Of Stone Ships, Cannibals and Nurses

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Wed 26 Aug 98
Morning: Some of us have a lovely sleep in. Quick breakfast then make arrangements for a day tour to Sanglia Dol, a village up the east coast. Our guide is Corrie, a young lady who works in the Merpati Office at the hotel. She speaks quite reasonable English. Our bemo driver Abing later proves to be a competent driver over the somewhat less than smooth road.1100hrs: Set off on our tour. Martin stays behind. Interesting trip up the coast. Scenery is spectacular looking out from the crests of hills.  The road is dirt and often washed away from recent rains.

026 coastal view 027 coast road
Above: The scenery from the crests of hills going up the eastern coast of Yamdena is really good. Some of the hills are quite steep. Above: Part of the coastal road over the hills. Just as well the driver hired some hands to come along…they were needed to push us through the bogs.

 028 new churchLeft: Another coastal village on the road to Sanglia Dol with a church being built. The majority of people are christian and the most substantial building in any village is it’s church.

After a long and rough ride we finally arrive at the village of Sanglia Dol where we are to view the allegedly famous ‘stone boat’ and the stone staircase. We’re taken to sit in the house of the Headman who doesn’t show up. The stone ship is sitting in the middle of the village but we’re informed we cannot take any photos of it until we’ve walked the stone staircase leading down to the beach. Custom apparently demands this and it’s bad luck to take photos first.

029 stone stairsRight: This stone staircase built hundreds of years ago reaching up from the beach to the village on a plateau above.

The stone staircase is huge being fairly steep and 50 metres long. It reaches up some 30 metres from the beach to the cliff top where the village is perched. We all line up and walk down the staircase to the bottom. Check the beach. Look at another small stone boat which is still functioning as a water well, although nobody in their right mind would drink the water. We return by another less conspicuous stone staircase to the village.

Throughout the Moluccas region there was once a megalithic or Dongson culture. The status of the leaders was confirmed by rituals and the erection of megaliths (stone objects) as lasting signs of prestige. In the Tanimbar Islands they took the form of a ship in various villages. The villagers believe the stone ‘ships’ represent the vessels in which the village founders arrived here. A stone ship once served as a meeting place for ceremonial dances and rituals for their gods and ancestors. Sanglia Dol holds some of the areas best remains.

030 stone shipLeft:  A stone ship built hundreds of years ago by the ancestors to this village. It signifies how the villagers came here and was used for ceremonial rites, some of which were fairly boisterous apparently.

The Tanimbar Islanders from this region were once head-hunters and it’s believed the practice continued even as late as WW2. Perhaps even the parents of these villagers may have been collecting heads.

With this in mind and having seen the stone ship and stone staircase, we stand around getting ogled at by all the villagers and feeling a little uncomfortable.  Not really given to smiling at visitors these people.  Do some of them actually have filed teeth? The ladies endure a constant succession of hard pinching by the local kids. To check how tender they are? I look at the girls and get a vision of fried chickens walking about.

This is the sort of place where you might look once then move on. Interesting in its own right but not riveting. It really needs a good guide with lots of background information to make it particularly worthwhile. Corrie isn’t up to it and the visit turns out to be a bit of ho-hum especially after the long ride to get here. But it is a pretty place with a picturesque shoreline. Population is about 1000 people, all Catholic religion … now.

Afternoon: After Sanglia Dol we visit ‘Mama’s Farm’. Mama is the owner of the Harapan Indah Hotel where we are staying. She’s a wonderful hostess in a beautiful home in a tranquil setting. The house has a wide verandah, very high roof with no ceiling and has solid polished hardwood timber throughout.

031 clucky nursesLeft:  One of the staff presents her newborn to the Ann and Delma. Lots of clucking ….

We’re made welcome and served battered banana, battered sweet potato, fresh pawpaw and bananas and a very tasty coffee. She gives us some fresh eggs and asks the Australian name for chicken. The Indonesians in our group break into peals of laughter when told we call them chooks due to their chook-chook sound. Seems ‘chookie’ means ‘fart’ in Indonesian slang.

The conversation is pleasant and entertaining. Even more so when Ann happens to mention how she loves pawpaw. Stunned quiet for a moment then more hilarious laughter. The locals call this particular fruit papaya. Pawpaw in Indonesian slang means ‘pussy’ … yes THAT pussy!  Ann’s face matches her red shirt.

032 chatting

Right: Mamas house. The roof is high with no ceiling, sensible for the tropics. Beautiful hardwood timberwork throughout. Mama is on the left and Mama’s son-in-law at right.  Corrie is the second on the right.

Mama says she loves Australian white rice so we resolve to make up a small parcel out of ships stores. We will use Indonesian rice for a change anyway. After leaving Mama’s we make a quick stop at the village of Ilngei (pronounced ill-nee-you) to check out the beach which is supposed to be good for swimming. It might be considered to be okay at high tide but looks less than inviting at low tide to me.

033 ilngeiRight: The village of Ilngei. Picturesque setting and the usual big church. Village houses as seen in the foreground tend to be just small square places.

Nearer to town Corrie takes over the driver’s seat, misses a couple of gears but doesn’t miss a motor cycle on the side of the road. This is much to the disapproval of a man in a blue shirt. Abing seems more concerned about the marks on his tyres which are only a slight improvement on his spare tyre, which would look out of place in a garden retaining wall.

1800hrs: Back at the hotel we have a drink with Martin on the boat deck enjoying the dusk.  He tells us about his day going out to the boat and bringing the #1 jib ashore for patching since it had sustained some minor rips. He’d also taken a look at the BBQ and found it didn’t need any repairs after having been banged about out at sea. Good news that.

1830hrs: Take the dinghy out to Lowana IV to check the bilges and anchor. Put more grease into the stuffing box (propeller shaft seal). Collect fresh clothes and gather our dirty laundry for washing ashore. Everything else on boat seems okay. Set the night anchor light and return to shore.

1900hrs: Make our way to the Telephone Office and unsuccessfully try to phone our families at home. Don’t know why but just can’t get an overseas line. Will have to try again tomorrow. Return to the Sido Hampir restaurant for dinner. Just the terrible trio Ann, Delma & Russ. Full meal for three people of white rice, gado-gado again, daging-sapi – beef, fish and squid cost Rp 27100 (A$4.44). It’s very tasty.

2030hrs: Take a walk to look through the shops. Start to buy some rice but notice that there’s wildlife active in it so put it back. Buy some mossie coils. Some kids chase us up the street playfully squirting water at us.

2130hrs. Return to hotel. Martin’s gone off to play snooker in one of the many pool rooms around. Quiet chat and drinks before bed.

Thu 27 Aug 98
0730hrs: Another lovely sleep-in with the aircon on. Glorious day. Served coffee and toast out on the boat deck for breakfast.

034 boat deckLeft: Delma taking breakfast out on the boat deck. Lowana IV can just be made out in the background between the two table umbrella stands.

1000hrs: Visit the Telephone Office again. Lines to Australia available. Manage to make some phone calls to respective families and let them know what’s been happening. No problems once we work out how to use the equipment.

035 castnetterRight: A young bloke out castnetting for fish in the shallows near our boat deck.

Later on Ann is given lessons in dinghy handling going out to the boat over the reef. Top up main fuel and water tanks and bring empty containers to shore. Back at the hotel Martin & Jamie use ‘sticky-back’ to patch the #1 jib. Take the sail to one of the local tailors to sew it. Explain in laborious detail what is required. The man agrees it can be done.

Afternoon: All crew have lunch with Corrie at the trusty Sido Hampir. Corrie arranges a bemo for refuelling of diesel jerries, and also to take Delma and Ann to visit the local hospital. As they are both nurses they’re keen to have a sticky beak and see what’s what.

When they arrive at the hospital they’re told to sit down and wait. There’s some confusion as to why they’ve come to the hospital since they aren’t sick. It’s eventually sorted out and the local nurses get all excited. Apparently they haven’t had any other professional visitors before, or at least international ones. Much cuddling before racing away to get dolled up with their lipstick and makeup. Indonesians never seem to miss an opportunity for a photo! The hospital itself is very basic. Cement floors and rusty metal chrome beds but could be considered clean by some standards.

036 nursesLeft: Some of the local nurses pose with Delma and Ann at the front door to the hospital

Meanwhile the bemo driver takes me to the benzine station to refuel the diesel jerry cans. The price per litre is unbelievable. The driver must have got it at the price the local drivers pay at Rp550/litre (about A$0.09). The 2 x 20 litre jerries are refuelled for the grand sum of Rp22000 (A$3.60). The bemo driver charges me Rp5000 but is given Rp6000 (A$0.98). All up the whole exercise for 40 litres of diesel cost Rp28000 (A$4.59).

Pick up Delma and Ann at the hospital on the way back to hotel. Mobs of curious people standing around out the front and surrounding the girls.

1645hrs: Return to the tailor to collect the sail. Job partially but nearly completed. Some patches still not done. Seems he had broken his machine and he hasn ‘t put in the zig-zag pattern or used strong thread as requested. He lost on all counts and so on principle I just paid just the Rp5000 (A$0.81) he quoted, no more nor less and lucky to get it. The sail might be serviceable but we’ll just have to wait and see, otherwise we’ll be patching it by hand ourselves.

1730hrs: Delma gets the dinghy lesson this time going out to the boat. Dinghy handling you would think is pretty basic but they apparently account for more yachty deaths in one way or another, than any other cause. Take out the #1 jib and the full fuel and water containers. The kero hurricane lamp used as a night anchor light has sprung a leak and now unsafe to use. Turn on the mast top anchor light and return to shore.

Another yacht and a good sized motor cruiser arrive in the harbour. The cruiser is MV Idlewise. Meet the crew on the boat deck of the hotel. Skippers name is Errol, his partner Clare and crew are Rick and Lynn. Details regarding the yacht not known at this time. Idlewise is waiting for a break in the weather before attempting an onward trip to Gove as it is direct to windward from here. They stay the night aboard their boat and we don’t get to have much more to do with them. We heard later that one of them did an ugly Australian act one morning. The ladder had not been dropped down to the water ready to climb up onto the boat deck and staff were abused. The hotel staff had supposedly been quite offended.

1845hrs: Delma and Ann return from the market with rice and some coffee lollies. They also bring a new but smaller hurricane lamp for Rp8000 (A$1.31) but it might be a bit too small.

037 market ladyRight: Lady selling melons at the local market.

Evening: Meet the crew of the other yacht SV Farr Star. It’s a 36 footer and is going back to Darwin. People on board are Dennis (owner), Annette (wife), Russell (son) and Tracy. They join us for an excellent meal at the hotel of battered garlic prawns, eggplant in coconut curry sauce, sago bush leaves in coconut milk, baked whole fish with another lovely sauce, fried noodles, calamari and white rice. This is followed by fresh pawpaw. Lovely.

The meal cost the grand sum of about Rp30000 each (A$4.92). A very nice sociable evening. Dennis provides us with some information about the Tanimbars west coast and in particular Wotap Island. Head off to bed with a wobbly but otherwise contented belly.

039 hotel dinner 038 hotel cooking gear
Above: Dinner at the Harapan Indah Hotel with the crew from SV Farr Star Above: Nothing fancy about this kitchen gear. Just these two items are used to cook up a lavish meal consisting of several succulent dishes.

Tomorrow we’re heading out to the nearby island of Adaut.

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