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Sulawesi: Castaways

Long before arriving in Sulawesi, we’d talked about setting ourselves up as castaways on a remote beach somewhere. This seemed a good confluence of Oliver’s desire to be immersed in island biodiversity, and Piia’s enduring love of Survivor. Given we had plenty of time in Indonesia, we directed our search to the more remote end of the spectrum, and after plenty of map searching, skype calls and a ferry trip across the Equator, we found ourselves in the Togian Islands, and on an outrigger canoe headed to the volcanic dot of Pulau Una Una.

Our first stop was a rustic dive centre, Sanctum, where we’d organized (well, sort of) logistics.

The next morning, we loaded up our supplies into a 2-stroke bike-cart, and our driver and guide Matto putted us out to a remote spot on the north end of the island. Dropping us off, he assured us of plenty of fish in nearby waters, showed us how to catch mole crabs in the surf, and rustled up a few sprouted coconuts and showed us how to eat them. After a long goodbye (he seemed to remain skeptical that we actually wanted to stay there), he hopped back on his bike and poked back down the beach.

Morning wore on to afternoon as we started setting up camp, in the shade of a huge, low-hanging tree. As the sun climbed, the major theme of our castaway time began asserting itself; heat. Inescapable, sticky, flattening heat. It became apparent almost immediately that anything we wanted to do that involved us moving for more than a minute or two would have to be in the morning or evening. Midday and afternoons were for sitting still in the shade.

Sulawesi: Castaways - castaway camp panorama.
Sulawesi: Castaways - it's too hot for life.

Days fell into a pattern; we’d get up early to explore and forage, come back for an early lunch, sweat out the heat of the day, and then venture back out from under our tree as the sun sank.

As darkness hit (with the sudden thump of equatorial sunsets), the air would come alive with midges, dangling spiders (much too big for Piia’s liking), tropical moths and giant, shrieking fruit bats. The rainfly on our hammock served two purposes; keeping us dry under nightly torrential downpours, and keeping off the bat shit splatter. On drier nights, the Milky Way shone like we’d never seen it, nearly illuminating the nighttime forest.

Sulawesi: Castaways - forest galaxies.
Sulawesi: Castaways - too many stars.

In our morning and evening explorations, we found banana groves (useful leaves for shelters, but terrible feral bananas full of inedible seeds), coconuts, chili peppers and mole crabs (remarkably delicious fried with noodles).

Our marine discoveries included tiny lionfish, lumbering stingrays, endless plots of otherworldly garden eels, and surf zone crescent perch that we never quite managed to catch. On a particularly ambitious hike down the beach, we finally found our own private reef – a house-sized cluster of hard corals that was swarmed with an overwhelming number of reef fish big and small.

Also, orcas; while paddling offshore of our camp, Piia spotted an orca, which swiftly sank from sight before Oliver could catch a glimpse. We relayed the story to Matto, who we later found had returned the village and reported that the foreign girl who’s camping on the beach had gone swimming with a pod of orcas, and had photos. Piia is now Una Una famous.

After five nights, Matto returned, and carted us, grimy and sunburned, back to Sanctum. We reintegrated to tourist life with a few days of spectacular diving, long evenings with the other divers and staff, and eating something other than mole crabs, noodles and coconuts.

After a few days of societal reintegration, we spent our last moments on the Togians in a tiny, brackish lake filled with pulsing, benign jellyfish. Cue the photos.

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