It is not often that we can be found pounding our way upwind in 20 knots, unable to take our foot off of the accelerator as we are racing the setting sun to get to an anchorage with enough light left to anchor. Looming over us is the possibility of having to spend another night at sea, dodging reefs and fishing boats if we do not reach the anchorage in time. This is a situation we generally avoid. As a wave breaks at the bow and throws up enough water to soak us back in the cockpit (at least its warm), we begin to question whether or not it would all be worth the effort.
Everything seemed to be telling us not to bother with this stop; the wrong phase of the moon for sightings of whale sharks, a long day sailing up-wind, out of our way into an area we would need to rely on our eyes and satellite images to navigate and then hope the anchorage would be suitable on arrival. Yet any hardship would be well worth it if what we were hoping for was guaranteed (which of course it was not); the opportunity to find and swim with the largest sharks in the world.
Sumbawa, Indonesia, was certainly no exception to the ‘nothing worth doing is ever easy’ rule. In fact very little in Indonesia is straight forward. It’s not that things are impossible, just that agreed costs, timings, dates, and any general plans/arrangements are highly flexible and subject to change. This country is requiring us to ‘sail-with-the-flo’ more than any we have visited so far. Add to the mix travelling with a large group/rally of fiercely independent sailors who are used to making their own decisions and things get very complicated very quickly. We have learned to just let this all wash over us, in our experience things usually work out okay in the end.
With the anchor set off of Saleh village and a constantly changing, vague plan for seeing whale sharks finally in place. A 2.30am wake up call had us climbing into an open local boat with half the rally fleet for a 2.5 hour ride out into the bay. Other than ‘in search of whale sharks’ we had no idea where we were going.
A journey on a local boat is best undertaken whilst wearing earplugs. Unable to communicate because of the noise, we tried to make ourselves comfortable, without falling through the floor of the open boat and settled down to wait and wonder. Would all this be worth it? Were we doomed to see nothing by the phase of the moon? Could this all be for nothing?
As dawn broke we got the call that our quarry had been spotted at one of the big, ‘spider’ fishing boats. With the buzz of excitement building to almost drown out the engine, we headed over to take a look. Diving into the bay and down through the murk, we try to focus on the moment and put to the back of our minds that we are swimming in deep, murky water, filled with fish bait at a time of day we have a rule against swimming in and have nicked named ‘Shark O’Clock’.
Such thoughts soon evaporate as a graceful giant glides towards us. Despite the excitement of being in the water with such a huge creature, it’s presence is calming, the star-like patterns on it’s skin as hypnotic as the night sky. Its movements are smooth and un-hurried despite the excited maelstrom of fins, snorkels, heartbeats and elbows above it. Before we can take another breath we are looking into the eyes of one of the largest sharks in the world, feeling nothing but admiration and respect for this gentle giant of the sea.
Having said good bye to the whale shark and spent a day sailing back on ourselves to exit the whale shark bay, we stopped off at the island of Moyo where we had been told there was a stunning waterfall.
Moyo may have a magical waterfall but it does not have a magical anchorage, unless you mean magical in that your boat can disappear from it. A catamaran recently dragged anchor from the narrow ledge of sand and had to spend a fretful night at sea searching for their boat with the much appreciated help of a local police boat. It was therefore with more than a little trepidation we dropped anchor to begin our attempt at visiting this magical waterfall.
That evening we swam ashore to plot a route to the beach through the fringing reef for the dinghy the following morning. Hours were spent debating the sanity of leaving Florence anchored on a narrow ledge. With two anchors out, both set well, we decided to go for it.
There was at least 7.5km between us and village where the actual approx 7km walking trail starts, we loaded the folding bikes into the dinghy in the hope that we would be able to find some kind of road for the approx 29km hilly round trip.
Two dusty, sweaty hours later our anxiety built with both the increasing wind and the realisation that the narrow, undulating, rock and sand track was in fact the main ‘road’ to the village. A half way puncture tried to remind us that our folding bikes are not the full suspension mountain bikes this track required. Fearing we would run out of light for the return trip to the boat, we paid two willing drivers, upon reaching the village for a rough ride on the back of their motorbikes for the remaining distance to the falls entrance.
Upon finally reaching the pools our efforts were rewarded in spades; the Matu Jitu falls cast their spell upon us. As we relaxed in the natural sparkling pools the sweat and dirt of the journey were replaced by shear wonder at nature’s beauty. The sight of the sun on the waterfall as it cascaded down into a series of natural infinity pools was well worth the effort. What was more, because this waterfall is out of the way and more difficult to get to, we could swim and relax in peace. Ignoring the occasional branch thrown down by a mischievous monkey.
Relaxing in the cooling pools, we were under no illusion about the effort required to return to Florence, where is a port-key when you need one?
Reflecting on our time in Sumbawa, it feels wrong to list these experiences as hardships. They are just part of travelling in Indonesia, a country we have chosen to spend time in for too many reasons to list. When the rewards out-weigh the hardships as much as they have done in Indonesia for us, possibly we should re-name this blog ‘with a little effort comes great reward’.
By skipping past Sumbawa in search of an easier time, we would have missed some of the best memories of our time in Indonesia; Buffalo Racing (see the previous blog), swimming with whale sharks and secluded natural swimming pools.
Side note: for anyone visiting Moyo with a less limited budget, you can dinghy a couple of miles North from the anchorage to the Amanwana resort and pay for a boat around to the village and a 4×4 to the falls. There is also a possible anchorage in front of Lauban Aji village, although it is even deeper and less sheltered