This is a travel blog for desktop travelers and other ramblers who want to know the world just a little bit better.

Right now I am living in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where I'll be settled for a while. Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Closer to Paradise - Togean Islands

Having had our fill of animal sacrifices, we decide to head to the Togean Islands for some serious snorkeling. This seems to be a common route for travelers, but it is definitely not easy. First a 14 hour bus and then sleep at a grungy hotel in a one horse town. The next morning is a 5 hour minivan ride to sleep in another small transit town to catch a 5 hour ferry to Togean Islands the next day. It does not matter if you are traveling by local transportation, car, tour bus or by private jet when possible. Long trips are inevitable in Sulawesi.

Changing a tire during a bus trip in the developing world is such a cliche
Togean is an archipelago nestled in the Maluka Sea. Because of it’s location the water is famously calm which is perfect for snorkellers and divers. The ferry takes us to Wakai village. Several islands in Togean have hotels and dive shops, but the boats between them are not daily and chartering a private boat is expensive.

View Larger Map
Therefore, our first stop is at Kadidiri which is easily accessible from the village. Kadidiri has three separate hotels squished together on a small beach. All of the hotel prices include all three meals because tourists have no other options for finding food. Our choice is the most basic place with an outhouse, mandi (tub of water you pour over yourself with a cup) and terrible food - a piece of cake for breakfast and then fish, rice, vegetable x2, repeat daily. This must be the only tropical island in the world without fruit. But they do make up for their other deficiencies by giving us free snorkel trips and gear (sort of gear) when the more posh places charge their guests for the same.

View from beach of our hotel
Our first snorkel trip is smack in the middle of the sea. The water is so clear and blue. There is not so many fish, but the large swathes of coral are vibrant and the visibility here is phenomenal. Another trip takes us to an uninhabited beach with decent snorkeling out 100 yards. But actually we find the best snorkeling around Kadidiri to be right off of the beach near the hotels. Just a few meters from the shore the reefs are teeming with life and color. Butterfly fish, fox face fish, parrot fish, to name a few. Mika sees two lionfish while I get hissed at by a black and white moray eel. All just a few steps and swim strokes from our cabana.

Our next island is Malenge which has two hotels. The first hotel is a bit strange. They have a tiny beach and a large patch of grass. There is also an old Bajo (Sea Gypsy) cemetery on the property. There does not seem to be good snorkeling here and we actually do not try. It is near two Bajo villages, and we can easily imagine that all of their waste gets plopped into the water while all of the fish get plucked out of the water. The Bajo fish in the water with goggles and a handmade spear gun. So we spend the day visiting the Sea Gypsy village and losing trails in the jungle. We spend our first evening reading in hammocks, watching the Bajo play volleyball in the hotel grass and then leaving the hotel before dinner because Mika catches a peeping tom Sea Gypsy while in the mandi. The owner is irate (at having a peeping tom or losing a customer?) and sends all the volleyball playing Sea Gypsies back to their village. Word on the street is that this is not a one-time occurrence. Hopefully the owner will finally take care of the peep holes.

Bajo village
Our final spot is at an isolated beach on the other side of Malenge. It is a picturesque spot with just five simple cottages on a small beach away from any village which keeps garbage to a minimum. There is good snorkeling right off our beach. There is no electricity and no running water. We are the only guests. We are the Howells while Skipper and Gilligan tend to our basic needs. Neither of us have a book to read and without internet or TV either our daily schedule is something like this:

7:00 AM: Wake up

8:00 AM: Coffee and cake = “Indonesian breakfast”

9:00 AM: Snorkel

11:00 AM: Second coffee

12:00 PM: Lunch

12:45 PM: Attempt to climb coconut tree

1:00 PM: Ask hotel guy to climb coconut tree; Drink fresh coconut

1:45 PM: Trek in jungle

3:00 PM: Snorkel

5:00 PM: Pretend to bathe by throwing some fresh water over our heads

6:00 PM: Torment hermit crabs

7:00 PM: Dinner

7:45 PM: Look at the stars

9:00 PM: Sleep

and Pro

The sea here is beautiful too, blue and calm. Having daily views of tropical fish is intoxicating. There are more species of larger fish here than in Kadidiri. One morning we see a group of seventeen large parrotfish grazing on the ocean floor. Through the ocean I can hear them munching.

The coral in Togeans is in much better shape than of what we have seen in other parts of South East Asia, but it is dying as well. Dynamite fishing is illegal, yet is still practiced. The population of a type of coral eating starfish is exploding in the region. Incidentally, this starfish is the meal of choice for the Napoleon fish whixh has almost been fished to extinction because of the money they fetch from Hong Kong restaurants.

Our close encounter with a family of large parrotfish* (see comment below)
There is also no ATM at the Togean Islands and our cash is getting thin. So we plan to catch the Sunday ferry north to the mainland. Infrequent boat schedules means that we must leave Malenge at 6 AM to take a 2 ½ hr. public boat ride to Wakai to wait 7 hours for the 13 hour ferry to Gorontalo. Did I mention that long trips are inevitable in Sulawesi?

Some kids in Wakai village

Economy Class: Grab a chair or some floor space, no extra charge for luggage


  1. They are Bumphead Parrot fish in the photo eating the corals not Napolean Wrasse which is a much more of a loner on the reef

  2. Thanks for the comment and for clearing that up! I just made an uneducated guess from flipping through a fish book and maybe the hopes of seeing a family of the prized fish. Thanks again!