Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Larantuka - East Flores

11 - 17 August 2011

We left Lembata headed for Larantuka mid morning on Thursday – apparently. It’s getting hard to remember, or actually care, what day of the week it is let alone the date. I now find myself referring back to my previous blogs to work out where to start the next one.
Many of the fleet who had bypassed the delightful sand quay anchorage on the way in to Lembata elected to head there for a day or two before the next official stop but Skipper Colin decided as we had already spent time there, we would make a beeline for the next harbour and get settled in. It was just a short 31 nautical mile run to Larantuka through the channels between Lomblen, Andunara, Solar and Flores Islands. With glassy seas and no wind to speak of we didn’t even unfurl a sail but rather just motored the short hop. It was still a pleasant run through the islands with plenty of villages and towns lining the coasts to look at. We also kept alert by playing dodgems with the large number of fishing boats and inter-island ferries both large and small that constantly traversed the channels in front of us.

It was the first time Larantuka has been included in the Sail Indonesia Rally schedule so we weren’t sure what to expect. Located on the eastern tip of the island of Flores, the town has an interesting history having been established by the Portugese before 1600 as an interstation for the Timorese sandlewood trade. The settlement soon became the Portugese trading centre of South East Indonesia. It even provided a refuge for deserters from the Dutch East India Company which dominated most of the region. Despite eventually selling the territories to the Dutch in 1859, the Portugese influence and extensive activities of the Dominicans sees the region still almost 85% Catholic to this day.
This influence was clearly visible to us as we anchored south of the main wharf area just offshore from extensive park areas protected by a high sea wall. No less than three churches of classic European architecture lined the shore side of the esplanade providing us with the most attractive view of a port we’ve experienced so far and creating a wonderful first impression of the town. Once again we decided to spend the afternoon relaxing on board and venture to shore the next day. We were actually the first boat to anchor up here but by late afternoon were joined by three others.

We’ve always been told you only get one chance to create a first impression but Larantuka has forced us to question this piece of conventional wisdom when we headed in to the dingy beach beside the commercial wharf next morning. On approach not only was the entire beach covered in rubbish up to half a metre deep in places, the water itself was so full of plastic flotsam that we had to turn off and tilt the outboard 4 metres of shore and coast in to avoid fouling the prop. One boat had actually gone in to the beach earlier but turned around and went back to their yacht without alighting. We all left our sandals on as we stepped into the water and carried the inflatable through the trash to above the high water mark then headed for cleaner water near the wharf to rinse our feet.
As the first people ashore, we were instantly greeted by the Rally organisers and members of the "Local Committee" who were extremely friendly and welcoming as always but when they asked how the anchorage was we had to be honest and say that we felt many people would up anchor and leave due to the state of the place. They were extremely apologetic and thanked us for our feedback.

We then went exploring the shopping area and a ways beyond along an area of waterfront "housing" north of the wharf. In the heat of the very still morning the odours generated by the incredible amount of refuse were overwhelming. We shuddered as we watched naked children washing and playing in the rubbish filled sea water in front of their extremely modest homes. Through previous trips to Indonesia we have become accustomed to seeing large amounts of litter but this was like nothing we have ever seen on our travels.
For hundreds, probably thousands of years, Indonesians have had a disposable society. They would eat or use something then throw the refuse into the bush or sea. No problem – everything they had and ate were natural products and bio-degradable. That’s probably also true of western societies but we have moved to our current world of consumerism over a long, extended period which has been finally accompanied by significant cultural change and the rise of environmental awareness.

In this part of the world, you combine an exploding population and rapid post war westernization with absolutely almost everything now MARKETED in garish and often unnecessary plastic. Without the associated cultural change, you have this recipe for disaster. Things are still eaten used and simply thrown away but now the refuse doesn’t breakdown and re-enter the natural cycle because plastic doesn’t do that.

Rob and Marc at our Larantuka "Local"
We beat a hasty retreat from that end of town and headed south to have a look at the park area we were anchored off. What a contrast, reasonably clean and tidy, attractive buildings, the best internet cafe we’ve found so far and we also discovered our new "Local" for lunch and a few cold beers. Karen was even delighted to find it featured the nicest and cleanest bathroom she’d found in Indo.

When we went back to the collect the dingy and head back to the boat the Rally officials apologised again for the state of the beach and told us that they had spoken with the local government people and a clean up had been organised.

Karen's rockstar welcome from the school kids
We decided the best plan for the next day was to hire some motorcycles and get out of town for some exploring along the coast. Next morning when we got up there were people all along the foreshore cleaning up. When arrived to pick up our bikes at 8.30 well over a hundred high school students were already on the dingy beach gathering up rubbish. A number took a break to practice their English on us with their best "God morning meester, how are yoooo?" and "what ees your nem? Mine nem is Paulo" generating many giggles from their cohorts. Karen was particularly popular with the kids. Blondes are rare in this part of the world and many of the kids also got photos taken with her. When she sat to write our names and contact phone number on a piece of paper for the bike hire she was swamped with eager eyes wanting to watch what she wrote. What we didn’t realise is that some also entered the phone number in their phones and we’re still receiving "good morning missus" and "Good day aussies" text messages at regular intervals.

Not quite Harley's but a great day
We headed down the coast road on our throbbing 125 cc mopeds and were instantly rewarded with beautiful palm and coral fringed bay after bay revealing itself. Incredibly everywhere we went there also seemed to be another small army of high school students cleaning up the road side, or cutting down long grass etc. We also got very tired arms from waving in response to hundreds of "Halo meester" and "Halo meesus" shouted from near and far.

One of many picturesque bays
 We rode south for about two hours including many, many stops for photos and pauses generally soaking in the views until the road turned inland towards Maumere where we simply turned around and repeated the process but with different stops. We rode straight through the town and out the north side to explore more coastline. Here we found beautiful white sand beaches lining the narrows of the Flores Straight separating Flores and Adunara Islands.

We continued along the narrow, water front road and made a stop at a small, traditional fishing village we found. Here the people were again incredibly friendly and very accommodating of our habit of pointing cameras at them. An elderly couple sitting cross legged on the ground gave us a wave and then continued on with their task of mending nets. Children played hide and seek with us around the corners of houses, squealing with laughter when we looked at them. Their houses may be very simple but the inhabitants here certainly seemed happy with their lot. Many of the boats lining the white sand beach had been literally hand carved out of a single tree trunk and while some sported outriggers most did not. Watching a young girl effortless standing up bailing one out certainly impressed on us the balance and boat skills these people have. It’s hard to imagine hauling in a big full net of fish over the side without capsizing.

Quiet traditional fishing village of the beaten track

Pressing on slowly down the quickly deteriorating road/track we came across a small, jet black sand beach just a few hundred metres further on from the white sand we’d just left. The volcanic sand absolutely glistened and sparkled in the sun but not surprisingly was unbelievably hot . Not quite the spot for sun baking. When the pot holes finally outnumbered the pieces of intact pavement we back tracked and made our way to a nice waterfront "Resto/Karaoke" establishment we had spotted earlier for lunch and obligatory cold Bintang.

Perched right on the water overlooking the narrows, we had the place to ourselves and were really enjoying the serenity and view as we relaxed and watched a small group of Rally yachts make their way in to port from the north – that was until the Indo version of the only gay in the village arrived, turned on the biggest stereo we’ve ever seen in such a small room and began closing all the doors and windows so the karaoke film clip of Celine Dion could be seen projected on the wall via data projector. It took us quite a while to bridge the communication gap and convince him we were there for the food and view, not deafening lunchtime pop and he was a little miffed that we obviously were too uncultured to appreciate his presentation of musical art and sullenly minced out the door in his skin tight denims, flower print sandals and Hawaiian shirt open to the navel. That sorted we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of local foods and watched the boats sail by with cold drink in hand. We did restrict our Bintang intact in considering we still had to negotiate the ride back into town.

Our lunch stop at the narrows of Flores Straight

By the time we ambled back along a road we discovered that ran right along beside the narrows and reached the wharf area to return the bikes we were amazed at the transformation that had occurred all along the waterfront. Larantuka had been transformed from cesspit to very presentable in a matter of hours. This typified the determination of the local people to cement their town on the Rally schedule for future years.

With the official welcome dinner scheduled that night, only a dozen Rally boats were anchored up by the end of day as many others had heard negative reports of Larantuka from the few boats who arrived and quickly left. If the locals were disappointed they certainly didn’t show it. A free taxi boat service was supplied to ferry us all ashore and we were all personally greeted on the wharf in the late afternoon by the traditional King of the area along with the Regent who is the head of government plus a string of other dignitaries. Dancers performed for us and then lead the procession the short distance to the Regent’s house where a traditional welcome was performed by the King and Queen with the offering of Arak, beetle nut, and local smoke along with more dancers. We then treated to a great dinner experience starting with snacks of traditional popcorn prepared in front of us and many glasses of Arak. The facial expressions of those trying this local, fire breathing rocket fuel for the first time were hilarious. English speaking hosts spent a lot of time moving from table to table speaking with us and explaining the meaning of each dance and interpreting the local dialect.

A Royal Welcome to Larantuka

After more traditional dancing the tempo switched to more western style entertainment with three female vocalists performing a range from Abba to John Denver before the Regent himself took the microphone and provided a pretty reasonable rendition of a country and western number. Then it was announced that it was time for the guests and locals to join together for rock and roll dancing. Confusion reigned amongst the cruisers as this actually turned out to be line dancing which the traditionally clad locals apparently enjoy immensely. All very surreal actually. The buffet provided was huge consisting of a big range of local dishes including a real specialty of western Flores, whale meat. Sorry Greenpeace – it didn’t taste to bad.

It was clearly the most enjoyable of the five welcome dinners we’ve been treated to so far. As we were the first boat to anchor, Colin, our skipper on Nae Hassle had been selected to speak on behalf of the cruisers to thank our hosts and told of how much we all appreciated the welcome provided, the friendliness and the huge efforts of all the local people to make sure we enjoyed our stay. He also pointed out that without question as the positive reports of our experiences in Larantuka spread those boats that skipped this stop will quickly realise that they’re the ones that missed out.
Rob, Jim, Will, Margaret & Jean at Regent's Welcome Dinner

Following the dinner the cruisers were loaded on an oversized bemo to accompany the King, Queen and Regent to a nearby village for the official start of Independence Week celebrations. With the bemo quickly filling, the tourism chief who we had previously visited us on board, invited Karen, Mark and Rob to join him in his official car for the trip. So there we were, in the official motorcade with police escort, flashing lights fluttering flags on the bonnet, the whole worksburger. Those slumming it on the bus were just a little green. At the village we survived a couple of long speeches in Indonesian before being treated to some performances by very cute kids doing once again Rock’n’Roll you got it Line-dancing, and then were whisked back to the wharf at the head of the motorcade again to be first in line for the ferry service back to our yachts on the local pilot boat much to good natured heckling by those behind. Ah – life is good.

Next afternoon’s Independence Day march consisted of everything from unbelievably well behaved kindergarten children to school marching bands, high school drill groups to police and military and took almost two hours to pass.

The following day the fleet were treated to a free all day tour which included visits to the local market, school, orphanage, mountain village and shown how Arak is made, most enjoyable for all those who attended.

Car pooling Indo style - five on a bike
Wednesday 17 August was the actual sixty sixth anniversary of Indonesian Independence and was marked with much pomp and ceremoney with flag raising and more parading at the sports arena and yet another dinner that night at the Regent's house. These guys know how to celebrate.

Larantuka was a late inclusion in the Sail Indonesia Rally program but after a rocky start proved to be our best stop yet due to the outstanding nature of the people. We certainly hope many more yachts call in next year and get to experience their wonderful welcome.

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  1. Hi Rob & Karen....

    It was a wonderful time to be with you guys in our lovely hometown Larantuka. Thank you for your comments and put the colorful pictures, i really appreciated it. I wish you will have a nice voyage with NAE HASSLE all over Indonesia.
    Please pass my warmest regards to Colin "the Skipper" , Milin and Mare.

    Warmest regards,
    Wilbert (your local guide in Larantuka).

  2. thx for visit my small town Mrs. .God bless you and Familly :)

  3. if mrs wants to know more about our small city of Larantuka, please visit my blog ... >


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