Saturday, January 18, 2014

Mentok chores

Mentok (aka Muntok) is on the northwest end of Bangka Island (Indonesia). We were anchored in front of the town about half a nautical mile offshore because of the shallowing depth and about 2 nautical miles from a point that protected us and many other anchored commercial boats from the north winds.

With the dinghy launched, our first sojourn ashore was exploratory. We entered a small harbour behind the breakwater where we had spotted boat traffic going in and out of and discovered a myriad of mostly fishing boats rafted up 10 wide or more. We tied our dinghy alongside and clamoured across the fleet and climbed the piles up to the pier. We quickly realized from the friendly stares and the continuous "Hello Mista" that we were a curious novelty in this rather remote town.

Boats all in a row

First stop: checking into an internet shop, where again we sat on the floor in a cramped corner getting our email and checking weather sites. It was quickly obvious that the north winds were here and it would be who knows how long before we could see an adequate break to make the last 450 nautical miles (835 km) to exit Indonesia.

Then the next issue we had to address was our expired visitor's visas. "Overstays" as they define it are penalized at $20/day/person. We realized we could be stuck for weeks waiting for a weather window and the penalties could be substantial by the time we made it to the Indonesian checkout place. So we had to consider flying to Singapore for a visa run.

Visa runs for many travellers visiting in SE Asia are common and it usually involves simply going across the border of the closest neighbouring country. There, one would get their passport stamped for exiting the country that they just left and stamped into the country that they just entered. Then one turns right around and returns, getting an exit stamp and a new entry visa for the country that they want to stay in. Making a visa run from Mentok, a small town far off the tourist track with no airport, was not going to be easy.

We wandered through the narrow streets to familiarize ourselves with the town. After inquiring, we were referred to a small office that handled travel arrangements. There we met the owner Sam who would become not only the most gracious host to us but also became a special friend.

Jordan and Sam

Sam soon told us an alternative way to get our visa renewed. There was an immigration office in Pangal Pinang, the capital of Bangka and across the Island, a 2.5 hour drive away. The process would take 3 trips to their office and about a week but we wouldn't have to travel out of the country (ie. an expensive flight to Singapore).

Sam offered to transport us and liaise for us through the infamous and not-so-straight-forward Indonesian officialdom. A bonus: Sam could speak Indonesian. When we asked Sam what he would charge for his services, he responded "Whatever you think, it's not that important." Now normally when we get such a response, we are on guard because it is open for overcharges after the service is done. But for some reason, we sensed in Sam a genuine honesty and benevolence which we would learn was an understatement.

Once the immigration visa extension process was done, it cost (including penalties) about $550 and only gave us 3 remaining weeks after which we would either have to do it all over again or be checked out of Indonesia up north by then.

Fuel was another requirement, a not so easy endeavour at the best of places. We had anchored right beside a self-propelled barge, Avirra III of Jakarta, that looked like it was a fuel transporter. What the heck, no harm in asking. Jordan dinghied over to see if a purchase could be done and after some haggling on price, the super friendly crew accommodated Jordan's fuel jug sorties.

Awesome Avirra III

We were given a tour of the spotlessly clean Avirra with its shiny green deck. Their cook served us coffee and we were able to check email on a crew member's phone. What a great bunch of guys!

Jordan wanted to get a permanent fix to replace the jury fix of the broken injector pipe. Our engine is an older Perkins made in Britain halfway around the world. Factory original parts, if available, would take some time to get delivered.

So one of our day trips with Sam to the city of Pangkal Pinang, with a spare injector and broken pipe in hand, we stopped at a dealer for Kubota Earth Excavators to see if their machine shop could fabricate what we needed. But he brought out from his Parts Department an injector pipe for a Kubota and surprisingly it had the right threaded nuts and flared ends that could be fitted on our Perkins!! The pipe was extra long but with a bit on bending it did the fix. Things were working out.

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