Indonesian Onion Boats and Rusty Cranes

Apr 05, 2012 View Comments by

Mr. Lim of Cakra Shipping in George Town, Penang expected us at his office at 8:45 a.m., and as usual, we were running a little late. However, after scaring a few car drivers, we made it by 8:47 a.m., not bad! Andy Kentigern-Fox was already there, Miquel Silvestre had just wandered up to the office, and Franco and Niky from Thailand, who were collecting their bikes after a trip to Indonesia, were already finalizing a few items of paperwork.

The process started with us all heading off for the ferry to Butterworth and then a short ride over to the docks. We did the usual customs paperwork (carnet, passport check, visa confirmation) and then received our Bill of Lading. It was all a very fast process. What a difference it is to have someone do it for you! Mr. Lim was efficient and in control, and of course, knew the process inside and out. A very different experience from when we are doing it on our own: not understanding a language, or each country’s process, or even where all the offices are. For some strange reason, the offices are usually spread about, and involve quite a bit of walking or taxis in between! Mr. Lim did it all. Nice.

Paperwork in hand we rode off to the dockside and there it was…the small fishing boat that was to transport our bikes – all 4 – over to Belawan in Indonesia. Mmmm, “it’s a bit smaller than I expected” I said to Simon….”and a bit more dilapidated too!” However, we have been on worse so we weren’t too worried. The only part that concerned me was how the bikes were to be placed on deck. A small crane trundled up to the side and impatient dock workers waved us over. My question was answered but I’m not too sure I like what I see!

Miquel was first, and seemingly unconcerned about where they attached the ropes to his bike, but as it was hauled skyward and left dangling in the air, it seemed rather precarious! When the motorcycle was finally on board, he jumped on and, in his own words, became the ‘Spanish monkey:’ scrambling about with his camera in order to get every photo and piece of video he could…often oblivious to the crane waving heavy things above his head!

Andy, whose bike was exactly the same model as mine, a BMW F 650 GS, was the next to be lifted on. Since his was the ‘test-hoist’ for our style of bikes, the attaching of the ropes for mine was quick and easy. However, to see it lifted in the air rather ungraciously, and then left swinging was not at all comforting. All 320 kgs of it swayed back and forth above the side of the concrete dock and the deck of the boat, which consisted of nothing but some rickety, rotten-looking wooden planks. I managed to stay out of the way until it landed, at which point I staggered up the small plank to get on-board. I needed to make sure that my bike was secured in a way that I was happy with!

Simon was busy taking care of his monster bike. To see his BMW R 1100 GS hoisted quickly (rather too quickly if you ask me) was cause for concern as it got to swinging really good!

During this time I was having a ‘discussion’ with the guys on the boat. My bike was on its side stand but leaning away from the side of the boat to which they were planning to strap it to in order to secure it during the crossing. I tried to explain that it would be better if the bike was the other way around, so it could lean in towards the side of the boat. Apparently to them, though, I am just a mere woman and was informed that it was fine where it was; that they had done this many times. I tried to explain politely that I had also done this quite a few times, but I know they didn’t believe me…I mean…what can I know, eh? So, I explained the situation to Simon, and he and Miquel demonstrated what needed to be done and why. Of course, the crew all agreed with them, and lifted my bike up and presto – it was now facing the way that I had wanted. Go figure?!

Within 2 seconds, Simon’s bike was re-lifted so it could be turned around as well, and everyone was happy. I too was happy, if not slightly annoyed.

The bikes will be ready for collection from the warehouse on today. Indonesia, our 74th country – here we come!

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About the author

In May 2003, we left our jobs, sold everything, and on 2 BMW motorcycles, set off to see the world. Nothing but a motorcycle can get you to the places and in touch with the people we have had the pleasure of spending time with. We’ve turned what was once a weekend hobby into a way of life that we wouldn’t trade for anything, and have no intention of ending anytime soon.