Thursday 14 August 2014

Welcome to Dryland!

No, it's not Dryland from the bad movie, it's the 'dry' country Brunei. This means: strictly NO alcohol in restaurants, shops, hotels or somewhere else in the country! (therefore 'dry' but it still rains!)

With the afternoon flight, we left Bali and arrived in Makassar on Sulawesi in the evening, and leaving the airport feels like being a rock-star! As soon as you get out of the arrival hall, there is a rumour and noise as if someone important is around, but after a few seconds you notice, that it's the taxi drivers calling for you to take their taxi! They are all lined up in small stalls and everyone wants to sell you the ticket to get to the city centre.... It's not a long ride and we were glad that we found a very nice hotel in the centre.

Makassar harbour front
Makassar itself has not too many things to visit; there is a colonial fort which includes a museum as well; the harbour area is quite pretty and there is some parks, but all in all nothing spectacular during the day, but for dinner, they have some interesting stalls where you choose your fresh fish which is served with rice (as usual) and with some very tasty sauces! Good and not expensive! But since we wanted to reach the Togean Islands, we had to leave early to make it to our morning flight to Poso (with Wings Air) which is a very small airport in the centre of Sulawesi. Once landed, we tried to find a car to the city or direct to Ampana, but there was just one guy offering transport from Poso "airport" so he could make the prices! Luckily, there was a French couple which had the same plan so we could share the (overpriced) ride to Ampana. The road is very curvy all the way, so it took us about 5 hours to finally reach Ampana (including 45 minutes to change a flat tire) where we had to stay one night to get to the ferry next morning. Ampana is nothing special but the hotel we stayed was reasonably good and we noticed, that we were not the only one having the same plan to "sit out" the end of ramadan (Idul Fitri) on the islands. Together with quite some other tourists we left on a fairly overloaded ferry the port of Ampana. According to the information we had, we should arrive in Malenge around 18.00 in the evening; but nobody told us that there is a slower ferry and a faster ferry (actually, they told us that the faster one is already full) so it took us about 11 hours to arrive in Malenge (at 20.00). And since it was dark and late, no resort was there with a boat to pick us up; so we could have stayed at a losemen (a homestay) but we were lucky that another couple had booked a resort and they were able to organize a small (very small) boat which took us to the Sifa Cottages resort. So we took the opportunity and hopped on and drove through the dark night for one hour to finally arrive there. One very interesting thing was, that there is plankton in the water that starts to shine as soon as it moves, so it looked pretty amazing on the dark boat with the glowing points in the water and finally, around 22.00 we arrived in the resort.

Boat on the river
Loading the Ferry
Our ressort
The cottages are located on a lone beach on an island and there is not much options to do. You can do snorkelling / diving, you can relax at the beach and you can read books but not much more. The cottages are pretty basic as well (bamboo cottages, 1 bed, 1 mosquito net) but sufficient and there is full board (you get a LOT of grilled fish every day! So after a while you get really keen on something differently!), so you get up, eat breakfast, go to the beach, have lunch, go back to the beach, wait for dinner, have dinner and a beer and finally go to bed :-) . So this is how we spent an entire week on this small isolated island; To be fair, one has to say that during the two days of Idul fitri, there is no ferry at all and therefore, you can not leave the islands... The stay was nice but after we left the island, we noticed that somebody must have gotten into our room because we were missing about 100 USD ... :-(

Our Beach
Our View

Our Sunset

As we left, we took the morning ferry which crosses to the northern part of Sulawesi, where we had to change for a Bemo (a local bus). Normally, there is quite a few people offering taxi services to Gorontola, but this time, all cars were already full (all locals travel around end of ramadan) so we had to squeeze in with some others in a blue Bemo. The 5 hour ride to Gorontola was ok and we were lucky to get a room in a hotel in the centre. Gorontola is not very nice (at least not the parts we have seen) so we did not bother to stay long there but rather left next morning. Unfortunately, the "taxi" service that we booked the evening before had some difficulties to find enough cars so we had to wait about 3 hours until we could leave Gorontola, squeezed 6 people into a small car (and what a surprise: all travellers do have luggage! The taxi drivers always looked very surprised) and the ride takes about 10 hours to get there... but finally, we arrived in Manado, in the very north of Sulawesi.

So what can you do in Manado? Well, there is another island (Pulau Bunaken) which is known for it diving and snorkelling activities, but in Manado itself, there is not much to see or to do. But since we had to relax one day, after the 2 days of travelling, we stayed two nights before we took the public boat crossing to Bunaken. The annoying thing in Manado is the fact, that people stare at you all the time and lot's of people are calling "hey Mister, where do you go" so you feel quite exposed there...

Pulau Bunaken is small and we could stay in a lovely resort for 3 nights, doing the same as on Togian islands (snorkelling, reading, eating, enjoying the sun) and after this, we had our last inland flight back to Bali (always good for a beer for sunset!) before we left Indonesia with the Royal Brunei Airline.

Beer time in Bali
Once we landed in Brunei, we had a look at the capital (Bandar Seri Begawan, BSB) and we noticed, that there will be the birthday celebration of the Sultan in just 2 days time. So we decided to stay a little bit longer in Brunei than expected. In BSB everything was getting ready for the birthday celebration (his 68 birthday was during ramadan, so he postponed the celebration) so they put up all the flags and lights and it's impossible not to notice that he is the king of this land. There is just a few sights in BSB itself, one is the "water village" which are built in the river and about 30'000 people live there, another one is the huge mosque in the centre of town which you can visit as well, but you have to put up an appropriate dress...
We furthermore booked a day trip to the rain forest where we could see some monkeys and some horn bills and we even got a free "fish spa treatement" at a waterfall in the forest...

Visiting the main mosque in BSB

Main mosque in BSB

Main mosque in BSB

Visiting the main mosque in BSB

And today, the celebration of the sultan's 68th birthday took place, so there was a lot of police around (mostly guarding the cars of the important people). It was actually smaller than we expected, they basically drove to the stadium in the city, had a military parade including helicopters and after one hour, the sultan left again (he's the last to arrive but the first to leave :-) ) and then it was all over :-)

So tomorrow, we drive further north to Malaysia and see what happens there!

BSB mosque

BSB mosque

Bush walk in BSB

View in BSB

the sultan himself

BSB stadion for sultan's birthday

Standing in the fish spa

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thankx for your update! Greetings from Switzerland. Cheers Beat