Sunday, September 13, 2009

Exotic Indonesia

Darwin to Indonesia

Locally built dive tour boat in the indonesian islands

We got off to a grand start on 18th July along with many other Sail Indonesia Rally yachts. We were unable to keep up speed as we decided to stay back and keep company with Linger Longer, who lost prop power quite suddenly. So we arrived outside Saumlaki in the middle of the night . Consequently we loitered around offshore for several hours before attempting to enter the anchorage at daybreak.
Small wood carving in Saumlaki
As one of the last boats to drop anchor we found ourselves quite a distance from the main wharf area where the officials were located. However – this was perfectly ok as it took quite some time for the quarantine and customs guys to come on board and do their paperwork with us. They obviously didn’t expect 140 yachts to arrive all at the same time. Why not we wonder – when there are Rally organizers – and we are paying them to organize?

After two or three frustrating days when we seemed to get very little useful information and everyone was getting more and more exasperated with the rally officials it became evident that we should plan ahead and decide where we were going next. Everyone had a different opinion but we were sufficiently discombobulated by the lack of organization and general chaos that we decided to go west. Leave the rally and all the accompanying hooha.

Yes - this is a real bird. It is part of a traditional costume worn by the ladies in Saumlaki
In our opinion trying to get 140 yachts sorted out in Indonesia was just too difficult. I think it would have been a monumental task anywhere (given that cruisers like to do things their own way) but the rally organizers we met seemed to have very little idea of what was happening or what should be happening; curious to say the least, as they have been doing this rally think for over 9 years! They might have shown some enthusiasm for the job and thus possibly instilled a modicum of confidence amongst us.

Charts showed deep anchorages everywhere and when there are so many others in the same place it all gets a bit overwhelming. We would love to have gone north for a little, but over the next few days discovered that over 80 yachts were heading that way, the rest deciding to leave the main rally temporarily at least.

We watched this yound man shimmy up a full sized coconut tree
Gradually, over the next few days the yachts left – some going to anchor “around the corner”, some heading north for the fabled spice islands of the Banda archipelago, others to anchorages further west.

We straggled after the westbound contingent, enjoying a couple of quiet bays where we were able to go ashore and explore the small villages. The first, aptly named “warm springs” as there was in fact a very warm stream just behind the beach, was a small fishing village with only about three families and several single men in residence. They appeared to have very little in the way of gardens or even fish and we were not able to buy or barter for anything. I did however, take several photos – and I was able to print a few out and give them back to the villagers. Some of the men were cutting wood and making good strong and straight planks with just a chain saw.
Villagers paddled impossibly small canoes all around the reefs and small islands
There were two partially constructed wooden boats and a couple of guys were building a canoe using simple hand tools such as a plane and a chisel and hammer. Several small generators provided power and there were lots of large satellite dishes for TV. Open fires for cooking, no shoes, little schooling, minimal food, but definitely great TV!

After we left we heard that crocodiles were known to live in the vicinity – pretty scary as some people did laundry in the river and most of us gathered at least once for happy hour on the beach!

Our next foray onshore was to visit a larger village. Here we were escorted around by the head man and a teacher and accompanied by almost everyone who was mobile. About 200 people lived there – the houses were generally slightly better than the wooden shacks on stilts at the last place. The school had about three classrooms – that and the mosque was concrete. I saw a couple of motorbikes so there was obviously a road somewhere close by. Of course at this time I didn’t realize that there are thousands, no, probably millions of motorbikes in Indonesia. It is definitely the favoured form of transport. As many as families of 5 can squeeze on a scooter – in many places without benefit of helmets. Petrol stations always seem to have long queues of scooters and motorbikes waiting for refills.

Waiting by the roadside for a "bemo" bus.
Our next interesting anchorage was on the beach of a resort. Sea World is a pleasant dive resort where a catholic mission was founded over 50 years ago. Father Henri is a popular figure - now well into his 80’s and who is largely responsible for much social and agricultural education on the island. Local people run the resort, profits are returned to local communities and we were very happy to find a pleasant atmosphere and good food!

While we were visiting we attended Father Heri’s 50th anniversary ceremony. There was a big feast,lots of music and some dancing. Cruisers attended in full force along with visitors at the resort and some of Father Henri.’s old friends.

We were entertained by the local dancing – both by the adults and by some children. The band consisted of about 10 local men with drums, a curious single string bass instrument, local guitars and other stringed instruments. Fish toasted on coconut fires, beef and chicken choices, local vegetables cooked in coconut or peanut sauce, several rice dishes, satay kabobs and more. We were even given quantities of local arak wine to wash it down with!

Any new arrivals in the bay were immediately visited by a variety of boat boys – men paddling very small wooden canoes between the boats and the shore, selling fresh fruit and vegetables, and offering to get us solar (diesel) and fresh bottled water. It was lovely to have the fresh vegetables, and to be able to go ashore in a clean environment. Meals were very acceptable especially as it was very hot and not much fun cooking on board. (35 degrees below decks)
Ladies famous for thier hand made 'Tiki" cloth

One of our excursions was to a nearby village – to see how the local women weave their special Ikat fabric. These women were all dressed in local costume; we were told how the young women wear certain clothes and hairstyles, while married women have a slightly different style and “mature’ women dress in another slightly dissimilar style.
They performed several dances for us. One represented husking the rice, with much shuffling of feet. (Rice is dried outside on the ground in all these countries.) Another dance was usually performed at weddings and illustrated how the bride’s family received valuables such as ivory tusks and also great amounts of food (bananas) for the wedding feast. Then there was a dance that showed warriors trained for fighting. This involved long bamboo poles held near the ground and the warrior was supposed to dance nimbly in and out of the moving sticks, similar exercises with the poles in the air ensured that his arms and upper body also got a good workout. (The theme seems to be common everywhere – even the old sword dances in Scotland had similar purpose)
A little later the ladies set up their production line for weaving demonstration. Everything was done by hand; somebody removed seeds from the raw cotton, then it was carded and spun, dyed with local mixtures made from local tree bark and leaves, and finally it was spun into skeins of cotton ready to be converted into lengths of fabric. We bought some of the pieces – a small runner style piece was 175,000 rp (about $7.50) and a brilliant large cloth the size of a bed cover with a very complicated pattern cost less than 1,000,000 rp. Less than 100.00 dollars. It was a wonderful piece of craftsmanship – and probably impossible to find in the western world.

The local lads played for the entertainment of the guests and visitors at Sea World
Mike managed to find a few other cruisers with musical instruments and they joined up with a local band to play together on a couple of evenings. Luckily the band members knew all the old songs that our guys knew – and they even had the English version wordbooks! It is always a pleasure to listen to Gary from Neptune II on his saxophone.

After so much partying it was a relief to get away – but we soon found ourselves in another anchorage where there was lots to see and do. Labuan Bajo is a small coastal port – with a great deal of boat traffic. Once again we were approached by boat boys – these ones were driving
much larger pangas equipped with exceedingly noisy small diesel engines. There are no mufflers and we could hear the little boats miles away!
Traditional boats at anchor in
Labuan Bajo
We joined up with several others for a boat taxi ride to town and found the engine noise almost intolerable on board. We were offered earplugs it was obviously so bad!
The engine in the bilge and the driver takes up a few loose boards from the deck to make a space that he can crouch in and swing the starter – just like old-fashioned cars were started. Replacing the boards he sits and steers, the wheel being about a foot in diameter and the steering cable rough twine!

The street was busy with noisy scooters and cars.
We went to explore the town – hot, dusty and dirty as usual – the single street lined with an amazing assortment of shops, a few houses and a small selection of hotels and tour guide establishments. Of course the supermarket was at the opposite end of town, but we were able to make a few purchases and then were lucky enough to find a European run restaurant. And – free Internet. Thankfully it had a decent toilet, (local affairs are just not pleasant, consisting of a grubby hole and some dubious water to wash with. No toilet paper.) The Corner CafĂ© became our number one recommendation for the cruisers. Nearby we also saw the Eco Lodge. This was a somewhat grand hotel facing the beach quite close to where we were anchored The building and grounds are lovely – beautiful open plan rooms with lovely wooden shutters and shades along the balcony, elegant furniture, a pool and extensive gardens. The prices match the colonial style elegance and the food is mediocre. The worst thing however is trying to get to shore at low tide. One has to wade almost knee deep in yucky mud and drag the dingy for many, many yards to haul it to safety on the dirty beach. Not recommended at all!

The local market was busy on Saturday mornings
Next we visited the Komodo National Park – off to hunt the dragons!!

We had to work out what the local currents in the straits were doing at the time of our passage – quite the mathematical exercise as it involved finding the correct calculation for the meridian of the moon on that day, plus finding out when the tidal flow would change from ebb to flow and by how much it would rise or go down. As I said at the time – this required a PhD in astro-acqua flow denominators! Other boats we know had to turn back as the tidal rip against them was up to 6 knots, with overflows and whirlpools also encountered.

Intrepid Dragon hunters trekking across
Komodo Island
We were fortunate – we had a pleasant motor sail through the islands, past villages and skirting shallow patches made quite visible by the lovely light blue water. The usual fishing boats drifted on the calm sea and small panga ferry baots carrying people between villages bustled noisily alongside the shorelines.

We arrived at the ranger station without incident, making our way slowly past two or three anchored yachts to the head of the bay in clear sight of the jetty and several tour boats moored up against it and each other. When we went ashore in our dinghies and clambered up onto the jetty, I was delighted to be greeted by a small family of monkeys who were sitting around lazily chatting amongst themselves at the shore end of the pier. Making our way to the station we arranged to go on a guided tour, (or as I preferred, on a dragon hunt). By this time it was after 3 pm and the day was, as usual, hot and dusty; the dragons were well fed and lazy, looking much more like badly stuffed toys rather than the ferocious killer lizards they really are. They can sense food up to 9 km away by flicking out their long forked tongues although they have poor eyesight and little real sense of smell.

We saw females guarding their nests; they make several small pits in the ground, burying their eggs in one of them and using the other nests as decoys. They lay about 20 eggs that look almost the same as turtle eggs – like table tennis balls. After the eggs are safely covered with earth the females sit, or rather lie around, guarding them for the 8 months of incubation. The eggs hatch in April when there are lots of insects around for them to feed on. The tiny baby lizards, weighing about 80 grams and only 35mm long instantly run to hide up in the trees. This is the only little bit of protection they can find against predators – often other dragons!
These dragons are having an afternoons shut eye in the village
Komodo dragons mature when they are between 6 – 8 years of age, when they start to vie with each other for territory and to start breeding. weighing in at 150 lbs and 3 meters long Komodo dragons are notorious because they have a nasty, dirty mouth full of pointy teeth and a venomous bacterium that ensures that if you are unfortunate enough to get bitten you will inevitably die a slow and lingering death. They also have an articulated jaw so they can eat very large prey. Their long, nasty, sharp claws aren’t a pretty sight either. Our ranger guide told us that should we happened to find a dragon chasing us we should run away – and zig-zag a lot - to avoid being caught! They can can make a quick spurt of up to 20 km an hour when they feel like it.

We later heard that another yacht was arranging a group of volunteers to help build a fence in around Komodo village. They needed the fence to keep the dragons out and to keep the children in - safe from being a dragon’s dinner! In fact some poor man fell out of a tree and was mauled to death by dragons only this year.

All the children in a small village
came to see us

Dragons we saw in the wild lived mainly in the valleys where they could move around fairly easily and we watched them on the beaches near the anchored yachts. Occasionally in the early morning or late afternoon a VHF call would resound around the boats – “dragon on the beach!”, and we would jump in the dingy to get a better view. Dragons often came down to the water to cool off in the heat and seemed to forage in the shallow water looking perhaps, for small sea delicacies to eat. Sometimes they found small animals to dine on. They would amble along the beach, head extended and nodding slightly as they peered shortsightedly from side to side with each ponderous stride. Watch out for that exceedingly long forked tongue, snaking out quick as lightening, lizard fashion.

Indonesia has 129 active volcanoes - we sailed past several of them.
In the shadow of the trees and amongst the underbrush these dragons are so well camouflaged they are really very hard to spot despite their size. It seems hard to imagine them getting up enough energy or speed to bring down a deer or a full grown water buffalo, both of which form a part of their diets on the island. I can imagine them flicking out that deadly tongue to catch a small bird or mouse like creature, or even an unsuspecting bird or monkey. But those would be just a tasty snack to a full size dragon! They are high on the list of endangered species with only a fewe hundred females in existence in the wild.
After dragon watching we went in search of the fabled Pink Beach – a beach where the sand is mixed with ground up pink coral and is reputed to be truly pink! Unfortunately the pink beach wasn’t pink for us we didn’t see it at – either through a pink sunset or with the help of a sundowner like a pink gin in hand! Never mind, our next stop was not a disappointment at all – lovely warm water to swim in, coral to snorkel over, gorgeous reef fish to spy on and yes- sundowners on the beach again.

Unlike some of the other yachts in the anchorage we decided to make our way towards Bali, stopping at a couple of palces on the way and giving ourselves time to explore a little of Lombok which we heard qwas a low key version of Bali.

Passage to Lombok was tedious – lumpy, adverse currents and either strong wind against us or no wind. However , we arrived in Lombok with Tartufo and Slow Motion and were able to pick up a mooring ball without any fuss. Our only grievance was the prayer times; the onshore village was Moslem and there were 3 mosques all within close loudspeaker distance of us and each other. I resorted to earplugs – a brilliant invention!

These diminutive ponies and carts are a normal form of transpot on Lombok. On some islands they are called "ben-hurs"
Mohamed looked after us and took us on a daylong tour of the island. We spent time in a weaving village where the people still lived in bamboo dwellings in very close proximity to their cows and chickens. The weaving was interesting, all hand crafted and the finished product obviously took many long hours to complete. The women we saw worked an 8 hour days only taking time off at harvest time when they had to work in the fields. Even the young girls had to knuckle down – no bridal ceremonies for them until they had good weaving skills.

Monkeys at the monkey forest - a popular tourist attraction
Another interesting venue was a local woodworking factory. Here we watched as the individual workers patiently chipped out little triangular shapes and laid in minute triangles of mother of pearl in precise and intricate patterns. They worked continuously – measuring, chipping and inlaying without tape measures, markings or pre-drawn patterns. It was all done by all by eye and experience. I was quite amazed as I had always supposed that those little triangles of inlay mother of pearl one sees on fancy Asian furniture was done by machine; apparently not – at least not all the time.

We were a little disappointed by the Bali King’s summer palace – although I am sure it was quite beautiful when used by the king himself. Over the years it has fallen into a state of shabby disrepair. There are pools and lovely terraces and a Hindu temple that is still in use. Most of the garden is well looked after, and some of the principal wood buildings are good, but many of the intricate stonework statues and walls have been allowed to crumble and are covered in lichen and grime, and there is the seemingly inevitable rubbish lying around.

Hand made batik is quite a complicated procedure, but by the time we had reached this workshop we were all tired and I at least failed to appreciate the workmanship. I have heard that the most beautiful batik comes from Java, and although I don’t think we will go there, I may see something nice in Bali or even Malaysia.

View of houses in the "traditional Village"
The traditional village was quite interesting, but I think had already seen so much that day we were overwhelmed with new sights. And to be fair, we have seen a lot of Indonesia that the average tourist never glimpses so that perhaps we didn’t show as much excitement over this as our guide may have hoped. I thought the best part was understanding more about how these people lived; little bamboo houses, with an outside covered room area where the men slept and the inside where the women traditionally stayed. Nothing but bare essentials was evident to us – a few clothes hanging against a wall – a few pots and baskets for everyday use, and large sacks of rice were inside. There were woven mats for sleeping, and all cooking was done in a separate house or area on open log fires. Not so very different from the small villages we have visited previously. I did learn that they make their floors using earth and cow dung. It sets as hard as concrete and is clean and hard wearing, not at all smelly, and only requirs polishing once a week or so.

The women carry all manner of things on their heads - even very large bags of rice
Our water taxi trip to Gillie Air for lunch was fun The day was really windy and although we could have taken our own boats we would have had to anchor on a lee shore, which is not safe. So the water taxi was a great alternative. The island is crammed with low cost resorts mainly catering to backpackers (just our price level!) and we found a nice place near the beach to have lunch. The one big drawback were the souvenir vendors – they were all over us like flies and just as irritating, especially as they seemed quite unable to take “no” for an answer.

We did find time to visit the “Rally” stop at Medana Beach resort marina. That sounds awfully grand but in actuality it is a work in progress. The rally is supposed to stop here for 5 days of festivities, but as usual, the whole thing is a mistake. The bay is comparatively small, the moorings are too close to the beach or unusable as they are on the surrounding reef; anchoring is deep for the average yacht. There are some “western” facilities – a toilet and shower block and an open-air meeting place with tables and chairs in nice cool shade. But there are no shops or restaurants (the village ladies will cook to order) and one has to hire transport to get in or out.

Passage to Bali at last!

I was by this time, desperate to get somewhere where English is understood and where I would have the opportunity to get off the boat and do some exploring – I felt that even a cup of western style coffee would be a luxury! We set the alarm for 5 am and motored with an agreeable current to Serangan, where the Royal Bali Yacht Club is, arriving at about 1.30 in the afternoon. No mosques for a start – no loudspeakers disturbing the peace with long Koranic chants and wailing prayers for the salvation of the people. Instead we found statues specially berobed in bright colours and individual offerings of fresh flowers on little woven mats tucked in almost every corner and lying in front of doors, on steps, nearly everywhere in fact.

The “yacht club” isn’t very grand (I don’t think it really qualifies as a real yacht club at all) but one can buy a bintang (beer), have a shower and there are western style toilets. The wifi signal is good, power is available for the computers and it is a gathering spot for any cruisers.