Sunday, April 26, 2009

Selamat Datang Di Indonesia

Let me be blunt, sailing a yacht around the world is nowhere near as dangerous as riding in a taxicab in Indonesia. It took us a whole 2 days since we placed our feet on Indonesian soil for us to be involved in our first "agro" taxicab race. Let me set the scene...

Picture a bustling, garbage-strewn, fish-stinking small oil and shipping city flowing with all types of Indonesian peoples. Short black-skinned Papuan locals share the spaces with more lighter-skinned taller Indonesians who have migrated here from Ambon, Timor, and Java. Ghetto shanties mix with concrete first-world shops, temples, and banks, all connected with muddy pot-holed roads and sidewalks trenched by the thousands of sandaled-feet who have trod the muddy paths through the trash and what once could be called grass. Taxis and motorbikes flow into a continuous smoke-belching river of chaos where the only unspoken rule is to go as fast as your vehicle will allow and obey only the signs you choose.

We are on our way to the supermarket, Mega. I'm in the front seat of the little mini-van taxi, torn vinyl seats, windows too low to see well out of, and scratchy Indonesian music blaring from the bad speakers. Nicole is in the very back seat with 2 other women sandwiched in next to her. Our driver guns the engine and attempts to pass another taxi. The other taxi decides that no way is he going to let our driver pass him. We are on a smaller side street with cars and motorbikes coming directly at us. We have to pull back behind the other taxi with inches to spare from hitting his rear fender. Our driver is furious. We try again, same thing. He is livid. We turn the corner and he guns the engine again, do or die it seems. We are neck and neck, inches separate the two steel bodies and the oncoming traffic is forced almost into the ditch. All of a sudden a bigger car is coming right at us, no room, and we are going at about 40 miles an hour now on a busy little 2 way street with no room for error. No way our driver will back down now because he is a winner...he pulls in front of the other taxi, scraping our steel panels together just in the nick of time before we end up in a head-on accident...did I mention I am in the front seat with, of course, no seatbelt. Seatbelts, in Indonesia, what are those??

We pull over to the side of the road. Our driver leaps out and goes over to the other taxi yelling curses with fumes coming out of his middle-aged nostrils. I look back at Nicole and we share an unspoken sigh of relief. Good thing Indonesian culture is mostly non-violent. No fight ensues, our driver returns, and off we go again at top speed. Time for us to change taxis.

So we made it to Sorong, Indonesia. It wasn't easy traveling south from Helen Reef in Palau. It only took us a few days but we had one night of junk full of large confused waves, 30 plus knots of wind, and massive squalls dumping buckets of rain all night long. We intelligently chose to hove-to and I ended up sleeping on the cabin floor in the bouncy conditions for a few hours until the sunrise brought a welcome change of weather and we set sail due south for the equator.

Motoring in zero wind on our last day we crossed the 25-mile stretch of water that separates the island of Pulau Waigeo from the Papuan mainland where Sorong lies. We came across a huge school of dolphins and a few fin whales surfaced nearby before the water slowly started getting more trash-filled and turning brown.

We dropped our hook and backed towards the concrete wall in front of a building in the northern section of the harbor. Our German friends, Harry and Heidi, on the yacht, Alk, were waiting for us. We side-tied next to them and they caught us up on their welcome to Sorong adventures.

A couple of day's prior, Harry had his go at checking in with all the officials: the harbormaster, customs, quarantine/health, and immigration. They gave him the full run-around and it ended taking him over 12 hours and having 8 guys from customs and immigration searching every cubbie on their boat for an hour at 7:00 at night. He had to pay a guy to be his "agent" and ended up forking out around $70-80 to get all properly sorted.

My day took roughly 6 hours, with a few of them spent in taxis and on the back of motorbikes searching for the various obscure offices I needed to find. I spent many hours just talking story in my broken Bahasa Indonesia and their broken English, chuckling, and smiling as I sat in their offices and filled out forms. Only one customs officer wanted to actually walk on our boat and it was clear he wasn't really into it. Total cost for all of it, $15. After that we were officially cleared in and I could take off my sweat-soaked collared shirt, pants, and close-toed shoes I wore to make a good impression. I had even taken out my earrings and shaved my WHOLE face. Nicole was pretty happy about that (but don't get used to it, girl).

We are alone now; our German friends have headed south. DK bobs in the brown, stinky trashy water with a constant parade of on-lookers on the bulkhead 30 feet away from us. The men stare for hours and the kids yell, "Hello Mister", every few minutes. We are truly a spectacle here in Sorong, as this is neither a tourist town, nor a "yachty" place at all. Our boat sticks out like a sore thumb surrounded by Chinese style junks and humungous Philippino outrigger fishing boats. On one side of us the oil tankers dock and on the other side the enormous "love boat"-style ferries tie up that shuttle the masses to Papua New Guinea every few days. In another day we will be off to Raja Ampat, our time in Sorong being the price we pay to get to experience the beauty of our next destination.

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