Who Stole Christmas? We
04 December 2019
We stopped in a cafe yesterday here in Penang, an island city of nearly two million off the west coast of Malaysia, to catch our breath and escape from the oppressive, steaming, equatorial heat and humidity. After I'd unfortunately told the attractive young waitress that, while pointing at her badge, I thought Barista was a lovely name and ordered my mocha choco cappuccino, no froth, with sprinkles, moy caliente, no straw, in a mug, I got to wondering what is actually going here in Malaysia. A former British colony, after we'd no doubt bled it dry, we, the Brits, very generously granted them independence. That was back in 1957. Since then, under their own steam they've created an economic powerhouse. The Silicon Valley of the east. It's certainly light years economically from pretty much all the Indonesian islands we visited. Quite a culture shock. That and the baubles.
You see, for us, obviously, it's the run up to Christmas. Anne has had the Lifeboat cards shipped out and spends the evenings interrupting my busy schedule by asking "should we keep sending to the Bloggs?" and other folk I'm afraid I've long forgotten.
Anyway. It is clearly Christmas here. Gaudily lit giant plastic trees, giant Hello Kitty snow scene balls - like the ones you shake and snow falls down over the Empire State Building or such like, only here, Chinese kids and their grannies are inside. There's all the festive drinks at Starbucks......Winter Warmer Gingerbread Coffee...... it's thrifty five flaming degrees outside and they're peddling Winter Warmers for goodness sake. The malls are playing all the kitsch Christmas tunes although I have to say, old Noddy has yet to be heard.
It is all a bit weird though. According to Wikipedia, 62% are Muslim, 20% Buddhist and yet, with only 9% Christian, Christmas is absolutely huge.
At least, for the retailers.
Sing or Ring?
25 November 2019
What do you get if you throw unlimited millions of dollars at a small Asian island?
Singapore apparently. All shiny, glittering architecturally splendifferous buildings sat on pristine streets, some oxygen giving green spaces and its cooling, bar lined river. New York or London......... but without an atmosphere. Sterile. Sorry to the majority who loved it, but I'm afraid, we just didn't "click". All just a bit too clinical, but maybe I should have given it more than the few hours we had. Or maybe not. Caviar before swine and all that. Or maybe I've not got used to being brought back to earth from our exhalted, Indonesian super star status. I mean no one, not a single, solitary person in Singapore asked for a selfie with me. Outrageous.
We were berthed across the Johor Straits, a few hundred metres of dirty brown river, from Singapore in Malaysia's equally shiny Puteri Harbour Marina. The Puteri Harbour marina was surrounded by tower blocks comprising, we were told, fifty thousand apartments, all empty, all silently awaiting the completion of the rail link from oop north Malaysia to Singapore. Malaysia's grand plan to get a share of the Singapore dollar was, or is, to create the opportunity for folk to "earn in Sing', spend in Ring". Ring being Ringgits, Malaysia's currency. All that was needed was a slick commuter rail system. Only problem is, the rail link, depending on who you talk to, is either stuck in a political siding somewhere or been totally shunted off the "to-do" list. Somewhere there's probably a Fat Controller making a few bucks maintaining the status quo, keeping the dosh in Singapore. Gotta keep the funds coming in to keep the chewing gum ban enforced.
Getting to Singapore from Indonesia was interesting. The nautical equivalent of making a dash across a six lane freeway. On crutches. We made an early start. However, we might as well have been teleported as, after four months in the Indonesian archipelago where things were, shall we say, a bit rustic, landing amongst the high rises, neon lights and restaurants where you got such fancy things as a knife and fork and where beer cost more than a few baw-bees, it was quite the culture shock. Nice as it was, I'd take Debut, Bau Bau, Tifu or most of the other amazing places we visited in Indonesia over modern city life anytime. All these poor folk in blue suits, the uniform of the oppressed, striding purposefully, iPhone in hand, no doubt doing all these incredibly important, mission critical things that once seemed so important.
Ha! Try squeezing into a slot between a bunch of bulk carriers all doing fifteen knots. None with brakes.
Indonesia- Part 3
23 November 2019
Are We There Yet?
13 November 2019
I loved my old granny. She was a bundle of mischief. "Gran" lived with us for a number of years while I was in my teens and during that time she'd impart her years of wisdom in bite-sized, manageable and understandable chunks that parents somehow couldn't manage. Like how to wash your hands. I can still feel her cool hands on mine as she scrubbed of the muck and nicotine stains of an adolescent. Probably younger now I think of it. Things like how to thread a needle. Invaluable now we've hundreds of square metres of sail above us.
When I'd get back from the school dances (for background, check our "Secondary Waltz" by Mark Knopfler") Gran would ask, " Did you get a click?" which I trust is self explanatory. If not, c'mon folks.....work it out.
Well, Sail 2 Indonesia has been a series of "clicks", (and snips but we'll not go back there)......what, with the people, the kids, the locals, the village elders, the government dignitaries, the volunteers and the hard core rally bods who've made it to the end it's been one long series of clicks.
The difference between this dance, Indonesia, and those of my youth is that I finally got a "click". As I've said before, I didn't much want to come to Indonesia. But how wrong was I. We clicked. I really can't think of anywhere else where we've felt so welcomed.
It's nearly four months since we kicked off in Thursday Island after slogging our way over two thousand miles from Tasmania, three thou if you include our lap of the place, We set off for our cruise through Indonesia way back in July heading out for the islands, All seventeen thousand islands of them. Fortunately we skipped a few. I don't think either my waistline or my liver could have handled more than those we touched. And I didn't even want to come. Alaska had been an idea but it was too far. News Flash - In the end, we've covered about as much ground anyway. Indonesia is a big country. So much for passage planning. But at least it's not cold. Quite the opposite in fact. It's absolutely sweltering and hitting mid thirties most days. So hot I've gone Asiatic and have taken to wearing a man-skirt. Short and al-fresco if you get my drift. Very Scottish. It's highly practical from an air flow perspective. Less so from a climbing into the dinghy perspective.
If you don't hear from me for a while, please arrange bail money.
The Faff to Reward Ratio
01 November 2019
Some will have read, and perhaps a few will remember my piece on Stuart's amazing, patented Scunnerometer. Well, here's another, this time, of a mathematical persuasion, "The Faff to Reward Ratio".
For non Scots readers, to "Faff" is to mess around uselessly, frustratingly and ineffectively in pursuit of the execution of a seemingly important task.
Examples of an F:R Ratio would be......
- cooking a meal following pretty much any recipe I've ever seen. First, collect assorted volumes and quantities of about twenty eight different ingredients. Next, slowly fold six of these into a Pyrex bowl, put in fridge and leave overnight. WHAT THE? I'm hungry NOW! Apparently, the following day, assuming you've remembered you were actually creating this culinary masterpiece, you spend another four hours mixing, grinding, folding and seasoning before stuffing it all in a pan for a few hours. Serve and eat to clean plate in about four minutes thirty seconds. This is a very high F : R Ratio
- Passage Planning. This is a critical element in getting ones' yacht from A to B. Times, distances, tides, ETA, hazards and more need to be factored in. However, part of the way through the fairly straightforward process you see a feature on the chart you hadn't noticed before, perhaps an island, or someone's AIS signal. "That looks interesting" you think, and off you go to see what depth there is around this island, one that's usually miles off your route, or just where that AIS is going. "Oh look. Anne, this one's going to Shanghai. And only at six knots. That's going to take a while. Nearly two weeks. Imagine". And so, faffing about, a few minutes effort turns into hours and the ratio soars.
- Now. Diving. I originally got my PADI ticket so I could clean the hull and change the anodes. Down to two metres at most. The dramatist in me also had visions of diving to the depths to free a tangled anchor, fighting off various sharks and sea monsters with a six inch knife, carried, SAS style on my calf. When I'm not dreaming, my dive record is made up largely of faffing around at one point five metres scrubbing weed and barnacles. Even at this modest depth, it was immediately apparent that diving, like cooking, has a high F : R Ratio. First, hunt around about fourteen lockers looking for all the diving paraphernalia you haven't seen from one years end to the next. Work out what goes where and how to clip it all together. You then wrestle a tank of air that weighs a ton and will undoubtedly sink you like a stone, straight down until you hit the bottom and an early watery grave. However, i've always fancied building my experience and so when a post on the Rally WhatsApp said some were going for a wreck dive I thought, "that sounds cool", completely forgetting diving is an extremely high F : R Ratio sport. It took about an hour to find all the gear which, once gathered, had to be humphed into our dinghy.......to transport to another dinghy, to humph again into an ageing, slightly converted small fishing boat. My five chums had passed the site of a wreck the previous day, put a waypoint in their phone's Navionics and, with X marking the spot, we headed off into the blank ocean. After about thirty minutes we realised the phone was back on the big boat. Not to worry, our local driver knew this place like the back of his hand. It only took an hour of driving around in circles, our hero peering into the horizon trying to line up features a guy on the beach once told him about. But he'd since forgotten. Technology prevailed and we got through to base camp, got the coordinates and our man chucked the anchor over the side. Right on top of the wreck. You then clamber into all the gear and pitch yourself over the side. My new diving pals were in their element and skooshed straight down to twenty metres. I thought I was going to die. In minutes, I was back on board mentally drafting a Scuba Gear For Sale eBay advert. Perhaps four hours faffing for ten minutes in the water. That's an F : R ratio that exceeds even my brother-in-law's cooking.
28 October 2019
Technical nautical question here. Is stopping for a piss up on the equator the same as New Year?
Fifteen stalwarts of the Wonderful Sail 2 Indonesia Rally parked up on Neptune's boundary line, north one way, south the other. In the middle, me, plain dizzy as a mix of Caroline's Bowmore and Indonesia beer made it through the line. Julie from Sly Blue Eyes was our First Footer.
For whatever reason, experienced sailors abandoned their hulks, anchored mid ocean in twenty metres and swam across the equator......most clutching a wee bevvy.
To top it off, we had a bacon and egg roll.
Ye cannae whack it!
Hey, Hey With The Monkees
24 October 2019
I never did tell you about our monkey trip up the Kumai River, which was, after all, one of the highlights of the Indonesia trip.
Now, normally I'm not that into wildlife. I mean, generally speaking, one has to go to quite a lot of effort to see it, traipsing up hills, through bogs, usually in steaming heat or pissing rain when, it's all instantly available on YouTube or an Attenborough series. Even more pointlessly, if or when you finally get in front of whichever wildlife you're after catching the merest fleeting glimpse of, you take a thousand pictures of this tiny spec of flesh and bone capturing mostly trees and twigs when again, a quick Google search will bring up stunning photos of your desired, photographic prey.
There's people on this rally, who should remain nameless, although attired in long trousers tucked into even longer socks, they really ought to be named, or at least given some guidance on sartorial elegance while stalking their feathered friends, who can tell wee birdies apart just by the sound of their squeaks. Me, I just separate them
into Number Ones - Big Birds and Number Twos - Wee Birds. Why complicate things?
Anyway, in groups of four to eight we all went through the fairly pointless task of negotiating our luxury river cruises to see the monkeys, orangutans crocodiles and any other beasts of the Forrest. A good number of the local fishing fleet have learned pretty quickly that by converting their "Klotoks", pointy fishing boats, into luxury cruise vessels, they can make a somewhat better living, in more comfort by filling the old fish hold with tourists rather than fish, at anything from two and a half million to four or five, depending on how gullible the tourists are.
Now, I'm fairly hardened to the negotiating tactics of unscrupulous people. I spent a career dealing with them. However, over the last months, the Indonesian people we've met have given us everything and asked for nothing and off we went to arrange a tour with the "official Rally representative". It was only later we found we'd paid more than what seemed to be the going rate so negotiations were re-opened, a discount agreed and after a brief tour of our cruise boat, we did the deal.
Next morning, different cruise boat turns up. Not as large or as luxuriously appointed as the one we'd seen, but what the hell.....and off we went.
Now, keep in mind we're in Indonesia and the cruise ship is an old fishing boat. Dispel any images of P&O or Danube cruise ships. Instead, think old garden shed, liberally painted in whatever garish colour was on offer, then add another shed at the back to act as the outhouse and shower block and another accommodation shed on top. Fortunately these Klotoks don't go too fast and the river wasn't too windy as I'm pretty certain there were no stability tests to see how far it could lean to the point of no return. And no holding tanks. Take twenty Klotoks of say four crew and four tourists for one or two nights........ eating curry. I shan't labour the point but we didn't see many fish.
The accommodation was sparse. The top deck for the tourists, laid out during the day with a table and four chairs, wooden slatted benches or sun loungers or, if you were lucky, bean bags. Below decks in the dark, steaming heat and bilge water, was the galley and crew accommodation. As it should be.
At night, while we Muppets were being walked through the jungle in the dripping, pitch black looking for anything
G living the guide could find to justify the added value "night hike", the crew transformed our day deck into, mosquito covered boudoirs, each punter getting their own memory foam mattress. Unfortunately, my mattress remembered the size and shape of the last guy that was in it so I won't say it was the best nights sleep I've had. Among the most expensive, but not the best.
Finally getting to the point, (it's been a slow morning) we visited the Orangutan reserve and each of the three "feeding stations". These are large wooden benches set in the middle of the jungle where the tourists sit on a few rudimentary benches to gawp at the monkeys trying to see how many mangos they can stuff in their mouths at one time. If you've watched babies and young children eat you'll get the picture.
It was all rather exciting. First the walk through deepest jungle, then, at the gawping station, we'd sit in silence presumably while the apes combed their hair and anxiously checked their watches, pre-performance before making their appearance. Ever so dramatically.
First, there'd be the rustle of leaves and branches high in the canopy. Nikons and Canons would swing from the hip to firing position in milli-seconds. But again, only silence. Next, another rustle. This time from stage left. Nothing.
Then, "look!" and way up high an Orangutan would be spotted. Gawping down at the tourists and no doubt looking for the two guys carrying the sacks of mangos, sugar cane and other ape-tisers. (Get it?). And then there were two. And three. All, swinging through the trees in a stunning show of balance, agility and , even for these big hairy lumps, grace. I've seen it before on Attenborough , YouTube and the Tarzan movies but it still came as a surprise to see how they swung from limb to limb through the canopy then hand over hand, all four of them, they'd down climb the trees to the grub. Once there, depending on how bold the ape was they'd either pull up a seat, lay out their cutlery and napkins and proceed to gorge themselves to a standstill. The more wary would stuff four or five mangos in their gob and shoot back up a tree, one handed, as the other hands were clutching more mangos, then sit and chow down. Then repeat until all the food was gone. They'd then pack up and leave. We did the same, back to Klotoksville, a cup of tea or a beer, a stunning Indonesian meal on the upper deck as we cruised back down the river, through the deep jungle, monkeys on every tree.
Worth every Rupiah. However many of them it was.
15 October 2019
Borneo. What does that conjure up in your mind? Jungles? Biggles' war time exploits, trials and tribulation? Great apes? How the heck did we ever end up here?
Whatever, Borneo is a big contrast to the other Indonesian islands. For one , it's relatively flat. At least, on the south coast where we made landfall. We'd come to see the monkeys. Well, Orangutans actually.
These endangered beasts (stop eating Palm Oil based products folks) live in the jungle a few miles up a side river from the town of Kumai and its neighbouring city of Kanjung, or was it Pankalan? Kumai isn't much. Just one long street with the usual small shops and shacks flogging anything as long as its wrapped in plastic and litre PET bottles of petrol for the thousands of scooters that whiz by all day every day carrying everything from planks of wood, jerry jugs of water to the whole family, dad driving, nipper number one behind, then mum. Lastly, smaller child number two, is stood in front, between dad's arms, sometimes stood on a converted bike seat, hanging on for grim death spitting flies and bugs. I call them the airbag children.
To get to Kumai we first had negotiate our way through a huge fishing fleet, thirty two boats around us at one point on all points of the compass. Another Custer moment. All of this in the dark of course. Blowing thirty five knots of course. In torrential, blinding rain. Of course, but oddly, there's no fishing port here. Where the fleet goes we never found out which is a shame as they were amazing. All shapes, colours and sizes, their bows curled up way above the waves like a pair of Egyptian slippers. And all painted like an explosion in a paint factory.
According to the pilot book, it was a miracle we got to Kumai at all. First, it has a bar entrance, my favourite, "least depth 2.1m". The writer goes on, "Approach from S. As the entrance narrows......stay 200m off the beach. As you cross sand spit, make a hard turn to port. At point C, make hard turn to starboard". Which we did. Nerves jangling, eyes straining into the murky water trying to will more water under the keel until we broke through and breathed a sigh of relief. We were in. It was therefore something of a surprise on arriving at the anchorage an hour later to find numerous hundred metre long oil and gas tankers, bulk carriers and multi-deck inter-island ferries all of whom apparently had to hurl their bulk through the same twists and turns that we in our tiny boats had to do. Sometimes I wonder if the folk that write these books do it from the comfort of their living room with a Google Earth picture and maybe a wee puff or two on the wacky backy.
From the river, as we approached Kumai, the waterfront looked very industrial with its tankers at anchor and large grey buildings lining the main drag. It turned out these grey buildings were "rookeries" ( if they'd been rooks, that is. They were in fact swifts, hundreds flying around gobbling up any winged insect careless enough to be out in the daylight.
It turned out this was the source of Birds Nest Soup. I'd always thought that was a euphemism. Surely folk didn't actually eat birds' nests. I mean, as a kid I used to poke about in the garden hedge each Spring looking at the nests and new chicks. All twigs, old feathers, spit and crap. But apparently it's the spit and crap that turns twigs and sticks into a delightfully tasty dish. Mmmm. Yummy. Haud me back. A thousand dollars a kilo mind you. All bound for China. Which is a relief.
Before heading for monkey town we headed for the market to re-provision. Kumai has a "Traditional Market". (See Gallery - Shopping). We've become used to, or is it hardened to these markets, both a visual and olfactory experience. Lots of old ladies sitting around in their stalls selling today's veggies, hopefully newly plucked from their allotment, or simply hoicked out the jungle. Their wares are displayed in little pyramid shaped piles of six or so, five thou a bunch. Fifty if they see you coming. Fruit, veg, spices, nuts, rice, fish and things that look like chickens, it's hard to tell what's beneath the squadrons of flies, all laid out on bamboo tables. You can possibly even buy an old lady, as later in the day you'll find them laid out on the display table. We picked up a few things then, having heard of the Hypermarket Citimall in the nearby big city, we hired a car and driver and off we went......,in twenty minutes, from shacks, dirty grey birds nest soup buildings, old ladies flogging a few pathetic bananas, to a first world, bright shiny, marble shopping destination.
If you couldn't make it up river to see the monkeys, for a few rupiah you could ride a wheeled one around the mall. Tempting.