Friday, 26 August 2011

Labuan Bajo Back-Packer Paradise

It didn’t feel as if we were really leaving Rinca; never out of sight of land, just a few miles of easy sailing. but in fact we were moving from Rinca to Flores – a much larger island, over 200 miles from east to west and second only to Timor in the eastern half of Indonesia.
Stitched PanoramaWe passed several islands as we approached the town of Labuan Bajo and noticed that many of them had shoreline strips of habitation. Solid buildings with mosques in pride of place, they looked so significant compared with the size of the island they occupied.
P1150139P1150138Should I confess, I had never even heard of Labuan Bajo before joining the rally and reading about the events that they had lined up for us. So it was a complete surprise to arrive in a bustling port which separated commercial vessels from us leisure boats in a harbour that was bristling with exotic fishing craft of all sizes.


Labuan Bajo is the capital of the West Manggarai Regency of Flores and has a population of a quarter of a million even before the tourist invasion. It is a venue popular with back-packers. There are many opportunities to take diving expeditions and low cost travel tours into the interior and also to other nearby islands by coach and ferry. We even saw coach tickets advertised to Bali! Bali is three major islands distant.

The organisers of Rally Indonesia 2011 had planned a major event for Labuan Bajo, and that had been our target and our reason for passing this way. However in true Indonesian style, it was felt that for various reasons it should be cancelled.
No matter, there was so much to see.
There were in the region of 40 rally boats in the harbour, but no-one seemed phased by the cancellation, it was a place where re-provisioning was possible. There was even a shop that specialised in deep frozen products designed to appeal to visitors from western nations; pork chops, bacon! Such luxury …and there were restaurants.



We filled up with diesel, petrol, water and trawled then many hardware, ironmongery and ad hoc hardware shops that lined the main street. Liz had a hairdo in a very pink shop, operated by a young man who spoke some English.

P1150220The little lizard shown here is in fact a water monitor. We didn’t know that at first when we saw it swimming frantically in the middle of the harbour. Typically British, we felt sorry for it and gave it a lift to dry land. It was only later that we found out that it was in fact a water monitor and was probably better equipped to be there than we were!
I felt sure that it enjoyed the ride though.
Before leaving, we used the laundry services and sampled a few of the restaurants. A pleasant and friendly town but we had miles to make so we headed off for points west.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Here be dragons

Leaving Nusa Kode we didn't retrace our route in, we simply carried on around the island until we reached open water again. Then headed north up the west coast of Rinca.

IMG_9544At slightly under 200 square kilometres, Rinca (pronounced Rincha) is one of Indonesia's smaller 'significant' islands, it has a population of under 1,000 people but it is surrounded by turbulent waters; whirlpools and currents running up to 10 knots can be found (or in our case - have to be avoided).
IMG_9693Planning the tidal direction is a bit like forecasting the weather - sometimes you get it right and sometimes you get it wrong. This time we were right and we enjoyed a pleasant passage from Nusa Kode to Teluk Ginggo (Ginggo Bay). Our notes from Beth and Bone on Splinter's Apprentice recommended this spot, so we headed directly there. As we approached the Bay, the winds were steadily increasing, but coming from the south they were beneficial to us and we made excellent time arriving at Teluk Ginggo. Anchoring was tight, very few places afforded a comfortable depth of water, being either too deep (>18 mtrs) or if the right depth, too close to shore. Sal Darago found a spot and as luck would have it, a fellow rally boat was just leaving from a spot nearby, so we waited until they had weighted anchor and departed, then moved into their place. We later heard them on the VHF radio saying that they had had to abandon their plans to head south to Nusa Kode as the wind strength was too much to sail against so they were heading west to Komodo instead.

P1150023It was a peaceful spot for us and very scenic, but we were ready for an early start the next morning and our target was Loh Buaya, the headquarters of the Rinca National Park and a recommended place to spot Komodo Dragons. We battled our way through stiff headwinds to get to Loh Buaya, but on reaching the estuary leading to the Ranger Station, the wind dropped and the full beauty of the place hit us. The Ranger Station was sited at the head of an estuary, approximately 2 miles from the mouth and it was calm. We could see the jetty only 50 metres away and several local boats obviously designed for carrying groups of tourists were tied up there. We knew that the best time to do a tour was in the early morning, so it meant that we had to make contact without delay. So, dinghies launched and we went ashore.

P1150039We were welcomed by two groups, humans and monkeys!


The monkeys were actually quite unconcerned and they ignored us even though we were walking within arm's reach of them, the humans however were keen to escort us to the Ranger Station and tell us all about their work. The walk to the station was fun in itself, having passed the monkeys we walked through some interesting territory, fairly sparse and desert-like, but with clear signs of animal habitation.

IMG_9580Approaching the enclave of wooden buildings that form the Ranger Station we could see Komodo Dragons lying about all over the place.

We both thought that they would be difficult to find, rare species involving a hard hike in order to get just a glimpse. But, we were told that they, like so many wild species of animal, are susceptible to scavenging, and they hang about the encampment in the hope of picking up scraps. They were massive, impressive and definitely intimidating ...but sadly out of context.

We arranged for a conducted walk the following morning; seven o'clock sharp and bring water.

At the appointed hour, we dinghied up to the jetty and were met by our guide, pausing only briefly at the Ranger Station surrounded by its coterie of dragons, we set off into the dry jungle area. We were shown pits in the ground which had been 'nests' of dragons and all the time we were keeping a sharp look out.

P1150073Before long, a dragon was spotted, slinking through the bracken. By this time we were just approaching the open ground and it wasn't difficult to keep an eye on his progress. Soon he moved into a sunlit area and stopped. Our guide explained that this would probably be his resting place for a little while. Like all cold blooded creatures he has to use the sun to warm up and would remain sluggish until he reached optimum temperature.

We approached quietly, they are dangerous creatures after all. But our guide asked if he could take our cameras to get a 'souvenir' shot. Then armed with the cameras, he circled the dragon and took a shot with the dragon in the foreground and us looking on.

We he got back he offered any of us who would like a closer look to come with him. Liz volunteered at once and before long, she was at the tail end of the dragon, stroking its scaly skin.
Not to be outdone, I had a go too.

IMG_9615Further on in the bush we saw water buffalo and evidence of pigs. Dragons are carnivores of course, so it was only to be expected that suitable mammals would be living on the island as well. Incidentally, we heard that one of the rally boats anchored at another island nearby lost their dog to a dragon! They (possibly foolishly) took it for some exercise ashore and met up with a Komodo Dragon.  ...end of dog.

P1150114Back on board, we discussed the next move. Jeremy fancied moving out to the estuary entrance where there were a couple of possible alternative anchorages, so early afternoon we were under way again and did in fact find a lovely spot in the shelter of a smaller island. We could see the steady stream of tourist boats heading in to the park and we felt just a little smug having had the benefit of an early start and no crowds.

At evening time, a lone fisherman paddled by and we asked if he had any fish to sell, "not today", was the reply, but what we didn't realise was that he would be out that night to remedy that deficiency.

Just after dawn, he was back with a beautiful red fish which (for a very reasonable price) went on board Sal Darago, but which we shared that evening. The next day our plan is to make our way to Labuan Bajo on the Island of Flores.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Nusa Kode–Just a dot on the map

It doesn't happen every journey, but we set our sails leaving Waingapu and with the wind blowing from astern we enjoyed a wonderful sail all the way to our next anchorage - Nusa Kode.

Nusa Kode is tucked very neatly into the southern tip of Rinca, which is in itself a tiny satellite of Flores. However it is large enough to have several picturesque anchorages. Good information was available about anchoring spots on the Komodo National Park website, so we had several options as we approached. Sal Darago entered first and checked out the two main options before our arrival. There was only one sensible place and that was to tie up to a large mooring buoy alongside Sal Darago.

We woke up early to the sounds of a local fishing boat with just three young men aboard. A cheery wave from them and they carried on with their work.

With binoculars we were able to see on the nearby sandy shore, monkeys, a deer and

…our first Komodo Dragon!

P1150005As the day warmed up the animals disappeared and we took our dinghies ashore and had a preliminary scout around. Huge amounts of rubbish had washed ashore. There was no habitation on the island, so we could only assume that the rubbish was just a by product of the wind and waves. A great shame, but totally invisible from anything more than 50 yards offshore.

However you can’t keep a good scavenger down and this little chap was scratching a living in the rock pools.

Then came the winds. They were katabatic in form. Bullets of wind that came down the cliffs swiftly and with great speed. Thirty knots was regularly topped and we were rather thankful that we were securely tied to a massive 'commercially' sized mooring buoy.

In between bouts of severe wind attacks we did some snorkelling and found that it was a special place under the surface with many varieties of reef fish  darting about in a rock and coral garden. (No underwater shots I’m sorry.)  

Small wonder that tourist diving boats kept arriving and departing throughout our stay there.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Sumba and Independence Day

After the misfortune of the split tube on Sal Darago's dinghy, and also the failing starter motor on Ellida (which after rewiring operated satisfactorily), we agreed that Sal Darago and Ellida should sail together in the interests of mutual assistance, ‘buddy boats’ is the American expression. Indonesia and in particular this outlying part of the country is not a place to be stranded because help in the form of spares and repairs is simply not available.

Map picture

We set off for Waingapu on the island of Sumba; 110 miles (which to us equates to a little under 24 hours) and we arrived mid morning to face an awkward harbour entrance. It looked clear enough on the large scale map, but the fine detail was omitted. There is a reef which protects the harbour and Sal Darago, in the lead, had to sail way to the west to find sufficient depth to cross the reef and make their way back to the harbour. We followed and passed a typical rusting and about to crumble marker buoy showing the way in.


The local harbourmaster had shouted to Jeremy as Sal Darago motored in and indicated to him the precise place where he should anchor.



P1140822Not quite where he would have chosen, a little too close to a commercial boat for comfort, and necessitating a stern anchor to be added.


We followed and were directed to a spot just 50 metres away, rather better in fact.

First impressions were of a busy bustling harbour with more than its fair share of decaying hulks.


A wharf near Sal Darago had two large vessels tied to, one of which was emitting clouds of dust whilst the other was wonderfully typical of this part of the world and was home to men ,dogs and goats.


The remainder of the inlet close to the town was full of tiny fishing boats, very slender, often with outriggers and most fitted with the familiar single cylinder, hand started Chinese manufactured engine.


Barely had we anchored than we were accosted by a young man who had some English and wished to be our guide. We postponed any decisions at that time, but we would meet him later on the wharf. Our Rally guides had advised us that we have no requirement for paperwork or checking-in at any islands other than the ones they stipulate, so the way seemed clear for us to journey ashore.

Taking the dinghies we found a fairly easy place to get ashore in amongst the tiny fishing boats. We were greeted by several locals and were spotted by our potential guide. We have an agenda; we need water, provisions, laundry and glue for repairing a dinghy. Our guide seemed to think he could help us in those respects, so we agreed terms and set off.

I'm not sure what I expected, but it's bigger than I thought; quite a large town in fact with a population of 53,000.


It is the capital of the Sumba regency and the largest town on the island. We explored the main shopping street, paying special attention to any likely looking chandleries.


Jeremy was unable to find the correct vinyl cement, but I found some large sized Jubilee clips for our exhaust system (the old ones were looking a little corroded).


Of course there were some delightfully ramshackle buildings, also street vendors  and marvellously decorated buses to photograph.


The 17th August is Indonesian Independence day and it feels like everyone is at the town stadium.


We made our way to a stepped monument overlooking the main field, an excellent vantage point from which to watch and take photos.


We were surrounded by small children and parents.






Two sides of the field are filled  children  all in  smart school uniform  standing in neat lines without any shade as a part of the grand parade.





P1140885On the third side of the stadium the VIPs gather under the protection of specially erected marquees with the all important flag pole before them centre stage.

First the speeches. We have been told by Indonesians that their politicians measure the excellence of their speeches more by duration than quality. This has certainly been borne out at the events we have attended - and this was no exception.

The highlight was the 'raising the flag' ceremony, performed with beautifully exaggerated precision by one male and one female soldier. By now several of the children had to be helped as the sun was too much for them. The politicians were fine.


Followed by  the parade that everyone had been waiting for.


Military, youth bands, school children and dance troops, all great fun.



There were also greasy pole challenges for the energetic.


Jeremy is nearly two metres tall and proves to be a great attraction with the young people. As an ex-school teacher he has a natural rapport with the young and there is always a clamour to be photographed with him!


P1140914Our guide then took us for lunch and a trip to see an Ikan factory. Part of the trip was in a rickshaw powered by pedal-power – a novel way to travel, but a method that is effective and is even used for commercial purposes here. It is hard going on the pedallers though.







P1140942At the Ikan workshop we felt there was a bit of slick selling going on. But the items were extremely expensive – hundreds of dollars! And to be frank, we have neither use nor space for such items on the boat. However the skill in preparing and weaving  all still done by hand was impressive.





The next day we returned to our first guide and agreed to a minibus trip because his friend has a bus and we could have a charter ride, just the four of us.  Waingapu has a beautiful P1140956purpose made  nightmarket area which was not open , but the construction of the stalls was interesting,

…then on to a splendid street market that was definitely open and we bought provisions.





We then drove out of town to see a traditional village. This one had many wood and straw buildings but some stone (including the last  King’s tomb shown below). There was a strong hierarchy in place and we were introduced to the folks that mattered.


A good day out and we said goodbye to our guide and his minibus owning friend.

Time to press on the next island.

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.