1 July, 2015

Author: Catherine Mortensen

How does a journey begin? I know how my early travels in Turkey evolved but in this case, this journey began not with a single step but instead with a book. How in fact does a book on Qaraqalpaq textiles of western Uzbekistan lead to a journey in Indonesia?

I met David and Sue Richardson initially through their extensively researched publication on Central Asian textiles – Qaraqalpaqs of the Aral Delta. As we connected on social media I was intrigued by their technical passion for textiles and an upcoming textile tour of the Lesser Sunda Islands in Eastern Indonesia that they had planned. Needless to say, Jack and I marked our calendars anticipating our first travels in this varied culture.

Sue and David Richardson partnered with a company from Bali named SeaTrek and were the resident textile experts on board the Ombak Putih. The ship was a 42-metre sailing ship with twelve staterooms and a top-notch crew of fourteen men. The service and culture on board was delightful relaxed and helpful.

There was great attention to detail, certainly in terms of guest safety on board and transferring from ship to dinghy in varied conditions. Air-conditioned cabins, a daily laundry service, housekeeping and awareness of special dietary needs made certain that all were comfortable and well cared for.

As we would return from our shore excursions to various weaving villages we would be greeted on board with cold, fresh squeezed fruit juice and cool, damp towels to mop our brows and refresh ourselves. The weather was hot and humid but being aboard the ship most always guaranteed some cooling breeze.

On a couple of evenings onboard we were treated to the crew serenading us with guitars, drums and song. One lovely star lit evening we had a beach picnic complete with candle light, torches and fresh seafood. I loved going to the upper deck after dinner, laying on a sunbed and watching the heavens stream by as we motored along.

The village welcomes often consisted of traditional singing, chanting and dancing. Villagers dressed in their ikat textiles and excited children added to the overall festivities. We had various demonstrations of local dying and weaving traditions.

Indigo and morinda were the two main dye substances used for the textiles. Each of us came away with a renewed appreciation for how labour intensive both the dying and weaving processes are particularly in terms of producing hand loomed ikats Rich in history, stunning in topography and full of traditional culture our travels on these small islands were so memorable.

A journey that had it’s roots in a book about Qaraqalpaqistan led to a network of new friends and colleagues from around the world – America, Britain, Canada, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Taiwan and an introduction to the lush beauty of Indonesia. A local Indonesian guide provided excellent cultural insight in a lovely, relaxed manner all the while organizing the land transport and details in the villages on our daily excursions.

Part of our daily routine was a half hour pre-dinner power point lecture presented by David or Sue with an overview of the regional history, weaving traditions and a schedule for the following day. The lectures accompanied by extensive printed notes were meticulously prepared and presented. For me the handouts will be great reference materials when looking back and reviewing our travels.