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.
Pass Me My Dufflecoat
09 October 2019
One of my readers commented the other day that she quite liked my piece on Jerry Maguire. And so, to continue the movie theme, how about Notting Hill? No, not the bit where Spike admires his bum in the mirror after opening the front door to meet the press. The part where Hugh Grant is at the movies with Julia Roberts.
Our few days on the island of Bawean brought us to a whole new level of disorganisation. Trips and events were on. Then they were off. Then they were back on again. Our interpretation was that there was a bit of rival in-fighting going on between the hands-on folk and "the committee". It sounded as if a bunch of politburo folk in an office just off Red Square were pulling strings to keep the tourists in line while trying to carefully stage manage all aspects of our visit. And failing. If only they'd asked me.
Anyway, we had a look around the place, had a bit of a nosh and the compulsory "social dancing" - as we now know it's called. It seems mandatory that the punters dance with the local trad dance act. Dire. The other evening we added another dimension, social, if not political karaoke.
The head honcho of the district and his Minister of Tourism took the mic from the group's lead singer and for perhaps half an hour, it seemed longer, much longer, gave us their best renditions of Bawean and Johnny Cash country classics. Dire. However, if you managed to escape the dancing it was an opportunity to catch up on all that vitally important stuff you needed to do online, you know, finding out if Donald had bought Greenland yet or if Boris had proposed to the Queen.
The trip to the now-it's-back-on Gala Dinner was a challenge in itself. All the cruisers packed onto the backs of flat bed pick up trucks. All good for the first ten minutes but then, and apologies for bringing up bums again, but if like mine, it's a bit on the bony side, it really began to hurt. If you were at the front there was always the option to stand, AK47 toting, Mogadishu guerrilla style. This also brought challenges as it's mango season and the trees are dripping with the things. Dripping down over the road to just about forehead height. Glance away from the direction of travel for a second and you're likely to get a mango smoothie right in your face.
We survived the last dance and the mangos and at dawn, made our escape, bound for monkey town, Kumai on Borneo, where for a modest fee of a few million, you can get aboard an old heap, think African Queen if you remembered the movie theme, and spend one or two days going up the river into the jungle to watch the orangutangs. More on that to come but I can tell you now, they better be good; riding mono-cycles and making cups of tea type thing.
Meanwhile, we were out in the ocean, picking our way through the dozens of fishing boats, thirty two all around just us at one count. The movie "Custer" did come to mind. Then it started to rain. And blow. And big sparky things. Then it really blew. The wind went from about ten knots to thirty and thirty five in about ten minutes, complete with blinding, horizontal driving rain. And of course, it was pitch black and somewhere out there was the fishing fleet. And so, doing my Hugh Grant, Notting Hill impersonation I donned my snorkelling mask and stood for an hour peering into the murk looking like a cross between a WWll destroyer captain and dear Hugh. All I was missing was a duffle coat.
It's not all beer and skittles out here y'know.
If You Can't Stand The Heat....
02 October 2019
The Island of Bali is the tourist hub of Indonesia. It's the place the islands we've visited envy. All desperately want to emulate Bali's success in building a profitable tourism industry. The Bali we saw in our brief three days there (even Japanese tourists take longer to go round it) has dance, hot springs, the monkey jungle, more temples than you can throw an incense stick at, beaches and discos all set to entertain tourists while emptying their wallets and credit card accounts. Not that it's expensive here. On the contrary, it's still possible to get that proverbial meal for two with a drink for just a few quid. However, as we've not paid for grub for most of the trip, our generous island hosts knocking lumps out their budgets and our calorie allowance, paying for a Nasi Goring still hurts, although mostly just hurts those from Yorkshire and Aberdeen. (Nasi Goring - Indonesia's traditional dish of fried rice and assorted stuff topped with a fried egg, (although I always thought Nasi Goring was in charge of the Luftwaffe). Anyway, most days the temperature is well into the thirties and so, what do we do? Get out the kitchen? Oh no. We sign up for a traditional Balinese cooking class.
Frying in oil seems to be quite the thing, blackened woks clanging and bubbling as assorted variants of Tofu, whatever that is, get fried to a crisp along with veggies and of course, chilli, just to make sure you don't get a wee cold while having the cook and tasting session. If only I'd had a Mars Bar.
I'd expected Indonesia to be hot. But not chilli hot! Walking up the beach from the dinghy is like a routine from Riverdance, hopping from foot to foot like a cat on a hot tin roof. Fortunately it's but a hop, skip and a third degree burn to the bar in Lovina's Sea Breeze Hotel
We landed at Lovina Beach on Bali's north end, in time for Festival week. Bali is pretty well known world wide as a party town, where nightclubs keep the place jumping twenty hours a day and hotels line the "strip". Tanned yoof surfer dudes, mainly from Australia, pour their hard earned cash into the coffers of the local boozers always looking for ones that show Australian Rules Football. Scantily clad girls look into the windows of Chanel and Hermes. Mystified and confused Chinese visitors look into their mobile phones.
Geographically we were about as far away from that scene as we could get, up in the north side of the island. The place where the Yoof and scantily clad girls go when they've traded their surf boards for a Volvo, bikinis for something loose fitting that apparently is more "comfortable to wear", six packs for the effects of six packs, a job, mortgage and two point four kids. (That'll learn 'em).
Lovina isn't exclusively reserved for the old and crumbly. There's a smattering of back packers and the occasional Chinese. Looking into his phone. Our visit was timed to coincide with the Lovina Beach Festival, an event I suspect the town council developed to extract tourists and their cash from downtown Bali.
Lovina doesn't quite have the infrastructure yet, just a few modest hotels and backpacker lodges but enough tat shops to satisfy the hardest tat collector. What it does have though is the equivalent of Trader Joe's or Waitrose, albeit at Harrods prices. And it's air conditioned. When we weren't in there pretending to shop but actually just cooling off, we were either touring or at the festival which was also attended by a smattering of tourists and several thousand locals all gathered on the beach in front of the sound stage to watch traditional dance, modern dance, gamelan gong playing, this xylophone type instrument played with metal hammers, each sporting a flat and a pointy end making me think the players graduated with joint degrees in music and geology. There was amazing Hindu dance, all jerky movements, extreme make-up and wild eyes, some scary Hindu monsters and, to my acute embarrassment an old white bloke, dragged on stage and waggling his head, bum and fingers in an utterly pathetic attempt to copy the primo dancer. Where's Martina when you need her? Or indeed, coordination.
22 September 2019 | Video: Sailing Stella Australia
From time to time we amuse ourselves by imagining we're on a cruise ship, P&O, Royal Caribbean, Carnival or such like.
"I'm just going to book a massage then pop into the all-you-can-eat-breakfast-panorama-restaurant". That kind of thing.
Well, a couple of days ago we signed up for a rally optional cruise. Not a Carnival Cruise. More like a Circus. The all inclusive grand swim with the whale sharks trip. (See www.TormentBigFish.com).
It actually sounded quite good. A ride out to the whale shark base in a traditional wooden boat, swim with the sharks then an onboard breakfast before returning to the yachts. And all before breakfast.
"Before breakfast". That was the bit I didn't quite lock in.
"We'll pick you up from your boats starting at half past two". Now, when I were a lad that would have been easy. Just lay in enough booze and potato chips and have a wee party 'till the boat arrived. It's been a while since I partied 'till dawn and then went out in a boat and I'm pretty sure I could still do it but, as there weren't any takers it was early to bed.
Bbbuzzzzzz goes the iPad. 02:30 FFS.
"WHO'S DUMB IDEA WAS THIS?".
As we had a big platform, and as it earned a few minutes extra kip, we'd volunteered to act as base ship so that our mini-cruise boat could converge on Time Bandit where thirteen or fourteen of us waited in the pitch black. The now familiar sound of "putt-putt" reached across the water and after negotiating the raft of rubber duckies hanging off our transom, neatly stopped a few inches from our back step and we all clambered aboard.
Deck chairs? No. Restaurant? No. Definitely no massage but definitely a good feel for how boat loads of illegal immigrants must feel.
And, so, ear plugs in to drown out the raucous putt-putting we all found a space to lie out and it was OK, as long as you didn't mind someone's foot in your left ear and salt water spray in your right.
Nearly two hours later, during which time I'm sure the putt-putting got louder, we slowed to a halt beside a Spider Boat*. "Seen any big fish about?" says our captain. Negatory. So off we went to the next spider boat. "Seen any big fish?" "Nope".......and so it went on for another half hour.
Finally, we struck gold. Or rather, fish. Fins and masks donned, like a bunch of lemmings we jumped up from the comfort of our planks and leaped over the side of our cruise ship and swam about looking for our six hundred thousand Rupiahs worth of fish watching. Nothing.
Then, just as we were thinking we'd been diddled, swimming about mid ocean in the early dawn with nothing better to do than rub, admire and wonder what anti-foul these boats use - clean as a whistle - this leviathan of the deep appears out the murk and, ignoring twenty Muppets in wet suits and budgie smugglers, (the foreigners), brushes silently past in his quest to suck up any loose plankton or indeed, skin cells from ageing cruisers.
This wasn't my first brush with a whale shark, the last time, off the Galapagos, ( https://www.sailblogs.com/member/timebandit/388754 ) when one was about to nibble my feet and Anne screamed at me to get out the water; which I did much like a submarine launched Trident missile. However, that one I hardly saw in my panic. This one? So close you could smell it's breath and exchange Selfies.
We all swam around with Sharky for half an hour then he disappeared as quickly as he arrived no doubt wondering why tourists ALWAYS have to pee in his pool. We in turn hauled ourselves back aboard heading for the "breakfast included" which was; One loaf of bread that made American bread taste unsweetened among fifteen or so and one small jar of peanut butter.
"Sorry. No knife" says our host miming like an orchestra conductor that his waiting diners should scoop out a serving of lightly salted smooth peanut butter with an extended index finger and spread it onto one's miserly allocation of bread. By the time this all-inclusive breakfast got to me I'm A) praying there's enough left 'cause I'm starving and B) fervently hoping none of my fellow cruisers is a nose picker.
Do You Smell Burning?
18 September 2019
It's hard to avoid the smell of burning out here in the Indonesian archipelago. If it's not grass, it's corn. If not corn, maybe rubbish although most just lies in the gutter. Right now it's the dry season and the farmers seem to be burning off their fields, presumably in preparation for the coming "Wet". Or maybe they just dropped a fag end while out looking for a missing goat. Either way, the hills are smoking away all day.
To a degree, smoking hills are a bit of a worry around here as, back in 1851, the main island of Sumbawa, which is actually a volcano, blew its top and its ash cloud gave rise to the global phenomenon, the "Year With No Summer" although in Scotland I'm not sure we would have noticed.
However, just being aware that we're sailing through the Ring of Fire it can be a bit disturbing to see all this smoke around so, bang on cue, pun intended, there was a grumble and after checking it wasn't yesterday's gala dinner, we looked up to see a pretty big plume of ash and smoke billowing into the sky as the island reminded locals and passers by of its presence and, more importantly, its geology.
Volcanoes apart, it's all been pretty much run of the mill Indonesia. Gala dinners, water buffalo riding, manta ray dodging, Komodo Dragon watching, not that they do much, just eat one buffalo every three or four weeks then just lounge around in the sun posing for tourists. Or maybe lying in wait.
Indonesia - Part 2
11 September 2019
11 September 2019 | "Jerry" and The Minister
Did you ever see the movie Jerry Maguire? Young Jerry works for a company managing sports stars. Or rather, in his opinion, the business simply milks the sports stars, more interested in profits than their clients' wellbeing.
Well, overnight during the annual company conference Jerry (aka Tom Cruise) has an epiphany. The company's mission should be to put the sports stars, its customers, first. Not dollars.
Highly motivated, wee Jerry writes a paper advocating this major strategic change, has it printed in the wee small hours and drops it in the mailbox of all his colleagues. Exhausted but with his conscience clear, convinced he did the right thing, Jerry retires to bed.
Next morning, he awakes with a start, horrified at the thought of what's he's just done. Career suicide. He tries but fails to recover the documents but, too late, they're in circulation, the damage is done.
Still with me?
Well, back in Selayar, the tourism ministry asked that the rally participants, for we are now well and truly, "rally people", to pass on some feedback as to how we found our visit to the island. Any suggestions as to what the Ministry might do to help build their tourist industry would be welcome.
Well, woken by the call to prayer, yours truly had his Jerry Maguire moment and over an hour or so, put my thoughts on paper and at the Gala Dinner handed this over to the Minister of Tourism. He was delighted to receive it and we had a few selfies together. (Me and the Minister. You know!!).
Fast forward forty eight hours and we arrive in Lubuan Bajo, the first "westernised" tourist hub we've seen in Indonesia. The first clue things were different was from maybe fifty miles out. Having spent the hours of darkness, reefed down and sailing along cautiously, the almost complete absence of FADS, the bamboo fish attracting devices the local fishermen put out to ensnare passing yachts and from which they fish at night seemed a bit odd. No FADS. No fishermen. Hmmmm.
However, once ashore in LBJ, all was clear. No smiles, no waves, no "selfie, selfie mister". No nuthin'. Completely ignored as we were just another pair of white folks amongst the dozens of rag- tag back packers from Australia, France and UK all on a dreadlock holiday apparently driving a successful and thriving tourist business.
Every second shop was flogging tour trips, all the fishing boats having been converted into authentic Indonesian "gulets" or whatever they call them. Every other shop was designed to extract cash from the tourists, bars, trinkets, dive shops. There was even a Starbucks.
For the last six weeks we've been treated like royalty and rocks stars. Here we're Prince Andrew and the Bee Gees.
If the Minister of Tourism in Selayar is reading this, be careful what you wish for! Suggest you bin my paper. Stay as you are. We really liked it.
But how selfish is that? Make $100 taking some tourists to an island beach or spend the night in a wildly tossing FAD or "putt-putt" to catch a few fish and then get screwed at the market but still able to allow a few passing yachties the opportunity to see genuine local culture?
I know what I'd do.
Better re-write that paper.
06 September 2019
I don't think I've ever actually had one but I clearly remember, during our annual family summer holiday, my mum and dad getting very friendly with people in the same hotel or maybe in the adjacent beach hut......the tiny wooden shacks lined up on Brodick beach where blue skinned, mildly hypothermic children could recover and save their parents from appearing on the front page of the Glasgow Herald, under the headline, "Giffnock couple accused of child neglect".
These friendships, cemented over salty morning porridge and evening G&T's would often carry on for months afterwards, sometimes years and result in visits to each other's homes and the mutual exchange of letters and Christmas cards for decades until one party, one year finally realised they actually hadn't a clue who Fred and Irene were.
Well, out here in Indonesia, we've made so many new best friends it's just not true. It's as well we have Facebook as otherwise it would have cost a fortune in postage stamps.
In each of the Rally ports we are welcomed ashore by the local government officials, village elders, appointed English speaking guides and photographers, some flown in from neighbouring islands and even from as far as Jakarta and, as in Selayar earlier this week, the local Scout troup. Our guides then discretely accompany us everywhere, translating as we go, helping us navigate to and around the local traditional markets ensuring we get the best deals and highest quality fruit, veg and fish and entertain us with impromptu karaoke presentations.
As I mentioned in a blog a while back - it's hard to believe we've been here nearly six weeks now - I never really wanted to come to Indonesia. I'd pictured it as just another version of the Caribbean where, on some islands in my experience, the only interest the locals have in tourists is how much money they can con you out of before opening time. What I'd have missed if we'd skipped or blown through the eastern part of the archipelago.
Mountainous scenery, luscious tropical rainforest running down to the sea, white sand beaches, absolutely crazy traditional markets where amongst the mayhem, literally you could buy anything, non-existent road traffic laws, extravagant feasts, newly and specially built pontoons and dinghy docks for the rally, mountain villages where some of the inhabitants possibly haven't seen a tourist before. Not that that's such a bad thing but everywhere we have been genuinely welcomed with the full red carpet treatment making us feel like royalty and rock stars rolled into one. Throughout all this, our guides quietly, unless they were on the karaoke mic, added to every experience with their polite questions, answers, direction and translation.
And so, come departure night and the gala dinner attended by senior political figures, local chiefs and dignitaries, our guides would be shaking hands, hugging and taking a thousand selfies as the short lived holiday romance drew to an imminent and tear filled end. In a modern day version of my mum and dad's exchange of addresses and promises of "we must do lunch" and the prospect of an unending supply of future Christmas cards, Facebook invites and email addresses would be exchanged, final waves given and off we'd go, into the dark in our dinghies, back to our boats and the next Rally destination.
That's how all the visits have ended. It's all been quite emotional I can tell you, even to this cynical git. During the last stop, we were joined ashore by the local Scouts and, as an ex Scout myself, or maybe just to avoid another ten thousand calories that the villagers made available four times a day, I ran some impromptu English language classes and had a ton of fun with the Scouts and guides, although I'm not entirely sure they'll ever find a use for, "Wee sleekit, cowrin, timorous beasty, Oh whit a panic's in thy breastie".
Anyway, having said our sad goodbyes, as a few of us made our way out to the dinghy dock, our way lit by the torches of our accompanying guides, out of the dark, two of the young Scouts from my posse, Imran and his pal, nervously approached me and in their best English said they had something for me and to test the stoicism of your author, pressed a note of thanks and a gift into my hand. What lovely people.
As a final parting gesture, and leaving, I hope, another indelible memory (until the dementia sets in anyway) as we are perhaps the least organised, we tend to leave last. Yesterday, as the fleet was upping anchor and leaving, we took a final run ashore for a final explore and hopefully a coffee. No sooner had we set our feet on terra firma than two of the guides appeared. Their boss, the Minister of Tourism, had seen us coming ashore from his office window and despatched the two girls to make sure we had everything we needed. They then led us to the market, haggled for our veggies and joined us for a farewell coffee.
What lovely people we've discovered here. And to think I nearly skipped it.
If any of our new best friends read this. Thanks. You've all been absolutely wonderful.....but don't expect a Christmas card!
(More pics in Gallery)