Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lightning and Frozen Cows

Current Location: Telaga Harbor, Langkawi Malaysia

Current Position: 06 21.72 N 99 40.77 E
Next Destination: Thailand

We learned rather quickly that the area surrounding the equator from Indonesia through Malaysia has some of the highest concentration of lightning strikes in the World. They started as we approached Borneo, right after our buoy weather forecast reported SEVERE for its prediction of potential lightning. It's the only time we've seen that in four years. The lightning usually starts in the late afternoon, after the land has heated the air through the day and caused it to rise into huge thunderheads. We arrived in Borneo just as the first rains of their monsoon season started.

We actually enjoyed the cooling effects, and walked out in the open while the locals ran for cover. As the rains continued, so did the debris that came floating down the river. As we left the Kumai River we passed by several mini islands that had broken free from the river's edge, some even included full-grown palm trees. The biggest downpour occurred while we were at Serutu tucked into a small cove. The rain came down in buckets and this time the island was much taller than Billabong so we felt protected as the Lightning flashed all around. The rain stopped just as the sun was rising; yet we heard this continual rushing sound. It took all day for the water to rush down out of the hill, which didn't have a large surface area. I even heard a couple of landslides as we walked along the beach. It was littered with HUGE hardwood logs that must have been driven onto the beach during the NE monsoon season. Some were easily six-seven feet in diameter and would have easily sunk Billabong if we hit them at full speed.

Lightning and boats just don't mix, you've got the built-in tall metal object and plenty of low-lying ground surrounding you.. uggh. We had a couple of nasty storms during our two-night passage to Kentar. Part of the problem is you never really know where the storm is. I keep trying to dodge them with radar, and trying to find the center by figuring out where the down burst is coming from but sometimes there is nothing you can do. You just put your electronics in the oven and hope you don't get hit. Supposedly the oven has the effect of a Faraday cage, but I'm not really sure if it will do much.. why? .. Here's some fun facts about lightning that I read in our Discovery Channel Weather Book, AFTER a particularly bad night.

1. At 54,000 degrees Fahrenheit it is the hottest thing on earth; sometimes a channel of lightning can reach temperatures that are six times that of the surface of the Sun.

2. It can easily burn holes in most metals and can explode a large tree into hundreds of toothpick size bits (hmm wonder what that'll do with fiberglass?).

3. The average thunderstorm unleashes more energy than several Hiroshima size atomic blasts.

4. The thunderhead can expand upwards at over a hundred miles per hour and can reach altitudes of over 22,000 feet in the tropics.

5. Florida gets the most lightning in the states while Indonesia gets more than twice as much; more than two hundred storms a year.

6. Downdrafts can accelerate and hit the ground like a bomb sometimes reaching speeds of over a hundred miles an hour.

7. Useless tips for sailors:

Stay indoors with windows closed and avoid plumbing fixtures (yeah right!!)

Avoid tall metal objects and crouch close to the ground. (Last time I checked our mast is usually the tallest thing around and it's not like I can take it down).

As a last resort pick the shortest tree of a group to stand under (uh huh!!)

They're all about as helpful as the first aid class we took which suggested we stabilize the patient and dial 911, no chance of that out here.

The one thing I've never heard land people discuss is the intensity of the light and the thunder. More than once I have been temporarily blinded after getting caught off guard by a close lightning strike. It usually turns the darkest night into the brightest of days in a millisecond, while you are squinting through the darkness to make sure you don't get run over by a freighter. We've seen strikes land between us and a neighboring boat that was only a half a mile away.

This season we know of at least five boats that were struck by lightning in this area. One boat had the VHF antenna land sizzling on deck after a strike, while others lost all electronics, computers, etc costing over $30,000 worth of damage. Other boats suffered damage and they weren't even hit directly, the EM pulse from the lightning caused most of the damage. I've heard horror stories of thru-hull fittings melting the fiberglass around them and falling out causing the boat to sink out from under the people on it.

We had over 20 storms pass through Singapore in the month we were there. A couple strikes landed in the marina, you could tell just from the difference in the sound. It's kind of scary when you get to know lightning so well. The Malacca Strait is notorious for Sumatra's that come blasting across the straits, full of squalls and lightning. A couple of boats that left before us got hit everyday. We only ran into one bad storm just south of One Fathom Bank. Luckily it came from behind, we had our sails down, and we had just passed the main shipping lane into Kelang. It was just as the sun was setting and this huge black cloud came against the wind to envelop us. We had over forty knots, and the sky turned the eeriest green I have even seen. Four boats behind us got stuck in the middle of about 20 freighters at anchor along the coast. One heard two fishing boats discussing how they would pass port to port, when the sky cleared he was stuck between the two of them with less than 100 feet to spare. Yikes!!

"It sounded like someone dropped a frozen cow on the foredeck"

Our worst storm was between Gelam and Serutu and lasted about four to five hours. We were traveling with Island Sonata and maintained minimum contact during the heart of the storm. As it approached the thunder would shake the boat from miles away, you could feel it through your feet. At one point I was down below when the world turned the brightest white I have ever seen. Sort of like those movies when the aliens come to take you away and they light up the world. The blast that followed a split second later was nuclear; I have never heard anything like it in my life. It felt like the boat moved sideways or that we hit something in the water. I ran up on deck thinking that for sure we had been hit. After realizing we were spared I called our buddy boat, thinking that it must have been them that got hit. Nope all was fine there too. John, an old farm hand, described it perfectly (if you're from Kansas), "It sounded like someone dropped a frozen cow on the foredeck".

Continue reading "Lightning and Frozen Cows"...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Passage from Singapore to Langkawi

420 Nautical Miles
6 Anchorages
1 night at sea.. lots of shipping traffic

Our route from Singapore to Langkawi

Continue reading "Passage from Singapore to Langkawi"...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Two Geeks - free Internet .. see what happens after months without it!!

Singapore at Raffles Marina

Next Desitnation: Langkawi, Malaysia

We apologize to those who regularly come back to our BLOG only to find the same ol’ piece still sitting there. We promise that from this day forward we are going to make an huge effort to be more consistent and to post BLOGs more frequently. Let us take a moment to tell you what we have been up to … in essence our excuse for not posting anything in awhile.

First, you may not have realized that we actually host two other websites – both of which we have been slaving over in the last three weeks. We have pretty much spent the entire month of November attached to our computers; updating, changing, and putting in some pretty cool stuff (and least we think so). Here’s the skinny on these other two websites and what’s new…

Creative Cruising Concepts: This website is mostly dedicated to people getting ready to sail offshore or do some long term cruising. While written from our perspective, two sailors in the middle of nowhere, much of the site is also applicable to people looking to land travel. Traditionally this site has contained information about What Works and What Doesn’t Work in the traveling/cruising life. It also contains some good fishing tips for sailors. New to this site are links to specific products (in our customized a-store hosted by, and links to affiliates (merchants) whose products we use and like. These additions really make CCC a great place to go for information and guidelines on gear and gadgets. This site contains an abundance of information ranging from Home Brewing Kits (beer!) to GPS units to laptop computers to camera gear and more. Whether you are looking to cruise, travel, or just curious about what type of electronics we find useful (given that we are just a tad bit geeky), we think you’ll find this site useful.

Sail Billabong: Our Sail Billabong site is our main personal website. It contains lengthy journals and hundreds (perhaps thousands) of photographs. We try to update this site whenever we reach a main port with decent Internet. This BLOG is an extension to Sail Billabong, providing journal tid-bits in-between our more extensive website updates. New to Sail Billabong are some fun interactive maps (thanks to Google technology). With these maps you can zoom and pan around the world, following our track, and use the place marks to view our journals and photos.

At the end of 2016 we migrated our SailBillabong site to this blog and migrated some of our mapping technology to google My Maps (see sidebar)

Custom Apparel: In addition to joining the e-commerce world via links to products and affiliates, we have designed some custom cruising, travel, and environmental apparel & accessories. Get shirts, canvas bags, and aprons with Sailing or Go Green designs. You can check out our Zazzle gallery here, or link to it from our other websites. And all this is just in time for the holidays, haha!!!

If you’d like more information, a good place to get started is our Help Us Help You page, which has additional details on what we are doing and why, with links out to the supporting pages.

And what’s next? Well, Billabong will finally be on the move again come this weekend. We will quickly travel up the Malacca Straits to Langkawi, and then on to Phuket. We’ll post a BLOG next week, so stay tuned!
Continue reading "Two Geeks - free Internet .. see what happens after months without it!!"...

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Passage Borneo to Singapore

645 Nautical Miles
7 Anchorages and 3 nights at sea
Crossed the equator for the 4th time
Lot's of lightning and a frozen cow on the foredeck

Our route from Borneo to Singapore

Continue reading "Passage Borneo to Singapore"...

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Moped Madness

Blog Location: Lovina - Bali, Indonesia
Blog position: 8 09.69 S 115 01.18 E
Current Location: Gelam - SW Borneo, Indonesia
Current Location: 2 52.21 S 110 09.08 E
Next Destination: Working our way towards Singapore

Ever since we've arrived, I have been fascinated with the
Indonesian's flexible use of a standard moped or scooter. First
of all there are literally thousand of them, buzzing around like
flies on $%#@. Standard road rules don't seem to apply. Our huge
tour busses, complete with Police escorts, have been passed by
faster scooters and we've almost run the occasional slacker off
the side of the road when they didn't get out of the way. And
just because they only have one seat, that doesn't prevent the
typical Indonesian husband from carrying his entire family on
one bike. We have often seen large families of four or five
people on one scooter; the husband is the only one wearing a
helmet of course! Most scooters carry multiple riders, and most
women ride side saddle.

The commercial use of a moped is incredible; I didn't realize
the things that can be carried on this two-wheel mode of
transportation. I have seen an entire bakery, and vegetable
stand built right onto the back. When we stop in remote places
and get our jerry cans filled with diesel, they usually end up
carrying three cans and two people on each scooter. In Kupang I
had to look twice as someone passed carrying no fewer than 50
live chickens, hung upside down on poles, spread lengthwise
across the seat. Can you imagine the poor chickens on the end?
Hanging upside down as a bus or bemo passes within inches going
the other way! I guess the chopping block is the easy was out.
While we were in Bali John swears he saw a huge marlin carried
the same way with the bill sticking into opposing traffic.

But I never had a real understanding of the true madness until I
spent a couple of hours walking around the busy city of Kuta in
the early morning rush hour. There are no rules. Ok maybe one
simple one; if you actually look where you are going, someone
might notice and make you responsible for the accident that is
bound to happen. I also think the horn plays a very important
part of the intricate dance between cars and scooter; something
like "I honked and let you know I was here, so it's your fault
if you get hit because you knew I was there." I'd need a little
more time to figure that one out but based on the amount of
noise bouncing back and forth, it sure sounds like it's a matter
of life and death.

As opposed to most countries were the pedestrian has the right
of way, all bets are off here. Many times I would cross a street
at a stop sign only to have a scooter almost run over my toes,
as they pretended not to see me. I don't know, maybe all
scooters are missing brakes that allow them to stop completely.
One-way streets are only for cars, as I found out crossing a one
way tourist street and almost getting creamed by some old fart
on a scooter who swore at me (at least it sounded like it) as
the locals laughed. Sidewalks are also optional places for a
scooter; if something happens to be impeding your normal
progress down the actual street a nice toot and anyone actually
using the sideWALK for walking is obliged to dive out of your
way.. Bloody foot traffic.

The big city is the first place I actually got to observe the
interaction of a scooter with a traffic light. It is as if
someone placed a cut of fresh meat right on top of the stop
line, with all the scooters rushing forward to get closer to the
scent. Sometimes they get so excited they flood into the
opposing traffic and sidewalks. It gets so busy you lose sight
of the cars at the light.

In Indonesia they drive on the left (i.e. wrong) side of the
road, but that doesn't seem to prevent scooters from using
whatever multi-national driving rule might suit them. Say for
instance that you are approaching a stop sign or traffic light
and you are going to be turning right into the crossing street.
Why come to a complete stop, necessitating a foot to be put on
the dirty ground, when you can cut onto the adjacent sidewalk or
the right most side of opposing traffic until such time when you
feel it is safe to cross onto the correct side. "Safe", in this
case, is not defined as empty. Because remember, if you don't
look at the huge truck which is in the lane you are attempting
to enter, it's not actually there. Safe only means that you
don't get hit crossing the lane of traffic you are not supposed
to be in the first place.

Time after time we were amazed by the "don't look no problem",
philosophy of car/scooter interaction. We screamed as our driver
slammed on the brakes to avoid a "merging" scooter. Our driver
just looked at us and laughed, shrugging his shoulders. The
lonely scooter rider seemed to be a little more cautious than
the one carrying his entire family. It was as if there was some
invisible force field protecting each person and the more people
you carried the safer you were.

When Warren and I drove a scooter I was amazed at how many
people or things backed out and pulled in front of us. We had a
horse drawn cart back right out in front of us as we almost
drove off the road to avoid it, and he was looking straight at
us when he did it. It was almost as if we needed a sign or
signal that said, Hey we are tourists and we don't understand
all the rules.

If you are ever planning going to Bali, don't rent a car and
drive yourself. The drivers are cheap, act as good tour guides,
know all the good stops, and certainly understand all the hidden
rules. Oh, and don't EVER even think of hiring a scooter. Your
insurance company and you mother will thank you!!

Continue reading "Moped Madness"...

Monday, October 08, 2007

Orangutan River Trip, Kumai, Borneo

October 4 - 8, 2007
by KT (w/ much input from Chris)

There are some experiences in life that you really never expect.  During such times it's easy to be in a state of disbelief, and afterwards it's hard to believe it was real and impossible to describe to other people.  Traveling up the Sekonyer River in Kumai was one such experience.  Observing the orangutans of Borneo easily makes our top 5 list (of things done since we started cruising), and there is no doubt we will be talking about it well into our 80's!  But while the orangutans were the highlight, it was the trip as a whole that made our tour such a magical experience.

We boarded a small local boat with four other cruisers (Steve & Gayla from Ariel and John and M.J. from Island Sonata).  It was a narrow double-decker equipped with a small head (toilet), sleeping mattresses, galley (kitchen) and hand-cranked inboard (engine).  Guiding us was a driver, a cook (Eddie), and the guide/captain, Jeni.  In addition, a "boat boy" was left on our yachts for security while we were away ... it is an odd feeling to see a stranger hanging out in your cockpit as you drive away!

Navigating through the muddy brown river with multitudes of debris floating down it (sometimes what look liked entire islands), with green dense river palms, pandanus and other flora edging into the water, and a humidity level so high that your clothes stick and sweat beads upon ever surface of your body, really sets the mood for a wildlife jungle trip.

 In total it took us about 3-1/2 hours to journey up the river.  Along the way Jeni tried to point out some of the various trees, birds, and a crocodile or two!  We were also keeping a sharp lookout for monkeys, especially the long nose, proboscis monkey.  Jeni explained that they (Indonesians) often refer to the proboscis monkeys as Dutch monkeys because of their large noses and sometimes call them "Jimmy Durante" noses (hey he said it, not me ... I don't even know who Jimmy Durante is!).  When we first sighted them, we were amazed at just how large the nose is ... I was expected large, but not like this ... at least not on a monkey!  The females get off lucky though, as it is the males who grow the real honkers, with the females sporting much more petite noses.

As we traveled up the river Jeni pointed out that the saltwater palms we were seeing earlier were gone, a sign that we were now in fresh water.  About 8km from Camp Leakey (our first stop) we turned, heading into the cleaner part of the river (as it doesn't get the runoff from the gold mines), and a much more narrow part.  There were times when our long boat barely fit through the growth on the river's edge.  We were now fully into the Tanjung Putting National Park.  The park contains over 3,000 sq km of swampy terrain.  In addition to the well known orangutans and the bizarre proboscis monkeys, the park hosts seven other primate species (including one lesser ape, the gibbon, and five monkey species), over 220 species of birds, two species of crocodile, dozens of snakes and frogs, clouded leopards, sun bears, mouse deer, and on goes the list.  Needless to say, we were in for some good wildlife viewing!

We arrived at Camp Leakey for the afternoon orangutan feeding.  Camp Leakey is one of the camps and orphanages setup to study and protect the endangered orangutans as well as the national park.  By providing a supplemental feeding, they keep the orangutans away from the local farms, where the farmers kill any ape or monkey found feeding on their crops.

The first thing we are told as we make our way towards the camp is to not touch or feed the apes ... while some are more used to humans, they are still wild and should be treated as such.  This was a bit of a bummer, because Chris had high-hopes and dreams of holding hands with a orangutan, or perhaps teaching them a little high-five!  It was also duly pointed out that while female orangutans are a meager (ha!) 4 times stronger than humans, the males are a mighty 8 times stronger!  These are not animals you want to mess with!!!  With all this in mind you can imagine our shock, initial fright, and ultimate delight it what occurred next ...

First, there is something unique and wonderful about being around animals of any sort, in their element, in the wild.  You can't beat the authentic experience, or the wee-bit of adrenaline rush you get, knowing that this is their turf and if they felt like it they could take you!  So when Chris and I first turned the corner and there, in the middle of the path, we spotted our first wild orangutan we both nearly jumped up and down with excitement.  We followed the ape, at a safe distance, into the camp, where we were further delighted to spot another large female high up in the trees, and a cute juvenile swinging around the camp kitchen trying to find a way in.  We were enamored and probably could've stayed, watching just these three apes, for hours, but our guide led us on, encouraging us to come view the Gibbon apes (as the Gibbon's are less frequently seen).  The Gibbons are beautiful creatures, with thoughtful, mature faces.

While we were enjoying the Gibbon apes, a female orangutan approached from down the path.  Everyone got excited and cameras clicked away (we made the paparazzi seem tame).  We thought she would veer away as she neared, or perhaps stop, but she kept on coming. Nervously, people began to shuffle slowly backwards, just not sure what to do with this gal, or how close to let her get.  At this time I was sitting (better photograph angle), and I struggled to get up so I could make a run for it, but right about the time I was ready to flee, she flopped down, rolled over, and laid back ... mere feet from where I sat!  She looked over at me, and then up at everyone else, quite content to pose and accept her fame!  It turns out that this girl is Sweswi and she was raised by the orphanage, and therefore is very used to people and tends to be a bit of a ham.  Everyone took turns posing with her ... but beware because if you got to close she would try to unzip your bag or sneak a peak into your pocket!

 After she had her fill of fame, she ambled over to the 'banana shack'.  This is the building where the camp rangers keep the banana stores for feedings.  The rangers keep it locked tight so that the apes can't get in, but locking isn't enough.  They have had to fortify the building because the males have literally ripped the roof off to get at the food!  They have a special door lock;  two holes in the side of the building where you push in a stick and slide it over, in sequence, in order to trip the lock.  Originally they had a single hole / trip system, but it didn't take long before the orangutans figured it out.  As if to prove the point, Sweswi dug out a stick, stuck in the bottom hole, jiggled it around, then hopped up and gave the door a push.  She seemed to have such a sad face when it didn't open, and to further emphasize her disappointment she flopped back to the  ground and look at us all upside down.  Standing, I turned my head upside down in order to take her photo, and I swear she smiled at me as I imitated her!  A few minutes later the ranger made his way to the the shack and Sweswi's attention immediately went to carefully watching him as he triggered the locks and entered the building. The minute he was in, she hopped up and made a beeline for the door ... grabbing Chris' hand  and tugging him along the way!  Chris couldn't believe it!  He laughed and smiled as he (along with our guide Jeni, who she had snagged with her other hand) walked with her into the shack.  Moments later Sweswi ran from the shack carrying a full load of bananas; a bunch in each hand plus one in her mouth.  Chris followed her out beaming ... he had got his dream and held hands with an orangutan!  Sweswi had a bit of difficult handling so many bananas, and ended up dropping a bunch, which Chris was kind enough to bring over to her.  We enjoyed watching her eat them, one at a time she peeled them, then kind of scraped them lengthwise with her teeth -- very peculiar!

Back up the path another bunch of apes were hanging out; Princess and two of her children.  We left Sweswi to her eating and ventured along to watch the mother and her two children.  The youngest child was still of age where the mother carried it everywhere, the older child old enough to be about on its own, but still young enough that it followed its mother wherever she went.  The baby was a curious and hyper little guy.  He (or maybe she) would climb all over princess then drop to the ground and run around a bit, rolling and flopping like a child with ADD!  He was very interested in the cameras, coming up multiple times and reaching out to touch (or in some cases bite) the lens and lens caps.  It was quite a funny sight -- until Mama Princess felt a little protective and pulled the little fellow away from one of the tourists, waving her arms at the nervous human as she did so.

 At some point, Princess noticed a backpack sitting up by one of the cabins.  She every so casually sauntered towards the bag, but she wasn't sneaky enough because one of the rangers saw her and came running waving a stick and yelling.  Apparently it was a bag full of bananas for the feeding and she was just going to help herself!  She didn't much like the ranger not letting her have the bag and she imitated his movements, yelling back at him and waving her arms ... but she backed away.  Princess, by the way, is a very famous ape, having made the National Geographic magazine when she was just a wee baby (right photo)!

 All this action and we'd hadn't even been to the feeding yet!!!  The feeding took place 2 kilometers into the jungle.  A small platform had been setup and the rangers put out buckets of milk and piles of bananas, while calling "yoooowww" into the forest to let the orangutans know it was food time.  Then we just sat back and watched.  Man-o-man it was soooo cool!  We sat there for almost two hours, watching various apes come and go, and getting a feel for the variety of personalities;  from dominant-subservient interactions, to various eating and drinking styles, and some playful activity amongst the younger apes.  What really becomes apparent as well, is the intelligence of these primates.  We watched as one female decided she didn't want to share, and grabbed one of the buckets, carrying it up to the tops of the trees with her.  A bit later, tired of holding the bucket (and baby), she set it down in the V of a branch, but before letting it go completely, she kept one finger on it, gently testing it to see if it would balance, then repositioning the bucket, until at last she fully let it go and it balanced.  Another female decided there was too much competition on the platform and approached the ranger (and his jerry can full of milk) directly.  The ranger shouted her away multiple times.  Finally she threw her arms up in the air (as if in frustration) and stomped off into the jungle .... only to appear a few minutes later, stealthily trying to sneak in from behind the ranger!

We learned a few other things as well ... One, orangutans (at least the females) are afraid of the wild boars, and we witnessed more than one ape running as the boar chased it down.  Two, the "who-uh-who-uh" noise that I always thought apes made, is totally wrong (at least for orangutans).  First they make a kissing noise, "smoo-smoo", followed by a kind of deep grunting type noise, "unh-unh" ... I tried duplicating it, but failed miserably!  And the third thing I learned is that the majority of apes do NOT peel the bananas and eat them one by one.  Rather they cram as many as possible into their mouths (sometimes pushing out the insides from the peel, sometimes peeling them with their hands, and sometime sticking peel and all into their mouths), then they mush it around until they get this big 'ol ball of banana muck, that they sometimes spit back out into their hands and then proceed to nibble at.

As the apes thinned out we headed back to the camp to visit the information center and sign the guest book.  While sitting on the deck outside the information center, a female came by and sat in the grass in front of us (almost as if she was being social and joining us), and then proceeded to give her baby a very good nit-picking; flipping and flopping the baby all over the place!  As we were walking past her to leave, she reached out to Chris, grabbing his arm, and trying to pull him towards her!  Jeni came to the rescue getting her to release Chris and we continued back to the boat.  (That's TWO times Chris got to make contact!)

Chris and I were ahead on the boardwalk, talking excitedly about just how cool of a day we were having when we came around a tree and noticed a HUGE male lying on the boardwalk in front of us!  YIKES!  This guy was monstrous, and we would have to walk right past him, within his reach, in order to get back to our boat.  It ended up being a non-event as Jeni escorted us one-by-one past the big guy, but, WOW, what a moment to be so near.  We learned that this was the old king, just recently ousted by Tom (who we didn't get to see), the now new king.  Apparently this guy hadn't been around for awhile, most likely avoiding Tom.  Jeni and a few of the other guides commented on how much they missed this guy; almost near tears ... really showing the type of bond they develop spending so much time in the jungle.

None of the males that had shown up at the feeding had been this large nor had the huge faceplates, so we were thrilled to see him.  The faceplates only grow on the males, as they get older and with an increase in their hormones.  They serve to make the ape appear larger and more dominant, and help to attract females.

He wasn't hanging alone, just a few yards away, looking over the dock at the boats, was his girlfriend.  She curiously (and slyly) tried to go through anybody's pockets who got too close.  The next day we heard that the boat who stayed tied to the dock had their bags swiped from the boat (without hearing a peep) and found their contents strewed throughout the jungle ... everything opened in search of something good to eat!  Sneaky guys those Apes!

Back aboard the boat, we moved down the river just a bit, where we 'anchored' for the night.  Anchoring consisted of throwing a tire into the dense bushes at the edge of the river.  Ahhh, if things were so easy on Billabong!  We expected that spending the night up the river, on a local boat, would be a bit like camping ... that we would be roughing it.  Our time aboard "The Spirit of the Forest" was anything but rough.  The meals rate in the top two of all the meals eaten "out" in Indonesia and the drinks were cold!  We were continuously catered to by our boat crew, who were not only helpful but informative.  The atmosphere was serene, peaceful, and exotic, with monkeys chattering in the background.  We slept on a covered deck, with a mosquito net hanging down over us, and the sounds of the night engulfing us.  We even got to take full-blown showers ... really it doesn't get any better than this!

The next morning, after waking up to monkeys chattering in the trees overheard, and watching them nibble on berries  (all without getting out of bed), we attended another orangutan feeding, this one taking place back down the river, at Pondok Tangguy station.  Here the apes were a bit more hesitant around humans.  The first male ape to show up at the feeding area, stayed high up in the trees for an extended period, watching us and the forest to make sure it was safe.  Then he swung down, quickly getting to the platform, jammed as many as thirty bananas into his mouth, then swiftly retreated back to the trees where he suspended himself between branches while eating the bananas (he actually spit all the bananas he had stuffed into his mouth back out and then went on to peel and eat them).  Once he had devoured his score he would repeat the process. About the third or fourth time you could tell he was a bit less hesitant of us, as he would linger on the platform for longer.

An hour or so into the feeding a large, dominant male showed up.  All the other apes cleared away, hovering around the perimeter, while he played king of the mountain on the platform.  Only one other female dared come up with him.  Well, we found out why he let her share his stash, as when he was done eating, he flipped her over, gave her a quick smell, and then proceeded to 'get it on' with her!  As you can imagine, we were just a bit shocked, but what could you do but watch the ape porno!  We all tried to muffle our laughter (as to not disturb the moment) when the female, still during 'the act', grabbed a banana and continued right on eating!

We returned to our boats still laughing and thinking, "wow, ape sex, now there's something you don't see every day!".  We continued back down the river, stopping at the Pesalat reforestation center for a short hike.  It was wicked hot, with about 100% humidity, and we had just pigged out on another outstanding lunch, so we didn't make it very far, but we did get to see a bit of the forest, and work off some of the lunch.  We all got a good laugh too, when M.J. freaked out as a leech tried to attach itself to her ankle.  I was reaching down trying to get it before she noticed, but wasn't quite fast enough.  Next thing I know she is moving around yelling, "get it off get it off".  I replied, "I would if you would just stop moving!".  All ended well as Jeni swept in and removed the leech ... which, by the way, was barely 1/4 inch long!

The third orangutan feeding we attended was at the Tanjung Harapan rehabilitation center.  We spent another hour watching the apes, still in awe and not the least bit bored or tired of them.  A few bigger males showed up ... and not too quietly.  It was a bit eerie to hear branches breaking and see trees bending out in the jungle, and know that 'something' is coming (kind of like the jungle scense from the TV series LOST)!  And it's a bit nerve racking when a large male appears, running from the jungle, from BEHIND you!  Luckily he could care less about us and was only interested in the food on the platform!

 We didn't want to leave, but the sun was setting and we still had a fare trek back down the river to our boats.  As we made our way home, the setting sun turned the river red, rain fell around us, and the sky lit up as a lightning storm crackled to life above us.  As the sky darkened the trees around us twinkled and glowed with thousands of fire flies.  It was the perfect end to a perfect journey!
Continue reading "Orangutan River Trip, Kumai, Borneo"...

Friday, October 05, 2007

Fun with the Orangutans Video

One of our most favorite events of our adventure! We visited the Tanjung Putting National Park in Kumai (Borneo), Indonesia. The Orangutans were captivating to watch!

Youtube Video

Continue reading "Fun with the Orangutans Video"...

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Monkeying Around

Blog Location: Tanjung - Lombok, Indonesia
Blog position: 8 22.02S 116 07.06E

Current Location: Lovina - Bali, Indonesia
Current Location: 8 09.69S 115 01.18 E
Next Destination: Kumai - Borneo, Indonesia

After our road trip via "Monkey Road" I couldn't stop thinking about the monkeys and how cool they were. I woke up the next morning and decided I had to go back for another visit. After a quick discussion with Warren on Mico Verde (which means "little green monkey"), I had found my partner in crime. I loaded up all our camera gear (video and still) and we jumped on a moped for the hair raising ride to the top of the ridge where most of the monkeys were hanging out.

We came fully prepared with stale crackers as to not disappoint any of the alpha males; a whole cracker would make any of them happy (I found out earlier that a single peanut after giving them a handful REALLY pisses them off). I set up the video camera to film a family in their element and walked over to take some photos of Warren. I guess the crackers aren't high on the list of common monkey food because the first thing they did was smell it. They were so gentle when they take the cracker from your hand, and their hands are just like mini versions of ours. Some of the smaller monkeys would come rushing in while the bigger alpha males were busy chowing away. There facial expressions were priceless; So expressive!! After a while one male decided he would just sit there and keep taking the crackers. I decided to keep them coming just to see what would happen. After he filled his mouth, left hand and right hand, he sat down with his legs in front of him and started sticking the extra crackers in between his toes. I gave up after he had slotted four, he was too smart.

After about fifteen minutes, we became one of the gang. The baby monkeys came out and would eat crackers off your knee, and let you pet them. It was awesome thing to be a part of. We got to experience how they interact with each other. I watched one mother grab a cracker then try and fend off her baby by swatting him away. After a couple of attempts she finally grabbed him by the back of the head, looked him straight in the eye with a very angry face and scolded him violently. We watched others as they picked nits from each other, taking turns on who was the "nit picker". One baby monkey walked over to the tripod and looked up at it from the bottom, trying to figure out exactly what it was ... when he couldn't figure it out by looking alone, he gave it a little nibble - quickly learning that it wasn't that tasty!

We watched as one monkey tried to get some seed pods that were locked inside a plastic water bottle. The cap came off instantaneously but the pods wouldn't come out. He shook it upside down, and finally got so frustrated he held it in his feet and ripped it apart with his arms (maybe opposable thumbs on our feet would be a good thing, wonder why we got rid of those). They walked very easily on just their hind legs and it was funny to watch them jump like a basketball player when we put the crackers out of reach. Warren had a smart female that would only approach him from the rear. Once he was distracted by another monkey she would rush in and grab the bag of crackers from behind. One time she practically ran up his back to get at the bag.

The relaxed positions were so human like; Sitting on a branch with one leg extended and the other bent and held with an arm or sitting with legs crossed, both legs extended forward hands on their knees. It was so neat to watch. We saw fights, courtships, and even some monkey loving. The teenagers act appropriately and rough housed and jumped on each other. The younger adolescents bounded from tree to tree in their endless playground. The elders sat around, using stumps for stools, watching all the mayhem, just shaking their head. They even had variation in appearance; Some had mohawks, others a grey moustache and the real older ones had full beards. Babies swung under their mothers hanging on with a death grip with all limbs.

Warren and I really becoming one with the monkeys, something I had been looking forward to since I saw my first wild monkey here in Indonesia. I was off filming and Warren sat down to have a little chat. I snuck up behind him to hear .. "So what exactly do you think about the expression spanking the monkey?". Maybe we were getting a little too close.

I could have stayed all day, but after a couple of hours we decided we should return to the "real world". I don't think they were sad to see us go but the troop rushed to defend their territory as others came to see what was happening. We left as a huge gang war erupted in the forest.

Continue reading "Monkeying Around"...

Friday, September 28, 2007

Paradise Found

Blog Location: Tanjung - Lombok, Indonesia
Blog position: 8 22.02S 116 07.06 E

Current Location: Lovina - Bali, Indonesia
Current Location: 8 09.69 S 115 01.18 E
Next Destination: Kumai - Borneo, Indonesia

Eastern Indonesia is known for it's crappy anchorages. They are either too deep, too shallow, too rolly or are on a shelf that goes from forty feet to a thousand so if you drag you are royally screwed. Some of the better anchorages are full of locals used to boats who circle the boats in canoes and ask for money, clothes or cigarettes but don't offer anything to trade. On the northern shores of the islands the winds are dominated by land and sea breezes; Sea breezes kick in once the land has heated up enough and draws the wind toward the center of the island, NE breezes on the Eastern shore, Northerly in the middle of the island, and the North-west or westerly on the western side. We had left a nice anchorage in the reef at Gili Luang and tried to sail all the way around to the Gili's on the North western side. During each leg the wind was ALWAYS 10 degrees too high to sail. I kept thinking it would be perfect once we bore off twenty degrees for the next leg. We finally ended the last leg with 20+ knots on the nose..uggh you can't win.. if you get wind you usually can't use it!!

We pulled into a bay just east of the more exposed Gili's. I noticed immediately that we were in 50 feet of water and we still had a mile to go.. it was looking promising. We settled into the sheltered bay in 40 feet, with good holding (sand) and protection from almost all directions except due north. No shelf, just a couple of boats and there is a HUGE resort off the north-east side of the bay. Five star resort golf etc ... we were definitely getting to the more touristy sections of Indonesia. The locals weren't used to boats but were very helpful and willing to go out of their way to help. Fuel deliver to the beach was only 2 cents more per liter than the pump price and there was a nice little resort that was happy to have cruisers.

The Medana Resort was true paradise. After a walk around a local village, through the coconut trees (turn left at the cow), along a bamboo berm and over some large stones we arrived at the side gate. The resort had a beautiful landscaped pool, lush tropical gardens, cold beer, cheap fantastic meals and ice cream. We met the owners Steve and his Indonesian wife Resti, who were fantastically helpful and even arranged to have the immigration people come to the resort to pick up our passports to extend our Visas. Visa extensions by the pool.. yes!! We spent the first day just hanging out under the gazebo which hung over the pool. Cool drinks, lunches served, ice cream for desert; all a quick flop away from the pool water. The girls were there from 8am to 7pm and the boys spent the whole afternoon. Dinner was also fantastic. The resort only has six vilas and only had one couple staying there at the time of the cruiser invasion. Jim on Blue Sky.. Now know as "Big Mouth Jim" had enthusiastically described the anchorage to one boat on the radio. From what I hear it was a 10 minute marketing spiel and the radio is never just one on one so we returned to the anchorage with 25 boats.. but it wasn't over crowded.

We hired a driver to take us into the city to do some shopping at a real grocery store. Along the way we stopped along the Monkey Road. Here the wild monkeys come out of the hills and gather on the side of the road. You can feed them and they literally eat right out of you hand. I was feeding a big alpha male a hand full of peanuts, and he took the whole thing. I thought that this was going to go a little fast so I handed him three. He looked at my offering and bared his fangs.. holy crap they have big teeth. "Fine be that way".. so I handed him two.. now he bared his fangs and moved at me quickly. I jumped up but stood my ground. "Now you only get one".. He took it and decided that he needed to show me he was the boss.. after eating his measly peanut he chased me down the road. I didn't have on any shoes and he was coming on rather fast so I chucked some peanuts over my shoulder as I ran.. I could see him thinking.."White guy or peanuts".. luckily I escaped to the car with everyone laughing hysterically at my predicament. We stopped further up with a more tame group of monkeys and no overly aggressive alpha males.. I guess this group was smart enough to figure out who butters their bread. We had a great time interacting with the monkeys.. they were so human like. Anyone who thinks we aren't descendants of monkeys only needs to spend a little time with them before changing their minds.

The city tour was ok, with a big local market even though we had some annoying locals who followed us around harassing us and then wanted to get paid at the end. We actually ate KFC for lunch at the mall and then went shopping in the grocery store which actually had sections.. you know vegetable, meat, dairy.. unlike most of the grocery stores we had seen to date. We even got to buy a couple of Toblerone bars for our sin bin!!

When we returned to the anchorage there were now 35 boats, and I was a little nervous about staying for dinner at the resort because it was such a small place. Resti and the staff handled it amazingly well. They took dinner orders early and asked what time you wanted it served. At the specified time you sat down and got your fantastic meal. I'm not sure how many dinners they served that night but I know they filled the restaurant three times and it went like clockwork. The next day, as the new arrivals dealt with filling tanks with fuel and water and arranging rides to town, we enjoyed the pool and cold beers and ice cream ... not necessarily in that order. One day I even went ashore while KT worked on the computer -- because I could!! I wasn't sure how I was ever going to get KT back on the boat.

The last day I was walking around the grounds and I came across a small local boat buried in the ground as a flower pot.. it was named Paradise.. and I had found it.
Continue reading "Paradise Found"...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dragon Tails

Blog Location: Rinca Island, Indonesia
Blog position: 8 39.11 S 119 42.82 E

Current Location: Lovina - Bali, Indonesia
Current Location: 8 09.69 S 115 01.18 E
Next Destination: Kumai - Borneo, Indonesia

KT and I had both read a little about the Komodo Dragons and we were very much looking forward to the experience. We left Labuan Bajo for the quick motor-sail to Rinca (only Rinca and Komodo have easily accessible dragons). We anchored in the narrow bay off the park headquarters and decided to stumble ashore to arrange our dragon trip the next morning. As we got out of the dinghy I noticed a large dragon sitting under the entrance sign trying to get some shade. At first KT couldn't believe it was real because it was so perfectly situated, almost like a carving. After we cautiously passed the dragon we had a bit of a walk to get to the headquarters. We passed hundreds of monkeys on the way. They were a little skittish and had a well defined buffer zone (of how near they would let us get to them before running off), but they were fun to watch.

We talked to a guide and got some information about the available morning trips, and then he pointed us towards the ranger cabins and the dragons just hanging around the place. We got a chance to follow a HUGE 3+ meter (10 feet) dragon down a trail. Their walk is very macho; they swagger with leg muscles flexed and sway their entire body, easily taking up the walking trail designed for two people walking side by side. They are awesome.. this is not just a little gecko steroids. They have massive claws and large teeth but the scary thing is their saliva. A Komodo can easily kill a small deer or pig in one fight, but a huge water buffalo is a different story. They bite the water buffalo, usually in low hanging places like the bits, and then come back later. The bacteria is so septic it causes blood poisoning and kills the buffalo in a couple of days. The rangers told us a story of another guide who fell asleep and let his arm droop down. A dragon took a bite and it took two trips to the hospital including a one month stay to get him right again... YIKES. Needless to say we were excited for our trip.

We started early at 7:00 to stay out of the heat of the day. From the start the inland of Rinca has a very Jurassic feel to it; High volcanic mountains, fossil cliffs, dry plains and watering holes. We spotted our first dragon in the "Dragons Nest", where we came upon a female tending to the various holes/caves they the lay their eggs in. They only have one which they actually use and the others are used as decoys to keep the cannibalistic elders from eating the young. The female lays 15-30 eggs and they hatch in 8-9 months. Once born the young dragons spend their first years living in the trees (eating bugs and geckos for food) because the larger adults can't climb them. This female was doing a lot of digging as were a number of nearby, strange looking flightless birds ... both were kicking up a huge cloud of dust.

We walked through a thick blanket of trees, filled with monkeys and smaller lizards. The lighting and sounds of various animals created a very eerie uneasy feeling. As we were walking across the savanna we came across numerous water buffalo skulls, propped up on stones by the guides. It literally looked like we were walking into the Jurassic wild. Dragons hunt by waiting next to game trails and pouncing on the unsuspecting prey. A single 50kg Dragon can eat a 40kg deer. As we walked through the knee high dry grass, guarded only by a guide with a stick, I wondered if we were next. As we neared the watering hole our guide suggested that this was a VERY dangerous place and we must be on constant lookout. Just moments after his warning we noticed a 2+ meter dragon bulldozing through the grass up a hill five meters away (a smaller dragon can run faster than a human)! The dragons we found we pretty relaxed, in fact our guide even suggested we touch their tail ... "Dragging the dragon". He also gave us a few suggestions; "If their head is down, OK. If their head comes up and they start licking (smelling), be on the look out. If they get the smell of meat (blood), nothing will slow them down!" Having properly prepared us he said, "Okay, now you touch". As I was the last (of four) to touch the dragon's tail, I felt a little like the movie "Wild Hogs" where they are smacking the bull on the butt ... all is good for the first guy, but as the second gets ready a local mentions "nobody has ever done it twice in a row" ... and then all hell breaks loose!!! Luckily our dragon wasn't as sensitive as the bull in the movie. His tail was REALLY heavy, and I just couldn't let it go ... I had to give it a shake!!

We continued up the hills, through taller grass, until we reached a huge plain where we came across a couple of wild horses (last year there was three but the dragons got one). I can't imagine one of these huge dragons chasing down a horse. No wonder the horse were so skittish. Our guide also was kind enough to show us the various types of dragon poo. There is the pile of white, which is the bones, teeth, and hooves of whatever they have eaten. He even picked up a small deer hoof off the top of a dried turd and handed it to KT, who handled it quite inquisitively until she realized it had just come from Dragon poo. Then there was the fur ball poo. If you think Bill the cat coughed up a lot of fur balls, imagine the dragons ACKKKKK after a 40kg deer. He even showed us "the rest" poo, which is just what you'd expect.. only a little bigger. Since a dragon eats the whole lot, its digestive system compartmentalizes the various portions to get the most efficient use of each bit.

We continued our beautiful walk, with panoramic views into the valleys below, stopping for water breaks and long stories from our guide. He started out rather slowly but seemed to pick up the pace as the morning wore on. During one long quiet break I heard a rustle in the bush and watched as a dragon came out of its hiding place a short distance away. We had no idea it was even there. Our four hour hike ended with a nice cold beer surrounded by more dragons in the cabin area. I guess you can even rent one of the rooms, although make sure you get a good nights sleep BEFORE you see the dragons. I don't think you'd sleep very well AFTER the tour ... not with all those dragons hanging around while you slept (talk about a new type of anchor watch).

After a hot hike we couldn't think of anything better than a nice cold ocean dip.. but Dragons CAN swim. We moved outside the lagoon and rafted up with Island Sonata on a mooring ball. We watched the monkeys and deer raid the beach as the sun set.

Continue reading "Dragon Tails"...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Billabong in Bali

September 23 - 28, 2007

We were one of the last boats to arrive in Lovina on the north coast of Bali. We knew the anchorage would be almost full of boats because Bali is one of the traditional favorite stops in the rally, for no other reason than it is a beautiful touristy spot. Bali attracts over one million visitors a year and the local culture is dominated by tourist related activities. Once again a great local stage was created on the beach, complete with seating in the shade and water to wash the black volcanic beach sand off your feet. We spent the day enjoying the more upscale side of life including our first Internet in over two months (even had wireless to the boat), and a nice lunch with friends we hadn't caught up with in a while. We got the skinny on some good places to eat, fun things to do; ah the joys of having someone to do the "hard part" of scoping out the place out for us.

As we walked around we immediately noticed the aggressive nature of the people selling things here (ah the joys of tourism). They would literally run out and practically beg you to visit their shop or stand. "Hey mister needed transport, need t-shirt". They have an amazing memory and the rest of our stay we were greeted by "hey Chris come have a look", "special happy price for you Chris". Kt was forever known as "Mrs Chris" but we found that the only way we could avoid the onslaught of attention was to be on the cell phone. They would quickly interrupt a regular conversation but for some reason they had infinite respect for someone talking on the phone. We regularly walked by "fake chatting" and talking to each other because it worked so well.

The Balinese religion is called Agama Hindu Dharma, and is a unique blend of Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese and indigenous beliefs. The first thing you notice is all the offerings. Fire, water and flowers are all the basic components of an offering and once you know what to look for you will see them everywhere. The most common are small offerings placed in front of shops, driveways, and even on the motor scooters. They are made with small woven baskets of palm leaf, and are usually filled with flowers and a small piece of food (rice or Ritz cracker). Other small offerings are presented after cooking or before eating. It is hard to walk more than a couple of minutes without noticing some sort of offering or small temple. The most noticeable offering is called a penjor and is a large decorated bamboo pole. They are intricately decorated along the entire length of the pole, which gentle curves down at the top end and is finished with a beautiful palm leaf creation that hangs off the top. On the side streets of Lovina they covered ever inch of the edges of the street. I felt rather strange when I first noticed the Swastika in a couple of very religious places. Little did I know it was the original Hindu swastika, which has been their symbol for safety, peace, happiness, and blessings for thousands of years. It was NOT the Nazi swastika, which is a rotated version of the same symbol.

The first event was the welcome gala dinner, which started with some fantastic dancing. I can't even begin to describe the beauty and intricacy of the dances. The costumes are so colorful and bright and every piece of the costume was used in the dance. Extra scarves or shawls quickly become the highlight of one dance while some of the male dancers used masks, weapons and finger extensions as their extras. The women even used their eyes to accentuate a dance move. They would open their eyes so big and then shift their eyeballs quickly to complete the expression. It was truly amazing and sometimes rather freaky. The music is very upbeat and perfectly in sync with the dancers every move, which might just be a quick flick of the finger and an eye movement. I don't know how they choreographed the dance and the music so well. It was explained to us that they spend years learning the dances, as everything from their facial expressions (smiles, frowns, wide-eyes, eyebrow movement, etc) to the slightest finger moments are considered part of the dance. The dancing was followed by a fantastic dinner, where separate tables highlighted traditional dishes of various main ingredients. There were tables for everything; seafood, vegetarian, pork, chicken and even a dessert table. It was funny trying to watch the other tourists sneak in for the free food.. "Which boat are you on?" someone would ask.. "Um,ah, we are friends with THAT boat," they would point. There was plenty of food to go around and everyone had a great evening.

The next day KT REALLY got into the decadent offerings of Bali and had a four-hour "spa day" complete with massage, body scrub, facial and pedicure; all for $25. John and I went to the neighboring town to hunt down some Gado-gado sauce (a great local peanut sauce mix) and some light bulbs. It was a very busy town and market, complete with a full-blown grocery store. After a couple hours of searching John finally found the light bulbs and I bought some highly sought after streaky bacon (last seen in Australia). We headed back to check on the girls, they couldn't have been more relaxed and loose if they were Jell-O.. "We are never going to get them back on the boat again" I said to John. We had another amazing display of dancing on the beach before we joined some friends for dinner and drinks at a back alley restaurant. The food was ok but half the staff was missing so Warren (from Mico Verde) became the bar tender after the waitress unlocked the booze and I had to restock the tonic water after we drank them out of it with Warren's heavy handed Gin and Tonics.

The following day KT took a Balinese cooking class with Steph on Mico Verde and learned how to make nine tasty Indonesian dishes. I bumped into the rest of the gang at a fantastic hotel called Chonos. Irena from Moose raved about the Dutch French fries and said they we almost better than at home. The best part was the wet cool scented towels they gave you when you first sat down. Nothing felt better then a cold towel on your neck and a good wipe down. I liked it so much I took KT back for dinner, where they added a welcome drink to the towels as we indulged in a romantic dinner all by ourselves at the pool. I had smoked salmon and cream cheese linguini that was as good if not better than any meal in the states. Yummm!!

We planned a road trip to the tourist center on the southern side of the island with stops at some of the more famous Balinese spots on the way. We hired an air-conditioned van complete with a driver for $75 for two days, and discovered it is not a bad way to travel. We stopped at some places like the Gitgit waterfall, Ulun Danu (temple by the lake), and the botanical gardens. We rose up into the volcanic mountains and into the fertile growing plains which had every crop available. It was amazing to see ever surface covered in crop, they even terraced the land that I thought was unreachably steep. The main produce is coffee, copra (dried coconut), spices, vegetables, and of course rice. We arrived at one temple and bought fresh strawberries, a very unexpected treat. The mountain air was cool and refreshing, a treat compared the humid hot air of the northern side's beaches. We traveled on to the Tanah Lot temple (pictured left), which is beautifully built temple built into the rocks over the ocean. KT and I had seen it on a video and promised ourselves we would visit it if we ever got the chance. It was a very beautiful spot and the southern ocean surf was pounding. I was glad we didn't try and anchor here!! But like all famous spots in Bali the path leading up to the temple was completely covered in souvenir and craft shops. It was amazing. Some people even got harassed inside of temples that they went to. It was a little much. One vendor had a flying fox (fruit bat) on display that you could feed for a small donation. It was amazing to see one of these creatures up close after we have seen so many flying in the wild. Their face definitely looks like a small furry fox, complete with big teeth.

We continued onto the Tourist center Kuta. When you arrive, you realize that you might as well be in a large beach city in the states, with some slight subtle differences. Sure they have all the nice shops, Versace, D&G, and on and on. The prices are even straight from the states as well, no special "happy price" here. We "splurged" by staying the night at the Hard Rock hotel, making it more affordable by getting a three-bed loft room and splitting it three ways (with Mico Verde and Island Sonata). The pool was huge and overlooked the main surf beach in Kuta that was filled with tourists. Warren and I really wanted to take some surf lessons so we strolled down the beach trying to find a way to squeeze in a surf lesson before sunset or in the early morning. The surf was huge (at least 6 feet) and quickly breaking, just getting ready to dump us in the shallow sand; and that was the inner break. The outer break, which was about 1/2 mile out, was even bigger. Warren got this crazy look in his eye as he ran down the beach, out to try and body surf the inner wave. I got ready by searching for the nearest lifeguard tower, and had my cell phone ready for the inevitable emergency phone call to his wife. He emerged about five minutes later looking like a drowned rat and said "holy crap that's big!!"

I don't know what it is about cruisers but we start to obsess about food we haven't had in a while. We all had the typical Pavlovian drooling response when we saw the McDonalds, KFC and Dunkin Donut shops. We had the evening and morning planned out, and it mostly revolved around junk food. We started out with a double cheeseburger and fries appetizer at McDonalds. Then we stopped at Dunkin Donuts only to find out they didn't have any Munchkins, which was highly disappointing for KT. We completed the night by having dinner at KFC and dessert at New Zealand Naturals, a great ice cream shop we discovered in Australia of all places. We bought some pirated $1 movies and then returned to the room for a night of air-conditioned TV watching.. Ah heaven!! The others returned with strange stories of a Krispy Kreme donuts bag they had seen in another tourist hands before they attacked them for specifics of the shop's location (Krispy Kreme was now on our morning agenda). Ok a full belly of junk food and three couples crammed into one room didn't make for the best nights sleep but we survived.

Now it was breakfast time. I headed off in search of the Krispy Kreme Donuts store only to bump in to Stephanie who was returning from her failed attempt to find said paradise! I went a different direction and must have walked five miles before I found it!! But it didn't open until 9:00. Same as the Starbucks. How on earth these people can survive until 9 am without coffee is beyond me. I decided to check out McDonalds and was drooling over the thought of a Bacon, egg and cheese biscuit breakfast sandwich. Ok, in reality I know that there is no concept of biscuits, as we know them in the southern hemisphere ... their biscuits are crackers or cookies (they have no idea what they are missing). So I was really ready for a Bacon & Egg McMuffin. I almost cried when I asked for the breakfast menu and the guy pointed to something that looked like fried chicken. They didn't even have a breakfast menu!! On top of that the Dunkin donuts still hadn't made the munchkins.. I felt obliged to tell them that you don't really have to make them they are just a by-product of the donut making process but I held back. uggh!! Warren was on such a McDonalds kick that he gorged himself on a Big Mac and fries for breakfast.. Hey get it while you can. The others checked out of the hotel as I ran to Starbucks to pay an obscene $6.00 for two cups of coffee. Hey that's 1/5 our daily cruising budget. I must say it didn't meet expectations. Our driver was amazed when we told him our first stop of the day would be a donut shop. We ordered two dozen and did the completely dorky thing and had the counter guy take our photo; complete with the Krispy Kreme hats on our heads. Now I must say if you have gone YEARS without a Krispy Kreme Donut the first bite is heaven. Even Warren wolfed down a couple to complete his junk food breakfast. We offered one to the driver who thought we must be crazy to spend $9 on two-dozen donuts. His only comment... "Sweet"!!

We continued onto Mas, a touristy area known for its woodcarvings. They do have some amazing carvings, some of them are so huge I have no idea where you would even put them. I guess a lot of their market must be for export because they had a lot of western looking carvings of bears and salmon. But the top seller seemed to be a Southern California beach girl in her bikini. The guy who sold those wasn't even into bargaining for other items because he exported so many of his girls. The labor must be so cheap here. I had one local offer me the most intricate bone carvings, which must have taken weeks to make. Four dollars for two.. But they weren't my style so I said no. He kept trying and trying before he finally gave up as we drove off. The next stop was Ubud, a very crazy tourist shopping market. It was insane, everyone trying to get you to buy something. By now we were on to the seller's tricks; starting out about 10 times what the item was worth so that you felt good when you only paid twice as much. We were also getting a little sick of being taken advantage of when we asked the price of something (in other spots) only to be told twice the price because we were white. It was actually kind of fun to walk through the market and not care. If someone started out to high we just walked away. KT came up with concept of the "walk away price". KT would name her price that she wanted to pay. They would try to get her negotiate up but she stood firm. Then as she walked away they would call out "okay, okay", and she usually got exactly what she wanted for her price. It was really funny we talked about a "Bali-bong" T-shirt. She asked me twice what my walk away price was before I realized that SHE really wanted it and was willing to pay a little more.

Sometimes when you purchase something, they feel that you have made them lucky and many times they rubbed our money on the rest of the items in the shop. We bought huge sachets of saffron for $1, and even managed to buy a couple of cool pieces of artwork. By now we were shopped out.. Done.. finito!! We headed back over the mountain and stopped at the volcano view only to be accosted by the most aggressive peddlers yet. These women chased us around trying to sell us sarongs and wouldn't take no for an answer. One woman grabbed me and actually wrapped it around me.. Yikes. She kept asking, "What you want". Finally Warren tried to explain in his broken Indonesian that we just wanted her to go away. "But I live here" she replied!!

Turns out we picked one of the best times to spend the night off the boat. It was very rolly when we returned but people said the previous night was even worse. We spent the morning on the boat trying to get some blogs and web updates completed before we decided we could be doing it on land in an air-conditioned building. hmm duhh. We had lunch at Chanos again ... this time a smoke salmon baguette sandwich. Then, we even returned for dinner to show Island Sonata and Mico Verde our little paradise, once again filling myself to the brim with smoked salmon. Hey you never know when you'll come across it again.

We had a great time in Bali, and I think we got the complete experience. Our trip to the "other [touristy] side" was a fun break but I really enjoyed just exploring the neighboring villages and beaches around Lovina. One day I took a camera and headed down the beach. The local boats are colorful and some have the face of a marlin carved into the front. One of the smaller local boats was named "Window to the World" which got me thinking about our trip. I also bumped into a local boat named Billabong. Away from the hustle and the bustle of the tourists these were people trying to make it - anyway they could. It was nice to lose myself in the rice paddies and the fishing boats. Every once in a while you'd walk around the corner and get a strong whiff of cloves. You'd look over the wall past the brightly decorated temple and find a huge patch of cloves drying in the mid-day sun. Bali, A complete sensory experience.
Continue reading "Billabong in Bali"...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bombs, Bottles, and Bats

Current Location: Batu Boga East, Indonesia
Current Position: 08 28.24' S 121 57.34' E
Next Destination: Maurole, Flores Island, Indonesia

Bombs, Bottles and Bats. That pretty much describes our last two anchorages.

First there was Teluk Hading; a lovely spot, where we anchored just a bit too shallow (at low tide we were in 7.8 feet, with a shallow bommie right behind us -we had to pull in some chain to avoid hitting it until high tide). The water clarity was great, but there wasn't much to snorkel on, except the three lion fish hanging out under a piece of coral. Later in the evening two local fishing boats came in and anchored pretty close to Billabong. One of the boats came over to say hello (and ask for cigarettes of course). We were just getting ready to go over to Island Sonata for dinner, so after saying our hellos we were wondering how to then politely say goodbye, when, KABOOM ... and with the loud bang the entire hull of Billabong shuddered (I thought we had just hit the bommie). KABOOM, it went again. The three fishermen hanging on to Billabong excitedly looked up, pointed, and said goodbye as they tore off, just as a third KABOOM sounded and both Chris and I saw a huge flood of water explode from the sea. And now we understand why we aren't catching any fish in Indonesia - the locals are stunning the fish (yes, with live, exploding bombs), and then diving in and scooping them up! Now don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor of one getting an easy, full meal, but isn't that just a tad-bit overkill??? What we have heard is that they are getting the bombs from old war dumps (usually underwater). After they salvage the bomb, defuse it and remove the "good" bits, they create a waterproof wick by wrapping it in aluminum foil. Then they take the entire thing and wrap it in a papaya, before tossing it overboard, from their dinky little dugout canoes. Afterwards they scoop up the fish with nets, or divers using Hooka hoses! I have to imagine that the mortality rate for fishing is higher in Indonesia than other countries! It's so bad that even the sea birds and bigger fish come running the minute the bombs sound and scoop up whatever they can.

We left Teluk Hading, with plans on attempting to enter a fantastic looking lagoon Chris had spotted on a satellite photo. We were ready to do some serious navigation; maneuvering around and through the reefs. What we didn't expect was to come around the corner and spot thousands upon thousands of floating bottles! Not only did we have to navigate the reef but we also had to weave our way through the numerous seaweed farms! Imagine driving through Nebraska when the corn is sprouting, and seeing row upon row of husks - it was like that, but with bottles on water instead of stalks on dirt!!! We managed through okay, but finding a spot to anchor wasn't easy, as the seaweed farms occupied all the shallow spots. Then, just as we were dropping our hook, the mangrove's stirred to life and thousands of fruit bats (also known as flying foxes) swarmed to the air, and streamed out, crossing over Billabong's bow. It was a site to see, and for the remainder of the day and throughout the next day, we would continue to be entertained and awed by the quantity of flying foxes. We even ventured into the mangroves on the dinghy, stirring the bats to life (and praying we wouldn't wind up covered in bat dung!)

All in all they were two great anchorages, each with something just a bit unique!!!

Additional Anchorage note for following cruisers:

You can enter the lagoon, which is on other side of the hill as Tanjung Gedong, through one of three main channels. There is a northern entrance to the east of the very small island (it starts slightly north west from there). The outer edge shoals depending on the previous years monsoon activity so be careful and enter only in good light, we only saw a cat do it. The southern edge has a very deep main channel (90') due south from the gap between the two main islands. The channel is navigated based on location of the seaweed farm bottles and is kept clear for ships collecting all the seaweed. There is another southern channel to the East (40') but you need to navigate more bottles and weave in front of a village to find the main lagoon. We were surprised to have a slight swell from the southern side (as there is really no fetch).

The anchorage is on the northern edge of the lagoon, tucked in off the reef near the sandy beach with mud flats in front and the mangroves to the north. It may fill up with seaweed farms in the future but there is always room in the middle (70'). We anchored in 50' Coral and mud but other found less depth. It was VERY calm despite people getting rolled out of the other anchorage the night before we arrived. If you squint just right the main peak reminds us of Bora Bora. We did a bush hike to the top of the hill by the anchorage but had to fight very tall grass and stickers. There is no trail!!

Continue reading "Bombs, Bottles, and Bats"...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Welcome to Indonesia

Current Location: Inside the Lagoon, Parmahan Island, Indonesia
Current Position: 08 27.3' S 122 25.3' E
Next Destination: Maumere, Flores Island, Indonesia

Our time in Kupang was great, but as suspected upon arrival, the upbeat pace was tiring. The tours put on by the Rally were outstanding (more about those and more details about Kupang will be posted on our website at a later date). The anchorage however lacked appeal, but thanks to the full days touring and exploring Kupang we were hardly ever on the boat!

While most boats departing Kupang were headed for the next rally stop, Alor, we decided to head towards Lembata (the third rally stop), opting for a bit of time "alone" before rejoining the rally. Of course with 100+ boats around, one is never really alone! We ended up about eight nautical miles from the town of Lembata, near Adunara Island.

The area is beautiful. Some of the dramatic cliffs and landscapes remind us a bit of the Marquesas Islands, only here, huge Mt Fuji style mountains emerge, some still blasting smoke, others lying dormant. From the anchorage we could spot at least five volcanoes at various points around us.
When we first arrived we were pleased to find only one other boat in the anchorage. The next few days were paradise. The anchorage was extremely flat, the water clear, and the snorkeling terrific. We were both recovering from various illnesses, so it was terrific to enjoy some true R & R and we loved getting back into the slow days of the cruising lifestyle. We also enjoyed a few sundowners with Sundance (the other boat).

There are two sand pits that appear and disappear with the tides, both of which were terrific to walk along at low tide. The water clarity was amazing; one could easily see the bottom of the channel, 80 feet below! The corals were fantastic, both soft and hard, some of brilliant colors. Surprisingly, for the amount of coral we didn't see as many fish as we thought there should be. Even so, we did spot a juvenile black lion fish, swimming about in the open - very majestic looking. Plus a school of gigantic Longfin Spadefish, I've never seen them so big, and they weren't scared of us at all (I swam within touching distance of them and they barely flinched). We also spotted a fantastic anemone, encased in a blue soft covering (almost like a plastic bag). On our first pass the anemone was fully open, the blue "bag" barely noticeable, but when we returned the "bag" was closed and only a tiny bit of the anemone stuck out. It was really quite cool. Unfortunately there were also a large number of huge Crowns of Thorns, and bleached coral.

It didn't take long before the anchorage began to fill up, boats arriving both from Kupang and Alor. The anchorage was still quite pleasant, but fifteen boats are never as serene as two! With the additional boats we enjoyed a few happy hour drinks on the sand-spit, noting that it was perfect to get off the boat for the few hours when the north swell came rolling in.

In total we spent about one week there before finally motivating to move on. Instead of going into Lembata for the rally events we decided to move westward slowly, with a plan of rejoining the rally in Maumere. And so it came to be that we found ourselves in Tanjung Gedong, Flores, around three in the afternoon. It is a small anchorage and already four boats (plus two local boats) were anchored there. There was just enough room for us, but we'd have to tie a stern line ashore and squeeze between two other boats. As it was late in the afternoon we didn't want to move on, hunting for another anchorage. This was a first for us; a stern line to shore, over a coral shelf (deep waters quickly shelving up to shallow waters), in a tight spot. And all, of course, in the audience of the curious locals!

We dropped our bow hook in about 50 feet (choosing the deeper water as to avoid destroying the coral of the shallow shelf). Before the hook even touched the bottom at least three local canoe boats approached to greet us. Luckily I had learned how to say "Just a minute" in Indonesia, so we were able to hold them off while we figured out how to get a stern line ashore. Of course, who know "a moment" would end up being two (very comic) hours!!!

First off, Chris quickly hopped in the dinghy with our hand-held depth sounder to make sure there was enough room over the shelf (for when we swung around with our stern line), and also to scope out a potentially spot for our friends on Island Sonata. He couldn't figure out why his knees were getting wet until he realized he'd forgotten to put the plug back in the dinghy - he was sinking!!! He came back to Billabong with one of those 'oops' grins and asked me to hand down the plug!

Chris dug to the bottom of our cockpit storage, pulling out a huge wad of line (which got a few "oohs" and "aahs" from our local audience). He attached it Billabong's stern, jumped back in the dinghy, and headed ashore. Only there wasn't enough line. I couldn't back in (to get us closer) because with Billabong's port walk I couldn't get her straightened out before hitting the boat next to us. Unable to communicate, with Chris onshore and me aboard, he came back to Billabong and we decided to try going in nose (bow) first; our theory being that this would get us close enough for Chris to reach shore, where he would attach the line, and then pull it, thereby spinning us around, stern to shore. All seemed to be according to plan; Chris made it ashore with enough line, and we were more or less centered between the two boats. However, there were no rocks large enough to tie the line to, and the trees were another few yards up the beach (too far with the current line). We went back and forth trying a few things, before Chris finally gathered up the line and came back to Billabong - getting a few chuckles from the locals when he slipped on the rocks getting back into the dinghy.

Now, you have to keep in mind that while all this back and forth is going on at least five canoe- style boats are hovering around Billabong with the locals smiling, laughing, and staring, literally watching every move (and every blunder). Probably wondering how these two white fools ever made it anywhere! After all, when they anchor their fishing boats, they just drive them right up on shore! Within the first five minutes I had exhausted all of my Indonesia and they had pretty much used up all the English, so we were left to smiles and waving!

Anyway, out came some more line, and away Chris went again. This time we ran the line from the stern, through the bow (to keep us straight), and Chris didn't try to actually pull Billabong. Once ashore he tied the two lines together and then disappeared into the trees to attach the line. When he reappeared he was urgently slapping at his legs, back, stomach and head. I knew then that something had gone amuck. Again, the locals thought it was grand entertainment, and there was much laughter! When he finally made it back to Billabong he informed me he was 'attacked' by green ants and that they "had gotten in my underpants!" Well, luckily his efforts were successful, as now that we were attached to shore we could easily pull in the stern line (having released it from the bow), and swing Billabong around to lie neatly between the boats, bow out. Perhaps it doesn't sound so bad, but this process took a good two hours, long enough for the locals to get bored; by the time we were finally anchored everyone had returned to shore! As evening fell we noticed that one of the fires on the rocky shore was bigger than it had appeared earlier; wouldn't that just be the icing on the cake - if the fire traveled closer to our stern line and burned through it!

Of course that didn't happen. And we enjoyed an extremely pleasant and peaceful night. One wouldn't think there would be a lot of 'firsts' left after 3-1/2 years of cruising, but apparently there is always something left to learn!

We know that next year, and the years following, another crowd of cruisers will be traveling through Indonesia, and so, when relevant, we will throw in some additional information to hopefully assist those coming in the next years (such as what follows).

Additional anchorage notes for following cruisers:
Adunara Anchorage: In the "101 Anchorages" book it states there is room for 4-5 boats in 10-12m. We think about 3 boats in 12-15 meters is more accurate along the tongue of shallower water that runs off the SW edge of the sand spit. However, there is plenty of room for additional boats (we saw up to about 15) if willing to anchor in deeper waters (about 16m - 20m) either south of the pearl farm or along the NE channel. Be aware that a strong current can flow through the anchorage, and around the NE sand-spit (especially during the spring tides), this results in some interesting boat swing, and caused a few boats to have to re-anchor and/or come mighty close to other boats. Also try not to anchor too close the pearl farm buoys or shacks, as the locals will come out and ask you to move. We would typically get stronger S/SE winds during the night that switched to NE sea breezes in the early afternoon, so don't anchor on the shallow shelf off the northern side of the channel or you'll end up parked on the sand spit at midnight.

Tanjung Gedong, Flores Anchorage: The center of the anchorage is deep (100-200 feet), and it shelves up quickly. As noted above, when we arrived the boats had used stern lines ashore, this allowed them to be bow out to any swell that might enter, and allowed for more boats to fit. If you want to avoid throwing your hook directly onto the coral (always a good thing to avoid), plan to drop in 40-50 feet. Once the stern line is ashore you will fall back (towards shore of course) and be in about 20-30 feet. We imagine a pretty good swell could enter the bay, however on our night there it was extremely peaceful and flat calm. Local fishing boats (the larger ones) anchor in the deeper parts as well, so it can get crowded. None of the boats in front of us (nor us) could find the shallow waters described in "101 Anchorages" but we figure you could easily fit nine boats if all committed to tying stern to.

Continue reading "Welcome to Indonesia"...

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Passage Journal: Darwin to Kupang

Current Location: Kupang, Indonesia
Current Position: 10 09.49' S 123 34.46' E
Next Destination: Alor, Indonesia

Kupang, Indonesia Anchorage

Darwin to Kupang
Departing Darwin with a group of 100 boats was just a wee-bit crazy! We've never traveled with such a large group before - on average IF we are traveling in a 'group' it tends to be under five! There was an official starting 'line', which, being anchored in the back of the Darwin fleet, we were nearly anchored at! As I (KT) don't much like sailing nearby other boats we hadn't intended to actually start at the 11am go-time, rather we were going to start either a bit early or a bit late (while I didn't want to be in the masses, I did want to see what 100 boats sailing in the same general area looked liked!). I guess we got caught up in the moment and energy of the boats around us, because we ended up crossing over the start line at 11:03am, right smack dab in the middle of all the craziness! I told Chris that the word must've gotten out about me, because I swear a number of boats came right at us! But I managed to keep my cool and didn't even pee my pants (or as Chris likes to say "Shit a twinkie")! Actually it was terribly exciting, and quite an experience to be surrounded by boats, sailing with a fleet of varying shapes and sizes!

That first day felt like a party, boats everywhere on the horizon, and the VHF continuously going off with all the chatter. I'm glad that coming up the coast of Australia we had a chance to use our spinnaker; getting used to hoisting it, bringing it down, and jibing it - as it takes some getting used to and learning while sailing in a large fleet would not have been good! Just before nightfall, Chris and did a horizon count, and we could see at least 86 boats! I had thought we'd be more spread out after the hours of sailing, but duhh a hundred boats aren't going to disperse in just eight hours! As the sunset set and navigation lights came on, it was like a city coming alive over the ocean. Red, green, and white lights twinkling all around us! We were surprised to find how few people run proper navigation lights. Some had their anchor lights on, some ran both mast and deck lights, and nearly NOBODY ran a steaming light (when motoring)! It made it a bit more difficult when boats came near, but everyone seemed to be on good watches, so there were no close calls (for us at least).

With light winds over the night, the fleet spread out quickly (some boats motoring right away, others not at all), so that by the following afternoon we only counted about twenty boats on the horizons.
The first and third days of the trip were the best. Both days we ran our spinnaker and the seas were somewhat flat. On the other days we couldn't sail the spinnaker either because there was too much wind, too little wind with too much swell, or we were trying to slow down in order to time our arrival into Kupang. We had actually started the third day without another boat in site, but after flying with our spinnaker up (we do between 6 to 9 kts with it) we quickly came across (and passed) around five other boats.
We sailed most of our fourth (and last) day without another boat in site - which, after the previous days, felt lonely! As tends to be the case with us, when we try to slow down, the wind picks up! We didn't want to anchor in Kupang at night, so were trying desperately to slow down, sailing with a very reefed jib and no main. Every other night the wind had nearly died, so we didn't think we'd have a problem going slower, but of course the last night, when we wanted to go slow, the wind piped up to 20kts! Oh well!

And of course what's a passage without fishing? This trip, our freezer still full from traveling up the coast of Australia, Chris didn't put a lot of effort into fishing. He did throw a line in on occasion and we snagged three small fish - all of which we threw back; Chris says if he's going to clean a fish it has to be a least two meals worth of meat!

While we would've preferred to enter the channel into Kupang during the day, however a number of boats a head of us reported it wasn't too difficult at night, so we went ahead with a night entrance. We stayed near the center of the channel, thinking that would be the safest bet to avoid buoys and fishing nets. We couldn't believe the number of fishing boats (thankfully all well lit), or the city lights. While we knew over 200, 000 people live in Kupang, we still thought it was going to be a small town, not a lit up city! We managed to avoid all the fishing boats, but some were hard to spot against the lights on shore. We arrived just outside the anchorage an hour before sunrise, so we idled around, keeping watch for fishing vessels, waiting for some light. We were less than a quarter of a mile from the anchorage, but couldn't tell anchor lights from the lights in town!

About half the fleet had arrived the previous day, so finding a spot to anchor wasn't easy, and we aren't very impressed with the anchorage - which is open to the wind and swell. But we ended up in a pretty decent location, and the wind/swell seems to be dying. Our day was spent putting the boat 'away' and waiting for customs. By 4pm we were ready to head ashore.

I love arriving in a new location, especially a new country. The way your senses are immediately overloaded with new sights, sounds, and smells when you step ashore for the first time. It's a lot like being a small child, looking around with eyes wide open, trying to process everything around you, thrilled at the discovery of something new, but yet perhaps a bit timid about how you fit in, or what your role is, in this new environment.

Kupang is a bustle of energy, and the addition of 107 visiting yachts seems to push it over the top! At first glance it reminds us a bit of Mexico, with its street vendors selling everything from cigarettes to jewelry. Like Mexico it also appears to be a bit run down, old, and dirty. Walking the streets are a hazard, between the huge holes (more like cavernous pits) in the sidewalks and endless number of speeding motorbikes, one has to keep a careful eye out when touring the city! But what it lacks in styles it makes up for with its friendly energy. The vendors aren't pushy, easily accepting a no thank you when they approach, and everywhere people smile and say 'halo'. The exchange rate is crazily out of whack, one US dollar equating to over 9,000 rupiah! A large Bintang (local beer) is only 25,000 (about $2.50) and I bought a black pearl bracelet (from the Komodo islands) from a vender for $60,000 Rph  all of $6 US! And while they are the imperfect pearls, they are real! We enjoyed a fantastic dinner out, with drinks and all, at about $13 US per couple! It is so inexpensive we will probably end up getting carried away and over spend!!!

We have barely touched upon Kupang, being ashore for only a few hours. I look forward to our future explorations and discovering what lies beneath first impressions.
Continue reading "Passage Journal: Darwin to Kupang"...