Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Tual and Banda Neira

Arrival in Indonesia 20 July – 3rd August 2016

The Formalities

After six days of sailing we arrived tired, in need of a good walk and more importantly a beer since we never drink on passage. However, we had to wait until we had been inspected by Customs, Immigration and Bio Security before we were allowed off the boat. 

Like most of the boats we took a little wine into Indonesia – very hard to get there and very expensive. We spent several hours discussing the best strategy – declare some or all of it and pay the duty or say nothing. After a thorough search of the forward cabin the five Customs officers who boarded were more interested in having their pictures taken with us than any more searching of the boat – and they did not ask us if we had alcohol. So problem solved. Other boats were less fortunate and alcohol was bonded with no option to pay duty although this was later relaxed after representation from our local rally co-ordinator.

Tual 21-24 July

Welcome Ceremony
Tual had set up a visitors centre  at the dockside with English speaking guides to help us – where to provision, transport, fuel, trips out, SIMs for phone and data etc. They literally rolled out the red carpet for us along the jetty together with traditional dancing as we all arrived for the welcome ceremony. After some speeches by the mayor (translated into English) we were treated to a series of traditional dancing and music, many by the local children.


Dancing is not my strong point!
We were encouraged to join in at the end and I struggled to keep up with the young girls who were trying to teach me to dance – and eventually gave up in preference to others who could keep rhythm.  It did amuse the other cruisers but so far I have not seen the video that they told me that had made of me – luckily. However, they did send me the picture. Very amusing.

Tour of the Island

One afternoon, the visitor’s centre had set up a tour for us, taking to a local school to see the children and a traditional waffle making kitchen. The English teacher was also one of the people who had been co-opted in to the welcoming committee and he was keen to show us his school. The school was in the process of being rebuilt and the children were only there for half a day, the younger ones in the morning and the older in the afternoon. There were about 5 classrooms and 30 girls and boys in class. They had desks and chairs and a whiteboard but there were no signs of any books, computers or visual aids. The walls were bare, except for a list of star pupils.

We were invited to go into the classes to meet the school children and we taught them phrases in our native tongues – Dutch, French, English, American (along with the accent) which the children duly repeated. We all thought that the children were about 11 years old but it soon turned out that they were 14 or 15. They look very young here.  Their English was fairly limited which was learned by rote. They were all very keen to have their photos taken with the white people particularly with one of the fleet a young handsome man (not me). He was the real celebrity.

Pressing the Cassava
Cooking the Waffles
The next stop was the kitchen where they made the traditional waffles – waffles made with a type of cassava, a root vegetable. The cassava is full of cyanide which first has to be boiled out before it is mashed and dried in a makeshift but highly effective press. It is dried out and then cooked on a stove to make what they referred to as waffles. A long process and adding the normal chocolate or honey before eating did nothing to improve the taste. We were made very welcome and enjoyed seeing the traditional art, if not the taste.

The Market

We were all keen to get to the market the following day to buy some fresh fruit and vegetables and a group of us took our dinghies along the coast to the market. We tied up at the dock with the help of some local fishermen and were met by a guide – basically someone who could speak English and decided to guide us whether we wanted it or not. First stop was to sort out lunch in a local café (warung) and our guide took us to one on the edge of town and we had our first meal out.  Some of the others had been to Indonesia before and were better acquainted with what to eat so we took advice. Apart from rice, it was not obvious what we were eating but we soon learned the words for chicken and fish – two essential staples of the diet here along with rice. We also learned how hot the Sambal sauce is and we learnt to treat it with respect!

Market in Tual
This was our first experience of an Indonesian market and it reminded me of Morocco. It was a sprawl of stalls through alleyways and side streets. There was a very smelly fish market but at that time of day there was little left. The food on the stalls looked reasonably good quality although lacking in variety. Lots of vegetables we didn’t recognise but we were able to stock up on tomatoes, beans and potatoes. Most of the market consisted of stalls selling dry goods and we were surprised to see rolls and rolls of toilet paper, something that we were told you could not buy here so everyone had bought three months’ supply in Australia.

Getting the washing arranged and refuelling were jobs for the next day. Although we had not used much fuel on the journey, all fuelling in Indonesia is done through filling Jerry cans on the dock and transferring the fuel by suction pipe into our tanks. A slow process, always a bit of a faff and one that has to be repeated at every stop to keep the number of Jerry cans required down to a manageable number. Serica which is a steel 70 foot sailing boat had to take on 2000 litres which took all day. He does use a lot of fuel since he needs to run the generator to power the auto pilot even when sailing. It is a huge and sophisticated boat and even the engine room has air conditioning!

The laundry was easy with us dropping it off at the visitor’s centre and picking it up the next day – all neatly washed and ironed. However it did take us three weeks thereafter to get the washing back to the right boats since we had all acquired something of someone else’s washing.

That night we had a welcome dinner and to our relief they did have beer available for sale. However, they had misjudged how much we would all consume and they had to make several trips during the evening to replenish the stock. After a week at sea where no-one drinks at all, we were all in a party mood!

Tour of the Island on Bike

Catherine and I hired a scooter the next day to do some sight-seeing while some of the others had arranged a taxi to take them to a nice beach on the other side of the island for lunch. We decided we would go with them but on the bike as we had already hired the scooter for the day. The visitor centre had clearly forgotten to arrange the bike but half an hour later it turned up. Half an hour after that they managed to actually get the bike started and pointed out that it needed fuel urgently.

We had seen a petrol station in the town the previous day so it was just a matter of finding it which with Catherine unerring sense of direction would not be a problem. However we could not even find the town, let alone the petrol station! The signs that did exist were in Indonesian and bore no resemblance to the town’s name and we ended up crossing a bridge onto the other island, away from the town. We stopped on the side of the street to ask for directions to a petrol station, using sign language. Not as easy as you might expect and not understanding the reply did not help. However, the person then produced a water bottle half full of liquid and a funnel which I was a little suspicious of. Looked sort of like petrol and smelled like petrol so we gave it a go and to our relief the scooter still worked.

As we went down the street we noticed a lot of people with half full water bottles and funnels, providing a fuel service for all the scooters which are ubiquitous. In fact everywhere we went after that we noticed the streets were lined with people selling petrol.

Fuelled up we set off to join the others at the restaurant, now an hour and a half behind them. Using google maps we found the right road eventually after many stops to check where we were and then decided to give up. With few road names, no intelligible signs and roads that we were not sure were actually roads, we turned round and found a café for lunch. We could only remember the word for chicken and this seemed the safest bet for lunch, together with some fried rice and some green stuff – some sort of vegetable which was very bitter. Nonetheless we were pleased with ourselves for eating out in a local café and navigating the way that they do things – not always easy to fathom out.

We found the market on the way back and it was much easier shopping on the scooter than walking round the market. The rules are if you can walk along somewhere then you can drive a scooter down it, even the one way street up the wrong way (which we did, just to fit in with the locals). It was great fun and we enjoyed the sense of freedom of having our own transport on land.

One Final Repair Before We Leave

Catherine fixing the light
Before we set off for Banda Neira, Catherine had to go up the mast to replace the steaming light which had given up on the journey from Thursday Island. There was no way that Catherine would be able to winch me up the mast on her own, so she made her first trip up the mast and replaced the bulb without a problem. I felt better that we had all the proper lights again, not that it matters in Indonesia since they have their own rules – small boats give way to big boats (in all circumstances) and lights at night are a bonus, not a requirement. It may explain why their sea safety is so poor – that and the state of some of the boats we see out in the ocean!

Afar VI at Anchor in Tual
Banda Neira 27 July – 3 August

Another choppy overnight sail to Banda Neira but good wind so we  sailed the whole way and conserved our fuel. It was going to be tight to get 30 boats in the anchorages around the main island and after seeing just how tight we opted to moor against the dock, Mediterranean style – drop the anchor and reverse into the dock and tie a couple of lines to shore. We executed this perfectly with comments from the other boats that we must have done that before. Indeed we have but not for a few years.

Hotel next to the dock
Mooring against the dock meant we could hop in the dinghy and pull ourselves to the shore along ourshore lines – all of 20 feet. We were also right outside the local hotel and we met with the other boats for drinks there in the evening which proved very convenient. Others who were anchored out in the bay had to dinghy across which became increasingly difficult when the monsoon rains started.

Visitor Centre

Again a  Visitors’ Centre had been set up which arranged trips for people and we opted for the Spice Tour and the snorkelling trip over the next couple of days. The next morning we set off with about 20 others on a boat to the main spice island Pulau Banda Nasar  where we were shown how they grow the spices – nutmeg, cloves and almonds.

The Spice Trade

Even before the Dutch arrived in the 1600’s the islanders had been trading spices with the Arabs for hundreds of years which were a very valuable commodity in Europe – more valuable than gold. The Dutch East India Company eventually traced the source of the trade to the Banda Neira (the Spice Islands) and took over the islands. Out of the 15,000 inhabitants, 14,000 were killed to teach them a lesson (and we thought the English were bad) and they brought in slave workers from Java to work on the islands. Eventually the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt and the Dutch Government took over control of the islands which lasted right up until after World War II. Eventually Indonesia gained independence in 1945.

The British did own one of the Spice Islands but that was captured by the Dutch East India Company and after some negotiations was traded for Manhattan Island which the Dutch controlled at that time but the British had captured in revenge. Good swap!

Small Clove Tree
Cloves grow on huge trees which have to be climbed to pick the fruit and then dried in the sun before being shipped out. They harvest two crops each year. The almonds ( kenari nuts) grow at the top of huge trees which are too difficult to climb so they allow the local pigeons to eat the fruit and the almond nut is then excreted by the birds, falling to the floor. These are then collected by the farmers – just remember that when you are next eating an almond. The nutmegs are easier to pick as they grow on smaller trees and can be picked with the aid of a small basket on a stick which is used to pluck the fruit. 

Almonds, Nutmeg and Clove Plantation
Cloves drying in the sun
The inside of the nutmeg has a red shell around it which is mace, apparently the secret ingredient in Coke (well it was a secret until you read this). Again there are two harvests each year with the locals owning between 20 and 40 trees each, part of the settlement after the Dutch gave up the islands.

After visiting the plantations we stopped at the local school. Very similar to the last except there were no teachers there today, only children as they had all gone to a wedding. The guide showed us some of the recycled items the school had been making. He had set up a project to improve the issue of rubbish on Banda and was trying to get sponsorship to place rubbish bins around the island. From what we could see he was doing really well but it was a huge task . Later that week we witnessed the huge ferry arriving and people just throwing all their rubbish overboard into the water as they docked.


The boat trip
The next day we set off on another boat with 15 of the people from the rally to snorkel on the lava   Now less than30 years later, the coral has regrown fully to provide a new and pristine coral garden in beautifully clear water, something that normally takes hundreds of years. We spent a good hour and a half exploring the bay before we were taken to another island for lunch where the locals had provided a feast on the beach – cooked fish, chicken and many traditional salads. We had lunch in the shade on a white beach, playing with the local children.
fields – the place where the lava flowed into the ocean after the eruption in 1988, wiping out all the coral.

The last snorkelling trip of the day was around the headland with huge coral fans and multitude of fish – in some ways more dramatic than the lava fields. We were lucky that we chose that day to go since the next two days were solid rain – monsoon rain.

In the evening we had been all invited to the local hotel for dinner and they catered for about 100 people. The hotel was owned by a local businessman who had created a truly fabulous place in the renovation  of an old Dutch colonial building. When the meal finished about 9pm, we went for a walk and came across a Karaoke bar where we met a small group from the rally. We had a great evening, dancing and drinking until midnight when we gave up and went back to the boat.

A Cookery Lesson

Catherine had arranged to do a cookery course the next afternoon in a local restaurant, dodging the heavy rain showers, while I undertook some of the repairs on the boat. Five of the other people from the rally had joined her at the restaurant to prepare fish ball soup, Aubergines with Kenari sauce, Papaya flower salad and fried fish all very tasty local dishes They use huge amounts of garlic, ginger and shallots in everything but not an enormous amount of chilli. Apparently the further we go westwards the hotter the food becomes. They also fry everything. It was challenging to use the local cooking equipment but we all mucked in and produced enough good food for about 25 people. In the evening we were joined by 30 people from the other boats for dinner in the restaurant for a wonderful feast.

The market in the Monsoon Rain
For two days we had monsoon rains all day with very brief interludes (it was the wet season in Banda Neira). The dinghy needed to be emptied at least twice a day and one of the local boats tied up in the harbour sank with the weight of rain and had to be dragged ashore to be dried out, including the outboard motor that was still attached. Brief forays off the boat between the short interludes meant we could do some shopping in the market, where the streets were flooded.

Old Dutch Fort
On what should have been the final day, Catherine and I went for a long walk around the town, exploring the alleyways, the old Dutch fort with its impressively thick walls and the Chinese cemetery.  It was interesting to walk through the town to see how the locals lived – in surprisingly good houses with small shops interspersed. We also met the hotel owner on route who lives in one of the streets and he invited us in to see his house which he uses as a guest house for tourists wanting to live with a family rather than a hotel. We were quite taken with the house, simply furnished but very attractive. We sat in the courtyard in front of the fountain drinking tea and eating cakes, chatting with the owner and his family.

The Last Night

In the evening the hotel owner had invited all the boats for a screening of a BBC documentary on the Spice Islands. Fascinating programme and we were glad we were not Dutch! The English for once came out of it quite well but then it was made by the BBC. Afterwards a group of us decided to eat in the Nutmeg café across the road and one of the guides had walked with us. She inquired if the owner could cook for 11 people and she said it was no problem. Ten minutes later, staff started turning up on scooters, called up by the owner. She even managed to get one of them to go and buy some beers for us and they had to make several trips that night. Simple but good food and it was nice to visit one of the less frequented restaurants.

Afterwards we persuaded everyone to go to the Karaoke bar as it was our last night there. Lucy from Bamboozle (an English boat) set the standard very high with her rendition of Hey Big Spender and it was all down-hill from there. We managed to get everyone to take turns singing with each person singing one line of the song before handing the mike to the next person. Catherine then decided that she and I would sing a duet (neither of us can sing) and she selected Whiter Shade of Pale – not a good choice unless you can sing!!! But then others were equally as bad but after a few drinks it does not really matter.

A Slight Delay

We had got the boat ready to leave before we went out on that last evening so were ready to go at first light. That was until I started feeling unwell and could not get out of bed. A big ferry was due in the morning which meant we had to move our boat before 10am which took a long time, mainly because I could hardly stand. With the help of a couple of other boats who had not yet left, we managed to get the boat tied up again, further along the dock and I spent the next two days in bed with a kidney infection. Fortunately we had the correct anti-biotics and three days later I was up and about but not well enough to set sail until the following day.

Maybe not surprisingly once the fleet had left the town seemed to close down and return to what is a very quiet existence until the next lot of tourists arrive in the high season at the end of August.

Now we were ready to leave for the three day sail to Wanci.

1 comment:

  1. Oh ....wow!!! I could imagine myself there!!!
    The sunset at Tual, hotel next to the dock, snorkeling, cookery lesson,spice plantation, kareoke. Well done Catherine for going up and fixing the light!
    Give our regards to Take Two and please tell Peter that we had an excellent time in Botswana on safari thanks to his advice.
    Chrissea and Mike