We were approaching the bay we had selected for our anchorage that night and we were looking forward to a night where there would not be lights flickering in the distance indicating the presence of humanity. Just us, all alone in this tiny corner of the world. The conversation aboard was revolving around whether it would be possible to anchor in the bay. Once again the map was missing most of useful information required to complete a simple anchorage. Little details like depth! The reason for the scarcity of information is because the nautical maps of Indonesia have not been updated since they were written by the Dutch hundreds of years ago. When the bay came into view we were greeted with a sight that was somewhat bewildering and baffling. At the far side of the bay was a massive concrete jetty and further back slightly more towards the centre of the bay was a bright orange building. Our hopes of a lonesome night appeared dashed. But what the heck was it?! Was there a mine nearby? Surely the only reason a huge jetty would be built on the edge of human civilisation is if a corporation put it there. As for the orange building judging by what we had seen so far that was far too pristine and modern to be built by locals. It had to be foreign money. A couple of white buildings came into view. Foreign money was still the suspicion amongst the crew. However upon closer inspection with the binoculars the there was actually a small village but the rest of the buildings were poorly constructed and seemingly blended into the dry landscape. If foreign companies were making money here they were certainly not sharing it with the locals.
Whenever we want to anchor on the doorstep of a village we always try to ask the locals 1) for permission and 2) advice on where the best place to drop anchor is. Here the locals seemed utterly perplexed by both questions! So we thought it best to head towards the jetty, although it was significantly too big for us tether to perhaps it would be deep enough to anchor nearby. Not a chance… It was miles too deep! Just what was it that used that jetty?! By this point some more of the locals from the village had taken to canoes and came out to greet us. This conversation was much more successful. They advised Simon of where we could anchor and how welcome we were. Once we were anchored the conversation continued and more inquisitive people paddled out to the boat. Sunset was approaching so the conversation was wrapped up in time for the Cocktail Hour but not before we were extended an invitation to visit the village the following morning.
As we sipped on our ‘Skimpy Fashions’ the riddle of the jetty was revealed. The locals had told Simon that it had been built by the government over a year ago. However since the workers completed the job and returned to Java not a single boat had visited the village. The government had told the villagers the jetty was required to enable the delivery of supplies to this remote corner of the country. Indonesia is a country that has a sophisticated system of corruption is hangover from the Suharto dictatorship. The likely truth of the matter is that jetty was built as favour to someone or as payment for something totally unrelated to supplying the people of Beangabang. This does not stop the locals believing that they will soon the regular recipients of supplies from their government. The jetty is constant visual representation of this hope – even after the darkness of the night has fallen the locals beacon of hope shines bright… quite literally it is brightly illuminated by solar powered fluorescent lights as the rest of village remains veiled in darkness!
The following morning the Danes daily pre-breakfast swim entailed locating some hot springs the locals had told us about last night. Apparently a more accurate description should have been scolding hot springs. Tue and Anne’s disappointment at not being dip more than a big toe in the hot spring was further compounded by the lack of incredible diving the locals had also spoke about! According the locals Skimpy was anchored right on top of dive site. We found this confusing and worrying. Confusing because we were only anchored in 6m of water and worrying because don’t anchor on coral. All Tue and Anne found was mud and sand! Perhaps people muck dive here? But Muck Diving isn’t really Skimpy’s thing. Later we found out that last actual Dive Liveaboard to visit was over 2 years ago…
It was late morning when we head ashore to visit the village. All the morning activity that we had seen as we ate breakfast aboard Skimpy had dissipated. The place had the feel of a Wild West town when the bad guy had just walked into town and locals had fled to safety of their homes. Except the locals had not fled as they saw us approaching the shore. It was hot, that dry heat that feels 10 degrees hotter than it actually is especially when there is not a breath of wind in the air – that was the real reason this place felt like the Wild West; it was hot, dusty and deserted. We walked up a track for less than a minute towards what would appear to be the centre of village. A solitary child was on the wide dusk track that constituted a street, on occasion they might have a car visit from a neighbouring village but here they had no cars and no obvious use for them – within the village at least. The solitary child scampered off and darted into a nearby house. It didn’t take long for people to peer out from their homes and stare at these exotic people who were stood in their village. As ever in these situations we smiled and waved as we aimlessly ambled down the street and as ever we received smiles and waves back. One can only imagine what they thought of us but it is quite possible that questions like “what the…?!” and “why?!” were very prominent in their minds. It was a group of children who first approached us. Inquisitive kids are often the first to do so in such situations. To them we are exotic and exciting. They are not in a life that affords them the opportunity to travel so when foreigners come to them it is in some aspects their version of travelling; their way of learning about people from different cultures. Apparently it had been 2 years since the last time foreigners had visited. The children were not in school but that is where they took us anyway – it was that fancy orange building that we thought might be owned by some foreign company. As we approached the school we were joined by one of the teachers that one of the children had fetched. The children wanted to show off their school. Just imagine that in the developed world. These children maybe living in a corner of the planet that the rest of world knows very little about but they knew the value of school education. One of those can teach them things beyond village life that are past down through each generation. They also knew that if they had any ambitions to pursue a life outside of the village working hard at school was the platform upon which their dreams could be built. The school itself had a dusty uneven playground that was starting to heat up in the ever-increasing strong late morning sun. It was obvious why the children started school a little after sunrise and had already finished school for the day. Inside the classrooms were well organised and had basic array of books, notepads and pencils. It might not have had qualified teachers but what it did have was enthusiasm from both teachers and pupils.
Next on the grand tour was the infamous jetty by this point we had been joined the school’s headmaster. He confirmed what fisherman had said about the jetty and he shared their belief that it would be catalyst for change and development… just as soon as the supplies arrived. Our pessimism was further reinforced when we saw that the only way to get onto the jetty is by climbing up the unfinished remains a concourse that connected the land to the jetty. So as it stood supplies could be delivered to the jetty but could go no further unless they were manually removed from the jetty. An inconvenience for small goods but large items it would be an insurmountable obstacle. This was not a point we raised with the head master as we did not want to bring a dose of dampening reality to situation. As the headmaster continued to wax lyrical about the jetty to Simon, Chris was busy morphing into an origami making pied piper character. Prior to coming aboard Skimpy he had spent 2.5 years living in Japan and had immersed himself in their culture. As a result he had developed many new life skills from language to cooking and of course, origami. The children were mesmerised with creations he conjured from the small pieces of paper that he carries with him for such occasions.