Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Savu – Travels on a Small Island

Jeremy and Kathy's [Sal Darago] invitation to join them in Savu sounded like a good option - it was only 100 miles or so from Kupang, so we set off for what promised to be an easy sail. In the event it was very pleasant, we had a few hours motoring at first, but after that a gentle sail took us right up to the shores of Savu.

The Sail Indonesia Rally had notified their tourism contacts on any islands that the rally participants might visit and in some cases they had negotiated welcoming ceremonies, guided tours, music and dance performances etc. to be hosted for the visitors. Savu was one such and they were prepared for an invasion.

We arrived at Savu (sometimes called Sawu) at the anchorage off the main town of Seba, having been given very specific instructions over the VHF radio by the harbourmaster Zoltan. He had heavily accented English and spoke it very, very quickly. Throughout our stay there he proved to be an assiduous helper, guardian, interpreter, chaperone and reserve tour guide. In the harbour were:-

Local boats with plenty of crew.


…and those with just family!

Having anchored, launched the dinghy and had quick chat with Sal Darago; we headed for shore. It's a tricky trip as the shoreline shallows quickly and steeply which has the effect of creating good surfing conditions. However, no mishaps and we found our way ashore and meet Zoltan. He wanted a few official papers, but is quite relaxed about waiting until tomorrow for them, so were free to walk.


Seba has a definite 'smile to the face' factor. It is small, ramshackle, throbbing with activity, friendly and hot. Vehicles and pedestrians share the road space without any real demarcation and all the stores are open fronted with tables lining the roadway.


We stuck out like Mormon missionaries on a St. Tropez beach and we were constantly greeted with, "Hello, where are you from?" or "Selamat pagi" (Bahasa Indonesian for good morning). Occasionally someone with a knowledge of English would want to chat and practise their skills.

Making our way through the entire main street we finally reached an office where we found Juli Hina, who was to be one of our main contacts. Julie is young and pretty; she is a local school teacher cum tourist guide and has good English.

She told us a little about her island after which we quizzed her about the local weaving and the 'Ikat' that is worn for dress occasions. Then, as well as a full explanation, Juli disappeared for a couple of minutes and reappeared wearing her 'best' traditional outfit.


Everything was ready for tomorrow, when our programme of events was to begin.

Morning, and we met Juli and John (a local official) at the harbour.

The transport will be here shortly, we are told. Well, not exactly shortly, more ' a little while'. Perhaps nearer half an hour but it was an interesting place to wait. People carried loads using a  yoke, a device rarely seen on 5th Avenue or Bond Street, but very popular here.


The market was only a stone's throw away, it seemed to be a vegetable, fruit and grain market, but we felt we hadn't got time to explore too much  as the transport must surely arrive any second.


The transport arrived !


It wasn't quite what we expected as we had seen coaches and minibuses ferrying people to and from from the harbour, but ours was a 10 ton truck, canvas top, open sides, no seats - no, I tell a lie ...there were two, two-seater bare wooden benches bolted to the floor. This promised to be fun!

Fortunately it was only a short ride to the reception. The venue was the beach just a little south of Seba where Captain Cook anchored in 1770. A lot was going on, stands and a podium were being constructed and large numbers of cadets were practising singing. Apparently Independence Day was imminent hence all the activity.


We were taken to our covered shelter on the beach where already costumed dancers and musicians were gathering.

Interesting looking instrument !!


And what a glorious setting. The beach was pristine with just the occasional wooden boat lying temporarily inactive, the sky was blue and the rollers were piling onto the shore. Also we could see Ellida and Sal Darago and therefore knew that that they were safe.


We took our seats on the carpet and the show began. Only photos can describe the scene.


After the dancing we were presented to the senior official of the welcoming party and presented with Ikats.


These are locally woven fabrics that come in several sizes and shapes and are widely worn by locals. After the presentation, the food (it was only half past ten in the morning) comprising rice, meat and soup

...during which a little more music and dance before being shown the art of Ikan manufacture.


We retired to our transport for much longer trip this time.


Covering the ground is a function of distance and terrain. Here the distances are all relatively small, but the terrain gives home to bumpy unmade roads. Our journey took us around the west and north of the island. A largely completed hotel was pointed out, apparently it is just waiting for a water supply to be found, then who knows, Savu may take off as a tourist resort!

We arrived at a village where there are some unusual features to be seen, first a stone with an engraving of a sailing barque of antique design, perhaps several hundred years old, our hosts did not know.

Also around the village were boulders set on plinths. These you might guess have a ritual function.


We were then introduced to a couple of priests, one extremely elderly with gnarled and misshapen toes.


Finally a quick stop at an education establishment for older teenagers. We were given a cheery greeting by the students and shown around the building by the senior lady whom we were told was a descendant of royalty.

The next day we reported as the day before to the harbour and waited the customary time  for the truck. All aboard, we set off to see a little more of the island. After only a very short drive, our driver stopped alongside a salt production area, the like of which none of us had seen before.


Sea water was poured into what can only be described as little boats made of leaves, the photo below shows Zoltan holding just one.


For an island of several thousand people however, one needs a large number of such boats. One more shot, to give a more photogenic angle showing off their unique beauty.


I think it was just happenstance, that we met a family whose business was sugar syrup production. John was quick to make their acquaintance and we were allowed to see the process of gathering sugar juice from a type of palm tree. A task performed by young agile men. They had their task made easier by small rocks tied at intervals up the palm trunk acting as steps. The sugary liquid was then boiled and reduced. We bought some sugar cakes in the market next day.


The scenery on the route was arid but gently mountainous and with the backdrop of a clear blue sky and deeper blue sea it was very photogenic.

Stitched Panorama

John wanted to show us a village which was constructed on a hill.

The buildings at the top have a sacred significance and life in the village was lived along very traditional lines. There was a head man, a group of elders and holy men. All was peaceful and neat, grains were laid on mats to dry and Ikats being woven.

We were guided to the hill top and introduced to the head man who was proud to adopt his unique stance atop a boulder and be photographed.

I have also shown a picture of him laughing heartily, his toothy grin shows the tell-tale red stains of betel nut, which is very popular here. Not with me I should add. I tried some but it is so very bitter and has an after taste that lasts for hours.

The view from the hilltop shows the terraced appearance of the surrounding hills. They did not appear to have any crops on the terraces and I believe we were told that they are a natural formation.
Stitched Panorama

Just one more destination and that was to the highest point on the island and thus a great viewing point. It was cool (a relative thing) up there and we could see the arid landscape for miles around and spotted a few wild horses.

We made our way back to the harbour and our dinghies, to find that Jeremy and Kathy’s dinghy had burst open at one seam. Disaster! We assumed that the extreme heat and the associated expansion caused the split, but whatever the cause, the chance of fixing it looked slim. At least in extremis, Ellida’s dinghy will carry four people.

Jeremy worked hard with patches and adhesive, we donated some, but whatever he tried the seam pulled apart. The final solution (pardon the pun) was pinch the seam and trap it between two strips of wood, then clamp it all with wood clamps. It worked, not 100%, but sufficient unto the day.

Another day, another trip. This time to see the remains of an old Dutch fort. In its day it must have been very impressive with its commanding view of the seaward approaches.
Stitched Panorama

Above is a water tower and below, the remains of the main facade.


Our ultimate destination however was a walled village, name unknown, but the childhood home of John and utterly fascinating.

Everyone had to enter through a strongly constructed gap in the wall; designed so that only one person at a time could enter. We were told that this was to discourage invasion.
Stitched Panorama

The buildings were all of wood and straw construction. We didn't see any evidence of power, but very few places are without mobile phones these days !!!...
Basket making

The resulting baskets
It was interesting to see life being lived in such a basic way. Farming was the source of food and materials and we saw no evidence of mechanical aids.

The return trip was interspersed with stops at places of scenic beauty. Any stop was welcome as our bones recovered from the bouncing truck ride.

After a day's rest we received an invitation to attend a feasting and dancing evening. Julie warned us that we might be required to join in the activities; sing a little song, make a speech or something like that. What we needed was some moral support. Fortunately there was another boat anchored nearby, Brazilian flagged and manned by 4 young travellers, 3 lads and 1 girl. They were totally focussed on surfing, but they would try to get to the celebration if they could.

They did arrive, and we were all a little surprised by the large numbers of people and the amount of preparation that had been made. There was a stage, with a DJ and sound equipment. Our place was on the stage with the 'great and the good' and the music played and food was served - just to the stage party it seemed - but all the while a Karaoke concert was being performed by young locals.

As the evening wore on, and I had had a few beers, first one of the Brazilians brought the house down with his rendition of Besame Mucho…
Apologies for poor quality photo 
…then the dancing started. One of the tunes that blared from the mega-watt speakers was one that Liz and I remembered (well almost remembered) from our line dancing days, so we started to perform the sequence. It caught on and before we knew it the music was being repeated and the steps copied by the audience. Wow! Great fun.

Finally, we were dragged down to take part in traditional dancing. We left our belongings behind and joined the throng. It was quite a danceathon and enjoyable in a 'unique' sort of way but eventually we staggered back to our seats on stage. It was then that Kathy discovered that her camera was missing. She had put it down with her belongings near the edge of the stage and it was no longer there. Pause for a communal camera hunt. The proceedings were halted and after a thorough search it was declared fruitless and the head man made a speech to the assembled masses. Being spoken in Bahasa, it was completely incomprehensible to us, but the tone was clear, 'if anyone knows who has this camera, we want it back'.

Jeremy and Kathy were resigned to the loss and it was time to move on, so we thanked everybody and flagged up our intention to leave nice and early the following day. Zoltan, the harbourmaster was consulted and our plan was to visit the tiny offshore island called Pulau Raidjua en route to Sumba for a day or so swimming and resting.

We did set off as planned, receiving several VHF calls from Zoltan wishing us well and speeding us on our way. The tiny island was about 20 miles away, but we had sailed only 10 or 11 miles when Jeremy reported that he had received a phone call from Julie. The camera had been found and the head of tourism would like to return it to him personally.

About turn …and our engine refused to start. The starter motor was not engaging. I checked all the wiring, but still nothing worked. Jeremy offered to tow us back to Savu where we could drop anchor and examine the problem more thoroughly.

We accepted their kind offer and set off

It's difficult to see the towline on this shot but it’s there!  Thanks Sal Darago!

Jeremy and Kathy duly reported back and were given the camera. Apologies were made and we were exhorted not to leave with a bad impression of Savu and they hoped we would return one day. There was more to it than that. Apparently the assistance of a seer or medicine man had been sought. This person had advised that ground coconut must be sprinkled on the ground near from where the camera had disappeared, then a set of prescribed words must be spoken or chanted. This done, he was confident that the camera would re-appear.

After the sprinkling and chanting had been performed, the search was renewed and lo... the camera was found under a nearby bush! Who needs modern science.

After the delay, we opted to make a direct run for Waingapu on Sumba the following day.

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