This will be one of those loosey goosey kind of passages that depend on wind, weather, how many fishing nets and FADs we see, and how lucky we feel. Day hopping along the Flores coast, we are trying to avoid sailing at night because of these unmarked obstacles.
Fish Accumulation Devises (FADs) like these fairly elaborate unmarked models, are everywhere, even in deep blue water. Running into one of them would just ruin your day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up from a book or chart only to see one of them close aboard as we glide by. After your heart rate slows down and you begin to trust your legs again, you go out on the side deck and scan the horizon. Nothing. Doesn’t mean there aren’t any. It just means you can’t see them. Our radar apparently can’t see them either. With this in mind, in addition to the constant threat of fishing nets, we set a course for a way station where with any luck at all we will find a safe harbor for the night.
Tomorrow’s goal is the fiords of Bajawa and as we approach the mouth of Teluk Damu, we run into old friends Erie Spirit and Il Sogno snorkeling the outer reef but we are keen to have the detoxification of Escape Velocity alone with nature, sans panga kids.
Later our friends came by for a spot of exploration and then we were alone with our thoughts.
After you’ve wound your way up into a river or fiord you find you’ve got to unwind your way back out, and that can take some time which meant that a stop near Toro Baso would mean the panga kids would be on us again, before we could even get the anchor down.
We’re running out of the apparently disappointing pencils and, whenever a rally has been through, the kids’ expectations are a little high. Cute as they are, they will not leave you alone. We have so much and they have so little but…there are limits. “My wife is sleeping” is fairly easy to pantomime but is no longer working. They could care less. I think I’ll switch to “my wife is praying,” which we’re told works better.
We’re off to a tiny island called Gilinodo for an overnight anchorage, and that should leave a short sail to Labuanbajo the following day.
We have a short sail today, and after a little tricky piloting between tiny islands, we have an easy harbor anchorage and splash down near some friends. We’ve been hard on it, sailing every day, and Labuhanbajo looks really promising but first a nap.
On the morning of our day at the Festival of Traditional Culture we cruisers were briefed on our schedule and the events. We were warned (as if we needed it) that we’d be asked to pose for “selfies” all day, and assured that escorts would always be close by and if we needed a break or protection we need only give a high sign and we’d be rescued. I don’t think any of us mind posing for photos at all, but our hosts were afraid we’d be mobbed to the extent that it would inhibit our ability to enjoy the festival.
The festival celebrates four specific aspects of traditional Indonesian culture. One event is called “natural immunization” and involves anointing babies with herbs and oils. Unfortunately we couldn’t get anywhere near the area where this was happening so we don’t have any photos.
Under a huge tent a hundred women were weaving the traditional sarongs we’d seen on our road trip to the weaving village.
It was here that we noticed a number of official photographers and television crews following us tourists. One of the cameramen approached me and asked if I would try the weaving. “Sure!” I said, and I handed my stuff to Jack and submitted to the women who strapped me into the loom and tried to teach me the pattern. I was hopeless at it. I have great respect for how they can keep the sequence of moves straight in their heads. The sarongs are beautiful, and they were also for sale. Jack and I chose one we could use as a day cover for our bed.
The third major event is the ritual circumcision of young boys. We’d been told that the procedure had been done medically a few weeks ago, but on the day of the festival they would undergo “another little nick” (ouch!) during the ceremony.
We didn’t see the actual Ceremony of the Nicking, but we did take this photo of the mohels.
On the female side, girls are “secluded” on the occasion of their first menstrual period, and the coming out ceremony is a celebration of their womanhood. The girls are dressed in gorgeous costumes, and it seems that all of them want to take selfies with the cruisers. Jack was more than happy to comply when it seemed that older men are particularly good catches for photos.
By this time we were starving, and we were squired from place to place by our handlers through the crowds toward where we would eat lunch. We haven’t been in this intense a press of humanity since the San Sebastián festival in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Lunch was a ritual affair called “Eating Together” we will come to know well during our time in Indonesia. It involves sitting opposite a woman behind a large decorative dome. We tried to make ourselves comfortable while we sat through at least an hour of speeches by all the dignitaries. The TV crews roamed the crowd and did interviews of some of us for the evening news. Again I was chosen — I don’t know why; I’m terribly self conscious on camera — but I muddled through.
At one precise moment the covers are lifted revealing a variety of dishes we are to share with each other and the hosts. Each platter is slightly different because the women had actually made the foods themselves, and while they explained that most of the dishes are traditional, there are variations from each region, village or family. This isn’t banquet food, folks. It’s good old home cooking, although we don’t really have a handle on what most of it is. We appreciated the guidance of the few English speakers near us.
It was brutally hot, and while we were at least sheltered from the sun, the close quarters contributed to the stifling temperature. I don’t know how the women, dressed in layers and layers of heavily embellished clothing and full makeup, manage to stay so cool looking. I was dripping.
After lunch we cruisers were guided into the municipal building to a blissfully air conditioned room where we could sit in real chairs, cool off, and relax our facial muscles from the constant selfie posing. After a while our hosts came in with piles of sarongs and we were all dressed for success in traditional fashion.
Susan and I are the late August birthdays and our hosts and fellow cruisers serenaded us with a couple dozen rounds of “Happy Birthday to you!”
Finally it was time for the Big Event, the dancing by thousands of men and women, boys and girls, from all over Buton. We had VIP seats overlooking the field, with tables of snacks and delicacies provided for us. The sun was brutal but the dancing was fun. Again, this is a performance style we will come to know well. The Indonesians feel that if ten dancers are good, then a thousand doing the same thing will be so much better. Only in Bali did we see riveting performances by a single dancer.
After the performance we ran the gauntlet of selfie takers and made our way to the shelter of the buses to reclaim a little personal space on the ride back to the anchorage. It was an exhausting day, full of intense color and happy smiles all around. We thank Pasarwajo for hosting us and treating us as honored guests.
Susan of Erie Spirit read that Buton Island is famous for its traditional weaving so a few of us women arranged for a car and driver to take us to one of the villages known for the quality of their work. It would be a daylong jaunt and we looked forward to getting away from the crowds gathering for the coming festival.
As we drove along the cliff overlooking the sea we passed fish traps that extended well out into the bay.
On the way to the village we stopped to admire a beautiful river and a local school boy jumped in the water I’m pretty sure just so he could be in our photos.
The village was tidier and cleaner than anywhere we’ve been in Indonesia. Turns out there’s a government program that rewards communities who get control over their waste stream and keep their buildings in good nick. This is one of the winners. I hope more places follow suit, because sadly, most of Indonesia is losing the Battle of Single Use Plastic.
We may have mentioned once or twice that Indonesia is hot. Really hot. So the wise women do their weaving under their houses where the shade makes a big difference and there’s no barrier to whatever breeze there is.
They do sometimes still spin their own yarn but more often these days they can buy it cheaper, so the finished product is not quite as authentically produced with vegetable dyed home spun as earlier times. An older woman was happy to demonstrate her spinning technique but we got the sense the younger ones aren’t really learning this part of the process.
The colors and patterns are traditional, and most pieces are made to order. It takes a week to set up the loom and up to a month to weave the full length of what almost always becomes the traditional wide sewn tube of yardage worn as a sarong.
The work is done on a backstrap loom, which means the width is limited by the arm span of the weaver. The plaid designs are only worn by men, the stripes by women. We learned later this rule is inviolable, when one of our number chose a pattern meant for the opposite sex and was promptly corrected and steered toward the appropriate choices.
A local school teacher heard the buzz created by our visit and was happy to model some of the finished products. There wasn’t really anything for sale since it’s all to order.
As always, our presence attracted an audience.
When we left the village we asked our driver if we could visit a floating village. Within a few miles we arrived at this settlement attached to land only by a narrow causeway.
I guess you wouldn’t really call it a floating village because the buildings rest on pilings but watching people deftly scramble from house to walkway on narrow and deeply flexing boards you have to remind yourself that these are teetotaling Muslims who won’t be overdoing it on Saturday night and end up in the drink on the way home.
Our final stop of the day was a quiet watering hole used by local women for washing laundry but which suited us perfectly for kicking off the shoes and cooling our feet before the final drive back to the anchorage.
Our rally scheduled four different stops on this one island, but many of the boats, including us, decided to skip the other three. The one destination we were interested in we could visit by land and so we hired a car and driver to take us across the island to the city of Bau Bau, site of one of the largest forts in the world.
It’s a massive walled fortress high on a bluff overlooking the city and the view was spectacular. We spent the usual amount of time posing at old cannons and reading gravestones, then descended into the city where Mark from Erie Spirit wanted to chase down some boat parts. Even in a city this size, and with lots of guidance from helpful locals, he eventually admitted defeat and we turned back toward Pasarwajo.
We heard through the grapevine that there was a moonshine still hidden in the woods someplace where prohibited spirits were distilled from coconuts. Our driver was reluctant to go, I suppose afraid he’d get into trouble in this Muslim country, but we persisted and after more poking around and asking suitably nefarious looking characters for intelligence we found a young man willing to lead us behind a village and into the forest.
The still was up and running and they described how it all worked. The good stuff was already bottled and gone for the day and what we were seeing was the grade B output. But out of the kindness of their hearts they sent a runner to fetch a liter of primo and we got to taste the freshest product we’ve had since the paint removing rum of Grenada.
It was, as you can imagine, an eye opener. We bought the liter and split it between our two boats. Later Susan and Mark poured their half down the drain, afraid they’d go blind if they drank it. We had no such fear and set it aside it for an appropriate occasion.
The unfortunate part of the story is that since a couple of gringos traipsed in to the site, they had to dismantle the operation and move to another secret location overnight to keep one step ahead of the authorities. Sorry about that, mates. but thanks for the welcome.
It’s a big deal that our group of cruising boats is visiting Pasarwajo during the festival, and to welcome us the mayor and his wife invited the whole gang to their home for a buffet lunch. We made an effort to dress according to the occasion, which, for many of us, is not too easy, given our limited wardrobes. We did the best we could.
We were herded into buses and driven to a dramatically decorated house where we were welcomed and served traditional foods on the cool veranda.
Afterward we were encouraged to tour the house. Some rooms seemed hastily set up so we weren’t sure whether they had just moved in or the house wasn’t quite completed yet. Nonetheless the family were gracious to let us poke our noses into the various living spaces and were very proud of their digs.
Naturally there were speeches and the obligatory photo ops, where the family and officials were as eager to take photos of us taking photos as we were to take photos of them. It reminded me of a hall of mirrors, reflecting our reflections back to us. This became our pattern during our entire stay in Pasarwajo. I’ve never been so photographed in my life. By the end of each day our cheeks hurt from all the smiling, which in the grand scheme is not a bad thing.
Back at the hastily constructed and dicey dinghy dock during a change of tide swell we learned we would need to share rides to shore to reduce the number of dinghies tied up at a given time so none gets lost or damaged. Getting on and off is like an old funhouse challenge, often requiring the hands and knees belly flop maneuver.
Pasarwajo is meant to be one of the Must Do stops, as our visit is timed to the annual festival. More about that later, but the hosts made elaborate plans for us including laying about 40 moorings in the very deep anchorage, which we all appreciate, as did the local boats.
We got tied up and went immediately ashore to check in with the organizers and get the lay of the land. One of our hosts offered to take us for a drive to show us the town and we happily accepted. A ride in a car is always treat for us, especially if it’s air conditioned.
Rusdi started us off at the 1940’s era home of his grandparents, which he says is a typical house on this island.
We continued on a whirlwind drive to some of Rusdi’s favorite places.
Rusdi insisted we stop into the municipal hall to meet the head of tourism (that’s him next to Jack) who is Rusdi’s boss. It was obviously a hectic time, what with a big event coming up and the rally arriving, but he was gracious in his welcome and sat with us for a few minutes before posing for photos for the benefit of the staff, who all took turns shooting us with their cell phones. We also posed for about 20 selfies with individuals. This was a harbinger of our time here in Buton — nonstop selfies with every passerby.
We asked if we could go to the market, which we found out is nowhere near the anchorage and difficult to get to without arranging a car and driver. We were glad we’d provisioned well before we left Banda. Still, any market is fun. Ok, maybe not this particular vendor.
Our gravest concern about joining a rally has already reared its head. The host committees at the destinations work very hard to plan welcome events, dinners and tours, but in scheduling the stops the rally organizers have not taken into account that we aren’t arriving by relaxing Metroliner but are sailing from island to island, often on one- or two-night passages through waters that require constant vigilance to avoid the fish traps, fishing nets, deep water platforms and other low-lying hazards to navigation, all unlighted. Even daylight navigation is stressful, with all manner of floating dangers that often require quick maneuvers to avoid collisions. We understand how delighted some of these communities are to see tourists arrive by boat — and for some it’s the first they’ve ever been visited by yachts — but we barely get the anchor down before a welcome committee starts to circle, wanting to know everything about us, urging us to come ashore right away, reciting all the things they have planned, and always wanting to pose for selfies with us. We’re often tired, hungry, disheveled and in need of a shower and a nap before we can truly appreciate the warm welcome. We’re only a few weeks in but already we need a break.
We decided to skip the next scheduled stop and point Escape Velocity to the one after, stopping on the way for a little R&R at an interim island. My birthday was coming up and spending it without the constant cell phone paparazzi sounded good.
We left Tifu at dawn with the six remaining boats expecting a two-night passage but the wind was at the exact angle EV loves best and in 30 hours we arrived at the reef entrance to Wangi Wangi Island at the northern end of the Wakatobi group.
We had great waypoints and a satellite photo chart to follow but to our surprise a dinghy approached driven by a local man who said he was a pilot and he would guide us in. Ok, sure. He asked our draft and led us to a spot between two other rally boats who’d gone rogue and pointed to where we should drop our anchor. No, I said to Jack, and we chose our own spot better suited to the depth, our size and the state of the tide.
As we were still completing our anchoring and arrival routine the man boarded our back steps and, despite my asking him to please wait until we’d secured the boat, he proceeded to ask for our paperwork, enumerate the services his people could offer, pointed out his office and the dinghy dock and generally distracted us from our immediate tasks. It turns out this used to be a rally stop in previous years and either they weren’t told they were off the schedule or they just assumed (correctly, as it turned out) many of the boats would stop here anyway. So much for a relaxing break.
When we went ashore we were swarmed by a squadron of hyper-excited high school age students who all wanted to assist us onto the dinghy dock and with whom we performed the now familiar welcome ritual, straight out of a standard language phrase book.
“Hello, my name is ___________. What is your name?”
“My name is Marce. Nice to meet you!”
This is followed by often hilarious attempts by both parties to pronounce each others’ names and a handshake.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from America.”
“Oh wow! America!”
This is repeated with every single person and also involves a selfie and various group shots. There’s a lot of giggling involved. This has become the standard every time we step ashore.
At Wangi Wangi, after these formalities they asked us where we wanted to go. We really just wanted to stretch our legs and explore the area but they pressed us to be more specific and even led us into the office, seated us at a desk where the head of this hyperactive welcome committee prepared to guide us to our heart’s desire. The rest of them surrounded us and eagerly awaited our answer.
“Well,” we said finally, “we’d like a café and a market.”
This prompted rapid chatter and eventually a map and the assurance that they would get us to these places. We tried to get the map but were assured instead that they would escort us there. So two of their number — I couldn’t figure out how this was decided — became our minders/guides/escorts and we were walked about a half mile to a café, all the while being peppered with questions.
They were adorable, spoke good but heavily accented English and were delightful to be with. At the café we told them to get whatever they wanted which excited them to pieces, and they ordered what looked like chocolate sodas.
After nearly an hour of conversation we convinced them that we could manage the market on our own and they returned to the office while we explored the town, eventually ending up at the market to replenish our fresh supplies.
The swarm event was repeated when we got back to the dinghy dock because by then the shift had changed and it was all new kids minding the landing. More handshakes, more introductions, more selfies, more assists into the dinghy.
We’re happy they’re happy, but boy is it exhausting! And that was pretty much my birthday. Not exactly the quiet break we were hoping for.
The official schedule in Tifu is over. Many of the boats have sailed away toward the next rally stop, but there are a lot of us who looked at the sea state and said nope, not going out there. The seas are predicted to settle down in another day so the remaining boats took the opportunity to throw a big party, sponsored by the family on Philocat, who arranged and paid for a pig roast for us and the town.
As a vegetarian, pig roasts are not my thing, as you can imagine, but a pot luck is always nice and this was mighty fine. The dishes the cruisers contributed were varied and interesting, especially since it had been quite a while since any of us has been able to provision. It was bottom of the larder creativity at its best.
Many of the men spent the day hand turning the spit and basting the unfortunate animal, and when the time came the rest of us plus half the town gathered on a steep hill overlooking the anchorage for a good meal and a final thanks to the welcoming community of Tifu. It was a pretty good sendoff.
At the Sinvay Internet Cafe of Tifu I’d heard about a tour to a waterfall about one hour boat ride down the coast. The next morning Marce begged off needing executive time and I confess that I was still a little foggy due to general passage fatigue as I clambered into our friends’ tiny dinghy for a ride to the town jetty. The usual chaos was in full swing.
“What time did they say?”
“Have we changed time zones?”
“Always a possibility.”
“Maybe they meant 9 am, what time is it?”
“Well, where are they?”
“They’re on island time, they’ll get here.”
And so they did. Soon we clambered aboard a couple of long narrow, but colorful, open air outboards and hobby horsed out of Tifu harbor.
It was quite rough and when we arrived at the beach there was a lot of conversation and serious faces as they planned where to drop their anchors and then backed up to the beach to disgorge all the yachties. The boats in the surf were like bucking Broncos in the hands of the crews, while we jumped off the transom into the water.
Locals were there to welcome us to their beach with drums and dance. This is only the second time yachties ever visited this waterfall. Pure jaw-dropping unspoiled magic. I expect there to be a resort here soon.
Predictably the conditions worsened during our stay and we were soaked with saltwater spray by the time we rounded the rocks back to Tifu harbor. This was one for the books.