Bucket list: We ditched our corporate life to travel slow in Sulawesi

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SULAWESI – Standing on a rickety Indonesian fishing boat, entranced by the Milky Way stretched out above us, we are lost in deep thought when violent splashing in the waters below startles me.

“It’s a crocodile fish,” my new-found friend Darwis calls out.

We spend the next 15 minutes training our cameras on Darwis and his thrilling hunt of the “ikan buaya”, or crocodile fish.

Like all Bajaus, who take to open water as soon as they turn two years old, Darwis is an excellent freediver who needs no dive equipment other than his trusty speargun.

At this point, we have been living out of our backpacks for two weeks, clocking several days of sweltering bus, ferry and boat rides in Sulawesi.

Barely six months ago, while we were still receiving regular pay cheques, we could not have imagined embarking on this manner of travel.

In our past corporate lives – not too far from our memory – we were never very taken by the idea of travel. The regular tourist programming that involved checking off an exhaustive list of “must-sees” and setting up Insta-worthy posts only culminated in post-holiday fatigue and the ensuing need for a “vacation from a vacation”.

But this July, a month-long slow-travel journey through Sulawesi changes all that. Pandemic-weary and fresh from declaring a sabbatical, we decide to travel across rustic Sulawesi, the 11th largest island in the world.

1. An ‘extreme’ Minahasan food journey

Perched on the northern end of Sulawesi and easily accessed via a four-hour direct flight from Singapore, Manado is our gateway to the island.

The city is quick to reveal its warmth and hospitality to us. Over a Manadonese dinner at a traditional rumah makan (eating house), we befriend native Minahasans, who are eager to impart local commuting and language tips.

We have heard plenty about the Minahasans’ exotic food culture, and armed with local knowledge, set out in search of the infamous Tomohon Extreme Market, just an hour away from Manado by bus.

The market feels like any ordinary one until we turn a corner and see hanging pythons, fruit bats, skewered jungle rats, wild boars and caged dogs for sale.

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