09.07.2013 - 11.07.2013
The journey from KL to Baubau was long and slow, but pretty uneventful. First I flew to Jakarta, as it’s easier to get a visa extension if you have entered Indonesia via Jakarta or Denpasar (in Bali) than Makassar (on Sulawesi ), even though I then had to fly from Jakarta to Makassar (and direct flights from KL exist). I spent a lot of time in Jakarta airport eating rubbish expensive Indonesian food and reading. In Makassar I had chosen to stay in a hotel close to the airport rather than in the city itself as I had a flight pretty early the following morning and the city was over 20 km away. Unfortunately, while my hotel was lovely, the nearest local eatery was a fair enough walk along a main road away, and it was pitch black outside and raining torrentially (Indonesia is not having a particularly dry dry season this year it seems), so I went to bed hungry. The following morning was the flight from Makassar to Baubau, on the island of Buton. Planes had been getting progressively smaller as the journey went on, and this was the smallest with only 2 people on each side of the aisle and propeller engines! Luggage allowance was down to a mere 15 Kg so I had to pay quite a bit in excess luggage. About half of the passengers were European, mostly British by the sounds of their accents, and in and around the 20 year old age mark – clearly Opwall volunteers. There must have been about 20 of us in all and we were met at Baubau airport (about the size of Galway airport) by Arni, part of the Opwall organizing committee. She ferried us in the various directions we needed to go.
Baubau is a central transit point for Opwall Indonesia, with some people arriving there to go to the jungle site in Lubundo, others arriving to go to the marine site on Hoga, others moving from the jungle site to the marine site, and of course others on their way home from both sites. So after a couple of false starts chatting to really nice people who were not in fact going in the same direction as I was, I eventually worked out which people were also going to Hoga. Most of them were undergrad students embarking on 6 weeks of marine research for their final year undergrad projects but there was one other dive staff member (Catherine) who was there with her husband (Mark - part of the medic team) and their two adorable kids Olivia and Hannah. We had the afternoon to chill in Baubau before the night boat to Hoga, so we visited a local beach and an old fort from colonial times that was where the Dutch used to try to protect their spice boats from pirates. Transport around the town was in these small van things that had the back doors permanently opened and very dodgy music (depending of course on the taste of the driver) blasting out of them. It was difficult to know how the drivers even drove safely as most of their windscreens were covered in stickers and there were all sorts of stuffed toys hanging out of the ceiling.
Late that evening, we took those small dodgy vans on a 2 hour drive across the bottom of Buton to Pasarwajo to join the boat that was going to take us to Hoga. The idea was that we board the boat late in the evening, sleep on it, and then at about 5 am, when the seas are typically at their calmest, the boat departs and sails the approximately 6 hour journey to Hoga. So we boarded, found places on the boat to sleep (there were 40 of us at this point): most people chose the deck. It was quite windy that night and the boat was rocking quite a lot. Chris, the country co-ordinator with Opwall, reckoned that the chances of us actually leaving were quite slim due to the wind. In the early hours of the morning it began to rain. The tarpaulin covering on the deck had been taken off, so all those sleeping on the deck woke to raindrops falling on their heads – not a very pleasant experience for anyone, and half of them had just spent the previous week in the jungle getting pissed on and wading thro’ mud the entire week. Needless to say these guys were not too impressed by the situation on the boat – 10 of them were a 16-17 year old school group from England with their teachers who hadn’t had dry feet for a week! Anyways, the boat crew got their act together and put up the tarpaulin in case the rain started again (it had only been a shower), and people tried to get back to sleep. I found a space in the wheel house with a nice breeze blowing thro’ and a roof over it – being a staff member can have its perks! The following morning most people woke (those who had actually managed to sleep that is) after 6 to a boat that was still docked at the pier. It wasn’t looking good – the wind was still up and the boat was still rocking and we were in the sheltered harbour. Out on the open sea we could see big white horses – this was not a boat made for big seas. So, for the first time in all his years (about 13) working for Opwall, Chris cancelled the trip on the advice of the captain. We all packed back into the small dodgy vans (after unloading all our gear) and spent 2 hours travelling back to Baubau for another day.
At this point, the two school teachers and Chris decided that it wasn’t worth their while going to Hoga, cos if the weather didn’t die down, the boat may have been cancelled again. School groups typically spend just 1 week in each site, so time wasting/loss is not really an option. Opwall also have a marine site just outside Baubau, opened up just this year especially to cater for school groups. So they decided to go there instead. As all the students plus the teachers were going to do their open water course, this meant that they were going to need extra dive staff at the Baubau site, 2 instructors and 2 divemasters. As myself and Catherine were divemasters, we were told we would be staying with the school group at the Baubau site that week, and there was another dive staff member due to fly in that day who happened to be an instructor – so he was also going to be staying in Baubau instead of going to Hoga. And the dive ops manager at the Baubau site was also an instructor, so he was going to be spending his week instructing along with his usual managerial tasks. A week at the Baubau site had always been a possibility for me at some point over the 4 weeks, and now it had become a reality for week 1. This meant that my arrival at Hoga was “postponed” by yet another week, and that I was only going to have 3 weeks on Hoga – it seemed so much shorter than the initial 5 weeks, but what of it – I was staying in Baubau and that was that.