Playing tourist around Maumere

There’s a deadline for us to get to Maumere and submit our passports to Immigration for a visa extension, so while we could happily linger at Pulau Hoga it’s time to head south. It’s a bumpy ride for a couple of days. I’m just a little grumpy because it makes life a little more challenging. I want Hyo’s visit to be perfect! It’s ironic because she’s very zen about it all, nostalgic for cruising and actually really enjoying the rolly ride we have down to Flores island.

In Maumere, we struggle to find a good anchorage (NW winds this time of year make most of the bay exposed) but settle in with a stern hook near the village of Geliting. It probably would have been more comfortable in the islands to the north side of the bay, but we need easy access to town for visits to Immigration. It is never easy and takes multiple trips. Our first extension, in Ambon, took 3 visits to their office (4 if you count being sent away to make photocopies of key passport pages, then coming back again). This turns out to have been efficient compared to the experience in Maumere, where it eventually took 5 days and 4 (5) visits to have the visas completed.

Totem anchored near Geliting

With days to wait, we indulge in a little touristing. There is a spectacular natural wonder here, just a few hours drive from Maumere: the Kelimutu. Three calderas, high up a domant volcano, are each a vibrant- and different- color. Not only that, but the crater lake colors change on a regular basis, based on the composition of minerals inside.

Kelimutu's colored lakes

We’ve now begun to overlap with territory I backpacked through more than twenty years ago. A lot has changed, including the color of the lakes! During our visit, they were black, green, and a gray/blue. I remember a red lake, and a bright blue one, from 1991. Even Google Earth shows yet another band of color:

Kelimutu lakes

It was the non-lake views that most captured Niall. He actually got a little teary, looking out at a landscape that reminded him of the Pacific northwest. Pine trees lined the altitude slopes, and misty fingers of clouds worked their way up between them. Fuzz your eyes a little, and it does feel a little like a Olympic range view.

pretty views

It’s the terraced rice paddies we see on the way back down that really take me back. We haven’t seen these yet, although Indonesia is a massive producer (and exporter) of rice. I spent time as an undergrad researching rice agriculture in Indonesia, so now it’s my turn to get a little teary at these beautiful and familiar landscape views.

Terraced fields

On the road back to Maumere, we pass by a village that is still based on very traditional construction and practices. This ‘adat’ community has, as most of Flores, embraced Christianity. What makes them different is that the animist beliefs of their traditional culture have been incorporated into their current belief system. It’s not uncommon for blends like this to occur; what’s unusual is to see the traditional values taking such a prominent role relative to the “modern” religion.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot we don’t understand. My Indonesian is pretty good- I wouldn’t say fluent, but totally conversational- but it’s not good enough to understand the rapid-fire (and sotto voce) explanations given by one of the young men in the village. There’s a lot of vocabulary I’m just not familiar with. But we can see the elements that make up their ceremonies, their sacred objects and sacred places. Even with a partial understanding, it’s fascinating, and something I hope we can learn about later to filter our experience more intelligently.

Flores style houses

For now, we use the opportunity to explore, to make friends, to try to be gracious as they share their personal story.

Visiting a Bajo (Bajau) village

The first visitor to Totem in Hoga, Pondang, picked Jamie up for a spearfishing jaunt on our second morning there. Motoring his long boat to the outside of the conservation areas, they worked with fisherman netting from their small boats. Jamie came back with tales of these efficient fishermen, who it turns out belong to an ethnic group called Bajau.

Pondang and son

Traditionally maritime nomads, the Bajau are spread across a wide area in Southeast Asia, with large numbers in Malaysian Borneo and the Philippines. Indonesia has many communities too, here called ‘bajo’- or like the village we’re next to, ‘sama.’ They have their own languages, culture, and as Jamie gets to experience firsthand- are naturals in the water, with wicked fishing expertise.

They formerly were entirly mobile, whole communities living from their boats. The moden Bajao still live on the water, but in island-like stilt villages instead of vessels. Jamie’s spearfishing buddy, Pondang, lives in the Bajo village off Pulau Kaledupa, across the channel from Hoga. Built entirely over water, with about 1/2 km separating them from the island, the community is accessible only by boat.

Pondang invies us to visit his home in Sama Bahari, the bajo village across the channel. We’re pleased to accept. It’s just a short dinghy ride away to another world. Separated from the mainland by a good distance, this island of stilt homes has almost everything they need. A mosque. A school. Many little shops.

His wife makes us delicious cups of tea and serves cookies alongside. We sit outside and talk with him (she’s a little shy, but also pulled away when his mother shows up with a dugout of fish, and crosses to another village to help prepare the catch). We make conversation and try to engage the very curious crowd that has gathered around.

Our host Pondang

Children run along narrow boardwalks over the water. These kids don’t have a soccer field, but they’ve got the water to splash and play in- we have always liked to say we have a huge backyard, and they show what it really means.

Bajo village

I’ve grossly overpaid (it happens!) for some squid purchased from a boat that came by Totem. Pondang wants me to come to the Bajo market and pay a fair price. We like squid and they are terrifically abundant here, so, no problem getting more! The little market is on Pulau Kaledupa, across the water from the stilt village. I pay a fraction for my squid compared to the boatside seller.

Village market

Pondang drives our dinghy on the way back. I’m so grateful to him for letting us into his home and his world, and for another great memory of our time in Indonesia.

Pondang drives the dink

Wakatobi: beautiful water, troubled water

We’ve been hearing for a while about the impressive underwater life in the Wakatobi region (cruiser types, this is probably spelled Wakatohi on your charts, a strange error since it’s the acronym built from the first two letters of the names of the four islands that make up the group). It seems to be talked about in nearly the same tone as Raja Ampat. It’s promising.

Dinghy ride home

We anchor on the south side of Hoga island, a speck off Pulau Kaledupa. We’d heard there were moorings here and are keen to use them if possible so we can lower the possibility of damaging the reef below. Our first few passes on the buoys suggest they are completely inadequate- more like small vessel tie-ups for dive sites, which is exactly what they prove to be.

It’s the “off” season, so once again we are the only cruising boat in the area. It’s a beautiful big anchorage area, however, and easy to see how the fleet of rally boats will fit here in August. Hyo and I swim to the reef, eager to get our heads underwater and begin communing with the fish. It’s pretty, but we have poor vis- probably mostly because it’s late in the day. Mostly, what disappoints us is the trash. For the duration of our swim, there is at least one piece of garbage always in sight, and a constant flow of plastic bags and foil packaging pushes past us in the water.

Totem is visited by a few local boats. One of the first to stop by is helmed by Pondang. He is helpful and interesting to talk to, and we learn a lot; Jamie makes plans to go spearfishing with him in the morning. Pondang’s brother is a dive master on Hoga, so we also arrange to go dive, and get closer to the beautiful reef we’ve been hearing about.

Hyo gifts us with the dive, and it is out of this world. Niall is able to come with us- the girls still need more experience and confidence in the water. But it is an amazing thing, to be able to experience this incredible world underwater as a family.

Clownfish are adorable

The reef really is stunning, although I still give the “wow” award to Raja Ampat. There is a stunning variety of life, from the half-dozen species of nudibranch to the lobsters hiding in crevices, the waving gorgonian fans, the turtle that stops by to visit, more varieties of anenomes- and anenomefish- than I’ve seen in such a short span, and of course the schools of fish (a large group of barracuda are resident near the channel marker). Breathtaking!

Clownfish are adorable

It’s hard not to let all the garbage in the water get in the way of really enjoying it as much as we could. Each piece adds to the sad commentary, an in-your-face smack of how the world’s oceans are being trashed. There’s more on the beach, of the same plastic bottle and bag variety we see everywhere in Indonesia. Truly, everywhere. This is a country with mass access to cheap consumer plastic goods, no functional systsem for managing garbage, and a culture that things it’s perfectly fine to toss your empty water bottle into the drink. Depressing. The amount of change needed is massive.

Cruisers have raved about how Wakatobi is a place of hope in Indonesia where there was a functional, active system for waste management. Gondang, the dive master, tells me that during the tourist season, resorts on the island hire people to keep it picked up and pristine. It’s not the high season, so all the trash that is chucked on the ground stays. The pretty beaches they saw during the high season were just a temporary whitewash that covers up the real problem, the systemic problem underneath.

trash in the water

It’s still spectacular, and still among one of the more beautiful underwater realms we’ve visited.


Clownfish are adorable

Clownfish are adorable

Clownfish are adorable

Friends from afar

We are watching weather the whole time we’re in Banda, because our dear friend Hyo is coming to meet us. But she’ll be meeting us at an island on the other side of the Banda Sea, and we have a passage of several days to get there. Luck is with us and we arrive in port at Wangi Wangi literally a couple of hours before her flight lands. Yes, that was a little close!

Hyo is part of our cruising family. She crossed the Pacific with sv IO the same season we did in 2010. Along the way, we shared many anchorages and built some great memories together. IO has since been sold and she’s working and living ashore back in Canada.

We are so excited that  she decided to come spend a few weeks with in Indonesia (the girls even made up “countdown calendars”). It reminds me that one of the real joys of cruising are the fast friendships that form. It stands in stark contrast to our land based life. why is that?

It’s probably easier to meet people, because as fellow boaters far from home, you immediately have a number of things in common. The usual resources and safety nets aren’t necessarily available. Cruisers rely on each other by necessity, which may be why friendships tend to fast-forward. It could also be that paths cross, diverge, and re-cross: so we know we need to make the most of a fleeting moment. We also simply have fewer distractions: we lead lives that are in many ways less cluttered with false priorities, and are able to more readily put time into human relationships.

Whatever the cause, after sharing an anchorage for a few nights we typically know people better than if they’d been our neighbors on land for years. Except with Hyo, it wasn’t an anchorage. It was the freaking Pacific Ocean. We have just a little bit of history.

It is a joyful reunion. We have so much to catch up on: especially, just to be together. Oh, and then there are the goodies… oh my. Chocolate. Courtesy flags (bonus for anyone who can ID the flag on the table!). Cabin fans. And not least: the coveted new TinTins.

Hyo is here!

Banda: the memories that stick

A big part of the reason we are out on this crazy adventure as a family is because Jamie and I believe it is a great way for our children to grow up, to appreciate the world around them and our place within it. But we wonder what memories will stand out for them in the decades to come, what experiences are etched or shape them. Every once in a while, we find ourselves living moments that resonate in that space. They are reminders that- for now, at least- this is the right path for us.

Climbing Gunung Api will surely be one of these indelible moments. It was this image of Mairen at the summit that brought it home. It’s not like we’ve had to train for weeks and wear special equipment or hire a guide or any of that other baggage. It’s that the volcano is a massive, looming presence in our view. The sides plunge down from a little over 2100 straight down to the bay where Totem is moored. No massive peak, but with a drop straight to the sea, it beckoned us!  And climbing it was hard. We were soaked, jelly-legged fools at the top. She was triumphant at the achievement: climbing this peak that hovered behind the mist above us all week.

In each of their very different personalities, the children experience it in entirely different ways, but each one feels like a marker. For Niall, it was stepping into Explorer shoes, and documenting every step with our GoPro (we have got to get smart with the editing on that thing so I can start sharing video!).

Ryan picked us up in his boat, to head to the trail

Siobhan, our youngest, has not been our strongest hiker. *cough* …by kind of a long shot. And being the youngest, that’s sometimes been the limiting factor for places we go and hikes we tackle. So for her, it was simply doing this. She did a fantastic job, and she knows it. Yes, Ryan gave her a lot of help, but she still got to the top on her own two feet.

Ryan and Siobhan the summit. Yes, he was barefoot the whole way.

The words Gunung Api are, literally, fire mountain- and translate from Indonesian as volcano. This particular peak last erupted in 1988, and black streams from the last lava flow still mark sides of the peak.

Much of the hike is under a jungle canopy, the shade helping us keep cool. However, it’s nearly straight up. No switchbacks ease the strain on our thighs. The trail turns quickly from humus and leaves to a talus-like volcanic rubble, and eventually to a finer scree as we come out of the lush forest and into the exposed top stretch.

When we reach the top, about 90 sweaty minutes later, we are soaked and exhausted, but the view is exhilarating. Mairen nailed it with her exultation at the top.

There’s nothing really specific to the cruising life that lets us find moments for our children where they can tackle a challenge and learn about themselves in the process. But I feel lucky to find really unique opportunities that build their life story, fill out their role in our family narrative, with strength and interest and achievement. These kids have some stories to tell.

A few more pictures from our morning on the mountain…

Jamie takes in the view

Adopted again, and taught about Spice

The kindness of strangers is incredible. Once again we find ourselves in gratitude for the great friendliness and hospitality of Indonesian families who have welcomed us as honored guests, and wondered what we ever did to deserve such gracious treatment.

We met Ryan and Nini because their family home at the foot of Gunung Api, the volcano island across from Bandaneira, was near our mooring site in the harbor. Siobhan and I paddled over in the kayak as part of an afternoon of exploration, and to introduce ourselves. We expected to be anchored by their house for a few days and wondered if they might be as curious about us as we were about them.

The house across the water

Nini and I chatted for a few minutes, between kayak and breakwall. Before we paddled off, she brought out a few dried nutmeg fruit in a plastic tub for us to share back on Totem. The next day, the girls and I made macaroons to refill her container, and brought our treats back…and so it began.

On our return visit, we snacked on “bamboo rice” on their porch. It’s a sticky rice cooked with coconut milk in rolled banana leaf logs to look a bit like a section of bamboo. Slightly smoky from the wood stove, slightly sweet from the rice and coconut, I find them addictive. Every time we see her after this, another bag of them ends up in mind hand.

We ended up having dinner twice at their home. Delicious bakso, a noodle and vegetable soup with fish balls. You dress it up to taste with vinegar, sambal (chili sauce), and kecap manis- the sweet Indonesian soy sauce. Another day, we’re treated to whole grilled fish.

One morning, they take us walking in the hillside behind their house to show us their spice trees. Their extended families live in about a dozen homes dotted at the foot of the volcano. As we walk by, relative lean out to smile and wave or come out to join us.

Planted years ago- they can only speculate- these trees provide both food and income. They show us each one, and we collect windfall fruit as we go. Nini shows me how to choose the best ones to pick up. Ryan’s mother tears around collecting twice as many as any of us manage to gather.

This whole adventure is to share what they know about something they know we are curious about, and they patiently answer all our questions.

We leave with tiny saplings of nutmeg, kenari, coffee, tamarind, and cinnamon. Dug during our walk on the hillside, then carefully packed in the rich black earth and set into a bucket to transport back to Totem, I think they hope we’ll be able to keep these with us until they get home to the US. I’m just hoping to keep them alive long enough to replant in someone else’s care. But it’s the gesture that matters: they’re giving a piece of their history, our history, to take along our journey.

Exploring the Banda islands

There’s still a bit of a side roll slapping Totem around when we head out to Banda, but it’s manageable and we’ve got a bit of moonlight to help us along. The rich history of these islands have made them one of our most anticipated stops in Indonesia. As they fade into view in the early morning light, I can’t help but feel a little tingly with excitement.

Summary backstory, for those unfamiliar: this handful of islands, in something of a nautical no-man’s land of Indonesia, were once the world’s only source of nutmeg. Nutmeg’s wonders are written of as far as ancient Greece, and it was long credited with a variety of health and medicinal properties. In Europe, it more costly more per ounce than gold, offering these distant nations incentive to find the source. When nutmeg was purported to aid bubonic plague, popularity exploded and the opportunity to get rich through the trade headed exploration up further. The first Portuguese ships arrive in Banda in 1511, and broke centuries of Venetian control (through their trade with Constantinople). By 1609, Neira (one of the primary settlements in the islands) became the first Dutch territory in the archipelago they would one day help to consolidate as Indonesia. For a while, the English maintained a foothold in the spice islands through Run island, just west of Neira, but eventually traded it to the Dutch for their small territory in the New World. We know that the island as Manhattan today. The voyages of Columbus, Magellan, Drake and countless others who do not have historic fame to recall their names were all centered around this race for control of spice.

So, yeah, in the scheme of modern world history, it’s kind of an important place.

The nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon which once drove explorers to Indonesia have long since been dispersed to grow in other places around the world. It’s a sleepy island town now, but reminders of the past are everywhere. To be able to walk through and touch pieces of this history feels just a little surreal.

The older if the two forts on Neira is little more than overgrown ruins, but can still be imagined.

The “newer” (1611)  Dutch fort is restored and somewhat maintained. We have it entirely to ourselves for about half an hour before the caretaker arrives. He’s happy to help fill in some gaps to the extent that we can ask questions and understand answers in Indonesian.

In the Rumah Budaya museum, Ibu Feni cranks up a gramophone to give us an audible peek into the era of colonial wealth and extravagance. The kids test drive traditional local weapons and a ceremonial Porteguese helmet, while Jamie weighs a piece of ‘uang potong’- cut money, the first currency introduced by European traders- in his hand.

There are shades of the past sprinkled around… from the cannons that look cast aside along the road to those placed decoratively along waterfronts, to the marble patio tiles that were almost surely brought by ship around Africa to enhance to a wealthy Dutch perkenier’s residence.

We treat ourselves to dinner ashore at the lovely Mutiara guesthouse, and feel a touch of colonial elegance at their garden table- shaded by nutmeg trees.  It’s a delicious dinner- high end dining for $7/plate. A vegetable soup cooked spice-island style with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg… whole grilled fish with a tangy, spicy sauce…roasted eggplant with a sauce of kenari, the wild almond trees interplanted in nutmeg groves to offer shade…two kinds of rice… stir fried vegetables with shrimp… an avocado and chocolate puree for dessert. I have probably forgotten something. The bubbly Abba put on a Travel Channel show program that gave a tour of the spice islands, another vehicle for us all to learn from. Needless to say we rolled ourselves out of there.

See the cockatoo on the chair? How about that monster shell?

There’s so much more here than we can see. Great Indonesian statesmen spent years here under house arrest. But I guess that once again we’re feeling a bit of our own slant on history, and more interested in reliving the aspects that touch our lives than those that are specifically Indonesian. We could probably rush around and “do” everything on the historical points list here, but who wants to rush? We get so much more out of leisurely visits, getting to know people, then blindly gawping at all the sights. There’s still never enough time.

Reading notes- Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, by Giles Morton, is a fascinating and highly readable book about the history of the Banda islands. We highly recommend it for anyone coming this way! Jack Turner’s book Spice offers a broader context and more interesting reading on the subject.

The boat as a platform for entertainment

Good weather is elusive, and we’re not interested in a bash to the Bandas, so a week passes in Saparua. With the extra time, perhaps it’s not too surprising that we made a few friends ashore.

Twelve year old Jundri was the first: he and his friend Onget paddled out to Totem on a raft of lashed-together sago trunks. They came back to play, swim and visit many times. He invited us to his home, where his mother fed us delicious doughnuts and sold us some arak. For the uninitiated, arak (or arrack) is Indonesian moonshine, made from fermented palm flowers. I predict this bottle will sit unconsumed for a while.

One of Jundri’s relatives had the same first and middle name as Jamie. Brothers from another mother.

Flying a kite with Jundri near the fort, we met a couple of Fullbrights who had been English teachers at the local high school in prior years- they work in Jakarta now, and were back to visiting their former students.

After a fun afternoon on the boat with the whole crowd, their students were back a number of times in the following days. I’m sure it was all about practicing their English, right?

Squalls didn’t matter much. Just keep swimming.

They brought is local snacks to try: crunchy treats, all of which included either cinnamon, nutmeg, or kenari (nuts similar to almonds). Good times!

[photos photos photos]

Waiting for weather in Kota Saparua

We had a mostly grey week of watching for weather to sail down to the Banda islands. The anchorage off the main town was much more flat and secure, so we had a comfortable place to wait and felt in no hurry.

Saturday is the big market day. Best to go early! I was hoping to score some chicken… the earlier you buy, the fewer flies come with your purchase. Siobhan tagged along and caused quite a stir.

This lady decided to kidnap her and show her off to friends. All in good fun.

Siobhan is being held at the rear right of the picture

Everyone is always watching Siobhan.

I just like watching all the market goods: like these gorgeous chilies, and the mountains of sago.

look: NO PLASTIC PACKAGING! It can be done.

Most days, the village was a lot slower, and a lot sleepier.

Dried cloves in a shop wait to be packed and shipped.

A small warung, the ubiquitous little restaurants of just a few tables (or even just one).

Salt for sale.

It’s all your point of view

We nestled into the south harbor of Saparua, right in front of an imposing fort. Fort Duurstede was built by the Dutch in the 1670s.

The ruins were interesting, but other than a guest book and a guy collecting fees there was little to illuminate us about what we saw. We can speculate about the trace evidence of jail cells and the sanitation, but wish we could learn more.

that would be the jail

that would be the facilities

The museum adjacent did have a series of dioramas (with annotations in both Indonesian and English) depicting the 19th century uprising that took place there. In the early 1800s, it was occupied by the English, then turned over to Dutch as holdings were consolidated with a bit of colonial horse trading. The local community didn’t want the Dutch back, and one man led a successful attack to take over the fort. He was given the name “Pattimura,” which means big heart, because he didn’t kill all the Dutch within- he spared the Resident’s young son.

The museum tells almost nothing about the history, purpose, or structures remaining of the fort. It is chock full of Pattimura’s story. It seemed odd at first, but we had to change our point of view. Foreign tourists of (ultimately) European origin, we’re drawn to understanding a particular aspect of the history. But most of the visitors to the fort are Indonesian, and they’re much more interested in their national hero’s role here. Pattimura, an inspiration to Sukarno, and important enough to pictured on Indonesia’s smallest denomination of currency- the 1,000 Rupiah bill.

the 1,000 Rp note, from Wikipedia. Currently worth about US$0.10.

So we roll with it. But we wish we’d brought a few headlamps, because the someone didn’t pay the electric bill and we are squinting in the dark at the displays.

drama, in miniature