Words by Steph
Latitude: 08 deg 54′ S
Longitude: 116 deg 26′ E
In Indonesia, there are no typical local grocery stores in the small towns and villages as there are in North America, and to get groceries, one can’t just cruise the strip, get what you need and go. We have relied on locals in each location to assist us in obtaining staples such as eggs and flour.
About a week ago, Khulula was anchored in between the two surf breaks near a beautiful palm beach complete with a ship wreck. Through an Indonesian speaking Australian surfer we met and befriended a Sumbanese man in Savu. He came aboard to drink tea with his wife and 2 friends one afternoon, and in return, after the market we sat in his back yard enjoying slices of cake his wife presented. He helped us out and got us several flats of eggs, the first two live chickens and other items. His family also generously filled up a large bottle with Gula Savu, the lontar palm syrup, Indonesia’s equivalent to maple syrup. There are ants’a'plenty in this bottle, and we are treating them as extra protein and roughage.
An early Tuesday morning found us exploring a bustling market on the towering concrete ferry pier of Savu. With fresh supplies dwindling, the edict was ‘if it looks green and fresh, buy it’ or if we couldn’t identify an item, buy that too. We saw turtle eggs, shark fins, huge live pigs, chickens’a plenty, fighting cocks, shallots in massive purple heaps, garlic, cucumber, bok choy and tobacco. On our way out, I spied a little bag of what at first glance looked like gala apples. The excitement I felt was out of proportion perhaps, but nary an apple in Indo….. We tasted one of the odd pepper shaped fruits back aboard Khulula, and dubbed it Sour-creamy dry-mouth fruit. The remaining fruits got chopped into crumble. It felt very creamy in consistency, but the flavour is really rather strange. We polished it off on our overnight crossing from Savu to Sumba.
After an excellent provisioning mission on the island of Savu, Ryan and I were baking up a storm to use up 60 eggs and several kilos of flour. We had a few rounds of cookies, omelettes, and of course fried egg on top of stir fried noodles and peanuts, locally know as Mie Goreng. Generally the crew aboard Khulula eats locally as much as possible. As most of you know from the now popular ’100-Mile Diet’ movement, embracing local foods is an environmentally friendly, cheap, and easy way to stock your kitchen. In this case, it is also the most interesting; you learn of different fruits and veggies as well as how to prepare them. On board in Indonesia, local foods are the only ones available, unless you want to delve into the world of over packaged MSG laden processed junk. Sometimes you long for certain foods from home, and there is no amount of local foods such as taro, deep fried bread, or selak fruit that will satisfy the craving. It is times like these that Khulula pulls from deep in her stores bags from “Neil’s Dehydrated Foods”: a much revered stock of dehydrated vegetables and meat(!) provided by a good friend of the crew’s in Vancouver. Neil, a kitchen magician, selects the finest of lean meats and vegetable produce, and dehydrates it for the expedition in his home machine. Already the supplies have yielded an amazing meal of pasta and sauce made from rehydrated ground beef as well as the majority of the toppings on 4 pizza’s… mmm… pizza.
You may already have read about the four chickens sacrificed for culinary activities thus far. But let me assure you, culinary experiments aboard s/v Khulula are not always successful. I have for you a short tale of a disastrous fish eating attempt. Shane and I were aboard Khulula, in the unique beauty of the bay at Tarimbang, (Sumba), when a local came along in his outriggered dugout despite the huge rolling groundswell. He had loops of long skinny fish each held by plant fibre string. We paid for 10 of the little suckers (My! what big teeth you have!!). I gutted them while happily recalling salmon gutting back in BC. We barbecued them, bones in, never suspecting that the fish would have transverse, dorsal and all and sundry other bones protruding into its’ scant muscular tissue.
We all fought a lengthy losing battle around the table to eat a whole mouthful around the bones. After dinner, Bryson was up on the deck, and he happened upon the bowl that had housed the raw fish, prior to grilling. This bowl was glowing very eerily. This was cause for disconcerted laughter and some consternation… What had we just eaten??!??!? Why the soft luminescent green glow? What was the deal?
Several days later in a secret spot, enjoying a stern anchor to stop the incessant rolling and pitching of Khulula in the swell that reaches us from deep in the Southern Ocean, we were perfectly oriented to view the surf breaking from the galley window. After some good eating and watching a TV show set up on the companionway computer, again Bryson was the one who went up on deck in the dark. Some noises of surprise and disbelief were heard, and up we went. The stars were brighter than we have seen them, the milky way smeared across the southern hemisphere sky, and the water rippling prettily, darkly, without the moons reflection path. In the water below, quite apart from the normal phosphorescence, sinister looking meter long glowing bright green snakes moved just below the surface. There were several of them at a distance from the boat, and as we moved towards the bow, to try to see them better, a couple could be seen at even closer range. Their movements were snakelike from afar, but when directly above them, the unbroken trails of glowing green were clouded and filamentous, and the movement of the “head” of the beast was in little spurts, almost like a small jelly fish quickly jettisoning itself along. We shone lights on the water, and saw small fish, but they were not the source of this strange green glow phenomenon. None of us felt keen to leap into the watery depths with these creatures in the water so close by. These do not explain the source of the glow from the fish we ate, but perhaps lead us one step closer to an answer.
At the island of Sumba, we were befriended by the sole resident of one remote bay in which we anchored, an elderly man who seems to get as much entertainment from us, as we do of him. We entered into a symbiotic relationship of sorts. Through him we’ve learned about the tides in the bay, the reefs to surf and fish, expanded our Indonesian vocabulary (batakar = trade), and obtained some desperately needed food to keep us going (bananas, fish and coconuts). In return we taught him some English, gave him some Livity, Globe and Sitka clothing, laundry soap, and disinfectant for cuts. During one of his visits to Khulula, Hugh got schooled in the art coconut preparation. In a few short blows he husked, opened, cleaned and disposed of two fine coconuts, all the while laughing at our ridiculously small and dull machete. Afterwards, he told us in order to make us strong, we must drink the clear coconut juice mixed with the jelly-like outer immature coconut, with a tiny pinch of salt.
Our kitchen has been augmented by our newest Indonesian friend’s generous trades with us as mentioned above. We are trying to figure out how best to consume the small fish. “Nasi Goreng” is fried rice, and GORENG, we figure, in Indonesian, may just mean deep fry when it comes to the wee fishies, as the bones don’t go down so easily when cooked the other ways we have tried.
Interaction with this enchanting fellow happens through our limited Bahasa Indonesia language skills, miming, and some drawing, punctuated by his delighted laughter. On a more serious note, he used our stainless steel mugs and a plastic cup on the table to illustrate the problem of how in Indonesia not all people are equal, and how he finds this unfortunate. “Tidak bagus” – not good.
To read about Indonesian travel, and then to be in a remote location and not know exactly what to expect from the local people had me wondering how confident I felt in their company. As time went by in the bay and we had a few visits and interactions with different people who lived in the area, I felt at peace. When the guys were surfing the beach break and I was on board, and the local man came to Khulula unannounced, it did not worry me in the slightest to ask him aboard and have kopi manis (sweet coffee) and some cookies, while trying to extract an Indonesian vocabulary lesson as well. In the Indonesian language how do you say- a knife? Flour? Bread? Chicken? Dog? Fire? Water? Boat?
The young local people on Sumba were very friendly. I was on the summit of a rocky outcrop, taking photos of the guys surfing, with Khulula and fishing boats in the background, and a group of about 10 children and a few older adolescents came and sat with me upon this high perch. They were asking me to take their photos and laughing at each other’s antics This ease of interaction is in marked contrast to feelings and impressions I had from some locals in other places in Indonesia. These other places were not bad, just different, such as time spent walking through a town in Timor, and going through bustling shopping districts in Kuta Beach, Bali. In these more urban settings the pressure to extract something from someone is the prevailing feeling, while in a remote place, the essence of enjoying each others company was more evident. The patience on the part of the locals went above and beyond expectations, given my poor skills in their native tongue.
On another topic, out in the waves as a raw beginner to surfing, having never gone past the white water before, I have a strong and ever present fear of getting put through the wringer if I should find myself in the wrong place.
With patient instruction from Hugh and Shane, I paddled out behind the break at several places in deep water, feeling awed at the amount of water jacking up and rolling through. I tried for a few waves, knowing full well I was too far away to make it. We spent a few days at a wave that was less intimidating, and with just the Khulula crew in the entire bay, it was not too busy. After cajoling and some expertly timed advice, I caught a left hander at the peak and rode the wall right into shallow water. Good times!
Indonesia has been an amazing experience, and the variety of people, places, foods and experiences won’t be forgotten! Thank you to Khulula and her crew.