Lahewa, Nias Island

After our experience of being overrun with boys yesterday (plus getting the provisions we needed), we were tempted to move on today. But we had spoken with the harbormaster about maybe arranging a ride into Gunungsitoli (the big city of Nias, population 125,000) for us, with an English-speaking driver. And we had to go see the harbormaster anyway, as he was holding our clearance papers. So we went ashore, playing it by ear.

There were several people in his office, and we sat and chatted. After some coffee he asked if we wanted to go to the city, that he would drive us himself for 600,000 Rupiah (about $50). We decided yes. But first Tim asked if we could complete our clearance, since we would leave the following morning. Yes, he says, but there is the minor problem that we cleared out of Sabang for Padang, not for Lahewa, so we weren’t really supposed to be there. But not to worry, we should pay a small fine to make it right. Okay…, how much is the fine? Well, that’s up to us…

I suggested 50,000 (about $4), a figure I had read in someone else’s Indonesian cruising story, and he asked if we had American money — that $5 would be good. We didn’t have American money with us. Oh, but wait! We’ve had a soggy $5 bill in the seat of our dinghy since before we left the US! We left it there as “mad money,” and this was the perfect opportunity to use it. Everyone satisfied, we got our clearance papers and piled into his air conditioned car for the almost two hour drive to Gunungsitoli.

The road was good — it was built after the tsunami. But there were many little bridges, and the roadbuilders didn’t extend their good work to those bits. Tim suggested they didn’t get enough money from Jakarta, and I think our host was a little offended by that. He said no, that workers in Indonesia sometimes just say, “Good enough; I’m going home.”

The tsunami was not devastating here like it was in Aceh. Yes, it was destructive. But the tsunami of 2004 was followed by a more deadly earthquake here in 2005! What a place to call home!

We had a nice lunch at a waterfront hotel, and then visited the Nias Museum. Fascinating. They had a culture somewhat like the Marquesas, with lots of tribal warfare. Here they didn’t eat their enemies, but they hunted heads. And they made stone sculptures reminiscent of tikis. They had amazing houses, interesting tools, and far more that I couldn’t absorb. Nias is only 40% Muslim; it is predominantly Christian. Our driver says they all live together in peace; the kids go to the same schools. But sometimes the government overlooks their needs, he says, because they are not “as Muslim” as most of Indonesia.

Tim asked what he thinks about the United States. Sometimes good, he thinks, and sometimes not. He thinks Obama is a good man, who does not tell everyone to be the same as Americans. But invading Iraq was the bad side of the US.

Everyone on Nias seems to have power (and most have a TV antenna). Not everyone has water, except off their roof, and sometimes when it is dry they have to buy more. Our driver has always been interested in the US, since he meets people on yachts, and once he worked on a tugboat that went to Diego Garcia to help dock a US aircraft carrier! But he says he would never have the money to actually go to the US. Several people have made similar statements, that we have the means to visit Indonesia but they do not have the ability to visit the US.

When Tim got around to the subject of alcohol, he told us that Nias has a traditional alcohol drink distilled from coconut milk. He arranged with a friend for us to buy some. Coconut moonshine!

It was a long and tiring day, so we weren’t too happy to look out from the pier and see kids climbing on the boat! They swam away as we approached, but others then swam out. We yelled at anyone that came aboard. It took several iterations before they gave up and left, so we could sample our moonshine in peace.


Example of traditional Nias house of old


A tangle of reinforced concrete becomes a monument to the tsunami and earthquake


Examples of traditional stone sculptures on Nias


Lahewa, Nias


One thought on “Lahewa, Nias Island”

  1. Great photos and stories Zeke. I’m still so fascinated by your journey and the coolness of the itty bitty places you’re getting to see from the sailing perspective. Can you say a few words about the route of your next big crossing? Do you go below India on your way to Africa?
    Safe explorations! Vika


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