Over the last week of the expedition we’ve had very little internet access. We even visited an amazing island – Pulau Makalehi – which had no phone reception whatsoever, even though every man, woman and child had and used a ‘handphone’, mostly for taking photographs it seems (a great deal of which recorded our own visit). Makalehi, as Duika has already written about, was another island paradise, and they’re building accommodation for tourists so that they too can experience life on the shores of a pristine, inland volcanic caldera lake. We received a warm welcome at the local secondary school and made new friends to whom we are now connected via Facebook. FB, as it is referred to here, is an essential means of maintaining social contact for the majority of people we’ve met. With insufficient 3G speed for accessing normal internet pages, FB profiles predominate over email addresses. It is clear that I am going to have to learn Indonesian if I want to understand the posts and messages, though!
So, since departing Beberang, we spent a couple of days just paddling, visiting villages and enjoying quiet beach camping. From there we spent a day paddling northward up the western coast of Sangihe, before meeting up with Tropica so as to make it to the Tahuna port and safe anchor before darkness fell. Tahuna, with its multitudinous volcanic peaks, has a distinctly different climate: humid, damp, hot. Everything felt clammy even before the tropical deluges soaked us through. We spent two nights parked up beside a large wooden cargo vessel, ‘camping’ on Tropica and meeting the lovely Pat Bone (local Honda bike dealer and former speed boat designer), Felix Gagaube and his staff at the Tahuna Marine and Fisheries Office, and Bapak Wenas, Felix’s superior. In addition to receiving gifts of smoked tuna produced by local womens’ cooperatives (a valuable regional speciality that is sold in Jakarta as part of a marine resources management / economic development trial put together by Felix), we were treated to a memorable lunch of roasted groper (fish) and kangkung ( water spinach).
We departed Tahuna at 3:30am, but even this attempt to avoid the strong wind and waves of the hot part of the day didn’t enable us to escape the storm. We raced south to Tagulandang through torrential rain, big waves, thunder and lightning, intending to re-visit Minanga and the KD, Anita Bawatong for an overnight stay as her guests. Sadly, after an hour hoping for a safe dock in the Minanga bay, waving at Anita on the rainy beach, we had to give up so as to use the last few hours of daylight in an attempt to reach a safe mooring further south. A sketchy anchoring on the south east of Tagulandang was abandoned at 3am, and some calm finally achieved at daybreak, at our beloved Selanka. The former care-taking host, Josep, was waiting on the beach, ready to guide Tropica, via phone, through the intricate coral pathways. Here, we enjoyed a chilled-out day, recuperating after several days of lost sleep (Tahuna never sleeps, it seems), drying our gear, replenishing drinking water, and hoping in vain to see the egg-laying turtles come ashore during the full moon. Carroll cooked the best meal yet, to celebrate our final night on Tropica (by the way, I’ve been collecting Carroll’s recipes to publish on a new page, as soon as I’ve tested – at his request – that they’re reproducible away from tropical latitudes).
We again departed before dawn (I’m getting really good at snoozing through these night-time departures) and, during our calmest inter-island crossing yet, were welcomed back to the Manado area by dolphins surfing our bow wave. I cannot tell you how much this gladdened our spirits: their strength, speed and aerial agility were breath-taking. Auspicious, or what! We gave Josep a lift to Manado, to facilitate his attendance at a funeral, delivering him to the shore via double kayak piloted by Vonna – thusly, Josep finally got his ride in a kayak. Our return to Tasik Ria, despite it being too early for lunch, was celebrated with our first cold Bintangs (‘Star’ beer) in weeks. This part of Hugging the Coast ended with bitter-sweet hugs all round. We also, FINALLY, met Daniel Gondowidjojo, who was responsible for our sponsorship by Tasik Ria (the training week accommodation and meals, Tropica and the crew, and instigator of the kayak-loading trial by Silk Air).
Having washed and rinsed huge amounts of equipment, we are now catching up on correspondence as our gear dries (ready for Lena and Vonna’s departure on the 3rd; Duika and I depart on the 5th), facing up to the budget (yep, we still have a shortfall), and urgently confirming all the Facebook friend requests from the many lovely people we’ve met over the last 3.5 weeks. We haven’t caught up on much sleep though: we saw the news of the Philippines’ earthquake just before bed last night, and didn’t cease our monitoring of the Pacific Tsunami warning webpages until the alert was cancelled around midnight. Breakfast saw millpond seas suddenly transform to huge waves and fishing boats racing for shelter as the earthquake’s effects were finally felt here. We wonder whether the 3 earthquakes that have affected the region since we’ve been here are related – and sincerely hope no more are to come. We could not bear the thought of our newly made friends being in danger.
After a long blog-post, that’s it for now. Tonight we celebrate a successful conclusion to the expedition phase of Hugging the Coast with a team dinner in Manado. Bring on the Manadonese chilli! Arny and Jacqline will be there, along with Didi, Alex and Carroll. Our gratitude to each of them cannot be expressed in words.
AND, please see the new Photo Diary page, being created by Duika as I write.
All the best, Johanna