Sail Komodo ended with a regal visit from the President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. He is the sixth president of Indonesia since the republic was formed in 1945, he has won two elections, both by over 60% of the vote making him vastly more popular than any recent US president. Interesting note for those of you who believe Islamic states are inherently regressive towards women, the fifth president of Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world was in fact a woman.
So it was with great excitement and joy that the entire town of Labuan Bajo prepared for the President to arrive. dirt paths were hastily paved, the streets and docks cleaned and resplendent banners flew everywhere. National flags were lugged to the top of 5 hills and set, none were accessible by car so all the poles, cement and gear was carried by hand, an impressive feat.
Imagine the security logistics of having the President visit a small island town much like my native Friday Harbor. Military presence was enormous, dozens of naval ships arrived, planes unloaded gear for days and caravans of large black SUV’s circled the town. The harbor was cleared of all local boats and now housed a fleet of fast well armed inflatable’s. Helicopters did fly by’s regularly.
One would think all this military and security would create a tense climate and the fun peaceful village of Labuan Bajo would cease to exist. But this is Indonesia! The Navy Ships did a pass by us every morning waving and taking pictures, the fast patrol boats offered us rides and posed as we took pictures, Sam got to ride on several of them filled with beaming grins and high five signs. I especially liked the signs stenciled on the guards around their machine guns like “DONT PISS ME OFF” . I was humored to see the row of large black official SUV’s parked outside the local house of ill repute, the Secret Service does not have anything these guys don’t have, hahaha.
So it was with a total lock down of the harbor secured by a massive military effort that i ventured to town to drop the girls off to get me some ice cream, i do have my priorities. i managed to sneak into then wharf and drop them off, i went ashore for a short time and when i returned access anywhere near my dinghy was denied, it was the only non military craft on the dock, the very same dock the president would visit any minute now. i was resolved that i would have a long wait and sat for a cup if Flores Coffee. A high ranking police officer sat down with me and asked where i was from, not an interrogation but a friendly conversation.
Now stop for a minute and think what would happen in the US. The President is coming any minute, an unidentified rough looking dinghy with tie died lettering is under the dock he will walk on, a non English speaking weirdly dressed man with two large bags is attempting to get to the boat. I doubt neither the dinghy nor i would survive such an encounter. But like i said, this is Indonesia!
After some chatting and many handshakes i told the officer my dilemma, at first he offered no help, not surprising. The next thing i know a 40 ft (14 meter) armed patrol boat shows up and they tell me to get aboard. the take me across the way to the end of the dock where the Grateful Diver is tied. Next to it are two small inflatable’s with machine gun toting Navy Seal types guarding the dock. These guys help me get into the dink and unravel it from the military boats also tied up. i fire up the murc and i am escorted by a larger large machine gun toting patrol boat, the DONT PISS ME OFF one. they pose for pictures and escort me away from the secured area through the Navel fleet. I zip back to Furthur waving and laughing all the way, yes this is Indonesia!
The next night we along with the Sail Indonesia fleet were invited to a gala dinner in the President’s honor. Some of us even dressed in traditional formal Indonesian attire, does this dress make my butt look fat?
The following morning the fleet, in full dress, did a sail by for the President along with the Naval vessels, after which we headed back out into the islands for some tranquility and diving, a great ending to a spectacular week. Sail Komodo rocks!!!