“Leave the beaten track behind occasionally and dive into the the woods. Every time you do, you will be certain to find something you have never seen before.” Alexander Graham Bell
Detour one: hanging out with fishermen in Karang Kaledupa coral atoll. An atoll is “a ring-shaped coral reef that surrounds a lagoon … which forms when corals build a colony around the top of a submerged volcanic island” (thanks google) and true to form, Karang Kaledupa was just an expanse of reef surounding the lagoon where we were anchored. On the horizon we could see the faint outlines of the Wakatobi islands, but we were pretty much on our own in the middle of the reef. Except for a tiny hut in the distance, perched on the reef in the middle of nowhere, seemingly hovering above the shimmer of the sea.
We snorkelled over the reef flats and shallow beds of sea-grass toward the little hovering hut to have a sticky-beak. It was a tiny little A-frame sitting on a straw mat, projected out of the water by bamboo stilts. Two small fishing boats were docked alongside, and four men were in residence. One had been there for more than two months! He was sitting, threading together fish-traps. Inside the little hut was a small space for them to sleep and a big metal bowl full of embers to boil water and cook on. They only had the bare necessities, and still they offered us tea.
I snorkelled back, racing the tide which was rushing out and taking all the water above the sea-grass (and hidden spiky sea-urchins) with it. (The L’etoile crew actually got stranded and Andy had to recover their dinghy). The reef was really patchy, but each little cluster of coral, about the size of an armchair, was home to an amazing amount of marine life: fish, shrimps, anemones, sea-urchins, nudibranchs, worms, etc all jammed into their chosen bommie. And it seemed each one had a resident moray eel hiding out. I got a bit too close to one and it bit my camera!
The atoll also treated us to a couple of spectacular backdrops for our sundowners…
Detour two: visiting the ikat-weaving villages of Pulau Besar. Our next stop was the island of Pulau Besar, just off the coast of Flores. The volcanic skyline loomed over us as we motored into the little bay on the NE side which offered a good anchorage. A small Muslim village lay along the shore, their little mosque broadcasting the call to prayer across the bay, and we could see a cluster of huts further up the hillside.
Once the anchor was set we went ashore to explore. Almost immediately we were surrounded by the ubiquitous kids; some of them had the most elaborate handmade toy guns made from banana stalks, bamboo and string. They shot out toy ‘poison darts’!!
We ended up in a grove of cashew trees. I’ve never seen an unprocessed cashew before and it wasn’t a seed or kernel inside as I expected, but a little growth out the bottom. Alexander Bell was right: venture off the beaten track and into the ‘woods’ and you’ll find something you’ve never seen before!
We headed in the direction of hillside village, past numerous goats and pigs, and were welcomed by some local women who turned out to be ikat weavers. They showed us some of their wares and how they did the weaving.
Back down the hill, we wandered around a third village in search of a kiosk. I met a 90 year old lady, wrapped in an ikat sarong, sitting on a thin mattress under her house while her daughter-in-law did some laundry in buckets and her grandson milled corn flour. We smiled and she smiled. I think she was happy that some random westerners had stopped to talk with her. The sun was setting so we headed back to the boat, but early the next morning, as we were starting to get organised to set sail again, I sat and watched a man lay out his fishing net. It’s humbling to be given such a glimpse into Indonesian island life.
Next stop on the itinerary: Flores!