One of the things that the organizers of Sail Indonesia had warned us about is that things in Indonesia don't always work on the schedule you were told and often don't happen at all, especially when it comes to working with the government's bureaucracy. Foreign-flagged vessels are required to check in upon arrival to a country and some countries make it easier than others. We set our expectations appropriately and patiently waited for the skiff that carried the eight government officials to stop by Rutea. Every time the government skiff would leave the boat of a rally participant, we'd get hopeful that we'd be the next stop but our disappointment rose when the skiff headed back to shore. A call to another boat told us that we were to go into the Custom's office to clear in. Dropping the dinghy into the water, loading the outboard onto the dinghy, all of us piling in and steaming towards the Customs wharf as we were getting soak from the chop generated by 20-knot winds, we met the boat who had told us to go to the Customs office. "Turn around and go back to your boat. Customs is coming back out," they said. Eventually, Customs, Immigration and Quarantine did arrive, checked us in and welcomed us to their country. The chatter on the VHF radio was that a bunch of boats were heading into shore to go to a hotel for food and drink so it didn't take us long before we had piled back into the dinghy and we were tying up at the dinghy dock - only to find that we hadn't completed our check in and we all had stupid looks on our faces when they asked for our passports and crew list. I had to go back out to the boat to get them. They were very efficient, though, and we were able to complete everything in a matter of minutes. They gave each of us shiny Sail Indonesia gift bags stuffed with swag including a teal-colored polo shirt covered with elaborate embroidery about Sail Indonesia's sponsors.
This morning was the Welcoming Ceremony and I was pretty blasé about it. We all wore our new polo shirts and they had us line up. Cameras clicked noisily as we all got into position. Some elderly men in traditional garb (strange hats with feathers, woven scarves and shell necklaces) started to sing and pour a local rice wine on the ground. The ceremony suddenly became serious and meaningful, even though I couldn't understand a word they were saying. A glass of the wine was hand to each skipper to drink from by one of the elders, who later came by and put a cross on our foreheads of sand. Pretty girls put woven scarves around our necks. The ceremony was followed by a dance of beautiful young women in long skirts and a couple of young men with small drums. From there we were directed to sit in chairs under a huge canopy to protect us from the hot sun while more dancing, singing and speeches were made. It was all followed by a reception with lots of local foods, all of which I thought were pretty tasty. The effort that was made to welcome us was more than significant - they obviously invested a substantial amount of resources to put it all together. I felt honored.
After the reception, we walked through town and it seemed like we couldn't walk more than 10 meters before someone would say, "Hello, mister!" Apparently, not many Anglos make it to Saumlaki and there was much giggling when we would reply. Often, people would reach out and shake our hands as we'd be walking down the street. There was much more giggling when we'd take someone's photo and all those near would insist that we take their picture also. I took one old man's photo and he had us come into his small shop where he gave us a pancake-like treat and bottles of water. He talked incessantly and we nodded politely. Whereas this is definitely a Third World country, it feels safe and friendly.
At 7/30/2013 10:16 PM (utc) Rutea's position was 07°58.52'S 131°17.30'E
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