Once we left Darwin we just headed a general north -west direction, having no idea of our destination in Indonesia. Our agent in Bali, who organized the visas and permits, told us to go straight to Bali, but that seemed such a shame, to miss half of the lovely islands on the way. After 4 days we saw West Timor's coast, one of the places that we were not allowed to clear in. We decided to take a bit of a gamble and cruise a bit before clearing in Bali. Early morning we arrived in Savu. We woke up midday and whilst having coffees, 2 guys arrived in a canoe. Without any ceremony or permission they hopped on board and took a seat at the cockpit. They didn't speak a word of English, but we understood that they wanted some beer. We offered coffee instead, Graham and I were stunned by the lack of sense of privacy, but didn't want to be rude. The situation became a bit comic, with one of the guys using his best Bahasa, we couldn't make out what he was talking about. Then he asked for paper and pen, maybe a different approach for the communication problem... But he started writing in Bahasa, which still didn't make any sense for us. We only could laugh at the scenario, maybe we should get a Bahasa phrase book ...Finally they shook our hands and left.
After an overnight passage we arrived on the south part of Rinca. The anchorage was between Rinca and a little island, which was absolute stunner: high mountains, very arid, monkeys on the beach. Komodo dragons roam around here, but we didn't see any.
From south we headed north of Rinca, the passage is very narrow between Pandar and Rinca, the current flows heavily, at one point there was 6 knots of current with us. The overflows were impressive, making Nomad Life skid around in choppy waters. We stopped at Crocodile Bay, the rangers for the national park are based here.
In the afternoon we went ashore and together with 3 other yachties we booked a tour around Rinca. It was a 2 hour walk where we saw dragons , water buffalos, monkeys. The dragons, which are big monitor lizards, are the main attraction here and no wonder. The males can reach up to 3 meters long and they are not a pretty sight, saliva dribbling of their mouth, fat feet and huge crocodile like heads... The females are definitely more gracious, if you can call it that! Walking up the trail with our ranger, he pointed out the komodo dragons nests. The females lay up to 30 eggs per year, only 50% successfully hatching. Once the little dragons come out of the shell, the first 5 years are spent living on trees. This way they can grow without being eaten by other dragons, until they are big enough to face land and the other dragons. Until then, they have to content to share trees with the monkeys, and these are quite territorial monkeys! The island is so arid that all rivers were dried, even without water the water buffalos roam around the riverbed. We stumbled across one very poorly buffalo; it looked anaemic and had almost no energy to live. The ranger told us that it had been bitten by a dragon. The dragon's saliva contains a bacteria that rots the animal until finally dies, it can take 4 weeks. Once dead, it is a huge feast for the dragons, they leave nothing behind, only the horns... We saw the remains of one sad buffalo, which was dinner the day before.
Around the National Park we noticed small canoes with awnings on. In the evening the residents of these canoes would lit up fires and cook dinners, then we saw them washing up, all of this inside the canoes. These people were actually permanently living in these canoes and that being their only possession. Quite different way of life.
We decided to face the officials at last, heading to Labuan Bajo, a main port of Flores. There are two problems here in Indonesia: Firstly nobody knows the rules regarding how or where to clear in. Another problem is dealing with the officials, which involves a lot of etiquette. Their uniforms are not just a decoration; they wear it with pride and to show power. We had had enough of being illegal here, dressed up as smartly as possible for yachties , we went looking for the "Syahbandar" (king of the harbour). The man in uniform was sitting on the floor and playing chess, not very impressed by the interruption. "Come back tomorrow". As we learned later, this is not a port of entry, there are no immigration or customs, so we decided not to bother the man again, we will have to wait until Bali. Not the most comfortable feeling...
Today was a day of provisioning, stocking with water and fuel, all quite a problem in Labuan Bajo. The town is ramshackle, poor and dirty, with open sewers and live and dead rats around. The market had dried fish and nothing else, after walking around a lot we managed to buy very basic food- flour, sugar, biscuits, potatoes and onions. A young Indonesian took a fancy for us. He followed us around and became our guide, even though we didn't want one. He seemed more curious and eager to practice his English, then looking for money. He was very sweet and polite, very curious about our trip, Europe and the boat. After a lot of persistence we allowed him to come on board. We showed him around the boat, pictures of the trip and a map of the world with our route. He was so happy and excited. After that he didn't want to leave, helping us with water runs, the fellow was here to stay. His grin disappeared when we made clear that we cannot take him with us, but we gave him some money to cheer him up... After that we had to deal with Eddy. He supplied us fuel, but that just wasn't enough, now we had to buy carvings. I refused flatly but he wouldn't take no for an answer, if not carvings then pearls. In the end I offered him beer to settle the issue, and then he asked for coke and t-shirts. A never ending story... And the crook ripped us off with 10 litres of fuel!!! Never mind, life here is tough. On the other hand they can be very helpful. The outboard bought in Darwin has broken; Graham asked a dive boat for a mechanic. He came over fixed the engine and asked for no money! We did pay him what we thought it was fair.
Labuan Bajo is a predominantly Muslim town, so 5 times a day there are callings for prayer from the mosques. The worst ones are the 6 pm and 4am, it goes on for a good hour and it is loud as it can get. Especially now, since it is Ramadan.
After couple of nights at a stunning anchorage in Komodo, we headed to Sumbawa, again to try to check in somehow. We read very bad reviews about Bima, but apparently there are customs and immigration officials here. As soon as we dropped an anchor a local boat approached us. Not again!! We were getting tired of the hawkers. His name was Bude and he seemed pretty clued up about yachties needs. Fuel? Water? We didn't need any of those, but he told us that the Harbourmaster didn't speak English, so we agreed to meet him in the morning to help us with formalities.
13th September 2008
Indeed the harbourmaster didn't speak a word of English. Bude did the translating, we did a lot of smiling and hand shaking, the harbourmaster didn't seem to be sure of what to do, but once we see customs on Monday, he will issue clearance until Bali. Slowly we are becoming legal.... Bude wanted to help us: he took us to the market, did the haggling for us, told us when we were getting ripped off. His English is superb, his vocabulary includes phrases such as "Cheers mate" and "yo bro". He didn't have a fix fee, only asked us to tell other people to come and visit Bima and give his name as reference. According to him, yachts were frequent here, but now that stopped. People have been ripped off and words got around.
The market was a chaos, all the locals were congregating around the market and buying food. The variety of veggies was good, fish was fresh, meat was a bit dubious and not chilled and chicken either you buy it whole or alive. We settled for a snapper, cost us £1.50. We were the only "round eyes" around town, and we got starred at like we are some aliens that just landed on Earth. A lot of "hello mister" and "hello miss”, we felt like celebrities...If you like attention this is the place. It was nice having Bude around as nobody bothered us, once you stick with one hawker the others leave you alone. On the way back we jumped on a pony drawn cart, called Ben Hur. This is the method of transport here. The carts are certainly designed for the Indonesians, small people. Graham and I filled up the whole cart (whereas a whole family of Indonesians fits in one) , we couldn't sit upright and the poor pony was struggling with the weight. But it was fun, and the ride was less than 1 pound!
14th September 2008
Nightlife at Bima is quite a buzz. Because of Ramadan, there is fasting during the day and as soon the sun sets they can eat and drink. So after 6pm, the streets are full with food stalls, restaurants are open and there is a bit of party feeling in the air. Before taking us to a restaurant, Bude took us to a hair salon. We wandered why? Here people gather for a bit of local gossip and the salon was run by 2 drag queens. Indonesians are small people, but the saloon owners could have been football players, and their faces looked very peculiar, maybe bad botox. Then we ate the most delicious typical food, the restaurant was full with locals, always a good sign, although they ripped us off with the change but still £1 for the both of us, should have been 60p... After that Bude took us to his house and introduced his family. He runs a Playstation business so the house was full of kids. It was frenzy, the kids came to shake our hands, more kids came from the streets and soon 20 or more kids surrounded Graham, laughing, wanting his attention and touching him. It was bizarre! Certainly we felt like celebs!
It was a delight to meet Bude. He turned our Indonesian experience around and we take our words back, he is not a hawker! A genuinely honest guy, happy to help and never asked for money, we paid what we felt like, got what we asked for! He warned us about Bali and Lombok, a lot of scams and hawkers around.
The meeting with Harbourmaster went well, he gave clearance to Lombok, but we still have to see customs and immigration. We have been here almost 3 weeks now and not cleared in properly. We made an overnight passage to Lombok , from there we could sail to Bali and check in. The trip was a mixed bag, no wind then suddenly from nowhere a lot of wind. Going through the Alas Passage we encountered 30-32 knots of headwinds, lumpy seas , current against. As soon as we got protection from Lombok the wind completely died down. Indonesia is really not the place to sail around; we are quite fed up with the inconsistent winds, currents that are impossible to work out and difficulty clearing in the country.