Tom's Travel Blog

Independent travel around Eastern Europe, East Asia and beoyond

Indonesia Part 2 – A Togean task

by tom on 04/05/2020

This is the third of 3 posts. See the Indonesia Part 2 – Introduction section for more information.


When I woke up on Wednesday morning, I decided that I was going to go to Samarinda, as from what the guide book was saying, transport beyond Long Bagun got expensive, and I’d already spent quite a lot of time and money getting to Long Bagun, and was eager to start the next stage of my trip, possibly to West Papua and Ambon. I was also feeling drained from the epic 2-3 day journey it had taken to get there, and decided that it was time to head back.

I got to the ferry terminal at 7am and asked the people there for the boat to the kapal, in the direction of Samarinda. One speedboat driver agreed to take me, but we had to wait for the boat to fill up, which involved hanging around with the speedboat drivers and other passengers, until there were enough people to go. The speedboat driver took me as far as the nearest kapal, which was docked on the side of the river, and didn’t look like it was going anywhere, so I decided to continue to Tering. Along the way, we stopped for lunch in a floating cafe, which was in the middle of nowhere and bustling with people. It was clean and the food looked good, but I only got cake and waited for the other passengers to finish their lunch. One of the other passengers, a middle-aged Indonesian man, bought me a mangosteen and gave me the whole thing to eat, shouting “Mr. Tom!” as he gave it to me, with a huge smile on his face.

When I got to Tering (the last stop for the speedboat) it became apparent that the kapal wasn’t going to get there for a while, so I went to go and get something to eat from a restaurant around the dock. I hung around in a cafe by the restaurant, and spoke to a taxi driver who had moved to Kalimantan to work in the oil and gas industry, but quit after 4 years as he wasn’t enjoying it, but had good English. Around the time the kapal was meant to arrive, I went back to the dock and hung around there, talking to another taxi driver. At 5pm, after being delayed for 1 or 2 hours already, the taxi driver found out that the boat wasn’t leaving from Tering, but from Melak instead, so I got a lift with him to the ferry terminal in Melak. I found the kapal and got it back to Samarinda.


When I got off the kapal in Samarinda, it was at a ferry terminal outside of the city, so I had to get a mikrolet back to the centre. The ferry terminal had some taxi drivers waiting around it, and one of them was going to rent he the whole taxi for 100,000 IDR, but on the advice of another kapal passenger, I walked further down the road and got it for 5,000 IDR.

Once back in Samarinda, I went back to the same hotel as before and booked flights for the next stage of my journey. It took a while to decide where I was going to go, and once I’d made the reservations, I decided to check how much money I had available, and realised that I wasn’t going to be able to go ahead with original plan. My friend who was working in the hotel was offering to take me to the nearest convenience store to pay for the tickets, which was nowhere near convenient, as there seemed to be 5 in Samarinda, and none of them were near the hotel. After we found a cash machine that worked and found a convenience store to pay for the flight tickets in, we went to get something to eat. I decided, so as not to waste her time, that I would go ahead with the first leg of the journey to Manado, and not the second leg to Sorong for the Raja Ampat islands. As we were eating, my friend realised that I needed some way to get to the airport (a fair point), so we went to go and get a seat in a private bus for the airport in Balikpapan.


On Friday I got up early enough to eat some of the leftovers from the night before and get a lift with my friend in the hotel to the airport bus. Whilst I was on the bus, I still couldn’t decide if I was making the right decision, and talked to another passenger about possibly cancelling my flights and re-booking to another destination. I decided to ask in the airport, and if it wasn’t possible to cancel, continue to Manado.

Once in the airport in Balikpapan, I found out that I would lose a large amount of the ticket cost by re-booking, so decided to continue to Manado, for the Togeans. In the few minutes I had before the plane departed, I got an expensive meal in the departure lounge and got on the flight as they were making the last call.

In Manado, I got the same taxi as before, but couldn’t remember the name of the hotel that I’d stayed in, so wasted a lot of time driving around, trying to communicate with the driver that I wanted the centre. Eventually we found ‘centre point’, so I got out here and decided to walk, as I knew where I was at this point.

After checking in to the hotel, I went in search of the excellent Minahasan restaurant I went to before, and in search of beers. After eating and asking the restaurant owner where the best place to get a beer was, I walked back to the hotel, as the only place selling beers was the Jumbo shopping centre, who didn’t have any refrigerated ones. As I was not able to find one en route to the hotel, I decided to ask in a cafe if they knew somewhere to get one. After talking about it for a long time, one of the customers suggested taking me on his motorbike to his friend’s bar, and I could pay him if I wanted to. I agreed, and a few minutes later I think I was at what is probably the only bar in Manado. I paid him the price of a mikrolet to get there, and got several beers, talking to various taxi drivers, their friends, and the beer girl, who was trying to sell the expensive beer. After an hour or so in the bar, I bought the beer girl some cigarettes (which were much cheaper than the beer) and walked back to the hotel, as it was very close.


I decided to have at least a day in Manado, as the past few days had been so hectic that I hadn’t had a chance to relax. I got up, had the hotel breakfast, and planned my route to the Togeans, which I had attempted to do last time. I decided to go through Luwuk, a small town on the east coast, closer to Ampana (for the boat to the Togeans), that I should be able to get a bus from to Ampana. Instead of making the reservation online and paying in a convenience store, I decided I would get the multiple mikrolets to the airport, and potentially get there and back for 20,000 IDR, instead of the 120,000 IDR+ fee for the taxi.

In the mikrolet I met a Malaysian man who had come to Sulawesi 30+ years ago to work in the oil and gas industry, and was now retired, but learnt all his English from working with the British and Western companies who had been in Indonesia at the beginning of his career, setting up their mining operations. Even though there was a ticket to Luwuk when I checked it online earlier, when I got to the airport to buy the ticket, the plane for the next day had already sold out! This was the first time this had happened, and I went back to Manado, got several coffees at one of the local coffee shops, and booked another ticket for the day after.

I spent the rest of the day catching up on emails, organising myself, and generally catching up on things I hadn’t had the chance to do over the last week or so. In the evening, I ate in a restaurant that I’d eaten in before, where the woman running the restaurant spoke almost no English, but wanted to chat and take a lot of photos.


On Saturday lunchtime, I ate in a restaurant where they’d almost run out of everything, and I managed to communicate that I would have liked some rice, but they didn’t have any. Instead of not getting any, the restaurant owner returned several minutes later with some rice she’d got as a takeaway from somewhere else, and gave it to me to eat. Later that night, when I was trying to sleep, I had stomach cramps that made me feel like I was going to be sick, but it never happened. As a result, I got almost no sleep on Saturday night, and was still awake for the call to prayer at 4.30am.

As I wasn’t expecting to have Sunday free, I continued with my organisational tasks from the day before, changed money at the money changer, and ate and drank coffee at a cafe I later found out was owned by the same owner as the hotel I was staying in (with the same name). In the evening I drank some beers I’d bought from Jumbo the day before and put in the hotel fridge, and prepared for the flight the next day.


The plan on Monday was to get the early morning flight from Manado to Luwuk, for the bus to Ampana. As I hadn’t slept well the day before, I over-slept by 15-20 minutes on an already tight schedule, but communicated to the guy on reception that I needed a taxi, and one turned up to take me to the airport. Instead of arguing with the taxi driver about whether I should pay the 6,000 IDR for parking (I’m pretty sure they charge customers twice for this), I got my stuff and went to check in. With 20 minutes before the flight departed, the check-in woman ran off with my passport to check whether I had booked extra baggage. Eventually she returned, and the flight departed behind schedule.

We got to Luwuk, and as it was not clear how I got to the bus station, I got an airport taxi. As they had pre-printed cards with each zone and the price for each zone, I thought the system was legitimate and got in. I told the driver where I was going, and after a slight detour we arrived, and he asked for the 100,000 IDR on the pre-printed ticket. The cost for a mikrolet for the same journey would have been 5,000 IDR, so after some heated discussion, I agreed to part with 60,000 IDR, but he wasn’t happy with this. He had taken me to one of the bus stations, which seemed to be run by a private company that also did package logistics, so before agreeing to go with them, I went to go and look at another bus station. This was a lot more like what I expected, but the wait for that one was much longer, so I got the ‘executive’ class to Ampana with the original company.

After waiting 2+ hours for the bus to arrive, I found out that executive class was a 6-seater car, excluding the driver, with every seat taken. I got in, and after driving around Luwuk for another 20-30 minutes looking for passengers, we finally set off, and arrived in Ampana 7-8 hours later, with several breaks for the toilet, eating and praying. When we arrived in Ampana, as the other passengers had spoken some English, we decided to go to a resort first to decide if it was somewhere that I wanted to stay. I didn’t have a reservation, so I decided to stay there, and leave early the next day for the boat to the Togean islands. There I met Eddy, who was able to explain the vast array of travel options for getting to the Togeans, and he turned the complicated task of planning travel in a place where travel is not convenient, into something quite simple.

I only had a few hours in Ampana to organise everything I needed for the next 5 days, as the Togean islands didn’t have any Internet. This included booking a flight from Gorontalo (on the mainland) to Jakarta, several days later. Previously in Indonesia, I had paid for internal flights at a convenience store, but I quickly found out that Ampana didn’t have any, so I was going to need to find another way to pay. I asked reception where the nearest ATM was, and he said that it was not close, but he offered to take me on his scooter, at 1.30am. We went, I took out cash, but I didn’t take out enough to pay for the flights, as some of the ATMs worked and others didn’t, and I felt like I was beginning to push my luck with the driver. I went to bed, thinking that I needed to get up early and go to the airport in Ampana and pay for the tickets, before getting the ferry to the Togean islands.


I got up early on Tuesday, and asked on of the tuk-tuk drivers to take me to the airport, so that I could pay for the plane tickets back to Jakarta. When I got there, they hadn’t opened yet and there were no ATMs, so I got the driver to take me back to the resort where I paid for the flights online using one of my Taiwanese cards, an option I was trying to avoid. As time was running out, Eddy helped me get a motorbike taxi from the street to the harbour, where I got asked if I was going to the Togean islands, and then taken to a room where I needed to pay an entrance fee. They could sense my uneasiness, but insisted it was genuine, and gave me a ticket and a keyring fob in return for my compliance. After reading one of the newer guidebooks, it turns out it was legitimate, but it didn’t mention this in the guidebook I had. Eventually I got on the boat to Malenge, and the boat departed.

The boat consisted of 2 areas; a lower seating area and the upper deck, also with an indoor seating area. As I was so exhausted from the trip to the harbour, I dumped my stuff in the lower deck and spent most of the time looking out the window or going up on deck to get some fresh air. The boat made several stops, until there were only a few foreigners left, and most of us got in a ces that one of the resort owners had brought to pick up potential customers. He tried to sell us on going, and it worked, as we all ended up staying in his resort. Here I met Albert and Eva, a Spanish couple from Barcelona, who had just quit their jobs to go on an epic round-the-world trip. We were all interested in travelling, so spent most evenings talking about various places we’ve been or wanted to go, and as there were only 3 people staying in the resort, we had the whole place to ourselves.

I spent the last few hours of Tuesday, floating in the sea, watching the sun going down.


On Wednesday, as Albert, Eva and I had gone directly to the resort we were staying in, we asked the resort manager to take us by boat to some of the other resorts on the island. They wanted to check out the other resorts, and I wanted to look at the diving options. There were only 2 other resorts within sailing distance, and they were both expensive, but one of them had the most amazing snorkelling beach, with deep, bathwater-warm water and large pelagic sea life that would come and visit (baby sharks, rays etc.). There was only one dive resort, as the other one didn’t have any petrol, so I went with that, agreeing to do 2 dives the next day. Albert and Eva decided not to move resort, so the afternoon was spent snorkelling on the house reef, which actually had a large amount of sea life not far from the beach, and watching the sunset, again.


I got up early on Thursday morning to go for the first dive. The dive instructor had lost his diving certification, but insisted that it was because he hadn’t paid his renewal fee, so we went on the dive with this already having been established. The dive was amazing, but communication problems meant that I had to go back to the resort for lunch and wait for them to come back, as they thought I only wanted 1 dive.

My instructor and his assistant turned up several hours later and we went for the 2nd dive, which was also great, but the dive guide’s adherence to common safety practises was lax, so after the second dive, I was happy not to be in the water with him. In the evening, Albert, Eva and I organised the boat for the next day for the fast boat back to Wakai, and watched the sun go down (again).


On Friday Albert, Eva and I got the ces back to the harbour in Malenge, where we waited for the fast boat back to Wakai. The plan was for Albert and Eva to get off in Katupat (for the Fadhila Cottages), and I was going to decide en route what I was doing, as my funds were running low. As there are no ATMs in the Togean Islands, and you have to bring all your cash with you, I decided to stay on the boat and continue to Kadidiri, via Wakai.

When I got to Wakai, I did the usual thing of hanging around on the pier and waiting for someone to ask you if you needed anywhere to stay. One guy eventually approached me, and gave me his phone to call a resort on Kadidiri, which to my surprise, was run by a British guy. Having not spoken to any native English speakers for some time, and definitely not a British guy, I decided to stay there, just because of the guy running it. I followed the guy who had lent me his phone, and sat in his boat whilst he went to go and get supplies for the resort.

When we eventually got to the island, I had a chat with the British guy, who was from the north of England, and who had married the daughter of the owner, and was now living there over the summer. As we were in the low season, the place was empty, and I was the only one staying there, until a Frenchman turned up later that day.

In the afternoon, after exploring the resorts on the beach, I decided to go for a snorkel off the pier, as the resort owner had said there was some good coral there. After swimming out along the pier, the sea bed began to drop off, and there was a very nice coral garden with a lot of life. I decided not to go out any further than the length of the pier, as I was on my own, and when I turned to swim back to the beach, I noticed a not particularly small shark between me and the beach. Without panicking, I decided to swim back the way I had come, and do two sides of a square to get back to the beach. I decided to get out at that point, as I’d had enough snorkelling for one day!

Later on I went back to one of the nice looking bars to get a beer, but all of the resorts were shut and even if they had people working there, they weren’t selling beer.


On Saturday, as the generator was only on in the evening and I’d forgotten to charge my phone, I went to the only place on the island with phone signal (a beach behind the resort) to get some signal before my phone died. The night before I had arranged to get the boat back to Wakai the following day, so I got the same boat back to Wakai, which was incredibly slow. About 45 minutes later, I got to Wakai, and then got a motorbike to the harbour, without knowing how far it was. It turns out that Wakai is tiny, and a few minutes later I was at the harbour. Here I found some other passengers, some who had been waiting since 10am (the boat was scheduled to leave at 7pm), and I hung around in the waiting area, waiting for the boat to turn up.

The harbour building is just a building in an empty field, with some small vendors close to the street, and that’s it. There were loads of kids there, running about and jumping into the water, so as the boat wasn’t going to turn up for a while, I left my stuff and went for a walk around Wakai. I found a convenience store, had a coffee and charged my phone.

Once I was back at the harbour, and with the sun going down, I went to one of the vendors to get something to eat. Here I found Roman, a French guy working as a diving instructor at one of the resorts on Kadidiri. He was sitting with the locals, speaking Bahasa Indonesia, and asked if I’d been around Wakai yet. I had, and we had a short chat before I went back to the waiting area. Later he came over, brought the key for the toilet (which was locked) and brought some water for people to wash their hands. Eventually the boat arrived at 8pm, and we went to go and buy tickets.

They seemed to have a strange system where you paid for the ticket before they told you if any seats were available, so we paid and waited for the one of the officers to come on shore and tell us if we had a seat or not. We did, and I went and snagged myself a bed in business class, as the boat was practically empty.


The boat on Sunday arrived around 6 hours behind schedule, so it was good that I didn’t have any connections planned in Gorontalo. I got a tuk-tuk to a hotel in the city that the tuk-tuk driver recommended, but didn’t check in as it was a bit expensive. I left my stuff there to have a look around, and after finding a restaurant that looked like a hotel, asked a French girl if she knew any places to stay. She recommended the place that she’d stayed in, a homestay, and called them to see if they had any spaces available for the same night. They did, so I went to go and have a look.

The room seemed fine, and I would be staying in the same room as the French girl, who was checking out later the same day. I made the reservation and went to go and get my stuff. After resting and washing in the homestay, I went to go and find the mall the British guy in Kadidiri had been talking about, and get some cash out. As my funds were so low, I struggled to find an ATM that would work, as I had to guess how much was on there to be able to get any out (including the service fee). I eventually found one, after trying almost all the ATMs in that part of Gorontalo, and went to get something to eat.

After eating, as I didn’t want to leave Indonesia without having another coffee, I went to go and find a coffee shop, before going back to the homestay.


They day before, as I got the number from the tuk-tuk driver of another driver who could take me to the airport, I had arranged for someone to come and pick me up at about 4.15am. Apparently Mama, who was the grandma in the homestay, was up at this time anyway, and had no problems making breakfast for me before I went. I got the flight back to Jakarta, stopping in Ujung Pandang (Makassar) to pick up extra passengers. After arriving in the airport, I made a much more leisurely return to the international terminal, but this time stopped to eat in one of the restaurants. As we were not inside the airport, I thought it would be cheap, but they tried to over-charge me and I told them about this, so they gave me my money back.

Once in the departure lounge for the flight back to Taipei, I saw one of my ex-colleagues who was also in Indonesia, but on a golfing trip. His flight was about 1 gate up from mine, leaving 5 minutes before mine, and going to exactly the same place, but with a different airline. Once in Taipei, I got the MRT back home, and marvelled at my sit-down toilet, hot water and shower, all in the same place. Travel in Indonesia hadn’t been easy, but it was worth it!

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