A day at the beach

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Sorry for all the photos – but what are you going to do when you are one of two men on a beach trip with 10-12 women? And the only one with a real camera (phone cams need not apply).

When I was invited by the staff of Bingo’s Bar to go to the beach south of the Barelang

Marota Beach entrance

Marota Beach entrance

Bridge on Sunday, of course I jumped at the chance. I haven’t really had a beach experience of any length since I came to Batam 26 months ago. The beaches are all a long drive from where I live, too far for taxi, so I have to wait for an invitation.

I was picked up about 11 am at my apartment (one good thing about road trips with the bar girls is they work late so don’t want to start too early). There were six women, me and one other expat in the mini-SUV. I never did get his name but he is from Norway and fairly new on the island from what I could tell.

The ride from Nagoya to Barelang is about 40 minutes, but we went way past the bridge, down to the last island, Galang (where the Vietnam survivor village is), before we finally took a rutted, rocky road toward the sea. It was a beach I did not know about and seemed, at first glimpse, to be way off the beaten path (cliche, I know). But when we arrived at the water, there was a large, developed area just for beachgoers. Pretty sophisticated for this area, actually. The place was crowded, almost all locals.

The girls all seemed to have this outing well organized. One car of the two we came in was

One of two huts we had

One of two huts we had

loaded with containers of food and drink, and other beach necessities. The beach area is fairly narrow, with shaded areas for picnicking. The shaded area had 7×10-foot sections marked off and covered, which I gather are for rent. We had two adjoining sections, but people would camp themselves in the sections in between and immediately in front, where it was free to camp. So, when we arrived, there were families all around our two little islands of emptiness.

Tarps were laid down on both sand floors and one hut was used for eating and food storage and the other area for relaxing. A barbecue was set up just in front, on the beach, and a fire was started. Meanwhile, I’m exploring. We were near one end of the beach where there was some rock outcroppings and a fishing pier. I left my fishing rod (still have the reel) inDSC_1412 Nevis so there would be no fishing today. The beach went on for about half a mile in the other direction, rocky areas dividing up smaller beaches. The water was typical, muddy close in and somewhat bluer 50 yards or so out. There was a lot of seaweed in the water, which made swimming not so great. Toward the end of the day, I did go in, and most everyone else waited until it was time to go on the banana boat.

Everything was well organized, with eating first on the agenda. I was first handed a nut-like fruit that has a white flesh. A quick Internet check for you reveals this is a mangosteen, which has a hard, thick skin that is dark purple with tints of red and brown.

Plenty of ikan

Plenty of ikan

Clasp the fruit between your hands and slowly squeeze it below the stem to reveal the bright white segments within, the larger of which may have pits.  It has a subtle flavor, a nice balance of sweet and tart. Then a small fruit with sections in it like an orange and with a citrus flavor. This is called a Klengkeng.  It is the size of a small grape, and has a very thin brown shell that you can break open with your fingernails. Gotta try new things, folks!

The fish and chicken dishes were laid out waiting for the fire to heat up, piles of what I used to catch for bait in Florida were already seasoned and breaded. A pan of shellfish (gongong) with chili sauce on the side was the appetizer, toothpicks available for digging the little suckers out of their home. A little butter and Parmesan crust and it would taste like  escargot.

A plate of chicken and rice was finally forced on me and later I tried some fish. (A lot later, like when I returned home, I made myself a big burger).

Once the meal was finished, everyone started getting pumped about going on the bananaDSC_1511 boat. My disaster in Malaysia parasailing convinced me my knee did not want to get on a bucking piece of plastic that they try to throw you off of in the open sea. So I was the official photographer. The “boats” have 5-6 places to sit on them, with a rope to hang on to. The charge is Rp25,000 per person, or roughly $2. We had nine in our group who couldn’t wait to ride the bucking fishing float for whales. BTW, the main thrill of the ride actually is being thrown from the float.

Once the riding was done, many of us walked the beach that I had already walked before,DSC_1532 taking more pictures. Some of the girls wanted to pose for my camera. Terrible job.

When we got back to the huts, all the girls started cleaning up like a planned drill. Spotting some monkeys in the corner of the beach where the people had left, I walked over to take a few shots. There were about a dozen monkeys going through the trash left everywhere. They just throw their trash anywhere here; the beach was decorated in plastic cups and papers, etc. There is a crew, and everybody did pay to be at the beach, but still, a little putting-the-trash-in-the-trash-can-right-next-to-you should not be hard. I guess Americans were the same way before there were littering laws.

All loaded up, we headed back home, but not before one more stop. The Barelang BridgeDSC_1538 area is a major gathering area for the locals on a Sunday. There are food stalls lining both sides of the road on either side for a couple hundred yards on both ends of the bridge. Almost all of them were selling grilled corn, fresh from the field and cooked while you waited. Apparently, this is what you do when returning from the beach – stop to have some corn on the cobb. Everyone was doing it. It’s wrapped in heavy paper, with a stick for holding, and spiced the way you want. We took ours to eat in the car.

All in all, an excellent, yet tiring day. How can you go wrong with just two men and a dozen women?

 

A cooking day on Saturday

Cooking day. Decided the T-bones I bought last week were too tough to eat (after trying to eat one and throwing most of it away), so I made beef stew with the last two today. At the same time, it was time to try to make some mango jam with the mangos my neighbor brought over. Seems so simple, but all I have to show for a couple hours effort is two pints of mango syrup. Will try to cook it down some more tomorrow. It was a busy and hot kitchen with both of these going on at the same time.

End- of-day fishing again. This time I went to the other side of the island, where Lovers’ Beach sits next to the airport. No one in sight for the entire beach, which is a little more rocky and with more wave action. Looked fishy and I did have a fish on, which spit the hook pretty quickly. He pulled a little but probably wasn’t that big.

My landlady was waiting on me when I returned. She was watering the banana trees, one of which has a bunch on it but is not getting enough water. We discussed my pending garden and she offered some tools and a man who can bring me some soil. I figure that by the time I remove all the volcanic rock from the soil I will need some more dirt to fill in.

Just not sure I want to make the effort. Feeling very isolated. Not sure if I want to stay. I have a return ticket to Batam on Aug. 14 but that may be too soon to bail. Will find out Monday if I can reschedule my return flight for a month or two later. I’m sure there will be a charge but it might be worth it just for peace of mind. I hate to waste the two grand+ I spent to get here (it will be repaid to me in months 2-5 if I stay on the job) but I need to give this place a little longer opportunity. Suspect my gut feeling will prevail, however.
If I go back to Batam, however, I will be living solely off my Social Security check. The other option is to go to Asheville to recoup and re-evaluate.

Tonight, I plan to go to one of the Culturama activities going on in town. It’s the island’s biggest celebration, lasting about three weeks, and tonight they have some kind of talent or beauty competition. Just photo op for me. UPDATE: Went to Culturama. At 8:30 there was nothing going on, only a handful of people, so I left. Was even quieter at Double Deuce and Lime was closed. The sidewalks are taken up here very early.

Last night, I went out at about 10 p.m., a bit late for me, and the Double Deuce looked like it was just seeing its customers leave, while next door at Lime, they were just arriving. I walked in to have a look: a two-piece band was warming up, couples and tourists arriving. Still maybe an hour before any action was to start (according to a local). Too late for me.

It might be paradise to some, to me it’s a dead end.

The “Observer” car

DSC_1168

Here you have my car. It’s really a community car for editorial that I can take home after work. It is ready to fall apart. But I realized tonight that it is known in the community.

I tried fishing once again at Pinney’s Beach, using the small fish I had caught Saturday as cut bait. I don’t like to fish with cut bait normally, unless it’s cut bluefish for tarpon, but it is what it is. No bites, but there was lots of baitfish activity. In fact, I could see white bait (shiners) swimming by me in what looked like a snook channel along the edge of the beach. This is all so like Florida.

Anyway, back to the car, and it’s local identity.

After standing knee-deep in the Caribbean, with no strikes on my bait, I decided to stop by the Double Deuce, an open air bar right at the beach. There were a few people there, expats and locals, and Jimmy from the office was playing at the pool table. He was playing with his three sons, with his wife looking on. Ordered a beer, a Carib, made here. It went down fast, so ordered another, this time from a 45-something local woman who recognized my car. Then I met the Western owner, Mark. The place has flags from all over the world, just like Goodies, and I mentioned the connection.

I’m getting the impression people here don’t expect anyone like me working for the Observer to last very long. They obviously don’t know me.

But it was interesting to learn that my presence will be noted simply by the car I arrive in.

I also met the owner of the Double Deuce, Mark, and we had a short discussion. He told me when they were closed (Sunday evening, Monday) and mentioned a bit of their menu (an 8-ounce burger and fries costs about $14. Their pool table is small. Mark said they catch tarpon right off the beach and said there were also snook. Sounds familiar.

As I left, his partner /wife(?) said goodnight Observer man.