Stumble Into Indonesia's Unseen Places
Submitted by viravira on 11 April 2014 • Destination
“Are you here for research?” a Talaud local asked us.
“No, just traveling.”
“Just the two of you? Is it work-related?” confused lines between their eyebrows would show.
“Yup, just us. And nope, just for fun.”
“But why?” they looked at us as if we’re some newly discovered species.
And we got a kick out of this “investigation”, every time!
Judging from the Talaud people’s reaction about our visit, it’s obvious that there has been next to no one that usually visits just for fun. Several accommodations, equipped with air conditioners and private bathrooms, exist mostly to accommodate researchers or governmental guests.
Just like how I sometimes buy a book because of its cover or its title, I was interested in Talaud Islands for reasons that would probably be considered as shallow by some. I heard of Talaud and Sangihe Islands for the first time four years ago, I don’t remember in what occasion. I found the names weird and there’s so little information on these islands that I could find. So my curiosity grew.
Aside to my fascination toward Sulawesi in general, I gotta admit, I’m one of those people who like to say “I’ve been there!” and tell the story when only a few others can. So there’s really no other way than go there and find out for myself! And as usual, Mumun is so easy to drag along to places she’s never been.
We landed on the island on a Wednesday afternoon. Beautiful lush green forest and coconut field on hilly land were seen upon our landing. Getting off the propeller plane, we were welcomed by a small airport building with mountainous background. We then went to look for an accommodation in Melonguane, the capital town that was built when the airport existed, with a help of a bentor* driver.
From the landing process until the ride around, Melonguane reminded me a lot of Basco, the town on Batanes Island, The Philippines, I visited a few years back. Located on a secluded little island, on the northernmost of a country, built near a port and the roads are well-maintained. But Melonguane is a lot less touristy, and I must say, less scenic.
I read some stuff on Miangas, the actual northernmost island that’s still further north to Talaud Island. Miangas is said to be guarded by the army and navy for being on the border, so I thought Talaud would have a slightly similar situation. Honestly, the thought of men in uniform with their guns and often arrogance often irks me, for some reasons I will not state here. So I was relieved to see only civilians on Talaud Island.
Despite the hardworking habit on land and sea, life on Talaud seemed to be slow and easy. Women gossip in warungs and boatmen nap on the beach at noon, which is expected in a place with piercing sun. People are friendly and helpful, and they claim the villages are very low in crime rate. That’s good to know as it is pretty logical. Being a small island with small villages, people tend to be afraid to do crime because it’s more likely to get caught.
Most of the small towns I’ve visited would be pleasant for spending money because things tend be cheaper compared to Jakarta, where I live. But it’s different in Talaud. Gasoline costs almost twice the price in cities of Java or Bali, which elevates the prices of almost everything. Talaud land grows spices like the nutmeg and cinnamon, which centuries ago became the “gold mine” for Europeans (who later colonized Indonesia). But there are needs for chives, garlic, washing machines, motorbikes, even fences, which they bring in from Manado. Even though they’re blessed with abundant fishes in the ocean, it’s the added spices and gas to cook it that doubles the food price.
“We’re used to high prices. So when the gasoline price went up a few months ago, we took it fine,” said a woman in the fish market of Beo town. She was giving out fishes to people in the market as a political campaign. Yes, fishes, not money.
In contrast, I remember the commotion that happens in Jakarta every time prices go up.
Internet is also a luxury in Talaud, even in Melonguane and Beo, two of the biggest towns we visited (another one is Lirung but we didn’t have enough time to go there). The only SIM card that works there is Telkomsel, though it’s far from its best performance. SMS and phone calls get through fine, Internet-based chat applications like Whats App struggles to send messages, and you can forget about updating your Facebook and Instagram. There are a few Internet cafes in both towns, powered by Telkom, Indonesia’s state-owned enterprise telco company. The one in Melonguane works fine, but the one in Beo is really slow.
We had to wait until we got out of the island to update our social media. No biggie, we do okay without Internet on islands with gorgeous sunsets and swimmable beaches. But it was a little bit unnerving when we needed more information on a tsunami that was rumored to hit Talaud Islands the next morning, as an effect of the Chile’s 8.2 Richter Scale earthquake on April 2, 2014. A tsunami! My husband Diyan told us about this news by phone in his tense voice.
It was our first night on the island and our hostel was located exactly by the beach. The locals seemed to live life as usual and seemed to be uninformed about the tsunami rumor. We wanted to get more updates but we hadn’t found out about the Internet café by then. It crossed our minds to move to another hostel inland, but thought that it wouldn’t make much difference because it’s not that far away from the shore anyway.
So we decided to sit through the news on TV to get updates (there are international channels at the hostel, using a satellite dish!). According to the news, there was only micro possibility that a tsunami would strike Talaud. We slept soundly that night, though I still checked the news early in the next morning. When it comes to tsunami, you can never be too cautious, especially after the disastrous tsunami in Aceh in 2004. And I personally wasn’t only concerned about our own safety, but I couldn’t stand the thought of Diyan worrying about me while there was really not much he could do 🙁
Thankfully, the tsunami did not happen. We moved on to our next activities.
The word “porodisa” was found everywhere in Talaud, from the Internet café to the fish market. I had to ask a local what it means.
“It means paradise. It’s what the Dutch called these islands,” said a butcher in Beo market.
Having seen the four-colored sunset on Beo sky and swam in the super clear water of uninhabited Sara Island (a 20 minutes speedboat ride from Melonguane), I am all with the Dutch on that.
We envied the boys swimming on the beach near Beo with sunset in sight, but we weren’t ready with our swimwear. (I know, I know, we’re such city kids that only swim with the “proper” clothing). So I continued reading a book on the beach, which was priceless as well, while Mumun was busy taking pictures and taking in the beautiful sky in her mind and soul.
*A bentor is a becak combined with a motorbike. It uses an engine instead of man-power to energize the vehicle. It’s sort of a slightly bigger version of the Philippines’s pedicabs.
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