One of the few tourist sites listed in the Lonely Planet for Gorontalo is a place called “Benteng Otanaha” (benteng being the Indonesian word for fort). I have passed the entrance to this tempat wisata (tourist site) many times on my way to visit one of my sitemates, but have never found the time to actually stop and see what the fuss is all about.
So when my school canceled classes the Friday before the national exam, and the other English teachers asked if I had time to jalan-jalan (travel around) with them, and maybe go to Benteng Otanaha, I most assuredly said yes.
We left in the morning, so that we could be there before it became too hot—and it is sweltering by about ten o’clock in Gorontalo—in the car of one of the teachers. There are over three hundred stairs leading up to Benteng Otanaha, where it overlooks the surrounding area. But, in part because we had limited time (there is a special Muslim midday prayer on Fridays, and my teachers did not want to miss it), and in part because the idea of willingly making yourself sticky and gross from sweat is a somewhat baffling idea for most grown Indonesians, we bypassed all of those stairs and drove to the top. I’ll have to go back and count the stairs at a later date.
The fort, believed to have been built by the Portuguese, itself is not very big, and is essentially made up of three watch towers. But the stone walls are simultaneously sturdy and crumbling, the way any historical site should be, and scrambling up and down them with my co-teachers (taking plenty of photos along the way, of course), made for quite the enjoyable excursion.
It also gave my teachers the opportunity to regale me with tales of the bravery of Nani Wartebone, the local hero who was instrumental in helping Gorontalo gain independence from the Dutch. I have heard all kinds of stories about Nani Wartebone since coming here, from the believable (he was born and raised in a desa right near one of my sitemate’s schools), to the not-so-believable (some say he was able to teleport, and that’s how he was able to beat the Dutch). The man who has become a legend here did much of his fighting in the area around Benteng Otanaha, so the site is especially significant for a place that has been free from colonial rule for less than one hundred years.
Because Benteng Otanaha is so high up on the hills, it offers a wonderful view of the surrounding areas, including Danau (Lake) Limboto. The lake used to be much larger than it is now, and from Otanaha my teachers pointed out the old boundaries; in many cases, there are now whole neighborhoods where there used to be water, because those areas have been dry for so long. It was a sad reminder as to the damage humans can do to their environment. Nonetheless, what remains of the lake is still beautiful.
We finished our jalan-jalan in time to enjoy a delicious lunch of ikan bakar (grilled fish) together, before heading back to our respective homes. My co-teachers have become something like family here, and it was fabulous to spend a morning with them outside of school.
 Jalan is the word for “walk,” but when it is doubled like this, it can mean almost any activity that can be done outdoors: going for a walk, wandering around, traveling…
 Gorontalo was actually independent from Dutch control two years before the rest of Indonesia, and there was even a still-often-talked-about visit from Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president, to make sure that Gorontalo was actually going to become part of the rest of the nation.