Welcome to Indonesia! It’s only 350NM from Vanimo but we’ve been transported into a completely different world. Mosques, calls to prayer, big boats with big outboards zooming past, fishermen’s houses on stilts over the water, the smell of the fish market, the noise of traffic. Our senses are bombarded by it all, and we sit slightly overwhelmed in the cockpit figuring out how to get ashore.
We’ve anchored near the new fish market where there’s a little beach, but it’s a busy spot with fishing boats coming and going, unloading their catches. The wharf is way too high and there’s no other obvious landing spot. Biak is where we have to clear in to Indonesia, so we have no option but to go ashore – we load all our paperwork into a backpack, make sure we’re suitably attired for the officials (long pants, shoes and collared shirts for guys, covered knees and shoulders for women) and head in. As we get closer, we get waved over to another small beach to the left of the fish market. Julius is a local dive operator who speaks reasonable English, and he’s happy for us to use his beach for free. Another young man who’s name sounds like “Vanuatu” leads us up through the backyards and along an alley where a group of men are gambling, through the vegetable market (so many fresh vegetables! I’m in heaven!) and points us in the right direction to Immigration.
And so starts the lengthy process of clearing in – everyone is very friendly and welcoming but I kid you not, it takes three days! After Immigration it’s a walk to Customs. Quarantine is way out of town near the airport so they organise for the quarantine officers to come into town. But everyone wants to come out to the boat – there are already 5 immigration and customs officers and then 5 quarantine officers turn up! We tell them it’s too many to transport in our dinghy so we manage to negotiate it down to 7 officials in total. Then comes the fun of trying to get them in the dinghy from the beach, it’s quite the spectacle as they take their shoes and socks off and scramble aboard. The onlookers ashore have quite a show! Finally on the boat, there are more forms to fill out, they photograph everything including themselves and at 4pm we think we’re done. But no – we have to go back to customs the next day to collect our final form, and we still have to go to the quarantine office to pick up our green ‘health book’ and have an obligatory dose of polio vaccine. After that, our final mission is to find the Harbourmaster and have him stamp all our documents. On our first attempt he’s not in the office. They tell us to wait but after an hour we’ve had enough. We come back the next day and he’s there, but he tells us all his staff are in a training session so we’ll need to come back later. Finally, third time lucky we have success – our documents are stamped, the obligatory selfies are taken with us and we’re officially cleared in. Welcome to Indonesia!
Biak is a fun kind of town – ‘Helloo miiister, hello Missus’ is the greeting we get wherever we go, everyone wants a photo with us, we’re starting to feel like celebrities. When we grab lunch, the two girls at the next table ask if they can come and sit with us and have their photos taken – it’s hilarious! Meals here are ridiculously cheap – our lunch comes to the grand total of $8.
There’s a great supermarket (Hadi) with lots of foods we haven’t seen in a few months so we stock up well, and there’s a superb bakery with chocolate doughnuts begging to be eaten.
We even manage to find a hairdresser who’s willing to shear our unruly locks for the grand sum of $5 each, which includes a neck and head massage. Bruce wants to go back just to get another massage…
The downside? The 4.30am call to prayer relayed over a loudspeaker is not something I think we’ll ever get accustomed to. The garbage everywhere, including in the water, is frankly shocking. We take a bag of garbage in to Julius and ask where we can dispose of it – he promptly empties it out on the beach and hands us back the bag. We hope he’s going to burn it, but there’s no guarantee. Welcome to Indonesia! And apart from beer, alcohol is hard to come by and very expensive here. No chance of buying any wine, unless you’re game to try the sacramental wine. I think we’ll stick to beer and spirits thanks anyway…
Very few people speak English here, so the language barrier is proving to be a bit of a challenge. I’ve been trying to learn Indonesian from an online course, but it’s going to take some time. For now, the Google Translate app is our best friend, together with hand gestures and pointing!
As expected, there’s no chance of finding a mechanic here so we pore over the weather forecasts looking for the slightest hint of some wind to get us to Sorong. It’s not looking hopeful. At this time of year the south-easterlies start to fade and then get replaced by the NW monsoon so it’s only going to get worse the longer we stay. We certainly don’t want to be beating into head winds, so we’ll have to take our chances.
We wake up Sunday morning and even though the forecast says no wind, our eyes tell us otherwise. There’s a reasonable 10-12 knots out there – let’s go for it!