We left Kupang headed for Pulau Rote (Rote Island), an island south-west of Timor, and within a day’s sail. Our destination was Nemberala, but we stopped overnight at Ba’a, the capital of Rote, so as to sail in daylight hours.
Ba’a is a small village with a prominent lighthouse. We didn’t spend much time there, but did go ashore to try and get charts from the harbour master – we’d completely forgotten to do this in Kupang! From Ba’a it was a couple hours’ sail to Nemberala, through a fairly narrow passage between Rote and Pulau Ndau. We had created KAP files of the south western coastline of Rote – these are basically Google Earth images that you overlay on your navigation program, so get a more accurate idea of where the reefs and channels are. We plotted a course through the narrow passage, as well as a course into the anchorage at Nemberala (which is between 2 reefs), and it worked brilliantly!
The big and small boys were completely frothing as we arrived, as we were surrounded by beautiful peeling waves! We found a suitable anchorage in 15m of water – with waves on both sides, all within paddling distance of the boat! The biggest decision for them was which wave to surf first. They were all exhausted that first evening as they hadn’t had quite so much exercise in a looong time!
I’m not going to try and describe the waves and the surf sessions here. I’m not a surfer, so it wouldn’t come across as authentic – and I’d probably just write the usual descriptions like “epic”, “cooking”, “top to bottom”, “barrelling”, “hollow” etc. I’m hoping that Marco will write a post on it – but let me just say that the boys (big and small) are very VERY stoked to be here, and surf about 4-6 hours each day. There are bigger gnarlier waves out the back, and smaller waves on the inside, so something for everyone. The (little) boys have been progressing fast, and Marco officially deemed them to have become “men” after yesterday’s surf, which was apparently big, powerful and hollow.
Nemberala is a cute fishing village, with a couple of low-key resorts that blend in with the local environment. No monolithic flashy resorts here – thank goodness! Lontar palm trees are prolific on the island, and the leaves are used in many of the roofs. Some of the houses are made from wood, but quite a number are brick. Many of the boundary walls are made from chunks of reef piled on top of each other – which looks really cool (yet slightly unstable). Most homes have a well outside, and there are lots of frangipani and bougainvillea trees. Rote is quite a dry island as it is quite far south (around 10 degrees south of the equator), and the soil appears quite chalky. There are many pigs, goats, chickens and cows that stroll around. One of the funniest sights was watching a couple pigs forage for food on the reef at low tide – I’ve never seen pigs on the beach before! I also noted a number of “Tsunami Evacuation” signs, directing people to paths that lead upwards. Something one has to consider when living in the Ring of Fire I suppose!
There are a couple of little eateries in town – sadly, many of them serving western food. Who wants to sit in Nemberala and eat a hamburger and chips!? One of our favourites is a place called Indika, run by Max, who’s half Indonesian / half German and his girlfriend from Guatemala. They’ve created such a peaceful place to spend a couple of hours, and serve divine banana lassies, mint iced tea, paw-paw and honey smoothies, coconut yoghurt, as well as freshly baked bread and tamarind jam.
The sea provides much of the activity, and I just love watching the “Rote Rush Hour” every sunset and sunrise when the boats head out to sea and then return from a night of fishing. The boats are too gorgeous – wooden, handmade and brightly painted in unique designs and colours. The “cumi” (pronounced “choomi”, meaning chocca or squid) boats are really interesting, with big side supports that they string with lights to attract the squid. They all have loud lawnmower-type engines, that make a definite “putt-putt-putt” sound. As Noah says, it does sound like a helicopter coming in to land when they come near. They all anchor around us during the day – sometimes pretty close – and then head off at sunset. They must feel like superstars as I can’t stop photographing them, especially at sunrise.
I think the studs of the village drive the resort boats – which are often Indonesian boats with bigger outboard engines. They take surfers from the resorts out to the backline every morning and evening, and look very cool with their sunglasses and James Dean hairstyles.
Another big activity here is seaweed farming – they call it “agar-agar”. They set up a network of ropes in the shallows, and the seaweed grows along these. At low tide – and presumably after a period of time, they come and harvest the seaweed, and then dry it out on big wooden platforms at the top of the beach. A lot of it gets sold to Japan – probably for seaweed sheets used in sushi. It looks like such a calming, peaceful thing to do, kind of like vegetable gardening in the sea!
Whilst on the subject of vegetables, I must mention the local market (“pasar”). Tuesday is market day, and we were advised to get there early. We have actually been waking up before sunrise (probably due to the coming and going of the fishing fleet), and I managed to drag Marco off at 6:30am! We followed the general foot-traffic and arrived while it was still cool and pretty empty. What a lovely market it turned out to be! Delicious fresh fruit and vegetables of all kinds, eggs, pulses, rice, noodles and yummy baked goods (called “kue”, a generic term meaning “cake”). We filled our backpacks and bags, and headed off with at least a week’s supply of food for $36! I vowed to practice my Indonesian numbers after this – including the hundreds and thousands, as prices are generally obtained verbally and get pretty complicated, with most vegetables costing Rp5,000 –50,000. It was actually a really good school lesson one day!
Motorbikes (or scooters, really) are the main form of transport, and are really affordable to hire (at $6 per day). We decided to hire 2 motorbikes and explored the coastline south of Nemberala. What a fun day that was – I could definitely get used to this mode of transport! The roads are really mellow and the traffic is minimal and slow – even the “bemos” wait patiently for you to move aside so they can pass, not like our crazy taxis back home! There are lots of side roads and paths, ending in deserted little bays and stunning beaches, just beckoning for a swim. A lot of the land is empty, but seems to be in high demand, as there are many “for sale” signs and unofficial agents wanting to sell land. It’s really “for lease”, as foreigners can’t buy land in Indonesia, but is really untouched and unspoiled, so the attraction is obvious. We ended up in a village called Bo’a at lunchtime, but unfortunately could not find anywhere to eat – apart from some snacks at a roadside stall. So back to Nemberala it was, to a little local “warung” which served “nasi kuning”, rice cooked in turmeric and other spices, served with a boiled/baked egg in a tomato-based sauce. Really tasty – although a little spicy for Josh!
Rote is a predominantly Christian island, and there are many crosses and churches dotted around. The church bells sound on Sundays, and we decided to attend one of their services. We arrived too late for the service at the closest church (it starts at 7am!), but as we walked on through the village, we couldn’t mistake the sound of praise coming from one of the houses. It turned out to be another church, totally alive and on fire for God! We snuck in at the back and enjoyed being surrounded by like-minded people. The language and culture may be different, but the Spirit is the same everywhere! Google Translate did a good job of translating the sermon for us too – thanks Google.
So, a week and a half later and we’re still in Nemberala. It’s so great to stay in one spot for a while, especially a place like this where there is something for everyone. Our plan is to visit some of the smaller islands off Nemberala for a couple days, and eventually head on to Sawu and Sumba.