We're Not Rally People
30 July 2019
"We're not rally people". That's a phrase you'll hear from quite a lot of cruisers. For whatever reasons rallies just don't suit their mode of cruising. It's understandable. Sixty boats all rolling into an anchorage for ten, destroying the peace and quiet and worse, blocking the route to the bar. However, for some, to my mind, it's perhaps a bit of a snob thing. They're much too experienced to join in with the riff-raff, amateur sailors who need a rally to hold their hands and escort them from A to B...... although I'll bet most were still tinkling with carburettors on their ageing Royal Enfields and yet to set foot on anything that floats when we'd already been sailing and competing for donkeys years. (I've been wanting to get that off my chest for a while).
Anyway, my point is, I never wanted to come to Indonesia and I wasn't much fussed about joining a rally. To my mind it would just be an Asian version of the Caribbean where, in my experience, cruisers are viewed by the locals as targets, or a "mark" as the scammers would call it, eyed as prey and fair game. Heading north to Japan and Alaska seemed tempting and although much harder, it would eliminate months of being screwed by local rip-off merchants.
It was therefore all a bit confusing when after soliciting the opinions of those that had gone before to hear my mental image was at odds with their realities. "Best experience of our circumnavigation " said Phil and Norma (www.sailblogs/member/philandnorma). "Amazing" said Sven and Lisa. "You'll love it" said Tony. "thousands of years of history".
What was I missing? What were they missing? Surely it was just St Lucia with curry? "Hey mon. That's my rock you're tied to and costs $25". I really didn't need any more of that.
Well, in the end, Japan was a long way, they get cyclones and other scary stuff. Alaska is cold, has bears and I don't know I can do cold anymore, so off we went, joining the westward cruiser migration to Indonesia. With a rally.
Now, we've done rallies before and in addition to easing the way through customs and immigration, what you also get is fast-tracked to the cultural hot spots and events. You can find these yourself, even stumble on them as we did in Fiji and Vanuatu but, on your own, you can easily miss them, usually by dithering around in the boat or hanging out in bars simply unaware that up the street there's the Festival of Whatever going on. I'd heard that the Indonesian tourist board did a good job of ensuring the rally was timed to coincide with local events. What I didn't know was that we would be feted from dawn to dusk and treated like visiting royalty. You simply had to be there to believe it.
Pretty much every street and village is adorned with flags. Giant posters saying we're in town are mounted at every main junction across the two principal islands. A dozen English teachers are given a week off to act as liaison officers. Children and adults alike have been practicing song and dance for months to perform for us, mothers having spent the same amount of time sewing their kid's brand new costumes. The port had its first new tarmac in a long time. The public loos were re-tiled and painted. And then, imagine - the main highway out your town, population, sixty five thousand, is cordoned off for two or three hours, schools are temporarily closed and the city council gather, firstly, to walk you and hundreds of following locals down one side of the dual carriageway to a school to be given a formal Indonesian welcome. Next, back out into the road where a thousand school children in their best uniforms line the highway, we to walk in procession with the elders a mile down the road, shaking hands with everyone turning at the roundabout to walk up the other carriageway heading for the local memorial park to be entertained and fed copious amounts of seafood and local delicacies while the stage is filled with dance and music. Filled to bursting we are then coached back to the port where the appointed boat "valet" and his team of little helpers brings your dinghy to you. All this yet we've spent so little our consciences are somewhat troubled about how little we seem to be giving back.
The Regent, the elected head of the Kei Islands, formally welcomed us at the events each day, the last of which was the Gala Dinner on the beach at Web village where again, we were treated like rock stars. Our own tented sit-ooterie and tables groaning with food. Welcome speeches, dance and music performances and after many hours, ending, incongruously with Auld Lang Syne. Friends for life.
Words fail us in trying to describe our welcome. So I won't keep trying. Check the Gallery and/or Facebook for pics and lastly, if you've ever wondered about visiting Indonesia but hesitated, go for it. It's wonderful.