3 August 2007
Alor Island and Points West, Indonesia
Next stop was Alor some 130 km, a one day sail right. Starting under motor as evening fell we were making 2 knots against a strong current. Later that evening we had 25 knot winds and we were reefing the sails. At day break we were again dead into the wind and with both engines and 8 knots on the beam we were barely moving at 2 knots. Timing the arrival now was very problematic. Again a dramatic change and we are making 6.5 knots which eventually crept up to 8 knots. The narrow passages through the volcanic mountains are riff with strong currents but when we dropped anchor in 55 feet, we had averaged 5 knots just as we had planned. Kalabahi is a much smaller town then Kupang but that made the town even more enthusiastic for our arrival. Every young child waves and yells "hello mister" at every opportunity and then came rushing headlong to you for you to sign their tablet, seems that this is a school project for all the children. Some spoke English very well and although you are sure you signed some several times it was impossible to say no to such enthusiastic and polite children. So far we have found no cold beer. On the first night in we found some "cool" beer but you had to listen to a Yanni tribute on the TV while you drank it. And then the karaoke begin. It was time to leave.
The official arrival ceremony provided more dancing and more speeches and more woven scarfs. At every village we have received a locally woven scarf. So far we have eight. And pictures, pictures, pictures. Everyone wants their picture taken with a tall white person. Go figure. On Saturday we went to the bank to use the ATM and the attendant living next door made us understand the bank was closed until Monday. We walked back to the rally headquarters to find if there was another ATM nearby. A young man working for the Department of Tourism ask us to wait while he drove off. Upon his return he informed us that the bank was now open for our convenience. Not bad. I think they want us to spend some money.
We joined "Dive Alor" and took a two tank dive off the island of Pura. The coral was healthy and colorful but you could tell that the area has been over fished. Bamboo woven fish traps were located in many places and some to a depth of 50 feet.
I might have forgotten to mention that our arrival in Alor was proceeded by a small skirmish of political unrest. Seems that some disaffected party or parties took to shooting up the police station. The department of tourism didn't believe that it would interrupt the opening ceremony so we proceeded.
Well you can only take so many tours of traditional villages before you want to take a break. We passed on the gala dinner in Alor and in the company of all the other boats left for a few days of gunk holing before the next venue.
The first days passage found us passing several pods of whales and some surfaced within 100 meters of Shiraz making for one of the most exciting events you can experience underway. The winds were as undependable as we have ever seen and at one stretch it went from 17 knots to 0 in two minutes. The day was full of sail changes, rolling up the jib and starting the engine and reefing. It was a short 45 miles but full of work. But the really hard work is finding an anchor spot. These are volcanic islands and in our current anchorage we are surrounded by volcanos, some of which are spewing yellow sulfur gas. Of course this makes for deep anchorages and a great deal of coral heads.
We made several other stops at small villages where school children paddled out to visit. One dusk a troupe of thirty or so monkeys came down to the waterfront and cavorted for a while. We were the only boat in the anchorage enjoying the show.
Well it's not the Sea World you might think of but in Indonesia Sea World is a small resort on the north coast of Flores and the site of the next venue. We arriveed a few days early which gave us the opportunity to anchor when there were only seven other boats not seventy. Our first trip in was an independent excursion to the crater lakes. These lakes are a three hour drive from the anchorage and we shared a private vehicle with our friends Tom and Anna from the Norwegian boat Stormvalen. The lakes are unique due to the vibrant color of the water in the crater and you can see from the pictures that some unusual chemistry is going on. However science doesn't necessarily play a roll in this but rather folklore and mysticism keep the tourists coming. Three different crator lakes and three different colors.
Returning from the lakes we stopped at Sikka and created quite a furor. This small village is noted for it's superb weaving. When we arrived the townspeople must have felt that they got the wrong date for the arrival of the rally and women and children poured out of their houses with piles of Itka weavings for us to purchase and they weren't shy about their sale pitch. No pushing and shoving but everything else was fair game. Finally the prices dropped by 40 % and a deal was made and we escaped. They will have ample opportunity to show their wares when the fleet comes to town.
We remained at Sea World as more and more boats poured into the anchorage. Before the opening gala dinner we attended a formal celebration of Indonesia's Independence Day. We boarded the bus at 7:30 AM and made for downtown expecting to stand on the curb and watch a parade. Instead we were whisk to the stage of the District Governors celebration. Here military units marched, bands played, speeches were made, choirs sang and of course the Indonesian flag was raised and the anthem was played. All the gentlemen were dressed in business suits or uniforms and all the women were dressed in beautiful traditional formal wear. Most cruisers were dressed par usual in sandals, long shorts, T-shirts with many unshaven. But hey when it came to the food ,we weren't at all bashful. In fact some of us couldn't wait our turn. It was more than a bit embarrassing. Despite all of this we were invited by the Governor to his house for dinner that evening.
Soon we were back on the bus and heading to a nearby community to enjoy the celebration at the local level. Here women ran backwards, children participated in a sack race, young girls raced with a marble held in a spoon held in their mouth, a tug-of-war, and a greased pole climb. Now this was more like the 4th of July celebration we were use to (but remember only a few US citizens were on the bus). Later that day, more appropriately dressed, 50 or so cruisers attended the celebration at the Governors house with only a few lapses in etiquette. It is sometimes difficult to remember that this international contingent is made up of professionals that can afford to retire early and undertake the expense of sailing. Okay enough.
We stayed for the gala dinner and then decided that we had been happier before all the other boats arrived so we headed out.
Indonesia is of course the home of the Komodo Dragon and what trip to this area of the world would be complete without taking the time to visit the national reserves where the Komodos live and taking a tour to try and see one of these prehistoric reptiles (okay, big lizards). Well we decided to travel ahead of the group and stop by Rincon Island to anchor and maybe see a dragon el natural. As we entered the fjord and surveyed the anchoring spots, S/V Alba Dash called and wanted to know
if we would like his spot since he was pulling anchor in twenty minutes. He had seen footprints on the beach but for days he was unable to see a Komodo so he was headed to the southern tip where it has been reported that the viewing might be better and he had two teenage sons on board and was hopeful to get them a once in a life time opportunity. Well of course one hour after we dropped the hook, Mr Komodo walks across the beach right in front of us. It was a minimum of six feet long with a tongue over a foot long. He or she found a piece of shade in front of the boat and took a nap. Now this is the part that is hard to believe, our camera broke a few days ago. Rene is distraught.
Next morning and a baby Komodo walked across the beach less than 100 yards from the boat.
Two nights and one day of sailing and we were in Lombok. Our stop here was one of necessity. Without a camera we were at a loss as to why we were traveling. The totality of our adventure seems to be photography. Our "prime directive" is to take pictures and bore people with them in later years. Ya be prepared, we mean you.
Okay so there was a McDonalds and a great grocery store and a regular town. The western coast of Lombok is filled with resorts a mere 47 miles from the island of Bali. Before the Bali bombings, Lombok caught the overflow and those that wanted a less hectic vacation. Today these resorts appear almost empty. The local populace seem to want the tourists back but there is still hesitation. Lombok is the island of 1000 mosques and Bali is the island of 1000 temples (Hindu and Buddhists). Mix all of this with a good number of Christians and everyone gets along reasonably well. Tourism is slowly coming back to Indonesia but with Thailand and Malaysia actively courting tourism also it probably will never return to the levels of years past.
We also toured the pottery villages and stopped to see the famous wood carvings of Lombok. Oh yeah and a quick stop at the summer castle of the king of Indonesia. This rather modest building is surrounded by beautiful gardens and the real attraction, the spring water pools and fountains. The king developed the area and had the pools installed so that he could watch young virgin women bath (some think he was a lecherous despot and others think he was just exercising his prerogative, after all this was before cable). Sometime later a fountain was installed where holy water can be purchased which will bring you eternal youth if you wash your face with it. For perspective, all of this building was going on during the American Revolution.
To view more pictures of Indonesia click on the arrow below. To stop the slide show just click on the square.
A ceremonial welcome dance on a boat that circled the anchorage-Welcome to Alor
If you're headed this way:
- The rally seems to be the best way to enter Indonesia. There will come a point when you want to go off on your own and for that the newly published book "The 101 Best Anchorages in Indonesia" is very helpful.
- Most anchorages are deep in this archipelago of volcanic islands. Make sure you have enough rode and good ground tackle. Also there are few if any dinghy docks and therefore you must land your dinghy every where. You might consider wheels.
- Everything seems to be negotiable with the starting price twice what the vendor will take. People come to our boat claiming to be representatives of the village elders, harbor masters, authorized tour guides and the like. All are polite but unscrupulous and should be refused. All authorized representatives will show a badge.