The Road to Indigo

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Fabric speaks to me. I collect it, stash it, feel it. Antique European linens, worn Irish cloth, functional and timeless, faded Ikat from Java, Sumatra and Flores, woven wall hangings from Myanmar, mid-century Japanese Kimono sprinkled with shibori, or little fabric offcuts featuring sacred cranes, plush velvet Italian betrothal bedspreads, alive with colour and kitsch cherubin, or hand worked pillow cases and curtains from the antique market in Arezzo in Italy, embroidered table cloths, ancient filet crochet edging with worked in stories, words or historical events, crocheted jug covers featuring Dolly-Varden shells and beaded weights, Indian silk saris and long dupatta scarves, visiting every floor of a Sari shop in India: fabric hunting is a central part of my journey. It is often the history of women’s work, or a window into a culture, or one that is about to become obsolete, that appeals so much.

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Hand dyed indigo fabric is a recent addition to my textile addiction. I discovered some wonderful indigo fabrics at the Chatuchak ( Cha-Cha) Market in Bangkok in 2013. The following year, I toured an indigo factory in Dali, on the banks of Erhai Lake, Yunnan, China. And this year, I found another small producer of hand died indigo clothing on the banks of the Mekong River, in Chiang Khan, Thailand, as well as some lovely long lengths of deep indigo died linen in the back streets of the Warorot market, in Chiang Mai.

My next step is to learn this ancient art and dye my own cloth. I envisage drifts of indigo muslin, irregular in colour, floating in the summer breeze.Thanks Ailsa for this week’s travel theme, Fabric, at Where’s My Backpack. If I dug out all the representatives of my fabric collection, this post might fill a book.

New Year’s Eve. Home and Away, 2014.

As I cast a lazy summer’s eye over the year that was 2014, one thing stands out clearly. We travelled a lot. Overseas trips were interspersed with hard work at home, followed by more travel to recover. Mr T and I made an early New Year’s Resolution to travel less in 2015, but I have noticed some overseas bookings creeping into the 2015 calendar: only because the fares are so ridiculously cheap and because we are irresponsible old gypsies at heart.

Our year away begun in January with two weeks spent in West Java and Sumatra. The highlights of this trip included time spent with my old friend Banardi and his partner, Adam in their house in the mountains near Puncak, West Java. Daily cooking lessons were the highlight of this trip as well as spending time with B’s family. Lake Toba, Sumatra was an exotic side trip and an intriguing foray into Batak culture.

B cooks up ma storm in his Indo kitchen
Banardi ,the barefoot chef ,cooks up a storm in his Indo kitchen
Chinese New Year in Jakarta with B's Family.
Chinese New Year in Jakarta with B’s Family.

Thanks Banardi and Adam, but also our big thanks goes to B’s family, especially Baria and family, Tony and Li Li and all B’s extended family, who made our stay so special.

Side trip to Lake Toba, Sumatra. Our xx by the shore,
Side trip to Lake Toba, Sumatra. Our losmen by the shore.
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Lake Toba from our terrace.

After returning to Melbourne, we soon set up camp in our family compound by the sea on the Mornington Peninsula. This annual camp is as old as Methuselah and involves four generations of family members. As we travel between homes, our regular home and our ‘canvas’ trailer by the sea, various family members and guardian angels take care of things left behind at either end. Thankyou for watering our garden and looking after our chooks, and thanks to the ‘guardians’ down by the sea.

Family Play time
Family play time
Gloriuos sunsets of Port Phillip Bay
glorious sunsets of Port Phillip Bay

In May we set off for our annual trip to New Zealand. The North Island is still wonderfully clement in May, and as the prices for hiring a motor home plummet to $30 a day, it’s a mere hop, step and jump to fly to Auckland and then on to the glorious bays of the North. The natural scenery in New Zealand is breathtaking. And the local seafood is pretty tasty too. We have decided that NZ is not to be classed as an overseas trip since we share the same sea and a few relatives¬†as well. Thanks Rachael, Andrew and Renato for monitoring things at home.

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I’m always keen to hunt for shellfish!

On returning from New Zealand, things turned rather cold in Melbourne and it was just as well we had our holiday booked for Thailand, China and Indonesia. After a few days experiencing Bangkok and its Coup, we headed off to China for a few weeks in Yunnan province and then a further two weeks with our wonderful friends, Tia and Carol in Chengdu, Sichuan Province.¬†The food, the glorious days in ancient walled cities: China stole my heart. Thanks Tia and śĚ圆Ϭ†for the wonderful long drive through the countryside of Sichuan, and Carol and husband for the great trips around Chengdu. Also thanks to Richard and Jo Jo for the great day out at the Panda¬†zoo in Chengdu.

Ma Po Dofu
Ma Po Dofu

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Night market food stall in Kunming.
Night market food stall in Kunming.


On the way back from China home, we called into Indonesia again for a month, this time in Pemuteran in the North coast of Bali, an ideal spot to snorkel, dive and relax. This area is not a major tourist destination- unlike some of the other hotspots in Bali. It is restful, shopping free and remote. We also flew over to the island of Flores, followed by a lazy week back in Sanur. Thanks Helen for being such a relaxing and easy-going travel companion and to Rosalie and Ian for your great company and friendship too.

Balinese culture endures, despite the tourist influx.
Balinese culture endures, despite the tourist influx.

We did stay put for six weeks of Melbourne winter and then headed off to the outback, via South Australia, a rather slow meander through lovely countryside. It’s good to be a toursit in your own country.

Baby emus in the Flinders Ranges
Baby emus in the Flinders Ranges

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA quick five day trip to the Murray River with family in November, saw the cousins get along in the great outdoors.

A bend in the Murray River
A bend in the Murray River

And in December, our annual trip to my favourite beach, Lake Tyers, in Gippsland provided a fitting finale to the year, along with a side trip to Paynesville and Raymond Island to visit the land of our great grandparents. Thanks Kerrie and Bruce for sharing this trip with us.

A Double rainbow. over the fifty mile beach at Lake Tyers, Gippsland, Australia.
A double rainbow arches over the fifty mile beach at Lake Tyers, Gippsland, Australia.
The iviting h=jetty at Fishermans Landing
The inviting jetty at Fishermans Landing. A good spot for a picnic.

And thank you my dear readers if you got through this rather long and indulgent New Year’s Eve¬†Post. I hope you had a great year too. Best wishes for the next one. Capo¬†d’anno.¬†F xx

Bemo Boys: Travelling in Style in Flores

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA Bemo transport van in Labuan Bajo can be heard long before it arrives. A pounding mega base sub woofer reverberates through the tropical verges as the vans wind their way through the hills above the Labuan Bajo harbour.  Here comes another Bemo Boy in his decorated van. The wait is never very long.  Climb on board and watch your head as you duck in the open doorway.

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I suspect the bemo boys are local heroes here in Labuan Bajo. They travel the four kilometre circuit around town all day, finishing at 6pm in the evening. After that time, it’s a long walk in the dark or¬†a ride on¬†the back of a motorbike. The passengers pile into the side bench seats in the rear of the van: local women with shopping from the market, slight young teenage schoolgirls, heads covered in snow white hijab and dressed in full length navy blue tunics neatly pressed, and then of course, us, the tourists.

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Sometimes the volume is turned down when a middle-aged Muslim matron travels the route. It is quickly cranked up again as soon as she disembarks, to impress the teenagers hanging about on the corner or to serve as an announcement for potential passengers.

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These young men have a wonderful time and decorate their vans with youthful kitsch. Stuffed multi coloured felt caterpillars line the dashboards, the rear window usually sports a large modern transfer, and lots of strange mirrors and other paraphernalia dangle from the rear vision mirror. ¬†The names of each bemo soon become familiar “Casanova“, “Playboy” and “Pleace be my baby“, to name a few. One bemo specialised in country music, complete with a little DVD screen, but we only scored this driver on one occasion.

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For 5000 rupiah (under 50 cents) one way, we travel in style, down to the restaurant belt near the harbour and back to our guesthouse, located on the side of a steep hill.  Beats walking in the heat!

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Labuan Bajo, Flores. Lipstick Sunset

It is odd how songs just pop into your head sometimes and then become permanently associated with a place.

Each evening, at around 5.30 PM, I start humming the tune ” Lipstick Sunset” by John Hiatt.

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It’s a sad country song about leaving ( aren’t they all !) and as I fondly gaze at the gorgeous light show this evening, I feel sad to be leaving Labuan Bajo, her stunning sunsets and entrancing harbour, and her smiling but shy people with magic eyes.

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There is a lively energy here in Flores. The locals belong to a distinctly different ethnic group, being much closer to Timor, and the sense of ‘Adat’ can be felt.¬†¬†The population at Labuan Bajo are either Catholic or Muslim, and there’s a small but growing¬†Italian community in the¬†“Little Italy” restaurant belt along the¬†¬†main street. ¬†The tourist industry centres around diving, with competing companies offering trips to the numerous islands of the Komodo archipelago as well as trekking opportunities to see the dragons on Rinca island. Komodo National park is a Unesco World heritage site and offers dramatic scenery for those who venture away from the main port. See my last post.

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I probably won’t return , and if I did, I am sure it will have become a very different place. ¬†But, back to that haunting country song,

‘There’s a lipstick sunset
Smeared across the August sky
There’s a bitter sweet perfume
Hanging in the fields
The creek is running high

And I left my lover waiting
In the dawn somewhere to wonder why
By the end of the day
All her sweet dreams would fade
To a lipstick sunset ¬†“

John Hiatt 1987

To my brother Michael, who sings and plays this song better than anyone.

Kanawa Island, Labuan Bajo, Flores

How do you describe the colours and patterns of tropical fish?

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I had one day of glorious snorkeling experience in ideal conditions on Kanawa Island yesterday. Returning to the shady tree on the beach for a brief siesta in between forays, I attempted to explain to Madame H the colours below the water in this little stretch of paradise in the Komodo archipelago.

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But let me back track a bit.  Madame H does not really enjoy water activities and it was enough to get her onto the funky wooden boat that took us out from the harbour at Labuan Bajo. The sea was deep blue and calm. We pass a few magical pirate vessels in the harbour and later a group of islands, arriving at Kanawa after an hour or so.  Madame H found a shady tree, a log of wood and stretched out her sarong, determined to finish the book about the whingeing widow.

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Mr Tranquillo and I donned our masks and snorkels, and headed off  into the  crystal aqua waters off the beach. The coral is protected at Kanawa and provides immediate rewards for those who venture in.  Schools of tiny blue and purple fish swarm over a small hill of coral, Angel fish glide by, a giant clam closes its blue and purple lips, Nimos play shyly as Mr T tries to coax them out from hiding.  A pale pink fish with green stripes decides that I am the funniest thing he has ever seen: refusing to move, he continues to stare into mask.  Black fish with white spotted tails, orange ones with beige/black designer stripes glide by in pairs, like Japanese origami.  Schools of baby blue float about like confetti,  a lone barracouta glides by, all pointy nosed and silvery.

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I try to explain all this to the Madame reader. The words fail. I think about iridescence, or translucency. Purple and blue and orange. No, these colours are not right.

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You just have to be there, under the sea in a far away place, with the heavenly fish off Labuan Bajo.

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Just Call Me Allan

A quick peruse of ¬†a recent¬†Aljazeera press release reveals a most interesting article. Non Muslims in Malaysia are not allowed to use the word Allah! It’s a blanket ban, it seems, which the Catholic church has challenged in the high court of Malaysia, and lost.

Thoughts of Allah are often on my mind, as I settle back on my stunning verandah, perched high above the hypnotic harbour of Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores, Indonesia. ¬†Allah makes his presence felt here, via the nearby mosque, ¬†in a loud and most annoying way at 5.00 AM, then more pleasantly at 3.00 PM and then again, with a long, mystical call at 5PM, ( this one I quite enjoy), which symbolises a “Call to Drinks” for me.

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Flores is a Catholic island  sitting in vast islamic Sea , except for Bali which is Hindu, but Allah has a small foothold here in Labuan Bajo. particularly around the harbour and fishing port.

 IMG_1876Mr Tranquillo, a patient and generally tolerant man, talks often about wire cutters at 5 Am or whenever he passes a hardware. He fancies the idea of sneaking out in the dead of night and cutting the speaker wires of the nearby Mosque.  The volume of Allah at 5 AM, via his earthly agent, the recorded Iman, is extraordinary and it is not a coincidence that the shop next door to our nearest mosque specialises in loudspeakers and stereo equipment.

Mr T suggests, in response to the ban of the use of Allah’s name by Non Muslims, that we just call him Allan.

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