Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Sri Lanka

It's definitely true that experiences are memorable not just for what you did, but for whose company you were in. That applies to the Oyster World Rally and our friends who continued onward from Lombok, where we parted company. They are now almost all back in the Caribbean (apart from a couple of other breakaways in the Cape Verde Islands). We miss them and celebrate their circumnavigations. We still have some way to go, but there's a sense of being on the home straight.
Marlan and family
We've met some real characters along the way, for instance Touare, our hitch-hiker in Maupiti with his dog. And there've been some exceptionally helpful agents whose local knowledge and ability to get round obstructive bureaucracy has been invaluable. Chloe in Nouvelle Cal├ędonie was wonderful, Rathnam in the Andamans tried his best, while Humar on the dock at Port Blair (he's been working there since he was 9 years old) gave us peace of mind looking after our dinghy - like the boat boys in Kupang.
Mudbath
Eye clinic Tea Research Institute
In Galle, where we've been for ten days, we've had an agent (GAC) who completely ignored us. Fortunately several locals stepped up to help. Marlan (real name Henry William Jayasuriya) greeted us the first time we stepped through the heavily guarded port gates, having presented our security passes for scrutiny. "My job is to make your stay pleasant", he announced. When we asked what his services would cost, he told us "money is only coloured paper" - and he's right, the banknotes are bright and slightly like Monopoly money. His determination to help knew no bounds and he has organised trips, sourced hard-to-find boat parts and invited us to dinner in his home. He and his friends have sad stories to tell about the tsunami and have shown us the shells of what were once their homes and the photographs of mother, nephew, daughter and son who died or disappeared that day. Goring, who drives a tuktuk, introduced us to his village - after the tsunami he moved away from the coast to a new settlement built with German charitable funds. We gave away about 60 pairs of glasses there, including some to the army bandsmen, who showed us their instruments in return (no double entendres here!). Pahan's sister runs a restaurant, Sea Breeze, on Diwata Beach very near the "marina" (it doesn't deserve that name, being unequipped and unfriendly to visiting yachts). Pahan drove me and Tiggy around all the shops in Galle in search of plain tee shirts we could have printed with our boats' names. He's a slight, modest man who responds to expressions of gratitude with that wonderful wobble of the head, neither a nod nor a shake.
Tea plantation
Sri Lanka hasn't really been a sailing destination and we are conscious that we've only scratched the surface, although every hour on the road is a nerve-tingling, hair-raising experience, with overtaking on blind corners common practice. Buses have priority and pull out into the traffic with no warning. Sometimes they don't even stop for passengers to leap on or off, staying in the traffic lane and merely slowing till their fit customers leap on or off. With James and Tiggy from Miss Tiggy, we headed 'upcountry', via Ula Walawe game park, where we saw many elephants and exotic birds, as well as a crocodile displaying its jaw full of teeth. In Ella, we climbed Little Adam's Peak and enjoyed the cool air and views of hazy mountains. Seated backwards in the Observation Carriage, we took the wonderfully scenic train to Nuwara Eliya and had High Tea in the Grand Hotel, near the racecourse and artificial lake with Boston-style swan pedaloes. Our hotel, gloriously situated in the midst of tea plantations, had a (lumpy, sloping) golf putting green, a (pitted, unenclosed, sag-netted) grass tennis court and hilariously Fawlty Towers-style service (our polite comment on trip advisor was 'haphazard'). We made use of all the facilities and Charles and I ran an eye clinic at the Tea Research Institute, where some of Sri Lanka's poorest workers lined up patiently in a Pentecostal nursery school to be seen and we ran out of glasses. Yesterday we sent the pastor some more from Galle, which was an experience in itself, as the glasses were parcelled up, wrapped, taped and taped again, while we were directed from one part of the British-built post office to another. The old town is a wonderful mix of Dutch and British colonial buildings, with glorious terracotta tiled roofs.
Galle Fort
Galle Fort cricket
Ella train
Tiggy shopping in Galle market
Ella train
Back in Galle and finding the "marina" as unwelcoming as ever, we treated ourselves to a couple of days at Why House. Absolute bliss, with its refreshing pool, exquisite food and the attentions of its manager, Hen (and her dogs). We were woken by a peacock screeching at the top of a coconut palm and lulled to sleep by tropical rain. Meanwhile lots of English friends have also been enjoying Sri Lanka and we met up with Penny and Adam, Anna and Dan. Experiences are truly enriched by the people you share them with. We are looking forward to the next stage, diving in the Maldives with Miss Tiggy and Lisanne. It's a 3 day passage there (depends on the wind, which looks sadly lacking…). Coming from the Andamans, we left at the same time as Miss Tiggy and after 5 days out of sight of one another, arrived within an hour and a half in Galle.
The last of our olive oil - bought in Las Palmas Nov 16!














Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Andaman Islands

We left Mike and Harriet in Thailand. They had a nightmare of bureaucracy in
leaving the country as immigration wouldn't let them leave Phuket and sent
them back to where we had cleared into Thailand, even though the immigration
officials there had told us very clearly that, with a copy of our entry
document, they would be able to leave. Ridiculous and without any logic at
all. So we are sorry Mike and Harriet had all that hassle as we had had a
lovely time with them; the further north away from the spoilt areas south of
and in Phuket you go, the clearer the waters, the more it feels like
Thailand must have been in the past. I am afraid it is all rather messed up
now, and we won't be hurrying back to Thailand or Malaysia, unless it is to
Amanpuri where we had dinner. It is the original Aman hotel and as gorgeous
as the other two we have stayed in - Bali and Morocco.

So we stopped at Kho Surin for the night on the way over to the Andamans, a
good snorkel in clear waters the following day, and two days over to Port
Blair in the Andamans. We have been joined by Kurt, a 30 year old Aussie
crew, who is quite new to sailing but has built solar plants and gas plants
Cellular Jail
and is very practical and easy going - just what you need on a boat.

Port Blair is next to Corbyn's Cove. We didn't see Foot beach or Brown river. The Andamans are "strategic" to the Indians which means it is full
of bureaucracy and restrictions. It takes 2 days to clear in and nearly 2 days to clear out, because of the love of sequential paper: Port Authority,
Customs, Immigration in that order both times, each one requiring ship's docs, crew list, list of goods on board and some want it again on the way out, plus report your position twice daily, provide a declaration where you
have been, a photo of your track etc. "WHY do you need this?" is not a
Beach 7
question they ask. Maybe the British taught them. Our colonial history here
is not great featuring the cellular jail which housed 763 individual cells
for prisoners including many political prisoners at the time of "The Indian
Mutiny/First War of Independence".

How the economy works is not so clear. 500,000 tourists come a year, almost
all Indian, relatively low-end. Diving used to be world class, but a
combination of 2004 Tsunami and 2010 bleaching due to warm water means you
Splendid trees
only find good coral and fabulous marine life (amongst the best we have
Instructions for a beach
seen) if you dive between 20 and 30m depth. That would be fine except the
local dive companies who used to use game fishing boats are no longer
allowed to do so because that comes under Agriculture/Fishery and they won't
allow diving from fishing boats.
We did manage to do some good diving from
the back of Calliope by taking the dive guide who discovered all the sites
with us. He was thrilled as he isn't allowed to go to the places he
discovered. And it's not clear game fishing is allowed any more though it goes on. So the diving is try-it-out/PADI OW for the Indian tourists who pay half what is charged elsewhere, and the high end diver doesn't come. Our
agent worked out that one international gamefishing person is the economic
equivalent of 375 local tourists.

But some good news; logging has been severely curtailed due to a Supreme Court order of 2002, which also banned the use of the Trunk Road through the tribal areas (not implemented). Indian Premiers keep announcing plans like 1m tourists p/a, and a nuclear power plant, but they don't happen. Little commercial fishing, so not sure what makes it all tick if it isn't government, military, some marine services and the tourism. It has
definitely been worth the visit but give me Indonesia and its smiley people
Ross Island - British Empire until 1943
any day. However, we much enjoyed having William and Miranda to stay and visit Cellular Jail and Ross Island together.
Buying fish off the locals - better return than buying lures


The Andamans are beautiful but it's very frustrating not being able to go
ashore on many islands. Understandably we were warned off North Sentinel
where a foolish American missionary was killed by a poisoned arrow a month
or so ago, but all we wanted was to wander along a beach, well away from
tribal lands. I missed the interaction with locals, whether through eye
clinics or school visits - even the children we encountered seemed wary of us. However the samosa-seller at Radhanagar Beach was delighted to see us as each time we passed we bought a bag full of delicious snacks.
We are now on our way to Galle in Sri Lanka which will take 5 or 6 days: so far great sailing conditions and we are making 8 knots with our asymmetric sail up and about 20 dolphins playing in our bow wave. It doesn't get much
better than this!

Friday, 1 February 2019

Malaysia and Thailand

When we set off from a place, we record it in our beautiful logbook and
write "towards" the next destination, acknowledging that although you may be
intending to go there, things do not always go to plan. We seem to have had
a few changes (by no means necessarily bad) in our sailing adventures in
Malaysia and Thailand. It felt wonderful to get back 'home' on board
Calliope after our fantastic time back in the UK for Pippa and William's
wedding and our holiday/honeymoon with them and Alex and Michael in South
Africa. The Malaysian coast, though, was less tempting than we'd hoped, with
dirty water and numerous fish farms, so we pressed on past Penang to
Langkawi.

Langkawi





At the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club Marina, we partly dealt with
those machines that had been working perfectly when we left the boat but now
were not working well - freezer, fridge, watermaker and started to provision
for the weeks ahead. Langkawi is an odd place - a duty free zone, it
Hole in the wall
attracts thousands of visitors a day through its busy ferry terminal; they
then embark on a theme park-like experience of zip wires, boat trips, animal
petting zoos ... all very organised and passive. We wanted to visit the
Lake of the Pregnant Maiden but by 9am the hordes of guide-led tourists
dissuaded us and we sailed away with Mike and Harriet Bane on board to an
idyllic spot called Hole in the Wall: a narrow inlet to the Kilim River
where sea eagles swooped and skinny monkeys scampered along the rocky shore.
We enjoyed a lovely goose-winged sail to Tarutao, a national park where we
watched the red sun set at the same time as a reddish moon rose (it was even
redder and fuller the next day (22nd January) and much-photographed!)

Sea Urchins
Although the water was blissfully warm and a very pretty greeny-blue, up
till this point it had been opaque - we think it was so shallow that sand
was constantly stirred up. However in Ko Tanga we found some fun
snorkelling in clear water around huge boulders. That afternoon we dropped
anchor off Ko Lipe (Ko means island) and enjoyed the slightly hippy vibe -
lots of tie-dyed clothes, beach bars and little boutiques. We had a massage
on the beach and supper ashore, then suffered until the early hours as the
partygoers' loud music and Chinese New Year celebrations carried far too
clearly across the bay. The following day we part-cleared in to Thailand
and very nearly lost our passports in the process - they got bundled up with
those of a tour group heading back to Langkawi. Now THAT would have made us
change our plans!

Near Ko Phi Phi
There are some extraordinary rock formations in Thailand and one lunch stop
we swam below towering Ko Rok Nok, a group of pinnacles which looked like a
film set, emerging from nowhere in the middle of the sea. Next stop was Ko
Phi Phi (pronounced pipi), a gorgeous setting which has been spoiled by the
sheer numbers of tourists. The anchorage was one of our bumpiest ever,
mostly due to nonstop comings and goings of boats. Definitely not
recommended.

24th January, Charles's birthday and sadly no wind at all. We motored to Ao
(means bay) Chalong on the south coast of Phuket island and successfully
cleared in completely to Thailand, visiting immigration, the harbourmaster,
customs and quarantine (thankfully all located in the same building) and
presenting passports and photocopies thereof, ship's papers, crew lists
(ditto photocopies) to each of them. What do they DO with all the paper?!
Here's another example of plans changing. We motored towards Yacht Haven
Marina in the NE of Phuket Island. Triple chocolate cupcakes were eaten,
candles blown out and happy birthday sung. Night fell and we came within
sight (sort of) of the marina. Suddenly, very gently, we stopped - we had
run aground on a sandbank. The tide was rising, so we dropped anchor and
waited. At that moment, the heavens opened and we were deluged with warm
rain. We opened the Dom Perignon 2009 the Banes had brought with them and
instead of the slap-up meal ashore we'd been hoping for, enjoyed corned beef
hash with our Champagne. A feast! The following morning we attempted to
enter the marina but ran aground again, so managed to negotiate a berth in a
deeper part where we were able to complete repairs to the freezer and
watermaker and take on 1100 litres of diesel. Thanks to a hire car, we
could get to supermarkets (Tesco and Makro) and Mike and Harriet managed an
evening in Old Phuket Town. Charles and Nicky saw rather a lot of the main
road and ugly modern development along it - and became familiar with the mad
driving practices of the locals: U turns on dual carriageways are a
speciality!

It was time to head north, but sadly the strait to the north of Phuket has a
low bridge we couldn't fit under, so we had to sail all the way round the
south of the island, passing US Warship 2, an aircraft carrier bristling
with planes and helicopters - quite threatening when seen from up close.
The west coast of Phuket is the most developed and we sailed past Karon,
Kata and Patong beaches with their hotels, parasols and jet skis, to anchor
below Amanpuri, the original Aman hotel - we are such fans, having stayed in
Amandari in Bali and Amanjena in Marrakech. Fabulous cocktails and dinner
ashore set us up for the next day, where we had to go back (by taxi) to Ao
Chalong and clear out of Thailand, presenting the very same papers and
photocopies to precisely the same officials... Our crew list now includes
Kurt Benson from Australia, who will be a big help on some of the longer
passages ahead.

Two more days followed with the Banes. Fishing, to Mike's chagrin, was
dismal - the lines were bitten through by huge fish ("the ones which got
away") or possibly cut by floating debris, of which, sadly, there was still
far too much. But some squid and cuttlefish were purchased from a passing
fishing boat, and what a lot of those there are - a veritable Armada sets
off from shore each evening and the horizon is bright with their extended
dazzling 'arms'! We found a picture-perfect deserted anchorage near Yipun
Island, though the snorkelling was poor, the water greenish with suspended
nutrients for all those super-strong fish. Much fun was had puzzling over
cryptic crosswords, with success except when it came to the Listener which
we were unable even to start to solve. Mike and Harriet left us at the
Golden Buddha Resort, where we enjoyed a fine farewell lunch before sailing
west to Ko Surin. Another plan had to be revised; unable to get our anchor
to hold, we had to give up on the anchorage on the east side of the island
and motor round to the west. We were ravenous by the time we anchored after
9pm. It was all worth it to wake up and snorkel, drifting with the current
in crystal clear water, trailing the dinghy behind us, above busy coral
heads - lots of little Nemo clown fish, parrot fish and puffers.

So that's it for Thailand. I'm disappointed not to have met more locals and
seen more inland, but glad to have passed through. We are now on course for
Port Blair in the Andaman Islands, which are Indian and where we anticipate
much bureaucracry to go with the hassle we had getting our visas back in
December. Winds are light but with our huge asymmetric sail up, we are
making good progress and hope to arrive in two days' time. Flying fish
scatter in our path - otherwise there's nothing to see but the sea. Lots to
read and Charles and Kurt have done a heroic amount of stainless steel
polishing today!

Friday, 28 September 2018

Wonderful Indonesia


We've now been in Indonesia well over two months; we've seen a lot but there is so much here that we won't have time to see on this trip.  Definitely a country to return to.  A few random impressions:
Trimaran fishing fleet between Bali and Lombok
 - thousands of motorbikes, many laden with 3 or 4 people, animals, huge heaps and bundles of wood or leaves - some are kitted out as mobile shops and are as wide as a car.
- terrifying driving: overtaking on the inside and around blind corners is perfectly normal.
 - skinny cats with short or no tails: someone told us kittens' tails were cut to show they belonged somewhere and weren't strays.  I don't know if that's true, but they're very unattractive.  Lots of dogs on Bali, very few on the other (Muslim) islands.
 - friendly, curious people: we are bombarded with questions ("Ingris? From Ingerrand?") and requests to have their photo taken with us. 


A doer-upper in Semarang


Our grasp of Bahasa, the common language across Indonesia, is still sketchy.  After enthusiastic greetings and how are yous, we can count and ask how much - that's about it.  Generally that's been enough and we have added a few words as we've travelled.  It was only as we gazed down at the glorious star-shaped lagoon in Raja Ampat's Peynemo that we realised the Bintang beer we've been enjoying all this time means Star - ah, that would explain the design of the label!  There's still plenty of room for misunderstandings.  A couple of nights ago we went ashore for dinner in Semarang, taking a full dustbin bag of rubbish from the boat.  We couldn't find a bin so ended up arriving at the restaurant still clutching the bag.  They took it away ... and when we left, handed it back to us, having stored it in the cloakroom while we had our meal.  Rubbish is a huge problem throughout Indonesia.  Streets, drains, beaches and streams are covered with plastic.  Coffee and tea are sold at roadside stalls in individual sachets, as are shampoo and washing powder.  There isn't an infrastructure for rubbish collection away from the cities, and what used to be bags made of palm leaves is now plastic.  I guess the West needs to sort itself out first, but Indonesia needs to develop the systems and educate its people; for tourists don't like plastic covered beaches.
Pig market in Rantepao
 We have now officially left the Oyster World Rally.  It was very sad to wave goodbye as all but three of the boats sailed away from Lombok marina three weeks ago.  They've been to Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling and are now well on their way to Mauritius.  We have made some lifelong friends in the fleet and shared so many experiences.  I'm sure we will meet up again in various sailing and non-sailing locations around the world - possibly even as soon as Christmas in South Africa.  The timing of the rest of the Rally as well as the long passages involved led us to choose to form a breakaway group with Miss Tiggy and Lisanne, variously called the SE Asia Oyster Group or Wong Diwection.
Buffalo sacrifice


Traditional skills alive and well

Torajan Tonkanan family compound

A few buffalo sacrificed

Carrying the coffins for burial

Tau Tau, coffins and skulls in cave burial
We have been steadily moving west during our time in Indonesia, but boat progress is too slow to get everywhere, so in company with Eric of Lisanne, we flew north to Makassar on Sulawesi (a very strange K-shaped island).  After a nine hour drive to the Toraja Highlands, we spent a couple of fascinating days with an excellent guide.  Toraja houses and rice barns are built entirely of wood, with no nails.  They are elaborately carved and brightly painted and range in lines along a family compound.  The roofs swoop dramatically - some say like an upside down boat, but more probably the shape is based on buffalo horns.  We saw many buffalo grazing next to rice paddies.  They don't work and are pampered like members of the family.  All very well, but they are then part of the ritual of funeral ceremonies.  We watched as 24 of them had their throats slit and 48 pigs were killed in honour of an old lady of high caste who had died.  The animals will lead the way to the afterlife, it's believed.  It was extremely bloody (though mercifully quick) and the whole community turned out to watch, bringing condolence presents (ours was a carton of cigarettes!) and taking tea with the bereaved family.  The bodies are carried in ornate mini-house structures and many are inserted  into caves in the cliffs.  Outside, metre-high tau-tau statues of the deceased are placed.  They are lifelike and their clothes are changed regularly so that people remember what they looked like.  If a baby dies before its first teeth have come through, it is buried in a tree - a cut is made in the trunk, the swaddled body is pressed in upright and the belief is that the child will be absorbed into the tree and grow up that way.  Superstitions are still widespread: as we walked through one hamlet, a young pregnant woman hugged me and apparently said her baby would have a nose like mine as a result! She had a piece of ginger root pinned to her tee shirt to ward off evil.  More hugs in store at a primary school we visited after touring a market with hundreds of sweet-faced buffaloes, selling for about $3000 apiece, as well as pigs trussed to bamboo stakes - all destined to be part of funeral ceremonies.
 Our next flight was to Sorong in Papua, even further west than where we first arrived in Indonesia.  From there a ferry took us to Raja Ampat (four Kingdoms), a spectacular collection of islands with some of the best coral in the world and huge numbers and diversity of fish.  After all this time on the Rally, when I've been the snorkeller while others dived, I finally took the plunge (literally) and passed my PADI Open Water course in Lombok, so I was able to dive with Charles and Eric and see the stunning sights, including a Wobeggon Shark, which looks like a slightly moth-eaten rug.  My style still leaves plenty of room for improvement!
Amandari pool
We also fitted in four days of complete pampering at Amandari in Ubud on Bali.  It wasn't all lazing by the glorious infinity pool, yoga, sumptuous food and massages, though: we climbed Mount Basur in the dark in order to be at the summit for sunrise and went for a wonderful bike ride and hike through UNESCO World Heritage rice terraces where the mud walls and elaborate irrigation system (reminding me of the 'bisses' in Switzerland's Valais) have been much the same for centuries.  Bali is an anomaly in Indonesia: no minarets and calls to prayer here, but an unbelievable number of temples.  Nearly every day seems to bring major celebrations, processions and flag-waving.  We also had a different cultural experience in Seminyak - otherwise known as Sydney-on-Sea - where we watched the Melbourne Demons triumph in Aussie Rules against Geelong.  It's a really good fun game.
PADI qualified finally
And then back to Calliope which feels so much like home.  The freezer is less well-stocked now and we are using up tins under the floorboards.  We're still reading a lot, embroidering and - always - polishing stainless steel. 
Rice terraces in Bali
We are now on our way to Jakarta with Bastien and Selma, our French crew from Nouvelle Caledonie, who will look after the boat while we nip back to England next week and again in Singapore when we leave the boat for longer in November and December.  We are sailing along the north coast of Java, the one island which contains 60% of Indonesia's population - that is 160m people or 2x France in 1/3x the geographical are .  The coast is undistinguished and dirty; instead of dodging coral reefs we are avoiding oil rigs - as well as the ubiquitous small and poorly-lit fishing boats.  However we spent one day inland and visited the fabulous temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. 
Borobodur
Borobodur is a Buddhist temple built in the 9th Century, multi-layered with many carvings, and beautifully restored by Unesco in the 1980s by taking it apart stone-by-stone and then reconstructing.  Prambanan is a Hindu Temple, or rather it was 224 Temples, damaged by earthquakes but 5 or 6 of the most important reconstructed, the latest such in 2015.  Built within 50 years of Borobudur, both are beautiful and both amazingly set in large parklands where modern man has not been allowed to encroach thus enabling the magic to remain.  Again, we had excellent guides, knowledgeable and eager to share their passion.
Prambanan
 Our abiding memory of Indonesia will be the warmth of its people.  250m people in 15000 islands, multi-religions, multi-cultures, but living together in harmony as far as we can see.  Many live in subsistence mode, fishing in boats smaller and larger, sailing out in outriggers into the straits between Bali and Lombok to fish in currents of 6-7 knots and huge water movements.  Mobile communications quality has been superb - 4G of really good speed at dirt cheap prices.  We are the tourist attraction; however, the "Muzungu" tourist to over-charge and over-sell has only been an isolated issue, and everyone waves, smiles and laughs.   A real joy.


Friday, 17 August 2018

Indonesia (part one)

Happy Indonesian national day - 17th August. Apparently there's much
celebrating going on, but we are alone in a remote anchorage in Komodo
National Park and will have to celebrate by ourselves, unless some Komodo
Free-diving fisherman Alor at 10m depth
dragons and monkeys stage a party on the beach.

There will lots of news to come from Indonesia. We've been here a month now
and are loving it. When the rest of the Oyster World Rally fleet moves on in early September, three boats (ourselves, Lisanne and Miss Tiggy) will be staying on in Indonesia and then making our way north and west to Malaysia,
Singapore, Langkawi,Thailand and possibly Myanmar if we can arrange visas and paperwork, and shipping our boats back to the Mediterranean in April
Alor reef
2019. It will be very sad to break away from our family of yachts but we will stay in touch -- and there is lots to look forward to back in England.

Charles has been reading a book called Indonesia - Exploring the Improbable
Nation, by Elizabeth Pisani. It IS an improbable place, with over 17,000
islands and 300 languages. We're assured that Bahasa, the lingua franca, is easy to learn, but we are still frustratingly bad at communicating, mostly relying on smiles and a very limited vocabulary (it does include 'how old are you?' as that's useful when dispensing reading glasses!) The currency, rupiyahs, has way too many zeros. In a largely cash economy, wallets bulge with 100,000 rupiyah notes, worth £5. The smallest note is worth 5 pence! Life is mostly cheap here, so I do have moments of wondering 'is that £1.25 or £12.50?'

The geography of Indonesia (the part we've seen) is stunning. As everyone's been reminded recently, it lies on the ring of fire, and most of the mountains are volcanic cone-shaped. The hills where we are now are arid, baking in the sun, with dramatic rock formations at the shoreline. When we went inland to Kelimutu multi-coloured lakes, though, we drove through


Alor coral garden

Smiling schoolchildren Kalabahi

Traditional village Kalabahi

FAD

Beach BBQ with the Tiggys
rainforest and mist, and skidded alarmingly on muddy roads when riding pillion on mopeds. There are beautiful beaches, though sadly they are often litter-strewn. Where DO all those flipflops come from?! There's not much
attempt at recycling and towns such as Kupang or Labuan Bajo are very dirty, with gutters heaped with plastic bags and bottles. We did hear of one initiative which uses schoolchildren one afternoon a week to clear beaches,
but it will take more than that to remove the sad tidelines.

Our first encounter with Indonesia was Kupang. Going ashore was a challenge
as there's no dinghy dock, so you were simply dumped on the beach by a wave -- but then a group of locals would rush down to help pull the dinghy up the beach and would look after it all day, moving it when the tide required, for
the equivalent of £2.50. Refuelling was a similar challenge, both here and in Labuan Bajo (a harbour with hundreds of boats) as all diesel had to be transferred to the boat in jerrycans. We transported 600 litres of fuel by
dinghy to our boat and decanted it through a filter. That took an entire afternoon, making me think wistfully of service stations with petrol pumps at home.

Traffic is absolutely crazy here. I don't know what the statistics are, but I imagine road deaths must be very high. Drivers routinely overtake when approaching blind corners and lean on their horns to force the thousands of
mopeds out of their way, occasionally off the tarmac road. Tiny minivans, called bemos, stop wherever they want to let passengers out, even in the middle of intersections. We took a bemo to the traditional fruit and veg
market in Maumere, music blaring as we squeezed our large western bodies onto bench seats designed for smaller people. In remote villages, dogs move frighteningly slowly off the road as you approach and children, seeing white faces through the car windows, burst out laughing. We are the main attraction and people love having their photo taken with us. At a primary school, we were mobbed like celebrities - everybody wanted to shake hands
and introduce themselves.

We've been moving gradually west along the north coast of Flores Island. That's a Portuguese name and that influence lives on in the many Catholic churches here, although the fishing villages on the coast are mainly Muslim
and we are usually awakened by the call to prayer (some much more tuneful than others!) Last Sunday Nicky went to Mass (2 hours, the format completely familiar but entirely in Bahasa - I spent it learning numbers)
and afterwards ran an eye clinic, giving away over 70 pairs of reading
Eyejuster glasses solve short-sightedness for two sisters
glasses. As we've moved west, there's been more tourism, though the
facilities for visiting yachts are still non-existent. We've anchored off a
couple of resorts and have been made to feel very welcome by the managers.
At Sea World near Maumere we gave away glasses to staff and at the Puri Sari
Hotel we used their pool and laundry facilities. One enterprising
restaurateur in Labuan Bajo has two farms and supplies such welcome luxuries as salad leaves (21 varieties!), Italian salami and gorgonzola and organic meats. Tiggy got more than she bargained for, though, when she opened the chilled box and found her duck still had its head and feet attached.


Eventually they will arrive

But the really amazing and improbable thing about Indonesia is its sea. The diving has been exceptional; Charles said Alor was the best ever -- until he dived the Cauldron near here in Komodo. He and James, Tiggy and Callum did
a two day Advanced Diving course, which means they can dive deeper and in stronger currents. There are lots of strong currents here, which is challenging and exciting even for those on the surface, snorkelling. The
fantastically coloured coral and fish whizz by like a speeded-up film. The soft coral is blown sideways like trees in a gale. At Krokos Reef, where we enjoyed a great beach barbecue with Oyster friends (and some unwelcome sandflies), we drift-snorkelled the pass twice, towing the dinghy behind us. That night, the tide went waaaay out and we had a long walk from the beach to find sufficient depth to launch the dinghies. There was a full moon. Was it that or the distant earthquake in Lombok which caused the tidal anomaly? We have seen so much sealife: giant trevallies, sharks, turtles,
One of a thousand volcanoes in Indonesia
rays, lionfish, cuttle fish, a million reef fish. I love the multi-coloured nudibranchs attached to coral: apparently they are snails without shells, which makes them slugs, not usually my favourite creatures, but here they are glorious.
We've had some good sailing but also a fair bit of motoring. The wind can come up or die abruptly and there are very strong currents between islands. Another hazard of Indonesian sailing are FADs or Fish Attracting Devices,
frequently unmarked and unlit. We went into one bay at night with Nicky shining a torch ahead of us and spotting FADs. The following morning, leaving in daylight, we could see many more which we'd been lucky to miss.
There are very few other yachts, but many phinisi or liveaboard dive boats as well as numerous fishing boats, many just canoes with outriggers for added stability. Apparently it brings them good luck if they cut across your bow, which accounts for the sometimes erratic course they take! In some anchorages, boats come to sell or barter - a lobster for a packet of biscuits and a tee shirt? Deal! We've given away dive masks, old halyards,
clothes, saucepans and colouring pencils.

As at home, not everything runs smoothly all the time. I'll let Charles explain about the generator problems we've been having. Or maybe not as your eyes will glaze over about actuators, governors, control panels! Anyway at the moment we can either make water or charge the batteries or run the
washing machine, but not together at the same time! So we can keep going. We hope to be able to fix it in Lombok in early September.

Above all Indonesia is about its very smiley people from small children to adults. Always a wave. Much of the country survives on subsistence farming or fishing; local traditions and families are key. Although we can't understand the language apparently there are hundreds of them, with
different languages from village to village. We have visited genuinely tribal villages in Fotemvasi and the Kingdom of Boti where life hasn't changed for centuries. And yet, mobile phone coverage would have rural UK in rapture and it costs almost nothing. So traditional life and facebook co-exist; almost everyone seems to go to school in different coloured clean uniforms depending on age, but they don't learn much English there and learning by rote seems the norm. We have been to many unspoilt places on our journey and this a different, dirty-in-places kind of unspoilt.