We left Hoga in the Wakatobi National Park in the company of 3 other yachts- our sailing buddies Margaret and Nils on ‘Unwind’, Trudy & Bruce on yacht ‘Leprechaun’ & Kim & Peter on catamaran ‘Take Two’, naming ourselves ‘the Renegade Rally’ as we were yet again detouring from the Sail 2 Indonesia Rally schedule in order to explore more off the beaten track locations.
Over the next couple of weeks, we took a circuitous route that first led us north west to Buton, and then curved around to follow a chain of smaller islands, through the 3rd largest atoll in the world, the Taka Bonerate National Park & curving back southwards through a chain of small islands to our next main destination- the large island of Flores.
We visited several islands & the villages along the way, each so interesting yet vastly different from each other, and worthy of the large amount of photos I want to share in this post. It took us almost 2 days to reach Bau Bau, meaning ‘stinky stinky’ in Bahasa Indonesian.
This best describes the busy commercial port on the south western coast of Buton, the largest town we had visited since arriving in Indonesia. A predominantly Moslem community, as we motored along the coastline to where we anchored near the ferry wharf, we were serenaded by the calls to prayer from the elaborate mosques along the bustling shoreline, with more buildings and activity than we had seen in months.
Bau Bau boasted a KFC & a hypermarket, and whilst shopping for provisions in the latter, we met an American man Caleb, who had lived here for 10 years, running an adventure tour company, and he offered his services to show us around the following day.
Since there wasn’t a breath of wind to sail onward, we were happy to take Caleb up on his kind offer and he picked all 8 of us up in his 4X drive and took us to the old fortress palace built for the Sultanate of Buton in the early 16th century. It is the largest and longest fort in Indonesia built of volcanic rocks using adhesive dough limestone mixed with liquid egg white.
There is a magnificent view of the city from the ramparts, where many of the canons are still in place.
From here, we drove out into the countryside and enjoyed a long walk on a rough bush track through dense forest to a stunning waterfall built around limestone rock formations.
It was so invigorating to cool off in the clear water, appreciating that we would not have discovered such a great location without Caleb’s local knowledge. He invited us all back to his home for a shower (something a ‘yachtie’ always appreciates!), and then took us with his wife and family to a grand old colonial waterfront restaurant ‘Nusantara’, set in magnificent gardens, on the other side of Bau Bau, where 13 of us enjoyed an incredible feast of local dishes, plus drinks for a total bill of AU $110.
Next day, “Take Two’ headed off towards Sulawesi, and ‘Leprechaun’ decided to stay and fix a water maker problem. ‘Unwind’ and ‘Stars End 2’ motored 18miles to the nearby island of Siumpu, where we found a sandy anchorage in turquoise water, and enjoyed a couple of days swimming and snorkeling whilst waiting for the wind to increase.
We wanted to check the weather predictions and our emails so we ended up motoring several miles out from land in order to get an internet connection within sight of the larger land mass of Buton.
2 days later, we head off for the overnight sail to the Selayor Islands, also known as the Tiger Islands, in the remote location of the Taka Bonerate National Park (Taka Bone Rate meaning coral islands over sand), the largest atoll in Indonesia and third biggest in the world at over 220,000 hectares.
Here, 14 islands with their stunning white sandy beaches are scattered in a bed of a dry coral and a large flat sunken reef to form a chain of islands interspersed by narrow, deep, sheer-walled cliffs. On the coral flat areas at low tide, the dry land is just visible dotted with water flooded into small deep pools surrounded by coral reefs ( similar to markings an a tiger?).
We tried hard to find a good anchorage at one of the islands, but they were extensively populated and all fringed with shallow coral reefs that dropped into very deep water, so we head for the small island of Tinabo Kecil (Little Kecil) where there was a long wharf jutting out from the beach and one end of the island was scattered with the dilapidated buildings of a sadly neglected resort.
The few inhabitants and caretakers offered for us to tie up to the end of the wharf, so ‘Stars End 2’ and ‘Unwind’ spent the night tied alongside.
We walked around the entire island in a couple of hours and it was the most stunning location, straight out of a movie set with its fine white sand and clear turquoise water with baby black tipped reef sharks cruising the shallows. The setting was so idyllic and we felt like we had stumbled upon paradise.
The saddest thing, however, was the inevitable display of rubbish that has become synonymous with our time spent in Indonesia once we started walking around. The beach was strewn by a residue of rubbish at the high water mark- plastic water bottles, disposable cups, tangles of old ropes and fishing nets, bits of polystyrene, thongs, odd items of clothing, toothbrushes, cigarette lighters, tins and bottles, and a sad assortment of flotsam and jetsam. At the far end of the island, where the waves and currents collided, a veritable rubbish dump had accumulated and was in shocking contrast to the pristine blue water and white sandy beach.
We genuinely feel that the Indonesian people do not understand the implication and long term effect of their zero recycling skills or that they worry about the tarnished impression it leaves on visitors to their country. It’s as if they simply don’t see it, or care how it looks. Everywhere we go, we see plastic bags and bottles in the water, rubbish thrown carelessly aside and the gradual deflowering of their beautiful country.
On land, it is the same situation. We have constantly witnessed rubbish strewn everywhere- by the side of the road, filling gutters, creeks, and rivers until they become a stagnant wasteland.
All too soon, many of the tourist spots we have visited will disappear beneath the piles of discarded rubbish that is evident everywhere in a total disregard for keeping their country pristine and inviting. I must say that there have been a few exceptions; villages where people are house proud and conscious of disposing of their rubbish responsibly, and some communities encourage rubbish to be placed in the strategically placed garbage bins and promote regular clean ups. Sadly these places are few and far between.
We had to move on from Tinabo Kecil next morning, when the wind picked up significantly and our two yachts were jerking impatiently at their mooring lines like young fillies at the starting line.
We put up sails and zig zagged between the low lying coral areas, trying to find a safe and protected anchorage among these incredibly beautiful azure waters, but it was so difficult maneuvering between deep channels fringed with large areas of shallow reef with no obvious anchor spots. We eventually gave up and decided to use the good wind to sail the 40 miles to the nearby large island of Jampea. Off the beaten track and rarely visited by tourists or foreign visitors, we spent several days anchored at this remote island where we didn’t find one person who spoke English. The bay was full of scores of large colorful ‘spider’ boats at anchor with their massive outriggers.
We smelt the village of Pelabuhan long before we tied our dinghy up to the jetty, but once on land it was not quite as noticeable. We were distracted by this fascinating fishing community where we soon became the objects of great interest ourselves as we wandered around the village.
The waterfront was crowded with very poor fishermen homes made of wood and thatch, with dirt floors and no electricity or running water.
In front of them, the entire length of the seawall, large bamboo frames covered with netting were built over the beach where tiny bait fish, seaweed and squid dried in the scorching sun.
Scores more of these frames stood along the foreshores, surrounded by more homes, little shops and storage areas for the dried fish, which once dried, were piled into large hessian sacks and later shipped from the jetty to other islands and possibly the Asian market overseas.
As we walked further inland, the homes, built along a series of criss-cross pathways, became more affluent, some even built of bricks and tiles. All Moslem on this island, the women either peeked out from behind their curtains, or shyly hid behind their veils, but they were not shy in coming forward to proudly present their babies and offer them for photos.
Villagers sat socializing with neighbors in the shade and they all responded to our friendly greetings with a smile or a wave. We saw women drawing water from wells, and whereas they appeared to have very little here, we saw a number of the inevitable satellite dishes and shops selling ‘top up packages’ for mobile phones.
We decided to risk eating lunch at a local cafe, and after a series of charade signals to imply we would like food, we were directed to a doorway that opened to a room with 3 tables and a few mismatched chairs. We watched the ladies cut and prepare the vegetables crouched on the tile floor with no table to use in the kitchen. Despite the ridiculously cheap price of $1.50 for the Nasi goreng and Gado gado meals, sadly Margret and I were unable to eat ours as they were so fiery hot. I was crying and sweat was pouring down my face just from one taste which burnt my mouth. The women were very surprised and amused at our discomfort with the spicy food.
On our last day in Jampea, we moved to the other side of the island, ready to leave at first light and we deliberately anchored well away from the nearby village.This did not deter 2 spider boats who appeared within a half hour of us arriving- they both anchored within 50 foot of Stars End 2, and then the crew of 5 to 6 men on each boat all came to sit on the side of their boats where they could best observe Frank and I for the entire day until they took off fishing! It was quite disconcerting, but despite my friendly waves and smiles, since Frank didn’t want to provide their entertainment, he dropped the sun shades on the side of the cockpit to give us some privacy.
As the four of us sat on ‘Unwind’ enjoying sun downers that night, we counted over 40 spider boats heading out to their fishing grounds a few miles off shore. At night, the entire horizon was like a city from their bright lights that lure the marine life to the surface. We were very relieved we would not be faced with detouring around so many fishing boats that night.
The last island we visited before reaching Flores was Bonerate, where the local men have become renowned for their superb craftsmanship building ‘phinisi’ boats, the traditional 2 masted wooden boats that have plied the waters of Indonesia since the 14th century.
As we approached the island, we could see dozens of phinisi boats were under various stags of construction along the shoreline.
The phinisi boats are built using mainly traditional equipment (we did see a few power tools) that have been passed down through the generations. The construction not only involves strength and technique but also supernatural powers, as the locals even today believe in performing strict rituals and ceremonies at various stages of building.
As we pulled up at the jetty in our dinghy with Nils & Margret, we were soon surrounded by a group of children, chattering like monkeys in Bahasa, and cheekily calling out their repertoire of few English phrases, probably learnt from American movies- “Hello Mister” (whether to a male or female!) “How are you” and “I love you”.
They followed us on our walk around their village, gathering more friends along the way. They proudly showed off their ‘new finds’ to residents who came out of their homes, wondering what the crowds and noise was all about. We strolled along neat paved streets that were some of the cleanest and tidiest we had seen yet in Indonesia. Many homes were modest, but they all had swept yards and displayed a real sense of pride. Garbage bins were positioned at intervals all along the pathways and we didn’t see any rubbish except for along the beach.
As we approached the beach and they saw our interest lay with the wooden boats under construction, the children ran ahead to clamber up tall ladders calling out for us to follow and inspect the boats.
We stopped from time to time to admire the skill of some of the craftsmen working on the boats, but despite our smiles and charade like mimes (and my scrabbling to translate words on my iPhone app), it was frustrating not being able to discuss their work.
We stopped to purchase fruit and homemade banana fritters and found ourselves almost mobbed. Everyone wanted to see the ‘orang asing’ (foreigners).
As we left the jetty, we received an enthusiastic farewell from all our new best buddies.
Despite thoroughly enjoying our visit to Bonerate, we all agreed that we had probably experienced a fraction of the excitement that Hollywood stars generate when abroad and we were glad we are not famous! We were relieved we could escape back to the sanctity of our yachts and looked forward to more adventures when we reached Flores.