The Art and Joy of Fueling

I have written several times about the bizarre process of obtaining fuel in Indonesia. On the surface it seems fraught with peril. Any number of apocalyptic results are easily imagined, fire, environmentally disastrous fuel spill not to mention possible damage to the boat and the people who come to serve the fuel. Combine that with the worry of being ripped off, being arrested or taking on contaminated fuel and the stress of fuel day mounts.

After many such events I have learned that it all just works out and is actually really fun. I know I will be treated with vigorous honesty, friendly people and a dedication to service unknown in the modern world. Most of all I know I will make great new friends.

So armed I began the fuel buying process in Labuan Bajo. It started with the put put put sound of a single unmufflered diesel engine growing closer as the classic long bowed Indo skiff approached. I went aft to meet the young lads asking if I needed anything, laundry, water, rubbish taken away?

I asked about fuel, I needed at least 1000 liters. No problem, the lad said, and soon another boat approached and the new guy quoted 6000 rp a liter,(sixty cents) a great price. What I was really doing is talking to the guy that knew the guy who could the guy who could get the fuel, they are probably all related. We all agree that the fuel would come in the morning and I went off to take a nap. I awoke to find the boys hovering at the stern in their boats waiting for me to come out. It seems the real fuel guy had spoken. If I wanted a couple of hundred liters it was the stated price but if I wanted the larger amount it was another dime a liter “for the Police”. The Police monitor the buying and stick their hand out if they see a large purchase. This was still a good price so no worries. They could also bring 2000 liters if I wanted but I had not gotten enough money from the ATM so said that would have to come the next day.

The next morning the first guy, Doma, arrived with two friends to tell me the boat was coming soon. He also said they would bring the 2000 liters and I could pay the balance the next day—try that anywhere else! The larger boat arrived and another five guys, they uncovered layers of 35 and 20 liter jerry cans in the hull of their boat. The produced what looked like a huge submersible bilge pump and started dumping jerry cans into an open barrel and handed me a 220v cord, the first “oh shit”. I tried to explain the difference in power from my American boat but the pump made my point by not working. A flurry of Indonesian chatter and I hooked up my smaller pump. In a few minutes another boat, that makes four, arrived music blaring. They had a generator and plugged in the pump. Jerry can, after jerry can were dumped into the barrel as it was pumped into the boat. All the time the boys, now over ten, were laughing and having a blast. Some were covered in diesel as they poured the cans into the barrel. One chap took it upon himself to talley the jerry cans for me, he made certain I got what I paid for. The fueling took about an hour all told, the boats left and the original guy and his brother collected the money.

I gave the one child on the boat a toy car, the others some Coca Cola and we all had a great laugh. The boys washed the decks down and left. I had full tanks at a good price, ($2.80 a US gallon), new friends and another tale to tell.