Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Why so considering this is a pretty remote and sleepy part of Indonesia? Well, the 4th Alor Expo is happening right now so the population has swelled and a bunch of band and club music has been added to the standard muslim call to prayer yodelling, techno bemo driveby's and general traffic bedlam assaulting the senses. For some reason on the morning after our arrival, a lady was singing (quite well actually) over loudspeakers across the anchorage at 4am, dance music started at 6, then the school band rehearsed really poorly on what sounded like amplified xylophones for a couple of hours around 9. It continued throughout the day and now that it's approaching midnight the local ferry has chimed in with massive blasts from it's foghorn, and a bunch of cafes newly installed near the anchorage are competing to drill pop favourites like Britney Spears into an uncomprehending populace at 140 decibels. Ce la vie.
It's like in order to please us they need to make the most noise possible and no-one knows how to tell them to shut the hell up. (Later note - blissful period of relative silence eventually enjoyed around 7am Saturday morning - these guys know how to party).
Anyway, despite the event coinciding with the rally's visit the real reason we're here is to live some culture and get out of town to see some of the amazing countryside. The town is on the small island of Alor in the Solor-Alor archipelago and is the capital of this 'regency'. It's reached by navigating a narrow 7 mile long fiord-like channel that runs between towering volcanic escarpments on either side. Peak heights range up to 1,500 metres on the island and sea troughs plunge 500 to 1,000 metres in depth a stone's throw from the palm line shoreline. Makes for great diving!
Due to it's mountainous nature some 50 tribes cling to the rugged hillsides on the four inhabited islands the make up the Alor group. Each apparently has it's own dialect and it is not unusual for the more remote tribes to skirmish and war with each other if necessary. The Expo is about bringing the tribes together and introducing them to an unwary world. For an indigenous population they have a remarkably developed ancient culture - the clothing is exquisitely hand made, brutally tribal music is produced on reasonably complex and unique instruments and the traditional dances are amazingly intricate. There are notable similarities with the Australian aborigines but at the risk of sounding politically incorrect it really makes you wonder what the aborigines where doing for 40,000 years when such a sophisticated and tasteful traditional culture developed in parallel up here.
Unfortunately this culture hasn't continued on to bigger and better things. Everything has a dilapidated feel around town, like most places in Asia litter on land and in the water is a major problem. The only road linking the coastal villages is a crumbling goat track that makes motorcycle or bemo traffic uncomfortable if not perilous. That didn't stop us however so Thursday was spent on the south western tip of the island chasing volcanoes and floating about snorkelling. The snorkelling was achieved and great fun because I haven't done it for so long, but the volcano will have to wait as the neighbouring islands with craters (Pantar and Pula) where just too far and the gradient of the climb too steep. Couldn't convince anyone of that so will have to wait for a more accessible mountain to strike that item off the list.
Friday saw us up early to board a traditional boat for some organised diving which was a real treat. I haven't got my dive ticket yet so ended up snorkelling, but the coral and small tropical fish abounding blew everyone's mind. We dived at three locations - The Edge, The Backyard and Mike's Delight - with the first two being the best and apparently on a par with dives on the Great Barrier Reef (from a quick straw poll of half the divers). The only ingredient missing were larger fish and sharks, but the variety and colour of the soft and hard corals and the veritable rainbow of fish (Nemo's and all) has really piqued my interest in getting certified. Oh yeah, that's my snorkel buddy on the right - she piqued other interests too!
Culturally speaking, over the course of our stay the cruising fraternity attended a number of events to watch and participate in native dancing and singing. Apart from the 'on the water' welcome and blessing pictured above, the most memorable for me was when we were hijacked on a beach excursion and taken to visit a couple of local tribes on the relatively inaccessible north west corner of the island. One was a muslim tribe who proudly displayed a number of ancient 'Moko' drums the island is famous for, a 600 year old copy of the Koran and other artefacts from a variety of historical periods right up to Japanese invasion of the island and independence in the 1940s. They were very pleased to show us inside their houses and be part of the photos taken - especially so when they got to see the preview images on the digital camera screens right after the photos were shot.
The second village showed us a number of dances that were sort of a cross between a sumo fight and an aboriginal corroboree but in their distinctive and elaborate traditional dress. We had ringside seats so it wasn't surprising to end up part of the action in a 'friendship dance' finale that is best described as a large spiral of people holding hands and rhythmically swaying and chanting. The circle/spiral tightens as the beat picks up and the crescendo is reached and let me tell you it gets pretty friendly in there. All in all it was a nice way to close out the day. Unfortunately whilst I got some photos they are on camera memory instead of an SD card so until I find a cable you'll just have to guess at the traditional dress.
We're getting prepared to move on to Flores now so will wind it up here. Alor has been a love-hate relationship, but if you ever end up here outside of Expo time, I reckon you would have a great time - especially if a major reason for coming is to dive. Just remember the phrase 'Apa Kabah' (How you doing?) which is the reply to the endless "Hello Mister's" you will be subjected to everywhere you go.
Take it easy.
Freak of the Week
I haven't done memorable person expose for a while so here we go again.
Noen probably has the best job in creation - he's the water sports specialist for the Malaysian Department of Tourism. This means that when Malaysia wants to start a follow on rally (to the Darwin - Bali) to divert cruising yachts to their marinas in Langkawi (from the original target of Phuket, Thailand), he is sent to market this component of the journey, assist the cruisers in any way possible and to get them to commit to participating in the event beyond Bali. The Darwin to Bali rally started with 14 boats apparently, so it looks like he will easily get this number registered to ensure a successful inaugural event.
He has been with us since Darwin, will be at every port we stop at along the way, and has the expense account to cover the three months or so of shmoozing this will take. When he's not promoting this 'Sail Asia' concept, he might be in the US researching wakeboarding, kite surfing or artificial wave technologies, elsewhere in Asia 'reviewing the competition', or organising water-based events within Malaysia - up and down the east or west coasts and anywhere in between. Pretty nice.
What else can I say? He's looks like a buddha and is a friendly and mellow guy who's well educated and well travelled. If I leave the boat in Bali and make my way through the Malay peninsula I hope he can get some time off so I can catch up with him in the Perentian Islands. In the meantime I look forward to more beers with him between here and Bali. Cheers for your assistance mate.