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 - Indonesia part 1
Photos 1 to 83 of 83 | Main
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Our first stop was the town of Debut,  this is main street and our welcome banner
   The Mayor of Debut welcomes the rally boats
“Hey Mister’   take my picture
You can’t take a photo of just one child.  The lady on the left ran as fast as she could to get in the picture.  It’s good to be young at heart
As I was walking around the side streets of Debut this young lady stopped me and invited me into their home to meet her family.  Regina attends college in Jakarta and is studying to work in the department of Tourism.  Her father Joseph is an officer in the local government.  Regina speaks passable English and if we get to Jakarta she has offered to show us around and be our interpreter.  I am learning some Indonesian but not enough to have a conversation yet.
Fresh catch of the night,  squid and small silverlings
More of Michelle’s fan club
In Debut they actually had us parade through the main city.  We were a marching attraction for the locals.  Every few blocks there would be a new group of dancers to entertain us.
More dancing and parading just outside Debut
Main market on the island,  if you can
Scooters and small motor bikes are the most common and affordable mode of transportation.  They probably out number cars 10 to 1
For some reason I expected the Muslim women to be shyer than they are.  These ladies obviously like to ham it up for the camera.  I have really gotten to like the colorful dresses and head wraps the women wear.  I find it a very attractive look.
No such thing as capacity limits on the local ferries
These strange looking craft are squid boats.  They go out after dark and bright lights on the front attract the squid to the surface where they get scooped up in the hanging nets.  It is a very big industry here.
Almost all of the local boats are hand made and powered by a small lawn mower type motor than is connected directly to a long prop shaft out the back.  No gears and no mufflers!!
These kids saw us walking along the beach of a very small island and insisted we come and meet the elders.  They were from another island and here to collect coconuts and palm leaves for making thatched roofs.  This is were we met the elder lady that had never seen a white skinner person.
Water front view of Naira in Banda.  This small group of remote islands are also know as the Spice Islands
Main street in Naira,  Banda,  no traffic jams here
Dutch colonial buildings are prominent in Banda.
The markets are open every date but Saturday is the main market day.
Cheap taxi transportation around town,  although the town is small enough to walk anywhere you may want to go
I was surprised how many handsomely constructed home I found in Banda.  Obviously the spice trade still provides a nice income for some.
Every town and village has at least one mosque,  from simple to beautiful
The local water ferry terminal filled with colorfully dressed ladie
All aboard please
Inter island transportaion around the Banda group.  I felt like we were in a Lonely Planet travelogue
      Michelle riding shotgun on a boat trip to one of the Banda islands.
This is the fruit of the nutmeg tree, first discovered by the Europeans on the small islands of Banda.  This little nut eventually led to the formation of the Dutch East Indies Trade Company,  a monopoly dedicated to making the owners rich through import and trade.  When the Dutch reneged on the trade agreement with the indigenous people the locals retaliated by killing a few of the Dutch colonialist’s.  To show the Indonesians who was the boss the Dutch  slaughtered the islanders,  killing 14,000 people.  Only a 1000 or so survived the massacre.

Today the three islands of Banda still produce copious amounts of spice.  The locals sweeten and sun dry the yellow outer layer to make a confectionary similar to dried apricots.  The red and black  portion is a spice called mace and this covers the nutmeg nut at the center.
Certainly a tedious job to hull all these nutmeg fruits for a living
Michelle learning to remove the mace covering off the nutmeg.  All the harvesting and processing of the nutmeg is done by hand
Mace, nutmeg,  and more mace
Mace, from the nutmeg fruit, drying in the sun
Almost everyone in this Banda village were sun drying some spice in the front of their house.  These were cloves
After our tour of the nutmeg plantation and pearl farm we were invited to lunch of traditional foods by a local famil
Our lunch,  much better tasting than it looks
This Banda shop owner is the one that turned us on to the nutmeg candy and syrup
Michelle extracting  pearl from an oyster when we visiting a pearl farm in Banda.  She did  not get to keep it
The Cilu Bintang hotel on Banda was surprising elegant for such an out of the way place.  They offered cooking lessons of local dishes and the cost barely covered the price of ingredients
The finished lunch from cooking class.  Tuna ball soup,  peanut sauce, Banda salad, gadu-gadu,  and fried noodle
No OSHA here on Banda.  They were transferring gasoline from 55 gal drums aboard a cargo boat to the only gas station on the island.  The pump was driven by a gas powered motor.   The top of it’s gas tank was cut open and you could see the gasoline splashing around.  We stayed a long distance away.  No one else seemed to worry about it
Every where we have anchored the children paddle out to meet the ‘strangers’ and ask for pens and note books for school.  We have a supply but it is dwindling quickly.  It is very hard to say no to these cute, happy faces.
31 rally boats attended the festivities in Namrole
The water front of Namrole village on the island of Buru. .  We were the first cruisers to ever visit.  The island had been off limits to foreign boats until recently.  They hosted three days of huge meals,  island tours,  and nightly music.  This village is about half Muslim,  half Christian,  and they have learned to live together and respect each other’s beliefs.  Our guide told us that when a new church or mosque is being built it is common for members of the other religion to help.  Community spirit as it should be.
With tides averaging 5-6 feet dragging your dinghy above the high water mark is important,  and a lot of work when it weighs 150 lbs or more.
The Regent for this area of South Buru welcomes us with a speech and even sang a song in  English to us.  The Regent answers directing to the country’s Prime Minister
Our welcoming  ceremony in Namrole
It looked like the whole town turned out to see us.  I imagine our arrival could have been the most exciting thing of the year for the locals.
Just a few of over 50 different dishes prepared for us in Namrole.
A few of the ladies in Namrole that prepared our lunch banquet
A gentleman from one of the traditional villages shows the effects of long term betel nut chewing.  Red stained mouth and rotting teeth.  Apparently the betel nut may give you a mild ‘high’ but it does become habit forming for some.
Even the small remote villages celebrated our visit
Almost every scheduled rally stop was highlighted by a traditional dance performance
Welcome to our village
I was surprised how many handsomely constructed home I found in Banda.  Obviously the spice trade still provides a nice income for some.
We are definitely and oddity here and everyone wantys to mingle with us and have their photo taken.
Even us grandfather age dudes have fans
The remote villages rarely if ever get foreign visitors which I guess is why we are treated almost like royalty
More food than we can possibly eat
Can’t find a prettier spot for lunch.  We met Brian & Sandy in New Zealand 2 years ago and have become good friends.  We have shared many anchorages and good times together

The river raft guides preparing to take us down stream to a path leading to a remote village.
A picture perfect spot for lunch.
Another feast on the beach,  compliments of the village
This small traditional village only less than 100 people.  The homes all had thatched roofs, rough wood walls, and dirt floors.  Even though they lived only a few hundred yards from a river they did not eat fish
Another home
Typical cooking center in a traditional house.  This man’s home has wood floors,  many are nothing but compacted dirt.
Another kitchen in a traditional home,  this one with dirt floors,  but as you can see,  everything is kept neat and tidy.  Notice the future pork chops on the lower right.
The main ‘sitting room’  with a baby swing in the middle
Michelle the intrepid explorer testing stability of a bamboo bridge
Three Colored Lakes is a National Park on the island of Torres.  They are three dormant volcano craters filled with different colored water caused by varying mineral content.  Torres has a total of 14 volcanoes on an island
A Macaque monkey greeted us on the hike up to Three Colored Lake.  Michelle is still very afraid of monkeys after she had been viciously attacked by one in Panama.  The leg wound took 3 months to heal
Rice is a major food crop on Florres and we saw fields every where
This has to be back breaking work as you get older.  You can see how the different tiers have openings to let the water flow to lower sections,  keeping everything wet.  We were told it takes about three months from planting to harvest size.
The workers don’t leave the rice paddies for lunch,  it is brought to them
From our anchorage in Kroko Atoll we could see three active volcanoes that constantly billowed smoke.  The water was usually very clear and the snorkeling was excellent.

The nearby Torres Island has 14 volcanoes along it
A new type of sea urchin we have never seen before
These urchins practically glow in the dark.   Unfortunately the reefs in many areas have been over fished to destruction.  Despite being illegal many fisherman still use explosives or poisons to kill the fish for easy harvesting.  This also kills the non food fish and the coral reefs,  which can take decades to recover,  if they ever do.
The blue spotted ray is highly venomous and occasionally the sting proves fatal.  Fortunately they are shy and not the least aggressive.
Not a rock,  it’s called a Doris Nudibranch.  One of many species found along the reefs
 
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