Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Into dragon country

We've arrived in Labuan Bajo, on the Western tip of Flores, the start of Komodo country. We've almost run out of vegetables again and so need to head to the markets to re-stock. There are rumours of watermelons and mangoes... When I last wrote, we were in Wangi Wangi for Indonesian Independence Day. That didn't work out so well for the rally, with a small amount of 'social unrest' resulting in the celebrations being cancelled and the rally visitors being escorted back to their dinghies by armed guard! We had decided not to go, luckily. Nobody is quite sure what the protest was about but it appears to have had something to do with the local government having decided to host the event during Ramadam and before sunset – the local Muslim population were upset at food being served to Westerners and possibly also at government cash being spent on our entertainment rather than health and educational services for the local area. A fair point, really. Anyway, it left rather a sour taste and we all exited rather rapidly the next day. Nothing like an armed guard to dampen the holiday spirit.

The last couple of weeks internet access has been non-existent, though strangely our Indonesian phone seems to work almost everywhere. For a country not big on infrastructure, Indonesia is very good at building mobile phone towers! We've been to some beautiful islands – with our last few days on Gili Bodo being probably at the top of the list. Gili Bodo has crystal clear water, good snorkelling, a white sandy beach and no inhabitants! Perfection. We were there with our friends from Red Boomer II and Suspence – 9 adults and 7 kids altogether – so had a fine run of fires on the beach, snorkelling parties, spear-fishing expeditions and sun-downers that continued long after the sun had gone. The kids kayaked and swam between each other's boats and Finn could not be kept out of the water – at last! We saw our first monkeys on the beach, but luckily they were small and shy ones.

In case that all sounds a bit too idyllic, remember that we still have to fight over schoolwork, do the washing, cook the meals.... oh, and the bracket in the alternator broke again. Scott had to manufacture a new one, which he managed to do using alloy donated by helpful friends and the ancient tool bench of a large rock and hammer.

We spent some days in the very pretty Inca village, which is split into two smaller settlements – one Muslim and one Catholic. The two belief systems seem to get on very well together and the people were, as everywhere, warm and friendly. We ate coconuts on the steps of the huge Catholic church and invited our nice guide and his friends over for coffee. It's strange, but in some villages we are constantly harassed by local boats to buy and donate – in a village called Lingeh recently the demands were so relentless that we eventually stayed inside until dark so that they would all go away! Mostly, though, people paddle their dug-out canoes to have a look at the boat and shout 'hello mister!' and are happy to chat and smile. The kids are generally happy with t-shirts and some school books or pens and they like capsizing their canoes and swimming near us. When we go into a village I carry lolly-pops and balloons in my bag for kids that we meet in the streets. We are always having babies thrust into our arms and our oohs and aahs are much appreciated.

Here in Labuan we will look into the merits of the various Komodo and Rincha anchorages so that we can see some Komodo dragons and decide where to go next. Apparently there are some expectations about paying fees to even step onto the beach but we shall seek some local knowledge about where to go. Hopefully we won't be eaten. We have to be in Bali by the middle of September to renew our visas so that is our main deadline. In the meantime, we'll look for dragons and hope to see them for free and at a safe distance!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In the Wakitobi islands

12 August 2010

We left Banda for Ambon – quite a different place! It rained and poured and then it rained some more. The dinghy filled up several times. We sent our washing off to be done and it came back – wet – three days later.

Ambon is a large city of some 300,000 people. The town is large and smelly, with pockets of modern urban buildings next to traditional crowded markets, with tiny one-chair barbers' shops squeezed next to stalls piled with local fruit. We travelled around by 'bemo' (small mini-buses that appear to have a particular route but are also happy to divert from it). At one point our bemo decided to take a detour through the market, with barely an inch either side. Everyone in Indonesia smokes – or at least everyone male! - and that includes in the buses, in restaurants, in shops. Indonesian cigarettes have a particular smell, of cloves and something else, so not unbearable but overwhelming in the back of a bemo in the rain.

The river in Ambon was full of the town's rubbish, with plastic bags and nappies floating past the boat. We were provided with 'moorings' tied to the fishing port, which meant ferrying ourselves to the wharf and back and climbing up ladders. There were a few festivities for the rally, with the Indonesian President having come to Ambon, partly to see us and also because the region's Navy ships had gathered there to formally present themselves. There were ships from Singapore and Australia. We Sail Banda boats were asked to do a 'sail past' for the President, which we all did, in the pouring rain. We had to be in alphabetical order, which meant that Anui was first. We sailed close to the President's white tent on the shore but I couldn't see anyone looking very presidential in it. Maybe he'd gone for a cup of tea.

On from there to a small island called Lain overnight then on again for an overnight sail to Hoga. Hoga is a beautiful island surrounded by reef and fringed with palm trees. It is home to a dive and research centre so there are lots of foreigners here. There are a couple of small restaurants (sand floor, hammocks for after you've eaten, no menu but wonderful meals of octopus or whatever has been caught that day) and plenty of great snorkelling. We've bought fish, giant killer prawns, bananas and papaya from the dug-out canoes that come to the back of the boat.

A couple of days ago we were picked up by a local boat at 7 and visited the stilt village of the Bajo people. The Bajo are nomadic fishermen who, when they want to set up home, build a mound from dead coral and then add stilts and put a house of thatch and woven bamboo on top. The village near here is 500 years old in places and now has around 200 small houses, all joined by various walkways, planks and bridges. Some of the houses look like they would blow down in the slightest wind; others are more substantial. Our guide took us to his home, which was spotlessly clean and had a huge orange vinyl sofa amongst other pieces of large furniture. He somehow transported it all by the same motorised dug-out canoe that we had arrived in.

Some of the bridges were no more than thin planks with a three meter drop to the shallow water and coral below, but we teetered around between the different parts of the village quite well, with 40+ children and villagers behind us. When we went into the house, our entourage trooped in too! Scott and the boys joined some local kids for a game of soccer in the little sand sports 'field' that has been made, surrounded by nets, in the centre of the village. The whole experience was one that we will all remember. The people there have absolutely nothing and live precariously on the ocean, searching each day for their food, but seem no less satisfied than any of the rest of us. Things to remember.

We are now in the town of Wangi for a couple of days. I am writing this sitting on the floor in an internet spot with (obviously) no chairs and also no air conditioning. I appear to be the only person sweating. Have been to the markets and bought eggs in a bag, papaya and cucumbers and a traditional Wakitobi sarong from the woman who wove it! More as soon as we find more internet ....