7 Days In Togean Islands
Hop on the nataraja and discover an untouched paradise in central Sulawesi...
It is no secret that sailing boats have always fascinated me. Their unparalleled elegance as they gracefully navigate in the open sea and silently penetrate the most secluded bays always remind me of stories of adventurous sailors, mesmerizing landscapes, and unforgettable encounters with legendary creatures and fierce pirates. In this era of mass tourism where everything goes in fast-motion and thousands of airplanes bring people around the world in a matter of a few hours, sailing in a traditional boat is a tribute to the greatness of nature and a humble and respectful way to explore our planet.
It was with this spirit that my friends and I boarded the Nataraja, excited to discover the Togean Islands in Central Sulawesi on an ancient yet so fresh mode of transportation with unique power that connect its passengers to the surrounding environment. As Ann Davison, the first woman to sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean, once said, “A tourist remains an outsider throughout his visit but a sailor is a part of the local scene from the moment he arrives.”
Our adventure started in Malenge, where the Nataraja and the Lambo, the two traditional wooden sailing boats that would be our moving home for the following seven days, were waiting, ready to set sail to possibly the most unspoiled paradise in Indonesia. These spacious vessels were built in Sulawesi using traditional boat-building techniques, and standing in the harbor as proud and beautiful wooden masterpieces they were a pleasure to look at and, as I soon discovered, are the most comfortable means of transport I could have ever have dreamt of. We left in the early afternoon, blessed by the company of a pod of dolphins, who followed the boats for a while until we got further out into the open sea.
The following morning I got out of my cabin and admired the view from the large deck. Our two boats were the only human presence in the horizon and the water was so transparent I could see the fish from above as if I was on the surface of an enormous aquarium. I had the impression that I was in the middle of nowhere but at the same time I felt that the boats were surrounded by a powerful and peculiar energy.
The boats kept sailing southeast until they arrived at a site known for its limestone formations, similar to the huge sugar loaf mountains I had admired in Raja Ampat in Papua. We spent the day swimming and snorkeling around these giant coral gardens, and then headed back onto the deck at the end of the afternoon for a well-deserved snack. As the sun set and the sky turned dark the color of the sea changed and started to flicker more and more, full of fluorescent plankton rising to the surface to drift with the currents. In awe we jumped into the water to swim and play with this resplendent marine life...just us under the starry night.
It was time to cross between the two islands. We silently moved through a channel bordered by mangrove forests, admiring the roots sticking out of the salty water and enjoying the peaceful ride. We stopped to visit a local village where rows of wooden houses built on stilts and a diverse fish market welcomed us. Just to end this day even more perfectly, we bought fresh lobsters to cook on the boat.
It was day five already, yet the diversity of the natural landscape of the Togean Islands was still surprising me. We sailed north to reach a dive site where the wreckage of a WWII plane was waiting to be explored. The boats stopped at some postcard-like beaches with white sand and pristine waters shaded by rows of coconut trees. After an interesting dive inside and around the plane wreck full of marine life, we got back on the boat just to get off again. We went down to the beach and started walking on a dirt path that brought us to a big salty lake, home to hundreds of jellyfish! Laughing, our guide confi rmed that these were harmless jellyfish and that we could touch them. Needless to say, we spent the following hour playing like kids in this warm lake – the water was 35Â°C!
The volcanic beaches of the Una-Una volcano were one of the last destinations on our trip. The landscape was again completely different to anything we had experienced so far. Lush jungles teeming with wildlife, beaches of black sand and amazing underwater life. We set off, ready for the long crossing and last part of the journey when a blue marlin crossed our path. I felt privileged – the dolphins had welcomed our arrival and the blue marlin blessed our departure from this haven of natural wonders.
As we slowly made our way back I laid down on the comfortable deck, enjoying the last glimpses of this magnificent and untouched environment and felt as though I was in a timeless and limitless era. I believe there is no better way to explore this archipelago made of hundreds of islands than in a sail boat. In just seven days at a rhythm that allowed us to enjoy every moment without being rushed, we could see places incredibly different from one another, all sharing an amazing natural beauty that is unfortunately so rare to experience nowadays. All this in a state of disconnection from the 3G internet world, in a real connection with nature and with ones self. Not as a tourist, but as an integral part of the beauty of nature.
By Margeye (www.margeye.com)
Magazine issue > Beyond Bali