A Kimberley Photography Adventure

On the Verandah Logo@ Digger’s Rest Station

Photography Adventures in The Kimberley

When? June 10-16, 2015.

Where? Digger’s Rest Station, Kimberley, Western Australia is the centre of your adventure.

How Much? 2015 price is $2870 (incl GST) per person. This does not include your transport to Kununurra airport.
What are the inclusions?  See the On the Verandah website for inclusions.
Early Bird Discount? $100 for bookings before 31/12/14.

What will I do?

Kimberley landscape by Tc Nguyen
Kimberley landscape by Tc Nguyen

Be ready for before sunrise departures to capture the sun’s rays as they splash onto the surrounding ranges or along a billabong.

We usually nd ourselves back at Digger’s Rest for lunch (most days) and downloading and tweaking the mornings captures.

After lunch, depart in time to get ready for a Kimberley sunset and then return to the  station for tea and camp-re drinks.

Depending on the group’s desire a “night under canvas” at one of the water holes is available too with Bush cooking at its nest!

What locations do we go to?

With On The Verandah’s Andrew Kerkeros & Rachel Dillons’ more than  30 years of experience in the Kimberley, in the country they love and appreciate, and your photography leader there is a long list of interesting landscape and wildlife locations in the area that Digger’s rest station covers.

Kimberley landscape by Tc Nguyen
Kimberley landscape by Tc Nguyen

Each day’s locations will be worked out the day before with the decision depending on the groups preference and weather/light considerations.

A day trip is generally taken to the Historic port town of Wyndham where some amazing characters live and the spectacular 5 Rivers Lookout is a sunset must.

Special Opportunity

Only for 10-16 June – you will also be able to try your hand at Unmanned Aerial Vehicle photography using a quadcopter and Point of View camera for movies and/or timelapse.

Who’s in charge?

Your transport and logistics are by On The Vernadah’s Andrew & Rachel, with Digger’s Rest Stations’ Roderick & Alida for all your non photographic needs at the homestead.
Your Photography Adventure Leaders will be Gregory Foulds & Franz Scheurer.   Both with a vast range and depth of experience in all forms of photography and lm work.

What about refunds? Travel insurance is always advised and On The Verandah’s Refund policy is on their website.

Where do I sleep?

The first six bookings get rst dibs on a bush hut (twin/double bed), after that you  may be required to share with one other (same-sex) in the Digger’s Rest Station bunkhouse.

Book now @ On the Verandah or phone Gregory Foulds on +61298181684 or Franz Scheurer on +61412233201

What should I bring photographer gear wise?

The Cockburn Range by Bewlley
The Cockburn Range by Bewlley

Remember, Kununnarra is a long drive if you forget a battery!

  • Battery chargers and leads for all your  electrical driven
    equipment (The station runs Solar 240V)
  • Power board to re-charge multiple items.
  • Back pack camera bag for day use. It gets very dusty!
  • Tripod.
  • Shutter release cable for time exposures.
  • Polarising lter.
  • Laptop with your  digital editing  software.
  • Additional camera lenses.
  • Instructions for your camera if you have it.
  • Backup camera memory cards & suitable Card reader.
  • Portable hard drive capable of storing at least 500GB.

If you can’t or don’t want to carry a laptop then you can use  your Photography Leader’s computer to download your day’s efforts to your portable hard drive.

Are there Alternate dates?

Bull Catcher- in action by Andrew Kikeros
Bull Catcher- in action by Andrew Kikeros

If these dates don’t t your schedule then you can sign on for an  adventure led by the well known Western Australian  photographer Bewley Bill Shaylor.

If you have a group of 6 to 9 then we can  organise other dates in the Dry Season for you.

See the On The Verandah website for other dates.
O n T h e V e r a n d a h w e b s i t e

D i g g e r ‘ s r e s t S t a t i o n W e b s i t e 

Picture Credits: All images copyright as captioned or by On The Verandah

Digger’s Rest Station – Bush-hut interior
Digger's Rest Station Bush hut
Digger’s Rest Station Bush hut
Kimberley landscape by Tc Nguyen
Kimberley landscape by Tc Nguyen
Kimberley green frogs by Tc Nguyen
Kimberley green frogs by Tc Nguyen
Kimberley billabong by Rachel Dillon
Kimberley billabong by Rachel Dillon
BullCatcher detail by Rachel Dillon
BullCatcher detail by Rachel Dillon
Rachel Dillon - Cattle Yard Dust
Rachel Dillon – Cattle Yard Dust
Kimberley Map
Kimberley Map
Diggers Rest Camp Cooking by On the Verandah
Diggers Rest Camp Cooking by On the Verandah
Kimberley Landscape
Kimberley Landscape
Horses in dust by Bewlley
Horses in dust by Bewlley
Cow in dust by Bewlley
Cow in dust by Bewlley
Bewley by Cang
Bewley by Cang
Cattle in Morning Sun by Andrew Kikeros
Cattle in Morning Sun by Andrew Kikeros

Day 15 – Badas Port on Sumbawa Island.

Badas, pronounced by locals as in; “as” == arse. For the first time this trip a dry landing was called for as the Orion tied to the wharf. Badas Port is busy with island cargo vessels, tankers and container ships. But don’t expect a 40 footer to be used. The container handling forklift is only for 20 footers.

Also, for the first time,  we had to use our cabin cards exit the ship. Four buses were laid on and the first person down the gangway copped a ceremonial scarf and the rest of us copped red rice on our heads from a very cheery local women.  Again, it turns out we were the 2nd ship this year at this location. Just as a rugged day was promised yesterday we were briefed that the buses were not air conditioned. Imagine our joy when the AC was on!! A 25 minute ride to the village of Pamulung showed us that this was not a small town but really a full blown city and we were most definitely the only Westerners in town. But more of that later.

Turning off a real duel carriage way with armco fencing and international road markings we headed along a valley until the road reduced in width so that only foot and scooter traffic could continue. Debussing we were formally welcomed by the village band. Several drums and a snake charmers flute (honest) and a women that looked as if she had had white pancake makeup applied until it was explained that this was a local concoction to ward of mosquitoes and sun burn. Once again we were sprinkled with red rice in welcome and then it was a short walk along narrow streets, some cobblestoned, some ashphalted and some dirt to an area next to the river where various demonstrations of local stuff were to happen. Here we watched as various demonstrations of rice preparation, that is husking with bamboo poles and winnowing with large woven platters took place. A couple of the Orion people tried the pounding and winnowing and were somewhat surprised at how much strength and stamina was needed for both tasks.

Yet again, another wedding preparation ceremony was delivered and we watched as the blushing bride copped a make up job from a village elder that would make Max Factor look like amateur hour. A wide variety of woven cloth was out for display and purchase and here gold thread was in great evidence and many of the colors and designed had a Thai look about them. Of course the incongruity of the local cloth hung from a wire that was attached to a local satellite dish was not lost on us. However, we had next to this one of the weavers hard at it warping and wefting away and the colors and design she was producing as we watched matched those on display so it was all their own work. Plus in many of the front porches of the houses we passed we could see a variety of looms so this is quite an endeavour for them. The houses were small, on stilts (tall pilings) and went from pretty run down thatched and wood construction with a bit of a lean to well built with modern materials and all with neat and tidy grounds.

An edict must have been made and money found from somewhere as every house, regardless of quality had a small wooden structure with a pink plastic bin on it, in the bin was a a palm frond whisk and a long handled pooper scooper style dustpan. Was there any rubbish on the street/lanes? No. It was in the bins. This lot have raised civic pride to a new level. Satellite dishes with every house? You bet.

A 10 minute walk out of the village and back the way we drove in saw us mixing with the locals on their scooters and, for the first time, sedan cars and more SUVs than we had seen on any of the previous islands. River washing of clothes was also going on as we crossed the large concrete bridge. One thing of interest to me is that archways are big in this place. From the entrance to the port, at various intervals along the road to the village and as entrances to government and private buildings there was an archway proclaiming what lay behind. All in good nick and freshly painted. Even this village had an archway team on the job as we arrived. Although this one was made from locally fired bricks.

The use of roofing tiles and bricks here is a feature as they discovered generations ago (probably from the Dutch and others) hwo to make and fire these items and we passed some pretty big buildings producing just those items. The kilns are fired with rice husks and palm tree debris unless the brick/rile place is very flush and can afford wood. This meant that thatched roofs and corrigated iron were few and far between.

The end of our walk occurred through an archway that led us onto a foot bridge across what in the wet season is a gusher of a river to a place that is used for buffalo racing! This is done twice a year, prior to planting and is really used to carve up the soil and oxygenate the fields and then at the end of harvest to let of steam. But before the races we were guided to shaded seating and again treated to part II of weddings. Here the bride and groom with band and some female dancers performed a graceful set of moves with intricate hand gestures that were meant to make the union last forever. Our guide was emphatic that although Sumbawa is 4 times as big land wise as Bali it has kept its population in check to a quarter of Bali with strict family planning: One wife and two children is the mantra she gave. Remembering that 80% are Muslim with the rest a plethora of various faiths both western and eastern. The family planning message is loud and clear as huge banners promote the use of prophylactic devices with 3 benefits to all concerned, but that was as far as my Indonesian went 🙂 The pictures were pretty graphic.

With wedding ceremonies now out of the way about 8 pairs of buffaloes were yoked together and an A frame riding frame attached to the yoke were now in the rice field track. The local Sharman gave his blessing and is responsible for planting a wooden carved figure at one end. If you or the beasts knock it over or the rider can grab it they are the winner.

And they were off. The race was over about 100m and it was muddy, splashy and wild. The buffaloes didn’t always cooperate and riders fell from their “sulkies” and were left in the mud or hung on trying to steer from the lying in the mud and dragged postion. The totom was hard to hit as the buffalo wont naturally run into something sticking out of the water as they are charging down on it. After about the 4 team of two buffs and one rider had missed the 5 team scored the trophy. A replant by the Sharman and racing continued. The surprise starter was one of our expedition team, Harry (the one that felt the full majesty of the Law for trying to ride the truck roof a couple of day ago. For a rough rider he was pretty good and hung on until the end although he missed hitting the figurine. A second round was called for and I hope some spectacular shots have ensured for possible inclusion in the MiP November, Sydney Exhibition or our Personal Favourites (/)

Back on the buses we went right into the center of a 400,000 strong city. It has traffic lights. Although obeying them seemed a bit optional. Shops abounded, scooters, full motorcycles and cars flooded these streets but with no (or quiet) horn action and low speeds for all it meant that the really local public transport of a small horse and shaded carriage or rickshaw had a chance of competing.

We visited two more sites to round of the morning. The Sultan’s original palace, a monstrous bare wooden massive house on stilts alongside a huge white house that he occupied until 1959 and then The Yellow House that his son and family still live in. The wooden palace was bare of all but a couple of elaborate carved wooden man carried seats (think Roman) some photos of the early days of finely dressed men and women plus a Jazz band! The Yellow House was filled (12ft ceilings and then some) with the life and times of the Sultan, Sultana and his offspring. We were welcomed by the son. He was well spoken and showed us what would be a fortune in carving, swords, kris, clothing and other ornaments that his family have acquired over the years. The wedding attire alone must have been heavy as it was spun through with real gold and the Sultanas wedding shoes had solid gold buckles.

Back in the buses, back to the ship and back around the corner to a small bay where a final snorkel and swim could be had.

It is over. When we wake up tomorrow it will be in Bali.

Was this trip worth it? Every last minute of it. If you want to see “real” Indonesian life you couldn’t go far wrong in coming to Badas (there are hotels here and an airport) and you would be as far from the madding crowd as it gets (and the only white people too). Be an adventurer. This place is great.

Tomorrow Patti heads for Denver and Landing recertification, Heather takes another 7 days in Bali to recover from this and I head back to Sydney to prepare for an AGM of the Narromine Gliding Club (all welcome to come and have a flight with us), do some work and prepare for the exhibition starting on the 2nd November (another shameless plug).

Day 13 – Big Volcano, Small Volcano

Indonesia is a land and people of contrast. For the first time the shore excursion sees us in a village that is predominantly Islam but with strong ties back to Hinduism. A dress code applied to those going ashore. The village of Labuan Kenanga on Sambawa Island is a neatly laid out grid of clean and tidy dirt side streets and paved main streets. Very neat houses built on raised pilings with nothing out of place in their yards as far as the eye could see. Each house had shade trees and some form of garden planted. This was the 2nd ship to call into their port this year and as word spread the village people, young and old (we suspect that school was suspended for the morning by the number of children in school uniforms) came over to the area that had been set aside for the various displays and found vantage points.

Well rehearsed and costumed dances performed by all ages did the usual performances for welcoming and good harvest etc. They really did put on a great show and the unforced smiles of welcome from everyone were in complete contrast to the last island where the locals were somewhat pushy in their desire to sell their wares. Patti took a great series of shots of really young ones peering through a slatted fence such that just their eyes and fingers were visible (definitely gallery material). The women’s clothes and head dress were again a restrained but well designed combination of color and pattern. The women also had a complex hand movements in perfect sync to the music. Retuning to the Zodiacs we encountered a dozen of so naked children splashing around the boats helping to load us and push us off the beach. A couple hitched a ride until they reached their limit of swimming back to shore and jumped from the speeding Zodiac. Much hilarity amongst the children and adults.

The main geological feature of this island is Mount Tambora. This is still an active stratovolcano ad was once estimated to have a peak at 14,000ft (4,300m) but in what all geologists believe is the biggest blow up since 180AD it took off its top and reduced the cone height to 7,000ft (2100m) in 1815. Krakatoa is estimated to be but a quarter of the power of this one. The northern hemisphere experienced a “nuclear winter” that summer with all crops failing and livestock dyeing due to the ash cloud. The estimate is over 35 cubic kilometres of ejaculate hit the atmosphere that year. The sound was heard by people and animals 1,200 miles (2,000km) away and recorded in written histories of Sumatra Island. This ash cloud producing the worst famine of the 19thC A low estimate of 71,000 people killed as a direct result of this change in climate.

After lunch we were promised a very rugged experience on Satonda island just across the channel from Kenanga. This island is also the remains of a volcano and has its caldera filled with sea water, allegedly from the tsunami that came from the big one. But most geologists suspect fissures through the limestone corals provide both the alkalinity and top up water to the lake. We had a choice of reef snorkelling and/or hiking over a small berm to view the crater lake. The rugged bit promised was the walk through lantana on barely visible paths. Well that is what expedition leader Mike said. Surprise, surprise since the last visit a couple of years ago the back beach has been cleared of vegetation. Shade trees planted, paths added, cabins constructed for a new eco lodge !!! Our tough walk now consisted of a concrete path and steps up and over the berm ridge to a viewing platform. Next to this wishing trees sprouted various bits of stuff tied to their branches. The belief is that a string with a facsimile of the object of your desire is hung from a branch. If your wish comes true you come back and retrieve your bit of string and thing. The trees were heavily festooned.

Yet another great dinner capped another most interesting day.


Day 12 – Komodo Island & Pink Beach

We three decided that the first Zodiac was the one to be on and I was deputised to get our names down as soon as the sign on sheets were available after last night’s briefing. With that mission accomplished another early night was in order as breakfast started at 5:45 for us with a departure of 6:30.

Awakening pre dawn we could see we were in a very rugged ex caldera of a bay with a wharf and peeking through some trees and palms, low buildings were visible. We knew we were at the island of Komodo as per the previous evenings brief. The recon team had established that the wharf was suitable for Zodiacs to do a dry landing. We were prepared for a couple of hours on the track and along with the other 14 for this sortie we were soon being given the “what to do when a dragon runs at you” by the park ranger assigned to our group. Basically, do nothing while the ranger pushes the dragon off you with a big forked stick. Komodo and surrounding islands were World Heritage listed in 1980 and over the years this had been extended to the marine environment surrounding these islands too. There is money in these dragons as the buildings and paths are all well maintained and everyone involved is very capable at their jobs. Apparently, you can only get a job as a park ranger if you are from Komodo (police in evidence would probably be an exception) and they get some pretty extensive training and education in both flora and fauna, as these guys knew there stuff.

Off we set along one of the standard paths and within 50 paces our first dragon crossed the groups bow. Shutters firing at high speed the Komodo boy (bigger than 2 meters) continued in his direction without so much as a look at us. I was with one of the Orion people and he was excited and worried that we had maybe peaked too quickly and at the same time that might be our only sighting of the estimated 2000 dragons on an island of around 1000 sq km. Our two ranger guides took it in turns to give us information about dragon habitat and life cycle along with other bits about the flora and fauna evident.

The well trodden path we were on was mostly shaded but the heat was rising and I was certainly a sweat ringing damp rag already. 30 minutes into our 2 hours on the track our tail end Charlie guide spotted another big one acting like a log about 20 paces from the track. The group concentrated into the smallest area on the track possible but due to the amount of vines hanging and thin weedy growth it was almost impossible to get a clear picture of him (these big ones are the males). And then when our front ranger headed off track toward the beast it took off up the hill. We continued walking.

With less than 30 minutes to go and after many more stops to point out dragon features such as sleeping holes in the side of a river bank and the location where the pre park ranger days the locals would come down to feed the dragons for the tourists (banned since about 1995) we rounded a bush corner to be confronted by dragons either side of the track, 5 in total. These bad boys were at the only watering hole in the general region and once again cameras went on to high frame rate and all you could hear was the staccato tap of cameras going gang busters.

After we had tried every angle known and got as close as we dared, remembering that the smaller ones can motor along at over 18kph, we formed up again for the final leg of the trek.

At which point and only after a few paces disaster hit my camera gear. I had chosen to use my big telephoto zoom lens, which is normally my bird lens. This lens is heavy and comes with its own strap attached to the lens. I also have a strap for the body and the lens also has a handle. For the walk so far I had used the handle or some other way of holding both straps together that gave me redundancy in case of strap failure. You guessed it … After mere seconds and without realizing I had a grip of only the lens strap, it slipped out of its buckle and the lens/flash/camera combo hit the dirt. Flash and lens kaput. But thankfully this happened after, I hope, I got some great shots of these prehistoric beasts.

The final stop was at the market place where several people took away carved versions of what we had just witnessed. I stayed away from the market and took in a liter plus of aqua to replace the sweat. Heather got her “garden gnome” komodo and it was all back to the ship.

Back on board there was champagne and some snacks and then it was time for lunch followed by a swim/snorkel at Pink Beach. Apink because of the red corals lying off the beach. The day finished with an Asian feast buffet served on the aft Leda deck followed by the Orion crew doing their thing in song and skit. A very funny evening was had by all. We are all in agreement that the hard woorking crew of the Orion have delivered exactly, if not more than what the brochure(s) promise. It will be interesting to see what changes are wrought by the new management of the ship in the form of Linblad Expeditions and National Geographic.

Complete exhaustion saw us once again wracking up ZZZZs once the show was over.

We have two more days before arriving in Bali 😦

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.

Day 10 – Savu Native Dancing and Textiles

We were to launch the Zodiac flotilla at 08:00 today for a beach landing followed by a welcoming ceremony before bemusing for a shortish ride to a village to be treated to some native dances followed by a bus ride back to the main port for returning to the ship.

Things did not go quite according to plan. The landing site was deemed unsuitable so we waited while the Zodiac recon located another landing site. This turned out to be the port we were due to return from. Since an interisland ferry was tied up no access to the wharf was possible. But, after some quick negotiations with the Harbour Master the Zodiacs were allowed to run under the mooring lines of the cargo and fishing vessels tied up at the wharf and run onto the beach in a prototected corner alongside the jetty. When all were ashore the transport arrived, which were a fleet (6) trucks with bench seating and a roof – I suspect by the color and writing on the front these were acquired from the local police force and would normally transport police. A couple of the fleet were a bright yellow and one was fitted with a sound system, but more of that later.

The thing to know here is that this island is rarely visited by “tourists” so word had got out that strangers were coming ashore and both the jetty and beach were crowded with locals whoe had coe down to s sticky. All was smiles. Local personal transport is either by mini van (bus) or scooter, I suspect you were fitted for a scooter from the time you could walk as the riding skills on show were death defying and yet calmy carried out by the riders (and their pillions) with crash helmets a very voluntary option.

Travelling out of the port we passed through the market that had sprung up and I did wish that we could have walked through this part as it was a genuine local market for the locals – For example all petrol is sold in plastic containers that have been filled from a bulk tank that arrives once a month. It was colourful and everything you could want seemed to be out under a shade or tucked into some simple three sided buildings lining the exit road. We came to a prolonged stop and not being in the lead vehicle we didn’t know, at the time, that this pause was by the police as they had noticed one of our expedition staff riding the roof of the lead truck. They were not amused and arrest and jail time were muttered loudly if he didn’t relinquish his spot. He did, we continued. Driving along real one lane roads that supported two way traffic didn’t faze the participants one little bit and here we saw passing manoeuvres that would have made GP bike riders blanche – ragged road edges and trees that leapt out and grabbed the trucks sides, culverts that were impossibly narrow and speed bumps that really did make you slow to a crawl (not that we were going faster than about 30kph in any case) saw us reach the village of Bo’Do. Getting out we were met by village elders and the stalled beach side welcoming ceremony now took place high on a hill. Suitably blessed and now part of the village “family” we trod the isle between two lines of traditionally garbed villagers who did have a big smile for us all.

For those who wanted to slake their thirst with real green coconut water fresh from the shell. A straw was provided so that you didn’t do it truly native style soon saw us all seated under the expansive arms of a “skunk” tree, so named for the smell of it’s flowers. But as was explained the seeds of this tree provided many things, including “candle” wicks, juice for fermenting and other uses.

Now we sat through several dances that gave good harvest, protected the villagers from the spirits and I suspect had more than a little to do with a moating ritual. The clothing worn is all hand woven by the villagers and is most intricate and colored in earthy tones with a bit of dark blue thrown in. The men scored head dress that looked like fans and did look good. The fabric is a very heavy weave, which surprised us all but is really hand woven by the islanders. Closer to Bali the same can’t be said – machine weaving has taken over.

The dance moves can only be described as slow but the women had well practised hand gestures to go with the music provided by one drum and several gongs and there is also a two stringed instrument that uses a palm frond as a sound amplifier – One of the dances included a lead singer with answering chorus and for acapella (?sp) they really held their tune and sounded very good. Once the dances were complete the group moved a short distance away where several horse riders mounted on what looked suspiciously like Mongolian tiny horses did some trick riding a la Andalusia (?sp) Spanish style. Next to this display a man had raced up a palm tree and from about 30ft up he was milking the sap into yet another use for a palm frond. He brought what he had extracted down and again those who wanted to could try a mouthful. This island is very dry and apart from the month to 40 days of their wet season all water is from wells or from this palm tree source.

Time to board the trucks for more climbing into the hills where the villagers lived in everything from thatched roofed long houses to homes built from western materials. This was the site of a ceremonial stone area. These stones were used for all sorts of rituals and are 9ft diameter (round) and about a 3ft thick or squarish. And all are mounted on a platform built of hand sized rocked bound by cement (these days) sized to each stones measurements. An elder had died a couple of days ago so the preparation for his burial was in progress so that at the stroke of midnight he would be buried. If you were not an elder (or important) your family could bury at any time.

Boarding the trucks I decided that I had had enough of eating dust so headed for the lead truck and Patti and I climbed aboard to discover it was the sound truck and the speakers would have done any dorf, dorf enthusiast proud. The sub-woofer alone must have added to the trucks weight.

Returning to the port we passed (again) various schools – the students were all as neat a pin in their various uniforms, the colors of which, I suspect, denoted infants, primary and high school. Churches – this is very much a Protestant island after the Dutch/Portuguese had finished with them – but they mix it all up with a bit on Animism (Hindu) too and a hospital under construction – which had had some of the walls daubed with various bits of graffiti that were uncomplimentary to Judaism – I really don’t know what was going on their.

Loading the Zodiacs saw us able to use the jetty so a return for lunch was made.

During lunch the Orion was repositioned to a snorkelling location but due to the late start of the morning trip this was truncated to a swim. All three of elected to have a second bottle of wine with lunch and hit the cheeseboard in lieu of the swim. However, we did pick the sunset and were shooting madly away at a blood red setting orb.

Then the evening briefing showed another early start to a full day on the next island group (Kodi) and a warning that Komodo followed and we would be off the ship at around 06:00.

Dinner was a full deforestation menu but since we had another early start we all elected to forgo the evenings entertainment that would follow. After preparing our camera gear it was lights out.

Day 9 – Landfall Again – Kupang & Semau

This island just to the south west of West Timor and about 20nm from the Kupang, our port of entry. Kapung introduced us to rubber time almost immediately. The Indonesian Customs and Immigration had been booked for a 06:00 boarding but finally showed up at around 08:30. It took 21 uniformed gentlemen to process the ship. Needless to say the day’s timetable received a big whack. The Orion did have permission to send an advance party off to scout suitable landing locations and they had left when we anchored at 06:00. Foolishly they had only taken adequate water supplies. It would have probably helped them if a few sandwiches and beers were on hand to while away the time while they waited for news of our departure to their location..

Eventually, Orion weighed anchor and moved down to the southern end of this island where the scouts had located beaches that were clean and without people trying to sell you things.

In a massive and well co-ordinated logistical effort the crew transported all that was required for a sit down BBQ lunch and instead of lunch at 12:00 (which is about when we arrived) the lunch flag was run up about 90 minutes later. Although this location didn’t offer any reef snorkelling a majority plunged into the warm waters for a dip either pre or post lunch. Sadly, the clear blue sky we started with had become obscured by quite heavy forest fire smoke from clearing operations. This limited the scope of wide vista pictures and meant that I couldn’t get anything different than what an Australian beach would provide. Patti, however, did find some interesting objects, skulls, outriggers and the like to concentrate on.

The knock on affect meant that we didn’t have to time to reposition to what would have been the afternoon’s snorkelling location so the anchor was raised and we headed off to our next Spice Island, Savu.

Some fun facts about Semau and Kapung

Although spices are no longer a mainstay of commerce here they are still cultivated for personal use. Other agricultural efforts are; corn, watermelon and mango growing for markets in the surrounding islands as well as producing cooking fire charcoal. Semau has developed a reputation as a great holiday destination for other Indonesians. Due to the safe waters they snorkel, swim and pursue other aquatic sports.

Kapung is the provincial capital of East Nusa Tenggara province. With a 2010 population estimate of over 300,000 (and for the record Indonesian population growth has sunk below the world average so it’s population wont double for another 60 years). There are almost 400,000 people living in the remainder of the Kapung region. The port is the biggest in Timor and apart from being an entry port for goods it possesses a cement processing factory. The buildings are prominent on the skyline and apart from the tyle of fishing boats and the multitude of inter-island ferries in the harbor you could be looking at a port somewhere along the Queensland coast!

Although we didn’t see any other civilisation it was an important location during the spice trading years and both Dutch and Portuguese architectural remains can still be seen.

Into the the 20th C and the island was used for refuelling for early long distance to Aisa and Europe flying routes. Obviously, side of Timor saw a lot of military staging when East Timor was invaded and subsequently camps sprung up to hold displaced East Timorese at this time.

Going back a step to the early 60’s the University of Nusa Cendana was started and this continues to be a major part of the areas development.

Day 8 – At Sea and Not a Deck Quoit To Be Seen

With light, but no spectacular sunrise, arriving around 05:30 today saw breakfast at the almost civilised hour of 0800 on the aft deck. Today we exercised our minds, bypassing the chance to join Ewa for “Stretch & Relax” at 07:30 on the top deck (as we have every other morning, so far) and settled in for a series of lectures/presentations that covered the history of the spice trade with an emphasis on the arrival of European traders in the 16th & 17th Cs. A pretty blood thirsty period and this also showed a side of the Dutch that they do still try to hide. The VOC (Dutch East Indies Company) is arguably the genesis of modern business structure (the incorporated company with shares) and for a while there also showed today’s multinationals a clean pair of heels when it came to behaving like an unelected governing body in these far off places and exerting undue influence on the governments of the day when they wanted something to benefit them and not the citizens.

This was followed by a rather dark telling of what happened to East Timor and with the revelations of perfidy and chicanery on the part of USA and Australian Governments of the day when Indonesia summarily invaded East Timor. A black stain on both countries moral and ethical values to this day.

Of course since regaining independence things haven’t been going to well internally with East Timor’s governance and who knows when things will get better for the majority of people there.  And the royalties rort perpetrated by the Australian Government of the day still wrankles.

After lunch those of us that wanted to go snorkelling over the remainder of our trip had to attend a safety and procedures briefing and for those that needed fins and mask a fitting session and issue of gear finished off that session.

Yesterday the galley was open for a couple of tours and now the bridge doors were flung wide and those interested in what happens could nose around and ask questions of our singing Captain Mike. Heather availed herself of this opportunity as both the galley and bridge tours on the Antarctic were cancelled due to the sea state being a touch rough. Heather’s report was that they had fun up there amongst all the gadgets to keep them on course and monitor the state of the ship’s systems.

We again were able to bypass the afternoon trivia comp held by Kathy in the Leda Lounge. But listening to the post comp evaluations by several of the participants it was a hard fought battle yet again.

The final lecture was a tour de force by our expedition leader on “Indonesia: An Unlikely Nation” and covered from colonial to the present day with some very interesting and in some cases alarming stats and observations along the way. It is a real shame that Australia doesn’t make more of an effort with our closest (excepting PNG) neighbour. There are still many, many abuses that need to be stopped in this area and the ecological disaster that is the stripping of forests is a bit mind boggling. All these things will come back to bite not only Indonesia but have impacts on our ways too.

The formal stuff ended with a briefing on what to expect for our days in Indonesian waters and this included the introduction of “rubber time” (things wont happen according to any published timetable), modes of transport (back of trucks in several locations) and whether or not you would want to eat from food carts, bargaining etiquette and what will be acceptable to Customs and Quarantine as things to bring back.

The evening meal was again on the aft Leda deck but in the form of a seafood extravaganza BBQ – We shared our table with the Chappellet sisters again and learnt a bit more about the workings of this family enterprise. When our fearless duo of Kathy (vocals) and Terry (guitar and big box of noises) started up for the Dance Your Night Away Under the Stars I took my leave and prepared the underwater cameras I had brought along for their first outing tomorrow.

Day 7 – Wyndham and the Timor Sea

And on the 7th day we rested. Our first and only formal duty was to assemble at 07:30 to be given the once over by a pair of characters from Customs & Border Protection. The chances of any of us being an escapee from some civil or criminal enterprise being slim the checking off of faces to passports didn’t take long. This meant we were free to enjoy a long leisurely breakfast in the Constellation Restaurant instead of the aft Leda Deck since that space was now being used by the crew to off load waste and on-load fresh supplies.

The port of Wyndham and, of course, Wyndham town itself is considered the most northern coastal bit of organised civilization in Western Australia. It is not what you would call a scintillating collection of aged shacks lining a buckling wooden wharf. Instead we came along side a modern concrete structure with massive buffers, since the area experiences 7m tides. The road way ran in a circuit onto and off the wharf so that vehicle traffic was one way. Low nondescript metal buildings dotted the shore area along with some major liquid storage tanks. And although the hills were low, scrub covered and quite brown compared to what we had be travelling through, it is by some, considered the gateway to The Kimberley if you are on foot (vehicle). You are also close to the Ord River scheme, the fake Lake Argle and not fake mine as well as Kununurra and with a short flight the Bungle Bungles, so Wyndham has a lot going for it as a way station to more things to do and see. You could do worse than dig out a copy of Dame Mary Durack’s books; “Kings in Grass Castles” and “Sons in the Saddle” to get an idea of what this place is like through the seasons.

Promptly at 10:30 we had our Captain “Mike” come on the mike and announce our imminent departure. And once again and without the aid of tugs the Orion’s side thrusters threw us smoothly off the wharf as five wharfies ( 4 male, 1 female) watched as the last line splashed into the muddy waters. And again we missed the bass notes of the ship’s horn not giving that traditional “going to sea” series of blasts.

Almost immediately we found ourselves in the well appointed lecture theatre on deck 6 to listen to our fearless leader Mick expound on the early history of exploration of Terra Australis, with emphasis on The Kimberley region. It is somewhat to the shame of our history syllabus relating to the western side of Australia that has been delivered to countless students that probably the only names remembered are Hartog and Dampier. Whereas, in reality, the west coast was being visited on a frequent basis by boat loads of people from not only Asia but  Europe. Some more successfully than others. Mick also covered the extraordinary goings on of the Batavia and what was a grisly end to almost 2/3’s of it crew and passengers at the hands of shipwreck, thirst, disease and the greatest enemy of all themselves. It turned out that mutineers tried to take out any and everyone. Including turning on themselves. And reading between the lines I suspect not a few leg thigh steaks were also cooked up along the way.

There are about 5 well researched books on this greatest of all maritime disasters in “Australian” waters and one not so good one (leave the Peter Fitzsimmons one until last).

After lunch with, oh glory be, a delicious bottle of pino gris we again settled in for a presentation on the controversy surrounding the sinking and subsequent actions of senior crew of the SS Koolama. After Brad (another marine scientist had presented his take on it we watched a very interesting docu-drama “Malic or Mutiny: The Koolama Incident”.

For those passengers that wanted to find out how the 5 star meals arrived galley tours covered the next couple of hours but all three of us retired to our cabins and read instead.

But the learning didn’t stop there; “Cruising Asian Waters 400 Years Ago” made sure we appreciated the luxury of our current mode of transport. Back then a sea going ship was around 100ft length with a 25ft beam and around 400 tons. The Orion is 300ft, with 75ft beam and 4000 tonnes, plus stablizers if required. Cooking was done on the deck in a sandpit, if a hot meal was possible due to calm seas otherwise cold hard tack and something salty would see your vitamin C levels dropping fast. We have a grand total of 91 pax + 75 crew whereas the ships of that era had 130-40 sailors living on top of each other in nasty conditions below decks. By the time of the 60’s and with the Suez Canal in full operation 6 weeks was needed for a trip to/from Europe to Sydney. 10 months elapsed, if you were lucky, in those rather small ships.

The day ended with  reconvening for cocktails before dinner and then some more reading. Tonight’s activities was a sing-a-long with our resident musician/singer, Terry & Cathy and it would be fair to say that enthusiasm was the most obvious talent displayed by the assembled passengers. However, when our oldest passenger (96 years young) took the microphone and belted out a couple of crowd favourites he took the standing ovation as if he was born to it and shortly thereafter (the girls had beat a hasty retreat after John) as the rendition of a Tom Jones classic by the passengers brought tears to our eyes, just the wrong sort of tears.  Another passenger, Peter, took to the piano and after flexing his fingers across the ivories brought the house down again as he really was an accomplished jazz pianist and several of the audience seemed to be relieving their early days as duffel coated groupies. But the finale was yet to come, in terms of talented singers, as out of the shadows Captain Mike stepped up to the microphone and with his Irish heritage saw us all wondering why he took to the sea instead of crooning. The real finale of the evening was an execrable rendition of “I still call Australia home” that would have turned P. Allen straight it was bad. And finally at the unheard of hour of 2300 I slipped into our cabin to find Patti already well into the land of Zzzzs as we steamed at 14 kts to West Timor across what seemed like a placid lake.