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 ....


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