October Days

While we are just chilling in Miri Marina, the blog will naturally get fewer posts from us. Otherwise it would be akin to social media style hourly updates of things we ate, what time we got up, what we bought in the shops and so on (although there is some of that in this post). I have carried on making notes in diary form, which has proved useful to us when we need to know dates relating to things like car hire, bike buying and when the worst squalls happened but otherwise makes for very mundane reading. This post will condense the few weeks since my last post by narrating the more (hopefully) interesting events and activities of that period.

The days here are largely leisurely and – yes – it is rather wonderful to indulge in such a relaxed way of life. There are no time constraints, no telephones or doorbells ringing, no bills or junk mail, no places to rush to…I could go on. This more flexible manner of living was brought home to me during a recent trip to town when I asked Paul if I had time to browse the bargain books in a department store and he pointed out that I could take all the time I needed since our time was our own.  The bikes have brought about a different kind of freedom. We now tend to shop on a daily or every other day basis. The long, hot walks into town are no more; we simply load our purchases in the baskets Paul fitted on the back of the bikes, or in our rucksacks. I was a bit nervous about cycling to start with. I know the saying ‘it’s like riding a bike’ and that you’re not supposed to lose the ability once learned but it’s been a while since I pedalled any distance and that was on a country cycle track. We collected our bikes from a shop in town and had to ride them back to the marina. After a slightly wobbly start, I gained confidence and found my balance but both of those deserted me once we set out on the main road. The traffic, the noise and my lack of road skills left me feeling vulnerable and I had to get off and push it a couple of times. Away from the busy roads, I found cycling to be pure bliss. The wind as you speed along is cooling, the roads are flat, and people smile and greet you (or maybe they are smirking at our helmets 😉 ). Best of all, there is no risk of coming into direct contact with the centipedes crawling along the pavements. Much as they scare me I do try to avoid squashing them.

On my bike

One of our first excursions was to the Coco Cabana event space on the waterfront, where the iconic seahorse lighthouse is located. I discovered, when looking at its Facebook page that it only opened in April this year, and was created as a ‘seaside ambience’ from which to view ‘the best sunset in Malaysia’. I’m sure other locations in Malaysia have also laid claim to that boast, but nevertheless it is a great place to watch the ocean from. Tables are set out overlooking the coastline and it’s also possible to sit on the boulders next to the water watching the waves crash onto them while sitting with a drink in the cool evening breeze.

Waiting for sundown at Coco Cabana

It’s a popular hangout with families and teenagers, who also flock to the regular artistic and cultural events held in the wooden event hall.  One Friday evening I bought some home-made perfume from one of the vendors during an art event there. It was the best copy of the Chanel fragrance (Coco Mademoiselle) I have ever come across. The lady who made it had several other brand name copies on sale and told us how she created them. At only £10 and cruelty-free, I walked away very happy…and smelling nice.

Paul got a puncture in his back tyre on our second day out cycling. Funnily enough we’d gone out specifically to get more cycle accessories such as locks, lights and puncture kits. I stood by and watched, impressed, while he turned it upside down and fixed it on a busy, dusty street. I tried to remember how I used to cope with this situation in my bike-riding days as a teenager. I remember pumping tyres up but the business of inner tubes, glue and patches must have been delegated to my dad or brothers I think. We also got caught in a torrential downpour while riding along a town centre road, becoming soaked through and chilly within seconds. We had to take shelter under the roof of a shopfront until it stopped. Arriving back at the marina feeling damp and still a bit cold, the boat felt wonderfully warm and dry and it seemed an appropriate evening to make sausages, sweet potato mash, mushrooms, fried onions and gravy for dinner.

Puncture fixing
Sheltering from the downpour with a flat back tyre

During the early hours of the morning of Friday 20th October we had the worst storm I have experienced while berthed in a marina. The wind felt frighteningly strong (60 knots we discovered later) and the sheet of heavy rainfall was a sight to see; the marina was completely obscured behind it! Paul went out in it to check the bikes and to tie anything down that was likely to blow away. One gust was so fierce and noisy during its build up and so strong when it hit the boat, it made me squeal in alarm. We later found out that it was the worst weather anyone local could remember and there was a fair bit of damage around to testify to its severity. The worst of this was, as Paul related in his post, the sentry box complete with sentry inside that blew across the marina forecourt. Apart from being literally shook up, he was thankfully unharmed. There was another powerful storm early the following afternoon, with a wind strong enough to cause some concern that the boat in the berth opposite would break its mooring ropes and hurl into us. Marina staff came and secured it just in case. We sat it out in the cabin for the whole day, preferring to stay onboard even when things settled down later on. The boat was rocking due to the combination of the big waves caused by the previous night’s storm and the powerful gusts. It had caused a fair bit of debris to scatter around the car park: broken glass, roof tiles, tree branches and building materials. Paul pointed out a house that had collapsed just over the water when trees had blown on top of it.  On our way to Miri on the bikes, we cycled through the park by the promenade and saw several trees that had either been uprooted completely or pushed almost horizontal. Meanwhile, the waves looked as if they were reddish brown in colour as they crashed on the beach, possibly due to algae having been whipped up by the storm.

The beach just after the storm
Didn’t want my sandals to get wet – failed 🙂

One of the more beneficial (for us anyway) consequences of the gales was that a kayak belonging to a neighbouring yacht blew away, leaving the couple with only one. Paul heard them deciding to dump or sell the remaining one since they didn’t really use them any more, and as he’s been intending to buy one, he bought it off them for a bargain price. So now we have a kayak to add to our growing lists of accessories. It’s very smart, and Paul enjoyed taking it out for a test ride in the marina. I suspect it’s another activity that looks easier than it actually is for me to do, a fact I discovered when I tried to windsurf once. I’ve been promised a lesson in kayaking anyway so we shall see.

The boat on the left is the one that looked as if it might break free in the storm
Trying out the kayak

I got on with making another batch of bread dough while Paul was kayaking and battled with a different kind of challenge. Using the other bag of flour we’d chosen from Bakery Ingredients, I tipped it on to the tray while I got the other ingredients ready. I made a well in the flour and cursed when I spotted a fly that must have landed on the pile. I went to shoo it off and realised that it wasn’t a fly: it was a weevil, and it wasn’t alone! These pesky things are a fact of life here in The Tropics. There is a choice to be made on discovering them. Throw your hands up in horror and chuck the product away, as we have indeed done before, or deal with them by sieving the flour and using it as normal. I did a bit of research on the net and discovered they are harmless (as we’d already guessed) and that most grain products have them. I mustered up my courage and dealt with them. I can’t say I’m happy about the situation. I’ve found them in biscuits, nuts, breadcrumbs and packet mixes. Depending on the product and the amount I either throw it or use it, but we have discovered that putting the bags in the freezer for a few days and then storing them in the fridge is an effective way of dealing with the problem. Anyway we have had no ill effects, the bread was made and eaten – weevil free and I discovered a core of bravery I didn’t know I had 😉 .

It’s in there somewhere!

One afternoon in Miri we found ourselves near the bar where we’d been told all the ex-pats go to meet and socialise. Called The Ming Café, it’s on the corner of a busy street in the centre where lots of hotels and hostels are located. I was curious to see if they sold wine since it is so popular with foreigners so we parked the bikes near a table by the pavement and sat down in the busy bar. I knew it wouldn’t be Paul’s favourite type of place. It had screens showing sport, signs advertising all-day breakfasts, soccer matches, beer by the bucket and a wide range of imaginatively named cocktails (pictured below). They did serve wine by the glass, however – with soda too, so we had a drink there, but didn’t fancy ordering from a menu offering burgers, sausage sandwiches, potato wedges and mixed grill. I quite liked it in there though – it was lively, the music was good and it’s a great place to sit and people watch.

Charming
Ming Cafe

It was time for a wine run on Monday (23rd). It looked like the glass I’d had in the Ming Cafe would be my last for a while if I didn’t restock.  I didn’t want to have to pay the hiked up prices for a bottle from our regular supermarket, so we returned to Merdeka Mall, where it’s less expensive.  It’s a bit too far to cycle and we found it cheaper and more convenient to use ‘Grab’ taxis for both journeys. The wine worked out at about £12 a bottle – still pricey but better than £17.  With my indulgence catered for, Paul cycled off early to get his the next morning; a fresh fish from the town market in Miri (the type of fish he’d like to catch one day).  Each morning, just as dawn breaks we get visited by several little birds chirping and flying around on deck. I can see them through the hatch above the V berth and there’s often quite a few of them near the mast. Paul was concerned that they might be nesting but it seems they just like paying a morning visit – so much so that when Paul returned from market with his fish, one of them was flying around in the cabin! It beat a hasty retreat soon enough but I don’t know how long it had been inside while I was sleeping.

Other visitors to our pontoon, not quite as regular as the birds are ‘just married’, or about to be married, couples, complete with a photographer and dresser, whose main job appears to be to arrange the bridal dress and veil in ‘natural’ flowing poses by throwing the material up in the air and letting the wind catch it. It looks likely that Sister Midnight will be in the background of many a glossy wedding album, and we have often had to either wait or take a detour while all the snapping is going on. It’s quite interesting to watch all the preparations and Paul is keen for the boat to look its best for its backdrop role. He has been busy painting, varnishing and cleaning the starboard side all week; getting up early to make the most of the coolest part of the day. It’s looking good, especially the varnished wood gleaming in the sunlight. The port side will need doing soon in order to preserve symmetry, which means moving the boat around for access to it. We will literally have a change of scene when that happens ;).

Hard at work
Spot the bride and groom in ‘proposing’ pose

Last night being Halloween we went to the party organised by Brian and Glee further down the pontoon. Our contribution to the victuals was a pumpkin jack o’ lantern carved by Paul and lit using one of our led bike lights because we’d forgotten to get tea lights. We also took some chocolate vermicelli ball cakes and hoped these offerings would make up for our choosing not to dress up in fancy dress (I know…#partypoopers). There was a very impressive array of food set out on the table and all the usual spooky decorations, masks, and lanterns hanging up. Party games and dancing were also successfully avoided by us but we enjoyed ourselves just the same. The atmosphere was great, and I have always preferred watching people dance to doing it myself. Brian passed on some useful tips about Labuan and Kota Kinabulu (popularly known as KK). Both of those places are on the agenda for visits later this month. Before that, though we intend to have a look at the nearby Niah Caves, where we will see the intriguing sight of relics from the cave dwellers of 40,000 years ago. Images below are from the party and from some of our daily bike rides.

Party food

Spot the sleeping man
Miri’s Park

Keep fit exercises in the park
Near the marina
These trees survived the storm
Cycle path on the prom

 

Shopping and Bicycles

After another walk to Marina Square on Monday evening (9th October) we went for a meal in one of the Chinese restaurants we had seen and liked the look of. It turned out to be less of a restaurant and more of a ‘hawker’ style eatery.  These can be confusing, and this one was no exception. In the street, or in a market development it’s more self-explanatory even to a foreigner. You have to order your drink separately from the drinks vendor (who is often the owner/manager of the centre), and you pay for that as soon as it’s brought to you. When you’ve looked and chosen the meal you want from the stalls, you point or gesture to where your table is and the meal is brought to you, and once again you pay on the spot. So there might be two or more people in your group, all ordering from different places, with servers and money and change all coming and going at the same time, but it works and I like it because the food is freshly cooked and inexpensive. This place looked so much like a restaurant that we sat down and were immediately surrounded by four people all proffering different menus. This was disconcerting enough but when we’d taken them and the table was strewn with an assortment of menus, they all stood watching and waiting expectantly. We ordered drinks so that eliminated one of them and Paul asked the rest if we could have a few minutes to choose. We sifted through the selection of menus, made our choice and then (of course) struggled to get anyone to come back to us to take the order! The food was worth the confusion when it arrived. I enjoyed a substantial tofu, vegetable and rice dish with a tasty sauce. Paul opted for the duck with rice but it was a fairly small portion and he wished he’d ordered the same as me. We’ll definitely go back anyway.

At least 6 menus to choose from!

Tuesday 10th October

It was time for a big shop, and for that we needed a car. Paul had booked one the day before and set off at 10 to collect the keys. It was a funny little thing – that’s the phrase that entered my mind as the day went on. The air conditioning didn’t quite get cold enough, and the alarm had a tendency to go off if we didn’t close the doors properly. I went to drop our laundry off and took the car keys with me while Paul went to the marina office in the same block so that I could let myself back in the car. Waiting inside it, I began to feel very hot, so opened the door to get out and the alarm went off, so I had to shut the door quickly and fiddle with the buttons on the keys to shut it up. I was then trapped in the oven-like temperature until Paul came out. The windows only opened when the engine was on and I didn’t want to set the alarm off again. Luckily I had a battery fan to alleviate the heat a bit but I kept thinking of the poor dogs who get left in such temperatures. We caused some amusement at a petrol station, and outside a shopping mall when Paul had to make a few attempts to stop the alarm stopped blaring out when he walked away. The car, a Perouda, also struggled to get up hills and the rear passenger door didn’t close properly.

Our quirky little hire car!

Still, it got us to all the places we needed to be. Namely, a succession of supermarkets. The bigger ones are situated in indoor malls, and the first one we went to, as Paul has described, was quite an eerie experience. It looked totally closed. No cars were in the car park, which is most unusual here. The stairwell leading to the mall looked disused; it was full of litter and smelled stale. The level we walked in to didn’t look promising. Metal shutters were down on the shop units, some of which looked abandoned or incomplete. I wondered if the day was a public holiday we were unaware of, but in the basement we found the supermarket – empty but open. It was a treat to walk the aisles with no one else around, if a little disconcerting. Slowly, however other shoppers began to appear and all soon felt normal.

A mannequin ‘family’ inside one of the malls

Two, or maybe three, supermarkets later and pretty much all the items had been ticked off the list, including some cough mixture, as it seems to be the only medical product we don’t have on board. The previous evening I couldn’t help wryly noting the array of ‘products’ on the table for our various ailments: Lemsip; plasters for blisters & cuts; throat sweets; paracetamol; cream for bites & stings; tweezers to remove a splinter from Paul’s foot; and tissues and antihistamines for my allergy. All we needed was a bag of Werther’s Originals for it to look like the day room in a care home 😉 Paul wanted to have a look at the Piasau Boat Club before heading back to drop off the shopping. It looked a little like a holiday resort, situated as it is in a Nature Reserve Park, with a nearby beach, children’s playground and a sea view from the clubhouse. I was pleased to discover that its Beachcomber bar sold white wine – one of the few places that does here. We sat on the terrace looking out at the view. Not many other people were around that afternoon, but judging from the signs and posters on display, plenty of activities and events take place there.

View from The Beachcomber Bar
Piasau Boat Club

The car had to be returned by 5pm on Wednesday so we set out at 11 30 on our mission to look at bicycles.  Several of the neighbouring yachts have folding bikes; they are handy for getting to the local shops as well as an ideal way to get physical exercise. It was difficult to know which type to buy though. We debated whether to get cheap ones to use while here and then donate them to some local children when we leave, or splashing out on decent foldable ones to keep. We started our search in the Marina Park complex at a shop called Giant. Their folding bikes were great but more expensive than we’d budgeted for. The next place had a reasonably priced second hand folding bike which made us consider getting that and a cheaper temporary one but Paul discovered the frame looked a bit bent on a closer examination. The salesman, keen for us to buy, offered to buy any bikes we chose back off us if we wanted to take them for a short period. He told us he would even include the shopping panniers we needed and fit them for us.  We looked at a couple more shops that day, and another one since then but finally settled on one we looked at yesterday and will be off to collect them soon.

Paul spotting the bent frame
Nice but pricey
We settled on the red and ordered a blue 🙂
Paul testing it

Miri city centre is worth a mention. When we visited in July, I noted that it looked as if it is mainly made up of Chinese shops and businesses, but that the town lacked something that I couldn’t define. I think this was because I was comparing it rather unfairly with lively, atmospheric Kuching. Returning after a two month break, I viewed it more favourably. Miri is an oil boomtown, although its oil rig ceased production in 1970, and new inland oil fields were found in 2011. The birthplace of the Malaysian petroleum industry, Miri urges people to visit The Petroleum Science Museum, located on the site of the first oil rig, which we intend to look at before we move on. Anyway, the city has its share of shopping malls, restaurants and plush hotels and the handicraft centre we went to before we left for the UK is a great place for Sarawakian arts and crafts and handmade and unusual gifts, all made by local producers (they were so friendly, too – we chatted to them for ages). I think it’s fair to say, however that Miri is a gateway to several other inviting nature-based attractions that surround it, such as The Niah Caves, Mulu National Park and the Bario Highlands, all of which I’m also looking forward to seeing.

Miri Centre

Miri Handicraft Centre
Products in the Handicraft Centre

We had a quick look at one of the recommended fruit and vegetable markets before driving home. We didn’t need much, only an elusive courgette, but the markets are so colourful and interesting to amble around.

Durian plants for sale

I’m used to people staring at us now, and I think traders like it that we take the time to look around and ask questions. We bought some apples, a bunch of fresh rosemary and some pumpkin but our request for a courgette was met with either bemusement or amusement. Paul looked up the word for it in Malay on his phone (sejenis labu kecil) and we were directed to a stall selling a white, round vegetable that we were told was like a courgette as it was part of the marrow family. We bought it after another stallholder took the time to explain to us how to cook it. He did state that it was a bit bland in taste and he was quite correct – it proved to be a poor substitute for the courgette 😉

Life goes on in a lovely leisurely way here in Miri. We try to go out for a walk each evening, either to the Marina Park or the waterfront area so that we’re getting daily exercise until we get the bikes. The rainy season is upon us and we’ve seen some spectacular downpours. I’ve got used to springing up to close all the windows as soon as the drops hit the coach roof. The good news is that there are no leaks on the boat! The rain showers are welcome actually because the temperature drops and it really is delightful listening to it pound and patter outside while we are cosy and dry inside. I tried to capture the image of how heavy the rain is in pictures but couldn’t do it justice. I am pleased to report that my second attempt at baking bread turned out successfully so I think the flour from Bakery Ingredients is a hit (see pic below).  The pictures that follow it are of our excursions to the waterfront and the five-hour walk we took into Miri yesterday to choose our bikes.

The long, hot midday walk into Miri
Outside The Coco Cabana
Art Exhibition at The Coco Cabana

 

 

 

MIRI – Marina and Environs

We’ve been back in Eastern Malaysia for just over a week now and we’re just about getting used to the time difference and the contrast in temperature. It doesn’t feel as hot and humid as it was back in July – I know this because I have felt more inclined to do jobs instead of lazing all day ;-). There have been one or two occasions when the breeze felt cool, as opposed to feeling like the blast from a hair dryer, which combined with a few heavy rain showers, made it feel almost autumnal! Having said that, it is still hot…well, we are in the tropics after all. It feels good to be back on Sister Midnight and the ‘liveaboard’ life.

Home 🙂

During the unpacking and stowing on our first day here, I rediscovered things I’d forgotten I had left on board, and hadn’t needed to bring over from the UK, such as reading glasses and various cruelty-free toiletries. We had arrived at night, relieved to find everything dry and creature-free so we only had time for a brief sort out – enough to get the bed made up, the power and water running and to move some of the large deck equipment out of the cabin. Paul was up early the following morning, on a mission to get bread and bottled water, and when I woke a bit later to join him for coffee and toast, I naively assumed we had effectively dodged any jet lag and would now slip smoothly and effortlessly back into normal sleep patterns. We didn’t! For two or three days after that we were both lying in bed with our phones lit up for much of the night, while feeling lethargic and dozing for parts of the day. Our first full day was spent unpacking, sorting and stowing. I was intrigued by a new sign that had been put up on the wall warning people in the marina about the possibility of crocodiles in the water and wondered if there had been an incident that had prompted it. We found out later from one of our neighbours that it’s merely for ‘insurance purposes’ and it’s highly unlikely that one will venture into the marina. It won’t stop me looking though.

We took a walk into Miri centre early that first evening to get a few more provisions from the supermarket. I couldn’t help remembering the wriggly, reddish brown centipedes or millipedes that tend to traverse the paths at that time of the evening. I’m trying to control my urge to squeal when I see one because it’s going to limit where I can go and what I can do, not just here but in other countries too. However, it’s not that easy to eradicate a phobia by employing mere mind over matter. Ask anyone who’s afraid of spiders!  One of the books I’m reading isn’t providing much comfort on the matter. Redmond O’Hanlon describes his journey upriver into the middle of the jungle in his 1983 book Into The Heart of Borneo and the first paragraph on page one lists certain local creatures and diseases to be avoided, along with helpful hints on how to thwart them:

‘…there is no matching the strength of that irrational desire to find a means of keeping your head upon your shoulders; of retaining your frontal appendage in its accustomed place; of barring 1,700 different species of parasitic worm from your bloodstream and Wagler’s pit viper from just about anywhere; of removing small, black, wild-boar ticks from your crutch with minimum discomfort (you do it with Sellotape); of declining to wear a globulating necklace of leeches all day long; of sidestepping amoebic and bacillary dysentery, yellow and blackwater and dengue fevers, malaria, cholera, typhoid, rabies, hepatitis, tuberculosis and the crocodile (thumbs in its eyes, if you have time, they say).’

Into The Heart of Borneo, (p.1), Redmond O’Hanlon

Admittedly, he was venturing deep into jungle territory, but the mere thought of a necklace of leeches is enough to keep me from being near the perimeter of the jungle. Anyway I will keep trying to conquer my fear. The supermarket in Imperial Mall, I remembered, had an impressive variety of vegetarian food in their freezer department so I spent a happy 15 minutes examining it all and reading the ingredients (I know how to have fun 😉 ). I was particularly fascinated by a bag of frozen prawns that looked exactly like real prawns. I called Paul over to see them and he was less than impressed, remarking that they shouldn’t be allowed to use the word ‘prawn’ in the description.

All vegetarian and vegan

Wine is terribly expensive here. We bought one bottle for the princely sum of £17! We have since found somewhere that sells it a bit cheaper but it’s still pricey. After that pleasant amble around the aisles of the supermarket, we went for dinner at Madli’s, a Muslim eatery we’d visited a couple of times in July. Situated (almost literally) on Miri’s long, lively main street where there are several bars, restaurants and clubs, it’s been there since the 90s and has a good range of food, including traditional Sarawakian, Chinese, Malay and Western (they also cook veggie dishes to order) and the staff are lovely.

Madli’s, Miri

On Saturday evening, after a lazy ‘do-nothing’ couple of days, we thought it would be nice to walk to the waterfront area opposite the marina to watch the sun set. I had been trying to shake off a persistent bad cough and hadn’t done much for two days, so welcomed the idea of some exercise. It’s a 40 minute walk to this area, where the seahorse and the CocoCabana complex is located but it’s a pleasant walk along the wide tree-lined pavements.  People were jogging past us in preparation for the charity run that would take place later that evening. The build-up had been quite a noisy affair, with PA systems being tested by playing an assortment of bass-heavy music all day, which was so loud it had made the cabin floor vibrate. Now, an MC was trying to get everyone in the mood by yelling out corny pantomime-style exhortations to cheer and dance and shout out that they were happy and ‘ready to run’. We bought a beautifully refreshing cold drink from one of the refreshment stalls when we got there. I was expecting the lemon juice drink I ordered to be sour because I asked for no added sugar (they tend to put lots of it in drinks here) but it was gorgeous and even eased my cough for a while. The pictures below show how beautiful the sky is at twilight here.

Stalls on the waterfront
View from the waterfront

Woke up to heavy rain late on Sunday morning, and a much cooler temperature. Paul has referred to the bread I baked on this afternoon in his post. It was disappointing because I had tried it at home and it was a huge success with a golden brown crust and fluffy white texture. My granddaughters loved it. I used Jamie Oliver’s basic bread recipe which unlike the one I had been using previously, doesn’t require cooking oil but has more yeast and less kneading. I had been looking forward to trying it out on the boat. It all looked fine until it went in to the oven where it rose and smelled the part but for some reason it remained white in colour, even though it was clearly ready to come out. The bottom was brown so I can only assume I need to tweak the temperature and the shelf it’s placed on. The flour may also have been a factor. Here, unlike the helpfully labelled ‘bread flour’ on the shelves at home, there are several types on offer but we’ve had to ask which one would be best for bread. We’d been told that the high ratio type was ideal and that was what I used. Since then we have been to one of the shops in the complex here and sought further advice. This shop is aptly called ‘Bakery Ingredients’ and is delightful. Inside, it smells like sweet cakes and has a fascinating array of products – the majority of which are sugar-based but there was plenty of flour to choose from. We came out with two bags of ‘top flour’ which we were assured contained more protein and was perfect for baking loaves. I haven’t tried it yet so watch this space. Anyway the anaemic loaf was edible at least and it came into its own when toasted 😉 .

Which type to choose?

We walked to the area known as Marina Square late in the afternoon. This is the huge shopping and dining complex about thirty minutes’ walk away from the marina. I had made notes about the place during our visits to it in July and I have looked at them to see if my initial impression had altered. I had described it as deserted and soulless and it still seemed like that to me. It’s a fairly new structure, built as part of a plan to turn the whole area into an attractive tourist destination. Signs advertising the completion of this, promise it will be in April 2018. For this reason, quite a lot of the units haven’t been sold or opened yet, while those that were had few customers. The bars and restaurants are mostly the type you’d expect to see in major cities, except that they lacked atmosphere. To be fair, this is probably only a temporary state. A couple of the more popular establishments show how it could become a lively and vibrant stomping ground in time.

Marina Square

One of the units in Marina Square. I took this because it looks intriguing…and painful!

Before we left for the UK we had been to a bar called Chillax to have a drink with some of our neighbours in the marina, and it was here we headed for.  I think that in the two months we’ve been away, more units had opened and it seemed there were more people around. Chillax is one of the more favoured bars, but like all the others, (we asked) it doesn’t sell white wine – only red. We guess this is because it’s not as easy to keep if there is little demand for it.  We ordered some chips to share with our drinks but weren’t expecting the huge bucket of them that arrived, so ‘Tiger’ beer and chips turned out to be my somewhat unhealthy dinner that evening.

Inside Chillax

Oh, and it appears that Christmas has arrived here already so never let it be said that the UK is the only place where decorations start to appear far too early 😉

July 2017 Revisited

It’s almost time for us to return to Sister Midnight. She has been in her berth at Miri Marina in North Borneo since we left her at the end of July for our two-month break in the UK. Before we embark on enjoying further excursions and experiences, I am keen to complete the blog posts for the last few weeks in July. Due to intermittent Wifi and lack of time, I was unable to submit any entries or pictures before we left. They follow below and, typing as I am in a very ‘autumnal’ Merseyside, will help prepare me for the heat, sun and humidity that await us in Malaysia, not to mention the wildlife, the food and new destinations: I can hardly wait 🙂

A FAIRY CAVE, A STREET MARKET AND A CROCODILE!

The attraction known as ‘Fairy Cave’ is located about 40km from Kuching and is another ‘must see’ on the list of recommended places in Sarawak.  It’s near a place called Bau, a former gold mining settlement, and is also close to the site of a weekend street market we were keen to visit on the border with Indonesia.  To fit all this in, we were up and out by 9am, the satnav programmed with directions for the 90 minute drive. Like several of the places we’ve visited, it looked deserted and closed when we got there but the kiosk was manned and we were issued with tickets (thankfully without the offer of a ‘senior rate’ this time) and directions. The view at the entrance didn’t convey a very promising impression. Access to the cave is via a four storey concrete staircase, much like those in multi-storey carparks. To the right of it we could see the original, now disused, staircase which was cut into the steep rock face. This one had no barrier and some of the steps were crumbing but a passing guide informed us that it had been used as recently as a few decades ago – without handrails even then!

Stairs to the mountain’s interior
The old staircase

At the top of the stairs we passed through a dim, narrow passage and ascended some steep wooden steps. At the end of the passage we found ourselves inside the mountain itself. The massive cave had a huge opening, which allowed the light to flood in and the scene before us was the stuff of fairy tales…or Harry Potter, Gormenghast, Lord of the Rings, Hall of the Mountain King – take your pick! Anyway, there were plenty of ‘wow’ moments in there, and all of it was natural.  The cave is criss-crossed with concrete footpaths and steps and the slimy walls were covered in plants, ferns, and flowers. Stalactites and stalagmites abounded and some were almost meeting in the middle.

We could hear bats above us near the roof of the cave but I didn’t spot one. The ‘fairy’ that gives its name to the cave was rather understated when we came upon it. It was a tacky-looking statue that seemed to have been randomly plonked on a flat rock surface in the main cavern, as if to justify the name. I haven’t been able to find any definitive story about it anyway. Few other visitors were around and we had a delightful time exploring nooks and crannies and admiring the view of the fields and hills from the openings high up on the cave floor.

The fairy

The weekend street market at Serikin had been recommended to us by a taxi driver who told us that traders from Indonesia cross the border every weekend to sell their wares (particularly Batik cloth) at bargain prices. To reach it we drove through a flat, rural district where the roads were bordered by lush banana or coconut plantations and fish farms. From the car park at Serikin Market, we could see stalls lining both sides of the long, crowded street.

Serikin Street Market

They were displaying an array of handmade bowls, jewellery, musical instruments and authentic wooden souvenirs as well as the ubiquitous rolls of batik cloth. It’s a well-attended market and was thronging with people even in the heat of the midday sun. At the end of the street the stalls were packed with all kinds of exotic fruit and vegetables. Some of them had the produce laid out on the ground in attractive formations.

There were food items on display that we had never seen before and would have had no idea what to do with them, but almost every vendor urged us to buy something until we gave in and bought some strange-looking fruit that resembled chestnuts. Later, after they had been hanging around in the fridge for ages giving off a pungent aroma, we looked them up online and found out they are believed to aid fertility and are ‘an acquired taste’. We never did get round to cooking them!  We also came away with some batik, a walking stick, pictured below with its owner and a few gifts to take home.

Keen to make the most of the car while we had it, we set off to get some of the heavier provision items on Monday morning (July 10th). Mydin Hypermarket is a fairly short drive from the fish farm and was blissfully deserted when we got there, so we were in and out quickly and back at the boatyard by midday. Paul took the car back to its parking place in the lane while I carried the shopping bags to the dinghy. Standing on the bridge while waiting for him to return, I heard the farm dogs barking furiously and when I turned my head to look, I saw the cause of it and could do nothing but gape. Two of the dogs were chasing a large crocodile off the premises, forcing it into the swampy mud at the edge of the water, just below me. It happened so fast and was so thrilling I didn’t even think to get my phone out to capture the scene. The dogs were right behind its long tail, one on either side and they didn’t let up barking until it flopped into the water and swam off. I watched it until it was out of sight and thought of all the times we had crossed the short stretch of water in the dinghy when it could have been perilously close.  I understood the need for signs warning people to beware of them now; we would need to keep a sharper lookout in future. After returning the car later that evening, we spent the next few days on the boat catching up on various tasks. I didn’t see any more crocodiles during our time there – in or out of the water – but I feel privileged to have seen that one.

Crocodile spotted in the area on the left of the picture

THE RAINFOREST FESTIVAL

Sarawak’s 20th Rainforest World Music Festival took place from the 14th-16th July and we had tickets for the opening day. It was to be our final excursion before leaving Santubong and despite not being a fan of world music, I was looking forward to attending the festival in the Cultural Village. I had been up for walking the whole way there – it is possible to do it- but the early afternoon heat was making us flag before we had got very far along the road. Paul was correct in surmising that someone would stop to offer us a lift. Our saviours were a young couple on their way to the festival, who kindly drove us as far as the park and ride spot and even offered us some of their stash of cold cans of beer. From the park and ride site it was only a 30 minute walk to the festival and we chose to do that rather than pay to get on the crowded shuttlebus to the venue. At the entrance, our bags were searched as we expected, but this being Borneo it was without the grim-faced officialdom often found at some events’ security gates. The staff were clearly enjoying the festival atmosphere and wanted everyone to have a good time: the smiles and greetings here were genuine.

Welcome to the festival

The site looked totally different from our previous visit. It wasn’t overcrowded but there were lots more people, while colourful tents, stalls and cafes lined the village pathways. There was a lot going on and it was hard to decide what to do first, so we walked around the perimeter, browsing the stalls and checking out the variety of food for sale. Thankfully, alcohol wasn’t banned as I’d half expected it to be. Beer and wine were available, although typically prices were hiked up, it being a festival. Several workshops were dotted around the site, offering lessons or opportunities to make and play musical instruments and to create jewellery, clothes and woodcarvings from local materials. The bands weren’t due to take the stages until the evening so we spilt up for a couple of hours so that we could have a look around separately. Paul went off to watch some performances in the Chinese theatre while I browsed more of the art and craft stalls.

A performance in The Chinese Farmhouse
Ice Cream 🙂

Dancers in flamboyant costumes, their faces painted with vivid colours, provided lively entertainment on the walkways, accompanied by music from musicians playing traditional instruments. It’s easy to see why the festival’s popularity has grown over the years. The emphasis is on music, culture and dance. There is no bureaucracy, no political speeches and the atmosphere is very relaxed. I couldn’t fault it in any way, although I did have a few moments of concern.

A traditional Iban opening ceremony was performed before the main events commenced. A man in traditional costume entered the main stage and began chanting while holding a placid-looking rooster. Behind him, people were swaying to the beat of the music and it was all beginning to look and sound decidedly sacrificial to my mind.  I thought it best to close my eyes until it was all over – a tactic that has served me well when watching horror films or on vertigo-inducing fairground rides.  Apparently a series of blinding flashes and loud bangs distracted the audience sufficiently to make the rooster’s fate uncertain! I’ll go with Paul’s opinion that it was all just theatre. I found out later that it was the Miring ceremony, and is performed to honour gods, spirits and ancestors and to wish the festival success. Sometimes the ritual involves the slaughter of a pig or a chicken, but while the pig is almost always killed, the chicken is often allowed to live – at the whim of the warrior.

I hope it lived!

After that, it was all about the music. As the sun set behind the jungle stage we watched bands from Sarawak, Finland, Hungary and South Africa. The highlight for me was the Finnish band called Okra Playground who played a cracking ‘folk-rock’ session using traditional Finnish instruments, and judging by the crowd’s enthusiastic reaction I wasn’t alone in my admiration.

Okra Playground

The African music that followed them didn’t do a lot for me, however, and as we had an early start planned in the morning we were ready to leave by then anyway. The festival was a spectacular event and it wouldn’t have taken much persuasion for me to stay for the next two days, but it was time to move on. We had a six day journey ahead of us to reach the marina at Miri where we would be leaving Sister Midnight for two months.

PASSAGE TO MIRI

We left Santubong on Saturday 15th July. With a slight hangover due to a bit too much festival wine, I watched the fish farm fade into the distance behind us as we motored over the shallows of the river and out into the sea. I was sad to leave. The serene tranquility of the anchorage at Santubong would be hard to beat, even with the addition of the crocodile. I will miss the dogs, too. We made our way to Pulau Lakei, and from there to Rajang in two fairly uneventful trips apart from slight seasickness due to the pitching and tossing of the waves. The journey from Rajang to the Paloh River began with the unpleasant task of having to scrub the caked on mud from the anchor chain. When Paul had scrubbed it, I was poised in the anchor locker to flake as usual and the smell of ‘stale’ fish coming from the chain was overpowering and nausea-inducing. This was a short passage, but it took a long time because of the route we had to take in order to avoid sandbanks. For a large part of the journey the depth hardly got above 5.5 metres and the water was very murky.

Debris resembling the top of The Statue of Liberty?

The following day we set off for Patok at 9 am to catch the tide. Soon we were meandering around the curves of the Paloh River. Iban longhouses are located on these lowland riverbanks of Borneo’s rainforest. I had read that it’s possible to make arrangements to visit certain ones and to talk with the families who still live in them. Next time we are in the area we might plan ahead and do that; they have a fascinating history and culture and love to tell people about it. There was no wind but the current helped us make good progress throughout the afternoon. When we anchored, it was so shallow that for the first time, I didn’t have to reverse with the engine to set the anchor. Paul just dropped it in 3.5 metres of water and let the current pull it tight.

Wednesday 19th July was the start of a two-night passage to finish our journey to Miri. The first day was straightforward. Few other boats were around and the sea was flat calm. I took my usual 8pm until midnight watch and used the radar to assess the proximity of nearby fishing boats. We had hoped to save fuel by using the sails on this passage but the lack of wind prevented it unfortunately. The main hazards to avoid were oil rigs, disused oil well heads near the surface, and unlit fishing boats. The radar is a great comfort to me on these occasions.

Flat calm (oil rig in the distance)

On the second evening, we had company in the form of a little bird (a swallow I think). It flew around the stern for ages before settling on the solar panels and there it stayed for a good few hours. I remarked that birds are sometimes associated with myths and omens regarding boats. That very afternoon I’d been rereading the poem The Ancient Mariner. Paul’s dry response went something like…‘it’s just a tired bird having a rest and might even be dead by morning!’ 🙂

‘Look out for a seahorse!’ was the instruction Paul yelled out above the wind as we drew nearer to Miri on July 21st. Over the years, I’ve been asked to look for green, red and yellow lights and marker buoys among other things but never a seahorse. The seahorse sculpture (Miri’s mascot) is situated on a spit of land that forms the breakwater of the harbour and serves as a marker for sailors to aim for. I spotted the unmistakeable shape of its head as it gradually came into view, although it took a while for Paul to recognise it as a seahorse.

Miri’s Seahorse

We intended to anchor outside the marina until the tide was suitable for us to tackle the very shallow entrance into the marina itself. As we got closer, the sea, which had been pretty rough on our early morning approach, got choppier. Huge waves rocked us around like a bucking bronco, just as the sun came up and the area was very busy with marine traffic. Ferries, tugs and industrial vessels were going back and forth frequently from the marina even at that early hour. Anchoring was clearly out of the question in these conditions but we were aware that the sandbar at the entrance could make it very tricky if conditions weren’t right. For an hour or so we circled around dodging ships and big waves while I craved coffee and solid ground. Still undecided about when would be best to enter, Paul called the manager of the marina, a Captain Finn, who told him it would be fine to come in right then. We waited for a gap in the traffic and slowly edged Sister Midnight over the sand bar, watching the depth sounder drop to an alarming (for me anyway) 2 metres. Luckily the marina wasn’t very full and the waves died down once we were inside. Paul guided us in beautifully and I jumped down on to the pontoon and tied us off. We had a lot of sleeping and sorting out to catch up on before setting off on a proper inspection of our new surroundings but from a quick look around, it seemed lovely. It’s peaceful, sheltered and secure, with shower and toilet facilities – although no shops, bars or cafes. Later, we were welcomed by some of the marina’s other residents who were keen to offer tips and directions regarding where to eat and how to get into town etc. They were also able to confirm how secure and peaceful the marina is. In a little over a week we would be leaving our ‘home’ in SE Asia and it was good to know there would be people around to keep an eye on her for us. Some pics below show the parts of Miri we have seen so far.

Miri Marina

Miri Marina viewed from The Seahorse
On the way to the local shops
Sister Midnight in her berth
Miri Marina
Near the harbour
Sunset, Miri Seafront

 

 

 

 

Three Daytrips in Sarawak (4th – 6th July)

Tuesday 4th July – Semenggoh Wildlife Centre

Our guide book recommended two places to see orangutans and having spent a bit of time looking at both on the internet, Semenggoh looked like the best place to visit (funnily enough it was also the one our taxi driver had suggested). Founded in 1975, the orangutans (about 1000 of them) here are cared for in the Semenggoh Nature Reserve with the aim of rehabilitating them so they can be released into the wild. Like the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project in Thailand, a lot of them have been rescued from the illegal pet trade or have been brought in orphaned or injured. Feeding times were at 10am or 3pm so we opted for the afternoon slot, which meant setting out into the hottest part of the day. After the dinghy ride, the walk and the initial oven-like temperature inside the car, the air conditioning (once it kicked in) was glorious. It took about an hour to get there, we arrived at a little after two. We paid the amazingly cheap 20 ringgit admission fee (about £1.80 each) at a ticket booth and then drove quite a long way down to the car park. It would have taken at least 40 minutes to walk to it, yet on the narrow road down we passed signs and entrances for jungle treks, arboretums and rainforest walks – only accessible by walking back to them from the car park. All good value for money but we certainly couldn’t have done all those extras in the heat that day.

A building with a gift shop and information centre was at the entrance to the park. On the walls were pictures of some of the orangutans with their names and backstories. We’d barely started reading them when a ranger appeared to beckon us over to a nearby path where, he excitedly informed us, an orangutan could be seen on the branches of a tree. A few people were already there looking up in hushed admiration, with mobile phones held aloft to capture the image. Another ranger told us we were very lucky to see one this close as they don’t often venture too far away from their area in the rainforest.  We spotted it soon enough high up on the ropes between the trees, with its bright orange back to us, nonchalantly eating bananas and throwing the skins on the ground.

First view of the orangutan

We gave this couple a lift into Kuching

This orangutan entertained us for a good half an hour, swinging on ropes, eating, and occasionally turning round to stare at us staring at him.  The heat eventually forced us into a nearby wooden shelter where we could still see him. More arrived and gathered near to us as the appointed feeding time approached. A ranger appeared bearing more food in a sack, from which he passed coconuts, bananas and hard-boiled eggs up to the orangutan’s eager hands as he shinned down to grab it. At one point he had a bunch of bananas in one hand and a coconut in the other. After making quick work of the bananas, he proceeded to tear the hair off the coconut and then banged it against the trunk of the tree until it cracked open. He tipped the milk into his mouth, spat a large mouthful out, banged it some more and then gnawed at the white flesh, chomping while staring down at the ranger. Spying the eggs, he took some of those and spat out the shell to scoop out the hard boiled insides with his tongue. The eggs were his particular favourite I think judging by the amount he put away 🙂

At 3 o’clock we gathered to listen to a talk from the ranger concerning precautions and regulations regarding the orangutans. The alpha male, Ritchie, we were told, does not like loud noises and has a very bad temper. Orangs have very sharp teeth and are known to be strong: I don’t think we needed to be warned not to antagonise him! We followed the ranger along a narrow path with high jungle on either side of us to the feeding zone.

Don’t mess with Ritchie!

There were about 20 of us in the group altogether, including children – made up of Russians, French, Chinese and Indians of varying ages and I was impressed with the decorum of every one of them. The kids were well behaved, we were all respectful of our surroundings and we were all interested in the whole experience.  When we reached the viewing platform, a couple of orangs were already on the wooden structure tucking into an array of bananas, nuts and fruit. We photographed and filmed them, along with the little forest squirrels who were also making the most of the feast. It was fantastic to notice a female with a baby clinging to her tummy. Later we watched the youngster learning how to peel bananas and being taught how to climb by its mum.

The feeding platform

One young couple who had been keen to linger and watch the activities, had missed the last bus back to Kuching and asked if we’d mind giving them a lift. They were on a travel break from their careers, he was a doctor from The Ivory Coast and she from Bordeaux, France, studying animal psychology and had met during their travels. They were as impressed with our experiences and history as we were with theirs – it’s one of the many pleasures of travel to swap stories and backgrounds with the people you meet. We dropped them off at the waterfront and spent the rest of the evening in Kuching, shopping and walking – walking so much that my out of practise legs and feet protested violently. We ate in a Chinese hawker market. I keep hoping to find a stall like the one I had been to in Penang where the food is freshly cooked in front of you, but dishes from this one were displayed in uncovered bain-maries, school dinner fashion and there was a tendency to make you feel rushed to choose what you want. The food was lukewarm and the rice was cold and rubbery – cheap, but not very appetising.

Waterfront, Kuching

Wednesday 5th July

Today’s excursion was to the Sarawak Cultural Village – a ‘must see’ according to most travel guides and sites on Kuching. This will be the venue for the Rainforest Music Festival weekend on the 14th July so it seemed a good opportunity to check it out as it’s not too far away. The cultural village is comprised of seven authentically replicated houses and huts that were typical of those inhabited by the seven indigenous tribes native to Sarawak. There are daily performances of dances and rituals as well as demonstrations of their traditional chores, games and ceremonies. When we arrived at the ticket office, we were momentarily lost for words when we were offered the reduced price for seniors! Oh well it had to happen one day I guess.

The group in front of us had a great time in the village 😉

Clutching our ‘passports’, a handy little book containing info on the tribes and some of the myths and legends associated with them, we ambled into the park behind a group of loud and animated Chinese visitors.  The first house we visited was the Chinese Farmhouse and one of the men in the group explained to us that he was showing family members how much it resembles his grandparents’ house that he used to visit as a child in the 1960s. The family exclaimed and laughed and shouted loudly to each other as they posed for pictures in every part of it. We had a quick look around that house and then discreetly headed off in the opposite direction for a quieter visit.

Paul inside the Chinese farmhouse

We climbed some precarious staircases during our visit to the longhouses. They are reconstructed from thick logs (a notched log as it’s described in the book) – the steps hewn neatly into the wood to form the footholds but they seemed to be made for tiny feet and it would have been easy to slide down and do yourself a mischief if you weren’t careful, as the pictures below show.

The huge longhouse itself consists of an open veranda which formed the communal, domestic area for the villagers – up to twenty families could live under one roof. From this outer veranda, a smaller inner veranda is the ‘street’ from which doorways lead to the individual family rooms (all set out as they would have been if inhabited). It’s a bit like a commune in a big tree house. Most of the communal areas had people demonstrating various traditional craft-making skills.

We watched items such as swords, baskets and musical instruments being created, and in one house we saw clothing made out of tree bark.  The demonstrators were all keen to chat and to explain the histories of the houses and the customs and rituals of the tribes.

I was particularly fascinated with the headhunting custom practised by the Iban tribe. After a battle, a warrior would take a single head from one of the dead and display the skull in the longhouse communal area in recognition of the warriors’ role in protecting the community. They believed spiritual benefits were derived from the heads if sacrifices in the form of pigs or chickens were made to them, while the souls of the unfortunate decapitated people were said to protect the households they graced. The heads also played an important part in mourning rituals and when headhunting was outlawed in the 19th century and heads became scarcer, a head was often passed around to bereaved villagers. The heads we saw hanging from the rafters on our visit were real (we think).

Spot the heads!

One area had various stalls with some of the handicrafts on sale. The products were beautiful and unusual and it would have been easy to spend a fortune there, but I restricted myself to one item made from a coconut: a mum and baby orangutan money box.   The whole place was very well put together in a lush jungle setting, complete with monkeys on the roofs of the buildings and in the trees.

Spot the monkey!

We ended the visit in a theatre where we watched a vibrant song and dance performance depicting stories associated with the Sarawakian tribes and their daily lives. Leaving the village, we wandered down to the beach and had a drink in a bar there watching a torrential downpour of rain from the balcony. These downpours would continue all night.

View from the bar’s balcony

Thursday 6th July – Two Museums

Heavy rain in the night filled the dinghy which we keep suspended along the starboard rail. Paul had to get up in the night to empty it to prevent it straining the rope it was suspended on. Each time I woke up I could hear the rain thundering on the roof, but by late morning when we got up and got ready to head out again, the sun had chased all the clouds away.  Our excursion for today was to The Cat Museum in Kuching. It’s widely believed that Kuching was named after the Malay word for cat; ‘kucing’. Another theory claims that it comes from the Chinese word for port; ‘cochin’. Whatever the truth about the origins of its name, the city has embraced the association with cats (a wise choice given their global popularity, and ports just don’t have that ‘cute’ factor). There are statues and sculptures of cats all over the city, and shops and cafes have made use of the theme (The Cat Gallery Gift Shop, Meow Meow Cat Café). The local radio station is called ‘Cats FM’, walls bear cat graffiti and T shirts and souvenirs are emblazoned with cats of all descriptions. Hardly surprising, then that there is a museum devoted to them.  Housed on the bottom floor of the City Hall, it’s about 20 minutes’ drive away from the city, is free and is reported to contain over 4,000 artefacts devoted to cats. After checking that it also had wifi and seats, Paul agreed we should pay it a visit 😉

The cat museum, Kuching

The building reminded me of Liverpool’s catholic cathedral in its design and is set in beautiful lush green countryside. Inside, the four galleries are all on one floor with gift shops dotted around. Once Paul had sat himself down with his phone (he said he might join me later), I was the only one wandering around. It’s a quirky place. I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not at first: it seemed a bit random with its choice of exhibits. For instance, there was an area entirely devoted to Garfield, the American cartoon cat which seemed a bit incongruous amid all the displays of stories of cats in history, literature, superstitions and legends etc. One wall had pictures of cats fighting, cats eating and cats mating and ended with the question ‘do cats kiss?’. I did enjoy it actually because I spent a long time reading the information on the boards and studying the exhibits.

Entrance to the museum (pic from the web)

Paul, meanwhile had got so engrossed in his work he didn’t have time to look around, much to his disappointment 😉 We moved on to the next museum on the agenda.  The Sarawak Museum is in Kuching centre, and houses local native arts and crafts along with specimens of local mammals and insects collected by the famous naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace. We only had an hour before it closed, but it was an interesting hour. The building is a bit of a museum piece in itself, in a charmingly old-fashioned way. It had several dusty glass cabinets with stuffed animals, reptiles and birds in them, and wooden floors and quiet, dimly-lit rooms, like museums used to be in the UK before they became noisy, brightly lit and interactive. We ambled round, reading about the indigenous people of Sarawak and their myths and legends. These would delight any schoolchild with the tales of poison darts, sacrifices and of princesses turned into mountains. The masks they wore for battle were pretty amazing too. We got turfed out in the end because the attendant was ready to close.

Sarawak Museum, built in 1891
James Brooke, the first white Rajah of Sarawak

A walk in the park was next. Kuching’s well-kept park is popular with joggers and one area was full of people doing tai chi or something very like it. From there we returned to the riverfront to get the ferry across to the other side, which took all of two minutes and cost 20p. I was surprised to discover it’s a lot less plush on the other side of the river. Instead of smart bars, hotels and restaurants, this riverside has a few shops and cafes that are clearly more for the locals than aimed at tourists. It’s probably what the more developed side used to look like. Things could change once the bridge that is currently under construction is finished.

Kuching City Park
Memorial stones, Kuching
One of the many cat structures, Kuching

By the time we’d found somewhere to eat (a tapas bar in a smart square on the plush side), it was dark and when we reached the fish farm I was eager to flake out on the boat. Before I could do that though, we had to heave the dinghy out of thick mud where it had gone aground. Somehow, we’d miscalculated the tide times and it took both of us to drag it to the other side of the small pontoon where the water was just deep enough to take our weight and motor across. Paul said the alternative would have been to wade through the mud, pulling the dinghy until we reached the water. There is no way I would have done that. I would have happily sat on the wooden pontoon until morning before putting my legs in that creature-laden mud! I resolved to double check the tide times for the next day’s trip.

Lovely Santubong

Thursday 29th June –To Satang Besar

Weighed anchor on a hot sunny morning just after nine. Sadly, no further turtles were spotted but I don’t intend to stop looking; there’s always a chance of seeing one in these waters. A five hour journey stretched before us.  It was too hot to linger up above and the cabin was stuffy even with the fans on. A slight breeze provided some relief later in the afternoon but on days like these at sea, you long for sunset and the reprieve from heat it brings. At half past two we anchored near an island not too dissimilar to the previous one, put the canopy up and retreated below for cooling showers.

Leaving Telang Basar

Things changed late in the afternoon. Paul had checked the weather and noted that a huge squall was on the way. It turned out to be a massive one. It suddenly went very dark and the wind got stronger and stronger as the the deluge continued. The boat rolled, pitched and tossed for over an hour rendering me helpless to do anything but sit it out below; on hand in case Paul needed help above. The anchor held very well though and post-squall I was able to resume creating the latest piece de resistance in the galley using ‘stuff’ to make a tasty pie: chestnuts, onions, lentils, herbs and veggies in pastry, accompanied by gravy made from scratch because we have no handy granules. I was chuffed with the gravy,  which I made using a thick dark liquid called cooking caramel (found in most Asian shops), onions, vegetable stock and cornflour.

A very fierce squall

Friday 30th June – Santubong

An early start this morning in order to catch the tide for our short passage into the river. We almost didn’t start at all because the anchor was stuck in the mud. Yesterday’s fierce squall meant that Paul had to let more chain out and the anchor was well and truly dug in, not for long though luckily and we were on our way to by 8:30. On the route Paul related various hazards and conditions to be negotiated and avoided on the approach to our anchorage. These included underwater rocks and shipwrecks, the urgency to beat low tide, a sandbar and fishing nets and buoys. He also said the river has crocodiles and it isn’t advisable to snorkel, swim or do boat repairs under water. As he was telling me this, I saw a movement in the water and for a split second thought I was seeing a croc already but it turned out to be a long, thick sea snake.  We traversed each of the hazards slowly and surely, steering slalom-like around the many stationary fishing boats at the entrance to the river and were ready to drop anchor at 10:30 in the shadow of an imposing mountain. We anchored in 13 metres in mud under a scorching hot sun that burned my feet and legs as I stood at the helm. Opposite our spot is a small wooden pontoon with a bridge leading to a yard, which Paul told me is part of a fish farm and we could just make out some buildings beyond that. Half an hour later it was apparent that we were in a pleasingly restful place, and it has good wifi to boot.

The entrance to the river
Majestic Mount Santubong

Paul intended to go ashore as soon as possible to introduce himself and the boat to the manager but the dinghy outboard wouldn’t start and the current was too strong to row across. The engine had to be fixed of course, meaning more sweaty work in the heat of the cockpit. Apparently the problem was down to water leaking into the fuel, but this was sorted out quickly and the outboard was back in action.

First trip ashore

Once ashore Paul arranged a diesel delivery with a guy who was working on the fish farm and booked a taxi for a trip into town to get provisions. By the time we left at 3:30 it was hotter than ever and the tide had gone right out to reveal several lizard-like creatures scurrying around on the mud. They looked like baby crocodiles and were fascinating to watch but I’d hate to walk among them. We were greeted by the pack of dogs Paul had already encountered and told me about. There are about 6 of them and they all barked but wouldn’t come too near us. They’re the sort of dogs who bark loud and furiously while wagging their tails the whole time and they loved it when I spoke to say hello and tell them they were good dogs 🙂

The ‘guard’ dogs of the fish farm 🙂
The fish farm’s lush garden

We waited for the taxi in heat so oppressive I thought I would flake out and it wasn’t a whole lot cooler inside the taxi. The driver was a mine of information about the area. He lives locally and told us about places we should visit and about Santubong in general. Fishing and farming are the main industries here he said, and urged us to try Sarawak Laksa, a spicy chicken noodle and prawn soup: a local speciality. I asked him about the mountain. It’s called Santubong Mountain and is 2,655 feet high, he told us, and it can be climbed – he had climbed part of it but hadn’t managed to reach the summit. You need to be fit and healthy, there is a path to follow and it takes about 6 hours to reach the top. I looked up at it towering above me and felt tempted to conquer it until I thought better of doing something so strenuous in these high temperatures. I bet you see an impressive panorama from up there, though.

Home in Santubong

During the drive, which took about 30 minutes, both of us noticed how much more upmarket the environment here is, compared with Peninsular Malaysia. The roads, verges and houses are well maintained and larger and the cars and scooters are mostly new and much smarter-looking. We were dropped off at a mall where the supermarket ‘Giant’ is located and arranged with the driver to be collected at 6:30.  Discovering that the supermarket didn’t sell alcohol, we decided to ask our well-informed driver to stop somewhere on the way back – he was bound to know where to get some wine or beer, I thought. Meanwhile, it was a luxury to walk the aisles picking up things we hadn’t been able to get for weeks. Heavy rain was falling as we shopped and Paul was concerned about its effect on the anchor, but we had half an hour to kill before the taxi was due so decided to grab a quick bite to eat in one of the mall’s food outlets. We finished just in time to walk out to where we expected to see the taxi waiting. He wasn’t there. He still wasn’t there 40 minutes later! One guy, seeing us alternately pacing and looking up and down the road, kindly offered us a lift to wherever we wanted to go. I was tempted but Paul didn’t want to let the taxi driver down in case he’d been unavoidably delayed, plus we hadn’t paid him his fare yet. When he did turn up 10 minutes after the other guy’s offer, he truthfully (and smilingly) admitted that he’d simply forgotten all about us. Paul, admiring such a frank admission, bit back any admonishment he’d got ready to let rip. It rained heavily all the way back and the driver cheerfully (he really is a happy soul) delivered the news that there would be nowhere on the way home that sold alcohol because the whole of Santubong is dry. Disappointingly, I would have to wait until our Kuching trip on Monday before enjoying my first glass of wine in two weeks.  It was dark and raining heavily when we got back and the dinghy was full of rainwater.  We had to lift it out of the water (no mean feat that) for Paul to pull the plug in order to drain it all out. For once I was glad to enter the hot interior of the boat to warm up (and dry off). Fell asleep listening to the soothing sound of rain pounding on the roof.

There are creatures in that mud!

Weekend July 1st and 2nd

Our tickets home are booked! We leave on the 1st August and return on the 3rd October so two whole months to look forward to, catching up with friends and family. We enjoyed a lazy Saturday on the boat. It’s very tranquil anchored here – only a few fishing or diving trip boats pass by every now and then, and even they’re not noisy. On Sunday morning Paul collected the diesel he’d ordered and I helped to lug the heavy containers on board, after which we both retired below out of the heat. I made more bread and read while Paul worked at programming and at 5 o’clock we went ashore to have a look at the village and take some pictures. Santubong is a tiny and charming place, very rural and pretty with well-kept houses on stilts above the river.

Santubong Village

The warning about crocodiles was confirmed when we came upon this sign near the beach – I almost expected to see them on the sand in front of us.

Santubong Beach

The beach itself was amazing, especially in the fading light. Large boulders littered the sand and I couldn’t help picturing David Attenborough crouching among them while telling us about the feeding habits of salt water crocodiles.  Near the end of the beach we came upon some dogs peeping out from behind the boulders. They seemed to be living there in a pack and took little notice of us. It’s difficult to capture the ethereal beauty in pictures, but I had to try.

Where the dogs hang out
Twilight
Note the patterns made by the sand crabs

Monday 3rd July – A day in Kuching

We turned up at the fish farm entrance at the agreed time of 10:30 to meet our taxi driver from the night before, hoping that he wouldn’t forget us again. It was too hot to be standing around for long periods. He was bang on time thankfully and on the way to Kuching he provided us with lots more useful tips and info about places to visit and even advised Paul on the best type of car to hire, along with an interesting explanation about the petrol pricing system here. It seems prices are announced by the government each Tuesday evening and it goes into effect on Wednesday morning, causing people to rush out to fill up on Tuesday night if the price is due to increase.  My first impression of Kuching as we drew near was that it’s a big city, or bigger than I expected at least. Skyscrapers came into view, there was a lot more traffic and we passed office complexes, large ornate mosques and smart apartment blocks. High rise hotels and signs for museums indicated we’d reached the centre. We were dropped off at the waterfront, where all the souvenir shops are located.  A slow walk along that street was our first mission, as recommended by our guide book, which proclaimed it a ‘shopping mecca’. The shopfronts are old and quite charming.

Bazaar Street, Kuching

Inside them it’s a browser’s paradise and we strolled in and out of several, admiring the handmade gifts, local crafts and unusual carved souvenirs. I was keen to have a glass of wine after that now that we were in the (wet) city, and our taxi driver, naturally, had recommended The James Brooke Bistro as a good place for lunch. It’s the sort of place Paul hates because it’s clearly geared towards Western tourists from its style, its name (after the first white Rajah of Sarawak) right down to its bill of fare: spiced wedges, pizzas and burgers.  It is, however situated on the waterfront, is reasonably priced, and it sold wine.  We sat down. The food was ok, the wine was most welcome and the view was lovely. The restaurant also had some cats, one of them was a tiny black kitten that a member of staff told us she had rescued from the middle of the road earlier in the week. I asked nicely, but Paul wouldn’t let me take it back to the boat.

The first in two weeks! 🙂
So cute

After lunch we carried on walking, making our way to Chinatown where Paul had booked a hire car but they were still waiting for it to be returned from its previous customer. The lady from the car hire company let us leave our bags in the office while we had a walk around Chinatown and did a bit of shopping. By the time we got the car (a nice little white VIVA) it was 3 o’clock and too late, we thought, to fit in customs and immigration but we could squeeze in a drive to Kuching Marina to declare the boat’s arrival into Malaysia. After filling out a form there we were told that we could still get to immigration in time. It wasn’t far away apparently and a lady helpfully provided directions. We tried in vain to follow those directions but maybe they were a bit vague (drive past the building with the green gates and turn right). We drove around for over an hour trying to find the building. When we did we weren’t allowed to take the car through the barrier because we didn’t have a security pass so we had to park it and walk a fair distance to the entrance in cloying humidity. It was another old fashioned building but the guy who processed us was young and charismatic.  A good-looking guy, he lounged casually in his seat with a grin on his face while he asked us questions. In lieu of a boat stamp, the lack of which always causes some consternation, Paul gave him a printed card with all of Sister Midnight’s details on one side and a picture on the other. He was really chuffed with it and immediately looked it up online, smiling all the while. He even googled West Kirby because he was curious to see what it looked like. From entering the building hot, tired and slightly irritable (well I was anyway) we left it smiling and impressed. Customer service at its best. On we went to customs hoping for a similar stress-free experience. No one was there when we arrived so two security guards gave us a number to call and one of them produced a chair for me near the fan. They then lent Paul a mobile to call the number because his battery was flat. I just love Malaysia. A smartly dressed young lady turned up shortly after and unlocked the door to a tiny room straight out of the 50s in décor. There was a bed with a crocheted cover on one side of the room and two wooden desks on the other. There was a computer but internet was slow and it took a long time to enter all the necessary details and sign the paperwork. Because we didn’t have spare copies of certain documents she had to take pictures of them with her phone. Few words were exchanged but we left there legitimate at last and set off to find yet another place recommended by our taxi driver.

The shop was called Ting and Ting and is apparently a good place to find Western products…and affordable wine. I wanted to buy some Marmite and some wine. I found both in there, along with a few other necessities and then we headed back to the boat to do some online research for our next excursion: this one would involve orangutans! 😉

Kuching (Cat City)

The waterfront, Kuching

 

Kathy

Leaving Indonesia (22nd – 28th June)

Thursday 22nd June Temburun to Airuba

An early departure was planned and I duly woke early to discover that there had been a fierce storm in the night. Paul had sat in the cockpit and watched it – prepared to motor off if it escalated, while I had slept all through it again (catching up on all the sleep lost through being disturbed by the wailing no doubt). We were back out tackling the coral reefs by 9 o’clock. It was overcast and thus easier to spot the coral without any glare from sunlight. The dark clouds soon brought forth a squall so I went below to check the course on the OpenCPN programme on the laptop, and by 10:30 we hit the open sea. There wasn’t enough wind to put a sail up but Paul put a line out just in case he got lucky and bagged a fish…still no luck on that front, though.

Navigating through the coral – markers indicating ‘no-go’ areas

Motoring into the squall

An hour later the wind was strong enough to put the mainsail up. I steered and kept us into the wind, I’m definitely getting the hang of it now. With the main and head sails up we were able to lower the engine revs to save on fuel because Paul was concerned there might not be enough to get us to Kuching. Just as we turned the engine off completely though, the wind disappeared altogether and it went on again. We arrived at 3:30, anchored in 9.5 metres of water and admired the beauty of our surroundings. It’s quiet, uninhabited and totally unspoilt. Just what we (or I at least) needed after recent crowds and noise.  The pictures speak for themselves.  I took them during a trip in the dinghy to check out the area.  The litter-free beach had a tree full of butterflies and the clear water revealed fish we hadn’t seen before on our explorations such as a huge flat fish which looked like a plaice but was probably a ‘ray’ of some kind. One day I hope to be able to name some of the exotic creatures and plant life we see more accurately.

Anchored at Airuba
🙂

The butterfly tree
Sister Midnight sitting pretty

Friday 23rd June – Airubu to Bawah

On to our final Indonesian destination today.  Bawah, our quaint guide book proudly boasts, is a paradise island set to rival the beautiful Tahitian island of Bora Bora. Proud claims indeed! We negotiated our way through a passage between two islands with coral banks very efficiently – we’re definitely getting better at this 😉

The narrow opening to the left of the beach is barely visible
A closer view

From about 11:30 onwards we were subjected to squall after squall. The first one wasn’t too bad but at 1 pm we endured a fierce one. I had to take the helm while Paul got the sail down in heavy rain, 30 knot-winds and poor visibility. The radar picture shows the extent of it. Due to the pitching and tossing (think ‘bucking bronco’) motion of the boat I had felt slightly nauseous but the combination of cool wind and rain on my face up in the cockpit soon sent it away. Paul hand steered during the worst of it, relishing the challenge as usual 🙂

Paul handling the squall
The dark patch is all rain!
Relishing the squall 🙂

The bad weather had abated by the time we reached Bawah. It had left big waves in its wake though and I hoped the lagoon we were heading for would be sheltered from the resulting swell. The shallowest part of the entrance to the lagoon dropped to 3.5 metres – excruciating for me, always fearing going aground but it got deep again almost immediately. Next, we had to hook a mooring buoy, but it was totally unlike the ones I’m used to. This one didn’t have a loop to catch at the top. A different technique would be necessary to hook it so we swapped our customary tasks. I took on the steering towards it while Paul got ready near the bow to secure it with the boat hook.  It’s a tricky manoeuvre because steering isn’t as easy when speed is slow and I’d never tried it before but I was chuffed to get near enough on the second attempt for Paul to grab the hook.

Bawah

We were the only boat moored in the lagoon, which is surrounded by a semi-circle of small islands. The main one is under construction to become a luxury resort that is due to be completed sometime this year. The whine of a sander or a drill involved in the construction could be heard when we switched the engine off. It struck me as an incongruous sound in such a paradisiacal environment. We’d learned earlier in the afternoon that it isn’t currently possible to go ashore because of the construction work going on but I didn’t think we’d be missing much. It was a cool and overcast afternoon so it lacked the benefit of being bathed in sunlight as in Airubu but this island wasn’t a patch on it. It’s pretty enough but it lacks something. Perhaps it’s a little too refined with its luxury accommodation and symmetry so that through being tweaked to perfection the natural beauty has been marred, stripping it of charm. Viewing it from the boat was fine for us anyway. Our plan was to stay for two days but Paul said he’d check the weather and we might possibly leave earlier. I set to making some bread in case it would be too rocky to do it on passage.  Looking through the binoculars later to peek inside the chalets under construction, I made a note to check the place out in a few years to look at the finished result.

Saturday/Sunday 24th & 25th June – Depart Bawah for night passages

The forecast was for more squalls so we decided to stay another night. It had rained on and off all night but was only slightly rocky so we took the opportunity to catch up with various tasks on Saturday and had an overall restful day, watching the guys working on the resort, tidying the quarter berth and playing scrabble (we know how to live it up here 🙂

Topping up the tanks with fuel
Sunset at Bawah

On Sunday we got up at 6am for our planned early departure and I positioned myself at the bow to check the coral at the shallow entrance. It was beautifully clear and we skirted over it with no problems. Up went the mainsail, Captain Mainwaring was steering and we were in the cockpit discussing the journey when I happened to look down and noticed coral alarmingly close to the surface. I yelled out ‘Paul – the depth!’ It was 4.5 metres and he quickly steered us away from an unexpected coral reef! This was the start of a 48-hour passage which is the longest we’ve done on this boat. It’s also the longest that either of us has been without internet. It’s not such a bad thing considering all the recent bad news and also how much of a distraction it can be but I do miss keeping up with news from friends and family. We are able to get news from The BBC World Service which is often a little ‘scratchy’ sounding, and reminds me of wartime broadcast recordings.

We put the watch system into operation straight away and Paul took the first 8 until midday one. As soon as the wind picked up all the sails were out, giving us a speed of 7 knots without the help of the engine. This lovely situation lasted until I took over, by which time squally showers were all around and the speed had gone down to 5 knots.  The wind changed direction frequently an hour into my watch, making the sails flap noisily, and then heavy rain fell and visibility was poor. Paul had to come up to deal with the sails and we both retired below, using the radar, AIS and OpenCPN until it abated. My plans for dinner went slightly awry that evening. I had been thrilled to find dried pasta penne on sale outside one of the shanty shops in Terempa. It was displayed loose in a huge basket and despite entreaties for less, the lady server kept piling it into a carrier bag, smilingly insisting via hand gestures that it had to be 1kg.  I tipped two portions of it into boiling water and as soon as I stirred it I could tell it wasn’t any kind of pasta penne I had ever come across before. Almost immediately it dissolved into a creamy glutinous mass and when I tasted it a few minutes later I hastily made plans for a more appetising alternative (wholewheat spaghetti). I still don’t know what we bought but it definitely looked like pasta as the pics below show.

NOT pasta penne 🙂

I took the 8 until midnight watch. The moon had set by then and it was full dark, clear and the sky was full of stars. It’s mesmerising to lie on your back staring up at them, and there were plenty of shooting ones too. I also saw a spectacular display of lightning in an electrical storm – long jagged spears of it hit the sea, creating a bright orange gash through the blackness. Not many boats were nearby, I only had to steer behind one to avoid a collision.  To fight sleep I stood up near the companionway and let the cold breeze wash over me – an effect equivalent to a splash of cold water on the face.  There were no more squalls but the sea got steadily choppier.

Monday 26th June – Night Passage in The South China Sea.

Spotting Paul doing the usual ‘sleep-doze-alarm-check-back/to/sleep’ cycle on his watch, I suggested he go below for a proper sleep at 4:30 am. I was wide awake and all set for my four hours by then anyway. Stars were still visible but it was already beginning to get lighter and it was easy to see where the sun would rise, from the hazy orange hue on the horizon in the east.

Sunrise at sea

Nothing was around, the waves had diminished leaving only a slight swell and it was deliciously fresh and mild in the cockpit.  The flat water presented some intriguing shapes as I stood looking out. One dark shape that I was convinced was a whale turned out to be part of a thick tree trunk, while others were nothing more than black rubbish bags. I did see one huge black thing leap out of the water, far too fast for me to determine what it was. I watched the sun rise at 6, drinking coffee as the sky displayed an impressive array of red, orange and pink shades. All the sails had been taken down during Paul’s watch because there was no wind at all. I did suggest it might be a good idea for me to learn how to control the sails but for some reason he didn’t seem too keen on the idea and insisted he really doesn’t mind being woken up to do it! I slept a little during the morning. It was going to be a hot and long day with the 4 hours on, 4 hours off system in place. There was little to do apart from read or type so it’s very relaxing in a way and it’s never boring. My leisure time is spent with Charles Dickens in Victorian London or Jo Nesbo in frozen Norway, not to mention a host of other places through the travel literature I devour. I’m also compiling a notebook of information on provisioning, storage and recipes for future reference.

It was flat calm with no wind during my watch so the engine was on the whole time. With the wine all gone, I had a can of cold beer as my evening drink. Another dinner plan went slightly awry when I discovered that weevils had invaded the last packet of sosmix, so the fish had that for dinner while we had eggs instead of veggie sausages to go with the fried potatoes and beans. A very comforting and filling meal for the lethargy that kicks in after two days of broken sleep.  I struggled to stay awake during the 8 until midnight watch. Apart from the current pulling us off course a couple of times, it was a quiet and uneventful four hours and it was a relief to hand over to Paul.

Tuesday 27th June

It was something of a struggle to rouse myself to take over the 4 am watch this morning. Paul told me I would need to keep checking the autopilot’s course because the current was pulling us to the right and we had to avoid the headland!! I also noticed we were in considerably shallower waters. I’d clearly need my wits about me. On the plus side it was getting lighter by the minute, the sea was calm and it was a lovely temperature.  I could see Borneo in the distance and that kept making me grin with amazement and delight. Me in Borneo! The word alone evokes memories of David Attenborough speaking reverently while crouched on its shores as he told us about the origins of life in programmes from the 70s and 80s. It was yet another ‘I never thought I’d get to see this’ moment on this literal trip of a lifetime.

A view from my watch – that’s Borneo!

We were due to reach our anchorage in the afternoon and progress was steady. There wasn’t much of a sunrise view but it began to get hot quickly when it rose so I retreated to the starboard deck where it was cooler and sat looking for sightings of sharks or dolphins…or anything alive. Speaking of which, in case anyone’s wondering; Paul still hasn’t had any success catching a fish! Sometime around mid-morning we crossed over from Indonesian waters into Malaysian. I know this because my phone changed its time to an hour ahead. We arrived at a place called Cape Tanjung Datu just after 3 (or 2pm Indonesian time). As this is just a stopover on the way to Kuching it was a good time to read up about it and its environs: phrases such as ‘tribal longhouses’ ‘former headhunters’ and ‘old trading town suffused with old memories’ jumped from the pages and thrilled me. It also promises some unique street markets, quaint shops and and great street food. We’ll have to hit the streets then.

Hoisting the Malaysian flag

Wednesday 28th June – To Telang Besar

Sometime during the night it began to rain and continued heavily well into the morning, bringing a significant swell with it.  We weighed anchor at 9:30 in the drizzle but it was deliciously cool and there was sufficient wind to put the sails up. Our course coincided with a squall: we headed straight for it, listing heavily to starboard under a white and dark grey sky. The angle sent a few things on the move below but stowage is pretty good now.  The next few hours were not exactly ‘rough’ but we tacked a few times to make the most of the wind, so the boat tipped at steep angles alternately from port to starboard. Sometimes we were pitched and tossed in the higher waves. There was some doubt whether we would make our original destination due to the weather and current hampering progress.  Rather than rush and risk getting there in the dark we decided to stop halfway at a small island called Besar which is also a turtle sanctuary. I was so thrilled to spot one on our way in to the shallower water. It was huge – much bigger than I thought turtles were and I happened to spot it in the act of catching a fish. Its head emerged out of the water and a flipper followed to hit the surface before it dived down for its prey. The beach where the eggs are laid and hatched is visible from our spot so with the aid of binoculars we could look for more sightings. It’s good to be back in Malaysia.

Another squall!
That is a turtle catching a fish 🙂
Tulang Besar (turtle egg-hatching beach)
Sunset at Tulang Besar

Kathy

 

 

 

Terempa to Remote Temburun (16th-21st June)

Friday 16th June – Provisioning in Terempa

Woke to another blistering hot, sunny morning and breakfasted on tiny sweet bananas while listening to the radio. We’ve resolved to download some podcasts of favourite shows for future long passages with no internet.  Muslim shops and businesses tend to either close early or remain shut on Fridays so we went to town mid-morning to see about acquiring more water and fuel for the journey. Two very helpful ladies from a roadside stall near the mosque were advertising diesel for sale, and arranged to deliver it to the boat the next morning.  After that we bought a case of soda water and orange juice, but all our enquiries about where to get water for the tanks proved unsuccessful. Luckily, an Indonesian man employed as crew from another yacht happened to overhear us as we bought two huge plastic water containers and offered to translate Paul’s request to one of the harbour staff.  While Paul filled the containers from inside the ferry terminal, I chatted to the guy. He told me he was from Bali and that it was his first visit to Terempa, too. When I asked what he thought of it, he replied that he wasn’t too sure what to make of the place. Probing a little, I got the impression that he’d expected them to be a bit more developed. While loading the water into the dinghy we met the couple anchored next to us who were collecting water they’d ordered for their tanks so we were able to arrange a delivery with the same guys. A highly successful morning all in all.

The harbour master’s building — ferry terminal on the right
Shopping area

When we got back to the boat, it began to rain heavily and Paul caught more water from it – he’s still figuring out how to devise the most effective construction for the purpose.  In the spirit of this ‘good life’ lifestyle we seem to be adopting, I got on with baking more bread. I blame the old packet of yeast I used, but it wasn’t a success – it was so heavy and hard, it could have put a hole in the boat if dropped.  Back to the breadboard then – I’ll keep trying.

Saturday/Sunday 17th&18th June

In order to drown out the loud wailing and shouting of prayers last night, I plugged my earphones in and listened to The Archers on my phone…I bet there aren’t many people who have put that in a sentence!

Terempa’s mosque (lots of loudspeakers for maximum volume)

The diesel arrived bang on time at 10am and while the tanks were being filled I was able to indulge in the luxury of washing my hair now that water is in the tanks. That’s not as bad as it sounds – going for long periods without washing hair. I have it in a ponytail most of the time and there’s no requirement to look one’s best here 🙂 Humidity and sea water soon make a mess of long hair so I know why bandanas and scarves are so popular with female sailors. I made more bread, which came out really well this time despite using too much water due to one of the measuring jugs being way out with its cup levels. The boat was covered in sticky dough and flour and took me ages to clean it all up but it tasted gorgeous.  It toasted well the next morning too, and we have a tiny freezer so one loaf was stored in there. We didn’t do much on Sunday apart from listen to the radio and catch up on internet stuff.

Successful loaves after an earlier disaster

Monday 19th June – Departing Terempa – attempt fouled and getting stuck on rocks!

Up early and off to the market for the final shop and to check out of Indonesia before our departure. We were out by 9am on a cool, fresh and overcast morning. Our first stop was the fish market so that Paul could have a fresh fish for dinner.  The picture doesn’t show him with the fish he bought which was put into a small bag with its tail poking out of the top – it looked so funny.

The fish market

We then made our way towards the immigration and customs area for the usual bureaucratic process and lots of waiting around. Humidity had increased by the time we emerged to continue shopping and it’s hard to concentrate in the heat and crowded pavements. This way of shopping – with the language barrier, all the traders gesturing and beckoning, and talking at once while brandishing various produce at you – just adds to the stress.  It’s particularly hard in the market where you have to select your produce, hand them all to the vendor, ascertain the cost, get money out while balancing bags, purses and reading glasses. All this in narrow, crowded hot alleys, being jostled and nudged while customers and traders are staring and blatantly curious. At one point I felt like a living exhibit in a performance art production and was close to bursting into tears. One stallholder, noticing my discomfiture asked where I was from, engaged me in conversation and said I must miss my family. He was so kind, I soon regained my composure.

We won’t have another chance to shop for quite a while so I’m going to have to be creative with what we’ve managed to accrue.  We went back and forth to the dinghy with our stashes and on one trip, discovered that the rope Paul had tied the dinghy to the wall with had shifted with the tide and moved the dinghy so that it was inaccessible.  This part of the jetty is always full of people waiting for their lifts back so it wasn’t long before Paul was able to hop on one of these to get to the dinghy – it provided a bit of entertainment for the people watching anyway.

Reclaiming the dinghy

A few more trips and we were all done. It was a relief to get back to the boat and prepare to leave, until we discovered that we were stuck! The anchor had either lodged under a rock, or the chain had wrapped around one. We tried a few tactics to free it but to no avail. Seeing our predicament, a guy from a neighbouring catamaran came over and told us he might be able to help by diving down tomorrow. Hearing this, we switched the engine off and prepared to stay another night. An hour or so later, however the guy returned with his diving gear and a friend, all set to free us. It took a few goes, with all four of us playing a part but we were free by 5pm. It was too late to go very far by then but we needed to anchor somewhere away from the coral and rocks.  I was all for going further out of the bay but Paul thought it would be a good idea to try the bay around the corner. So off we went, and it did look nice there. It also looked like it was about to rain and was getting steadily darker so I was keen to get settled. We motored around a bit, chose a likely spot…and got stuck on a rock again!  Thankfully we were able to free ourselves without the use of a diver and returned to Terempa Bay before it got fully dark. We anchored in 18 metres of water and crossed our fingers that it wasn’t on rock.

Tuesday 20th June To Temburun

It’s been the coolest temperature since I arrived in Asia almost a year ago.  Rain showers continued throughout the night and when we opened the windows early this morning, a fresh breeze wafted in that almost verged on the chilly side…but not quite.  Paul had some programming work to finish so we had a leisurely morning until we felt the anchor jolt, and sure enough, it was stuck on rock again. Hoping against hope that we wouldn’t have to call on the guy from the catamaran again, I was relieved to hear Paul shout that we were clear and very thankful to be leaving that particular anchorage.  We were heading for Temburun to see the waterfall there, described as magnificent and spectacular in the guide book given to us at the tourist board event. It’s at its best after lots of rainfall so that box had been well and truly ticked. The description goes on to say that the running water looks ‘graceful’, and that the clear water is like a ‘snow-melt flowing in between black and brown stones’ which I thought quite bizarre in a country that isn’t likely to see any snow. The attraction is narrated in a similar quaint manner that can’t fail to raise a smile (and not in a sneering way). It’s rather cute:

This waterfall charm more obvious when you’ve climbed. To arrive at the location, exactly in the middle of the waterfall, you have to climb staircases on the rugged hill, located on the left side of the waterfall. Tired enough to ride…but when you reached there you will treated by its exquisite view and the cool atmosphere around it. Its clear water is just like chasing each others, flowing without pause, through the cavities of various form and size of the stones. At certain points, the flow comes down to a natural pond that a quite wide sizes. Translucent greenish. It’s tempting anyone to jump and immediately tasted its cool sensation.

The passage to get there was potentially hazardous because we had to traverse the shallow coral reefs but it went well much to my relief, and we anchored in 14 metres of water at 1pm.  The waterfall was visible from our spot. Rivulets of water running down the brown rocks as opposed to torrents and we could see the steps (staircases) when we looked through the binoculars. The village itself looks a bit like the Muslim village we went to in Thailand in that the small dwellings are on stilts with wooden walkways. The visit would wait until the following day however. I had bread to bake and soup to make while Paul made the most of the internet connection in case we lose when we move further on.

Wednesday 21st June – Waterfall in the rain

Just as we were about to set off to go ashore, a squall arrived so we had to wait for it to abate. I had a go at steering the dinghy across to the jetty in a fine drizzle of rain. I got the hang of it eventually – Paul thinks it will be handy for me to know what to do in case I need to rescue him at any point! A fisherman tying his boat to the jetty nodded and smiled as we approached and Paul asked him if it was ok to leave our dinghy there.  As he tied it up, I noticed that our arrival had attracted the attention of other villagers. Faces appeared in some of the windows and two pretty little girls were waving frantically from one of them. They were delighted when we waved back. It was so quiet in this village after the hustle and bustle of Terempa. There were the usual motorbikes riding around but not as many. It is without doubt the most remote place I have ever been to. Visualised on a map, it’s little more than a speck among the tiny group of Anambas Islands – themselves a fair way out from the mainland of any country. Tourists are rarer in these parts than in Terempa, obviously. The people here stared at us but it seemed less intense somehow. I had the feeling they were just pleased to see visitors.

First views of Temburun

We asked a young boy via a series of gestures whether we were going the right way to the waterfall and he nodded eagerly and pointed to the pathway. The rain had stopped and it felt very humid again. It was also wet underfoot and I hoped it hadn’t brought out any millipedes or leeches.  We soon found the steps that led up to the falls and I jumped when a lime-green lizard scurried across the path and into the ferns. That was one creature I wouldn’t have minded having a closer look at. The climb was easy enough although parts of the steps next to the waterfall itself were a bit difficult to negotiate in flip-flops.

Climbing to the waterfall

The rainfall had increased the flow of water and it was worth the climb but we could only go half way because the steps ended there. Paul thought the way to the very top might have been via a main road but it was too hot to double back and we could see the top anyway. The view was impressive enough from where we were and we took a few pictures.

The halfway point had some dilapidated buildings that looked as if they had once been destined to form some kind of visitors’ centre but either the money or enthusiasm for it had waned and the idea had been abandoned.

We ambled slowly back down to the village and walked its length, taking lots of pictures of its remarkable waterside dwellings. All along the walkway, people came out or looked out to view the foreigners in their midst. It’s probably the nearest I’ll ever come to feeling like a VIP. One man insisted that Paul stood right in front of him on his porch while he shook his hand and asked the customary ‘where you from?’ I wished that the guide book had devoted some space to some information on the village rather than pages of lofty language on the waterfall.  Halfway along, the concrete path turned to a decidedly rickety wooden one, with areas of rotten wood and gaping holes. The thought of falling into the creature-laden and swampy mud below was terrifying enough to keep me looking down almost constantly. Most of the houses have fish cages outside and there were several chickens and roosters strutting around. Paul pointed out their sources of water and electricity, and they would use gas bottles for cooking. Rubbish is burned and we presumed that sewage is emptied straight into the sea, as there is no obvious plumbing.

It began to drizzle again as we retraced our steps back to the dinghy. As we pulled away, I wondered several things:  whether I was the first (and only) person from Swindon to set foot in that village, what the place had looked like 50 or a hundred years ago, and perhaps more importantly what it will look like in the future. Lots of pictures follow below in an attempt to capture the remote and thought-provoking beauty of Temburun.

Temburun’s mosque

Temburun’s ‘main’ street

Kathy

More Anambas 9th -15th June

Friday and Saturday 9th/10th June – Pidi Island

We decided to stay on in Pidi for a few days because it’s nice and we’re in no great hurry to go anywhere else.  Several of the yachts are moving on to Indonesia’s Natuna Islands as part of the rally and Deb and Bruce are heading that way too so they called on us in the morning to say goodbye before they left.  It had been great spending time with them and we’ll miss their company but we’re going to stay in touch and will be looking them up when we get to Queensland.

Farewell SV Matilda

Due to the time difference we were able to listen to the UK general election results as they came in. I’ve never been able to do that before and I’m glad I did for this one because it held quite a few shocks and surprises, and the commentary was fascinating even though we weren’t impressed with the result. Once all the boats had left we were completely alone in the bay. The staff from the barbecue had all left and from what we could tell, there was just a caretaker on the tiny island. After the noise and ‘busyness’ of Terempa, the prospect of a couple of days spent reading, cooking, listening to the radio and swimming and snorkelling when exploring in the dinghy was a blissful thought.  Returning from one of these excursions, however, the propeller on the dinghy hit something in the water and broke it, so Paul had to row us back in quite a strong current.  While he got on with fixing that, I had a go at baking some bread because we had none having rejected what was on offer in Tarempa. I just googled something like ‘simple bread recipe’ and followed it exactly, not really expecting much success but we were pleasantly surprised with the result – an improvement on the sugary doughy loaves we’d been having anyway.  I also made a roasted vegetable sauce for pasta with the veggies we’d bought from the market. It will be a long time until we do a ‘big’ convenience shop so I’m going to have get creative and inventive with the options available. All good practice for future long passages in the South Pacific.

Freshly baked bread 🙂
At anchor, Pidi Island

Sunday 11th June – Blue Starfish Bay

Paul told me he’d been puzzled by a sound very much like African drumbeats coming from the island during the night! All I’d heard when I woke up in the early hours was some mellow prayer songs drifting over from the larger island on the other side. They were at a pleasingly lower volume than those in Terempa. We had a visitor in the morning. A young local fisherman in a dugout canoe stopped by to say hello and admired the boat so much that Paul invited him on board. The language barrier meant conversation was scant but they managed a pleasant exchange with smiles, a few words and hand signals. He told us his name was Tommy and he gave Paul a fish but adamantly refused any payment for it. He sat in the cockpit watching Paul work on the broken propeller for ages. I was typing in the cabin but he wouldn’t come down for a look around because his clothes were wet. I would have loved to have taken a picture of him but didn’t in case it caused offence (a few people who just happened to be near something I wanted to photograph have covered their faces in case they are inadvertently in the picture) and sensing his shyness, I didn’t want to embarrass him by asking.

Our next place, Manda Riouw Darat was an hour away so when Paul had finished fixing the propeller we set off. Just as we had set the anchor, it began to rain heavily. We’d been waiting for this because having used up one full tank of water since leaving Puteri in May, Paul was keen to try collecting some rainwater up on the coach roof using a plastic sheet a tube and a funnel. The system needs some fine tuning but quite a bit of water ended up in the containers. He also lathered up with gel for a shower but typically the rain stopped at that point so he had to rinse it all off using the tank water. Again, all useful learning curves for long passages when water and fuel need to be conserved.  It brightened up later and I was thrilled when Paul came back from a snorkelling trip to tell me he’d seen blue starfish and turtles.

Monday 12th June – On to Penjalin

It had been a very rocky night due to the huge swell from all the storms.  Both of us, me in the V-berth and Paul in the cockpit, adopted the same strategy to maintain stability which was to lie across the width of the boat, with feet pressed firmly against the wooden sides. Sometime around 5 am it calmed down enough for us to get a solid sleep until 9 o’clock. Toast from homemade bread made for a tasty breakfast and then we went for a spin in the dinghy. All around and underneath us were the wonders of nature to admire and gasp at. Several white birds swooped down alarmingly near to us and screamed loudly when we approached rocks where presumably they had chicks or eggs to protect.

The clear water of Penjalin

All types of coral could be seen in the crystal clear water. We don’t know the proper names for them so we tend to refer to them as ‘doughnuts’ or ‘teeth’ or ‘bones’ according to their shape. The fish darting amongst it were stripy, black, big, small, blue and yellow – it was like looking in an aquarium. We also saw turtles and sea snakes and I was thrilled to spot the blue starfish Paul had seen. They are quite big and their tentacles move very slowly and gracefully – such beautiful and unusual creatures.

We beached the dinghy to take a look at the shore, and were sad to see all the rubbish that has accumulated on it. The amount of plastic bottles we’ve seen in the water or on the beaches is staggering and I fully support the efforts of organisations such as ‘Sky Ocean Rescue’ in their mission to clear the oceans and shores of plastic waste.

Just some of the rubbish that accumulates on the beaches

After a pleasant hour beach combing and snorkelling we set off for Penjalin Island and anchored there in 13 metres of water early in the afternoon.  Finding a spot well clear of the coral was easy enough and it’s a lovely spot with a long, curved white sandy beach and the clear water we’ve come to expect in Anambas. Watching the sun sink behind the granite rocks and forested hills, it struck me that the land formation before us showed no sign of human intervention whatsoever, and this vista would have looked much the same throughout the preceding decades. I hope that continues.

Sunset off Penjalin Island

Tuesday 13th June – From Penjalin to Tenggiling

This morning I donned my new swimming cap (it reminded me of school swimming lessons but did a grand job of keeping hair out of my eyes and preventing my ears blocking with water) and went snorkelling with Paul. For an awe-inspiring hour I shared the habitat of a vast and stunning variety of fish, coral and anemones, watching snippets of their lives as they fed, swam, slithered and swayed in the water. The sea was clear, shallow enough to stand up in and warm – all ideal conditions for me as something of a nervous snorkeler.  I’ll definitely do more.  We left for the two hour passage to Tenggiling early in the afternoon. After a hot start, the wind strengthened sufficiently for Paul to put the headsail up and we made steady progress with it, arriving around 4pm to anchor in 14 metres of water. The bay is surrounded, cul-de-sac-style with forest and as we sat on the bow early in the evening we speculated about the tiny little house we could see on the shore. Straight out of fairy tale imagery, it had a well-tended garden, surrounded by thick forest, smoke coming out of a chimney, two cats, a gnarled old tree (well, ok it was a banana tree but you get the picture). There was also a boat parked near to it and some children’s playthings. Was it a home? Were they self-sufficient in a ‘Good Life’ kind of way? Or was it a holiday home? It made me wonder if it’s allowed to build a house wherever you fancy here, without the rigmarole of planning permission and mortgages etc.

Little house on Tenggelin

Wednesday 14th June Tenggeling to Mubur

The beautiful sunny morning we woke up to lasted for a couple of hours until Paul, returning from snorkelling said we had to prepare for a coming squall. I could see it in the distance, dark clouds with rain falling from them and what looked rather alarmingly like a spout at the bottom of one of them, bringing to mind visions of a huge twister transporting us away a la Wizard of Oz! The wind increased and when the rain came, Paul said he actually felt cold – for the first time since being in Asia. He’d been busy on the coach roof collecting rain water and we now have two large containers filled for emergencies. With rain water, and the watermaker, once it is fixed, we should have more than enough for our needs in The South Pacific.  Squall over, we weighed anchor and were soon on our way to Mubur, another Anambas island to tick off the list and another beautiful (and empty) bay to spend the night in.  Lots of coral on the sea bed here but we found a suitable spot to drop the anchor in 20 metres. For dinner, I made a roasted vegetable tart with more of the market vegetables, using aubergines, peppers, pumpkin and onions with sun-dried tomatoes (having no rolling pin I had to improvise using a glass bottle to roll the pastry). Paul’s efforts to bag a fish are still proving fruitless, or should that be fishless, but there’s always the next place which will be much better for fishing 😉

Paul exploring around Mubur Island

Thursday 15th June – Mubur and Terempa

During one of his anchor inspections in the early hours of the morning, Paul noticed three or four guys wading in the water near the beach, clearly collecting something. Later, both of us heard a noise we couldn’t identify. I said it sounded like hundreds of frogs croaking all at once, while Paul thought it was a pump or something else emanating from the boat.  In the end we concluded that it was merely fish nibbling the hull, and it was quite a soothing noise to drift off back to sleep to.  When we got up a couple of hours later, the guys were still adding to their haul. Huge sacks had been filled and piled next to their small boat on the sand. Was it clams or shrimps or seaweed? or were they clearing rubbish? It wasn’t until later, that we found out it was nothing more than sand! They’re probably collecting it to make cement or to sell for that purpose. The guide to The Anambas, produced by the captain of a catamaran a couple of years ago, mentioned that long-tailed macaques populated the beach at dusk but they hadn’t shown the previous evening. Chirrups and chattering sounds were coming from the trees opposite and I trained the binoculars on the branches for ages in case they were there but I didn’t even spot a bird!

There is life in those trees somewhere

For a late breakfast, we had a juicy and very tasty fresh pineapple, washed down with lashings of local hot black coffee (well we had no ginger beer on board ;)).  When the men on the beach left, we decided to dinghy over to investigate what the beach had to offer.  There is no spectacular coral scene in the shallow water here, but the lush jungle, with its swaying palm and casuarina trees and leafy green ferns is just as striking. The beach was littered with the usual plastic bottles, carrier bags and polystyrene cases and several palm trees had toppled over into the sea, exposing large clumps of exposed roots. It was obvious where the men had been collecting sand – they had cut into the beach and extracted it in the manner of stone from a quarry. Some pics below show the peaceful and delightful Mubur.

Mubur Beach

On the way back to the boat, the outboard, which had been problematic for a while refused to start at all.  This would cause major hassle for us in Terempa, considering the number of trips back and forth to the village we were planning in order to provision for the next leg. It was taken apart bit by bit when we got back, each part examined before being put back together and it turned out to be the sparkplug. A quick break for lunch and we set off through the pass between Matak and Mubur for the return journey to Terempa. It was deserted in the harbour, and there was just one other boat behind us coming in, so we had more space in which to choose a spot and manoeuvre. We anchored in 24 metres, a little closer to the shore than previously, and we completed it a lot faster, too – although I couldn’t help feeling a bit concerned about the proximity of the coral (I guess it’s going to be an ever-present concern in coral reefs).  Once ashore, we restocked with drinks and a few groceries but couldn’t see any salt on the shelves so Paul looked up the word on his phone when repeatedly saying ‘salt’ to a bemused-looking shopkeeper got us nowhere. His face lit up when Paul said ‘garam’, and he produced some for us from a pile of packets near the sacks of rice. Again, it struck me how we rarely have to ask for such things in the UK (except when asking which aisle certain products are located in). The higgledy-piggledy, disorganised shelves in the shop units here are charming in an old-fashioned way and tend to invite interaction – conversation even, in a way that supermarkets don’t. I wonder what the people from the village would make of a Tesco hypermarket!

Terempa Bay to ourselves
Getting the fishing line in ready for anchoring

 

 

An Anambas Odyssey (continued)

Tuesday 6th June – Terempa

Our customs inspection was due this morning, but before we could prepare ourselves for that we were told we would have to move the boat to make room for a ferry to leave the bay. My heart sank at this news, considering all the faffing about it had taken to anchor. It was suggested we could tuck in near an island just outside the main bay but when we motored out there to check the location it proved to be too deep and there was a lot of coral, so back we went to nearer where we’d come from and set the anchor just a little further back from our original spot with not too much bother at all.  The customs inspection went well. Two guys came on board, had a cursory look around, asked questions and filled in the answers on their form.  They were both fasting for Ramadan but we were quite shocked to learn that they are not even allowed to have water when we offered it to them. This means that even during the hottest parts of the day, while visiting a series of hot, stuffy boats they can’t even sip water – self-denial in the extreme. We had to go back ashore at 2:30 to hand some more paperwork to the customs officers.  I was careful to wear trousers this time to avoid causing any more offence.  We took a walk on the eastern side of the island, and we attracted more interest in these more rural streets. The children especially, delighted in us and as in Thailand, were keen to try out their English phrases on us.

A game of football in the village

I took lots of pictures as we went along in attempt to capture life on the parched, dusty streets. The wailing (and that’s not meant to sound derogatory – it’s merely the best way to describe it) was once again an apt audio accompaniment to the environment.  Clearly the town and the way of life is different from that in more modern developed cities. It’s hard to find the right words to describe it without sounding condescending. The pictures below show it how it is anyway. What I can say is that without fail, everyone we met was friendly, looked happy and there was an overall air of dignity and politeness in the village that is sadly lacking in some communities in Britain and Europe.

Wednesday 7th June

Yesterday evening we went for dinner with Deb and Bruce at a restaurant called La Luna, which comes recommended by several yachtsmen who have eaten there.  I went along armed with some dishes and phrases I’d looked up online in order to avoid any unwelcome fish or meat additions. Deb had also brought along her Indonesian phrase book so I was able to enjoy a local dish called Cap Cay (pronounced Chop Chai, the waiter smilingly corrected me when I asked for it as it’s written) –  a tasty dish of stir fried veg and boiled rice.  The intriguing-sounding Gado Gado (veg with spicy peanut sauce) was not available and I later found out it’s only served in the mornings. The wailing and chanting and prayer recitals had blasted out full volume all night. I lay awake wondering how many people were in the mosques and whether the loud, angrier-sounding recitals were akin to the fire and brimstone warnings in some Christian sermons.  In contrast to that, some of the singing is very mellow and soothing.  There was a lot of swell on the water today which always makes me slightly nauseous so I didn’t do much other than read, watch more boats coming in to the anchorage and listen to the various comings and goings of the Sail Malaysia Rally boats on VHF.

Courtesy of Deb and Bruce, we had been invited to a dinner laid on for the Rally participants by the Anambas Tourism Office, so at 5:30 we joined them, along with some of the others at the jetty to wait for the minibus.  The venue was at the top of a very steep hill and the sheer drop down on the right hand side of the road seemed perilously close whenever we rounded corners on the twisty road.  Representatives were waiting to greet us as soon as we stepped out, scuppering my intention to walk over to take pictures of the view.  We were ushered into a cavernous sports and leisure complex, passing some striking-looking ladies dressed in colourful national costume on the way.  Reaching the top of a staircase we found ourselves in a hall where tables and chairs had been set out and two women were ladling bright pink liquid into bowls.  Just as we were all sitting down the boom that announced the end of the day’s fasting went off and some of the men went downstairs where prayer mats had been laid out for them on the indoor football pitch.  The evening would begin, said the beautiful female compere, once the prayers were done. In the meantime we were served a bowl of the pink ‘soup’ with fruit floating in it (like an unset blancmange), a plate of rich stodgy cakes and a cup of sweet jasmine tea. I guess this glut of sugar is welcome for anyone who’s been fasting all day.

Photographers milled around taking pictures of us all as we tucked in, while the ladies in national dress rehearsed their dance performance under the instruction of a choreographer. I admired the compere, who had the difficult job of translating a speech given by the tourism minister into English at suitable intervals. It can’t have been easy doing this while people were still arriving, food was being served and the photographers were snapping away.  It felt a little like a corporate business event with an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ theme. The Andaman Tourist Office are keen to promote their islands as a paradisaical holiday destination, so welcoming yachtsmen on sailing rallies is all part of that. Obviously no alcohol was available and I’m sure some of the participants would have welcomed beer but when you don’t expect it, it’s not a big issue.  After the speech, the girls performed their dance and another dignitary spoke about the plans for developing the area and if anyone had any tips and suggestions they would be very welcome. The Sail Malaysia Rally has been taking place for a few years, so the next speech was from a captain who had taken part and praised the organisers, the tourism authorities and so on and so on.  He was presented with a bag of gifts afterwards, which I coveted as it contained some guide books and maps. I needn’t have felt disappointed though.  We were all given one and I was delighted to discover the bag also contained a piece of traditional batik cloth and a handmade souvenir (a wooden spinning top).

Loved this traditional island dance
View over Terempa Bay from our table
Rehearsals for the dance

Dinner was announced shortly after this. It was a hot buffet, consisting of chicken, fish and rice. I’d expected that, but the starter was watermelon, jackfruit and mango so I made do with that as an accompaniment to my rice.

While everyone was tucking in the girls performed another traditional dance and a singer/pianist sang some love and power ballads consisting variously of contemporary songs, songs from Disney movies, or 80s classics. Next it was time for a ‘turn’- in the form of karaoke or personal party pieces – from some of the participants. I thought they were very brave to go up without the help of an alcoholic tot or two. Looking around me I could tell some people were getting restless but there was more to come before we could politely take our leave. Another present-giving ceremony was in operation. This bag contained a sailing cap, a T-shirt and a drybag all bearing the ‘Wonderful Indonesia’ logo, and we all got one.  A thoughtful and generous gesture and I was really touched by it (especially as we’re not part of the Rally). It had been a good evening and great to chat with other crew members and captains, some of whom we’d met before on our travels.  Back on the boat I wasted no time in checking out the guide books. They are both useful and entertaining, in that they have great photos but the translation looks as though it’s been done through a copy and paste procedure straight from Google translate. Nevertheless, I was impressed with the effort they had gone to and grateful for making us so welcome.

Thursday 8th June – To Pidi Island (with coral grief)

The internet in Terempa is much more reliable early in the morning so we’ve been getting up early to make the most of it. Some of the boats on the rally began to leave and we would be joining them on their next stop for an evening barbecue at Pidi. First, we went ashore for a few provisions and another bit of officialdom.  A young lad took our tender for us when we arrived and he also took our rubbish from us to take to the bins. Paul gave him a tip but I think he was more interested in interacting with us than the money so we chatted with him as best we could given the language barrier.  Our first stop was the quarantine office which never seems to be manned, but this was our third try and we wanted to get our clearance. Knocks and repeated ‘hellos’ produced no one and the empty desk looked as if someone had stepped away from it in 1946 and never returned.  A nearby military officer noticed us leaving so Paul went up to him and explained what we wanted. The guy nodded and marched into the room and down a corridor where we heard his raised voice say something before he returned and signalled for us to wait before leaving with a smile. A bleary-eyed guy emerged from the corridor gruffly asked us a few questions and produced a form to record the answers on. It was all done very quickly. He dismissed us with our clearance form and presumably went back to bed.

It was searingly, almost unbearably hot as we shopped. With no ‘all under one roof’ supermarkets around it’s a bit like going back to the old days of grocery shopping when produce was sold separately in butchers and bakers and grocers. We decided against the bread from the bakery however because the last sugary loaf we’d bought had contained added protein in the form of weevils. Armed with drinks and lots of fruit and vegetables we walked back to the dinghy where the same young lad was on hand to help us load it.

We chose the larger eggs
The narrow lanes in the fruit and veg market

More boats had left by the time we got back and we weighed anchor at 1 o’clock to follow them.  The route took in a notorious coral reef in shallow water but we would be following the waypoints of a previous captain, which is what SV Matilda had done and Deb had emailed Paul to say it was a doddle. As we approached the reef I wanted to double check the method of how to spot any hazardously close or shallow coral spots. Unfortunately we had a different perception of the exact meaning of ‘keeping the sun behind you’ and it turned into such a debate that it made us lose focus of the coral itself. Paul was horrified to look up and see we were almost upon it and guys on a passing fishing boat were warning us with gestures of alarm. We soon got back on course but the guys on the boat very kindly led us through the whole channel.  Paul had no luck catching a fish again but there’s always a good reason for this 😉 . Drama over, I could concentrate on the lovely scenes before us as we got nearer to Pidi.  Deb had been spot on with her description of it as gorgeous.  We joined the other yachts at anchor in the bay at 4 o’clock.

Pulau Pidi
Fish sticks among the reefs
The coral, marked and clearly visible

The barbecue was at 6 o’clock just across from our anchorage and we were greeted at the jetty by one of the team. It was a lovely location: the jetty was lit up and a long table was laid on the platform at the end of it. Cool boxes held beer and soft drinks which we could help ourselves to and pay for later, and the food was being kept hot in the kitchen area. I hadn’t expected to have any food because it was advertised as a fish and chicken barbecue but Paul, having spotted some veggie accompaniments with the rice, paid for me to eat too.  He tucked in to copious amounts of the chicken and fish (which was served having already been barbecued) to make the most of the rare treat of freshly-cooked meat. There were about twenty of us altogether, some of whom we’d met at the dinner. It was a nice evening in a glorious setting with good company.  Couldn’t ask for more than that really.

With Deb and Bruce from SV Matilda
Paul and Bruce at the barbecue

Kathy