Manado, North Sulawesi, Indonesia
Manado is located on the north coast of the wildly unusually shaped island of Sulawesi (formerly Celebes) and is the second-largest city in Sulawesi after Makassar and is the capital of North Sulawesi.
Although on the coast and surrounded by beautiful ocean and coral for snorkellers and scuba divers, the waterfront has no beach- it is lined by volcanic rocks breakwaters. The islands to the north, accessible by boat, are the starting points for underwater adventures.
It’s a prosperous place with good roads and a boulevard lined with western-style shopping centres; the city is nestled by a range of mountains and many coconut, banana and clove plantations. Along the coast is a row of high-end malls and a continuous, one-way traffic jam. It’s a gorgeous spot- not far from the equator and so it was hot! Also, it takes a long time to get to the nearby towns due to the mountainous terrain.
Manado is the cultural home of the Minahasen people. This mainly Christian group were colonised by the Dutch. The churches dotting the city attest to this influence; before the Dutch were the Spanish and Portuguese who arrived in the sixteenth century. Manado grew rich in the era of the spice trade; cloves and coconuts remain big exports.
Something for animal lovers to watch out for here- Rintek wuuk or RW (lit. Minahasan: “fine hair”) is a euphemism of dog meat. In Minahasan culture it is considered prestigious to consume rare and unusual meats. I was voyeuristically keen to see this advertised around the city, however not keen at all in trying any. I love dogs as pets, not as dinner.
We had come here to meet Fernado, a lovely young man whom J met on the online car-part community. He took J around all the old shops with old parts to do some ‘picking’.
Most visitors come here for the scuba diving off nearby Bunaken island. We had a go at snorkelling- it was gorgeous- although we got completely ripped off by our ‘resort’ hotel who charged us $USD60 EACH for what was only 45 minutes of being in the water. My favourite moment was swimming with a beautiful turtle, and the water was the turquoise of postcard pictures.
Fernando is Buddhist, so showed us around his local temple near the harbour which is also one of the major sights of Manado. There are many, many ornate Christian churches and this area in the imperial age was Portuguese before becoming firmly Dutch. So it a place where you can hear a call to prayer from the mosque while looking in a Buddhist temple after passing maybe twenty whitewashed Christian churches with colourful fences.
I also spent part of our little holiday sitting in a homogenous, neon-lit modern shopping centre which has a lack of shops and functioning escalators. It did, however, have a very good view of the dormant volcano ‘Manado Tua ‘, as well as ‘Kid City’, an amusement parlour. Miss E had been dragged around all day looking at car parts so this was her time. I was happy to have a quiet-ish place to sit and look at the photos of the day. I wasn’t very happy waiting nearly an hour for a coffee in a well-known coffee chain before they advised me that they had ‘run out’ of coffee…
I was most fascinated by the Christian cemeteries in Manado City. We had seen a few built on flat ground, but two, in particular, lining the one-way roads which transverse the city centre, are built on rises and resemble tiny, chaotic cities- kind of like shanty towns for the dead.
The graves themselves are adorned with shiny, coloured tiles and headstones. There are no plots and rows- if you were looking for a particular grave there is a good chance you will not be able to find it, or you simply can’t access it. Then if you find a path, there may be a locked gate to stop you in your tracks.
Fernado stopped for me to take some photos. And yes you will be right in thinking I keep calling him Fernando by mistake! He did not understand why I was continually keeping myself amused- ABBA were not as popular in Indonesia as they were in Australia! Plus Fernado was quite a bit younger than me… his taste in music may have been a bit more twenty- first century.
We also had our picture taken with a giant sandstone flying Jesus. There was a really good beer and ribs warung not far from the absurdly massive messiah.
My favourite bits of Manado were: the turquoise coloured, souped-up bemos; two tyres joined together to make planting pots then painted to look like giant macarons; es cendol with roasted peanuts, large plates of chilli squid; but best of all- snorkelling with turtles! I also loved chatting to people as I sat outside car part shops waiting for J.
A middle-aged white woman (my skin is impervious to tanning even in the tropics) sipping on an es cendol in the middle of the dusty commercial street is quite the curiosity and I enjoyed being able to practice my Indonesian and get to know some people from North Sulawesi. We had lots of fun looking at google maps and showing photos of what it looks like where we live.
Manado City was a unique place to visit for a few days. There was a real mix of modern and traditional Indonesia with the high rise shopping malls on one side of the city and cafes with dog meat in the back streets and then a giant Jesus overlooking modern housing developments. If you were into scuba diving I think you would find it a treat. Otherwise, it’s just a nice place to meet some interesting and hospitable people and find some car parts. And eat some fabulous seafood!