– Written by Ian Morse, ETA in Gorontalo –
Surprise. You’ve had a great day visiting Ian’s school, but all of a sudden everyone had to leave and you’ve been left alone. A few teachers had to dash to a wedding party in North Gorontalo. One had a sick child at home, a couple others went to attend a graduation in the city but sped away before you could hitch a ride. A few fled with some students to a school competition that night. They won’t get home until late. You won’t either unless you follow my directions.
You’re in Ilomangga, a village in a sub-district once combined with Batudaa – a place with a reputation for the thickest Gorontalo culture within a reasonable distance. You’re in the southern part of the valley of the isthmus of Sulawesi’s northernmost limb. You’re far enough from the city to warrant warnings of late-night travel, but closer than the airport. And you’re hungry.
You’ll be fine, because there’s really only one road to the city. But I’ll show you anyways. Because this road has too much character to forego a profile.
Make your way to the main road, just a short walk from the school and passing my house. If you had gotten lost here a month before, you’d have the privilege of seeing the carnival set up outside my house. In a few hours the noise would have threatened your eardrums.
Hopefully you have a motorbike or you’ll have to flag down a bentor, a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi invented here. You’ll head west, cruising along the base of Gorontalo’s southern hills that buffer the rice paddy from the ocean air. Please keep your arms in legs inside the vehicle at all times.
This part is easy. It’s straight, and just about every 200 meters is some kind of landmark.
The first of which is the local market, where I buy my bananas, peanuts, tomatoes, chilis and rice. That is, if I am motivated enough to cook or haven’t mooched food from somewhere else. It’s already past the height of the afternoon, so some have already begun packing up their produce. Don’t worry, there’s more food further on if you’re still hungry.
Just after, you’ll see my favorite mosque around here that I have yet to find time to enter.
There are occasional glimpses at what lies behind the houses along this road. Some of those are the coconut trees on likely expensive land owned by lucky farmers. The sub-district I live in is Tabongo, which can be translated as “many coconuts.”
Oh look, another food stop if your stomach is still grumbling. But careful, this place only has chicken and beef sate. The sauce can quickly bring you to tears if you’re unaccustomed to Gorontalo’s spicy food.
If it’s Thursday, you would have just missed the biggest market with just about everything for several kilometers. Pasar Kamis, a simple name from the day it occurs, hasn’t brought out the food yet, as you can see.
I don’t quite understand borders here. Since departing, you’ve crossed into three new villages, and now we’re in Bua, where I’ve been kidnapped to a few times. The first time was to this veggie stand open until 12 a.m. (We ended up at a party with a lot of dancing.)
Another time was to a breakfast stand that used to be here, but has since been deconstructed and disappeared.
The taller trees are starting to clear, and you can tell you’re getting closer to the lake.
Oh look, my former headmistress’s home next to the road leading over the hills to the seaside villages on the other side. Be careful, only take a powerful motorbike to the top.
Not far from her house is another teacher’s house, where the school gathered to slaughter three more cows on Idul Adha. (I was luckier on this second time. The first time two days before brought me close to passing out.)
You’re coming up on what looks like a sharp ravine. You have long since left Tabongo and are now in the sub-district Batudaa, the area whose name for locals immediately stirs not only feelings of culture but also images of crime and alcohol, two things apparently rare in the rest of the region. And this is the few hundred meters that give it that reputation. In my experience it’s largely a stereotype that at the most is just a quality relative to the rest of the region. It’s also one of the best places to learn the Gorontalo language, so I guess it’s a trade-off.
Now the roller coaster ride down to the plain of the lake. Again, all arms and legs inside the vehicle please. It’s this hill that helps prevent floods in the area we just left.
There’s your first view the lake! Bulalo Limboto as it is called here (and as Google Maps just adopted).
Sliding around the first of many curves after those 20 minutes that could have been done without touching the steering wheel, you’ll see a national and historical footprint left at the base of Gorontalo’s source of life. In 1950, Indonesia’s first president Soekarno landed his seaplane here, and a museum to his landing now stands. You can also get a pretty solid new profile picture there.
Then you will come to the crest of what you realize is a mini-cape, which hosts the tomb of a religious figure that locals believe could walk across the lake. Stop here if you want the best view of the lake from the road.
Rounding another corner, you’ll get a quick snapshot of the village across the lake where you’ll spend the next few kilometers, Dembe. Feel free to travel the lake road but be prepared to get bumped off your seat a few times.
Dembe is the penultimate town before the city. For some reason, you are quite a bit more likely to hit a cow here.
You’re approaching the most famous tourist site here – a fort built by the portuguese and local kingdoms in the 1500s. Sunday morning jog up the hill is a good way to experience it with everyone else.
But before you get there, you’ll pass on your left the road to my adopted family’s house. They invited me over once and said I had to come back, and the next thing I know they’re treating me like family (meaning I also have to wash the dishes).
Ah there’s the entrance for the fort. The sun almost perfectly aligns with the ends of the valley, so you can catch a good sunrise or sunset from the top.
The fort marks the end of Dembe and the beginning of the town that makes this road so fun. It’s name, Leko Balo, has no meaning in the Gorontalo language, even though many locals think it means “many turns.” So, in the town of turns, my favorite is the first, buttressed by late night fruit stands and a wall of trees:
Make sure your steering wheel works.
Make sure your brakes work, too. These roads are narrow so any large truck is sure to pile up everyone behind it.
Get distracted. Check out the homes set close to the water, protected from the lake’s flooding by that lake road you saw before. Sometimes people go swimming just below the road, and I happened to run into a friend (figuratively) doing just that while filming this.
You’re squished between the water and hills now, so houses have to hike higher up the hill to fit.
Nobody will blame you if you want to take some of these turns slowly to enjoy the view.
Ok you’ve had training on the easy turns, so close to the end the road bends you back 180 degrees.
Just this last bridge over the lake’s only natural outlet – where monitor lizards occasionally hang out – and you’ve entered the city limits.
Congratulations, you’re on the main southern city road, and don’t worry, no more turns. Keep going straight and you’ll hit all the shopping you could ever need in Gorontalo.
Alright, I know it was a straight shot into the city, but I think this road deserved its own tribute in some way.