After almost 2 weeks of bureaucratic rigmarole in Labuan Bajo and 3 visits to the Immigration office, our passports were finally stamped with our next months visa extension. Free for another 3 weeks until we needed to go through all this palaver again!
If only the Indonesian Government, who we are told are ultra keen to promote international cruising yachts, could understand that it is more appealing to plan an itinerary based on exploring the 18,000 islands over the two million square mile area of Indonesia, rather than finding towns with immigration offices, it might encourage us to stay longer.
There are also scarcely any marinas in Indonesia- and none in the eastern sector of the country! There is one being built in south Lombok, at Marina del Ray, where we kept Stars End 2 over the monsoon season, and another one in progress at Labuan Bajo in Flores, but it is an important priority for cruising yachts to leave their yachts in a safe location whilst they fly overseas, or require a haul out to paint or fix their yachts. This is one of the main reasons why so many cruising yachts continue up to Malaysia instead of staying longer.
Whilst you can leave your yacht in Indonesian waters for a 3yr period, even the 60 day social visa needs to be renewed monthly just 4 more times before you must leave the country to start the entire process again. For this, you need to fill out a lot of paperwork and have a sponsor who vouches for you & charges for each transaction.
I digress, but we have found these legalities have impacted greatly on our time in Indonesia in a negative way and certainly discourage cruising yachts to want to stay longer exploring such a vast country.
However, with Stars End 2 loaded up with fresh provisions, fuel and beer, we said our farewells to Labuan Bajo, and set off for Gili Banta, an uninhabited island 28 miles away where we had enjoyed such a good time with our friends Desy & Dave just a couple of weeks earlier.
We woke to voices at our anchorage early next morning, and discovered a local fishing boat hovering nearby who wanted to sell us his nightly catch of lobsters. The last time Frank & I had eaten a lobster was in Vanuatu on our honeymoon over 36 years ago, so it was a fortuitous treat we couldn’t refuse, especially as it was my birthday.
We steamed them up, and had lobster tails with dipping sauce, and a cheese platter for lunch and the remainder I cooked up in a seafood pasta carbonara for dinner with a cold bottle of white wine- another treat from our meagre reserves of wine remaining from NZ over a year ago.
I had a wonderful day, indulging myself- swimming, snorkelling and soaking up the beauty of this stunning location with my dear Frank. Even with the poor internet connection here at Banta, we managed to pick up enough of a signal for me to receive birthday messages from the family, and over 80 messages sent from friends and family from many diverse countries. How could I feel unloved or forgotten with such an amazing response.
I know social media is bagged and avoided by many people nowadays, but I love connecting with those people who are important to me and are scattered throughout the world.
Unfortunately, Frank was unable to even go into the water as he was on a second course of antibiotics for a simple mozzie bite that had generated into a swollen weeping hole in his leg, and needed careful nursing for 2 weeks before it recovered satisfactorily. He went exploring up the hillsides and took more panoramic shots of the idyllic anchorage we enjoyed.
Over the next few days I even found time to do some cooking, making up two of my hearty boiled fruit cakes we enjoy on passages, and several kilos of granola.
With such intermittent internet reception, we left Gili Banta after several nights, to head west across the top of Flores, whilst we checked the wind prediction maps and our impending passage north east over the next week. As we raised the sails in a light balmy wind, Frank downloaded the grib files, and informed me that in fact today was the best day wind-wise to head north towards Pulau Selayar, a long narrow cigar shaped island off the south western tip of Sulawesi.
These are the things that we love about our lifestyle. Freedom and the spontaneity to change plans on a whim.
So, I checked the GPS map, locked in a course for Selayar Island 120 miles away, and swung the wheel. That simple- we changed direction and were on our way.
Frank uses a program on his computer that overlays downloaded Google Earth pictures of places we might visit directly onto our navigational charts. They give an accurate outline of the land mass and reveal potential sandy locations to anchor, even if it is just a fan of sand off a coral reef. In most cases, this strategy has been most successful and we have discovered a lot of beautiful little locations off the beaten track as a result.
We arrived at Pulau Pulasi on the southern tip of Pulau Selayar where we enjoyed a lazy day recovering from our overnight sail. Just before sunset, I got a surprise when I saw what looked like a brown backside roll over into the water, but when I saw the tail, I was thrilled to realize it must be a manatees, or sea cow. We watched it come to the surface every few minutes to catch its breath before submerging to graze on the sea grass on the seabed. Too late, I suddenly remembered my camera, but the gentle mammal eluded my photographic skills despite trying for almost an hour to capture him/her again.
I must mention that there was the inevitable rubbish washed up on the beaches that is now sadly synonymous with Indonesia. What was interesting though, was how at Pulasi Island, it appeared to be sorted, to a certain degree.
Huge great logs had been placed as a retaining wall at the back of the beach to keep the rubbish from re entering the water. This might explain why the water on the beaches was so clean and unpolluted.Massive fishing nets with thick coiled ropes and hundreds of floats attached had been washed up onto the beach and wedged into rocky crevasses. Usable wood was moved into piles, and fishing buoys, ropes and plastic drums & containers were placed back from the high water mark for possible re use.
There were still hundreds of plastic bottles, thongs (flip flops), bags, glass bottles and miscellaneous rubbish, but it was good to see some effort had been made to re cycle some of the flotsam.
Last year, Frank had found a number of google overlays showing sandy beaches on islands around Selayar Island but we ended up cruising through the Takabonerate National park further east.
Now as we reached this one particular spot that Frank had been so keen to explore we found that his prediction continued to be spot on- the best sandy anchorage with dazzling white beach so far in Indonesia.
It was a small island called Pulau Pasi that was off the west coast of Selayar Island, and the only people we saw in 4 days were local fishermen on their boats who anchored in the shallows to rest up between their nightly fishing trips. We had very little wind and enjoyed exploring the crystal clear water that ran along a volcanic coastline riddled with caves, and rocky outcrops.
We left our lazy days hopping along these islands and sailed up past the larger Selayar island to the coastline of Sulawesi. We heard our friends Steve & Linda on their yacht ‘Donetes’ (who had also moored their yacht at marina del Ray in Lombok) were still at Pantai Bira on the south western tip of the coast just 30 miles away, so we decided to join them.
This area is most famous for the traditional wooden ships called Phinisi’s built using age old techniques all along the shoreline where we anchored at Bulukumba.
We were fascinated to wander along the foreshores seeing the diversity of wooden boats being built, the huge sizes and the skill of the local men working on them in various stages of construction.
We lunched in a local restaurant overlooking the beach with Linda and Steve and then all caught a bimo taxi to the nearby resort area of Bira Beach.
There were a number of local tourists swimming and the young school girls splashing in the shallows, seem every bit as intrigued in us ‘Bule’ (white people) as we are in them, covered from head to foot in strict Muslim coverings and not the least offended in our less modest western clothing.
It had been several weeks since we had been near any villages or towns and we were soon reminded that we were back in a Muslim area with the call to prayer waking us before daybreak and then at various times of the day, numerous mosques in the area all competing in a cacophony of strident chanting.
We sailed off in company with ‘Donetes’ along the coastline of south Sulawesi. At least, we tried to sail, but the south east trade winds have not yet set in strongly enough, so we ended up motoring for more hours than we would have liked each day.
One afternoon we motored into a bay, Teluk Laikang, overrun with buoys denoting a large shellfish farming area. The only place to anchor was near a massive coal loading facility. The tug boat crew who pull the huge barges of coal hundreds of miles from Kalimantan, directed us to anchor just off the main jetty near their tug.
They were all keen to meet us and several of them came over to Stars End 2 where we were enjoying a cold beer with Linda & Stephen after our day’s trip. They spoke a little English and whilst chatting they told us how their work shifts entailed months away from home and generally they only had a few days off to spend with family before the next delivery.
It was unfortunate that our pleasant interlude was interrupted just as we were starting our meal on SE2, by a group of gun toting officials who had arrived by motorbikes and were yelling at us from the nearby tug boat, tied to the wharf. Steven went over in the dinghy and was told in no uncertain terms that we needed to up anchor right now, and remove ourselves to at least 150 meters distance from the wharf due to ‘strict rules of discipline’. Despite the darkness and close proximity of the nets, we did as we were told and re anchored.
A couple of days later, ‘Donetes’ and ‘Stars End 2’ arrived at Indonesia’s 5th largest city, Makassar. We had only just anchored off a small island about a half mile from the hustle and bustle of the busy port area before we were greeted by a wizened old Indonesian man Ali, in an outrigger, who had lived in Darwin for 4 years and spoke decent English.
He lives on the little island & offered his services to help us access fuel, and ferry us back and forth to the city where it would be extremely difficult to tie up our dinghy.
We took up his offer that same afternoon when Ali and one of his sons gave us a memorable tour of the city.
It was an unusual and interesting experience. Ali furiously pedalled Frank & I sitting in his open bicycle rickshaw, confidently weaving in and out of the bustling city traffic. If we needed to turn, he would just stick his hand out and cycled us into the center of the road, inches away from speeding cars and motorbikes.
However, it all seemed to work and during the afternoon, we visited a shopping mall with a CarreFour supermarket, a seedy little cafe (where Ali assured us the beer was much cheaper than the waterfront cafe’s we were keen to visit for the ambience), and an obscure restaurant in the Chinatown district that had no clients but where we surprisingly enjoyed a magnificently prepared selection of food.
Our rickshaw experience was not a cheap means of travel at 300,000 IDR (around AU$30) but considering the time we had spent, & the effort of pedalling us so far and so furiously, we paid up readily, knowing it had been a novel afternoons entertainment.
So now, we are using our time in Makassar to access reliable internet for the first time in months.
It is allowing us to catch up on a lot of correspondence, business and banking, renew visas and research for the next legs of our passage to Malaysia. Firstly, the 700 mile trip across Kalimantan to the island of Belitung, and once we have cleared out of customs there, the 400+ mile trip to Kuching, in east Malaysia where we are excited to reunite with a number of friends we met in the Indonesian Rally last year who are on a Sail Malaysia East Rally right now.