tour of the island
28 July 2011 | Saumlaki
michael and jackie
The following day was the day of the big trip. Three buses rolled up and we were off. Copious apologies for late departure - boats still doing paper work, and lack of air conditioning - we all explained we were perfectly happy. The three small buses each held about a dozen people, including a couple of policemen and an English-speaking guide. We set off in convoy proceded by a police truck with about six people sitting in chairs on the back of it. Every now and again the truck would set its siren off warning the next village of our approach. The first stop was a rather large monument to a pair of Dutch missionaries who brought the Roman Catholic church here. The RCs are the largest group here followed by protestants and then muslims. There is a huge contrast in buildings here. The traditional town follows the waterside and is shacks and cheap construction. Above the town is a fairly basic wide carriageway with large monumental buildings, many of them governmental:- The Regent's headquarters, the army hq, the Regent's house, the public library, the arts centre. However, they are all dislocated from the centre and do not appear much used. The only exception are the vast religious buildings the size of cathedrals. They tend to be closer to where people actually live but their size dwarfing the humble shops and houses in their vicinity.
After the monument the buses climbed away from the town to a village about 30 or more miles away which has a stone boat. Although it is mainly a sealed road, there are lots of broken bits and wash outs which the buses slowly manipulated. Eventually the buses turned off into the village where a huge welcome awaited. A troupe of dancers met us and led us to more dancers who led us inside a "boat". The "boat" was the shape of a hull demarcated with bamboo. Everyone stands inside some pretend to paddle, others throw water over the people in the boat. Eventually somewhat damp we arrived at the village square where there was more dancing. The women then removed the earth over the cooking area to reveal layers of food covered in bamboo that had been cooked in the buried fire. A mystery van had been following our convoy. It turned out it wasn't more policemen on a day out but supplies for the foreigners. The mystery bus disgorged neat cardboard boxes with rice and fried fish, along with bottles of water and then headed home for Saumlaki. After the feasting the dancers started up again and led us out to the notional purpose of the visit, the stone boat.
The stone boat is an ancient stone platform, a fairly steep climb on the point outside the village. It's a bit like the stone platforms in Vanuatu used for ceremonial purposes. The unusual feature of this platform is that is in the shape of a boat. We were told this stone boat was particularly special since it is not mentioned in Lonely Planet. Apparently it does mention an inferior stone boat in another village. After a few speeches from the village headman about the luck the boat brought the village we were given special permission to go inside the platform before returning to the village and our buses for the long journey back.
About half way along the return route we were greeted by another village who wanted to welcome us. Enthusiastic villagers dressed in pink danced a welcome and then pulled us into the ring for a long session. Exhilarating but exhausting. Then it was on to the hooch stop. The police stopped the evening traffic- (actually a couple of trucks and we crossed to a hut with a large fire. Fermented coconut juice is heated over an open fire - the liquor goes up and then along a long bamboo tube, about a hundred feet, it then drops and doubles back to the hut where it drips out the spirit called sopi. We tasted it gingerly - very firey. We were assured it was far more alcoholic than whisky. Whether it turns you blind remains to be seen.
So with a last visit to a huge madonnah overlooking the entrance to Saumlaki we got back to our dinghies just before dusk. We walked the dinghy back over the mud for the long journey back to the boat.