they got into it. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

On the Go in Manado 10 - Tomohon

I woke early on the 10th day of the journey to the sound of gardeners outside my window tidying up the grounds of the Mountain View Resort in Tomohon.
This was on the wall of the hotel where I
spent my first night in Manado.  Maybe it
planted a seed in my head.
Looking forward to a full day of sightseeing, I opened the door of my bungalow and sniffed the cool highland air. Glancing the gardeners, I was surprised. They were an older Western couple. White people doing the groundskeeping in a place where the minimum wage was about $5/day. It was the hotel manager and his wife, diligently weeding and raking up leaves. 

This was one of three accommodations I stayed at on the trip run by foreigners. Seeing them has put an idea in my head, perhaps I dare call it a dream.
From the Mountain View Resort
I got 20 years of teaching in me still, and I've got no idea what I'll do in retirement. I can picture myself raking leaves at Joko's Inn, opening up somewhere in SE Asia in 2035. Obviously, this would take a lot of resources, and I've got no idea what goes into opening and running a hotel other than what I've gleamed from being an avid traveler these last few years. Anyways, just floating an idea... perhaps I'll make it into a goal. 

What to see and do in Tomohon?  The first place to visit was the central market in the heart of the city. I'd read online that there were quite some unusual foods being sold there. I wasn't looking forward to seeing dogs on the butcher block again, but the idea of eating bat intrigued me. 
wings sold separately 

After visiting the market, it was a pleasant ride up the green slopes of the Mahawu Volcano. The volcano's crater was within a well tended national park, and I was expecting a significant foreigner entrance fee. I signed their guest book and was asked to make a donation of whatever I felt like making. That was refreshing. 

The video just covers the morning's activities there in Tomohon; what happened on the way back from the volcano gets its own video. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

On the Go in Manado 9: To Tomohon

I woke up early at the Mokoyang Indah Guesthouse (the previously described as the strangest hotel I've ever stayed in) in an effort to catch the sunrise. See, it was an eastern facing coast, and in my opinion there's nothing with the potential for being spectacular so much as the sight of the sun coming up over the water.
The fishing town of Belang
Alas, again due to the continuing learning curve in relation to my new camera, I watched a beautiful sunrise, was inspired, but did not get any of it on video. Made for some nice photos though.

The next leg of the journey, as they all were by this point, was quite short. I took a 90 minute straight shot into 4 hours of exploration by trying to use back roads, interacting with the people as much as possible, and stopping at any place along the way of even the slightest interest.  

The first order of business after leaving Tababo (Belang) was to find breakfast. It was in the small town of Bentenan, near the 'unnamed road' in the map above, that I found a tiny 'warung' selling various breakfast foods. I was there for only a couple minutes when the local elementary school gang came rolling in. They were there for their breakfast too.
They had fun talking to the 'buleh' and I had fun talking to them too. Eventually, when I was ready to go, I had to shoo them on. They'd be late for school.  
Move along. Nothing to see here. 

I  will say this about the roads in North Sulawesi. I hadn't run into any roads that I would call bad. Smooth, well marked, and wide enough to allow easy passing, these were how I would describe every pavement I'd gone down.

Until I ran into Unnamed Road. I know now to admit when a road isn't worth it.
Too many times over the course of my many motorcycle journeys I've ended up on roads that I cursed myself for taking, but had gone too far along to turn back. That wasn't going to happen in Sulawesi.

Eventually, I rolled into Tomohon. At over 3300 feet elevation, there was a coolness to the air, such a nice change from the sweltering lowlands. Surrounded by volcanoes, Tomohon is absolutely beautiful, and one of North Sulawesi's notable tourist areas.
I knew on arrival and checking into my bungalow that I'd be here a couple days.

Lastly, I tried to visit a waterfall that I'd found listed on a couple 'things to see in Tomohon' websites. Turns out I was looking in the wrong place, but I still found interesting stuff. 


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 ...