It was my fault, I had under-estimated Buton. The small island off the South coast of Sulawesi is beautiful, but arriving in the capital of Bau Bau I just hit a rut. The airport was small and dingy and the town was even worse. Driving through the city on the first day I was happy that I wouldn’t be here long, but then we discovered that the morning ferry actually didn’t exist. Lacking anything to do, we headed to the only place in town with air conditioning, KFC, and spent a day sat behind a cheap plastic table slurping carbonated sugar and using the free Wi-Fi.
Returning from Wakatobi a little more than a week later I had low expectations for the city and I spent the first day sitting in our suite on the top floor of the Calista hotel tapping away on my computer trying to catch up on the work I hadn’t been doing while I travelled. Half way through my second day in the suite I had enough and decided to see what there was to do in Bau Bau.
There was a cheap map on the hotel wall with pins in it showing the tourism highlights of Bau Bau alongside a book filled with faded photos. It didn’t look like that much fun, but it was better than another hour in a hotel room and so after choosing four sites we wanted to visit (waterfall, scenic spot, fort and beach) we set off on two broken down motorbikes.
The waterfall was just a short 15 minute ride along the main coastal road that surrounded the bay. After turning off the main road onto a winding forest lane we heard the sound of laughing children and the splash of water. Turning the final corner we came face to face with 20 kids wearing nothing but their underpants and having a whale of a time in the pool surrounding the waterfall. This was obviously the place to be if you were a young child with nothing to do after school, and as another child jumped from half way up the waterfall I could understand why.
Looking down on Bau Bau from the scenic spot I was struck by the beauty of the location. Set on the edge of a large bay surrounded by rolling hills, the capital had the appearance of a tropical Reykjavik. The bay was filled with ships of all different sizes and sat in the middle of the bay was a large ferry that at first glance looked like it might have been a cruise ship.
The third site of the day was the enormous fort that straddled the hills behind Bau Bau. It had a commanding view of the bay and rusting cannons sat atop of the thick stone walls. It wasn’t until I started to walk around the site that I got a sense of just how enormous this structure was; it took ten five minutes to circle round the inside of the complex on a motorbike.
Nirwana Beach blew me away. Small thatched huts had been built close to the waterline interspersed with palm trees that swayed gently in the breeze. The sand was a beautiful golden yellow and stretched away around the headland. The ocean was as flat as a millpond and twenty meters out to sea, a fishermen slept under the midday sun in his boat. I realised as I took a seat in the shade of the palm tree that I had closed my eyes to the beauty of the island and what a mistake this had been. I should have spent my first day here instead of sitting in KFC.