North Sulawesi: 25-30 September 2013

I had some frequent miles to redeem but not much. Manado, Indonesia was one of the destinations I could afford with the few miles that I accumulated. Flying to Manado would only cost me $148 (for the taxes, excluding Indonesia airport tax) instead of $500+ for promotional fares so it seemed like a good deal. Besides, the only direct flight from Singapore to Manado is on Silkair.

My sister visited Manado 2 years ago so I had some tips and advice from her. The tour guide/driver who brought her to see the sights quoted me US$88 for a 1-day tour which strangely was not customisable. Either he had earned enough money that month so he wasn't too keen on the business or he figured out I was only going to book him only for a 1-day tour instead of for the entire trip like my sister did.

My sister couldn't advise me where to stay but she could tell me where not to stay: Hotel Sedona Manado. She was displeased with the service (waited an hour for pickup at the airport but nobody showed up and when they arrived at the hotel the manager wasn't apologetic) and the hotel was inaccessible. She said that the people there tend to be late, move at a slow pace or they might not show up at all. She found the city area, farms and traditional market very dirty. However, the snorkeling was great and the highlight of her trip was seeing the Tarsier monkey (the smallest monkey in the world) at the Tangkoko Nature Reserve. She warned me though that I might have to tan gu gu , i.e. Hokkien for wait long long, for the monkey to show up. That might be how they came up with the name Tangkoko.

Without high expectations, I booked my accommodation for 5 nights there:
- 3 days on Bunaken Island at Cakalang Resort
- 1 day in the highlands at Mountain View Resort
- 1 day near the Tangkoko Nature Reserve at Tangkoko Dove Villas (the morning hike starts at 4+am)

I had a flavour of what life there might be like when I tried booking the rooms. One of them had an incorrect email and another took a 1 to 2 weeks to get back to me.

This was an all-rounded trip with the sea, the mountains, a nature reserve and a bit of history.

Day 1: 28 Sep - Journey to Bunaken Island
The plane at Changi Airport took off late. I arrived at Manado airport late by almost an hour at 2pm. The driver arranged by Cakalang Resort was waiting for me. He drove me to the harbour to take the public boat. The boat departs between 2 to 4pm from Manado "Jenke" (or "Jenke") depending on the captain and the tide.
Note on where boats depart from:
1. Jenke - local word for ‘river’, this is where the public boat departs from 2-4pm. It costs Rp50,000 one-way.
2. Calaca - behind hotel Celebes (also known as the pelabuhan or Manado harbour). This is where alot of other resorts depart from, as well as the public boat when it is low tide. There you can charter a boat (price is around 400.000 Idr.)

Manado Jenke

Fortunately, the owners of the Cakalang Resort, Julie and Ferdinand, happened to be in Manado city on that day and the captain was waiting for Ferdinand to board the boat (he at the clinic) so I was in time to take the public boat. If I miss this boat, I would have to charter a boat at Rp400,000! I didn't want to risk missing the boat so I had arranged for pick up at the airport which cost Rp100,000.

The boat was fully loaded - with people and goods. The majority on the boat were locals but there were other tourists too. I found the boat rather clean.
Public Boat

The boat ride was 1 hour. I was grateful when Julie asked someone to take me to the resort on motorbike so that I wouldn't have to walk (10 mins) with my bag which I felt was rather heavy especially in the afternoon heat.

The 2 resident dogs were the first to greet me when I arrived. They barked and sniffed me as soon as the motorbike stopped.
Watchdogs of Cakalang Resort
They are very cute and friendly. They can be somewhat protective of guests. They would walk with guests for a distance to "guard" them.
My cottage is the one with the towel hanging
Spacious cottage with soft bed
Clean bathroom
Kitchen and dining area
Pangalisan beach at Cakalang Resort

There are 4 rooms in this resort. My room was spacious and the bathroom was clean. It cost Rp380,000 per night including 3 meals a day. I walked pass some other cottages at nearby resorts and those cottages appeared smaller and closely packed to the other cottages.

The rates for diving and equipment rental were reasonable:
1x dive a day is 33 Euro
2x dive a day is 59 Euro
3x dive a day is 82 Euro
5 Euro extra charge for the night dive.

"How do I turn on the fan?" I asked Ferdinand. He said the electricity is turned on at about 5pm and remains on till the next morning to about 8am. (Same goes for the wifi)

I was very hungry and looking forward to dinner. Dinner was served at 7.30pm. That was rather late for me. I usually have dinner before 6.30pm. There are no shops nearby and I didn't bring any food so I was starving!

There were 3 other guests (2 ladies from Colombia and 1 man from Portugal) and we had dinner together. There was rice, fish, vegetables and meat. Everyone was being polite, introducing themselves, waiting for the others to start so I dug in first because my stomach was calling out already. There was some confusion over whether one of the dishes was meat or fish. 2 of the guests are vegetarian. The texture of the meat felt like chicken though there was no skin or fat in it and it was of a dark colour like beef. It turned out to be a type of local fish. The food was delicious and the portion was more than sufficient for 3 ladies and 1 man. None of them smoked so it was always a pleasure having meals with them. 3 of them spoke Spanish but they would speak to me in English too and translate their conversation to English at the end of it.

The guy and I shared about we were here to dive. The 2 ladies who had been staying at the resort for several days had not dived at all during their stay. 1 of them can dive but the other has not tried it before. By the end of the night, they decided to dive too.
After we'd had our dinner, it was the Cuscus' turn to have its dinner. It's a nocturnal animal. The people at Cakalang Resort were rehabilitating a young Cuscus - also known as Sulawesi Bear. This one was attacked by a snake. The locals killed the snake and saved the Cuscus. The authorities had not decided what should be done with it once it recovers. If they release into the wild, it might get eaten by other snakes or people (yeah, they eat bears, rats, dogs, cat, snakes, aligators, etc. Most who keep 2 dogs would slaughter and eat one for Christmas.). The Cuscus wasn't interested in its dinner. It had some fun running up and down and showing off its moves. It can hang from its tail. Its tail is like an extra hand. It was a treat observing the animal!

I informed Ferdinand of my intention to dive the next day. I asked him what time they were going. He explained that they usually go around 9am but time is a little flexible here and I should just relax, and I shouldn't worry because I would definitely get to dive!

It was peaceful and quiet at night. I could hear the water washing up onto the beach. The cottage is made of wood so it was rather cool inside even without turning on the fan. I feel asleep to the sound of the water and geckos clicking...

Day 2: Diving at Bunaken Island and a walk on the island
Breakfast was served at 8am. I had mine at about 8.30am. After breakfast, I got my equipment sorted out. As it usually is with all dive centres, they have problems finding me booties that fit my size 5 feet. The small one which they had was rather torn up but I didn't have a choice. I figured it would be fine because I was only going for 2 dives today. I dived with the divemaster, a guy from the same resort and a couple from a different resort. The 2 ladies dived with another divemaster.

We reached the dive site in about 10 mins. I was amazed by the aquamarine waters. I'd seen green, I'd seen blue but this was sparkling aquamarine! Here is a picture taken while I went snorkeling.
Aquamarine water around Bunaken Island

The water was crystal clear. What's unique about diving at Bunaken Island is the walls of corals all around the island that seem to be of infinite depth. There were a number of turtles, puffer fish, anemone fish, nudibranches and tonnes of colourful reef fish and corals.

I haven't been to that many places for diving but Bunaken Island and Redang Island are the best I've seen and I highly recommend them. Even if you choose not to dive but to snorkel instead, there's plenty of fish to spy on and the turtles visit the shallow reefs too. You don't even need a boat to take you snorkelling if you stay on the Island. Just swim out from the resort with your mask, snorkel and fins! But don't forget the time. The sun can set rather quickly so it'll be a good idea to go back as soon as you set the sky darkening.

I had blisters on my feet because the rubber on the fins were rubbing against my skin though the partially torn booties. I didn't think I could have done another dive with those.

We returned from our 2 dives at about 1.30pm. I was famished! Lunch was served at about 2.30pm. At that point, perhaps I would eat dog meat if that was the only available dish served!

After lunch, I went for a walk with one of guests while the other 2 took their afternoon nap. We walked along the narrow bumpy road pass several resorts, a pub and then it was kampong all the way. People on motorbikes passed us. Some had 3 or 4 people on the bike. The roads were in poor conditions so the riders had to ride slowly. The owner of Cakalang Resort had commented that it's better not to fix the road because riders would go faster on better roads and there would be more accidents. True enough, on the only stretch of road that looked like it was recently maintained, the motorists were speeding.

The houses here are made of different materials: bricks, wood, bamboo.
House on Bunaken Island
House on Bunaken Island

Many people own dogs. Some owned cows. Most of the dogs were in a sleepy mood, having their afternoon siesta. In particular, there was a dog that calmly allowed me to take its picture. It was only when another dog in the same garden awoke and started barking that it suddenly realised that it was supposed to guard the house, not pose for pictures! Poser!
The poser dog
Cow on Bunaken Island

After walking for 45 mins, it felt like it was just going to be the same kampong scene repeated over and over again so we headed back. Also, we were feeling thirsty, sweaty and we wanted to make it back before the sun set. The pub was 5 mins' away from the resort so we stopped here for a cold drink. The only cold drinks available were beer, sprite and coke. My companion bought a large bottle of beer (that was the only size) for Rp40,000 and I bought a sprite for Rp10,000. Not exactly cheap but not unreasonably expensive either. What I like about this island is that most of the people don't overcharge or try to rip you off just because you're a tourist. It can be tiring and stressful having to bargain, haggle and worry whether you're getting cheated on a holiday.

The owner of the pub turned on some Indonesian music for us. It was so loud that we had to stop our conversation. He might have thought we enjoyed it because we were smiling. But we were smiling for a different reason. We were amused by what he thought might be enjoyable for us. Or perhaps he thought: it's ok if you have nothing else to say - the music is here to save you.

Our divemaster was playing pool with his friend. They were also holding cards so we asked them why they were playing cards and pool at the same time. Actually, the cards were part of the same game. The cards are used to determine whose turn it is.
Local guys playing pool
Nice view of the beach at the pub

I took a dip in the sea when I got back to the resort. It was nice and cool. A great way to cool down after the long walk! And dinner was good as usual!

After dinner, the other 3 guests went to someone's house to watch a "bamboo band" practice. They made many instruments from bamboo. I was told the dogs followed them there and sat beside them. It was only when they ignored the dogs that the dogs left and went home. I didn't go because I wanted to have some time to enjoy the peace and quiet of the resort in the evening. The owner, Julie, saw me alone and she invited me to her chit-chat session complete with local saho wine which I declined. Ferdinand saw me alone too and he asked me whether I was ok.

Julie's chit-chat session went on till 12+am and all the guests could hear it. I suppose that's the kampong spirit. I can't expect nice and friendly people not to have friends!

Day 3: Diving and snorkelling at Bunaken Island

I went for 2 more dives today. Fortunately, I had another pair of booties to use today. On the 2nd dive, the current was strong. I felt like a leaf in water. The 4kg of weights were insufficient to hold me down. I held on to the divemaster to drifting away. It didn't help that my booties weren't my size and I had raw skin from yesterday. He took good care of me and of course I'm fine otherwise I wouldn't be writing this post.

The divemaster and boat captain were very good. They are helpful and mindful of safety. During the break, they spotted a lady snorkeler who was very far away from her boat. They picked her up and dropped her off closer to her boat. She was grateful because she was feeling too tired to swim back.

We got back to the resort at about 1pm. After lunch, the 2 ladies went for another drive while the guy stayed on the island to rest. We planned to wait for the 2 ladies to return and then go snorkelling together at 4.30pm. However, the guy went back to his room (upstairs in the other building) to sleep and I tried calling him from my cottage but he didn't wake up. It was my only chance to snorkel here (unless I can wake up at 6am to snorkel). He had said he was going to stay for another night so we didn't try that hard to wake him up.

We swam out from the resort to the reef. The shallow stretch is rather long and we had to avoid touching the sea urchins. We had a fun time snorkelling and free diving among the colourful fish. We headed back at about 5.15pm. It was a little hard to find the entrance to the resort through the mangroves. Out was easy, in was hard!
We swam out toward the sea after walking out through these mangroves

I found some bites on my left arm today. I suspected it was bed bugs bites because it was in a relatively straight line but a bit zig zag. I showed them to Julie but she said perhaps they were from jellyfish. I settled my bill so that I wouldn't have to rush the next day. I was planning to catch the public boat back to Manado city which leaves between 8am to 9am. The male guest decided to leave too - since his last dive was at 1pm so he could fly the next day to this next destination. Julie helped him to contact her friend who runs a travel agency to book his flights from Manado to Makkasar and Makkasar to Jakarta. At other resorts that I had stayed at, nobody ever bothered to help me book anything. Even if I asked them to help to check what time a certain place of interest closes, they would ask me to call the place myself or they would charge me the exorbitant hotel rate for the call. I'm not sure whether Julie gets any form of commission from making the arrangements but regardless, I believe tourists would find her extremely helpful. She also arranged for one of her staff to go with us to the jetty and on the public boat. She said that the usual public boat would not be in operation tomorrow so we would have to take another one.

I was a rather good guest myself because Julie accidentally gave me change of Rp300,000 instead of Rp3,000 and I asked her several times to check but she kept saying it was correct. She thought the Eur20 I handed to her was Eur50. Fortunately, the Portuguese guest kindly agreed to change my Eur2 worth of coins into Rupiah (money changers in Singapore usually don't accept coins) so we were calculating how much that would be in Rupiah and we thought the exchange rate for my change didn't seem right.

I went back to my room to pack. Unfortunately, I found a few specks of gecko shit on my bed. I also found 1 in my plastic bag of toiletries :( Gross! Island living isn't for people who cannot endure nature's "gifts".

Day 4: Journey to Manado City, Linow Lake, Tondano Lake
The male guest and I left Cakalang Resort with an employee. It was a 10-minute walk to the jetty. The dogs wanted to follow us but they were chased away. Along the way, I saw a house with boars in the garden. They appeared rather tame. They'll probably be eaten soon.

On the boat, there was a motorbike on the boat and many empty large bottles blocking the way. People started moving the bottles and they then assembled a makeshift table to play cards.

We waited a short while before the boat left the shore. As the boat was leaving, a girl arrived at the shore and appeared very distressed. She had missed the boat :( The captain turned the boat around and picked her up.
Motorbike on the boat
People on boat playing cards on makeshift table

Along the way, there were dolphins spotted but I didn't manage to turn around in time to see them :(

The journey took 45 mins. The manager of Mountain View Resort was waiting for me when the boat docked. It was about 10.15am. So far, everything has happened more or less on time. I was grateful that everyone showed up as they said they would.

I did not have the time to take a picture of Manado city on my first day here because I was in a hurry to catch the boat. There isn't much here. Just ordinary shops with an "old town" feel. The streets are clean but they aren't green like in Singapore. They're mostly brown earth or grey rocks/stones so it looks dirty.
Manado City

Tomohon city
House at Tomohon
House at Tomohon
House at Tomohon
Chicks and chicken outside a house

The transfer from Manado city to the Mountain View Resort at Tomohon cost Rp150,000 and took about an hour. The resort really did have a Mountain View - of Mount Mahawu. The first cottage that I was shown to was nice but the door lock didn't work well.
Mountain View Resort room

I moved to another one because I really couldn't work the door of the first cottage. This one had a much nicer and brighter bathroom with a see-through roof. The only small irritant was that this room wasn't fully prepared for guests yet. There was some pee on the seat and there was no blanket and only 1 pillow. Of course they provided the blanket and extra pillow later but I had to take care of the pee myself using the water spray.
Mountain View Resort
Mountain View Resort
Mountain View Resort - room "Ambang"

I was feeling hungry as soon as I got here at about 11+am but I felt embarrassed to ask for food immediately so I asked to have lunch at 12pm. There were only ayam goreng (fried chicken), ayam bakar (barbequed chicken), nasi goreng (fried rice), mie goreng (friend noodles) or soup instant noodles to choose from. When the full name of the resort is "Mountain View Resort and Resto", you would think there would be more choices, wouldn't you? I chose the mie goreng.

I asked whether the resort manager could arrange for a driver to take me to Lake Tondano and Lake Linow, and asked how much it would cost. He thought for a long time and said he doesn't know whether he is free to drive me there. I found his response strange. Did that mean if he's not free, I will not get to go anywhere? What happened to "Guests can arrange car rentals and airport transfers through the 24-hour front desk" stated on their profile? Anyway, I had been warned by my sister about the pace of work here so I said I will check with him later.

I had a quick nap for 10 mins. I could have slept a little longer but guests 3 cottages away were talking very loudly.

I counted the minutes to 12pm. The mie goreng turned out to be just the Indomie fried with the standard seasoning and chicken skin. I was surprised that there was no chilli in it. Maybe it's too touristy here to cook with chilli.

The resort manager came over to join me. I had not been served any drinks so he asked me whether I would like coffee or tea, then someone got me some coffee. He asked whether he could take a photo with me. This, I also found peculiar but I obliged. I asked him whether he takes photos with all his guests to remember them and he said yes. I asked him about the tour again and this time he said he was free to drive me to only 1 lake - 30 mins' drive away. He said the other lake is 30 mins away too but in another direction. He also said that there are no public buses (they are small blue vans called "microlet", pronounced as mee-crow-let) to get me there. Although this was contrary to what I had read online - that there are microlets to get you from town to town - I agreed to just seeing one lake, Linow Lake which supposedly is multi-coloured. There appeared to be no other option because I didn't see any taxis on the road around here, it's a long walk out to the main road and he didn't seem to be able to call a car/taxi for me. We left the resort at 2pm.
Farm on the way to Lake Linow

It was only when we got to Linow Lake and I asked where are the multi-colours that he said the 3 colours, Blue, Green and Brown, can only be seen at about 5pm when the sun sets. It's a nice lake but without seeing the 3 colours, it's just another lake. The "entrance fee" was Rp5,000 per person. Just to take photos there, we had to pay the fee. It's a nice lake - not big. We were only there for about 10 mins to take photos. I felt like I shouldn't impose on him because he's the manager there and would have other things to do.

We had to walk up a short, steep slope to get back to the car. The manager had a hard time because he was limping on one leg. Although it took us about 30 steps to get to the top, he was panting and expressing how tired he felt. He said his stamina was poor because he smokes.

Activities at Lake Linow
Lake Linow
Linow Lake - Hot springs in background

On our way back to the resort, he stopped to make a phone call. Then he said he could take me to Lake Tondano because his sister stays there, she hasn't been to the Mountain View resort before and he would be driving there to fetch her. Lake Tondano is huge. After driving by the lake for 30 mins, we had not even covered 1/4 of the lake's circumference.

Tondano City
Tondano City
House at Tondano
House at Tondano
Some houses are very nice but the neigbouring house might just be a shack
Pillion Rider holding wheelbarrow
Carriage with 2 wheels
Lorry full of chicken

Traffic along a small road was stalled by a wedding procession. The resort manager who was driving me said that the bride, groom, musicians and all the attendees would walk from the house to the church for the wedding ceremony, then walk back to the house for a celebration. The bride and groom were both dress in white. The picture is a little small because we were rather far behind.
Wedding procession
Party at the house
Party at the house
I saw a building under construction that had sign with a red cross and a bed below it. I asked whether it was a hospital. He said it was a church and that the ratio of churches to houses is 1:3.
We got back to the resort at 6pm. Whenever I get back to any of the resorts on this vacation, I always felt like eating NOW! Unfortunately, my wish was not granted. But I had to go with the flow. I asked whether I could have dinner at 6.30pm. The resort manager said that was too early and asked whether 7pm was ok. What did he mean by "too early" for dinner? I said I was very hungry already so he agreed to 6.45pm. Then he turned to an employee and asked them to set up a table in the garden for dinner.

I asked him whether he could arrange transportation for me the next day from this resort to Tangkoko Dove Villas where I would be staying. He looked unsure so I offered to give him time to think by saying that I would check with him later.

It was drizzling by the time I'd finished my shower. So dinner was in the restaurant, not in the garden. I had the answer to my question about why 6.30pm was "too early". The manager lit up 2 candles on the table and sat opposite me to have dinner. And predictably, he wanted to take a photo with me.

My dinner was a huge plate of fried rice with chicken skin. There was no chilli in it so I asked for some fresh cabe (pronounced as char-bey, Indonesian for chilli). He had only taken a few bites of his food when guests arrived and he excused himself to attend to them. I heard the Caucasian couple ask for a tour to be arranged for them to go to the traditional market, Linow Lake and Mount Mahawu the next day at 9am.

By the time he returned to his food, it was already cold. He abandoned it and said he would eat supper later instead. I asked him about my transfer to my next place of rest and I would like to leave at 12pm. He said he would take me there after completing the tour with the Caucasian couple. Because I heard the couple's itinerary, I knew it wasn't going to likely for them to complete the tour in 3 hours - certainly not at the Indonesian pace. I said that I guessed the couple would want to hike up Mount Mahawu, not just be driven there to see the mountain. After half a minute of thinking, he said he would arrange for a driver to take them there. He excused himself and made a phone call while I went to my room to get money to settle my bill.

He said he would drive me to the Tangkoko Dove Villas the next day.
This was the bill:
1 night's stay IDR 304,750
Lunch IDR25,000
Dinner IDR25,000
Transport from jetty to resort IDR150,000
Transport to Lake Linow IDR150,000
Transport from resort to Tangkoko IDR250,000

The charges were reasonable. If I had rented a car with driver for a day, it would have cost me IDR550,000 include the cost of petrol. The transfer arranged by the Tangkoko Dove Villas from the airport to the residence would cost IDR300,000. I was happy that he did not overcharge.

I wanted to turn in early but the TV at the restaurant was turned on too loudly. The Miss World pageant was on TV. I went there to lower the volume. Shortly after, the volume was turned back up again. Fortunately the TV was turned off when show ended at about 10pm. There are geckos here too but fortunately none left their dropping on my bed.

I rubbed some Vicks on my stings and bites to sooth the itch. It was chilly at night, especially after the rain. I was fully covered in my clothes and with a fleece blanket but it still felt cold. I was awakened at night by the itchy stings/bites. The effect of Vicks only lasted for 4 hours. I re-applied it and went back to sleep.

Day 5: Waruga
I wasn't expecting this but I was awakened by a ringing bell and morning prayers echoing through the valleys at 4.20am. A rooster was crowing along. 95% of the population here is Christian so I thought it was just my luck that I'm encountering the prayers of the 5%. The ringing and the prayers went on for about half an hour. I feel asleep after that but was awakened shortly by 2 sounds from the neighbours' TVs. 2 of them had their TV's turned on rather loudly. The cottages are made of wood and there's no sound-proofing so noise travels easily through them.

Asia must be the noisiest continent on the planet. For some reason, Asians do not seem to place any value on getting undisturbed sleep and they do not care whether their noise in the morning or at night disturbs anyone. Asian guests at hotels often have their TVs turned on very loudly and would talk loudly at the corridors and in their rooms at any time of the day or night that pleases them. They would smoke in non-smoking rooms and deny having done so even when the smoke is coming into my room from under the connecting door. Caucasian guests are usually quiet and the hotels in Europe and USA have better sound-proofing.

I went for breakfast at 8.30am. In the restaurant, there were slices of bread (just normal ones) and a toaster. I inserted 2 slices of bread into the toaster but it wasn't working. The resort manager was already up. He disconnected his handphone from the charger by the toaster. Then I realised why the toaster didn't work. It wasn't plugged in because it plug was used for his charger. I gave up and had untoasted bread with chocolate spread.

I didn't know what was coming up for breakfast but I was served a huge plate of fried rice which I couldn't finish. I wish I had a container to keep the food so that I can survive the next potential starvation.
Breakfast at Mountain View Resort

I had more itchy bites on my arms and legs now. I thought they were just mosquito bites because I wasn't looking out for bite patterns. Also, the room was very clean so did not think there might have been a bed bug colony there.

The Caucasian couple who were supposed to depart at 9am only arrived at the restaurant at 9am. And there was no driver waiting for them. The guy was rather angry but he wasn't rude. He asked for help to call a taxi to take them to the town area nearby. A lady who worked there made some phone calls. She said the taxi company didn't pick up the phone but her friend can drive them there one-way for Rp300,000 or they could book the car for the whole day for about Rp550,000. He said it was too expensive, Rp300,000 for a 10-minute drive was way too much and he wanted a normal taxi instead and then find their way to the places of interest by hailing taxis off the road. He said that he had arranged with the manager for a car to be here at 9am but nobody showed up. The lady managed to get a taxi for him after trying again.

I thought the resort manager had made a phone call the night before to arrange for a driver. He didn't explain or speak with the Caucasian couple at all and he most certainly didn't take any pictures with them. Instead, he came to join me while I had breakfast.

I asked him about the morning prayers and why the driver didn't show up. He said that the morning prayers are Christian prayers. They have it every Sunday 5 times throughout the day. As for the driver, most people go to church on Sundays so with 95% of the population being Christian, there aren't many drivers who would want to work on Sundays.

The taxi arrived and the couple headed for it. I mentioned to the lady that they might have problems getting a taxi off the street. I suppose they would find their way somehow. The people here are friendly and helpful. But one could be spending lots of time waiting (in vain).

Many people have asked me, "Where's your bag?" The immigration officer asked me that among many other questions. He couldn't believe I only brought a haversack.
That was all I brought

I left the resort at 11.30am. The manager said we could do a stopover at Waruga burial complex where I could see ancient stone tombs. Waruga is the grave or tomb of the ancestors of Minahasa, Indonesia.

He bought me some local food, such as tempeh and tahu . The tempeh is a different from the Malay ones in Singapore. It is thin and has very few nuts. The tahu is like fried tauhu with a vegetable/noodle filling.
Petrol station
Woman selling snacks at petrol station. There were other people selling snacks too
Opak snack with chocolate sauce

On our way, a saw a Hello Kitty microlet but I wasn't in time to take a picture. I was rather amused by it.

As soon as we arrived, a caretaker greeted us and opened the gate to the burial complex. He was our guide. He can speak Indonesian and English.
Waruga burial complex
Wall carving
All the grave face the North

The graves here all face the north. Some are broken because they were transported from elsewhere to this place. Some are tall and some are small. The small ones were for children. The carvings show the burial position of man (left) vs woman (right).
The carvings show the burial position of man (left) vs woman (right)

It's interesting that the burial method enables the bones to be reduced to ashes.
Bones are reduced to ashes
Only ashes were left

The lines on the stones indicate the number of people who were buried here - but they were buried at different times, not all squeezed in at the same time.
4 people were buried here
3 people were buried here

The carvings on the stone usually portray the person/family's occupation or ethnic group.
Occupation: midwife
This is a very tall one. He was the head of the village
Spanish - you can see the custom
Family name may be carved on the stone
Family name may be carved on the stone

There's a small museum where some artifacts are kept. The bracelets are rather big so he said the people in those days were probably big too.
Man's necklace
Man's necklace
Woman's necklace
Wine bottle

After the tour, a donation of any amount for upkeep of the place was requested. I saw that the tourists usually give Rp100,000 (USD10) - which I found to be too much. I'm not sure how much work is needed to upkeep the place?? So I gave Rp50,000 for donation and Rp10,000 as tips to the caretaker.

It was a rather long drive to Tangkoko Dove Villas. The Mountain View resort manager called the owner of Tangkoko Dove Villas to ask for directions and to make an appointment for a business discussion. But when we arrived at 3pm the owner was nowhere to be found and the staff weren't expecting us at all. I had requested by email to the owner for a renovated room but the staff didn't know anything about it. They said they could show me the room. They showed me one but it didn't look renovated at all. It had 2 single beds - which would have been fine. They then offered to show me another room that they had not completed cleaning yet. Now, that was a renovated room.
Tangkoko Dove Villas
Renovated room
The cottage is by a little stream
View from my veranda
Bathroom with real rain bath. There is no heated water. The size of the towel is half the normal towel size
Friendly pitbull that followed us to inspect the rooms
Bored pitbull
It wanted to lick my face. I smelled like a dog after that
Pisang Goreng
We were served pisang goreng (fried bananas) and saho wine. The alcohol content was not high and it did not burn my throat. They wine is brewed using traditional equipment but they poured it into a bottle that previously contained Scottish liquor.

I had planned to go to Tangkoko Nature Reserve for the evening hike but it was raining. A guide there said that it would be hard to find any guide at the reserve who would be willing to take us on the hike in this weather. He said the rain should clear in the morning and he assured me that I'll be able to see the Tarsier monkey in the morning before it goes to sleep (it's a nocturnal animal).

At 5pm, the owner still had not returned. I excused myself to take a shower to get rid of the dog scent and there was no hope of the intermittent rain stopping permanently for now. By 6pm, the place was totally dark and the electricity wasn't working. When returned to the common eating area using light from my handphone, the manager of Mountain View resort was still waiting there alone in the dark. He asked me how I was going to survive here with no TV. There's also no cell signal and no electricity now. I said I have movies on my ipad and it's good to experience living like this - but just for a day. He said he might stay at the Villas overnight because it was raining and he'd had too to drink.

The owner, Oudy, finally returned at 6pm. I could smell the food from the kitchen so I figured dinner would be served soon. At about 7pm the generator got fixed and the lights were turned on and dinner was served. I thought I would be sharing the food with other guests but, no, all these were for me! What a spread!
Rp70,000 dinner - before

There was fried tuna fillet, fried vegetable fritters, gado-gado (salad with peanut sauce), mackerel, chicken, rice and noodles with soup. I can't believe I finished all the meat! I read reviews about the food here and I thought the people were just being polite when they sang praises of the food. But now that I'd tasted it myself, I'll have to say that the flavour of the food is beyond words. Also, Rp70,000 is cheap for this quality and portion. The owner's wife, Evi, has a culinary certification. She oversees the preparation of the food.

After dinner, a guide by the name of Jun asked me about my preference for the morning hike. He said I should have my breakfast at 4am and leave the villa at 4.30am. I can choose between a 3-hour hike for Rp85,000 or a 5-hour hike for Rp250,000. One might get to see more types of animals on the longer hike. He said that normally for individual tours, I would have to pay Rp280,000 but because another 4 guests staying at the villa (they were in the dining area too) were going for the 5-hour hike I would only need to pay Rp250,000.

However, my flight was at 1.50pm and the time taken to get to the airport is about 2 hours so it would be best for me to leave at 10am. If I take the 5-hour hike, I might not be in time. Knowing how flexible time can be here and to give allowance for a no-show from the driver, I didn't want to take the risk. Besides, I don't know how one arrives at the price significantly higher price for the long hike. Jun said that's also a charge of Rp30,000 for "kamara". I thought it was the entrance ticket to another place. I asked him what it was and he said chic-chic along with the action for a camera. I'm not making fun of him. I am sure I have a weird accent, mispronounce Indonesian words and have terrible grammar when I speak Indonesian. I'm just writing it here so that you can understand what they're saying if you happen to go there. Jun said that he would arrange for his friend to be my guide because he would be on the longer hike. He assured me that everything will be planned and I will surely get to see at least the Tasier monkey.

Before going to back to my room, Oudy asked me whether it was ok with me if the Mountain View resort manager joined me for the hike and then he would drive me to the airport after hike. Of course, that was fine for me.

During dinner, it rained very heavy. The rain stopped for a minute so I quickly made my way back to my cottage. Shortly after that, the rain poured down again. It would have been a perfect time to take a real rain bath if I had the guts. It very cold and I was glad to be in bed in my long sleeved shirt, long pants and covered with a thin piece of cloth which was provided as a blanket. I had my small tub of Vicks and my handphone beside me on the bed. I fell asleep at about 9pm.

I woke up at about 2pm because of the itchy bites. I applied Vicks. I wanted to go to the bathroom but I could not the handle of the bathroom door. It was pitch dark. I had read online that electricity is turned off at 10pm so fortunately I had the light from my handphone to bring with me to the bathroom. It occurred to me that I should not look up into the trees above. Have you heard of the Pontianak? I was glad I did not watch any horror movies lately. Some people might find it scary to stay here alone. I could hear were some nocturnal birds flying around and chirping.

Day 6: Tangkoko Nature Reserve
I could not get back to sleep and soon enough it was 3.45am. The electricity was turned on and it was time to get ready for the hike. I thought breakfast would be served at 4am but when I looked out at the eating area from my cottage, I did not see anyone there. At 4.20am, one of the staff knocked at the door of my cottage to tell me it was about time to depart. Although I was well-covered in clothes from neck to feet, I doused myself with insect repellent. I didn't get any new bites overnight but the ones I got the previous 2 nights were more than enough to last a lifetime.

There still was nobody at the eating area and there wasn't any food there. I asked for some bread but there wasn't any. Evi woke up and offered me some bananas instead. That was fine. I only needed a small bite.

I asked Evi whether the other guests had gone to the forest already. She said that none of them were going. I asked about the Mountain View resort manager who was supposed to go with me. So she asked her employee to go wake up him. The employee returned shortly and said that he was coming soon. However, after waiting for 20 mins, he walked up slowly to the eating area. I said he should grab a banana and we had to leave immediately otherwise the Tarsier monkeys would have gone to bed already. After a few indecisive ers and ahs, he said he thinks he should not go because he did not have proper shoes (he was wearing slippers). He should have said so 20 mins ago!

I was promptly driven by the employee to the Tangkoko Nature Reserve - which was only 5 mins away. Jun was waiting for me alone in the dark at the park entrance. He said other groups of people had gone in already. He said he would be my guide because his friend was not available (at the end of the hike he revealed that his friend had drank too much the previous night so he didn't want to work this morning).

Jun passed me a torch and asked me to walk behind him in the moonlight. The crescent moon was still up in the sky. The sun had not risen yet. It started getting bright at 5am and I no longer needed to use the torch. Almost all signs of the previous night's torrential rain had been erased by the tall, thirsty trees. Except for several big puddles, the ground was firm and suitable for walking on.

There was some amount of up-slope trekking and I wondered how the Resort manager would have coped if he had come. It was a brisk walk - definitely not a stroll. We soon reached one "tourist tree". That's where tourists are taken to to catch a glimpse of the Tarsier monkeys. They tend to sleep in these type of trees because the crevices offer a good shield from the sun. It is very dark inside. The Tarsiers always return to the same tree, changing trees only occasionally.
A tourist tree

We saw a guide with 3 tourists at the tree. They said they could not find any Tarsiers in it and were waiting there for the Tarsiers to return. Jun spent no time there but walked on to the next tree. There was no money there either so we walked on to the next tree in which there were 2 of them.

Tarsier monkey

It is difficult to photograph them because of the low-light conditions. I could not get a decent shot of them myself. The other 3 tourists (2 women and 1 man, Caucasians) arrived at this tourist tree and lured one of the monkeys out with a grasshopper so that it would be easier to take photos. One of the tourist asked whether the grasshopper was a walking leaf. I didn't hear the guide give any answer to that and nobody laughed. The Tarsiers were very quick when they hunt the grasshoppers. They jump, grab and go. I think everyone, including me, was too occupied with looking at and photographing the Tarsiers. One guy had a huge camera complete with fancy lenses. He said he found the lack of lighting a problem too. The 2 guides helped me by advising me where to point my camera to take pictures and videos.

The other guide offered to help me take some pictures. He seemed to have turned on the flash. One of the tourists scolded him about it because it might hurt the sensitive eyes of the money but he insisted that it was ok. She asked whether he meant it was ok because this monkey is already blind. I didn't say anything except "thank you" to their guide. The pictures that he took were very good. The monkeys are much cuter in real life! They remind me of the furry, cute animal in the movie The Gremlins.

We waited at that tree for the next group to arrive. The guides do that to share their findings with other groups. My arm was getting itchy. It was time for Vicks again. The other tourists were shocked to see those bites.

The next group of tourists consisted of 3 Caucasian women over 50 years old. They said they braved the rain the previous evening and managed to get some good pictures of the Tarsiers.

My guide led me on to find the next species of animals. He spotted one Macaca Nigra monkey high up in a tree. They are also known as the Crested Macaque. I wouldn't have seen it if he didn't point it out to me. He said they were eating. They live in groups and the largest one is the leader. They would stay in the trees until the leader gives the signal to come down. We would wait for them to come down.
Macaca Nigra

Jun didn't tell me what I should or shouldn't do in the presense of the monkeys. Perhaps he thought it was common sense. This sign at the park entrance explains it. I've had many encounters with monkeys of a different species at MacRitchie reservoir in Singapore so the guidelines aren't new to me. I had also read up about the monkeys before the trip.
This picture is at the park entrance. I took it after the hike

The monkeys were eating for quite some time. While waiting for them to come down, Jun said that the hornbill is here. I asked how he knew and he asked, "Didn't you hear it?" I felt silly but in the interest of my own education I had to say, "I don't know what it sounds like. What does it sound like?"

Then we heard a woo-woo-woo-woo, something that sounded like the wind. That was the sound of the hornbill flying. He pointed out a nest in the tree to me. He said it would be going to its nest.

Hornbill feeding its chick at its nest

The hornbill was at its nest for several minutes then it flew off in search of more food.

In the meantime, the monkey had come down to the ground already. We followed them. They didn't like us following them and they kept walking on.
This monkey is the leader. It did not look happy

It turned out that I was being overly sensitive. The monkeys were not trying to get away from me but from another group of monkeys. They are territorial and try to avoid conflicts with other groups. This other group had more monkeys and they appears comfortable with human beings.
2nd group

We had spent about 2.5 hours in the forest. Jun showed me some bats inhabiting a tree with hollow trunks. Jun said that I was very lucky to be able to see 2 groups of monkeys and the hornbills in such a short time. Sometimes people walk for a long time but do not encounter them. Of course, I replied that it's because I have a good guide. It's true. I wouldn't have been able to spot them myself.
Gosh I am small

It was time to head back. On our walk back to the park entrance, we saw Maleo on the ground. They are like small chicken. They dig holes to lay and bury their eggs in the ground. They disappeared into the forest rather quickly and I thought the tour had already ended so I was not in time to take their photos.

I paid for the guide (Rp85,000), the park entrance fee (Rp15,000) and the camera fee (Rp30,000) in the "locket". The guy here would then pay the guide. It wasn't open when I got here at 4.50am, obviously.
Tangkoko Nature Reserve park entrance
Pay here

It was a fantastic hike! I saw Tarsiers, Hornbill, Macaca Nigra, Bats and Maleo without having to tan gu gu :P Fortunately for me, Tangkoko did not live up to its name!

Jun called the villas to ask for transportation back there for me. Thankfully, he managed to contact them somehow. (I thought there was no cell signal there but perhaps there was no signal because of the blackout).

Across the road from the park entrance was a house. 2 women were in the river while pigs walked around. One woman took a dip while the other washed clothes. I suppose a number of the pigs would be gone by Christmas.
Women washing clothes
I had a shower and then breakfast. Pancakes with palm sugar were served. The sugar was wonderful. The flies thought so too. For avoidance of doubt, this place wasn't dirty at all. There are flies here because it's just normal for flies to exist here in the forest.

This here might happen slowly but plans can change fast. The Mountain View resort manager had gotten himself 2 new guests. 2 guests who stayed at Tangkoko Dove Villas were going to stay at this resort that night. I was told that he would drive us all out from the Villas and drop me off at the airport first (because it's along the way). Seeing that they were ready to leave, I quickly finished my coffee and went back to my room to get my bag.

When I returned in 5 mins, the 2 guests were already gone. Within those 5 mins, a driver was arranged to take them directly to the Mountain View resort using the manager's car and another driver to take me to the airport, while the manager stayed at here. I cannot imagine how anyone can tolerate not changing clothes (and I think not brushing teeth either) for that many hours at a go.

The journey to the airport was surprisingly quick: 1 hr 15 mins. I was hoping to see the Hello Kitty microlet again and I did! I asked the driver to slow down but it took him a while to understand what I wanted. To him, it was just another microlet. He said, "that's a microlet". I said, "It's a Hello Kitty microlet." He didn't seem impressed. Perhaps he does not know what Hello Kitty is. I wondered whether the owner of that microlet worked at all or did he work on his Hello Kitty decals all day?
Along the road to the airport

I was happy to that there was free wifi at the airport - not that I had anything important to do. It was nice to be "back to civilisation" with cellphone reception and the internet. One day of living in an ulu place, no matter how nice, was enough for now. The annoying thing though at the airport was that the people were smoking in non-smoking areas. The staff at the foot reflexology outlet were smoking too. The toilets floors were wet and a woman in the next cubicle accidentally sprayed water into my cubicle from under the partition. Yucks. I'm not sure whether this sort of civilisation is any better than rural living.
The stained glass at the airport reminds me of a church
Immigration is just at the gate

Upon examining the bites when I got home and checking the internet, I was more convinced that they were bed bug bites. Their bites in a somewhat straight line but with a little bit of a zig-zag pattern of about 6 bites. There can also be random bites or a small group of bites. I also showed the pictures to my sisters and showed the bites to my dad. My dad confirmed that they were bed bug bites for sure.

Do note that bed bugs can sometimes be found even in 5-star hotels. They are usually brought by tourists. Washing the sheets will not eliminate them. They multiply very quickly and can be hard to detect. Their bites are often mistaken for other insect bites. Most doctors would not would not even know whether it's a bed bug bite by looking at it. In fact, many doctors in Singapore have never seen bed bug bites in their life.

I informed the Cakalang Resort owner, Julie, and Mountain View Resort manager about the bed bugs. Julie was very grateful that I informed her about it and said she would take care of the problem. The manager of the other resort, however, said that he noticed that my health was "impaired" when I came from Bunaken Island. I know that different people would have different reaction to insect bites but bed bugs are bed bugs. You have to take care of the problem because it gets exponentially worse. It's possible that I brought the bed bugs from Cakalang to Mountain View Resort, they multiplied and bit me even more; or my room at Mountain View Resort had its own colony of bed bugs. I did not get any new bites at Tangkoko Dove Villas so I was hoping that I didn't bring any bed bugs home.

I felt truly touched by nature - more ways than I would have liked. Bunaken Island is a paradise for divers and snorkelers, the Minahasa highlands is literally cool for people who love mountains and lake, the Waruga burial complex is interesting for people who are interested in ancient burials and Tangkoko Nature Reserve is great for observing wild animals and birds.

I enjoyed this trip thoroughly and would recommend North Sulawesi to anyone who likes nature and does not mind enduring the heat, the cold, the dark, the hunger, uncertainty, tardiness, stings, bites, solitude, noisy geckos and neighbours.

Airport-Hotel Transfer 100,000 = SGD12
Boat to Bunaken 50,000 = SGD6
Cakalang Resort 380,000 x 3 = SGD132
2x dive a day is 59 EUR x 2 days = EUR118
Bunaken Marine Park fee Rp150,000
Boat to Manado 8am 50,000 = SGD6
Drinks 10,000
Mountain View Resort and Resto IDR 304,750 = SGD36
Lunch 25,000
Dinner 25,000
Transport from jetty to resort 150,000
Transport to Lake Linow 150,000
Transport from resort to Tangkoko 250,000
Snacks 5,000
Tangkoko Dove Villas Rp 300,000 = SGD34
Tour 85,000 SGD8
Entrance Ticket 15,000
Camera Fee 30,000
Dinner is 70,000 SGD8
Transport to airport Rp300,000 = SGD34

Airport Tax 100,000 SGD12
Return airfare SGD148

Total: Rp 3,309,750 + EUR118 + SGD148= SGD390 + SGD201 + SGD148 = SGD739

Exchange rate SGD to Rp: 8,850
Exchange rate SGD to EUR: 1.7

Reference: Bitung to Tomohon by public bus


Reader said...

Admire your courage in travelling alone and dealing with those dogs.
Aren't you worried at all when you travel alone with the resort Manager and also trek alone with the guide?

Like the fact that you travel light with only a haversack on your back. Wonder how many sets of clothes did you bring along?

Find that the picture of the Pillion Rider holding wheelbarrow and the descriptions of the burial ground interesting. Yeah, the adorable Tarsier monkey looks a bit like Gremlins, especially its huge eyes.

David said...


You are indeed a minimalist packer. Only a haversack, leaves me impressed. Also explains the repeated seeing of the same outfit. No one will accuse you of being a travel fashionista.

The least I travel with is a 46L backpack, and for longer trips an equal sized duffel.

You seem quite approachable, as noted by the many resort operators who spent time with you. Likely some were trying to flirt with a lovely single traveler.

Bugs, bedbugs can ruin a trip. We have encountered bed-bugs once, and sent the popular hotel chain a strongly worded note.

Interesting that some resorts have only part-time electricity available.

You appeared to have found the better places for lunch and dinner. However it appears that you had to make than an effort.

The photos of the monkeys are quite good. Wildlife is always a chance for the shot. That is why dedicated wildlife photogs spend so much time in a wildlife preserves waiting for that money shot.

Great posts, many fantastic photos, and very interesting parts of the world not heard of much on this side of the Pacific.


w22 said...

Bed bugs are indeed a very bad experience. In my case, I have encountered an averse allergic reaction to the bites which made it worse for me, for close to 2 months (although some medication from doctors helped). I thought the bites were growing on me, imagine my horror!!

David said...

Yu-Kym, Since you demonstrate sensitivity to insect bites, have you seen an allergy specialist? I mention that because once an individual has an adverse reaction to insect bites, you are at high risk for greater and more dangerous reactions to insect bites in the future.

Anaphylaxsis is a real life threatening danger. My wife and I have allergies that we have been tested for. I am currently receiving allergy antigen shots that I hope will reduce and perhaps eliminate my allergy sensitivities. While this is going on I carry an ephenephrine injection, aka EPI pen. EPI pens are easy to use single dose injections that in case of a severe allergic reaction gives a person enough time to get to get to a hospital that can deliver emergency medical care, not a clinic or doctors office which are not equiped for medical emergencies.

EPI pens are small, light and easily carried in a purse of haversack.

Stay safe!


Yu-Kym said...

The owner of the resort knew that the manager was driving me for the tour. I talked to him and he saw us leaving. As for the trek, I also spoke with the owner of Tangkoko Dove Villas about the trek. Jun is one of their regular guides there. I find North Sulawesi safe for tourists. The people here are friendly and they don't seem to overcharge tourists.

I thought the bites were growing on me too! I had 2 rows of bites like a dotted lines around my ankle. Now some of those bites (on the same spots) have erupted again, as though the poison is trying to get out.

Sad to say, the so-called specialists in Singapore don't know how to handle certain types of bites. Steroidal cream (of varying strengths) have been able to fix my skin allergies.

David said...


"Steroidal cream (of varying strengths) have been able to fix my skin allergies."

That steroidal cream treated the symptoms of your allergy.

Treating of allergies requires a comprehensive skin test. Done on your back, typically an individual is tested for up to 56-64 environmental allergens.

The bites that caused you discomfort is just an indication you have unknown allergies.

There is a danger with insect bite related allergies.

If you are ever stung by a bee, wasp, hornet or some other type of insect you might start into a anaphylatic shock. Such a reaction is life threatening and can cause death in less than an hour.

A Ephenephrine injecor, aka EPI pen, is used for emergency treatment on the scene and is self administered.

The EPI shot buys anaphylaxis victim time to get to a proper emergency hospital for follow on treatment.

Just concerned you under estimate the danger of insect bite allergies.