Wednesday, July 30, 2008

July 29, 2008 - Kupang, West Timor, Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

Kupang waterfront

We were one of the first of the rally fleet to arrive in Kupang. Being at the front of the pack is a totally unfamiliar experience for us. We're much more used to bringing up the back of the pack than leading the way. We expected more boats to leave early from Darwin to take advantage of the wind before the weather window shut down, but it seems like everyone else waited for the official start on Saturday to depart. There were only two other boats here when we arrived last night.

This morning the first of the big multi-hulls started to arrive. Shortly after they anchored, officials from Quarantine started working their way through the fleet. We were the second boat visited. We filled out some paperwork, handed over a copy of our crew list, and stamped everything with our ships seal (I think this is the first time we've been asked for it by officials anywhere). One of the Quarantine officers took a look through our fridge, while the other looked at our medical kit. They initially asked for a list of the contents of our medical kit, but they were fine with the fact that we couldn't produce one. We offered refreshments. One of the officers enjoyed a Diet Coke. The other officer said that he liked coffee. Making hot coffee would have taken a while, so we offered him an iced coffee. His expression upon tasting it was a fantastic grimace of displeasure. He looked up at Sten with a pleading look in his eyes, and uttered one request: "Sugar?"

Meanwhile, a grey Customs boat had anchored in the Quarantine area. They didn't have a dinghy or small boat to visit the yachts, so we all took turns going over to Customs boat to pick up Customs officers to ferry back to our boats. With half a dozen boats in the anchorage, this worked fairly well. But by late afternoon, as more yachts arrived, we could hear the tension in their voices as they negotiated with each other over the radio about who was next in line for Customs. With 100 more boats arriving tomorrow and the next day, things are going to get tense around here. To avoid the drama, we'd get out of dodge, but we can't. You see, all of the rally boats, including Mata'irea, have been impounded.

Impounded with a smile

It appears that Sail Indonesia failed to bribe the right officials this year. Customs took our original clearance from Darwin and some paperwork that we filled out for them. Then they slapped a big white sticker on one of our hatches to indicate that our vessel had been impounded pending completion of the clearance process. If we leave Kupang before Sail Indonesia, Customs, the Governor, and the Tourism Board figure out who owes who what, we could be fined 150,000,000 Rupiah, which is approximately $16,000 USD. So we're all stuck in Kupang until they get it sorted out.

But Kupang is kind of a great place to be stuck, at least for a few days. It is the capital city of the Nusa Tenggara region of Indonesia. There is so much energy here. From the first call to prayer at 4am, the city never shuts up. You can either plug into the energy, or bury your head in agony. We chose to plug in and dig in. Horns honk all day long as colorfully painted vans (called bemos) whiz by, blaring music from giant speaker systems. We spent the afternoon wandering around town, eating from little carts on the street selling everything from fried tofu to soup to ice cream. The food is cheap and delicious. Two little bowls of ice cream cost a total of 10 cents. Lunch was less than $2 for both of us. Dinner was so cheap that Sten had two. For less than $4 we feasted. I'm never cooking again!
Tofu delivery!
Yup, that's a vat of tofu. To eat here, you've just got to let go of Western notions of sanitation (zen attitude entirely due to pre-arrival Hep A boosters).
And that's a vat of deep fried tofu. The whole time we were at her stall, this lady never stopped laughing

Everyone here is so friendly. Walking around town, the Indonesians thought we were the funniest people they had ever seen. Everyone keeps laughing at us. It seems like they don't get many tourists here. Sten towers above everyone. So as soon as he walks into a store, everyone inside starts cracking up. And I don't think they see many voluptuous (such an nicer word than pudgy, don't you think?) blondes around here. One middle-aged lady walked up to me on the street, pinched my chubby upper arm, and ran away laughing. I was so startled, I jumped and gasped, which just made everyone at the bus stop start crackling. Later on at the night market, two ladies making nasi goreng (fried rice) reached over and ran their hands over my shoulders and patted my hips. My Bahasa Indonesia is a bit rusty, but I think they were saying "nice curves." Either that or they really liked my khaki skirt and ratty brown Gap t-shirt with the unraveling hem.

"Hello Mister!"

We arrived in Kupang with concerns about how the clearance process would go. We had read accounts about Quarantine and Customs asking for handouts from cruisers' liquor cabinets in years past. But the men who visited our boat today were friendly, cheerful, and absolutely professional. We've been listening to other rally boats complain about the process on the radio. One boat called it a nightmare. So I guess it is just a matter of prospective and experience. Compared to all the paperwork we had to do in Panama or Vanuatu, or the excessively thorough quarantine process in Australia, Indonesia has been a cake walk. Now, if only we could get this impoundment sticker removed from our boat . . .

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