Six days of sailing across the Arafura Sea has brought us to the magnificent Kei Islands in southeastern Indonesia! Pulling into the anchorage was delightful, the entirety of the rally fleet tucked up in front of a small town called Debut on the island of Tual. Smiles and happy faces greeted all the boats as they arrived, everyone thankful and happy to have the hook down after passage. The shoreline is dotted with varicolor homes, churches, and mosques flanked on all sides by tropical forests, and throughout the day you can alternately hear the Catholic church bells and the Muslim calls to prayer. The national and local tourism bureuas have provided some necessary amenities and translators for the arriving yachties, helping to arrange for Indonesian SIM-cards for cell and internet signals, diesel and gasoline deliveries, laundry, and information about things to do in the area.
Debut is a delightful little town and an amazing first exposure to Indonesian culture. Initially the most striking thing is that as westerners almost all of the yachties are very rare sights in such a remote part of this country, and as such the children and locals are very excited to meet all the visitors and share everything they can about their town. For the first few days it was hard to walk around without stopping to take pictures with anyone who asked (especially if you’re blonde!), and walking around you often have an entourage of giggling children shouting ‘Hello Mister!’. You almost feel like a celebrity!
The town organized a welcome ceremony for the fleet, hosting us to lunch, performing traditional dances, and blessing us by asking for their ancestors’ protection that we might be safe while we explore their islands. The people are incredibly helpful and welcoming even when they don’t understand anything we are saying, and as a whole they are amazingly hospitable and happy to have us all here.
Difference in Culture
One of the most evident differences that we notice arriving in Indonesia from Australia is unfortunately that it is incredibly dirty. There is no expectation of keeping the ocean or environment clean and even just sitting at anchor near the town you can watch large amounts of trash and debris floating past. Walking around town and closer to the vibrant surrounding forests shows plastic in every bush and littering the roadside. Stray dogs and cats wander the towns often uncared for and in pitiful condition and to my shock we learned that parts of Indonesia use them as food sources. When we pulled anchor to set off for our next anchorage we spent fifteen minutes cutting off a mass of garbage that had gotten wrapped around our chain, a mass of plastic, shoes, cord and other detritus that litters the harbor floor. As someone who grew up in a place of astounding natural beauty with a constant expectation of caring for it, this is heartbreaking to see and somewhat difficult to stomach, but I try to see past it and enjoy the beauty that the Islands have in spades.
The highlight of my time in Debut was our trip to some caves nearby to our anchorage named Goa Hawang. A naturally formed cave system with spring fed clean water filling them, they are about an hour’s walk from Debut Harbor through the surrounding villages and countryside. Tucked back into a hill, if you didn’t know they were there you would almost walk right past them. A red brick stairway leads you down to the waters edge underneath overhanging dripping stalactite where you can peer into the small cave system. The water is as dazzlingly blue as it is clear, you can see straight down to the bottom easily and is plenty clean enough for a swim, which we indulged in to cool off after our walk there. A beautiful and memorable experience!
Most of our rally’s boats are continuing north to the islands of Banda, but we have elected to forgo the northern route for a southwestern path along active volcanoes and isolated islands aptly named the Forgotten Islands before finally rejoining the rally path on the island of Flores. We will be joined by only a couple boats on this path and hopefully we will see some things that few ever do! Cheers!