It is rather disconcerting when you read on the chart “Caution - An area prohibited to foreign vessels surrounding Buru extends about 10 miles from the coast”. The Sail2Indonesia rally have been invited by the Regency of South Buru to visit their island - the first foreign sailing boats to be allowed such an honour in recent times. The doors have been previously closed as Buru was a place of exile for people of the communist party. We anchored off Namrole, the main town, early in the morning on our 31st wedding anniversary. We were given a wonderful welcome with lots of curious locals calling “halo mister” - again, we were as interesting to them as they are to us. A group of ‘guides’ who have a little english were tasked to look after us and were incredibly helpful - Sara went into the village one afternoon to try to buy some bananas and before long she was on the back of a moped (only the driver had a helmet) being whisked off to a market having been told how much to pay. Adventurous or stupid - who knows but she survived and returned with bananas galore.
The organised programme of events in Buru was very interesting but exhausting - lots of speeches and dances and every village wanted a piece of the action. One day we visited four villages! At each we were met by the village elders, addressed in their local dialect and dances were performed before the constant request for photos. We were amazed by the number and quality of cameras and I-phones the local villagers have. Although, after 3 days, this got a little wearing we had some wonderful experiences - crossing rivers by duen (bamboo rafts) to get to Waenalut village, swimming in a sacred waterhole, being invited to look in the houses of the Rumah Tiga people, eating local food prepared by the ladies of the villages all laid out on the beach (palm fronds make excellent buffet tables) and exploring the mountainous, densely vegetated island. We visitors piled into rather hot minibuses with plastic seats while the Indonesian dignitaries that accompanied us were in smart SUV’s. To get back from one particular village that we had to hike to we took a local boat ride home - quite an experience - very hairy - wet and fast and fun.
The final closing ceremony and dinner was hosted by the Regent (top man) of South Buru - lots more speeches (in Bahasa) and dances, but the biggest surprise of the night was when the Regent, who did not seem to have a word of english, got up and blasted out an amazingly good rendition of ‘My Way’ - eat your heart out Frank!
The people of Buru are desperate to tempt tourists to their shores and it is a beautiful island with great potential, but a lot of infrastructure is needed before it can really appear on the tourist map. Along with many of the remoter Indonesian islands they have a lot to offer but need not necessarily frequent, but reliable transport on and off island and places for people to stay comfortably. On Tulu we have the best of both - a warm friendly welcome but a comfy refuge at the end of the day. Next, they need to sort out the bureaucracy and ever changing inconsistent immigration and customs rules - good luck with that!
After frantic Buru we set sail overnight for the hopefully rather more relaxing Wakatobi.......