If you are only looking for information regarding ‘how to get to Ternate, scroll to the bottom of this page.
“90.0 degrees” our captain Yoko waves his hand due east signalling the direction of our destination, Pulau Ternate. There is a consistent rumble from below as our engines warm up and allow the crew to navigate the Lembeh strait. Mainland Sulawesi sits in our wake but its volcano sits suffocated by the afternoon clouds. Somehow the sun penetrates through these brooding masses in dramatic bursts, creating funnels of lights that cast an eerie glow on the steep slopes.
Our jaws close upon this magnificent battle between the elements and our eyes wander back towards our captain. Yoko is now in the process of stroking his slightly round belly in disdain “I am supervisor now and I only am directing. This makes me more fat.” Having captained vessels over international waters he finally had to slow down “…when you get wife, you must stop!” Located close to home he earns 1,000 dollars a month making overnight shuttles between the Spice Islands and Bitung port. Inspirational or not this gentleman is full of facts. “This is the last trip for her because after she is going to port, must make repair and repair.” Prue and I look at one another and shrug off the concern. We have full faith in this experienced sailor, plus he is a smart man. After showing us photos of his two children he declares “I make no more, I must save for school for these two. It is expensive.” A quick thoughtful pause is required to complete the sentence “It is enough.”
Back on deck there is a single ‘mattress’ left for grabs. We furnish the skinny padding with jumpers to make a plump pillow. Sprawling either side of the mattress our bodies rest in opposite directions against our backpacks that sit propped upon the wall. We attempt to let the slow push of the water send us to our dreams but as is usual in Indonesia, a horrendous noise is emanating from the speakers. Not because the music is bad mind you but because the ridiculous volume distorts the harmonics and sends them screeching through the room. In accordance with tradition, this vacant disco transforms into a Karaoke. No winners, no talent required, just an agreeable way to pass the time – providing you are not trying to sleep that is. On and off we drowse, sometimes waking up to the stares from people who have come to watch the ‘bulee’ (foreigner) sleep, sometimes waking with an aching neck or a stiff hip that has rested too long on a hard floor.
After numerous position changes, intermittent sleep and an early morning realisation that the insulting sounds have ceased, I remove the sarong that covers my eyes. From an open window I can see a flutter of light, we have reached the day. I command my unsteady feet up the stairs. As golden globe of the sun lingers just beyond a conical peak on the horizon I take a few moments to regain control of my emotions. Then I find myself laughing at the fact that we certainly are heading east, right into the sun and with it the heart of North Maluku. I have yearned to visit this historic place for years. In 1521 Magellans fleet, while aiming to be the first men to circumnavigate the world, rested upon Pulau Tidore’s shores. Eager to establish trade in a portion of the ‘Cradle of Spices’ these sailors were assisted by luck. They happened to land upon one of the richest islands in clove production thanks to the fertile soil of Tidore’s volcanic slopes.
The volcanoes Tidore and Ternate (dormant and active respectively) rise dramatically from the ocean and form the gates of our entrance to North Maluku. Both islands are small and circular, their rims defined by the dominating volcanoes. Along the very edges, before they continue their descent into ocean, sit small strings of black sand beach and quaint colourful houses. Several more populated towns on Ternate make the effort to claw their way up the slopes but abruptly fail by the dramatic incline. The domes of mosques are scattered about and shine like gems amongst the littering of houses. When we dock at Bastiong, the port town, the entire scene before us is a miniature toy town. Brightly painted boats stir in the breeze upon the shallow calm waters, adding additional charm to the numerous delicate houses. We disembark the ferry with careful steps, our ample luggage makes meandering the stairs a difficult task. Our first steps onshore are unhindered by the usual hectic tauts from Indonesian taxis, enabling us to freely waddle, as I can best describe it, to what appears to be a main street and flag down an ojek. A woman who has been chewing and dribbling beetle nut on her balcony is now suddenly motivated to come and poke her stained red finger at me asking for money. Now is not the time, I am in deep conversation with him trying to get us to our accommodation quickly. Our pimped out toy model car runs its way through the sweet shop coloured streets as we breathe in the sight of a lively town. Food stands sell in every alleyway and delicious smells congregate in the streets. Our first impressions tell us that Ternate is not poor. I suppose being the first island in the world to trade cloves with westerners would have something to do with that. The path to this simplistic prosperous lifestyle has not been easy. Thanks to European dominancy Ternate and Tidore sultanates were coerced into being sworn enemies and have a long history of war lasting over 300 years.
An easy and cheap option to get to Ternate Island is to take a ferry. Pulau (“Poo-laow”) means island in Bahasa Indonesian and pronouncing the name of the Pulau’s correctly will help you immensely. Pulau Ternate (“Ter-nar-tay”) and Pulau Tidore (“Tid-or-ray”) can be easily reached by boat from North Sulawesi.
Coming from the south they depart from Manado to Bitung and from Bitung to Pulau Ternate. You are able to board these vessels at both ports. The price varies depending upon the class you choose; anything from 100,000Rupiah to 400,000Rupiah is possible with ‘Klas 2A’ and ‘Klas 2B’ (air con room with 6 or 8 people) sitting somewhere in-between. Passengers are fed at regular mealtimes, depending upon your chosen class the quality of the food and setting varies. There is a canteen and a pot noodle restaurant on board; the latter of the two provides all night karaoke.
But lucky for us…
An overnight ferry service departs from Bitung at 2pm. Tickets are 108,000Rupiah and must be bought on the morning of departure from their portside location (office opens at 9am). On board a ‘mattress’ costs 20,000Rupiah. Ear plugs will also help you sleep thanks to the karaoke which thunders well into the night. Waking up early and checking out the rising sun behind the volcanic islands is a joy. No food is provided for passengers so bring some breakfast and snacks. A canteen sells pot noodles and coffee.