Leaving Sawai and filling in time till Raja Ampat cruise

Tuesday 11th April, 2017 Sawai Village, Seram Island to Baguala Bay, Ambon Island
Today we’re heading back to Ambon Island, by what we believe is public transport. We thought it would be a bemo, but we’ve been told it is a car, so not sure what to expect, especially as we’ve been told it will cost 110,000 Rp each, when the going rate to come here by private car was 1,000,000! The manager made a booking for us last night, so they know to expect us.

Murray wakes up early to a real or imagined alarm bell. We then get the prolonged 5am Mosque call to prayer, and the early long tail motor canoes, but manage to get some sleep before our real alarm goes off at 6.45am. We are not sure if we are getting breakfast, but manage to save enough bananas from last night’s meal to buffer the doxycline malaria pills. We do a final check of the room by torch light, as the electricity goes off at daylight. We walk out into the yard, encounter the manager, who tries unsuccessfully to drag Dianne’s bag through the gravel made of crushed coral, so Dianne helps him to carry it, while Murray carries his own. We are settled down in one of the curved wooden seats cut from the hulls of retired dugouts while he goes looking for the car which we think leaves at 8am, though we’ve also been told 7.30am, but we’re taking no chances, and are out just after 7am. We were offered tea or coffee, but settled for some of the sweet, yellow muffins they use for bread.
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The car, a seven seater Toyota rear wheel drive, a type not offered in Oz, turns up, and they load the bags into the back with a struggle. Murray gets the front seat, Dianne behind him. We proceed slowly through the narrow streets to a very difficult zig zag and stop here to pick up additional passengers. The passengers, an elderly local couple and the young bloke who was one of our lead guides in the cuscus hunt last night, have a fair bit of luggage, two medium soft suitcases and a box, too much to fit in the car. After a lot of discussion, the driver comes back with a large orange tarpaulin, which they drape over the roof, and put our big red, and the two soft suitcases on the roof, fold back the tarpaulin to waterproof them, and tie the whole package with what looks like green jungle vine, but was actually a synthetic twine. This caused some concern later as we eased over road wash-always on the mountain, and picked up a lot of speed on the flat later.

The car looks like a private vehicle, and we can’t work out how this “public transport” system works. Is the vehicle owned by the State, or the village, or does someone get paid for using their private car; or is it a private vehicle that we are helping subsidise??? The young bloke is a bit of a lair, and we think he may just be coming along for something to do – the village seems a bit tame for him. Last night he was annoying some of the villagers when we were looking for cuscus – continually shining the torch on a family who were sleeping on a platform in the trees, and shining torch on various villagers.

The driver was competent, taking the rough patches where there had been landslides or road wash-aways really slowly, beeping the horn on all tight corners, and slowing down a few times when there was a view worth photographing. The first stage was a continuous climb for the best part of an hour, under threatening skies. The dense jungle closed over the road in many places, and the scene was very green and gloomy. The mountains we climbed were steep and clad in dense jungle, with hanging vines and epiphytes on the older large trees. A lot of the underscores was skinny trees with patchy rainforest bark, a bit like the guava forest on Moroni in the Comoros Islands, we climbed through in the pouring rain. In spite of the area being volcanic fertile, and very wet, there was no sign of bamboo. A lot of the land we passed through was in the Manusela National Park, and roadside signs prohibited hunting cockatoos or hornbills, and logging.

High on the mountain, it started to rain hard, and we hoped their waterproofing job was efficient. After two hours we passed the turnoff to Saleman we had taken on the way out. The decision not to take the speedboat back to Saleman was fully justified. This two hours was interesting, and not in the least bit scary. We met quite a lot of truck traffic, and motor bikes, but very few cars. One car was stopped in the middle of the road with people standing around it. There was no obvious damage, and words were exchanged with our driver, but no attempt was made to help.

On the way, even though we were looking, we only managed to see one bird, just above the road on a branch. It was the size of a large pigeon, with a white chest and burgundy coloured wings. Could have been a raptor. There was absolutely no road kill. Either animals are smart here, or very thin on the ground.

In the main street of the main town of Masohi, the driver confirmed that we wanted Amahai, and didn’t want to stop for something to eat, but we ended up doing both. The small cafe selected had no menu, but the kitchen was right at the front, and Dianne was able to select rice, a dish which looked like chicken pieces in orange sauce and a small mackerel type fish, served cold, as they do. It turned out OK, even though the “chicken” turned out to be some sort of vegetable, possibly jackfruit.

We were able to do a loo visit in a primitive, but well-washed squatter toilet, and when it came time to pay, we found our driver had paid the whole bill, and wouldn’t take any money.

At the port, we unloaded, the young bloke cut the twine to unload the baggage, which was dry. We paid the driver 250,000 for what should have been a 2x 110,000 or 120,000 fare, but later added another 50,000 as Dianne thought he didn’t look entirely happy, and it was a good deal for us anyway. We parted on good terms. Dianne bought ferry tickets, Executive (B) for 115,000 each, same as our outward passage – looks like everyone gets to be an executive. We misread the signs in the cabin, see Executive B above the doorway, think we are walking INTO Executive B, but after we stack our baggage against the bulkhead and settle into our numbered seats, a ticket collector tells us we are in Executive B. This is a disappointment as we had a functioning AC unit right in front of us, and were close to the ladder onto the foredeck.

Our new position isn’t all bad, three seats next to the intermediate bulkhead, right next to the escape hatch (unfortunately closed). It looked like a quiet day on the water, but the crowd arrived and by 1.45pm our cabin was full, and the “A” section filling rapidly. It was really sweaty in the cabins till we got under way and we got some breeze through to the cabins. After we got up to speed and finished getting the diary up to date, Murray went forward to the deck area, which was a lot less hospitable than on our previous voyage. To even reach the deck you had to climb a stack of nested plastic chairs to get to the deck level. Outside the slope on the hull was a lot less vertical, meaning you had to brace your feet and lie back against the side. It was pretty windy, particularly when the wind on the bow picked up. After taking some photos and video, Murray returned to take it VERY easy, only waking up when the rising seas buffeted the boat. We passed through a heavy rain squall, with waves a metre peak to trough, but the ferry handled it easily, without any roll, very little pitch, and no slowing down. It took forever to pass the islands to the east, but finally we saw the now-familiar power station, and started slowing down for the port at Tulehu.

As with the previous ferry, it took forever to get the crowd moving, but at least we only had to drag our bags through one compartment instead of two. People with no intention of disembarking insisted in standing in the aisles, forcing us to push past them. Getting ashore was another risky business, dragging the bags along a cleated gangway, then over the high kerb of the wharf.

We have two nights with no accommodation before we meet up with Debbie & Mike in Ambon city. Don’t want to spend any more time there, as wasn’t that interesting. Checked out all sort of possibilities, but decided against another island because of transport vagaries. The more developed southern part of Ambon is called Leitimur, and is joined to the northern Leihitu part by a narrow neck of land at Passo. We decide to stay on Leitimur between the port and the city as Lonely Planet says there is a nice mid-range resort, called Baguala Bay Resort, and an upmarket resort called The Natsepa near each other, so decide to head for Baguala Bay. Dianne checked with the Dutch couple’s guide that our target resort was now open, as Lonely Planet said it was closed for renovation when they were doing their research. Both on and off the ferry we were besieged by drivers and touts, trying to convince us that 100,000 was the right price, even though it was less than half the distance to Ambon, which was only 150,000. We had no luck by the time we reached the taxi park, so settled on an older driver and tout combination. The resort was actually a decent distance from the port, so $A10 was not a bad deal for two very tired travellers.
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At the resort, we were not sure we were in the right place, as the name is now Maluku Resort and Spa rather than Baguala Bay Resort, but they had a big poster promoting Ora Beach, so we knew we were in the right place. The rates were higher than we were expecting (800,000Rp per night), but still a lot less than an Australian country motel, so we signed up for two nights, and were shown to a modern well-furnished room on the first floor of the new wing. We could have done without the stairs, but the position was worth it.

After settling in, taking a HOT, FRESH WATER shower, and doing some essential washing, we fronted down to the very attractive swimming pool to take it easy on sun lounges before going for a swim. We had noticed cloud building up in the west, but were surprised how quickly it started raining VERY heavily. Had to run for it to the restaurant, a double story construction, with the bottom open on all sides, and the top still under construction.

The hotel appears to be the base for Maluku Divers, and there was a big group of divers set up on two long tables in the dining room, and they appeared to have their own buffet, so we sat at a smaller table, ordered fish and chips entree and nasi goreng Baguala with a fried egg and a bit of fried chicken. We had two mango smoothies, which tasted a bit ordinary until the sugar syrup supplied with them was added. Dianne had a couple of glasses of a surprisingly good Balinese wine, and later ordered a banana pancake, which took forever to come. Murray went to bed while it was being made (it turns out they hadn’t put the order in) and was asleep by the time Dianne got it, but couldn’t be bothered eating it by then, so brought it to the room for later. The room was furnished with the usual winter-weight doona, but with the AC running, and not directed at the bed, we were quite comfortable. Big change from no AC, and no top sheet the night before.

Wednesday 12th April Maluku Resort & Spa, Baguala Bay, Ambon Island
Breakfast at the hotel is OK though nothing fancy, and there were a lot of empty dishes where the diving group had been through like a plague of locusts. Managed to get cornflakes, and an omelette for Dianne. Both dishes for fruit were empty, but brought out some watermelon when asked. Some interesting fruit flavoured drinks. Even though the resort is on the water, there is no access to the beach from the hotel, and north of us the waves came right up to the sea wall, even at low tide.

Decided we’d go out to do a bit of exploring. Walked east along the main road, keeping to the right to confront oncoming traffic on our side of the road, as there are no sidewalks around here! Not sure how Indonesia inherited right hand drive -maybe from Japan during WW2.

Not far along, we pass a restaurant and bar with a sea-front belvedere. Have a look at the grounds and the menu, but decide it’s too early for a cold drink, so walk on, past an evil looking fresh water pool beside the road which is used as a swimming pool by the local kids. Looking for access to the seafront to walk along the beach, but not easy to find. Come to an open gate leading to a grassy paddock and the sea front. Give a wave to a man watching us, but don’t stop, and reach a gravel beach and walk east again along the tide line.

The area behind the beach is being used as a sand and gravel quarry, with small groups of men screening and stockpiling sand and gravel. Definitely not a tourist beach here. We can see a substantial jetty at the end of the beach but find there is a deep river between us and the jetty, which probably belongs to the other resort. We walk up along the river bank to where we can see trucks being washed in the river, and the main road bridge. We take photos of the truck wash, and locals gathered under the bridge washing clothes. There are two bridges – an old, disused one, and the newer road bridge. We think of walking the old bridge, as safer because of the traffic, but there is a narrow footpath on the new bridge, and we use this, which was just as well, as we found the old bridge ends in space.

We walk up the long driveway to the Natsepa Resort, waved through by security, and walk past the large car park to the imposing high-set reception area, very grand, with a pyramidal roof on top of five-metre columns. We walk through to the far side, can see down onto extensive gardens and a large pool, but the general impression of the complex is that it is very large, not very busy, and a bit run-down and past its use by date. We are glad we decided on where we are.

We walk a bit further to where there is access to the waterfront in a sort of park. Dianne goes to a bar area to buy a Coke, and Murray is approached by a man who turns out to be from the family who owns the land, and charges people to use it. Have a very interesting conversation with him. He comes here every year for holidays, but lives in the Netherlands. He was actually born there, with parents who chose to go to Holland after independence in 1951. His parents, now dead, must have owned at least part of this piece of land, and he is considering his options, as he has been retrenched from his job at the Zoo after 20 years, and won’t get the pension until he is 67, ten years away. He is one of eleven children, so only has a small stake in the land.

We are just about ready to turn back, but want to see the area we passed on the road which has a long line of kiosks right on the edge of the water. Only have to carry on a few hundred metres to find it. There are probably 20 separate kiosks stretched along the top of a hundred-metre stretch of ageing sea wall. Only half a dozen are occupied, selling fresh coconut drinks and sodas. We decide we are not all that thirsty, so walk to the beach beyond the kiosks for some photos, then hail a bemo to take us back to the resort. There are several locals in the bemo, and while we are sorting out money for the fare, a man takes 6000 (60c) from our stack of bills, tells us to put the rest away, and we hand the money to the driver when we get back, and he seems happy enough.

Back at the hotel, Dianne checks out the spa section of the resort by having an hour’s massage (special introductory rate of 30,000Rp)

In the afternoon, we do chores in the restaurant, and Murray takes photos of the rough seas breaking onto the sea wall, and running across the concrete paving and into the garden, and onto the marble floor of the restaurant. The staff hold back the flood valiantly with brooms and squeegees. The Australian woman who runs the dive operation came across to take photos, as she says this only happens in the monsoon season, not now, and is probably as a result of Cyclone Debbie which hit Airlie Beach recently, then carried across the top of Australia.

The swimming pool is pretty good, and we use it fairly often. In the late afternoon, we go for a walk towards Ambon, but there is not a lot to see. We walk as far as a sea-front park, then head back, getting Coke from a small kiosk. We organise a taxi for the morning, get the price down to 150,000 from 250,000 (we suspect by getting a local driver versus a hotel one) and book it for midday. We eat in the resort restaurant, and Dianne catches up on very slow internet while Murray watches TV.

Thursday 13th April Maluku Resort, Baguala Bay to Ambon
We get a bit better go at breakfast today as most of the diving group have left. This resort is exactly what we needed after our fairly spartan stay at Sawai. The people who run the diving and the hotel are very professional, but they’re a bit let down by the young local staff, particularly in the restaurant. They give the impression that they understand what you said, but they obviously didn’t as evidenced by the order not all turning up, or otherwise being wrong. We ordered mango juice every time we ate. The first time we were asked if we wanted sugar with it, and we said yes, so it turned up with a little jug of sugar syrup, which was perfect for the slightly sour mango. The next time we asked for sugar with it, none turned up, another time we had to ask twice, another time there was another variation, even though the same staff were on every day.

Have a morning swim, pack our gear, get in our small Toyota RV style vehicle. The driver fires up the AC, apologises for the front window being open because the electric window is dicky. As best we can, we say don’t worry, we know exactly what your problem is as we have a Subaru Forrester, famous for this problem. Fortunately he managed to coax it closed just before it started raining heavily. By then we were on the main road which climbs up above the city, and the road is seriously awash. We note that all the motorbike riders (hundreds of them) have abandoned the road for whatever roadside shelter they can find. The rain obviously has just stopped in the city, and a dense pack of about a thousand bikes descends on us from the city. By the time we get to the Hero hotel the rain has stopped.

We get a different room, same side of the hotel, but one floor down, and settle in before heading out to Sibu-Sibu restaurant, recommended in Lonely Planet, but pretty quiet when we get there, with most of the exotic fare off the menu. The wait staff was particularly apathetic, but we managed a feed, with a particularly spicy but good Nasi goreng, and a good cassava cake (koyabu) for Dianne.

Back at the hotel, we waited for Mike and Debbie to turn up, which they did just before 7pm. Decided on a meal at the hotel restaurant, which was surprisingly good if you avoid the fish (ten types of fish, all tuna). We organised a taxi for 7.30 in the morning, for 200,000Rp, compared with 150,000 on the way in from the airport. We unload the safe to be sure we don’t forget it, and pack ready for a quick start.

Good Friday 14th April, 2017 Ambon, Maluku to Sorong (West Papua)
We are up before the alarm, out to find the good pastries in the shop up the street past Sarinda, but, being Good Friday, it was closed, so came back to Sarinda to check the small amount of stock on the shelves, and waited a while to see what was coming out fresh. We found enough to fill the stomach to take our pills, and were back just in time to collect our bags and head out in the taxi. We are able to check in as soon as we arrive at the airport, and use wifi at the departure gate until it is time to board our midday flight.

The plane is an ATR 76, narrow body, high wing turboprop, seating about 160 people. It is not particularly full, and we get our two window seats on opposite sides of the plane, and take photos from both sides. We pass directly over our resort on Ambon, so can’t take photos of it, but Dianne has maps.me running on the IPad, probably against regulations, and knows exactly where we are, and manages quite a few photos of out stilt village and the islands off Seram Island. Have a great view of Misool Island, which was pretty ordinary on one side, but with fantastic indentations on the other side. Coming into Sorong, there at least 50 islands, islets and coral cays visible, plus a deeply indented coastline. We get good photos of the town and harbour before landing.

We manage to get the four of us and our gear into a 100,000Rp taxi for the short ride to the Swiss-Bel Hotel, which is on a main Street, and pretty flash by any standards, with lots of polished marble and timber, and uniformed flunkies. It’s the best hotel in Sorong. It takes a while to sort out our bookings and confirm what we paid for. Our bags were delivered to the room on a classic baggage cart, for a modest tip. The room is very modern, has a minibar, safe, cupboards, TV, good overhead lighting, and views out over the rusty tin roofs of the village to the port. We can see pigs and chooks running around in the yards of the houses next to the hotel, and people coming to a well with lots of water containers carried in wheelbarrows.

We need a few provisions, so decide to do an exploratory walk west along our street. Take the big camera with us, and walk in the heat on the right side of the road, expecting to go less than a km to find the supermarket. We see a lot of commercial development, but no sign of a supermarket, so stop at a large mini-market at a service station for a couple of large cans of Baygon, and razors to cure Murray’s mask leakage problem,

We walked on to just past a bridge over a small stream, with its bed liberally strewn with garbage. Decided we were not going to make it to a major shopping centre, and now didn’t need to, so at our first opportunity cut through a construction site to a more major road running parallel to the front street. This road was divided, two lanes each way, had more substantial buildings but no sign of large supermarkets. We decided to return on this road as far as we could without getting too far away from our hotel. We passed a sign for a pagoda, and by careful looking between the trees, could see a genuine Chinese pagoda on the hillside. About half a kilometre on, we came to a roundabout, with the main road leading inland, so decided to take a side street back towards our hotel, but noticed a black and yellow striped gate across the lane, so we were not sure if we were walking into a dead end. Fortunately there was a policeman or guard at a large building, and we were able to confirm with him that it was OK to walk through.

People in this narrow residential street were quite friendly, and the kids were interested without being pushy. We got back to the street we knew, and then to the hotel, arriving hot and sweaty.

We showered, fired off our new bug spray, and headed for the swimming pool, finding it coolish, very clear, but with a strange chemical smell, and very ******* the eyes. In the late afternoon we took some good sunset photos out of our window.

We had our evening meal with Mike and Debbie, quite a good menu, but not cheap by the standards we had become used to. The hotel bed was two 3/4 mattresses pushed together – definitely designed for undisturbed sleep. Once again we had a doona which was too thick to use without the AC on, but not enough on the windy side of the bed, so we cycled the AC and doona through the night.

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