Tuesday, 19 September 2006

Happenings 2006 Number 5

Eastern Indonesia

As Audrey and me continue our Indonesian odyssey I’ve become aware that 3616 nautical miles (that’s about 6700 km) have slipped under ‘Envy’s’ keel since departing Brisbane mid May, with 1000 nm already in Indonesian waters. At six weeks we’re now halfway through our 90 day visitor’s permit, but not yet halfway distance-wise through this sprawling country, with plenty of sailing before us.

Being of volcanic origin, and some islands with still actively smoking volcanoes, the land is mostly steep to, dropping away sharply to unanchorable depths only metres from the shore, raising stress levels when seeking an overnight anchorage late in the afternoon. But the seas generally are much calmer than Oz and, with the wind and swell generally fading away at night, we often anchored in very exposed areas and found ‘sleepable’ conditions.

Following our entry at Timor, ‘Envy’ sailed northwards (or more often motor-sailed in the ever prevailing light wind conditions that are synonymous with near equatorial latitudes) to reach the islands of the main archipelago.

Two days and nights later we arrived at Pantar Island, anchoring in the small Moslem village of Balangmerang where a local fisherman, Abdul, paddled his little canoe to ‘Envy’ and sold us 3 mud crabs for 8 Aussie dollars. We went ashore to the overwhelmingly friendly welcome of both adults and masses of noisy children, all of whom begged to be photographed and shrieked enjoyment at viewing their digital images, a practice that proving consistent everywhere we went. The village comprises predominantly small, single level slab base dwellings of bricks and mortar, set in swept, bare dirt grounds. Grass lawns simply don’t exist in any of the villages we’ve visited, so being a lawnmower salesman anywhere in the eastern archipelago would be a fast-track road to ruin.

However, an interesting insight of Balangmerang ingenuity was our observation of the locals making Popcorn. Sitting in the dirt of a front yard, a group of young boys were hand turning a crudely made airtight cylinder inside of which corn was popping whilst being heated with a blowtorch, and which let out a thunderous explosive roar when opened, bringing peals of laughter from the children as it spewed its contents into a sack, but the popcorn was good!

Next day we moved on 32nm to Kawula Island where we stealthily negotiated its fringing reefs before anchoring in 70ft water in front of Balurin village. From our anchorage we enjoyed the imposing view of nearby Mt. Wariran, a sky scraping 4754ft active volcano smoking its head off, as it has done for the past thirty years. Out came the usual horde of inquisitive children in their leaky dugout canoes, one to paddle, one to bail water out, and the customary one or two ‘observers’.

There are eight formal Rally venues associated with ‘Sail Indonesia 2006’, with each destination endeavouring to out perform the others, not only for the prestige and associated tourism and financial rewards, but also to ‘sure up’ their hosting status again next year, for these eight venue appointments are most coveted and hotly sought by several other destinations. So it’s a mixed pleasure situation for we participants; we enjoy the various performances, but at the expense of endless speeches by every local official, spoken in native Bahasan none of which we understand, and an overloaded schedule which allows insufficient time to smell the roses along the way.

There’s no rest for the weary since we have timing obligations to meet for the next scheduled ‘Rally’ function at Lembata, 30nm away in Lebaleba Bay on Kawula Island, where we arrive the following afternoon. The next morning we attended the Governor’s Welcome at his downtown Regency Office.

We had thought we were going to see a procession but as it turned out, we yachties were the procession as a cavalcade of 10 Becaks (bicycle pedicabs) and 80 motorcycles took us from the anchorage on a 5 km tour of the small town to the welcoming venue. The streets were lined with friendly waving locals - made one feel like royalty, returning their waves and greetings as we slowly becaked there and motorcycled home, all at slow bicycle pace. It was a very memorable introduction to Lewoleba City, and one of the highlights to date.

A bunch of us (16) walked around the small town that night and ate traditional food at a roadside café; our dinner incl beer was only A$ 4 each.

The next day we topped up Envy’s fuel tanks with diesel purchased from the local fuel depot. No pumps here; both diesel and petrol poured out from pipes thru the wall into separate drums on the floor where men ladled it into our jerrycans with 1 or 2 litre used jam tins! At 4650 Rupiah/ltr (A.80¢), the cheapest fuel we’ve found in Indonesia. That evening there was another be-costumed traditional dancing concert at the waterfront stage, followed by another free Gala Dinner after the usual obligatory speeches.

Our fourth day at Lembata finds us on a bus tour to Kolontobo Village with its attractive beachfront location. Traditionally dressed dancers meet us in the street and, after a ceremonial welcome of slashing the palm frond “gate”, we are led by the dancing troupe down to the shaded beach where a huge buffet banquet from several cooking stations has been laid out for us. After more traditional dancing by individual groups of men, women and children, we enjoy a marvellous lunch of local meats, fish, vegetables, fruit and cakes; then we went swimming and cooled off with a few local beers. A wonderful mixture of food, culture and friendship - it doesn’t come much better.

In Indonesia clean drinking water doesn’t come out of taps as it does back home, and in the current dry season there’s no rainfall to catch so many yachties, including us, have to buy treated water in 19 ltr plastic bottles, costing about A$1 per bottle.

Five busy days and a few hundred photographs later sees ‘Envy’ depart Lembata for Sagu Bay on Adonara, the next island westward, where we drop the anchor after a short 20 nm hop and take advantage of a few free afternoon hours to passage plan our route ahead.

Onwards ever onwards - we’re up next morning at 0545 hours for a 42 nm eight hour crossing to Hading Bay on adjacent Flores Island. We anchor in a pretty, unnamed cove over a shallow sandy bottom with a few of our friends, and all gather on the small sandy beach late afternoon for drinks, then a Barbeque, followed by a sing-along around a large bonfire near the water’s edge. Again, it doesn’t get much better!

As I’ve previously mentioned motor-sailing is common in these light wind Latitudes but for a while the next morning we have better than 30 knots gusting across the deck with ‘Envy’ smoking along at 7 and 8 knots, but then it died as quickly as it came and the ‘iron sail’ is again doing its unwelcome job.

Mid afternoon we are anchored with more than 30 other rally yachts outside Sea World, a Dive Resort midway along the top of Flores Island, where we plan to rest for a few days. The resort comprises a number of thatched roof bures of traditional design, and like most holiday places we’ve visited, very low on tourist numbers. We’re told it’s presently the ‘off season’ but general opinion points to the aftermath of Bali 2002.

Nevertheless we enjoy Sea World’s friendly laidback ambience, its attractive sandy beach location and its convenience as our stepping stone to the large commercial town of Maumere 15 km away, with its ATM machine, from which we drew a few million Rupiah. A million Rp is about Aust $155 and most of our money is spent buying Diesel fuel… (and Bintang beer) oops!

Further westward along Flores north coast is the small, non-wealthy village of Riung, the next (unlikely) official Rally destination, but whose praises were sung by all of last year’s fleet and where, after an uncomfortable roly night between two reefs in Nangarujong Bay, we arrived in its well protected anchorage two days later. One immediate benefit was a floating pontoon which made dinghying ashore a pleasure, and so Riung was again off to a good start.

Thursday 17 August, the day after our arrival at Riung, is Indonesian Independence Day (1945), so the village was colourfully dressed with flags, banners and bunting (as were Maumere and all other places recently visited) which added some aura to these otherwise austere Muslim areas.

The next surprise attraction was not simply the presence of a large local ‘Phinisi’ sailing ship laying at anchor amongst us, resplendently dressed in the national colours of red and white, her flags and pennants flying, but that an open invitation was extended to all rally yachties to go aboard that evening for an Independence Day celebration party, food, drinks, music and outdoor movie all ‘on the house’ (eh-boat). “Silolona” is a newly constructed 50 mtr replica of a traditional Phinisi, beautifully made and luxuriously appointed, with opulence everywhere, five king size cabins, and works the top end of the charter market out of Bali with a crew of 15 locals. It is owned by Ms. Patti Seery, a Bali resident of 20+ years, and formerly of the USA.

In like fashion to the other venues, Riung offered an organised tour at A$24 each which combined both sea and land transportation to include visits by boat to an huge flying fox colony, a Komodo Dragon enclosure, and pre lunch swim at a picture postcard turquoise sandy island, and then to two villages, one for lunch and the other for – you guessed it, more traditional dancing. Believe me, by now we’re just about danced out!!

That night Riung hosted its gala dinner, which was excellent both in content and variety. Whole grilled fish, beef dishes, shellfish and other seafood, chicken dishes, excellent vegetables, rice, soups, sweets and other local delicacies and, being self serve buffet, one could choose precisely what suited one’s palate. Then each of us was presented with a traditional hand woven Ikat scarf by, and with compliments of the Governor. It was a wonderful night with excellent musical entertainment, both local and western. Riung’s good reputation lives on.

Happenings 2006 Number 4

Timor - Indonesia

Greetings from the ‘Envy’ crew here at the doorstep to the Orient, and the start of our real S/E Asian adventure, where every day brings a whole new cultural world of sights, smiles, sounds and smells.

As one of the participants in the 2006 "Sail Indonesia Rally”, ‘Envy’ crossed the start line in Darwin’s Fannie Bay at 11am Saturday 22 July, one of 98 yachts, a blaze of colour and action - some with spinnakers flying, finally departing Australia and heading out to sea, destination Timor, Indonesia, some 472 nautical miles away, where we arrived at Kupang, West Timor after a slowish but trouble free four day passage.

The highlight of this otherwise uneventful crossing was the sighting of a very large cattle transport ship overtaking us all on the same course, and the antics on the VHF radio as several yachts took evasive measures to avoid being passed downwind of this very, very smelly ship. Apart from the ship and two huge, well lit offshore oil platforms, passed in the distance at night, the Timor Sea was ours alone.

Initially Indonesian entry formalities and now organized rally activities keep us going non-stop both day and night, so we've played truant from all of that this ‘arvo to stay aboard and make a start on this ‘H-4’ report. Both boat and crew are well, but a 'day off' would be most welcome.

Sorry about the silence over recent weeks, but indeed "Happenings" 2 and 3, complete with photos had both been written for some time, but my 9 year old laptop sadly died enroute to Darwin, and having finally retrieved its hard drive, we hope we've been successful in sending 'H-2' and 'H-3' from an Internet Cafe in Kupang. These articles are much too large for our onboard Sailmail (email) capability, and furthermore, Sailmail connections have been quite difficult since leaving T.I., often going several days between contacts.

Kupang, in the southwest corner of West Timor is the capital of East Nusa Tenggara Province which comprises much of Indonesia’s far eastern archipelago, and is home to about K300 people; it is very friendly, very old, very dirty, very interesting and generally very poor, and our Aussie dollars go a long way here. A good basic meal can be got for A$4, so not much cooking on 'Envy' at the moment, and we were guests at 2 ‘Gala Dinners’ hosted by the Governor and the Major. Excellent food, and plenty of it.

A huge temporary stage on the beachfront beside Teddy’s Bar entertains us nightly with unbelievably loud music performed by talented artists from Jakarta, even as we lay in bed late at night, willing sleep!

Teddy's Bar occupies the prime beachfront position where all the rally yachts are anchored, and where local boys look after our dinghies day and night for $2, while a couple of hundred yachties from about 15 different countries chat boat talk over quite inexpensive local ‘Bintang’ beer. Teddy is a very friendly part Chinese local who spent 15 years in the Sydney Taxi business, then returned to Kupang where he owns the waterfront Bar, a Hotel behind it, plus Buses and Taxis, so he’s quite a big shot around here.

Kupang's streets are tight and narrow in the old downtown area; traffic is totally chaotic day and night, there are no traffic lights or pedestrian crossings whatsoever, just millions of small motorbikes and colourful mini buses, the ubiquitous ‘Bemo’, somewhat of a discotheque ‘on wheels’ blasting out deafening pop music as it runs its set route around town, but not many cars.

Both bikes and Bemos speed excessively with horns blasting continually as they ‘dare al’ in modern traffic jams, and merely crossing the road is akin to playing Russian roulette! But they are skilful drivers with good traffic manners, and drive on the left here, same as in Oz. Far more women ride these low powered motorcycles here than in more advanced countries since motor cars are far beyond their economic lifestyles.

Timor is one of the few Christian enclaves (over 80 percent) within Indonesia, a Portuguese legacy, and the people are both friendly and welcoming, though only a few speak English, so our language phrase books get much use. The countryside around Kupang comprises mainly undulating rocky volcanic soils with odd pockets of fertile farmland, growing vegetables and rice, and becomes steeply hilly away from the coast. It is currently the 'dry season' throughout all these sub-equatorial regions so daily humidity and temperatures are pleasant, and nights quite 'sleepable'.

The coast around Kupang is predominantly steeply rising rock face of volcanic origin, interspersed with sandy areas, and quickly falling to deep water very close to shore.

Both housing and commercial buildings are of concrete construction, mostly unpainted and drab, quite modest by western standards and simply built, and the old buildings along the town's rocky waterfront rise sharply up 3 or 4 storeys from the water's edge in Mediterranean style. Electricity serves almost all, but town water is sparse or non existent. Local food is typical Asian style rice or noodle based with vegetables, fish and most meats, very tasty and inexpensive to us.

Kupang is not generally considered a 'tourist destination' and few western tourists visit here, so the arrival of over 300 visiting sailors is quite a inquisitive novelty and a boost to the economy. In this land of ‘Haves and Have Nots’, the locals see all tourists as wealthy ‘haves’, so there are often two prices for goods and services, one for ‘haves’ and a lessor one for the locals. Nevertheless they are very approachable, friendly, happy and full of smiles, living life to the fullest. The children delight in greeting you with “Hello Mister”, their total English vocabulary, and love to be photographed.

English speaking university students were arranged as our guides & interpreters, so it was a win/win situation as they relished the opportunity to practise their English and we got to understand more about Timor customs and culture. The rally fleet collected 10 million rupiah to start a university scholarship foundation for exceptionally bright but financially underprivileged students in appreciation of their friendly services.

We enjoyed visiting the (late) last King’s Castle, a grand old Dutch style residence still occupied by his widow, which supports an ‘Ikat’ textile weaving group who make the colourful fabric synonymous with this region, and much of Indonesia. They hand spin locally grown cotton, hand dye it with natural dyes, then weave it by hand on small, complicated looms. Audrey purchased a nice piece.

Then on to a traditional musical instrument maker, where we enjoyed hearing a recital by these instruments, an artefacts & carvings museum, and town tours in the little ‘Bemos’.
In keeping with the Rally schedule we departed Kupang after 6 hectic days and motor sailed in little breeze to an anchorage up the Timor coast, where sandy coconut lined beaches rose very steeply up a few thousand metres to jagged tops, and only 100 metres off the beach the bottom plummetered straight down over 200 metres.

Envy is now at 8° South and being close to the Equator there is little breeze so we have to motor-sail everywhere, which is a slow, expensive pain in the butt, but it’s all part of the experience.

It’s been a hectic but most interesting introduction to Indonesia, and every day brings something new. We are still eating our way of discovery through the local culinary delights of the many locations along our route, enjoying the friendliness of the people, and trying to learn a little of their language. It’s all part of ‘the big adventure’.