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North Sulawesi

"The town of Manado", wrote the well-known English zoologist Alfred Russel Wallace after a visit to the area in 1859, "is one of the most beautiful places in the East. It looks like a big garden in which rows of villas are built. Wide paths in between are streets, which are usually squared. Good roads split up in several directions to the hinterlands, with some rural houses, nice little gardens and rich plantations, jungle and fruit trees. In the west and south the area is mountainous, with groups of volcanic peaks with a height between 1800 and 2100 meters, which form high and picturesque backgrounds in the landscape... I had heard a lot about the beauty of this country, but reality has surpassed my expectations by far."

Little visited small parasides

Adventurous travellers are getting a big reward when visiting the Sangihe-Talaud Archipelago, consisting of 77 small islands scattered in the sea north of Manado. The read adventure starts when yoiu leave for the remote areas. Little English is spoken here and some knowledge of the Indonesian language is precious. The area is known because of it's fertile soil, quality nutmeg and palmtrees. There are several active vulcanoes, among them Gunung Awu on Sangihe, which has claimed more than 7,000 lives in the recent history.
47 islands are inhabited (with a total population of about a quarter of a milion - the others are deserted because of lack of drinking water. Three islands form the most important inhabited and communication centers: Sangihe Besar, with the capital Tahuna; Karakelang, the biggest island; and Siau.
Air-and sea connections with Manado are good: there are daily flights and ferries to Tahuna, two flights a week and ferries to Melangowane and Beo on Karakelang. There are daily passenger ships to Siau to North Sulawesi. The harbor of Lirung, on the island of Salebabu, near Karakelang, is used by different passenger ships; the other islands in the archipelago are only sporadically reached by ferries.

Sangihe Besar and Karakelang

Tahuna is the biggest town of the archipelago. There is a number of losmen, of which some of them even are worth the name 'hotel'. Due to the active vulcano Gunung Awu, the island is fertile; there is nutmeg and clove of the highest quality being harvested, and copra is produced from coconuts.
In the town you can look for local ebony woodcarvings and embroidery from the neighboring island of Batunderang. Who gets up early can have a look at the catch from the small boats: often big tuna is sold.
Geologists are probably attracted by the goldmines on the island; trekkers will climb Gunung Awu. Depart from the observatory in Tulsau near Tahuna. When there are no eruptions expected, you can reach the summit in a few long but not too heavy days. The view is marvellous.

The inlands of Karakelang concludes a nature reserve with a surface of 22,000 hectares. The reserve is said to be a paradise for bird lovers, but the most common animals are small pigs and little interesting cattle.
A four hour trip takes you from the village of Essang to the Leang Buidane cave; strongly recommended for those who are interested in archeology. The material remains which were found here, gave important historic information about the prehistory. Rumours are that there is another cave, close to the village of Arangkaa, where there are said to be ancestral skulls.
Saltwater crocodiles are present in Sungai Rai, two hours to the north by motorboat from Beo. This is one of the few places where animals aren't killed yet for their skin. Stay away from these monsters, which can reach lengths of upto seven meters, nevertheless. It's safer to enjoy the white beaches and to go snorkling at the coral formations.


Try to reach Siau at dawn: logistical problems are soon forgotten when you reach the island, with it's majestic Gunung Karagetan in the early morning. View this magnificent landscape from the deck of the boat.
When the boat enters the strait between Siau and Buhias, the motor is stopped when you enter an enclosed lake: this is the sunken crater of a long since died mega-vulcano. The green slopes of Buhias on the right side; the left side is flanked by the six small peaks of Siau. Karangetang keeps guard in the northernmost point, exhausting plumes of sulphuric gasses.
Unloading is done in between a mass of porters and passengers trying to get ashore. You can better wait until the crowd is gone, to leave for the reasonable guesthouse in the town.
Siau Ulu is along the coast, the main street is separated from the sea by a simple row of houses ans shops. There is a lively early-morning market, especially when the catch of the previous night is brought in. Clove, nutmeg and others are drying in the sun everywhere. The wealth which is brought by these crops, can be seen at the big houses with satellite dishes on their roofs.

The vulcano

In 1974, quakes, followed by vulcanic activity, shook the island every ten minutes for two weeks. Houses were destroyed, roads damaged and most of the 40,000 residents fled to Manado. Gunung Api Siau's last eruption, in 1976, killed one resident.
Climbing Gunung Api Siau (1827 meters) is heavy and takes two days. Take a good sleeping bag, food and water with you. The dense jungle also requires a guide with a parang. The traveller should not be worried about the local population which believe that there are ghosts around the vulcano.
Sometimes the ascend is met with vulcanic activity and wind which causes the climbing trekker to be covered in clouds of smoke. Once at the top, tou can see small Strombolic eruptions which normally happen every half an hour or so. But also without explosions the hard trip is rewarded with a beautiful view over Siau and the surrounding carpet of small islands. When the weather is clear, you can even see Gunung Klabat on the mainland.
After the destruction of the island in 1974, the road system was restored and expanded. The 50 km long road around the island was paved and an eight kilometer road was constructed to cross the island. Minibuses use this road regularly.
From Odong it's two hours by boat to Makaleli. This little paradise, with a lake in the center, is inhabited by a very traditional population which makes baskets. There is a big wealth of birds and there is said to be a cave with ancesteral skulls. The annual traditional Talude festival takes place at the end of January.
Mahoro is an untouched, uninhabited island with white beaches, where you can snorkle. You will have a nice view on Gunung Api Siau from there as well. The harbor master in Siau can arrange transport for you, with fishermen which will take care of your food. Provide food and water.

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