With the tide covering the sand bar in front of our anchorage, the blue horizon is empty but for a couple of neighbouring boats. The water lapping our hull, creates the only sound to cut through the silence. Home for the night is an atoll, miles from anywhere.
Serenity surrounds us, a far cry from the scene of just two days prior. When, seated in a grand stand, we were among thousands of people watching a dance involving 5,000 Indonesian students, with music pumping from a rock concert style stage.
Lunch had been a local feast provided by our generous hosts, eaten in a marquee so packed that even finding space to sit cross legged was a struggle.
The day was filled with 219 women weaving, 219 children being immunised, 219 male coming of age ceremonies, 219 female coming of age ceremonies, and (what felt like) 219 government speeches. All to celebrate the culture of South Buton, Indonesia in the year of 2019.
Exhausted, despite having done nothing but sit, eat and pose for photos, by the end of the day we were very ready to head to an atoll in the middle of nowhere.
Reaching ‘the middle of nowhere’ is, by it’s nature, never a simple task. This particular middle of nowhere involved sailing through the night and then using satellite images and eyeball navigation to enter a reef atoll which becomes totally covered at high tide. As we changed over watch, the moon disappeared, turning the previously clear night a deep inky black. Although we slowed down by reducing sail for the night, making any progress forwards was unnerving knowing how many unlit nets and fishing platforms lay lurking ahead of us in the darkness.
Florence glides on peacefully into the blackness until BANG, something hits our bow. Suddenly a bird is screeching and dive booming me, increasing the panic as I grab the spotlight to try and see what we have struck. A small, unlit wooden platform slides past in 300m+ of water. The bird clearly woken sharply from a pleasant dream, decides the best way to get revenge is to poo all over both me and the cockpit. A sense of humour about the situation fails me at 2am, wearing a large percentage of my remaining clean clothes (and some of Matt’s). Luckily as we were travelling slowly, the only lasting damage was to the birds nights sleep and my love of birds.
Finding humour in the situation soon comes easily as we spend a couple of days in the good company of other sailors, enjoying walks on the sandbar at low tide, snorkelling off the boat and watching the sun dip below the horizon whilst sharing a drink or two.
Following one more overnight sail from the Taka Bonerate National park to the island of Flores, we have been freed of night sailing for a while. The next couple of hundred miles along the coasts of Flores, Sumbawa, Lombok and Bali have enough safe anchorages that we can just sail through the day and anchor to sleep at night. A welcome relief for both us and the bird-life of Indonesia.
Angry Birds were replaced by shy, retiring monkeys roaming the shoreline at sunset on arrival in Flores. In stark contrast to the lush vegetation that we have experienced in Eastern Indonesia so far, the North Coast of Flores is arid, dry and often burnt ash black. Ironically the north coast of the Portuguese ‘Island of Flowers’ lacks even the usual coconut palms. Despite this our first anchorage of Gili Bodo, provided just what we were in the mood for; no habitation, clear turquoise water for swimming straight from the boat, a white sand beach and sunset views over a distant volcano. We enjoyed a couple of quiet nights and a couple of nights spent in good company as a few of the rally boats caught us up.
Although intense at times we are very aware that sailing through Indonesia would not be the same experience if it only involved easy, well traveled (read well charted) yet picturesque, quiet anchorages. As nice as they are, what makes this country so special to us is it’s diverse range of culture, wildlife and landscapes.
From this tranquil scene, we move onto the land of dragons…