On leaving the anchorage at Banda a large humpback whale swam up to Mai Tai, did a full, slow 360 degree roll just metres from the boat as if to wish us a safe passage to our next destination. Very special.
Our 2-night, 3-day passage to Buru Island, was uneventful but we were on constant watch for the ubiquitous hazards of the Indonesian waters: floating logs, long fishing nets, unlit fishing vessels and FADS. We reached our way point early in the morning and headed in towards the land. From the sea, the entrance was invisible so it appeared we were steaming straight into the mountains. But with the aid of our chart plotter we nosed our way through the narrow passage which then opened up into a fully protected harbour where 6 other rally boats already lay at anchor, in front of the tiny village of Tifu. The protected nature of the harbour allows logging ships to come in to a crude wharf to pick up logs of mahogany, harvested throughout the island.
But no tourists come here. There is no electricity except when they fire up the generators, no telephone coverage, no shops. However, everybody has a cell phone, even the children, and they love to take selfies with us. The simple houses look clean and well cared for, and we were welcome guests at their local celebrations, all in preparation for Independence Day on the 17th August. Dancers, local musicians and small brass bands performed at every opportunity, even in church.
This is a mostly Christian island so we decided to attend a church service on Sunday morning. Just as the choir of 12 beautifully dressed ladies stood, hymn books in hand, and poised ready to burst into song, a trumpet sounded, very out of tune, and the brass band who were sitting in the back 2 pews, began to play. The ladies were obviously singing their hearts out, full of joy and devotion but we couldn’t hear a thing. It was beautiful to watch them all however.
We have been invited to visit a remote mountain village about 1 hrs drive away. Three open 4×4 utes were waiting to take us there, so we piled in, 14 per vehicle. That is 7 in the back tray, 4 across the back seat and 3 in the front, the person in the middle trying not to sit on the hand brake, or change gear inadvertently, all while holding on for dear life.
We drove over rough unpaved roads, full of huge pot holes, climbing through dense tropical forest. The village we were to visit was on the other side of the mountain, on the dry side of the island and as we emerged from the forest, we could look down to see a wee cluster of bright blue roofs far down in the valley.
A group of village elders, along with musicians and dancers were at the cross road to welcome us and escort us into the village by foot. We spent the next couple of hours visiting the tiny village and sharing the beautiful feast they had prepared for us. It was explained to us that we were the first foreign visitors to the village.
Then, back into the 4x4s, we all agreed that this was a real highlight of our trip so far. It will be hard to beat.
Back in the anchorage, some of the cruisers were preparing a pig to put on the spit to share with everyone. These people had never seen a pig cooked like this so we could show them something new and also give back some of the wonderful hospitality shown to us.
We have another 2- day passage to get to our next destination.
Our next destination was completely different. Buton Island is mostly Moslem, so even before you go ashore you hear the call to prayer from the numerous mosques, starting at 0500hrs.
The village of Banu Banua is a fishing village and has never hosted visiting yachts before. Once through the pass we could understand why, and why many of our own fleet chose to give this stop a miss.
The area through the narrow pass is strewn with submerged reefs, and even as cautious as we were, we did manage to go aground on one and were stuck, going nowhere for a while. The tide was going down and we were visualising Mai Tai lying on its side awaiting the next tide!!!! Not a happy thought. A couple of locals came by in their open canoe with a 20hp outboard and offered to tow us off. Lane was rather sceptical, but it did work and we went in to drop anchor in 9m of water.
A rickety old wooden structure with large rotten steps leading down to the water was to serve as our dinghy dock for the next few days.
Dozens of giggling children greeted us on the steps, wanting to take our dinghy lines, with a “hello mista, Wots your name? Where you from?”
We tried to avoid rusty nails and crabs as we clambered ashore. Then it was “Selfie. Selfie” Everyone has a cell phone, even the little children and they are as interested in taking photos of us as we are of them.
The whole village, including the school, is built out over the water on stilts, 3 to 4 metres high with rickety old wooden planks serving as walkways connecting them. This was once an island of wooden houses until the government built a bridge to connect them to the mainland. There are no shops, no gardens and every family has a motor scooter for family transport. No one was able to give us any reason for these houses to have been built like this in the first place.
A team from the Ministry of Tourism was on hand to escort us everywhere. They didn’t like us wandering off on our own, and we hope that it was more for our protection than them being suspicious of us. There was a small bus that took us to the nearest city of Ereke, 20 mins drive away, to go to the market, to banks for cash and to escort us to the many local events that we had been invited to attend as guests of honour by the Indonesian Government. For these occasions the women proudly wear the most exquisite traditional dress.
It is August 17th, Independence Day, so there are festivities and celebrations of old local traditions happening all over town. One time, a group of us yachties were dressed up in matching sarongs, lined up 2×2 to join in on a march through the city of Ereke, carrying a flag of the country we represented. The local people were lining the streets cheering and clapping as we passed by. We led the way but were followed by marching teams and sporting teams. There was not a tourist in sight. This was their celebration and they were honoured that we have come to be with them.
Indonesian TV cameras were covering the big events, so they can show how hospitable they are to tourists, especially with the news of the Asian Games so topical right now.
With such diverse cultures that we have experienced so far in this country, it will be interesting to see what our next destination brings.
Next stop, 60 miles down the coast to Pasar Wajo.