Plague and Tempest

Just when we think we have more than enough on our plate, the powers-that-be decide to throw in a couple more doozies…

The first comes in an uninvited and sneaky visit from Covid, just when we were congratulating ourselves on evading it for the past two years. As we leave Sorong to head back to Pulau Dayan, I have the teeniest sore throat and headache. No worries, we’re double-vaxxed and Omicron is supposed to be milder anyway, so I’ll just spend a few days isolating on the boat until I feel better.

As it turns out, the wind and swell from the NW makes the anchorage very uncomfortable so we can’t get off the boat anyway.  We move around the corner to get some protection, still fully laden with all our supplies from Sorong.  Meanwhile, my minor sore throat has turned into a raging beast armed with a million sharp razorblades, and I have enough congestion to drown a small country. I’ve had many sore throats over the years, but this is off the scale. Swallowing becomes excruciating and the best I can do is small sips of water every now and again.  I start antibiotics, thinking it’s strep throat, but they have no effect. Even though I don’t have a fever or breathing difficulties, after two days of not eating, hardly drinking, and no improvement whatsoever, it’s time to get more help.  Bruce (who thankfully only has some mild congestion) summons the building gang and they arrive in three boats to unload all the heavy stuff off Toucan.  What we struggled to load on, they effortlessly carry off almost in one hand!

Then it’s a long (8-hour) trip back to Sorong to get some medical help.  By the time we arrive it’s early evening, and Iki is there to take our lines and drive us to the hospital.  It’s deserted in the emergency department, but surprisingly we get very little assistance. No-one examines my throat or suggests a Covid test.  They agree I probably need inpatient treatment but say they have no beds available, so I’m sent away with more of the same antibiotics that aren’t working.  The second hospital we try is much better – I’m instantly whisked away for a RAT test, which comes back positive.  Unfortunately, they don’t have an isolation ward so they can’t treat me as an inpatient either, but at least they give me a pharmacy-load of medications that might actually help – a course of antivirals, dexamethasone to reduce the inflammation, and mega doses of vitamins C and D.  Just how I’m supposed to swallow them all is anyone’s guess.  But somehow, desperation wins, and I get them all down (13 in the first dose. 13!!) and by the next morning I’m feeling slightly better.  Bruce has developed a headache and more congestion, so we decide to wait a few more days to make sure he doesn’t get worse.  Four days later and we’re pretty sure we’re over the worst of it so off we go back to the island.

We’re excited to see what progress has been made in the almost two weeks we’ve been away.  But when we step ashore, I have to confess we feel a little deflated.  Not much seems to have happened, except that the floor is done in our house and two of the roofs on the other buildings have been finished. 

Already the jungle is making a comeback – it’s going to be hard to keep it at bay
Our house with floor installed and framework ready for the walls
I’m still gobsmaked that all this timberwork is cut with just a chainsaw.
One guesthouse now has a roof
And the beach cabana is coming along

 It seems our beach is also a magnet for trash – yet again, it’s awash with thongs, toothbrushes, cigarette lighters, and plastic bottles as far as the eye can see.  Dear God – is this how we’re going to spend our time here – picking up trash?

This is just heartbreaking….

Hans explains that the weather’s been bad for much of the time we’ve been away, so they haven’t been able to do as much work as they wanted. And it’s true –  there’s a typhoon to the north of us, bringing down massive amounts of rain and unusually windy conditions.  Because we’re so close to the equator, we’re used to the frequent squalls that come through, but they’re usually short-lived. This is different. By Sunday, the wind has picked up to 30 kts from the NW and our normally calm anchorage has breaking waves. The rain is torrential and non-stop.  We manage to pick a bit of a lull to pull up the anchor and move around the corner, where we get a small amount of protection from the wind and waves.  But it’s harrowing to see breaking waves in the channel between the islands, and the huge surf pounding the shore where Hans and his family live in their houses over the water.  

our usually calm environment has become tempestuous. Hans and his family live just to the right of where the waves are breaking, their houses hidden behind Dayan Kecil

We can’t see them from where we are, but when it finally calms down after almost 3 days, we discover that they’ve sustained quite a lot of damage to their houses – one has been swept away completely, together with the jetty, and the other is leaning at an alarming angle.  

There’s now no sign of the other house and a jetty that used to be to the right of the one now leaning alarmingly, and temporarily stabilised by a line to shore. Sadly, there’s going to be quite a lot of rebuilding needed…

Where our houses are located, opposite to Hans’s family, we have slightly more protection and luckily we’ve sustained no damage.  But the tide and waves have been so huge that the high tide mark is way inland, behind our buildings!

You can see the high tide mark and how far the sand has been thrown up behind our unfinished lounge/dining room

We’re glad that the houses are raised, but we decide that the unfinished lounge/dining area will need to have the floor raised further.  It might have been a once-in-a-century storm for this area, but we don’t want to take any chances. And sadly, with climate change, we just might be seeing a lot more extreme weather in the years to come.  We later hear that about 40 houses got swept away on the waterfront at Sorong.  Frankly, I’m surprised it wasn’t more, as the shoreline is packed with so many shanty timber homes built over the water. It’s not an easy life here for many people.

We’re acutely aware of time slipping away from us, so we ask Hans and Fenchay to put a halt to building the shower/toilet block and give Philipus a hand with the workshop and kitchen area.  Without this being finished, we can’t install the batteries for the solar panels, and we desperately need somewhere we can store our equipment securely when we leave.  We’ll leave our dive equipment and compressor here, plus most of our tools, so we need it at lock-up stage within the next month.  Can we make it?

The workshop/kitchen – still waiting for a floor and walls

We’ve also commissioned Renol, Hans’s older brother, to build a panga-style runabout for us that will get us to and from Sorong when we come back, plus will be our dive boat when we’re here.  He reckons it will take about a month to construct, and then we have to put two 40HP outboards on and get the wiring and gear cables sorted. Again, will we make it in time??? The clock is ticking….