Words and photography by Suwandi Chandra (郑渊元)
Manado has a large Christian population, and so Christmas is widely celebrated across the city. By early November you can already see colourful lights and dazzling ornaments decorating streets and homes; you’ll even hear Christmas songs being played around the city and at every shopping mall. Indeed the Christmas spirit is alive and well in Manado, and by December it goes into full swing with an influx of Manadonese returning to their home towns in the region from Jakarta and far-flung places around the archipelago, as well as from abroad, to celebrate the holiday with their extended families. The Christmas traditions in Manado are a quiet and intimate affair centred on strengthening family ties.
So November through to December is actually a great time to explore the city. There are fewer crowds and less traffic in general. Things take an even calmer pace through to Christmas Day, and it’s customary for families to visit the graves of loved ones after Christmas and before New Year’s Eve. Cemeteries are brightened with lights and decorations too, and families will gather for picnics, turning a usually gloomy visit into a festive family day. Christmas celebrations cut through the New Year up to the first Sunday in January, ending with Kunci Taon, a tradition where community parades in festive costumes roam the streets and villages.
The history of Manado’s unique take on Christmas can be traced back to the centuries-old heritage of the Minahasan Highlands and mixed Dutch, Portuguese and Spanish influences in the region during the colonial era. A testament to the particularly strong impression left by the Dutch is Gereja Sentrum, or Centrum Church. Built by Dutch missionaries in 1627, it was originally called Oude Kerk (Old Church) after the original Oude Kerk in Amsterdam built in 1213. “It has been rebuilt several times because of the fires that broke out during World War II. But the shape and construction have been well maintained and faithfully restored,” says Fredi, the church caretaker who shows me and Robert around the church, pointing out details in its high ceilings, and offering insights into the beautiful glass mosaics.
Directly adjacent to the church is another historic city landmark, which Fredi also takes us around. “The World War II Memorial, which stands 10m tall, was built to commemorate the Battle of Manado during World War II. Most of the fallen troops were buried below.” We thank Fredi, and Robert recommends I check out an old Buddhist temple in Chinatown not far from the church. It is called Ban Hin Kiong temple and has been around for more than 300 years too. “The name literally means ‘The palace with abundance of happiness and luck’. Most local Chinese come here and pray. They believe that it will give them an abundance of happiness and luck as the name implies,” says Robert. The temple is bright red with shiny flourishes of gold. The pillars and the ceilings feature intricate carvings and vibrant paintings that portray various Chinese mythological creatures and gods. It stands out in bright contrast to the surrounding houses, which I take time to inspect as well. Even though most of the shophouses are very old, many of them are still selling traditional Chinese medicines and Chinese food. This is an enlightening place to see a different slice of everyday life in old Manado.
We continue our journey and head for the Minahasa Highlands, which is where most Manado people came from. Not far from the city centre, we make our first stop at the famously huge Christ Blessing statue. Completed in 2007, the monument stands 50m tall with the 30m-tall statue raised on a 20m pedestal, and is built of metal fibre and steel. All around the grassy hill where the monument stands are young people taking pictures and sitting enjoying the shade of the many trees around. I snap a few of my own shots before continuing the drive south. The bumpy road takes us up increasingly steep inclines and sharper switchbacks, past thickly forested mountains and vast paddy fields, and through many villages along the way. Majestic Mt Lokon, Mt Mahawu, Mt Soputan, and many other peaks form a dramatic tropical range in the distance, dwarfing the towns and tree canopies that lie at their feet.
After about two hours of wonderfully scenic driving, we reach Bukit Kasih (Loving Hill). This is where the first Minahasan ancestors, Toar and Lumimuut, are believed to have settled. In 2002 a monolithic monument was erected by the provincial government to symbolise the nation’s freedom of religion and mark the peaceful harmony between religions in Indonesia. Anyone of any faith can come and pray or meditate atop this tropical hill. There are many different trails that lead to different hilltops and other monuments. I decide to trek the lower path, through trees and an active sulphur valley. The hike is an easy-to-medium trail and definitely worth the effort. From the top, I can see the breathtaking panoramic view of Lake Tondano, framed by Mt Lokon and Mt Soputan and fringed by quaint Minahasan villages. On a clear day you can even see as far as Mt Klabat from here.
From here it’s just a short bit of extra leg work to reach the water’s edge of Lake Tondano. Arriving just before sunset, we stop to take in an unobstructed view across the glassy lake. Fishermen are out on their wooden boats reeling in the catch from traps set earlier that morning before returning to their stilted homes floating on the water. At one corner, there are some locals sitting on the edge of the lake and fishing recreationally with a rod, chatting and laughing. Moments later the sky transforms into a watercolour painting of swirling pinks and purples, reflected on the lake. A few hours later I’m back in the heart of the city, but it feels like I’m a world away from where I had just experienced a most unforgettable sunset, the perfect end to my Manado adventure.
Manado cuisine is famously spicy. Dishes like woku, chicken or fish in ground spice paste, ginger, turmeric, candlenut and red chilli pepper mixed with chopped shallots, spring onions and tomatoes with a twist of lemon, are addictively hot. Rica-rica is another chicken or fish dish, but with red and green chilli peppers, bird’s-eye chilli, shallots, garlic and ginger ground and cooked in coconut oil and mixed with lime leaf, lemongrass and lime juice. If spicy isn’t your deal, try klappertaart,a Dutch-influenced Indonesian coconut tart made with fresh coconut flesh. One of the best restaurants to try these local delicacies is Puncak Manado, with it’s authentic flavours and brilliant views over Manado city. If the weather is good, you can even see as far out as Manado Tua, a volcanic island which is part of Bunaken.
Treat yourself to tropical tranquillity. The Hotel Novotel Manado Golf Resort & Convention Center is set in a lush green landscape. All 176 rooms boast a contemporary design, sleek wooden floors and complimentary high-speed Internet access. Extensive leisure activities on offer include fishing, rafting, jet skiing, cycling, snorkelling, a spa, tennis court and a kids’ club. All-day dining at The Square features an interactive show kitchen with an Asian and international buffet served for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Wasabi offers Teppanyaki-style and private dining within a stylish bamboo interior serving an extensive menu of Japanese favourites and expansive views over the 18-hole golf course. The new Lippo Plaza adjacent to the resort provides instant retail therapy. www.novotelmanado.com
Between Lake Tondano and Bukit Kasih, there is an interesting village called Pulutan, famous for its clay and ceramic handicrafts. Everything is completely locally sourced and handmade using traditional tools and techniques. Almost every villager here has their own home studio. At the heart of the village is a training centre where you can try to make your own traditional clay and ceramic crafts, learning from the locals. English and Indonesian written guides are available.
Make your way to Mt Mahawu near Lake Tondano. The mountain is easy to get to if you’re a keen hiker; It’s only an hour’s hike from the nearby village. You will pass through many local vegetable fields and continue through the forest before arriving at the caldera. From the top, you can see many surrounding mountains (including Lokon, Klabat, Soputan and more) and enjoy a bird’s-eye view over Lake Tondano.
For the PDF please visit Garuda-Colours-Manado-November-2015.
For full magazines please click here.
FYI, all photos are available for purchase as a print. And, if you are interested in collaboration or freelance services, please don’t hesitate to contact me through the link here.