An Indonesian Paradise
14 September 2007 | Gili Air, Lombok
An unbelievable six weeks have flown by, since I last updated the blog, so apologies to all who are still following our progress. My only hope is that everyone has been so busy at home with summer holidays that they wouldn't have had time to read it anyway!
Indonesia has been a non stop assault on all our senses! Visually bewitching, orally loud and foreign, and smell, well, there has been the odd frangipani and wonderful jasmine, but you can imagine the rest, open drains, and semi dried fish!! But the whole has been a non stop delight.
The ever friendly Indonesians, the gaggles of curious children, and the sometimes exasperating canoes of hawkers, selling fruit and veg, diesel or laundry, have been the theme in most of the places we have visited. The occasional deserted anchorage has been a welcome breather from it all!
Since our arrival in Kupang, we have visited Lambata, where we joined up with the rally, and went to Independence day celebrations, and a wonderful dance festival, then on to Maumere on north west Flores, where we again joined up with the rally for the gala dinner, but organised our own trip with friends to visit Kelimutu, a volcano famed for the three lakes in its crater, each of which is a startlingly different colour, and from time to time the colours change. When we saw them they were turquoise, chocolate brown, and black! A four hour drive there leaving early in the morning was meant to insure a dawn arrival, but happily we were late, as we saw almost nothing on arrival, the whole summit was covered in thick cloud, but as the sun crept higher, the clouds slowly burnt up to give us a spectacular view of all the lakes.
The drive itself was torturous, and the continual avoidance of mopeds, people and other vehicles took its toll on our nerves, particularly when an unfortunate puppy got in our way. We were relieved that we did not have to do the driving.
Giles accredited himself with distinction, when we had spent a happy morning watching the locals race their dug out canoes, usually paddled furiously by four chaps, and frequently ending up in the drink. After the real event was over, 'yachties' were invited to have a go, I have to say that only eight were brave enough, and many turned turtle, but Giles chose his boat with care, and no-one could touch him, he shot victoriously forward almost unopposed!
Our original plans to meet Ned and his girlfriend Kathy in Labuan Bajo, west Flores, were thwarted by the aeroplane being out of service for repairs! It turned out to be a lucky diversion, to sail on ahead of the fleet, and meet them in Sape, on the western end of Sumbawa. They flew into Bima, and managed to find a bus to bring them on the penultimate leg of their epic journey out, their final triumph was to find a local boat to ferry them out to us, where we were beginning to fret at no news!
Sape is a large fishing port, which means lots of large size canoes with outriggers, and a ferry to Flores and Komodo. We got the distinct feeling that they had never seen a yacht there before, and we anchored amongst the fishing boats, causing much interest, and a visit from one of the local fishermen, who climbed on board, and after long attempts at conversation seemed set to stay for the day!
However, we tried to explain that we had jobs to do, and spent time cleaning up the boat, just in time for the excitement of Ned and Kathy's arrival.
Next day was a ride in the aptly named 'Ben Hur' horse drawn cart, to take us the 5 kms to the local market. This is the local means of transport in Sape, and the drivers vie with each other as to who can go the fastest. Luckily the carriage had good suspension, on the unmade up roads, and happily no blades on the spokes! The horses looked well fed and happy with their lot. We were a spectacle in the market, which to date has been the cheapest by far, and were continually pointed at, as unusual species.
That afternoon we set off for a bit of peace and quiet to a nearby bay of perfect clean sand and turquoise water. We noticed when we went ashore that the sand was pink, and realised this was caused by the quantities of bright red coral scattered along the beach, and ground down by the sea. Sadly we later witnessed the reason for this, as we heard a charge of dynamite being thrown into the water by a local fishing boat. It didn't bode well for the turtle we had seen earlier. Indonesia has a long way to go on conservation.
Between Sumbawa and Flores lie several islands including Rinca and Komodo, and the tides race around them as the water floods northwards from the Indian Ocean and ebbs southwards from the Flores Sea, meanwhile leaving a certain amount of guesswork when travelling east and west! We certainly fell foul of the tides on one occasion, and almost stood still for a few hours.
We cruised to the south of Komodo, where we found a tight anchorage, too deep for comfort, and too narrow to allow much swinging. We had to move in the early hours, and regretted our idleness at not putting out a stern anchor, in what would otherwise have been a wonderfully sheltered anchorage, where in the evening we had enjoyed watching wild boar roaming the beach. However, it meant that we arrived early at Komodo, to anchor and go ashore and visit Komodo dragons.
These creatures were far more impressive than I had anticipated, they are giant carnivorous monitor lizards, around 3 metres long, and prehistoric in appearance. Although the ones we saw were outwardly docile, we learnt that the village was in mourning for a child who had been killed by one a couple of weeks previously, they kill deer, boar and buffalo routinely. So we kept our distance. They are only found on Komodo and nearby Rinca.
We had some wonderful snorkelling at a nearby anchorage, and at last I am beginning to get some better results from my new underwater camera. We sailed on to Rinca, getting the tide just wrong, and rather than progress at 0.5 knots, we found a bay to drop the hook in and await the tide. Our best anchorage in Rinca was at the very southern end, in fjord like surroundings, where the water is wonderfully clear and refreshingly cooler, we were briefly back in the Indian Ocean.
Ned needed a haircut, so we reckoned that the white sand beach and total isolation was just the job, I have learnt that haircuts on board don't go away! So we variously swam and rowed ashore, and then looked with amazement at the mass of snake and dragon tracks on the beach, which thoroughly deterred us from any ideas of a ramble.
We decided that we might as well complete our circumnavigation of all the Komodo Islands, so caught the tide right to anchor just south of Selat Molo, the narrow passage that runs between Flores and Rinca. We tried to find out from the locals what they reckoned to be the best time to go through, and decide that we had time for a walk and a dragon hunt the next morning with our local boat friends.
It was a lovely walk past an unspoilt village on stilts, then up into the bush. Monkeys on the beach stayed their distance, but although we saw a huge dragon's lair, we saw no more dragons; buffalo and monkeys had to do, while eagles soared overhead. It was a long walk, and by the time we got back to the village the sun was hot overhead. We were given refreshing coconut milk all round, then back to Brother Wind by local canoe, and then up anchor to give Ned an adrenalin trip through Selat Molo.
We were on the top of springs, and although we had hoped the tide might have slackened, we raced through the narrow straight at 9.5 knots, carrying about 5.5 knots of tide. We needed to keep enough way on to keep our direction through the whirlpools that tried to grab us. Ned felt he got a white water rafting experience.
We met up with friends on Papillon and Fourstar, who had kindly organised our diesel for us when we arrived in Labuan Bajo. A good meal out, a trip to the market next morning, and we set sail in convoy with Midge and Michelle on Fourstar for the 200 mile trip north to Sulawesi and Makassar. We decided to break the journey at the Sabalana archipelago, a string of tiny remote islands, which we discovered had an active village and plenty of fishing activity. The coral and snorkelling were disappointing, so we continued on overnight to Makassar, having a lively sail to bring us in by late morning.
Here we were in the middle of a bustling crowded metropolis, a pandemonium of traffic, and becak (bicycle rickshaws), which we risked our lives on once, and didn't use again, they bike against the traffic when it suits them, and we nearly came a cropper! However, we found a supermarket that sold cheese, and long life milk, neither of which we'd seen since Australia.
Arrif took us in hand, and so our mainsail came off and went to have its leech repaired, the windlass was taken off for a welding job of a new 'stripper', gas bottles which we had been warned we could not get refilled in Indonesia were refilled, and a host of other useful things were achieved, albeit with much frustration for poor Giles.
An excellent gala dinner and reception was put on for the 12 yachts who made it to Makassar, and each boat was presented with a beautiful silver filigree model of a pinnace (their local fishing boat, which carries 7 sails) Ned and Kathy both took part in the fire-dance, and remained unscathed!
There was lots to do and see in Makassar, Fort Rotterdam, occupied first by the Portuguese, the internal buildings built by the Dutch in 1684, complete with pantiles, occupied by the Japanese from 1941-45, and then back to the Dutch briefly, and now a museum, told much of the sad story of the spice trade and the atrocities that were committed for the luxury of spices.
We had a fascinating trip out to the south of Makassar as guests of a German academic, Horst, who lives within the monumental walls of the original Makassar, in a beautiful replica Indonesian palace, a large wooden open plan house on stilts. It was a fascinating morning listening to him explain some of the history, and walk us around the ancient walls which had been razed by the Dutch
The fleet divided itself into two parties who wished to make the eight hour journey north to Tana Toraja, on the basis that one group would look after boats for the others, in our case it meant running our engine for 2 hours a day to keep the freezer and fridge going.
Tanna Toraja is famed for its funeral and burial rites. The people are Christian, but their funerals remain totally traditional animist in origin. The god of their ancestors is all important, and burial may take place up to five years after someone dies. We were lucky to experience the first day of the ceremony, which goes on for a week. We saw the dancing and chanting, prayers, followed by a procession, and happily missed the slaughter of the first buffalo which followed. There were pigs trussed up ready for slaughter, and yet more buffalo for subsequent days.
The graves are equally strange, burial is either in a Liang or cave, usually high up and inaccessible, but sometimes in hanging graves (to avoid theft), and babies who have no teeth were buried in certain trees. We found going into one or two caves a ghoulish experience, with skulls and bones pouring out of rotting coffins. On the outside of the caves they carve wooden figures to represent the deceased, and they stand on balconies looking out at the proceedings. As each new person dies, they are added to the family liang, which are arranged by status, the higher up you are buried the greater your status. It is a caste system, which survives to today, where the poorest in society are effectively owned by the highest, and have no money of their own, but are paid in kind for everything, housed, fed and their children educated.
The Tarajan houses are also unique, like most Indonesian houses they are built on stilts, but they have boat shaped roofs, and the gable ends arc skywards, apparently inspired by the boats that the early people arrived in. The front and sides are beautifully carved, although the modern house might have a corrugated roof of similar shape, the tradition continues. The houses are always paired with an identical looking but smaller building opposite it, which is the rice store.
They inhabit a mountain region of terraced rice paddies, and coffee growing as their commercial produce, as well as vanilla, nutmeg and cloves, but like the rest of Indonesia they are self sufficient with their other produce, and we were surprised to see apples being grown.
After two nights in Toraja, it was time for the long journey back. Once back in Makassar we bade farewell to Midge and Michelle, and headed off for Lombok, a journey of just under 300 miles to our destination in north west Lombok, the Gili Islands. We again broke our voyage after 200 miles at a chain of tiny islands and reefs, where we crept inshore to 35 foot, and dropped the anchor off a deserted white sandy beach and coconut palms. The snorkelling was good but not special, and bit by bit we saw a few fishing boats moving around, so guessed that at least one of these islands is inhabited. After a lazy day we weighed anchor with enough daylight to see us through the narrow strip of deep water between the islands, and settled down to another night at sea.
Night watches are so much nicer when there is an extra crew on board, which means three hours each, very painless. Our normal stint is 4 hours, which means that when off watch you can get a decent sleep.
We arrived at the beautiful Gili Air, and sailed through the reef to its southern anchorage, where, great luxury we picked up a mooring buoy. It is one of three tiny islands, only a mile from mainland Lombok, and they are budget holiday destinations. What is so nice is that there are no mopeds or cars on the island, just bicycles and horse and cart, so we decide to relax and spend a couple of days here.
Today we went on a snorkelling tour, the coral is awful here, it has suffered from dynamiting like so much of Indonesia, but the fish are good, and the real treat was to see and snorkel with lots of turtles, that at least has improved since my trip to Indonesia 31 years ago, when turtle was on the menu!
Tomorrow it's off to Lombok, and then on to Bali, to give Ned and Kathy a few days there before they fly back.