“Magic Hand of Gorontalo and The Magical Lake”

October 23, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

“Magic Hand of Gorontalo and The Magical Lake”

 

Sliced bananas submerged into boiling cooking oil. None can't imagine how it feels swimming in that piping hot frying pan. But Ta No'u knows. Suddenly she dropped her hand, turning and rolling those bananas, made it evenly fried. She did it with her bare hand! And I didn’t see any expression on her face. "I feel nothing", she response as if she know what is in my head. "This is no magic!" she added. "Just utter Bismillah and convince yourself. Do you want to try?” Wow! Of course not! Definitely not.

 

That was one of amazing serendipity I encountered in the northern Sulawesi. The other one was the picturesque and tranquil Limboto Lake. I hopped on a small wooden boat, wade across the biggest lake in the province (well it looks more like a swamp than a lake actually), and the birds fly above my head. What an experience!

 

Ta No'u magic hand. She is a pisang goreng (fried banana) seller in the city of Gorontalo.Ta No'u magic handTa No'u magic hand. She is a pisang goreng (fried banana) seller in the city of Gorontalo.

 

Visiting north Sulawesi is never been easier today. Major domestic carriers fly daily from major cities in the country. 

A commercial airplane stopover in Hasanudin Makassar airport. Makassar Hasanudin airportA commercial airplane stopover in Hasanudin Makassar airport. This airport serves as a hub for eastern part of Indonesia.

However, when someone says "North Sulawesi", what comes first to one’s mind is Sulawesi Utara, or Manado. I’m not surprised. For about 50 years, Sulawesi Utara Province encompassing the northern part of this spider-shape island. Now you may notice that there are another province shares this same northern part of the island. That's Gorontalo, the new province, split from the later and established in 2000. For about a decade, I feel that it’s some kind of an overlooked place, so now let’s take a look!

 

Gorontalo city from aboveGorontalo city from above

My first impression of the city is clean and neat.  And bentor is everywhere; in fact, people call it “Bentor City”, or maybe it’s a capital city of bentor? At least, there won’t be a lack of public transportation wherever you are in the city. Before go further, you may well aware that Gorontalo is a name of the province and also the capital. There are several provinces with the same trait in Indonesia. Can you think of others? (Hint: there are five provinces)

Row of 'Bentor' (motorized pedicab)Row of 'Bentor' (motorized pedicab)'Bentor' (motorized pedicab) is the typical transportation of Gorontalo, Sulawesi, Indonesia

It’s not surprising that the town has earned Adipura award several times in the past (Adipura trophy awarded to cities and towns for its cleanliest). The traffic-free and pedestrianized streets make it tantalizing to walk around although the sun can be scorching hot in the noon. If this happened, a cross between a rickshaw and a motorbike will save you: our old friend, bentor. It costs 5,000 to nearby destinations.

Bentor, a cross between trishaw & motor cycleBentor, a cross between trishaw & motor cycleBentor of Gorontalo. In fact, 'bentor city' is the nick name of Gorontalo.

The grand mosque marks the center of the town. Masjid Baiturrahim was built in 1728 in the era of Botutihe. It is one of the oldest in the Northern Sulawesi and it’s worth to take a look, although many of its architecture are modern and new (it suffered from a devastating earthquake in 1930s and rebuilt and renovated ever since). Inside is cool, a stark contrast to the outside.  Gorontalo city also has a many number of old colonial buildings that are still well preserved. Interesting.

Baiturrahim Grand MosqueBaiturrahim Grand Mosque of GorontaloGorontalo city is neat and clean and has won Adipura award for several times.

Not very far from the historical Masjid Baiturrahim is the magic hand of Gorontalo. Ta No'u. What’s made her famous is her ability to boil the fried banana with her bare hands. A friend of mine took me to her stall. That afternoon Ta No'u used normal cooking utensils just like everyone. Nothing special. People started to come and gathered. Some bought the fried and just leave, others stand still patiently waited her to play her special expertise as if to prove what they’ve heard. Not until we asked, she started to submerge her bare hand into the boiling cooking oil. It brought gasp to the audience. Later, she moved to touch the frying pan. A hair-raising scene, and a wacky one.

 

This middle-aged woman told us that she’s got this ability about ten years ago when something convinced her to do it. When she tried, she could do it. That’s it. Simple. No magic, etc. Then she invited us to try for ourself. “Don’t worry, you can do it too if you are confident. Without doubt, none tempted to try! This expertise has brought some luck to the owner. Ta No'u have been frying bananas in Paris and other countries in international events and demonstrated her unique skill at the same time. Do you wonder she had the most saleable pisang goreng out there?

Milu Siram, Gorontalo, IndonesiaMilu Siram, Gorontalo, IndonesiaSpecialty of Gorontalo. Milu is corn in local language. A corn with fish (tongkol/cakalang/tenggiri), and/or shrimp mixed in a soup, served hot in a bowl.

While you can find pisang goreng almost anywhere in Indonesia it’s not the case with milu siram. So one day, my bentor driver took me to a restaurant specialised in milu siram. Milu is corn in local language. A corn with fish (tongkol/cakalang/tenggiri), and/or shrimp mixed in a soup, served hot in a bowl. Very unique and tasty. This specialty of Gorontalo is a must to try. Don’t forget, Gorontalo is a major producer of corn in the country.

Menara Keagungan (The Tower of Majesty), Limboto, Gorontalo, IndMenara Keagungan (The Tower of Majesty), Limboto, Gorontalo, IndonesiaMenara Keagungan (The Tower of Majesty), Limboto, Gorontalo, Indonesia

There are still some interesting things in the vicinity of the town, like traditional house of Dulohupa, Tanjung Keramat, the Lombongo hot spring, and some beaches: Lahilote, Indah beach and Karang Citra Beach. Being bordered by Celebes Sea and the Philippines on the north and Tomini Bay-Molucca Sea on the south, Gorontalo also boasts the best diving and snorkeling in Sulawesi.

 

But with my precious time, I decided to fast forward to Fort Otanaha and Limboto Lake. Stop by in Menara Keagungan, about half an hour from the center of town. That is the Eiffel version of Gorontalo. A 65 m high, green and grey five-storey tower where you can relish the view of the nearby area. But the view from Otanaha is more dramatic.

Fort OtanahaFort Otanaha (Benteng Otanaha), Gorontalo and the adjacent Limboto Lake.Fort Otanaha (Benteng Otanaha), Gorontalo and the adjacent Limboto Lake.

Fort OtanahaFort Otanaha (Benteng Otanaha), Gorontalo and the adjacent Limboto Lake.

Situated on the hills surrounding the Limboto Lake, I’ve been intrigued to visit this piece of history since many years ago although it turns out that the architecture are a simple circular and oval shape only, originally made of materials such as sand and limestone (at least to me). No cannon, weaponry, or whatsoever in witness. The official story unfold that these stone fortresses was originally made by a local king named Ilato and a Portuguese sailor in 1522. However, my friend told me that the function of these structures are apocryphal and remain in questioned even by the local people. “It is more like a watch towers than a fortress”, he explained.

 

No doubt, it is strategically located and offers a good vantage point of Limboto Lake from above and the surrounding mountains. Walking thru the historical ruins while enjoying the spectacular vista was an exhilarating experience, not to mention  a constant cool afternoon breeze and the quite setting.
 

Limboto LakeLimboto LakeA lake dweller :)

No doubt, it is strategically located and offers a good vantage point of Limboto Lake from above and the surrounding mountains. Walking thru the historical ruins while enjoying the spectacular vista was an exhilarating experience, not to mention  a constant cool afternoon breeze and the quite setting.

A short hop to Limboto Lake wrapped up my journey. Qibor, a local friend of mine led me to a tucked away spot.  Suddenly we embarked on a motorised wooden boat, slowly exploring the 3000 hectares lake (just a fraction given the time constrain). It didn’t take long before it became evident that this excursion was the best of all. Our wooden boat glide thru the deep shade water and our motor’s noise broke the silence. We navigated our way thru the many floating houses that serves as fishermen’s post. It is called bagan. Every bagan oversees a plot of several hundreds square meters area of fish cultivation, fringed by bamboo poles placed horizontally several centimeters below the surface.

Fishing platform dotting the Limboto Lake.Limboto LakeFishing platform dotting the Limboto Lake.

There are hundreds of bagan, with each plot.  So, exploring the Limboto is like wading thru a labyrinth of waterways. Often times the boatman decided to pass into and out of these patch, which means we have to…You know it. Charged it. How we do it? The boatman will pull out the engine (and the attached propeler) just before the boat hit the bamboo pole below, then the boat “fly” above the bamboo for a few seconds. “Plak, plak”, Then the next one on the other side, “Plak, plak” again. What an experience! (Amateur, please don’t try this at home!).  I can’t imagine doing all of these without an experienced boatman. I bet this nerve-racking activity is his daily staple.

 
Nevertheless, I was exhilirated. From the boat, I enjoyed the amazing scenery, fishermen activities, scores of birds that flew above and the tranquility when we stopped by at the bagan and also the sweet air. Warm glow of afternoon sun also always accompanied our trip. As a local, Qibor knows the perfect time to this tour of the Everglades of Sulawesi though much of the lake surface was covered by the invincible water hyacinth.

Limboto LakeLimboto Lake chicken.Livestock of fisherman.

Decades ago, when the first president Soekarno visited Gorontalo, his party used amphibious aircraft and made the Limboto Lake as a landing strip. That was when the lake much, much larger than nowadays. Unfortunately, this estuary of the five major rivers is in the process of shrinking due to sedimentation. Come along with this sad story is also a good one: you can still enjoy the fresh grilled fish supplied by local fishermen.

The Fish Cultivation in Floating Net At Limboto Lake, Sulawesi,The Fish Cultivation in Floating Net At Limboto Lake, Sulawesi,The Fish Cultivation in Floating Net At Limboto Lake, Sulawesi, Indonesia

There are still many things in Gorontalo, but I’ve to go home. I’ll return someday to explore the coastline, the Bogani Nani Wartabone National Park, and to rehash the Limboto experience again for sure.

Limboto LakeLimboto Lake

Fisherman Silhouette With Dramatic Sunset At The Fish Cage Of LaFisherman Silhouette With Dramatic Sunset At The Fish Cage Of LaFisherman Silhouette With Dramatic Sunset At The Fish Cage Of Lake Limboto, orontalo, Indonesia

Bentor, a cross between trishaw & motor cycleBentor, a cross between trishaw & motor cyclePick one of them to bring you anywhere around. It costs 5000 rp to nearby destinations around Gorontalo city, but they also operate further afield.

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Fadil Aziz.

(this article appeared on Bali and Beyond Magazine, August 2013)

 


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