Fw: Wakatobi Welcome, South East Sulawesi

Tue 10 Aug 2010 08:40
Position, 05.19S  123.32E

After beautiful Banda we received a reality check at Ambon where we spent only two days before the two-day trip to the Wakatobi islands where we have spent the past five days. As you'll see from the photo of Anne, we have had the  constant company  of local students, who despite the headscarves, have a surprisingly western attitude.  It's a great two-way exchange as the kids practise their English on us and we practise our Bahasa Indonesia on them.  Provisioning at the market is a breeze as the kids do all the negotiating for us and search through our purses to find the correct change--not easy as there are about 8000 rupiah to the Aussie dollar. Like Banda, Wakatobi sees very few tourists, despite Cousteau having described it as one of the world's premier dive sites. In our experience, the fewer the tourists the more enjoyable the stay, mainly because the local people are so genuinely happy to see you. Nothing seems to be too much trouble, which includes locals waiting up all night to guide arriving yachts through the reef.

We are lucky to be here during the build up to Indonesia's Independence Day next week. I'm sorry we didn't take our cameras to the big parade we took part in, carrying our national flags aloft on various devices, including , in one case, a dinghy paddle. Unlike the immaculately uniformed locals, the yachties looked a pretty scruffy bunch, but it didn't stop the whole town cheering as our contingent passed by. There are a couple of teenage boys amongst the Rally families, and I was terribly amused to hear one of the local girls tell me that she had fallen in love with him! She also informed me that the very smart group marching behind us in strict time were the gay guys from the local beauty parlour. As you can see, being a  Moslem teenager  here is not too different from the  Australian experience.  We've had a lot of the young people out to our 'ship'. "OH my God, this is amazing', was heard from one headscarved young lady. They do all watch Oprah on tv once a week in English, but have almost never had the opportunity before to converse with native English speakers.

The photos here were all taken at Wakatobi, partly because it never stopped raining in Ambon. Anne may have some pictures in her blog of a wonderful cultural evening and dinner put on for the Rally in Ambon, the culmination of a day which included a sail past of 50 ships, and 30 yachts in front of SBY, the Indonesian president. And what music was the band playing as we saluted the president? Blue Suede Shoes and Hang Down Your Head, Tom Dooley! For me the highlight of the cultural event was an Indonesian country and western band in cowboy hats singing Achy Breaky Heart. It doesn't get much better than that.

In Ambon, the authorities had kicked out the local fishing fleet to allow the rally boats to anchor stern-to to the harbour wall. Unfortunately the 50 naval vessels created mayhem by travelling at great speed through the anchorage, with the result that yachts were all bashing against the wall. (The water depth was over 100 meters, a recipe for disaster.) Most of us got out quick smart and reanchored several miles down the harbour.  The organisers put on transport for us to attend the evening function, which turned out to be the most hair- raising trip of my life--and that includes driving in China. Our driver had obviously been told to get us to town quickly as he wove at huge speed in driving rain between families on motor scooters, stall holders, kids on foot-- on the wrong side of the road, honking madly. We were shaking as we tottered out of the very posh cars. That wasn't to be the end of the excitement, though. Several of the chaps, stayed behind on the boats as they were suffering from bad colds. Soon after we had arrived at the function I had a phone call from Barry on our boat to say that boats were dragging and that their owners had better get back as quickly as possible to try to re anchor.  So  instead of a restful night, the man-flu stricken spent a soaking evening rescuing and reanchoring boats, all of them locked up, of course. One yacht actually disappeared into the night and wasn't found until the next day. 

With the poor holding, pouring rain and gridlock traffic (2 and a half hours to travel 7 km to check out of Ambon) we decided that the city would have to manage without us, despite the President and accompanying hospital ship having made a special trip in our honour.
1. Anne with our market helpers
2.Our local restaurant--great now we've trained them to serve ice cold Bintang beer--not to add an iceblock to a warm one!
3.The gate to a 16th century Portuguese fort
4. Boat building a Bajo stilt village--the Bajo were nomadic seafarers, like the Bugis of the Malacca Straits
5. Canals in the stilt village
6. Our new sailing dinghy. We celebrated the launching yesterday with an international party--rum punch and zucchini fritters