Kupang, West Timor
“This is Rally Radio, welcome to Indonesia” boomed Dick McCune’s voice over the VHF as we crossed the finish line of the Darwin to Kupang Rally. Continuing in a voice that sounded like an FM radio personality, “come on in to Kupang Teddy’s at the end of the beach, the beers are cold.” This was just the first of many welcomes to Indonesia.
As we were the first to arrive, we had the anchorage to ourselves for awhile, but within a few hours and throughout the night, the fastest boats in the fleet began to quietly arrive and take their places along the beach at Kupang on the west end of Timor Island. The 465 mile passage across the Timor Sea from Darwin was too easy, all downwind, and too much of it motor-sailing when the breeze got too light to keep the spinnaker flying. That evening, we enjoyed a few celebratory drinks, a late dinner on board, and then retreated to our berths looking forward to a quiet and motionless sleep.
That sleep was interrupted well before dawn by some horrible Arabic a capella singing, broadcast loudly with an ample dose of distortion throughout the town. We later learned that the singing, which sounded like Tarzan having his wisdom teeth pulled, was one of the five or so calls to prayer broadcast from the local Mosque starting at 0430 daily. As the morning wore on, the cacophony of vehicle horns, booming car stereos, and loud, distorted music playing outside various shops, mounted a full scale invasion on our eardrums. Welcome to Indonesia!
We were told that Customs, Immigration and Quarantine officials started work promptly at 0800. We were the first boat to be cleared, and they arrived at about 10-ish. This is what is known in Indonesia as “rubber time.” Now normally, when we clear, we are boarded by two to four officials. In this case, we were invaded by ten or twelve people. I couldn’t exactly count them all as they were all over the place. At least there were four of us to keep an eye on them. Customs conducted a very thorough search of every drawer, locker and under and every settee-of the forward half only of the boat. In eleven years, that is the most we’ve ever been searched. Satisfied that we weren’t laden with contraband, they suddenly departed, with the last guy, apparently a hanger-on mate of one of the officials, asking for whiskey and cigarettes. Assuring him we had neither, he shuffled off disappointed to the next boat. Feeling violated, we mentioned this to the rally organizers and they instructed the remaining boats to permit no more than four “officials” aboard. Not exactly an impressive first impression of Indonesian officialdom.
Graham and Todd were eager to check out Kupang so after a quick breakfast, they assembled the dinghy and headed for shore. Merima and I remained behind and gave “Moonshadow” a tidy-up. That afternoon Merima and I headed ashore to stretch our legs and see a bit of Kupang. After a short walk through the town, we felt as if we had seen enough and headed for Teddy’s to see if the beer was in fact cold as advertised.
Over a few bottles of Bintang, the rather tasty local brew, talking with some other yachties who had been before, we learned why we came to Kupang first. They told us from here, it just gets better. What a relief! Kupang made the average Mexican town look pretty flash. The infrastructure, if it could be called that, was literally crumbling under our feet, and there was trash everywhere. Apparently the Indonesians have not embraced waste management. For security, all the shops have roll up garage doors which they pull down when they’re closed for the day. At night and on Sunday, the whole town is a mosaic of various colored steel roll-up doors. We noticed a few of the white trucks with “UN” in blue letters on the side (as seen on TV), reminding us that we were just a hundred or so miles from one of the world’s hot spots, West Timor, which occupies the other half of the island.
As the rally fleet arrived, the crowds at Teddy’s Bar got bigger, and the welcoming festivities began. These consisted of long-winded speeches, in Bahasa Indonesian of course, with broken translation, by all sorts of officials like governors, mayors and regents. This was followed by traditional dancing with loud music, followed by very loud rock music, followed by dinner of mostly unidentifiable food accompanied by deafeningly loud rock music. If the food didn’t drive one away, the music did. Many of us were driven back to our boats anchored hundreds of meters away, where it could be enjoyed at a proper volume. We have learned that every sound device is always played at full volume. Welcome to Indonesia!
Now when one arrives in a foreign country, it’s a good thing to learn a few important phrases like please, thank you, how to order a beer and directions to the toilet, important stuff like that. I asked the Indonesian word for thank you and was told that it was terima kasih. Hell, I asked, how will I remember that? In his own inimitable way, Todd replied “just think tear up my car seat.” Worked for me.
The easiest and cheapest way to get around an Indonesian city is in a bemo. I’m not sure of the literal translation to English, but I would nominate “boom box.” A bemo is a mini van with two long bench seats in back, oriented fore and aft. The ones in Kupang were frivolously decorated with colorful paint jobs, lots of unnecessary lights, bright stickers and various chrome adornments, posters of Bob Marley and/or gorgeous western female divas, and of course, equipped with a copiously loud stereo system. Under each of the bench seats was one solid speaker box with at least a half a dozen sub-woofers, generating hundreds of decibels of sound, mostly the pumping bass track. A defribulator on board would be redundant. The conductor acts as sort of a barker, soliciting customers and collecting the money. He rides hanging mostly out of the perpetually open side door, getting off before the bemo fully stops and hopping on after it is well under way. This leaves the driver to fully concentrate on his driving. This is a good thing, as there are were no traffic signals in Kupang, and driving in Indonesia is a “life in your hands” proposition. The only driving rule is that there are no rules. A ride in a bemo is like walking into a coffin sized disco, complete with large doses of second hand smoke, and deafeningly loud music. The good news is they are very cheap transport. For four of us to go 20 minutes across town to the shopping mall cost a total of 4000 rupiah (the Indonesian currency) or about 40 US cents.
Speaking of the rupiah, if it was the world’s currency, almost everyone on earth would be a millionaire. I changed AUS $400 in Darwin and got over 2.5 million rupiah, which was a massive wad of notes. If you wanted to make a large cash purchase in Indonesia, you would need to show up with a suitcase or wheelbarrow full of notes.
While the grocery store in Kupang was very modern and well-stocked, we realize that we weren’t in Australia anymore Toto, and would need to get used to eating different, non-western foods. This is always one of the interesting and challenging things we enjoy about cruising to new countries. Some of the things we take for granted like mayonnaise, UHT milk, sliced bread, wheat flour and peanut butter are just not to be found here. On the other hand, we did discover some things that we would have least expected to be there, such as A&W Root Beer, 7-UP, Oreo cookies and Tupperware.
Visiting the “locals” market, which is an outdoor arrangement of ramshackle stalls consisting of bamboo poles supporting some sheets of rusty old corrugated iron to keep out the sun and some of the rain, is a completely different experience. This is by far the roughest I’ve seen in 11 years of cruising. The smell of dried fish and decaying vegetables is enough to drive away most westerners. If you can handle that, then the muddy pathways and the foraging rats won’t bother you too much. What we encountered, besides many unrecognizable items, was an assortment of miniature food, covered in flies. Onions were the size of garlic, tomatoes the size of grapes, potatoes the size of walnuts, pineapples the size of potatoes, pumpkins the size of grapefruits, carrots the size of, uh, baby carrots. We’re not sure if they harvest too soon or are just agriculturally challenged. And if the produce was miniature, the prices were miniscule. For example, limes (for caipirhinas) cost us AUS$1.00 each in Queensland, and about the same price per kilo in Indonesia.
Indonesia is an archipelago made up of thousands of islands, so naturally the Indonesians are quite keen seafarers and fisherman. We’ve seen a plethora of boats here, ranging from simple dugout canoes to posh inter-island ferries resembling small cruise ships. What we mostly encounter are either long, narrow open wood canoe-type boats or larger exotic looking trawler boats with a wheelhouse or cabin to protect the occupants from the elements. What they seem to have in common is that they are very low and rakish looking, painted in bright colors and they have incredibly noisy inboard engines. When an Indonesian boat passes, it usually comes close enough to swap paint, and it sounds like either a Harley Davidson motorcycle with no muffler in full throttle acceleration or a Vietnam era Huey helicopter flying over at masthead level. Most of the boats have some sort of primitive inboard engine, as outboard motors are expensive and rare. The Indonesians are quite resourceful and have learned to attach a prop to the end of a Weed Eater, which they then affix one or two to the side of a canoe for propulsion. Of course in most cases they remove the muffler to ensure it reaches proper sound levels. The popping and clacking of any Indonesian boat will immediately cause any conversation in which you may have been engaged to cease, and in some cases fingers to be inserted into ears. In most cases the boats are chock-full of curious Indonesians all waving, smiling and yelling “hello mista” to us. We just smile, pull one finger out of our ear and wave back.
With all these boats running every which way burning up millions of liters of dinosaur juice, it’s a wonder that someone has not embraced the concept of a fuel jetty with electric pumps. Almost everyone uses plastic jugs, filled at a service station, and lugged to the boat. We took on 500 liters in Kupang which was a real welcome back to the third world for me. The local fuel man came alongside with a small canoe and preceded to hand pump fuel from 30 liter jugs into our tank, through our Baja filter of course, to remove all the crap that he insisted wasn’t there. We had to stop twice in the process to clean the filter as it had totally clogged with water and crap. I’m glad I stocked up on Racor fuel filter cartridges in Oz.
With all the rally welcoming ceremonies finished, and the fuel tanks full, we were all too happy to leave the bright lights, noise and smoke of Kupang in our wake and head off to spend a quiet night anchored in the middle of nowhere.
The next port of call on our itinerary was Kalabahi on the island of Alor, about 175 miles north. We were looking forward to Alor as it is purported to have some of the best SCUBA diving in Indonesia. We split the trip into two long day-sails, hugging the north coast of Timor the first day and anchoring for the night in sight of West Timor. We kept a low profile that night, no anchor light and departed for Kalabahi before dawn the next morning. We sailed due north across the Savu Sea and worked our way through the channels leading to Kalabahi.
Kalabahi, Alor Island
The numerous small villages clinging to the steep hillsides along the west shore of Alor provided some great scenery as we hugged the shoreline to get some relief from the wicked currents, in some cases more than four knots, in Selat Pantar channel. Finally turning northeast into Teluk (bay of) Kalabahi with a rising tide, we finally got a bit of current behind us and made it to the tight anchorage in time for sundowners.
From a distance in the binoculars, the anchorage looked more like a marina or a raft-up.
We found one remaining spot in the anchorage in reasonably shallow water (less than 20 meters) and carefully anchored, short roding, in a spot that left us quite cozy with four other rally boats. To keep things interesting, the wind Gods made sure to cycle the breeze through at least 360 degrees each day.
Kalabahi was alive with a regional art, craft and music expo, so soon our ears were under full assault from loud music and of course the regular call to prayer from the village mosque. Of course there were plenty of welcoming ceremonies and various other activities for the rally participants, but we came mainly for the diving.
We enjoyed a walk in the village, had a few beers at the temporary “yacht club” set up for the cruisers at the local hotel, and a very nice meal on shore. Of course, some “traditional music and dance” was tossed in for our pleasure.
The next day, we were up early and boarded a traditional boat that had been chartered by DiveAlor, the local outfit to take us to some of the choice local spots. It was a real kick to actually get a ride on one of the boats we had seen going by us many times at close range.
Basic is probably an understatement for this “dive boat.” While it was reasonably clean and in good nik, it was apparent that DiveAlor had a whole kit that they brought on for the dive charter. This included things like dive compressors, tanks, snacks and water that one would expect on a dive boat, but also some things that most Indonesian boats don’t have, like life vests, a first aid kit, carpet for the sun deck (roof), toilet paper, music, those sorts of things.
What amazed me is how these people manage to navigate these boats in the open ocean with such a minimum of gear. The wheel house had just that-a wheel. Nothing else. No compass, no GPS, no VHF radio, no engine instruments, no helming seat, no nothing. Not even a compass. The captain made his way purely by good old fashioned EBN (eyeball navigation). The helm, an old car steering wheel, was connected “Rube Goldberg style” to the rudder post some 40 feet aft by exposed polypropylene lines guided through a series of old wooden pulleys. There was no throttle or gear shifter. Engine control was done by a voice call from the wheelhouse to the “engineer,” a little man stationed below the floorboards in the bilges next to the engine. I have no idea how he could even hear the commands from up front over the racket of the engine. The galley consisted of a single burner diesel stove and an ancient looking tea kettle in a tiny nook across from the toilet. The galley had that “well used” look and oil coating, similar to the engine. The toilet, situated strategically at the very aft end of the boat, was absolutely brilliant in its simplicity. It consisted of a hole in the transom of the boat, with a toilet seat positioned over it, raised off the floor by a round stainless steel chute. There was no flush handle, no bowl, no pipes, no pumps, no holding tank, and other than the hinged toilet seat, no moving parts. Only a yachtie who has suffered through a clogged toilet could really appreciate this. There was a roll of toilet paper hanging on the wall and a bucket of water and a ladle for washing up after. The décor consisted of an assortment of graffiti, either carved or scrawled in felt pen on the three rough-hewn wood bulkheads and door. I guess this was sort of the Indonesian version of “Kilroy was here.”
The most important thing was that we had three excellent dives in the waters surrounding Alor, and shared a great day on and in the water in excellent conditions with some fellow yachties. We encountered loads of clownfish, some black with white stripes, quite a few lionfish, and a couple of interesting frogfish. The soft corals and sponges were prolific, and all in all, the place lived up to its reputation.
Again, longing for some peace and quiet, and with no particular destination in mind, we sailed west the next day leaving the islands of Kuwala and Pantara to our port side. In light airs and calm waters we spent the day watching as seaside villages, massive volcanic mountains with smoking cones and scenic bays and inlets passed us by. We took anchorage off of a sand cay near a pearl farm near the northwest corner of Adunara Island. Enjoying the peace and quiet so much we lingered there for a second day and caught up on some missed sleep and boat chores. Thank God there was no mosque in earshot! Departing early the next morning, we made our way over the northeast tip of Flores Island and took anchorage on a coral shelf just before sunset at a small volcanic cone island called Babi. With a sundowner, we watched the sun drop behind a very picturesque little fishing village situated on a small sand spit extending from the main part of the island.
Maumere (Sea World), Flores Island
Setting sail early the next morning, we arrived near the town of Maumere on the Island of Flores by midday, taking anchorage off just off the beach by a small dive resort called Sea World.
We’d read that Maumere was the largest city on Flores Island, so hopped a bemo into town. We wanted to check the place out a bit, and see if we could score a few provisions and maybe even find an Internet café. Arriving to the center of Maumere, we were completely under whelmed. A large rain squall earlier that day had washed most of the gutter trash into the streets, so the place wasn’t looking too flash. The “central park” was surrounded with barbed wire and a small herd of goats were grazing inside. We weren’t quite sure if the fence was meant to keep the goats in or the people out.
We did find a tidy little Chinese grocery store that had some nice American apples and pears and a few other goodies, but otherwise found Maumere to be only just slightly more appealing than a visit to a Tijuana barrio. On the way back to the boat, the bemo we boarded waited nearly a half hour to fill up with passengers before it made its way out of town. Those who joined us for the ride were mostly young men smoking cigarettes. Between the loud music and smoke, the trip was almost unbearable, and we wished we had walked. For the pleasure of a long wait and an uncomfortable ride, the conductor tried to rip us off for three times the price of the exact same ride in the other direction. Fortunately for him and us, I don’t know any swear words in Bahasa Indonesia.
Back on board “Moonshadow” we washed off the grime and smoke from our Maumere misadventure and then headed back ashore to the resort for sundowners and dinner. The staff of Sea World were most gracious, the facilities excellent, the grounds lovely, and we enjoyed drinks and a delicious buffet dinner for two for about US$14.
At 0630 the following morning we were in a minivan we had hired for the day, on our way to the legendary Kelimutu volcano. For three hours we wound through rainforests, rice paddies, small villages, coconut and banana plantations and steep mountain terrain on a one-and-a-half lane road heading down island to the volcano.
Driving on Indonesian roads requires tremendous skill, intense concentration, rock-steady nerves, split second reactions, and a certification of insanity. From a westerner’s point of view, the roads here make absolutely no sense. Drivers follow way too close, drive in the wrong lane, pass when they shouldn’t, speed frivolously, honk their horns incessantly and stop and park in the middle of the road whenever they feel like it. We came upon a broken down truck blocking one lane of the road, with the driver happily asleep on the ground under the front bumper. Because cars are so expensive, most people drive small motorcycles. It’s not uncommon to see two, three or even a family of four on one Honda 100cc motorcycle. Few have rear view mirrors. The Indonesians driving style would make Evil Kneivel nervous. Some motorcycles have so many boxes and bags attached to their sides that they take up a full traffic lane. The only driving rule seems to be that there are no rules and “might is right,” so if you are in a car, truck or bemo, you can pretty much ignore the motorcycles.
If the chaos of vehicular traffic wasn’t enough, the pedestrian habits thoroughly baffled us. People seem to prefer walking on the roadway to any footpaths alongside. If they want to stop and sit for a rest, they generally prefer to sit on the hot pavement, not in the cool grass or perhaps a log off the side of the road. The farmers love the heat of the roadway and use it freely to process their harvest. On numerous occasions, we saw an entire lane blocked off for at least a hundred meters, using coconut husks as pylons, where copra (coconut), rice or other unidentifiable crops were being dried on those ubiquitous blue tarps. The largest vehicle would assert right of way through the blocked section and the smaller vehicles would just have to keep clear.
On the foot of Kelimutu, we came upon a rice farming village. This area was absolutely stunning, just as depicted on those beautiful Asian paintings, with acres upon acres of small terraced rice paddies, clinging to the mountain’s contour lines. They were flooded with water through an intricate system of viaducts and pipes leading from a mountain stream. All the “soil engineering” appeared to have been painstakingly done by hand. In this instance, the Indonesians have raised agriculture to an art form.
After three hours of what seemed like the scenic version of “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride,” miraculously, we arrived unscathed at Kelimutu National Park. Now we’ve all seen lots of volcanoes, but a ten minute walk from the car park along a path to the top of the cone revealed why this volcano is totally unique. Kelimutu has three steep walled cones at its lofty summit, each containing a different colored lake. The first cone we came upon resembled a huge cup of rich hot chocolate, complete with white frothy patches. Walking a bit further, a second cone came into view with a lake the color and opacity of the mineral turquoise. Reaching the top, we could see all three lakes, the third one having water that was the color of rich black coffee. The colors of the lakes apparently change over time, as well as with the seasons of the year, but nobody has fully explained the phenomenon. The locals believe that the souls of the dead go to rest in the lakes. The young people’s souls go to the warmth of the turquoise lake, the elder’s to the cool of the brown lake and the souls of thieves and murderers to the black lake. We found it to be a uniquely beautiful sight and well worth the long drive.
That night we enjoyed another meal at Sea World, this time at a table set up for twenty cruisers on the beach. Again the food was excellent, and along with some great conversation, we enjoyed some unique traditional Flores Island music played by a local band at a refreshingly pleasant “unplugged” level.
Sailing two full days to the west along the north coast of Flores Island, we came to the small fishing village of Riung. Riung is nestled in a large bay at the foot of a river, and is protected from the seas by a myriad of reefs and beautiful small islands with white-sand beaches. Part of the village extends out over the sea, so the homes are constructed on poles to either side of the main road, which is elevated just above the high tide level.
We found the anchorage in Riung to be excellent, and more importantly, the people were most welcoming and friendly. They even constructed a “princess dock” so that the yachties could land their dinghies, tie up and walk ashore, avoiding muddy beach landings.
While Riung didn’t offer much in the way of shopping or provisioning, we did find some beautiful fruits at the open market, and enjoyed a few nice meals ashore. In particular, we liked a restaurant that was known as “the Pastor’s Place,” which was in a small hotel that looked more like a seminary, situated in the middle of town. “The Pastor” was an elder Polish gentleman who has lived in Riung for 40 years. He puts on an excellent meal in a large room in the hotel that looks more like an austere church’s chapel, and it was evident that he believes cleanliness is next to Godliness. Dinner for two with a couple of cool Bintangs was $US 10. A clean, comfortable, basic room with a western style bathroom is available for about $US 7 a night.
We also enjoyed some good snorkeling on the edges of the reefs, and some walks through the village. Most notable about the primitive looking stilt homes over the water were the electrical meter boxes by the front door and the huge satellite dishes outside. You just can’t fight progress.
Labuan Bajo, Flores Island
After a few enjoyable and relaxing days in Riung, we set sail to the west end of Flores Island to the large port town of Labuan Bajo. We arrived on the 17th of August, which is Indonesian Independence Day. The town was abuzz with ceremonies and parades, so we just quietly made our way through the crowds to the shops and market area of town. While we did find quite a nice assortment of fresh fruits and veggies in the market, and a few goodies in the shops, it is still a bit unnerving to be competing for the goods with numerous large rats and cockroaches. After our shopping expedition, we enjoyed an excellent lunch at very nice little backpacker’s resort situated on a hill overlooking the crowded harbor. There’s nothing quite like relaxing over a meal and a cool Bintang, at a table in a lovely garden of bright bougainvillea flowers, with a view of your boat in the harbor. After lunch we returned to “Moonshadow” and had a leisurely downwind sail to the island of Rinca, which is part of the Komodo National Park.
Crocodile Bay, Rinca Island
Crocodile Bay is a deep, narrow estuary with a cozy anchorage at its end. With the hook down, we caught up with our friends on Calypso, Explorer and Mar Bella who were also anchored there. Crocodile Bay may be a bit of a misnomer, as there no dangerous sub-marine animals present. On the other hand before we could even get our anchor set, we were accosted by two small fishing boats full of young Indonesians trying to sell us pearls and wood carvings of Komodo Dragons. Without invitation they were alongside, tied to our cleats, attempting to get on board. I immediately repelled them, pointing out that an old tire is not a suitable fender and that it was very impolite to invade one’s home in this manner. Loudly and openly displaying my displeasure, I think they realized that due to their overaggressive behavior, we weren’t going to buy anything from them and quietly went off to bother someone else.
We were ashore at 0630 the next morning where we met a guide to take us on a 5 kilometer bush walk in the park. We were greeted at the dock by a Komodo dragon, which is a ginormous (3 meter, 100 kilogram) monitor lizard. While this guy looked pretty relaxed and docile, we were told that a Komodo dragon can swallow an entire goat in one gulp.
At the park station we saw a few more dragons hanging out before we headed off into the bush. We were warned to peek into the toilet before we went inside, as the day before, a dragon had wandered into the men’s and hung out for about an hour. One poor soul, who had to drain his lizard, walked in and had a heck of a fright when he discovered the toilet was already occupied by a much larger lizard.
During our three hour walk, we saw a few more dragons, which appeared to be more healthy and active than the one’s hanging out at the park station. We also spotted a number of small monkeys and a couple of large, wild water buffalo, sporting a massive spread of horns. After our tour, we set sail northwest to a large anchorage on the north side of Komodo Island. From there, our flotilla of four sailed the next day to nearby Banta Island, where we enjoyed a couple of days of excellent diving.
Lombok and the Gili Isles
With nothing much notable to offer the cruiser, we decided to give Sumbawa Island a miss. We left Banta early in the morning and did an overnight, 165 mile sail straight to Lombok Island. Lombok is the westernmost island in the Indonesian regency of E Nusa Tenggara, and the neighboring island to the east of Bali. The conditions during the trip ranged from light and variable, to 25 knots on the aft quarter, with a bit of close reaching in light breezes tossed in to keep things interesting. Crossing the channel between Banta Island and Sumbawa was a real E ticket ride, with strong breezes, ripping currents and over falls. We had the kite up, so were enjoying the ride and hitting speeds up to the mid 12’s.
We enjoyed some nice scenery along the way, with Sumbawa providing some dramatic volcanic landscapes. The most interesting village we passed on the north coast of the island was a shipbuilding community. We could see at least half a dozen large (100-ish foot) wooden ships under construction both on the beach, supported by frail looking bamboo scaffolding and in the water, being commissioned and painted. They were literally the shape of bananas, with bow and stern exaggeratedly high and the amidships section very close to the waterline. The wheelhouses were low and flat, and leaning forward at quite an angle, looking like the rakish roofline of an old hot rod. While these ships typically have (extremely loud) motors, some are also fitted with a small gaff cutter rig and some sort of sails. For its primitive nature, this scene could have been out of a movie about the biblical times and the construction of a fleet of Noah’s Arcs.
Sailing in these waters can be challenging, especially at night. There is plenty of boat traffic, and most of it is poorly lit, incorrectly lit, or not lighted at all. Fortunately and by design, we had a full moon for this leg. During the day, the boat traffic like to pass very close to us and have a look. Unfortunately some of these look-y-loos don’t seem to understand sailing and wind angles, as their curiosity often causes us to either head up to high or down too low in an effort to give them a wide berth. Their comfort zone for passing and mine are obviously quite different. I suppose we’re guests in their waters, so we’ll just try to play their game.
After dark, this becomes a demanding video game. This is how you play: Try to spot the fishing nets strewn across the channel, usually marked with small black flags, if anything. If you do, you won’t have to dive in the middle of the night in shark infested waters to remove the net fouled in your prop. Try to guess the intentions of an unlighted boat that is circling us. Are they pirates who are closing in for a bit of privateering, or just looky-loos with excellent night vision. We keep a wallet full of photocopied cash and expired credit cards handy for the former. Try to figure out why a boat’s nav lights are on one minute and off the next. Lucas electrics perhaps, or pirates? Tired of the game, we finally just turned off all our nav lights and went stealth so that we would be left alone. I’m almost ashamed to report that it worked pretty well. If you do well at the game, you get a few hours sleep and a replay the next day.
We made landfall at Lombok Island the next morning. The anchorage off the north east corner indicated in the cruising guide was so rolly that we back-tracked to some small islets off the coast that seemed to offer better protection. They sufficed as an overnight stop, but there was not much more to offer, so the following day, we continued on to the Gili islands, just off the northwest corner of Lombok. We had heard from friends and read from numerous sources that the Gili’s were a cool place to stop and hang out for awhile.
Winding our way through the reefs off-lying Lombok Island, we first called into Gili Air. Anchorage was a bit dodgy in 23 meters of water, and we found ourselves with our back to the shore in a brisk afternoon southeasterly every day. We paid out all 100 meters of chain, and backed down hard on it. We held fast, so decided to chill out there for a few days. Since most of the fleet missed this little gem of an island we had the anchorage pretty much to ourselves.
Gili Air is sort of a cross between Gilligan’s Island and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville. There are a number of small resorts, but all the accommodation units are very simple huts situated close to the beach. The vibe is definitely cool, and aside from diving, chilling out appears to be the main activity for visitors.
There are no motor vehicles on the island. “Transport,” on the island is in the form of pony drawn carts that operate very quietly on a narrow sand road that lies near the perimeter of this small island. The carts are colorfully painted and decorated, and the ponies are dressed in all sorts of adornments, including bells to warn the pedestrians they are coming. If the temperature was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit cooler and the white sand was snow, one might think they were dashing through the snow a one horse open sleigh.
Along this little road are a plethora of bars, restaurants, shops and boutique resort hotels. Rather than typical tables and chairs, most of the bars and restaurants have small pavilions on the beach side of the road. These are little raised platforms resembling a sort of open gazebo, each with a thatched roof, a small table, and an assortment of brightly colored and very comfortable pillows, and room for from two to eight people. Once you have occupied a pavilion, it is becomes very difficult to leave. The friendly wait staff bring you tasty and inexpensive meals, ridiculously cheap and very tasty drinks, and all you have to do is chill out, chat and enjoy the sea breeze and the waves lapping up on the white-sand beach a few meters away. If you are tired of that, you can simply rearrange your pillows, read a good book, take a nap, or contemplate the meaning of life. If you want, you can stay all day, or even all night. If you want some more passive entertainment, there are a number of “cinemas.” A Gili Island cinema is a somewhat larger pavilion with a big screen TV setup at one end, and a pile of DVD’s for you to choose from. If you want a truly relaxing vacation and want to preserve your output of calories as well as dollars, you can’t go past Gili Air.
We enjoyed it so much that we hung out for four days, taking a few nice walks around the two mile circumference of the island, provisioning in the village market, enjoying some great and ridiculously cheap dinners out, and hanging out with friends over $2 caipirhinas at our favorite joint on the beach, the Zip Bar. After chilling a bit, we were ready for a bit of action, so we made the half-hour hop over to Gili Trawangan, a few miles to the west.
If Gili Air is a favorite place to waste away, Gili Trawangan was the place to eat, drink and party. This is where those in the know, who want to avoid all the hustle and bustle, congestion and high prices of Bali, come for a relaxing holiday. The accommodation is casually elegant, the food excellent, and the party scene is enough to keep even the most serious clubbers out till late.
Gili Trawangan is a major destination dive resort with numerous dive shops operating. The difference is that most of them have a pool bar attached. After your dive lesson, you can stay in the pool and have a couple cool ones to rehydrate your parched throat. Or, after your ocean dive, you can hop in the pool, sip on a pina colada and get the salt out of your bikini. Blow bubbles all day, drink bubbles all night without having to even cross the street.
Like Gili Air, Gili Trawangan was slightly anchorage challenged. In this case, it was open roadstead, 20+ meters deep, exposed to wind and some swell, and the currents opposed the wind about half the time. In layman’s language that means it was not exactly comfortable. We enjoyed a day and a night there, and if conditions were a bit more settled, would have stuck around for a bit more fun.
We hadn’t taken on fuel since Kupang, a month earlier, so we were hoping to find some easy and cheap way to take some diesel on board. We worked our way down the east coast of Lombok to the port of Labuhantereng. Once again we found no fuel jetty and wondered how the heck all the big commercial boats in Indonesia take on diesel. We tried to anchor in the soft mud of the shallow bay, three times failed to get the hook set, managed to plow up a few of the ubiquitous black and white Indonesian plastic shopping bags, topped it off by fouling our prop with a fishing rig tied to a very small water bottle. After a half hour under the boat with a mask, snorkel and a razor knife, I had had enough of the place so we headed out to a nearby island resort that had some free moorings.
The Sundancer Resort looks like it will be quite a stunning place when it’s completed. I hope they put some lines on their moorings, as it will certainly make it more attractive to visiting yachties. We spent a quiet night there after a frustrating day, and the following day set sail for Bali.