Follow The Herd
24 December 2014 | Indonesia
One of the waterfall field trips.
Yacht rally. The term has connotations of masses of boats elbowing and squeezing ahead for a preferred spot to anchor, then inundating a local village or town to overwhelm the local goodwill. Normally, when we hear a rally of boats is heading our way, we quickly pick up anchor and move on. But we were coerced to sign up for the yacht rally from Davao, Philippines to Sangihe, Indonesia. It would have been silly to decline the generous offers of the rally organizers. All the unique, and extensive paperwork necessary to enter Indonesia with a sailboat was dealt with by Ocean View marina and the Indonesian Board of Tourism and their representatives. Before departure from the Philippines and upon arrival in Sangihe, Indonesia, there were extensive parties with plenty of great, free, local food and entertainment.
Sangihe is the northern most Indonesia island and only 240 miles south of our departure point in the Philippines. We scratched our heads and wondered, why were we following the herd at the wrong time of year for making the passage. We knew the seasonal wind would be right on the nose causing us to tack back and forth all the way. We put over 600 sea miles on our boat and many hours on the engine to finally pick up a mooring in Sangihe. But the board of tourism had things well planned and made us quickly forget our sailing hardships to get south.
The harbor in Sangihe is over a hundred feet deep so a sufficient number of new moorings were constructed. There were enough moorings to also accommodate a strong contingent of Australian cruisers who came up from the south, to consume the harbor with their catamarans. A temporary dinghy dock was built at an otherwise unusable vertical, water front concrete wall. Customs and Immigration had a table under a tent ready with computers, photocopiers and everything required to make a quick and easy clearing in process.
This was festival week with 7 days of local talent shows, traditional dancing and modern entertainment on the waterfront stage. All the cruisers quickly became honored guests and during any presentations, were fully expected to take their preferred seats lining the back perimeter of the stage. The Board of Tourism went through extensive efforts to welcome the 18 cruising yachts by organizing a daily free breakfast, busses to haul all these visitors on several tours around the island and countless other activities. But the citizens of Sangihe were most amazing. It was like they had only seen European looking people on television but never been in close reach with one. Everywhere the cruisers walked, there was the perpetual rush of souvenir seekers, of all ags, clutching their cameras and hoping for a quick photo op to rub shoulders with these light skinned visitors. As Rebecca said in to a microphone on one of the last days, in front of 1000+ Indonesians, THANK YOU FOR MAKING LITTLE OLD ME FEEL LIKE A MOVIE STAR!!! The crowd cheered and greeted Rebecca very enthusiastically.
One of the most unusual stage presentations was that of the Bamboo Band. All the wind instruments, even those normally made of brass, tuba, trumpets, were excruciatingly crafted from carved bits of bamboo and glued together. Indonesia is a poor country. The citizens have far more free time and bamboo than money. The resonant and timbre certainly was not equal to a U.S. high school marching band but the effort and fun was miles higher.
One strong, startling, cultural experience was thrust upon us in the darkness of early morning. A shore side loud speaker was driving the reverberating chant of the Muslim “call to prayers” at 4:30AM. The eerie Boris Karloff melodic voice, half singing half speaking, dragged on till 5:AM and surely stirred every living thing with a sensory reflex for at least two miles in all directions. Experimenting with rubber plugged ears proved ineffective as ones ribs and arms would vibrate like a cell phone. But the local Christians have grown up with the custom and there appears to be mutual respect. Still, as an uncultured outsider, I could not help to wonder where the wires were to that speaker!
Outside the small town of Sangihe, there are wild waterfalls, white sand beaches, tropical birds and sweet tropical fruits. In the town, two main streets parallel the waterfront and these streets are crammed with small poorly lit, unpainted, shops. The town is crowded with people and motor cycles. Only a few people speak English so we were always quickly thumbing for translations in our pocket dictionary. We had grown to like the town and its welcoming population.
A week later, the pack sailed out of Sangihe headed east to the town of Morotai. But first, the Tourism officials in Sangihe loaded each cruising boat with 100 gallons of diesel fuel, free, as an additional thank you for coming. We are nearing the equator and in these latitudes, a boat motors far more than it sails.
I can not rave about the small town of Morotai, which is smaller than Sangihe. At the islands within sight of Morotai, the snorkeling showed nice coral but hardly any fish due to over fishing. The sights around town and along roads leading out of Morotai were meagerly. The 4:30AM chanting call to prayers was far less melodic and thus far more grating than in Sangihe and the speakers obviously had blown out cones increasing the hoarseness. But again – the wonderful people there made it a very special place. For five days, the men and ladies assigned to us from the tourist board, catered to every need small and large that we demanding cruisers made. And demanding, some of these citified “Europeans” could be.
On one all day field trip, most of the cruising contingent piled into a hired powerboat which blasted across smooth waters, zagging around islands, to a far away beach. That is where the hike began. We climbed up slippery cliffs and along a stream. In two hours we reached the waterfall. Because of my American upbringing, when I see a religious woman wearing a full head covering and matching dark gown falling to her ankles, I have to think of an unsmiling nun, roaming a classroom armed with a wooden ruler ready to pounce on the knuckles of an unsuspecting student. But on this arduous hike, some of our young lady guides, in their late teens or early twenties, wore the required Muslem head covering and long dress. This is where I learned that women in other countries, who have a covering on their head, are NOT like the nuns of our culture. These ladies actually smile, joke, can be wild, adventurous, and hilariously fun! I won’t easily forget one who was in her full head to toe clothing, swimming and splashing in the waterfall. These girls are just like American girls at that age…they just wear more clothes!
So after a week in Morotai, the “rally” was officially ended. Yachts now would wander off in their own directions. Would we join a rally again? To do so, it would have to come with heavy incentives. In this rally, there were negatives. As one Australian said of the truly European couple, “They always have to be the first to the feeding trough. The King and Queen.” Then another comment was, “The childish bickering between cruisers reminds me of high school.” And we were witness to the one self-appointed class room monitor who admonished all cruisers to follow the rules of the country of which they are visiting, all the while he was illegally anchored in the country he had cleared out of 3 days prior. Even though the difficult cruisers tarnish the atmosphere, there are plenty of good cruisers who polish out the dents and keep a fun social environment.
On Brick House, we chose to sail south to “Raja Ampat” (King Five), as did 10 other cruisers. Raja Ampat is a broad term for a big area of islands off the northwest coast of Papua. A diving and snorkeling paradise, and home to the Cendrawasihs – the Birds of Paradise as seen in National Geographic and BBC specials. Avid bird watchers flock to this area from around the world to see some of the most prized birds in the “twitchers”(bird watchers) circle. There is so much to tell of this area, I don’t know where to begin. First there was the anchorage in Wayag where you can hike to the top of a karst limestone rock to view the whole maze of islands, or snorkel on reefs teaming with fish found no where else in the world. There is too much to tell so we will have to start working on more blogs.