Farewell Indonesia, Farewell Southeast Asia
4th to 10th August
A palm oil refinery, stocking up, last goodbyes, and papers
For me, and apart from Europe, this is the most wonderful region of our planet. A long and fascinating history, colourful people, sophisticated culture, a multitude of different languages, diverse religions, fine mountains, clear seas and overwhelmingly friendly people.
Little wonder that so many boats stay here for many years. Some come here and never leave. Were it not so far from my home, I’d stay longer. Were it not for the global bug, I’d like more travel on land. But for now, and before it’s too late, I choose to move on.
The past few days in Belitung have been busy. Fellow boat owners will know the tasks involved in preparing for long offshore passages. The checks: engine, standing rigging, running rigging, shackles, cables, batteries. Cleaning: hull, inside lockers, fridge, windows, laundry. Shopping: spares. Last emails, weather forecasts, route planning, and so on.
…oh yes! Food for a month or more too.
Before leaving there was just time for a visit to Belitung’s biggest palm oil refinery. William, the manager, has invited me to come and see it. It is a fascinating day out.
I’ve always loved factory visits. I’ll not swamp you with palm oil technicalities (though my note book is crammed).
Suffice to say, 12,000 hectares of palm trees are grown from seed, transplanted till maturity brings the fruit, which is then harvested manually and trucked to the refinery in a constant stream of small lorries, and tractor/trailers – about one every seven minutes all day. The fruit has to be milled within a few hours of picking and goes through a series of heating, milling, cooling, heating processes and lots of computer-controlled pipes and tubes and tanks, to result in a list of end products that includes cooking oil, solid greasy stuff (for soap, margarine, shampoo, cosmetics, ice cream and lots of other things), plus biodiesel. Dry residues are used to fire the boilers to provide the plant’s electricity, and exported for cattle feed. Everything is used.
We go down to the jetty where the products are stored before shipping overseas.
The ship we see is typical of the global maritime industry:- Bermuda registered, Russian captain, Philippino crew, cargo from Indonesia, heading for Malaysia. They await papers and a pilot and high tide. Every month, I estimate 30-50,000 tonnes of the various products are exported.The EU has given palm oil bad press. Plantations have devoured many thousands of hectares of rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia (though in Belitung, the native forests, where they existed, have long since been destroyed with tin mining. Soils are not fertile.)
I’ll not enter the debate as to the merits or otherwise of palm oil plantations. This refinery meets European standards. Working conditions for around 3,000 employees are good (play group, clinic, landscaping, housing, football pitch, indoor badminton, a mosque, everywhere clean and careful). William and the staff I meet are understandably proud of Belitung’s biggest export earner.
Next day passes with frantic foray to the market and local shops for enough food for several weeks. Guess there’s going to be quite a lot of onions and lentils with rice to keep me going. And some carrots and garlic and ginger and chillies (yum!)
And finally there’s paperwork. Three young customs officials want to inspect Henrietta. They hadn’t travelled 500 metres of choppy water on an elderly Avon inflatable before. But with dampened backsides they were safely on board and thoroughly checked my cupboards, photographed lots of odds and ends and so on. I think they had a memorable half day out.
So, with more papers to allow my exit from Indonesia, I bid sweet sad farewells to some of those who’ve been so kind and helpful during my prolonged stop in Belitung. It has been one of my happiest, most memorable anchorages anywhere in the world.
There are lots of farewells! There are no fellow boats to say goodbye to, but local friends, and helpers, the shops and warungs I’ve come to know.
Thank you to everyone who has helped make my days here in Belitung so full, friendly and comfortable (fairly comfortable). Especially, Erfan, Fenny, Eddy, Johnny, Erne, Muramotosan, William, Alex, Rosa, Bambang, Cecilia, Frankie, Yvonne and everyone else (whose names I’ve forgotten.)
Final enquiries and phone calls to people in specific countries mean I’ll now head for La Réunion – a little French island east of Madagascar and southwest of Mauritius. If Mauritius reopens in September I’ll aim to go there instead.
I write this at a peaceful little island in the Sunda Strait, Pulau Sebuku, not far from Krakatoa.
The two days and nights sailing from Belitung left me weary. It’s through an area that’s too busy with shipping and fishing, and oil fields to allow much rest!
Local fishermen have just come alongside and given me some fresh fish. I’ll leave tomorrow for the long sail to La Reunion, around four weeks, all being well.
(A bit of internet here may let this post be published, but maybe not)
I’ll be out of contact for a while. Best wishes and safe sailing to many sailor friends who’ve made different plans, and of course I’ll hope to see many of you again.