|This was on a very large old map in a restaurant in Nembrala -- how I love old maps.|
|The giantest island to the left is Java. Bali is immediately to the east of Java. In the lower right corner, that tiny|
bit of land holds Darwin, on the northern tip of Australia. We stayed in Nembrala, which is on the
southwest corner of Rote Island.
Anyway. With my lack of imagination for the place, but my limited knowledge of other Indonesian islands, I was absolutely startled by Rote. The people may be poor, I can't find any data on that, but boy are they rich in livestock. The streets were filled with herds of goats, lots of cattle sitting and standing in fields and on school playgrounds, passels of pigs and piglets everywhere including on the beach, some chickens, and occasionally a couple of dogs. The goat population owned the island, it seemed, and they would just stand, sit, lie down in the street and cars would be forced to pick their way through.
|I took this picture as we drove slowly into Nembrala, moving through a big herd of goats that|
would not move despite horn tapping. Nope. Unmoving. Just goats everywhere. And everyone knows
which goats to belong to which person, somehow.
|They also stand around on top of gravestones, on fences, on rocks.|
|We saw a couple dragging something like this -- a yoke? Punishment? No idea.|
One more funny goat story. Apparently one night a car hit and killed a goat, and the driver just kept going -- a hit and run incident. If you kill a goat, you're supposed to pay its owner (and since everyone knows who each goat belongs to, that's pretty simple). Since the driver just split, Derek said that people just fell on the goat and butchered it in the street, carrying off bits and pieces to their own homes. He said he saw a guy walking down the street with a hindquarter on his shoulder, like you do. We never saw pork or goat on any menus, so we asked Derek about it. Christina is Muslim so they don't serve pork at Narrows, but the goats and pigs are just for the people's own consumption, anyway. The male pigs are kept in the backyards of people's homes and fattened up for various ceremonies and festivals. It's not a dairy culture, so they don't milk the animals, nor do they make goat cheese.
I always say that we travel like children, by which I mean we are too shy to ever hire guides, or talk to people very easily, so we see what we see and try to piece it together with everything else we know. It's rare that we meet someone like Derek, who tells us all about a place, but it's wonderful when we do. So we had noticed the prevalence of music on Rote but didn't know much about it. Luckily, on either side of our hotel there were two enormous ceremonies taking place: a funeral to the left, and a wedding to the right. These are around-the-clock ceremonies, each going on for ~48 hours, maybe? Throughout the night, no kidding. The funeral had what is probably some kind of traditional music, handmade on various pipes and metal rings and plates, and the wedding blasted loud dance music from a stack of giant speakers.
I'd guessed this was a funeral, just based on the quiet way
people were gathered. Plastic chairs were placed in rows out in
front of a building, and I saw people standing in the doorway.
The men making the music sat at one end, and we could hear
their music even inside our room. I really loved it, and was
often reminded of the goat bells we heard driving around Crete.
I didn't want to stand too close and take video, but you can still
hear the music. Also: goats of course.
The wedding music was much less nice to hear throughout
the night, and as you got closer to it, the volume made it hard to hear
each other talking. There was a huge set-up underneath
a tarp, and rows and rows of chairs. The music went on
through the day and night but we never saw the place filled with people
We think the final, actual ceremony was held the last night, because
we saw a stage set up with a couch and chairs:
|We assume the bride, groom and important people sat in those satin-draped seats.|
|Improvised traffic cones to divert motorcycle traffic around the wedding party.|
|Inside the tent. Never saw more than a few people sitting there.|
When we were eating our last dinner -- strangely, lobster Thermidor at Narrow, lobster boiled by Derek, sauce prepared by Christina -- they'd arranged a couple of local musicians to come play for us. The traditional instrument is called a sasando, and it's plucked like a harp. The music is sung loud and forcefully; Derek described it like minstrel music, designed to tell stories, news, and to be heard over long distances. I loved the sound of it, and we bought a small sasando as a souvenir.
Two men, singing really nice harmonies, only one plucking
the sasando. I really love this video because you can hear
Marc crunching the lobster shell to get the smaller bits of
meat out. I can also see him in the reflection of the glass
case to the right of the musicians.
So we'd heard a lot of music, but thought each one was just its own thing -- sure, weddings and funerals have music, of course. And sure, there would be indigenous forms of music, like the specifics of the funeral music, and the sasando and the style of their songs, and way of singing. But then we were walking back to the hotel after dinner, in the complete dark, under a pitch black sky filled with stars, and we heard music. On the porch of a house set back from the street, there were maybe 10 young men (we couldn't really see that far, I'm guessing), a couple who had guitars, and they were singing harmony. It was the most beautiful thing, we stood there in the dark, listening, until an old woman staring at us made us leave, for fear that she was either angry at our intrusion or that she was about to invite us to sit with them. I've played this video at least a dozen times already, I love the music so much and how it made me feel about the people on the island:
This was the second video I shot, once I heard the one voice
going high -- I just think it's so very beautiful. Motorcycles were
passing here and there so I couldn't get a very good capture,
but it's good enough to always help me remember that moment,
standing amid goat poop on a dark road in Rote Island, in the far south of
Indonesia, a place I'd never heard of before.
When we were talking to that lovely Australian lawyer when we left Rote, I said something about the music, or maybe she asked if we'd heard the music, and she told us that they all make music constantly, that music is a big part of their culture. That young men will just start singing, out of the blue. How I loved that.
Aside from all the animals, and all the music, the rest of our experience at Rote had to do with our hotel -- whether it was the really gorgeous beach and ocean just beyond, or the truly beautiful swimming pool, or the terrible, terrible guest service we got. Marc had been most looking forward to this place, the Seed Resort, so I felt especially sad about that. The place itself was really stunning:
|We never used them, but there were these two hammocks in the bathroom area. That's the shower just behind.|
|Me and Elena Ferrante, together again this time in Indonesia|
|The restaurant is behind me here, and our room off to the behind-left. Sitting at this end of the pool you see the ocean.|
|The placement made for some wonderful images -- I was walking past the pool as the|
sun was going down, heading to the beach to take pictures, and caught this reflection.
|such beautiful flowers|
Since their menu was so limited, we were so glad Marc had done some research ahead of time and had found the two local restaurants: Narrows, and Becky Boos. The food at Becky Boos was AMAZING, and we only got to eat there once unfortunately. We tried a second time, but they were closed for a big party unfortunately, and our last night we felt kind of obligated to eat at Narrows because Derek and Christina had been so helpful to us in arranging our departure.
|That's the kitchen behind Marc -- we had grilled fish (mine just grilled, Marc's with some kind|
of sauce), and they were done absolutely perfectly. Definitely the best food in Nembrala!
|the animal was SO gorgeous -- Derek told us the tropical lobster is a vegetarian! Who knew!|
The white sand beach was endlessly wonderful, whether the tide was in (and so we could easily swim and float in it) or out (and so we could walk far out). The tide schedule was mysterious to us, and we could never figure it out. It didn't relate in any way to a predictable timetable, although I'm sure it's predictable to people who live there.
|white sand and giant blue skies filled with puffy clouds|
|low-ish tide here|
|lower-ish tide here|
|medium-level tide -- those poles were visible, but there was some water around the tied-up small boats|
|shell loot from our very first walk! It turned out to be the best walk for finding shells of our whole time there,|
so I'm very glad I collected these.
|Now HERE is low tide. So low, amazing. And a big rainstorm on the horizon, which was always my favorite|
thing. I love seeing big weather systems in the distance -- my childhood roots on the Texas plains, I guess.
|We didn't see dogs all that often, but these two were playing up and down the beach, chasing each other and frolicking|
(like piggies) in the water. So cute.
|Although he did actually swim in the ocean when the tide was higher, a couple of times, here we got to just|
sit and float in the very shallow water. It was so clear! And I've never seen SO MANY STARFISH in my life. Wow.
|The water was so clear, so beautiful, and when the tide was low, so warm!|
|I wouldn't have wanted to step on this empty shell.....|
|Or this living one, sitting in the water with a bit of algae attached.|
|Just so many starfish, you couldn't take a step without having to watch out for them. This one was WEIRD, six legs.|
|I said, "Look honey, this starfish is lying on top of another starfish!" He gave me a look, and then I|
|Most were sand-colored, but we saw a couple of different kinds, like this one....|
|and this one.|
|There were endless racks of seaweed drying in the sun, all along the beach|
And of course the sunsets were also amazing.
|Not as dramatic as on the Lombok beach for sure, but lovely. Australians say the sea 'sparkles' and I saw that.|
|the deep blues were gorgeous -- and always I love seeing distant weather|
|This particular evening, the sky was actually this gorgeous lavender color.|
|Here's some nice color|
The little village of Nembrala was kind of adorable and very colorful. The homes were often painted bright, lovely colors, and the graves were often decorated in colorful tiles too.
|Kind of Miami Beach colors -- always deeply saturated pastel tones|
|Between the regularity of palm trees, with coconuts littering the ground (I always thought they were skulls), and|
their use of these volcanic rocks as stone walls, there's a certain messiness to the look but I really liked it a lot.
|Graves seemed to be placed in people's yards. These were just plain concrete.|
|LOTS of crosses on Rote (and West Timor) -- but here, they often come with goat. :)|
|This set, at a crossroads, featured a 2D painted Jesus on the center cross. We didn't see that anywhere else.|
One morning we went out for a bike ride and turned down a very quiet road that ran parallel to the beach. It was really beautiful. We had a great time on Rote, together.
|happy me, during a pause on our bicycle morning, and....|
|happy us, playing in the ocean|
The whole thing with leaving the island was a complete nightmare. There was something going on with the hotel management, which was a new set of people, we'd heard. Each person told us a different story, no one seemed able to (or interested in) getting any information for us, and each encounter felt like a Magic 8 ball: What would they say this time? When Marc was setting up the trip, someone affiliated with the hotel had presented us the ferry schedule, which was a precisely timed thing according to that person. And so he used that information to arrange our flights. This was essentially the end of our trip -- we were to take the ferry (one scheduled trip that morning) to Kupang, where we would then fly to Denpasar for one night, and then take our complicated set of flights home.
But it was apparently impossible to know when the ferry would run, according to the women at the desk. This wasn't helped by the complete lack of Internet, and then for several hours there was no communication at all for the island, no telephone or Internet connection anywhere because the satellite (or whatever) was down. So we couldn't check for ourselves, and were depending on them. At various times we were told:
- It's impossible to know.
- It leaves at 8:30.
- It leaves at 2.
- It depends.
- There is no ferry.
- It leaves at 9.
- It leaves at 11, maybe.
- It's impossible to know.
Well, we had a flight in Kupang to catch, and if there was in fact only one ferry that day we needed to be on it. Each time they told us something, they told us with certainty (even the "it's impossible to know" answer was a certain answer). Finally they told us a time of the ferry and allegedly arranged a car to take us to the ferry (or "promised" to do so), which was an hour away -- and when Marc pressed, would the driver really be there, she said "Yes of course!" which made Marc laugh because he'd emailed them three times arranging a ride TO the hotel when we arrived, each one assuring him that they would be there to get us, and of course no one was there to get us. When the woman asked Marc why he laughed when she said of course, and he told her, she said, "Well, but that was just a miscommunication that time." Insane-making.
So we were at Narrows, talking to Derek and trying to get information about the ferry, and he said yes of course it's knowable. Weather might influence the schedule of course, but it's a knowable schedule. And then Christina asked if she'd like us to arrange a ride, and oh, would we also like a ride from the ferry in Kupang (on West Timor!), and like that it was all arranged. Snap. She called Nixon, who picked us up at 7:30 on our last morning. We were surprised to see him, because he's the same driver we had found on the ferry dock when we arrived and the hotel wasn't there to pick us up -- what a coincidence, the same guy.
At the ferry, he helped us get our tickets, and we did in fact get off roughly on schedule. (The ferry always seems to leave one hour late.) We got to Kupang, and the same driver who picked us up for La Hasienda picked us up again -- oh, and there had been some drama with La Hasienda, apparently. A long-term guest at the hotel had been running a scam, renting a car and then hocking it, and then it turned out that the guest was actually an Indonesian woman masquerading as a man. The police arrested one of the drivers for La Hasienda because the driver had been innocently driving the guest around, as they do for all their guests, so he was eventually released but had been caught up in that drama. We didn't know if it was our driver or not, but he was very friendly -- though quite irritated by traffic.
Since we had several hours to kill before our flight, he dropped us off at a fancy mall and we got some lunch (Christina had recommended this). The restaurant was funny; there was a large display of various foods, and you just pulled out a little card for each thing you wanted to order, then you gave the stack of your selected cards to a waitress and the food was prepared fresh.
|Since no one spoke ANY English, it was very helpful! We could see what the food looked like, and the card|
did all our communication for us. We ordered tofu, and fish, and green beans, with rice. The food was hot
and very good. And very spicy!
We got to the airport with more than enough time to spare, lots of time to sit and wait -- which I never mind, since I read and knit. But the seats were uncomfortable, and the airport was small and crowded....and then the rain hit. HARD.
Flights were being delayed and canceled left and right.
We finally did get on our flight to Denpasar, luckily.
|This is such a familiar moment for me -- with a few more headscarved women than usual of course.|
Marc and I sitting on a plane, aisle and window, watching and hoping no one holds the seat between us.
Anyway. Rote Island was wonderful, beautiful, very special. When I remember it, I think I'll remember goats and those boys singing in the dark, and I'll always smile.