We had initially planned for our passage from the Banda Islands to Wangiwangi Island would take a full three days but favorable winds and calm seas teased us with the possibility of making it in two days. Despite all of our sail adjustments, we arrived at our destination just an hour past sunset and navigating the short but impossibly narrow pass into the lagoon seemed out of the question. The local staff for Sail Indonesia stepped up and offered to guide us in using a small runabout. The night was pitch black and the pass has no navigation lights but we made it in without too much drama. At one point, someone gave me the command to ‘Turn right!’ while at the exact same moment someone else said ‘Turn left!’. After looking at the pass in the day light, its amazing that we made it in without hitting anything.
We hit the small town of Wakatobi early the next morning as Sail Indonesia had our day full of planned events. Almost 30 cruisers crammed into steaming hot buses and drove out to the Bajo where thousands of people live on houses built above the water. We went to see a traditional dance where attractive young women arrive by boat, their dance hopefully warding off disease. Sail Indonesia had arranged to have a whole battalion of English-speaking locals to serve as our interpreters and there seemed to be a competition amongst them to see who could get closer to the cruisers. Thousands of people turned out to see the beautiful women dancing and when Ruthie commented on how many people came to see this, one of our interpreters, Ade, said the people turned out to see the white people. We were continuously asked to pose for photographs and people would giggle as they looked at the results on their smart phones and digital cameras. We were given seats of honor and later fed a traditional meal while many of the locals watched us eat.
That evening we again climbed aboard the buses and drove out to a very upscale resort for a welcome dinner, complete with more beautiful dancing girls. Many of the participants in Sail Indonesia were asking each other, “How can they keep entertaining us like this?” In addition to all the food and programs, they also gave each boat in the fleet 200 liters of diesel (called ‘Solar’ in Indonesia – gasoline is called ‘benzene’).
On the following day, we once again piled into buses and headed out to yet another village, this time to watch Boys and Young Men Kicking. The village has this tradition that once a year, in an effort to end any lingering animosities, boys and young men join in teams of two and kick each other. Its done with good intentions and most of the time those who are kicking at each other have smiles on their faces yet there were times when it seemed to get out of hand and the huge crowd that had gathered to watch would run, screaming to get out of the way. Once again, we were given chairs to sit in under shade, fed a meal, while the locals stood in the hot sun and watched us. On our way back, we came upon a procession that was blocking the road with hundreds of people. Litters made of bamboo were being carried by strong men and in the litters were young women, dressed in bright silk with impossible head pieces, who were being shown as possible candidates for marriage, or at least, something to that effect. Some of the girls could not have been 8 or 9 so its possible that something got lost in translation.
Last night, we were invited to the house of one of our interpreters, Ade. She rounded up volunteers to drive us to her home on their motorcycles and she and her husband, Jali, served us a traditional meal of fish and rice. We sat on a rug in their kitchen, under a single dim light bulb that hung from the ceiling. Their generosity was overwhelming. As I was saying goodbye to Ade, she said to me, “I hope you weren’t disappointed with my home.” It almost brought tears to my eyes as I assured her that it had been an honor and a memory that we’ll never forget.