Ashore at Kalabahi


1440 hours: Tally Ho calls on the radio and invites us over for a chat later when we get ourselves settled.

1530 hours: Martin and I go over to Tally Ho. Just the two of us as we think the Skipper might only want to tell us something about the local officialese situation. Always important news in Indonesia but it turns out to be a social invitation. Meet the skipper Bob and his crew Jack and Diane who had sailed Tally Ho from Queensland. Bob and Jack are both WW2 veterans. Hard to judge Diane’s age, maybe 40 or so. All looking pretty fit and agile, and very friendly.

37 alor1 38 alor2
Above: Looking to the left of our anchorage. Above: The buildings at the back are open covered areas and used as terminals and play areas by the local kids.
39 alor3 40 alor4
Above: Part of the foreshore which dries at low tide. The distances to the shore are actually closer than they seem here. There are a few small shops along the road. Above: Looking towards the main business area of the town. Some of the water buses in the foreground. The hotel Adi Dharma is at the right of photo amongst the trees. A mosque can be seen between the two front boats.

1630 hours: Take Diane ashore and return to our own boat. Several kids are arranged about Lowana IV in canoes and other small boats.  Shoo them away back to shore.

A local guide named Achmad comes out and sells us on a day tour tomorrow. Sounds interesting. He asks if we’d like our laundry washed promising to return it tomorrow.  Also tells us he can deliver diesel, oil and water to the boat on Monday. Seems like a handy and reliable enough bloke.

1730 hours: Having a welcome mandi (wash) at the local Hotel Adi Dharma and a change of clothes costs Rp1000. A mandi consists of standing beside a tub of cold water and ladling it over yourself.  There is no hot water or showers here.  The hotel is only about 200 metres or so away and right on the waterfront overlooking the various boats.

A meal at one of the restaurants costs Rp32500 for the four of us including three bottles of Bintang and coffee. My meal choice is Sate Kambing (goat sates), a soup and curry rice which only cost Rp6500 (maybe A$3.25).

45 waterbus1 48 ferry
Above: Lowana IV at anchor in the background. A typical water bus or transport vessel in the foreground. Perfectly still day at the moment but it can get windy, especially in the afternoons. Above: One of the island ferries you would catch from Kupang if coming here without your own boat. Kalabahi has some really good diving sites and they get tourists on diving charters come here. Lowana IV can just be seen in the distance.

2200 hours: Martin decides to stay ashore for the time being. I think he is looking for some arak being a distilled coconut milk sort of alcoholic drink. Probably so alcoholic as to be almost toxic I think yet he manages to get back later in the night.

Totally still night at odds with the strong wind conditions today. Watch the local fishermen towing in a huge bamboo fish trap structure. They’re using pressure lanterns for lighting and happily sing away as they bring it in and put it on the beach. Interesting that I am able to pick up two of the local TV stations whereas I was only able to clearly pick up one in Kupang.

Sun 14/9/97

43 dawn at Kalabahi 44 fisherman
Above: Dawn at Kalabahi anchorage. Shows the smoke from large fires blazing out of control elsewhere in Indonesia and PNG. Smoke like this even reached Darwin at one stage. Above: This young chap gets out here in his dugout canoe every morning trying to catch a feed. He usually stays for a couple of hours. Never actually saw him catch anything though. The water is quite clear and you can easily see the bottom.

0630 hours: Getting ready for today’s tour. Wave goodbye to Tally Ho as she starts making her way out of the anchorage to their next stop at Flores Islands. We go ashore to meet Achmad but he doesn’t show up for another hour. Seems he had to take his Dad to hospital.

Morning: Our first stop on a bemo bus organised by Achmad is the village of Ketjil on the northern entrance to Kalabahi Sound. Achmad explains some of the local customs and takes us to the house of the Mr Java the village headman.

49 Ketjil 1 50 Ketjil 2
Above: At Ketjil looking south down Alor Strait. Reportedly there is excellent swimming and diving. The usual dugout outrigger canoes on the foreshore. Above: Typical fishermen’s huts at Ketjil. Fishing nets hung out to dry.

We are shown a few of the regionally famous moko drums and listen to a long story about them. They are true antiques in the real sense of the word being hundreds, if not thousands of years old and believed to have originated in Vietnam. The locals buried them during WW2 when the Japanese came. Not all of them were found again but Mr Java says one or two are dug up from time to time. The highly prized bronze drums are an essential bride-price in a regional custom. Achmad shows much deference to the headman and I notice a folded piece of paper is  passed in a final handshake. No doubt payment for the visit.

51 collecting water 52 moko drums
Above: Villagers from miles around come to this well for fresh water, sometimes making the trip twice a day. Some villagers carry the water in the traditional manner using bamboo tubes. It’s apparently a bit of a social event. Note the white painted faces of the young females. This is their version of make-up. Above: Antique bronze Moku drums which tradition says originally came from Vietnam. These things are centuries if not thousands of years old.

On the way back Achmad stops and buys a live chicken. It sits and cackles quite happily in the front seat until we reach Achmad’s home where it makes the final journey to Happy Chicken-Land. The chicken will be prepared for our dinner later when we return from touring the countryside. We sit for a while and get served the usual kopi with multiple sugars and condensed milk for those that want it.

Takpala is a traditional village further along the north coast of Alor.  Villagers trot out their cloth weavings, baskets, bows, arrows, spears and other handcrafts for us.

53 Takpala 1 54 Takpala2
Above: The entrance to the village of Takpala on the NW coast of Alor Island. It’s fairly high up the side of a mountain. You can make out the coast to the left of photo. Fresh water has to be manually carried up from below. Above: A raised area is used for ceremonies and other communal meetings.
55 Takpala3 57 Takpala4
Above: Local church behind the communal area with decorative thatching. Other thatched huts are used as storehouses.  This region of Indonesia is predominately Christian. Above: Handicrafts laid out for sale.

Their houses, or perhaps huts would be a better term, tend to be square, three-tier structures.  The men use the bottom tier and women and children the middle tier. The top tier is for storage.

62  traditional house2 62 traditional house 3
Above: One of the smaller huts under construction showing the three-tiered system. Above: A completed house/hut for a smaller family.

58 Takpala chatRight: Inside one of the huts. Note the stone fireplace.  Achmad in the purple shirt and white cap does all the translating while the village lady hawks, spits and sniffles.

Cooking of meals is done in the middle tier using a stone based hearth. They’d have to be really careful about fire in here. The smoke from the fires keeps the bugs out of the corn and whatever else is kept up in the top level. The food they live on is usually a mixture of corn and beans. Not much variety.  We’re given a taste of the meal but it’s a bit bland to my liking.

62a tree climberAfter leaving Takpala we travel along a really rough track. At one point a local tribesman climbs a coconut tree and throws down a green coconut. He knocks off the top and offers it to us to drink the milk. It’s delicious. A bunch of kids appear out of nowhere all intent on hitching a ride.  There must be 8 or 9 of them in the little bus with us.

We finally arrive at a small creek in which boiling water steams out of the ground under pressure. Achmad puts some eggs and bananas in the water to boil them. He mentions there are several of these volcanic holes in the area so we take a short walk along the creek bed.  At some places steaming water is spurting out of the ground accompanied by various noises and a nasty sulphuric smell.

60 volcanic hole 1 59 volcanic hole2
Above: Our guide Achmad at one of the volcanic holes in a creek bed. Above: Small geysers of scalding water coming out of the ground.

Late Afternoon: Return to Achmad’s home for a really superb meal – chicken of course. For the final leg of the tour he takes us up the mountain behind Kalabahi to a lookout over the harbour. Beautiful view showing the narrow Alor Strait along which the wind can really blow hard.

61 traditional house1Right: A different traditional house design.

There aren’t many people around when we arrive at another village. Apparently these villagers also have to trek about 5 km twice a day down the mountain to fetch water. I guess they don’t bath much up here. Return to Achmad’s, collect our laundry and return to the harbour.

Evening: Paul and Barbara stay ashore overnight in one of the other four hotels in Kalabahi.

Martin later goes ashore for dinner while I check the charts, watch TV, read a book and go to bed early Am pretty tired after our long day-tour. It’s been an interesting day but a lot of travel in the back of a bemo over rough roads. Still it’s worthwhile to do these things I think, even if just to get off the boat and recharge yourself for the next leg of your trip which may or may not be a hard one.

Mon 15/9/97

Morning: Meet up with Paul and Barbara. They tell me the hotel where they stayed last night is right alongside the mosque. They’d been treated to the full benefit of an amplified call to prayers at the crack of dawn which could probably have been heard right across to the other side of Alor.

Dip the water tank and find we’ve used 145 litres over the last 14 days. Also dip the fuel tanks. Used 60 litres of diesel from Kupang to Kalabahi being a distance of 150 miles. Pretty heavy but probably explained by having to bash against strong winds and current near Pura Island and inside Kalabahi Sound.
47 martin rowing
Right:  Martin returning to Lowana IV. Prefer not to use the outboard motor due to numerous coral bombies.

Achmad comes down to the pier with a bemo and collects our empty fuel and water jerry containers. He comes back an hour later with the first lot but has to make another trip. In the meantime I get busy changing the engine oil and fuel filters with assistance by Martin.  Following the strong advice of other cruising sailors the diesel fuel is strained through pantyhose into the fuel tank.

It’s a blessing that Achmad has turned up to help this morning. On checking the motor I find oil in the bilges. Obviously a a leak somewhere.  It looks like it might be coming from the join between the motor and gearbox but the motor seems to be running perfectly anyway. Even so I’m using more oil than expected and I’ll have to get Achmad to go shopping with me for more oil.  We’ll also need a new grease gun and I don’t have enough oil filters either.

The following should give an idea of what it’s costing. Fuel cost is Rp450 per litre and water Rp420 for 25 litre.

180 litres diesel fuel and 145 litres water Rp100,000 (A$50.00)
3 x oil filters Rp38,000 (A$17.00)
grease gun Rp37,500 (A$19.00)
6 x 5 litres diesel oil Rp63,500 (A$32.00)
Achmad’s services Rp40,000 (A$20.00)
Bemo hire (3 hrs) Rp35,000 (A$18.00)
Food (at market) Rp15,000 (A$7.50)

Without the services of Achmad I doubt everything would have gone anywhere near as smoothly as it did.  It’s all over by midday including the running around from shop to shop looking for the oil filters, grease gun and suitable diesel engine oil.

Eventually we’re fully stocked up and ready for sea once again. All the refilled water jerries are marked for later purifying then stowed away and lashed down.

Lunchtime: Paul and Barbara head ashore to buy some ikat weaving, Martin also wants to change some money and I want to make a telephone call home to give an update on our movements to Delma. We only plan to be only a short while.

1330 hours: Totally unsuccessful in getting through on the phone. Unable to contact Darwin by HF radio either. Wind is gusting up to 40 kts or maybe more in the harbour. This anchorage is proving to be a good holding ground as we haven’t moved an inch with these strong winds funnelling down from the mountains. Decide to hang off our departure for a while for it to die down. Tide is on the way out having just changed an hour or so ago but we can’t wait too long though.

1600 hours: Wind still gusting 30 kts or more. Too late to clear the straits and islands before dark. Consult with crew and we decide to leave early tomorrow morning before the winds get up.

1700 hours: Dinghy down and we all go ashore for dinner. Take a last walk around.

2000 hours: Tour guide named Joseph from the Hotel Adi Dharma tells me international access by phone is only available during certain hours from Kalabahi. And the access dial number is 001 – not 0011 as advised by the local Telcom office. Bugger!

In any case I try dialling again using 001-61 (#61 being the Australian code) and get straight through. Unfortunately I only get our answering machine but leave a message with our proposed itinerary on it for Delma. Hopefully it records okay as it sometimes plays up. The call costs Rp18500 but at least I’m a little relieved at being able to get through and leave a message.  We’re going to some out of the way places now which will mostly just be villages without power or outside contact e.g. phones.

2100 hours: We meet up with a couple from Holland who have come to Alor for some scuba diving. Apparently this is supposed to be amongst the best areas in the world for it and there is an Australian agent working out of Kalabahi. The water is certainly clear enough.  You can even see small tropical fish swimming around Lowana IV. We talk about Holland which attracts Paul’s interest as a first generation Aussie with Dutch parents, and all his relatives in Holland.

2200 hours: Return to boat and have a cup of tea then go to bed ready for a big day tomorrow.



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