Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saumlaki, Yamdena Island, Tanimbar Group, Indonesia

Selamat Pagi! I'm quickly learning that I need to learn much more Bahasa Indonesia if I'm going to survive for the next three months. The few words I do know are not enough to get by and despite many of the Indonesians we meet wanting to practice their English, a lot is left misunderstood. After anchoring in Saumlaki, we quickly tidied up the chaos of our boistrous sail here and prepared the paperwork required by the local authorities. Just as we'd completed this, quarantine and customs officials arrived and came a'board. In our over-tired state, it was quite overwhelming to have 10 officials in our home. 
Customs in Saumlaki
We filled out their many forms, answered their questions and refused their request for a bottle of whiskey! They half-heartedly opened some of our cupboards to look around for who-knows-what and Debbie, the quarantine lady (who is actually a fully-trained doctor) taught Penny and I some Bahasa Indonesia words. After they'd gone, we all collapsed and slept for a few hours of very-much-needed sleep. We awoke to the sounds of muslim prayers drifting out across the bay through loudspeakers.
What we thought would be a quick sign and stamp scenario (as we had to complete some additional arrival procedures), instead became an hour-long process of signing forms, stamps, questions, confusion and more Bahasa Indonesia lessons. We were a bit under-prepared and didn't have all of the paperwork they needed. I saw a mozzie come close and then got paranoid that one had bitten me. We decided to head back to Anima, put up the mozzie screens and make one last green salad out of our trusted Australian fresh food. Sleep came easily to the exhausted crew of Anima.
Rene anchoring dinghy in Saumlaki.
We awoke a little groggy and I was nervous about what it was going to be like here in Saumlaki – a pretty remote island in far East Indonesia. The initial thrill had worn off and now I was worried about how we were going to survive for three months in such a different culture. I had a headache and was already worrying about getting Giardia and other stomach bugs from eating/drinking local food/water. Not really a good mind-state to be in for a traveller! (I think I was still tired from the rough crossing really).

George opens the welcoming ceremony.
We arrived at the ferry building where all of the other 30-odd sailors were gathering for a welcome ceremony. 

George, the local Sail Indonesia representative, approached me and asked if I would be one of the three sailors to represent the fleet. As I swallowed my panadol, I replied yes, of course, I'd be honoured to. The other two representatives were the oldest man (Goete from Veedon Fleece) and the youngest boy (Mick from Our Odyssey). We all gathered on the pier and were spectators to an amazing cultural display of live singing and dancing. WOW. 
Mick, myself and Goete representing the sail fleet.
A small group of elders then came forward as Goete, Mick and I stood in front. The leader gave a heartfelt speech (in Bahasa Indonesia) asking the ancients of this land and God almighty to give us their blessings. 
Village leader holding Sopi
We drank a sip of Siapa (a locally made spirit made from coconut palm flowers and used to begin every important event or ceremony), had soil annointed on our foreheads and coconut milk spilt in a circle around us. My reservations from earlier in the morning melted away. How much more of a welcome can a traveller get? I felt incredibly blessed to be asked to be a part of such a special ceremony. The elders danced and sang, then the women sang and there were speeches.
Saumlaki elders dancing.
It was all a bit of a blur and I just kept smiling. We (the representatives) were given brightly coloured scarves (later, I found a woman who was hand-weaving the exact patterned scarf that I was given). Goete (pronounced 'Yerta' and known affectionately to Aussie cruisers as 'Yoda') leant over to me and muttered 'I don't know if you've understood everything that was said to us, but I think we just got married!'. He's a bit is a bit of a joker – Rene played along and said that I was going to cost him $50. Jeez! 
Ceremonial scarf-making with model.

Anyway, we were all invited to drink bright pink coconut fleshy milk and eat locally prepared sweets as a band played music so loud that the glass in the windows shook audibly. I hung outside catching up with the other yachties and admiring the carvings of the ancients that were assembled as a group.
The performers from the ceremony started an impromtu singing/dancing circle and we were invited to join in. My face was beginning to ache from smiling so much!
Impromptu dancing circle
We eventually tore ourselves away from the karaoke and photos. Roy (a local) attached himself to us as we ventured into town. We walked along a short road which was adjacent to the bay. Motor bikes and mini-vans pumping local pop music drove past constantly as we negotiated our way through the side-walk filled with parked bikes, tethered roosters, rubbish and street vendors selling their wares. 
Saumlaki local kids in the harbour
Everyone wants to say hello and talk to us in either English or Bahasa Indonesia. By the end of the day, I'm exhausted from the friendliness – from smiling and chatting to so many people. It's a different type of exhaustion to other countries. No one has begged from us or hassled us – just wanted to talk or stare at us. The few shops we visited soon drew a crowd of locals all wanting to check out what we're doing and to offer their help or advice and chat. At first I felt threatened by the sudden popularity, but soon realised that it's pretty harmless. The simple task of buying a SIM (Simpati) card for our old unlocked Nokia took over an hour. Chaos seems to be the norm here. The cards didn't even work initially – we could receive, but not make calls. Back to the shop, this time with even more helpers! A young guy (Bobby) worked his magic on our phone and it works (mostly).

Roger the rooster - waiting for his next big fight.
After 6 hours in town we all agreed that we were ready for some time out. A bunch of little kids help out with our dinghy – boldly holding ropes and pulling us in with big smiles and laughter. We have a late lunch on Anima and are grateful to be able to escape back to our home. This place is very draining and I think we're all still tired from the crossing. Penny and I write and figure out exchange rates and try to memorise new words and phrases. Rene bakes bread and visits a fellow yacht from the rally who gives us their spare winch handle! WOW! We're so amazed at yachties generosity – we were offered a spare by two separate boats and had only mentioned the loss on the radio once. Looking forward to more sleep tonight. 
Penny practicing her Bahasa Indonesia

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