No Longer a Sulawesi Virgin

Surrounded by mountains of tissue while writing this, I’ve been blowing my runny nose for the past eight hours now… thanks to the cold that I contracted right after I got back from my trip to North Sulawesi (Greater Manado Area and Bunaken Island).

The trip itself was really fun, definitely exceeding my expectations! As you can probably guess from the title, that was my first time stepping my foot on Sulawesi. I was there for six days with a good friend of mine Indira. It was her second time in the island, but the first time in the province of North Sulawesi.

Compared to Jakarta, Manado is really different. Personally, I can’t see myself living in such a small town (to be fair, it’s probably not small by Indonesian standard) but Manado definitely has its own charms, especially in terms of  interpersonal relationships. I get the impression that people there are very much friendly and helpful to strangers; a family even let my friends and I come inside their house and use their bathroom when we were stuck in the traffic.

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A section of this traditional market is known as “pasar ekstrim” (extreme market), as there are quite unusual meats being sold there. During my visit, I saw dog, bat, and rat meats!
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Unfortunately the weather was quite gloomy pretty much every day due to the rainy season. The heavy rain on our last day caused several trees to fall down and block the street. Because of this, I almost missed my flight. Luckily, it got delayed and even then, I boarded the plane literally two minutes before it took off!

People in Manado also seem to highly value kinship. I saw a couple of nicely decorated villages (desa) which was apparently part of the national desa decorating competition. Most places I went were decked out with lots of Christmas decorations too. Our guide Joy mentioned that celebrations are very big there–birthdays, weddings, Christmas (majority of the people there are Christian, despite the fact that Indonesia is predominantly Muslim), and any other big religious holidays–during which extended families and friends often gather and celebrate together.

I was also told that locals find weddings especially more fun because it’s the time when people can do gambling and cockfighting; usually, the two are illegal. I find it really sweet that the winners usually give the money they earn to the newlyweds. During this time too, guests often find themselves drinking lots of cap tikus, local liquor made of palm extract, which a lot of people I met during my travel seem to love.

Aside from learning more about its culture (though really, more like scratching the surface) I also got the chance to explore a bit of the natural beauty of North Sulawesi: I did diving in Bunaken Island as well as rafting along the Nimanga River on my last day there.

It was the first diving session that I did after I got my open water certification, and I was so nervous in the beginning. My breathing was quite a mess during my first dive, making me unable to stay underwater for too long. It got better and more enjoyable after each dive, though, and by the time I finished my fifth and last dive I wish that I had more! The corals were beautiful, it was my first time doing wall dive and the huuuge span of the coral walls was quite breathtaking! I saw lots of colorful fishes and other marine organisms, too.

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Indira practicing her juggling skills after we finished our last dive.

Staying in the dive resort (Two Fish Divers, highly recommended!) was a great experience. It’s always nice to meet cool travelers along the way and learn about their stories: Where are you from? What brings you here? How did you get into diving? I didn’t expect myself and Indira to be the only domestic tourists there; the remaining guests were from China, Switzerland, Germany, England, and United States, to name a few. Some of them have been coming back to Indonesia for more than ten years, and it’s obvious that Indonesia (and especially its underwater scenery) has a special place in their hearts.

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Breakfast of champions! Pictured here are banana fritters (goroho and capatu), tinutuan, and sambel roa. The street along Malalayang Beach is filled with delicious food vendors.
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Moar yummy food; this time it’s seafood! All of the dishes above are spicy and they taste really good. My favorite, however, doesn’t contain any seafood; it’s the spiced eggplant and scrambled eggs (bottom left).

Overall, it was definitely an enjoyable trip. I got the chance to meet and talk with new people, learn more about yet another region of my home country, eat lots of cheap delicious food, and also do really fun outdoor activities–how much better can it be?

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