Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Malacca Straights

(Apologies for lack of pics...I will post them when we get some internet)

We're on our way through the famous Malacca Straights, known for its piracy and being the busiest shipping channel in the world. No sweat…we got this.

We're day hopping up to a little island called Penang on the west coast of Malaysia. Here, Jake will have a long awaited reunion with some of his friends from Majuro and we'll get to have a proper Thanksgiving with some other Americans. Fortunately, the weather is benign (so far) and even though we're burning diesel, it's not such a bad trip.

The days are a bit monotonous with the droll of the motor, dishes, cooking, dishes, cooking, movies, droll of the motor, etc. But everyone is happy enough. Jake was able to finally do his dinosaur dig, a present he got for his birthday. He made a huge mess, but we now have a baby triceratops skeleton to add to our display.

After Tioman we made our way down to Johor Bahru to get fuel and stock up on some groceries. Jake was lucky enough to meet a little Australian girl on another boat in the marina. They spent two complete days playing - water balloons, slip and slide, playing in the rain. It was a much needed moral booster for Jake.

Probably the most exciting part of our last week was coming around Singapore. At one point we counted over 120 ships and that was without really trying hard. On shore was just as many tall buildings as far as the eye could see. To our port side was Indonesia. So much to look at. Andy and I spent the day with our head on a swivel, trying not to get run over. We look like a little bitty life raft bobbing out here around all of these massive ships.

Now we're anchored in front of the Admiral Marina in Port Dickson. We went ashore to drop off some trash and try to meet up with some other boats we know (with no success) and we once again observed a strange phenomenon here in Malaysia. There are many buildings and structures in this country that were once quite grand. The problem is there is no concept of maintenance. Many marinas have been built and then left to ruin only to be rebuilt 5-10 years later, then left to ruin again, and continue the cycle. We see beautiful hotels from the water and then when we pick up the binoculars and look closer, they're really old, forgotten structures in desperate need of a paint job. It seems such a waste of time and money…but a cycle not soon to be broken.

A few more days and we'll arrive in Penang and hopefully break our own little cycle of monotony.

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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Stop the Shark Finning!

Jake's latest writing assignment was to write a persuasive paper.  He chose a topic he's very passionate about, shark finning.  We saw a good bit of it in Mexico (including the sharks washing up on the beach) and some here in SE Asia as well (more the selling of the soup than actually seeing the finning occur).  He said he had to get the word out and asked me to publish this for him.  Feel free to share...

Shark Finning
By:  Jake (9 years old)

I hate shark finning. An estimated 70 million sharks are killed each year and over a third are killed just for their fins.  People use their fins for soup.
First, if we keep killing the sharks they will all be gone. Killing the sharks stops the immune system of the ocean. Sick fish will not be eaten and they will pollute the ocean.
Second, it is cruel to the sharks.  Fishermen just cut off their fins and throw them back in the water and leave them to drown.  Stop killing the sharks!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sailing SE Asia

Sailing SE Asia is a myth.  Motoring SE Asia is more like it.  It doesn’t matter what the weather says or what direction we’re going, we can’t seem to fill these sails.  If the forecast says the winds are coming from the south and we change our course accordingly, they come from the north.  If we anchor with protection from the north, they turn and come from the south.  If we unzip the sail bag and shake out the main, they die all together.  We have traveled about 2500 miles since we left Palau, give or take a few hundred, and I would venture to say we’ve motored or motor/sailed 85% of the time.  Maybe it’s the time of year we’re here, maybe it’s that we’re so close to the equator and we have the ITCZ to deal with.  I’m sure it’s those things as well as a few others that contribute to it.  But knowing the reasons don’t make it any more fun.  It’s hot.  There’s no wind.  It’s hot and not windy.  Ugh.

The lemonade to be made here is with the price of fuel.  With all of the oil production around here, the cost of fuel is crazy low so the pain of burning so much diesel is eased slightly. 

The patterns lately seem to be no wind in the day and crazy wind at night.  Of course we’re trying to day hop to avoid the heavy traffic at night and the fisherman, so we’ve already screwed the pooch with the sailing thing.  Our ability to guess the wind direction at night hasn’t been too good either…we’re hoping we do better tonight and we actually get to sleep.  We’ve got a spot picked out with protection from the North, East and West.  Let’s hope we got it right this time.

Editor’s note….sitting at anchor right now with a south wind coming in… just a little break…that’s all we’re asking for.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Happy Halloween from Tioman Island!

I’ve been very neglectful in updating the blog lately.  I don’t know if I have been too busy or just not very motivated.  Either way, there’s a good bit to tell. 

We finally left Kuching.  We took a day or two to leave the river and get our sea legs back and then we made the 4 day trek across the South China Sea to Tioman Island.  For the first time ever, I was the only one on the boat not sick.  Andy caught some sort of bug just as we left Kuching that put him down for a day or two and Jake got dehydrated and just a bit seasick.  I had on my trusty patch and ended up actually reading a few books on the passage…something normally unheard of.  I didn’t come out completely unscathed though.  A nasty side effect of this patch is blurred vision.  A small price to pay for keeping my food down, in my opinion.

This little guy did most of the crossing with us.  Unfortunately, I
found him belly up in the cabin on one of my night watches (I swear
I did not step on him!)

These are the kinds of things you have to watch out for around here.
This actually marks a fish trap.

Tioman Island is a small island on the east coast of peninsula Malaysia that was touted as “one of the most beautiful islands in the world” in some publication years ago, a phrase they use on all of their advertisements.  I don’t know if I would go that far, but it sure was a welcome change from the crocodile infested rivers we’ve called home for the last few months. 

It’s a pretty common stopover for cruisers heading across the sea both ways as its one of the three duty free islands in Malaysia.  Duty Free = cheap beer/wine/booze.  It’s also got pretty good snorkeling, decent beaches (although they appear to be filled with sandflies), and a genuine laid back atmosphere.  It’s not yet overrun with tourists, but has enough to bring in a few good restaurants and give locals a reason to tolerate some of our western ways.  But not all… you see it’s mostly muslim and while they do capitalize on the tourism, there are some things they just can’t give way to.  For example, Andy and I saw the most unique sign (for our western ways) at the local shopping center.  You know those signs with pictures and then the circle and slash through it to say ‘no this’ or ‘no that?’  We saw one with four pictures on it…

If you went to a beach in Florida and saw those signs, I’m pretty sure most people would go home!  We got a kick out of it as it’s another reminder of how our cultures are so different.  I told Andy, I’m too old to prance around town in a bikini anymore, I can’t afford the calories of the ice cream, and well, we prefer to drink our alcohol and smooch in the privacy of our own home.  So we’re good….no issues here.

There was one major difference in our ways that we thought might cause more of a stir for some of the crew.  There is no Halloween here.  Jake’s grandparents sent him the greatest costume and he has almost worn it out getting ready for Halloween.  He loves to dress up…it’s actually a daily thing.  It doesn’t matter what…dinosaur, dragon king (his own creation), pirate, Obi wan Kanobe.  His costume this year…vampire bat (and very appropriate I might add – there are THOUSANDS of fruit bats just outside the marina here).  Surprisingly though, the idea of no trick or treating didn’t cause that big of a disappointment.  Jake decided that we would make a haunted house on the boat.  And at the end, I would hide his candy and he would find it.  He even “visioned” us sitting in a circle around the pumpkin telling ghost stories.  Simple enough.  So we spent all week making decorations, carving pumpkins and planning how to scare “the poop” out of each other.  At the end of the night, he declared it one of his “top 3” Halloweens.  I’m not sure he remembers them before age 6, but we’ll let that slide. 

Our little vampire bat!

He wouldn't smile because he was trying to look scary.

Andy and I were talking about how lucky we were to have a kid that can adapt so easily to whatever is thrown at him.  I don’t know how much of it is lifestyle and how much of it is just personality, but I do think living on a boat and making do with what you have contributes greatly.  Our next challenge will be Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I asked Jake what he wanted for Christmas.  He said instead of writing Santa a letter this year, he was just going to let him decid what he should bring Jake.  With no commercials, advertisements or catalogs to look at, I do believe my 9 year old has run out of things to ask for! 

We’ll spend a few more days here and then we’re off towards the mainland.  Lots to do…visit Singapore, meet up with old cruising friends in Penang, high tail it to Thailand to haul out (along with a thousand other boats)…I’m tired already thinking about it.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Our final days in OZ

I guess I’d better finish this up before I forget what we did…. The final installment of “What I did on my summer vacation.”

Kings Canyon was supposed to be a pretty big hike.  You hike 6+ km around the rim of the canyon, involving some very steep stairs right in the beginning and no shade whatsoever.  The other option was a 2km hike through the center of the canyon in the shade.  The little guy, only 2 days out from receiving second degree burns on his foot, and a little sore from the long trek the day before, opted for the short walk.  I can’t say this mom was too disappointed.  After we finished the short hike, we decided instead of sitting around for another hour and a half waiting on the group, we would go at the big hike from the end.  We put on our fly nets (these suckers are aggressive and abundant - up your nose, in your ear, in your eye) and searched for the trail. Supposedly, the climb wasn’t as steep and the views were excellent.  2000 stairs and 30 minutes later, we were at the top!  Jake was a trooper…I think he felt like he had been tricked a little bit.  But the views were well worth it.  We sat for a little bit resting and listening to the guides as they came by.  We learned that it was the Australians that introduced Eucalyptus to California and provided so much fuel for those nasty fires!  They did apologize...

Lunch was at a big campground, complete with playground.    Here’s where exciting event #2 happened for Jake.  He was playing with this little girl from Canada on the monkey bars and they were taking turns seeing how far each of them could jump and grab the bars.  I was watching but was trying to be the mom that let her kid take some chances (I’ve been criticized once or twice for being a little uptight in that department).  Her brother comes along and the boys start daring each other….well, one thing led to another that led to Jake taking a giant leap across the bars.  He got it with one hand but the momentum sent him sailing through the air only to land smack dab on top of his arm as he hit the ground.  I thought for sure he had broken it.  After another visit to Dr. Daddy, we deemed he had just bruised it, maybe sprained it at the worst and he was wrapped up in a makeshift sling and given a little dose of “suck it up” and “you know you don’t have to take every dare given to you, right?”

He sports his injuries well, I think.

Our drive to our campsite this day, was when we started making use of the 4WD portion of our bus.  Geesh, we bumped and turned and bobbed and shook….Jake passed out cold on my lap.  The campsite was at a pub so for the first time, everyone partook in a little drinking.  It went a long way in loosening up our group.  Everyone was extremely nice, but not very outgoing.  I won’t even say they weren’t friendly, because they were…we just weren’t getting the “fun” vibes from very many people.  After traveling so much and then going on this trip, I see one reason people think American’s are obnoxious.  We’re friendly.  We force people to talk to us…even if they don’t want to.  I think we might have been a little guilty of that a few times.  Jake slept right through the steak dinner (arguably the best dinner we had on the trip) and straight into the morning (his only night sleeping in a tent).  When he woke up, the poor guy had a trail of bug bites going all the way across his bum.  He itched for days.

Day 4 is a blur to me.  We did a really nice hike and a swim in a gorge that was so cold, it literally took my breath away.  Other than that, I remember thinking I was just about done with the outback.  We camped out in the middle of no where with no water (outside what we brought with us) or toilets or anything – all sleeping in swags – and had the most peaceful night yet. 

I thought we took the polar plunge.  I have never swam in
such cold water in my life.

Katie, preparing our dinner the last night on her make shift

Showing off our fly nets.  I lifted mine up in a moment of

These are the swags we've been talking about.  That's Jake in the

Night sky.

Our last day, we got to stop at an aboriginal community and take a little tour as well as paint some of our own artwork.  This was a lot more interesting than I had hoped and would rank right up there at the top for me.  Our guide was “cheeky” (a new Australian word, I’m still working out the exact meaning of), a little superstitious (ok, a lot), and very open and honest.  We got to do a little cultural exchange as she asked me if America is really as dangerous as it looks on tv (she watches a lot of COPS).  She was shocked that we eat deer and didn’t believe me when I told her I thought it was more tender than kangaroo.  Apparently, I had not had kangaroo prepared properly…no doubt she was right.

This week had us spending a lot of time contemplating how the aboriginals were treated by the Aussies...very similar to our Native Americans in the States.  Andy and I changed our opinions many times and in the end, never really came up with a solid stance.  It's all so complicated, and is never what it appears...  I was hoping to educate or enlighten or at least force my opinion on you, but in the end, I walked away as confused as I ever was.  If nothing else, at least I'm more educated on the topic and have some new things to think about.

The handprints on the wall there were from early "artists,"
according to our guide.   I think...

Jake, showing off his Komodo dragon (I know, not
indigenous to Australia, but inspiring none the less).

Those circles are supposed to be watering holes.  Jake thinks
I went a little overboard with the dot painting technique.
"Sometimes less is more, Mommy."

As we plopped back down into our hotel beds that evening, we all agreed that this was definitely an experience to be remembered forever.  If you can believe it, our tiny little family actually got closer.  Jake showed some extreme toughness and the ability to make lemonade out of a mess-ton of lemons. 

We were happy to land back in Kuching and get back to Savannah, but we all agreed we wish we could have seen more.  It was kind of like a foreigner coming to the United States for 10 days and seeing the Grand Canyon.  It’s Grand, but it’s only a tiny piece of what’s available.
Unfortunately, we were met with tiny little rat turds all over the boat….I bet you can guess what I’ll write about next time…