Indonesia - part 2
26 October 2013
Virginia and Dennis Johns
Thu Sept 12 - Happy Birthday to Virginia's brother, Tim. We decided to stay on a couple days in Labuhan Bajo. Our friends on Yolo were arriving and Sam, the Indonesian coordinator for the rally, made a big appeal for us all to stay as the President of Indonesia was arriving soon and we cruisers were to have dinner with him one night. On the 12th they offered a free tour over to Komodo Island and we decided to sign up for that as we might then not feel we had to go there with our own boat and could head west sooner. But that morning Virginia was not feeling well so we cancelled out. As it turned out that was quite fortuitous for if we had gone on the group tour and not gone to the tour the Komodo Dragons by ourselves, we would never had had the once in a lifetime experience - more on this later. Dennis did several jerry can runs for diesel fuel and he went onto shore for one of the many Gala dinners scheduled for us here. Virginia was feeling better but didn't want to infect anyone. She had a good view of the fireworks from the boat and spent a relaxing evening reading and resting.
Fri Sept 13 - Due to the president's visit, the normally sleepy town was transformed. Days earlier they had sent security personnel to board every boat in the fleet to look for explosive devices. We also had to move to another anchorage to clear the beachfront where the president would be viewing a naval procession. That beach front was receiving a facelift of unprecedented proportions. The president had so many people in town preparing for his visit that every hotel room was booked. We spoke to some visiting backpackers who were dismayed that their plans for visiting the town would have to be abandoned because they couldn't find a room. Labuhan Bajo had doubled in population overnight and although it was a boon to most of the businesses, many of the locals were not happy with the new hustle and bustle around them. Air conditioned buses picked us up to make the cross town trip to the facility where we would have dinner with the Indonesian President. Excitement was in the air during the ride, as some of the cruisers were preparing for a reception line by practicing how to greet the president in Indonesian. They had metal detectors and security wands at the doors - which we understood, afterall it was the President of their country -thank goodness Dennis had forgotten to put his pocket knife in the long pants he had changed into. The evening was a bit disappointing. He was several hours late in arriving and no refreshments or entertainment or anything to keep us occupied in the meantime - of course we had no trouble biding the time swapping stories with the other cruisers. At one point the cruisers from the USA were rounded up to speak with an American marine who was the Marine Attache to Indonesia. He was so excited to talk to all of us. Miguel "Mando" Avila was a very pleasant fellow. He wanted us to stay afterwards and speak to the US Admiral that was also there, but we never hooked up with her. Mando has emailed us since. When the president finally arrived we gathered around to take pictures and you will see from our gallery that we had a very hard time getting a clear shot. The one we got was fuzzy. We then realized that they had prepared a separate room for him and there was a glass wall separating us. He had his dinner in that room with some of the dignitaries. All the entertainment was in that room. We had our dinner separately along with many of the local dignitaries who were also not in "the room". So much for "Dinner with the President." It was a delicious meal. After we ate we were bussed back to the anchorage - didn't even get to stay to see him walk back out. But we were at least a part of showing our thanks, through our presence, for the support the government gave the rally.
Sat Sept 14 - They asked us to do a sailing parade along with all the navy ships in the harbor (from various countries including the US). This time it was better organized than the one in Lembata had been and we were among 30 other cruising boats which joined the parade. The timing worked well because most of the fleet was ready to leave for the next rally stop so they were going to get underway that morning anyway. Some of the boats pulled out their strings of colorful flags and got all decorated. One of the rally assistants went into town and offered to buy us some flags. But we should have asked him for a lot more - you'll see in the photos how pitiful we looked compared to some others, but we did have a hint of festiveness. Before we paraded there were a few other air demonstrations. Helicopters flew in and hovered really close to the water and divers jumped out. Motorized parasailers flew by the presidential viewing area. At this point we were asked to honk the emergency/fog horns that we had on board enmasse. Then all the navy boats paraded by, with the cruising boats being the end of the parade. We placed ourselves near the tail end and headed out to the Komodo Islands after we did our circuit. We made the short hop to Rincah Island where we went ashore to the ranger station to arrange our dragon tour for the following day.
Sun Sept 15 We met our English speaking tour guide at the ranger station at 0730 as the dragons come out more in the early morning. There are always a few hanging around the camp kitchen (the guide said they smell the food being prepared and come for handouts but they never feed them -so he says) so we saw 5 or so there. We then hiked for several hours around the island. We had quite a bit of shade on the trail he took and so it wasn't unbearably hot. We saw a doWe zen or more dragons which evidently is a lot for one day. We took some video clips of two dragons attacking a waterbuffalo. We tried to post our brief video so you could see for yourselves who came out the winner on that one, but the internet is too slow here I guess. First one of the komodos bit the water buffalo on the nose. The second time he tried to attack the water buffalo batted him across to the opposite side of the pond....our side of the pond. The third time the water buffalo got the tip of his horn into the dragon, lifted him up, swung him around a bit and then threw him off. It was so thrilling. Our our guide immediately moved us on down the path as injured komodos are dangerous. Didn't necessarily hope to see animals attacking each other, but when it happened we were frozen. Our tour guide was so excited - he had been working there 6 years and had yet to see such an occurrence. He had us show our short video to the other rangers when we got back to the station. We upped anchor that afternoon and travelled northwest to North Komodo Island - a nice peaceful anchorage. We had planned on going to Pink Beach but although others had mentioned dragon sightings there, they also talked about the miserable currents you had to battle going in and out. We had strong winds the day we were going that direction and decided we couldn't top our komodo dragon experience with the ranger and changed direction to North Komodo Island.
Mon-Fri Sept 16-20 We left at noon on Monday to do an overnighter from North Komodo to Pulau Medang off the northern coast of Sumbawa. We sailed 80% of the way to brisk winds which "freshened" at one point to 25-30 knots. Lots of sail changes and bumpy seas made it too uncomfortable to really sleep and since it was only a one-nighter, we both stayed up all night in the cockpit -it was kind of nice sharing the night watch, though it would never work for an extended time. We arrived at 1100 Tuesday morning. We saw a big pod of pilot whales enroute. Wednesday we sailed on to Gili Lawang which was 65 miles, just about our limit for a daytime sail. We got there just after the sun set and this small anchorage already had 4 other sailboats and an Indonesian fishing boat all neatly lined up and facing into the wind, which was considerable -the cruising guide said there was room for 5-6 boats, we assumed that included maneuvering room as well. While we could see the other boats, we couldn't evaluate the anchorage like we would have liked. As we attempted to duck behind the other boats to come up into the wind in line with them, we found a shoal. We sat on it for a couple hours until the tide started to rise and then Dennis took out our second anchor and kedged us off of the shoal by placing it in the spot where we wanted our bow to be and then using the windless to pull us toward that area. It worked beautifully and he had us in perfect position in very short order. We left there at first light Wednesday, along with all the other sailboats, and sailed all day to brisk winds (but reefing the sails made it quite comfortable) and were in Medana Bay on Lombok Island before sunset. We spent several days there, renting a scooter one day to go into the nearest big town. We found a tourist information center there that got us oriented to town and the shops we wanted to visit; as usual, we make the most of our shopping and provisioning runs by sightseeing along the way which was excellent as the road followed the coast. It was quite breezy and a fairly long scooter ride into town. We had the wind at our back on the return trip which made it more pleasant. We saw some beautiful vistas along the north coast of Lombok.
Fri - Thu Sep 20-26 We headed for Lovina Beach, Bali on Friday. We again had high winds, gusting to 30 knots, but it was on the beam so did lots of sailing and made quite a quick trip to Bali. We left at 0500, first light, and arrived just 12 hours later at Lovina Beach Bali. The welcome festivities were already happening, so we quickly put the boat in order, took quick showers and headed to the beach for the Gala dinner. We have to be here a few days to get our visas renewed. We also have to decide if we have time to go to Java or if we will need to head north to Kalimantan as our Cruising Permit for Indonesia expires October 29 and there are still many miles to go before we check out of Indonesia in Bintan. Lovina Beach is on the north side of the island. The south coast is where most tourists visit. We didn't see that part of the island. But we did arrange, with Belinda and Chris from Nahanni, for a tour. Our driver Komang took us to a Buddhist Temple (our favorite-beautiful and peaceful), a Hindu temple in a lovely lakeside location (a bit touristy), a waterfall, a hot springs (where it was actually refreshing and therapeutic with mini waterfalls to massage necks and shoulders in one of the pools and we all took a dip), twin lakes, and the monkey forest. What was very striking is the consistency of the architecture. Even the most modest of homes had elaborate concrete sculpturing on a front wall, roof treatment or front-yard shrine. Our guide explained that Bali has a building code which requires all new construction (commercial and residential) to include this type of sculpturing consistency so the Bali culture is reflected and reinforced (hmmm where have we heard of that before -can you see all the red tile roofs of downtown Santa Barbara?) Along the way we stopped for lunch at a local/non-touristy spot (told him we wanted to go to some place where he would eat). Another day Belinda and Virginia took an Indonesian cooking class - lots of fun. We went to the traditional open market and stocked up on fresh produce (and Indonesian spices -Virginia capitalizing on her recent cuisine lesson). Every night there was entertainment of some sort on the stage on the beach. The locals gathered in big numbers, but they always reserved the chairs for us cruisers - so polite. The dancing and music in Bali is different from what we have experienced on the other Indonesian islands. The dancing is not as flowing - more jerky with very distinctive eye movements and the music is all percussion with multiple musicians beating gamelons. The outfits here were all quite elaborate and beautiful. There was a whole row of souvenir shops on the beach and they were aggressive sellers - so different from elsewhere in Indonesia. Virginia wanted some Bali souvenirs, but it was uncomfortable shopping - a different culture. She did buy a piece of Batik fabric on our tour inland. On our last day in Lovina, we hired Komang again to take us to the nearby town for shopping at supermarket, a Telcomsel store to get our internet fixed (always struggling with it!), and a few places for boat bits and pieces. He is such a nice fellow and a very good driver. Not expensive at all and we shared the cost with Chris and Belinda.
Fri-Wed Sept 27 - Oct 3 - Happy Birthday to Dennis' sister Carolyn on the 2nd. We headed out towards Java, but picked a few anchorages to minimize the overnight passages. There are so many fishing boats and unlit FADS (fish attracting devices - see our photo gallery) that make night passages stressful. We stopped the first night at Kangean. It was a bit out of the way to the East, but a nice anchorage and it would make the next leg a day trip. The second day we had good sailing winds and anchored at Sapudi that night. Days three and four we were busy dodging fishing boats, FADs, and freighters during the day, but thankfully that quieted down at night. We saw some squidders but they always have bright lights on to attract the squid and they don't move much, so they aren't a worry at night - very easy to see and avoid. That was an overnight passage, arriving in Pulau Bawean about 1100. Our final leg to Karimunjawa Island was wonderful. We sailed the whole way of the 24 hour trip and caught two dorodo - delicious fish. Dennis had been convinced that there were no fish in Indonesia and many in the fleet agreed as none had been caught thus far. Our idea of seeing the temple on mainland Java at Borobudur was a bust (not the rally's fault). The ferries weren't running between the islands of Karimunjawa and Java as the winds and swell that we enjoyed during our sail the previous day were too much for the small ferry boats. We learned that some cruisers who arrived earlier had taken the ferry over and were now stranded on Java. We checked into taking our own boat over to the mainland, but there were problems with us being in the harbor and leaving our boat for the tour. So we cut our losses and headed to our next destination, the Kumai River on Kalimantan (Indonesian part of Borneo-the majority of the island) to see orangutans in the wild.
Thu-Mon Oct 4-8 - We got to sail almost all the way on this overnight trip. We only had to use the motor a couple hours during the night. It was a very pleasant trip. We arrived at the river mouth Friday around noon and over the next 4 hours worked our way up the river to the town of Kumai. Our friends Belinda and Chris on Nahanni had arrived a few days earlier and had a river tour arranged for the four of us. We were picked up at our boat at 0900 Saturday morning. It was a 2 day, 1 night, adventure and it was fabulous. We had three crew: the captain of the boat, our English speaking tour guide who also helped with handling the boat, and our cook. They were lovely people and went all out to make sure we enjoyed our time. The food was excellent. They asked our preferences regarding spices and thus made mild dishes for us with a bottle of hot sauce on the side for Chris. Belinda and Virginia wished they could take another cooking class from Tri ("Tree") as it was all so delicious. She was such a shy person - getting embarrassed and laughing when we complimented her cooking. The guys were equally friendly and accommodating. On that first day we travelled up the river to Camp Leakey - the orangutan reserve. Orangutans are native to Indonesia and Malaysia and currently found only in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. On the path to the feeding station (where most of the orangutans are viewed), we overtook a female ape slowly making her way to the meal. She had been in a fight and had several open wounds that were clearly uncomfortable. Any wounded animal is unpredictable and our guide was careful in negotiating our group past her. Everyone quickly walked in a single line past her until Dennis who was bringing up the rear. As soon as Dennis tried to pass her, she sped up to keep him from passing. This alarmed the guide and Dennis was directed to drop back and wait for another opportunity to pass (a wide portion of the path). The ape resumed her slow walk and Dennis tried another pass, but she would have none of it and sped up again. This happened a few more times and Virginia began to show concern. Eventually another opportunity occurred and this time when Dennis got even with the ape and she began to speed up the guide mouthed the word RUN. The guide did not know that Dennis' knees where no longer suitable for running. Regardless, Dennis took off at a quick trot and safely left the ape behind, resuming her slow walk as soon as he passed. Evidently we were lucky because upon arriving at the viewing station, the ape tribe chief, Tom, showed up (he's not always there) and in fact jumped off the feeding platform and into the crowd causing some excitement. We spent quite a bit of time there while the orangutans swung in from the treetops and negotiated their way around Tom to get some of the bananas the rangers had delivered. Several mothers had babies hanging onto them. Orangutans are not naturally social like many primates. They are territorial which makes the destruction of their habitat particularly threatening to their existence. We then moved back down the river to anchor in the 'lake' for the night. Since this was the dry season, the lake was no more than a small turnout on the side of the river. But what a spot - as they prepared our dinner we sat and watched a big group of monkeys playing in the trees. They put down mattresses with sheets and pillows and mosquito netting canopies. We didn't have any rain so we asked them to leave the side curtains open so we could get the wind and hear all the sounds of the jungle. We woke early in the morning to find a brilliantly colored kingfisher perched on a branch near our boat. It sat there for at least 10 minutes allowing us to get some great photos. They are a bright yellow with bright blue wings and a bright orange beak. The second day we continued back down the river making several stops. There were two more orangutan feeding stations - each had their unique interest points. For instance, at one station a big orangutan (almost as big as Tom) stole the ranger's pack right off his back and sat down to eat the bananas right out of the pack. They let him have his way (where does a 300 lb. orangutan eat? -anywhere he wants) and then when he started to leave, about an hour later, dragging the pack behind him, the ranger managed to snatch the pack from him....but not without an argument from the orangutan. At another spot we saw a big group of probiscus monkeys alongside the river and stopped to watch. These monkeys are endemic to Kalimantan and are very unique looking with large noses - see pics in the gallery. When we got back to our boats we didn't want to say goodbye to our crew - such lovely people. It was a once in a lifetime experience. The next day we hired a car, driver, and our English speaking guide from the tour to take us to the neighboring 'big' town to do a bit of shopping and provisioning -the main article needed was a new battery for Nahanni.
Tues-Fri Oct 9-11 in the morning we left the river on the outgoing tide so we'd have the current going with us and anchored in the early afternoon at the mouth of the river along with Nahanni and two other boats (Southern Wing and Watusi). Virginia polished the stainless steel lifeline that was starting to look really terrible and prepared some dinners for our upcoming overnight passage to Belitung. Dennis tuned up the windless. All four boats left the anchorage at first light, around 0530. We were sailing along with Nahanni until early afternoon when they decided to deviate a bit further south to give some upcoming shoals a wider berth. At 1700 that night we spoke with them on the radionet and got the bad news that they were having transmission problems. They decided they would skip Belitung and head straight for the northern edge of Indonesia where we would all be checking out of the country. There is a marina there and they wanted to get there asap and have the transmission serviced. We continued onto Belitung. We had great winds the first day and made so many miles that we needed to purposely slow ourselves down that night so that would arrive after sunrise the following day.
Sat-Tues Oct 12-15 We arrived in Tanjung Kelayang on the northwest corner of Belitung early morning. We went ashore that evening to listen to the music. They had a group of four young women and one man singing with keyboard, violin, gongs, and various other instruments accompanying. They weren't doing any elaborate dancing, just a simple back and forth step, but they selected some of the men (with the standard scarf around the neck tradition) to go up on the stage to dance with them. The next morning we were to ride a bus for a tour of the city. Before they loaded the buses they had a surprise for us. They were releasing a bunch of small turtles from the preservation breeding program into the sea and we all got to help. We ate lunch with the local regent in a 'traditional house'. We visited one of the senior high schools. As usual, the children were all so pleasant. Two girls walked up to us and asked if they could show us around. It turns out that one was the school's elected ambassador of tourism and the other one (her best friend since elementary school) was the runner-up. We felt bad for monopolizing their time, but they insisted. Some of the boys were playing a game that looked like a cross between soccer and volleyball. It was on a volleyball type court with a low net, but they were kicking the ball with their feet - never touching it with their hands. The "ball" was made of woven branches. They did have a soccer ball in play in the center court of the school and as might be expected the boys were showing off for the tourists. The ball went through a glass window and while the boys scattered, the girls laughed. Thomas was a visiting student teacher there from Albany, New York on a Fulbright scholarship. Rather an odd place to choose to go we thought but he seemed quite enthusiastic about his situation. We visited a museum of local Belitung artifacts, mostly related to tin mining. There was a small zoo on the same grounds of local Belitung wildlife including birds, crocodiles, seaturtles, and such. After seeing orangutans in the wild, the zoo was kind of depressing - very small habitat areas for the animals. We then rented a car for a day, with driver, to do provisioning as the closest stores were back in that 'big city' that we had toured the prior day. All during this time we were having radio chats twice a day with Nahanni as their transmission had gotten so weak that they were sailing only - no motoring. But with the light winds as they neared the equator, they were struggling. We were providing support by giving them weather reports and tracking their daily positions and intended routes. On the morning radio nets they would get offers of support from nearby vessels. We also brainstormed some possible short term help for their transmission problem with folks at Kelayang and one of the ideas we garnered from another cruiser helped. This kind of support is what we cruisers all like to provide because we know someone will be there for us when we need it.
Wed-Sat Oct 16-19 Wednesday we set out on a planned overnight trip to Pulau Lingga (at the top of the Bangka Island). We had a great sail during the day, putting us ahead of schedule for arriving in daylight the following morning so we had to really slow down the boat at night. Friday morning we did a short hop a bit west to Singkep Island to get more diesel. We had a squall in the anchorage that brought enough wind to make the seas really rolly. It was very shallow a long way out so we were anchored quite a distance from the pier. Dennis had fun transporting the jerry jugs between the boat and pier and even more trouble emptying the jerry jugs into the tank on the tossing deck so he could make a second trip. Although the cruiser guide said fuel was available at this town, after seven jerry jugs, we had apparently cleaned out the town's supply of diesel. As soon as we had the second load aboard, we upped anchor and headed for a protected anchorage on the southern side of Lingga Island. In the southeast trades that are typical for this time of year in this area, we had usually sought out northern anchorages, but the wind was now coming from the north. We found about 6 other boats already anchored there and we had a quiet night. Early Saturday morning we left for Kentar which is just across the equator. We didn't make a big deal of this second crossing, dressing up and sharing champagne with Neptune like we had done the first time, but we got a warm feeling, as if we were home, getting back into the northern hemisphere. Since Kentar is another northern anchorage, we actually went to the south side of the nearby island of Bakau - as did most boats that were there that night.
Sun-Thu Oct 20-24 Sunday we sailed from Bakau to Mesanak. We were the only boat there and hadn't been there too long when we heard a young boy calling us to come out. We went out to find 4 young boys ages 10-11 who had talked their teacher into rowing them out to see us so they could practice their English. They were so sweet. They even sang us a song. The teacher, Herman, said he likes to use song to help them learn English. We had some sets of colored pencils on board and gave each boy one of those. Herman learned his English in college and by working at a resort on Bintan Island for a year after college. He was now living in the small community of Mesanak with his wife and young child and said he liked the small town atmosphere. Monday we planned to leave at first light so that we could make it to our last Indonesian stop before sunset; we got up at 0430. During the night an Indonesian fishing vessel had anchored near us and was positioned over our anchor so we had to wait until about 0530 when Dennis saw them moving about. We called over to them, explained the problem and they quickly and happily moved out of the way. We were travelling through the channel between Bintan and Batam islands where there is a lot of shipping traffic, a lot of fish houses, and on that day a lot of squalls. Judging from the tales from others of their passage through there, we had it easy. We did have to dodge fish houses and a few freighters, and we did get into some squalls. But somehow we'd get on the edge of a squall, take advantage of the wind it was bringing and it would miraculously part in front of us and we'd be out of the rain. At one point a boat following us called to see if we were out of it yet as they had it so heavy they couldn't see and wondered if it would soon get better. We gave them our position and they were so looking forward to getting to that area for some relief, but the squall kept moving north and reforming behind us and we aren't sure when they eventually got that relief. We got to Nongsa Point Marina on Batam Island at about 1530. The rally finale was on the nearby island of Bintan, but on the morning radio nets the boats that were already there were reporting that the anchorage was horribly rolly and the waves breaking on shore made it impossible at times to get ashore. So we opted to meet our friends on Nahanni at Nongsa Point Marina. They had made it there safe and sound a few days earlier. Turned out there were quite a few rally boats at the marina. We feel badly that we missed the final event, but most of our friends will be continuing on to the Malaysian rally so we'll see them again. And we aren't sorry that we were tucked into this nice marina with a swimming pool while they were getting beat up in a northern anchorage by these unusual northerlies. We will be here a few days and then head to Johor Bahru in Malaysia. It is right across the channel from Singapore so we plan to do a day trip or two to Singapore before the start of the Sail Malaysia rally.