It’s common to see women carry things on the tops of their heads.
One of the interesting things we’ve seen around Bali is the use of female porters. A job that is usually done by men in other countries, these women tote all kinds of stuff including bags of cement/sand weighing in at around 50 pounds. The method is to wrap a towel on the top of the head for cushioning and proper weight distribution and balance. They’re not large people, either. In fact, most are small in stature. In Amed (and nearby Tulumben), they’re contracted to transport scuba tanks and equipment. The tanks weigh roughly 45 pounds and are stacked on their shoulders two at a time. (There were some male porters there, too). They don’t look it, but I’d say these folks are pretty tough.
Every place we’ve been to in Indonesia, the people often smile and say ‘hello’. And not since Egypt has there been so many people with the same name. In Egypt, every other guy was named “Mohammed”. On Bali, it seems every man is named either Nyoman, Wayan, or Made. The women we met here, as in Egypt, had fairly unique names.
In Manado, northern Sulawesi, the population is primarily Christian so names like Steven, Maria, Jane and Ronald are the norm. According to one cab driver, Sulawesi would like to break away from the rest of Indonesia since it is Christian and the rest of the country is dominated by Muslims. When I hear things like this, the question usually runs through my head,”Why can’t we all just get along?
We’re doing some island hopping which presents the logistical problem of getting around. Short boat or ferry rides are ok but longer ones call for uncomfortable, over-crowded conditions and safety concerns. That leaves air travel. The routes we’re interested in are serviced by primarily by Lion Air, but buying tickets isn’t easy since we can’t pay on-line with a foreign/non-Indonesian credit card. As easy as it would be to post that on their website, it’s not mentioned anywhere. After having my cards rejected several times, I had to call their office to try to book and get more information. They allowed me to reserve seats for about 3 hours until I could get to the airport to pay for them. Afterwards, there were some email exchanges to ask about payments and where the offices were located. It took 2 emails to the ‘contact us’ on the website but I was finally answered through the customer service email address. The answer, however, was totally unintelligible….”We can inform you that for booking reserves in the water already in the Disable lion.”
We knew there was a layover when we booked our flight to Manado, but weren’t told anything about it when we checked in. Nor were we given much information about the flight delay. When we finally made it on the plane we discovered fairly small seats (despite the plane being a large Boeing) and a ragged interior with the seat pocket extended out enough to hit my knees. The easy listening music made the flight(s) that much more goopy and unpleasant.
The plane arrived safely thereby getting us across the equator for the 4th time by only a couple of degrees.
One of the things we wanted to accomplish in Manado was to go to the local immigration office to get a visa extension. Since our visas are good for 30 days and our intended stay in Indonesia is just under 6 weeks, we needed to go to an immigration office for the extension and Manado had one. We researched the process and it seemed to vary from hours to days to a week or more. Not sure exactly what to expect, we figured we could get it done within a week so booked our flights 8 days out from our arrival.
Manado locals hangin’ and fishin’
We arranged for a hotel in Manado before arrival since it would be late at night. Dissatisfied with it for being old and shabby, we checked out leaving our bags there while we went to take care of the visas. We arrived at the visa office at about 9:30am and were told by the person at the desk that her boss was in a meeting. (Someone else told us he got the same answer as a full-blown office party was going on, karaoke music blaring and all!) As we sat patiently (fortunately they had wifi) we could see a whole lot of nothing going on behind the counter. Officials were eating, talking, rolling around on their chairs…. Not much was happening, so just before noon they advised us to grab lunch. We did so at a close-by restaurant, and of course, there were some of the officials eating at the same place. Back at the office, things continued as they had in the morning.
Mikrolets: the local way of getting around
Our plans were really up in the air at that point. We had no place lined up to stay and since we weren’t sure how long it would take to get our visas, we didn’t even know how long we’d need to stay in the city of Manado. As we looked online for places to stay in Manado, anything in our budget didn’t look very good. Our plans were to go to Palau (island) Bunaken for some snorkeling and diving but we didn’t really know when we could go there. Then a guy with long blond greying hair walked into the immigration office and we start conversing. Terry Bradford is a native Australian and is somehow related to William Bradford, the 17th century Governor of Plymouth, MA. He had a great suggestion for a hotel where he knew the owner and his wife called him to book us a room for the night. Terry seemed to know quite a bit about Manado and Palau Bunaken. It turned out he is also the owner of a diving hotel/resort on Palau Bunaken.
By about 2:30pm we went to check in with the people behind the desk at immigration. Nothing had progressed, so with lots of apologies, they suggested we return Monday or Tuesday, five or six days hence. It made us a bit nervous since our flight out was early Wednesday morning but we didn’t have much choice. Terry’s place sounded pretty good, so we went looking for him, found him drinking a cup of coffee around the corner, asked if he had space for us. In a matter of minutes we had him cancel our Manado hotel and arranged to join him at the marina to catch a boat to the Sea Breeze resort.
The Sea Breeze Resort
The reefs and sea life in Indonesia are in great condition, near ‘pristine’ as per the guide books, though, similar to the Caribbean, you don’t see fish as large as in past years. Still, diving and snorkeling are spectacular as there is such aquatic diversity and I’m continually seeing new species of fish and coral. One of the peculiar aspects, and something to watch out for, are the currents. They can be fast and change direction and speed very rapidly. We saw a news article about a diver who got swept into a current and floated for 16 hours before getting picked up by fishermen.
Paying close attention to the tides and currents, Cindy and I snorkeled the reef in front of our resort. We found a few ways to account for the fast currents, usually starting in one spot, drifting along with current and walking to/from the resort. The scuba dives I did were all ‘drift dives’ where the divers go below the surface drifting with the current until the end of the dive when the boat, which has been ‘following’ the divers, picks them up wherever they happen to surface.
The last post included a story about an aggressive parrotfish. The correct species was actually a Titan Triggerfish. Now I am constantly on the lookout for those suckers. My fears were confirmed by a diver who showed me a scar made by one that actually bit his leg.
The truly sad and disheartening sights we’ve seen here have been the amounts of trash floating in the waters. For unexacting reasons, the $15 park fees do not appear to benefit the environment. There is lax enforcement of the laws and commercial deals are often made resulting in a compromised natural environment. In the future, they stand to lose a lot of tourist income, though, they may not realize it for a long time. From a day-to-day view, it’s common to see people cleaning the streets in front of their homes or stores but it’s just as common to see people to throw out trash without the use of proper receptacles. Environmental education could go a long way to helping the country and people.
We took a dolphin tour early one morning, like 6am-early. Woof. But were rewarded with seeing perhaps 200-300 dolphins swimming and frolicking in the Celebes Sea. They would sometimes swim alongside or in front of the boat and I would occasionally see them in the distance breaching the water with spins and flips. Try as I would, my camera had a delayed shutter –and the dolphins weren’t saying when they would jump or dive– so I had difficulty catching many good photos.
There were several fishing boats in the area using a unique system to catch the same fish the dolphins were pursuing. The fishermen would fly kites that trailed fishing lures which dropped in the water as far as perhaps 50 meters behind the boats thereby avoiding interference from the long tails of the boat propellers.
The public ferry back to Sulawesi
I’m not sure exactly what the locals paid for the ferry, but I’m certain it wasn’t close to the $5 the tourists paid. I appreciated that it was open information that the tourist price was higher than the price paid by locals.
There were a couple of serious rummy games happening on the ferry
Back on the main island of Sulawesi, we hit the immigration office early on Tuesday, the day before our early morning flight. We reminded them our flight was the next day and, sure enough, we had our visa extensions in one and a half hours and were good to go. We passed the Governor’s office on the way and caught a game of croquet going on in the front yard.
Manado is not a tourist town but a pass-through to other destinations and home to numerous provincial government offices. As such, we benefited from paying local prices for many things including a stay at the newish hotel (recommended by the Bradfords and breakfast included) for about $25 a night and a couple of awesome meals at the restaurant across the street. Cindy and I had delicious fresh fish, veggies, rice and drinks for less than $5 for both of us. However, we had to be very careful walking down the streets as there were immense gaps in the sidewalks.
Gaps in the sidewalk, large and small, were a common sight in Manado
Complete with our extended visas, we left Manado for Labuan Bajo on the island of Flores.