06 September 2019
I don't think I've ever actually had one but I clearly remember, during our annual family summer holiday, my mum and dad getting very friendly with people in the same hotel or maybe in the adjacent beach hut......the tiny wooden shacks lined up on Brodick beach where blue skinned, mildly hypothermic children could recover and save their parents from appearing on the front page of the Glasgow Herald, under the headline, "Giffnock couple accused of child neglect".
These friendships, cemented over salty morning porridge and evening G&T's would often carry on for months afterwards, sometimes years and result in visits to each other's homes and the mutual exchange of letters and Christmas cards for decades until one party, one year finally realised they actually hadn't a clue who Fred and Irene were.
Well, out here in Indonesia, we've made so many new best friends it's just not true. It's as well we have Facebook as otherwise it would have cost a fortune in postage stamps.
In each of the Rally ports we are welcomed ashore by the local government officials, village elders, appointed English speaking guides and photographers, some flown in from neighbouring islands and even from as far as Jakarta and, as in Selayar earlier this week, the local Scout troup. Our guides then discretely accompany us everywhere, translating as we go, helping us navigate to and around the local traditional markets ensuring we get the best deals and highest quality fruit, veg and fish and entertain us with impromptu karaoke presentations.
As I mentioned in a blog a while back - it's hard to believe we've been here nearly six weeks now - I never really wanted to come to Indonesia. I'd pictured it as just another version of the Caribbean where, on some islands in my experience, the only interest the locals have in tourists is how much money they can con you out of before opening time. What I'd have missed if we'd skipped or blown through the eastern part of the archipelago.
Mountainous scenery, luscious tropical rainforest running down to the sea, white sand beaches, absolutely crazy traditional markets where amongst the mayhem, literally you could buy anything, non-existent road traffic laws, extravagant feasts, newly and specially built pontoons and dinghy docks for the rally, mountain villages where some of the inhabitants possibly haven't seen a tourist before. Not that that's such a bad thing but everywhere we have been genuinely welcomed with the full red carpet treatment making us feel like royalty and rock stars rolled into one. Throughout all this, our guides quietly, unless they were on the karaoke mic, added to every experience with their polite questions, answers, direction and translation.
And so, come departure night and the gala dinner attended by senior political figures, local chiefs and dignitaries, our guides would be shaking hands, hugging and taking a thousand selfies as the short lived holiday romance drew to an imminent and tear filled end. In a modern day version of my mum and dad's exchange of addresses and promises of "we must do lunch" and the prospect of an unending supply of future Christmas cards, Facebook invites and email addresses would be exchanged, final waves given and off we'd go, into the dark in our dinghies, back to our boats and the next Rally destination.
That's how all the visits have ended. It's all been quite emotional I can tell you, even to this cynical git. During the last stop, we were joined ashore by the local Scouts and, as an ex Scout myself, or maybe just to avoid another ten thousand calories that the villagers made available four times a day, I ran some impromptu English language classes and had a ton of fun with the Scouts and guides, although I'm not entirely sure they'll ever find a use for, "Wee sleekit, cowrin, timorous beasty, Oh whit a panic's in thy breastie".
Anyway, having said our sad goodbyes, as a few of us made our way out to the dinghy dock, our way lit by the torches of our accompanying guides, out of the dark, two of the young Scouts from my posse, Imran and his pal, nervously approached me and in their best English said they had something for me and to test the stoicism of your author, pressed a note of thanks and a gift into my hand. What lovely people.
As a final parting gesture, and leaving, I hope, another indelible memory (until the dementia sets in anyway) as we are perhaps the least organised, we tend to leave last. Yesterday, as the fleet was upping anchor and leaving, we took a final run ashore for a final explore and hopefully a coffee. No sooner had we set our feet on terra firma than two of the guides appeared. Their boss, the Minister of Tourism, had seen us coming ashore from his office window and despatched the two girls to make sure we had everything we needed. They then led us to the market, haggled for our veggies and joined us for a farewell coffee.
What lovely people we've discovered here. And to think I nearly skipped it.
If any of our new best friends read this. Thanks. You've all been absolutely wonderful.....but don't expect a Christmas card!
(More pics in Gallery)