Passage Report 13
17 August 2008 | Alor, Indonesia
West Timor to Alor
"Who wants to be a millionaire..."a hundred dollars at the ATM and presto. A wonderful illusion as the fuel (75 cents a litre) is some 600,000 rupees for 80 litres it's a mathematical test to calculate the change. A rule of thumb is 10,000 rp to the Austn dollar.
No amount of money can describe the generosity, love of life and the welcome smile of the Indonesian people. Wealth and poverty live a wall away, in potholed streets without gutters, conduits for constant massed motorbikes and noisy bemos (mini-bus). Early morning, the call to the faithful, cocks crowing, give an illusion of daytime peace.
Escape is on daily tours organized by the Rally. It was on one of these, that three commuter buses wended their way up a 4WD "road" to Nefokouk Lake. It was wonderful to be in countryside. It was billed as "lunch with the local government."
The brown, dry season, scenery seemed impossible of life. Rivers were crowded with washers. Impossible rice paddies amongst palms, drew on the wells.
There, ahead the "almost a road" was blocked with crowds of people. We alighted to a welcoming sung by golden silk dressed little girls in front of the Mayor and elders and an escort through the milling crowd by dervish dancing warriors twirling to sounds of cymbals and drums. We moved in wonderment. We shook a hundred hands of welcoming traditionally dressed locals. It was a welcome more fitting to royalty.
In front of the lake was set up the Nefokouk village "red carpet. The Mayoral speech expressed their gratitude for our journey and apologized for any mistakes (a characteristic of every speech) and the hope we would tell the world of our experience. The "experience" then included a marvelous meal, joining in traditional dancing to songs sung by a choir of local youths and their band, demonstrations of hand weaving of beautiful ekats and sarongs. There was never any doubt we would tell the world of
this lovely place and its welcoming people.
I needed a Kupang chemist. Motorbiked youths offered a ride as pillion. A hair rising death defying ride in heavy traffic produced a box of bandaids. I needed fruit and vegetables. Sintra, a young female student guided me to the No.6 bemo. Another wild, hooting, whistling ride heralded the Kupang Mall. Did I wish to "test" local fruit, find some goodie; Sintra arranged it. On the bemo, keen to speak English, neat uniformed school students and a teacher, tested their skills. Indonesia is enjoying
mass education. It is compulsory to year 9. Despite a Government rule of two and no more, children abound. Without the load of life, they are the joy of Indonesia. They love a photograph and signature in their school book.
It was time for the Mayoral reception. Another round of magnificent food and traditional dances joined by the Rally crews.
Wonderful Kupang; it was time to leave. Relief mixed with sadness. Smiling Customs officers removed the restraining stickers. We hear the "impounding" is national and international news. We hear of bombings in Java. It is a land of contrasts. Ours is of overwhelming hospitality, of endless smiles and beautiful people. We leave with these memories for Alor.
The fleet sail north. Firstly, a light stern breeze provides fine sailing into the setting sun. Then the fleet is held for hours in an opposing current before a rising headwind. Sails are set, removed, set again. Tanya earns her keep. It is a long night. A motor up the channel between the islands is scenic; past high peaks and volcanoes and through the tumbling white water of a tidal race, into the beautiful Alor fjord. We anchor with the fleet off Kalabahi city. Mosques seem everywhere but we're
told it's 75% Christian.
A marvelous morning Mayoral welcome to traditional music and dancing introduces the day.
Later, Sahula dragged anchor. A stones throw offshore yields depths of hundreds of meters. Yachts crowd the inshore shallower water. The Fleet "anchor watch" rescues troubled boats when the wind increases.
The evening event is a Regents welcome dinner with an extra rather special performance amongst the locals traditional dances.
This requires a rather creative imagination. The skipper and two other males and three ladies are invited to don a traditional costume. We are to be presented at the reception. The skipper is adorned in a wildly colourful Pandar Island "dress" of a feathered, beaded, head-dress, sarong and ekat with a beaded belt. All that is missing is a machete. Great hilarity by the Regent, thronging locals and Fleet are recorded in massed flashing cameras. It is a wonderful deeply etched memory. I think we again
made the national news.
Next day a tour to a traditional tribal village, dances and a beachside lunch with a special traditional dance and band from the local school.
Lorraine went on a snorkeling tour. Amazing coral and massed colourful fish were the order of the day. Alor is billed as providing excellent diving.
It is interesting to mull on the Fleet's evolving characteristics. On arrival in Kupang one boat turned back to Darwin, unable to cope with the bureaucracy. After Kupang the Fleet split. Some yachts went to surf at Roti Island, others went direct to Lomblen Island.
The bureaucracy is causing tension. Yachties with time on their hands and boats worth millions are stressing over a few dollars (literally) or requests for documents by customs or the harbour master. It's corrupt they bellow on the assumption of a perfect world. The impounding in Kupang was not popular. To most however it was a good story bathed in local intrigue.. Some of the large US yachts are the most problematic. They seem to expect an Asian America,
efficient, technological and speedy. Of course, expecting such a state creates the opposite.
Generally, given the context, the Rally organization has been excellent. Every need is met. Every day is organized with tours or events. Guides, students or official, provide constant assistance. Fuel, water and laundry is delivered on request. The huge effort is largely done by volunteers with the backing of the local or national government. There is a reason. The Rally is a promotional opportunity to showcase to an international group, the local attractions. The Rally effectively doubled the number
of foreign tourists to Alor. It is a rare unspoilt jewel.
There are nine more ports.
Every day police, uniformed and plain clothes inobtrusively patrol the venues and tour sites. Dinghy security is provided by local youths for a small fee.
It is time to leave alluring Alor. Tomorrow we sail over two days past volcanoed islands to Lowaleba on Lomblen Island.
Kalahabi port is abuzz with expectation of more adventures.