Marooned in Manado
If you ever go to the airport in Manado, North Sulawesi, you might notice one aspect of the terminal that sets it apart from all others: the stained glass windows. When the first rays of the morning sun pour into the terminal, the sight can lend it the air of a sanctuary.
And it certainly is one after the scariest flying experience you remember. Our time in Manado was meant to be a momentary stop before the hour-long flight to Ternate, but the runway there was being hit by severe crosswinds – the pilot of our propeller plane had tried valiantly but failed to land twice. Once we touched down again in Manado, Bama and I were so relieved we could have kissed the hard tarmac.
As we waited in the baggage reclaim area, a tall, lanky man with shaved patterns on his head confronted an airline representative. “We are transiting from Jakarta!” He screamed. I wanted to tell him there was no point in being angry, and that the bad weather was not the airline’s fault. I also wanted to tell him we had just spent a sleepless night in Jakarta’s main airport after flying in from Padang, West Sumatra.
The airline eventually pacified us all with a free snack box, and then we got the news that our flight to Ternate was postponed till the next morning. It was a surreal experience, travelling towards a nearby hotel in a bus typically used to ferry passengers to a waiting plane on the tarmac. We checked in, completely exhausted, just after five in the afternoon.
Bama and I had left our hotel in Sumatra at 4:00pm local time the previous day. Since Manado is one hour ahead of Java and Sumatra, that meant the last 24 hours were spent in transit, with no shower, no bed to sleep in, and no proper meals. We weren’t in Ternate as planned, but at least we could have our fill of all three.
They say hindsight is 20/20, and Bama now tells me our hiccup in Manado was a blessing in disguise. He’s right. Our original plan was to stay three nights in Ternate, then take a 45-minute speedboat ride and a four-hour drive to the small town of Tobelo on the neighbouring island of Halmahera. While in Manado we decided to simplify the itinerary and save Halmahera for a future trip, in favour of an extra two nights in Ternate.
And we are so glad to have made that choice. In the past six days, Ternate has become one of our favourite places in all of Indonesia. It may not have the white-sand beaches of better-known destinations like Bali and Lombok, but its historic role in the global spice trade has left an indelible imprint on the present. Its shores are still guarded by a string of forts erected by the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch (in that order), and if you venture into the forests clinging to the slopes of Ternate’s smoking volcano, you can still catch the fragrance of wild cloves in the air. We would have seen so much less of the island had we landed on schedule and gone to Halmahera. ◊
*The photo shows our plane on the tarmac in Ternate. Sadly I was too sleep-deprived to take pictures of Manado airport’s stained glass.