We are on Sumba Island.
We left Sape harbor on Sumbawa with a 27-hour delay. We spent the night on Pertamina, but the rest of the people were camping on bare ground with all their belongings within the reach of their hands and their animals tied with strings to their legs. There are more than seventeen thousand islands in Indonesia, but still the sea transport is at the level that makes it impossible to even find out when the ferry leaves so that you can buy tickets in advance. At the same time, a ticket office is open only for few hours, just before the departure time.
In the harbor, we met a group of bikers from France. One of them has been on the road for two years and he is a true demon of strong will. The rest of the group joined him for just a few weeks.
It was good to talk to them and exchange our experiences.
Nine hours on the ferry passed quickly. We were sailing at night by the full moon, listening to the sound of fierce waves. When the lights of our island destination appeared on the horizon, all engines stopped and people started running around the deck screaming that there was a problem; that there was no diesel. The ferry ran out of fuel and we got stuck, drifting and rolling from one side to another. Loaded up to the ceiling with trucks, the ship was cracking at the seams. In search of some solution, people were looking overboard.
Somehow the crew managed to start a spare generator and we slowly reached the harbor.
There was nothing but chaos. Cars from the land attempted to drive on the ferry before those already there drove out of it. People did exactly the same.
Uniformed services tried to ease the congestion.
When disembarking, we appreciated the fact that our car had a raised suspension, as the platform connecting the ferry to the mainland was for trucks, and no passenger car would overcome such a barrier.
It was one in the morning, so we went directly to Lamboja, where Arno was building his house. His land is located in the southern part of the island, right next to the place where every year the famous festival – Pasola – is organized. This region, where the ocean meets the land, is incredibly beautiful and intact. It is a paradise for surfers.
The condition of roads has gotten much worse since last fall. Rainy season has done its job and at times we had the impression that we were participating in a night off-road.
Previously, we visited the island during the dry season when it was smothered in hot brown colors and the black of burned-out fields.
This time the grass was not only green and one meter high, but also roads seemed to be narrower. In comparison with other islands, the temperature at night was much lower. It was around twenty degrees Celsius and we got really cold during our first night.
In the morning we met with our landlord and started a rather comical talk in Bahasa Indonesia. We know just few words in Indonesian, but they are enough for a simple conversation.
We brewed some sirsaka and moringa, and served it with some fish that we had from our trip to Sumbawa.
Despite being seventy-five years old, our guest was slender and still in shape. Sipping herbal tea and eating fish, he started to complain about his health.
Seconds later, Alicja became his doctor and he – her patient. He enjoyed the herbs and in the evening he brought us some fresh moringa which we used to make supper.
On our way back from the coast we were approached by a group of kids selling coconuts. We bought twelve of them and returned home with the procession of children following us.
While we were preparing dinner, the group was watching our every move. After ten minutes we had enough of it and since the entire process lasted for over an hour, we got really annoyed.
This is one of the characteristics of people in Indonesia. They are extremely nosy and capable of looking into every nook and cranny while observing you for hours. They are like cats circling around a set table. Neither stamping your feet nor clapping your hands can help.
They do it both individually and in groups. Encouraged by their comrades, they start joking in a jeering way, creating a very unpleasant atmosphere.
In situations like that it is important to pull yourself together quickly and scurry off as soon as possible.
The next day we visited the city of Waikabubak, where we had our car fixed in the garage run by a Chinese family.
We recommend this place as the only reliable one in Indonesia, and we know what we are talking about, since we have seen at least a few dozen car mechanics.
In the afternoon, we accidentally witnessed some kind of ceremony in one of the villages.
Ten pigs were killed for four hundred and fifty guests. Pigs were slaughtered and their meat boiled in large pots. All guests were sitting and chatting, and after the food was served everybody went home.
The feast was organized by one of the families.
During the celebration one of the guests went into convulsions. Writhing in pain while being carried by some people, the man was screaming hysterically. He probably died soon after as we heard women lamenting.
Despite the incident, the party continued. Meat was shared out, soup was poured; people were drinking strong black tea along with moonshine, and they smoked zillions of cigarettes. Indonesians smoke anywhere and anytime – while riding motorbikes, on air-conditioned buses or during meals. Here, lung cancer takes huge toll, but no one seem to care.
On Sumba Island people smoke local tobacco. A true cult, however, is the cult of meat. Meat is everything. Everyone dreams about chewing a fresh slice of the most valued treasure from a black pig.
Ceremonies without blood and meat have no power.
Slaying and chopping puts people in a sort of trance, during which they perform perfect moves with long, razor-sharp knives. They get all sweaty and pant like horses in a race, wading in pools of blood and reeking of animal intestines extracted from hot flesh. Each and every piece of chopped meat is recorded and assigned to a particular person. The best ones are for the most important guests, and the rest – for the common people. The cast system is still present here and its rules are strictly obeyed.
The crowd watching this carnage keeps chewing betel known as siripina. The ground around them is tinged with red from the spat-out remnants.
The red also dyes their lips, which, along with the carpet of blood from slaughtered animals, create a truly vampiric spectacle.
The ceremony took place in one of the villages near the city of Waikabubak, where the traditional animist religion of Marapu, is still practiced.
It is also a custom that people from the village ask for money and an entry in their guestbook.
Leaving Waikabubak we visited a local market. Papaya and fish were at prices intended for Bule, but we managed to make some arrangements to buy some sirsaka leaves on Wednesday.
On our way back we stopped by at the China shop selling Bintang and we set off to Lamboja.
In the morning we left Western Sumba and headed east, to the city of Waingapu, to learn when the ferry to Kupangu on the island of Timor was leaving. Yet again we stopped by at the market to collect a large bag of sirsaka leaves that we had ordered two days before.
The ferry was to depart on Friday at one in the afternoon, so we had the whole day at the beach on the north coast.
We discovered that place a year before, and it was amazing. There were only us and some fishermen living under tarpaulin. They are very friendly and totally occupied with their everyday lives.
We finally had a break from ‘hallo mister’.
The sea was wonderful and we were having a great time.
In the evening, when the Milky Way illuminated the horizon, we were approached by a car full of people.
Alicja thought that they wanted to rob us and she got really scared.
However, the men left the car, got changed into funny clothes, put some masks on, grabbed their crossbows and ran to the sea.
A few of them stayed on the land and set the fire to cook the catch and so that those who went fishing could warm up upon return.
Two hours later we got one lobster, an octopus and two big fishes.
They had real monsters in their baskets, including an enormous squid with a shell like a turtle, a huge spiked fish, which people inflate and then dry, and some other fishes that looked like tiny crocodiles.
Fortunately, we had some ice in the refrigerator so we saved everything for the next day.
We woke up before dawn, when one side of the sky turns red. As it is usually cold at that hour, it is possible to work physically.
We started the day with sorting out sirsaka leaves and drying them out.
Sirsaka is great. It has a sweet smell of currant.
That day we brewed some fresh branches. They have a stimulating effect and taste different than dried ones, which offer more essence and aroma.
We also prepared papaya leaves that we had bought at yet another market, near the field where Pasola takes place.
We spent the day playing in the sea and basking in the sun. In the afternoon, we went to the shop to buy some coffee, which we missed a lot.
In the evening, we marveled at a beautiful sunset and, seconds later, at the Milky Way. This is the kind of cinema that we long for in the city. Staring at this unique screen, we experienced a strong sense of unity with nature and we felt really good.
Nature is fascinating and puzzling at the same time.