Monthly Archives: April 2017

Sulawesi and Borneo.

Off to Makassar in Southern Sulawesi I went from the Banda Islands, not a little reluctantly, but needs must and I really needed to pick up my card which had winged its way across the world in only five days. Arriving at the hotel it was produced at check in time with sighs of relief despite noticing the DHL package had been opened. Profuse apologies were offered and I have to agree my name on the envelope was written in tiny, tiny letters. Time therefore to address the next challenge which was to extend the duration of my tourist visa which I thought might be as easy as last time. Not! The first roadblock I discovered was that the immigration office in Makassar was miles away from the hotel, over an hour ride away. Add this to the ever-present late monsoon leading to torrential rain every day plus thunder, lightning and general gloom and it was time for a rethink. What to do, what to do?

I find if you worry about a problem a solution presents itself in time and lo, the solution presented itself. Two years ago I extended my visa in Balikpapan, Kalimantan, Borneo and a quick check on my phone informed me that a flight would cost less than fifty dollars. Plus I wasn’t having such a great time in Makassar what with the rain and all. I had vague hopes that maybe the weather might be better further north and actually as near as you can get to the Equator. Harrumph, no! More rain in Balikpapan but at lest it was familiar territory, I knew where the restaurants were located and best of all I knew the staff at the Imigrazi office. But as always one step forward two steps backward, the rules have changed; this time I needed a sponsor. Fortunately one of the friendly ladies at the office provided the solution and phoned my hotel manager who had no problem sponsoring me so that was one less form to worry about. There was an interview of course, why did I want to spend more time In Indonesia? The fact that I wanted to see more of the country’s seventeen thousand islands seemed to do the trick. A photo session and then it was done, I had my extension.

I had hopes of another boat ride on the Mahakan River but alas this was not to be. Perhaps it was the wrong season (see previously mentioned rain), maybe I should have booked in advance but everywhere I enquired it was the same shrugged shoulders and no help offered. Maybe there really weren’t any boats going upriver from Samarinda but every day at least four boats with large signs on their hulls cruised past my hotel. I was however quite content to watch the ship traffic on the water, mainly enormous towed barges loaded with coal! The adjacent Mosque was a wonder to behold, the largest in South East Asia and second biggest in the Southern Hemisphere, I will try and attach a photo.

A return visit to the Bahowo Lodge in Manado, Northern Sulawesi, was next up. I had stayed there a while ago and it was as eccentric as ever. Still Marmite for breakfast, scrambled eggs and all the joys of England set amongst the jungle. Extraordinary. Here too there had been exceptional rainfall, the rainy season was supposed to end in early February but there had been so much rain that even the pigsty had flooded. The result of this was that all the pigs had been released into the garden; we had pigs at the back door, pigs snuffling around the dinner table outside in the gazebo, piglets running everywhere. Actually it was all rather charming in a sort of piggy way. As with the school, the health clinic and school bus this pig project was developed for the benefit of the village. Phil and Paula contacted the relevant EU department for the required funds and after a visit from the officials the money was made available and now the village is in pig heaven, as it were. Coincidently my friend Alison who was staying there at the same time two years ago was also visiting and we had lots of laughs.

Then it was time to move on again. Sorry this has been a bit and then and then and then but I wanted to catch up. I still haven’t because there is a whole week on Raja Ampat to tell you about, so next blog: Raja Ampat.

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Big Mosque.

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Another view.

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Logs on the river.

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It got kind of crazy sometimes. Not really!

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Coal barge.

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Manado Tua in Northern Sulawesi.

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At sunset.

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Lots of action at the village jetty in the evenings.

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Searching for scraps at the back door.

 

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Experiences on the far side of the world.

I’m constantly reminded of the truly generous spirit of people here on the far side of the world. A sweeping statement if ever there was one but consider the following, which have occurred in just the last few days.

 

Samarinda, Borneo.

Imagine if you will walking into a shop/store that specializes in fridges, dishwashers and washing machines to look for a memory card for a camera. You wouldn’t even bother; you would go to a camera shop. I did ask at my hotel reception desk if there was a camera shop anywhere nearby and was confidently told to go to the Big Mall which sounded promising and off I went. Dropped at the main door I entered to discover three floors each as big as two football fields, maybe even three, with no signage not even in Behasa, the local language. Plus it was packed, packed with families, roaming bands of shoe kicking children, yes shoe kicking, balls were presumably banned, moms, dads, babies, the usual bands of happy shoppers. I did find a vast supermarket within that rivaled Costco or a large Tesco and discovered Twinings Earl Grey but that wasn’t the point of the expedition. I wandered about amongst the crowds looking for anything familiar, anything that resembled a camera shop but no, nothing. Endless bakeries and bread shops, bread I might add very strangely colored, bright red, lurid green, pink even. I left empty handed, except for the tea, and disconsolately returned to my hotel, which by chance was attached to the aforementioned fridge and dishwasher shop.

Entering I received some odd glances, I mean, here I was, obviously a tourist, why would I be looking at dishwashers! But I spied, in the corner a cell (mobile) phone shop and fearing ridicule took a chance. Lots of phones, Samsung to be exact, not many customers and a couple of staff attending to the cash register. Ok, here we go again, out with my best gesticulations and sign language but I had a prop, my camera and removing the chip I kind of waved it about and pointed to the cash register, hopefully. How pathetic can you get? But I nearly fell on the floor as the young woman piped up “ would you like to buy a memory chip for your camera? How many gigabytes do you want?” I gaped briefly and then described what I was looking for. “Oh no” she said, “ we don’t sell those here but if you want I can go to the computer shop in the town after my shift ends at nine o’clock, buy what you want and bring them to your hotel.” To cut a long story short, she, Linda, did, at ten o’clock at night, refused a tip, refused an offer of a meal or refreshment. Gave me my bits and jumped on her scooter and beaming pleasantly sped away.

 

Balikpapan, Borneo.

Again. As it happened I knew the lady, Anita, who now runs the Immigration office in Balikpapan, Borneo where once again I was extending my visa. When I was there two years ago to extend my visa she was running the visa extension department, she was promoted and now runs the whole ship. She recognized me and ushered me through the new rules and regulations including acquiring a sponsor, my hotel manager would suffice, and after the usual bureaucratic antics I got my extension. Then she asked if I would like to go for dinner with her family, well sure I said. The family appeared at my hotel to pick me up; husband Robbie and two children who spoke no English aged probably seven and eleven. We had a very pleasant meal in a Warung (local restaurant) where we ate crab and freshly caught fish with the inevitable rice and some sort of green veg’.

Nothing could persuade them that I wanted to pay my share and they took me back to the hotel. Very wonderful.

 

Banda Neira, Banda Islands.

I mentioned in an earlier post the generosity of the staff at the hotel Maulana in Banda Neira where they spontaneously not only baked me a cake for my birthday but also gathered round singing the birthday song and generally making me feel ‘in the spirit’. There were lots of other little things they did to make me feel welcome. One time, while I was packing I discovered that my shorts had not only split at the seams but the pockets had also come apart. I mentioned this to Galuh, the lady who was running the hotel, and asked if there was anyone in the small town who could mend them. “ Don’t worry,” says she “ I have a sewing machine at home and I will fix them, no problem.” Next morning, there they were, all mended and I’m wearing them now with renewed confidence!

 

There you are then, the generosity of mankind in a faraway land. I might add that one of the three woman wore an Abaya and Hijab to work, another, while professing to be Muslim had attended Catholic school while the third, who I met only briefly so we didn’t delve too deeply, lived a city that was just about 100% Muslim.

Just goes to show as they say.

The Banda Islands.

London to the Banda islands in one hop was really quite exhausting though I did have a couple of nights in Ambon waiting for the ferry across the Banda Sea which gave me a chance to catch up on my sleep a little. Ambon, is the major transportation hub for the Malukus which lie approximately between Sulawesi and Papua. Lots of boats and ferries stop here on their way to the outlying islands, planes call in here from all parts of Indonesia so it is relatively easy to get to, and leave. Banda on the other hand, is only serviced by the twice-weekly ferry, which leaves on Tuesdays and Saturdays, returning to Ambon on the subsequent days. There is a twice a month Pelni boat but the company, Pelni, don’t seem very forthcoming on the schedule. The story is that they say the ferry will leave at 9.00am but it actually leaves at 9.30am, this is so late comers can be accommodated. Be aware that both the port at Ambon and the one on Banda are hustler magnets, lots of people around to ‘help’, for a price, albeit a very low price. Helping me load and unload my bag cost about a dollar and this seemed to be generous.

Off we went, at 9.30 obviously, and I was able to make a video call, from the boat as we raced along, back home to California. I can’t remember what we talked about apart from marveling that we could actually do that, it really is miraculous. The signal faded and I glanced around to find two small hijabi clad children in the next seat. They played Angry Birds on my tablet and I thought back to the flight to Kochi where a similar thing happened. My economy class seat was just a little claustrophobic so I went up on the deck and enjoyed the open air for the rest of the six-hour crossing. Not much to see, just water, water everywhere but Banda soon heaved up on the horizon, dominated by its volcanic peak, Api, and we pulled into the harbor about two hours later. The lady who temporarily runs the hotel, Galuh, was there to meet me and off we set to the Maulana, a mere one hundred yards from the jetty.

Such a great hotel, built some years ago it still exudes Dutch colonialness though it has suffered a little over the years. The basics were all taken care of very efficiently, breakfast was always ready early, dinner was a veritable feast and the beer was cold. There is not a lot to do in the Banda islands, there are other little islands dotted around to visit including the famous Run, swapped with the Dutch for Manhattan, there is the volcano to climb, and there is an old Dutch fort to visit. The little town of Banda Neira is very relaxed and as always in that part of the world everyone says hello, as in ‘Hello Mister’. BUT, due to an altercation with the ATM machine at Ambon airport I didn’t have any cash, local cash that is. No trips for me! Accepting my cash deficiency I just stayed around the hotel, and let Banda come to me. I soon became a fixture in the garden and others would gather round and tell me of their diving expeditions, their hike up the volcano and their circumnavigation of the island in forty-five minutes.

How did you pay for the hotel you may ask? It took a while but the lady in charge and I signed up the hotel with a PayPal account and Julia, back in California, was kind enough to send photos of both sides of my reserve card before sending it by DHL to Makassar in Sulawesi. I did therefore have some form of ability to pay, just no cash!

There was a birthday, mine, and the hotel crew came through for me, cake, candles, Happy Birthday singing, it was all very delightful and reminiscent of two birthdays ago in Balikpapan on the island of Borneo. Very friendly and thoughtful people here.

The days came and went, ships came to the adjacent port to load and unload providing welcome diversions. Opulent liveaboard diving yachts passed through discharging their occupants under the water. One liveaboard captain proudly informed me that Tony Blair had been on his yacht, I can hear the Brits retching from here! Lady Diana Spencer once stayed at the hotel and drew a self-portrait which is kept in pride of place. Mr Jagger stayed there too as well as Jacques Cousteau. All in all Banda was everything I wanted it to be and the week or so relaxing there was the perfect antidote to the bad case of jet lag I suffered and I reveled in the remoteness.

Off I had to go, reluctantly to Makassar in Sulawesi to pick up my debit card. Without the ATM saga I could have stayed in the Banda islands indefinitely, but neither Fedex nor DHL service the smaller islands east of Sulawesi so that is where I had to go.

Banda Api, the volcano. I hear that it is about to erupt and people are being evacuated.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘fast boat’ from Ambon to Banda.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning up the trash.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Maulana Hotel. Banda Neira.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boats, boats and more boats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A big ship leaving through ‘The Gates of the Sun’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Birthday Party.

A Liveaboard. The si datu bua.