Images and words by Rachel Harris
“Excuse me Mister. You going to pay for protection if you stay here”- a local Indonesian official muttered in broken English.
“The hell I won’t. If you come near my boat, just know I’ve got knives.” – the very clearly angry Aussie on the catamaran anchored next to us.
“We’ve got knives too” – the official said pointing to his posse of smirking fisherman on the small boat behind him.
This is the dialog we were greeted with upon anchoring in a small, touristy bay in Lombok, Indonesia. Safe to say- we, and the Aussie, ended up paying the $5 equivalent for “protection”, in what was probably the safest area on the island. Sure enough, a local boy no older than 18 showed up at sundown to guard our boat. We all laughed. Our crew and the locals knew there wouldn’t be any trouble and that the “protection” was just a ploy to get some cash out of the westerners on the nice boat in the bay. It felt silly to even deny them such a small sum. After taking some time to get to know one another, the locals actually proved incredibly friendly and helpful. They helped us fill gas tanks, get water, provisions… you name it they were there to assist. The days spent in this bay preparing for the next trip flew by and before we knew it we had our next members aboard and were sailing 100 miles towards North Sumbawa chasing the seemingly ever-elusive wind.
We found the wind, but unfortunately it was right on the nose, which didn’t exactly coincide with the “smooth sailing” envisioned in everyone’s minds. But six hours in our bodies began to adjust to the ebb and flow of the continuous and sometimes tumultuous rocking. I even began making up songs to the beat of the faint chirp made by our new Garmin autopilot and the bass of the helm breaking through the large swell. We tried to break up the monotony of the trip with a round of gin rummy and that’s when it happened. “Oh my gosh!! Dolphins!”, someone yelled. We leapt up and went to the bow to check out something other than waves beating against the hull. The dolphins surfaced again, this time coming close enough for us to realize that they weren’t dolphins but a beautiful and massive Whale Shark! Any feelings of boredom or sea sickness vanished. We grabbed our masks and fins and dove into 100 meters of water and swam with the most incredible, graceful creature I have ever laid eyes on.
Our next anchorage was as picturesque as it gets. A crystal clear blue hole, surrounded by a thriving coral reef and pink sand beaches, all enveloped by a lush mountain range full of exotic birds and monkeys.
We hiked, dove, and SUP’d all day long. Honestly, it felt like a dream world until we walked to the other side of the beach. It was completely littered with trash (mainly single use plastics). We were so remote, and yet the beach was covered with enough plastic waste to fill the entire boat two times over. To see somewhere so beautiful be so filled with garbage was heart-wrenching.
But I’d be lying if I said I was shocked. Unfortunately seeing a beach that looks like this is becoming more common than not. What a disappointing reminder of the impact we are having on Mother Earth and how widespread our lack of understanding and commitment to change really is.
We built a fire on the beach and shared a night of fresh grilled mahi, fire-roasted pineapples, Bintangs and ukulele. It’s easy to forget about the climate crisis on a night as perfect as this one, but it couldn’t hide for long. There I was clutching my glass of wine, listening to another one of the chef’s outrageous stories, enjoying the fire’s warmth on my cheeks and as I dug my toes into the sand, what I thought I felt was a seashell was really just a broken soda bottle. It’s hard not to feel helpless in the grand scheme of climate change. However, I was reminded of the Nelson Mandela quote, “you can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.” It’s easy to feel powerless when your hope for change lies in the hands of the government. There is extreme value in making personal changes. Whether its saying no single use plastics, educating yourself on the issues, or casting your vote for leaders that are willing and ready to put the Earth first, individual people do have the power to make a difference. I slept with a bit of peace that night knowing I was surrounded by others who are willing and ready to implement change.
While the Quest is mostly about kitesurfing, there’s something about spending quality time with the local people that makes these trips far more memorable. We hiked to the top of a mountain to scout out the scenery and noticed a small rice farm in one of the valleys below. We all decided it would be fun to head over on the dinghy and buy some rice from the local farmers to pair with the fresh fish we bought from a group of exhausted fisherman a couple hours prior. We were welcomed with handshakes and smiling faces. We kept asking to purchase rice and were met with confused stares. After a while, one of the young boys came back with a small bag of rice and apologetically handed it to us. Now we were the ones who were confused! Finally, after a bout of google translate we realized they were onion farmers. My heart sank and rose at the same time. These gracious people were willing to give us their only bag of rice simply because we asked. They even offered to cook all six of us dinner. We left their home that evening without what we came there for, but way more than we needed. Their compassion and warmth filled our hearts. In a World where it’s so easy to be distant and isolated, I’ve never felt so welcomed.
We wrapped the trip chasing the wind and waves back in Lakey where we were greeted with glassy offshore lefts in the morning and a steady 20 knots in the afternoon. We woke with the sun and paddled towards the friendly break right off the bow. Everything was peaceful until a dorsal fin the size of door shot out of the water 10 feet in front of me. I’m nearly certain my heart stopped beating. My only thoughts were that this was either a Great White or a massive Hammerhead and I was going to be breakfast. To my relief, the creature surfaced again, and this time its entire body flew out of the water. The “dorsal fin” that had sent me into cardiac arrest was the wing of a manta ray the size of a van. Let’s just say we were warmed up by the time we caught our first and sadly last round of waves of the trip. Thank you Sumbawa, you’ve been good to us again.