Afulu, Hinako, and Especially Lagundri

Heading down the west coast of Nias from Lahewa, our first stop was Afulu. The entrance was exciting — appearing to have breaking waves all across it. Our cruising guide, limited though it is, gave waypoints for a passage in. Nerve wracking, but no problem. Once inside, there is a huge peaceful bay, where another yacht was anchored. We had a chat with Tim, on Revel, but for the most part we just enjoyed the peace and quiet.

We started early the next morning, heading out through the gap in the surf just as a squall was coming overhead. The squall provided welcome shade, and for a couple hours provided a decent sailing breeze. But as the breeze died out midday, we decided to stop at the Hinako island group. We spent an hour motoring around looking for a decent anchorage, and never really found one. Maybe that’s why these islands aren’t mentioned in our guide or in the notes from any other cruisers!

Very remote place! And made rather eerie by surf breaking in what appears to be open water, no land in the vicinity. The chart shows shallows at some of those places, but others it shows being deep, which is disconcerting.

In the morning we tuned in to an informal cruisers “net” on the radio, and learned that another boat, Convivia, was also bound for Lagundri (south end of Nias), and they were out of fuel. We offered to meet them outside the anchorage and pass them a jerry jug of diesel. As it turned out, they filtered a gallon or so from the dregs in their own jugs, and then sailed in without assistance. But they invited us over for margaritas!

They are a young couple with two kids, maybe 11 and 8. The kids could not be more different from the kids on Tahawus — they are outgoing and want to interact with the adult visitors, and serve us food and drinks, and tell us their ideas about cool inventions. Tomorrow we all go into town together with Todi.

Todi paddled out to us on his surfboard. He speaks pretty good English (though he has the Indonesian habit of saying Yes whenever he doesn’t understand what we say). We had a long talk with him, including arranging tomorrow’s tour and ride into town, for us and for the four Convivians. Then in the evening he took us to his family’s losman (guesthouse) for dinner. We didn’t realize we would be the only ones there. Nor that ordering chicken with our curry noodles meant that they would have to buy/kill/prepare a chicken, and it would take over an hour! No worries, we got to meet Todi’s mother, father, and wife, plus they had Bintang beer that we haven’t had for months. Cold and delicious.

We also didn’t realize when we followed Todi’s lead to shore that we would be tying the dinghy just off the jagged coral, stepping off to the coral, and walking over 50+ yards of coral and mud to get to solid ground. Tim had a case of the shore-sways, perhaps augmented by the margarita, and he went half way into the drink. I blew out my flip-flop, as the appropriate song goes. After the fine meal and large-size Bintangs, we got to find our way back through the mud and over the coral in the dark. We found the dinghy okay, except that the line tying it to the shore had untied itself, and it was hanging by its stern line 50 feet out in deep water. Whatever, a little swim after a big meal…quite nice. A good time we had, and wondering what adventures are in store tomorrow…


In the morning Todi had a truck and driver lined up. We picked up the Convivians and rode through small surf to the beach. Locals helped us pull the dinghy above the high tide line. Off we went to town — first stop a gas station to buy about 80 gallons of diesel (10 for us, 70 for Convivia). This was a little dicey, because it is not legal for us to buy diesel — the government subsidizes the price, and thus it is only for Indonesians. Foreigners have to buy at designated places at higher prices, but of course there is no such place nearby, and of course locals want to pass along the low price to us with a small markup.

We tried to get a firm price before filling the jugs, and our guide said we could have the pump price (since he was already getting lots of money from us for the truck and driver). But then the gas station wanted extra. Tucker from Convivia held the line, giving them a very small bonus, but basically saying no to their requests. Meanwhile our driver was watching police vehicles fueling, and he looked very worried. We did the deal, no problems.

Then to lunch; then to the supermarket for a few things; then to “The Village.” We had no idea what to expect there, but Todi said we could see the traditional stone jumping. This is where a boy coming of age has to jump over a two meter high stone wall, some say with sharp sticks on the top, some say with no knowledge of what’s on the other side (maybe that’s metaphorical), and we also heard it said that a man couldn’t marry until he successfully jumps (but others laughed at that).

The Village turns out to be atop a mountain. Or at least a very long steep hill, and far from the water. From the road you walk up 50 or so stone steps, to a remarkable place. It is expansive and very flat, as though the top of the hill was sheared off or ground down. There is a wide straight paved-with-stones “Main Street” stretching out ahead, with houses and shops strung all together along it. Half way down there is the King’s house on the left, and another long wide flat street across from the King’s place. I am amazed by the stone paving, and how wide the streets are and how flat. This was clearly a special place, a place of power! And so far from the sea!

By now we are being attacked by men selling traditional (maybe) carvings and necklaces and other souvenirs. They are unrelenting, following us everywhere, asking us to look again at their wares — it is for their children to be able to go to school. I buy a carving and a necklace. In retrospect I might have bought several necklaces, but I feel like once I’ve made a purchase I have to say no, no, no, in order to fend off the others and be able to breathe.

Having heard so much about the jumping, it seemed obligatory to pay to see a young man jump. It seemed better in the stories than in practice, but I imagine in the days of old (Todi’s grandfather jumped, so only two generations back) it must have been a major event with everyone watching and feasts and parties.

We walked through the King’s house, which also served as a community house, hosting feasts. It is built up on colossal tree trunks; it is huge; it is massive; and like the streets it has a very solid, very flat (but in this case wooden) floor. The whole Village seems like a museum, but the houses (except the King’s) are lived in. And not much interpretation/history is provided. It was one of the most impressive sights I have seen on this voyage, and I didn’t even know it existed. Glad Todi set this tour in motion.

Then back to the beach. Except…we were supposed to stop at a vegetable market and a store for buying more mobile data. Things got messy at this point. We were already over the 4 hours we had hired the truck for. We needed to get all the fuel out to the boats, and then return some borrowed Jerry jugs. And we still wanted to complete our errands. Tucker and I did fuel; Tim and Victoria had a shopping adventure that included other errands that the driver had to do, plus a flat tire! It was exhausting and more expensive than planned, but it got done. And I got to hang with Tucker for a while and talk about Maine (he’s from Damariscotta), and what made us good at our jobs, and my men’s team, and community, and cohousing, and his dream of having a farm where people doing cool things can come to live cheaply in community, and share their work and have interesting synergies happen. Memorable day!


Next day we were thinking of renting surfboards for a first-ever try at surfing. But first there was the leaky hatch to repair. And more research into a possible battery replacement configuration. And I wanted to replace the fuel filters on the starboard side, because that engine seemed to labor at times. That turned into a long hot messy process, as did trying to bleed the fuel system after, and get the engine to start.

Then Todi came by for a visit, paddling his surfboard with one hand because he had my sandals in the other. He had seen my “blow outs,” and had offered to get them fixed for less than $2. He delivered them back repaired. Not tested yet, but he asserts they are “very strong.” And then I wanted to clean some of the “beard” off our waterline, and say goodbye to our new friends on Convivia. Oh, and go aloft to check that lines aren’t chaffing at the masthead.

So…we didn’t get surfing. That’s a little sad, since we are at a primo surf site — people travel from all over the world to surf here. But on the other hand, we’re not going to get our first lesson out on the big reef break, but on the tiny beach break, which is not what surfers come here for! In any case there may be more opportunities just ahead…


Tim asked Todi if people ever ate dolphins. No, he said, many people believe they are a sign from God. I like that.


It’s a long drive up, up, up to The Village, culminating with these steps…


And the “Main Street” stretches out before you, with the King’s house towering on the left.


The jumper approaches the traditional hurdle. Sorry, I didn’t get a good photo of him mid-flight.


But of course our fee included a post jump photo op.


Where did these huge stone slabs come from? How were they moved to the highest point on the island? Why…? No answers.


The King’s house. Note the enormous logs holding it up above the ground!


The foundation logs run at various angles. Could that be to withstand earthquakes? No nails or bolts, of course.


One of many carvings on the walls. Are those cannons on the boat? They also look like their traditional drums…


This theme repeats at the village entrance and at the King’s house.


Along the street. Artwork outside a cafe?


Ruby and Miles from Convivia show how far (up) the Village is from the shore.


Looking Ahead

Vika asked about the route ahead, and I guess it is time for an update. In two weeks we will rendezvous with our new crew, TC, somewhere this side of Padang (middle of western coast of Sumatra). Then we will sail to Padang as our departure point from Indonesia. Luc will meet our fleet of two there. And there’s a chance we will connect with one or more other boats headed in the same direction, and grow our fleet.

In Padang our focus will be on first trying to rid the boat of an infestation of tiny red ants, and then on provisioning for crossing the Indian Ocean. Weather permitting, we plan to depart Padang on May 11. We will probably still anchor at a couple of the Indonesian islands on our way south, even though technically we aren’t supposed to after clearing out. We need to get south to get out of the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ, aka the doldrums) to find wind. Padang is essentially right on the equator, which is why we have calms and squalls and shifting breezes in all directions. South lie the trade winds that will get us across an ocean.

South also is the Australian island of Cocos Keeling. We hope to stop there, because it sounds like an interesting place, and because it would break up the long passage. But it is a toss-up whether the wind will allow us to get there without beating to windward. If the wind is in our face, we will skip Cocos and head west, destination Rodrigues (part of the country of Mauritius). And subsequently on to Mauritius proper. There we will have another hiatus of two months, and I will fly home for a break.

Yes, Vika, the original plan was to go to India and cross the northern Indian Ocean to the Red Sea. When the BPOers decided that the Middle East was not a good place to be, and we would sail around Africa instead, that changed the schedule (hence this long period cruising SE Asia, as we wait for cyclone season to end) as well as shifting the route to the southern Indian Ocean. I’m happy with the change; I’m just champing at the bit to head back out to sea.

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