We spent an entire month in the Kei Islands. Part of our long stay is simply because there is a lot about Kei Islands to enjoy; part of our long stay is our collective indecision about what to do about the Indonesia Visa Conundrum.
As Leslie mentioned a few posts back, the day we checked in with immigration in Tual, we learned we couldn’t get a sixty day visa, but instead only a thirty day visa. This left us with two choices: try to sail all 2000 miles of Indonesia in thirty days, or slow down substantially, make a stop in Timor Leste and obtain a full social visa for our time in Indonesia. With the full social visa, we are likely not going to make it all the way up to Thailand for it’s good weather in January, February, March. So, then what? Skip Thailand and keep going? Can’t do that, one of Andrew’s key locations for this trip is Thailand. This is a conundrum.
Andrew and Leslie asked me my opinion, and even for me it isn’t an easy decision. You see, I am a sailboat. While I am a speedy sailboat, I am still a sailboat. Reality is that even at my max speed, it takes me twenty-four hours to travel the distance a 747 airplane can travel in fifteen minutes. Thus, I am generally of the opinion that exploring slowly is better than going fast. Otherwise, you may as well fly. Then again, I am on a mission out here. I want to circumnavigate. It is my destiny, I must fulfill my destiny. The sooner I finish my circumnavigation, the sooner I will have circumnavigated.
The answer isn’t obvious, so we mull... mull and mull. They go on scuba trips, I bask in the sun, they play Wizard, I spend time with my Little Pirates, Andrew and Leslie eat a lot of barbecued chicken. Soon, twenty days of our thirty day visa has passed.
“Ahem.” I say, on the morning of day twenty-one. “You know, if we are going to go fast, we are going to need to weigh anchor and start going, well, faster.”
Leslie looks up from a blog post she’s typing, she takes a sip of her coffee. “Yeah.” She says.
“Yeah,” Andrew says.
“What are we doing here anyway?” I ask.
At this point, our scuba budget is exhausted and we have moved back to Tual. Our days are unstructured, there are no specific tours or plans we are trying to accomplish. Instead, Andrew and Leslie are spending time writing/thinking/processing pictures/puttering in the morning, eating tasty food, chit-chatting with various friends in the afternoon, and reading at night. When we wake up, we never know what the day will bring, so we don’t even try to plan.
Several days, Andrew puts my comfy chairs into Grin, loads up two adult-beverages into insulated beer coozies and invites Leslie for a joy-ride around the islands.
One morning, we notice a raucous of marching band drums, honking, and crowds on the bridge near where I’m anchored. What’s going on? It’s a parade! The Meiti Kei Festival is schedule to begin the day our non-renewable visa runs out, but apparently, festivities start a whole week in advance of the actual festival. Grin, Andrew and Leslie run to town to catch the parade.
One night, over more drinks at the rainbow village Dapor Kece, the crew learns there is a hip hop festival back over at pasir panjan. So, arrangements are made to share a taxi with new friends Will and Joy on S/V Souljourner. Instead of taking everyone to the Hip Hop Competition, the taxi driver kidnapped my crew and took them to a different beach entirely to have lunch at his friend's restaurant. Andrew had a handstand competition with the local kids. What else could he do?
Eventually they convinced the taxi-driver to take them to the Hip Hop Competition. Just go with the flow, it will work out better than planned. Probably. Maybe.
Once at the proper beach, they watched young women gracefully dance, a traditional island dance with flowing, delicate hand movements. So serene, at least until little brother grabs his inflatable tube and runs through the formation to go for a swim.
You wouldn't think that Kei Islanders would let a good photo opportunity pass, do you?
Once the hip-hop starts, it's like "dancing with the stars". Audiences, judges, teams, announcers, camera men - the whole nine yards! It's serious business.
The next day our friend John (the motorcycle rider who drives with his sixth-sense rather than his eyes) offers to teach us to make his favorite method for sambal i.e. Indonesian pepper sauce. He leads Andrew and Leslie past throngs of Kei Islanders who want pictures, then through a maze of fruit and veggie market to visit his favorite vendor for sambal ingredients. They return to my galley to compile the sauce. WHEW! It was like roasting pepper spray, all of us tear up and choke half to death.
We also coordinate with our friends Ima and Daim for them to come out for a visit. We have a bit of a scheduling snafu involving “today-tomorrow” and “new-tomorrow”. Time is a fluid concept out here. Eventually it worked out. Daim was traveling for business in Ambon, but Ima, her two sisters, and her niece came to visit us. We painted each other’s fingernails and ate watermelon.
One day, a long, skinny boat speeds past me, under paddle-power. Mostly silent, we would have missed it completely, were not for the motorcade following behind, drumming, fluting, cheering, waving flags, and circling around me to say hello. What is going on?
Grin decides he wants to join the motorcade, so he mobilized the crew and they sped off to join the raucous. Ecstatic to see my crew joining them for their festivities, those in the motorcade began calling out "Photo, photo! Selfie!" They wave my crew over with their hand gesture that looks very much like "go away" but really means "come over here." They lean over the edge of their boats, trying to get a good selfie.
My team learns these boats are paddling in from outer islands to join the Meiti Kei festival. There will be more arriving in coming days, and eventually there will be a big race. Every time a boat would come through the harbor, the whole city would come out to greet them. Each time, the crowd shoves my crew to the front (awkwardly so) to let them take pictures and get the full view. Music, cheering, crowds, flag waving, cavalcades of overloaded motorboats, and this isn't even the actual festival. This is the preparation for the festival!
We stay every last moment of our thirty day visa. As we cast off, the crowd of boats following the dragon boats to the race line divert to accompany us out of the harbor. "Where are you going? The festival is just about to begin!" They call out with disappointment. With a combination of hand gestures, the 20 Indonesian words we now know, and the few English words they know, we explain our visas are out of time. They nod with understanding and wave.
"Okay, dada! Dada! Hati-hati! (Goodbye and be careful!)", they say as they watch us go.
And this takes me back to my original question. Should we go fast, or should we go slow? We've talked about Travel Magic before; its unpredictable but it is also the best kind of travel experience. It only seems to happen when you have open space in your schedule to let magic squeeze its way in. We have to complete administrative tasks, and we always want to complete some tourism. We don’t always have the luxury to wait for the magic phase, but when we do, it’s always filled with beautiful surprises.
I think I'll put in my vote to take it slow. We’ll figure out the rest later.