Togean Islands, Indonesia

Togean Islands can only be described as pure heaven, and our time there is one of my favourite travel memories, as I think we were perhaps at our most chilled and happy. Described by a fellow blogger as ‘like a cartoon paradise’, we were expecting it to be idyllic, but we weren’t fully prepared for quite how stunning the islands would be, or for how many great friends and experiences we would have there.

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But first, as with many amazing places, it’s worth stating that Togeans are pretty hard to get to, which is probably one of the reasons they retain such incredible Robinson Crusoe-like island appeal. To get there, you can either take a weekly overnight ferry from Gorontalo (to the North), or a few-hours’ ferry from Ampana (to the South) that leaves four times a week. Since we were travelling from the North of Sulawesi, we went from Gorontalo, which involved taking a shared overnight ‘taxi’ from Manado to Gorontalo, which was an experience in itself! Essentially a big car driven by some random chain-smoking guy, that drove through the night, picking up random people from the street and dropping off – including a nun and a guy with a fighting cock, which crowed every ten minutes or so, for about 10 hours.

We spent a couple of nights in cute Dutch-inspired Gorontalo waiting for the ferry, which was pretty uneventful. We probably could’ve cut it to the wire more but we didn’t want to miss that ferry! We met a pretty cool older couple at our hostel who’d already been to the Togeans and they filled us with glee about the paradise that awaited us – all clear waters, snorkelling, and perfect beaches.

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After a surprisingly easy night ferry – (by this point we could sleep on anything, despite being surrounded by chain-smoking guys watching boxing on the loud TV right next to us!) – we arrived into the extreme heat of the Togeans. We were surrounded by touts from the various islands when we arrived on Wakai, and after becoming a bit overwhelmed, we forged a plan with fellow traveller, the lovely Laura from Finland, to share a boat to deserted island Bomba, one of the smallest islands that offered the best options in terms of all-inclusive food (priorities!)

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We met the crazy and brilliant local boatwoman Abo, and she cut us a good deal on her TINY boat, which was pretty scary on the bumpy waves, but after two hours of puttering through the brilliant waters of the Togeans, ogling tiny islands and stilted fisherman communities, we arrived at the paradise of Poyalisa.

Poyalisa is essentially a collection of 15 bungalows that make up the entire island – with a jutting peninsula of pure white sand, which make up the two small but perfectly formed beaches. On arrival, we were instantly made to feel at home, and we planned out some activities we’d do with Abo – day trips on her boat, going to meet her family in her village across the water, snorkelling etc. But first, we committed ourselves fully to the task at hand: chilling the fuck out.

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We stayed at a couple of different huts in our time there – at first the ‘VIP’ huts up on the ridge of the island, jutting over the sea, which offered views of both the sunrise and the sunset from their dual wooden balconies. On our first night we were treated to a very dramatic thunderstorm with lightning flashing on both sides of the sky – amazing, and terrifying!

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Secondly, we stayed right on the beach itself, in a cute bungalow with hammock facing out to the sea. Both had squat toilets, comfy beds and nets – rustic but beautiful. All meals were included in the rate – sweet breakfasts, lunch and dinner of delicious fresh fish and squid with curried veggies and rice (enough for more than a fish each!) served either in the dining room, or down on the beach for lunchtime BBQs. We also got an afternoon snack, which was brought to us every afternoon in our hammocks, and also unlimited tea, coffee, and water, all for a bargainous £9 pp/pn!

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There was literally nothing to occupy our minds, and we found ourselves sinking into a deep relaxed routine that saw us staying at the islands for over a week! We met people there who spent 2-3 months a year at Poyalisa, travellers who’d got stuck there, and even a Dutch couple who were buying a house over the water in the village! A unique, amazing place, it drew us in and kept us there. We met so many great travellers, and had endless fun conversations, cut off from wifi and technology, drinking arak under the stars around night-time fires, babbling excitedly about our travel adventures, and making fast friends.

Laura was our best buddy on the island (and our bungalow neighbour!) and we spent fun days snorkelling around the ‘island’, and the marine life was mostly pretty impressive (lots of fish species and even a huge sea snake!), although sadly it was pretty obvious where dynamite fishing had taken place. We also did a couple of days and nights of activities with our mate Abo, which were pretty unforgettable…

One night we looked for the island’s famous species, the Coconut Crab, by sprinkling roasted coconut on some rocks, which succeeded in tempting in the weird looking giant crabs who are strong enough to crack giant coconuts open in their claws. We had some lols running around the rocks of the island by torchlight, stopping to marvel at the terrifying crabs, and at one point Abo offered up a cigarette to one of the blighters, with some pretty hilarious photographic results!

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Another day we took a long day trip on Abo’s boat, where we visited some beautiful spots including a deserted island on which we lunched on fresh tuna (caught on the way by her fisherman brother, fly fishing off the back of the boat). After a sumptuous lunch we swam in the clear waters, uninterrupted and blissfully peaceful.

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That same day we also visited ‘jellyfish lake’ – where a certain breed of jellyfish have grown to become stingless due to lack of predators, so you can swim and snorkel with the beautiful glowing white creatures. Again, we were the only ones there (we’d taken a private tour with Abo instead of going from one of the busier islands on a tour) and we swam around the lake for a good hour, gawping underwater at the stunning little jellyfish as they glided majestically through the water, their delicate translucent mushrooms and tails glowing with light and iridescence as they circled us.

After a few more pristine snorkelling spots, we journeyed home on Abo’s boat and it was entrancing. As the sun set, the sea and sky ceased to be defined as it all become one beautiful clear blue mass. We saw a huge gang of baby dolphins jumping through the air at one point, and enjoyed a fantastic unpolluted sunset and a pitch-black exciting (read terrifying!) last hour humming through the water in Abo’s tiny little boat.

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On our final day on the island, we visited Abo’s home village of Bomba across the road from Poyalisa, which was pretty amazing. We took a walk round her tiny village, past little houses with goats hanging around outside, welcomed in but also very obviously outsiders, with kids and mums frequently swooning with complements about our pale(r) skin! Laura, stunning with pale skin and strawberry blonde hair, was definitely a hit with the local boys!

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We took a trek to Abo’s dad’s coconut farm, using giant leaves as sun-shields. En route, we sweated, chatted and giggled, stopping to eat local fruits off the trees including chocolate pods from the cocoa plant, which were tasted surprisingly bitter to the bite, but were delicious to suck on! Once at the farm, we were greeted by a HUGE pile of young coconuts (at least 200) and Abo said we could eat/drink as much as we could stomach, as they were to be harvested and dried for selling soon! We managed about one big ‘young’ coconut each – with soft, delicious flesh, and we shared some of the older tougher coconut (like we’re used to in the UK) Later, we greeted Abo’s dad, marvelling at his strong physique as he scaled big coconut trees with a heavy basket tied on his back.

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Next, we walked up to the island’s lookout to visit Abo’s parent’s house, stopping en route to be offered some freshly made palm sugar by a neighbour, still hot and gooey prepared in coconut shells. It was basically like treacly crack, and we ate a load of it with the fresh young coconut – divine! We met the grandmas at the house who were busy farming around the garden, and also fawned over some adorable young kittens in the primitive but totally self-sufficient hut that Abo and her parents called home.

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As a last stop, we visited one of the wealthier houses in Bomba where we met the lady who prepared Poyalisa’s food and watched her busy away cooking fish for dinner as she plied us with ice cold drinks. One more beautiful sunset and an emotional goodbye with Abo later, we were back at Poyalisa for a last night of giggling and eating, then the next day we took a LONG boat and overnight car journey to visit the animist tribes of Tana Toraja…

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