Tales of Enchantment

also known as "Michelle and Vern's Excellent Adventure"

12 January 2016
27 December 2015
15 September 2015
25 June 2015
26 March 2014
09 November 2013
16 August 2013 | The Society Islands
20 June 2013 | The Tuomotu's aka The Dangerous Archipelago
26 May 2013 | Marquesas
25 April 2013
23 April 2013
15 December 2012 | Panama Canal, Central America
16 October 2012
26 June 2012
28 April 2012
28 April 2012
19 February 2012 | The Bay Islands

A brief look at Viet Nam and China

28 December 2016
With monsoon season still hampering sailing conditions in Sept and Oct we took the opportunity to visit China and Viet Nam. China had long been on my list of places to see and we had heard that Viet Nam was beautiful, so off we went.

We had heard from friends that travelling China can be a challenge due to restrictions on which hotels could take foreign visitors and the rarity of English being spoken outside of major cities. Even in the largest cities few spoke any English. For that reason we opted for a personally guided tour which worked out perfectly for us. Although expensive we were able to choose our itinerary and make minor modifications along the way if we chose. In the 3 weeks we were there we visited 7 different regions, took three local flights, two trains, and had an English speaking guide at each destination. They met us on arrival, made all arrangements, and made sure we got on the right plane-train for our next stop. The company was called China Highlights and we highly recommend them.

We were not sure what to expect in our first Communist country but found the people very friendly and welcoming despite the language barrier. The country is much too big for only a 3 week visit. We would love to go back but I think time will not allow it.

Vietnam was definitely a good choice to visit. The people are much poorer than in China, and the Communist government more restrictive. It was interesting to see how their government portrayed the evil war monger US vs the peaceful Vietnam government during the war. In a former pow prison we visited, the infamous "Hanoi Hilton", we saw two photo's of Sen. John McCain in prison along with photo's of other pow's enjoying volleyball, gardening, chess, and healthy meals. At the same time condemning the US for targeting schools and hospitals of the cities and towns. We did not get into any discussions about the reliability of these reports. I was told that most citizens were not happy with their government ( sound familiar? ) but were afraid of retribution if they spoke out against it.

Despite the political climate the countryside is beautiful and you can travel on a small budget. Most of our hotel rooms were less than $20 per night including breakfast. Rooms were basic, comfortable, with hot showers, tv, wifi, ac, and centrally located. We would enjoy returning for another visit.

Roaming Around South East Asia

21 June 2016
It has been 6 months since our last update and though we have not travelled far we have not been idle. While most of our time has been in Malaysia we have also visited Thailand twice and once to Cambodia. Later this fall we anticipate a visit to China as well as more time in Thailand. We have now sailed half way around the world, 180 degrees of longitude from where we started.
. Malaysia
After leaving Singapore in late December it was a short sail to Port Dickson/Malacca in Malaysia. The cruising along the coast of Malaysia is not very good. The water is murky with sediment and hordes of fishing boats and fish traps make sailing at night hazardous.
Predominantly a Muslim country that tolerates religious diversity we found the people friendly and outgoing. While the annual income of most is very modest by US standards there are obviously many wealthy Malaysians as seen in the capital of Kuala Lumpur. The skyline is pierced with modern office buildings, upscale shopping malls, and luxury hotels.
Further up the coast is the island of Panang. We expected a typical small island with a few small resorts and stores. The island is small but a tourist mecca. 1.5 million people live here and the economy is as vibrant as the capital's.
We seem to have settled in on the small island of Rebak, a few miles off Langkawi, itself an island and tourist destination for locals. Privately owned there is an inexpensive boat yard and marina to leave your boat for inland touring. Several cruisers we have met have also made it their home base.

Thailand
Our first visit to Thailand was by air to the city of Bangkok. We both need dental work done and Bangkok the place to go. We have received care up to US standards by highly trained staff for a fraction of the cost back home. For example, replacing a crown runs about $350 vs $1000 in the states. Bangkok is huge, has traffic jams 24 hrs a day, and the fastest way to get around a short distance is by motorcycle taxi. It's also the most intimidating. These guys weave in and around traffic jams, ride on the side walk, missing cars and people by an inch, literally. The people are extraordinarily friendly and conflict goes against their nature.
Street food vendors are everywhere and you can get a tasty, and very spicy hot, meal for under $3. Buddhism is the primary religion and they do not tolerate using his name or image for any commercial or decorative purpose. People have been refused entry into the country for having a Buddha tattoo.
Governed by elected officials the country still has King and Royal family that everyone loves. He is now in his early 90's and is the longest reigning monarch in the world, 70 years on the throne. Last year a journalist was arrested for saying something derogatory about the king's favorite dog.
While in Bangkok we visited many temples, all ornate, beautiful, and still used for worship. One of the provinces a few hours N of Bangkok has over 7000 temples alone. We plan to see more of inland Thailand later this year.

Cambodia

We flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia, primarily to visit Angkor Wat, the largest religious complex in the world. Covering almost 250 acres it was built around the 12th century, originally as a Hindu temple but eventually turned into a Buddhist temple. The country side surrounding Siem Reap is strewn with many more temples that had been gobbled up by the jungle over the centuries. Most of those discovered have been at least partially restored. We visited during dry season so the vegetation was not as lush as you would expect.
In the early 70's a brutal despot named Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge army to over throw the government and take control. The US secretly supported them because they were enemies of Vietnam. When his army invaded Phnom Penn, the capital, they ordered everyone to leave the city and take only what they could carry. In 3 days the population went from millions to 10,000 army troops. The educated ones, teachers, doctors, artists, etc, where killed outright. Of the 14,000 people imprisoned in a former school only 7 left alive. Those herded from the city were put into forced labor growing rice, digging new irrigation channels, fishing, etc. For most the only possession they were allowed was a cup and a bowl for food. Hundreds a day were clubbed to death in the killing fields once they were too weak to work ( bullets were expensive) . In the 3 years Pol Pot was in power an estimated 25% of the population died, as many as 2 million people.
The land along the border between Cambodia and Thailand is considered one of the most hazardous in the world. Tens of thousands of land mines were planted with no maps to show locations. Even today people still are maimed and killed if they wander off the main trails. There are international efforts to remove the dangers but the challenge is finding them.

A Brief Look at Singapore

12 January 2016
We stopped in Singapore for some needed boat supplies and shopping in a 'real' city. We had planned on flying to Bangkok for 2 weeks so booked a month in a marina. It was very upscale and turns out we cancelled Bangkok and could have left after 2 weeks except for the non refundable month's slip fees. Oh well, it's all good anyway. We were with friends from other boats and the marina was top notch. The island it is on had free bus service around the island, and the marina had a free shuttle to the mainland about 6 minutes away, dropping you off at the central train station. It ran every 30 minutes 6am until 10:30pm so very convenient.
Singapore is rated as the most expensive country in the world to live in and we believe it. The country is only about 23x16 miles in size and like a giant shopping mall. There is one store, Mustafa's that is 2 blocks long, 70 yards wide, 6 stories high, and makes a Super Wal Mart look like a 7-11.
The country has no agricultural or ranching enterprises and almost no manufacturing, so everything is imported and taxed. It is one of the busiest shipping ports in the world and much of the revenue comes from cargo trans shipment to other parts of SE Asia. It has also become a central hub for telecommunications and international banking in this region.
Most people speak at least some English, crime is uncommon and the streets are safe to walk at night. Mostly of Chinese descent, there is also a large Indian, Malaysian, and expat population from NZ, Australia, Britain, and the US. The various cultural and religious back rounds all seem to mix together well, live and let live, respect your neighbor, be kind to strangers. At least that is how we perceived. They have the most modern and well organized public transportation system we have ever seen. Within a few days and a smart phone app we were moving around the country like locals with no fear of getting lost. You can get almost anywhere quickly, cheaply, and never wait more than 10-15 minutes for a bus or train. The government seems to spend a lot of money keeping roads in good repair and providing numerous free parks and nature preserves for the citizens.
Every one me met seemed content so it's probably a nice place to live, but I think people work long hours and many days per week to afford it.

Indonesia Part 2

27 December 2015
The second half of our journey through Indonesia was as great as the first. Labuan Bajo on the W end of Flores was our next anchorage and what a treat. The small tourist town was packed with cafes, small markets, and important to us...dive shops. This area is known for some of the best diving in the world and draws thousands of divers annually. We stayed a week and made 8 dives in Komodo National Park, every one excellent.

After a brief stop in Lombok we sailed to the fabled island of Bali, now a tourist mecca for Indonesians as well as foreigners. We anchored off the town of Lovina Beach and just happened to arrive at the beginning of their annual festival. We had never seen so many colorful costumes and dances in one place before. On top of that prices were low and everything you may need in the way of supplies was available. We end up staying for 3 weeks and did make 2 dives in the underwater park, which was good but not like Komodo.

Friends on Persephone and us flew to the Island of Java to spend a few days enjoying some cultural exploration in Jakajakarta, home to several historically significant landmarks.

The Indonesian government, as well as Malaysia, Singapore, and others, take a dim view of drug traffickers. Along with the routine preflight instructions, seat belts on, tables up, etc, they notify you that drug possession carries heavy penalties up to and including the DEATH penalty!! So you better listen up and be good.

A 3 day sail next brought us to Kalimata where we participated in their annual festival. The island is small with only 2 villages mostly built over the water on stilts. This is the first evidence we saw of the raging fires on Karimata. The dense smoke travels hundreds of miles, choking the air, closing airports, resulting in emergency evacuations, medical problems, school closures. All in the interest of making a buck for the palm oil companies. It is a yearly event and despite formal complaints from neighboring countries the government does nothing to stop it. They are mostly large international corporations with a lot of money and influence, and we all know how that works compared to complaints by the little guys. We skipped several planned stops because of the smoke. Visibility was often less than 1/2 mile where normally it would be 5-6 miles at sea, or more.

Benan Island was our last 'remote' stop, and what a wonderful place. The small population of 800 so were very warm welcoming. We enjoyed many days getting to know the local doctor and number 2 government boss on the island. They welcomed us into their homes and their lives, asking nothing in return but stories of our homes and our travels. We hated to leave but our visas were expiring soon and no more extensions were allowed.

Next stop Singapore

Indonesia part 1

15 September 2015
After a brief stop in Australia we sailed to Indonesia after joining a rally with 40+ other boats. The bureaucracy and Byzantine paperwork in Indonesia changes from port to port and the officials all have their own version of what is required. The rally organizers hired an Indonesian agent who works with the government to facilitate the paperwork. Even so some of us have waited 10 days for visa renewals (due every 30 days), and have been threatened with impoundment of our boats for not having some document they think we need but no one else ever did. Oh well!!! That’s all part of cruising.

Now the good stuff. Indonesia is made up of over 11,000 islands, has the 4th highest population on the planet, speak over 250 different dialects, the largest Muslim population in the world, more than a hundred volcanoes, many still active, and $80 US will make you feel rich when you exchange it for $1,000,000 Rupiah. Our group has boats from 14 different countries, including 2 men that sailed single handed, one from Ireland, the other from Germany. There are also several boats that we have know for a few years from other cruising grounds. We even have at least 5 doctors in the group that make ‘boat calls’ if the need arises. Fortunately we have spread out along the islands so we don’t all invade the smaller villagers at the same time.

The people here have been extremely friendly and welcoming. We have only cruised the Eastern provinces so far, and these are the least visited. An elderly woman at one small island Michelle and I stopped at had never seen a white skinned person before. She couldn’t stop touching Michelle’s arm trying to figure it out. Many of the planned rally stops had welcome ceremonies and dinners arranged for our visit and most of the food was delicious, strange, and bountiful. The people love to have you take their pictures and the kids really like to ham it up. Every where you go you get a big smile and a “Hey Mister”, generally the only English they know.

So far we have really enjoyed Indonesia and look forward to the next 2 months before we are required to leave the country. Ahead lay the Komodo dragons, a 2 day river trip to an wild orangutan refuge, the world’s largest Buddhist temple, and lots more surprises I’m sure.

IT”S ALL GOOD!!!!!

Vanuatu

25 June 2015
We almost skipped Vanuatu because of a terrible cyclone that hit here in April. Vanuatu gets hit with more cyclone than any other Pacific nation. We were concerned that we might be a burden on their recovery but the government said please come. They need the tourist income, the major source of income, to help rebuild. We only had 3 weeks we could spend there as we had to be in Australia by mid June, a voyage of 1300 miles.

Vanuatu, formerly called the New Hebrides, was once jointly under the influence of Britain and France. The achieved independence in 1980. Consisting of 80 islands, each with it's own unique customs and personality, the country is a cruisers delight. We hope to return in a year or two and spend a lot more time.
Vessel Name: Enchantment
Vessel Make/Model: Island Packet 40
Hailing Port: Chicago
Crew: Vern & Michelle
About:
Vern, originally from Chicago, has lived in New Orleans and the Nashville, Tn area. I have been sailing for almost 40 years, have logged over 15,000 offshore miles and hold a 100 ton masters license. I also work as a critical care nurse. [...]
Extra: We are currently finishing with upgrades and improvements to Enchantment in preparation for a 3-4 year cruise from Baltimore to New Zealand. Our cruising kitty will be fully funded and our departure date is set for Oct 2010 with a transit of the Panama Canal late February 2011
Enchantment's Photos - The Friendly Paradise of Fiji
Photos 1 to 115 of 115 | Main
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Sailing past the Mamanuca islands off the N coast of Livi Vetu
Main and only street on Sawa-I-Lau
On the outer island the locals will always invite you into their home for
Jon and a new friend
JJ actually volunteered to attend school for the two days we were anchored off Sawa-I-Lau in the Yasawa Group.  One of the other children brought him home for lunch each day.
One of the assignments of the school children is to keep the rocks lining the
Jon and I looking for bananas and coconuts
A local chases after JJ,  our grandson, as he tries to scale this coconut tree
The staff of Robinson Crusoe island resort were extremely cruiser friendly and made JJ a part of their crew.  They showed him how to use a net to fish then cook it over an open fire, do a fire dance, and ipen coconuts.
Viti Levu,  the main island,  in the back ground.  We were sailing along the N coast on our way to Vanua Levu,  2nd largest of 300+ islands
JJ and his first fish,  a 20lb Mahi,  really good eating
One of many beautiful sunsets
Shoreline along Mokogai,  a former leper colony.  They now propagate and raise giant clams to restock the reefs.
The ruins of the old leper colony
And their final resting place
Doesn
When the occasional live aboard dive boat visits Mokogai the villagers put on a small cultural show which was very entertaining.
Hard to believe his distant ancestors probably ate missionaries for dinner.  The locals said Adam is the most photographed child on the island.
After the dive boat visitors left the men invited us to join them for our first of many kava ceremomies
These giant clams can live hundreds of years and grow as large as 4 feet across.  Now and endangered species
We anchored in this peaceful lagoon in the town of Savusavu,  on the island of Vanua Levu. It is know as a good hurricane hole to escape the worst of approaching cyclones. As I write this cyclone Pam is devastating Vanuatu, 500 miles to the West with 150 mph winds
Savusavu is the 2nd largest town on the 2nd largest Fiji island of Vanua Levu.  This shows about half of the whole main street.  The population is about 2000, approximately half native Fijian,  half East Indian,  with a scattering of Asians and varioius expats.
Meeting up again  with other cruisers we have crossed the Pacific ocean with is always a pleasure we look forward to
Overlooking Vianni bay.
Sugar cane is always good for you,  just ask him
You can charter this 150 foot boat,  complete with crew,  for only $250,000 per week.  That is not a misprint so start saving.
For a lot more you can charter this 240 foot boat,  complete with helicopter and sea plane.  This one is only $600,000 per week.
Seri, Jon & Michelle.  Seri is a fisherman on Rambi as well as a village official back in town
The view from Seri
Seri paddles this home built canoe 5 miles from town to his fish camp on Rambi.  He stays there for a long as a week fishing the reefs.  On a low tide his wife will walk that same distance along the rocky shore to stay with him
The women of Kioa are reputed to be among the best weavers in all of Fiji
Moonrise off the island of  Taveuni
Taveuni,  the Garden Island,  gets more rainfall than any other island in Fiji.  The landscape is lush with many waterfalls to tempt you.
The rain also provides a natural water slide.
The International Dateline runs through the island of Taveuni,  aka the Garden Island.  Half of our bodies are in today,  the other half yesterday,  or tomorrow,  depending on your point of view
An unusual sight in the islands,  part of the rugby inter island tournament festivities
The Prime Minister in the red shirt and the island
Local food vendors at the event
Each team had seven players.  Its similar to football without the helmets or padding,  and these guys place rough.  But they always had a smile and usually helped the opposing team members off the ground after a tackle. I had the impression they enjoyed playing at least as much as winning their match.  We watched 6 games and never saw any players lose their temper.
A rugby fan showing his teams colors
The police departments team.  I tried to trade for one of their team shirts but no deal
The capital of Suva has a huge market where fruits and veggies of every kind can be found at excellent prices
Suva market
Dinner at the chief
This family from the island of Motuka "adopted" us.  When we visited the village she was born in they told us we were the first cruisers to ever go the the village.  When they learned we were out of fruit they gave us 2 huge stalks of bananas,  probably 3-400 total,  plus papayas and fish.  We were sharing with other cruisers for days.
That
Called a Christmas tree worm,  they are only about an inch long and quickly retract into their shell when a shadow passes over
Turtles are very common in Fiji and swom remarkably fast when scared
He
Those thin lines are harmless garden eels, usually hundreds to a colony they quickly disappear if you get close
Fiji is know as one of the best diving locations in the Pacific
A tube worm extended to filter feed in the current
water visibility often exceed 75 feet
We love to watch clown fish and anenomes
We saw at least a dozen fifferent species of clown fish
We
Another tube worm
The anenomes have stinging tentacles that clown fish are immune to.  This provide them protection from predators.
One of a dozen varieties of sea cucumbers we
Namena marine park
Diving the Namena marine park
Fiji is know for its variety and the health of it
FULANGA-OUR FAVORITE PLACE IN FIJI

On approach to the remote island of Fulanga,  in the Lau Group.  Before this year it was almost impossible to get government permission to visit these distant islands.  They were afraid a large influx of tourists might disrupt the traditional life style the islanders prefer.  Fortunately there are no resorts or hotels in the group that we know of so little appeal to most tourists,  and the anchorages are not suitable for even small cruise ships.
As we approached the pass into the lagoon we were greeted by a small pod of  pilot whales.  They grow to 15~18 feet long
The main anchorage in Fulanga,  an absolutely gorgeous view
One of hundreds of islets around the Fulanga lagoon
Low tide
High tide brings raises water levels as much as 6 feet,  happens twice a day here
Enchantment anchored near the village
The beginning of the path from anchorage to village,  about a 15 minute walk.  After dark you don
The head chief of the entire island is 87 yrs old, he asked me to take a picture of him and Michelle.
After presenting our gift of kava to the chief we were introduced to some of the families who promptly began to feed us.
The meeting house is were most activities take place
Michelle became very popular when she brought all her jewelry making supplies into the village for the ladies.  They kept her in the meeting house for 3 consecutive days learning to make jewelry.  Even though it is inexpensive stuff to us it is beyond the means of most of the islanders to purchase.
Jewelry frenzy,  puts the home shopping network to shame
Learning how to grate coconut from the shell
Main Street rush hour in Moana-i-Cake.
Most of the village was here.  Those not seen were probably cooking for the crowd
Getting ready for festivities and kava ceremony with the chief
Fish cleaning time
When we were in Fulanga there averaged 6-8 other boats.  The villagers often had meals prepared for us.
The nurse clinic on Fulanga.  Most islands have at least a small clinic with a nurse.  This is part of their commitment after graduation from school.
I saw this posted in the nurses clinic tallying the island
Typical homes in the outer islands.  The people live a very traditional life where community is highly valued.  They pretty much have to fish, grow, or pick most of what they eat. Fulanga had not had any rain in 4 months and the cisterns were running dry.  The chief banned all clothes washing and showering until emergency water could be shipped in by boat from the Capital of Suva,  200 miles away.   No one has running water in their homes,  they store it in cisterns and barrels
Eight years of saving bought each of the 52 inhabited homes 2 solar panels, battery, and a few fluorescent lights.  Now for the first time in their lives they will have a monthly bill of $18 FJD,  about $12 US.  Most with little or no income we are not sure how they will pay for this.
Celebrating the installation of electricity
It took 8 years for the village to save enough money to have electricity installed in all the homes of the village.  The chief told the women to
Gallee in the flowered dress whooping it up.  Michelle and her become good friends
Practicing my spear throwing skills,  the target has nothing to fear!!
Local transportation on Fulanga
Practice makes perfect
The children take joy in anything new and fun
Dancing,  not attacking :-)
Looking down on Moana-i-Cake
The villagers will say they don
Michelle learning a new trade.  On Mondays the village women get together to weave new mats for flooring or send to the craft market in Suva.
Tonga, in the blue shirt, waiting his turn to pound the kava root into a powder to make the drink.  It looks like dirty water and tastes almost as good.  Kava is actually the root of a variety of pepper plant.  Drinking kava is a usually an every day activity each evening. Families and friends gather to share each others company and socialize
Always happy to see the lobster fisherman
Mary & husband Johnny were our hosts in Moana-i-Cake.  It took us 2 days to realize John spoke no English.  He always smiled and said yes when we said something to him.  Mary cooked us lunch almost every day then sent food home for dinner even when we told her not to.  We did bring her many food staples but she would never take no for an answer.  This is her kitchen & eating area. The main house is a step across the ground. One large room with a partial wall separating the sleeping area.  The homes only have shutters over window openings and most have less furniture than this
The islanders still cook everything over open fires.  They even bake excellent bread and cakes on these
Inside the kinder garden bunk house.  All the island children attend this one island school in Moana-i-Cake.  They spend the weekdays here and go home on weekends.  Grades 1 thru 8 attend school on the island,  for high school they all go to Suva on the main island, 200 miles away.
Michelle, Gallee, and Salata spent the morning fishing with great success.
Shoreline along Moana-i-Cake, the main village of the island
Our host family on either side of us and a few new friends
The church choir from "our village"  won the singing competition between the 3 churches on the island.  The islanders have a string religious commitment and every village has a church.  On Fulanga a drum is sounded every six hoursa and the villagers are supposed to stop, or wake up,  and say a little prayer.  Sundays are spent in church for almost the whole day except for meals.  During meal times we witnessed families bringing around plates of food to each other
Joe dressed in his finest Sunday church clothes.  The skirts are called sulus and common attire for Fijian men.  In the villages all men,  locals and visitors, are expected to wear a sulu to visit the chief and any formal function of the community.  Mine is just a blue print cloth wrap I m keep I my backpack for such occasions.   During church Joe uses the stick to gently remind children to behave with a tap on the shoulder.
The post office.  The village has two phones that work via satellite link.  I don
Another view of main street
If they are lucky the villagers can climb to the top of this hill and get a cell phone signal from another island 30 miles away. Very few can afford a phone as there is really no way to earn money on the island unless you are a government employee,  teacher or a nurse.
The picture postcard beach is just steps away from the heart of the village
The Fulanga carvers are know as the best if the islands and Alfredi is a master.  Except for the base he carved this parrot out of a single block of wood.  The dark and light colors are all the natural shades of the wood swirling with the grain.  I had to buy it.
Ma is always smiling and laughing.  She may be the jolliest person on the island.
Mary,  our village host weaved this mat for a parting gift
Our friends held a kava ceremony and dinner for us the evening we left.  A dozen or so villagers came to say farewell.
The villages presented us with these hand made gifts the day of our departure.  The bowl is hand carved from a solid block of local wood and inlaid with the inside of chambered nautilus shells, collected from outside the reef.   The nautilus lives below 600 feet and surfaces at night to feed.  It is not uncommon to find their unbroken shells along the reef.  The material looks much like mother of pearl.  These items in the Suva craft market would cost hundreds of dollars.
 
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