Monday, June 6, 2016

Busted By Customs and Immigration


Out of nowhere on a quiet afternoon at anchor in a beautiful tranquil bay known as Triton Bay, Indonesian authorities roared up to our ship and boarded us. I saw their vessel approach, but missed most of the later drama. It appears that these officials, for whatever reason, believed that we had entered Indonesian waters without official clearance. I gather that the situation was somewhat tense as they demanded the ship take up anchor and sail all around the island from where we were located to a town on the other side where proper clearance could be obtained. Such a relocation would have taken two days, and would have ruined the carefully planned schedule followed by cruise ships. While “discussions” took place all the planned activities ashore had to be suspended while we waited to learn the outcome. Eventually things were resolved, and the drama was over. I never did learn if in fact this was indeed a real breakdown in communication as it was described to us, or if it was what I might term a local “shakedown.” Either way, it provided some drama.

During our time at anchor that morning in Triton Bay, our adventure began immediately, when whales were spotted all around our ship. Once setup, the expedition team took everyone on a two hour long zodiac ride into the back tributaries of this gorgeous water paradise. Triton Bay is in West Papua, Indonesia. It is world renowned for its underwater beauty, and is a favorite for divers and snorkelers worldwide. I might add that even if you just cruise the back waters, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the natural beautiful. There are towering limestone cliffs, surrounded by clear blue-green waters. In fact, to enjoy the corals and fish, one only has to look down from a sitting zodiac since the reef and its inhabitants are clearly visible--so clear is the water. I really was sad when it came time to return to the ship, but in all honesty, I was starting to suffer from the heat.

You see, I managed to catch the bronchitis which Lisa has, and before long each of us has green stuff and hacking coughs. Before we realized it, Lisa was starting to have deep coughs from her chest, and difficulty breathing. Well, what is good for one, is good for both, and before long I am right in there with her. At this point, we have both become good friends with the Doctor on the ship, since he has been coming to our room throughout the day to give nebulizer treatments. First it was just for Lisa, but then he caught my cough, and after listening to my chest, I, too, am subjected to his torments. For this reason, Lisa did not get off yesterday morning for the zodiac ride, she was just too sick. I made the ride, but paid for it when I got back to the ship. It appears that our infections are not all that bad, but they have triggered our asthma in a bad way. So, yesterday when everyone finally got to go diving and snorkeling, we got to stay in our rooms. This morning we have each had our treatments, so we’ll see. I bet ours is the only room in the ship with its own nebulizer and oxygen equipment!

Before I close out today I do wish to relate an incredible story about an act of kindness by one of the expedition team. You will recall that yesterday when we visited Agats Village, Lisa and I were not able to physically make our way across the rickety boards placed over the swamp between our boardwalk and the men’s ceremonial hut. The significance of this was not merely that we never got to see the inside of the hut, but it was that inside that hut was for sale some prized local carvings that Lisa had been hoping to acquire for her collection. This was the only place that “good” art would be for sale. It was a big deal to come prepared, because the locals would only accept Indonesian Rupiahs, and so our ship had arranged for a special currency exchange on board to allow us to be ready. So far, we have not purchased any souvenir items, thus Lisa’s excitement at finally getting something unique and valued. While we were in line to exchange currency, a member of the expedition team was standing behind us and in our conversations, he became aware of Lisa’s interest. So, fast forward – we could not get to the ceremonial hut, and indeed, there was nothing else that we saw that was of any interest. All our efforts and hopes were in vain; that is until the expedition member approached Lisa this morning, and said that upon learning of our predicament, he had purchased a nice piece which he thought she might like, and if she did, he would gladly let us buy it from him. Not only was the item unique and just what we would have bought, but he both managed to buy it from the Chief, and as only a member of the crew can do, bargained down the price to a ridiculous level. So, now Lisa is one happy camper, with our only challenge finding a way to get the rather large object home!

Today, Sunday June 5th where we are, the ship is traveling full speed towards MacCluer Gulf, Indonesia. Once at anchor, then this afternoon we will be offered the opportunity to visit two separate local villages. So, stay tuned while I put this on pause, and rest for the adventure ahead.


Monday June 6, 2016

Well, what an experience I had yesterday afternoon. Once anchored safely in MacCluer Bay, we set out by zodiac to visit Arguni Village, a small, mostly Muslim community of roughly 1,400 people nestled in a small corner of the Gulf. As it turns out, this was the first time Silversea had come to this destination, and it was the very first time the little village had been visited by a cruise ship. So, it was a very BIG event for the locals, and we later learned that they had been up since 5 am preparing their little community for our arrival around 3 pm.

As we sped across the Gulf on a 30 minute ride across smooth water, local boats which had been elaborately decorated began to make their way from shore to greet us. On board most of these boats were percussion musicians, all of whom seemed intent on seeing which boat could make the loudest welcome. They played music, they sang, and they danced all the while leading us to the village. I was on the first zodiac to land, and I was overrun with smiling people wanting to shake my hand and to offer the traditional Muslim greeting. The dock had been decorated in giant banners of colorful cloth, and indeed the entire walk into town was along a wide walkway colorfully decorated its entire length. People waved, children ran out to touch us, and adults clasped our hands in greeting.

On reaching the center of town, a welcome area had been setup with an awning carefully constructed of palm leaves and plastic tarp, and new chairs had been setup so that all of us could be seated for the ceremonies. Since I walk so slow, and take so many pictures, by the time I arrived, most of the chairs were gone, except to the far right where curiously a single chair was open directly behind, yet beside the men who were seated in front of a table on which had been placed a bottle of water and some fruit for each of them. As I approached, they all got up to give me the traditional welcome and directed me to this lone chair. People all around me kept shaking my hand and touching me.

As the ceremonies started, the first order of business was the introduction by our local guide of the dignitaries in attendance. First, the man directly beside me, who had been the first to stand and welcome me, it turns out that he is the local King. Next to him was seated the Chief of The Secret Police, and lastly was the village Mayor. Next, a member of our passengers presented to the King a backpack put together by Silversea of school supplies and select items for the village. Then for the next hour, we were treated to several warm and entertaining performances. In the end, everyone broke out laughing at the end, and clapping, and cheering because everyone had a good time. We then had 45 minutes to look around on our own, but we were warned that with the ceremonies over we would become the subject of the photographs. Before our eyes, cell phone cameras seemed to come from nowhere, and our hosts started taking our photographs. Before long entire groups wanted their photos taken with me, to the point, that I was becoming tired of smiling.

Finally making my way back to the zodiac, I was frankly sorry to leave. In contrast to some of the welcomes we have received on this trip, this visit had genuine warmth, and a real chance to interact with people who were glad to share a smile, even if we could not speak the same language. On our way back, we stopped briefly to look at some very ancient rock art, estimated to be over 10,000 years old, then we caught an eagle flying overhead.

While the zodiac prepared to make a quick stop at another village, I begged off to return to the ship. I was not feeling at all well, and poor Lisa had not been allowed by the Doctor to even go ashore. That evening we both had inhalation therapy, and Lisa now has a shunt for the input of cortical steroids.

Neither of us had a good night. My bronchitis worsened, and I coughed up green all night, plus I have been having some trouble breathing. Lisa seems to have beat the infection, but her bronchial asthma is causing her significant respiratory distress. Even after treatments for both of us this morning, we had to put Lisa on oxygen and call the doctor back to our room. He seems fast becoming our new best friend. So, I got my third antibiotic today, and we both got grounded from going ashore. Just as well, because today was an all day visit to a deserted island with diving, snorkeling, and a beach Bar-BQ. So let’s hope we sleep better tonight, and that tomorrow is back to normal.


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