Day 11 – Sumba (Sandalwood Island)

Once again the timetable was thrown out the window as the normally calm inlet used by Orion to offload us was being hammered by a nice 6ft break, even an extreme sports nut or surf boat crew would have hesitated to go through this. On the up side our early breakfast was extended and as we finished off another cup of coffee on the aft deck we marvelled at the size of the surf hitting a very long beach and several rocky points we were now paralleling as Captain Mike followed the Zodiac recon team to find another landing spot.

Finally, a couple of hours later, the chosen disembarkation location turned out to be the beach that we would have used for our return. This had a wharf as well but was not suitable for either the Orion to come alongside or the Zodiacs to use but in yet another slick operation almost the entire passenger compliment was on the beach changing into dry shoes and boarding some nicely decorated mini buses in short order – Here again the Orion level of organisation came to the for. Since these buses were not air conditioned and it was more than a little hot there was enough capacity for every one to have a window seat. Our caravan of 7 buses headed off for what was now a 90 minute journey to the first location of interest. Again we now had bird’s eye view of how this island lived and marketed its wares to each other. This island sees one or at most two tourist invasions of our size a year. Again the preferred mode of transport is a scooter, mixed with a few trail bikes and SUVs. Housing ranged from the absolute basic thatched roofed, dirt floored hut without walls to full on mansions that would have made a MacMansion owner proud. Many, many houses had their ancestors interned in above ground vaults that went from the very basic coral/concrete box with overhanging lid to elaborate versions of the box with tiling, landscaping and if you really liked your parents a roof in the shape of a “big house”, but more of that later. This is another “dry” island with just a short wet season so gardens were dirt with the odd shade tree or vegetable patch growing.

Once again the quality of the road was more than passable but the width, albeit somewhat narrower than a full duel carriage way meant for some interesting passing manoeuvres. Our 90 minute drive stretched to almost 2 hours and with just one wrong turn made by a small sub section of the bus fleet (including ours) we arrived at the “Pasola” field. This would have to be best described as bunch of men and boys riding there mini horses around while wearing colorful headdress throwing palm frond stalks at each other in celebration of a good rice planting season. However, this is the tame version. Before the palm frond stalks were used it was sharp sticks and they did penetrate. The spilt blood was then meant to ensure that the rice grew well after planting. But before the Pasola could commence some poor chicken was ritually disembowelled on the beach so its heart could be checked to see if the gods deemed things okay for the spear throwing to begin. If all was good some sea worms were also collected, for purposes undescribed to us. The worms probably ended up in the feast following the Pasola “game”.

I think we three also saw the stunning surf break on the beach behind us and got a few shots of that too. A short walking distance away was the Parona Baroro village, where the elders challenged us as to our intentions and one of our guides responding that we came in peace. I got the distinct impression that we were listening to some grand opera as everything seemed to be repeated three times with just minor wording differences, in case anyone missed the point of it all.

Once inside the village compound, which covered at least the size of two if not three football fields, surrounded by a substantial coral wall we were once again treated to another version of dances that warded off nasty spirits and delivered the local unmarried girls to the right boys(!!!). Again, the dance moves were pretty minimal and unlike the previous islands music making these locals made use only of a drum that soon entered your head like a toothache.

Once the dancing concluded the sellers of wooden artefacts, shell necklaces and woven cloth descended and were more than a bit “sticky” in not understanding “No” for an answer.

The outstanding feature of this village were the size of the communal (as in one family per) accommodations. Called Uma Mbatangu or “big house” you have a squared off Mexican hat center peak rising to more than 30 feet and topped by a big wooden beam with a carved figure of a male and female (sometimes these figures are made from bound grasses). The “brim” spreads out and covers sides at least 50 feet long and cover the “bangga” (verandah section) made of wood and or bamboo poles that allow you to lie down in the shade and discuss important matter, if you were male. Meanwhile the women were inside the center section cooking and being domestic. Hmmmmm.

On our drive to this location we saw this roof architecture many times but using modern materials built on top of a house base. Some from corrugated iron others aluminium sheeting. While the house portion could be Bessor block, coral brick or a flat thatch matting covering the walls. Generally, when bricks of any type were used they were never rendered and a crazy pattern of cementing was visible. However, the end results were reasonably square.

Loading the buses once more we set off on the more scenic coastal, but dirt road, route to our next stop, which was Rotengarro Village. Here we had more of the traditional buildings plus a large amount of what could only be described as temporary accommodation in a state of deconstruction. What we had missed by only a few days was a big feast where about 4000 attended and each family was required to bring “a plate”, which in this neck of the woods meant a water buffalo or pig. We know it must have been a big night as the horns of the buffalo and their skulls were now laid out drying. The smell was a bit much for most as I gather the slaughtering was down insitu and more than a little of the internals were still evident under foot. Once again we were trailed by a willing bunch of locals wanting to flog us the same kinds of things as before.

Now we had the ride back to the ship. And since we were now travelling at evening peak we had a reasonable number of buses packed to the rafters with people squeezing past us heading for places unknown. Unlike the previous island when Harry almost found himself in jail for roof riding here it was on for young and old. At one point a teenager decided to get a lift to where ever we were going and nimbly climbed the steel ladder structure on the back of our bus and spent a good 30 minutes there before arriving at where he wanted to get off.

If you weren’t in a bus or on a scooter you walked on the road edge while vehicles were passing or on it while you didn’t hear a horn clearing the way.

Once again we saw the petrol distribution system of 1 or 2 liter bottles of gas or diesel neatly arranged in a roadside stall. We did see several scooter riders “filling up” from the bottles. There appeared to be one service station with pumps and it too was doing a roaring trade from scooter users. But in a David and Goliath battle for sales a women had set up shop on one of the entrance/exits with her bottles on a table.

It would be remiss of me to not record that some of the shops we passed were selling up to the minute goods, including designer hipster jeans and tight tops for the girls but I could see no equivalent “boys toys” type of goods visible, such as sound systems or game consoles. The somewhat more eagle eyed girls spotted some TVs in houses and it was interesting that they were pretty small screens. But, each house had a thumping great satellite dish or several next to them.

After returning to the ship from the landing beach much later than originally planned the normal recap of the days events was postponed and our briefing was all about Komodo, tomorrow.

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