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 - China
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Tiananmen Square in the heart of Beijing,  capital city of China.  Covering 109 acres it is one of the largest squares in the world.

Beijing, previously called Peking,  was the place to finally try the famous "Peking Duck" for dinner.  Our guide recommended the best place to go.  The food was excellent but I
Chairman Mao is still held in high regards by the populace
The Forbidden City: The Forbidden City is the largest imperial palace in the world, home to 24 emperors in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties. It was built in 1420, about 70 years before Columbus discovered America and 144 years before the birth of William Shakespeare
The city floor is mad of many layers of bricks several feet thick to discourage invaders or assassins from digging into the compound.  There were also no trees inside,  minimizing cover for enemies trying to sneek in .
Never make the emporess mad.
A few of the ancient astrological instruments at the Royal Observatory in Beijing.
The Great Wall of China: This was one of the main reasons I wanted to visit China,  the Great Wall.  Extending 8-10,000 miles along the border it is the longest structure in the world.  Built over the centuries to keep out the Mongol invaders it is an awesome sight.  We hiked 12 km along a remote section far from the tourist areas.  We only saw a few dozen other hikers while the wall sections nearer Beijing there will be many hundreds crowded into short sections of the wall.
The photo
Guard towers every 100 meters or so were spaced so that archers arrows could cover every foot of approach.
The following photo
From Beijing we took one of China
Over 6000 soldiers have been uncovered so far.
The work of uncovering them is slow and delicate.  The original wooden beams holding up the earthen roofs rotted and collapsed long ago,  burrying the figures for 2000 years.
They say that no two soldiers are alike.  Along with the warriors were horses, carriages, servants,  and other items an Emporer would need in the after life.  The warriors were to guard him in the afterworld.  Their weapons were mostly made of wood and none survived the centuries beneath the ground.
This is the only figure recovered fully intact
Emperor Qin had all the craftsmen put their names on the weapons the made.  If any were found defective the maker could be easily found,  penalty for substandard work was death,  no unions here.
Qin also standardized specifications of weapons.  Tolerances were within a few millimeters so everything would be easily interchangeable and universally compatable.
Administrators and high officials often had many titles and a seal to go with it.  This man had 14 different job titles and each seal represented an affirmation of legal authority.  The penalty for forging a royal seal as death.
The Muslim section of Xian is a lively place in the evening.  This week they were celebrating some Muslin holiday and many lambs suffered an ill fate.
Street food is always interesting to see,  and often hard to guess what it is.
We visited the home of a family that taught us how to make dumplings,  one of our favorite Chinese foods.
What we would call a condo the people in this part of the world call a house.  What we call a single family house they call a villa.

This is the living room of a company built complex of houses.  The company sells these to workers for labout 1/3 the price a non employee would pay.  As long as the employee stay with the company 10 years or longer the deal is permanent.
Next stop was the city of Zhangjiajie,  home of the Hallelujah Mountains,  the inspiration and filming location for the "Floating Mountain" scenes in the movie Avatar.  This high speed elevator whisks you to the top.
Every where we went in China there was a persistant haze in the area.  The guide try to say it was mist or fog but it was too consistent to be anything but air polution.  Even though the government is spending a lot of money of solar and wind powered energy they are still building coal fired power plants at an increasing rate.
The cable car up to Tianmen Mountain is claimed to be the longest continuous cable car ride in the world,  it is 7.5 km long and takes 30 minutes to get to near the top.
A popular spot is the glass walkway clinging to the side of the mountain, a thousand feet above the ground.
The national park is an amazing  series of paths and walkways along side the mountain wall and through the interior.  You could easily spend an entire day up here enjoying the views.
Prayer ribbons are a popular way to implore the gods for favors.
Once I hit my 60
Six long escalator rides inside the mountain brought us down to the hole in the mountain at the top of the photo.  This hole is large enough that three fighter jets flew through it in formation during a national celebration.

The optional stairway down is names The 999 Steps and it is truly 999 steps,  at least it was down and not up.
The bus ride from the steps down to base level has 99 hairpin turns.  The number 9 is considered lucky and in ancient times only the Emperor has things with the number 9 associated with them.
Another view,  the fast ride down was almost as much fun as a roller coaster.
We then took a train to join out 5 day cruise up the Yantze River.  This is what they call a soft sleeper car,  4 berths in a cabin.  Our 6 hour ride was mid day so sharing the room with 3 other adults 2 children and an infant was not a problem.  We soon started sharing snacks and the kids enjoyed a few videos on Michelle
Our cruise ship docked at a city mid cruise.
Along many of the side rivers flowing into the Yantze are cliff coffins.  Some placed there 2000 yrs ago,  the durable wood survived the ages.  No one is quite sure how they got them up there.
Often several skeletal remains were housed in a smaller coffin.
Bapan Village is a small village of Bama County located in the northwest of Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. With 7 out of the total population of 515 people living healthily beyond the age of 100 years old, Bapan Village is a world renowned “Village of Longevity”.  There are many others in their 80
Our cruise passed many "small cities" of only a million or so people.
At first I thought these were a strange humming bird but they are called
Three Gorges Dam is the largest hydro electric plant in the world.  Not only in generating capacity but in total length of 1.4 miles.  I was hoping to tour the inner workings as things like that fascinate me, but armed military guards suggested otherwise.  

The dam was highly controversial for environmental concerns,  the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by rising water.  and hints of corruption during construction,  and finally safety concerns about catastrophic dam failure.   The dam has stopped frequent devastating floods which had killed tens of thousands of people in the past.

I can
The 3 Gorges locks
It is a very tight fit.  The trip up the locks took 3 1/2 hours.
The river guide taught us a basic mahjong game.  The ship had one or two daily land excursions and nightly entertainment.  Food was excellent and they served a wide variety of local and western dishes.

The crew sign on for 9 month tours of duty,  7 days a week.  They do get some shore time but not much and not long enough to return home to see their families.
Of the 185 passengers this is our small group of Westerner
When the river guide found out I was a licensed ship captain he got me an invitation to view the bridge ( pilot house ).  I was surprised how simple it was but I guess a river boat may not need all the sophisticated equipment an ocean going vessel would require.
Before the advent of motorized boats the only way to go upriver was manual labor.  Gangs of
The boat tracks are just above the high water mark.
After our Yangtze cruise we flew to Guilan.  The area is a big tourist destination for the Chinese.  We only had one short day and night and would like to go back.  We ate our first roast goose meal here and it was excellent.  To my taste much better than duck.  There is a long winding lagoon in the city center where locals and tourists congregate. The walkway must run for miles and hosts many street vendors and performers,  small cafes, and locals dancing in harmony to traditional music.  We have seen people , mostly women, dancing in many parks we visited in China.  It is a form of socializing and relaxing with your friends,  new and old.
From Guilan we took a day cruise up the Li River.  It is very touristy and when we arrive there were at least 50 boats and many hundreds of people.  I thought this will not be a good day but it was excellent.  Each boat only takes about 50 people each with assigned tables and seats,  air conditioning inside.  Lunch and snacks were included and the guides gave running commentary in English and Mandarin.

Once we left the dock the boats were spread out and the scenery became expansive.  The river winds through miles of mountainous terrain,  past small villages, and locals working the river.  The trip lasted about 4 hours and was worth the modest cost.
These  mountain peaks were the model for the design of the 20 Dong note
These guys would tie up alongside our moving boat hoping to sell us a few items.
Harvesting
The Li river trip ended in Yangshuo where we took a 2 hour bike trip through the countryside then a cooking class with a local school.  Our local guide and cooking instructor first walked us to the local market to show us what was available,  what it was used for,  general cooking instructions.   We had previously selected what dishes we wanted to learn and they had obtained the ingredients earlier.
She warned us that food options were included non traditional foods and gave us the option of bypassing part of the market.  But we are adventurous and forged ahead.   Every imaginable edible item was available...
From frogs
To dogs !!  and lots in between
We picked chicken.  I
 Last stop was short stay in Shanghai,  the most modern city in China.  Our guise
 The Shanghai Pearl Tower is the visual center of the thriving city.
The Chinese love their glass walkways
Located in the basement of the tower is one of the best museums we have visited.  Mostly life size reconstructions of early life in the city predominate.  I could have spent many hours here but time was limited.
The Empress would be carried along in this highly decorated conveyance by her servants.  We never could find any opening or door that would allow entry.  It must have been very hot and claustrophobic inside.
 The Peoples Great Hall in the back ground.

These few photo
 
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