Indonesian Cruising Rumors Debunked
17 January 2011 | Indonesia
SSCA Commodores' Bulletin Feb 2011: Indonesian Cruising Reports Debunked
Shipping Boat Parts to Exotic Places
25 September 2010 | Batam, Indonesia
Uh oh. As we started to weigh anchor in the Kumai River (Borneo), the electric anchor windlass died. What a job, hoisting up the heavy chain via a manual winch. Once we were underway Burger was able to investigate: after 16 years of doing its job, a drive gear had stripped off. We called the manufacturer, Maxwell Marine in New Zealand, using our SatPhone that we reserve for emergencies, due to the high cost per minute. The sales rep expressed amazement that the gear had stripped, even after 16 years. What's with these people, do they learn that line in Sales 101 as a way to defend their product? How many times have we been told, "we've never heard of anyone having that problem before." But thank goodness the needed worm gear box for our particular windlass model was still in stock, a matter of a few hundred dollars instead of the few thousand it would have cost to replace the whole thing.
We paid by credit card and arranged to have it air-shipped to us c/o a marina in Singapore, where we were soon headed. We then emailed the marina, asking them to hold it for our arrival, and received a prompt reply with berthage details. All this took place as we tacked along the southwestern coast of Borneo, one of the few times we had decent wind in Indonesia but alas, it was on the nose, and made worse by counter current.
So instead of day-hopping to Batam, where we would clear out of Indonesia for Singapore, we motor-sailed nonstop across the shallow Java Sea and then the South China Sea for four days and nights to avoid having to anchor. Crossing the equator on the way up the coast of Sumatra wasn't much cause for celebration given the oppressive heat.
Just ten miles before reaching our goal, we ran out of diesel! Serendipidously, just as the engine sputtered to a stop, we were passing an industrial port on the coast of Batam that we were able reach by sailing 2 knots an hour in a slight late afternoon breeze. We dropped anchor (sigh) in a sheltered spot and Burger launched the dinghy. Ashore he found a sympathetic dock worker who was happy to take him and his two jerry jugs on his moped to a nearby gas station. Years of moped driving as a teenager allowed Burger to hang on hands-free, balancing the jugs of fuel. He got back just before dark and we had a quiet night at anchor.
Early next morning we laboriously winched up the anchor and motored on to the Nongsa Point Marina Resort on the northern tip of Batam (www.nongsapointmarina.com), just ten miles across the channel from Singapore. In response to our call on VHF radio, a launch zipped out and escorted us into the marina basin and to the fuel dock. FIVE smiling uniformed men assisted us with our lines and fenders, including the dock master who welcomed us with warm handshakes. We've never been received so royally! Nor inexpensively, for just US$25 per night, including electricity, wifi (albeit slow speed), and use of the amenities.
The lushly landscaped resort, which included a golf course, was almost deserted except for an abundance of personnel, and we wondered how they survived. Cynical Burger suspected it was a money laundering scheme till we learned that the place is busy with Singaporeans on weekends.
I salivated at the sight of the swimming pool, but first things first. We called the marina in Singapore where we were expecting the windlass part, only to discover that it had arrived a few days earlier but they had refused delivery because we hadn't arrived there yet! Grrr!!!! Not wanting to risk it getting lost during redelivery, we called Fedex and arranged to pick it up at their facility.
So instead of sailing to Singapore (having done some sightseeing on our plane stopover there in May), we took the ferry across and taxied to Fedex. Upon our return to Nongsa Point I skipped off to the pool while Burger set to work installing the new part. Hallelujah! It fit! We celebrated with dinner at the near-empty restaurant, with four wait staff hovering politely around us.
Our three days at the marina flew by. On Day 2 Burger did boat R&M and I swam laps while doing the wash at the marina laundry, and we socialized with a few other cruisers who arrived from Kumai. On our last day we hired a taxi for three hours (US$20) to go to a modern indoor mall at the nearest town, Nagoya, 30 minutes' drive away, and shopped at a large Ace Hardware and well stocked supermarket. We wished we could have stayed longer at Nongsa Point but the clock was ticking toward our departure from Langkawi to the States in a couple of weeks.
15 September 2010 | Tanjung Puting National Park, Borneo
We were in the cockpit waiting for the speedboat to arrive at 7:30 am, and when no one showed up by 8:00, we gave our guide a call. Oops! The time zone had changed an hour between Bali and western Borneo! Well, at least we ensured that our guide and driver didn't oversleep ... We reset our clocks and sure enough they showed up punctually at 7:30, and off we went for an exhilarating if noisy trip upriver to Camp Leakey in the Tanjung Puting National Park.
The orangutans in the Park have all been rehabilitated and are being encouraged to return to the wild, but it's a bit of a Catch 22: the tourists who support the effort with their fees want to see orangutans, but the feeding stations where the tourists can see them are a disincentive to the animals to seek their own food.
There are actually five kinds of monkeys living in the Park, and we also got to see gibbons, silver leaf monkeys, and "Jimmy Durante"-nosed proboscis monkeys. The river is filled with crocodiles but we didn't see any; we did see a large monitor lizard though.
Do check out our captioned orangutan photo gallery on this sailblog. Interacting with our red-haired cousins in the wild ranks as one of our most exciting wildlife experiences ever, right up there with the jumping crocodiles in Australia.
Bird Nest Soup
13 September 2010 | Kumai/Kalimantan, Borneo
As we approached the wide bay of Kumai, Kalimantan (the Indonesian part of Borneo), a tanker passed us. Yet another neat feature of AIS technology: we were able to follow the tanker's track on our computer screen long after it had disappeared upriver, helping to keep us in deep water along the tricky dogleg passage past the shoals.
We anchored across the river from the town, next to what appeared to be dense green jungle, but we later learned that plantations were not far inland. Borneo is being severely exploited for its natural resources: the rainforest is disappearing due to logging and slash and burn land clearing (the smoke extended all the way to Singapore at least one year in the past); the rivers are being polluted by mercury from goldmines. We passed offshore oil drilling platforms in the shallow Java Sea.
Once we were anchored and enjoying our sundowners, we were intrigued by the constant chirping of birds coming from the direction of town. We learned next day that the sound was from a loudspeaker broadcasting the chirping to attract swiftlets, the little birds that make the nests used in Chinese bird nest soup. The nests used to be collected from caves, but man-made nesting houses are now producing them in places like here in Borneo. In Kumai proper there are dozens of ugly grey block buildings visible from the waterfront (grey to simulate the color of the caves), with little holes for the birds to enter and leave from, and a pond of water inside that breeds the birds' favorite food, mosquitoes. Not only are they a growing nuisance to the community, but this is an area with endemic malaria and dengue fever! We saw a malaria medication advertised on a billboard.
Facts I found on the internet: Hong Kong and the United States are the largest importers of birds' nests, charging between $30 and $100 per bowl of soup, while a single kilogram of nest can cost between $2,000 and $10,000! The nests are made mostly of the birds's saliva, definitely an acquired taste.
Three Ships Converging in the Night
11 September 2010 | Java Sea
It's my watch, Burger's asleep, as we motor across the Java Sea toward Borneo. I sit in the cockpit drinking coffee, watching the sickle of the new moon rising, distant lightning reflecting in the glassy calm. At the same time that I notice the lights of two ships, one on each side of us, the collision alarm goes off for both of them. I can see on the AIS screen that they are equidistant from us about 8 miles away, heading toward us at the same speed. How rare is that! Three boats in an otherwise empty ocean, all converging on a single point.
I wake the captain and together we track their approach. if we do nothing, they will pass us at the same time, one in front and one in back, each just a half mile away--much too close for comfort. So we slow to idle speed and watch them cross just ahead of us, directly in our path. Whew!
End of Ramadan
10 September 2010 | Raas, Indonesia
At anchor off a little island called Raas here in Indonesia, en route from Bali to Borneo ... listening to Muslims in a little fishing village ashore, singing as they celebrate the end of Ramadan ... wondering how they feel about our American flag while reading the news of the nut who wants to burn Korans in Florida ... We have internet via our 3G modem, with cell towers everywhere people live, even remote islands like this one.
Balinese Mass Cremation
04 September 2010 | Bali, Indonesia
On the drive back to the boat, traffic slowed and we could see fire ahead. It turned out to be a mass cremation ceremony!
On the one hand we could have spent several more days touring with Ubud as our base, but it was good to get back to our cozy floating home. Our freezer wouldn't have kept our food frozen for much longer.
Kekac fire dancing
03 September 2010 | Ulu Watu, Bali
While awaiting the sunset dance show at the temple pavilion, we visited a nearby surfer village that hugged the side of a cliff overlooking the beach. We had a cold beer and watched as scores of surfers awaited the big ones, then skillfully maneuvered their boards through the waves.
We hiked back up the stone stairway and made our way back to the temple for the Kekac fire dance. The "chorus" was a group of bare-chested men who sat in a circle and chanted while the costumed actors performed a sort of silent opera. Fire was lit near the end, with sparks flying into the audience. When it was over, we made our way in the huge crowd down the bleachers in the dark and then up the path to the parking lot. It would have been a liability nightmare in America!
03 September 2010 | southern coast of Bali
Our second first-born driver Wayan drove us from Ubud to Ulu Watu, a temple perched on a high steep cliff on the southern point of the island. Once more we donned sarongs and sashes while we walked along the cliff path and watched the monkeys cavorting and begging. When one stole a pair of sunglasses from a tourist, the temple guards chased him and bartered successfully with a treat.
03 September 2010 | Ubud
Next morning after a sumptuous breakfast we took a long walk in the surrounding countryside, and lunched at the Sari Organic restaurant overlooking the green, green rice paddies. Later we toured the Blanco Museum, where we were greeted with a collection of friendly exotic birds. The eccentric Spanish artist Don Blanco considered himself the Dali of Bali. We then strolled through the busy shopping streets of Ubud on our way back to the hotel.
Next morning I had a hair cut, facial and pedicure at a spa and paid about what the tip would be for these services at home. While I let myself be pampered in a tropical garden with fountains and soft Balinese music, Burger had a last shopping spree around town. Over lunch he showed me his latest finds: a bronze water buffalo, a monkey and a potbellied pig carving. Then we returned to our hotel to collect our bags and rendezvous with our new driver, also named Wayan. We learned why there are so many Wayan's in Bali: the word means first-born son!
02 September 2010 | Ubud
We then bid our driver farewell and checked into the very nice Puri Padi Hotel ($US60 incl breakfast, low season rates started Sept 1), cooled off with a swim in the pool before dinner and then went to the Ubud Palace for a Balinese Barong and Legong dance performance.
02 September 2010 | Sacred Monkey Forest, Ubud Bali
Next we drove along narrow roads through high mountain villages that threaded along the ridges of deep jungle gorges. Each village had its own specialty, with workshops making and displaying various arts and crafts: stone statues and wood carvings, pottery, oil paintings, etc., much of it the poor quality tourist stuff sold in markets around the country. We took a coffee break stitting on cushions under a thatched roof, overlooking green terraced rice paddies.
Then it was onward to the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary in Ubud, to watch the antics of the macaque monkeys that scamper about and beg for bananas from the tourists, who are warned to remove hats, glasses and jewelry lest they be snatched.
02 September 2010 | G Batur Volcano, Bali
For lunch we sat on the veranda of a restaurant overlooking the 1700+ meter G Batur volcano, with the lava flow visible from the last eruption in 1997. In the distance we could see the large caldera lake and beyond that the tip of G Agung, Bali's highest volcano, peeking through the clouds at 3100+ meters. The Indonesian buffet luncheon was superb and didn't bust our budget at US$10 each.
Holy Water Temple
02 September 2010 | Bali, Indonesia
Next we toured Tirta Empul, an important holy spring and Hindu tenple built in the 11th century. We were issued obligatory sarongs and sashes while walking the temple grounds. While a group of young Hindis were praying with eyes closed, an enterprising mouse ran out stole the biscuit that was part of the offering.
01 September 2010 | Bali, Indonesia
After investigating how to best tour the island (tour bus, shuttle bus, rental car?) we hired Wayan to drive us around in his nice clean cool minivan for US$35/day. The further we drove away from the grungy waterfront area, the greener and lusher the countryside became. First stop was a factory and store where we watched the process of making batik and then bought some keepsakes.
Abby's Birthday Party
31 August 2010 | Sanur, Bali
We helped Abby and her parents Frank and Jeni celebrate her 12th birthday with delicious homemade lasagne and birthday cake at their lovely home. Abby was 8 when we first met her in Ecuador.
Bali, Day 2 and 3
30 August 2010 | Sarangan Bay, SE Coast of Bali
Next day we dinghied over for a tour of the huge wooden boat construction moored near us, where Jeni and Frank are employed as architect/building supervisors. The boat has been under construction for over four years and is a US$ 4 million plus project that would cost at least twice as much in the first world. The owner is an American who has a glove factory in Java, Indonesia, where labor is cheaper than in China, so we learned.
Jeni kindly took us for a tour and shopping at beach towns Kuta, Legian and Seminyak yesterday while almost-12 year old daughter Abby spent the day at a water park with her girlfriends, who all attend the local International School. Zipping through heavy traffic with motorbikes cutting us off right and left was a bit unnerving, but Jeni was more than capable. No road rage here, everyone just smiles and waves. We shopped till we dropped in little shops along the narrow roads, then awaited the girls at the Starbucks next to a huge modern indoor mall. Tomorrow night we're invited to Abby's birthday dinner.
Over 500 people died in Kuta in the 2002 Bali bombing that happened here. As a result there are security checks everywhere.
Hello from Bali
30 August 2010 | Sarangan Bay, SE Coast of Bali
No sooner did we arrive in Sarangan Bay Friday afternoon when we were whisked ashore by ex-cruisers Jeni and Frank, who we last saw in NZ. We helped an expat Brit (the wife of the Bali director for Flora & Fauna International) celebrate her 50th birthday, feasting on a yummy Indonesian buffet while being entertained by a live band and a poolside performance of four miniature Balinese dancers, the children of the Indonesian host. How neat is that?!
28 August 2010 | Gili Air, Lombok
Here's my insider tip for a honeymoon, or a second honeymoon such as ours during this our 40th anniversary year: the Gili Islands off Lombok. Take a look at our Photo Gallery to see why.
Accommodation is cheap, as long as you're willing to rough it a bit, but in style. Last night we had candlelit dinner of grilled calamari for less than US$10 each, including drinks, tip and tax. There are so many mini-resorts on the island that you could arrive without a reservation and just pick one to your liking, from backpacker to fairly luxurious cottages. Gili Air is one of three such islands in a row; we chose this one because of the sheltered bay and free moorings.
While Burger went scuba-diving this morning I walked all around the island (about two hours) and found more great photo ops than my camera battery was capable of. Those tourists who weren't out diving or surfing were hanging out in hammocks or having massages on thatched roof platforms. Most of them were young, not many seniors here. We had a beachside lunch of fried prawns and cold Bintang, sitting on cozy cushions on s dining platform on stilts. That's a pineapple I'm holding in the photo. I then had a swim before returning to the boat, where we have wifi at anchor. Life is good.
Fixing the Engine in Exotic Places
25 August 2010 | North Coast of Lombok
Welcome raindrops awoke us this morning, the first decent shower we've had since June, this being the dry season. It's great to get the sticky salt washed off the deck.
The volcano Gunung Rinjani that we're sailing by today rises over 3700 meters (2nd highest in Indonesia), influencing the climate by bringing rain. It's been shrouded in clouds all day so we only know it's there by reading our Lonely Planet. Now we're motorsailing further along the verdant coast, past coconut plantations, open pit mines and small fishing villages dominated by mosques and cell towers. Today's destination is Gil Aer, a resort island where we want to do some diving/snorkeling before sailing on to Bali.
Burger is struggling with the engine as I write, which is overheating ... always something to fix, hopefully not too serious. He's diagnosed the problem as a plug in the cooling water system that he's now tackling while I keep us on course in light wind, making 3 knots. Every time he appears in the companionway he's more covered in grease and grime, leaving black smudges everywhere for me to deal with later. Success! He solved the problem just in time to navigate us between reefs into the anchorage.
Does Dracula Live Here?
25 August 2010 | Gili Lawang, Lombok
We anchored overnight near a mangrove swamp in the shelter of Gili Lawang, a small island off the north coast of Lombok where thousands of large black fruit bats live. As we sat in the cockpit enjoying sundowners at sunset, a huge swarm of bats silently took off and headed for their nocturnal feeding on the mainland, their forked wings eerily outlined as they passed in front of the rising full moon. A couple of men, probably Muslins, stood on the deck of a small, dilapidated fishing boat moored near us, watching the spectacle with us. What different worlds we live in.
The Bumperhead Welcoming Committee
23 August 2010 | Teluc Baru Mondo, NW Komodo
Taking the advice of friends Kurt and Katie of s/v Interlude who were here a few years ago, we sailed north around Komodo to the small island of Gili Lawalaut. A couple of tourist "pirate ship" dive boats were entertaining their guests while we had lunch, a siesta and a refreshing swim. We hadn't been in the water since Lizard Island on the east coast of Queensland in July, due to the ever present danger of salt crocs. There are crocodiles in Indonesia but not in Komodo, and the dragons don't hunt when they swim. At least that's what the locals told us ...
Late afternoon we continued further west along Komodo to Teluc Baru Mondo, where we had the large beautiful bay lined with white sand beaches all to ourselves. We didn't venture ashore since dragons supposedly live here, but all we could see with our binoculars were pigs. The evening was still except for occasional welcome wiliwaws from the steep mountains. We enjoyed homemade pizza and cold beer under the stars.
According to Kurt and Katie, this bay has "the best snorkeling in all of Indonesia." No sooner did we jump in this morning than we saw half a dozen of the huge bumperhead parrotfish that K an K described. Maybe they're the welcoming committee? Fish seem to know when they're under protection in the National Park waters so we saw lots of large fish that didn't swim away from us. The clear water, the variety of healthy coral and the abundant colorful fish didn't disappoint.
Dragons and Dragon Food
22 August 2010 | Komodo Island, Indonesia
After a two-day motorsail from Kupang we reached the island of Komodo, one of a group of dry, barren volcanic islands that remind us of Galapagos. A couple of men in a battered wooden skiff appeared as we entered the bay and escorted us to the anchorage, then without asking, tied up next to us to sell us their wares. A second and then a third boat approached, and soon we were being hassled and harangued from both sides of the cockpit to buy this dragon carving or that painted mask. Burger started bargaining while I ducked below to make lunch, but he soon became overwhelmed and was about to pay way too much for a couple of cheap items, so I took over and he fled below. I offered them half as much or nothing and stood firm, and amazingly they soon gave in. But we still probably paid way too much.
After lunch we went ashore to register with the National Park ranger so we could see the rare Komodo dragons that live here. Our young guide, brandishing a long forked stick to ward off dragon attacks, forewarned us that we might not see any during our hour-long hike through the bush, and he was right: all we saw was "dragon food": deer, wild pigs and goats. But when we returned to the National Park headquarters, we got to see several of the lumbering lizards hanging out where the park employees live, obviously being fed so the tourists don't leave disappointed. They grow to 10 feet long and can move very fast when they want to. A dragon bite causes a lethal infection that can take days to kill their prey.
Captain Bligh Slept Here
18 August 2010 | Kupang, West Timor, Indonesia
Greetings from Kupang, where we arrived yesterday. Captain Bligh and his 18 men landed here in 1789, after an epic 3,600 trip across the Pacific in a 23 foot open longboat. We stopped by the Lavalon "watering hole" and met Edwin, the owner, a local who told us about his grandiose plans to lure Hollywood to Kupang for the next remake of the Bounty movie.
We stopped here to clear into Indonesia and to refuel, having motored for three windless days from Darwin. Kupang is about as third world as it gets: a hot, humid, noisy, dirty, smelly city. We beached the dinghy and paid the "boat boy" his due to watch it for us while we made our way along the main road to the open air produce market. We had to watch our step to avoid deep holes in the paved sidewalks and were careful crossing roads in heavy traffic. Honking minivans and motorbikes clogged the narrow streets. The bikes even rode through the narrow alleys of the market where we restocked on fresh veggies. Few people spoke any English but we made do with sign language and smiles that were returned with big friendly grins.
In the crowded minibus that took us back, I marveled at the others in their dark colored long pants and shirts, showing no sign of the heat while I sweltered in my shorts and t-shirt. A mother held an infant who was warmly dressed, even a hat. We then had lunch at Teddy's Bar on the waterfront overlooking the yacht anchorage. The compound was fenced with barbed wire. Here the local expats hang out and drink cold Bintang (the local brew). We splurged on one of the more expensive menu items, delicious grilled squid, salad and fries, which compensated for the morning's ordeal. The bill, including beer and bottled water, was 150,000 Rupias (approx. US$15; we subtract 4 zeroes from prices to figure them out).