Join me in my wanderings around the globe via these online ramblings in far off places....

Monday, 14 June 2010

Sabu! Savu! Sawu!



My most recent sojourn was to the Indonesian Island of Savu, about half way between the islands of Timor and Sumba.

Like most places in Indonesia, Savu can be spelt any number of ways, depending on whether you use the Dutch spelling, the Indonesia spelling or the local spelling. Most locals I came across seemed to use the spelling/pronunciation "Sabu", where as most outsiders know the place as "Savu". So take your pick as to which you want to use, but for now I am going with Savu!

One of the challenges to visit Savu is the lack of flights getting there. There are regular ferry departures from Kupang, West Timor, however given the regularity that Indonesian ferries sink, the plane always gets a look in as a viable option. Although one would argue the rate planes fall out of the sky in Indonesia would certainly give cause for further consideration, however being a seafarer and spending a great deal of life at sea I have vowed not to die on the ocean. I am quite happy to die in a plane crash but drowning in the ocean is not part of the overall master plan - so the plane it is.

As the legendary Indonesian airline Merpati flails in its final stages of total disintegration, NBA a basically unheard of third level airline from Java has stepped up to offer a twice weekly air service to Savu from Kupang. NBA flies the legendary CASA 212, a box on wings, licensed built in Indonesia and an active participant in creating the incredibly bad air safety record in the expansive archipelago that is Indonesia. Every time I catch a 212 I can't help but to have flash backs to the 4 hour flight I did once between Kisar and Kupang in one of these flying boxes packed to the roof with foul smelling ripe Durians! I swear my clothes smelt of Durians for several days later.

NBA Casa 212NBA's 212 on the ramp at Kupang
Now with my visit to Savu, I had a particular interest to be on the less populated and more remote eastern side of the island. I learned the prior to East Timor's independence, ferries from Dili would go directly to East Savu and that once there were bars and karaoke joints and even girls shipped in from Java to keep the Timorese men entertained whilst at the aforementioned bars and karaoke joints. Since East Timor's independence in 1999 no one longer visits East Savu, and the only "hotel" on that side on the island has pretty much been abandoned. This was to be my home for a few days - the abandoned hotel of East Savu.

the fabulous landscaped gardens of my hotel

the wonderful bathroom, reminiscent of Schapelle's facilities over at Hotel Kerobokan

a single hole in the wall partly covered with newspaper, masquerading as a window

for added ventilation an industrial (supposed to be) wall mounted extraction fan, hard wired into the power grid, pretends to make a difference


The culture of Savu is still heavily influenced by their animistic beliefs. I was extremely privileged to be allowed access to the traditional healing area of Savu, where villagers go to be cured of whatever it is making them sick. Actual photos of the "magic healing" house are not allowed, but pictures of the general area were OK. A new house was being built during my visit, accompanied by an appropriate amount of animal sacrifices - pigs, goats and dogs - all giving their lives in a dual function of animistic offering and lunch for the working villagers. During an actual healing ceremony, the patient is led on horse back in a circular route around the "magic house" which contains various icons of animistic belief, whilst knowledgeable villagers mutter incantations each time the patient on horse back is led past limestone outcrops jutting out of the dry dusty ground.


the traditional healing centre of Savu

pig, dog and goat freshly slaughtered for offerings and for dinner

The people, like their neighbours on Sumba, show physical characteristics of the Indian people who travelled here bringing with them Hindu beliefs centuries ago. Savunese people have various cultural, linguistic and genetic links back to the times of the Indian Empires. But like most other parts of Indonesia through both Suharto's trans-migration, and trans-migration of traditional sea faring people like the Makassans, there is a mixture of peoples and culture on the island.
Savunese show many genetics features inherited from early Indian migrations to the Indonesian archipelago

one of the "chiefs" and keeper of healing powers

despite the Savunese having strong animistic almost Hindu links, like most of Indonesia through both traditional and "managed" transmigration patterns, large numbers of Muslims have found themselves living on Savu

Adjacent to the main island of Savu lies the smaller and less populated Raijua. Surrounded by beautiful white sand beaches, Raijua was also on my schedule to investigate. A trip down to Savu's main port it wasn't long before I had negotiated sole charter of a local fishing boat to circumnavigate Raijua. I propped myself on the roof of the main cabin with my GPS, camera and copies of satellite images and marine charts to survey the coastline of this remote ocean dot.

my trusty waterborne carriage for the day

a beachside village on Raijua

tools of the trade; GPS, Camera, Sat Images and marine charts

Raijua certainly has the cliched white sand and blue seas
My final night on the isalnd was spent in the port town of Seba. Dinner at one of the local restaurants, avoiding the RW (Dog) vendors in the back streets, consisted of some of the finest Sate Kambing (goat sate) I've ever eaten. Covered with a thick sweet kecap manis based sauce with ample chilli onion and tomato, they really were quite good.

the best Sate Kambing this side of Java
Islamic decorations above the restaurant in Seba
the NBA Airlines office in Seba
Downtown Seba


View Savu in a larger map
Google Map showing Savu relevant to Nth West Australia



  • Probably the easiest place to access Savu from is Kupang in West Timor
  • Getting to Kupang is relatively easy, with several airlines flying there
  • From Kupang get the NBA flight direct to Savu
  • This flight is semi-regular, at the time of writing was twice a week
  • It is difficult to book this flight outside of Indonesia
  • At the time of writing you could not book NBA flights on line
  • There are also regular ferries from West Timor and Sumba
  • Flights are cheap, and the safety record ferry vs flight is comparable……..
  • Accommodation in Savu is difficult to book in advance
  • You can find travel agents in Indonesia specialising in the remote islands



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