Tag Archives: sumatra


Throughout Indonesia, but especially here, there are Padang-style restaurants. The food is cooked in advance, and may be on display at the front of the shop. You sit down, and a large selection of dishes is brought to the table, plus a plate of rice for each person. You serve yourself from the various dishes, as much as you want. Dishes you don’t want you leave untouched. When done, they see how many dishes you ate (or tried but didn’t finish), and that is what you pay for. It is a wonderful kind of “fast food.” It does have drawbacks though. Lots and lots of fish, of course. And you don’t really know what something will taste like until you’ve committed to it. And it is a touch unsettling that your food may have been served to others before you. Still, I like it, and we’ve experienced a lot of it in our week in the Padang area.

We went first to Bungus Bay, a few kilometers south of Padang, because it seemed it would be more small-boat-friendly than the big ship harbor. The anchorage was pretty nice (except for all the trash in the water), but to do our provisioning required a $20 taxi ride (each way) to the city. Plus when you get to the pier to load your supplies in your dinghy, a bunch of “longshoremen” show up insisting that they do the loading, and then they want a more-than-token payment. Getting diesel worked out okay, delivered to the boat at a reasonable price. And we found a nearby place to get laundry done (cost double for next day service, but still acceptable). But provisioning and looking for other supplies was frustrating and expensive.

We had been told that there were “supermarkets” in Padang, and we had high hopes since we needed to buy the food we will be eating for the next three weeks or so. The supermarket turned out to be just another smallish shop, with an odd assortment of items on display. But wait, you can go out back and up the rickety stairs and find more. Still can’t find what you want? Ask! They could actually come up with most things on our shopping list. For a few someone ran down the street and came back with the item!

A lot of logistics did not work out here, in part because we arrived just before a four day holiday that we didn’t know about, and in part due to language issues, and probably in part simply because this is Indonesia. Before we arrived Tim had contacted “Charlie,” referred to us by one of the surf charter boat operators. Charlie spoke pretty good English, and we were told he could provide supplies and hardware and help us find whatever else we needed. But when Tim went to meet him on the dock, he wasn’t there. The ensuing phone call didn’t resolve this problem, as each seemed to be on the dock waiting for the other! Tim found Erik, who spoke quite good English, and got him on the phone with Charlie. Turns out Charlie thought he was meeting us in Tua Pejat, 80 miles away! That was an unfortunate miscommunication. But Erik adopted us, and turned out to be extremely helpful.

Luc tried to arrange a tour for Maggie, Gaia and us. This also didn’t work out. But Erik located a large car, and Rob and Carol and Tim and I went exploring. Luc’s tour was going to include seeing where they grow strawberries. With visions of loading up and freezing piles of strawberries, and ideas that we would drive up in the hills with coolness and beautiful views, we had Erik tell our driver to take us to strawberry country. He took us initially into the city, but that was okay because we needed to change money (unload our remaining Malaysian and Thai and Singaporean cash). And next door to the money-changer was a fancy coffee shop where Tim and I satisfied our sweet tooths with “momos” — mochas with milk and Oreos, in a blender with a little ice…

Back in search of strawberries, we did not go into the hills, but followed a long plain, largely covered with rice paddies. Finally we turned off, and started up a little. Everywhere there were plants for sale — nurseries, one after another. And then we “arrived” — at what I’m not sure, but it had a gate and it was closed for the holiday. Our driver persisted, asking various people and finding a back way in. It had the appearance of a university agricultural extension farm. Beautifully laid out small plots of dozens of crops; hydroponic lettuce; gourds grown on trellises overhead with the fruit hanging down below. And after much searching and asking around, a strawberry plant was located. Yes, one plant; no berries.

Oh well, it was a little adventure, and in a comfortable car with air conditioning. And though we never got up into the hills, it was just as well because by now it was pouring rain and you couldn’t see anything anyway. The “momos” turned out to be the highlight of the day! Oh, and at the Padang-style restaurant where we stopped on the way home, they served strawberry juice.

The roads here are thick with motorbikes, but on the way back we noticed a stretch where they were thicker than usual, and the riders all seemed to be wearing similar tie-dye shirts. Hells Angels in tie-dye, of sorts. And the biker girls, mostly on the back, wore matching tie-dye hijabs (head scarves), too!

Last stop on the way home was to pick up our clean laundry. On the boat we sorted out the clothes between the three of us. TC says his only pair of trousers is missing! He checks to make sure they had been sent in with the laundry, and then he and I get back in the dinghy and return to the laundry. Closed! The light it on, so we bang on the door. The lady from the shop next door looks at us like we are crazy, and says they have gone home. With charade language we explain that TC’s trousers are missing, and she gets on her cell phone, tells us the laundry person will come back. We wait as it gets dark…

Eventually a lady on a motorbike pulls in, nods at us, and opens the shop. We do the charades again, and she understands, but waves her hand at the bundles of plastic-wrapped laundry ready to be picked up. I guess I had hoped she would say, “Oh yes, I forgot the trousers that are drying out back.” She picked up one of the dozen bundles, almost to say, “You want to search for a needle in a haystack?” But she turned it over, and TC pointed to the bottom item in the bundle — his trousers! Amazing!

In order to make it easier to check out, all three boats move to Teluk Bayur, the main/commercial harbor of Padang. Luc will provide transport to help us go to immigrations, customs, and the harbormaster, which of course are not located close to one another. We still need to do another round of provisioning, but Luc says we should be able to stop in the city on our way.

We were to start a 9am, but Luc’s ride/guide/translator canceled at the last moment. Luc calls us at 10 to meet him ashore in five minutes. We get to the only place around for landing a dinghy, and wait, but no Luc. Phone calls…neither Luc nor the taxi driver know where we are…can we tell them? No, not so that the taxi driver understands… Tim starts cornering passers-by on the street until one agrees to take his phone and tell the taxi driver where we are.

We go to Customs first, because it is closer than Immigrations. I pull out me sheaf of papers from the authorities in Sabang, and they ask for the Vessel Declaration Form. I hand them the pile of papers, but there is no declaration form. “I’m sorry, but you have a problem. You need the form from Sabang.” Luc is very good in this situation: “There is no problem because these people did everything properly in Sabang. I know, I was there, I saw them. The customs office in Sabang must have made a mistake and not given them the paper. And now they need to leave in the morning, 6am.” That was a good try, but the response was, “This is not really my job. I help you only because I speak some English. We have to refer this to my superior, who is busy now.”

Luc tells them to call the office in Sabang. They don’t have the number!? Luc makes calls to get the number. He tells them to call and get the form faxed or emailed, and meanwhile we will go to Immigrations. Everyone says Yes, and off we go to the city. Immigrations is daunting. It is a big office, crowded with people waiting. Luc brushes past the crowd and walks into a glass-walled office; he was here before working on Maggie’s visa renewal (another long story that will play out tomorrow…), so he goes right to the official he dealt with. They say we need to take a number and wait. Luc says no, we are not renewing visas today, we are leaving the country — very simple, stamp the passports, no wait. Several officials confer; one takes our passports and says he will process them.

All good. It takes half an hour, but no glitches. By now it is noon, and no point in returning to Customs until lunch ends at 2, so we stop for our lunch and do our final provisioning. We drop Tim and TC off at the dinghy landing, since they aren’t needed for Customs and Harbormaster, and they need to get our frozen foods to the boat. Then back to Customs, where we wait for the guys to return from their lunch. Our English speaking helper arrives. No, they didn’t call Sabang… We need to speak with his boss. The boss shows up a little later, and gets briefed. He agrees to call about the missing form, both for us and the other two boats. We wait. When he eventually returns he has a copy of the missing form! Hallelujah!

Next he needs to round up an assistant and they need to come inspect the boat. We had hoped to avoid this, but it was for this contingency that we moved the boats close by. He mentions that he has to take photos of the boat, and I gently let him know that I have photos that I can email to him. Yes, he would like my photos, “But you understand that I must come inspect the boat.” Okay, we call Tim to bring the dinghy back to the dock, and we all go to the boat. Our inspector takes a few photos, and then we do the important one — the three crew plus the two inspectors posing aboard. This is the essence of the “inspection” — proof that they were aboard.

As we return ashore it is approaching 4pm, and we are concerned about getting to the Harbormaster in time. Luc makes a plan. On the way back to Customs, where they still need to complete the forms, they can drop me at the Harbormaster so I can make my presence known and start the paperwork. They will need the Customs clearance, but Luc will bring that as soon as it is ready…

The Harbormaster folks are joking around amongst themselves. I think they will be helpful but it is hard to tell. The group includes two women, which I think is a good sign. They tend to be more helpful, and keep the men from being jerks. I start answering questions. The guy jokes that it is going to cost 15,000, but don’t worry, it is Rupiah, not dollars… And then he looks at my “health book” from Sabang. You have no clearance from Quarantine! But we are LEAVING, not arriving. Quarantine should not be necessary. Apparently I am wrong about that.

Another guy says, “Follow me.” I follow him out of the building to his motorbike. I hop on behind him, and he takes me to Quarantine. Inside, he looks at an office that is locked. Not good. A lady in uniform is waiting for someone, obviously anxious to go home. He asks her if she can’t help this poor “bule” who needs to clear out. She rolls her eyes. She says they are closed. I try to give her the pleading puppy dog look. My escort says some persuasive things, and she calls to someone out in the parking lot to bring the keys. My escort winks at me. I fill out forms and do the boat stamp thing to make everything look official. The woman is very nice, once resigned to getting home late. She asks about out trip. She stamps the necessary stamps and hands me the papers. “Am I all done?” Yes, but you need to pay. Who do I pay? They are closed until morning…but you can try. No problem, I pay (about $2), and my escort takes me back to the Harbormaster. He then says goodbye, he is going home. I try to pay him for being my taxi. He gives me a very genuine smile and says, “No, my friend.” I want to hug him. Clearly we would not complete the clearance saga today without him.

Two things happened while I was gone. One was that Luc showed up with the Customs papers, completed. The other was that the shift changed, and nobody knew where I was. Luc called Tim — did Zeke return to the boat?? No. At least Luc had the good sense to stay put and wait. With a little more waiting, a little more struggling with the language, a little more money (but no “gifts” requested), it was done. We are cleared out of Indonesia!

We are ready to go in the morning. Unfortunately Maggie has a visa issue, and could not go through the fun today. They go for it tomorrow, and Gaia, too. Hopefully we have blazed the trail for them, and they will be able to leave within a day. We will go to one of the islands and anchor and wait for them, since we agreed that we will stick together on this crossing. It is 2am and I can’t sleep, I am so anxious to get going!

Near Miss

On the overnight to Padang, TC took first watch, I came on at 2300. Nice night; heat lightning in the distance over Sumatra; some fishing boats around with blazing fish-attraction lights; a large ship 7 miles ahead, coming our way but the AIS says we will clear by 2 miles. TC goes below to sleep; I watch the ship on AIS and radar.

Something doesn’t seem quite right with the radar, but it takes me a while in my not-quite-awake state to put 2 and 2 together. The big blip ahead on the radar can’t be that ship! AIS says the ship is 7 miles away, and the radar is only on the 6 mile range. It shows the big blip as less than 2 miles away… Binoculars. Yes, ahead just slightly to port are two red strobe lights. Probably one of those huge fishing platforms, not lit up tonight. Or a fishing boat anchored or drifting, taking a break. I come to starboard a few degrees to be sure we will miss it.

I enjoy the night for a few minutes, and look at the radar again. The blip still seems to be in the same relative bearing, and closer of course. I can see the red strobes now without binoculars, and we don’t seem to be clearing them. Must be some current… I come to starboard another 10 degrees.

Then things start to happen quickly. I can see the outline of the fishing boat, and it is big and completely black and closer than makes sense to me. I turn another 10 degrees to starboard, just as it dawns on me that this boat is underway, and moving fast across (maybe) our bow. All my turning to starboard kept moving us into its path! I turn sharply to port, and watch as an 80 foot boat steams silently past, 50 yards away. Not a single light aboard other than the red strobes — no running lights, no cabin lights, no work lights on the deck. Eerie. And I came close to steering right into its path!

TC, and a Touch of Regret

When we arrived in Tua Pejat (capital of the Mentawai Islands; a town rather than a village) Saturday afternoon, we met a guy who spoke good English, who acted as our guide/translator for an hour or two. Our first order of business was to find an ATM, since we were out of cash. He took us to a bank, where they told us our cards wouldn’t work because they were Visa instead of MasterCard. He took us to the only other ATM in town, and our cards did not work there! He said we should try the “hotel,” which might be able to exchange US dollars. On the way, we passed the original bank, and Tim tried their ATM — and it worked fine, for both of us. That was a relief!

When we asked about buying diesel, our guide said he would have to ask around. He took us to a supplies store a quarter mile up the road, where the owner said he would provide diesel (40 liters, to fill our two jerry jugs) for 8,000 Rupiah/liter. We said we’d come Monday morning with the jugs to buy it.

We were told that everything would be closed on Sunday. And “sun” is what the day was about. Intensely hot, stuck in a harbor where we didn’t want to swim, I tried to simply be semi-conscious, and let the minutes ease by. Tim decided he wants to clear out of Indonesia earlier than the date we had agreed upon with Luc, and he sent an email to that effect, which I imagine was not well received. We’ll see where that goes… When the sun got low we went ashore in search of dinner. We found one restaurant open, but it had no breeze and it had no cold drinks. We bought sate and some other indeterminate food from street vendors instead, plus two cold beers, and took our take-out back to the boat.

In the morning I stayed aboard to listen in on the yachtie’s radio net, while Tim went ashore to get the diesel before TC’s ferry was due to arrive around 9am. I knew that Tim wasn’t going to carry full jugs back, so he would have to work out some transportation. What actually happened was that he found another source of diesel, right on the dock, for 10,000/liter. We emptied the jugs into the tank, and decided to go back for another fill. What I SHOULD have done at that point was go to the original guy for the second round, but it seemed so much easier to take the dinghy right to the source, as Tim had done…

The source was on the dock with the police boats. The guy helping us had a police T-shirt on. He repeatedly told us we needed to go somewhere to see the authorities, which we were hoping to avoid. We gave him a copy of our passports, which quieted him briefly, but then he again indicated that we needed to see someone else (probably the harbormaster). We said okay, as we left with our fuel…

Time to meet TC’s ferry. In passing we saw our guide from Saturday, who asked if we got our diesel. We ignored the question. We saw a policeman in the ferry terminal, and having accidentally made eye contact with him, I asked if a white guy had just arrived on the ferry. He laughed and said we were the only white guys here. He didn’t seem to care about checking in, but of course I didn’t raise the question. Then I saw a couple of guys who appeared to be from a surf camp. They told me the ferry hadn’t arrived yet (they were waiting to meet guests). And they warned that the harbormaster might charge us as much as 500,000 Rupiah. “You just meeting your mate and then leaving? I’d just go. The police aren’t going to waste their fuel coming after you. But you didn’t hear that from me!”

The ferry arrived, we found TC, we ate some breakfast, we planned our escape. Quickly bought a few fruits and veggies, then to the boat and off we go! No problem, though it didn’t feel great to be “sneaking out.” (For a little perspective, the only other yacht in the area was anchored two miles away, because they never checked in to Indonesia! They were avoiding all towns big enough to have a harbormaster, but they had to get close enough to bring their dinghy in to buy fuel.)

We headed for one of the highly touted surfing spots, as a nice area to show TC, and with the idea that maybe we could buy a nice dinner there. Anchoring turned out to be problematic. Too deep in most places, but there were some huge metal mooring buoys. We tied to one, but if wind/current changed we might find ourselves banging into this dangerous obstruction. We considered deploying our stern anchor, but were instead lured around the next point to get close to the surf resort. By now the sun was low and we couldn’t see the bottom. We anchored between two reefs off a sand beach, hoping for a sandy bottom. And we immediately headed for the beach to see about dinner.

A local met us ashore, and told us we were not anchored in a good place. Why? The government wants to protect the coral; we may get in trouble with the government; better to use one of the moorings. We were having trouble understanding what this guy’s role was. He said he didn’t work for the resort. Tim blew him off — we’ll just stay for an hour to visit the resort. (After all, if our anchoring was doing some damage, that damage was mostly done already.)

The bartender was from Brazil, and he worked half the year in Hawaii. Fun to talk with him (the guests had all left earlier in the day; new batch coming tomorrow). Beers cost US prices. Yes, they could provide dinner, but at a US price. It would have been by far our most expensive meal in Indonesia, and would wipe out all our cash. I said no, and made a tasty dinner aboard, with another round of beer that we bought to go (our stock is gone).

During the night a squall came through, strong wind swinging the boat 180 degrees, and with tremendous lightning/thunder striking around us. Worrisome, but no problem. In the morning we could see the bottom. All coral…no sand. I’m sure we broke some in the squall.

I feel like the whole previous day, except declining dinner, was regrettable…out of integrity. Or as the sailing community says, not leaving a clean wake. Something for me to keep in mind when it seems easier to just go along…

Of course some readers are now hot to refer to the boat name. I think regrets come in all sizes, and we should have different words for them. I regret that I didn’t put a new carton of UHT milk in the fridge last night. That’s obviously not what the boat name is about. The boat name is about high level regrets — things one might regret on one’s deathbed. In my case, like not giving a circumnavigation a go. Or even bigger, like all of us regretting our collective lack of bold action in the area of climate change.