Anal Laut

Trip Start Aug 11, 2011
Trip End Sep 08, 2012

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Flag of Indonesia  ,
Monday, June 4, 2012

Our travel fixer in Lombok is a bloke named Wawan - pronounce his name as you would "Warren", but add an impediment to the 'rr' and you have it. He's an ebullient, enthusiastic 32 year old Lombok man, a Sasak, who looks and behaves much younger than he is. He is married with two children and while his family lives in the main city of Mataram, he is busy building a little travel business on the south coast of the island at Kuta. He has a boss and mentor in the form of Mr Sam, an experienced guide and small time tour operator based in Mataram, and between the two of them they have embraced the idea of our boat trip with open arms, and no doubt dollar signs rolling across their eyes like fruit in a poker machine. But we are aware of this and have already decided to spend the money to charter a private vessel to take us across a big section of the Indonesian Archipelago.

The fact of the matter is, we like Wawan, he's funny and very friendly, not just with us but with anyone, local or foreign, that crosses his path. Although we occassionally feel like we are looked upon as human ATMs, we are also happy to let Wawan do the running around and make the phone calls neccessary to organise the voyage. Once the ball is rolling and the day of departure nears, Sheila invites him to come with us on the trip. We half expected a no, instead he leaps at the opportunity and says he would love to - for us there is an spoken assumption that this will also constitute his tip, apart from us buying him the odd meal or drink.

The night before we leave we meet up at Wawan's little Kuta office for coffee and fresh young coconut milk, served by his Aunty who owns a souvenir shop next door. We aren't particularly surprised when Wawan introduces us to his friend, Barry, and asks if he can come too. What the hell, as long as it doesn't cost us anymore, we don't mind at all. Barry, who carries the Facebook name of Barry Ndut - Fat Barry, is a charming and smiley guy, a bit younger than Wawan and an old friend from college, both men speak excellent English and after our refreshments we feel quite comfortable with the thought of them both accompanying us on the boat. 

When it comes to souvenirs in this part of Indonesia, there really is only one thing that stands out amongst all the bracelets, T-shirts and wood carvings - 'Ikat'. This is the traditional woven cloth that is found throughout the east half of the Indonesian Archipelago (Nusa Tenggara), from Lombok right across to West Timor. Good Ikat should be hand woven, by women, on small looms that they operate while sitting on the floor. The colours are obtained from natural dyes such as Indigo (blue) and bark of the kombu tree (rusty red), and the cloth is either handspun cotton (the best) or for finer work, locally made, shop bought cotton. The designs, like all native art have meanings that often escape us literal westerners. Wawan's aunty has lots of Ikat in her shop (they all do), from small scarves to double bed spreads.  We buy a large colourful spread from her, ultimately a souvenir, but also to use as a spare blanket while on the boat. With Ikat in hand, coconuts drained and bags packed we are ready to hit the high seas.

Next morning we are driven to Mataram by Wawan's associate, Gerry (of Gerry Travel), and deposited at Mr Sam's house. It's a hive of activity at Sam's, his wife and his 'men' scurry about in preparation to take us to the port. Sam has even gone out and bought us a big double bed mattress for our cabin, along with various bags of food, cases of bottled water, a crate of beer and a bottle of the local firewater, Arak. When all is ready we all pile into Sam's big minibus and set off down the road. We don't go far - we stop at a restaurant for our first lunch of the trip - then, at last, we are off.

It's a long way across Lombok, from west to east. The roads are narrow and most of the population of the island (about three million) live in villages and towns along this road. As we near the west coast Sam pulls over, saying he is going to buy a couple of chickens for us to feast on during our trip. He returns with a sack containing the rock hard frozen chooks and it is not until I hear the bag cluck that I realise the hens are still well and truly alive, at least they are fresh. 

We arrive at the Port of Lombok at about three in the afternoon and drive onto the dock. Our boat and its crew are waiting for us. The vessel is a long, white-painted wooden boat, its fore-deck covered by a shady blue canopy. It has a high pointy prow and a wooden superstructure containing the wheelhouse, galley, bathroom and accommodation for us and the crew. Sheila is, as usual, suddenly overcome by boat fear - "How are we going to get on it?" she cries - the tide is out and the boat is floating well below the dock. This is no problem as the crew pull the bow up to the edge of the dock and manhandle us all down onto the deck, along with our supplies, mattress, pillows and chickens.

Once safely on board Sheila, Wawan, Barry and I sit on the deck, out of the way, while Sam, his wife and the crew sort everything out. This boat is the same vessel used for the rough and ready backpacker tours and as such, there is no private cabin for us on board. But the ever resourceful Indos create one in the large metre high space above the wheelhouse. They hoist our mattress up there and rig up a curtain for privacy. As an extra touch of luxury we are given brand new linen with a flashy Stars and Stripes pattern. Our bags are put up there, the beer and soft drinks are put in a couple of big ice chests, food is stowed and our chickens are rehoused in a wooden box that is hung over the stern of the boat. Finally, at about 4pm, we wave goodbye to Mr and Mrs Sam, and the crew cast off. 

I then notice the name of the boat painted on the front of the wheelhouse - The Anal Laut.

Anal Laut, we are later told, means something like Child of the Sea (Anal - Child; Laut - Sea), but I can't help sniggering at the name. It's a spotlessly clean vessel, painted white all over with blue tarps providing shade and wind breaks over the otherwise open deck. Our 'cabin' is accessed via a wooden ladder from the main deck, or through a hatch in the rear, a short cut to the 'bathroom'. It's not a bathroom actually - just small room at the stern containing a western style toilet and a large bucket of salt water and a ladle used to flush it (this is very common in Asia, it's called a 'mandi'). There is a big open window here which provides a great view when you are on the loo and outside of which our chickens are dangling in their new seaside home.

The captain and crew are a cheery bunch of Indonesian men. The Captain is named Ahmed, he doesn't speak English but he is very amiable and laid back, he also chain smokes the ubiquitous Indonesian Garam cigarettes. There are six other members of the crew, all young men except for Ali Ba who is possibly in his 40s. One of them, whose name I could never get right, (is it Sali, or Ari?) is our cook and guide for the trip. The others are named  Arwabi, Ruben, Dian and Quiyan. It is early days as we leave the safety of Lombok Harbour and it takes us a while to get to know all these blokes but we have Wawan and Barry as fellow passengers and interpreters and there is nothing more for us to do than sit back and enjoy the voyage.

Once out of the harbour we meet the full force of the sea as Indian Ocean swells and a howling sou-wester rips up the wide channel between Lombok and the next island in the chain - Sumbawa. The crossing is pretty rough with huge swells heaving the wooden boat around while the wind showers warm sea spray across the deck. Sheila's petrification is complete when a rogue wave washes across the deck. The Captain grins nonchalantly at the wheel. The crew ease things by drawing a blue tarp curtain across the windward side of the deck and unfurling a tattered blue foresail to help keep the boat on true course. The big diesel down below chugs reliably away and with the wind and seas gradually abating as we cross behind the northern edge of Sumbawa, I really feel like I'm in my element

We look behind us and see the sun setting behind Mt Rinjani on Lombok, while ahead, a full moon rises over Sumbawa - this is the life. Well after dark we finally drop anchor behind a long, flat island just of the coast of Sumbawa. Sali and the crew then bring out a large woven mat and our dinner. We four passengers sit cross-legged on the deck and woof down Sali's tasty stir fries and nasi, down a couple of beers and stretch out on deck to enjoy an after dinner cigarette and contemplate our fortunate situation.

Everyone goes to bed early. We climb up to our crawl space cabin and slip under our ikat blanket and are soon dead to the world. At 2am the engine starts up, the anchor is hoisted and we head off on our easterly course. Sheila and I drop off back to sleep, there's nothing to see or do in the dark, until the boat begins heaving again. It's very rough and rocky and would be less noticable if Mr Sam hadn't left the plastic protector on top of the new mattress. With every rock of the boat we slide down the mattress then back again. Sheila is not liking it and seeks constant reassurance that the boat won't tip over. I don't know the answer to this, but I do intend to remove the plastic mattress cover as soon as I can see what I'm doing.

Just before dawn, sitting out on the open bow deck, drinking strong black Lombok coffee, and watching the red sun rise over the sea, is something I'll always remember. At about 8am we pull into a glassy cove at Pulau Moya, a small island off Sumbawa. Sali serves breakfast and then it's time for our first 'activity.' The crew launch the "ship's boat," a rather unreliable looking dugout canoe. All the younger ones, plus Wawan and Barry are ferried to the shore, leaving the captain and Ali-ba to sleep after the night's journey. Sheila and I snorkel our way to shore. The water is crystal clear and even at this early hour is surprisingly warm. We don't even think of sharks, just put on our masks and drop into the sea. There's not much to see, the coral is not so good, so we carry on to shore where the boys are gathered. We then follow Sali on a trail through the jungle for about a kilometre till we come to a waterfall, cascading over unusual limestone rock formations. 

This is our one and only chance for a freshwater wash on the trip and everyone takes advantage of it, soaping up in the clear cool pools then rinsing off in the showering spray. We monkey about for half an hour or so before heading back to the dugout and back out to the the Anal Laut. Then Captain Ahmed steers a course along the Sumbawan coast for several hours until we arrive at another island, Pulau Satonda,a National Park. By now it's hot and it's a great relief to dive off the boat and snorkel to shore over colourful coral gardens. This small forested island is an extinct volcano and in its centre there is a large freshwater lake. There are a half dozen Indonesian day trippers here and the place is obviously a popular destination, judging from the amount of litter scattered about. Still, we avert our eyes to this desecration and begin the long hike up to the top of the mountain. Wawan, Barry and Sheila drop by the wayside as the trail gets very steep and slippery and I too eventually stop as the heat is extreme. We head back down to the lake where it is traditional to make a wish and hang a rock from the tree branches next to the magic and sacred waters. 

Sheila and I swim back to the boat and lunch, then we all stretch out on deck mats for an afternoon siesta as the Anal Laut continues on its course - we will be travelling now for the rest of the day and right through the night before we drop anchor again. The scenery along this part of the Sumbawan coast is spectacular. The lsland appears almost uninhabited, except for the odd wisp of smoke or patch of cultivation. There is a mighty volcano here, Guning Tambora, its green slopes are draped in clouds which break apart to reveal steep slopes and chasms. It dominates our starboard view for many hours.

The sea is calm overnight and with the mattress plastic removed we get a good sleep. Arising at dawn, we see the landscape has changed once again. Gone are the green tropical mountains, replaced by steep rolling hills covered in golden grasses. The area resembles parts of New zealand, its true location only given away by the forests of palm trees concentrated in seaside valleys. We pass through a narrow gap between two headlands and find ourselves in a beautiful circular bay. We drop anchor here and after breakfast Sheila and I are once more prompted to snorkel to the shore on Pulau Matagateh, while Barry is ferried in on the dugout by a crew member. There is some great coral and fish in this bay and we plan to check out more of the reef later, but first there's a mountain to climb.

It's early and cool and the slope of the hill is in shadow. Plus there are no trees, it should be easy. The three of us begin our ascent and halfway up the trail becomes steep and difficult, all crumbling rocks and slippery gravel. Leaving Sheila and Barry sitting on a rock, I continue, determined to reach the top. When I do my reward is breathtaking - a vast world spreads out below me, it looks miniature, with the Anal Laut sitting over turqouise waters and the tiny sliver of the dugout just visible. To the west I can see the active volcanic island Pulau Sangeang which we passed in the night, and to the east, across a sun splashed, liquid silver sea, sits what must be one of the world's most unusual island habitats - Komodo, home of the legendary dragon. I'm on top of the world.
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