08/14/2012, Near Lembata, Indonesia
The night stars are a-glimmer as the early 90's Toyota station wagon struggles to gain purchase up and around a particularly rock strewn steep section of the road leading to Jontona, where our mountain guide Eylias awaits us, still sound asleep in the predawn hours. The clutch fails to gain its purchase and for the third time, the engine dies. Playing the clutch,the driver coaxes the car along. The beat up Toyota that holds six unbuckled international hikers lurches backwards towards the dark abyss before finally making the climb. Minutes later the dirt road turns to pavement as we enter the sleepy and sleeping town of Jontona. Jontona lies at the foot of Ili Api, a smoking volcano that climbs 1463 meters above the seaside village. For the past several days, the volcano has captured our imagination from our anchorages below, faithfully spewing smoke from its peak. Every detail of Ili Api looks amazingly like a child's drawing of a volcano, right down to the puffs of smoke which regularly spew from its tops. We have decided to climb up and have a look.
As the driver parks the car, a sharp repetitive whistle accompanied by the rhythmic slapping of feet on the pavement approaches us. The sounds break the stillness of the early morning air and becomes increasingly louder as a stream of students wrestle fluidly past the slow moving car. The road is in complete darkness save for a few lights from the village homes. After a twenty minute wait in the dark, our tour guide Ella emerges with our mountain guide. In the tour that unfolds as it does rather than as it was described, the guide has not been told that we were coming, and rubs the sleep from his eyes as he finds his night lantern. Equally uninformed of the unfolding circumstances, we wait in the dark as we all play a guessing game in the back of the car, wondering if perhaps we are lost.
Soon we don our head lamps and begin our ascent of Ili Api, tripping our way up the twisting trail, enchanted by the quarter moon and the dome of stars above us. Eylias keeps a fast pace, and quickly the group of hikers spread out along the trail. As the sun rises and casts its orange glow across the steep volcano, we enter a plantation and finally come to our first resting spot in the old village of Kampung Lama. The village is now empty, but is used for ceremonial purposes once a year for the traditional Bean Ceremony. We've hiked up hill for over an hour, and are now at the village we were told the hike would begin! In Indonesian manner of "yes, yes, everything is okay", we are not told until much later in the day around a table of cold and well deserved Bingtang beer that the guides deemed the car unsuitable to get us up to this village. We are destined to hike to the summit from sea level.
Thankfully the air is cool and we are protected from the sun by large Eucalyptus groves as we ascend the mountain. For hours we hike at a 45 degree angle along the slippery leaf strewn trail, until finally we emerge from the tall trees to find an even steeper pitch. The trail is lumpy and uneven, each footfall is examined for purchase as we make our way up. All of us are over 50, and like the Toyota's clutch, we feel our years of wear and tear! Finally, all vegetation disappears as we climb the final 300 meters to the top across black rocks and scree. Looking down the steep slope all of us recognize the danger and sharpen our focus and resolve. Two of the international hikers as well as two of the guides from town stay in the lower section of Eucalyptus groves, the extra hour of walking in the early morning hours has pushed them over the top of their resolve to reach the top. Three of us push on to the summit with our guide Elyias. A fourth hiker who was much further behind with the driver guide is left to find his own way up once the climb becomes too much for the driver. This is Indonesia. Smile, everything is OK!
As we near the top, we spot several names and dates etched in mountain chalk in the huge lava boulders. Our guide kneels to the ground and gives a soft spoken prayer, sprinkling some of his sweet palm water onto the black rocks. The peak of the mountain is a vibrant sulphur yellow green, actively spewing smoke high above it. As Eylias takes us for a 2 km tour around the rim of the volcano and across two old craters, the thick sulphur ammonia stings our nasal passages and makes us cough, but the scenery unfolding around us is so unworldly we don't complain. We cross to a weeping vent perhaps 15 meters wide, and stand within a meter to watch the smoke and steam lick its way out of the center of the earth. We continue on to climb the ridge that forms the side of the massive crater, taking in sweeping views of the peninsula, reefs and Bolong Strait far below. An eagle makes its perch nearby, screeching a hello to the delight of the guide.
Coming back full circle, we find the final hiker, who has made it to the top on his own. We all look down the steep slope and realize the down climb is going to be even more challenging! As my feet carefully land over the loose scree and tumbled lava rocks, every muscle in my body work in unison to cling to my position against gravity. Eventually we regroup with the others. Three hours later we find ourselves hot and exhausted back in the small village of Rontona where we eat a simple meal of rice and chicken and fresh cucumber, legs spread out on the front porch of our guide Eylias's simple home.
Later still, we fall into our beds and let gravity rest our weary bones. It's not every day you climb to the top of a volcano from sea level!
08/11/2012, Balurin, Lomblen Island
As visitors to another country we often wonder what goes through the minds of people who see us arrive by yacht to anchor in their bays. The juxtaposition of Paikea Mist against the obvious material poverty in many places we've visited is one that is uncomfortable for us. We are always searching for ways to erase these differences and interact with locals in a natural way. Most of the time, our best interactions have been right here on Paikea Mist, where we have had many visitors enjoy our cockpit for a friendly exchange. Our favourite is often the spontaneous interaction with kids who come to visit us. Most kids are naturally very curious and uninhibited at the same time, and are often very open to teaching us their language as we help them with their English. I'm pretty sure when the kids leave they will remember these friendly and fun exchanges for most of their lives, and hopefully narrow the gap in their minds a tiny bit.
Yesterday we wove our way in through the reef system to anchor by the small town of Balurin, on Lomblen Island. This small fishing village hangs on the edge of a deep protected bay, some of the homes built right over the water on stilts. Once anchored, the smallest of children skilfully paddled their dugout canoes to welcome us.
"Welcome to Indonesia, Meester!" The result was the best part of a day spent with these wonderful kids coming and going from Paikea Mist. They were polite, asked for nothing, and would vacate the cockpit immediately when we asked them to leave to get a bit of peace and quiet!
We found the best way to interact was through a sheet with both English and Bahasha Indonesian on it- they were much better at reading English than hearing it, and all wanted to practice their exchanges.
The boys loved leaping off the side of our boat, while the girls were generally far more interested in learning English! One of the young teenagers Ano, even took me out for a ride in his dugout canoe! I was amazed at how sturdy the canoe was, as I walked the length of it to take my perch at the bow. A cultural exchange at its best!
See photo gallery for more images from Balurin!
All the children have their own chores around the orphanage. The all work together, including planting and tending a vegetable garden from which they are able to feed themselves, as well as have some extra to sell at the market. All of the children also go to school, and two of them have won the top scholarship award for high marks. Every year, Sail Indonesia participants contribute to a scholarship fund for students going on to University. Interesting that all winners of the scholarship were girls.
What does it take to make a child happy? Love and a sense of belonging.
Here is another video of these amazing kids, I hope those of you with high band width will enjoy watching this video- these children are so heartwarming. I hope you enjoy! If there is anyone looking to sponsor an orphanage out there, let us know...
08/05/2012, Rosalin Kupang Orphanage
While we were in Kupang, we viisited the Roslin Orphanage, where 92 children from ages 2-19 live in a small rural area in very modest conditions. These brave young children blew us away with their song and dance performance. They live together as family as they have all lost their own parents. Without anything in the way of material goods, they showed us how little it really takes to make a child happy and successful. Love, a sense of family and a belief in the greater good goes a very long way.
For folks following this path next year, don't miss the opportunity to visit this orphanage. In one of those twists of human circumstances, these children who have so little gave so much to us, and we want to thank them for sharing, and wish them all the best in their lives, in their education and future endeavors. We will remember you fondly.
08/05/2012, Alor Island, Indonesia
Current takes a bite out of our boat speed- the top number is our speed over water, the bottom one is the progress we are making over ground once the current takes its share
Michael and I just completed our first overnight passage in Indonesian waters, leaving Kupang yesterday afternoon for the next island of Alor. While Michael slept on his shift from 3-7 am, I had Paikea Mist screaming along at a steady 10.2 knots, however with the current against us we were only making 6.8 knots over ground. Darn! Running against us at 2-5 knots the entire trip, the current turned what would have been a pretty short hop of 140 nm passage into a 22 hour trip!
As we approached the island archipelago in the early morning, the first rays cast their light across steep volcanic hillsides. The scenery was stunning, and we had loads of time to enjoy it seeing that we were progressing at under 3 knots for many miles! We passed several villages scattered along the waterfront, while some were nestled high on the hillsides, and a few could be found snuggled right under steaming volcanoes. Through our binoculars we could see signs of people starting to stir, going about their daily tasks, while fishing boats of every color steamed by, some of them coming in for a close look, a warm wave, smiles and welcome. Even the smallest village has a large Mosque, towering over everything else, their shiny peaks glistening in the sun as the calls to prayers ring out.
It is mid afternoon now, and we are safely tucked into our new anchorage as other boats pile in. Children are lining the breakwater, shouting and waving in excited anticipation of the large fleet of sailors about to descend on their town.
Michael has just left the boat in the dinghy to help another Cdn boat, SV Ainia, who has experienced engine trouble and has been pulled in to the anchorage by a French catamaran. Michael will tie our dinghy alongside to help him anchor - with its 20 HP engine it will make short work of finding a snug spot for Ainia. Behind Ainia is yet another boat under tow who has also experienced engine troubles. This is one of the benefits of travelling in a larger group, where there is always another cruiser who is interested in your safety and well-being.
Once Michael gets back onboard, we will enjoy the late afternoon over a cold beer! I forgot to mention that it is HOT here, about 34 degrees today. No wonder engines are bothered!
08/01/2012, Kupang, Indonesia
Kupang is a kaleidoscopic of colorful images.Our camera has been trigger happy- hope you enjoy the new photos in our photo gallery!