Indonesia - Part 2
11 September 2019
11 September 2019 | "Jerry" and The Minister
Did you ever see the movie Jerry Maguire? Young Jerry works for a company managing sports stars. Or rather, in his opinion, the business simply milks the sports stars, more interested in profits than their clients' wellbeing.
Well, overnight during the annual company conference Jerry (aka Tom Cruise) has an epiphany. The company's mission should be to put the sports stars, its customers, first. Not dollars.
Highly motivated, wee Jerry writes a paper advocating this major strategic change, has it printed in the wee small hours and drops it in the mailbox of all his colleagues. Exhausted but with his conscience clear, convinced he did the right thing, Jerry retires to bed.
Next morning, he awakes with a start, horrified at the thought of what's he's just done. Career suicide. He tries but fails to recover the documents but, too late, they're in circulation, the damage is done.
Still with me?
Well, back in Selayar, the tourism ministry asked that the rally participants, for we are now well and truly, "rally people", to pass on some feedback as to how we found our visit to the island. Any suggestions as to what the Ministry might do to help build their tourist industry would be welcome.
Well, woken by the call to prayer, yours truly had his Jerry Maguire moment and over an hour or so, put my thoughts on paper and at the Gala Dinner handed this over to the Minister of Tourism. He was delighted to receive it and we had a few selfies together. (Me and the Minister. You know!!).
Fast forward forty eight hours and we arrive in Lubuan Bajo, the first "westernised" tourist hub we've seen in Indonesia. The first clue things were different was from maybe fifty miles out. Having spent the hours of darkness, reefed down and sailing along cautiously, the almost complete absence of FADS, the bamboo fish attracting devices the local fishermen put out to ensnare passing yachts and from which they fish at night seemed a bit odd. No FADS. No fishermen. Hmmmm.
However, once ashore in LBJ, all was clear. No smiles, no waves, no "selfie, selfie mister". No nuthin'. Completely ignored as we were just another pair of white folks amongst the dozens of rag- tag back packers from Australia, France and UK all on a dreadlock holiday apparently driving a successful and thriving tourist business.
Every second shop was flogging tour trips, all the fishing boats having been converted into authentic Indonesian "gulets" or whatever they call them. Every other shop was designed to extract cash from the tourists, bars, trinkets, dive shops. There was even a Starbucks.
For the last six weeks we've been treated like royalty and rocks stars. Here we're Prince Andrew and the Bee Gees.
If the Minister of Tourism in Selayar is reading this, be careful what you wish for! Suggest you bin my paper. Stay as you are. We really liked it.
But how selfish is that? Make $100 taking some tourists to an island beach or spend the night in a wildly tossing FAD or "putt-putt" to catch a few fish and then get screwed at the market but still able to allow a few passing yachties the opportunity to see genuine local culture?
I know what I'd do.
Better re-write that paper.
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)
Hatches, Matches and Dispatches
01 September 2019
Or.....our old favourite, "Do you smell burning?"
I'm not entirely sure if the rally organisers actually planned to show us the "circle of life" but either by design or accident, that's what we've done.......in between eating them out of house and home and running up the petrol bill with repeated Bintang beer runs to the local back street outlet. Knock twice and ask for Abdul.
About two thousand years ago, or maybe it was two hundred, it's hard to tell, listening to the explanation through mouthfuls of casava balls, the new born heir to the sultan was somewhat poorly. The baby's anxious parents called in the local quack who immediately recommended that, in the absence of snake oil and indeed, antibiotics, they roll the child in banana leaves sprinkled with his no doubt ruinously expensive coconut oil and then, while getting well oiled the smoke of incense should be wafted over the now coughing, screaming, slippery little critter and finally, given a bit of a slap, Monty Python style, with a smoked fish.
Rolled, oiled and kippered, the young heir made a miraculous recovery and on gaining the throne, the new Sultan decreed that all his new born subjects should get the same treatment and so, a tradition was born. I guess the quack retired to Bali on the royalties to live in some splendour still amazed he got away with it.
As a direct result, we attended a mass immunisation ceremony. Just imagine. You got up unreasonably early nursing a mild Bintang hangover and after the ritual morning bus fiasco arrive in a tent where hundreds of screaming weans are being rolled in oil and kippered. If that doesn't get your tinnitus ringing, nothing will.
Through the good offices of a friend of a friend we were invited to attend a local wedding. As is the tradition here and unlike at home, the groom gets to see his prospective missus before the final deed is done, specifically, to warn and ward off any other prospective suitors. This is a show of strength and so we headed to the groom's dad's house, up an alley between the houses, and if you just thought, "sub-division" or "new estate"......it's not quite that type of housing. More a collection of planks cunningly held together without nails, or indeed, paint. A few rooms. Well, two and a fine collection of mats for ageing cruisers to wriggle and squirm on, backs and thighs aching having long ago lost the ability to sit cross legged. After tea and cake and the effects of the equivalent of perhaps six years of mass passive smoking, we took the obligatory selfies and headed out with the groom and his "posse" to show any neighbourhood NEDS that if they messed with the groom or his bride to-be, they messed with all of us. I mean, we could have chased the culprit for a good twenty, maybe thirty yards. As long as they weren't too fast. Particularly as we were all wearing full length skirts.
At the bride's mum's house, more tea and coffee. More selfies and more ciggies and finally, the two were brought together, looking a bit glum I have to say, the prospect of moving in together with mum and dad apparently not entirely in the groom's plans for the honeymoon night. If there'd been a Holiday Inn we might have had a whip round for them.
Nonetheless, complete strangers to best men and bridesmaids in an hour or so.
Now this isn't going to be on the optional tours list of many cruise ships; a cremation. We'd done the circumcision tour, (not that well paid, but great tips), the immunisation gig, the wedding and so I guess, to round it off, why not a jolly good funeral.
There weren't many takers.
That was OK, you could get the second bus and just come to the celebration an hour later on the second bus. We should have factored in Indonesia Rubber Time, arriving while things were still, shall we say........cooking. Those of a ghoulish inclination, or maybe they were feeing the early morning chill, went for a closer look.....and of course, some selfies with the family.
There's a whole custom to this event depending largely on disposable income, timing and whether there's plenty gasoline. To make things cost effective, traditionally, the village kind of gathers up the candidates in the lower income bracket, the relatively wealthy having gone private, and are given the treatment discretely, their ashes kept for later in a coconut and their soul in a piece of wood with their name scratched on it. Then, every fifth year, a massive ceremony, come feast come collective funeral is held and the equivalent of a yellow plastic duck race happens when the coconuts are put in the river to journey to the ocean, returning the dead to join their ancestors.
The piece of wood is then symbolically cremated and the souls of the dead avoid the river race and take the short cut to heaven.
Meanwhile, the relatives, who couldn't afford their own private funeral, have this massive bash which costs millions, celebrating the lives of the recently departed, feasting and singing and having a few selfies with a strange group of passing sailors. Weird, amazing and an insight to local culture you'd struggle to get anywhere.
(Check out the Gallery for pics)
Five And Two Diet
25 August 2019
One of the great challenges of the cruising life, or, given my previous blog entry, voyeuraging, is sticking to a sensible, healthy diet.
Breakfast is under control. For us, porridge meets the needs of our/my latest dietary pursuit, the "wholefoods, plant based diet"; talked into it one night by Dr Buchanan,
over beer and salt and vinegar potato chips oddly enough. Not only will the wholefoods and plants keep off the weight but it actually reverses the effects of a previous bad diet..... of beer and salt and vinegar potato chips.
However, like all my great-ideas-at-the-time, pursuit of this lofty goal has been frustrated by the near continuous, back-to-back supply of Indonesian local government sponsored feasts.
In Pasarwajo we, the remaining "rally people" were cordially invited to the seventh annual Festival Pesona, Budaya Tua Buton. Having done a few gala lunches and dinners by now we kind of know the general theme and modus operandi. First, there's the early start, all of us powering ashore in our little dinghies in a nautical version of the daily commute, arriving at the dock, as requested at half eight or maybe nine o'clock. "That's not early" you may cry but believe me, when you've been up since four fifteen, woken by the dawn chorus of the competing mosques' call-to-prayer, thundering around the anchorage, broadcast on perhaps the world's worst sound system, you'd share our pain and my tinnitus.
We then hang around with our guides* for an hour or so while the things that should have been organised a couple of months ago, or even the previous night, get organised. Well, more like shuffled about a bit then magically, it all comes together and our transport arrives.
Once aboard we are launched into the virtual reality world of a video game, Grand Theft Auto or such like. Choosing a side of the road is a matter of personal preference, dependant on factors like the amount of shade or if one of the drivers relatives lives on that side of the road. As for the million or so scooters, they and their riders are considered as bumpers in a pinball machine and I am left with the mental image of scooter occupants hanging from the branches of roadside trees swept aside by our bus trying to make up the lost hour. At night, lights are entirely optional and many drivers seem to try and slip through the traffic entirely unseen.
Somehow we get there and are welcomed as honoured guests. Locals who got there early and managed to get seats with a nice view are quietly shown the door / turfed out and us lot take their place. To be honest, that's another of my poor attempts to keep you, the reader, amused. The reality is that the locals fall over themselves to give us their seats and welcome us. It's as overwhelming as it is generous and a bit embarrassing. But everyone is happy and the payback is a couple of hundred selfies with the delighted, smiling ex seat holders.
Then; grubs up. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, some days, all three is presented. Cassava in its many forms, rice, boiled, , fried or rolled and steamed in banana leaves, tiny fish, big fish, lobsters and, if you're really unlucky, as I was yesterday, an item that you're not sure whether you should stamp on it or eat it. Most of the food is good but for me, one of the rally's less enthusiastic experimenters in local cuisine and without intending to be rude, sometimes it takes on the mantle of a dinner in a scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark.
It was therefore something of a relief to find ourselves in a small eatery in Bau Bau the other day when I could get on with my five and two diet.
Five doughnuts and two coffees.
A Different Perspective
17 August 2019
Out here, you tend to get adopted and for a week, back in Debut, which already seems a long time ago, we were Oppie's adopted children. Oppie and her family came on board and made this video for her audience. It's another tour of the boat but from a different perspective.
Putt Putts and a Passing Fad
16 August 2019
When I was a nipper and too young to get a full time crewing job, after sailing my model yacht on the boat pond for an hour or so I'd often wander along the prom to go and see what mischief a nine year old could get up to. It was Largs in the sixties, a small seaside town for the infirm, populated, to my young eyes, by people who must have been over a hundred years old. It hasn't changed much. Anne was brought up there. Anne and her three sisters but even "the Rich girls" as they were commonly known, couldn't put a dent in the age demographic.
Back on the prom, if you had a shilling, which I seldom did, that was a weeks salary at my school holiday pig farm job, you could hire a "putt-putt" for an hour, a twelve foot, wooden, clinker built dinghy fitted with a single cylinder petrol engine which made a distinctive "putt-putt" noise - which became the generic term for the vessel to all the punters and NEDS, (non educated delinquents) who came down to Largs from Glasgow for the day.
The putt-putts, which would nowadays feature at classic wooden boat shows and cost twenty grand new, would be driven around the bay by all and sundry, no skills, no life jackets and from the NEDS, no payment as they'd keep the boat out all day then ditch it on a faraway beach when the petrol ran out.
Which is what we worry about here. Navigating around here is just like a giant Largs Bay in the sixties. With sunshine. Putt-putts everywhere, all out fishing in relatively large seas, relative if you're in a hollowed out log, with only an additional ten inch plank gunwhale stopping you from getting swamped and a single cylinder putt-putt nineteen whatever engine to get you the ten to twenty miles back to shore. These intrepid fishermen set out shortly after the four fifteen morning call to prayer and for an hour, there's a stream of them putt putting past us on their way out to sea. There's not much sleeping goes on between four fifteen and six.
Once out in the briny, they fish somewhere close to a rectangular bamboo FAD, a fish attracting device, or as we know them, a BAD BOY. A Bow Attracting Device. The damn things are everywhere. Most anchored anywhere out to maybe two hundred metres, others in deep ocean, which sometimes isn't necessarily that far from land, drifting with the tides. It's all very local and part of the cultural experience. It's just a bit nerve wracking when you're surfing at fourteen knots in the pitch black.
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.