Where in the World is Connie? travel blog

Towers of muslim mosque

S/V Valkyrie, Indonesian schooner & home to me for next 3 months

Jenni & Rob, boat owners

Jenni shopping at Bira's local market

Harley the rainbow parrot

Spooky the cat

Bira beach


Indonesia - Week One. After 48 hours of travel and numerous time zone changes, it's finally hit me that I've traveled a bloody long way from home. Culture shock has already set in.

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I'm not sure how it happened, but somehow over the past week I've been transported into someone else's life. The habits and creature comforts associated with my previous life in Canada seem to be long gone and are now just vague (but fond!) memories.

For those of you who don't know the story, I'm now in Indonesia where I've signed up to crew on an Indonesian schooner that will be sailing westward through the Indonesian, Nicobar and Andaman islands, across the Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka, and, if all goes according to plan, will end up 3 months later somewhere around Madras on mainland India. From there I'll tour through India for a month before heading back to Canada.

All flights to Indonesia went very well, just long and tiring ... Calgary - Vancouver - Seoul - Singapore - Jakarta - Makassar. One fella sitting beside me on the flight from Singapore to Jakarta read out loud for 15 minutes from his Buddhist prayer book. Kind of made me wonder what kind of flight we were in for, but I felt assured that if we ran into any problems, his lengthy prayers would help. This flight (on a Boeing 747) also had a live video feed from the front of the plane so that passengers could have a cockpit view of take off and landing - very cool!

I was amazed at Singapore airport which I hadn't traveled through before. It's wonderfully geared up for long distance travelers with Transit Hotels where you can sleep for a few hours (no need to clear customs), movie theaters, PC/internet connections, numerous gardens, shopping centers, as well as regular airport shops, restaurants and bars. Unfortunately, I didn't get to enjoy the conveniences as I arrived at 1:00am local time and did little more than check into a hotel for a few hours of sleep.

Jenni (the boat owner) met me in Jakarta and we flew together to Makassar, capital city of Sulawesi, where we stayed overnight at a clean and secure homestay. My room even had air conditioning. The room rate, including morning coffee, was 75,000 rupiah per night - less than US$10! Only problem was that it was next door to a large mosque and so we were awakened at 4am by the call to prayer. Makassar was very reminiscent of China - tons of cars, trucks, motorcycles, bikes, beceks (1-2 passenger bicycle taxis) and pedestrians all competing for road space. Lots of honking and no apparent adherence to traffic lanes or signs.

In what I'm told is typical Indonesia fashion, our expected 4 hour drive to Bira, where the boat was built and is presently anchored, took over 5.5 hours. Before we could even leave the taxi driver had to nip next door to the mosque to pray. Big trucks on narrow roads caused very slow traffic which was further delayed as traffic was rerouted because organized becek taxi races were taking place (perhaps they were inspired by the recent Tour de France?!). Would you believe we then had a flat tire, and one more roadside mosque prayer stop by the driver was nearly our undoing. I've never been so happy to see a boat in my life!

"Valkyrie" is a 75ft double masted wooden pinisi schooner - a traditional Indonesian sailing boat. The boat owners, Robert & Jenni, had her built as close to original style as possible, although have added an engine and more modern navigational equipment and have tweaked a few things to make her better performing and more seaworthy. That's where anything "modern" ends and "traditional" begins. A gas stove, refrigerator, freezer and satellite radio are about our only luxuries. Let's just say that whoever thought of me as a princess before should see me now! Character building, right??

Our departure from Bira has been delayed until approximately Sept. 20th. 2 crew from Australia pulled out as they couldn't get insurance on all their dive equipment which they planned to bring along to start a dive business in Sri Lanka. Another crew (an American coming from Australia) just didn't show up! So Rob & Jenni are now scrambling to hire some local Indo crew. The added benefit of local crew will be their knowledge of this type of sailing vessel and of the areas we'll be travelling through. Additional financing also needs to be sorted out as we're now having to hiring crew and missing a few "paying crew". If things are delayed much beyond Sept 20 departure, I'll need to consider moving elsewhere on my own as I don't want to sit in Bira for 3 months. Thanks to friends who have provided some great suggestions/advice. I'm not making any changes yet, am still in "wait and see" mode and am still really wanting to do this sail trip, but felt it prudent to consider a different game plan if it becomes necessary.

In the meantime, since we're delayed by 2 weeks, a frenzy of final work, repairs, painting & provisioning is underway. There's always a lot to do on a boat, especially on a wooden one. Tools, paint, wood shavings and dust is everywhere - quite like living in a house that's being renovated.

Hiring Indo crew is challenging as it "unofficially" must be approved by Hagi who is something like the local mafia king. A lot of locals are scared to work for foreigners without Hagi's blessing. Thankfully Rob & Jenni, having lived here for 4 years while the boat was being built, have a good relationship with Hagi and he's "approved" one Indo that they really wanted to hire, and he's been making "suggestions" on other crew which have yet to show up to be interviewed. Local workers are similar to those in the Caribbean ... they'll be here "definitely tomorrow" ... around 4 days ago!!

Other crew on the boat are JP, an American who has already arrived and who has previously spent a great deal of time in Indonesia, and Per and Daniel, both on leave from the Swedish army. And then there's Spooky the cat who we suspect is pregnant and Harley the rainbow parrot who sneaks sips of your beer if you're not watching! Looks to be a fun group.

Bira is a small village in the southern end of Sulawesi. There's a local market every other day where you can buy a limited selection of fish, fruit, vegetables and spices. There are a few very tiny shops, a couple of hotels and dive shops although they get very few tourists, and a beautiful beach that has sand so white and fine it's like talcum powder. The locals are extremely poor but surprisingly very clean considering the majority of them basically live in small shacks with no modern conveniences. They're all very friendly and inquisitive (borderline nosey!), especially of the foreigners. The children are absolutely lovely, so natural and happy. Things are extremely cheap by North American standards ... one beer (which is around the size of 2 of our bottles) costs just over US$1!! Of course it's a muslim country, so there's little beer to be found, although you can buy it in Bira (how convenient!).

Well, that's about it for Week One. It seemed very strange to have so many changes in lifestyle initially, but it's already starting to feel more familiar. I'm working on learning the language, hopefully this will come along quicker than my French.

Hope this finds everyone happy & healthy. Drop me a line and let me know what's new with you when you can.

Cheers for now, Connie



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