09 August 2019 | Diversion
One thing we're all getting used to out here in Indonesia is speeches. All in local language and thus unintelligible, punctuated only by "Wonderful Sail to Indonesia", the only words that let us know we are in fact, in the right place. All are long. Some longer than others. Some of epic War and Peace proportions. It's the local politicians' opportunity to show their faces and talk to the rabble, and claim some or perhaps all the credit for the infrastructure funding and improvements that arrived on the back of the preparations for the arrival of the gringos, us, the rally participants.
In Tifu village, we were all lined up on our blue plastic chairs listening to the struggling translator welcome the fleet and tell us what plans they had for us - apart from eating them out of house and home.
My ears pricked when I heard we were going to see the Village People. I didn't even know they'd reformed. We were told to be ashore for five in the morning to catch our bus to take a tour into the mountains to see the sunrise. Now, firstly, we've all seen our fair share of sunrises and second, five AM, after some night sailing just wasn't on our radar, but then, our collective conscience kicked in, as patently, they'd gone to so much effort we couldn't say no and most signed up. Well, half of us. Earlier in the day we'd walked up the road a bit and I just couldn't imagine a bus getting down it, let alone up. A Land Rover or a mountain goat perhaps but no way a bus. And on an island with no paved roads and where travel between villages is to risk one's life travelling in an open long boat with a well thrashed forty horse Yamaha at the back making the only difference between a safe arrival and an unplanned mini-cruise of the Indonesian archipelago, I couldn't actually believe the promised bus existed.
And it didn't. "Bus? What bus? No. We go in these trucks" said our guide. In an instant, about a third of our group melted away into the early morning dark, heading back to their still warm bunks while we, the intrepid explorers, climbed into and onto a fleet of beaten up pickup trucks. Four inside, five or six perched on the back initially sitting all macho on the sides of the truck before common sense and freezing bones prevailed and all made like sardines on the inside of the open box. Those travelling First Class had a comfy wooden bench. Economy, simply a plastic tarpaulin to sit on. And so, off we went to see the Village People and a sunrise above the clouds. We never did get above the clouds, instead riding through them in a soaking, chilling mist-come-rain. We'd nabbed first class seats and other than the bone jarring ride did OK. Those in the back only got mild hypothermia and nothing a decent chiropractor couldn't fix. But oh, how they moaned.
After over two hours plugging up dirt tracks, slipping and sliding on the mud did the drivers give up trying to make progress. So did we. "Enough" we said. "We go back". Undeterred and plainly ignoring our pleading, pointing and hands being drawn across our throats, the driver leant on his horn in a modern version of jungle drums. Much to our surprise, in response, out the jungle, came the sound of drums in reply.
OK. A final effort and off we trudged up the wet mud and rock track, the Australians apparently wearing only "thongs" or "strap ons". Talk about being separated by a common language.
Nearly an hour later we reached a bunch of bamboo poles stretched across and closing the road. Diversion -> -> ->. Now we were on a foot path through the dripping jungle. We really were getting the authentic native living experience. And we were getting pissed off as well not to mention soaked through.
And then, finally, the Village People - and not a cowboy or Indian in sight. Just the welcoming hordes of adults dressed up in the formal uniforms of the village elders and immaculately dressed school kids and us, looking like we'd been dragged through a muddy hedge backwards.
The village was located up the mountains aeons ago to harvest nutmeg and we were told we were the first tourists to ever visit the village. I'm not entirely sure that was a compliment but we were made very welcome with a formal traditional address by the head man, a few speeches and endless amounts of cake and sweet tea. Anything you like as long as it's loaded with sugar. The people here are so happy to see us, everyone grinning widely, their few remaining teeth stained red from beetle nuts as the adults chew their way to a tumour. The poor kids have yet to hear of The Happy Smile Club and indeed, a tooth brush. Consequently these poor kids teeth are simply rotting in their gums as they happily suck on lollipops and other confectionery that is as readily available as dentistry is not.
A quick run around the village, picked our own carrots from someone's veggie patch and trudged off back down the track for the return trip........via another two villages, two welcomes, two speeches, two cream teas, two thousand hand shakes and selfies.
Indonesia promised to be an experience and, while not everyone's cup of over sweet, cinnamon tea, it's delivering.