Thursday, September 29, 2011

Ubud

During one of the infrequent phone calls we had with Rene’s parents since arriving in Indonesia, they insisted passionately that ‘I have to go to Ubud in Bali’. They explained that it was the highlight of their stay in Bali 28 years ago. In their memories, Ubud is a magical artistic haven with friendly, spiritual locals and quiet streets. Ubud features in the popular book/film, ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ as the place where Linda, the main character, finds love, harmony and herself. Ubud houses plentiful yoga schools and one of my “must do’s” for this trip was to spend a week in a yoga school to rekindle my daily practice. I had high hopes for this place!
I opted for the bus to Ubud from Lovina for 85000Rp rather than take a private motorbike or taxi (of which there were, pricey and plentiful offers). This turned out to be a great decision for the lovely travellers I met on the 2.5 hour trip in a fast minivan. There was a couple from Amsterdam and a couple from Slovakia and all three of us girls had the same problem. We all love travelling and living life and don’t know how to fit in having our own children without having to sacrifice too much! But I’m diverging here…

Stepping off the bus onto the main street in Ubud was chaotic. Everywhere I looked, I saw tourists. ‘Am I in the Gold Coast?’ I thought as I tried (in vain) to locate my position on a Lonely Planet map. Splitting from my newfound friends, I risked death crossing the busy street and found myself walking along Monkey Forest Road (which is not lined with trees as you'd imagine). I’d been told there were hundreds of places to stay so as I walked along, I stepped in through various decorated archways into little worlds of bungalows. I found one with a spare room pretty quickly and managed to bargain their price of 200000Rp per night to 135000. The room was nice enough with a garden-surrounded porch, double bed, ceiling fan and (supposed) hot water shower.

After dumping my bags I set out to explore Ubud and look for better (cheaper) accommodation. I walked for hours in the heat down the crowded, tourist-filled streets lined with men offering taxi rides and women offering massages in between shop after shop and frequent restaurants. I asked at 9 different accommodations throughout a wide area of Ubud; some being simple home-stays and others with pools and attached restaurants. Prices ranged from 400000Rp to 150000Rp per night for one person. On a whim, I walked down yet another alley off Monkey Forest Road and found, at the end, a cute, clean bungalow surrounded by beautiful forest garden above a running stream. Apparently the river contains great energy and spirits – some Canadian guests had photographed it on a moonlit night to discover strange lights amongst the trees. The caretaker was happy to drop the price to 135000 and I moved in to Raka & Rai the next day. 
My room at Raka & Rai Bungalow
After spending one night in my new room, I wasn’t happy with it. There was construction going on right next door (1metre from my window) and the workers all stopped to stare at me each time I ventured out onto the patio or walked to/from the room. Being alone I didn’t feel safe plus it was so noisy! The staff were very apologetic and I moved across one room where it was much quieter and private. I couldn’t help laughing at myself though, three nights in Ubud and each one of them in a different room! Cruising has changed me for sure!! I’m so used to being able to change our location whenever we want to, by pulling up anchor, sailing or motoring somewhere and then anchoring in a new spot!

Travelling to Ubud alone has been interesting and challenging for me. For 16 months we've been cruising (with a 6 month stop-over in Townsville to work) and have travelled from Brisbane to Bali by sea. I've taken my home with me all this way and it's the best way to travel long-term. If I've had enough of a place, I simply go home! Rene and I spend much more time together than if we had stayed in Brisbane working and paying off an overpriced house in an outer suburb. Being alone was challenging. I missed Rene and all the other yachties who are always so friendly and good to chat to. I tried striking up conversation with a few other tourists but it always ended within minutes. Talking with locals was fun but of course there is the language barrier so the topics are pretty limited and they inevitably always wanted to sell me something. The charming one-liners for selling things lost their charm when repeated everywhere I went. 'Special price for you', 'good luck price', 'special morning price', 'special sunset price', 'special first-customer price' etc. What I do still find charming however, is when you do buy something, the seller will often take the cash and touch it against other items in their shop and themselves to encourage further good luck.

I’m not one to shy away from challenges though and I stuck through the lonliness and ended up being stronger for it.

I settled into a rhythm of waking early to the sounds of the bungalow caretakers sweeping the grass with a hand-bound straw brooms. Breakfast (included) is a green banana pancake with fresh fruit and smoothie with tea or Balinese coffee (which is pretty dismal for a coffee lover). 
Cheeky monkey eating from a spiritual offering.
To walk through the forest normally costs 20000Rp but I found a back-way along the motorbike path to avoid having to pay this fee twice a day. At the other end of the forest is Nyuh Kuning village which is still sleepy and consists of a dusty road lined with spas, restaurants and shops. But most importantly for me – the whole reason in fact, for me being in Ubud – was an Ashtanga Yoga Shala.
Mysore style yoga class in Ubud
The Ashtanga Yoga Bali Research Centre is run by Prem and Radha – world-renowned yoga teachers – who run the Mysore-style yoga centre. I had booked in for one week and attended class from 8 till 10 each day. I went because I was missing the atmosphere and enthusiasm of a yoga class. My own daily practice was struggling with the lack of routine in our lives whilst cruising in addition to the (often) lack of calm anchorage. It is very difficult to balance in any of the standing postures when the boat is rocking about! It had been 6 months since my last class (back in Townsville with Live and Breathe Yoga) and I went in hoping I could remember the whole first series. Mysore style yoga involves a set series of postures that are designed to be practiced every day in the same order. The students all practice on their own as the teachers walk around and help, advise and adjust people who they deem require it. I had thought I was doing OK with my practice but I soon learnt that I have A LOT more to learn.
Prem adjusting me in Marichyasana C.
I learnt so much during the week of classes. I realised that I’d let my ego get in the way and I wasn’t concentrating on the right things. Instead of thinking about whether the asana (posture) I was practicing looked good, I now know that it is more important to concentrate on breathing and doing the posture correctly. Most of the class was quite serious and I was the only student (I think) who laughed at myself or smiled when catching someone’s eye accidentally. I was told a few times to stop talking by Radha – I struggled with this as I love talking!! She explained it was for my own safety while in difficult postures. I was told that I wasn’t ready to do the whole first series and now only do two thirds. I discovered that I wasn’t doing many of the postures correctly and have had to return to basics with a few of them. I left after the week with plenty to work on and inspiration to work towards improvement, not just physically, but mentally and spiritually too.
 
I spent most of that week in Ubud alone. One day some friends from the Kiwi yacht Sharita came up to spend a night in Ubud – the supposed cultural capital of Bali. It was so nice to hang out with yachties!! They invited me to swim in the hotel pool which overlooked rice paddies and shouted me to dinner and cocktails. They even walked me home that night to ensure my safety. 
The saltwater pool Sharita invited me to in Ubud!
I started to make friends with some of my classmates and shared a dinner and a breakfast with a bunch of them. As with yachties, yogi’s all come from such different backgrounds – it’s so interesting to meet and get to know such a variety of people. Due to the yoga crew, I discovered a nicer area of Ubud, away from the bustle of Monkey Forest Road. I was introduced to an amazing café, Clear Café which had incredible food and the best coffee I’ve had for about a year! A latte with vanilla beans made on cashew milk! WOW 
Oooh lala delicious food at Clear cafe
Eating out in Ubud was twice the price of Lovina. I found some cheaper places but they either had unhappy staff or kitchens that hadn’t ever seen disinfectant. Western food was the same price as local stuff so I mixed up my Indonesian diet of tempeh, tofu, Gado Gado and rice with pasta, pizza and nachos! Because we’ve only got one month left of this trip, our budget is very tight as we are at the end of our savings and need to work again asap. I think I would have had a better time in Ubud if I’d had more money to burn and if my laptop hadn’t died. I could have stayed a little out of town, gone to more yoga classes, had more massages and eaten at nice places every day with free WiFi.

Rene hired a motor scooter from Lovina (40000Rp per day + fuel which is only 7000Rp per litre) and drove all the way up to Ubud at the end of my week there to see it for himself. I showed him around and we explored further afield with the scooter. We found an archaeological museum which displayed ancient crypts, rice fields with a large ‘Not For Sale’ sign artistically presented amongst cut-outs of people, locked temples with amazing stone sculptures at the entrance and busy, busy roads. I was quite concerned about our riding about on a motor scooter. Each day in Bali, 8 people die from motorbike/scooter accidents. We saw an expat in a café with deep wounds up his leg from a recent accident and passed by a more serious one as the ambulance arrived to care for a man with blood pouring from his neck, his arm being help up limply by a bystander. I took out our first travel insurance for this trip because this is the most danger we’ve been in – strangely enough, sailing is safer by far!! 
Riding along in a quiet hill-side street above Ubud.
Ubud used to be a quiet, spiritual and artistic little village. Now it is a large sprawl of endless shops selling sarongs and dresses, large air conditioned Western-style shops, millions of motorbikes, huge bus loads of tourists, busy streets which often jam up during peak times and hundreds of restaurants. 
Thousands of motorbikes/scooters in Ubud.
There are nice, quiet areas away from the main streets and I should have tried harder to find these areas. What I did like about Ubud was the artistry in everything. At almost every house/shop entrance is a stone sculpture of a Hindu God like Ganesha. Each day these are decorated with fresh flowers and little offerings. The locals perform spiritual offerings a few times a day in meditative ceremonies that are intriguing and beautiful to watch.
Ganesha at the entrance to Raka & Rai Bungalows

Check out the ears on the left statue!!
I went to a performance of traditional dance and music one night. The Gamelan band was very professional and the performers all had amazing costume and makeup. They enacted a series of traditional stories, in a slow and sometimes confusing display. Rene also saw performers while in Lovina for the Sail Indonesia rally events but he thinks that what I saw was more professional. 
Great costume and make-up!
After a week in Ubud, I was missing my floating home. We loaded up the scooter and drove for 5 hours back to Lovina. Our bums were sore as the journey took far longer than we’d expected. How can the bus have only taken 2.5 hours? We passed through some gorgeous, green landscape and some busy, stinking towns. Along the top of Gunung Batur we had to pay 11000Rp tourist tax for simply driving along the road. We ate at local roadside warung’s and I was glad to arrive in the quiet streets of Lovina at the completion of our journey. What a ride!

Back on Anima, the swell in the anchorage was so bad that I had to take a seasick tablet, having lost my sea legs after a week on land! We caught up with friends, ate cheap and delicious locally-made food and I was glad to be home. They say that ‘home is where the heart is’. ‘Anima’ means soul or life force in Latin – it really has become this for me during our four years living aboard. I complain about various aspects that I’d like to improve and yearn for a large, roomy catamaran, but Anima is my home, it’s where my heart is… for the moment.
View from my home anchored in Lovina

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Loving Lovina

Sun setting over Bali as we sail towards her.
Initially after setting out from Lombok, we worried whether we'd made a mistake. The current was quite strong against us and the wind was changing its mind about which direction and speed to come from. After about one hour of motoring though, Rene pointed to the water and said 'look! here comes some wind' as he changed the sails in preparation for it. It was a glorious wind of 25-30 knots on the beam. Perfect for Anima to fly along at 7 knots towards the sun setting over volcanoes on Bali. We took 3 hourly shifts again (I like this system but Rene would prefer to have 6 hour shifts = no thanks!) and I had the first one. The AIS was working well and it was really cool to be able to see the big cargo ships on our chart plotter. I could even see one steaming past south Bali, nearly 30 nautical miles away!! 

What the AIS couldn't help me with however was the fish attraction devices. There were so many along the north of Bali that during my shifts, I had to scan the horizon and nearby water with binoculars every 5-10 minutes. Some of these fish traps were huge! About the size of 2 large 4WD vehicles parked together - with tall palm fronds poking up out of it. I had to alter course twice to avoid hitting these traps. The first time was quite sudden and we would have hit it if I hadn't seen it in time!!

Bali smelt good as we sailed past her northern shores that night. She looked good too, with hundreds of tiny twinkling lights sparkling out from the hills. The wind died away after midnight and we motored through the calm waters. By early morning we were approaching Lovina. The morning fog obscured the yachts at anchor so I radioed Molonga to confirm that I was in the right place. A small local boat motored up to us and led us all the way in to the anchorage which is a small lagoon surrounded by patches of reef. There were 12 cruising yachts already anchored so we chose a spot close in and settled in for a rest.
Local boat leads us in to Lovina Beach anchorage.
After a little sleep, I was climbing the walls with anticipation of what Bali would be like! I dragged Rene out of his slumber and we went ashore. Immediately we were offered a massage with 'special Balinese coconut oil'. We declined and headed in towards some restaurants. Already Bali seemed so very different to the Indonesia we've seen so far. Carved stone creatures and designs adorn almost every surface. Small offerings of flowers, leaves and food are placed at every shop front. The locals perform a small ritual every day to encourage good spirits to help their business.
This decoration simply marks the entry to a side street!
We met with the crew from Molonga and had a midday Bintang, getting into the Australian tourist mentality. That afternoon we took our Visa's into the Immigration centre and were baffled by the numerous forms and fees. Eventually we did as our friends had before us and forked out 500 000Rp (just over $50) each to extend our Visa's by an extra month. More Bintang's flowed that afternoon and the haze in our minds from sailing the last few nights began to blur into a love for this warm, friendly place. The day ended with Rene having a massage on the beach while I chatted to the local hawkers who were friendly even though I didn't buy anything from them.

We purposefully arrived in Lovina before the rest of the rally to find a good anchoring spot easily and to see the town before the crowds descended. We quickly discovered the affordable places to eat and became regulars. It's so cheap to eat here that our daily routine involved meeting up with Molonga for lunch and dinner at Ayu's Warung. The hawkers meet us at the beach every time we pull up the dinghy offering massages, laundry, tours, fruit and carved wooden sculptures. The same hawkers offer us the same things many times each day and my usual response is 'not today' or 'no thanks' or 'ma arf' (sorry). They usually accept this though sometimes there is some banter. One memorable interchange was the following...
Hawker: 'You want buy sarong?'
Me: 'No thanks, not today'
Hawker: 'Oh Ok, not today, maybe tomorrow?'
Me: 'Maybe'
Hawker (laughing with gang of other women): 'not today, maybe tomorrow. Not tomorrow, maybe next day... maybe next life!'

The Balinese are very self-aware and I've found haggling to be a fun experience here. They laugh along as they quote too high prices and I haggle with too low prices until we settle on a happy medium.

We had to buy diesel here for the first time since Darwin. We needed 150 litres and the local guy who'd lead us into safe anchorage sold it to us. We gave him our empty jerry cans and he brought them back the next day but they weren't all full. I didn't pay him the full amount saying that we needed to check if he'd given us the correct amount. He insisted that he had given us the right amount and it turned out that he had. Rene checked it by figuring out the weight of diesel and weighing it, minus the weight of empty jerry's.

Bali was an expensive place for us to visit (compared to the rest of Indonesia) and after observing and chatting to locals there, it made me think a little more about their economy. I don't really know much about how it all works (and anyone who knows me well knows I'm terrible with numbers) but here are my thoughts and observations anyway.
My thoughts keep returning to Udi. She did our laundry (by hand) for 100,000Rp (about $12 for 10Kg's). She works 4 hours a day cleaning a local foreign-owned hotel for 400,000Rp per month. Her husband works as a builder and when there's work, he earns 60,000 per day. Sending a child to school in Bali costs 1 million Rp per year plus associated costs. We spend about 50,000 (at least) each night on our dinner alone. Learning of some local's wages puts it into perspective just how rich most tourists are. The issue with me being 'rich' is that in my own country's terms, I'm almost broke! (We are scraping the barrel of our cruising kitty and need to work again asap. We need to make every last dollar stretch as far as possible so we don't go into debt before we start working again).

I don't know where I'm going with this observation but thought I'd include my thoughts on the matter anyway.  

Monday, September 12, 2011

Picture-Postcard Places + Sailing Past Volcanoes + En-route To Lombok

Our Visa’s run out in 2 weeks and we need to renew them in Bali before then to avoid fines and paperwork. So the pace needed to pick up on our journey west. We’d heard from another yacht that our friends on Molonga were trying to contact us from Banta Island – just 15 miles away from Gili Lawa Laut. As we neared Banta, we heard them call us and Narid and we all ended up anchoring together in a picture perfect isolated bay. With clear, turquoise waters below, fringing reef and steep mountains above – this place deserves 9 out of 10 for sure! Anyone wanting to visit this magical spot, the coordinates are 08 24.52S 119 19.18E.  
Indi demonstrates her slide on the bows of Molonga.

We had a most memorable day and evening catching up with Molonga, swimming, snorkeling, diving, kayaking and speed snorkeling (being dragged along behind the dinghy by holding on to a rope). Kelly and Youngie spoke of the bar that opens each night on the beach. Apparently locals head there when the shadow from the mountain covers about 200 metres of sand. We could see a small wooden shack in the corner of the beach and we were curious as to how it could work as a bar. So, before dusk, we set off along the pink sandy beach towards the ‘Banta Bar’. I should have guessed (Youngie is always cracking jokes), but the bar had actually been built by the Molonga crew earlier that morning with bamboo and rope washed up on the beach. They had set up an array of beverages and even had a sign written on Youngies surfboard. Such a cool idea! We enjoyed sunset drinks, Rene made a beach maze for Indi (4 yrs old), and we even had a beach-side fire, complete with toasted marshmallows!!  

The Banta Bar - Indi, Youngie and Kelly are the spectacular owner-builders and publicans.
Yachties enjoying sundowners at Banta Island.

We all went over to Molonga afterwards and embarrassingly, I fell in the water on my way from our dinghy to their boat! Rene jumped in after me which was nice of him. Not that I was in any danger though! The moon was almost full so the water visibility was near-perfect. I fell because I was rinsing my feet of sand so as not to dirty their decks. Kelly kindly let us use some of their fresh water to rinse off and some dry clothes to wear so we could party on into the night.  

Motoring in be-calmed seas.

Reluctantly we pulled up anchor the next day in flat-calm conditions. We had to motor for a few hours before some breeze picked up and then used the motor intermittently so as to keep up our progress. I took a rest and woke to discover we were right under a huge volcano!! Rene had sailed us to within 30 metres of its shore which had wild horses running upon it. Gunung Sangeang is an impressive 6800 fathoms and gave me slight vertigo looking up at it through the binoculars. 

Gunung... what an impressive monster!

Sailing away from this impressive monster, we had a radio call from Narid (who, as usual were miles ahead of us in their much faster yacht). They were getting up to 30 knots of wind! Rene was just hoisting the MPS (multi purpose spinnaker) so he quickly dropped it and instead we slipped through the water nicely just under our main, head, stay and mizzen sails. We sailed so nicely in fact that we managed to overtake a local motor boat who was trying to cross our bows. I have read that Indonesian boats will often try to cross each others’ bows to pass their bad luck onto the other boat. This explained some close calls we’ve had along the way. Instead, our bad luck was transferred to the local! 
 
Night fell and we slipped into a three-hourly schedule of keeping watch. I spotted bright orange-red lights moving along and down in a distinctively volcanic way. OMG yup! That’s right. We sailed all night past Tambora Volcano 9035 which was oozing red hot lava down its sides. It was pretty mesmerizing to watch (we were about 40 kilometres away) as dark lumps of cold lava were pushed along by the hot stuff. The air smelt similar to the Northern Territory (bushfires) and luckily there was no ash so we could keep our sails up. It was too dark and too far away for any of the photos I took of it to turn out. One of the things on my must buy list (when I work in Singapore) is to get a really good SLR camera!! 
 
We sailed into Medang Island the next afternoon after a slow sail in light winds. Some locals (Biyan and Rustau) visited immediately wanting to sell fish or lobsters. We declined the seafood and instead gave them a bag of clothes. With fast internet and phone connection here, the afternoon slipped away updating the blog and calling home. 
 
We were woken by locals calling out the usual ‘Hello Meeesterrr’ while hanging onto our railings. Rene went out and politely dealt with a local who kept repeating that he wanted a snorkel. He explained that we only have one each – which to the local seemed like a lot! Rene instead got out the Bajao goggles (from Wakatobi) and tried to give him these. Being a Bajao himself, it was a little strange that he refused them! Instead we ended up swapping a large container of pens and pencils and a blank book for 6 eggs. Within minutes of this guy leaving, Biyan was back – this time he climbed up on deck and sat with Rene chatting. Biyan’s hobbies are walking in the village, sailing and speaking English. He asked for a wetsuit but since we don’t have one to spare, we gave him a bag of children’s books to help him and his village with their English skills. Rene read him some of the books and helped him with some pronunciation. The interaction was going well until I made noises about needed to leave. Biyan really wanted a wetsuit. He left reluctantly – asking us to return next year.
Rene reads to Biyan
The wind was up and we had a glorious sail for a few hours. Anima steamed along nicely and we relished in the freedom.  A pod of Dolphins joined us for about half an hour and it was exhilarating to watch them surf down the waves at our bows. Rene kept dangling down towards the water, hanging off the bowsprit… I knew he was part Dolphin!!
Dolphins joined us today :)
We were so tired that we made a silly decision to head south, to Gili Air on Lombok. We hoved to for a few hours to wait for enough light and to ask some yachts in Medena Bay (Lombok) whether it was worthwhile. Their answers made us decide to just head to Gili Air instead. While hoving to, Rene slept and I kept watch. I saw a big Portugese Man-o-war float past and a pod of strange whale-like dolphins. We motored into Gili Air, past an uncharted reef and anchored in 22 metres (in 101 anchorages, they say it is 3-10 metres!). Even with 85 metres of chain out we dragged, but, being so exhausted and in light conditions, we turned off the engine and slept. It was a noisy little island with dozens of tourist boats zipping in and out. By the afternoon we were rested and ready to leave (I was so keen to get to Bali!!). We set out and I nearly took us over a reef but managed to steer away just in time.


Anima steaming along north of Flores.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rindja To Komodo - Wild Animals and Good Times


Our chart plotter is way off for this area. We dutifully plot courses for each trip but they end up being ignored as we approach any anchorage. The ranger’s hut at Rindja sits at the end of a narrow entrance within which, 9 yachts anchored so it was pretty tight.  
Where we anchored is apparently on land!!
The local tour boats navigate their way through, full of tourists wanting to see the famous Komodo Dragons. We went in and paid 205000Rp (a little over $25) for Rene and I’s entrance to the park, anchorage fee, guide, tax and camera fee. It’s $5 just to take a camera into the park so we shared with Narid and only paid half each. We saw some dragons right away – there are about 6 living under the kitchen, hoping for some scraps. There was also a sick dragon that had been injured in a fight – it didn’t look too well. We set out into the park, our two guides explaining facts about the dragons such as the gestation period is 9 months, the females are much smaller than the males, the babies climb trees once they’re born to avoid being eaten by their mothers and stay up there for about 2 years, surviving on insects. They can run at about 20km / hour and have poisonous saliva – if you’re bitten, you’ll be dead within a day. Yikes!  
One of the dragons by the camp kitchen.
We walked for 2 or so hours through quite dry bushland, shaded sometimes by giant palm trees and bushes. The guides hold long, pronged sticks which they used to fend off any creatures that came close. The first creature they used the sticks on was a cobra – but in this case it was to try and scare it out of its hiding spot (I’m glad it stayed hidden). We came upon about 7 huge water buffalo who either stared at us, trotted off or stood their ground, horns at the ready.
This guy wasn't moving out of the way for anyone!
After a short rest, we spotted two Komodo Dragons! One was on our path, the other was running off up the slope. One guide ran after the biggest dragon and shoo’d it out of hiding, so we could take photos! Later we came upon a dragon sleeping in the shade and were invited to pose in front of it for photos!  
A dragon, us and a guide... all in a day's cruising here!
I seem to be the most tasty for biting insects (even wearing 40% deet insect repellant) and was followed incessantly by horse flies and other bugs I’ve never seen before (luckily, none of them carry malaria!). Derk was also attacked but we still enjoyed the walk through bushland, over giant water buffalo dung.  
Rinja
At the completion of the walk, Mary and John from Gavia Arctica kindly shouted us all a cold tally of Bintang which we drank, sitting in one of the shelters at the main site while monkeys curiously looked on.  
The Komodo Dragon tour crew and guide.
A wild Dragon...
Narid invited us all over for a banana pancake breakfast the next morning. What a memorable morning full of culinary pleasures and good company! We swapped photos and had a relaxing morning. Back on Anima, we set to doing some chores: Rene installed a small computer fan in the saloon while I did hand washing. Derk came over and helped us with our HF radio which makes our voices sound like robots. We couldn’t fix the problem but discovered that we sound less like Darth Vader in the lower frequencies.
The tides and currents in this area are not to be laughed at. They can run at up to 8 knots and some can even sweep divers 80metres underwater! There was much discussion among the captains about which way the tides would be flowing and when. All published material about this area seems to be wrong so we have to rely upon observation and advice from fellow yachties. Narid and Anima sailed and motored across to an anchorage on Komodo Island that is renowned for its pink beach. 
 
A peddler approached us in his tiny kayak while we were still anchoring, trying to sell pearls. I said ‘ma af’ (sorry) and he let us be. Yay! Hassle free! Later however, Rene and I were having a midday “hug” and were interrupted by peddlers holding onto Anima. Rene tried a tactic that works in Australia with Jehovas Witnesses – he started making very loud moans and groans that can only be deciphered as one thing... Instead of having the desired result (peace), the peddler’s yelled back ‘Hello Meeester’ repeatedly. A real turn off. Rene ended up having to go out and say no thanks to their pearls, wooden dragons, shells and more pearls. They asked for T shirts again and stayed for over 30 minutes. I hid inside feeling annoyed.
There was a strong current in the anchorage and no pink beach but an amazing array of corals. We had a great snorkel over such a vast array of corals – huge fan corals and so many tiny, colourful fish. Derk didn’t have any luck with his spear gun. Rene only got out of the water when something very big and grey appeared in the corner of his vision!! 
Awesome
Snorkelling in crystal clear waters on south Komodo
Rene snorkelling past glowing blue corals.
We moved early next morning to an anchorage with a big reputation. It gets 9 (out of 10) stars in the 101 Indonesian Anchorages. It was pretty nice but the snorkeling was very average, the anchorage was very deep (20 metres so we put out 80 metres of chain) and there were many large tourist dive boats sharing the bay with their motors running constantly. 
 
Rene and Derk had a go at trying to spear a fish but they all got away. I had plans of a beach sunset (a favourite pastime while cruising the QLD coast not often repeated since then) but the tide was low and the reef exposed in parts. Instead, we had a pot luck and games night onboard Narid while night divers from the big tour boat lit up the water with a green glow below. 
Derk and Rene - fun and crazy times!

Flores


This island is so different to the Indonesia we've seen so far. It's hot and humid with barely a breath of wind. The landscape here is dry, mostly barren golden, rolling hills with the occasional tall Palm tree or fringing mangroves being the only green. There’s much more rubbish floating around in the water too.
Sailing past northern Flores.
We motor-sailed from Inca village towards Gili Bodo in very light conditions. Rene tried to make us sail with the Spinnaker – the sock I sewed to help set and take in this big sail is not really working like we imagined it would. It needs some magic. The waypoints (from the book 101 Indonesian Anchorages) for Inca village had been spot on, so we assumed (mistakenly) that they’d also be right for Gili Boda. Not so. The anchorage is pretty tricky with lots of fringing reef. I sat on the crosstrees calling down to Rene where to avoid. He tends not to listen to me all the time however because I am way more cautious than he is regarding reef. We ended up motoring right over part of the reef (luckily it was high tide so it only went down to 5 metres) and anchored in close on a patch of sand surrounded by bommies. No other yachts were with us.
Cerae snorkels with tiny reef fish friends :)
Gili Bodo awesome reef!
Gili Bodo sea urchin gang.
I decided to play it safe and wear my stinger suit while snorkelling – I seem to be delicious to all creatures that sting and bite. This suit is far too big for me and stretches even more in the water so that the legs and arms often extend up to 30cm beyond my own. Rene and I had a gorgeous snorkel over some amazing bommies. The coral here is some of the best I’ve ever seen. After a while, a local boat motored past and we hopped back into the dinghy, collected Penny and went in for another snorkel. Rene pulled the dinghy along behind him and I eventually took a ride too (I’m not the world’s biggest snorkeler). We landed on the beach which had large monkeys on it moments before our arrival. The usual beach junk was present at the high tide mark (odd thongs, empty water bottles and random bits of plastic) but there was no more or less than an Australian beach so I was pretty happy. 
Anima, Cerae, Penny and Rene on Gili Bodo
That night Rene and I woke numerous times imagining that we heard locals sneaking up to our home to steal our things on deck. Every time we checked however, the sounds of paddles in the water were actually fish jumping about. We left the next morning at low tide, through a much deeper channel (this time I steered and our depth never went below 20 metres), totally ignoring the waypoints and eyeballing our own way out.
We motored down to Labuan Bajo – the main town for this area. There are many small fishing boats around here so we had to maintain a constant lookout. The charts for here are not very accurate and in one instance we had to alter course dramatically to avoid hitting a large bommie. We anchored off the resort with half a dozen other cruising yachts as the main anchorage looked too busy, it was full of local fishing and tour boats of varying size. 
Peddlers came by almost immediately wanting to sell us overpriced diesel, water, pearls or carved wooden dragons. Rene patiently spoke to them and they didn’t leave. Their selling tactic seems to be continuing to offer the same goods at the same price. After a time, they asked for Tshirts from us but we didn’t succumb to them – they were rude and we didn’t want to encourage them. Eventually (after 30 minutes or so) they left us alone, promising to return tomorrow. 
 
Our friends Derk and Anneke from the Belgian boat Narid showed us the way in to the jetty (navigating over a small reef, through large boats and floating rubbish). We went with our empty jerry cans to the local water purification stand. Derk (sort of pronounced like Derek) had negotiated with the stall holders for a much reduced price (still double what the locals pay) of 5000Rp per drum.  
Filling up with 'air minum' (drinking water).
I noticed right away that this town is way more touristy. The water stall girl spoke very good English and I saw tourists walking around everywhere (often in very skimpy clothes!). It felt strange to see other non-local faces that we didn’t recognize. So far, we’ve been so remote that the only other Caucasians around have been fellow yachties or the occasional backpacker who we’ve spoken to. Here, I didn’t receive smiles in return – just blank stares. The locals also either gave me blank stares or tried to sell me pearls or a ride on their motorbike (ojek) or minivan (bimo). They don’t seem to understand that a woman can dislike pearls! They don’t seem to understand that I’m not a money machine! As we walked along a busy, dusty street next to deep gutters filled with rubbish, I realized that Wakatobi, Banda and Saumlaki were far better than I’d thought. I got a case of ‘the grass was
 
We met with John, Mary and Catherine from Gavia Arctica (Canadian) and had a Bintang (Indonesia's local beer) at the Tree Top Café. One bonus about being in a tourist town was cheaper beer and nicer venues. We saw an impressive sunset over the bay and enjoyed chatting to our friends. Catherine spent the afternoon convincing us of how we should go to Canada – of how we would be welcomed in her hometown of Victoria and the cruising grounds are amazing (albeit cold). Our plans for the future are constantly in motion – it would be pretty amazing to travel in Canada… more on the future later.  
Sunset over Labuan Bajo from the Treetop Cafe.
We’d heard of pizza being available so Rene and I went to a large, relaxed café/restaurant where we lounged on bean bags and ate pizza! It was a bit of a splash out meal for us (we spent $12 for two pizzas, a coffee and a milkshake) but it was so cool to eat something familiar (though it wasn’t really the same as back home). We rang my Mum and had a big chat – I had forgotten about the 2 hour time difference though and felt bad for waking her up!  
Pizza & contact with the outside world!!
We have now been cruising through Indonesia for 6 weeks. We decided it was time for Penny to hop off Anima and do her own thing (she wanted to be back in Sydney by early September anyway). Labuan Bajo was a good place to drop her off as there are frequent flights and boats leaving here towards Bali. It's back to just us again. 
 
Labuan Bajo was a chance for us to restock with food and water before heading further West. We bought 400 litres of air minum (drinking water) using Narid’s jerry cans and lugging them around. We took a bimo to the market (5000Rp) which is about a 10 minute drive away. The market was pretty dismal compared to the quality of Wangi Wangi. Deep gutters were filled with stinking rubbish, flies buzzed over everything and it was hot and dusty. We managed to buy the food we needed and then went to take a bimo back to town – they quoted 10000Rp and we said no, we only want to pay 5000Rp. They didn’t want to bargain, only repeated their price so we turned and walked all the way back. It was hot and dusty but pleasant enough. We got to see a bit more of this place and treated ourselves to a cold soft drink from a big supermarket along the way. The pollution here is pretty devastating. It fills every gutter and drain and creek. Rubbish seems to be everywhere. It made us appreciate just how clean Wakatobi really is! I tried to get laundry done but was put off by the sneering man who first quoted me 10000 per kilo and then changed it to be 15000 per kilo when I went to confirm it. Back to hand washing! 
 
The peddlers visited us again twice. Once they chased us in our dinghy and another yacht-side visit was had. Again, they offered us pearl necklaces (for about $30 -$40), carved wooden dragons, water and fuel. Again they didn’t understand that we didn’t want these products. Again I was left feeling annoyed. I realized that I was getting so annoyed because the peddlers were invading my personal space. It is strange because we are cruising in our home which, because we are Australian, has our cultural ideologies contained within and around it. In Australia, we respect each other’s personal space and property. If we say no thanks to someone wanting to sell us something at our door, they turn and leave. It is tricky because we have our home with all of these ideas of what is wrong and right in a totally different culture. I can see why some tourists go off and start screaming at sellers – I had to go inside and let Rene out-patient them instead of me getting rude.
I was happy to leave Labuan Bajo. We set out in front of Narid and Gavia Arctica, motoring through the floating plastic rubbish oozing its way out of the bay towards the home of giant dragons...

Monday, September 5, 2011

Heading South - To Flores


Our friends on Malonga arrived just hours before we were due to depart Wangi Wangi. We had a rushed catch-up before having to get organised. I hope we get to meet up with them again soon! As we left, we had long conversations with Gino on channel 16 about how much we appreciated the WIC's help and how much we loved it here in Wangi Wangi. We gave them a packet of precious TimTam's as a gesture of thanks. 
Our crazy trail finding to get an anchoring spot.
We were the last to leave of 4 other yachts and, being the slowest, were the last to arrive at our next anchorage, Karang Kaputa reef. We were late arriving (1630) and the sun was stuck behind clouds. Our friends were all happily anchored and we ginned about for ages trying to find a suitable spot over sand. The sand proved hard to find as most of this anchorage is reef. Three times Penny and I screamed at Rene to go hard reverse as we were about to hit a bommie!!! Eventually we found a spot in 10 metres and after anchoring, Rene dove down to check. We made some adjustments and then slept soundly through the night. Again, we were the last to leave as Rene and Penny wanted to snorkel over the bommies in the anchorage. I'd had nightmares about jellyfish and opted instead to do my full yoga primary series (something I'm finding it difficult to achieve lately with all these cultural events and socialising and travelling going on!). 
Fishing houses on Karang Kaputa reef.
We had thought we'd have bugger all wind but actually had a brilliant sail all day and all night averaging between 5 and 6 knots with no swell or waves. Rene had fun with our mizzen staysail and we think it helped considerably to keep up our speeds in the light winds. It was the end of Ramadan and during my shift I watched fireworks pop over Sulawesi island. They sometimes looked like a cross between lightning and gunfire. On VHF 16, people were singing the prayers happily. 
Our shifts this time were organised into: 11-3 Rene, 3-7 Cerae and 7-11 Penny. I quite liked the early morning shift and didn't feel too tired despite being disrupted in my time off. Throughout the following day, the wind continued to die off but Rene persisted in making Anima sail. For quite a few hours, we had 6 sails up and in under 10 knots of wind were managing to sustain 4 knots. A pretty big accomplishment for a heavy, small-masted boat like Anima!
Fish Attraction Device - anchored in 3000 metres!!
Rene and I listened to audio books during our night watches. He listened to Les Miserables and I listened to the first part of Eckhart Tolles' presentation entitled 'The Realisation of Being'. Dolphins visited us frequently, sometimes doing strange tricks like poking their tails or noses right out of the water. We also saw plenty more fish attraction devices (remember our pirate raft scare?). During Penny's shift, she was shocked by one such raft as we sailed past it so close she could almost touch it. I still can't fathom how they anchor these bamboo rafts to the seabed in such deep waters of 3000 or so metres!!?
Our toilet had a blockage due to trying to use locally bought tissues instead of toilet paper (of which we have now run out). Poor Rene spent an hour trying to unblock it and ended up having to siphon the blockage out. Gross! 
Poor Rene siphons the head
The winds gradually died off more and more. Rene and I played Blokus on deck as we slowly slid along through calm seas. Rene is very into the idea of just drifting along in the current at 1 knot and eventually arriving somewhere. I, however, am not. It wasn't until we were doing 1.5 knots and only 2.8 miles from a reef in the middle of the night that Rene finally agreed to turn on the engine!! From then on, the engine remained on for 17.5 hours as we motored slowly towards Flores. 
Calm sailing = games on deck to fill the time.
 We changed our minds multiple times and eventually ended up anchoring at Inca village in about 8 metres of water off a quiet village with a huge church surrounded by rolling mountains covered in vegetation. We were all asleep by 7pm and had a glorious sleep with no prayers to wake us!
.
Serenity in Inca village

Wakatobi - Wow - So Many Events!


Posepaa Attraction, Honari Mosega Liya and Tamburu Liya

Having visited the fort (by accident) the day prior, I opted to stay on Anima for some much-needed “me” time. I got to practice yoga!!!
Rene:
Posepaa means “kick” in the local tongue – in this unique traditional event, the men of Liya Toga pair off and have an all out kicking brawl, all in good fun, and completely without a notion of winner or loser. Posepaa, as well a being a kind of initiation ceremony for boys and a show for the girls, is also symbolic of kicking out the Dutch. The event took place on a cleared gravel field in front of the fort. It was opened by a small group of elders who performed a traditional war dance “honari mosega” with music. I really liked their “tompide” - an elongated buckler which could be aligned with the forearm or across it. Combined with the spear and the movements of the dance I could easily imagine how it could be put to effective use. After this, the old men and the referees went out into the field where they opened the event.
Village traditions.
The pairs of men, holding hands, squared off in two main groups – those from the lower part of the village and those from upper part. They seemed to place a lot of value on big sweeping high kicks, made all the more possible by the support from the partner. After a little bit of watching – which was a little difficult as whenever it got interesting, people ahead stood up and crowded around, one of the older men recruited me. After a little consultation with the ref, It was decided that it would be OK for me to have a little go. All pretty light hearted though! With my Wing Chun background it felt too unusual to do the big high kicks, so at first I used it as a bit of an experiment to see if I could apply the Wing Chun principal of reflecting the attack with a better structure, along the centerline. It seemed to be working OK, as I usually found my foot on their supporting leg and none of their attacks got through – however, I don't think any of us were really giving it anything more than 5%. After a little bit of them being consternated at my low kicks, I decided to try a few high ones – It was a lot easier with the supporting hand, and actually, I didn't need to raise my foot up very much, because they were all quite shorter than me and often crouching over. At one stage, I put my foot up to this man's face, but didn't push, because I didn't want to hurt him. He threw away his partners hand in anger and came at me with a volley of punches – but it was all in jest, and we all had a good laugh..
Rene fighting Posepaa style.
It was decided that the fighting was moving up a notch and that I shouldn't participate for fear of injury. I wanted to keep on going, so they swapped my partner with a younger man - Domi. Domi and I tried to get back in, and I tried to explain to them that I was conditioned and could control my blows. I slapped my forearms and hit my body which drew some delight from the crowd, but eventually the refs decided that it would be to bad for the Wakatobi tourism industry if anything bad happened. Oh well. I felt a little like the guy from ‘tfighiribes’ who tried to have a stick fight in Africa but was denied. 
Serious Posepaa
After this, there was a presentation of local cuisine and a failed political rally. I always feel uncomfortable eating in front of Muslims during Ramadan, so I opted to walk around with Domi and ask him questions about Posepaa, Bahasa Indonesia and Bahasa Wangi Wangi – just as well, or I wouldn’t have seen anything! We were scheming to organise a less public Posepaa group to maybe do some training, when I noticed a commotion down the road. Everyone in the village was watching a minivan trying to drive into Liya Togo with someone yelling through a megaphone on the top. It looked like some kind of political movement, so I asked Domi – is that the Reformisi? He instantly replied yes, but then tried to distract me – “lets have a look at the new village gate.. oops the police are arresting the protestors there, lets have a look at the cannon instead!”. I learnt that the protestors were ‘students’, ‘smart’ and ‘strong’, but that they had some problem with sail Wakatobi-Belitong – I never got to the bottom of what the problem was, and the protest failed utterly, as the respected old men of the village moved them on and all of the rally participants were busy tasting the lovely local cuisine, totally oblivious. One other yachty saw something, but his quick guide told him that someone was debating the result of the Posepaa competition (which is nonsensical because, to my knowledge, Posepaa is non competitive and there is no winners or losers). I remember reading on someone else’s blog there was some protest another year, possibly about the inequality in funding, maybe all us yacties getting free diesel, etc? It didn’t do anything whatsoever to marr the experience, but it does pique the curiosity in Indonesian politics. Back to Cerae:
Welcome Dinner at Patuna Resort
That night we were driven across the island to the Patuna Resort for a welcome dinner. We were a bit late and most of the other guests (government and police officials) had already eaten. We bumbled our way through and had a nice evening. Rene and I ended up sitting with a Dutch couple, Rob and Marjo from SV Taremaro. Coincidentally, Rene's Aunt, Jan from SV Yawarra 2, had just written to Marjo to tell her about us! They have been in contact for years over various radio nets and via email but have never actually met face to face. Rene offered to help them out by cleaning their hull and they gave us a lovely bottle of (gratefully received due to low stocks!) red wine in return. The opening party ended with some cultural performances with traditional and modern dance. Some of the yachties got up and said thank you speeches and we were all given a colourful scarf with Wakatobi printed upon it.
Not-so-traditional dance
'Underwater Wedding Harmony Ceremonial'
Here's the write-up from our tour package information sheet about this event. It sums it up well and you get a feel for it: 'In order to promote the underwater beauty of the Wakatobi as The Heart of the Global Coral Triangle, an Underwater Wedding will be held to welcome the Sail Wakatobi Belitong 2011 participants, who are also invited to participate in this event. During the Underwater Wedding more than 30 couples will bless their marriage in a large underwater ceremony surrounded by the beautiful coral landscapes of the Wakatobi, guaranteeing a very memorable and special occasion.'
As a related side-point, Rene edited the glossy tourism booklet we were given about Wakatobi to help them communicate the facts in English free of mistakes. He found it difficult to fix some parts as the ideas were quite deep. For example 'If you find that the heavenly beauty is in sight, all the potential was waiting and opened its heart, what are you waiting, we wait for your presence in the Wakatobi'.
Underwater wedding - above water.
So, the wedding. We went along simply to watch. We had no expectations and so had a fantastic day. Our volunteer guides pulled us through the large crowd, right up to the end of the jetty where the participants were gathering, wearing their wedding outfits, wetsuits and scuba gear. Rene dove right in, followed quickly by Penny. I was hesitant after my stinger experience the day before. I think Rene must be part seal or dolphin because he moves so naturally in the water – totally at ease and fearless. Wearing his wetsuit and snorkel, he free-dove down to the wedding (10 metres below) to get a better look and take photos for me. One of the sound guys gave Rene air from his octopus which Rene loved. The couples all descended and hovered in heart-shaped areas decorated with fake flowers. There was an underwater sound system and the whole event was broadcast live to the spectators above water.
Some of the local wedding participants.
The event wasn't organised as best as it could have been, so the yachties who'd put their name down to get married and attended the practice session (the day prior) missed out (initially). They went home disappointed but were invited back in the afternoon where they had a private wedding and free dive around the reef. We'd been forewarned that Indonesia is like this – that things can change at the last minute and then change back again. I'm glad they were invited back again because one couple had been looking forward to the event since Darwin as it coincided with their 30 year wedding anniversary.
Happy Wedding!
By marrying 24 couples simultaneously under water, this event officially broke the Guinness world record. I snorkelled over the end of the event and was astounded at the visibility of an amazing array of corals. The best part however was swimming over the billions of bubbles that rose up from the scuba divers below.
Underwater wedding coral garden. Beautiful!
The actual wedding underwater - so many bubbles!
Traditional Dance and Fashion Show
I couldn't attend the performance as we weren't informed about it until it was too late – I'd begun making up a huge pot of tomato relish (tomato's are about $1 per kilo here so I went a little crazy and bought 5 kilo's!) and didn't finish until midnight (I filled 8 jars with delicious relish!) – just before Rene returned home – full of stories about the fun night he'd had. Here they are: Rene:
Cerae dropped me off at lady bubbly. I talked a little with some of the yachties. I was talking about how I put my foot in it the other day, mentioning the Korupsi – people don’t really like to hear the bad things about their country from foreigners, and I think mentioning even the word Korupsi is bad form when police are standing by. Then the conversation shifted to talking about Indonesia coming out of a repressive dictatorship. Rob reckoned that Tito was good for Yugoslavia, and I couldn't tell, but maybe he was arguing that Indonesia may be one of those countries that needs such a dictatorship. We didn’t get to finish the conversation, but I’m not convinced that anyone needs it - half way through ‘The Prince’ by Machiavelli now and I’m even less convinced! Derek, another Dutch speaker from Belgium says “religion will make you stupid and the state will make you poor”. These are the kinds of arguments that reappear regularly in the yachting fraternity!
Anyway.
The police have been very very nice to me here, so I can't really complain about Korupsi at all. During the event we talked a little. They were asking me if in Australia the police look after tourists in a similar way - apparently we can ask for them to walk around with us like bodyguards if we like. I thought about it and said - no, Australia isn’t like that, but if you have a problem, you can always ask the police to help, and if you have evidence someone is going to hurt you, then you can ask for a guard ( I think? Is that right Tom or Kelly?).
One guy I was talking to was from west Java, his wife was from east Java. He is posted out in the capital of the south Suluwesi province, and then was sent out here to look after us.
Just before the show got started properly, Lucy and her friend had a translation problem - they needed to know a general word for giving a gift to your Fiancee as a gesture during marriage - I couldn't think of the word, I don’t think we have an equivalent.
One of the other police guys I was talking to:
policeman: "wangi wangi women are beautiful, ya?"
me: "ya, perempuan ada Wangi Wangi - cantik, ya. Very beautiful!"
policeman: "If you like, after the show, you can pick one - (gesturing)"
me: (flashing my tatooed wedding ring) "but I'm a married man!"
policeman: "Oh, it's ok - only joke, only joke!"
Even if I wasn't married, I'm not sure it would have done any good - with my observational powers, I probably would have chosen a lady man!
However, after the show, the other policeman arranged for us all to dance with the dancers - I was trying quite hard to learn the traditional moves. The hand gestures were a little like the Sau Lim Tao in Wing Chun, so it felt nice to do - I couldn't really get the footwork though, or the rhythm. Despite this, my dancing parter seemed chuffed that I was actually giving it a fair go and gave me another Wakatobi scarf!
Then the latin music came on and one of the policemen and the woman off lady bubbly were doing a pretty good merenge sort of thing.
I was just freeforming it with some of the boys - started throwing in some b-boy moves and before I knew it I was having a lighthearted battle with this awesome asian breakdancing superstar. I could do one move that he couldn't, but he could do tonns others that I couldn't, and he had more feeling too - so I applauded his skill and captured a little on video before the battery ran out.
[Video] To be uploade when we have a decent connection!
Waha Village
Before this event, freshly printed T-shirts were dropped off at all the yachts with a Sail Wakatobi image and the slogan 'Clean The Ocean For Future Live' which we all had to then wear. We met at the W.I.C office at 2pm and waited for a short rainshower to pass before getting into minivans and bumping over to Waha village. We were sat down on plastic chairs and explained the rules of Saparaga. The men were invited to play with locals while the women could take photos and admire them. Apparently, the game is designed to show off your talent to the ladies! It is basically the same as hacky sack but with a rattan ball. 
Rene plays Saparaga.
I was led over to another area where I was to play a different game, Heba'ongko involving kicking and throwing pieces of coconut shell towards different targets. I was explained the rules and played with two soapy stars who were doing it all for the camera. Beginners luck had it that I won my first (and only) match. Penny got busy chatting to Mo, a young British woman who manages Patuno resort, is married to a local and speaks fluent Bahasa Indonesian. She interpreted for Penny that the elders of the village who were watching the coconut shell game were saying that it is so disappointing that the young people don't know how to play. They said it was sad that the only time their traditional game was played was for tourists while usually the local youths just play on their mobile phones. We were shown some local foods (mostly involving sugar!) and invited to taste some inside a building. Rene was so busy playing the games that I had to save him some sugary coconut drink and peanut slice. As the event concluded, the reporter from the local Wakatobi TV station asked Rene and I for an interview. 
Rene and I being interviewed by Wakatobi TV.
Back in the carpark at W.I.C, a bunch of us played Separaga with the rattan ball Rene had been given until it rolled into the deep gutter and was covered in green slime! The gutters and drains here are really deep compared to Australia. One poor woman from the yacht Lady Bubbly accidentally fell down this one and has been bed-ridden for days – too bruised and sore to move!
Yachties demonstrate how deep the drains are.
Later that night we were able to visit the Wakatobi TV building – it's a residential house with a tiny room for editing. They use software I'm very familiar with and broadcast their footage each night from 6pm till about 11pm. It reminded me a little of Bris31, the locally made TV station back home. We sat on the floor and watched the piece they'd put together for the underwater wedding. Rene organised to copy the footage of all the events onto a hard drive for us to edit and promote Wakatobi ourselves. A project we'll get to after this busy rally!
Tindoi/Tinodi Village
We were running a little late to this event as we hadn't had confirmation that it would be going ahead until just beforehand! Our minibus also carried the local Wakatobi TV camera man and reporter. We drove up to the highest point on Wangi Wangi island where a huge crowd of people had gathered at the school. Live traditional music was pumping! We all had front row seats to watch and also participate in the events. A group of young boys danced around the stage (large tarpaulin set up over the ground) wearing huge, colourul hats.
Local boys dancing.
Fantastic hats huh?
A long welcome speech in Bahasa Indonesian was interpreted in only a couple of sentences – basically, 'Welcome to the event'. Rene and Penny with their super language skills worked out that the speech was also about us sailors representing the beginning of a much bigger tourism sector that is coming to Wakatobi. The village was promised a better road too, as the village chief took the opportunity to put in some political promotion for his party. Village elders then took to the stage wearing traditional outfits and dancing for us. We were invited to take photos and then the men were asked to participate. Rene was first in – he really tried to mimic their moves and dance in the traditional fashion. Other yachties soon stepped out but tended to make up their own crazy dance moves, some of which prompted near-hysterical laughter.
Rene dances traditional style.
Two traditional games were played. The men were invited to play Hekansalu. The Kansulu (large seed of a fruit) is launched at a row of similar seeds using only the player's toes. It is competitive and I didn't quite grasp all of the rules but it looked fun.
Men playing Hekansalu.
The women (and men) were invited to play Hedaroji which I eventually realised is a bit like playing marbles but with seeds that bounce in unpredictable ways. As seems to be the fashion, I was invited to play before actually having seen enough of the game to understand the rules!
Cerae tries to play Hedaroji
It was fun anyway and I would have liked to have another go but soon we were ushered over to the food stalls where we learnt all about traditional foods. Most involved cooking rice in special ways and we bought a sample from each table. One way that especially intrigued me was rice cooked inside a piece of bamboo. It comes out delicious!
Delicious rice is cooking inside these bamboo pieces.
The local food displays.
As usual, we were mobbed for photos and had to smile with different groups of locals as they took turns posing with us. Rene had another dance with the elders and then had a go jamming with the musician's. It was all over too soon and we had to head back down the hill, our minds whirling with all that we'd just seen and done.
Rene jam's with the locals.
Bajao Village
We were really looking forward to this event as Rene had read somewhere (years ago) that these villagers (who live in huts above the sea) can see under water freely without having to use goggles. He asked around once we were there and found out that about 15 people (of many thousands) can actually do this. The remainder use these cool hand-made goggles. Rene ended up buying these ones.  
Rene with his Bajao goggles
To get to this village, we were taken by one of the local ferries. The operators use a combination of an outboard motor (for delicate manoeuvres, a large inboard engine (for steaming along fast) and a long pole (for steerage in shallow water and for fending off). We motored right over the reef in the shallow keel and over to the Bajao village. Approaching, we saw hundreds of kids and locals all crowded over/in large fishing boats, stilt houses and tiny wooden canoes. There were two wooden platforms constructed over larger canoes with plastic chairs set up. We sat upon this structure as the events began.
Village spectators filling every space available.

Village spectators afloat!
What we witnessed was pretty unique and I was enthralled through the entire ceremony. On a central platform just in front of our viewing ones were gathered dancers, musicians, locals and some news reporters. As the music began, the dancers began circling their platform as the lead dancer (who is the village healer) performed rituals. Apparently the aim of this annual ritual is to ask the spirits for good fortune and cure diseases. It culminated with the healer putting offerings of fruit, rice and Sopi into the water. A bunch of local kids all jumped from the large boat they'd been watching from to swim and race for the bunch of bananas that had been offered to the spirits along with much cheering from the crowd – I guess spirits don't have much need for food – it must be the thought that counts. We all were asked to dance along as the ceremony concluded – fun!!
Traditional Bajao village ceremony.
Bajao ceremony offering to the spirits.

After the healing ceremony, the musicians (who all look amazing, wizened, brown and beautiful in their traditional sarongs) boarded our platform and started their rhythmic song as two elderly men competed in the local kung fu dance. Rene (as usual) had a go too, to the delight of everyone (as usual!). 
Rene fighting in the Bajao tradition.
As the music slowed down, two men demonstrated the preparation of locally caught seafood. One man de-scaled, gutted and filleted a small fish with his bare hands while the other worked on a sea urchin. I was worried we'd be invited to eat this freshly prepared food but instead we were ushered into one of the stilt houses to look at pre-prepared, packaged local foods to purchase if we desired. After watching the fish-gutting process I wasn't feeling that peckish and instead started exploring the village. Bajao village is pretty cool.
Bajao village boats.
The houses are built on long stilts above the clear waters of Wangi Wangi island. We walked around, admiring the local scene in the hot sun, accompanied by copious polici on motorbikes (there seems to be a strong police presence at each event we're invited to). A local teacher, Ricardo, was quite critical of the Bajao village that we were seeing. He was upset by the amount of pollution (apparently Government programs to clean the area are failing) in addition to the social problems of debt, lack of education and modernisation. Inside these humble huts, the villagers use their mobile phones and watch HBO on satellite TV! The young people see images from America, bleach their hair, wear gangsta-esque clothing and ride about on motorbikes through the floating village! Ricardo wanted to show us the “real” village and we set out on a long walk to get there, along the way taking in the sights, sounds and smells.
Local Bajao kids swim around the block!
Bajao village street.
The real village turned out to not be attached to land like the one we were walking through. It was, for the moment, untouched and traditional. No electricity, running water or motorbikes! We looked out at the village from a bridge while Ricardo lamented that it was probably only a matter of time before a bridge would be built to connect the traditional village with the newer one and the culture would be lost.
The "real" Bajao village - isolated from the rest of the world.. for the moment.
Rene learnt some of the local dialect as we walked along. I was too busy soaking it all in and trying not to think about my bladder (there are no toilets in this village so I wasn't allowed to go!). It was a long, hot walk back and a bit of a wait for the ferry which had given up on waiting for us – but wow. What an experience. 
 
We're so glad that we stayed in Wakatobi to go to all of the events as they were all amazing and made the $500 we paid to enter the rally so so worth it. Sadly, there were only about 7 other yachts that got to attend the events with us as everyone else arrived early and left before it really all began! 
Some of the Wakatobi guides :)
Rene and I take some of the guides for a dinghy ride.