We thought we had seen every navigational hazard imaginable on this trip, but when just outside Penuba Island, another surprise awaited us when we read on the chart “Danger. Minefield. Restricted area”. The area covered a five mile wide area and there was a recommended very narrow channel right down the middle for boats. This is when you hope your chart plotter is accurate!! Old WW2 mines could be a little delicate and we didn’t want to chance being blown out of the water.
Then, running through the usual visible hazards of hundreds of fishing boats all around us, we continued on to cross the equator, in style, under spinnaker. This was not our first time we had crossed and we felt we had already paid our tribute to Neptune, but it was pretty cool and another milestone in our circumnavigation. We both ran down below to see if the toilet was spinning in the opposite direction.
Our next rally stopover was Benan island. We anchored in front of a small village built entirely on stilts over the water. They presented the usual traditional welcome from the village chiefs who showed off their clean and tidy town, with pride.
We visited the mosque and a school where some children came from adjacent islands by ferry to attend class. There were no shops to speak of but a fast ferry came in twice a day from the nearest big city and airport in Pinang. We are definitely getting closer to the high population regions now that we are approaching Singapore.
A short 200m walk to the windward side of the island was like being in another part of the world. Here there was a long white sandy beach, with a dozen or so tourist cabins and picnic tables built under beautiful picturesque palm trees.
They had chosen this beach for our official welcoming festivities of dancing and music. How these people love to sing and dance. Once the traditional part of the ceremony is over, karaoke begins and, thanks to their cell phones, they know all the modern songs and have all the words.
Their love of music and dance is infectious and everywhere they had us up on the floor dancing with them.
The next day was my birthday and Lane had arranged with one of the cafes on the pier to prepare a local buffet meal so that we could invite everyone to a party.
The next morning we all left for our final rally stop on the island of Bintan, 30 miles away. We ended up motoring against strong currents, dodging the many reefs and entered the very busy, dirty harbour of Tanjung Pinang, the capital city for the Riau Province. Only 50 nm to Singapore!
For the next couple of days we were entertained with the different foods and cultures of the Malay, Chinese and Bugis living together in this city. (Did you know that the people know as Bugis in Indonesia were so extremely ferocious in battle that the phrase “the Buggie Man is coming” stems from them.) Mosques, Buddhist temples, Taoist Temples with a catholic church next door.
A short boat trip to a nearby island, Penyengat, more local dancing and food, then a visit of the island to see the beautiful mosque, palaces and tombs of Sultans, Kings and Rajas. The Island is now under UNESCO protection.
The Indonesian people have impressed us greatly with their warmth, hospitality, genuine happiness, and their honesty. They live very simple lives and we have never felt threatened in any way. We have left bags in buses while we visited places of interest and we have not locked our boat the whole time we have been in Indonesian waters.
On the other hand, the rubbish littering the streets and waterways is appalling. When we mentioned the problem to various people, they seemed to be aware that something needed to be done, but have no idea where to start.
Since Indonesia is made up of mostly small islands, the ocean has become their trash bin. The problem is huge! There is hope for their future however as some of the villages have organised an inter-village contest to see which village is the cleanest. This has started some clean-up campaigns. Fingers crossed!
It was heart-breaking as we lifted our anchor for the last time in Indonesia to find what was attached to the anchor chain. A tyre, a bbq grill, big and small plastic bags, pieces of metal, wire and fishing line.
We finally cut ourselves free and headed off to cross the Malacca Straits towards Malaysia. We will stay another year in this beautiful and interesting region of the world. A new adventure begins.