Spoiler alert – we’re back on the boat! It’s been a long time coming and we’ve had to run the gauntlet of Australian and Indonesian bureaucracies in order to get here, but I can’t tell you how glad we are to be reunited with Toucan again.
After almost 8 months of suspended animation in Sydney and no sign of international borders lifting, we catch a faint glimmer of hope on the horizon in October when a cruising friend’s wife manages to get back into Indonesian on a ‘business stream’ visa. This particular visa requires you to be sponsored by a local Indonesian business in order to attend non-specified business meetings and conferences. Perhaps, just perhaps, this could work for us too? A few phone calls later to our good friend Wick and his general manager, Ayu, in Sorong and it starts to fall into place. We need an agent to submit the visa application for us, along with a mountain of paperwork – apart from copies of our passports and the sponsor letter, there’s multiple declarations signing our lives away if we catch Covid or have to quarantine, financial statements proving we have enough money to support ourselves, and…. a negative PCR test (don’t ask – this for a visa application that’s valid up to two months, go figure). So off we trot to our local Covid testing centre at Mona Vale Hospital to have sticks shoved up our noses and down our throat. We’re honest about our reasons for the test, but they don’t seem bothered and within 24 hours we receive our email with our negative results. So far, so good. Now we just have to pay the eye-watering amount of $600 each for the visa and sit tight. Within a few days we get our e-visas sent through – we don’t even have to attend the Indonesian consulate anymore. Woohoo – Step 1 done and dusted.
Step 2 – get permission to leave Australia (I think Australia is the only country in the world to ban its citizens from leaving). A quick online visit to the Department of Home Affairs aka Border Force, tick the box that says you’re leaving Australia for longer than 3 months, and within 24 hours we get our answer – yep, go on, bugger off then.
OK, Step 3 – book a flight. This should have been relatively simple as we’d put a hold on our existing return ticket we’d had in March. But we hadn’t counted on the dodgy online travel agency we booked the tickets with (Opodo, in case you’re wondering – stay WELL clear). They decided they needed our money more than we did, so unbeknownst to us they cancelled the tickets, gave us a paltry couple of hundred dollars ‘refund’ and pocketed the rest. Needless to say, we’ll never see that money again, but we get some minor satisfaction by involving the Office of Fair Trading. So, back to the drawing board. Flights, of course, are now double the price they were before Covid. Hey, it’s only money…the good news is that Garuda have a flight from Sydney to Jakarta every Thursday, so we get seats leaving on the 3rd December without too much difficulty.
Righty-ho then, let’s get packing. We have a 30 kg allowance each which sounds pretty generous, but you can accumulate a LOT of boat bits and pieces in 9 months, can’t you Bruce?? We do a test-pack and we’re about 20 kg over. Oops. Excess baggage is charged at an extortionate $70 per kilo, so that’s not in the budget. We go out and buy lighter-weight bags and take out the least essential items. Still over. We call Garuda and the nice lady on the phone suggests that if we have sporting equipment we can put it in a separate bag and claim another 23 kgs. Yesss! We do have some scuba gear to bring back so that’s good, what else can we claim as sporting equipment? Dive compressor parts – maybe? We hope they don’t examine the contents of the bag too closely.
Step 4 – the condition for flying with Garuda and entering Indonesia is a negative PCR Covid test within 7 days of arrival, so off we go again to Mona Vale Hospital. Same deal, same procedure, another uncomfortable poke up the nostrils and again we register to get our results by email. But they don’t come through. Bruce gets his by SMS which won’t work for the Indonesians, they need a piece of paper. I don’t get anything. We contact NSW Health and they tell us they no longer provide written reports for purposes other than health reasons (i.e. flying). The stress levels are high. Bruce arcs up and questions why NSW Health has the right to stop us leaving the country. It doesn’t go so well. I get on the phone – the woman from NSW Health holds the same line, and also adds that she thinks the airlines won’t accept anything other than a proper lab report. OK, now stress is going through the roof, we only have two days before we fly. Eventually we find a workaround and get our pieces of paper stating that we have a negative PCR result, but I have to say I’ve never been more stressed about travelling than for this trip. There are so many hurdles to overcome, so many chances of getting knocked back for one reason or another.’What if..’, ‘what if..’ ‘what if..’ is the latest refrain on the top ten hits spinning in my head. Let’s just say there are a lot of sleepless nights before we leave.
We have a final, lovely night with Rob, our son, and his fiancée Teneile, where we spend most of it packing and re-packing (and we still end up leaving stuff with them to post later), and then next morning we’re ubering off to the airport. It’s all a bit surreal at the International Terminal. There’s no traffic at the drop-off so our driver takes us right to the entrance. It’s quiet as, most of the retail outlets are shut, and everyone is wearing a mask. I’m thinking check-in should be a breeze given there’s only about a hundred people on the flight, but it takes almost 2 hours because of all the extra Covid checks and paperwork. Our hearts are in our mouths at the check-in desk, but finally we get our boarding passes all the way through to Sorong, and best of all, there’s no excess baggage to pay!
Apart from having to wear our N95 masks for close to 24 hours while travelling, the rest of the trip goes smoothly. We wipe everything we touch with alcohol wipes and our hands have never been so clean with constant hand sanitizing. Most of my backpack is taken up with the reams of paperwork we may have to show on arrival in Indonesia, but as it turns out all they’re interested in is our Covid results, which get checked and re-checked multiple times by multiple people. We fill in health forms, get our temperatures checked, get our paperwork stamped a million times (the Indonesians do love their stamps). We get through immigration, now it’s just customs. As our bags are full of boat bits and one years’ worth of personal medication it could be a worry if we get pulled aside. We wait to pick up our bags at the carousel. And wait…and wait. Finally, a nice lady from Garuda ground staff comes to our aid and after a couple of phone calls tells us that our bags have already been checked through to Sorong. What?? No need to clear customs?? Damn – think of all the extras we could have brought in had we known!
Our last task is to register our phones with customs (it’s a new rule to stop people re-selling phones from overseas). That also takes about an hour, so all in all it’s taken about 3 hours to get through the check in process, but we’ve got plenty of time – our flight to Sorong doesn’t leave until midnight. We find a couple of vacant airport lounges and doze while we wait. Again, we need to show proof of a negative PCR test at the boarding gate and masks are mandatory. There’re even less people on the Sorong flight, maybe 50-80, so there’s plenty of space to stretch out.
And then before we know it, we’re descending down over Sorong harbour at dawn, over the familiar sight of the moored phinisi dive boats and bulk carriers, and a blast of hot, humid, equatorial air greets us as we enter the terminal. One more formality to complete – the registration for the Indonesian Covid App – and then Denny, our driver, greets us in his pick-up truck and we bounce our way down the rutted dirt road to Helena Marina, almost getting bogged a couple of times. Courtesy of Ayu, he’s brought us some essential foodstuffs as we’re supposed to self-isolate now for 14 days.
And then we turn the corner into the boatyard and there’s our girl, tied up alongside. There’s a lump in our throats, and she’s looking a bit the worse for wear, but finally (FINALLY) we’ve made it home.