Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Two weeks to prepare

In between returning from Indonesia and jetting off to New Zealand, I had two weeks to finalise my preparations for walking the Bibbulman Track. Because 4 days after I return from New Zealand I begin.

I'd already decided my packing list and my itinerary, but much still depends on whether a new bridge over a major river will be built in the next three months. If not it's a 30km plus diversion, which is a rather long hike to do in one day. The old bridge burnt down in Feb 2015 and they've just raised the money to rebuild it.

So for a good week I spent all day every day dehydrating food, packaging it up using ziplock bags or a vacuum sealer into individual servings, and distributing meals into the 10 food drops I'll need for the 2 month walk.

This turned out quite good, because Australia Post sells prepaid 3kg satchels in packs of 10. Perfect!

I got mightily sick and tired of the high pitched whine of a glorified hairdryer in the background, and couldn't bear to hear it going all night, and then it died. Luckily, a friend stepped in to lend me hers, plus I began using my oven as well, and then my dehydrator began working again. So for a day or two I had all three going full bore. I shudder to think what the electricity bill will be...

I learnt how to make beef jerky in the oven. It's extremely easy, and so awesomely tasty that I had to immediately package it all up before I ate it!

I experimented with a few instant pudding mixes, because camping without dessert options is just plain criminal!

I made my own quinoa savoury protein energy bars, which also got quickly wrapped and popped in the freezer before I demolished them.

And then I packed my backpack, minus a couple of items of clothing (some thermals I'm taking to New Zealand first), and weighed it, complete with all the food for the first 8 days, but minus water and a few electrical items which I'm still undecided on taking.


I think the preparation has been worth it.

Now to go skiing.....

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The beaches of Sumba really are spectacular

Say the word Indonesia amongst my surfing friends, and almost all of them have been surfing somewhere along it's wild southern coasts, from Sumatra in the northwest all the way to Rote, a small island just off the tip of Timor south of Kupang. They'll wax lyrical about boat surfaris around Nias and the Mentawais, about great waves in Java and Bali, or three months chilling at Lakey Peak in Sumbawa. But Sumba? No-one seems to have heard of it.

Almost no-one, and I'm not exactly sure why, because the waves rolling in around rocky headlands in clean green barrels would be an inviting sight to the surfers I know. But, despite there being a few exclusive resorts and a handful of overpriced homestay the surfing crowds are yet to discover the place. I did meet some surfers, OK two, but I never saw a single surfer out catching waves.

I hired a motorbike to hit the beaches south of Waikabubak. The road descends from the central plateau down to the coast, past pleasant river valleys of rice paddies, with horses grazing, and a few traditional villages on surrounding hilltops. And at the end of the road are glorious sandy beaches, small fishing villages, and pounding surf.

There are rocky headlands with point breaks, and long beaches that stretch for miles. It's absolutely glorious.

There are some pretty rivers and waterfalls as well, though I didn't visit any of the larger waterfalls in Sumba, of which there are at least three that I heard about.

After visiting the beaches south of Waikabubak, I chose to return to one of them for a few days. I stayed at a glorious, but very basic, homestay by the beach at Wanokaka. To get there I took this bus!

For three days I read books, ate fresh fish, walked along the beach, watched the fishermen launch their outriggers through the shore break, wandered off to visit a nearby hilltop village, and edited a few photos. But then I had to leave as there was no electricity to recharge my now depleted electronic gadgets! Next year the town will get on the grid, but for now it's a very gentle life dictated by nature, with a little electric light from a solar panel rigged up to a car battery. I loved every minute!

From Wanokaka I returned to Waikabubak, then headed further west to Kodi, on the southwestern tip of Sumba. Here the swell had really picked up and the surf was massive. The one surfer I met wasn't too keen to go out on the point all on his own. I just went body surfing in the small beach created at low tide in the river mouth, and the waves there were even packing a punch.

I was a little turned off by Kodi however. I'd heard the people there were a bit aggressive, which wasn't the case in the small moslem village of Pero where I stayed. There they were friendly and outgoing, but it was also the day before Ramadan commenced, so everybody was getting themselves ready for the monthly fasting. But when I ventured across the river mouth and south along the beach, where hundreds of people were collecting sea urchins in the shallows during low tide, I was continuously accosted with not only hellos but requests for money. And cheeky children eyeing my daypack with very shifty looking countenances. And because of this I chose not to visit some traditional villages nearby, because I knew they were frequently visited by tourists and so would have a jaundiced perspective. I'm ashamed of myself for feeling distrustful of the people, but when I travel I listen to my gut instincts, and these people I just didn't like. It's not often that warnings about people from other regions turn out to be true, but the Kodi people, I'm afraid, did live up to their reputation....

But the surf was good! And watching the sun set over the water, in fact the Indian Ocean, reminded me of somewhere. It was time to go home.....

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Marapu and other weird things in Sumba

Marapu is the name given to the traditional animist religion of Sumba, which many people still adhere to. In fact what surprised me the most about Sumba was not that people believed in a form of ancestor worship, but that there seemed to be a widespread rejection of this culture by the younger generations.

In my travels around Indonesia I've been impressed by the ease with which people incorporate the elements of an older animistic culture (known collectively by the term "adat") with the more mainstream religions of islam, christianity, buddhism and hinduism. This meld of traditional culture with newer modern beliefs makes for a really rich tapestry within the myriad communities that make up Indonesia. But in Sumba it seems to be different.

My views and observations have only come from 3 weeks on the island, some conversations with locals, with expats living there, and with people doing research on the quality of the education system in Sumba. The general consensus was that the system of ancestor worship, the main defining principal of Marapu, restricts people from embracing new technology, from valuing education, or for making any progress whatsoever. It seems that in Sumba, if you want to get ahead in life, you'd best forget that Marapu, and instead take on Christianity (mostly Catholic but there's a fair smattering of Protestants as well). After all, the only functioning schools are Catholic ones, and you can't go there unless you embrace the religion.

Now I've been to a lot of places where there are Catholics, and in those places their traditional culture lives side by side with the big Jesus and Mary stuff. Wae Rebo, for instance, where the locals have a Christian first name, and a traditional second name. No big deal. But on Sumba, it's one or the other.

I really didn't understand why people were rejecting their culture, or at least their religious beliefs, unless it's Marapu that's so uncompromising regarding alternate religious beliefs. Many people still live in traditional hilltop enclaves, cheek by jowl with big extended families, pigs, goats and chickens. Whilst the grandparents still practice Marapu, the younger ones all claim to be Catholic, and definitely not Marapu. Does this mean the entire culture will die out in a few year's time? It certainly seems so, in fact I met one of the last Marapu priests in East Sumba, and he had no-one to teach the customs to. When he goes, who will perform the house ceremonies for instance?

at least 2 fully camouflaged villages are in this photo
So about these houses and hilltop enclaves. Particularly in central Sumba, around Waikabubak, there are lots of tree covered hills, with rice paddies in the valleys. Completely camouflaged from below, each hilltop can house 50-60 houses right along the ridge line. Usually there are just two rows of houses facing each other, with stone tombs and sacrificial altars in the middle, but broken up along the ridgeline into smaller groups of houses. The sheer number of kampungs just in the hills around Waikabubak is astonishing. You can literally walk from one to the next for many kilometres.

There are a few kampungs that are mentioned in the guidebooks, but the reality is that you can pretty well visit any of the kampungs, assuming you can speak a little Indonesian and show some respect. I usually give sirih pinang (the women love this), and cigarettes (the men kept asking so I swallowed my morals and bought some to give away) which smooths the waters and people are happy to have a chat, and not necessarily try and sell things. The tourist villages, on the other hand, all request a donation after signing a visitors book. I don't mind the donations, it just gets a little tedious after a while.

Central Sumba is home to some of the largest megalithic tombs in Sumba. Many are just by the side of the road, and most people come running with the book and the donation request should you stop to have a look and want to take a photo.

Of all the places I went to in Central Sumba, the village that impressed me the most was a traditional village called Padabar. I found this place totally by chance, and was welcomed in to the kampung by Yanto, who had a very cheeky young son. They invited me into their home, showed me the traditional carvings on the internal house posts, and showed me a very old tomb, possibly 800 years old. It was certainly the most primitive stone work I'd seen, and Yanto assured me that the tomb was considerably older than the ones at Pasunga back on the highway. I even got invited to stay there should I return.

After a while, the villages, the houses, the tombs, all get a little monotonous. I'd seen enough. It was time to go see some of that natural beauty that Sumba is renowned for, including it's beaches and impressive surf.

That's next...