Monthly Archives: August 2013

AND A WAVE WE GO

“Ready?” Bazza turned to me.

I breathed in deeply. “Ready.”

After three days in our cabin (leaving only to fill our 2-minute noodles with hot water), we docked at Lembar in Lombok.

We gathered our gear and headed down to Deck 3. The rest of the passengers had congregated on the deck and made it almost impossible to get through. Somehow, we found ourselves in the crowd being pushed out towards daylight. Baz got sucked right out as though the craft were losing pressure through an airlock, while I was pushed along to the gangway.

“We made it,” I grinned at the blinding sun, welcomed by its tropical heat.

As soon as we stepped off, three bus drivers latched onto us.

“Where you going, Mister?” they said.

“It’s OK,” said Baz. “We will make our own way.”

“$40 I take you to Mataram,” said one.

I cracked up laughing and patted him on the back. “You’re funny.”

“$20,” said another.

“Thank you, but we’re good,” Baz explained, his words falling on deaf ears as the drivers hung around like Outback flies.

As we started to walk up the road in the melting heat to get the public bus, one driver made us out to be a cow-pie and followed us.

“$4 each,” he smiled.

“$1.5,” I said. I was over being ripped off and this sonofabitch was going to take us for just, “$3 for the both of us.”

“$4 each,” he haggled back.

“How much did you pay?” Baz asked one of the passengers.

“$4,” said a man in a yellow shirt. “Local price.”

Bullshit. “$3,” I said again. “You can make money, or you can make no money.”

He drove off leaving us to pool sweat out of every pore under the beating sun. I could feel one uncomfortable drop slide down the middle of my back and into my crack. We reached the main road, every O-jek and bus driver asking for $4.

The same driver returned. “$4,” he said again. “Each.”

“$3 for both of us,” Baz haggled.

And to our surprise he agreed. Baz sat up front while I sat in the packed back, kindly asking the man in the yellow shirt to remove his hand from my knee.

He asked me what religion I was and, forgetting that I was in a nation where lack of religion meant arrest, I found myself explaining to him that I believe in what I see. “If I see God, I’ll believe in him. I don’t see him so I don’t believe.” I explained Karma and when he asked about my sex life in the very subtle words of,

“Do you like to fuck?”

I told him kindly to mind his own business.

We were dropped off at the outskirts of Mataram. We walked a further 300 meters to the crossroads where a police outpost was setup in the shade. The cops hiding from the sun spoke perfect English and helped us stop a bus and negotiate a $2 price each to Sengegigi, where waves were to be found.

After almost losing my surfboard on a tight turn, we made it to the small resort stretch of beach –Sengegigi. Westerners were everywhere and after obtaining some information from Anne, a local working in the Internet\dive shop (who let us leave our gear there while we walked around) we headed off to the surf shop so that I could get some swell conditions.

“No swell this week,” said Jocko, the local behind the counter.

“Shit,” I said, staring at the the Magic Seaweed website showing that my best chances would be Saturday night and Sunday morning.

We thanked him and headed off to find a money exchanger. While we enjoyed the air con, two westerners walked in.

We said, “G’day,” and chatted with Brian O’Brian, an Irishman and Pablo, an Argentinian living in the South of Lombok. They invited us for some beers where we chatted about life on the island. Baz and I explained how we were travelling and by the second beer Pablo looked at us both and offered, “If you want, you are more than welcome to come and stay with me. I have plenty of room but no running water yet.”

Baz and I stared at each other. We couldn’t believe our luck.

“Thank you,” we both said. “Thank you so much.”

Pablo shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.” He even called Suliman, a local friend of his to ask about any swell down where he lives. “Tomorrow big swell coming,” he said. “I will take you there in the morning.”

Finishing off our beers, we piled Pablo’s car with all our gear and with the surfboard in the middle, we drove around Mataram as they had errands to run. It was the first westernised city we had come across since arriving in Indonesia. There was a Pizza Hut, a McDonald’s, a KFC and a shopping centre.

“Disgusting,” I said aloud.

Coming into the island we had noticed the abundance of mosques everywhere.

“There are a thousand mosques on Lombok,” said Pablo. “My house that I am building is right next to a mosque. They face their speakers right into my window. I’ve asked them to turn it away but do you think these people have any regards for me?”

Mosques sound off the call for prayer at 04:00 every morning, then just before lunchtime, just after lunchtime, mid-afternoon and the evening.

We bought groceries at the supermarket as there is, “Literally nothing and nowhere to buy food where I live,” said Pablo.

Baz and I bought a thick crusted $4 pizza which we devoured in the car and our new friends stopped at McDonald’s. Bazza and I had a McFlurry (I haven’t eaten junk food in 8 years) with M & M’s and with the first bite I knew I had made a serious, gastronomical mistake.

As we drove through the dark, unlit streets, Pablo struggled to stay awake at the wheel. “I just landed in the night from 3-months in South America,” he explained as something started to move in my stomach.

I turned to Baz. “Baz,” I whispered across my surfboard, “Baz, I’m touching cloth.”

He could only grin as I clenched every muscle in my lower torso. I breathed in and out slowly, trying to participate in the conversation.

“We are about 20 minutes away,” Pablo announced, answering Brian’s query of whether he was OK to continue driving. “I’ll be fine.”

But my stomach wasn’t. My ass was begging me to let the flood gates open and I was holding on for dear life. I was about to tell Pablo that he needed to pull over when he took a right turn and stopped before a gate.

“We have arrived,” he announced, hoping out to slide it open.

“Brian,” I turned to the front seat. “I need to use the toilet. I’m touching cloth.”

“Touching cloth?” he turned to the backseat.

“I have a turtle head.”

“Ah. Shit.”

Literally.

Pablo drove us in and parked in front of the garage. As I stepped out I was greeted by his Labrador, Jupiter, a beautiful beast that had me flashbacking to my childhood with memories of my Belgium Shepard.

As soon as I stood up it was easier to hold off the turtle head and I even helped carry in the heavy bags of groceries.

“Pablo,” I turned to our gracious host, “how do you go to the toilet if you don’t have running water?”

“I’ll show you,” he said – after he showed me the upstairs where he got a flash light.

And then Baz, Brian and I helped him take his outdoor furniture from the living room to the outside patio. Then he took me through the darkness of his huge property and flashed the light on the outhouse.

“That’s the well where you draw up the water,” he pointed to the bucket next to the shallow well, “and here is your toilet. Enjoy.”

He gave me the torch and I breathed a sigh of relief as I released every muscle from my lower torso south as soon as my butt cheeks touched bowl.

An hour later I came back to the house. “This is why I don’t eat junk food,” I announced.

We chatted with our hosts up until midnight before we retired to bed. Bazza and I shared a mattress and at 04:00 the muezzin of the next door mosque blasted his morning prayers into our room.

“The fuck is that?” mumbled Baz.

“Call for prayers,” I mumbled back.

He shut the double-glazed windows and silence settled back in.

***

“My mate here almost died yesterday,” Baz was talking me up to Lisa (German), Thea (English) and Gabby (American), three girls we met at a roadside eatery.

“What happened?” they gave me the floor.

The girls were staying with Suliman, the local who had told me about the surf and had hired out his bike to us.

P1040160“Suliman said there was big swell coming into Desert Point which is a reef break,” I began my story of defying death. “We arrived and there were these beautifully shaped, perfect barrels going left for about a hundred meters. Only thing is, they were breaking on reef and all the surfers were gunners.

This point is for pros, I found myself thinking.

Nevertheless, I paddled out and tried to get some waves. They were no bigger than 4-foot. But then Neptune dropped the bomb – literally. The 4-foot swell suddenly grew to 9-foot. It was like watching a 3-storey house rising up out of the water. Everyone had started to paddle and so did I except I was a lot further back.

I got caught in the impact zone. I watched as this giant wall of water rose above me, blocking out the sun. I ditched the board and dove under. The water treated me like seaweed. It threw me around and I was holding onto the leg leash so that I would know which way was up.

I popped my head above the whitewash and sucked in some air before being sucked under and thrown onto the reef. And lemme tell ya something, reef is fucking sharp. Every time I got to the surface, another 8-footer took me under and threw me over the coral like a soccer ball rolling across the road.

It was a 6-wave set and I copped every one of those 9-footers. I seriously thought I was done. I managed to ride my board over the reef on the whitewash of the last wave, sacrificing two fins. I limped out, almost collapsing on the beach. My feet looked as though they’ve gone through a blender which is exactly what one of the locals said to me as I dragged myself out.

I said to him, ‘Blender? It was a fucking industrial food processor.’

Then I managed to haggle the price of 3 fins from $20 to $15 from Suliman,” I grinned, blood dripping from my feet.

Not that the ordeal was worth it but I was glad that it was only me feet that copped it. My board was still whole and surfable and my face still held its rugged good looks.

The girls sympathised and we agreed to meet up in the evening for beers and music provided by my guitar.

Upon reaching Pablo’s house, I cleaned my feet with alcohol, biting my lip to as the level of stinging reminded me what it was like too accidentally scratch my balls after handling chilli. I spread aloe vera straight from the cactus onto the open cuts.

“I recommend you don’t go into the water for a few days at least,” suggested Pablo.

It bummed me out but he was right. The wounds were open and I needed to wait for them to close to avoid infection.

Later that night, after applying the third round of aloe vera, Baz, Brian and I headed over to Suliman’s with my guitar. We met the girls, I jammed and we shared about 13 Bintang beers between us.

The girls were returning to Bali the next day so we exchanged contact details and invited them to come to Bazza’s birthday bash in Kuta.

“I reckon take your board to Bali,” Baz suggested. “You’ll get your wave there.”

And hopefully, I won’t die.

***

“Check this out, bro,” Baz stirred me to wake. “Ol’ mate that’s getting married in Singapore lives in Malaysia. His invited us to stay with him at his home after the wedding.”

“Sweet,” I murmured, trying to resume sleep since it just happened to be raining this morning.

When the rain subsided, we rode out to snorkel around the peninsula near where Brian lived. We swam across the channel which was 45-feet deep. I couldn’t see the bottom and, to avoid panicking, I kept my head above the water.P1040215

Reaching a small, white sandy beached island, we decided to circumnavigate it – snorkeling. For the most of it, it was tall grass on sandy bottom with hand-sized, black-dotted orange starfish everywhere, looking like specialised cookies.

As we rounded the island, we came across an amazing coral garden filled with small, colourful tropical fish that darted in and out, hiding from us as we approached them from above, like large zeppelin balloons.

A steep drop-off into deep blue waters had me sticking to swimming above where I could see the bottom. We rested in a small hut on the beach before returning to the water to swim back across the channel. The current was powerful and the bottom nowhere to be seen.

Baz was pointing at something, gesturing with his hands that it was big. As I looked down, a car-sized coral reef, from 5 meters below, appearing out of nowhere, took me by surprise. My jaw dropping, I took in seawater like the Titanic.

We made it back to where we started from and we rode back to Pablo’s house, stopping for lunch at the same roadside eatery as the day before.

“Big serving, please,” I gestured to the mama, trying to explain that we had been swimming for a few hours and we were very hungry. She seemed to understand as we were both presented with mountain-sized portions of a vegetarian dish called ‘gato-gato’ – tofu, with clotted, nugget-like pieces of rice, a satay-peanut sauce spread over  green beans and bean sprouts with a dribble of soy sauce. I added the spicy lombo and I was in gestation heaven.

We planned our next step. “Tomorrow we’ll catch the ferry to Bali,” reckoned Baz with myself agreeing.

And hopefully find a wave that won’t kill me.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

THIS IS THE ENDE

“Will we have time for lunch?” Baz asked the harbour master. He looked at our tickets and pointed to the one o’clock departure time on it then to his watch and shook his head.

The ferry we were taking was a huge, Titanic-like boat but it was nowhere to be seen along the port. The only boat docked was a small cargo vessel.

We carried our gear to the vessel and asked around for the ferry.

“Two o’clock,” said one guy.

“Three o’clock,” said a uniformed officer.

“Four o’clock,” said Willy, a Bali resident.

“Let’s put our bags back at the Port Authority office and head off for lunch,” I suggested.

After a rough morning riding to Ende in the back of a converted dump truck, it was good to be hopping islands again, this time to one that had waves.

“Ende?” Baz asked the driver who stopped by the side of the road. He nodded. “How much?”

“$3,” said the driver.

“We give you $2,” Baz haggled. The locals were paying $2 for the ride. Besides, that extra dollar was lunch. The driver agreed and the kids on the back of the truck jumped down and piled our gear on.

We parted ways with James and climbed through the open side of the truck, squeezing into the tiny wooden benches.

“Get more leg room on a plane,” I muttered, somehow holding onto my guitar and daypack.

We trucked on stopping due to road works every few kilometers for almost half an hour at every stop. It seemed the driver had it in his head that he was the owner of the single-lane road, almost knocking over motorbike riders and forcing other cars to give way, practically pushing them off the edge of the cliff.

Then again, maybe he did own the road.

We climbed up through the astounding scenery of green jungles and remote villages, the road having been built right up to the cliff edge, an intense rocky drop to the low-level river flowing below.

“Probably floods here during the wet season,” Baz reckoned.

We held on tight for every corner and almost four hours after leaving Moni, we reached the bus terminal of Ende at the bottom of the mountain where the sun mercilessly cooked us.

O-jeks and bus drivers jumped on the truck, calling out, “Where you going, Mister?”

We did our best to explain that we were staying with the truck. We assumed he was going further into town.

But when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

The driver jumped out and told us kindly to get off of his truck and that if we wanted to head further into town, we would need to take a separate bus.

We watched as he drove off, taking a left into Ende.

“Sonofabitch,” I muttered, heading for the shade.

All the bus drivers that latched onto us were charging a dollar each to take us into Ende. The only thing we knew about the town was that it was by the water. We were hoping there would be a ferry that went to Lombok, our next island.

If not, our next best option was to take a 13-hour bus ride to the touristic town at the far end of the island and wing it from there.

Baz, the gifted haggler, managed to convince one driver that knew a bit of English to take us both for a dollar. But when the driver saw my surfboard he began to back off. Baz convinced him that it would hold on the roof with our backpacks.

“I can’t wait for you to get rid of that surfboard,” he said.

As soon as we had left Tropicbird I had decided that once I catch my first wave on it, I’ll give it to a local and rid myself of the hassle.

“Is there a ferry to Lombok from Ende?” I asked the driver from the empty back seat. He was taking us all around town, picking up rides.

“At 19:00, today,” he replied.

Baz looked at me as I at him. “Can you take us to the seaport?” he asked.

We thanked him and shook hands as we hopped off at the busy port, packed with bikes, pedestrians and every shop owner trying to sell us something. We headed to a white building which turned out to be the Port Authority and had English-speaking locals.

André, an Indonesian as tall as Baz, directed us to the ticketing office up the road. He was kind enough to allow us to leave our bags in the lobby while we walked up.

IMG_9288The small office was packed with locals buying tickets using the 8-Step method. Baz hit the ATM while Alexander, a local man, helped me fill out the paperwork.

Our names had yet to be called out when Baz returned. I waited for almost an hour until the ticket collector announced mine.

“Yo,” I grinned.

“To Lombok is $21,” he said. “For two is $42.”

“Is there any food on the ferry?” I asked as I paid the man.

“Food is included,” he replied.

“Sweet!” I grinned.

Since the first stop was Sumba, where I knew I would find waves, I asked, “Is it possible to hop off at Sumba and take the next ferry a few days later on the same ticket?”

“The ferry only stops for one hour, maybe two,” explained the collector. “If you hop off, next ferry is in two weeks.”

I raised my eyebrows. “The ferry only goes every two weeks?”

“Yes,” he said calling out other names.

“What time is the ferry?” I asked the collector as I picked up our tickets.

“One o’clock,” he said.

I looked at the clock on the wall.

12:45.

“Baz, we gotta go.”

After our survey to find out what time the ferry would arrive, we figured we had until 15:00 so we ate a Padanag lunch of rice, a fried egg and beef slices that were amazing. We thanked the mama and took photos with her and her kids before heading back to the port.

It was cracking on to 14:00 when we sat in the air con of the Port Authority’s office. I fell asleep while Baz went out exploring. He shook me to wake at 14:30.

“Ferry’s arrived.”

We headed down with our gear and mixed in with the sea of locals that had gathered to board.

“This is going to be interesting,” I reckoned, as we found ourselves in the mosh pit of a rock concert without the concert. P1040149

We watched the para-military police beat the surging crowd back while the approaching ferry, the biggest floating, rusty tin can either of us had ever laid eyes on, floated up slowly to the dock.

Hundreds of people peeked from every opening and hung from every deck. It was like an Indian train, arms and legs everywhere. You couldn’t see the boat from the amount of human cargo.

As the gangway was lowered and another was placed on the side, the carnage began. Baz and I were sucked into the depths of the mob, the crowd pushing us forward. I wasn’t even sure if my feet were still on the ground anymore.

“This is going to be interesting,” I repeated before I realised that I had lost Bazza.

How a white, 6”4 Englishman with a house-sized backpack can disappear in a crowd of 5-foot Indonesians is a trick that is beyond magic.

The para-military team weren’t shy of using force, beating back the people, yelling and pushing, trying to restore what little order they seemed to think they had.

They had a better chance of negotiating peace in the Middle East.

I was crowd-surfing through the hundreds of arms and legs, my surfboard in tow, being half pushed-half directed by the crew to go down to Deck 3. I clambered down the stairs, almost tripping over the throng of families, screaming babies, people calling out to each other, waving every limb possible – some not even theirs.

I rolled down the staircase and landed on the doorstep of hell. In what appeared to be a converted holding container, air was replaced by clove-cigarette smoke. Humidity and CO2 hit me in the face and lungs like a hot oven door being opened. Through the waterfall of sweat cascading over my brow, I saw wooden beds laid out in rows with black mattresses, every single one taken up by a single local or an entire family.

“Your friend over there,” a local directed me.

Thanking her, I wormed through the crowd, trying not to step on sprawled out bodies as I easily picked out Bazza who had found a corner with two benches (one broken) blocking the lockers that supposedly held the life jackets. One corner was tailor-made to fit my board and guitar.

We were the Leonardo di Capprio of this Titanic but being the only westerners among the thousand people on board, there was no Kate Winselot in sight.

We laid out our sleeping gear to claim the benches. Baz went off to explore while I stayed to write about the last few days. He came back a half hour later, looking as though he had run a marathon.

“It’s like a concentration camp in the lower decks,” he said. “There are people everywhere.”

I rationed my water, prolonging my need to use the toilets. It didn’t smell promising. Baz mustered up the guts and went in, coming out with a horrified look on his face.

“What?” I asked him.

He sat down and looked at me, shock all ever his beak. “Have you seen Trainspotting?”

“Yeah, years ago.”

“Remember the toilet scene?” He dropped his head, trying to shake out the image.

I stared at him. “No.”

He nodded. “Yup.”

We had to get out.

Leaving our heavy bags to explore the ferry, we climbed over strewn out bodies, families that had collected together on the floor that seemed non-existent as all you came across were bodies and smiling faces that called out, “Mister! Mister!”

We bumped into a crew member who asked if we wanted to rent a cabin.

“You have cabins?” I said.

“How much?” Baz asked.

“For two people,” he smiled at us, “$80.”

“Can we see the cabin?” Baz asked.

He took us up to the top deck. On the glass door he opened it read, ‘First Class Cabins’. He lead us up another flight of stairs, opened another door and showed us the double bunk cabin with a table, a soft back bench, shower and toilet and electric outlets.

Baz and I looked at each other and, as though reading the other’s mind.

“$50 for both of us,” Baz haggled.

“Oh, no,” grinned the mate, tightening his grip around our balls. “$80 for two. $40 for you,” he pointed at Baz, “and $40 for you,” he pointed at me.

“We have no money,” I stressed. “We have $50. You can make money now, or you can make no money.”

“No, no,” he grinned, escorting us back to our deck.

“I don’t mind hanging with the locals,” I said to Baz. “It’s just fucking stuffy and hot in here.”

Back on our bench, a few locals that knew English stopped to talk with us when a middle aged, toothless man sat beside Bazza on his bench. He didn’t know a word of English and when Baz jokingly gestured if he wanted to share his bench for sleeping; the guy stripped off his jacket and sat closer to the Englishman.

I cracked up, Baz staring at me in disbelief.

“Looks like you’ve got a new bunk mate,” I said, erupting into fits of laughter.

Bunker even went as far as to place a divider with his jacket, generous enough to leave Baz with just enough room for his knees.

We headed up to the outdoor deck to get some air, chilling out on a bench in the café area. We were talking to some locals when Bunker appeared out of nowhere and sat beside Baz.

“I think he likes you,” I laughed out.

We walked all around the boat, trying to find a bit of surface to sleep on (and escape Bunker) but everything was taken. It was like trying to walk barefoot through shards of glass.

On Deck 4 food was being handed out. The cue went all the way down to the stern of the boat but when a crew member saw us approaching he grabbed two meals and handed them over, Baz failing miserably in trying to explain that we would wait in line. Not that the steamed rice and bit of fish (that was better off being used as bait) was worth the wait. We headed up to Deck 5, where Baz had found a cinema.

“It’s got air con and the guys only charging a dollar,” he said excitedly, wiping sweat off his brow. We spent the next two hours watching Fast and Furious 6, lying on black mattresses, turning into ice cubes by the air con.

Mid-way through the movie Bazza jumped in fright.

“Jesus! You scared me!” I heard him say.

I looked over and saw that Bunker had found us.

“He was stroking my arm,” he turned to me as I erupted in laughter.

Bunker sat behind Bazza, grinning his toothless grin. When the movie ended, the cinema man played The Restless but the opening scene showed a man lying in bed, his Johnson out in full bloom.

We headed back down to Deck 3 but discovered to our surprise that all the doors were locked.

“What’s going on?” Baz asked aloud, hoping someone would understand.

“Ticket checking,” said a local.

While we waited, a large contingency of crew and para-military officers walked down the stairs and checked our tickets. They were led by Boni, the crew mate that tried to hustle $80 out of us for the first class cabin. He looked like Mr Miagi from The Karate Kid only with dark hair.

When the doors opened, we headed in to find a local lying across Bazza’s bench. We sat on my bench and watched as the entourage of officials took some stowaways into custody while checking the passengers.

“I have cabin for you if you want,” Boni said, turning into Kate Winselot.

We agreed to meet at the information window on Deck 5 after he had finished his rounds.

While we waited, we met Arthur, who spoke fluent English, holding his infant child.

“Because the Ramadan holiday is over,” he explained, “everybody is going back home.”

“You mean it’s not always like this?” I asked.

“No,” he said. He placed his baby with his wife and he invited us upstairs to the outdoor café for some fresh air. “Do you smoke?” he asked us.

“No,” we said.

“Good. I wish I could stop.”

“You can,” I said, recalling how I had quit the nicotine back in 2008. “Just stop.”

“Think about your baby,” Baz added, “then you will stop.”

We conversed for half an hour and then went to find Kate…  I mean, Boni. The information window was dark but music and singing was coming from a door down the hall. We walked into what appeared to be the restaurant area of the boat where a woman in a tight mini-dress was entertaining the crowd with her singing. In the darkness it was hard to see if she wasn’t a lady boy but easy to see that she was gorgeous.

Boni magically appeared with new information. “After midnight, when we stop in Wangipu (on Sumba Island) you have cabin.”

“We can’t go now?” Baz asked.

“No. People sleeping there.”

We decided to pass the time by going back to the cinema. American Pie was on at 21:00. We caught the end of The Restless which turned out to be a foreign language film. I guessed it was Portuguese while Bazza reckoned it was Estonian.

It didn’t change the fact that there was more cock in it than a chicken breeding farm. Then American Pie 6: The Naked Mile came up with more breasts than a poultry shop. The film after that was an erotic Japanese piece called Cyborg Café which looked like a failed attempt at soft porn.

Not being a fan of porn and not wanting to be in the same room with horny locals that would probably rub themselves (perhaps that’s why the mattresses were of black, easy to wipe off fake leather) we passed the last hour in Deck 3.

The lights were bright, the smoke was thick and everybody was wide awake. I had a better chance of sleeping soundly in a Turkish prison than down in here. Baz was in the same mindset. Midnight came by and we headed back up to the information window on Deck 5.

Boni was asleep according to one crew mate so we entered the now empty and dark restaurant. The air con was going full blast and we figured we’d sleep here until we were either thrown out or breakfast was served.

At about 01:00 Boni woke us up and took us to the first class cabin, the same one he had shown us before.

“No one has slept here,” Baz said as he hit the shower.

Boni came back with a case of water for us. I thanked him and shook his hand. The air con was going which was better than nothing since the sealed porthole overlooked the top deck where I could see people trying to get comfortable. I closed the blind and got ready for my shower.

The bridge of the ferry was a few doors down and the soft humming of the engine from somewhere deep in the belly of the boat sounded as though we were on a plane. The easy-rolling motions added to the fact, as though we were going through some very light turbulence.

I was out before I could I hang my towel.

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HOPPING FERRIES

“So we’re not taking the car?” I turned to El, scratching my head. It was a perfectly good car for packing all our gear in. Why would the option of using a scooter even come to mind?

Sure, the puke-green, 2-seater flatbed Landcruiser looked like it had come straight out of the movie, The Gods Must Be Crazy but if it got to El’s house then surely it could get to the harbour.

“No,” El smiled. “We take the bike.”

IMG_9258

© Barry-Dean Anderson, 2013

With my 75-litre pack on my back, my daypack on El’s chest and my surfboard lying horizontal between us, we rode through the empty streets of Kalabahi on a Sunday morning where El helped us purchase the ferry ticket.

There’s an 8-step system for purchasing a ticket on a ferry:

Step 1: Fill out a piece of paper with your name, age and destination.

Step 2: Place the paper onto a spike (or hand it over).

Step 3: Wait for your name to be called out.

Step 4: Keep waiting. Maybe grab a coffee or tea. You’ll have time.

Step 5: When your name is called, excuse yourself through the crowd to pay for the ticket.

Step 6: Repeat Step 3.

Step 7: Maybe grab a bite to eat. You’ll have time.

Step 8: Collect ticket when your name is called again and thank the ticket master (make sure you collect with your right hand) .

Our ferry was a barge. Its loading ramp was fully extended to accommodate the loading of scooters and two trucks along with 150 people, a goat and a handful of chickens. There were large, black mattresses for sleeping (which were hired out for 50 cents) and upstairs on the deck was the seating room.

To climb the stairs you must go through rock-climbing training in the Himalayas. They were almost at a 90° angle. Somehow, and with great difficulty, we managed to place all of our gear in what resembled a hospital’s waiting room complete with a flat screen television and metal benches (which, oddly enough, were comfortable – until your bum went numb).

Above every stairway and doorway was a cage with a colourful bird in it. There was a bright yellow weaver, a small green flock of feathers, an even smaller black bird, a large black bird with yellow flaps around its head and a white spotted bird that was very restless.P1040032

We explored the barge. And by exploring it wasn’t like going around the Titanic. There was the cargo area which doubled as the sleeping quarters, car and bike storage, the seating area and the outdoor deck in front of the bridge. From the outdoor deck we said ‘hello’ to the crew and watched the hustle ‘n’ bustle below us. The ferry was scheduled to depart at 08:00 which really was wishful thinking. At 08:45 the captain blew the horn, raised the ramp and off we chugged at a steady 6.9 knots.

“Goodbye Tropicbird,” Baz waved at the 50-foot Ketch that had been his home for a little over two months and mine for just eight days. “There’s another westerner onboard,” he said, pointing to a tall, dark-blonde haired man. “Betchya he’s German.”

“Hello, I’m James,” James introduced himself in an accent that sounded like a mixture of South African-meets-German-living-in-England. “I’m from London,” he said as we introduced ourselves.

“What’s that smell?” Baz sniffed the air. His face turned from wonder to one of disgust as the full scent of the biochemical weapon unleashed by someone in our vicinity reached his nostrils.

“Oh, yes,” James smiled, “I just farted.”

“Well, I guess we’re friends now if you’re breaking wind this early,” Baz leaned back, whipping at the invisible odour. “Good God, man, what is that?”

James could only smile as I cracked up, glad to be in his up wind. An experienced scuba diver and an underwater film maker, James told us of his other business entrepreneurs. We chatted for a bit and then he retired to his laptop, watching the second season of ‘Homeland’ while a few locals sat behind him, fascinated by his Macbook screen, ignoring the Angelina Jole and Ethan Hawke movie playing on the TV, direct off the satellite.

Baz and I hit the outdoor deck where the wind was a cool breeze. I whipped out the guitar and strummed away when Mr Ecky, a crew member, came and joined us. I showed him the harmonica and he blew on it as we jammed a bit before he was called up to actually operate the boat.

I put Baz to sleep with two hours of playing as we cruised through the channel and out to open sea. We had two ports to stop in on our 24-hour passage before reaching the town of Larantuka on the large island of Flores.

The food on board was a choice of purchasing chicken flavoured 2-minute noodles, resorting to the wafers we had bought and hope that some of the locals that had brought an entire kitchen’s worth of food (and utensils to match) might share some with us.

They did offer but we declined politely and bought the $1 chicken flavoured 2-minute noodles.

James had gone downstairs and returned just before lunch, holding a plastic bag to his elbow, wincing slightly.

“What happened?” I asked.

“I fell down the stairs,” he showed us his right elbow which looked as though someone had inserted a baseball under his skin. It was as if he was giving birth to a troll through his elbow.

“What’s in the bag?” Baz asked.

“They gave me some ice,” James said.

“They have ice?” Baz looked at me surprised.

I couldn’t stop staring at James’ elbow. “Holy shit,” I finally said. I was caught in the glare of his injury, like staring at the sun.

“That is awesome,” said Baz, taking a closer look. “Absolutely glorious.”

We offered what little assistance we could as we passed the time with sleeping (Baz) and writing (myself) and watching a movie (me again as Baz was still asleep) and more writing. When Baz woke up the TV was playing Spiderman but the captain had other plans. The international badminton championships were being held in China and apparently, Indonesia had some rank on the world scene.

We watched the mixed doubles finals, Indonesia against China which saw the Indonesians take out the championship title at match-point in the third set. If that wasn’t enough, in the men’s doubles final, Indonesia showed Denmark (Denmark?) how it’s done while in the men’s single final, China demolished Malaysia who pulled out late in the third set due to an injury.

The barge was in high spirits.

As night fell, Baz asked the captain for permission to let us sleep on the outdoor deck. Permission was granted and we rolled out our camping mattresses and sleeping bags (mattresses courtesy of Baz) and laid down, staring at the impossible starry sky, the Milky Way in its full glory, stretching above us.

“You can only sleep after you see a shooting star,” declared Baz.

Who could sleep with the universe at your doorstep? But the diesel engine of the barge did knock us out quite quickly.

I awoke suddenly to the night-piercing horn that the captain had blared out.

“What the fuck?” I said aloud, shooting to a sitting position. Baz cracked an eye open.

“What’s going on?” he asked sleepily.

There was a lot of action happening around us and as I rubbed my eyes to adjust to my surroundings, I saw the bright, stadium lights of a small town as we approached an island. Over the loudspeakers, orders were being directed to the crew. One of them threw a badly aimed line over to the people on the dock.

It fell short of its target and I watched as the barge overshot the port.

“I think we’re docking,” I commented and remained sitting, watching the commotion. Whoever was now piloting the barge took almost an hour to line it up to the dock. The ramp was dropped but the engineering abilities of the Indonesian people weren’t up to scratch with this kind of vessel and the ramp only went halfway as the dock was too high.

It didn’t stop the locals from loading and unloading cargo and even carrying the scooters over the ramp.

I resumed sleep a little past midnight and awoke (again to the blaring horn) in the morning to see that we had docked all night.

James’ elbow was looking a touch better as he relayed his travel plans on us. “There’s a small village on Flores called Moni that lies beneath a volcano. The craters have become large sulphar lakes.”

Baz and I looked at each other. “Sounds good,” we agreed. “How do we get there?”

“From Larantuka you have to take a 5-hour bus to Maumere which is a large city. From there you have to take another 4-hour bus to Moni.”

Since we were heading in the same direction we grouped together to become travel buddies. We debarked at Larantuka and a caught a bus to Maumere.

“Are we staying the night in Myanmar?” I asked, both gentleman looking at me oddly.

“It’s not Burma, mate,” said Baz as James laughed. “It’s Maumere.”

“Yeah, that place,” I deflected. “Are we staying the night?”

“We’ll have too,” said James. “It’s quite a large town so there’ll be decent food and perhaps internet somewhere.”

All of a sudden we heard a loud bang and the whole bus rattled. It felt like we were dragging a body. The driver pulled over and within 10-minutes he, the scout and the relief driver had changed the tire whose treading had ripped off.

“That spare doesn’t looking any better,” remarked Baz.

I agreed. It’s treading was a little too smooth and would never have passed Australian roadworthy standards. But when in Rome…

We continued driving through mountainous scenic scenes of coconut palms jutting through the thick, green canopy of the hillside jungles.

“Is it much further to Myanmar?” I asked again.

Baz cracked up. “It’s not Burma, bro. Think ‘hail Mary – Mau-mere’.”

It wouldn’t stick. I just couldn’t take on the pronunciation of the city.

“We’re not far,” said James as we rolled on.

Just after 16:00 we pulled into the Myanmar… I mean, Maumere bus terminal where local bus drivers were demanding money from the passengers, as though we had to pay some sort of entry tax. A local was hassling us for 50 cents but on principle we refused to pay.

“Fucking extortion,” I said to the man’s face, not that he could understand. He let us be and our bus dropped us off at the Wini Hotel.

The girls managing the place looked no older than 14.

“I am 19,” said Tootie, a girl who wouldn’t stop smiling and laughing. And although our $7.5 rooms were absolute dumps, the staff of barely legal teens made it worth the while to stay as we laughed and joked with them.

We hit the packed streets for dinner. Maumere made Kalabahi look like a small country town with the amount of vehicles and people on the road.

“Must be the New York of Flores,” I reckoned.

We found a Bakso Baso place and ordered three rounds of the delicious meatball soup. It was James’ first time trying the delicacy and he took to it quite well. The chili sauce on Flores was spicier by about 37 degrees. Something I realised only after I had dolloped a large spoonful of ‘lombo’.

“Jesus,” I sputtered, “I’m gonna feel that in the morning.”

Back at the hotel, Baz had roped in a bus driver who agreed to take us to Moni early next morning for $5 a head.

In the morning we hopped on the bus. The driver, Iman, seemed like a good character. Good enough to change a tire before driving around town for two hours trying to fill the bus up. Then he disappeared and let what appeared to be a 19-year-old kid take over the wheel.

The kid seemed to have aspirations of becoming Indonesia’s first international rally driver as he took the hairpin turns at breakneck speed – with one or two passengers sitting on the roof. He had all of us hanging on to whatever was stationary to keep from flying about the cabin. The music he played at nightclub volume was a mixture of auto-tune pop and auto-tune pop. I had to give Baz earplugs as his 6”4 height put his ear in the speaker.

After an hour I couldn’t take the music anymore and the usual laid back Aussie in me erupted to the typical pissed-off, just lost The Ashes Aussie.

“Oi!” I yelled towards the front from the back bench. The entire bus – 7 adults, 4 kids and 3 chickens – all turned around as I timed the call with the ending of a poppy auto-tuned number. “Can you please turn it down?” I added a mime to it, knowing the driver lacked any English.

He surprised us all by turning off the stereo completely.

“Thank fuck,” Baz said as he took out his earplugs.

P1040074I stared out the window as we raced through dense jungle cliff sides and watery rice paddies. It was a tranquil scene, reminiscent of Vietnam war movies from the 70s. Instead of exploding napalm bombs we had the 4 kids competing for the title of ‘Best Presentation of Breakfast’.

Baz had his money on the 10-year-old boy sitting between us. He saw that the kid was ready to chuck and smartly swapped seats with him, placing him by the window. The kid’s nana had given him some smelling salts which seemed to thwart off the impending outcome.

 

But it was the two toddlers in the row before us that showed us their breakfast all over each other, their mother and my innocent sandals, caught in the crossfire.

The infant up front in James’ row also presented what she had for breakfast – all over her father.

I handed the mother a wad of toilet paper just as the bus pulled into a small town for a lunch break. The restaurant was overpriced so Baz and I stuck to dipping our wafers into the chocolate spread we had bought in Kalabahi.

Continuing onwards with our would-be rally driver, we climbed up the mountain and entered the tiny village of Moni. To our slight disappointment, it was full of westerners. It was Baz and mine’s first touristy location and the prices matched.

We haggled with Allan, a dreadlocked, English speaking local over the rental price of a scooter to go up to Mt Kelimutu (which sounds Japanese if you pronounce it with the accent). He wanted $15 but Baz shoved $12 into his hand and with a reluctant smile, Allan took James on his bike and lead us up the mountain.

As we climbed higher through the Jurrasic-like rainforest, it became colder. Baz expertly handled the hairpin turns as I took photos of the landscape, the jungle going on through valleys and over mountains before reaching the sea far off in the distance. Great white cotton ball clouds were rolling in beneath us.

You know you’re high up when you’re looking down on the clouds.

We rode through remote villages and stopped to admire the immaculate rice paddy fields that seemed to be all the rage in Flores.

“Hide your camera,” suggested Allan. “It’s $5 to have camera on the mountain.”

Thanking him for the tip, Baz placed his Nikon in the seating compartment while I pocketed my Lumix. At the gate to the national park, we paid the $2 entry fee and the 30 cents for taking the bike up.

“Camera?” asked the ranger.

“Nope,” Baz and I said together.

We rode up through the lush forest, overhanging ferns all around among the trees. We parked by the stairs that lead up, “One kilometre,” said Allan.

We trekked up stopping at a crossroads. To the left and right, a 4-wheel drive track lead through the forest. Before us was a rock wall that suspiciously looked like it might be a crater wall.

“Very dangerous to go up this wall,” said Allan. “Almost all tourists go on the car track. But not us.” And he shot up the wall.

I was losing grip with my sandals so I went barefoot and was close behind Allan while Baz huffed and puffed behind me with James taking it easy due to his elbow not far behind him.

“I need to work out more,” Baz said, out of breath.

Allan had reached the top and I clambered over the last rock and stood frozen, jaw-dropped and spellbound.

“Guys!” I said, “you gotta get up here!”P1040077

We were standing on the lip of the crater. Before us was what appeared to be a hundred meter drop into a large, turquoise green lake, not a ripple in sight.

“Allan,” I turned to our guide, “this is amazing.”

He grinned as he pointed to the lake next to the one we were standing above. It had a greyish white layer on top the aqua green.

“Sulphar,” he explained. “Hot water.”

We could see the steam rising from it although there was no distinct smell of the component.

“ECHO!” Baz boomed out, his voice bouncing off the crater walls all around.

“About 5 years ago,” began Allan, “a man and woman come up here. They had argument and jumped. Very sad.”

Baz threw a rock over the crater wall which never hit the water. Allan laughed.

“You will never make it,” he said.

Baz, always up for a challenge, sling-shot his arm back and let fly of the rock he held. We watched it fly out and it seemed that it would hit the water but as it fell below we could hear it land on the rocks.

P1040093We trekked on up the hill, climbing 228 steps to the lookout point that overlooked the Black Lake on the other side of the two craters we had looked over. As we took in the view of the mountains, the jungle and the white fluffy clouds we heard a distant cackle.

“What’s that noise?” I asked aloud.

“Monkeys,” said Allan.

“Monkeys?” I repeated. And before I could question him, forgetting that I was now in a land where monkeys were as abound as kangaroos in Oz, three little makaks greeted us with begging faces for food.

It was the first time that we had been somewhere in nature that was actually clean and free of rubbish. I looked around and noticed the bins lining the pathways every ten or so meters. Unfortunately, the monkeys had taken to human food scraps and rummaging through the bins, they had emptied the rubbish out of them.

It was a Catch 22.

Still, cleaner than any other place in Indonesia.

P1040066We hiked back to the bikes and rode down, cutting the engine to save on fuel. We stopped to take photos of the eternal views and rice fields. Allan took us to a remote village where the locals had set up a bathing area that received natural hot spring water, the men and women bathing separately.

He then took us to a waterfall.

 

 

P1040139“Jesus, Allan,” I said walking behind him, trying to side-step the small mounds of rubbish that was piled everywhere. “You must educate your people to throw rubbish in the bin. This is disgusting. You guys are killing your nature.”

Baz backed me up. Since we didn’t have the time to help out with animals in shelters and couldn’t find any charities to work with, we decided that the best we could do was try and emphasis the importance of recycling and keeping rubbish in the bins. Allan could only agree and we could only hope that maybe he will educate his people.

All through the tour Baz and I explained our way of travelling. “We are broke,” Baz said to Allan. “We travel without money. We stop and work in places to make enough to keep going.”

I convinced Allan into letting us stay with him for the night in exchange for jamming together. James had already booked himself into a homestay where he was kind enough to let us leave our bags for the trip up the mountain.

Back in Moni, local population of 400, we ordered a late lunch. But because it was cooked to order in the home-cooking style of ‘Island Time’, our late lunch turned to dinner after we waited an hour and a half for the food.

“Tonight you play at Bintang Coffee,” Allan booked me in for a gig at the popular bar in the village.

After watching some of James’ amazing underwater films, we headed down at 19:30.DSC_0085

“I am Billy,” the young manager introduced himself. “Billy the Kid.” He pointed out where I could set up just as Allan arrived with a tambourine and a pair of bongo drums. I was surprised when Billy the Kid asked if I could play any Radiohead or REM.

“I know ‘Streetspirit,’” I offered.

“Fade out?” Billy confirmed.

I nodded in surprise as Allan set up beside me with the drums. The bar was full of westerners and I kicked off with my favourite, U2’s, ‘Desire’. There was a group of South African’s so I played a rough rendition of Jesus Rodriguez’s, ‘Sugarman’.

We jammed through the night, swapping the guitar for the bongo drums. Allan was much better than me on the six-string and did an almost perfect cover of The Eagles acoustic version of ‘Hotel California’. He belted out Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘No Woman No Cry’ while I played ‘Jammin’. We had the whole bar singing along.

Baz and Billy the Kid where trying to outdo each other with bar tricks involving cards, origami and toothpicks (not necessarily in that order). We mingled with a French girl working in Java selling cashew nuts, a family from Liverpool and a few locals that plied us with sopi, their local drink. The colour of it resembled Absent and the taste was that of a lemon that had gone off.

By 23:00 we called it a night. Baz had walked up ahead with James while I walked with Allan.

“So we’ll bring our stuff over now?” I asked.

“Actually,” he began, “it’s better you stay with your friend. No good staying with me. I live with my parents and they will not like it.”

“Oh,” I said, disappointed.

We parted with a hug and I promised to find him on facebook. I explained the situation to Baz and James generously offered us to sleep on the floor of his homestay room. We somehow managed to make space among the luggage on the floor and slept soundly.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Indonesia, Sailing | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

PURITY ON PURA ISLAND

P1030942“Our ferry is at 11:00,” said El as we woke up on Saturday.

Baz and I wanted to present our host with a gift, a photo of us with him and his brother, Perfect, so we hitched a taxi and an O-jek (a scooter-taxi) to Aron’s Foto booth where $1.50 later the two photos we wanted to print were in circulation.

“Come back, three o’clock,” said the shopkeeper.

“When do you close?” I gestured with my hands.

“Six o’clock.”

“OK,” Baz said. “See you then.”

P1030914Our ferry turned out to be a long, roofed boat that had us ducking with no seats, more like a water-bus. We sat on the deck, legs dangling over the side. Looking at Bazza’s watch, we figured keeping time schedules wasn’t big in Indonesia as we left port at half past 12.

We were travelling with Kon, El and his mate Burges (who hired out his bike for us). We noticed the amount of rubbish being thrown overboard and preached to El, with his political aspirations to educate the people regarding rubbish and recycling.

“Plastic is bad,” said Baz. “It doesn’t break down and it kills everything.”

“If you clean up and keep the place clean,” I chipped in, “more tourists will come and visit.”

El was all about promoting Alor to draw in westerners. We explained further the meaning of biodegradable and could only hope that it all sank into him, like the sinking plastic that was discarded overboard.P1030938

We pointed out Tropicbird and, as we came round Kepa Island, I spotted some dolphins. Then we passed another Titanic –sized super-mega yacht called, ‘Galileo’ with a British flag. We waved to the crew on board as we passed more humble dive boats as Alor’s major draw is its diving and snorkelng.

El had bought all of us lunch – fish heads with hard-boiled egg, steamed rice and egg noodles, all wrapped up in paper like a small parcel.

We chugged along and cut through the dangerous rip that was at the entrance of the channel. After an hour and a half we docked on Pura Island.

Pura is famed for its snorkeling. It’s also where El works for the government during the week . His office building is right on the beach. As we walked through the tiny village I noticed that there were no motorised vehicles on the island – which made sense as there were only footpaths – a refreshing change to the hustle and bustle of Kalabahi.

El collected the keys to his government-funded rental house that was located in prime real estate location.

“Bro,” Baz said, balancing on the rope anchor just off the small fishing boats. “The waters so clear you don’t need a mask.”

P1030962I put on my flippers and mask and dove down, my breathe escaping me as the bluest of blues greeted me with a garden of coral and reef spread out below. The depth was about 3 meters before it dropped off a cliff edge into a deep blue abyss.

The fish were an astounding array of blue, black, orange, purple, yellow, pink and green. A huge Napoleon fish swam by, spraying a cloud of shit as it dove for the deep. In the distance, I could just make out a school of very large, silver coloured fish.

 

Three meters below me I noticed a large piece of material lying on the coral, suffocating it. I took a deep breath and dove down, hoping that there wouldn’t be any nasty surprises under it. I lifted it up and brought it to the surface, passing it to El who was making his way back to the beach.P1030958

I continued to explore the alien world beneath me, fluorescent blue star fish dotting the reefs. I ventured out over the deep, diving down, equalising and floating about, feeling right at home below the surface.

We wrapped up our day and caught a ride on one of the small fishing boats that were anchored where we had snorkeled. El’s mate, Namu, fired up the diesel engine, covering Baz with black diesel fumes.

The boat was more of an elongated dugout canoe. We couldn’t move about as we would capsize so we sat still, growing deaf with every stroke of the engine. I was bailer, bailing out water every half an hour as we chugged our way to Alor, just off Kepa Island.

We waited to catch a bus but none turned up.

“Hey, Baz,” said El, motioning down the road to two tall blondes and a shorter Asian girl who were approaching us.

They were dive instructors. The two blondes were from Spain and Barcelona, the Asian we don’t know but she spoke fluent Indonesian and managed to hire a taxi bus which she drove back to Kalabahi.

We had about 20 minutes to reach the photo shop to get the photos. We hopped off at El’s building site and picked up Perfect’s bike to get the pictures and do some provision shopping for the morrow’s ferry ride. We bumped into our gang at the supermarket and scheduled to meet up later for ‘goodbyes’ at their hotel.

Back at El’s house I was contemplating giving my guitar to Mory and Peter. They had one that was broken and unplayable and I was getting apprehensive about carrying it around with so much gear (although Baz was acting as roadie and kindly carrying my guitar while I lugged my surfboard).

I unsheathed it and sat down to play it. After banging out U2’s ‘Desire’ with Perfect playing an incredible rhythm section on the table, the urge to rid myself of the guitar disappeared. And when I finished playing Led Zeppelin’s, ‘Stairway to Heaven’ I knew that I could never part ways with my six-string.

We headed out to say ‘goodbye’ to El’s amazing family. His mother apologised that she couldn’t give us anything.

“Don’t be silly,” I said. “You gave us El. That’s plenty.”

We took a group photo and hugged and headed out for a dinner of Bakso Baso from where we headed over to the hotel and hung out with the crew, prolonging our time to say ‘goodbye’.

“Where’s your guitar?” Orla asked as I was to drop it off since the crew were meeting up with Mory and Peter for Orla’s birthday beach party on Sunday night.

“I’ve decided to keep it,” I grinned.

“Why the change?” asked Olivia.

“Because he took it out and rocked it,” said Baz, slapping me on the back.

As my eyes grew heavy from the day’s watery adventures, we hugged our new life-long friends and rode home in the chill evening of our last night in Kalabahi, Alor.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Indonesia | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

SEEKING SIKA ISLAND

We rose at 6 am.

Well, let’s be honest here, I rose at 6 am. Baz lightly snored on when El had come in with a change of plans.

“We go to Sika Island maybe at seven,” he suggested.

Baz was more than happy to continue sleeping while I sat at my laptop writing up last night’s adventures.

Baz finally woke up at around 07:30 and we hit the road by 07:45. The morning was surprisingly chilly and wearing wet bathers from the night before didn’t warm up my cockles. We rode through the empty streets to Mali Beach where we bought a few packets of wafers to bring to the family.

At the house, we were served with a similar tasting sweet tea as the night before, accompanied by a few bread rolls and some sweet donut bread, locally known as ‘roti gorang’.

P1030827Riding with Baz, we hit the road while El took on his youngest brother of 10, Kon, Roland’s sister of 17, Tina, and at El’s feet, his black dog, Brekky that appeared to be a cross between a short-haired Border Collie and a Labrador. We rode off-road around the airport perimeter to reach the beach. I hopped off as the bike was struggling in the sand and Bazza gave up a few meters later where we legged it, following Kon down the beach.

“Very good fisherman,” said El of Kon.

 

We hiked along the beach, the turquoise waters lapping quietly on the exposed corals due to the low tide. At the end of the headland we crossed through the water to Sika Island. Sharp rocks and coral lay beneath the water’s surface which had Baz swimming across although the current was taking him out and away from the safety of the sand. El picked Brekky up, threw him around his neck and carried him over.P1030838

“Baz,” I approached him, “can you teach me to wolf-whistle?” Something I’ve been very keen on mastering.

In the simplest manner he explained what needed to be done to accomplish the wolf-whistle. El got it right away. I blew until I almost passed out from hyperventilation but to no avail (at time of publication, I have yet to blow a wolf whistle. I have, however, mastered blowing air).

 

An uncle of Roland and Tina joined us and led the way, his mouth red from the silakapan that he chewed on, spitting out blood-red saliva every now and again. Upon reaching the island, Bazza mustered up some guts and tried the stuff, turning his mouth to an instant red, as though someone had smashed him up in a bar fight. His teeth went yellow almost instantly.

“It’s not so bad once you mix it up with the snuff powder,” he chewed as the uncle laughed.

We were keen for some coconuts so Roland, the uncle, Baz and myself went to explore. We passed an open-walled thatch roof that seemed to be an Indonesian version of a picnic area. Contining on Baz spotted coconut palms. There were only five of them. Communication wasn’t easy as Roland’s English was poor and the uncle barely knew any besides ‘I love you’ and ‘yes, no’. We reached a tall palm and the uncle, who seemed to be in his early 40s, shimmied up the trunk and dropped five coconuts.

Bazza had another go at cracking one open, doing better than the day before. The coconut water was refreshing and using a side of the external nut skin, the uncle crafted a spoon with which we dug out the flesh.

P1030858Safely choosing a shorter palm than the one the uncle had climbed, Baz and I both attempted to shimmy up the trunk.

“I’ll leave it to the expert,” I patted the uncle on the back as I scraped myself coming down.

We continued hiking, passing a weird arrangement of cement blocks with what appeared to be flower beds being grown inside them.

“Welcome to Alor,” explained Roland, gesturing that that’s what the cement blocks spelt out. It’s the first thing to see from the air when entering the island paradise by plane.

 

Soon enough we came across another hut. From the thatched roof a mosquito net dropped down over a bamboo platform. Some coloured lights hung between bamboo posts.

I wondered if they do weddings and bar mitzvahs.P1030873

We rested in the shade before heading back to the camp site where Kon was busy emptying the water of fish. El had snatched a small blue crab and it was all being cooked over hot coals. The fish weren’t cleaned or gutted but thrown onto the coals as is until the skin burnt and became crispy. Rice, pre-made at the house, was the side dish of choice along with steamed yam leaves.

With our stomachs full to the brim, we all found a bit of shade and napped away while the sun beat down on the mangroves as the tide came in.

I woke up feeling restless and Kon, being the only one awake, invited me for a swim. We hit the water, diving about for a bit. I showed him how to skip rocks using dead corals. Eventually, the others woke up and we packed up to head back. As the tide had risen, the uncle took us in his canoe with the comfort of an outboard motor.

This time, we didn’t sink it.

El volunteered to bring the bikes back so we hiked back along the beach with Kon leading all the way to Roland’s house.

“Show him your lion roar,” said Baz.

I have the ability to roar like a lion. Not as loud as leo but generally creating the same sound. How does one develop such a talent? I have no idea. I’ve been able to do it since I was about six-years-old. Kon was impressed and wanted me to keep doing it. The thing about roaring like the opening credits to an MGM production is that it actually hurts the throat so I declined politely.

From the house we headed back to Kalabahi, stopping by Cheryl’s stand to say ‘hello’. She offered us a citrus that was the size of an orange, green like a lime but tasted like a mixture between a grapefruit and a pomella.

We rode on into town, catching up with Perfect who showed us where Baz could get his hair cut.

“Like this,” Baz pointed to Perfect’s hair for the barber to do on him. The latest hair styles of the outer Indonesian islands seemed to be a rat-tailed Mohawk.

Alfonse, the hairdresser, sent his 3-year-old son out the door with some money. “Cigarettes. Three,” he instructed the toddler.

A few moments later, the little rug-rat came back with three cigarettes in his tiny hand, handing them over to his father who promptly lit one up and, with the skill set of Paul Mitchell-meets-Zohan-Scrappy-Coco, he carved Bazza’s hair into a mohawk. He only charged a dollar but Baz, pleased with the work, paid him $2.

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“Back home in England that would have cost me £20,” he said as we walked away to the cheers of the onlooking locals.

Getting hungry we went in search of a place to eat. On the way we passed by what appeared to be a school. In the front yard, a hundred or so kids varying in age from 5-8 were paying attention to their teachers.

Until Baz and I decided to go in and say ‘hello’.

I can only say that I now know what The Beatles and Michael Jackson felt at the peak of their fame. The kids screamed as we entered, manic cries of happiness engulfed us as they grabbed onto everything we had exposed, swallowing us up deep into the throng while we struggled to pull out our cameras to get a group photo.

Music was playing and the teachers were urging us to dance. The kids went crazy and screamed out more every time we busted a move (and a hip), all of them whipping out mobile phones and taking photos.

We were lucky to get out with our limbs still attached.

We rode on downtown and stopped at the first food shack. Not knowing what any of the names of the dishes meant, we took a gamble and ordered two Nasi Babi’s and a Bintang beer to share. Turns out Babi means pork fat because we were served with a bowl of soup, a plate with rice, yam leaves, chili and pork fat.

We went home for a shower as we were catching up with the gang at about 19:00 to celebrate Orla’s birthday. The organiser for Sail Komodo in Alor arranged a car to take us to the harbour where there was a choice of restaurants. I noticed in the window of the first one a tiny little hairy ball among the bowls of tofu and tempura. Approaching the window I realised it was a Jerry-looking mouse, twitching its little whiskers at me.

“Don’t tell Jill,” said Orla as I pointed it out. “She would freak the fuck out.”

I couldn’t help but laugh, drawing the attention of the owner of the shop to the mouse. She laughed as she shooed it away.

We bought some beers and although Baz and I had chewed on Nasi Babi, we went for a round of rice and chicken.

We said our ‘goodbyes’ to the gang and rode back home to rest up for our trip to Pura Island the following day.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Indonesia | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

A WHALE OF A TIME

“Whales on the stern,” Skipper announced a little after 7 in the morning.

I was coming off the 4-6 am shift and had just let out the fishing line to troll when they were sighted off our stern. We were being overtaken (which isn’t very hard when you’re only doing 2 knots) along all sides of the boat by what appeared to be large logs in the shape of Short-finned Pilot Whales, their spouts shooting a jet of water just over a meter in height.

Our own private cetacean escort into the island of Alor.

It was an uplifting sight following the previous rough night. We had sailed for the majority of the day parallel to West Timor where the plan was to call into two more ports, the first in Wini, where we arrived just after dark.

“There’s a mound where all the boats are anchored,” explained one boat over the VHF. “They’re in 30 feet of water. All around its pretty deep at a hundred feet.”

Skipper had never anchored in anything beyond 40 feet. This was going to be a challenge, especially in the dark. As we approached, we delayed dinner to attempt anchor.

“Fuck! Motherfucker!” we heard from the bow.

“I need a rag,” Baz called out.

I jumped up with a couple of clean white rags and saw that Skipper had managed to slice the bottom of his big toe. Blood was everywhere but it didn’t stop him dropping the anchor. As the rope rushed out we all watched and waited, hoping it would catch on the sandy bottom.

We began to drift, waiting to see if we were hooked. I looked towards the back and saw that we were about to hit another boat on our stern.

“Skipper!” I called out to him. He ran back to the cockpit and steered us out of the way.

Baz, Omar and I pulled up the heavy anchor while Skipper navigated the boat back into shallower waters. “Drop the anchor!” he called out at about 70 feet.

I let it go, the rope rushing in after it. We waited, tense with hope but alas, we were drifting again.

“We’ll have dinner, raise the anchor and have a pow-wow about our options,” suggested Skipper.

Dinner was a delicious stir-fried pasta a la’ Olivia and Orla. After we had finished, us boys headed up to the bow and heaved and hoed, raising the 50-pound hunk of metal from a hundred feet of water. I was spent, feeling as though I had just raised the Titanic from its murky depths.

“Right,” began Skipper, “since we can’t anchor here, I see no other option than to sail all night to Alor.”

We all agreed and ship-shaped the boat for departure. The wind was in our favour and we sailed at 7 knots into the sunrise of the following morning when the wind dropped and we were received by the Pilot whales.

P1030713At the entrance to the channel that lead to Kalabahi, the port town of Alor, dolphins disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. We sailed up the channel, greeted on either side by luscious jungle mountains, greener than moss, rising about 600-800 meters above the water.

Baz and I were jumping ship in Alor and making our own way across Indonesia to Singapore for a wedding being held in early September. With our luggage packed, we made anchorage next to two other sail boats in a small bay. This time, we hooked the anchor at just under 90 feet on the first drop.

I gathered my life’s possessions: a surfboard, Ol’ Red, a 75-litre backpack and a smaller day pack and piled it into Skipper’s tiny dinghy, almost sinking it from the weight of it all. We ferried the 300 meters to shore where I was greeted by the smiling faces of local children. Finding a dry mound, surrounded by rubbish, I placed my gear on it, whipped my guitar out and within seconds I was surrounded by 15 kids.P1030744

“Any requests?” I asked.

“Hip hop!” came the reply. “We like Eminem, Pitbull.”

Uh-huh. “You guys know Led Zeppelin?”

They shook their heads and gathered around for a photo, screaming and laughing while the rest of the crew made their way across in 3 trips. We said our ‘goodbyes’ to Skipper and headed up to the road. Baz carried my guitar while I drowned under the weight of my gear with the 75-litre pack on my back, my day pack on my front and the surfboard hanging from my neck.

I lost 3 liters of fluids by the time we arrived into Kalabahi, saying, “Tidak, Terima Kasih,” to all the taxis that tried to seduce us for a ride (why we said, ‘No, thank you’, we have no idea). We reached the mini stadium in the center of town where we contacted El, the host I had found on couchsurfers. While waiting, some locals had stopped on their bikes and watched us, several taking photos of us.

We were the new celebrities on the island.

Food stalls were being set up beside us as a young woman stopped to chat, practicing her English.

“Halo,” another man showed up. “I am El.” Baz and I hugged the self-proclaimed King of Alor. We escorted our friends to Hotel Pelangi, another 700-meter hike up the road.

El had disappeared for almost an hour and a half while we hung around the hotel. Baz and I thought that we had scared him off until Baz received a text from him.

‘I go home to clean up. Very messy.’

When he returned he stopped a taxi for us as we bid our friends ‘see ya later’. We paid a dollar each to get us and our gear to his house a few K’s up the road, arriving at a cement building.

Outside (and something that was a common sight in the front yards of homes in Indonesia) was a double grave that had the image of Jesus on it. The house itself was bare of any furniture. It had four walls and a concrete floor. There were dusty suburbs of Indiana Jones-styled cobwebs in the crossbeams of the corrugated iron ceiling, the residents nowhere to be seen.

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© Barry-Dean Anderson, 2013

“This is for you,” said El as he presented us with handmade scarves. In return, we gifted him with a Sail Komodo shirt, a Bintang hat for his mohawked brother, Perfect (who spoke very little English) and sailing flags from the rally. I had brought over an Aussie Outback hat that I had forgotten on Tropicbird and was hoping to retrieve in the next few days to give to El.

“You have MPS?” El asked.

“What’s MPS?” Bazza looked at me as I shrugged.

“MPS – Mosquito Protection System,” El grinned as we cracked up.

 

“Brilliant,” we agreed, hi-fiving. He showed us the outdoor toilet, a squat hole in the open air with the shower by a 10-meter deep well.

“Timmy,” I called down.

No answer.

El drew up fresh water and, using a ladle we showered under the night sky.

El’s brother, Perfect, arrived with a scooter and we headed out to find a place to eat. I rode with El while Bazza almost shat himself riding with Perfect.

In the islands we had come across, I had noticed that road rules were as real as Santa Claus. Most riders and drivers turned into the streets without even looking for oncoming traffic. And most of them headed into traffic in the opposite lane until they could get across to the right lane.

It was a free for all and Baz experienced riding with a rider who didn’t hesitate to answer his mobile phone or text while riding, showing off by riding without hands on the handle bar, speeding up to El and riding tight, almost taking my leg off. I was grateful that El was tamer on the two wheels. After all, he did have aspirations to become Mayor of Alor in the next decade.IMG_9051

The streets were jammed with bikes, everyone getting somewhere, smiling and waving at us, calling out, “Mister! Mister!”

We stopped at a small shack opposite a mosque that was blasting out what sounded like an island of children praying over the loudspeakers. Sitting inside, we ordered Bakso Basa, a soup of beef meatballs with hard-boiled egg, egg and rice noodles and yam leaves. I copied El in pouring tomato sauce, soy sauce and a spicy mixture called ‘lombo’ that had my sinuses cleared for the evening. We each had 2 rounds of soup and bought two servings for El’s neighbour who had lent us his scooter.

***

Baz, spending the night with a frog on his face that kept the mozzis off us, woke up around 7 AM and I followed suit. Perfect came by and took us to his parent’s house up the road for coffee. We chatted with his sister, Anje, who’s English was at conversation level.

“We are Christian,” she said. “If you don’t have religion in Indonesia, you get arrested.”

Bazza and I stared at each other, being the non-believers that we were.

“What religion are you?” she asked.

After ‘umming’ and ‘ah-ing’ I said, “We believe in Karma, in positive energy. Do good things and good things will happen to you.”

“So you don’t believe in God?” She looked at us shell-shocked.

“No,” answered Baz as her eyes widened even further.

“That is sad,” she said as we tried to explain that we were fine with our decision, each too their own and so forth.

“Just don’t tell anyone,” said Bazza. “We don’t want to get arrested.”

She laughed and we changed the subject to learning some phrases in Indonesian. Perfect came back from wherever he had disappeared to and we headed off to town to catch up with El who was working on building his shop.

“We go,” he said, motioning to the scooter.

“What, all three of us?” I looked at Perfect and then at Baz who shrugged.

Perfect nodded.

We had seen whole families riding on scooters. An infant baby would be perched on Dad’s lap. Behind him the second child and closing the rear would be Mum so what was three on a scooter, really?

Perfect, standing at 160 cm, sat as far forward as he could. Baz straddled his 193 cm right up behind him while I held on for dear life (and Baz) right at the back with all my 174 cm.

Looking like something out of an Abbott and Costello movie, we chugged into town, noticing that most of the shops were closed due to the Ramadan holiday. El had to work so Perfect took us on a 20-minute ride up the road to Mali Beach.

P1030772We were greeted with pristine, turquoise waters and white sandy beaches surrounded by coconut palms. Our stomachs latched onto the smell of coconuts and sweet corn that Cheryl, a local whose English was surprisingly good, had boiled in water.

We chatted with her for a bit, posing for photos. Perfect cracked my nut while Baz had a go with the machete on his. 20 minutes later he pierced the shell and extracted the sweetest coconut water either of us had ever tasted.

 

The corn was a little hard, almost unripe but along with the spicy chilli Cheryl had pulped (that burnt my gums) it was quite flavoursome.

After our breakfast we hit the warm waters. I dove in and swam until I needed air. The surrounding jungle trees along with the coconut palms that grew right on the water’s edge added to the tropical paradise scene that looked like something out of Tropical Getaways.P1030785

A group of kids huddled around us. We took photos with them on a huge tree root that lay on the sand, the impossibly turquoise waters lapping at its base. Further down the white beach we met some men who were about to grill a large tuna fish they had bought.

“How much?” asked Bazza.

“8,000 rupee,” replied one of the men.

80 cents.

80 cents for a Yellow-fin tuna big enough to feed a small tribe.

Friends of El had invited us for lunch at their house a little further up the road. As we rode along, it was nice to see that the beach side remained free from the clutches of demonic real estate corporations and satanic developers.

We arrived at the house and were greeted by the father, mother, a toothless grandmother, 2 daughters, two young grand-daughters, a rice-covered infant, chickens, chicks, roosters and a kitten that was begging for food scraps.

Lunch was two types of rice, bony reef fish, steamed yam leaves and another unidentified green vegetable. We tried our best to communicate with the generous family as no one spoke a word of English until Roland, El’s friend, turned up with a mouthful of words. He suggested we take a ride to the airport down the road where we could see,

“Sika Island. Tomorrow I take you there,” he offered.

After thanking our hosts and shaking everyone’s hand, we rode down with him to the airport beach where we stopped and he pointed out the island.

“How do we get there?” I asked.

“Canoe,” he replied. “I have two.”

“Awesome,” I grinned.

P1030801A local on a Suzuki motorbike rode up and offered to take one of us into town rather than riding three on the one scooter. Bazza jumped on his back and we hit the road. Reached Kalabahi, we caught up with El. Baz bought some petrol for Sam, his driver, a liter costing 70 cents.

“He asked me what my hobby was,” Baz was explaining to El what he went through on the ride. “I told him travelling. He told me his hobby was sex. Then he plays with his phone and passes it back to me. I’m cupping my hands over it because of the sun and I realise I’m watching some guy really giving it to a girl!”

After the laughter subsided, El managed to get a scooter for Baz and I to share. We decided to pay our friends a visit and see what they were up to. They weren’t at the hotel so we decided to explore a little bit out of town and took a road up to the mountains. Within minutes we were at 300 meters above sea level, our little scooter struggling to make the steep inclines.

Passing the hut-like shacks of the outskirts of Kalabahi, it was interesting to see that most houses had a satellite dish that looked as though it could communicate with life on Mars. These people barely had running water (or even clean water) yet they had 200 channels to watch on old school analogue television sets.P1030806

We stopped at a clearing with an unobstructed view of the harbour, surrounded by the lush, green mountains.

“Incredible,” said Baz, myself agreeing.

We rode back into town, our rear brake doing nothing to slow us on the downhill. Luckily, the front brake was exceptionally tight.

“Let’s go visit the skipper,” suggested Baz and off we chugged to the anchorage in a fishing village called Lomba (I think). Rubbish was all over the beach leading me to reach the conclusion that I’d have a better chance of finding the lost island of Atlantis before finding a bin in the streets of Indonesia.

The dinghy was tied up behind Tropicbird, the tell-tale sign that Skipper would be aboard.

“Let’s swim over,” I suggested.

It wasn’t far, perhaps 300 meters off shore in a hundred feet of water going against the current. We noticed that another sail boat had arrived among the local kids that were canoeing and swimming about. We parked the scooter behind some thick shoots of bamboo and hit the water. We started with the freestyle stroke and halfway through I was beginning to slow down.

Whose great idea was this? I thought struggling not to drown. I switched to the breast-stroke and, on our last breath and strength, we reached Tropicbird.

“Permission to come aboard, Skipper,” I gargled, reaching the swimming platform, barely able to pull myself up from exhaustion.

“Permission granted,” he replied, surprised to see us.

After catching our breath and retrieving the Aussie hat I had left behind, Baz convinced two kids in a canoe to try to take us back to shore as we were both knackered from the swim.

They pulled up to Tropicbird and Baz climbed in, dipping the rear of the canoe underwater. He shimmied to the front, bringing the rear out from under water, dipping the front.

“Shit. Baz,” I said, clambering in, “move forward. The front tip is under water.”

Baz is not only tall but carries a large mass of muscles which cooperated with his height to turn the canoe into a floating piece of driftwood. The kids were screaming with laughter as we jumped out and did our best to bail out the water. Eventually, the kids had it under control and Baz and I swam back to shore, collapsing on the rocky beach.

We rode back into town where we stopped at a supermarket where I was astonished to see Tim Tam biscuits for 90 cents a pack.

“They cost almost four bucks in Australia,” I remarked.

“Aren’t they Aussie biscuits?” asked Baz.

“Yeah, and they’re cheaper out here. Ridiculous.”

We finished our shopping just as our friends came in. We exchanged our adventures of the day and they told us how a lady at the market invited all of us to come to her sister’s birthday party at their house later that night.

“They said there’d be singing and dancing,” said Orla, turning to me. “We told them you play guitar so bring it over.”

We parted ways and caught up with El.

“Roland invited us to stay with him in Mali Beach for going to Sika Island tomorrow morning,” he said. “We go to the island at 6 AM. And tonight you have been invited to a young girl’s house to speak English with her.”

Baz relayed our other plans for the night and we reached a compromise of spending an hour at the girl’s house, an hour at the birthday party and then riding down to Mali.

El took Baz over to the girl’s house first and came back to pick me up.

“Nice to meet you,” I said as I took off my shoes and walked into a white room with a coffee table and a few chairs.

“I am Esther,” said the mother, shaking my hand and smiling.

“Like in the bible,” I grinned. “Ana apa akabar?” I asked how she was in her native tongue.

“Bayik-Bayik,” she laughed.

“I am Bayu-Jessica,” said the young girl of sixteen who’s English, it turned out, was perfect.

We were served salty biscuits that dipped in nicely with the sweetest honey-tea that came beside it. Baz, who drinks hot beverages as often as a dolphin, was impressed by the tea. Jessica fired away questions, asking about the newly-born royal baby on Baz’s side of the planet and asking me to explain ANZAC Day, Australian football and how kangaroos give birth to their young.

We asked whether different islands had different dialects and she asked us the same about English. We explained the differences between American English and proper English – in its correct form. I compared the spelling of certain words like ‘colour’ and ‘flavour’ and demonstrated a Scottish and Irish accent to show her that we had different dialects in English as well.

She wondered how our parents weren’t angry with us travelling around the world rather than settling down.

“As long as we’re happy, our parents are happy,” I said as we explained how Karma works.

“I want to be a doctor,” she said in reply to Baz’s question on her future plans.

When we told her her English was perfect she got very excited and we asked her to tell her English teacher that he’s done a good job.

Before we left, her mother disappeared and reappeared with a tray. On the tray were two scarves, similar to the ones El had presented us with. “I am very honoured to have you as guests in my house,” she said excitedly. “You are the first English and Australian in my home.”

We said our ‘goodbyes’ and headed over to the birthday party up the hill. We arrived to a house full of locals, scooters littering the front yard. We walked in to cries of joy by the locals as we spotted our friends.

“Salamat Ari ulong tau,” I ‘happy birthday-ed’ Mory’s drunk sister. Both Mory and her husband, Peter, were gifted singers and the hosts of the party.

“Can you actually play that?” Baz asked as I whipped out my harmonica (I couldn’t be bothered hanging on to my guitar on the back of a scooter).

“Nope,” I grinned as I attempted to play Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love’, ‘No Woman, No Cry’, and The Doors ‘Let It Roll’ while Peter sang and the others danced to country music. Mory had been cooking with her mother-in-law all day to present us with a dinner of tuna, rice, sliced and peeled cucumbers, steamed green beans, lip-burning chili pickles and a heart-racing red chili sauce.

Baz’s face, red and burnt from the day’s sun, was coming out bright in the photos.

“El,” he turned to him, “look how red my face is.”

El looked around the living room and said, “Don’t worry, Bazza. Look at the furniture. It is red. Look at his T-shirt,” he pointed at me. “It is red. You just fit in.”Image

Olivia taught El a two-step shuffle whilst I started a Soul Train line, every couple on the end dancing down the middle.

Baz and I were growing tired and we still had to ride down to Mali Beach. We shook hands with all 70 guests (which took another hour) and headed back to El’s house to pack a bag.

As we arrived into the neighbourhood, we could hear loud music blasting away from somewhere up in the hills.

It had been a big day and Baz and I were ready for bed. I was just about to pack a bag when El said, “We stay here tonight and tomorrow we go to Mali Beach. Now we go to a party.”

“Another one?” asked Baz. “You up for another party?” he turned to me.

“I’m game,” I said. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”

P1030814We walked up the road through the dark neighbourhood, arriving to a front yard with booming music, the place packed with people. Everyone screamed out joyously as we headed straight for the dance floor.

The locals attached themselves to us like magnets and wouldn’t let us rest. I was drenched in sweat within minutes. A local man came up and tried to force a glass of murky liquid in my hand to drink. Thinking it was water straight from the tap (something I was warned to avoid in Asia), I declined politely but he wouldn’t let up.

Another local saw my plight and took the glass away. I thanked him and then the hosts offered us drinking water in sealed containers (turns out the liquid was sopi, a local alcoholic beverage made from the Tuat tree which resembles a coconut tree).

Surveying our surroundings we noticed that the speakers, blaring out the cheesiest of cheesy pop and hip-hop music, were bigger than the house the locals were attaching disco lights to. There must have been a hundred people present, a mixture of young kids and old folks. It was surprising to see that almost all of the people on the dance floor were men rather than women.

“The women are very shy here,” explained El as we retreated back to El’s house under the cover of darkness, collapsing into our beds, exhausted from the day’s events; the music from the party echoing all over the island.

“I think they’ll be getting noise complaints from Darwin,” I said sleepily as I slowly passed out.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Indonesia, Sailing, The Timor Sea | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

MONKEYS, CAVES and WATERFALLS. OH MY!

“Who the hell farewells at 7 AM?” I asked, yawning. “And on a Sunday?”

The farewell ceremony involved a speech from Indonesia’s Tourism Minister and more cultural dancing including the bamboo stick dance.

P1030465Eight girls dressed in traditional yellow costumes put together four bamboo sticks, laying them horizontally on the ground, criss-crossing each other. Four girls held four sticks by the ends and proceeded to copy a weaving in-and-out action while the other four girls danced around, jumping in and out of the openings before they closed, potentially breaking their ankles if caught. It’s to show their agility and dexterity to the men in their tribe.

After the ceremony we headed out for our tour of Kupang including Oneusi Waterfalls, the Crystal Cave and feeding monkeys. Our guide, Lukie, an English teacher and our driver, Jimmy (no English) crammed all seven of us in a 4-seater Toyota.

Everything is smaller in Indonesia; the horses, cows, goats, the lanes in the road and the people themselves, averaging a height of 5 feet. Oddly enough, the chickens were larger.

We arrived at the parking area of the waterfall after a half-hour drive out of Kupang, waving and calling out ‘Hello’ to the people on the street. We paid the keeper the $5 cover charge (it covered the entire group) and went in.

It was interesting to see that, although the park had rubbish bins, they seemed to be acting more like garden statues as they were empty and the rubbish, littered all around in small piles. It seems the locals have no awareness or education regarding littering and the harm it does to the environment.

The water itself was clear, cascading over rocks into shallow rock pools. Only Omar, Bazza and I hit the water,

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swimming under the waterfalls. A local man who was already there whipped out his phone and photo-shot us for the next hour.

As we trekked through the jungle-like scenario, we passed a huge Orb spider hanging in the middle of its web and a hand-sized cicada with long antennas and funky wrap-around eyes perched on a rock. The area was surrounded by banyan trees and other jungle plants and vines.

And rubbish.

The toilets were a little different from what us westerners might be accustomed to. Containing nothing but a squat hole with a water-filled basin, once you’ve finished your business, you use a ladle to ladle water from the basin to flush down whatever you’ve dropped (which is why using your left hand for anything else is regarded an insult).

We continued on to the Crystal Cave, stopping in a village to buy a bunch of bananas (10 in the bunch) for 70 cents.

70 cents!

The ants that came with it were free. And Omar got eight bread rolls for a dollar.

Just outside of the village Jimmy pulled over to the side of the road. There was no signage anywhere as Lukie announced that we had arrived.

We hopped out and trekked five minutes off the road over sharp, rocky rocks.

And rubbish.

“So Lukie,” I turned to him, being the inquisitive type, “why do they call it the Crystal Caves?”

“Because when the sun comes in, the rocks look like crystals,” he said.

Makes sense.

We reached the opening of the cave and clambered down over sharper rocks and bouldering boulders. There was no dedicated path or track. Make your own way kinda thing. We entered the dark abyss. Littered with large boulders (and sadly, rubbish).

As we trekked further down into the darkness, I noticed something blue lighting up the cavern.

“What is that?” we asked Lukie.

“Water pool,” he said proudly.

“No,” said Baz, “I don’t believe it.”

It was so clear you couldn’t tell where the rocks ended and the water began. You could see massive boulders through the turquoise crystal-coloured water, the colour reflecting off the dark ceiling of the cave.

© Omar Hernandez

© Omar Hernandez, 2013

“This is amazing!” Baz called out, his voice booming around the cavern.

Lukie didn’t wait for us. He was stripped to his briefs before we had even made it to the waterline and jumped off the rocks into the water. Baz jumped in after him and I followed suit.

Within minutes, everyone was in the pool, splashing about in the perfect temperatures of the water. There was enough light streaming in from the opening, 40 feet above us, to keep it almost romantic.

 

The pool was deep but I could see the bottom, about 5-7 meters below so I dived down, avoiding the dark, black caverns that probably lead to some more underwater caverns (and might be housing some cave monster). We jumped off a huge boulder which everyone cannon-balled while I swan-dived.

The thing about swan diving off a high platform is not to let your legs go over your head. You’ll avoid the feeling of your lower back about to snap and your vertebras fusing together which I learned the hard and painful way. When Olivia jumped off it seemed like she was thrown over and face-planted the water which had us all in stitches which in turn, almost drowned us.

Orla landed with a resounding splash right in the middle of us, just short of landing on the opposing cavern wall like Spiderman.

“You told me to jump as far forward as I could,” she said as I tried to tread water and laugh at the same time.

We had the cave to ourselves, spending almost two hours in the pool, splashing around, laughing like school kids.

From there, we headed to the outskirts of Kupang and ate at a restaurant, shouting Lukie and Jimmy. It was a Nasi Padang, buffet-styled cooking originating from West Sumatra. I packed my plate to the brim with three different styles of chicken, a spicy fish, declined the heart of cow, piled on the steamed rice, onion and potato cake and a fluffy spring onion omelette.

From lunch we went to feed the makak monkeys. They look like little baboons (minus the red, inflamed arse), someIMG_3382 sporting mohawks. We bought some peanuts and fed them. They were wary but soon enough they warmed up to us.

Enough to try and steal my water bottle straight from my pocket. The flash of the monkey’s canines had me resolving that it wouldn’t have been a good idea to get into a fist-paw with them. Especially when seeing the open wounds some of the other monkeys carried.

But I still got the bottle.

From monkeying about we headed over to the market. Being the only tourists there we gathered our own entourage of followers, mainly kids that we hi-fived. As we walked around, we came upon a basket full of small red chillies which Baz challenged me to eat.

The shopkeeper watched wide-eyed as I took a bite.

“It’s not too spicy,” I said to Bazza’s camera. I took another bite, finishing off the chilli. “It’s alright.” I waited a few more seconds. “Hang on,” I felt something warm climbing up my throat, getting hotter as it got higher. When it hit my mouth I thought my tongue was about to self-combust. “Oh good God,” I choked , sputtering about.

IMG_3401The shopkeeper shook my hand telling me I had very large testicles.

“Terima Kasih,” I thanked him in his native tongue. The market was very colourful and shaded but without any refrigeration we thought better of buying the raw chicken carcasses being used as a landing pad by the flies.

From the market we headed back to the landing area, thanking Lukie and Jimmy for an awesome day. We presented Jimmy with a ‘Sail Indonesia’ polo shirt.

 

We returned to the boat where Alison cooked us her famous vegetarian curry with fresh tofu from the market. We discussed further plans for the trip ahead and agreed on stopping at two more local anchorages on the West Timor Island. From there we will head north to Alor, where the Baz and Simon Road Show is to begin once we jump ship.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Asia, Conservation, Indonesia, Sailing, The Timor Sea | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

SAIL AWAY

Sunday afternoon.

We hustled ‘n’ bustled to fuel up, water up and, watching the tide go out, scraped the bottom of Cullen Bay, just making the open waters of the Timor Sea.

“Next stop, Indonesia!” I announced as Tropicbird headed out, leaving Darwin behind.

P1030284We headed due west, straight into a spectacular sunset. Our dolphin escort of the last hour of daylight had let us be as we motored until my midnight-02:00 night-watch shift when the wind picked up and Skipper decided to hoist the sails.

“Now for the magic,” he grinned as he killed the engine.

Silence engulfed us like a vacuum seal.

Nothing but the wind and the breaking waves on the bow.

We were sailing.

I looked over the rails and saw the luminous plankton, also known as phosphorous. A light green twinkled every now and again, like glo-worms by a waterfall.

“Alright,” I grinned, giggty-gigging to myself as I headed below deck to spend my first night at sea in my berth, falling asleep to the rolling motion of the boat.P1060557

In the morning, after a breakfast of porridge with raisins and cinnamon, a pod of about a hundred dolphins appeared  all around us, surrounding our port, starboard, stern and bow, surfing on our keel.

We all rushed about, watching and pointing.

My watch duty was 4-6 AM on the second day. As the sun came up, I trolled the fishing line out with a squid lure. Jill had come up and sat at the stern, chatting with me, looking out for dolphins while Skipper was sound asleep in the cockpit.

Then the line snapped.

“We’re on,” I jumped on the rod. There was no fight coming from whatever had hooked itself and I assumed that I was going to reel in a limp line. It took all but 30 seconds to bring in a Tarpon fish the size of a baseball bat, my biggest catch to date (although I’d only been fishing once before – the previous week).

P1030243“Lunch is served,” I grinned just as Skipper awoke and Baz came up to see what the commotion was about. He helped me fillet the fish and for lunch I steamed and served it on a bed of onion-sweetcorn rice. Olivia made a garlic-soy-ginger sauce which almost had her heaving overboard due to the roll of the boat (which is felt a lot stronger below deck).

Skipper had set up two head sails that were pushing us along at a steady 1.5 knots. We were barely moving so the suggestion of jumping in for a swim was welcomed by everyone. As we changed into bathers, Alison gave a cry from the starboard side.

“I just saw a whale!” she exclaimed. We searched the waters but all I could see was a sea turtle.

“You know you’re going slow when a turtle overtakes you,” I said.

“Oh look,” one of the girls pointed. “Jellyfish.”

Jellyfish stings hurt.

They hurt like a motherfucking sting from a jellyfish. They floated by as it appeared that we had parked right in the middle of their school zone.

On a boat, all your bowel movements are flushed out the back through a pumping system with the water in the bowl coming from the sea. The census is not to take a dump while you’re parked cause then shit just floats around.

Before I go for a swim, I always go for a number 2. So when Orla and Alison, who had already jumped off the stern, started to yelp out and Baz began to inquire who was responsible for the floaters, I realised my mistake.

“Oh, shit –” literally “– Sorry, ladies.” I somersaulted with the grace of a flying kosher pig off the bow.P1030172

The depth reader read 250 feet. It’s the deepest body of water I’ve ever swam in and to say that I wasn’t slightly overwhelmed would be like saying, ‘Hey, your slightly overwhelmed.’

I love swimming and I love being in water but put me in water where I can’t see the bottom and you’ll understand why I take a dump before I swim. And it didn’t settle my nerves when the dorsal fin of a shark was spotted as we were toweling off on deck with the addition of 2 sea snakes sighted not long after.

Dinner was an amazing spaghetti bolognese with dehydrated soy (which looks like dog food but is a pretty good meat substitute).

“Do you mind closing your legs?” asked Orla as I scrubbed the plates after dinner at the stern using a bucket of seawater.

“Why?” I asked.

“It’s just that I can see your left testicle,” she said.

I looked down and sure enough my legs were wide open and a curious left nut peaked from its holding in my bathers.

I grinned. “Then don’t look,” and resumed scrubbing.

“So,” Orla listed the day’s events as the sun dropped over the horizon, a red-pink-orange glow splayed across the sky like a water painting, “today we saw dolphins, a sea turtle, jellyfish, swam in Simon’s shit, saw a shark, sea snakes and Simon’s left nut.”

“Star of the day,” I collapsed into the hammock as another dolphin escort joined us.

Venus, the Evening Star (slash planet) and the first one out, appeared like clockwork as the sun set. The red orange ball dropped fast over the horizon and within 15 minutes we were under a night sky, littered with stars, the Milky Way cutting across like a bridge over an endless bay.

“I can’t believe that a planet is lighting up the water out here,” I said, staring in awe at Venus laying a path of light on the water, imitating the moon. We saw the Southern Cross, Orion’s Belt and Jill, using her star navigation software on her iPad, showed us where all the astrology signs were.

“What drug were these astrologers on when they claimed they can see all these animals up there?” I wondered aloud, looking up.

On day 3 I finished a great book that Baz had received at the Life Support Center in Darwin titled, ‘101 Adventures that got me Absolutely Nowhere’ by Phil O’Brien. It was one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, telling the tales of Phil roaming around the Outback from job to job over the last 25 years of his life.

Highly recommended.

After lunch we stopped for another swim. Skipper dropped the yellow floater that was our safety line but forgot to attach it to an actual line.

“I need a swimmer,” he called out as the floater floated away. I just happened to be standing next to him and without thinking I jumped into 300 feet of blue water.

I popped up and grabbed the floater, treading water as I watched Tropicbird sail away.

Oh fuck, I thought. I started to swim after the boat when two thoughts entered my mind:

  1. Splashing about might attract something with a dorsal fin and teeth.
  2. Swimming with a flotation device is like driving without wheels.

There’s nothing more terrifying than seeing your vessel of transport sail away (albeit at 1.5 knots) when you’re surrounded by open water and nothing else. Thankfully the line Skipper threw out just reached me and I pulled myself to the boat.

That night, Baz grabbed the boat-hook and trailed it in the water to activate the bio-luminous plankton. We all hung over the rail, watching in awe and delight as the water lit up in night-vision green.

On day 4 we stopped for another swim. This time, as I swan-dived off the bow, determined to overcome my fear of the very deep blue water. I opened my eyes and saw the bluest blue I had ever seen. Looking to my right, I saw the shadow of Tropicbird’s keel.

Skipper had brought out a mask and was cleaning one side of the propeller, scraping off the barnacles that were slowing us down. I was about to dive down and do the other side when I saw something far beneath me.

Is that… is that a whale? I looked up and in my peripheral I saw something swim by me. I turned and was face-to-jelly with a jellyfish.

Oh.

Shit.

I shot to the top and announced our uninvited guests. Still, we kept swimming and I even shimmied out on the spinnaker pole and dropped head down to the water below but somehow, Alison and Olivia got stung.

“I’d offer to pee on you but I already peed in the water,” I said as they thanked me, dousing their stings with vinegar.

Day 5 brought on some violent rolling of the boat. Tropicbird listed to 45°, rolling from side-to-side, really testing our balance (and Irish Riverdancing skills). We listed so violently that it knocked over three mugs of tea, one after the other.

Later that night, while sleeping soundly in the hammock on the deck, I awoke and looked down at the dark waters of the Timor Sea before swaying back over the deck, slamming into the mizzen mast. Taking it as a sign, I retired below deck and resumed sleep in my berth, almost flying onto Baz sleeping in the opposite berth.

As the sun rose up on the morning of day 6, Skipper called out, “Land ho!” and West Timor was in sight. It was a P1030405breath of fresh sea air to see land after 6 days on the blue. The wind picked up and we raised the genoa and main sail.

“What’s our speed?” Skipper asked from the forward deck.

“8 knots!” we called back.

We were flying, escorted by dolphins.

As we rounded the headland I spotted a wave, breaking left and going forever.

“Waves!!” I called out excitedly and rushed up to the bow. The choppy water made the bow pitch up to 10 feet before crashing back down onto the water only to be pushed up again.

The bow became my 50-foot surf board.

I was grinning and whooping at every pitch, timing the rise and fall of the motions. I waved at the passing fishing boats as the city of Kupang, on the West Timor Island, came into view, surfing the bow all the way to the anchorage. We passed by floating rubbish, passing plastic debris, cups, Styrofoam boxes, some shoes and what looked like a broken buoy. How the hell does one even bring oneself to dump rubbish in this beautiful environment?

“You’re burnt to a crisp, mate,” Bazza said when I returned to the cockpit.

“I feel it,” I agreed.

Since my sunglasses had taken a dive off the stern the day before, I had also managed to sunburn my eyes. At least the T-shirt tan I had obtained in Darwin was now gone.

Announcing our arrival

Announcing our arrival

Anchoring in Kupang, we had to wait until Quarantine and Immigration came to our boat. Being it Indonesia and being it an island meant we were on island time. After almost two hours eight officials finally arrived.

All boarded but only two were actually doing anything. We had to hide all the tools, and laptops. We made them laugh and had our photos taken with them.

“Where can I surf?” I asked one of the officials.

“Rote Island,” he said.

“Yeah but where can I surf here in Kupang?”

“Oh,” his face dropped. “No surf here. Only Rote Island.”

You gotta be kiddin’ me.

We readied the dinghy to lower it off the forward deck. Skipper checked its little outboard motor and, announcing its comatose state shortly after, meant we had to hitch a ride on a dinghy from a neighbouring boat to begin our first day in South East Asia. The landing area was packed with smiling faces and people waving. It seemed that the whole town had come to see all the sailing boats.

And of course, westerners = money.

On the streets we saw impossible traffic, a mixture of scooters, souped up taxi-buses (like something out of ‘Pimp My Ride’), conductors hanging out of the doors calling out, “Mister! Mister! Where you going?” and “Money, money!”

To them, it appeared, we were walking banks.

We walked on in the dark, paveless streets, trying not to get runover by passing scooters and the souped-up buses, passing fish markets and wood workshops filled with coffins. All along saying ‘Hello’ and waving at the locals who smiled and waved back.

We booked 3 rooms at the Ima Hotel. Jill insisted on paying for all the rooms.

After showering we headed out to a restaurant called ‘The Lion’ at the staff’s recommendation. There was karaoke and two full tables of locals breaking the Ramadan fast. We walked in and all eyes were on us.

Realising that I had sat on a seat that was too low against the table, I pushed back to change chairs when I felt something colliding then flying and landing with a thud, scraping along the concrete floor right behind me. I looked down to see that I had just wiped a kid out that had been running between the tables with his buddies.

“Oh, shit,” I said and was about to approach the little bugger to see if he was alright. But he just got up and continued to run to the table with the other kids and sat with them, as though nothing happened.

This kid had taken a chair like a WWE wrestler and he didn’t even peep.

I looked around nervously, readying myself for an angry, machete-wielding parent to come after me but no one appeared. All of a sudden the music changed and before we knew it, the locals had dragged us to the dance floor to partake in a traditional dance.

By the end of dinner, all the waiters wanted a photo with us.

We hitched a ride back to the hotel with random strangers. I don’t know how they didn’t throw us out of their car as we were blind drunk (well, I was). They pumped the music all the way and took photos of us.

From there I don’t remember what happened.

The next morning, after the all-included breakfast buffet, we were asked to pose with the staff for a photo. We were the celebrities and the locals, the paparazzi’s. We walked back to the landing area from where you could see all the boats anchored in the bay. And then I saw something that was so far over the top you couldn’t even see the top.

Or the sun.

Yachts come in different shapes and classes. The cruising yachts that the majority of the rally participants were sailing on might cost just over a hundred grand. Then you have the motorised vessels associated with millionaires – yachts.

Multi-millionaires have what’s known as ‘Super Yachts’.

Billionaires have ‘Mega Yachts’.

But Ibramovitch, the Russian oligrad who owns oil rigs around the world (and the Chelsea football club) has a Super-P1030430Mega-Jumbo-Mammoth yacht. It was bigger than the island we were on and it was blocking the sun. And if this extravagance wasn’t enough, it came complete with its own helicopter.

Its own helicopter!

Who needs a dinghy when you have a heli-fuckin’-copter on the back of your boat? I thought, watching the bird land on the mini-Titanic.

 

“He has 10 of them around the world,” said Arnour, a French backpacker I had befriended back in Darwin who was sailing on a different boat. “All the same.”

Jesus, talk about your small penis syndrome.

We changed hotels and booked into Hotel Maya. We had an easy night at a special ceremony for the participants of the Sail Indonesia rally. We were greeted by dancing dragons (like those on Chinese New Year’s), Minsters of Indonesia were there to show us how much we meant to them (and their economy). There was cultural dancing from every island and even a fashion parade, free food and gift bags with shirts, hats and scarves.

“Had I known we’d be piled with clothes and hats I wouldn’t have bothered packing,” I said as I tried on the T-shirt, almost drowning in the size XXXL.

“Do they think all Westerners are fat?” asked Orla, holding her shirt marked XXL.

With an early rise for the 7 AM farewell ceremony, we retired back to the hotel by 20:30.

Categories: Adventure Travel, Australia, Northern Territory, Sailing, The Timor Sea | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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