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 fiancé, 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.