Beautiful Belitung 

This post is long overdue, but I did not want to make two for the same place! A five day passage through armadas of Indonesian squid fishermen, oil fields, and some slight sickness amongst members of our three person crew has seen us anchored happily on the northwestern coast of beautiful Pulau Belitung. 

A large island off the eastern coast of Sumatra and more than 500 miles northwest of Bali, Belitung is easily one of our favorite places so far. The anchorage is calm and relatively uncrowded, and bordered by long beaches of white sugar sand. The water at times is calm and clear enough to see the bottom perfectly even in twenty or more feet of depth. Small islands bursting with greenery and tropical foliage extend out into the water not far from the main island, and local tour boats putter around daily taking groups of tourists to the nearby lighthouse and many excellent snorkelling locations.

Gigantic formations of striking white granite extend out of the water everywhere and mark the coastline from a long ways off. The prehistoric-looking boulders shelter some of the best coral reefs that we have encountereed in addition to creating a landscape (or seascape?) that compares to nothing I have ever seen. The warm waters are also home to dolphins, gigantic and crazy-looking jellyfish, and a thriving population of hawksbill sea turtles. Morning paddleboard trips across glassy calm, clear water can provide sometimes more than a dozen turtle sightings, some of which will swim right underneath or surface right next to you. 

Our time here has been relaxed and easy to enjoy. We arrived in time for a gala dinner provided by the local community to welcome the rally to Belitung. This featured an amazing show of local dancing backed by a band playing drums, violins, and large ornate guitars among other instruments. Dinner was a selection of local delights, from Mie Belitung (a local variant of the omnipresent Mie Goreng that incorporates shrimp and shrimp stock) to Bakso soup (filled with unique meatball/dumplings made from beef and tapioca flour). The next morning we had the pleasure of being shown how to make some of the food we had eaten the night before and were fortunate to taste some of Indonesia’s fine coffees grown and roasted on Sumatra and Sulawesi.

We also had a fantastic trip to the lighthouse with friends Exit Strategy, Por Dos, and Taka’oa. Though the lighthouse itself was impressive, built in the late 1800s by the Dutch, we could unfortunately not go higher than the third floor. This was easily offset though by the beautiful setting and subsequent trips to nearby little islands to snorkel, swim, and marvel at the granite monoliths that make this place so unique. The rest of our time has been spent enjoying quiet morning coffees in the scenic bay before watching the daily thunderclouds roll over the island bringing magnificent rains, as intense as they are fleeting, that help to keep the temperature bearable and beautiful. These in turn give way to marvelous sunsets, the scattering rainclouds turning the sky into a canvas which the setting sun paints in staggering reds and golds, oranges and pinks. One of our evenings saw us watching one of these from our dingy, floating along with friends, freshly baked bread, wine and cheese while turtles surfaced and appeared all around us in the fading evening light of the granite-ringed anchorage.

The wildlife here is amazing as well. Belitung is one of few places in the world (all in Southeast Asia) that the tiny and adorable Tarsius Monkeys call home, as well as deer the size of rabbits. At some times during the day looking up from our boat there can be dozens of great, soaring Frigate Birds or sometimes a White-Bellied Sea Eagle, and tiny bats squeak and wheel overhead at night ashore. One of the islands that ring the bay where we are anchored hosts a turtle conservation facility, where you can go and see hundreds of little baby hawksbill turtles swimming about excitedly in the sheltered pools where they live until they are older and larger. After they reach about three months of age they are released into the ocean with much less threat of predators than when they are newborn from their eggs.

Belitung has been a peaceful, amazing anchorage for us, and though it came late in the trip it sits high on the list of our favorite places in Indonesia. Our time in this country is drawing to a close as we have officially checked out of Indonesia from Belitung and we have only a handful more stops before we cross the straits towards Singapore and the Malaysian Peninsula. 

Lombok and Gili Trawangan

We have spent the last week or so in beautiful Medana Bay Marina on northern Lombok, Indonesia. Lombok is a massive, mountainous island with much to offer and Indonesia’s second tallest Volcano, Mt. Rinjiani, dominates the sky wherever you happen to be. Its home to great surf breaks along with some of the most ‘western’ (as much as Indonesia can imitate them) style markets and restaurants we have encountered so far. Lombok is a breath of fresh air and a slight relaxation of the stark cultural differences of Indonesia to the developed West. Lombok also is the home of the famous Gili Islands off its northeastern coast, and this is where I chose to visit for a few days in my first sojourn off the boat.

The Gilis consist of three small islands. Gili Meno is a quiet, idyllic sanctuary with low visiting population, beautiful sandy beaches, mellow resorts and a small lake. Gili Air shares some of each of it’s siblings’ DNA, being equal parts relaxing resorts and delicious restaurants with a few bars thrown in for just enough nightlife to keep things lively. Gili Trawangan is the party island, and the one that I chose to spend three amazing days on. 

‘Gili T’, as everyone fondly refers to it, is the largest and most populous; backpackers, travelers, and adventurers from all over the world arrive here in droves every day. Bars and restaurants line the beach for several miles, along with shops where you can purchase sorongs, drinks, groceries, and local art. Bean bags and swings can be found on the beach the whole island around for visitors to lounge on, shacks by the main road sell milkshakes that contain psilocybin mushrooms, and live music and beach parties thump into the early hours of the morning every night. The islands host easy access to some of Indonesia’s great diving and snorkeling, and while they are an artificially large population it is still magnificent to snorkel and swim with dozens of Hawksbill and Olive Ridley sea turtles or see the babies at the island’s hatchery.

My stay was some of the most fun I’ve had anywhere. I stayed at a hostel (except for one night asleep on the beach) with an amazing cast of people even though the staff was somewhat rude at times. It seemed the whole of Europe had invaded! Brits of every variety, Germans, Swiss and Dutch, even a couple Spaniards thrown in for good measure. I soon learned from the hordes of Germans and Brits in the hostel that it seems to be a vacation period for them of sorts. So I spent my days sauntering around the island, swimming and sleeping on the beach, eating hamburgers and pizza that I’ve been craving for months. My nights were spent dancing, chatting, and lounging with new friends from half a dozen nations. 

I came away from the experience soaked with enjoyment and maybe a little too much alcohol. There’s something beautiful in the fact that one can meet kindred spirits from the whole world over on a tiny little island in Indonesia, and that is the magic of Gili Trawangan.

When I arrived back at the marina with the equivalent of $0.42 in my pocket, I discovered that my parents had gone off gallivanting with their own Brits, Por Dos (confusing, I know…), to the Lombok Elephant Park. There they saw much amazing wildlife including tons of amazing birds and took all the amazing pictures you see here. While I had a fantastic time in Gili T, perhaps it’s better that I don’t have any of the photo evidence 🤙🏼. 

Now I sit in Amed on North Bali, and tomorrow we will arrive in Lovina Bay, from whence I will depart on my next adventure to Canggu and Ubud to surf and experience Bali!

Stocking up for the Winter

A rainbow Lorikeet 

What a strange and wonderful world it is that I live in now, one where winter means shorts, sandals, and tans. It’s been an interesting time here in Cairns, Australia this last little while as we get all our ducks in a row for Indonesia. We are now just about two weeks from leaving Australia, and while I don’t feel for an instant that I’ve seen enough of it it’s hard to explain how excited I am to see the world’s largest archipelago.

The Cairns bus station

A trawler named ‘Prawn Star’ in Cairns, serving beer and fresh seafood.

Everything is about to change. Australia is a new and different place for an American, but even so there are a lot of cultural similarities and a common language. Locals still root for their sports teams, bars and clubs still fill up on weekend nights, and friends still tease each other relentlessly. It’s quite easy to become comfortable, and knowing that it was just a first stepping stone I hadn’t done incredibly extensive research on the place before coming here. 
Indonesia is an entirely different sail pattern. The country covers a huge geographical area, encompassing about 18,000 different islands, more than 100 active volcanoes, and quite literally hundreds of unique cultures and languages. It’s been a Dutch colony, the source of now-everyday spices such as nutmeg and cloves, and a major base for allied operations in the Pacific during World War II. It’s a country that holds within it major populations of three of the worlds largest religions (Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism) as well as significant amounts of native animistic religions and traditions. World class surf breaks and diving locations are peppered throughout the islands at all times of the year, and some of the rarest animals on earth call Indonesia home such as the Sumatran Tiger, Orangutan, Komodo Dragons, and the nearly extinct Javan Rhinoceros. There is so much to see that one could easily spend a lifetime exploring there and never see all of it, and we have only 3 months. 

The night markets in Cairns, with our friends from ‘Mikado’ in the foreground.

So how do you prepare to enter and live in a place so foreign and vast? Contact with the government of the country you’re traveling to is always wise, and in this case necessary in order to enter. Doing this as part of a group also alleviates a large stress point of traveling somewhere new, as you have at least a number of people that will be going through the same processes as you are. As I’ve mentioned before, we are going as part of the Sail 2 Indonesia rally for this exact reason, and there is an added major benefit of having a familiar group to travel with in such a different place. In the case of sailors, rallies provide a schedule and a point of familiarity and stability around which to plan your trip. That being said, there are many places off the beaten path that we on Huck wish to see and while we will undoubtedly be linking up with rally locations throughout our time in Indonesia our goal is to see what we want to see. After all, what’s the point of going to a fascinating, foreign place if you don’t step outside your comfort zone every now and then?

Our Indonesia map in early planning stages, with rally destinations marked with pink post-its.
So after you have a rough outline of your trip, in our case already provided by the wonderful folks organizing the rally, the next step is research, research, and more research. What’s your ‘can’t miss’ list? What cell provider should you use? Where can you get fuel, money, or food and water? How safe is it in those places? What things can you take in or out of the country? Will English suffice, or do I need to know some other language to get by? I could make an entire blog post just asking all the questions that need to be explored, you really can’t know too much when you’re going somewhere new. In addition to the resources provided by the rally, we’ve picked up a language app, an Indonesian language book, a physical map of the region, and have been referencing a copy of Andy Scott’s “Cruising Guide to Indonesia” to help plan our trip. 

‘Huck’ organizing 3+ months worth of provisions, even before we picked up meat and produce.

The last real step is to take care of anything that you can’t once you’ve left. ‘Western’ quality yacht supplies and marinas are few and far between in Indonesia so we’ve taken care to replace or back up important things like engine start batteries, marine varnish, and others. Red meat, wine, and cheese are all either rare, nonexistent, or of poor quality so we’ve stacked our freezer and fridge high with as much as we could, and stashed away wine in every available corner of the boat in the hopes that it will last for a whole season. 

These trees seem common in Australian cities and though I dont know what they are they are pretty magnificent. 

I sit now writing this post in the deep hum of our engine warming up to leave Cairns and the ‘western’ world behind, and I am equal parts apprehension and excitement. Australia is a beautiful place that I will miss and was in many ways an adventure all it’s own, but I can’t help but feel that it was preparation, a staging ground for the exotic world and voyages we are about to embark on. This is the step from the familiar into the unknown, and no amount of research or preparation will make it any less exciting or thrilling, and I can’t wait to begin to see this new strange world.