Sun, 13 Feb 2000

An exotic journey along the shores of Tomini Bay

By Wahyuni Kamah

POSO, Central Sulawesi (JP): If you really like adventure, the second track of the Trans-Sulawesi highway from Gorontalo in North Sulawesi to Poso in Central Sulawesi may be a test case for you. Traveling on the 700-kilometer road in a bus without air- conditioning not only takes patience but also a great deal of tolerance of other passengers and the poor bus service, which is what we experienced on this trip.

"There are no air-conditioned buses or private cars available from Gorontalo to Poso," said a bus terminal attendant when I asked him about the transportation. We did not have any other choice but to take the bus that was scheduled to leave for Poso at 9 p.m.

In order to make yourself somewhat comfortable during the 18- hour trip, it is highly recommended you take two seats for one person (one seat costs Rp 45,000). Unlike an air-conditioned buses that have wide seats, the seats on the Vernando bus that we took were only 50 centimeters wide. Try to get a seat on the left side, as from there you can truly enjoy the view of Tomini Bay.

"Don't worry about security. It is not like in Jakarta, thieves or pick-pockets on the buses are rare," said my relative before we left.

The bus finally left at 10 p.m. from Gorontalo bus terminal and for over an hour it stopped several times around Gorontalo to pick up other passengers. The trip was slow because we had to wait for the real departure. I looked at my watch and it was at 12 p.m. that we finally left for Poso.

Do not expect to sleep on the bus because the driver is known to play loud music to keep himself from falling asleep. Since no passengers complained, we had no choice but to stay awake for the entire trip. He would stop the music as the bus stopped in a small mosque at dawn to let the passengers perform their prayer. I did not know exactly which village it was because I was asleep, but I was awakened as the music blasted again and we continued down the road. Despite his strange behavior of sharing his favorite local music, the driver was nice enough to passengers. He would respond to passengers' requests to stop at a house or small mosque to use the toilet.

As the morning came, the bus drove on. Under the sunlight, the view outside the bus was beautiful and clear. The road was smooth and the natural view along this Trans-Sulawesi highway was amazing. We did not pass any towns. We only passed very small villages on this track. Most houses were very decent rumah panggung, elevated houses with roofs made from rumbia grass. On the left side of the road you could see Tomini Bay. The glossy quiet blue waters, coconut trees and the shore were fantastic. Unfortunately, we could not stop to take photographs as the bus raced past the scenes. Cocoa trees, the main tree in this area of North Sulawesi, lined the road.

The border between North Sulawesi and Central Sulawesi was in Moutong, a town that belongs to Donggala subdistrict, Central Sulawesi province. Entering this area was like going through the forest because you could still see flocks of birds flying in the air and forest vegetation was all around. Compared to the Manado- Gorontalo route, which was more inhabited, in this area there were few towns or people to be seen. The roads were straight and empty, and coconut trees still dominated the landscape. In Santiago, a very small town, the roads were steep and surrounded by forest trees.

The trip in the morning was not tiring as we enjoyed seeing the exotic view of the shores of Tomini Bay from the bus. It was dazzling.

At about 9 a.m., the bus stopped at Tinombo, a small and very slow-moving town, to let the passengers wash and take meals. We stopped by a rumah makan (restaurant). All passengers got out of the bus and queued patiently, carrying their toiletries in front of the bathroom, which was behind the rumah makan. The small restaurant served coffee and tea and the stop was well worth making for a little relaxation, as the long trip had tired our legs and backs. The bus stopped for one hour and then resumed its trek.

Entering the equator area, the heat was in the air and the sky was blue and cloudless -- a perfect day for a long trip. In this area, we only passed small villages and the main vegetation was the coconut tree.

After driving about 550 kilometers, we stopped for lunch at Toboli bus terminal. This slow-moving terminal was empty as only our bus was parked in front of the terminal's restaurant. The temperature was about 34 Celsius, a true equatorial temperature. There were a few vendors who offered drinks and snacks. But finally, upon seeing potential customers, the vendors eventually approached us.

Traveling on this sunny day on a non air-conditioned bus was truly uncomfortable, but the view of the shores along Tomini Bay are worth it. The trip was tiring because the weather was so hot, so we made a stop again in the afternoon at a small town, Pabengko, again for refreshments and stretching the knees. My relative was right about the thieves. We could leave our valuable belongings on the bus, such as cameras, without being worried about them being stolen.

As the two drivers drove alternately, the space between the seats was often used by the other driver to rest. Reaching the end of our trip, the bus looked worse for the wear, as other passengers left their garbage strewn about the floors and seats.

The most interesting view was when we entered Tambarana. Along the road, there were many houses with small temple-constructions in front of their gardens. A passenger told me that in Tambarana, there lived many transmigrants from Bali.

At 4 p.m., we entered the Poso district and at 5 p.m. we arrived in Poso, the small port town on Tomini Bay. We were so glad to have finally arrived!