From Port Barton we travel by minivan to the capital of Palawan, Puerto Princesca. It sounds like a luxury ride, but we soon find out that the local buses provide far more space and atmosphere. On our very first trip to the Philippines years back we visited Puerto Princesca, back than it was a small village with one supermarket and shops that cooled their produce with coolboxes. We were the only Western tourists and have fond memories of the village. Now it’s a huge city, there are kilometers of new neighbourhoods and we don’t recognize anything anymore. We take Noa to a rescue centre for sweet and salt water crocodiles that are threatened with extinction in the Philippines. Michiel and I have been here before, on the inside not much has changed, but the beautiful views of the rice fields that I photographed fifteen years ago have disappeared, the view is blocked by buildings and marketing. But the growth of the city also brings a lot of luxury, there is a huge shoppingmall and a big supermarket in which we find all the ingredients for a barbecue (our guesthouse has a barbecue that we can use) and a tin of brie. We have no complaints about the food on this trip, and don’t really miss much from home, but a cracker with cheese is something we do mis, we enjoy it immensely. Noa equally enjoys his “granny cheese”, pieces of la vache qui rit. One of the reasons we are back here is to extend our visa and that only takes half an hour so there is plenty of time left to explore the city. Among other things we visit a butterfly garden and a bakery gone amusement park. The bakery has huge Disney figures in their garden and big kindergarden for Noa. A weird combination but a lot of fun.
Hundreds of millions of sardines
On the day of our departure we are dropped of at the airport by our guesthouse for our flight to Cebu, a large city in the middle of the Philippines located on the island with the same name. We have booked an Airbnb apartment in the big city with a kitchen and swimming pool above the apartment building. After that we will continue on to Moalboal, a small village on the west coast which is known as a divers paradise. A couple of weeks per year huge schools of millions of sardines swim at the coast of Moalboal and it supposed to be amazing to see them swimming underwater. Through Airbnb we find the house of a French lady and her child. The house is only fifty meters away from the beach and has a kitchen and lots of toys belonging to daughter Rosie. We have a huge outside sitting area, where we have breakfast, lunch and dinner and spend many hours of the day relaxing. Every morning the women of the fishermen of the village come with buckets of fish, shrimp, mangos, papayas and bananas. We feel very much at home in the village with it’s laid back rhythm. The first time that we go snorkelling I swim to the edge of the reef where the coral wall starts, when I look down I see a school of ten thousand sardines. The babysitter that looks after Rosie, a Filipino lady named Nomie, has agreed to look after Noa so we can go diving. Although Noa throws quite a fit when she comes to get him, he has a wonderful time and even comes back with homemade presents. While we dive we come across the sardines. While snorkelling you swim above the sardines, but with diving you are underneath them. There are so many sardines that sometimes it gets completely dark when they swim directly above us and it takes minutes and minutes for them to pass. Every diver just hangs there watching as they go by, and see the sunlight bounce of the small silver bodies when the school breaks into smaller groups and effortlessly comes back together to form a school once more.
As a change from diving and snorkelling, we spend a day going to a gorgeous waterfall nearby Moalboal. The aqua water is picturesque (and very cold), wonderful to swim in! When I’m taking pictures of the waterfall our Nikon camera smells like burned plastic and the camera stops working. The smell is in our whole backpack and it turns out that the flash has completely burned through. What bad luck, this probably happened because our underwater housing flooded during a dive a couple of weeks back. At the end of the day we take the public bus back to Moalboal. The bus is almost empty and the driver is in a good mood and drives with high speed through the streets. When Michiel sees Moalboal and we almost pass through it, he lets the bus stop to get out. In our hurry to get out before he takes off again we forget Noa’s babycarrier. Michiel runs after the bus but unfortunately it’s gone.
Bad luck times four
The last days in Moalboal are also our last days in the Philippines and I reserved a room at a beach resort for us. This way we can enjoy relaxing by the pool and mentally prepare ourselves for our next destination which is Indonesia. Indonesia will involve a lot of cultural destinations and traveling around the country. While we are at the beach resort we make one trip to a white sandy beach close to the resort, but there are dark thunderstorm clouds in the sky and the current brings tens of thousands of small jellyfish to the beach. We wait at the beach for an hour and are talked about and looked over by multiple Filipinos before the constant supply of jellyfish dies down and we are finally able to swim. On the morning of our departure we are picked up by a tricycle that we arranged the night before. He drops us off at the busstop in the village, where one full bus after another passes us by. When one bus finally stops we don’t have a choice but enter the bus and stand during the three hour bus ride. The road first twists and turns passed the coast and than goes up into the mountains. By pure coincidence we are standing next to a Dutch guy with whom we talk most of the way to pass the time. We arrive with plenty of time left before our flight to visit a mall and buy a replacement babycarrier for Noa and look around for a new photo camera. The camera is not available so we head to the airport to catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur. We arrive in the evening and don’t fly to Indonesia until the next afternoon. We want to drop off our photo camera to the Nikon service centre in the morning, but unfortunately it doesn’t open until the time that we are supposed to be on our way to the airport. We do find a new camera at a discounted price, but when we want to try out our own lens on the new camera we find that the lens is in a thousand pieces. When does the bad luck end? In just a few weeks our underwater housing flooded, our camera broke, we lost Noa’s babycarrier and Air Asia broke our camera lens.
Because there is no way we can take any pictures with the lens, we also buy a new lens and quickly find a taxi to take us to the bus that will take us to the airport. The bus takes a really long time to get to the airport and we literally have to run to the gate. What we don’t know is that there are seven passagiers that haven’t shown up at the gate and have already delayed the flight because the luggage is taken off the flight. So lucky for us we make it on to the flight! Apart from one other couple, we are the only Europeans that are flying to Makassar, on Sulawesi, and everybody on the flight is talking about us and looking at us. Numerous people want to touch Noa or ask his name or his age, but Noa is too busy playing with a sticker book to notice how much attention he is getting.
Hello Mister, welcome to Sulawesi!
Once we’ve landed we search for the Damri bus, a bus company that serves a lot of Indonesian cities and peddles between the airport and the city centre for next to nothing. When we find the bus it’s already full and we have to stand underneath a low roof with Noa in the babycarrier on my back for an hour. He falls asleep right away and even keeps sleeping when we get off the bus and I carry Noa on my back and my backpack on the front. We are submerged in Indonesia straight away, when we stop on a road to see if we have to turn left or right for our hotel a man comes walking up to us. He wants to help us and a minute later a helpful taxi driver stops as well, they ask some people, make a phonecall and then point us in the right direction. It’s only another fifty meters and we receive a warm welcome at Hotel Harmoni. The reception area is full of people and everybody wants to know where we come from and how old Noa is. We manage to answer in Bahasa (Indonesian), Belanda and Noa is tiga, three years old. We are pleasantly surprised by our small but modern room with aircon, which including a breakfast of nasi, fried noodles, Indonesian coffee and lemonade, is just ten euro’s. Michiel goes out to find us some dinner and comes back with a huge portion of nasi, kroepoek, sambal and cucumber, hmmmmm we really enjoy our first Indonesian meal.
The next day we decide to visit Fort Rotterdam, a fort that was ruled by the Dutch for quit a number of years. When we step out of the hotel cars start honking at us and they roll down their windows. He mister, welcome, hello mrs, where are you from? Sometimes people even start shouting or screaming, surprised to see Western people walking their streets. Everywhere people approach us, sometimes to give a high five, but more often to chat with us. How old is our son? What’s his name, where do we come from, is this our first time in Sulawesi, how long will we be staying and where are we going? When we reach the fort we are happy to have some offtime from all the questions. In the fort we are approached by an Indonesian man who speaks Dutch, oddly enough. We hire him as a guide and he leads us through the fort for hours and even shows us the current offices in the back and tells us so many stories about the people who used to live in the fort. The Japanese, the Dutch, the current administration and the prisoners who were held at the fort and lived in a small bunker like room at the back of the compound. He introduces us to the CEO, the administration and the librarian. He manages to bring the whole fort alive. We have a wonderful morning and warmly recommend Rami.
The second day we spend the morning looking for a repair centre for our camera, but without any luck. To reward Noa for the days traveling and searching for repair centres we spend the afternoon at Trans Studio’s, a large amusement park inside a mall. There are numerous funfair rides, dance shows, a haunted house for children, and a science museum in which we play for hours with Noa. He loves it so much that for weeks on end he dreams about the amusement park. When the light outside becomes softer we go to the harbor where the fishermen have returned from a day out at sea. Within minutes children start to appear out of nowhere and come to us. Noa is having the time of his life, he starts singing songs and they all join in and walk with Noa. After that grown ups start coming to us and even four photographers show up to take pictures of the blond boy surrounded by all the Indonesian kids. That’s when Noa starts running and the children surround him like a cocoon, unfortunately that’s when things start to go wrong. One of the children touches Noa’s arm, and in a sort of chain reaction all the children want to touch Noa. They pull his hair, pinch him, stroke him – because there are so many hands touching him Noa starts to panic and starts crying and screaming. It takes some time before I break through the mass of children to rescue him. Thankfully it doesn’t have a lasting impression, because a minute later he wants to go play with the children again. But they have become such a huge uncontrollable mass that we decide to go home.
The Toraja appeal
Makassar is a huge harbor city, we expected it to be a dull city for tourists. But after four days we have just seen a small portion and feel sorry we have to leave. Until we think of the destination that we came here for, the Toraja, an area in the mountains and a similar named tribe that have for centuries lived in houses with pointed, curled up roofs and have one of the most amazing funeral rituals. The ritual includes the killing of tens of buffalos, pigs and burying their dead in rock graves. On one of our first trips to Indonesia we met a French couple in the north of Sulawesi that took six months to travel from the south to the north and told us about Toraja. Listening to their stories, those of my own grandmother who also visited the area, and having seen documentaries about the area we knew, one day, we wanted to travel here if we had plenty of time. The roads on the island are mostly in a horrific state, which results in full days of traveling in order to travel from one village to the next.
From Makassar we travel to Sengkang first, it’s a small village at a huge lake where large numbers of the inhabitants live on floating houses. After some information from the reception at our hotel we first take a taxi to a busy street from which small busses (memo’s) leave and move on to the big bus station. Once we get to the busstation a lot of men approach us telling us there are no busses today and we have to take a Kijang. This is a type of Toyota car in which a driver sells as many seats as possible on the two benches in the back and the chair up front. Because we don’t see any buses we get in the Kijang and after just five minutes we leave. We are driven around to be shown to the drivers friends like a funfair attraction, look I have Western people in my car. Along the way we pick up another six passengers and leave the city to drive through the countryside and mountains. It’s a gorgeous ride along rice fields, jungle, waterfalls and on to Sengkang.
Having coffee on a floating house
In Sengkang we are welcomed by Anton, the owner of guesthouse Amira, and can stay in a huge room on the top floor with plenty of space for Noa to play. The next morning our guide Aldo takes us to the river across from the guesthouse to see a canoe and captain waiting to take us out on the lake. Half way through the morning we at a floating house in which we are invited for coffee and pisang goreng (fried banana), our boatmen asks me if I know a Dutch women called Erika. He is very surprised that I don’t know her, but then our guide explains that he means a famous Dutch women who was once a minister in our country and has made tv series traveling the world. When she traveled through Indonesia this men was her captain. When we tell him she used to be one of our ministers he is even more impressed with her than he already was. He keeps mumbling, kind women, very,very kind women. Is she a famous actrice? He wants to know. No, but she does make television and we actually saw the documentary on Sulawesi, so we have seen this guy before as well, what a coincidence.
We wait for a rainshower to pass while sitting in the back of the floating house looking out over the water and sitting in a breeze. On the way back we see tens of different bird species and the captain often stops to give us a chance to take pictures. It’s wonderful on the lake, even Noa really enjoys the boat ride once he finds out that he can reach the water with his hands and splashes everybody. Aldo’s cousins comes to pick us up the next day to take us to Pendolo, from which we can take another Kijang to take to Toraja.
When we arrive in Pendolo there is another Kijang ready but it doesn’t have enough passages to leave, and we are really hungry so we tell the driver we are going to have lunch. The past days I having been using an app to learn more Indonesian on top of the words we already knew from past visits to Indonesia. I am able to order the lunch in Indonesian. After our lunch of chicken sate with peanut sauce, soup and rice I have to go to the bathroom, the owner of the restaurant points to a curtain. I try to find the toilet, but I only see a space which is used for washing dishes and another curtain. When I push away the curtain all I see is a big bucket of water. No toilet pot, just a very dirty wet floor, on which you are supposed to go. I have traveled quit a bit but have never seen something so simple. Another adventure I guess.
After lunch we have to wait hours before the driver finds enough passengers, and we are the centre of everyone’s attention. They all want to know where we are from, and want to take a picture with Noa. When we finally drive off we are waved goodbye by tens of people and children, dada (bye bye) we call to everybody. Finally on our way to Toraja.