Our Visit to Belitung

Finally have had a chance to process a few photos of our visit to Belitung. We mentioned in an earlier post that we had a unique experience in Belitung during our two day stop there.

We chose to visit the more popular anchorage off Kelayang Beach on the NW side of the island. This year’s rally tried a new anchorage on the south side of this large island, but it wasn’t very popular with the cruisers due to it not being well protected. Kelayang Beach is actually a beautiful white-sand beach with lots of huge granite bolders nestled along the shore (and one big one in the entrance to the bay). The boulders instantly reminded us of The Baths in Virgin Gorda of the British Virgin Islands. Only this place is even prettier and more accessible.

We were surprised to find 8 cruising boats at anchor when we arrived. I went ashore to find out about getting fuel, and met several of the crews of the boats at a beach-side restaurant owned by a local named Rusty. It turns out we FINALLY caught up to the Indonesia Rally! The crews said they were the “stragglers” of the rally bringing up the rear (before they knew about us). Before long, thanks to the yachties, I had all the information I needed to arrange to get the fuel. Most of the boats here planned to leave the next day to go to the next stop on an island west of here. But, there was some special closing ceremony either happening that first day or the next day. Slideshow below.

Rusty spoke broken English, but realized it was very beneficial to help the yachties. His fridge was open to getting drinks, you just told him how many you got and paid him. He offered to take me and another skipper to the town (25km away) so we could get money from an ATM to buy the fuel tomorrow. We would be going on motor bikes apparently (the popular mode of transportation in Indonesia). But, we had to wait until after an early morning boat launching. Rusty had a new fishing boat just completed that would be taken to the water.

In the afternoon, hanging out with the other boats, we found out the closing ceremony wouldn’t be until tomorrow. The other boats said they were leaving tomorrow. We briefly considered going with them to the next island, but decided instead we would keep to our plan to go to Nongsa Point.

The next morning I went ashore to see the boat launching and go to town. Karen decided to stay on board and get some laundry done and house-cleaning. The boat launching was interesting. They build the wooden boats, about 15-17m in length, about 100m from shore. When they are ready, they invite lots of friends and family to help bring the boat to shore. They put palm leaves on the ground in front of the boat, then use a truck to pull and the muscle of dozens of men to help push. Several of us cruisers helped push as well. As soon as the boat was in the water, Rusty got in and cranked up his brand new diesel engine. We were surprised at the HP and speed as he buzzed down the beach.

After the launching, all the people had breakfast and drinks courtesy of the skipper of the new boat. The people were thrilled we yachties joined in to help! An hour later, after Rusty anchored his new baby, he told us he and his wife would join us on the two motor bikes to town. I drove the one with his wife, and Rusty drove the other yachtie. It’s a good thing they went with us as we had no idea what route to take. We were soon in a bustling town that was much nicer than Labuan Bajo, but less modern than Bali. After going to an ATM in a bank, Rusty’s wife needed to go to the market. We went to a real traditional market and saw lots of interesting foods and sea critters for sale. Butchers were hacking away at their meat right in the stalls. Very interesting! She was soon done with her shopping and we were on our way back.

We were about half way back when our bike started sashaying around. Rusty’s wife behind me said the equivalent of “uh oh” and I stopped. Sure enough, we had a flat tire! Rusty didn’t hear when I beeped the horn and continued ahead of us. She took the bike and drove it on ahead to find a tire repair place – while I walked with the helmet in the blazing sun. A few minutes later Rusty came back to get me (I was within .5 km of catching up to them). Rusty said we could take his bike and get back to the anchorage. I had my phone with GPS, so I was confident we could get back. We only made one wrong turn, and were soon back.

I already mentioned I spent a few hours borrowing jerry jugs, and making two big trips with ten 20 liter jugs in the dinghy to ferry fuel to Tahina. It was hot work, and Karen made me some iced tea to help. I used a baja filter to put all the fuel in. It turned out to be a good thing because the last jug ended up having some sediment in it. The diesel guy transferred the fuel from a big tub and had gone to near the bottom with the last tank. I had a hard time trying to explain to him (he didn’t speak any English really) what I thought happened and that I didn’t want to pay for the last few liters of the last jug. They even took me to his son at a store 2 km away on a motor bike, so I could explain to his english-speaking son. The diesel guy was very happy when I pulled out the cash and paid him (except for the last few liters).

Three of the boats left early in the morning. The other five found out in the morning we got an official invitation from the Regent of the island to attend the closing ceremony. So, we all decided to delay our departure to attend the mid-afternoon event.

This was the weird part. The event was in part to honor the rally boats, but only 5 out of 130 boats were here. But, the event was also an opportunity for the local politicians to show how they were helping raise awareness to foreign interests to the opportunities of tourism in Belitung. They had a live band with full local costume playing, dancers, videogrpahers and photographers, booths for different parts of the island, and a large seating area in their new community center on the beach here. We were escorted to VIP seats at the front of the audience with big armed chairs, and tables with food and drink in front of us. The Regent arrived with a beauty queen to greet him and his wife. They came and the Regent shook our hand (not his islamic wife) – while the photographers took lots of pictures.

It felt really odd having such a big event in our honor. But, we made the best of it. One of the women yachties got up and managed to convince some local kids to dance with her. The locals loved this and everyone was taking pictures! Another yachtie got up and made a speech saying how much we enjoyed Belitung and that we certainly would tell others about this beautiful place. We had to endure some speeches by the Regent and other politician, but it wasn’t too bad. Some even said a few words in English directed at us. After the dancing, we were invited to a big buffet meal in which we were first to be served. Very nice! They also gave us some nice shirts with the Indonesia Rally and Belitung embroidered on them.

We were then allowed to leave. I think they continued with more discussions and celebrations after we left. All of the boats ended up leaving just before dark that evening. Hopefully the people understood we had to leave.

Please check out the photos in this slideshow for a few scenes from the stories above. There’s even a short video clip of the dancers from the ceremony.

View full-sized with descriptions

One footnote to the trip that somewhat spoiled this otherwise idealic memory of Belitung. We found out when we got to Singapore that several of the yachties who had visited this beach got a parasitic worm (probably hook worm) most likely from the cats going potty in the sand around Rusty’s place. So far, Karen and I (and at least two other boats we know who were there) have no signs of it, but at least several yacht crews got them. Fortunately the cure is a single pill followed by a few days of antibiotics.

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