Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Making Landfall in Bau Bau

Through the early morning haze we could make out details of the coastline that lay ahead... tankers and cargo ships lining the docks, buildings and mountains rising up behind the town. As we sailed closer, the coastal waters were busy with small fishing boats, ferries and water taxis making their way back & forth across the harbor. Soon we could make out the buildings lining the waterfront... the biggest and most obvious being a 3 story KFC (they are everywhere) and the ubiquitous mosque.

We were approaching Buton Island, off the coast of South Sulawesi... the grim & active little port town of Bau Bau. Here we would spent the entire day refueling the boat and shopping for provisions. I and my two travel companions were anxious to go ashore for a change of scenery and some photo making as during the past 3 days aboard ship, photographic subjects and options were rapidly being exhausted.

Slowly the Captain guided our boat into the calm waters of the harbor and dropped anchor, waiting for space along the pier to become available where the fuel trucks could fill the ship's tanks. It wasn't long before local authorities from the Coast Guard and Police showed up to board our boat, inspect our papers and passports. One of the Coast Guard Officers seemed to take an immediate interest in us, noticing that the three of us were armed with multiple cameras. After a half our of chat and deciding our papers were in order, we asked him about going ashore and hiring a car & driver to take us around the town. Quickly, he pulled out his phone and made a call. After hanging up, we were informed that when we arrived on shore a driver would be waiting and that the costs for his services were "taken care of".
With this bit of luck, our Captain instructed the crew to put one of the dinghies overboard and ferry us and Chef & Divemaster Nikko to shore.

Access to the wharf area was gained by pulling alongside a large wooden ship, climbing through the side hatch, wandering around through the hold below deck... dark and filled with strange faces that did not seem overly enthusiastic about our arrival. Finding the ladders to go up to the top deck, we quickly made our way up and walked the gangplank onto the wharfs.

Stopping briefly to take photographs around the wharf area, we then quickly made our way to the port terminal where our papers were again inspected to the satisfaction of the kretek smoking official behind the window. As we wandered around the large parking area fronting the terminal, fending off determined offers of transportation from a determined group of touts, we were met by a female Coast Guard Officer and led to our waiting minivan, complete with loud indonesian pop music blaring from the speakers.

Mr. T and his new friend

Mr. T asked about visiting the Kraton, the old palace of the Regency's Raja... now the home of the local mayor. We learned that the Kraton was surrounded by a huge, ancient fortress made of limestone & coral blocks dating back to the early days of Dutch control of Indonesia. We also inquired about visiting the local "Pasar"... the market serving the town. All questions were met with a smile and a nod to the affirmative. We all piled in the vehicle and made our way up a steep, winding road to the Kraton, nestled high on a hillside above the town.

Walking around the Kraton, we were surprised to find several old Dutch bronze cannons still mounted in the ramparts had survived looting over the years. The style of home building here was also quite different that what I had encountered in Bali and Java. The climate appeared to be quite dry and arid, probably a result of the low mountains not being quite high enough to catch and hold rainfall. The town itself, once we left the wharf area, was clean and tidy, if a bit dusty. Everywhere we went we were met with smiling faces and folks quite insistent on having us take their photographs once our cameras were spotted. 

Outside a central courtyard and large open-air pavilion were a group of young school children and their teachers from the nearby school. They were having their exercise period. The sudden appearance of three strange foreigners in the midst disrupted their activity completely. The teachers gave us a look, smiled and shrugged as the children ran towards us and began posing for photos.

After a short time of being mobbed by kids, Mr. T spotted a small shop at the corner of the courtyard, pulled a 20,000rp note from his pocket and bought all the kids small treats, no doubt making this shopkeeper's morning!

Making our escape as the kids were busy buying sweet treats, we piled back into our minivan for the day and headed down the hillside towards the markets of Bau Bau.

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