The Real Indonesia

Sat 4 Sep 2010 05:24
Position  08.08S  117.22E
We could have stayed snorkelling over the wonderful reefs of the Komodo Islands for weeks, but lack of fruit and veg and ourboard fuel forced us to move west to civilisation on the large island of Sumbawa, known for its mullahs, mines--and giant surf. We'd been rather reluctant to go into the port of Bima, given the discouraging description in Lonely Planet, which talked about the locals' very conservative Islamic views, especially during the month of Ramadan, and 'agressive behaviour'. But for once Lonely Planet were way off the mark.
We soon found out that almost no foreigners go to Bima--the last yacht recorded by the harbour master was nine months ago--so we were the objects of some interest. Luckily we were met by an enterprising young man called Bajo, who immediately found us the fuel we needed and took us and the crew of Priscilla to the morning market in the wooden tray of his motorbike-taxi. Not the most comfortable mode of travel, and our clothes will probably never recover from the rust stains. We could also have gone  by pony cart, and it was a pleasant surprise to find that all the ponies looked very well fed and groomed.
Haggling at the market stalls was hugely entertaining--both for the stall holders and us, and we are now very well provisioned for at least a couple of weeks with  eggs, limes, cabbages, bananas, papayas, green mangoes, tomatoes, pumpkins and the bunches of tiny purple sweet onions. The flies on the chicken and fish made us very pleased we had a well stocked freezer of meat from Darwin.
It being Ramadan, no food can be eaten before sunset, so as the sun went down we queued with all the well dressed locals for a seat in a local restaurant. That was, once we summoned up the courage to cross the road in the midst of hundreds of motor bikes, all tearing along the road just before sunset. Although it is such a conservative town, most of the girls looked very chic as pillion passengers in their designer jeans, stilettoes and colourful headscarves. There is a real party atmosphere each night with brightly lit decorations and sometimes even fireworks. Forget about getting a beer though, unless it's non alcoholic.
One of the surprising things about Bima was its clean well-paved streets--a pleasant change from the rubbish tht spoils so many places in Indonesia.
Since leaving Bima we've had some very early starts to make the most of a favourable current. The currents that run through the inter-island straits are very strong--up to seven knots in some places, so we have to be careful with our timing. We had hoped to anchor off a very expensive dive resort yesterday, but unfortunately the wind got up and we were forced to continue on to a safer anchorage. Most of the coast has been mountainous, with vey few villages to be seen. Yesterday we passed by Guning Tambora whose cataclysmic eruption in 1815 caused the crops to fail as far away as Europe. This part of the world is certainly well named the Ring of Fire.
We're now at anchor next to Priscilla off a palm-fringed white beach on the small island of Medang, gathering strength to face the fierce currents beween Sumbawa and Lombok, and Lombok and Bali. After the abstemiousness of the Muslim world we're rather looking forward to an exotic cocktail in some decadent bar in the tourist haunts of Lombok and Bali.