Thursday, July 9, 2009

North Sulawesi, Indonesia - Overview

Gunung Lokon volcano in the Tomohon district

UPDATED 12 July '09 - just added some pictures of mu guide Antje and 'Superman Jesus' with some notes.

Original Post

"Better you bring rain coat in case it rains. Coming down volcano not easy when raining," said Antje our guide.

"Its OK, we're water proof," said Dharma the Hard Core Hippie dreamily, as she gazed out the window of the van that was trundling up into the Tomohon highlands. She didn't really care what the forces of nature would throw at us. She was just going to take it all in and have a ball of a time.

I guess that set the tone of the trip. The first trip in more than three years that I've traveled with someone else. And almost the entire trip was made up of little perfect moments. Before you clowns ask, NO, I did not get any action. This was strictly a buddy road trip. This is just an overview and I'll be writing more detailed posts on the various areas I traveled taking in the fantastic raw beauty of North Sulawesi. More well known for it's undersea diving experiences North Sulawesi offers a fantastic opportunity of re-discovering on land the virgin natural beauty and resources of a life that seemed to exists 50 years in the past.

It's a bird, it's a plane, IT'S JESUS!!!

It was rather unexpected to find out that North Sulawesi is predominantly Christian with almost 75% of the population counted as church going folk. There is almost a church every 200 meters! Super 'Hesus' above can be found near the Citra Villas project on the way from Manado town to the Tomohon highlands. It was sometimes like being in a Eurasian town with the sounds of wedding dances, laughters and Cap Tikus whisky being downed to the sounds of '60s and '70s bands with the sudden burst of Techno for the younger kids.


My guide Antje (prounced 'Yan-je). A great patient guy with an affable demeanour generally reserved for tour guides and saints. He's got Dutch blood hence the name. According to him there are only about 80 guides registered with the North Sulawesi tourism board. But there may be only 10 who are active. Most take tourists on the Highland Tours - which take you to the Tomohon highlands, some old Japanese caves and scenery along the way. More adventurous stuff has to be requested for. Most will comply happily. Get them to order the local dishes for you - most are a mixture of Indonesian and Chinese style cooking.

Onong's Palace, Tomohon, North Sulawesi

We stayed at Onong's Palace for the first two nights. This is an extremely cool little getaway, 10 glass chalets set among a lush tropical jungle on the side of a hill overlooking the Lokon volcano. If you don't draw the curtains, you literally feel like you're sleeping in the middle of a jungle in a four poster bed. Being in the highlands the weather was cold in the nights around 19 degrees C especially after the tropical rains. From here we were able to explore the surrounding districts, Lokon volcano, Mahawu volcano, Tondano Lake and the hot springs further south west.

Dharma takes over the kitchen

The crazy, impulsive, live for the minute, earth child, Dharma, invading the kitchen at Onong's Palace to show the cook how to make pancakes and toast. (actually the cook was the receptionists who was pulling double duty since we were up at about 6am to start our hike up Lokon volcano.

The lava trail

The hike up Lokon was tricky as we had to maneuver up an old lava trail running down the volcano. In terms of scale you just might see a tiny, tiny dude in a red shirt, just above and off the middle left of the picture where the rock meets the bushes. (can enlarge pic for further clarity)

The active crater at Lokon volcano

Chilling out at the crater was surreal. With the soft bubbling and boiling of the water from the volcano creating huge, billowing clouds of steam that rose up in the gorgeous blue sky.

Tomohon morning market 6am to 10am - fresh python meat for sale

Manado and the rest of North Sulawesi is still living a life untouched by much of the 21st century. Exotic meats here are basically a normal staple diet. Dog, cat, monkeys, bats, city and jungle rats, wild boars, etc are all part of their diets. A walk in the Tomohon meat market was a life changing experience. More in an upcoming post (not for the squeamish). Dharma and I understood that we can't judge the people and their lives here. We have no right to. This is part of their world as they are somewhat cut off from the rest of Indonesia where they eke out a living from fishing and agriculture. The people here are extremely friendly and warm, ready to offer strangers hospitality or help.

Tondano Lake

The beautiful Tandono Lake. A great experience exploring the 50km circumference of the lakeside that was bordered by lush rice fields and corn fields.

Dharma waiting for her Bintang Beer while the rain pelted Tandono Lake.

We hit Tondano Lake for lunch. Which was excellent. Fresh lake fish cooked with the most freshest of vegetables from the surrounding farms. This was somehow perfect as the hot fresh food arrived while the heavy rain churned up waves and ripples from the normally placid lake. The local Minahasan food here is EXCELLENT. The best dishes I've had in a long time. I'm not talking about the exotic meats but mainly the fish, pork, chicken and vegetable dishes. This trip was almost about food as it was about the treks and exploring the surrounding districts.

Hot Springs at sunset

After lunch we hit some hot springs further south west. Dharma wanted to take a dip in the steaming waters. It was perfectly quiet as it was a Sunday and most of the crowds had gone into Manado city to enjoy their public holiday. As the sun set over the steaming water, and me neck deep in the green pool, I dreamt of ice cold beers and crunchy bacon strips that would've made my soak in the volcanic pool perfect.

Sunrise from Mahawu Volcano

Monday morning we speed up the Mahawu volcano and rush up to the peak to get a view of the sunrise. Tired, with thigh muscles bitching up a storm we get to the top and are greeting by a beautiful dawn as the golden rays light up Lokon mountain nearby and the coast near Manado city.

The Rat and Bat Happy Meal

When you're in Rome and all that.... We tried out the bat and jungle rat local dishes. Bat's not bad, cooked into a fragrant curry with lemon grass and some other spices. The meat has a beefy aftertaste and the wings actually taste a bit like those black flat mushrooms (but a bit more rubbery) you have in that Chinese vegetable dish. The rat however was a bastard to eat - almost no meat, the little fuker was just bone and sinews. Too much chili drowned out any taste. Not recommended unless you want it for boasting rights.

River Restaurant Minahasa Lagoon Resort

We hit the Minahas Lagoon Resort on Monday. Great service and an infinity pool with one of the coolest views that I know of. However it's way to pricey for the average Malaysian.

The dormant volcano on Manado Tua Island in the distance

Trekking along the coconut plantations on the foothills

The morning of our flight back we got some of the staff to take us exploring the hills near the resort. Fantastic! The trail took us past lush green tropical jungles, past gurgling streams, skirting coconut plantations before depositing us on a road by a beach.

What do you say to a trip that lets you have an ice cold beer from an infinity pool over looking an ocean at sunset with the view of a volcano in the distance? As I take this picture, a beautiful woman does laps behind me, setting off ripples in the water. The slight ache from the climb up active volcanoes is slowly starting to ebb. The memory of the gastronomic delights savored on lake sides, hill tops and beaches create a warm fuzzy feeling. As the setting sun cools the air around me, I sink lower into the warmth of the pool. The sky is now golden. My own golden ale in my hand is fast disappearing. "Hey you want another?" calls Dharma from the edge of the pool. Sure, why not? I give her the thumbs up and put the camera away.



ah lim said...

Besides the bat and the rat, everything else looks like heaven.

S'wak said...

Buddy... road... trip????
What the....????

ah chan said...

syoknyeeeeeeeee... hot chick on trip with you, beer in an elegant glass perched ever so dangerously on the edge of the pool that has another hot chick doing laps and i'm sure u wished she was doing you instead !

postcard perfect shot...

Chindiana said...

Ah Limzzz, after you've made your millions you come join me on one of these trips la.

S'wak! HAHA! dont ask bro....

Ah Chanzzz! I wished many things on this trip.... :P

ah lim said...

aiyaaa... how to join you lar when you have hot chicks with you :P

Chindiana said...

Wei, Lim-meister, dont be a virgin la, they wont eat you! :P

Nex said...

Besides the 'hot-chick-budy' distraction, everything else looks like heaven.

Chindiana said...

yes and you can follow me next time when you feel it's safe to travel again.