Saturday, August 6, 2011

The "king Cobra" of all Tours

Our new "magic" phone!
As with all of the events organised for us in Saumlaki, we heard of the tour by chance, the night beforehand. Normally we shy away from tours but due to the amazing welcome and hospitality we'd so far experienced, we felt like we should show our support by attending. We left Anima early, met Fidel (our new Indonesian friend who is quite fluent in English and is one of the guides) who took us to his Chinese friend's (Mr Fae-ki) store where we bought a new mobile phone, sim card and credit for about $50 AUD. We were impressed by the advertising on the box of a maniacal-looking man with smoke coming out of his hands. Fidel explained that he is a famous, strong magician and so our phone is meant to be strong also. The idea was that this phone would allow us to access the internet but so far we've had no signal. Back at the ferry house, four small busses were waiting, and people were gathering for the tour. I was worried at the number of Police – about 20! They escorted us the whole way – in an open truck at the front of the convoy with a siren blaring. Apparently we had nothing to worry about but I wonder why so many were necessary. Fidel taught Penny some nursery songs to help her remember Bahasa words – then, on the bus, he directed her to sit at the front with him. Penny has a boyfriend in Sydney but it didn't stop Fidel falling for her!  The tour eventually began. We bumped through Saumlaki – seeing all sorts of amazingly different people, places, activities etc. along the way. Just out of town (only a 10 minute drive) we stopped at a church and monument (most of Yamdena is Christian with only one village in the north being predominantly Muslim) that was constructed to commemorate the Dutch missionaries who came to Saumlaki in 1909 and brought with them their religion. Back on the bus, we drove for 2 hours through a winding, sometimes quite bumpy road through a few small villages (and lots of banana and coconut trees) towards Arui village.

5000 Rupiah for a whole bunch!!
Along the way we learnt that the Indonesian Government had a deal with Australia a couple of years ago to trade bananas. So, the farmers all had to plant hundreds of banana trees. Before the deal went ahead though, the local government changed at the next election (through some corrupt tactics we've heard) and the new leader, not wanting to be seen to simply follow the old leader's plans, scapped the deal. So now Yamdena has a massive surplus of bananas (we bought a huge bunch of 12 bananas for 50cents at the market in Saumlaki) while Australia doesn't have enough (when we left Darwin, the price was at $16 per kilo). Rene thought of filling our yacht with bananas and heading back to Australia to make a small fortune – until I reminded him that quarantine would just destroy them all and we'd probably get a fine. Such is the crazy world we live in!

As we slowly lurched into Arui village, we were informed that we were the first group of Sail Indonesia participants to visit here. In fact, the village rarely has white visitors. Villagers waved at us from their houses, gates and the roadside and when we arrived, a group of middle-aged to elderly women greeted us with a welcome song and dance. They grabbed the women from the tour (as always, I was first to be grabbed – probably due to my super white skin?) by our hands and we were danced further into the village. There, we were met with another group of women and men all in traditional costume who completed traditional dances and songs which basically translated as a welcome to us. The villagers were crowded around and were taking just as many (if not more) photographs than we were (using their mobile phones mostly).
Arui village welcoming ceremony

We were then led into the head chief's house where we all sat, squashed together on the floor while the local kids pressed their faces against the glass/empty panes of the windows – staring at us. The head master of the village said some prayers and we had to drink Sopi from the same coconut shell vessel. I tried to shy away and refuse the offering but it wasn't an option. Sopi is VERY strong and burns all the way down. Next, a woman came around and pressed some nut-like colourful things into our palms which we had to eat. I chewed the green one twice and immediately regretted doing so. My mouth filled with disgusting bitter saliva and I desperately needed to spit. Being squashed together on the floor, I had only one option – I zipped open my backpack and spat. Others around me were in varying degrees of discomfort. Some valiantly pushed on and swallowed the disgusting stuff while others simply pretended. I learnt afterwards that it was 'Pinang dan sirih'  or what we know as 'beetlenut'.
Pinang dan sirih

Next we proceeded outside and into a "boat" they had constructed out of palm fronds. We were walked along inside the boat, as people on the edges had to 'paddle' and women in the front threw water over us repeatedly (my poor video camera took a few splashes before I realised the water wasn't going to stop!). Singing and dancing and chaos continued. We were now at a cooking pit where some women started a circular dance around and around the smouldering earth. After I don't know how long, the women closest in, crouched down and dug the earth away, revealing a huge amount of banana leaves bound together containing food. 
Arui village food dance
The heat pressed out towards us and we were handed a cardboard box full of rice, tempeh, veggies and other things (I would have preferred some of the freshly baked food!). We realised that we were expected to eat this but weren't hungry. Hundreds of village children surrounded us, staring, giggling and taking photos. Rene and I were away from the rest of the tour group, completely surrounded by the locals. I managed to force down a coupld of mouthfulls of rice before finally a small child accepted my food box (I offered it to half a dozen kids before one was brave enough to accept my offer). I just couldn't fathom eating such a huge amount of food while the locals all stood around watching. I felt bad, like we were being greedy westerners but later found out that they had all already eaten (as we'd arrived hours later than they'd expected us to). Mobs of kids pressed in on us, gesturing to take our picture as they posed with us. It was mostly teenage boys who wanted photos of Penny and I (apparently they print them out later and stick them on their walls). Some kids were brave enough to practice their English to say 'hello, what is your name?'. Mostly though – it was just crazy chaos of kids everywhere all wanting my photo.
Arui village kids watching us eat!

I had one eye on the few mangy dogs that were hanging around (more on rabies later) then some kids brought a large parrot out on a branch. Its tail feathers were tied up with a rubber band. Rene practiced his newly learnt word 'enak', while pointing to the bird. The locals all laughed at him and it wasn't until that night that Rene discovered that he'd been pointing at all sorts of things saying 'enak' thinking it meant 'beautiful', when really he was saying 'delicious!'.
'Enak' heheheheh

We were told to walk to the stone boat on a hill above the village. My progress was slow as I had a mob of locals constantly surrounding me. In particular, there were three young girls who didn't leave my side. They stared at me constantly, when I'd look down towards them, they'd giggle shyly and smile. I tried to play with them a little by racing them and pulling silly faces. 
Arui village mob - can you spot me?

It was hot in the sun and I was paranoid about mosquitos (we have malaria prevention medicine but because we'll be travelling through Indonesia for 3 months, aren't taking it for fear of crazy side-effects from long-term use). I was continuously looking around and down to my ankles to make sure I wasn't about to get malaria from a rogue mozzie. The village kids seemed innocent enough, but I was also very aware of my backpack which contained precious things like my video camera and passport. The stone boat was pretty amazing but the history of it was not communicated very well. I found out afterwards that the village used to be build up high on the hill (we figure it would be a much safer spot from tsunami's) until a girl accidentally burnt down the village. Her penance was for her family to build the stone boat in place of the village while everyone else moved down to the foreshore.
Ancient carving at Arui village stone boat
Fidel with ship's figurehead.
The stone boat became a place of ceremony and important meetings. On some of the stones were ancient carvings and the figurehead was bound with human hair. Much of the meaning of this was not explained. It was time to leave and we were once again escorted out – I don't know how this always happened to me, but somehow I ended up holding hands with the singing/dancing women all the way back to the bus (which was already full of everyone else). Desperate for the toilet, I was allowed into one of the village houses. It was very sparcely furnished and dark – no light in the toilet at all. Negotiating my fisherman pants was interesting!

The bus ride back was peppered with three further stops. The first was another small village who just wanted to do a welcome dance and song. You guessed it, I was one of the first chosen to join their dancing circle. (I wouldn't have minded so much if it wasn't for the weird itchy, burning rash that I now have along my inner right forearm. I'm convinced that I caught it from one of the villagers who took my hand or who hugged up to me for one of the hundreds of photos I've starred in while here). These dancing women were so joyous – they smiled and laughed and had fun!
Happy village dancers.

Next stop was a road-side Sopi brewing hut. I'm pretty sure it was illegal but the cops weren't bothered. By this time it was near dusk and as we walked through palm tree forest, I plied on the Rid to try and repell those nasty mosquitos. We learnt about how the Sopi is made and Rene bought a bottle of the toxic stuff for about $3. Just smelling it makes the hairs in my nose shrivel up – I'm not keen to drink any more than I've had to already in the welcome ceremonies. 
Illegal Sopi making in Saumlaki
The final stop was a series of giant sculptures of Jesus. By this stage everyone was absolutely exhausted but we trudged out of the bus and over to the statues obligingly. I grimaced for another 20 photos and then fell back in my seat, wanting some quiet but instead having to listen to Indonesian pop music at full ball in the bus. 
Giant Jesus monument!
We arrived back at the ferry house after dark. What a tour! The Indonesian's certainly know how to show their welcome. Fidel, our guide, finished off by apologising for anything that had occured which we might not have liked. It seems to be their way – to apologise just in case. We had an amazing day. It could have easily been spread out over a couple. The tide was really low and everyone's dinghy's had trouble getting back out. We had left our dinghy tied up at the hotel in town and so had another 2 hours to wait for the water to rise enough for us to go home. I had stomach cramps probably from only eating a small handfull of rice. Fidel and Nellis found us and chatted to us while we waited, despite us telling them they didn't have to. We did some yoga on the wooden boards of the hotel front and Penny taught Fidel how to Salsa (no wonder he has a crush on her!). It was after 9pm when we finally were able to return to our home and eat a sandwhich before collapsing, exhausted.

1 comment:

  1. Intrepid traveller sis! Sounds like you're having some amazing experiences.
    Never spit though! You gotta see it through to the bitter end! hahahaha