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Martin & Sue


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In the land of smiles - Saumlaki ( Spice Islands )


Having finally arrived in Indonesia, we were keen to go ashore and explore Saumlaki – but first we had to face the 'officialdom' challenge. Luckily for us our experience with Indonesian Quarantine and Customs was fairly straightforward. Through no forward planning on our part, we had anchored at the southern end of the anchored yachts and this turned out to be the end the boarding party was starting at.



Within half an hour we were boarded by two Quarantine officers, both sporting face (medical) masks. They were very polite and took their shoes off in the cockpit before entering and passing over the appropriate forms to be completed. Once we had signed to say we had no symptoms of swine flu they removed their masks with relief, indicating by sign language that they were very hot and uncomfortable to wear. We all had a good laugh of course making pig like sounds.

Above: Quarantine Officials on board

  Below: We made it! Mandolin Wind in Indonesia


Next were Customs – this time three officials. Several documents in duplicate (via carbon paper) were completed and we duly used our new ‘Mandolin Wind’ stamps which seemed to impress them greatly! One official then made a very cursory search – starting in the spare cabin where a lot of gear was stowed. After one glance he turned tail and moved to the ‘garage’ in the stern where he had the same reaction. ‘Any whisky?’ he asked. ‘No, no whisky’ – which is true – remember it was rum we had stocked up on in Darwin. ‘Good ‘, he replied. ‘That’s all I need to see, thankyou’




So within a couple of hours of arriving we were through the first official layers and were free to go ashore to the Customs building for the next round. At the time we did not realize how lucky we were as some boats who arrived before us took all day to be cleared. Others who arrived a few hours later were not boarded for another 36 hours, during which time they could not go ashore!

We wondered whether our good luck had something to do with the 60 foot Oyster anchored behind us. It was flying a massive Marshall Islands country flag – but a tiny Indonesian courtesy flag. We had been warned that this is a great insult and our clearing so quickly may have been an attempt to ‘teach them a lesson’ – for they were not boarded for another 24 hours.




The ride ashore was a long one as the safe anchorage was over 1 nautical mile from our landing point and we had to dodge fishing traps along route. However, we were kept busy looking at the village ashore with its shacks on stilts protruding into the water’s edge and listening to the distinct sounds floating across the water, including the crowing roosters, the motor bikes, the horns blasting and the call to prayer from the Mosque.






As we approached our landing point at the Immigration and Customs Hall, we could see several helpers waiting to take our lines. This was just as well, for the rock wall was fairly tricky to get to, especially with so many other dinghies already tied up. We were made to feel very welcome and directed into the hall past uniform officials lined up to say ‘Hello’ or ‘Salam’. This is a big event for Saumlaki and the town had gone all out to impress. Several young men who spoke quite good English had taken a few days off work to act as guides. Our first stop was the ‘Welcome’ table where we picked up our official badges and t-shirts. Then it was back to a door labeled ‘Customs’ for more paperwork.



Above: the dinghy dock!

  Above: in the Customs Hall - guess which sailing couple offered free yoga lessons?


Now all that was left was immigration so we could get our passports stamped. This was all going along too well – Indonesian check in was supposed to be chaotic.  It seemed too good to be true – and it was! The immigration officials were a ‘no show’. Saumlaki is not a normal port of entry into the country and special arrangements had supposedly been made to fly the required people in from Ambon to meet the rally. We were wondering if this meant we could not go into town when one of the rally officials made an announcement. ‘The Immigration, they no come. Not to worry. You give us your passports and we get them stamped and give back to you at the next stop.’ Stunned silence, then several people at once complained : ‘I’m not going to Tual’; ‘There is no way I am giving up my passport.’; ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’

Three minutes later there was another announcement: ‘Ok, Ok. No need to do immigration here. Wait to Tual. Keep passports.’

 As it turned out, one lonely immigration official actually did arrive the next day – and had to check in 400 people! As they say in Indonesia, 'It might not happen today or tomorrow, but it will happen!'

Having taken as much officialdom as we could handle in one go, we headed through the open air market, with its many associated smells, and into the town.






Within minutes we had grinning children following us and as we passed by the locals they all smiled, wanting to shake our hands with a ‘Hello Mister’. Knowing Indonesia is mainly Muslim I had dressed in long trousers and a long sleeved shirt. However, it was a pleasant surprise to see equal numbers of both sexes in the streets and to see that the women were dressed simply but in a western style.  Everyone had massive grins and no matter what their age they wanted to have their photo taken – laughing happily when they saw the digital images.  The sincere friendliness of the people was something to behold.




Like all good Aussies, we sought shelter from the heat in a café serving the local brew, Bintang. The manager spoke English and sat down with us to chat about the rally and all the boats that were expected. There were huge celebrations planned to welcome the fleet, for normally Saumlaki gets few tourists and the last time the rally had stopped here was several years previously ( with 16 boats not 130 ! ).



Next day we raced ashore when we heard that the sole immigration official had arrived. The good thing about the long queue was that we were able to catch up with crew members from other yachts.  After finally getting our much needed stamp, we found a shop to buy a local sim card and some credit. Luckily we had taken one of the official rally ‘helpers’ to work out how to activate it for us.



Above: the shop that sold sim cards also doubled as a chandlery. Don't you love the anchors!

  Below: tiling 3 storeys up without any safety harness - what would workcover think!





Later that day we propped in a café for yet more Bintang to watch a street parade called the ‘Women’s March’. A mix of young and old, it was difficult to work out what each marching group represented. It was apparent, however, that the marchers took themselves very seriously. The event terminated at the Immigration Jetty and when we arrived to board a bus to take us to a food festival and reception in our honour, we were bombarded with requests from the women to take their photo.  The cheers and waves of the Saumlaki’s as we drove off in the buses made many of us reflect on what sort of reception a group of Indonesians in our country would receive. A sobering thought.




We were transported to the newly constructed city offices in town which had a room large enough to take all participants (ball room size). It was perched on high ground overlooking the bay, well away from the local town. We were escorted into the large hall with chairs down the centre and several tables setup at the edges of the room. Each of the provinces was represented by a table that was overflowing with local delicacies. After a short welcome speech from a local dignitary, we were ‘let loose’ to sample the dishes. The food was generally very tasty – lots of whole fish with chillies, soups, savoury samosa-like snacks and even a selection of desserts and fruits.






After we had gorged ourselves we sat down for more speeches and local dancing. The introductory remarks by each speaker as they greeted all the dignitaries, plus their wives, seemed to go on longer than the speech itself. In addition, each speech had to be repeated as it was translated into English. We were disgusted by one group of yachties who had smuggled in wine and proceeded to talk and drink through the formal ceremonies. It takes all types unfortunately.  Although we don’t like this sort of formality a lot, we respected how much this meant to the locals and did our best to pay attention, as did 99% of the other yachties. We were also entertained by traditional dancing and singing, performed by local school children. It was very reminiscent of Maori dancing and the harmonizing was fantastic.



The Minister for Tourism made a short but very pertinent speech.  ‘The Saumlaki people have nothing to offer tourists, just our big smiles and friendship.’  As we looked around at the locals we had to conclude that this was more than enough for us.




Presentations followed and the Saumlaki officials went out of their way to make them fun. There was a gift for the oldest female sailor; the oldest male; the boat with the most children on board; anyone with a birthday etc. Then it was our turn to go on stage as a presentation of an embroidered runner was presented to each Yacht – all 130 of them!

Once the official program was completed we realized that the ladies had set up more food at the back of the hall – and for a split second we worried that everyone was too full to do justice to all their hard work. However, there were no problems as these are yachties and the food was free!





Finally we were bused back to the jetty where we had to climb down a steep rock wall (it was low tide) then scramble across several dinghies before we could head home to Mandolin Wind in the pitch dark, hoping we wouldn’t run into a fish trap on the way.

The next day was the ‘Grand tour’. Originally Sail Indonesia were asking $US25 for each person – but since very few people signed up, they decided to make it free. We found out later that several welcome ceremonies had been arranged at nearby villages so the thought of not having enough people on the tour – and the subsequent loss of face – was so unappealing that they made it free.

Unfortunately – or perhaps luckily given that over 300 people were loaded onto the free buses – we had got together with a group and organized our own mini bus tour for $AU15 a head. Having made the commitment we felt obliged to continue with this arrangement so we headed off with a driver and a guide. There were 15 in the non-airconditioned bus but luckily 4 were children so we all fitted in OK.



We visited several outlying villages but had to be careful as we entered one place as a local welcome had been organized and smartly dressed dignitaries standing side by side with villagers dressed in traditional costume were waiting to greet the official tour.  Our driver stopped well short of the road block and indicated that we were NOT the real group and could they please just let us though! Luckily face saving all around.




The villages were spotlessly clean and were sited on some stunning coastline. Everywhere we went we were continually overwhelmed by the smiles and friendliness of the inhabitants. They didn’t want to sell anything, just say hello and shake our hands and chat.


Above: Village Real Estate to die for!    
At one village we were shown how they used palm syrup to make Sopi, the local whisky. A taste test made us appreciate why we had smuggled so many of our own spirits aboard!  

Our lunch stop was interesting. Having toured several villages we backtracked and stopped outside a café with a high wall and entrance gate.  We made ourselves comfortable on bamboo seats inside the walled concrete area and waited for our rice and chicken to be served. It was a few minutes before we had a good look around at the other occupants of the yard. There were 4 or 5 girls, provocatively dressed and made up with heavy makeup, lazing around under a shady tree. The suspicions became a certainty when we noticed the several murals on the inside of the high fence – all featured male and female partners all depicted in various forms of ‘fully clothed’ intimacy. Well, this was something else – lunch in a Bordello! Perhaps we should have taken the official tour after all. Just then we heard sirens and looking out through the gateway we saw several motorcycle police with their lights flashing escorting the tour buses – all seven of them. Imagine hitting a village with all those people in one go? No thankyou.

Back to the Bordello – and we asked our tour guide why he had brought us to such a place. Hand on heart, and looking offended, he assured us he would never do such a thing. We were still highly suspicious since a reconnaissance of the area at the rear of the café showed lots of small rooms with beds! However the food turned out to be delicious and all was well.


Next was a tour past the government buildings – perched high on the hill and built on a grand scale that would make most Canberra Embassy’s pale into insignificance. What a contrast to the shacks the general population live in. Then a quick stop at a local house where the owner specialized in wood carving before finishing at a long, sandy beach.




It appeared this beach was where the official tour was also to end for a group of locals had prepared a hungi. Just as we arrived, they were opening one pit, peeling back the banana leaves to reveal smoky whole root vegetables. As we guiltily sampled the sweet tasting taro and cassava roots, we rationalized that there were a few more pits that would be opened in time to feed the 300 others soon to arrive on the official buses!



We were delivered safely back to our starting point by 5pm and were ready to enjoy a rest on our boats when we discovered that all yachts had to clear with the Harbour Master before leaving Saumlaki. A quick dash back aboard to grab our paperwork and money and we were back to get all the official stamps before the queue was swelled by the official tour return. At the first office, various forms were filled in and 150,000 rupee was handed over (about $AU20). Then it was onto the next office where we were asked if we were going to Bitung and Menado. If the answer was yes, then the money was refunded! We are not sure if anyone was silly enough to say no – but we knew that more than half the fleet were not intending to follow the rally agenda that included the top of Sulawesi where a massive celebration was being organized for Independence day. There would be a great ‘loss of face’ if very few boats made the journey of 700 nm to take part in the festivities, which included a ‘sail past’ for the President. Therefore, as a ‘carrot’, the boats making the commitment to attend were guaranteed that all the money they had paid so far would be reimbursed. We had decided to follow the official route as it could be quite interesting to be part of the celebrations – plus Sulawesi is renowned for its spectacular coastline and dive spots.    


The next day saw several boats pull out – but given our hectic schedule since arriving in Indonesia we decided to have a rest day. One of the local Bitang cafes decided to put on an all day ‘happy hour’ so we spent a few relaxing hours overlooking the bay and sipping the local brew.



  We also delivered the gifts that Amanda and Greg had sent from Australia – needless to say the recipients were very appreciative.


Our time here had come to an end and we were ready to head off for more adventures around the islands surrounding Saumlaki. The plan was to spend 3-4 days at some of the more remote areas and then head off to Ambon, via a 30hr sail to Banda. Indonesia was turning out to be every bit as fascinating as we hoped it would be – and with 4 months remaining in which to discover it, we intended to get the most out of the ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity.