July 17, 2014
I was thinking today about my first (and thankfully only) encounter with pirates. I don’t mean the Johnny Depp sort, but real pirates.
I was in Indonesia on a small, tropical island to study monkeys. There were about 15 students, 10 workers, and
2000 monkeys on this island named Tinjil, southwest of Java.I had left the US before, but this was the trip that peaked my love of travel. Myself and other students from the University of Washington, Cambridge, and Indonesian University of Bogor shared quarters and meals as we each designed and implemented our own research projects. I was there to follow monkeys and document the plants that they ate. We lived on this island for a month, where the ocean would come up to the edge of our deck every night, with no running water and no electricity. Our food was cooked by gas, and we had shipments brought over by boat every few days, which included ice to store it. It was the first time I had seen land hermit crabs (they lived in the forest!), monitor lizards, and long-tailed macaque monkeys up close and personal. It was amazing what we did to entertain ourselves. We swam in the ocean, fished, made chili paste from scratch (we learned this from the Indonesian women), and exchanged Indonesian for English lessons. We even figured out how to hook up a car battery to a tape player and have music. For my birthday, some of my fellow students even did a dance routine for me with costumes and all!
The pirates happened to come to shore one day while we were all eating lunch. You could tell their boats were different as they used outboard motors instead of the diesel engines the local fishermen used. We were told to stay away from the shore as some of the men who were there to protect the primate habitat kindly asked them
to leave. They did leave without too much fuss. We were told after the fact that they could be quite dangerous. This was well before Somali pirates became famous, so for us it seemed more of a novelty.
Our only other boat encounters were with the local fisherman, with whom we traded fresh water for fish. We would swim out to the boats in the lagoon and make the trade. They often asked us Westerners for help , as very few of the men could swim. Though they were a fishing community, they had a fear of a sorceress from the sea that would drown men so most of them did not learn to swim. It became a comforting sound when we heard those diesel fishing boats take shelter in the lagoon, and we knew we were doing trade with the right sort of boats.