If there’s one thing that I remember most about my trip to Central Java, Indonesia, it’s the very hospitable Indonesians that I have encountered. Yes, there may be dodgy ones like my motorbike misadventure in Solo, but it was the affable stranger in Yogyakarta that stuck in mind. I was shooting at Candi Prambanan when I did a little chat with a local photographer that seems to find good angle of this temple complex. Finding that I don’t seem to have a ride when the park closed, he offered me a ride on his bike and even treated me to a delicious street-side nasi goreng. In Solo, the neighboring city of Yogyakarta, I remember being invited in a gamelan rehearsal room to fully enjoy the mesmerizing music and soaring vocals of this Javanese culture. So traveling Central Java for me is more than the archaic temple complex but also immersing with the local culture and its people.
Religion is a very touchy subject I try to avoid over casual conversation. I give my utmost respect to people’s belief and that also seems to be the case for the Minahasa people who built the Bukit Kasih or a place commonly called The Hill of Love. Found at the steamy sulfuric grounds of Kanonang Village in Kawangkoan, it is where 5 different religious beliefs congregate. A place where different religions can worship side by side in harmony.
Our eyes were drawn to this bright orange complex amidst a vast field of agricultural land. For a nonsecular destination like Tomohon in North Sulawesi, whose majority of population flocks to their Cristian Churches, seeing a pagoda, a stupa and a distinct Buddhist temple in this area was almost an oddity in itself. The Vihara Buddhayana Tomohon is one of the rare place of worship for the Buddhist minority in North Sulawesi that has become an attraction by the roadside in Desa Kakaskasen III in Tomohon.
It reminds me so much of the Philippine’s Mount Pinatubo crater but crossed with the cool climate of the pine tree city of Baguio. Lake Linow is so picturesque that it quickly became a favorite of mine in all the places I’ve visited in North Sulawesi. I imagine myself trading places with that student reading under the tree while enjoying the gentle breeze. Lake Linow is one of the lakes to visit in North Sulawesi along with its bigger sibling, Lake Tondano which is as vast as the sea.
A stay in Manado equals convenience as attractions in and around North Sulawesi are just nearby. One of the nearest attractions is the coral-fringed Bunaken Island, part of the Bunaken National Marine Park. The park, with its 1,566 deep waters, boasts of rich biodiversity where 70% of fish species from the Indo-Western Pacific Ocean and seven times more genus of coral than Hawaii can be found. It’s definitely a haven for divers and snorkelers. For beachcombers, there’s a stretch of white sand beach tucked behind mangroves at the southern end.
North Sulawesi, found at the tip of the K-shaped island of Sulawesi, may not be as popular to the “eat-pray-love” crowd of Bali or the enlightenment-seekers meditating on the multi-tiered levels of Borobudur in Yogyakarta, but explorers and adventurers seeking a refreshing side of Indonesia will find something to like in this region. There’s an interesting mix of culture, islets teeming with diverse marine life, imposing volcanoes, enchanting lakes and a slew of activities that can keep people under the sun longer than intended.
Bulging wide-open eyes with ferocious faces glare. Spear in hand, one of the men lets out a fierce scream. Then the group, garbed in bright red cloths that seemed to have been clumped together, with macaque skulls dangling on their chest and capped with headdress adorned with large feathers, started moving akin to roosters ready to pounce for a kill in a cockfight. “This is the Kabasaran Dance, originally a Minahasa Tribe Warrior’s dance but now we use it to greet guests like you” says a local Indonesian guide. That’s a different kind of enthusiastic greeting I may say as the Minahasa Warriors continue to dance at the street, the setting for the Tomohon International Flower Festival in North Sulawesi, Indonesia.