SAILING IN THE TOGEAN ISLANDS
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 bring me back in time, to 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 cross the vastness of the Earth.
It is with this spirit that I boarded the Nataraja in March, excited to discover the Togean islands in Central Sulawesi on an ancient yet so fresh mode of transportation, which has the unique power to connect you to the surrounding environment. As Ann Davison, the first woman to sail solo across the Atlantic Ocean rightly said: “A tourist remains an outsider throughout his visit; but a sailor is 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 7 days, were waiting, ready to set sail to the Togean islands, one of the most unspoiled archipelago in Indonesia. These spacious vessels were built in Sulawesi according to traditional boat-building techniques; standing in the harbour as proud and beautiful wooden masterpieces, they were a pleasure to look at and, as I soon discovered, the most comfortable means of transport I could have ever dreamt of. We left in the early afternoon, blessed by the company of a group of dolphins, who followed the boats for a while as we got further in the open sea.
The following morning I got out of my cabin and admired the view from the large deck. The 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 I was in the middle of nowhere, but at the same time I felt the boats were surrounded by a powerful and peculiar energy.
The boats kept sailing southeast, to get to a site known for the limestone formations similar to huge sugar loaf mountains I had only admired in Raja Ampat. We spent the day swimming and snorkelling around these giant coral gardens and headed back on the deck at the end of the afternoon for a well deserved snack. As the sun set and the sky turned dark, the colour of the sea changed and started to flicker more and more, full of fluorescent plankton raising to the surface to drift with the currents. In awe, we jumped in the water and played with drawing the shape of our bodies with the resplendent marine life, just us under the starred night.
On day 4 we crossed the river between the two islands. We silently moved through a channel bordered with mangrove forests, admiring the roots sticking out of the salty water and enjoying the peaceful ride. We stopped to visit the local village, where rows of wooden houses built on stilts and a diverse fish market welcomed us. Just to perfectly end this already perfect day, we bought fresh lobsters to cook on the boat.
It was day 5 and the Togean islands were still surprising me for the diversity of the natural landscape. We sailed towards the north to reach a dive site known for its WWII plane wreck. The boats stopped at some postcard-like beaches with white sand and pristine waters shaded by rows of coconut trees. After an explorative 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, where I noticed hundreds of jellyfish. Our guide laughed, confirming 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 (35°C!).
The volcanic beaches of the Una-una volcano were one of the last destinations of 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 snorkeling. We set off, ready for the long crossing and last part of the journey; on the way, a blue marlin crossed path with our boats. I felt privileged; the dolphins had welcomed our arrival and the blue marlin blessed our departure from the Togean Islands, this haven of natural wonders.
As we slowly made our way back, I comfortably lay down on the deck, enjoying the last glimpses of this magnificent and untouched environment and felt in a timeless and spaceless era. I felt there was no better way to visit the Togean Islands, this archipelago made of hundreds of islands, than in a sailing boat. In just seven days and at a rhythm that allowed me to enjoy every moment without ever feeling we were rushing anywhere, we could see places incredibly different from one another, all sharing an amazing natural beauty unfortunately rare to experience nowadays. All this in a state of disconnection from the 3G internet world, in a real connection with nature and with myself. Not as a tourist, but as an integral part of the beauty of Nature.
Published on Bali&Beyond – BEYONDBALI BALI&BEYOND JUNE 2016
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Thanks a lot Margeye for this amazing article <3
Thanks to you and the Nataraja 🙂