Indonesian Ferries: possession is nine-tenths of the law

Not trusting to the vagaries of shonky inter-island passenger ferries, I scheduled my visit to Sumba so that I could move on to Sabu, an even drier and poorer island in NTT, on the fortnightly PELNI boat. Needless to say, just for this one fortnight, PELNI is having the barnacles scrubbed off it. The shonky ferries are “lagi kosong” — “currently lacking”, a phrase that strikes horror into the traveler’s heart in much the same way that “rail replacement bus…


Mystery sandal slashers

Note to self: don’t leave sandals outside your room when you’ve had a scrap with the room boy and barked at the dog. Though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the dog that left my slashed sandals peeping neatly out of the bin outside my room…


Twenty years on: warrior-in-waiting heads Sumba village

For my 30th birthday, my mother framed school reports from the time I was 12 or 13. “Elizabeth is far too fond of the sound of her own voice” and “she sometimes sails too close to the wind for comfortable passage in the flotilla.” Are we really set in stone by the time we reach our teens? I had cause to wonder this week, as I wandered West Sumba in search of people whose photos I had taken 20 years…


Death to the budget! Graves in Sumba

Sumba is a graveyard of bodies and good intentions. Physically, it is littered with impressive megalithic tombs and their hideous modern counterparts. Financially, it is littered with development projects that haven’t quite developed anything. “Megalithic” sounds ancient, and many are, but they are still being built today. The tomb in the photo above was built in the 1970s; it took several hundred people the best part of a year to drag the stones on wooden rollers from the quarry to…


Moncong putih: nyoblos atau main belakang?

With individuals and political parties jumping in and out of bed with one another with gay abandon, it’s quite hard for a new (re)arrival to figure out what’s going on in Indonesian politics. I am somewhat incorrectly on the record as a supporter of PDIP (a story too long to tell, but perhaps this banner, modified ahead of the last election, will give an idea…). I thus have to express dismay at the apparent bullying of PDIP in its former…


Spinning around Sumba

Sumba is well known for its weaving; back in the day, villagers used to wait til the pods of the kapok tree kapas bush burst open to yield their cotton, then patiently spin it in to thread with nothing but a little wooden top (a jenny? am I making that up?) gyrating on a broken plate fragment. It’s rare these days. Trying to follow all the steps involved described by Mama Lakabobo, shown here with a whole year’s production, I…


Repel hazardous trespasser!

You can see the hazardous trespasser reflected in the glass. For what it’s worth, a more correct translation would read: For our mutual well-being, please wear your ID card. Perhaps they are worried about all the dodgy visitors going cap in hand to the top floor of the building, home of the Ford Foundation, which funds all sorts of hazardous enterprises, including programmes that aim to increase accountability in government.


Yoga in Bali: to laugh or to cry?

Ubud is an expatirate encampment in the hills of Bali made famous by a dashing Brazilian who rode in on a white charger and saved Elizabeth Gilbert from boring the world to death with sun salutations. And it’s here that I’m suffering an attack of incurable Yoga Rage. In a town where it is virtually impossible to get Indonesian school books or a pair of sandals without beadwork, there are a dozen or more shops selling yoga kit. Touchy feely…


Waiting for SBY

The most common activity for any traveller in Indonesia is, without question, waiting around. One of the next most common activities is guessing WHY we’re waiting around. Sometimes, the ferry captain forgets the waters are tidal and a ferry will get stranded on its belly for six or eight hours. Sometimes, one has to wait until the bus driver’s mother-in-law has finished her dinner. This weekend, I spent several hours waiting for The President. Me, I just had to wait…


Hair today, gone tomorrow

There’s only so much of one’s time one can spend thinking about other people’s sex lives. I feel as though I’ve been doing it for a very long time — there’s more than you want to know about it over at The Wisdom. Now for something completely different. For the next year or so, I’ll be rediscovering an old passion: Indonesia. I brushed against it 30 years ago, and fell properly in love in the late 1980s, when I worked…