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Monday, August 27, 2012

August 20 – 21, 2012 – Mausambi, Flores, Indonesia - A Village Garden, an English School and a Feast


We had just arrived at Mausambi and were setting the hook when Bernard from s/v Albertina, arrived in his dinghy to let us know who's who and what's what around here.  Apparently, the rally had given us the waypoints for Mausambi, but named the town of Ende as the location for this stop. So much confusion, but strangely enough approximately a dozen boats came here anyway (because of the waypoints). Fortunately, Bernard arrived yesterday and while scouting around on shore, ran into an English speaking local man named Vincent. No one here had been informed of our impending arrival and our intentions to "rally" here. Fortunately, in the true spirit of Indonesians, Vincent picked up the ball and ran with it organizing some completely impromptu local events for us. For instance tonight we were all invited to the Traditional Village for a performance and dinner starting at 4:30. It was now 4:00. Frank and I reluctantly declined the invitation. The next day after hearing what a great time everyone had we regretted that decision.

Tuesday, however, we joined right in. Vincent had arranged a variety of events for us. We began with a walk into the village, which by the way is tiny, is predominantly Christian and most definitely non-Muslim. We convened in front of Vincent's home where his wife scrambled to gather chairs for us to sit on in the shade while waiting for the rest of our group to arrive. We immediately became a source of curiosity to the neighbors who stopped by just to stand around and watch us. Our men got antsy just sitting there so they raided the icebox at the modest little shop next door, drinking up all of the ice cold Bintang. Fortunately just as the beer ran out, we were invited to follow Vincent and his wife over to the community gardens where we shopped for vegetables right from the ground. Happy cruisers walked away with eggplant, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, cucumbers, peppers and bananas. After the shopping spree we congregated once again at Vincent's house where the villagers continued to peer at us and smile. When Frank, Stuart, Peter and John had depleted even the little store's supply of the hot beer we tromped our way back to the anchorage to unload our bounty and then head for the school.

A single mini SUV arrived to transport the legion of cruisers to the English school. It took over an hour and 5 trips to get us all there. This school is special in that a select group of Indonesian children from all over the Regency of Ende are schooled here. It is funded by private tuition from the families. For them it is quite expensive. I never heard the exact cost because several people among our group spouted numbers that didn't match, although each appeared to know "everything".  I did manage to glean from Vincent that most of these children are from families of either government officials or large farm owners and are among the privileged few.  At the school we were invited into the classroom where we scrunched ourselves into the miniscule desks and watched a presentation from the children. One by one they impressed us by standing in front of the classroom, introducing themselves and reciting a short bio in English and then answering our questions. Next, we were invited to come up to the front to introduce ourselves in return. This was followed by group performances by the kids. We all laughed and enjoyed a wonderful couple of hours there. To my recollection, the eldest child was 12 years old.  I kept thinking of my own mother and how much she would loved to have been there with me. She being a former teacher would have been in Heaven with these beautiful children.  After the performances we were invited for a snack and a drink of spring water before piling into the little SUV for the return trip home. Frank managed to get into the first transport. My gosh, you've got to be quick to survive among these cruisers! Each time the little truck returned people mobbed it so I decided to just wait until the last trip. It turned out to be a good decision because those of us left had an opportunity to visit and sing with the kids a little while longer. What a precious experience!

Returning to town, Vincent's wife presented us a feast in the yard outside their home. She had put together long tables, decorated with tablecloths and little centerpieces. A couple of small pigs (we think they were pigs!) had been barbequed, and were presented lovingly along with vegetables and tofu. They passed around a large bottle of Palm Wine and we all feasted while 20 or so villagers stood by watching us. It felt strange being fed and watched but after a while we forgot about the audience.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

August 17, 18, 19 – A Little Taste of Paradise…

We had to agree that our friends had indeed found a wonderful little paradise not far from the hustle and bustle of Lewoleba, Lembata. Joining them we basked in the beauty of the little sand spit for two days, in crystal clear water teeming with untouched corals that made snorkeling a thrill. There were starfish that we had never before seen and a variety of colorful fish that were also new to us. Beachcombing netted us some lovely sand dollars, sea urchin skeletons and a variety of pretty shells. Locals came by in canoes to trade nautilus shells for fishhooks and the like. We didn't do any trading but saw the fruits of some of the others' efforts. Had we not had a rally schedule to keep we would have stayed much longer. Sunset happy hour on the sandbar was a great opportunity to get to know some of our new cruising companions.


Saturday, the 18th we were off in a congo-line of yachts in search of a similar place to spend a day or two before arriving at the next Rally waypoints, which really are a bit of a mystery to us anyway because some people have received messages indicating our next stop at Ende has been changed/cancelled. Communication is unclear, so we are all groping in the dark trying to figure out where exactly is the next stop. One thing is clear – we are to be somewhere by the 21st. Several of the yachts that left ahead of us had set their sights on various anchorages much further along than we wanted to travel in a day. There are many floating bamboo fishing rafts set in random fashion all across our intended path causing us to zig or zag just a bit off course. It certainly keeps us alert. Frank and I decided we would stop at Waimalung, an anchorage on Flores that is mentioned in the "101 Anchorages…" book. Stuart and Sheila on s/v Imagine made the same decision. We arrived barely in time to anchor before losing our daylight. S/v Esperanza was the only other yacht in the anchorage. Awaking Sunday morning we found it absolutely beautiful and very peaceful. The water was clear and colorful. Although there was a flurry of activity on shore, the bay was very quiet. Around mid morning, Esperanza took their leave and then two small canoes carrying a total of 5 boys came out for a look at us. They just wanted to say "Hallo Meestair". They didn't get too close and didn't seem to want anything. I ran down below and grabbed some sparkly blow horns that we had left over from NYE. I came up, motioning to the boys to come over. They just sat smiling, seeming wary. I blew one of the horns and held it out to them. One boy came close enough for me to hand him one. He blew it and them smiled the most beautiful smile up at me. Naturally the others thought it might be ok to take one after that, and timidly approached. After I gave them the horns Frank urged them to go over to visit Imagine. Naughty Frank. After that we had no more visitors, so we settled down for a day of work. Eventually Stuart and Sheila stopped by and then we all decided to go for a snorkel. Sadly, although we could see a lot of rock through the pretty blue water, there didn't seem to be any color. We commented that it looked as though there must have been some catastrophic event here that had changed the sea floor and the topography of the entire bay. Something just didn't look right to us. Sheila and I gave it up and returned to Destiny, while Frank and Stuart continued to look for coral and colorful fish.


Later on in the afternoon, a gentleman named Paul rowed out to see us. He introduced himself to us as the local schoolteacher. Speaking very good English, he explained that a terrible earthquake had hit in 1992, causing a devastating tsunami to strike the island killing many of their people including his own father. What we had seen under the water were fault lines running through the bay. It was so eerie. There were 100 villagers left in his village and he wanted us to come to shore for a tour and to have tea with him and his young wife, Christine. Paul and about a dozen children greeted us on shore and escorted us through the tidy little village. He proudly introduced us around, pointing out the government buildings, clinic, school, Catholic Church, gardens, cashew trees, and soccer field, ending at his own home where he served us tea and we talked about the history of his village and the island of Flores. This island is a very fertile agricultural area, yielding an amazing variety of food products. He showed us the plant from which the fibers are harvested to make the Ikat weavings. We felt the fiber and are relatively certain it is a type of cotton, but much softer and finer than any I've seen growing in Texas. Evening began to approach so we thanked Paul, Christine and the children who escorted us in an ever-growing band back to the beach.

 

We ended our day by with Sheila and Stuart over drinks and snacks and a strategic brainstorm before leaving for the next stop in the morning. We agreed to depart around 8 AM. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

August 15 - 16, Lewoleba Town and leaving Lembata

Wednesday, the rally had organized a trip to the whaling village. The tour was sold with high hopes that we would witness first hand the capture and slaughter of a whale. We opted out of it for two reasons: I am a fan of whales and am diametrically opposed to the practice of whaling regardless of the fact that it is part of Indonesian culture to hunt and kill whales for whatever their good reasons may be; and secondly, the tour was an 8-hour roundtrip bus ride over roads that hardly constitute a passable track. Actually the second part never had a chance to make it past the first reason. A bus load of cruisers did elect to make the trip.

We decided to explore the parts of town we'd not yet seen and to find the very nice fresh market, a very good restaurant and a pharmacy said to be somewhere around town. We set off with Evelyn and Peter who were carrying a small engine needing repair. Evelyn and I left the boys at the repair place and walked around browsing the little lean-to shops. My backpack's zippers had all oxidized and I needed a replacement. We passed by several shops with backpacks on display so I chose one at random. After haggling with the man over the 600,000 IDR he was asking, I got him down to 500,000 IDR for my backpack. In translation, I paid approximately $5.00 (USD) for my new Adidas-knockoff backpack. It may fall apart in a few months, but for this price I'm not worried. We continued shopping, ending up at a pharmacy next door to the repair shop where Evelyn stocked up on Amoxicillin at the amazing price of 20 - 500 mg. tablets for 14,000 IDR (approx. $1.40). I searched in vain for suntan lotion. We'd left Australia thinking we had a locker full, only to find that we were not so well stocked. Indonesians do not wear sunscreen, making it a precious commodity if found here. The shop lady searched and searched her shelves finally coming up with a Vaseline brand lotion that contained SPF 24. I bought it. By now we'd been waiting for nearly 2 hours for Peter's motor repair and yet the end was nowhere in sight so Frank and I told them we would meet up later on and set off exploring. We are becoming accustomed to the locals yelling, "Hey Meestair, Halo, Meestair" to us. I began pointing to myself, saying "Missus, not Mister". They would look baffled and just laugh. Usually along with this greeting came the touching. They really want to touch us, shake our hands, try to speak English and so we oblige them. We eventually stumbled upon the fresh market and loaded our backpacks with watermelons papayas, bananas, cabbage and shallots. Eventually, at around 3:00, we also located the "best restaurant in town" called Berkat. We ordered our lunch - and sat back to marvel at the prices. My lunch cost 13,000 IDR ($1.30). Frank's was 15,000. Unbelievable. Evelyn and Peter caught up with us at Berkat around 3:45 announcing that the engine is kaput and they are buying a new one. We sat for quite a while visiting while the boys consumed adequate quantities of gargantuan bottles of Bintang beers.

Back at the waterfront we saw that cruisers were gathering at the beer tent. I was exhausted and covered in red and black dirt, ready to head home for a shower but we were encouraged to stick around for "just one" with the gang. A few minutes later the group that had toured the whaling village returned with aching backs and numb bottoms from the long bus ride announcing that the tour was "OK" but not worth the long trip over land. Blessedly they did not have to witness a whale killing.

Thursday morning, we awakened ready to leave Lewoleba. The prayers are becoming louder and more frequent - nearly on the hour now although we have no idea why. My throat was raw from breathing volcanic dust and ash and there was a strong and nauseating diesel smell in the air. Time to go. We will miss the trip to a weaving village and Independence Day festivities tomorrow and the 18th, but are craving some down time. Stuart and Sheila called on the radio urging us to join them and several others at a beautiful anchorage just 6 miles away where the snorkeling is great. So by 10:00 AM we said our farewells and left. Somehow we managed to get a nice lift from the wind gods and managed to sail all the way over to the pristine little anchorage. It was nestled in between two small islands and flanked by reefs and a sandbar that grew to a fair island at low tide. We were greeted by Stuart who informed us that snorkeling is at 3 PM, followed by yoga on the sandbar at 4 PM, and then happy hour at said sandbar at 4:30. They have arranged quite a happy little community out here in this little paradise. Some of these people have been here for over a week.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August 14 & 15, 2012 – Lewoleba, Lembata (Indonesia) Welcome Ceremony

Tuesday: As I was brushing my teeth this morning I commented to Frank that our water tastes salty. He tested it. Not good – it came out 800 PPM. It should be closer to 100 – 200. We had to empty the tanks – thankfully they were only half full (around 150 gallons), so we decided to wash the boat. We needed to rinse the ash off anyway. Finishing that he went to work troubleshooting the watermaker. We have a creeping feeling there is a problem with one of the membranes. After tinkering around with it for a good while we shot over to Renegade to discuss the matter with Peter before heading in to shore for lunch. Peter and Evelyn have gutted and refitted several yachts and built their own from scratch, and are our resident experts. Russell and Christine (from s/v Christine Anne) were there and so we joined the audience as they conveyed their volcano hike experience from that morning. Without going into it – it was not a good one and one that they do not recommend. Glad we didn't get up at 2:30 AM! Peter and Frank discussed our problem and Peter gave us some diagnostic homework to do and then we went to shore where Frank and I visited our favorite new restaurant for Nasi Goreng – at the equivalent of $1.50 each. We love this country!


At 2 PM, beautifully costumed villagers began arriving for the welcome show. We yachties were corralled into a fenced off area. Two token cruisers were chosen to be our representative dignitaries and to receive the ceremonial welcome from Lembata's Regent. Although they were presented lovely Ikat robes/skirts and a big fuss was made over them, Frank and I were happy not to have been chosen when we saw that they were also expected to chew betel nuts. UGH! BARF! They bravely chewed and then spat out the red juice, saying it was one of the bitterest tastes ever. We then followed in a procession to the covered seating area and were treated to welcome speeches and impressive dance and musical performances. Shortly afterward, we were directed to join in the parade into town behind all of the costumed locals and dignitaries. People lined the streets, took photos and cheered as we passed by. I commented to Dana,that the circus has come to town and we are it!  One local after another grabbed at Walker (her very white, blue-eyed, blond haired baby), as though he was for sale. We were paraded into the town square where one after another of the townspeople posed with Frank and I for pictures, then put their babies upon us and posed beside us for more, giggling their hearts out. We were the freak show. Poor Dana and Mark had it far worse with people literally grabbing at baby Walker, pinching him and rubbing their hands all over him. Finally it was too much, and as the main group gathered in a circle to teach us the local dances we slipped away heading back to the welcome tent at the anchorage. We realize this is a huge treat for them hosting all these white people in their city, and although we appreciate all of the ardor and attention, it is difficult to take the grabbing and touching without any regard for our personal space.


By the time the festivities had moved back to the waterfront, beautifully adorned tables and chairs had been arranged for us. Once seated, the entertainment began in earnest. This event truly was the best culture show so far. They pulled out all the stops. Several villages were represented with their dances, costumes & performances that told stories - such as hunting, fishing, fighting, etc. The music and singing was so good. Then they did a demo accompanied by songs and music of how they take the raw product from the trees and make it into thread, dying it and then weaving it into the cloth that is known as Ikat.. Seriously this was an outstanding event far surpassing Alor and Kupang. The food was prepared fresh right there and very tasty. It was a wonderful event. We returned home happy and exhausted.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August 12 & 13, Moving on To Lembata, & Figuring Some Things Out

When we returned home last night after our visit with the gang over at Renegade, we found our sweet Destiny thankfully unmolested yet we were determined to leave Balurin ASAP. So on Sunday at 8:00 AM we were underway and amazingly caught the outgoing tide. Even more amazing was that there was good sailing wind on the beam. Our intention was to head over to the next bay, some 5 miles to the west where Sea Mist had found a good hideaway. As we rounded the point we spotted half a dozen yachts setting sail from that very anchorage and at first we thought, "Great, we'll have the place to ourselves", but then one of the departing yachts said that it had been a rolly night in there. We were of two minds: since the sailing is so good right now we may as well enjoy it while it lasts and carry on into the pass to Lewoleba, Lembata; the other thought was why not find a quiet spot for the night before joining some 50 other yachts?  Imagine really didn't want to go into the Rally anchorage just yet and did continue on to a quiet place outside of Lewoleba. We were just too happy with the way things were going for us, and with an SOG of 8 knots we were very content to continue on. This is apparently unheard of – catching both wind and current in these islands. By the time we hit the pass a 3-knot current was pushing us – OK, decision made.

 

We arrived at the anchorage to find it flanked by majestic hills and two volcanoes. The bay is massive and abuzz with fishing boats and bobbing yachts. We arrived at around 2:30, anchoring well to the periphery of the group. I went down for a rest and Frank plopped down in the cockpit to watch the activity around us. A few fellow cruisers stopped by for a chat to give him the lay of the land and to invite us for happy hour in one of the rally tents up at the beachfront. I opted out but Frank was keen to go and returned late evening with brochures and information about tours, parties and celebrations. I looked the agenda over. It was written in an elemental form of English and was difficult to decipher, but was made very official by the signature and stamp of someone from a government office. I went into "Google Translate" to find that the Head Officer of "The District Office of Cultural Services and Tourism" for the Lembata Regency signed the stamp. God Bless them, they are trying so hard to welcome us and to make a good impression. This kindness and hospitality more than makes up for the ill-behaved urchins and scam artists we've encountered.

 

Up until now we have been more than a little confused with names of places here in Indonesia. For instance we are on a rally named "Sail Indonesia" but have been given armloads of pennants, bags, t-shirts, hats, etc. with the logo "Sail Morotai". Morotai is another island to the northeast of here. We thought perhaps Morotai is another name for Indonesia but now think they are marketing the "Sail Morotai" rally that is a separate event. Also, back in Kupang, we received all this stuff labeled "East Nusa Tenggara".  What is that? I finally turned to "Google Translate" and am using it regularly especially since our internet and phone services are all in Indonesian. East Nusa Tengarra is a portion of Indonesia that includes (but is not limited to) the islands of West Timor, Alor, Pantar, Lembata, Adonara, Flores, & Komodo. On our charts some of these islands have "other" names, such as; "Kawula" is Lembata. Also on our charts, the islands are prefixed with "Pulau". Pulau means Island. My friend Jeri Lyn wrote an email to me saying, "…I also looked up a map of Indonesia and am having a hard time locating where you actually are - there are so SO many little islands throughout there!" Her email is what precipitated me to attempt to understand what all these names are about and to write about it here. So when in the blogs I refer to an anchorage that sounds odd or doesn't seem to be on a map it is because our charts have the Indonesian or not yet updated names. So much has changed here in this Archipelago (comprising some 17,000+ islands) in the past few years. What a vast little republic it is. I can't imagine how the explorers who first mapped this area figured it all out. Oh, and also, on our charts, are words "laut" and "selat" in front of the names of bodies of water, so now I know that "laut" is SEA and Selat is STRAIT. "Teluk" is BAY.  That's enough Indonesian for now.

 

We're happy to be at Lewoleba. In spite of the fishing boats that set out at night and return in the wee hours with no mufflers sounding like lawn mowers running around the bay, the fishermen are so very friendly. They sing and wave at us as they go by. We joke that they are out mowing the anchorage again! We are far enough from the mosques that the dueling cantors no longer jar us or perhaps we are getting accustomed to it. The dinghy boys get very excited when they see us coming and can't wait to help us secure our dinghies. Locals excitedly whip out their cameras and phones to snap our photos on the street and in the market. We feel like celebrities until it is time to haggle for the goods we want to buy. All of a sudden they become hard bargainers, charging us tourist rates for goods. It's all part of the culture though, and nothing we haven't seen before in many other countries.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

August 11, 2012 - Island of Kawula, And a Caution About Balurin Anchorage

About 30 miles from the Blangmerang anchorage at Pantar is a place called Balurin on the Island of Kawula (which is now renamed Lembata) where Renegade is waiting for us to catch up to them. We departed leisurely around 8 AM and had caught a decent current taking us out of the bay. By the time we arrived at the top of Tuwah Lewang, however, we got hit with a 2 – 3 knot current on the nose. We sailed a little bit but mostly had the motor turned on for the 6½-hour trip. On approach the colorful bay was picturesque and inviting. It was scattered with coral reefs and we thought this would be a good spot to just kick back, do some snorkeling and relax for a couple of days before going into Lowobela Harbor. As we approached the anchorage several dugout canoes filled with laughing, shouting and waving young children immediately converged upon us. We waved and smiled back at them, however, as we were trying to anchor they paddled determinedly to get up next to the boat. When Frank reversed, backing down to set the chain a group got behind Destiny. I was concerned that we would run them over, or that one of them would fall out of the rickety hollowed-out logs and get churned into our propeller. They seem to have no spatial sense, and definitely no sense of fear. It was very distracting in that their excitement attracted even more little canoes. We needed our full focus on the job of setting the anchor. I noticed that Imagine was dealing with the same interferences.  They were all yelling "Hey Mister! Give me money", while trying to grab onto the boat. Seeing that we weren't biting, the munchkins turned their attention to Renegade where Peter and Evelyn had come out to lower their dinghy. In a heartbeat the kids had paddled over and were all over Renegade's back steps. We busied ourselves getting our deck and lines tidied up and within a few minutes noticed Peter and Evelyn heading over to us in their dinghy with three canoes full of children holding onto their straps, being dragged along. It was quite a sight. The entire troop arrived alongside Destiny. Peter and Evelyn were heading out for a snorkel and told us that they had locked their boat up tight because there had been rumors of vandalism from others yachts who'd been here before. He also said that they had given the children balloons and pens although they wanted money, and if we didn't want to encourage their begging we should just go inside and they would quit bothering us. We took his advice, but the children persisted in their effort to extort some form of treat from us. I told Frank I was not looking forward to being held a prisoner in my own home by a group of juvenile bullies. They had transcended cute – they were now down right pushy and obnoxious yelling and banging on the hull. They did eventually leave and later we found out why.

 

Returning from their snorkel, Peter and Evelyn stopped by to invite us for sundowners aboard their catamaran. When we arrived they informed us that while they were away someone (take a guess), had climbed up on their boat, slipped open one of their front portlights (small window) and had stolen their basketful of oranges. It appeared as though they would have gotten more than that but might have been frightened off. I guess it goes to show, whether or not you give them something they come back for more. Now we are all wondering whether the splattered mess on our boat was an accident or an act of aggression because we did not give anything to the beggars in the Alor anchorage. Furthermore, we're receiving emails from friends on the eastern route that are having a hard time keeping locals OUT of their boats. What a pity it has come to this. Sitting there with our friends my mind wandered to whether our boat was safe while we were away visiting, we were anchored about 200 yards away and I found it hard to concentrate on being social when my eyes kept stealing over to Destiny where she sat vulnerable in the approaching darkness.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

August 10, 2012 – Leaving Alor and a Little Catch Up on What’s Going On Here

Although we had set the alarm clock for a 4:30 wakeup, we needn't have bothered because today as with every other day here we were awakened by the shrill and obscenely loud female voice, chanting over super duper powerful loudspeakers right into our bedroom. Her pitch can absolutely raise the dead! Like clockwork she begins at precisely 4:00 AM each day, followed in suit by two other not so shrill but loud male "cantors" from other mosques – sort of like Surround Sound. This goes on for a minimum of 30 minutes each morning, keeping us rather jarred into staying awake afterward. It is Ramadan here and we don't know enough about the Muslim faith to understand whether this is an all the time occurrence or special worship during Ramadan. Although it happens several times per day and also at midnight, the 4 AM broadcast may lead to the demise of our sanity before long. We have not had a decent night of sleep since arriving here. It wasn't so bad in Kupang, although we know not why. Perhaps we were all anchored further from the mosques or the mosques themselves were farther from shore, but this is mind shatteringly unpleasant and yet it is their country and their practice. I don't suppose they will alter the status quo just for us to have a pleasant holiday.  Ya think?

By 5:20 we had downed our first cup of coffee, Frank was raising the anchor but seemed to be having a lot of trouble up on the bow. He was slipping and sliding and mumbling a lot. I was at the helm and couldn't see him well enough to make out what was going on. He returned to the cockpit to tell me that the bow was covered in some kind of oil or grease that would not rinse off with the washdown sprayer. Then it dawned on us…last night returning from the strategy meeting aboard Imagine, we saw a large (approx. foot long) black smudge and splatter on Destiny's bow. It was dusk and difficult to see exactly what it was but figured something happened while we were away diving, and yet we couldn't do anything abut it in the dark. We had forgotten all about it until Frank's slippery encounter this morning. It wasn't until we anchored 7 hours later that we had an opportunity to inspect the mess. It looked like tar, but was probably oil that was somehow flung and splattered across our bow and up onto the foredeck nearly to the mast. It was by now well sun-baked. We spent about an hour trying to clean it up. Unfortunately it has stained the gelcoat. We re hoping the stains will fade with time.

This anchorage is very pleasant, calm and relatively quiet. We are at the island of Pulau Pantar at a bay that we think is called Teluk Blangmerang. Gee it is hard to tell by our charts, but I'm going with that. It was only us and Imagine for a little while here until two other rally boats, Zen Again and Recluse arrived. We have the place nearly to ourselves except for a few villagers who have paddled by in their dugouts transporting goods from one shore to another. A few canoes stopped to take our picture and then moved along. Some just circle us or sit an look at us. We wave at them and smile. We took an exploratory dinghy ride with Stuart and Sheila (Imagine) around the bay and up along the streams through the mangroves. It is lovely here. There are a lot of plastic water and soda bottles bobbing on the surface in row upon row, obviously attached to some sort of net or anchor. We can't figure out what they are; perhaps oyster farms or fishing nets being suspended? They certainly are plentiful and only completely visible at low tide. What a nightmare it would be if one of our yachts had gotten into one of those fields unwittingly. I shudder to think.

Later on Sheila and Stuart came over for drinks and we prepared a combined dinner. We ate and then pulled out our game of Qwirkle. They had never played, and so Frank really enjoyed teaching them and then beating everyone!

Friday, August 10, 2012

August 8 & 9, 2012 Getting to Know New Neighbors and Dive Alor Misadventure

During the general course of several conversations with Mark (s/v Northfork), Frank has discovered a wonderful new iPad App that Mark developed for cruisers called "SEAiq". He downloaded it and then wanted to take it to the next level, so he arranged a sit-down tutorial with Mark who invited us for dinner last night aboard Northfork. Dana and I visited while the boys played with Apps, and Walker slept. It's amazing how well that baby can sleep while we are all noisily visiting and laughing. We had such a good time with them and look forward to lots more good times together along the way. Next time is dinner and game night on Destiny.

Thursday morning several of us had arranged a dive and were to be picked up by Thomas the German guy from Dive Alor at 8:00 AM from our respective yachts. He showed up at our boat at 7:20 – geez! We told him he doesn't operate on Indonesian time at all – he replied, "Ya, I work on German time".  Of course no one was ready 40 minutes early, so eventually we got everyone picked up – the others were:  Stuart from Imagine, Mark from Northfork, John from Sara II and Robert from Evelyn Roberts. Thomas is no conversationalist and extremely soft spoken (we suspect his English is limited), and his two helpers spoke not at all – not even "BOO!" So on the way out we chatted amongst ourselves. It was sort of a mystery trip.

Eventually we arrived at a reef named "Coconut Grove".  I struggled a bit getting my equipment on and felt like a goof because it has been 2 years since we have dived, but eventually we all back-tumbled into the water. I had a really difficult time clearing my ears – reason will be on the next posting – but eventually got down to depth. Frank seemed to be taking forever to get down and appeared to be floating away, so I located Thomas and motioned for him to go help Frank because he seemed to be in trouble. Visibility was somewhat limited and I lost sight of Frank. I spent a good bit of time looking around for him and worrying about him. Even Mark was motioning to me that he was concerned as well. All of a sudden Frank appeared below me and I saw Thomas reach down to him, grab the back of Frank's tank and swam with him like that for the duration of the dive. After that we settled into enjoying the dive knowing he was all right. The corals were very pretty. There were several that we'd not seen before, although nearly devoid of fish the dive was really good. Back on board Frank explained that his regulator had begun free-flowing into his BCD causing it to overinflate. No amount of effort would release the air and apparently the release valve was stuck in the closed position. Thomas tried to work on the equipment but couldn't make the repair so on the next dive he swapped BCD's with Frank.  Then before our next dive Thomas announced we didn't have enough tanks. He did have one in reserve but it only contained 2/3 air. Because I tend to use less air than the others, I volunteered to use the partially filled tank. This dive would not be as deep as the first so both Frank and I added more weights to our gear – I grabbed another 5 lbs.

We dropped into the water and somehow I managed to descend faster than everyone else. This never happens because I'm usually fiddling around trying to clear my ears and take longer than the rest. I got down and kept looking up, waiting for the others not realizing I was drifting away from them. Suddenly I was caught in a current causing me to have to swim like mad trying to get to them. Meanwhile, my regulator began to free-flow thrusting so much air into me that I was darn near choking. In an effort to expel some of the air, I opened the corner of my mouth, which only sent a blast of air into my goggles causing them to lift away from my face. Trying to hang onto them they filled with water and so did my mouth. Good grief! Here I am trying to swim to the others, struggling with my mask and regulator and no one knows I'm back there. At some point I made eye contact with Frank and tried to motion to him that I was having difficulty and yet he swam away. By the time I got everything under control I had lost sight of my depth and found myself just below the surface of the water. I popped up, tried to get my bearings – there were none to be gotten, so I dived back down to find no one in sight, and terrible visibility. I searched for them a bit and then realized I'd better just abort this dive. The dive boat was a good 100 meters away and looked as though they were heading out. I swam for my life fighting a terrible current for that dive boat. I could see one of the Indonesian men on deck and he seemed to be looking at me but made no acknowledgement. I continued swimming, stopping periodically to yell and wave at him until I was roughly 100 feet away. He spotted me and stopped pulling away but strangely enough didn't come for me so I continued swimming until my arms and legs began to feel like lead. Although my vest was fully inflated I was carrying 19 lbs in dive weights. It was certainly a good workout for me. When I was within about 10 feet of the boat the guy on board tossed me a line then dropped the stern ladder and walked to the foredeck. What!?!? I was so weakened by all the effort I got up the ladder but with great effort and very shaky legs. I plopped down, pulled off my gear, dried off, got some water to drink and sat. Sometime later – maybe 5 or 10 minutes although I've no real idea – Thomas surfaced. The boat immediately raced over to him (Gee, I feel special!). He called up to me "What happened to you?" I'm thinking; could I please at least get an inquiry as to my wellbeing? I shouted to him that I got caught in the current and lost them. He shrugged and then descended again. Noting the spot he had popped out of the water versus where I had come from when I'd surfaced, I realized I had been hopelessly pulled too far way from the group and would not have found them had I tried to resume the dive. I thank God for the little nudge to abort when and where I did.

Later as the group assembled back on the dive boat, everyone asked me what had happened and if I was OK. Frank said when he had looked at me down there he didn't notice my struggles and thought I was OK, then feeling the strong current pulling at him he made for the reef as quickly as possible. Once there he looked back for me but I was gone.  He immediately found Thomas and tried to tell him I was missing. Apparently it took Thomas a while to wake up to the fact that he needed to look for me. Poor Frank. We both got a taste of helplessness this day. We realized several things: we have got to dive more often; we must reacquaint ourselves and get comfortable again with it, we need a refresher course or should get out our books and study what we thought we knew and have lost over these few years, and finally that we both need to work on strength building. Always going to school on our mishaps and learning from experience. Returning to Destiny, I cleaned up our gear and then myself. We both showered and declared that we were finished for the day. Wiped out is more like it, then Stuart called Frank wanting to have a pow-wow about moving on strategy. So we popped over to Imagine where I visited with Sheila while a meeting of the minds commenced. It has been determined that we will be "anchors aweigh" at 5:30 tomorrow AM.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

August 8, 2012 – Dinner With the Alor Dignitaries and Takpala Tour

I'm really tired as I write this so I hope it makes sense…

Last night at 7 PM, large buses arrived to transport us to the Regent's house and grounds for a gala celebration and dinner. We have been led to understand the Regent is the governor. After being seated at the banquet tables the Regent and his Lieutenant arrived and stopped at every table to shake each individual's hand formally welcoming us.  This was followed by the appearance of a string of dignitaries and their spouses. After all were seated speeches were made and translated for us. Beautiful dancers graced the stage and then came music and singing and more dancers. The highlight was a fashion show by some of our very own rally members. Several couples had been selected to dress in formal regional costumes and were then brought out on stage to model for us. They all looked so beautiful – men and women alike.

 

Eventually, as we began to shift in our seats trying to inconspicuously check the time, dinner was announced. As with the previous banquets this was a buffet but on a much larger scale with an overwhelming selection of foods. We were strongly encouraged to put a little of everything onto our plates. We thought the food was delicious. Dessert was a plate full of bananas. We need to teach these Indonesians about dessert.  After we finished the meal we were called up to the stage in small groups and presented with shopping bags of gifts, including yet another lovely and colorful scarf. Then we returned to the stage in small groups to have our pictures taken with the dignitaries. As we were photographed and videotaped (again), we wondered where all these pictures and videos are going. We may never know. The night ended way past "cruisers midnight", yet it was a great evening.

 

Today we went on the Takpala Tour first stopping at the Museum where the most impressive exhibits were the Mokos drums and the woven tapestries and scarves.  Then we were off to the Kadelang Market where several of us loaded up on very fresh and inexpensive fruits, and vegetables. The big-ticket item on today's agenda however was a trip inland to the traditional Takpala Village where the Abui Tribe's people live. They dressed in traditional ceremonial garb and performed ritualistic dances relating to various tribal events.  I personally enjoyed the chanting and singing. We were all invited to join one of the traditional dances and then afterward were served a boxed Indonesian lunch inside one of the huts. Following lunch we were encouraged to browse the handcrafted goods the villagers had displayed for us.  Frank and I opted out of purchasing anything. We need to pace ourselves a bit because there are many more such events in the upcoming months, and a lot of stops to make along the way.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

August 6 & 7, 2012 – Alor, Indonesia

We are now in Kalabahi, Alor - big difference between here and Kupang in that here the kids come out to the boats, beg for money and climb up onto the back of Destiny, laughing and yelling, "Hey Mister!" It is a little unnerving especially when they call me "mister". I suppose I should get back to wearing makeup so they will say "Hey lady!" We keep saying "tiduck!" which means "no!" but they must think that means "please come bother me some more and feel free to climb all over our boat".
This morning, Tuesday, we went into the village for a welcome ceremony at 9 AM. The officials and VIP's greeted us all as though we are international celebrities. We were issued official programs and again speeches were made in grand style followed by dancers and performers.  After the morning's event, we took off with "Renegade" and "Northfork" to find the local dive shop. Not able to locate it, Peter (Renegade) flagged down a taxi van. These guys literally took us for a ride driving like hell and forever heading out of the town toward the farm country until we began to protest. The driver grumbled as he turned around taking us back into town and then dropped us well away from our intended destination. To add insult to injury he and his seatmate attempted to charge us 10 x the normal fee. It was really disturbing on one level but then on the other hand he is acting no differently than many NY cab drivers with a load of naive tourists. Eventually we were able to raise the dive shop on the phone. Thomas the owner drove over to meet us and then kindly gave us a lift the 5 km back into town. I absolutely abhor being taken advantage of like this and yet not speaking the language and sticking out like sore thumbs we are vulnerable and expect it will happen again and again. Even being in the rally we don't have immunity from this sort of thing – rather perhaps because we are in a rally we are more prone targets. Who knows… What I do know is that it will not ruin our good times here. 
Tonight we are all invited to the governor's home for dinner. We are really looking forward to it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

August 5, 2012 - En Route to Alor

We got across the Savu Sea at what I think is a pass called Selat Pantar and had to drop the hook for the night outside of the pass that runs between Alor and Pulau Pantar. Writing this sounds as foreign to me as it would to anyone reading it. The important fact is that thinking that we would make it into the anchorage at Alor from Kupang in two days was a pipedream. There is little wind and a lot of current to contend with here, and there doesn't seem to be a set pattern to any of it.

The water is crystal clear and we can make out a beautiful reef system below us. It was difficult finding a good spot to drop the hook without harming the reef and fouling our anchor. Some other yachts are coming up behind us but rather than stop for the night are making a run on into Alor. We don't want to travel at night and then try to pick our way into an unfamiliar anchorage, so are happy with our decision to stop. It is still some 30 miles to that destination and we are very tired having gotten up at 4:30 this morning.

As at the stop yesterday we are gathering curious looks and shouts from local villagers on shore, however, here there are also fishermen who cruise past us just staring. We wave at them but they are not interested in approaching nor engaging us. I think we may be a bit of an anomaly to them as most yachts keep going past here without stopping. Just a guess because I don't really know.

Today is August 6th. We slept well until around midnight when the tide changed and brought in the swells. Big swells that tossed us nearly out of bed. Neither of us slept much after that and ended up rising pretty early. Leaving the little bay, Frank called to me to come look at the sparkly things in the water. On the shadowed side of the boat beautifully brilliant multi-colored "lights" were drifting past us aglow in the prettiest hues of neon blue, green and amber. Specks no larger than a fingernail drifted by appearing as though they had been scatter-tossed into the water. We have never seen anything like this by day. They went on for miles and as the sun reached them they disappeared.

The plan was to ride this next pass at rising tide to catch the current going in but apparently rising tide comes from the opposite direction and we are caught in a 6-knot current against us. We have great wind but cannot sail without the engine on because we are being pushed backward by this current, so with engine on we are showing a boat speed of 7.6 knots and yet our SOG (speed over ground) is only 1.5. Unbelievable. Of course my recommendation that we get out of here and wait for the ebb flow has not been very well received. We are carrying onward. I don't want an argument so I am keeping my mouth shut now. Maybe someday I will earn the right to be heard, but I wont hold my breath.

It is now 11:35 - finally the tide has changed and we are in the slack; cruising 6 knots with SOG of 6 - maybe this will turn the other way and push us. It would be great if we got 6 knots from behind. So far we have been at it for 5 hours and have only gone 15 nautical miles. We'll see what the next hour or so brings.

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

August 3 & 4, 2012 Another Gala dinner in Kupang, a Fright in the Anchorage and Heading North

Last night the Mayor of Kupang hosted yet another big event that included several speeches, dancers, singers, and dinner buffet. We are being treated like royalty here. After dinner we were all taught some of the traditional dances - well most of us participated. We teased Frank that this big night of celebration was in honor of his birthday. We danced the night away and had such a good time.

Friday Frank and I strolled through town browsing shops and picking up a few fresh veggies, but then after a while the dust, speeding vehicles and horn-honking got to be a bit much so we worked our way over to The Bar where we knew we would find a familiar group of cruisers hanging out. We kicked back with several of our friends and within a short period the wind began building and gusting ferociously. The calm anchorage became a boiling cauldron of white caps. Yachts were bucking and tossing about, straining their anchor lines causing more than a few of us to develop a case of nervous tension. Several of us decided it would be best to return to our boats where we knew we could keep a closer eye on the situation. Not long after Frank and I settled in with a snack in the cockpit someone announced over the VHF that one of the yachts was dragging toward the lee shore and may very well have run aground on the rocky bottom. Within minutes half a dozen dinghies were in the water heading to the rescue. Frank grabbed some docklines from our locker and we jumped in to aid in the effort. By the time we arrived the situation was well under control thanks to the concerted efforts of several fellow cruisers. The Customs boat came along to tow the yacht away to safety. We learned later that some of the others were hitting bottom as well and had re-anchored farther out. Thank God this group watches out for one another.

Today is actually Saturday. I didn't get that last journal posted before we departed Kupang. We left at 6 AM this morning to get up the coast. The next destination is 130 NM to the northeast of Kupang at an island named Alor. To break it up we traveled 60 miles today, with "Imagine". Tomorrow we will head across the channel to make the rest of the journey, some 70 miles from here.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

August 1 & 2, 2012 – More Business, Tour of Kupang, and Happy Birthday Frank!!!!

August 1, Wednesday, we hit the government building early to get on with the rest of the check-in process. We were directed to a room full of serious looking officials sitting at tables trying to appear very officious. The minute we sat down and greeted them with "Selamat Pagi!" (good morning), their furrowed brows melted away to be replaced with big smiles and warm greetings. We were armed with our new boat stamp and 5 copies of each: passport, visa, crew list, boat registration, CAIT, Departure Clearance from Darwin, health cards, and quarantine documents, and the Arrival Form for Indonesia. We sat at the first table, presented papers, got stamped, signed documents and then were moved to the next table – after 4 tables we ended at the hospitality table where we were given a very nice welcome bag full of goodies, including charts, guidebook, t-shirt, hat, lanyards, brochures and so forth. We expressed a very sincere "Terima Kasih; Selamat Tinggal!" (thank you and goodbye!) to everyone as we departed. They all waved and smiled brilliantly back. These are such beautiful people.


We then returned to The Bar (our name for it) where we chatted with event organizers who had arranged for local phone and internet service providers to set up tables displaying phones for sale, services and hardware. We were each given free phone SIM cards, which was very nice. As everyone was standing around trying to decide which internet package they wanted I handed my MacBook to a young woman, saying "Here, if you can get this set up for me I will buy whatever you are selling". Ten minutes later, I walked away with my "dongle" and 3 months of unlimited internet service for 450,000 IDR, which translates to $47.50 USD. Not bad after what we have been paying. Frank got a similar plan for his PC. With that finished spent the remainder of the afternoon and early evening just hanging out getting to know our fellow travelers.


August 2nd – Happy Birthday Frank! Twelve of us boarded two minivans and set off for a tour of Kupang arranged by Sheila from "Imagine", enlisting the services of a delightful young man named Yabes and his fiancĂ©, Pitta. Our first stop was the shop of the Sasando makers. A sasando is a harp-like instrument that is best shown rather than described by me. Music that comes from these amazing stringed instruments is absolutely magical. The shop owner and his son alternately played and sang for us. It was probably the highlight of the tour for Frank and I.  We next stopped at the museum, which is in a seriously sad state of disrepair and presumably under renovation; however, we did manage to visit a few small exhibits. Next was lunch at a large seaside restaurant where we all sang "Happy Birthday" to Frank while Evelyn from "Renegade" presented Frank a Bintang beer decorated with balloons and fiery sparklers, and Tracy from "Callisto" insisted on buying Frank's birthday lunch. He is still a little upset with me for not baking him birthday cupcakes!


Afterward we drove to the monkey caves where the monkeys were actually hanging around along the roadway rather than in their cave. We have not yet been able to identify what type of monkeys these friendly little guys are, but they are as gray as the trees and rock in which they reside. Taking photos I had difficulty getting a shot where they didn't blend right into the landscape. We did walk into the cave to discover after about 15 feet in it turns into a deep crevice into which no one is permitted to venture further. On the return to town we made a final stop at a beach where all of the local fishermen store their very colorful long boats and got a sneak peek at a man actually building one right there on site. Part of what made this tour such a pleasure for us was just seeing the little villages and hamlets, rice fields and shop fronts along the roadway. Life here is much simpler and yet the sound of motorcycles, busses, trucks, cars and mopeds speeding by and honking as some of the drivers were texting on their mobile phones was a harsh reminder of how quickly remote cultures are succumbing to the frenzy of modern technology and social pressures. I wonder what it was like here 5 years ago and what it will be like 5 years from now.


We thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend time with and becoming more familiar with some new acquaintances: Sheila and Stuart from "Imagine", Evelyn and Peter from "Renegade", John and Cheryl from "Sea Mist", Dave and Mary Margaret from " Leu Cat", Ann and Mike from "Callisto" and their adorable boat guest Tracy whom Frank immediately bonded with over discussions of familiar things, places, and people including a few beloved Denver Broncos players.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

July 31, 2012 – Kupang, W Timor Indonesia – Welcome Night

Indonesian Lesson #1: We are learning that nothing is as it seems here; time makes no real difference and "Yes" is the appropriate response to everything no matter the question or the reality. The locals do not like to disappoint and so rather than answer in the negative they sincerely attempt to please.

Last night we were instructed to meet on shore at Teddy's Bar at 5:00 PM for a special dinner. We followed the trail of tall people (we are at least a foot taller than the locals) to an open-air bar that looked to be the right place because plastic tables and chairs had been set up next door and covered in white and blue satin. We soon joined some familiar faces wearing huge smiles and looking as though they had been there for quite a while. Frank was in heaven because a bottle of beer cost 30,000 IDR, which is the equivalent of approximately $3 USD, and holds ¾ of a liter. Uh oh. Here comes trouble.

There seemed to be a lot of confusion about the dinner…no one really knew if there was one and if so where it actually was to be held. Apparently this place was not Teddy's and yet no one seemed to care because this is where we all had gathered. Indonesian Lesson #2 – Organization doesn't matter so much here as it does to the rest of us; it will somehow fall into place eventually.

By around 7:00 we noticed something being set up on a large stage next door at the pretty tables and so we moved over. A large number of dignitaries arrived taking the front and center seats. Here we are all dressed like cruisers; however, these locals were dressed in beautiful garments and yet again it didn't seem to matter. Very long speeches were made in Indonesian by the Governor and the Vice Governor, and then translated into one or two sentences for us. Some gift bags were presented to us all and then dancers, musicians and singers representing local and surrounding islands and villages performed for us. It was indeed impressive, yet as the night wore on and our empty stomachs began to protest loudly we all began wondering about dinner. Some people left. We stayed for a little while longer enjoying the festivities and then suddenly an announcement was made that the buffet is now open. We filled our plates with rice and our bowls with soup and then heaped on a variety of otherwise unidentifiable but very tasty foods. We think some of it was chicken and don't want to know more than that. What we do know is that we had a fantastic evening and met a lot of lovely folks.