Indonesia contradicted all our pre-conceived notions about what we would find there. Reports of piracy, unfriendly people, difficult officials all proved to be totally over exaggerated. What we found were smiling, happy, helpful and friendly people everywhere. The officials were easy going and never asked for bribes. In three months cruising there we never had a single problem.
For our trip through Indonesia we had joined a rally of nearly 100 boats traveling together. Usually rallies are expensive to join but they appeal to new cruisers on their first offshore passage who like the perceived safety in numbers. In this case the rally was inexpensive and its main advantage was that they handle all the paperwork to get your Indonesian cruising visa which is very time consuming. Since the cost of the rally was not much more than the cost of getting the papers on your own most all the boats heading from Australia to Indonesia this year joined up, hence the large numbers. In reality it turned out wonderfully. The rally had organized official functions at half a dozen stops throughout Indonesia and you could attend or not attend at your whim. We found the functions fantastic for giving us a good look at local life and they also simplified dealing with the bureaucracy and difficulties of third world travel. In between the organized functions the boats spread out and we were usually with one or two other boats unless we wanted to be on our own and then this too was possible.
Indonesia is an archipelago of 17,000 Islands spread over nearly two million square miles of ocean. Its larger islands include Java, Sumatra and parts of Borneo and New Guinea and the smaller ones are beautiful Bali and Komodo. After an easy 4 day sail from Darwin, Australia we arrived in Kupang on the Island of Timor. (This is not to be confused with East Timor which is a newly independent nation still experiencing unrest).
Our arrival in Kupang was a delight as we were immediately met by a group of young University students eager to practice their English by acting as our local guides. Over the next few days these guides won our hearts and impressed us with their intelligence, and sensitivity to our needs. These young people would have have been standout individuals in any society. In talking with them we learned that a year at University costs about 170 US dollars and most of these kids were only able to attend University because they had received scholarships. Realizing that a little help here could go a long way Dee and I decided to get involved and see if our visit here could make a difference for the locals.
Over the next few days we organized and established a non-profit foundation to provide college tuition for needy students. We raised money from the rally participants, met with the University director and several high schools to put a scholarship program in place. Our efforts will start 4 students in University next year and in coming years we will continue with our original 4 until they graduate and will add 4 new students per year. With ongoing efforts to raise money each year from the sailing rally participants we hope to put about 20 kids through college each year.
Kupang is in an area of Indonesia that is predominately Christian nevertheless on our first morning we were awoken at 4:30 am by the wailing call of the muezzin blaring from the loudspeaker on the Mosque, urging the Moslem faithful that it was time for the first of their 5 daily prayers . This was to be a regular feature of nearly every anchorage near the larger towns. From Kupang we took a tour to the town of Soe with our friend and guide Nita, before sailing north to the island of Kawula where we anchored in between two volcanoes one of which was still smoking. Each day we would see dozens of fisherman using hand lines from their dugout canoes. From here we began heading west along the large island of Flores. We stopped at small villages where the only westerners they see are sailors like ourselves. Near one of the larger towns we were able to arrange for a jeep tour of a good portion of the island including the colored lakes and impromptu stops at houses where we saw women weaving the traditional Ikats. The ikats were made by dyeing the individual strands of yarn in several colors knowing in advance just where they would go in the ikat-- sort of like tie dying individual strands of thread.
Our weekly shopping trips involved strenuous bargaining at the fruit and vegetable markets. The Indonesians bargain for everything and the price you eventually pay is usually 30% of the first price they quote. This is done with each other not just for the tourists and if you do not bargain they become very disappointed. For us it is an odd game because the amount you are dickering over is usually only pennies. At the current exchange rate we usually spend less than $2 for a gourmet meal and around 80 cents for the average lunch. One photo below shows all the produce Dee bought for less than $3. All the women in the market were very fond of chewing betel nut, a mild narcotic that stains their teeth and gums a permanent bright red color.
One of our stops was timed to coincide with the annual dance festival in the village of Riung and we were able to watch all the local villages compete for the best dance troupe. At these stops the sailors were treated like visiting dignitaries with dinners in our honor and speeches by the mayor, governor and other officials.
In Riung we also chanced upon a 125' traditional looking boat named Silolona. It turned out to be a brand new luxury charter yacht built by an American woman. On board it was like a 5 star resort. Silolona handles about 10 guests and if anyone reading this wants a truly unique vacation that will be the envy of all who hear about it, consider chartering Silolona and sailing a part of the world that few people ever see. You can find out about it at: www.silolona.com Silolona's resident scuba dive instructor, Gorius was kind enough to provide us with GPS waypoints for a dozen of the best dives in Indonesia so we spent much of the next two weeks underwater. With Ventana's on board scuba compressor we were able to fill tanks for ourselves and our diving friends on the catamaran Ocelot. (www.hackingfamily.com)
Half way around the World
On Komodo island we hiked around and saw the giant komodo dragons. These are actually huge monitor lizards up to 10 feet long that can kill and eat water buffalos, deer and wild pigs. The lizards seem to rule the few dry islands they inhabit. In the eastern part of Indonesia the islands are mostly dry and barren resembling Baja Mexico more than the tropical rainforests we were expecting. It was not until we neared Bali that the land resembled the green tropics we had envisioned. Yet all the islands are made up of old volcanoes or surrounded by them and have the brooding beauty described so well in author Joseph Conrad's many stories of this area.
The island of Sumbawa provided us a chance to see a number of traditional boats under construction. These fascinating vessels are 60-70 feet long and 25 feet wide yet built using only hand tools and wood pegs to hold them together. There is not a nail or screw in sight just a forest of wooden pegs holding each successive plank in place.
When we visited the village of Labuan we were greeted by a local in his dugout canoe who offered to help us with anything we needed. Our first night there he and his brother took Dee and me on the back of their motorcycles so we could go into town for a wonderful meal. The next day he organized a bemo (mini-bus) for us and some other cruising friends to drive to a large town about 30 minutes away so we could get diesel, groceries and beer.
Our last stops before Bali were the island of Lombok and its offshore satellite Gili Air. At Gili Air we rode bicycles on the beach, snorkeled and rode the "ben hur" pony carts in-between volleyball games with the locals and sampling all the excellent beach side restaurants. At $2 per meal it's cheaper to eat ashore than on the boat!
On Lombok an enterprising young man organized tours for all the interested yachts. We shared a car and driver with our Canadian friends Peter and Marlee and guided by Mohammed we made a day of exploring several traditional villages. It is the custom that each village specializes in a different craft so one village we visited made pottery, another wood carvings and another batik paintings. In the Sasak tribal village Dee got to try her hand at weaving on a backstrap loom.
This page has photos of our experiences in eastern Indonesia.
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