My name is Katerina. Let me tell you a story from Alor. I found about this beautiful region from my acquaintanceship on Facebook with Lukas, a student who lives in Kalabahi.
From the photos on his wall, I saw an exotic and secluded land in a eastern equatorial country. Sea men, surrounded by mysterious forests, and inland tribes guarded by the spirits of their ancestors.
Lukas is a shy boy, and his English isn’t too good, but he looked very excited when he picked me up.
He became a language connection to the taxi drivers at the airport. I know that he is trying to be a good friend.
So this is Alor, a small island in northern west timor, at the end of the little archipelago of flores.
Sea gives all its wealth to humans, fish, biota and their beauties. Humans become the most prosperous creatures on earth. They can enjoy and even take for their needs. However, if it all started in greed, young humans will only become wasted generations.
For visitor who are concerned about creature comforts, it would be better to wait a while. There is nothing here, even close to star-rated accommodations. But there are local inns that have spring beds and hot water. Not four-star, but fine. Lukas introduced me to Marlon on that morning. He’s been working part-time as a guide for tourists. I think he’s the only one who speaks good English on the island.
At the bay where Kalabahi City ensconces, a dive boat, owned by an Australian rover, brought us out to Pura Island.
The voyage was two hours to the first diving spot, where we saw a lot of fish traps made of woven bamboo, called bubu.
These Alorese children, from generation to generation, learn from their natural environment.
They wear homemade goggles made of wood, pitch and salvaged glass chipped into circles.
They have learned to respect the future in a prudent manner. Taking as needed, and leaving for others. It’s simple, but not all can do the same.
These dive locations that have been explored up till now are concentrated around three islands lying between Alor and Pantar, Buaya Island in the north, Ternate Island in the middle and Pura Island in the South.
Most of the sites show excellent wall profiles, dropping to 50 meters or more. Soft corals, sponges and invertebrates cover the wall, like a a solid, multi-hued mass of life. Several reef fishes swam around, but others slept, oblivious to the humans.
The keen eyes of my dive guide, pick out Anemone shrimp look that like a mimic anemone, Clownfish and their sea anemone host and a shy porcelain crab. But my heart is stunned when I spotted a colubrine sea snake poke its head behind the sponge, in search of food.
Visibility is excellent, variying from a 15 meters to 40 meters horizontally. Most locations are suitable for divers, but some require experience, because of the strong current.
Since most of the dive sites are on the steep outer walls of fringing reefs, the access is usually just a matter of a short ride by a powered boat.
The dive boat currently used is a 14 meter by 4 meter traditional timber vessel, much the same as is locally used as an inner island ferry. It has been modified to include such comforts as toilet and diving ladders.
People call these bamboos ‘bubu’. A fish trap found only on this island. The principle is simple. Only fish of a have certain size can enter this trap. Thus, small fish are left to live and breed. Although, one day, they too might became human meals. That’s how nature works.
This Bubu is from their ancestors. They even don’t even know exactly when the first time this Bubu was here.
Since a long time ago the whole community have been using Bubu. This Bubu won’t damage the marine ecosystems.
It won’t damage the coral reefs. There are only certain fish that they catch. Thus, not all the fish.
Lukas is the present generation. He will inherit the beauty of the nature and the ocean as well as the future of this island. He has a dream to leave the island and continue his education at a college in Java. It will be his asset to build this island someday. It’s not impossible that someday he wants to be a fishery engineer.
Diving over a tropical coral reef has been compared to stepping into a time machine. You find yourself in a strange place, millions of years out of sync with the land. The myriad of fish and invertebrates that shelter among and encrust the rugged surfaces provided by clumps, shelves and branches of corals are overwhelming in their numbers, shapes and colors.
Nowhere else is there such a diversity of animal forms. The presence of large gorgonians, crinoids, and school of anthias indicates plankton-rich water, which can provide a spectacular concentration of marine life.
Reef building corals require large amounts of sunlight, and thus are only found in the tropics, and in shallow water. The indo-pacific region, centered around the islands of Indonesia, harbors most of the world’s coral reef.
Alor isn’t just the sea. This island has mountains and forests. Alor has a traditional village, Takpala.
Takpala can be reached by motorbike taxis. If by public transport, from Kalabahi Terminal we can get on a bus reached to Bukapiting and get off in Takalelang. The trip from Takalelang to Takpala takes around 15 minutes on foot.
Bapak Dores, the Indigenous Elder, is welcoming at the gate of the village. He might look scary with a hard face and a log beard. But really he is very friendly.
As a traditional village, Takpala has 12 custom homes and is a tourist destination of Alor that has been laid out pretty well. There is no admission fee at all for entering Takpala. A very simple life can be found here. The community rely on their daily needs on forest products. So, when visiting during the day, the atmosphere of the village seems deserted because all people go into the woods to look for life necessities.
If you like, there is a welcome dance performed en masse, holding hands in a circle. Drumming gong and moko to accompany in the dynamic movements of the dancers.
As you might expect, the road can climb to a height of 600 feet above the sea level. Nevertheless, the journey feels good. In addition to the cool air, the group’s eyes are spoiled by the green plantation of hazelnuts, cloves, coffees, teak, mahogany, johar and sandalwoods on either side of the road.
A marriage ceremony. In any part of the ceremony is interesting to watch. There is a kind of metal vessel that looks similar to the bubu, the bamboo trap. I asked Marlon about the object. He told me that no one knows where the objects come from. Yes, sometimes traditions emerge from hidden secrets.
Bubu harvesting process is a fun process for Alorese children. They are exicited to bring bubu to the beach, imagining the harvest from the fish caught. Some will be sold to the market, even some will become food for the family. Sometimes some of the fish are even released because they are not sold nor eaten. Nothing goes to waste. Kalabahi Market becomes the transaction place of the marine products from Alor. Including from Bubu
… life is a series of various events.. Ternate Island is a home to perseverance of famous woven fabric makers. When looking the beauty of a wofen fabric sheet. You understand that such care and depth of heart so that is required such stunning colors.
The underwater life is a voiceless beauty. It’s like meditation procession, silent to our ears but scattering colors in our eyes. Moving according to nature’s will.
The reefs here are basically untouched. A very little damage from fish bombing is visible, in part because the reefs are so steep and drop off so near the shore.
The variety of marine life here is excellent. Clouds of anthias swarm arround. A mantis shrimp, Some divers call these “ thumb-splitters “ in praying position just watching my move.
The strong current that continuosly sweeps the area bring nutrients to the invertebrates and small fish, which serve as good for medium size fish
The ecosystems is self-sustaining if we treat it wisely.
…time never changes. We interpret the changes.
Morning, noon, evening and night again. And morning again
Home, back to where we come from. So much time spent tracking that journeys and stories. From the colors of the ocean depths that give countless dimensions to the tribe’s wisdom in facing the many changes of civilization.
I just wish Lukas was here. Lukas I sthe one who brought me here. Introduced me to a new world that reflects so much diversity and wealth. For me, this is true civilization, when we still love and respect the environment.
( as told by Katerina )