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Adventure in the Sunda Seas

Date: 1 September 1938
Medium: Ink on paper
Credit Line: ANMM Collection Nancy Jean Steele Bequest
Object Copyright: © Australian National Maritime Museum
Object Name: Newspaper clipping
Object No: ANMS0542[030]

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    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Adventure in the Sunda Seas

    Primary title: Abenteuer in den Sunda-See

    • Berlin News Thursday, 1 September 1938 Adventure in the Sunda Seas Encounters on a journey in a collapsible boat by Oskar Speck 2nd instalment A model European enterprise It took me three days to get from Kaoeng to the village of Sumbawa Besar. There were a few Dutchmen, who welcomed me warmly there. The island of Sumbawa is divided into two large regions, each administered by a sultan. The Sultan of Sumbawa Besar, a friendly, inconspicuous little man, got all excited when I was introduced to him and kept on apologising that he had forgotten to put his jacket on. I was taken along on an expedition inspecting his territory. His subjects certainly did not have a lot of respect for him, and the Dutch Gesachheber official has much more influence on the country’s administration. Travelling in the Sultan’s vehicle, we went as far as Taliwang, the most remote village in his territory. We encountered a lot of flying foxes there, some of which the Sultan actually shot down. Amongst the natives, these creatures are considered a special tidbit. They often turn into a real pest, since they live mainly on fruit. At the market in Sumbawa I noticed that a Chinaman was selling sorbet. When I inquired about this, I found out that a small factory producing ice had been established on Sumbawa two years ago. Someone from Sumbawa had once traded a few chickens for some sorbet at the market. He was going to transport these blocks of ice, which had a wooden stick as a handle frozen into the centre of them, to his remote village. He put the ice blocks into his rattan basket, strapped them behind him onto his horse and rode for two hours across the burning hot mountains. When he got home, he received a huge surprise when he found nothing but the little wooden sticks in his basket. Furious about the presumed treachery, he rode back to the Chinaman. The Dutch administration official, who was called upon eventually to settle the matter, had a very hard time explaining to this man the consistency of this unknown delicacy. During my stay in Sumbawa Besar, I received an invitation to visit the only European plantation on Sumbawa. The [illegible] Estate is situated at a distance of around fifty kilometres across the water away from Sumbawa Besar. This Swedish enterprise is attempting to grow coffee there in the middle of the rainforest. I went to the village of Kanangan in my boat. There I was met by the friendly Swedes and taken in a car along the most dangerous of roads to the plantation, situated at six hundred metres above sea level. The plantation, run by three Europeans, could be regarded as a model operation. Yet despite the fertility of the soil and the excellent climate, they were facing great difficulties. The most difficult thing was maintaining the required labour force. They needed six to eight hundred Sumbawanese and Bismanese at any given time. But since the workers could not bring their families with them, they often only stayed for half a year. Every two weeks they had one day off. Any more would have created discontent among the labourers, who didn’t know what to do with themselves then. Most of the labourers spent their hard-earned money gambling with the Chinese on those days off. The only European woman on the plantation was the wife of the administrator. In a very subtle way she made sure that the men would not go to seed in this wilderness. [Photo of Oskar Speck and his boat with the caption:] The author with his collapsible boat in a quiet landing place. There on Tambora, with its beautiful climate, I recovered completely. Since the Eastern monsoon had already started, I stayed there for 14 days and was treated like the baby of the house. Eventually I set out again, completely healed and strengthened, paddling as far as the Bay of Bima. During my five days’ travel I didn’t spot a single village. Only now and again did I see an abandoned hut, which some fishermen had erected on the beach during the fishing season. I often saw whole groups of wild horses on the beach, and at night I had regular visits from wild pigs. With their snouts they came all the way up to the tarpaulin of my boat which I had set up as a sleeping place. I only stayed a few hours in Bima, since I didn’t want to make the effort of going all the way to the administration, situated up high on a hill. That would have meant having to change my clothes and to shave. Bima is where the second Sultan of Sumabawa is to be found. He is said to have a significantly larger fortune than that of Sumbawa Besar’s, and so his influence is supposed to be much greater. The beautifully protected harbour of Bima derives its importance mainly from an agreement between the English and the Dutch airline companies, which use Bima as a stop-over for the route from Australia to Java. After leaving Bima I followed the Sumbawa coastline for three days before I arrived at the infamous strait of Sapeh. The “Straat Sapeh”, as the Dutch call this devil’s passage, separates the island of Sumbawa from Flores. The islands of Gilibanta and the Komodo, with its dragons, are wedged in its centre. The current there has a speed of up to twenty kilometres per hour. But what is even more dangerous than the current are the many rocky reefs that are often just barely covered by the water. My intention was to reach the island of Gilibanta, located about 25 kilometres away from Sumbawa. I tried for three days, and after each time I was so glad to reach land again at Sumbawa, though utterly exhausted. On the fourth day the wind changed. A storm was approaching and, summoning the courage of the desperate, my sailing line in hand, in danger of capsizing at any moment, I again attempted to force a crossing. It was a trip from hell, which I will remember for the rest of my life. Level-eight force winds at my back, the crossing took me a mere 3 ½ hours. If anything to do with the boat had failed during this time, I would have been hopelessly lost. At a cracking pace, my mast leaning dangerously forward, the boat raced across the furiously circling whirlpools, and when I finally arrived at the uninhabited island of Gilibanta, my nerves were utterly shattered. Despite the well-sealed cover, the boat was half full of water, and tins of food and water containers were swimming around inside. I dried my things out on Gilibanta and stayed there overnight. Crocodile ahead The next day I had to make the crossing to the island of Komodo, which wasn’t anywhere near as dangerous. The distance was only about 14 kilometres. I need not have feared drifting off course, since Komodo is quite large. Still, I had to be extremely cautious here, too, and, as it turned out, the current almost washed me across a rocky reef. A few hundred metres before reaching dry land, a huge crocodile appeared in front of my boat. It was lying quietly there in the surf, just lifting its jagged tail out of the water from time to time. The first thing I did after happily arriving on Komodo, was to load my heavy Mauser pistol, before going to check out the area. Beautiful sandy beaches alternated with dead coral reefs reaching out of the water. There was either no vegetation at all, or it consisted of Ylang-Ylang, a type of tough, long-leafed grass. On the peaks of some hills in the far distance there were a few Lontar palm trees. But all in all it was a barren and destitute island. As a precaution, I pulled up my boat a bit further up the beach than usual. Crocodiles are cowards and only attack humans at dusk or in the dark, and even then only close to the water, so that they can pull their victims straight in. The next morning I went along the northern coastline of Komodo. Much as I was looking out for them, I couldn’t find any trace of the dragons. Two days later, on western Flores, a dragon of about two metres in length came suddenly waddling along the beach. I did not manage to get a photograph of the creature, because as soon as I stepped onto land, it heard my steps in the sand and immediately disappeared into the Ylang-Ylang. At the same place I found a four-metre-long dead crocodile on the beach. A large part of its head had been already torn or eaten off. What struck me most about it, was the ocean green colour of the top of its body, whilst its belly was coloured white or greenish-white. Presumably the salt water crocodiles around Flores are a particular variety of this species. To be continued…
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