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Martin & Sue

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Kidnapped in Sulawesi

 

It is 5.30 am and we are in a remote bay that has served as an overnight anchorage on our journey down the west coast of Sulawesi. For once we have stolen the march on our friends in the neighbouring yachts and are the first to up anchor. It is barely light, and the first shards of orange start to colour the sky to the east as we slowly drift along, waiting for the other three yachts in our loose convey to catch up.

 
     

I am wearing my usual sea-going gear of shorts and a singlet top and, since my short-cropped locks suffer permanently from ‘hat hair syndrome’, I have not bothered to try and comb my hair. From down in the galley, where I am boiling the kettle in preparation for a heart-starting coffee, I hear shouts of ‘halte, halte.. you stop engine !’ – and when I hear Martin’s edgy radio alert the sleep quickly clears from my eyes.

 

 

 

 

‘I’m being chased by a boat – it looks like some officials and they want to board us – and since they have machine guns I think we’ll let them.’

Despite my unease I luckily have the foresight to grab a long sleeved shirt and I am still buttoning it up as I emerge into the cockpit. The low light only serves to accentuate the menacing image of the gun toting men attempting to climb aboard as their small power boat bangs against our stern.

 

Keeping his cool, the skipper quickly identifies the highest ranking official from his smart uniform and many decorations. Thankfully, he only sports a hand gun and now that he is on board he seems less threatening and seems to be making an effort to be courteous.


In halting English, he introduces himself as Commandant Eko of the Indonesian Navy and has come from a major town about 15nm away in a speedboat.  We produce our Indonesian paperwork for his inspection and handover photocopies of our CAIT (Indonesian Cruising Permit) and our passports.

‘You tell your friends to stop also – and wait for me’, he commands, and we quickly pass on the information via the VHF radio to the other boats that are hovering nearby.

 

After checking our papers (which fortunately are all in order) we breathe a huge sigh of relief as they depart and head off to perform a similar check on Two Up.

 

 

  Above: Two Up's turn to be boarded
 

 

However, our reprieve is short lived when two canoes, obviously commandeered,  suddenly appear at each of our stern hulls and before we have time to react the occupants are standing on our transom steps and we are anxiously trying to prevent them from coming any further on board.  I man the helm and motor over towards Two Up – the first ‘official looking’ boarding party now appearing the lesser of the two evils.  Although not in uniform, these new visitors are sporting handguns tucked into the back of their trouser waistbands.


‘Polisi, Polisi’, they yell – but can produce no identification so we are still unconvinced.

Above: Polisi?

 

‘Are you alright, Mandolin Wind?’ asks Morning Star VII.

‘OK at the moment – but please standby’, I reply with more bravado then I actually feel. 

Meanwhile, Two Up are having hassles of their own.

Two Up here. Mr. Eko wants us to follow him into the next bay – his boarding boat has already sped off and he is still on board, along with two heavies, to escort us. I’m guessing we don’t have a lot of choice in the matter!’

 

 

  Below: Morning Star VII 'standing by' just in case!

‘This is Morning Star VII. Roger to that. We’ll try and call our friend Marino, from the Tourist Police in Bitung, so that at least someone knows where we are and what is happening.’

Our visitors, on being told we have to follow the Commandant to the next bay, ask us to give the canoes a tow back to shore - for by this stage we are a considerable distance from land. We reluctantly comply, but take the precaution of notifying Two Up so that the gun toting guards on his boat do not think we are doing a runner.

 

 
 

When the water shallows we indicate to our company that this is as far ashore as we can go. We are relieved to see the two canoes head off – but not so happy about the two ‘polisi’ who insist they stay aboard to act as our escort. We have a horrible suspicion that they do not want to miss out on any action. Since we have no choice, we suggest that they sit down in the cockpit and ask them if they want a drink. With a shake of their heads they mutter,  ‘Muslim, Ramadan’ – but this religious abstinence does not appear to include smoking for they immediately light up and proceed to chain smoke for the rest of short trip.

 

Above: Working on the theory that if we keep the boarding party happy, then they might not want to use their guns!

 

Meantime Morning Star VII manage to contact their friend Marino who, despite the early hour, has located the head of the Tourist Police for the District. They contact Two Up on the radio:-‘Can you ask your official for his phone number please. Our contact will ring him and find out what is happening.’ 

 

As we wait anxiously to find out the results of this call, we continue to follow the lead boat as it heads for the top of the next bay – and towards what appears to be very shallow water skirted with mangroves. Just when we are starting to really worry about where we are being taken, a gap opens up and we can see a narrow channel leading into another bay previously hidden from our view.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Up, Two Up, this is Morning Star VII. Our contact has spoken to Mr. Eko, the Commandant on board your boat, and it all seems to be OK. They just want us to go to their village. Apparently, boats never stop here and we have caused quite a stir by anchoring where we did. So, this is all about getting us to visit the village!’

'Thanks for that, Morning Star VII. I guess that would explain the hundreds of people lined up on the jetty to greet us!’

This news corresponds with our entry into the hidden bay and we are able to see for ourselves the village of Lokodidi with its large wharf crowded with waving people.  Our relief at the turn of events overcomes any lingering resentment we may have felt about such high handed tactics and we are able to wave back and smile to the crowd as we raft up beside Two Up, who by now have a crowd of officials milling for room in their cockpit.  Our two ‘polisi’ are clearly intimidated by so much officialdom and quickly climb off our boat and onto the jetty before disappearing.

 

  In a quiet aside to Martin, Pete observes, ‘I think we are stuck here for the day – we may as well go with the flow and visit the village.’ When we inform Mr. Eko of our plans he beams a huge grin and re-shakes all our hands. ‘Is it OK to leave the boats?’ A lift of the sub-machine gun by one of the guards assures us that all will be safe!
     

As we disappear into the cabin to change into suitable clothing, I notice my shirt is buttoned up incorrectly and my hair is reminiscent of porcupine spikes!

 

 

  Armed with gifts for the school, and with the girls dressed in suitably modest clothing that covers arms and legs, we head off surrounded by the throng.  This is the first remote Muslim village we have visited and we are blown away by our welcome. Those that hadn’t lined the jetty as we arrived now stand in their doorways and smile broadly. Via sign language and our phrase book we indicate that we want to visit the school – and we are guided by enthusiastic helpers through the village.
 

 

 

The bay obviously has a large tidal range and all the huts on the seaward side of our path are built on stilts with wooden ramps providing access to the front door. In keeping with all the remote villages we have visited so far in Indonesia, this one is also very neat and tidy. Amazingly, although many of the residences are very basic, quite a few proudly sport satellite dishes! 

 

 

 

   
Luckily, just as we are about to enter through the front gate of a school we are told by an English speaking teacher that there are actually two schools in the village. Forewarned, we agree amongst ourselves to halve our gifts of exercise books, pencils, sharpeners and rulers. Our arrival at the school causes a great deal of excitement amongst the children and I sympathise with the teachers who will have to try and teach the squealing children after we have left!  
     

We are escorted with great ceremony to the staff room where we present our gifts to the head teacher who informs us that the school was built with funding from the Australian Government – so our visit seems doubly appropriate. The usual posing for photographs follows and then we are entertained in one of the classroom by singing.

 

 
     

 

The second school is only a few hundred metres from the first – but the teachers have obviously been alerted to our impending arrival. The children have been lined up along each side of a central path and as we wait at the entrance gate they welcome us with a rendition of the Indonesian National anthem. We then walk through the guard of honour as they clap their hands!

 
 

 

 

Whilst we present our gifts to the female head mistress I glance at a clock – and am astounded to see that it is only 9.10 am!

With all the chaos of the morning none of us have had any breakfast, or any fluids, so we are ready for some nourishment.  However, due to Ramadan, we know we cannot eat or drink in the village so we decide to make our way back towards the boats. As we leave the school, I ask one of our guides if it is OK to buy some bananas somewhere. ‘Of course’, she smiles. Next thing she presents me with a bag of bananas - ‘For you, from my home’ - and refuses to take any money. The small koala I give her as a thankyou seems hardly adequate for such a friendly gesture.

When we finally arrive back at the jetty we are dismayed to find that the tide had receded considerably. This creates a comical situation for the onlookers as we try to manoeuvre ourselves down the gap between the wharf and the boat deck. This is particularly difficult for two of the girls who, by their own admission, are vertically challenged! Using the boys shoulders as ‘steps’ they eventually managed to make it back aboard, much to the delight of the laughing crowd.

 

There are several officials still aboard Two Up and we are glad that Mandolin Wind is not the closest boat to the jetty. Our peace does not last long, however, and we are soon boarded by Mr. Eko who settles himself in our cockpit and with halting English informs us that at the next major village a welcoming committee of several high ranking officials has been organised and we need to head off immediately. Noticing our reluctance he apologises for any inconvenience – but assures us that he would lose a great deal of face if he does not deliver us within a suitable timeframe.

 

 

 

After discussions between the four boats it is agreed that we really have no choice and we may as well act with good grace and go along with the plans. So by 11 am we are on our way again. This time it is our turn to host Mr. Eko – and during the next few hours we have time to get to know him better. Soon we are exchanging photographs of our families and by the time we have Leok in sight Martin is talking to Mr. Eko’s wife on the mobile phone and Mr. Eko is referring to us as I-Bu (mother) and Ba-Pak (father) which are terms of respect.

 

As we approach Leok we can see the welcoming committee lined up on the jetty. Mr. Eko is very insistent that we tie up against the wharf but as we approach it is obvious that this will not be a good idea – the sides are rough concrete and there are no real spots to tie off. These negatives are compounded when the water starts to shoal to dangerous levels as we near the shore. Before Mr. Eko can argue any more we quickly drop anchor. We suspect that the officials have told Mr. Eko that they want to board our boats and have a sticky beak – however they are still very welcoming when we arrive on shore via our dinghies. 

 

There are several dignatories and their wives waiting for us as well as a translator they have produced. We are introduced to Mr Abdul – the President of the district, the head of the Navy for the area ( Mr. Eko’s boss ) and the chief of police  – along with other dignitaries . A polite discussion follows as they wish to know how we have found Indonesia and whether we like the country and people. This lasts for about 20 mins and then it is photos and handshakes all around. Once finished the dignatories leave in their separate black chaffeaur driven limos all with heavily tinted windows looking like something  from a movie set.  

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  We all feel quite honoured at the reception we have received, despite the shaky start to the day.  We then tour the town, buying some food from the stalls that have been set up ready for sundown. We are careful not to eat it on the spot as it is Ramadan, but carry it back to the boats.
 

The village is again incredibly welcoming and Mr. Eko, now off duty, takes us to his office mess where we have a few rounds of karaoke (they love that here ), including a rendition of Waltzing Matilda.

 

 

 

Right: Children trying to see what is happening during the Karaoke performance!

 

 

 

Above:The crowds wave goodbye fromt he jetty at Leok   Above: The four yachts at anchor at Leok

 

Finally, having fulfilled all our duties ashore, we are able to retire to the cockpit of Southern Mist for drinks and to reflect philosophically on the fact that we came to Indonesia seeking adventure – so we can hardly complain if the excitement includes a few sub-machine guns and Indiana Jones characters!