I have fallen in love with Indonesia. It is like living inside a really, really good issue of National Geographic: age-old cultures, diverse/exotic wildlife, majestic landscapes, and under water splendor. It is all here.
With 18,000 isles covering 2 million square miles, ‘Indonesia is a nation of islands best experienced through sea travel. Lucky us! August has seen the crew of Amandla sailing through the province of East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) with visits to West Timor, Alor, Komba, Flores, Rinca, Komodo Island, and Gilli Banta. As the province consists of over 500 islands, we have only just scratched its. Much of NTT remains untouched by modernization and we didn’t see many western tourists here until we reached Flores.
We arrived Kupang, West Timor, the Capital of NTT, on 28 July after 4-night, 510 nautical miles passage from Darwin. Initially, I felt overwhelmed by the change in location. Perhaps I had not fully recovered from our ‘repair filled’ sail from Sydney.
But the warm welcome we received from officials and locals alike quickly made me feel at home. And we certainly had an easier journey here than Captain Bligh did. Following the Mutiny on The Bounty in 1789, Bligh and his 18-crew members sailed to Kupang in far less comfortable conditions.
We spent our first few days in Kupang checking into the country, refreshing provisions, learning about local culture, and touring about town enjoying the faces of the city.
Two days after our arrival, The Sail Indonesia Rally fleet was officially welcomed to Kupang with speeches, dances, and a gift of a beautiful ikat woven scarf for each crew member. The Rally is organized by Indonesia Sail Tourism with a mission to raise awareness of Indonesia as a marine tourist destination and an excellent cruising ground for yachts.
In cooperation with the Indonesian Government, Sail Indonesia holds a series of events along the sailing route to welcome crews and introduce them to local culture, traditions, food, and languages. These formal welcome events, coupled with the informal welcome given by locals wherever we anchor, make Indonesia feel like home.
In the evening, Yonas Salean, the much beloved Mayor of Kupang City threw a party for the fleet at the lovely Sotis Hotel. Our gracious host welcomed us and treated us to several dance performances and a bounty of yummy local dishes.
The Captain’s ‘brother’ Adriano arrived for a 10-day visit that afternoon and was able to join us for the dinner. Adriano’s son Fabio arrived later in the evening. It was such a treat to have them on board.
We had originally planned to sail onward to Alor on 1 August but the Kingdom of Boti was calling to me. Typically an overnight trip given the difficulties in getting there, our very talented local tour guide Marlon (+62 812 9529 2478) was able to arrange resources so that we could complete the visit in one day. We took a 3-hour drive to Soe, stopped to purchase a gift of Betel Nut for the King and then traveled another 1.5-hours off-road in a 4WD on a nearly impassible mountain track filled with potholes and landslides.
But when we arrived in Boti, I felt an immediate sense of peace and calm and a shift in atmosphere from hot and dusty to temperate and clean.
The Boti community is part of the larger Amanuban Tribe of Timor. So remote, Boti’s existence was unknown to the outside world until 100 years ago. Animistic rituals and strict adherence to ‘adat’ traditions are a way of life for the 300 residents of ‘inner Boti’. They are self-sufficient and do not leave Boti except on rare occurrences to purchase fuel. There are over 700 residents of ‘outer Boti’ who are also part of the tribe but have accepted Protestantism and attend public school.
King Nama Benu, his sister Molo along with their niece greeted us upon our arrival. Our tour guide Marlon (+62 812 9529 2478) translated between English and the national language of Indonesia, Bahasa, and our skilled driver translated from Bahasa to the local Boti language. After asking the King and his family several questions about Boti, they invited us to sign their guest book; I was visitor #108 this year.
Then Molo showed us the grounds and ikat weaving in action. The quality of their ikat far surpasses any I have seen in Indonesia. Beautiful designs are woven from locally grown, hand spun, naturally cotton thread. The material feels like raw silk.
We were then served a delicious, light lunch. Before we left, the King gave gifts of bracelets to the men and an ikat scarf to me. It was well worth the 9-hour round-trip drive. I wish we could have stayed overnight. The village offers basic accommodation for visitors up to one month.
We returned back to the anchorage just in time to attend another party given for the Sail Indonesia Rally fleet; this one thrown by Drs. Frans Lebu Raya, the Provincial Governor of East Nusa Tenggara and Dr. Jelamu Ardu Marius, M. Si, The Head of the Department of Culture and Creative Economy NTT. More dancing, more smiles, more yummy food, more fun.
On 2 August, we set out on an overnight sail to Alor. We were cautioned against overnight sailing in Indonesia given the number of unlit vessels not easily picked up by radar and unlit fish attracting devices. But armed with a new radar that was supposed to identify the small wooden vessels and with the addition of Fabio and Adriano, a very experienced sailor, to our watch crew, we decided to go for it.