Monday, October 24, 2011

Belitung - Our Final Stop In Indonesia

Picturesque Belitung

We arrived at Tanjung Kelayang on Northern Belitung as one of the last yachts (of about 70 or so). The Sail Indonesia events were quite extensive here as it culminated with a visit from the President of Indonesia. In the week prior to his visit, buildings had been demolished, rebuilt, designed and constructed. Many of the locals weren’t very happy about being bossed around by Central Government – their lives are at the whim of those in power.
The President never came in the end (how very “Indonesia”).
We don’t know the extent of the effort and changes that the local people had to put up with. The few locals that we did speak to were unhappy about it all. We feel uncomfortable when locals do without in order to give us all a good time. 
The Sail Indonesia yachts anchored in Belitung. 
We arrived in time to make it to the last two events. We went to the President’s dinner and had to dress up for the occasion (even though it was only the Vice President who attended). Women had to wear covered shoulders and a Batik sarong while men had to wear a Batik buttoned shirt and long trousers. The event was pretty unexciting. Lots of speeches by official types while their dressed-up wives looked on. For me, the highlight of the evening was the translation device which we all wore (says a lot about how exciting it was hey!). The long speeches dragged on but for once, we could understand them. The main themes were thanking the God Almighty and talking about good their political party was. The highlight for Rene was getting to meet and be photographed with Miss Indonesia (who, funnily enough, told me I was beautiful!!).
Rene with Miss Indonesia 2011
We had much more fun at the final event the following night (held at the beach) which was a party to thank the guides and to celebrate the conclusion of the 2011 rally. Some cruisers got up on stage to sing. Rene had a go (but had some difficulty keeping the melody going). The best performers were some shy local acts (with stunning voices) who only got up on stage when almost everyone had already left! We had great fun dancing with the other yachties and the guides and ended up staying until really late drinking Bintang’s with other young cruisers. The water was so beautiful under the full moon that Rene and I went for a swim around our dinghy before heading home in the early hours of the morning. 
Rene singing 'Hey Jude' 
A local woman, Ayu, befriended us and decided to shower her generous spirit onto us. She drove us (in her very nice, new Toyota 4WD) across to the city, Tanjung Pandan, to eat lunch, buy chocolate, buy us some souvenirs and eat ice-cream at KFC. Her teenage daughter came along too after school and she impressed us with her amazing English speaking skills. We ended up at their big house to meet a bunch of special Police-force guys (who were hanging out with her husband) and to see the origin of their wealth, Tin. They are tin miners and their tin sand is shipped to Hong Kong, Afghanistan and China to be made into ammunition. 
Kiwi yachties also checking out the Tin sand.

Us yachties with the special Police 
We ended up having the opportunity to see one of their mines on a different day of touring about with them. Neither of us have ever been to a mine before, so we can't really compare it professionally to mines in Australia. What we did note was the lack of health and safety measures. Men were standing, waist deep, in murky water, holding bits of machinery in place - wearing only their underpants. Steep walls of sandy clay and mud earth are formed around holes cut into the ground. During the peak wet season, landslides sometimes occur, trapping and killing the workers below. The extraction process involves pumping water out of and through the earth, to collect the heavy tin sand. This water is pumped around, either into disused mines or directly into the crocodile infested river flowing alongside. 

We squelched along the muddy road on foot, passing about 6 large mining holes - some no longer in use. There seems to be very little planning involved, they just start digging in a new spot, right next to the old one, cutting down the jungle as they go. Ayu complained passionately about the police and how they seemed to always be taking money from her. The corruption in the police force is apparently inherent. We eventually learnt that Ayu and her husband don't actually have a permit to be mining here. They have dozens of mines scattered all over Belitung and they're all illegal! The police want money from them all of the time as a bribe! 
Open cut tin-mine in Belitung.
Regardless of all of this, Ayu and her family were incredibly hospitable and couldn't have been friendlier. It seems that the way they operate their business is not uncommon. Indonesia is a crazy place! We left Australia feeling negative about the stifling over-use of rules and regulations but here, in Indonesia, I am frequently shocked at the lack of rules. The perfect country / society would have a balance - enough rules to live safely, but not so many as to cotton wool everyone's existence. 

Just next to where Anima was anchored, there was an amazing rocky island which looked a bit like a baby bird sitting in a nest. We'd been boat-bound the entire previous day as the early morning storm created waves that made our dinghy bounce around behind us (bad luck had it that the only time we didn't hoist it alongside, we had a problem!) and it was pierced by one of Aries' metal arms. It then rained all day and we couldn't glue a patch over the puncture. We used the inflatable kayak (which had again, torn its fabric along one side) to explore the picturesque rocks of .... 
Ren with the inflatable kayak.
Big storm clouds threatened but never wet us as we climbed over huge boulders. Rene became the human ladder for the vertically-challenged Cerae, allowing me to explore areas otherwise inaccessible. It was somewhat surreal and very fun. I was reminded of our times exploring the Whitsundays in Australia (still my favourite spot so far). I had fun taking photos but really want a better camera! 
Rene about to jump!

Can you see the baby bird rock?
Rene is the amazing human ladder!
The stormy skies of October in Belitung.
It was relaxing to explore these uninhabited islands and was a wonderful farewell journey for the inflatable kayak. We decided to give it to Rusdi - the local man to runs a beachside restaurant and who offers every service (fuel/laundry/groceries/water/transport) to yachties. We figured that we wouldn't be using the kayak for the next while and would prefer a hard plastic version rather than an inflatable. 
The view from Rusdi's restaurant. Anima is anchored on the left quarter of the picture out on the horizon.
I also gave away all of the gifts that we hadn't yet donated to Indonesians. As this is our last stop, I had to! I really regret not giving much of this stuff away earlier to some of the more remote and poorer villages we visited. Belitung isn't remote or very poor (they do well from tourism and mining) but I hope that the first aid kit, clothes, books, pens, toothbrushes and glasses will end up with people who need them. I entrusted this bounty to one of the guides who worked during the rally. She promised to give most of it to the orphanage. 

The bread here is green! 
Singin' and chillaxin' at Rusdi's 
After the organised events in Belitung, the rally boats all set off for Singapore / Malaysia until we were the only ones left. I felt a little nervous about being the only boat at anchor but needn't have worried as Belitung is a lovely spot with friendly, helpful locals. We did some boat preparation for the upcoming journey and enjoyed our time relaxing in Indonesia. 

Anima at anchor alone in Tanjung Kelayang
Sailbirds in Belitung.


  1. Hi Guys,
    Been keeping up with your travels on your blog, great stuff. We have been cruising Vanuatu & New Caledonia this season & have signed up for the Darwin - Indonesia rally next year. Wouldn't mind catching up with you via email to find out what you thought of the rally, etc. My email is drop me a line with your email address.
    Andrew & Karen
    SV Utopia II

  2. Thanks for sharing all these amazing photos! I love the first one (what is that coconut/star-fish looking stuff on the beach?) and all the ones around the rock island. They are magical!
    Glad that you guys had a really memorable time at the end of your stay in Indonesia too. They seem to be really lovely people although they don't say too much(don't know the locals but the ones I come across are very quiet)!
    Will be very different in Malaysia and Singapore I reckon..... Enjoy the continuous culture shock!!! (I'm being positive btw xx)

  3. Utopia II HELLO!!! Great to hear from you guys! Will email soon :)
    Chihiro, you guessed it right as a coconut husk on the beach. Indonesian's are not quiet!! The one's you teach probably are cause they don't know much English?? So far it is very different in both Malaysia and Singapore! Continual culture shocks occurring all the time! xxx

  4. Come, prove and enjoy our hospitality and all the tourism destinations in our lovely homeland for your unforgettable moment.