Harvest festival, traditional weaving and the Sultan’s palace 

We were on the third day of the Wonderful West Kalimantan Yacht rally and once again on our small tour bus. 
Sadly only five yachts managed to make it to the rally out of eleven starters. We felt bad that some of the yachts hadn’t even had the courtesy to let the organiser Raymond Lesmana know that they weren’t participating. Others had genuine problems which prevented them from taking part. That’s all part of the cruising life – repairing boats in exotic locations!

The five boats that started the rally were Liberte, Matilda, Shakti, Yantara and Bali Hai. 
After about an hour’s drive we crossed over the river on a small car ferry which reminded me of the Moggill ferry in Brisbane Australia (for those who know it.) It must have held a maximum of eight vehicles and trundled slowly over the fast flowing river. 

Palang Palang (slowly, slowly) across the river

Half a hour later we were at our destination where we welcomed by a huge crowd of people led by percussionists dressed in striking magenta shirts and bright gold coloured sarongs who led us into a large courtyard outside the local mosque. 

A fine welcome!

The men of the village waiting to welcome us

At the entrance all the local signatories lined up to welcome us to their village celebrations – a reenactment of their rice harvest festival. 

The ladies welcomed us with lots of hugs and photos

The village men shook hands with us gravely while the women swarmed us like bees, laughing and jostling, linking arms and spontaneously hugging us. 

Overwhelmed!

It was an overwhelming welcome! 

Canvas shelters had been erected to one side with brightly coloured carpets on the floor for us to sit on. 

Ready for the entertainment

The band struck up another tune and the men in the beautiful magenta and gold costumes started to dance on a raised platform just at the door of the mosque. Then other men started to join them, including the guys from the rally. 

The men from the band dance a welcome
The skipper from Bali Hai after his thank you speech

After a welcome speech and a “thank you” delivered by the skipper of Bali Hai, some delicious food was served and much to the delight of our daughter it was all vegan!  

Lunch is served!

Again there were six dishes to be shared with six people, as The Sambas tradition of “Besaprah” proscribes. The food was delicious and included a variety of rice and nuts and grain based dishes, some dry, some in coconut milk. Most sweetened heavily with palm sugar. 

The skipper from Shakti enjoying the attention
Bali Hai’s skipper and his fans.

After eating we were treated to a demonstration of “mengamping” which is a ritual thanksgiving for the rice harvest. Part of the tradition includes women of the kampong (village) pounding rice in a large mortar made from a leban tree – usually in groups of three.  

Pounding the rice

The pounding (called alok gambang) starts slowly, each person taking their turn and gradually forming a rhythm as they go faster and faster until the music of their pounding starts to fall apart and they rest for a minute before starting again. It sounds easy but it is a skilled activity – as some of us found out when we had a go!

Getting into the rhythm


After watching a dance performance we wandered over to the opposite side of the quadrangle where some stalls were set up and the families were selling various foodstuffs – we bought coffee, some cake made from rice, and some little packets of cereal grains which you could eat with milk or yoghurt like muesli. 

The dancers

It was a chance to have a proper chat with the people in small groups – and of course for everyone to take more photos. 

Meeting the family groups

Too soon it was time to leave and the whole village lined up around the perimeter of the mosque yard. We shook hands with almost every single person and sadly bid farewell. As we left more packs of coffee, rice cake and cereal were thrust into our hands. 
Our next stop was an orchard in Sekura which grew a fruit called Salak which has skin like a snake and a sweet white flesh. Sambas is famous for the quality of its Salak – and we were able to see it growing ad sample the fruit – both fresh and dried. 

In the Salak orchard
There was other fruit growing there too – including mangoes which we had been looking for, without success, in the markets and roadside stalls. 

The biggest mango ever!
Our daughter found the biggest mango we had ever seen – literally the size of a watermelon – which weighed in at over two kilos. 

What a whopper
We set off in the bus again – this time with a mango the size of a small baby and boxes and bags bulging with Salak in different forms. 

Demonstration of traditional weaving
After lunch at a Chinese restaurant on the river, our next stop was at the house of a traditional weaver. There were fabulous pieces of weaving hanging all over the house and we were given a demonstration of weaving on the ancient hand loom. 

The skipper having been in textiles in a previous existence was in his element and found a lovely piece of hand woven cloth to buy and was able to pose with the young lady who had woven it (it took her three weeks!)

Hand woven cloth and the weaver
We left the weavers and headed for the Sultan’s palace where we were able to explore a section that was open to the public. It was built in the 1930’s by Sultan Sulaiman, son of the Central Sultan of Brunei. 

The Sultan’s palace
The Royal chambers
Sadly, it looked as though there had been very little maintenance or care lavished on the building in recent times. Paint was peeling, pieces of decorative work were missing and what furniture there was, frayed and knocked about. 

The decorations were in disrepair

There was one room – the wedding suite – which contained the bridal bed and some costumes, that was of interest but there was an air of decay about the place. This was all the more disconcerting knowing that the Sultan’s extended family still lived there. 

Sunset on the river
We witnessed a splendid sunset over the river before moving on to the library which was the venue for the gala dinner. 

Waiting to go into the gala dinner
This was a much better preserved building in general but the room we were given to change in was dilapidated and had definitely seen better days. 

Wonderful West Kalimantan!
The gala dinner started with drinks and snacks in an entrance hall until the hosts for the night arrived – the Bupati (Chief Minister) and Deputy Bupati (a charismatic and very genial lady who was also a Senator in the Indonesian Government). 

Colourful dancers
There was a buffet meal, a singer and of course, some karaoke when a few people (including the Bupati) sang for us. We were then entertained by some fantastic traditional dancers in colourful costumes. 


Bali Hai’s skipper with the Chief Minister and Deputy Chief Minister

We were each given a beautiful woven stole

By the time the evening ended we had been going over thirteen hours and we were all exhausted but it had been very well worth the long day as we had really got to know Sambas, its customs, its rural districts and the life of its beautiful, exuberant and friendly people. 

Of course we had to dance too!

The hallway of the Library building

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

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