At 5:30 in the morning, the sun painted the sky pastel pink. It looked to be a wonderful day with a mirror calm sea and clear sky. I mimed throwing a stone at the dog whose howling had woken me up and went back inside the hut to sleep.
At 7, I was getting dressed when there was a knock on the door. I cast around in panic, shouted: “Fuuuck ooof!” threw on my jeans and stuck my head outside. It was only the owner of Marina Cottages with a tray of tea, fresh fruit and cake. “I’m sorry!” we apologised simultaneously to each other as I mimed getting dressed.
It was a wonderful Christmas breakfast, but just as I lit up my first kretek, a hush seemed to fall over the sea. The sky had closed in like a blanket being draped over the horizon. There was a sudden rustling in the palms.
I grabbed the tray with one hand, tore the clothes from the bamboo drier with the other and put everything inside, shutting the door just in time as the first gale lashed against the hut. The electricity went out at that same moment.
After a while of cowering in the dark, the rain lessened sufficiently for me to make a dash to the restaurant where it was at least daylight. But everything was wet. Together with the owner, two members of staff and two kids, we spent a few hours huddled in a corner. I was typing on my Palm and so didn’t notice when everything went quiet. The rain had faded to a drizzle, but the sky was uniformly grey and it looked depressing. I realised that I was now the only guest at Marina Cottages. I sat forlornly for a while, then called for someone to come, but the silence had not been misleading—there was nobody around. And I had not paid for the night.
After some dithering I left a terse note and took a motorcycle taxi back to Ampana to check into the Oasis Hotel. Not only was this the only beer outlet in town, it was possibly the only place that wasn’t wet. I liked what I had seen yesterday night and I was not disappointed. The ‘economy’ rooms—just marginally cheaper than the beach cottage—were spotless, well furnished and huge, overlooking an attractive courtyard. With the rain splattering against the large windows, I spread my damp clothes out to dry and contemplated getting changed. I took off my t-shirt. There was a knock on the door. I hastily pulled the shirt back on.
It was the receptionist: “Kopi? The?”
“No thanks,” I smiled, nodded and closed the door. Then I took off my clothes and rooted around for my nail clipper.
The door opened.
I ran into the bathrooom, slammed the door shut and hopped around on one leg while struggling to get the other into the wet jeans.
Outside stood a man with an outraged expression on his face, his bag plunked onto the wicker chair where I had sat five minutes earlier to smoke a cigarette.
“I stay here!”
That must have been it. They had given me the key to a VIP room by mistake and he was the rightful resident. I soothed him with a hand gesture while trying to get my feet into the sandals and locking the door behind me, all at the same time. I thought of the damp clothes which were spread out everywhere, making the room smell slightly musty.
I started towards the reception, but the man stayed behind, looking even more annoyed. I dangled the key at him: “Come on! I don’t speak Bahasa!”
He followed, which was just as well because he had to hunt down the receptionist who gave him a blank stare. “Duo!” she said—he was supposed to stay in room 2, next door to mine. She shook her head and handed him the keys. I wondered what made him come to the room without them.
There are many things I fail to understand around here, but I keep my door firmly locked from now on.
As lively as it is during the day, as dead it is at night. Even during the day, Sulawesi isn’t a place to socialise. The food stalls are just that—most do not serve drinks other than water and those that do do not entice to linger.
Not having made the Togean Islands in time for Christmas was a bummer. I was the only traveller in Ampana. Tourism seems to be dead around here, I am visiting the empty shells of what must once have been popular hotels and beach resorts.
At least the weather improved in the afternoon although I wasn’t tempted to spend it with the urchins who roam the grey gravel that passes for a beach here—Ampana town is no seaside resort.
I could hardly wait until dark, but when evening eventually arrived and I went up into the restaurant—and Ampana’s only bar—there was nobody there; not even the staff. I probably had worse Christmases but they were a long time ago. Saying that, perhaps for the first time ever, I actually managed to escape Christmas altogether.
All in all it hadn’t been a bad day, considering the week I have had so far. I was merely dying of boredom, not being hounded by hordes of people shouting and waving at me. At least in Ampana they have seen foreigners before.
I considered travelling up from the Togeans staight to Bintung and taking a ship to Denpasar. I have been badly culture-shocked and am already counting the days until I’m due in Bali. Just under four weeks to go…Tags: SE Asia, Tag Index