The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Fri 31 Jul 2015 22:30



05:33S   132:39E


We’ve just left Tual en-route to Banda, Indonesia, 190 miles away.  Here's what we did yesterday and overnight.


31 July 2015  Tual, Indonesia

We had a fabulous night’s sleep.  After breakfast, we went closer to town, dropping the anchor at 05:38.04S 132:44.20E in 15 metres of water.  It’s at the edge of yet another seaweed farm, which is a mass of small plastic bottles, which appear to be holding up lines where the sea weed grows - I need to investigate this some more.


After I’d lifted the dinghy off the front deck, we went across the harbour and tied up to the Coastguard dock (05 37.97 S 132 44.55 E).  Everyone was very friendly with big smiles and there was no problem with us being there.

We walked out of the port into a sensory-overload of colour, smells and noise.  I don’t think that they get a lot of white people (“Orang Bule”) here, so we were the centre of attention – it was very unsettling with people shouting things at us as we walked past, probably being friendly and trying to say hello, but not understanding a single word of Indonesian, I don’t know.


We were approached by a guy called Tukan, who had a nice car and offered to take us around.  We thanked him, but said that we wanted to walk.  One block away from the port, we found an ATM opposite a small mosque, but couldn’t get any cash out with either our Visa or Mastercard.  A guy pointed us up the road to a bank, but we could get anything out of their ATM either. 


No problem, I had $100US with me, so we’d go into the bank to exchange it.  No chance.  One of the guards spoke a little English and seemed to tell us that no bank in Tual would exchange any currency.  Yikes … what do we do if we can’t get any money?


We decided to walk up to Immigration, where we’d heard that one of the ladies spoke really good English, but got a bit lost.  While we were dithering about looking confused, Tukan pulled up alongside us (he must have been following us) and offered his help again.  This time, with no cash and very anxious, we agreed to let him drive is around.  Tukan speaks some English, but 50% of the time he didn’t understand us and 50% of the time we didn’t understand him, so there was a lot of smiling and nodding of heads.


Tukan took us to Immigration, who said that we need to first go to Quarantine.  Okay.  Back in Tukan’s car, we explained that first we needed to get some cash and our cards didn’t work in an ATM.  Is there somewhere that we exchange some dollars?  Tukan said knew a Chinese guy who changed money.


We drove across a bridge to the nearby town of Langur.  Tukan stopped on the side of the road and started to lead us down a scruffy alley towards industrial warehouses.  Errr…  Should we be doing this?  We followed because we had no other way of getting cash.


Tukan stopped at a warehouse door and walked into the gloom, speaking to some guys as he passed by.  We were surrounded and waited.  A young Chinese guy appeared and, with lots of smiles, exchanged $70US for 875,000 Rupiah.  They were all so friendly, even posing for a picture.


Having obtained some cash and escaped a perceived robbery, we felt a little more relaxed.  Tukan took us to the Quarantine office, who were very nice and spoke a little English.  They didn’t charge us anything.  We said that we wanted to leave Tual for Banda tomorrow morning and they gave us two certificates - one for the clearance into Tual and another for clearance to Banda.  It’s a bit weird getting quarantine to another port, but I just thanked them and moved on.


We headed back to Immigration, who were lovely - very polite, no fees and lots of smiles and  playing us some Adele on their computer.  Again we asked for clearance to go to Banda tomorrow morning, which was no problem.   They said that we had to go to customs next and spoke to Tukan in Indonesian. 


Tukan took us to an office right next to the Coastguard, where they spoke less English, but were friendly and gave us a very official looking document clearing us to Bintan, which is the last island before we leave Indonesia in three months’ time.  I asked if that was everything finished and they said yes, so we left. 


Back at his car, Tukan asked for 200 for his petrol.  I was very confused, looking through my wallet at notes with denominations of 10,000 and 20,000.  Eventually, I realised that he was asking for 200,000 rupiah ($20USD) and let him pick four 50,000 rupiah notes out of my wallet.  It was probably a very good deal for him, but a bargain for us after two hours of driving around and his assistance.


Before we let Tukan go, we asked him to take us to get some SIM cards for our phone and iPad.  Nobody in the shop spoke English and Tukan wasn’t very technical, so it took twenty minutes to get two SIM cards for $13US.  Later on, we discovered that we had 1GB of data on the iPad (which is ok), but only 10c of call time on the phone, which went as soon as I switched it on.  Why on earth they didn’t sell me some airtime minutes I don’t know.


After three hours, totally exhausted - mentally, emotionally and physically, we parted company with Tukan and escaped back to Alba for lunch.  Our anchorage opposite the town was noisy with the sound of motor bikes and the (seemingly) constant calls to prayer, so we headed back up the harbour to a more peaceful spot.  We anchored a little south of last night’s anchorage and a little more out of the shipping channel at 05:36.82S 132:44.45E.


We had lunch and chilled out.  Glenys had a nap, but I couldn’t settle - something was nagging at the back of my mind.  None of the officials had asked how much alcohol or tobacco we had on board - in fact, we’d not been asked any of the usual customs questions and no one had asked for our customs clearance from the last port.

At three o’clock, I cracked up, jumped in the dinghy and went the mile or so back into town to check whether we’d completed the clearance.  It turned out that the office that Tukan thought was customs was the Port Captain and yes, we needed to see customs as well - I obviously asked the wrong questions this morning. 


As I walked out of the Port Captain’s office, my mate Tukan met me and said that he’d take me up to customs for no money because he was happy with me.  OK - I’ve obviously paid him too much. 


The customs were great.  It took over 30 minutes to sort out my paperwork, but I spent the time chatting to four officers (and Tukan) about snorkelling, England, smoking, alcohol and other blokey, blokey stuff.  Two officers wanted to come out to do an inspection of the boat, so Tukan dropped us off at my dinghy.  Tukan wanted to come with us, but I stopped him because I knew that we wouldn’t be able to plane with four people - I feel really bad about it now.  No doubt he would have enjoyed visiting a yacht - I’ll make sure that we invite more people on board as we continue through Indonesia.


The customs guys were wonderful and their inspection was very relaxed.  They took photos of random lockers and our medical kit, as well as asking questions about alcohol, tobacco and drugs.  Interestingly, they said that if we had beer that was over 5% then they would put it under customs seal until we leave the country, but in moderation, wine at 12% and rum at 40% is OK.  Before they left, they wanted to take “selfie” photographs of themselves and us on our foredeck.


I dropped the customs guys back at the Coastguard dock, where Tukan (bless him) was waiting to take them back to their office.  I said goodbye to Tukan, once again regretting that I didn’t bring him out to our boat.

Back at the boat, I put the dinghy on deck, then collapsed with a cold beer as the sun went down and the mosques started their mournful chants calling the faithful to prayer.