Author Archives: Marce

Break failure

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.

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Pig out

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.

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School day

Almost every day when we went ashore I was met by a man who offered a pot of homemade nutmeg jam and “spices cake,” both made by his wife. We were always on our way somewhere but one day I made arrangements with him to meet us at the dock when I knew we’d be on our way back to the boat and the deal was done. (Delicious on both counts.)

In talking with him we learned he teaches an after school English class and he invited us to come talk to his students. A group of cruisers did this a few days ago when we were booked on a tour and I was sorry to miss it. I agreed to come and volunteered Jack, who reluctantly came along.

We were whisked to the other side of the island on motorbikes and saw the eye-opening living conditions away from the touristy areas.

We were parked on a shady patio to await the arrival of the students and served the ubiquitous cinnamon tea and two plates of baked goods. We were the object of curiosity, as always.

When the students arrived we were coached to introduce ourselves with our names, boat name and where we come from. Then the teacher asked us to tell something about ourselves then make up five questions as a quiz to test the students’ listening comprehension. We had heard about this from the other cruisers and discussed it beforehand, and we even brought visual aids.

I spoke first and showed on our soft globe where we come from and wrote “Pennsylvania” on the whiteboard. I told them we have four seasons, spring, summer, autumn, winter, and that summer is very hot, and winter is very cold. I tried to explain how cold but I think subzero temperatures are hard to convey to folks who live near the equator.

I erased my notes on the whiteboard and wrote my five questions, which they answered in their copy books.

Then it was Jack’s turn. He talked about the animals we have in Pennsylvania, as the teacher translated the names of some that Jack listed. When he talked about bears we showed our stuffed black bear — our onboard reminder of our previous home — to the delight of the students. Jack told them a real black bear is as big as a man.

Jack erased his notes and wrote out his own questions, including “How big is a bear?”

After the students answered all the questions we had to grade their quizzes and sign our names to the papers, and in a “formal” ceremony, hand the papers back and congratulate them on their achievement, shaking each hand in turn.

In the end we were serenaded with great gusto with the Kookaburra Song and three or four other easy songs, many with counting or repetition in them, good for learning English. The teacher asked us to teach them a song but for the life of me I couldn’t come up with anything appropriate on the spot.

Now that we’ve done this once and know what the kids responded to we’ll do a little better next time. It was definitely a rewarding experience and I think even Jack enjoyed it.

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Around town

Pulau Bandaneira is a tiny little island, but jam-packed with surviving evidence of the nutmeg wars along with more recent historic buildings and newer accommodations to the tourist trade. We tried, in the stifling heat of the day, to explore as much as we could in the time we had left.

On one hot day we corralled the crew of Erie Spirit to join us for lunch at a nearby café where the food was cooked to order by Rose in her back alley kitchen. And it was delicious!

After lunch we followed a hand drawn map in search of a couple of notable buildings.

We started at the beautiful Cilu Bintang, a guesthouse and restaurant where we enjoyed a welcome dinner the night we arrived. It’s a Dutch colonial reproduction decorated to the max with artifacts from the nutmeg trade and lovely cool gardens and balconies. The owner is also the go-to person for tours and information.

Further out of town we met a local man who guided us to the Hatta House, the early 20th century home in exile of an Indonesian revolutionary who became Vice President after independence. It’s easy to see that this exile may not have been so terrible. The house is lovely, and now seems to be occupied variously by squatters and community groups.

The man who showed us around is pioneering a recycling campaign to help the Bandanese better manage their considerable waste stream, which ends up along the waterways and is the only sad blot on these gorgeous islands. We made a small donation of support for his efforts by buying a couple of the purses his group makes from plastic wrappers.

The heat finally chased us back to the waterfront and a cold drink in the shade. I think I could live here.

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Nutmeg trail

On a hot sunny day we joined a tour to the adjacent island of Pulau Besar to see the nutmeg trees that put these islands on the map.

A wet landing took us to the town of Lonthoir, an obviously prosperous settlement whose residents seem to try to outdo each other in Crayola color combinations.

These islands are steep, and the fitness program on my phone was delighted that I was finally exercising my passage-weakened legs.

The tropical sun is hard on the nutmeg trees, so the planters shade them with huge and beautiful almond trees that are so big I can’t get a whole tree in the frame.

At the plantation the owner demonstrated how they pick the nutmegs with what looks like a lacrosse stick, then he cut open several nutmegs and almonds so we could all smell and taste the fresh fruit and nuts.

Then we were on to cinnamon, another of the traditional crops of these spice islands. We all stood around like Ewell Gibbons chewing on tree bark and agreed that its fresh, pungent, bordering on hot spicy flavor reminded us of the candy Red Hots.

Walking back through town we saw nutmegs and cloves drying in front of many of the houses and realized the spices are produced not just by the plantations but by nearly everyone on the islands. The scent is nearly intoxicating.

We climbed a little further to the remnants of the Dutch fort for a spectacular view of the volcano and the anchorage below.

We ended the tour with cinnamon tea and nutmeg coffee and more of the friendly faces we’ve become accustomed to here in Banda.

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Bandanese welcome

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The land of nutmeg

As soon as we set foot on shore we fell in love with Banda Neira, the administrative center of the Spice Islands. It’s got the same lively, bordering on chaotic vibe as Bali, but on a much smaller scale and without the Hindu influence. People here are Muslim and the competing muezzins ring out a modern jazz symphony of aural ouch four times a day. But the people are as friendly and fun loving as we’ve seen so far, and obviously used to foreign visitors, as evidenced by the many shop signs in English. We’re using our Google Translate app far less that we did in Debut.

Every shop displays nutmegs, cinnamon and nutmeg candy, made from the dried and spiced meat of the nutmeg, something we haven’t seen before.

Our local host for the rally boats has arranged various tours and dinners on an ad hoc basis, so while we decide what we want to do on an organized jaunt vs. on our own we’re just wandering the streets of Banda Neira, appreciating the Graham Greene atmosphere of slightly decaying colonial architecture.

The spice that made the islands famous and the bitter conflict between the Dutch and the English it caused are evident everywhere.

But this is not a reconstructed Disneyland of tourist fakery, but rather a lively community with, of course, a traditional market, always my favorite destination.

The locals seem to absorb the influx of visitors with good cheer while still going about the daily business of living.

We have a lot more to see and do on these tiny islands. Another day. We’ve got time.

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The view from the back porch

We have arrived at the legendary Spice Islands, a dream come true for Jack.

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Ease on down the road

Our weeklong stay in Debut gave us an opportunity to ease into Indonesia, learn a few critical phrases, get accustomed to what’s available in the markets, and reacquaint ourselves with the high-finance feel of the currency, where 100,000 rupiah is approximately $10AUD. We find it easier to do the mental arithmetic to Aussie dollars — knock off four zeros — than the more headscratching conversion to USD, which we haven’t used in years anyway.

Our little town of Debut has very little in the way of shops and supplies so a local taxi or van is in order for a 20 to 30 minute drive into Langgur where an ATM coughs up a maximum of 2,500,000 rupiah, about $175US. The wad of bills challenges the Velcro on my wallet and I have to find alternative ways of carrying money.

The fresh market is typical, and in a few visits we’ve learned what’s readily available — bok choy, tomatoes, eggplant, ladyfinger bananas — and what’s not, most notably mangoes, which we learned are out of season, and much in the way of fresh herbs. Everyone is patient and helpful as we navigate the ways of the marketplace and the language.

The big surprise for me is how difficult it is to find vegetarian food in restaurants. During our sojourns into town, and also at our rally dinners, there isn’t much in the way of food for me to eat, and when I ask if vegetarian food is available I’m met with puzzled looks. This is not what I expected in Indonesia and I’m hoping it’s just the case in these particular islands, where fishing is the dominant industry.

We stayed behind the day much of the fleet departed for our next stop because I wanted to catch up on laundry and get the boat more organized after the passage from Australia. We also wanted to walk the road along the shore to see more of the village and stretch our legs a bit before heading back out to sea.

Everyone wants a ‘selfie,’ by which they mean either they want us to take their picture or they want to take our picture with them. We’ve posed for more photos than we can count.

And now it’s time to go, a little less than 200 miles west, to a destination that Jack has dreamed of for decades.

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Join the crowd

For our journey through Indonesia we have, for the first time ever, joined a rally. This is an organized cruise where boats travel the same itinerary, gathering at prearranged destinations where local organizations welcome the boats with various events.

We did this because the bureaucracy of Indonesia has traditionally been difficult to navigate. We understand that it’s become less complicated recently and several of our cruiser friends made reasonably easy journeys on their own, but we made the decision to facilitate the paperwork process and signed up.

So far it’s been a mixed blessing. It’s nice to meet other cruisers, some of whom we’ve seen in anchorages going back for years but never actually met. It’s a good international group, with mostly Europeans — from Germany, Switzerland, France, Sweden, Denmark, England, Ireland — along with Americans, Aussies and Kiwis and one Brazilian. I haven’t met everyone yet so there might be others. We haven’t enjoyed this mixed a group since New Zealand.

On the other hand, the locals, at least here in Debut, are so excited to have this many visitors that they put on an enervating schedule of events that we can’t keep up with. It’s party time for them and a bit much for many of us. Add in that any event in this part of the world involves audio speakers turned up to eleven, and we are drained at the end of the day and long for the peace and quiet of remote anchorages.

The good news is that we are free to go off on our own and drop in and out of the rally schedule as we wish, and luckily we don’t have to check in and out of every port of call. That simplifies life for us because the authorities, as lovely and friendly as they are, have a different definition of efficiency and we must draw on the patience we developed while cruising the Caribbean. Everything takes time and a smile and a book to read while you wait.

We escaped to the waterfront during a particularly loud presentation to enjoy a little quiet time. How the locals aren’t all deaf by puberty is a mystery to me.

Everyone wants their picture taken, or to take ours.

Indonesia’s alternative to face painting: henna hands.

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