Fifty miles short of our destination – Johor, Malaysia – we have an afternoon off and our thoughts turn to writing to family and friends. It seems quite impossible that since we left Palau on June 6th, we have traveled 2800 nautical miles. Most of that journey has been comfortable, if not tiring. After all, two old farts like us don’t have quite the energy that we started out with! We cannot deny that the journey has been interesting.
There are too many experiences and places to relate them all. Instead we will try to give you a flavor of the Indonesia that we saw by telling a few short stories that seem to typify the way of life here. A second message will describe our very favorite part of this country…the Orangutans of Borneo!
With a very few exceptions, Indonesia is a third world country. A great percentage of its people live in small fishing villages very close to the sea. We checked into Indonesia at the very northeastern edge of the large island, Sulawesi. We needed an ATM for Rupiah and we needed fuel for Satori.
We had already experienced a lot of light winds and motoring. Except for a few days of nice sailing, this pattern would remain the same through the journey. We always had to jerry-jug our fuel. We never found another ATM that would work for us until Bali.
Both needs were met in Bitung; although, one of us usually stayed aboard. We had been warned about the high probability of theft and there really was no place to safely leave our dinghy. This was to continue to be a common theme in all parts of the country except our beloved stop at Kumai, Borneo.
Our anchorage in Bitung was beside a section of the harbor where the very poor fishing boats came in to unload their goods and stock up before returning to the sea. Each time one of the boats would come past us, the young men aboard would wave and smile yelling, “Hello, Mister! How are you?”
That seems to be the extent of the English vocabulary for 95% of the people that we met. Jane would get the same greeting as well. Every now and then they call us “Opa and Oma” which is the Dutch for Grandma and Grandpa. Since the Dutch controlled Indonesia for many years, there are still remnants of the language to be found. When one of us went ashore in Bitung, the other one would carry him/her in the dinghy. The person going ashore would climb to the docks over one of the fishing boats tied there. Again we met smiling faces and friendly people. One of the hazards of cruising in the waters of Indonesia is the ingenious ways they have of catching their fish. Before we arrived in Bitung, we had already seen 7 floating metal canisters about 5-6’ long and 2’ in diameter. We tried not to think about how many we had closely missed in the dark. The fishermen use them as anchors for their nets. Since they were in very deep water, we have to assume that they are just free floating when not in use. They also build bamboo rafts about 4’X12’ with a little shelter atop and, almost always some sort of marker. Usually this is a banner but sometimes it is just an old skinny tree. These rafts attract the small fish as a reef would. The smaller fish attract the bigger fish, etc. One night towards the end of our trip we were dodging many fishing boats with their bright lights to attract the fish. We were watching carefully and had noticed a small red light – usually indicating that the boat is fairly far off. In this case the fisherman must have been able to afford only a SMALL red light up on a post. By the time we realized it, we were nearly on top of his boat and had to veer quite sharply to avoid him AND HIS BAMBOO RAFT. We can breathe a small sigh of relief, at this point, that that was the only near miss. See Photo #1 taken in the harbor at Bitung.
The fishing villages have their own charm. The oldest buildings of the village are built right along the waterfront in a row and on stilts. When they run out of room along the waterfront, the next homes are built in front of the old, again on stilts. They are placed in such a way that an alley or a canal forms between the buildings so that canoes can come and go directly to their abodes. They have the cool of the ocean breezes and access to their homes, not to mention the convenience of the long drop. Do you remember that New Zealand term?
About 350 miles into our journey down the east side of Sulawesi, we anchored in front of a very large shoal area where we discovered (what we call) the spider fish traps. Very long substantial poles are pushed into the bottom and angled in towards the middle of a roughly rectangular form. Atop the poles are fastened some more poles to allow a form onto which a huge fishing net is attached. At night the nets are dropped and some very bright lights are turned on to attract the fish. Then the nets are raised and the fish harvested. These are definitely awesome looking creatures! Photo #2 So many times during the journey we were reminded of our luck in being born in the USA. It is incredibly sad how hard these people must work to earn their meager wages. We were anchored off the town of Labuan Bajo on northwest Flores Island. We managed to find the town docks and secure the dinghy to it so that we could go into town. Calling it a dock is quite generous. It was a series of old fuel drums hitched together by planks over the top. We had a difficult time maneuvering ourselves over the swaying and dipping dock. When we returned we watched the local men humping bags of cement on their shoulders over these same planks! Photo #3 The one exception to the poverty of most of Indonesia is the famous island of Bali. We visited several towns on the north coast of Bali. In Singaraja, the largest town on the north coast, there was no town dock. The dinghy had to be landed on the beach in some pretty heavy surf. We were lucky to choose just the right place to anchor though. When we went ashore we found a crew of men whose sole job it was to load and unload the ships that came to anchor there. They took our fuel jerry jugs, loaded them into a van and returned with them full of diesel. By the way, fuel here costs $1/gallon. It’s a good thing because we used A LOT OF FUEL!
When another ship was ready to be loaded with bags of “whatever”, the humpers waded out in a line to the boat to do the job. It resembled a group of leaf cutter ants marching back and forth.
Indonesia is primarily a country of muslims. Where you have muslims, you have mosques. Where you have mosques, you have loud speakers to carry the song (and we are being generous to use the word “song”) used to call the worshippers. They do this five times a day and 4AM is the usual time for the first call. We actually got so used to hearing it that Jane started to discriminate between the talents of the “singers”. At our last stop along the coast of Bali, the mosque was especially close to the shore. The speakers were exceptionally loud. At 4 AM, out of a totally peaceful quiet dark sleep, we nearly suffered heart attacks at the sound.
One of our stops was at the island of Rinca to see the Komodo dragons. We have quite a few photos of these prehistoric looking monsters. Over-all they did not seem too dangerous as they moved very slowly and slept most of the day away. We did hear from our friends on Sunshine that an American had been bitten by one of the dragons recently. We can’t help but think the fellow must have gotten too close for the dragon’s comfort.
We have taken so very many photos and short video clips. We hope that you will go to the “anchorageyachtclub.net” website later to view them.
Hope you enjoy the stories and that you will look forward to reading the episode about our very favorite part of Indonesia – the visit to the Orangutans of Borneo. If you write to us, please use our on-board email address ****
Tata for now,
Jane and Sander