The eastern arm of Central Sulawesi, with inclusion of the Banggai Archipelago under the head of this peninsula, is the least known area of the province. Several ethnical groups in the fierce inlands used to be coastal residents, once fled for the claims of the sultan of Ternate and his local representative, the raja of Banggai. These people, who live from sago and other crops on changing fields, live in scattered groups of two to ten families. The Bajau form a bigger ethnical group.
The biggest part of the populations along the coasts and in the valleys of the mountains were converted to Christianity in the early 20th century; they have, as well as the Mori and Pamona in the west, their independent church. Along the coasts are also many Islamic fishermen and merchants. As a vassal to the sultan of Ternate, the Islamic raja of the Banggai archipelago is said to be originated from Jawa; he maintained Islam as the main religion of these small islands. Not too long ago, Christianity has been introduced here as well.
Ampana is located 150 kilometers or six hours by car or motor from Poso when the water level of the rivers allows crossing them without a bridge. This town functions as center of communication between Poso and Luwuk and offers a connection over sea between Poso, the Togian Islands in the Tomini Gulf, and Gorontalo in the north. The most important products of export in this area are rattan and copra, followed by damar raisin and clove.
Ampana has just enough foreigners to overwhelm them with 'Hello mister!', 'Where are you from?' and 'Wasunem?' (What is your name). This funny part comes from young girls with remarks like 'bad man', and the sporadic 'I love you' from their elder sisters. The smart traveler doesn't get excited from it, because they hardly know what they are talking about.
The town stretches for about a kilometer along a wide bay, but all activities are concentrated at a small market near the dock and the bus terminal. Just before the market are the sometimes very colorful bendi, pulled by horses. The drivers are known to pull up like Indonesian Ben Hurs.
Rising gas at 'Cape Fire'
The reserve Tanjung Api is located a few kilometers east from Ampena along the coast, less than an hour by motorized boat. The trip can be wonderful, except for December and January, when the sea is rough. When to depart, you can soon see Ampena: a cluster of unremarkable buildings, limited by a sea of coconut trees along the bay. Fishing boats with bright colors sail over the very clear water. Vegetated slopes end in the sea and behind every cliff there is a new creek appearing. You can see dolphins here. In the reserve is a shelter, but you need to bring your own stuff.
Tanjung Api literally means 'Cape Fire'. At several locations off the coast natural gas rises from the seafloor. It finds it way to the surface via sand and coral. Gas also escapes via cracks in a small rock at the coast. It is said that it burns when it comes in contact with air, however a match will do the trick as well. Oddly enough, it also burns when water is poured on the rocks or sand around it. This unique phenomenon can best be seen during rain showers or at night.
A much used path can be followed for a walk. The traveler will maybe see a few crocodiles walking away or see some other local animals like monkeys, babirousa, pythons, wild pigs and deer.
You can have a good swim in this area, but snorkeling is a disappointment because much of the coral is destroyed by dynamite fishing. The government has disallowed that now, but it's already too late. There are only a few reef-fish. Closer to the gas exhaust is less damage, but only a few kinds of seaweed. Small coral formations, sometimes decorated with a blue starfish, house some shells.
The small island of Bukabuka, one hour northeast of Tanjung Api, houses a fishing village which is known for it's coconut thieves, huge, crablike animals which only eat coconut, which are paid well for at the market of Ampena.
Who really wants to explore unpaved tracks, should get on one of the small boats which do the route between Ampana and Gorontalo, and get of halfway: on the Togian Islands. Several boats, which transport freight as well as passengers, cross the bay regularly and according to fairly fixed timetables. The boats usually moor at Wakai, Ketupat and Dolong, villages which look better from a distance than up close and personal. The water under the houses on pillars is used as sewer and trash dump; it is only partially cleaned by the tides. The small houses further inland are roofed with rusty metal roofing panels. Only a few foreigners go here, but the local people know their 'hello mister' of course.
The forests on the islands are important habitats for the babirousa, while the beaches are used as breeding place for seaturtles and birds. Remarkable as well is that the Togian islands are surrounded by coral environments with 115 species from 59 families.
The islands might be a wonder for nature lovers; they also house dormant destructive forces. The eruption of Gunung Colo, which destroyed the island of Unauna in 1983, was one of the most destructive eruptions in the recent history. An ash cloud with a height of 15 kilometers covered 90 per cent of the island and destroyed all houses, crops, animals, coral and coastal fish, except for a small protected strip along the eastern side. Miraculously, all residents were evacuated on time.
The residents of the Togian Islands are very varied: the Kaili (on Unauna), the Pamona (on Togian and Batudaka, the two biggest, western islands) and the Saluan (on the other islands; they also inhabit parts of the eastern peninsula). There are also Buginese and Bajau migrants. The Bajau language has become something of a lingua franca in this area. In the 17th century Islam, brought from Gorontalo, had settled here firmly.
Fishery is the main mean of existence. Dozens of boats with striped, triangular sails, sail from and to the often remote fishing grounds.
Trade is mainly controlled by local Chinese, which own the bigger stores. They import food and household products, among them salted fish, sea cucumber, shark fins and pearls. Pearls, sometimes a black one as well, are brought to Gorontalo to sell them there.
Since the islands offer good possibilities for pearl fishing, the Chinese Indonesian in the village of Wakai, Edi Jusuf, has prepared a boat for diving. He knows good spots to dive with complete coral reefs and big numbers of coral fish.
There are also several boats which connect the islands with Pagimanna, about 160 kilometers east of Ampena on the mainland. A church here, on top of a hill, offers a nice view over the bay and the mosque-dominated village of Tongkabu, where many Bajau live, at the other side. Pagimana is 62 kilometers from Luwuk, which is often difficult to reach from Ampena, because rains and flooding rivers make the trip by minibus dangerous and very long.
Luwuk, the capital of the eastern district of Central Sulawesi, grew substantially during the Second World War, when it was named governmental center by the Japanese. Before that, Banggai, the seat of the sultanate, was the de facto capital of this area.
A successful transmigration program, which started in 1964, brought 70.000 of the 350.000 residents of the entire district to Luwuk. Some of the very poor Javanese farmers are now the proud owners of cars, satellite receivers and television.
Earlier, the district had to import the main part of it's needs in rice. Nowadays the abundance in that area is exported to Gorontalo and Maluku. Copra however, is the main crop and most of it is made into oil in a local factory. Rattan from the jungle, cultivated pearls and dried fish are also exported.
Due to the transmigration project, roads were improved. The main road to Poso is now a good road with bridges. A road runs from Luwuk, south along the coast, to Baturube; a coastal road from Kolonodale to this city forms the entrance to the Morowali reserve.
The road from Luwuk runs as far as the breeding places of birds in Batui and Bakiriang. You can see the birds breeding from November until early March. A permit for a visit can be obtained at the KSDA/PHPA representatives. According to an ancient tradition, sesaji tumpeh, the inhabitants of Batui give the first 100 collected eggs to the family of the sultan. This ritual is held every year at 20 November in traditional clothing. Visitors are welcome and making pictures is allowed - not many people have seen it.
Smaller rituals for planting (May through December) and harvest (September through May) are also held in this area. In the point of the peninsula, where Balantak is the most spoken language, month-long rituals were recently held. 'Progress' has stopped this habit from being performed, but at weddings, the treasure is still transported in a metal bell.
Crystal clear water flows over the steep underwater wall which dives into the depths for hundreds of meters. Fish are everywhere. Ten meters diving and still no sign of the seafloor. A kingdom for diving gear.
Along the coast of Pulau Makailu (the local people call this island Pulau Tikus) there is a good place for a swim. Snorkeling, 300 meters away from the white beach and a coconut tree island, is a pleasure for sure. Makailu, with a beach of less than one kilometer, has drinkable water but is uninhabited. Some residents of the nearby sub district capital of Tataba, produce copra on the island or use it as a base to go fishing. The government supplied some pick nick tables, which can also be used as a place to sleep.
The Banggai Archipelago
The big island of Peleng, a dozen of average-sized and a big number of small islands form the Banggai archipelago. Enough for a life-long exploration - or a day trip.
The harbor town of Banggai, on the island with the same name, offers a nice view with smaller and bigger crafts against the morning or evening sun. On the market, you can buy sea cucumbers, fresh and fumed fish and shark fins as well. After the market, it's good to hang around for another day on one of the white beaches nearby.
Some residents warn about sharks and the dried fins on the market probably make you scared for it's size. Others remarked that the biggest sharks usually swim around the most southern part of the archipelago, beyond Pulau Sago. Whatever, the handful of sharks seen near Pulau Kokugan, disappeared with high speed. A second group was a little bigger and kept on swimming around, at a respectable distance just outside the reach of the camera. However most people are scared when they are told about sharks, these animals are hard to approach in the sea.
Just outside Kepulauan Bandang (the Bandang Islands), half an hour by boat from Banggai, there are no sharks to be seen, because of fishing with dynamite there are only a few reef fish left. The water was warm however, and clear, and outside a Bajau village there is a nice white beach. Past Kepulauan Kokungan (the Kokungan Islands), the coral is better and the number of fish is larger.
There are five pearl farms in the archipelago; four of them are in the hands of Japanese, which don't allow visitors. The pearl farm in Kokungan is owned by a local businessman and permission to visit the farm is possible. The waters around the farms are rich of sea life and the oysters, hanging in cages, create an interesting view below the surface.
Kolonodale and environment
About 160 kilometers east of Tentena is Kolonodale along the southern banks of Teluk Tomori, a western top of the Tolo Gulf. This location, formerly an unimportant center of commerce in the principality of Bungku, has historic relations with Buginese traders, and with the Bajau, which have sailed the coasts of Eastern Sulawesi in their hunt for fish and trepang or sea cucumber.
The road from Taripa, located along the trans-Sulawesi highway, to Kolonodale is a fairly bad road, so the trip still takes hours. The view from Teluk Tomori, huge and with almost vertical edges, is superb. You can make a trip along a part of the bay by motorboat. You can take a look at prehistoric handprints, printed with a red 'paint', and villages and houses and beautiful landscapes.
Pulau Pingia, or Pulau Kepiting, offers a 80-meter-high limestone cliff, which rises from the sea and houses loads of sea live under sea level as well. Snorkeling off the coast and around the other islands discloses some other nice coral formations; however a number is destroyed by dynamite.
Kolonodale is most well-known for it's access to the nature reserve of Morowali. It's a 160.000 hectare large wilderness with untouched rainforests and three fairly big mountains (Tokala, Tambusisi and Morowali), five big rivers (the name 'Morowali' means rumbling or roaring, which indicates the sound of the rivers), and a number of very quiet Ranumeren, where exhausting gasses keep away the birds and animals.
The Morowali reserve
In 1980, the fact that the English sailor sir Francis Drake run ashore with his ship 400 years back, was remembered. The memorial was held because of a British expedition, Operation Drake, which was send to Indonesia for four months to survey endangered species. As a result, this area wasn't developed for transmigration, but declared a reserve.
Be careful during the wet season from March to September, and especially in May, when heavy rainfall floods the lower areas into swamps and the rivers can suddenly take another path. Take a guide for sure: some travelers were missing for several days. You can find good guides among the Wana.
Don't just visit this area because of it's rare fauna. This reserve is a botanical paradise. The Wana are very friendly and traditional in their religion but is dressed modern. They practice field changing agriculture and hunt.
Trekking through the reserve start with a one and a half hour boat trip, from Kolonodale over Teluk Tomori. Get out at Sungai Morowali and walk for four to six hours to the Wana settlement in Kayupoli. Then it's two or three hours towards the west to the Ranu lakes, or a day walking towards the north, to Taronggo. This last piece is very hard to travel during the wet season. You can also enter the reserve at Baturube. Take half a day for traveling by boat, walking to Taronggo and from there another long day walking to Kayupoli.
In Kolonodale, the Sahabat Morowali (Friends for Morowali) was founded, a tourist center where information about the Wana can be obtained. It is feared that a big number of tourists will influence this vulnerable group of people dramatically. The center offers local guides which know the Wana way of life very well and respect it as well.
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