Safe Arrival in Banda

Don and Anne Myers
Tue 27 Jul 2010 08:52
4:31.330S  129:53.848E
After a good night 3 of sailing, we arrived in Banda Harbor at 10am.  What followed was a flurry of official activity starting with a boatload of quarantine officers, then customs, immigration and the Banda Harbor Master.  All in very impressive uniforms and all very pleasant, responding well to the twenty or so Indonesian words we've learned so far.  The whole episode was extremely officious with lots of signatures and copies of passports and Indonesian cruising permits and crew lists and boat documents and Darwin clearance papers.  Our 'Harmonie' rubber stamp was a big hit and got more use than it has since Ecuador.  Not a word was said about the copious amounts of liquor and wine we have aboard and no one asked about fruits or vegetables, but we did get our proper quarantine permit (complete with several signatures) and all the other documents we may or may not need for the next three months in Indonesia.  Oh, and all the fees were waived for rally boats.  A nice treat given that the boatloads of officials had to be brought in for us from Ambon, the nearest port of entry which is about 150 miles from here by sea.
As if all of that wasn't excitement enough, we decided to venture to shore to see what was what in the harbor town.  Sleepy Vanuatu this is not.  The Banda Islands are extremely remote, but it would be tough to tell by the number of people milling about.  And the welcome for the rally boats?  Let me just say that there are about 1,259 'Welcome Sail Banda!' banners strung from every surface possible.  This along with red and white bunting adorning the main hotel and a grandstand set up in anticipation of tomorrow's events.  Because we were one of the first ten boats to arrive, Don was chosen to represent the rally boats (along with 9 other lucky captains) in the welcome ceremony tomorrow morning.  We are not exactly sure what this will entail, but gather it involves the ten chosen captains and a ceremonial boat tour around the harbor while the rest of us watch from the grandstand.  This will probably be followed by a string of speeches by local dignitaries.  In the evening, we hear there will be dancing, etc. to top off the festivities.  All this plus a welcome bag with polo shirts and other goodies, and...we heard a rumor that free wifi is available for boaters.  Who said Indonesia is a third world country? 
Our walking tour through town was an assault on the senses after three mostly peaceful days at sea.  Lots of people on motor scooters, a few cars having difficulty winding their way through one-lane streets lined with small, dark, tiny one-room stores - all with a strange mish mash of semi-recognizable wares.  The people are friendly, the kids excited by the boater's presence (as kids always seem to be in these far away places).  As we wandered the streets, we had our picture taken several times by curious locals.  Sometimes this was done on the sly, but more often an exuberant young girl approached us, reaching out to touch our hand or arm and asking nicely if she could take our picture.  In one case, after agreeing to the picture, the girl's sister and mother arrived on the scene just in time to snuggle up close, arms entwined with ours.  "Oh!  Don't worry!" said the girl, "It's just my family!"  As she cuddled in close to Don, the girl's mom looked up at us smiling brightly from beneath her head scarf.  We smiled, two shots were taken and off they went.  Afterwards, Don said he was more than mildly surprised when the Muslim mom put such a firm grip on his butt during the picture taking.  No complaints though.  All this picture taking makes us realize how the Pacific Islanders must have felt when we constantly snapped photos of them.  We wonder what can possibly be so interesting about us?
We plan to remain anchored in this spot for a day or two, then move out of the harbor and around the corner to a more secluded spot where we can swim and snorkel in these world-renowned waters.  The anchorage here in the harbor is interesting.  We are used to Australian coastal anchorages where 2 meters below the keel is a lot.  Here we have 40.  Forty meters below the keel (~120 feet)!  It's good we have lots of line attached to the end of our anchor chain, otherwise our anchor would be swinging free below us attached to nothing - like a short person's legs when sitting on a tall bar stool.  Here's hoping the wind stays calm in this sultry anchorage because if it picks up we might find ourselves dragging and pinned against the giant Red Cross ship anchored behind us.  What it lacks in security, this anchorage makes up for in beauty.  We are surrounded by a volcano on one side and green covered hills on the other, with a nice view of the town waterfront.  We feel strangely at home in this beautiful spot filled with loud, but soothing, music and teeming with boats of all shapes and sizes.
Cheers from Indonesia -