July, 2013 Darwin

I am in Darwin now and seems a thriving metropolis compared to what I’ve encountered the last month or so. I haven’t had a chance to look around much except for a bit of a pre-heat-of-the-day run this morning but I will. There are a couple of museums that seem worth exploring as this part of Australia saw WWII happen whereas North America only experienced it remotely.

The front page of the local newspaper had pictures of a crocodile on it, both jumping for the entertainment of tourists and eating a pig. I really got that I was in the Northern Territory of Australia, seeing that that was front page news. Even more so than witnessing Northern Territory Day’s celebrations a couple of nights ago, on the only day of the year here that it’s legal to both sell and set off fireworks.

darwin stubbie

A Darwin Stubbie and perhaps the incentive for a few of the escapades I witnessed.

I do like fireworks. There was an official display here that was set off on a barge in the bay but everyone and their cousin spent their year’s allowance (or maybe their rent money) on fireworks packages that were set off every few feet on the local beaches and in parks and at the side of the road. Noisy, but fun though I always feel sorry for the dogs. I haven’t met a dog yet that wasn’t terrified of fireworks.

I’m going to rent a bicycle tomorrow and go to the war museum at East Point. I think I’m finally learning to look the right way for traffic now so I should be safe enough. I will head out of town on a couple of day trips in the next couple of weeks.

corroborree boat

The boat that took me on a tour of the Corroborree Billabong.

I have seen a couple of kangaroos so far and kookaburras are right up there with the coolest birds in the world but it would nice to see a bit more of the countryside and associated creatures before I leave.

corroborree rainbow bee eater

A rainbow bee eater seen in the Corroborree Billabong.

I spelt the subject bird ‘jabaroo’ initially because that is how it was pronounced. Neat bird; big and if it has yellow eyes, it’s a female and if black, then it’s male. I went on a boat tour of the Corroboree Billabong today. Very cool; lots of crocodiles, both fresh water and salt and a zillion birds.

corroboree jabiru

A jabiru seen at the Corroboree Billabong.

 There are all sorts of bitey and stingy things here and strangely, in any of those ‘visit Australia’ ads, there is no mention of how strongly it’s advised to wear a full body stinger suit while swimming to keep you safe from jellyfish. It’s not at all a bad place though; in fact, it’s pretty amazing. And there is no snow at all; the temperature is about 30 right now.

corroborree croc

A saltwater crocodile at the Corroboree Billabong.

I have had a few weeks here now and Darwin is an interesting town, if a bit warm and sticky. I was a bit embarrassed to learn that it was badly bombed in WWII by the same Japanese bunch that bombed Pearl Harbor. I had never even heard about that but apparently, not too many Australians are aware of that either as it was kept a secret from the general public to avoid panic.

 I am considering carrying on from here on a boat that is going on the Sail Indonesian rally. It’s an annual yacht rally that starts in Darwin (Australia) and ends in Singapore.

darwin fanny bay

Darwin’s Fanny Bay

Sail Indonesia is sponsored by the government of Indonesia and it includes events at each of the many official stops. It’s meant to promote tourism in the Indonesian Archipelago as many of the events occur in places that are off the usual tourist map.

I have an offer to act as crew on a sailing yacht that has signed up for the rally. I have crewed on a sailboat but I was a much younger person back then and much less likely to chafe in the confines of a small boat.

The boat I’m considering is a larger, modern one that has a separate bedroom and bathroom so I would have the privacy I need. The captain/owner seems okay though he completely poo-poo-ed my sailing experience and I will have to submit to Doing As I’m Told. Ah well, I have a brilliant sense of humour and this trip will be a stellar experience.

The rally is about three months with scheduled stops at specific ports. At these places there will be official welcomes with ceremonies that showcase the best of the regions dance, arts, food and culture and regional sights. That’s not to mention the unofficial stuff that includes exploring, diving, and climbing mountains. Yeah, I do have that mountain climbing bug.

I doubt I could tire of the traditional dancing and there will be Komodo Dragons and orangutans which all sounds super cool. There are a number of yachts that will be continuing on a world circuit after the rally and with Somalia being the way it is, that means going around South Africa and that sounds interesting…

July 26

darwin rally start

The start of the Sail Indonesia Rally in Darwin, Australia

I am still in Darwin at the moment but I am jumping off the top of Australia tomorrow. I am on board the sailboat that will be my home for the next few months now. It has the most modern navigation systems, a water maker that converts salt water to fresh, a shower, a fridge, freezer and stove with oven, and even a bbq.

The rally this year has about eighty other boats taking part and I’ve met a few of the other participants. They all seem very nice and very much looking forward to the adventure. Note to self: you cannot distinguish accents so don’t try guessing at nationalities.

Mouse issues abound. I need a computer mouse for my laptop and the boat I’m on needs to be rid of a flesh and blood one that snuck onboard before we left the marina. Quite serendipitous.

saumlaki sanglia dol2

A lady at Sanglia Dol who insisted I take her picture because she had dressed up for us.

Indonesia

August 14

Selamat Pagi (Indonesian for good morning).

The sea is that beautiful, deep blue that can only be found when there are thousands of meters of water beneath. I saw my first whales of this adventure last night but I wasn’t close enough to see what kind they were. I have seen lots of dolphins and millions of flying fish. The flying fish in this part of the world seem to have a bit of trouble slipping the surly bonds of ocean, most only making a few meters of airborne-ness before belly-flopping, so I have only had to rescue one from the deck so far.

I am in the middle of the Banda Sea right now on a passage between Banda and Wakatobi so it will be a day or so before this gets sent but I have realized that if I wait to write until I have both time and an Internet connection, I won’t write at all.

I am finally internet independent, having bought an internet thingy, that uses a sim card and connects through the cellular network, in Saumlaki, but Telkomsel, the Indonesian provider, hasn’t worked very well for phone calls let alone internet these last few days but I have high hopes that I will be able to receive and send emails when I get to Wanci, the next stop. (Whew! Run-on sentences are exhausting.)

I had high internet hopes in Saumlaki too, but my computer needed a program installed before it would recognize the internet thingy and, of course, I needed an internet connection to grab that from the web so I was stymied until I could plug my laptop into the wall of a great little guest house in Banda Niera. Abba was a wonderful host and I am online-able now but the end of Ramadan caused a serious bung-up in the network so I was unable to send even a short note out to anyone from there. I did send a couple of postcards though.

Now that you know where I’m writing you from, I’m going to jump back to the beginning of the rally and catch you up.

The customs office in Darwin was extremely accommodating to the rally boats. Duty free goods and services were given tax refunds without many questions or inspections and once cleared from the country, we were still able to anchor for the night on the coast before making the jump across to Saumlaki.

Here is a map with all the stops I made on it.

I cleared Indonesian incoming customs in Saumlaki, Tanimbar. It was a very complicated process involving a whole army of people; the initial wave coming out to the anchored boat to look at papers and then there was another gauntlet to run when we got ashore. They tried very hard though and they were unfailingly polite.

The rally was greeted with much ceremony and dancing and strange food. Some of the food and all of the ceremonies and dancing were excellent.

Saumlaki invested a lot of time and effort and money into entertaining us. Aside from the welcoming ceremony, there was (a gala) dinner and dancing and food exhibitions and a tour of the island complete with police escort.

The buses that provided the transportation were typical of the island; brightly coloured and with bouncy music played full-blast.

saumlaki escort

The buses that took the rally on a tour with the police escort in front.

Because they provided everything, I don’t think they got a very good return on the investment except for the Harapan Indah Hotel, which did a sizable custom in Bintang, a very good Indonesian beer.

There was a fair bit of wailing from the local mosque’s speakers at all hours which led to a lot of grumbling from more than a few of the rally participants. I guess no one actually read the part in the information package about Indonesia being a mostly Muslim country.

I usually find that people in first world countries are way too quick to become offended at anything and I ignore them but I won’t deliberately distress simple people in their own countries if I can help it. I’m not a crazy exhibitionist so it was no inconvenience for me to cover my shoulders and knees so I didn’t offend but I did find that most people were too busy being curious to take offence if I slipped up somehow.

There are only a dozen or so boats that have come in this direction because of the longer distances involved but the fleet will merge again at Labuan Bajo (where Komodo Park is). It is sometimes difficult to manage twelve boats in anchorages and a dozen people at the various events so I am looking forward to having eighty boats and thrice as many people jostling for position with a bit of trepidation.

Note: For that year’s rally, there was a choice of initial routes to take. One was the usual one to Kupang but the other went east and north to the islands of Saumlaki and then on to Banda taking a route that would meet the rest of the rally in Komodo National Park. Only a 12 of the 87 boats went this way.

The other route is here if you want to compare the two.

The guy who’s boat I’m on isn’t a lot of fun to sail with since he gets very stressed and miserable when the conditions-sailing and general-are anything less than ideal but it has little effect on me and I have enjoyed an amazing journey so far.

One of the uncomfortable things that I have found about this life is that I need to get a ride to shore if the boat isn’t in a marina. I had kind of thought that in the tropics, I could just jump over the side and swim through crystal clear waters to a beautiful sandy beach, but that hasn’t been the case so far and so I have to ask if I want to go ashore.

Unfortunately, I want to go ashore at dawn and go for a run or a hike or do something active and other people want to sleep at that hour. I need to find me a little kayak and a place onboard to store it and life would be ideal though it’s hardly onerous as it is.

banda dock

The rally yachts at the dock in Banda Neira

The Banda Islands were beautiful. The sail there was long but the wind and the weather were perfect. The rally boats were snugged aft-into a wall in the little bay that housed the town of Banda Neira.

banda abbas

The courtyard at the inn in Banda Neira

There were no events planned there but the fleet was placed in the very capable hands of a local inn owner (Abba) who provided tours and offered his inn up as a place for great local food and as a general hang out spot. He did very well by us but he earned it.

banda volcano summit sign

The sign at the summit of the volcano at Banda

I climbed the volcano, which was a good hike, not too high but up a very steep and rough trail. The volcano is active. I knew that before I climbed but it was still a surprise to realize that my heinie was getting very hot indeed from the heat of the rock that I rested on at the top.

banda fortress volcano

The volcano as seen from the fort at Banda Neira.

I did a bit of diving, very nice coral and scads of colourful fish, but scads of garbage too, which is a bit hard to witness in such a gorgeous environment. I had to bat aside a dirty diaper and that can dull the magic of anywhere. That is one of the things I will fix when I become omnipotent.

banda spice house

A house on the way to the spice tour which shows heavy colonial influence.

I drank in the local history, which was interesting and brutal in equal amounts (I’ll leave you to look that up), and I went on a tour of the nutmeg groves. The nutmeg trees are sheltered by massive almond trees, which add to the local economy as well. The almonds are very tasty; I bought a little bag of them and some nutmeg jam.

banda spice nutmeg

One of the nutmeg harvesters showing the interior of the nutmeg fruit.

 

Nutmeg is such a pretty and tasty thing to have caused so much horror in the past. One would think that after all that, it would deserve a more prominent place on our tables. Look up the Manhattan Transfer when you have a free moment.

banda spice tsunami

A sign that can be understood in any language

I was there for the end of Ramadan, which was celebrated with many fireworks (I set off a few myself), a bit reminiscent of Darwin’s cracker night except for the lack of drunken debauchery.

I had purchased several fireworks that sent up ten red, bursting flares. While watching the crowds enjoying the night, I noticed a little boy who was about 6 years old. He gave me a smile so I gave him one of my fireworks and didn’t think much of it. But a half an hour later, I felt a little tug on my sleeve and there he was pushing a packet of crackers into my hand.

banda back from spice

In the boat coming back from the spice tour

I held them up to the light to look at them and a teenage girl beside me gave me a big grin and held up a lighter. I handed over one of the little sets of ten; she lit it and then threw it into the crowd. BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG-BANG x 2. That was exciting but nobody minded.

I bought the girl, her friend and myself some spicy noodles from a street cart to end my Ramadan evening. It was a wonderful place with really nice people.

I was in Banda for four days.  I thought it was brilliant and I could have spent more time there but the rally does have a schedule, so after a three day sail in perfect conditions, I am now in Wanci, Wakatobi and I’m going to send this now because I’m running out of battery power.

banda fortress courtyard

Fort Belgica at Banda Neira.

I did go visit the Fort Belgica in Banda. It is a very impressive structure and still in very good condition; I will try to send a picture. The pentagon shape in the courtyard was neat to look down on from the towers. I especially liked the pits in the center of it that held the Portuguese captives until they could be strung up on the gallows that were right behind it. There are the remains of the Portuguese fort right below it but it is just a couple of walls now.

Aug 16

I’m doing well; no Bali belly so far but I don’t know how long I’ll be able to avoid that since I seem to have left the worst of my squeam at home. I’m not sure what I was eating yesterday since my Indonesian is still weak, but I think it involved cassava and coconut. It wasn’t bad.

wakatobi dinner

Supper!

I am leaving here today (here being Wanci) and heading off to the islands of your ancestors. I should be in Wagola, Buton on the 21st or so and I will be in the region for a week or so; timing is a bit fluid on a sailboat and it is compounded if that sailboat is in Indonesia.

Aug 25

Hati-hati (careful-careful)

pw view sign

A sign welcoming drivers to Buton in Pasar Wajo.

This is the first time that Buton has been a stop on the Sail Indonesia Rally and the government put on a spectacular series of events in Pasar Wajo in hopes of encouraging some tourism for the area.

A new floating dock and ramp was installed off the main pier just for the occasion. It was constructed with more good intentions than best laid plans so the locals that came down to watch got to see the silly sailing tourists lurching and stumbling around on the tippy little thing as we got in and out of our tenders.

pasar wajo welcome

The welcome ceremony

Everyone who came ashore on the day of arrival, either in groups or off individual boats, were greeted at the end of the pier by drummers and three men in tribal costumes, including spears, performing a traditional dance.

The dance commemorates an ancient battle victory so it didn’t look exactly welcoming but it was quite impressive. Once they decided that they weren’t going to skewer us, we had a local sarong that was rolled up and tied with flowers draped around our necks and then we were led to a table that was loaded with Bintang, Guinness and a local wine; the organizers had heard that tourists, and sailors in particular, like to drink so they provided booze. Warm booze, but hey..

The regent for the area created a three day festival, which will be an annual event, to mark becoming a stop on the rally and we were the guests of honour.

pw tents

The tents set up for the rally at Pasar Wajo

The area around the waterfront was like a carnival with bunting-clad tents pitched everywhere and flags flying and music playing and people milling. The organizers had done their research and knew what people who lived on boats would need so there was a laundry drop-off, bottled water refills, phone and internet top-offs, and beer, of course, all set up on site.

There were also samples of local specialties, both food and craft, available for perusal and/or purchase but it is very hard to actually buy anything here as the regent made it clear that we were honoured guests and guests don’t pay for things here. There was also a SUV assigned to each boat, with a driver and flashing light and a sign on it that says ‘VIP-Sail Indonesia’.

The welcome ceremony was the next day, as the rally boats never arrive in any place at the same time. As everyone came ashore in the morning, we were ushered into the main information tent and we were dressed in traditional costumes that, for me, consisted of a bright yellow, long sleeved blouse and a sarong that was wrapped under the rib cage and hung down to my feet. The men’s costume was also a sarong, but they got a belt and wore a knee length, black jacket.

The ceremony itself involved a lot of people, most of them in bright, gorgeous traditional costumes, waiting hours for the official government people to show up and then listening to their speeches. Oh, and picture taking. Don’t let me forget picture taking, as if I could. EVERYBODY wants to take a picture of the tourist (‘Mister, Mister! Photo!, Photo!), and the tourist and their mother and the tourist and their baby and the tourist and their friend and the tourist…and I think I might have mentioned that I don’t like having my picture taken. It’s a small thing really and it makes them so bloody happy so I smile as best I can but when I say everybody, I do mean everybody and my guide has had to physically drag me out of a throng of people at times.

English speaking guides, most of them students, were assigned to everyone and it was impossible to go anywhere without one but they were a very nice group of young people.

DCIM100GOPRO

A moray eel on my dive.

Indonesia seems to be full of friendly, helpful people and I have to be careful not to express a desire for something or even admire something too much or someone will try to give it to me. I asked about a local diving shop because I wanted to see Mandarin fish among other things and the powers-that-be arranged for a diving club from the other side of the island to be brought in with all their gear-plus whatever any of the rally might need-, and a dive was done the next day off a boat that was also provided. And no one would accept any money at all for it.

DCIM100GOPRO

mandarin fish in Pasar Wajo

It was a brilliant dive by the way. We were put down right off of a pier and my first thought was ‘oh, great heaps of garbage!’. It was a garbage dump but the creatures there were amazing. Mandarin fish, rock fish, moray eels, clown fish; the place was teeming with life!

Speaking of money (we were), I am still trying to get used to dealing in tens and hundreds of thousands of units of currency; it just doesn’t seem right to be paying twenty or thirty thousand rupiahs for a beer even though I know that it is only a couple of my dollars. I went to a local bank machine in Pasar Wajo and withdrew 1500000, the maximum allowable. It made an impressive wad of cash and the pile hasn’t gotten much smaller because I haven’t had an opportunity to spend it except at the local fruit and vegetable market.

There was a welcome dinner the same night as the welcome ceremony with a huge buffet of traditional foods as well as carts, like ones street venders use, that made hot dishes of local specialties. The chicken-rice-coconut-vegetable stuff that I had was very nice and I seem to have a taste for fried bananas.

They sometimes serve the fried bananas with cheese, which seems odd to me but it tastes good. I would like to try them with chocolate but I will have to do that myself, as it doesn’t seem to be an option here.

pw bowl dance

A bowl dance at Pasar Wajo. The dance, which hopes for a good harvest, is common throughout Indonesia though the costumes vary.

The area around our tables was set up with chairs for the locals and there were many more standing so I had the uncomfortable thought of crowds watching feeding time at the zoo until everyone else started eating. Traditional dance demonstrations were performed during dinner.

One of them told a local legend of a woman who was badly treated by her husband and how every day she would go down to the shore and fish to feed her children. She went to the water so often that one day she turned into a mermaid (or a manatee depending on who’s telling the story). It was quite touching.

pw mermaid dance1

The mermaid dance at Pasar Wajo.

The next day, we were taken to an excavation site on a hill on the other side of the bay that will eventually be the new house and offices of the local regent. A huge flat area had been scraped out of the forest with banks surrounding it and these had been set up with canopy-covered platforms where we, and the local important people would sit.

pw big dance3

Some of the 12500 dancers at the celebration in Pasar Wajo.

Here, we were entertained (awestruck, amazed, thrilled…) by 12500 young people in bright costumes performing, among other things, the mermaid dance accompanied by a large group of local traditional musicians and a singer with the most beautiful voice. I don’t think even a thousand pictures could come up with the words to describe it.

bb dancers5

Dancers in Baubau

The next day was almost anti-climatic though it was a wonderful trip. We were driven over the hill to Baubau, on the other side of the island, because they wanted a chance to show off their hospitality and tourism potential too.

There is a massive fort there, built by locals, not the Dutch, which was very interesting and it was really the only reason that I went on that excursion though it turned out to be a lot of fun.

bb fortress canons

Part of the Buton Fortress in Baubau, Indonesia.

A very full day which wasn’t over when we got back to Pasar Wajo because the locals there wanted to say goodbye properly so they had set up another buffet and they brought in not just Bintang, but whiskey and vodka to make sure everyone wanted to dance to the live music that they had arranged.

Your ancestors must be very fond of their honoured descendant to have arranged such spectacular treatment of your honoured correspondent. Thank you again.

Wakatobi was very nice. Wakatobi is the collective name of a group of islands that gets its name from the first two letters of the four biggest islands from north to south; Wangi wangi, Kaledupa, Tomia, and Binongko.

I spent a few days in Wangi Wangi being ceremonied a bit. A lot actually. Wakatobi draws a larger tourist crowd than the places to that point and they had the infrastructure to show us a more conventional good time.

wakatobi fish market1

The Wanci fish market. Yes, those are parrot fish.

The fish market-which was interesting in itself-was the site of the first ceremony that began with a boat full of singers arriving at the pier. The main singer was a local celebrity and she was the first Indonesian that I had seen that was dressed even a bit provocatively.

wakatobi welcome ceviche

Mmmm. Sea urchin ceviche. I was actually very tasty.

A famous chef was brought in to make sea urchin ceviche and later there was a traditional cooking demonstration. 

wakatobi island excursion16

One of the young girls in the Kambode festival. She didn’t look very impressed ever but she was gorgeous.

We were boated across to Pulau Kambode to watch a festival that honoured the little girls in the village. They were dressed up like gorgeous dolls and paraded around the streets in palanquins on the shoulders of several male family members. 

There was a similar ceremony in Pasar Wajo, without the parade but each was also given a huge basket of food to celebrate the event. The girls in Buton were a lot older though. 

The official rally dinner was held at a local resort. Beautiful dancers, a nice, buffet dinner in a lovely setting.

wakatobi dancers

Dancers at a dinner in Wangi Wangi

A few of us played hooky from some of the official stuff and hired a car to take us around the island. The whole area is a snorkeler and diver paradise but it is impossible to anchor the boat in any but a few areas because the water around the islands goes from a meter above a reef to 50 and 100 meters in a vertical wall but I did manage to dive at Hoga Island.

wakatobi reef

The reef that surrounds the island of Wangi Wangi. It drops off abruptly to hundreds of feet.

I also did a nice snorkel at Tomia Island, which is the ‘to’ part of Wakatobi, and spent an afternoon at the Wakatobi Resort. Quite an exclusive place but the management and staff were super friendly and accommodating, even letting the two boats that went there, use the mooring that their live-aboard dive boat usually uses because it was off on an excursion.

hoga sunset

On Hoga Island in Wakatobi.

I am on my way to Sagori Island right now and I hope to be able to go for a run; I am really hurting for exercise. I would swim but the places where we have been moored are really gross with garbage. Actually the whole area is really gross with garbage. Sigh..

tomea sunrise settlement1

Sunrise by Tomea Island, Wakatobi.

The dives that I have done had gorgeous fish and coral but there is so much trash everywhere and it makes me very sad. I imagine that it will be a massive task to get a population that is used to peeling it’s food and throwing the skins on the ground to see that that isn’t acceptable when the skin is plastic.

Oct 3

I am in Lombok right now at the Medana Bay Marina. The boat has been here for a couple of weeks now but I have only been back here for a couple of days after spending some time in Sydney and Bali.

lombok road

A winding, jungle road on Lombok.

I have had a wonderful time, of course, and more importantly, I bought myself a paddleboard so I have a means of escaping the boat on my own when it’s anchored. Blissfulness!! I didn’t bring back a paddle but I can use the one I got at Sagori Island for now.

No pirates or wealthy businessmen of any nationality in my world, unfortunately. I am paying my way in rent and labour on this boat and I’m having a brilliant time at it in spite of the owner. He’s not so bad; a bit prissy with no sense of my humour or much able to find the fun in things but I can mostly ignore all that. I could ignore a lot to have had the travels I have this year.

macaque lombok

A macaque monkey by the side of the road on Lombok.

I will write a long story soon but I’m too tired now. It was a long day of driving on Indonesian roads with an Indonesian driver, Bintang hunting and edible food finding. Tres fun. I saw a whole bunch of macaques and the drive was beautiful; the driver went the beach way into town and the volcano way back. I wanted to climb the volcano (Rinjani) but there isn’t time. BUT…I get to see orangutans in Borneo in the next week or two.

I think I left off the account of my travels at Bombana. The anchorage was off a village called Sikeli, which sat at the foot of a lovely mountain.

Sikeli dancing girls

One of the pole dances at Sikeli.

Your cousins were at their hospitable best, entertaining the rally with food and dance. One dance was really neat; it involved two groups of children, one set sat in pairs and held the ends of two long bamboo poles that they snapped apart and together very quickly while girls danced in between them. It was very impressive, like double-dutch but with a dozen poles instead of two ropes. And they weren’t just jumping the moving poles, they were really dancing. Really, really cool.

making syrup

Palm syrup.

There was also a visit to a village on the mountain where we were shown how palm sugar is traditionally made which was educational. It reminded me of making maple syrup as it’s much the same process but I never had to climb the maple tree to tap it.

tangkeno dance

A traditional dance of Tangkeno. the dancers had sharp knives and the dance ended with the decapitation of a young banana tree.

We were taken to Tangkeno, which calls itself an ‘eco village in the clouds’. It is a lovely place in the mountains and the air is scented with the smell of cloves that are laid out to dry on mats. 

There is an ancient, native-built stone fort in the hills above the village which was a nice hike away but I didn’t have the chance to climb the Batusangia mountain.

batusangia

Batusangia seen behind the village of Sikeli on Pulau Kabaena.

The local market is always a stop and everyone stocked up on fruit and vegetables. It was here that I realized that I would run out of beer before making the next stop where I could buy some so I asked where I could find some and began a very entertaining escapade.

I was shuffled off from person to person until I found someone who knew where some might be found and we got in his car to go find it. We went from place to place down shadier and shadier alleys while the driver made several phone calls until we ended up at the dock.

A quick conversation went on in Indonesian through a half open window and a few minutes later, a man came out with a plain, cardboard box tied with twine that was dropped onto my lap in exchange for 400000 rupiahs. The box was just a normal Bintang case that had been turned inside-out so as not to advertise the contents.

I felt like I participated in a major drug purchase but I guess it amounts to the same thing in a strict muslim village. Very fun, very naughty and well worth the expense for the experience if not the Bintang.

sagori

Some of the dozens of decorated, local boats that circled the rally boats before we left Sagori Island.

There was a farewell ceremony at Sagori Island where all the local boats, and there were about a hundred of them, were all dolled up in flags and banners and everyone in the village piled into them and drove around the rally boats for a half hour yelling and singing. And then they all went home and we sailed off.

As part of the welcoming ceremony, each boat was gifted with a hand carved, wooden paddle, not new but belonging to and having been used by the giver. This is the paddle that will propel my paddle board. 

The fleet divided here, some of them had been guilted into going to the next official stop which was way out of the way, but most of us went directly to Tinabo Island in Takabonerate National Park. I love saying Takabonerate.

Takabonerate sunset

The anchorage at Tinabo, Takabonerate at sunset.

There was a park ranger station on the island and he arranged dives for those interested, providing the boat and the guiding for dirt-cheap. The coral in this area is gorgeous. Hundreds of varieties and all of them seem to be on 1970’s drugs, they are so brightly coloured in oranges and greens and pinks and in all shapes and sizes. Pretty, pretty, pretty.

Fortunately, I have my dive gear on board, including a tank, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to go because they had no equipment to rent. There was no fresh water to rinse the gear off with so I had to use some off the boat.

I got tired of the snide remarks about water conservation so I bought a couple of 20 litre water jugs in Saumlaki which I fill with fresh drinking water at every port (it costs less than a dollar each) and I put them in the boats water tanks so there can be no complaints about my water use. I’m not wasteful of water in spite of the water-maker on board but I do like clean dishes, clean clothes and I do have all this hair that I like clean too.

takabonerate

Sailing away from Tinabo Island in Takabonerate.

From Takabonerate, it was only a few more uneventful day trips to get to Labuan Bajo where we rejoined the rest of the rally.

It was a bit embarrassing how nice it was to wallow in a bit of westernism by way of an Italian restaurant, a supermarket and maybe a bar or two.

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A sailing vessel that caters to tourists at Labuan Bajo.

The route I took to get here from Darwin doesn’t see too many tourists so they don’t cater to them at all and I have to admit that I missed some of the things that separate first from third worlds. Not so much that I’d go back home right now though; it was just a little twinge.

Pengah dive board

The dive board for Pengah Island.

I went out on a dive boat from there too and those dives were also spectacular. I saw my first cuttlefish and my guide stabbed a crown-of-thorns starfish that he found and brought it to the boat to kill in a tub of fresh water.

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A crown of thorns starfish.

The divers here are doing a great job at keeping that creature under control here, much better than Australia where it has killed whole reefs. Now if they can just get the garbage problem under control.

komodo gate

The entrance gate to Komodo National Park.

The dive boat also stopped at Rinca Island where we were given a nice walking tour to see the KOMODO Dragons. I never would have thunk that I could picture geisha girl lizards but thank you for that, I’m always impressed at the places my mind can take me. Kimono dragons, indeed!

komodo pic sign

Here there be dragons

Most of dragons were sleeping at that time in the afternoon but they were still pretty deadly looking. I went on another walk on another day in the morning and they were awake and moving then. I wouldn’t want to wrestle with one but they don’t want to fight their prey, they just bite it and leave it to slowly die from the bacteria and toxins in their saliva.

green komodo

A Komodo dragon that has been splashed with green paint to warn that he is aggressive and dangerous.

They aren’t all docile though; some of them get aggressive and they are quite dangerous so those ones are marked with green paint on their backs so people know to avoid them.

komodo crossing

A pair of Komodo dragons on the beach of Rinca Island.

It was neat to see a half dozen dragons lounging on the beach while safely anchored off a little island. It made snorkeling a bit more of a nervous exercise than it usually is because Komodos can swim, but the coral and the fish were gorgeous.

On to Lombok. It took a few days to get there but the boat was eventually snugged up to the dubious security of the first marina that it had seen since Darwin.

The marina is a rally stop but not an official one so there were no boring political dinners but the marina owner did hire a half decent blues band to entertain the sailors that night on the beach and provided a nice buffet as well, for a small fee.

From here, it was an easy hop over to the party islands of Gili Air, Gili Meno and Gili Trawangan. I don’t really party but it was nice to sit in a nice place with a cold drink and walk around the islands. This was one of the few places that I was able to swim ashore and back to as the water was clear and there were no dangerous creatures.

A day or so after that I took the ferry over to Bali to catch a flight to Sydney but I will tell you about that another day.

I’m just motoring away from Bawean on this beautiful morning. The sky is blue, the water is too; it’s the colour you might get if you took tanzanite and added a bit of pearl to it.  

The sea is flat right now because there is no wind and thus the motor is running, somewhat disturbing the tranquility of the moment. Some say that this rally should be renamed Motor Indonesia because this lack of blow is prevalent in this area at this time of year.

It will take thirty-six hours, more or less, to get to the next stop in Borneo. I don’t mind the overnight passages and I quite enjoy my time on watch, listening to the waves break and the wake burbling behind in phosphorus eddies. It’s far better in the quiet of under-sail rather than engine but it’s all good and the stars are always lovely.

I am losing sight of the southern cross now, it has disappeared in the murky haze above the horizon and I don’t see the big dipper which is the only way I can find the north star. I would be completely lost without the gps…

Orion is causing me a bit of consternation these days. I was talking constellations with someone a while back and she pointed to one that her mum had shown her called the saucepan. It uses the three stars of Orion’s belt as the base and the three diagonal stars above it as the handle and one other on the other side to finish up the pot. I’ll be damned if I can’t see it every time I look now and I’ve taken to calling it Orion’s saucepan. I suppose it’s a very modern thing to evolve from warrior to chef, even for mythical heroes.

The island has disappeared in the haze behind me now and there is nothing but water to see except for one freighter several miles off to port that is just a ghostly silhouette on the horizon.  It is a bit of a wonder to have only one boat in view as it seems that every other native of the country has made a little boat out of scraps of wood and sails impossible distances to fish around a fish-attracting wooden raft that they have anchored miles and miles out to sea.  Sometimes, I have to do quite a bit of dodging and weaving to avoid all the clutter.

wakatobi fish float

One of the millions of fish-attracting-devices that float in Indonesian waters.

Oooh! A group of dolphins are playing beside the boat. Sometimes they come up and play in the bow wave but it’s not big enough to be very exciting for them so they rarely stay long. These last few days, I have seen a lot of dolphins and they are very frisky, leaping out of the water and I have seen a couple of them do complete flips. Amazing! Previously, I had only seen the little ones come out of the water because their jumps are so exuberant.

Borneo.

What a difference a day makes. Borneo isn’t exactly looming impressively on the horizon, it’s kinda lurking just above it and the water is an unattractive greenish, like green tea. This is a great ape stop though and not a scenery stop and it does have the cell service that I need to get this to you so it’s gonna be a great place for me.

I’m on my way to Kumai from where I will take an overnight boat cruise up the river to commune with my big, red, hairy cousins.

Oct 12

Well that was whole heaps of hairy fun!!!

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A male orang-utan at the first feeding station on the riverboat tour of the Tanjung Puting National Park.

Hope you’re well. I’m taking advantage of the brisk internet available here to send off these.

The pictures are from a three-day river cruise into the Tanjung Puting National Park. The boat was shared with a couple off another boat on the rally though the price was hardly outrageous.

borneo riverboat

One of the riverboats that take tourists up the river to the orang-utans.

Sleeping was on mats on the deck and the food was simple but plentiful. I was expecting bugs and there were a few but it wasn’t bad at all.

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Proboscis monkeys in Borneo

The ride down the river was almost as neat as the stops at three orangutan feeding stations. There were lots of birds and little groups of proboscis monkeys and the ubiquitous macaques.

The Tanjung Puting National Park houses a rehabilitation centre for orangutans that was started by Birute Galdikus, who is to orangutans as Jane Goodall is to chimps. I even met her very briefly.

borneo pitcher plant

Pitcher plants in Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo.

I thought the pitcher plants were neat, as I had never seen them before. They were at the second feeding station I went to and it was the least interesting of the three, by which I mean that it was only really, really thrilling but the cruise ship Orion had disgorged its hoards there and I don’t think the orangutans liked the crowds any more than I did.

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A strutting orangutan in Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo

There wasn’t much incentive to explore Kumai. It wasn’t a very attractive town but I did think the swallow houses were interesting.

There were big barn-like buildings with holes all along the sides that were noisy with the calling birds that lived and nested and flew in and out of them. It was the nests that they were housed for. For making bird nest soup.

From Kumai it was a pretty uneventful sail until the equator crossing. That is a huge event in a sailor’s life, don’t you know? The crossing was celebrated with the people of two other boats that were travelling with us. The occasion demands costumes, champagne and tasty snacks and all were happy to comply.

So, right up until just after the nice little anchorage at Pulau Lingga, I was nothing but a pollywog but a few hours and few degrees north, and over the equator, I was officially a shellback. It’s one of those weird, sailor things.

I am now at Nongsa Point on Batam and just about to leave Indonesia for Malaysia. It’s semi urgent that I be in Malaysia by tomorrow because on the 24th, my current passport will have only six months remaining on it. I will renew it at the embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Here ends the Indonesia Rally but it begins the Sail Malaysia rally.