Way Off the Beaten Path: A Homestay on the Togean Islands of Indonesia

  • Stephen Lioy
  • 11 December 2012

The 17,000 islands of the Indonesian archipelago include a great many off-the-path destinations well beyond the party beaches of Kuta (Bali) and the volcano sunrises of Bromo (East Java).

Fish on a reef of the Togean Islands, Indonesia

Underwater life on a reef of the Togean Islands of Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Greg Trahan

In a country falling squarely on many tourists’ radars for its all-inclusive resorts and organised bus tours, I instead remember the Togean Islands as a place where the most serious decisions I made included “SCUBA or snorkel?” and “Should we walk across the beach for a warm beer or the island for a cold?” It was a place where, unlike most of the island paradises of my memory, paradise lived up to my ideals.

Togean Island Style

Many of Indonesia’s islands offer sun, sand and sea. Not all of them – indeed very few – engender a feeling of community and family. One handful that does is the Togean Islands, which respond to the needs of an eclectic mix of nationalities and travelling styles. In particular, the islands’ Pondok Lestari homestay offered me the ideal combination of beautiful beaches and a feeling of belonging.

Beachfront of Kadidiri Island, Indonesia

A welcome home away from home: the beachfront on the island of Kadidiri in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Stephen Lioy

On the Togean island of Kadidiri, we gathered each evening to squabble over who ate the last of the sambal or whose turn it was to walk for more beer. On most nights, after a big communal dinner, we predictably settled into Swiss board games or Indonesian cards. Explaining rules and strategies across languages – English to German to French to Bahasa –was so inefficient that the most commonly heard phrase was “Cannot!”

Adventure-fuelled Days

The days offered more excitement than the chilled-out nights. On mornings that Aka (our homestay host) didn’t take out the Lestari boat for fishing/snorkelling trips, the resort just down the beach rented sea kayaks to paddle to nearby islands. When Aka was around, each afternoon was randomly adventurous. One day we visited protected mangroves, while the next we toured the shallow reefs our host/driver prefers for fishing. On yet another day, we finally explored the intra-island trails and over-water villages of the local Bajo community.

Traveller on a boat returning to shore, Kadidiri Island, Indonesia

After a dive with Paradise Resort, a moment of quiet on the return to Kadidiri Island, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Stephen Lioy

On really big days, or maybe just when the call of civilisation became overwhelming, Aka invited us back to the ferry port. If no new guests showed up on the morning ferry, Wakai’s wet markets and waterfall were ours to explore. They were part of the largest settlement within six or seven hours’ boat ride, which was overwhelming after days of quiet peace. Wakai even has motorbikes buzzing down its dirt roads. A day trip to the village definitely makes for a great diversion, but we always welcomed the sunset boat ride back home.

Local Communal Living

All this warm camaraderie is the very atmosphere that Pondok Lestari seems built to evoke. Basic rooms – just a bed and mosquito net – push guests out toward the beach each morning. With limited electricity and no wifi, the homestay’s common space becomes an arena for interaction hard to find in other guesthouses. Sitting on hut-front balconies or swinging on community hammocks, guest form plans for sea-kayaking and jungle hikes or lazy beachfront snorkels and an afternoon of reading.

Sunset over Wakai Island, Togean Islands, Indonesia

Sunset over the village of Wakai in the Togean Islands of Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Stephen Lioy

While there are two other places to stay on the island of Kadidiri, both of them proper resort-type accommodation with dive shops and bars, at the end of our week, most of the island’s other guests were spending their evenings at the Lestari homestay as well.

Saying Goodbye… for Now

Like so many backpacker decisions, my choice to stay at Lestari was determined by economy rather than experience. Fortunately, all along the way in Indonesia – from tourists in Bunaken to bureaucrats in Manado – everyone promised that the Togean Islands are the ideal blend of off-grid living, underwater nature and pure local charm.

Moray eel

A moray eel keeps a wary on the surrounding reefs of the Togean Islands of Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Stephen Lioy

I often ignore hyperbole like this, but when the Lestari outrigger met our overnight ferry from the mainland and promised a free ride to US$11-per-night bed, food and snorkelling trips, I was forced to wonder what other options were really even worth considering.

Though a handful of tourists in the Togean Islands stay for one or two nights, most hunker down for considerably longer. After a week on Kadidiri, having expected to spend two or three nights before skipping to another island, my travel buddy and I discussed when we would be able to pull ourselves away.

Boat pilots in the Togean Islands, Indonesia

On the Pondok Lestari boat. Was it the right decision to leave the Togean Islands of Indonesia? Photo courtesy of Greg Trahan

Lily, a French nurse, was months into her stay and still in no hurry to leave. Having come on her first visit to Indonesia and made close ties to the family running Pondok Lestari, her decision always to return to the island seemed obvious in the bonfire light of my last night on the beach.

After one last sleepless night of empty bottles and heartfelt discussions, waving goodbye from the outrigger, even now I wonder if leaving was the right choice at all.

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Stephen Lioy

Stephen Lioy is currently on his fourth last year in Asia. After a year and a half of teaching English in Shenzhen, China, he left to travel Southeast Asia and on from there. He is currently homeless, unemployed and quite happy with it. Read more at www.monkboughtlunch.com to see why.
Stephen Lioy
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adventure travel, Asia, beaches, Indonesia, islands, local knowledge, oceans & reefs, personal experience, South-Eastern Asia, traveller tale,

4 Responses to “Way Off the Beaten Path: A Homestay on the Togean Islands of Indonesia”

  1. Adam says:

    Great article Steve..
    I went to Bali and didn’t like it.. This is what I was looking for in Indonesia. I met a surfer dude from South Africa in my village in Ireland while working at a local golf club. We shared a drink and he shard his diary from his travels in Indo..

    This is what he experienced.. You were lucky to find it..

    Hope to get there one day..


  2. island says:

    Indonesia is just one of the neighboring countries of the Philippines and I believe that Asia has a lot to offer to everyone.

  3. province says:

    There are so many beautiful places in the world and Indonesia is one. Another asian country that could give you beautiful places to visit is Camiguin Island in the southern part of the Philippines.

  4. I feel your choice on having to leave because of the economy rather than experience. I was a backpacker (and still am in my heart after 5 years) and when I even lived in South Korea for two years two years ago it was based on economy versus experience–because the bombings were happening. You get connected and your life is filled with adventure and you meet some very amazing people along the way. And I too still wonder if leaving was the right choice. Stephen that was a good read, my friend, thank you for that.

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