Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Is this War?

You could be mistaken for thinking that, with 25 navy vessels in the harbour (including one from China and one from Singapore), our yachts being searched for bombs, helicopters doing circling routes over the beach and navy officers clogging up the streets, cafes and port. Thankfully no, this was all in preparation for the President of Indonesia's visit to Labuan Bajo, a bustling town which owes its mark on the tourist map to the Komodo dragons and the Komodo National Park just across the bay. So what do the lucky people of Labuan Bajo owe the pleasure of a visit by their very own Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono? A yacht rally whose participants have taken over the restaurants, cafes and the only bakery in town for 10 days as the three routes of the rally converge and continue their journey westward!

We had just spent the best part of a week in the Taka Bonerate National Park, a world class dive site, containing the worlds third largest atoll and some not very inhabited islands. It was a stark contrast to Benteng, our previous city stop, where we had guides walk with us everywhere and haggle at the markets while we tried to save 2c off our carrots. Other excellent features of our time in Benteng was our releasing of a 3 month old baby turtle into the wild (we named him Bruce) who had been protected for conservation by a small village. After this excitement and watching Bruce swim strongly into the big blue, we were taken to a remote village where we went through their welcome ceremony which included some women channelling a village spirit from the past, us being in a water fight with the local kids, all rounded up with a sing along and being swung on a giant swing. The local government officials and the Vice Regent of the island also joined us and they had a blast. All in a days work!

An overnight 150nm sail was marked by Hugh and I seeing a humpback whale for the first time. Gracefully swimming through the water and blowing water high in the air we were enraptured by its enormity being about 10m long. A most awesome sighting! And with that it slapped its tail and dove below! We also had our first night sail with the spinnaker up, sailing for about 16 hours in company with our friends on Hokulea and Kite, we made excellent time in <10kts of breeze. Our arrival at Labuan Bajo was a real introduction into full swing 'tourism dominated' Indonesia. Some people here spoke English, could not give two hoots about having visitors in town and enjoyed the business that we brought to town as we emptied them out of long life milk, beer and cheese. We had been warned by our guides that with the end of the eastern route of the rally, so did the innocence and relative naivety of the townships. We had to haggle for our trips on local transport which was either in a vemo (van that could seat 10 people), an ojek (motorbike) or the flat bed of a cement truck which we ended up catching one night home after dinner. But it has all been fun, and we feel quite spoiled by the hospitality and generosity that has been shown to us by our hosts in the various small towns on the way through.

We decided to leave Labuan Bajo and seek respite in the National Park. We will get as up close and personal as you can get to what are touted to be aggressive dragons. Unfortunately we will be unable to meet the President, but I sent him my regards and hope to have a coffee with him one day soon!

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