Weather: Fine, Sunny
Air Temperature: 30ºC
Pressure: 1012 hPa
Wind: E 16-20 knots
After some manoeuvring of Silver Discoverer to get a good anchorage and to create a lee for the zodiac disembarkation, I went ashore with the first zodiac to Bo’Do Beach, Savu Island.
The locals had a sign up spelling it ‘Sabu Island’, just one of multiple spellings that also include Sawu, Sawoe, Hawu and Hawoe. As I took my first step ashore on the island, I was greeted warmly by the local guides and noted a large crowd of men and women wearing their traditional ikat weavings, lined up dutifully on the beach awaiting the word to start the welcome ceremony.
Our first guests arrived at 8.45am and the Master of Ceremonies, Lex, began his welcome. He described the importance of the Lontar Palm and the Betel nut, and there was a short dance, culminating in launching an elaborate toy boat made from the leaves of the Lontar palm. A couple of guests stepped forward as representatives of Silver Discoverer and were ceremoniously given ikat weavings as a welcome gift. Lex described the importance of the island as the largest of three in East Nusa Tenggara, part of the dry belt in the eastern part of the Indonesian Archipelago.
Soon, we were asked to ascend a short and rough staircase up the side of the broken limestone cliffs, past a pile of giant clam shells. One of the local villagers scaled a tall Lontar palm and returned with baskets full of the sugary sap they extract from the flower stalks, which we all tasted. They make an alcoholic drink from this sugary sap, more than 60% alcohol! We then watched a demonstration of horsemanship, with the villagers riding around in circles on short Timor ponies, which Malcolm explained are the descendants of the horses ridden by the armies of Genghis Khan. After this, we proceeded to the performance area, under the shade of a huge, spreading Sterculia tree. There was some wonderful singing and dancing, including one by a group of very beautiful and graceful women which seemed to represent the winnowing and sorting of rice. Soon the dancers asked members of the audience to join in their very catchy and rhythmic dancing, which everyone enjoyed. I was happy to stand on the sidelines as an observer.
The time had come for us to board our trucks to Nemata Village. The trucks were the best available -the one I was on had only hard wooden seats and seating only for about half of us. I jokingly called out that I had the Business Class truck. It was an adventurous, if somewhat cramped drive to the village, passing the occasional person leading a water buffalo, or crowds of school children enthusiastically waving and calling out to us. We passed rice fields, extensive groves of coconuts, avenues of frangipanis and teak, and semi-rural villages.
At Nemata Village, we were treated to the very rare opportunity to witness a child’s naming ceremony, and I was very interested to see that they were adorning the child with spots of red juice from the betel. I could see from their red smiles that about a tenth of the adults also chew betel nut. After the ceremony, we were able to see the giant sacred rocks that had been carried to the village in ancient times and on each sat a wizened old priest, representative of his clan’s lineage. We had only a short while to inspect some of the huts, and to examine their architecture and the weaving and thatching they used before it was time to board the buses again at 12pm. This time I managed to find a bus with padded seats but after getting all the guests aboard, found I had to hang onto the back of the bus anyway. We returned through the town area to the wharf where I helped get the guests aboard Zodiacs back to Silver Discoverer.
Back aboard, I had lunch before preparing my lecture “Here be Dragons” – a look at the biology and remarkable lives of the famous Komodo dragon and the history of the Komodo National Park. I had a lot of questions so didn’t have long to get changed once more before I was back again for the recap and briefing.
Mick gave everyone a briefing on the next day’s activities and got more questions than I’d ever heard before for a briefing, and I followed with a short recap on the bizarre use of the narcotic betel nut, and how unlikely it was to ever become a popular drug in western culture. Everyone unanimously agreed it had been a wonderful introduction to Indonesia and were looking forward to what the next day would bring