Tag Archives: sabang

To Sumatra Mainland

We thought we were free to leave Sabang at any time, but Luc told us that the harbormaster wanted to give us a port clearance paper. We dropped Chris ashore, and then Tim dinghied me close to the harbormaster, and waited for what we thought would be a short and simple matter…

I thought they would be expecting me, but instead it was a challenge to get across why I was there. I was granted an audience with the harbormaster. I explained that we wished to leave for Padang (stopping along the way). But it turns out you cannot specify Padang as your next port, apparently because it has multiple locations/harbors, and you have to be more specific. I had heard of one of the choices, so I picked that.

Next of course I fill out a form and apply the boat stamp. Then he pulls out the No Regrets file and starts inspecting it. Why does my crew list show two people but we arrived with three? I pantomime that Chris took off in an airplane to go (eventually) home. He calls immigration to check on this. Seems to be okay. But wait, what is my name…? One form shows my middle name, another doesn’t… He looks at my passport, and again I seem to squeak by. Then he calls in someone who seems to speak a little more English, and the two of them have a long and serious-sounding discussion. After several minutes I interrupt to ask if my ‘translator’ can explain the issue to me. “Oh, we are talking about a Thai boat that came in recently and broke many rules. We’re not talking about you.” Then he says we are done. I asked if the harbormaster wasn’t going to give me a clearance paper, and he said no, all done. He gets up to leave, and I start to follow him, when the harbormaster calls me back, pointing at a pad of clearance forms and saying something that I imagine would translate like, “Where do you think you’re going? You need a clearance paper, fool!”

Then he calls quarantine, and one of their guys shows up. He says I need to come to his office. No, not when you’re done with the harbormaster; now. Off we go, and he and two very pleasant associates start filling out forms. One was actually done on a typewriter, for those who know what that is! Many signatures and stamps, and then they are assembled into a “health book” that I guess I can show to authorities on our way south, should any authorities care to intercept us. Next he pulls out a ledger and starts writing out the fee for each form. At this I object, saying we were told we had no fees to pay. “No, not you, Captain, you do not pay. The officials in the blue building pay us.” Okay, I guess. I am dismissed with my health book, and walk back to the harbormaster’s.

I now get my clearance. He says it costs $5 US. I explain that I don’t have US money, and he agrees to take 40,000 Rupiah (about $3). But I only have a 100,000 note. I show him but don’t hand it over, asking of he can make change. Another guy in the office, who has become my current translator, hands me 50,000. Close enough. All done? Yes, but he says the harbormaster would like a gift of US $1. I’m trying not to lose my cool (actually, have been trying for the past hour). Nodding toward the payment just made I say, “Didn’t I just give you a gift?” No problem, it is not required, goodbye Captain and I hope you have enjoyed Sabang.

Yes, it is all part of the adventure. Frustrating, especially with the language barrier, but I am much more relaxed about it than I used to be. Worst case it will delay us a day and cost a few dollars. At least, I think that’s the worst case. I suppose they could throw us in jail for giving beer to locals. On that subject I did one thing right. On the customs forms filled out on entry there was a question: “Alcohol in cargo.” They could see we had alcohol, but I told them we don’t have any cargo, and wrote “None.” I just got a warning that all alcohol must remain aboard. One of the other boats listed two cases of beer, resulting in it being confiscated.

By noon we were underway, though with no plan yet for where we were going. There are some islands a dozen miles SW, with no description in our (very limited) cruising guide. We had a little wind, and finally tried out the spinnaker that I brought from home. I thought it was bigger than our old Parasailor, but if so it is only slightly bigger. Whatever, it seems to be in good shape and we had a nice sail.

It was near sunset when we approached our selected anchorage. We were approached by a fishing boat with two young men. We tried to ask if it was okay to anchor there. I’m not sure they understood, but they said no. I pointed to the next spot west, and they said yes. They waited while we anchored and then came alongside (banging into us), asking for drinks. We said no. They asked for ice, which made us laugh. We have a freezer, but not one effective enough for making ice. They left.

It was a little unnerving, as we were now in a VERY remote area. No boats except a few fishing boats. We would be completely vulnerable if someone came with ill intent. But I find in these situations that the only thing to do is to trust in the goodness of people, and we have encountered nothing but good half the world around.

That night there were strange creatures creating phosphorescent scribbles in the water. Hard to describe. If a shone a flashlight at one, there would be no creature visible, and the trail would be erased. But as soon as the light was out a little scribble would begin again, and make a crooked trail a couple feet long. There were dozens of these skinny little trails alongside us. I still can’t figure out what made them. Beautiful night, and happy to be cruising again.

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In the morning a few fishing boats came by to check us out, but all just waved and moved on. We set sail and headed south to mainland Sumatra. We anchored at a surfer beach. The west coast of Sumatra is considered a surfer’s paradise. We met a pair of Australian surfers (our age) living on a catamaran. The owner has been cruising/surfing in this area for twelve years. Where we anchored is a popular beach with the locals. Kids piling into our dinghy when we launch it from the beach; teenagers being towed on inflatable torpedoes, zooming past us while those in the tow boat take photos.

This entire area was erased by the tsunami. It took a direct hit. About a third of the population was killed! It is very hard to imagine. It is beautiful here, and the beach is crowded with kids playing. Tim took a taxi into the city of Banda Aceh to see the Tsunami Museum. There is also a huge barge there that was washed five kilometers inland (!), and left there as a monument. I decided to forego the photos and maps and statistics and monuments, and just try to commune with the wonder and power of the natural forces of our planet. A little challenging when being constantly buzzed by teenagers wanting me to pose in their pictures…but it’s all part of the adventure…

 

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Trying out our “new” spinnaker

 

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The zoomers come by, about every ten minutes…

 

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…and good-naturedly insist on photos with us in the background. Sweet, but it gets old!

Sabang Photos

Oops, I neglected to attach photos of Sabang in previous post!

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Photo provided by one of the tourist folks. I have no idea how it was taken!

 

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Welcoming the BPO Rally!

 

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The quarantine officials were very nice, despite confiscating the big blue bag of post-expiration-date meds… Luc and Chris on the right.

 

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Market

 

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Rob from Maggie and Jim from Gaia check out the fruit.

 

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Roundabout
Mosque 1
Mosque 1

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To the volcano
To the volcano
Steaming fuming bubbling stinking hot mud spring
Steaming fuming bubbling stinking hot mud spring
Speaking of fuming, smoking is a big problem here
Speaking of fuming, smoking is a big problem here
Trash, too.
Trash, too.
Rob and Carol renew their vows at the traditional marriage alter at the local museum.
Rob and Carol renew their vows at the traditional marriage alter at the local museum.
Lunch stop on the tour
Lunch stop on the tour
Neat road up to Kilometer Zero, but what if there's another bus coming the other way...?
Neat road up to Kilometer Zero, but what if there’s another bus coming the other way…?
Kilometer Zero
Kilometer Zero (monument under construction)
These monkeys were quite aggressive, not like the friendly ones in Bali
These monkeys were quite aggressive, not like the friendly ones in Bali
Delightful swimming hole with water massage under the falls
Delightful swimming hole with water massage under the falls
I was intrigued with the artwork on the toilet facility near the falls
I was intrigued with the artwork on the toilet facility near the falls
Back to the boat for our nap before dinner. We parked right next to the Coast Guard.
Back to the boat for our nap before dinner. We parked right next to the Coast Guard.
Our official welcome. They offered us little wrapped-in-a-leaf packets that we were told to eat. The contained a beetle nut -- almost impossible to chew/swallow!
Our official welcome. They offered us little wrapped-in-a-leaf packets that we were told to eat. The contained a beetle nut — almost impossible to chew/swallow!
Drumming/singing performance
Drumming/singing performance
Luc lines everyone up for the obligatory BPO photo
Luc lines everyone up for the obligatory BPO photo
The school we visited in one of the towns
The school we visited in one of the towns
Listening to Luc's introductory comments
Listening to Luc’s introductory comments
Telling the story of the tsunami, and searching for her brother
Telling the story of the tsunami, and searching for her brother

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One thing I love about Indonesia is the exuberant colors, including on the local fishing boats!
One thing I love about Indonesia is the exuberant colors, including on the local fishing boats!

 

 

 

Sabang, Indonesia

The past five days have been busy busy busy, largely because Luc met us in Sabang (where we checked into Indonesia), and as we all know Luc sets up tours and dinners and special events every day! But first, I noticed that some of Chris’s snorkeling photos got deleted from the previous post, including one of my favorite blue and yellow fish, so I’m adding them here:

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We had a good crossing from Phuket to Sabang. We had some wind, and it was nice to only motor some of the way. We mostly sailed with just our working jib — slow but easy and comfortable, and about at Maggie’s speed. Sabang has a nice harbor, but one has to anchor in about 60 feet, which is annoying and potentially unsafe.

Various authorities came aboard. The quarantine people went looking for ‘expired’ medications and cans of food. They didn’t find any out of date food, but they found lots of out of date medications, which they confiscated. Luc says their concern is that we might give old medications to Indonesian residents, and among their many regulations there is one prohibiting bringing these things into the country. No matter that Tim pulled up a medical journal with a study showing that 90% of medications are still effective 15 years after their expiry dates!

What did matter was that the government is trying to promote tourism, and welcome yachts, and Luc was connected with the officials in charge of that. They pressured the quarantine folks to return our stuff just before we departed Sabang (with a promise that we wouldn’t let officials elsewhere in Sumatra see the stuff, since they were violating regs by letting us keep it). There were four other yachts in the harbor, and one of them was not so lucky. The quarantine guy apologetically asked if there was anything in their old meds they couldn’t do without. The skipper got his epi-pen back. Then the official poured gasoline on the rest and lit it! Obviously the effort to be welcoming to yachts is still a work in progress.

Some of the authorities who came aboard asked for beer. I wasn’t prepared for that, as this area is very strictly Muslim and alcohol is illegal except at resorts. I gave them each a can of beer. I should have said no, and offered soda instead. Oh well, there haven’t been any repercussions that I’m aware of. We also had a quarantine guy ask for my yellow immunization booklet, which he took to make a copy, and said I could pick up later. This makes no sense, since it applies only to me individually, and because it is simply a hand written record in no way official.

Most importantly, I had my boat stamp. I ordered this via the Internet while I was home, and I don’t think it would be possible to deal with the authorities here without it. Lots and lots of multi-copy forms, and do the boat stamp on each copy.

Oh, one other glitch checking in. Tim had removed our American flag, and put up a United Nations flag instead. Nice thought, I guess, but it didn’t go over well with the officials. We were told later in the day to please fly our proper country flag. Again, no repercussions on this.

Luc then picked us up, plus the crews of Maggie and new friends aboard Gaia, and loaded us on to a little tour bus and took us to lunch. Then to a bank with ATMs to get our Rupiah. Then to a tiny museum (locked; hasty phone calls to get someone to open it). Then to the open market to get some fruit. Then back to the harbor so we could nap before going out to dinner. It was fun to hear the comments of Jim and Helen on Gaia, to the effect of, “We’ve been cruising for 21 years, and never had all our needs met on Day One like this before; maybe there is something to be said for participating in a Rally!”

I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before, due to the large number of ships transiting the Malacca Strait, and Chris waking me up (as he should) when he was uncertain about safety. So I skipped dinner with the crowd. But instead of getting to sleep early, I got an email about suspicious charges on my credit card, and checking online I found over $4,000 of bogus charges in Thailand. I spent a fair portion of the evening trying to call the bank, and being left on hold. Thankfully I have Hallie to assist in such matters, as it could be a nightmare trying to straighten out such messes from here!

Next day Luc had us on an all day tour of the island. Visited a Japanese “castle” that turned out to be a WWII bunker and gun placement. Then to the “volcano” — boiling mud springs. Then delicious box lunches at a stop with a view. Then Kilometer Zero, a big monument under construction to mark the NW-most point in Indonesia. Bought a batik shirt. Stopped along the road to feed monkeys. Then a little hike in the jungle to a wonderful waterfall for a swim. We stopped on the way back for coconuts and to sample rojak, a local food specialty. Back in time for a short nap before our official welcome dinner.

As always, Luc had enrolled the tourism department in welcoming us. But it was a little embarrassing to have our Rally show up with only two boats. So Luc convinced three of the four non-BPO crews to join for the welcome dinner. Very nice. We were already becoming friends with Gaia, and now we got to meet two young couples from the US, sailing small boats slowly around the world — one of them with no engine! In addition to a delicious free meal, they got to see some local drumming and singing. I love being on the Luc plan! That is, just relax and do whatever Luc says. A little tiring, maybe, but always interesting and delicious and mostly free!

Next day we visited a junior high school. I should state here that recent history in this area is BT or AT. Before or after the tsunami (2004). I don’t think anyone was killed in Sabang. But many structures were wiped out. And on the “mainland” of Banda Aceh (a nearby area on Sumatra) many thousands were killed. I believe the total number of people who died on Sumatra was close to 200,000!

The kids we met with were only 3 when the tsunami hit, but they knew their family stories. One girl told of her father feeling the big earthquake, and hurrying the family to high ground. But her brother was off playing, nowhere to be seen. A tourist risked his life to search for him, but didn’t find him. Later they learned he had gone to higher ground with other villagers, and everyone was safe.

Our guide also got into his tsunami story. He was on Banda Aceh, and saw many people killed, even though he was a kilometer inland! People in his family were lost. He said he was very depressed for months, until his faith pulled him out of it. Tim jumped right in there with questions — how does he reconcile such a disaster with his faith in Allah. His answer was that the Koran says that “disasters are caused by our own hand” — meaning that man was not living right, and God was providing a warning or correction. Several people acknowledged positive things coming from the disaster — much of it in the form of outside help from NGOs and foreign aid and agencies like the American Red Cross. It’s hard to imagine the impact of the tsunami. We ate at one beachside restaurant that had BT and AT pictures posted. The AT one showed a foundation — nothing more.

So back at the junior high school, we tried to discuss climate change with the kids, but they spoke almost no English, and our translators were very annoying in that they would answer our questions rather than relaying them to the kids. We learned a little…most of their fathers fish…they like to swim and snorkel…and ride bicycles. But they were so shy, we couldn’t get them to ask us any questions. Very frustrating! But they were beautiful, and I hope they enjoyed having an unusual day at school. One group came up with an interesting idea, after it was learned that they still don’t have an adequate tsunami warning system — why not use the mosques, which are everywhere and all having blaring speaker systems, to spread the warning? Maybe this will be implemented…

This part of Indonesia is almost entirely Muslim, and pretty strict about the rules. One female guide/translator would not shake hands — no contact with men other than her husband. But for the most part the customs are similar to the areas we visited five months ago. A group of young ladies working at a restaurant giggled when I came in, and indicated that they liked my beard. That happened once before back in Tual. Okay by me!

We did another group dinner the evening before Luc left, and the tourist guys presented us each with gifts. Luc of course gave them BPO plaques. The food was great, too. I’ve grown a little weary of the Indonesian rice and fish and spicier fish and even spicier fish, and it was delightful to have a good pizza and fresh Greek salad at “Freddie’s.” Freddie is an Afrikaner who came to Indonesia to help after the tsunami, and he stayed. You can rent a nice bungalow by the beach for less than $30/day.

The dinner was sort of a goodbye to Chris also, since he had a plane to catch in the morning. Given the tension that would flare up between him and Tim, and Chris’s seasickness in relatively mild conditions, I think it is good that he has made other plans (to travel backpacker style on his own). We are in contact with a new guy, T.C., who we think is going to work out, and meet us before we leave Sumatra. He hasn’t purchased a ticket yet though…