Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Wakatobi – Beauty Under and Above Water



Wakatobi – a strip of islands that consist of WA(ngi-Wangi), KA(ledupa), TO(mia) and BI(nongko) that is part of Sulawesi Tenggara. It was defined as a marine national park in 1995, and was declared by UNESCO as one of the World Network of Biosphere Reserve in 2013 for its rich marine biodiversity.

I made a trip to these islands, minus Binongko, with a friend of mine last year, and still couldn’t find the right way to write about it. But, here goes nothing. Hope I can do justice to this little paradise.

This trip took a total of 10 days – with 2 days to travel from and to Jakarta.

We started it off from Tomia – 3 hours speedboat ride from Wanci in Wangi-wangi. We actually wanted to go all the way to Binongko, but the locals advised us not to do so as the sea was very rough at the time that it would not be very safe to do so with the island being the outer most and is actually closer to East Nusa Tenggara rather than to Sulawesi.

We spent 4 days in Tomia. Afterwards we spent a night in Hoga island with a stop over at Kaledupa. From Hoga, we caught a boat to Wanci where we stayed for 2 days. Then we boarded a ship for a 9 hour over night journey from Wanci to Baubau in Buton island. We stayed for 1 night in Bau-Bau to have enough time to explore one of the best preserved palace in Indonesia, that belonged to Buton Sultanate, before flying back to Jakarta.

I went expecting to see its rich marine life. But, I was in for some surprises.

Here are what I consider the top 10 must do and experience when you visit Wakatobi.


1. Get into the water! (of course!).

If you are a sea lover, whether you’re a diver or not, you must visit Wakatobi at least once in your life to see its underwater life. And if you’re a diver, I can assure you, Wakatobi has been regarded as one of the best diving site in the world not for nothing.

I dived in some spots in Tomia, Hoga and Wangi-Wangi. And in all these places, I was never disappointed.

Spots in Tomia and Hoga islands, in my opinion, have many to offer. The corals are very healthy with minimum damage. Hoga has interesting contours to explore – with caves and tunnels. Spots in Wangi-Wangi, have some damage due to fishing activities some years back, although they have now recovered.  






2. Visit different Bajo villages. 

Bajo, or also known as the sea gypsies, is a tribe that lives primarily from the sea and build their houses above the sea.

In Wakatobi, there are several Bajo villages. I would suggest that you visit two villages: Mola in Wanci, and Mantigola in Kaledupa.

Mola is the biggest Bajo village in Wakatobi, and the most developed and modern Bajo community in the world. It can easily be reached by car from Wanci, and has asphalt road right to the main gate. To me, wandering around this village felt like wandering around in any villages in Java. I no longer felt that the houses were built above the sea as there is concrete pavement and foundation.

A unique feature of this village, is a circular building built at one side of it. It was a meeting hall for Bajo tribesmen. Apparently, they have this yearly meeting of all Bajo tribes from many parts of the world. And with Mola being the biggest Bajo community in the world, it is then only natural that it is here a meeting hall is built.




In Kaledupa there are actually three Bajo tribes: Sampela, Lohoa and Mantigola. Mantigola, is the biggest of the three and is believed to be the root of all Bajo tribes in Indonesia.

Different from Mola, Mantigola is more traditional. Houses are still built on rocks or wooden pillars above the sea. To visit Mantigola you will need to take a short boat ride from Kaledupa.

People are very friendly and will gladly welcome you in their homes. We were guided by a local called Samsu who cheerfully talked to us about his life while taking us wandering around the village under the scorching sun.

A long bridge to get to where we should get into a small boat to go to Bajo Mantigola village

On the 'katinting', the small boat that took us to the village





3. Explore some history. 

As what is commonly found in many parts of Indonesia, there are always stories of old kingdoms and sultanate. The same, can also be found in Wakatobi. There are fortresses, mosques, and palaces to be found, though in various conditions. 

Patua fortress in Tomia. 


This is one of the unkept ones though I think it must have been quite a big complex. There is no more fortress in sight – what is left is only the rocky walls surrounding the complex. There are graves in the middle of the complex, but there is no explanation of whose graves those are.

This fortress must have been built to protect the island because from one of the point one could see far away to the open sea. There were at least 3 points of canons that I found as I walked around it. 


don't get discouraged. It's not that high, really...

What is left. This was newly built, so nothing ancient about this building

The view to the open sea


Ollo fortress and Masjid Agung (Grand Mosque) Bente in Kaledupa. 

It's located on a hill and is part of the ancient kingdom in Kaledupa. The old mosque is well preserved – still with its original stone walls and wood pillars.




Liya fortress in Wangi-wangi.

Just like Patua, there is no more fortress in sight, just the rocky walls, and an old mosque that was built in 1500s. And there are also graves that are said to be of those from the early Buton sultanate;s family. 






4. Search for woven fabrics of Wakatobi (and Buton). 

Weaving is an everyday activity done by many women on these islands. But it looks like that nowadays, this is only done by the older generation.

On each of these islands, though the weaving patterns look similar, but it actually is quite different.
The weaving in Wangi-wangi is very much influenced by the tradition from Buton Sultanate as it is the closest island to Buton, with certain colours associated with different social occasion and/or certain rank in the society. Golden threads are often used in Wangi-wangi.

That influence is not so apparent anymore as one travels further from Wangi-wangi. Colours become deeper and patterns become simpler.


A lady we met in Tomia

The woven fabric from Tomia

We met her in Wanci

A lot more colourful in Wanci

She's put three children to the university only by creating beautiful woven fabrics. Her husband has passed away a long time

The different patterns of weaving in Baubau, Buton island. Every pattern and colour signify different rank and used for different social occasions. It even has different names

5. When in Tomia: do not miss Bukit Tomia and wait for the sunset.

This is the highest point in the island, from which you can see two other islands nearby – Lentea and Tolandona. 




 

6. Must visit Hoga island, and spend time on its long stretch of white sandy beach. 

Hoga is a location for marine research. It is also on this island that overseas students often stay for some months on their summer holiday to study marine biodiversity, and they usually stay in Operation Wallace cottage.

The island itself is around 10 minutes boat ride from Kaledupa. Apart from must-dive spots, it has a beautiful long stretch of white sandy beach and the sunset view from here should have been gorgeous if not for the cloudy sky when I was there.



7. Beach hopping.  

You would say, "Of course! - why go to islands if not doing some beach hopping!". 

A few that somehow stick in my mind: 

Huntete beach – in Tomia. 

Said to be the best spot to wait for sunrise. Unfortunately it was raining when we were there, so we could only enjoy the beach and not the sunrise.

Adjacent to Huntete, there is a beautiful cliff of Lian Kuri Kuri. 

Lian Kuri Kuri. There is a way to go down, but we didn't do it

Lakota beach - Tomia.

This is where the locals in Tomia will flock in the afternoon. A nice place to sit around and enjoy the fresh sea breeze, while trying out fried banana, or other local delicacies sold by the street vendors. 



Cemara beach in Wanci. 

A popular spot for the locals located in Waha village. Another long stretch of white sandy beach. 



8. Spend at least 1 night in Baubau, Buton island – and do try experiencing the 9 hours boat journey from Wangi-wangi to Baubau.

Once you’re done exploring Wakatobi, you can fly out from Wanci to Kendari then straight to Jakarta, without making any stop at Baubau in Buton island. But, I would strongly suggest that you spend at least 1 night in Baubau.

Try getting on an overnight ship voyage to Baubau as an experience. But you do need to check out that it is the right month to do so because the sea can be quite rough in this area and you may end up getting horribly sick (so I heard).

We had a very smooth journey, and was lucky enough to get a cabin so we could at least sleep at some parts of the journey and was welcomed by a very nice sunrise as we were closing in at the port of Baubau.


Our humble cabin that we shared with 2 other passengers. Oh yes there were little cockroaches here and there. The bed sheet was not clean. But hey, life's an adventure! :)

Closing to the Port of Baubau at around 6am the next day

In Baubau do not miss, and I repeat, do not miss seeing the palace of Buton sultanate. It is one the most preserved palace in Indonesia, and a very big complex. Then play with some water at Tirta Rimba - one of the waterfalls with unique landscape. And end your day by waiting for sunset at Nirwana beach.

Buton sultanate complex

The mosque

One of the building used for receive guests in the old days

One of the gates of the rocky walls encircling the complex

Beautifully kept and maintaned

A traditional Buton house

Tirta Rimba watefall

Sunset at Nirwana beach


9. Visit Pasar Sore (the afternoon market) in Wanci; and try some local delicacies. 

An interesting market to see the seafood sold, and various mouth watering local delicacies.









10. Just relax…don’t be busy with a list to tick…savour the moments. 

An island life is a slow pace relaxed life. Get up early in the morning to walk around. Sip your coffee slowly from the veranda of your hotel. And…just throw away that city hat of yours.  

Watch people passing by

Enjoy your surface interval time by enjoying the sea breeze on the boat. Or ask the boat crew to land on a nearby island so you can sip some fresh coconut water brought by the crew while you sit on that white sandy beach

Watch the day ends slowly as the sun sets

Or get up early to see that first rays of sunlight (this I took from the rooftop of our hotel in Wanci)

And I guess, last but not least, what I savoured was also all the boat rides that we had to take from one island to the other. All those reminded me that we live in a country that consists of many islands and it is challenging yet exhilarating to know many sides of it. That fact, is often forgotten in the midst of my daily life in the Big Durian.

You may also need to catch a boat in the middle of the sea, which we did when we traveled from Hoga to Wanci. Literally having to jump from a smaller boat to the bigger one, with the rocking sea beneath us.

Spending time in Wakatobi really was an unforgettable experience.

And I will do it all over again one day. I will.  

(R I R I) 






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