Wednesday, 23 October 2013

00'00'.000N 104'54'.709E

It was so still yesterday that I could hear the sweat beading on my arms before it ran down. The dark clouds built over Pulua Lingga just 100m away and hovered menacing before shirking off to dump their contents on the ocean to the south. At night we were entertained by a lightning storm which lit up the clouds appearing as a shadow pantomime where the lightning (the actor) was shielded from view by a layer of clouds (the screen) and our imagination was left to draw a scene of the gruesomeness of the destruction made by the actors behind the screen. The actors danced away into the distance, nonchalant about the devastation they had left in their path.

We had entered the Intertropical Convergence Zone  (the equatorial trough or more commonly known as the doldrums) the weather was less predictable with rain and wind squalls, lighting storms and wind coming from all sorts of unusual directions or just not at all. This makes for challenging sailing conditions and more patience sometimes than we can summon, which means using the motor to get to an anchorage in daylight.

At 1235hrs on 20/10/2013 as Elizabeth Jane II crossed the equator into the northern hemisphere, King Neptune unleashed his wrath, dumping a torrent of rain and squally winds upon us. We still managed to trim the sails, toast our glasses of rum and take a photo of our GPS as we made our way across the invisible line. And it was indeed invisible as we could not see more than 20m in front of our boat. The rain fell for the best part of an hour and it was incredible to watch the sea become flattened by the falling rain as if it were trying to retreat to shelter.

Disappointingly the wind was on the nose and we were beating to make forward progress, tacking across the equator 3 times, but the first was very exciting as together we entered a new stage in our voyage and Hugh and I officially became shell-backs (a shell-back is an experienced sailor who has crossed the equator). Importantly, we provided a libation for King Neptune with a glass of rum that we donated to him overboard (this was a gift and to provide us with good luck during our travels on the sea).

The evenings celebratory festivities included rum cocktails and spaghetti bolognese (with mince!!!) aboard Solstice with Bill and Olivia. Bill was an old hat at equator crossings, with this being his third. Once again we were reminded that much of the fun of cruising is enjoying special events with good friends!


Monday, 14 October 2013

Things We Have Learnt About Indonesia

  • Everything must be amplified and once it is amplified, must be at full volume. There is no such thing as too loud, if it is not distorting it should be turned up.
  • In Indonesia, people think the radio will travel further when they shout into it. This also goes for microphones.
  • Cassava can be in any food, be it sweet, savoury or other. If you are not sure what you are eating, it is probably cassava. It is the favourite lengthener to any dish or dish in its own right.
  • There is no such thing as too much sugar. Even a drink of coke can be enhanced by the addition of more sugar.
  • To goreng something (fry it) is a must for 90% of the menu items. If it is edible (and often if it is not), it can be improved by battering and frying it. One of our favourite dishes did not have a formal name, so our guide told us it was goreng goreng (fried fried). An accurate description, and also quintessential Indonesian while still bearing no information on the ingredients! 
    Fireworks fun
  • Too much fireworks are never enough. We arrived in Indonesia at the end of Ramadan which is celebrated with eating cake and drinking tea and then lighting up the night for the best part of a week with hand held fireworks (which are labelled 'do not hold in hand'). Not one to be left out of the fun, Hugh bought some fireworks and asked some non-English speaking kids to help him use them. They thought it was very amusing when Hugh was holding it the wrong way and asking if he had it right for ignition. Thankfully they corrected him before he lit them!
  • Indonesians loooove to sing and dance, the only thing they enjoy more than doing that themselves, is having you do it with them. Hugh and I became the singing duo of our rally group and deftly performed 'brown eyed girl' and 'somewhere over the rainbow' on the ukulele. I also mastered the jamila line dance and the lulu group dance, much to the adoration of our hosts!
  • There is no 'mix' of businesses that is to obscure. The mobile phone shop where you top up your phone credit is also the LPG seller. The scuba dive shop is also the womens shoe and handbag shop. However the guy who sells the ink for a stamp is different to the guy who sells the stamps. Obviously!
  • Talking about the weather is a mute point. It is always the same as yesterday, 33C blistering sunshine and 75% humidity. 
Indonesian Petrol Station
  • Any motor can be reincarnated to propel a boat, be it a single cylinder, World War II era, diesel engine with a hand starter, two whipper snippers attached precariously to unsupported prop shafts or 8 x 400HP outboards strapped to the back of a passenger vessel carrying people 40nm between islands (that sometimes explode, as our friend experienced).
  • A bloke on the side of the road with Absulute Vodka bottles full of fuel constitutes a petrol station.
  • Our hosts had trouble pronouncing Hugh's name, we learned that the word for shark in Bahasa Indonesian is 'Hiu'. Hugh introduces himself as Hiu wherever we go making the sharks fin on his head, much to the enjoyment of the Indonesians!
  • It's not official unless it's been stamped. At ports and for invitations to events, either our stamp or that of the Government had to be on the paperwork. This was at its most hilarious in Saumlaki (our checking in port) where we didn't have a boat stamp yet and Hugh had to draw a picture on the page as if it were a stamp. This was received with much humour by our hosts, a smile will get you anywhere!
Invitation - stamped of course
  • A smile and some bumbling version of Bahasa Indonesian will almost get you anywhere. I was surprised at how politely the locals applauded our minute comprehension of their language while their English skills far exceeded our Indonesian skills.
  • Navigation lights on Indonesian boats are as much for fun as they are to provide information. Red for port and green for starboard is what we are used to, but red, blue and green flashing lights are par for the course here. Just part of the nighttime sailing adventure!
  • It is an enormous country with a huge population and they are wonderful and welcoming people. An archipelago of some 18,000 islands with a population of around 250 million people are spread through fishing villages, farming communities and enormous cities throughout the country. An excellent place to visit by sailing boat.


Thursday, 10 October 2013

Journey to the Borneo Jungle

As we sailed into the cove at the southern point of Borneo, the water depth dropped rapidly and we were in 9m of water. No land in sight and the water colour had a brown and green tinge to it. We had entered the Kumai River overflow, where the murky brown fresh water river mixed with the clear salt water of the Java Sea. The tide was rising and 10kts on the beam pushed us effortlessly towards the river entry at a motivating 7kts. We were bound for the Tanjung Putting National Park to spend 3 days aboard a klotok (simple open-walled timber houseboat) to see Orangutans and other wildlife in a conservation park. 

A dense haze set over the river entry and the channel was busy with commercial shipping; transporting lumber, mined silica, mined gold and wood chips. As we sailed over depths as low as 3.5m we made our way the 20nm to the anchorage outside the town of Kumai. The harsh port town was dominated by tall concrete buildings with no windows. We later learnt that these were bird houses for thousands of quails whose eggs and nests were exported to China as a delicacy. At up to 5 storeys high with tiny port holes, the whole harbour is filled with the shriek of birds flying around in these unlit buildings and calling out at dusk. The industrial harbour is a stark contrast to the brilliant green of the National Park opposite. Two opposing and competing land uses separated by the river. The grey haze settles late in the day and hangs low until mid-morning from the forest fires which are a method to clear land for development, mining or rice farming. After our 4 day journey here from Bali, a lazy day of wandering around town was in order. We had lunch at an excellent street Warung (restaurant) where we didn't have to decide between nasi goreng (fired rice) or mie goreng (fried noodles) as they served nasi mawat - both dishes mixed together. Problem solved! A bowl of bakso (soup with meatballs) to wash it down and we were loving the non-tourist nature of the town. The Warung owner was excitedly telling all his friends about how 15 tourists were just sitting there eating his cooked to order food!

River view
Because we were on a river I thought that it would be cooler, but we were blanketed by stifling humidity. At 37 C in the cabin before 10am we were relieved to be going on our National Park river trip. Another dingy repair job and we were off on our tour with our friends Jack and Zdenka from Kite and Jacks brother and wife who had flown over for a holiday from America. We entered the tributary of the National Park and we were hemmed in by brilliant green low-lying river shrubbery including napal palms. The narrow murky brown river twisted and turned and the sky above was an ominous dark grey. Less than an hour into our trip and the heavens opened. We had not experienced rain of any note since Great Keppel Island nearly 5 months ago. The rain was teaming down and being encouraged by lighting and thunder. Kicking ourselves because we could be collecting the rainwater on our boat, we huddled on our houseboat as our guide pulled down the tarpaulin walls. It rained heavily for almost two hours, but at least the temperature dropped for a little while.

After a delicious lunch on the klotok, we ventured ashore to one of the Orangutan feeding stations. Many of the Orangutans in the park were rescued orphans however they cannot reintegrate into the wild, so they rely on being fed at the feeding stations. In turn, we get up close and personal with these incredible creatures in the wild. Illegal (and legal) logging, forest clearing by burning, palm oil plantations and mining activities have jeopardised the Orangutan habitats and they are threatened with extinction. Parks like this provide a place where the life cycle can continue and the new generation of wild Orangutans can increase the Orangutan population numbers.

At the station we saw two female Orangutans (one wild and one released) each with a baby. A female is pregnant for 9 months and after giving birth carries the baby for 8 or 9 years before mating again. The Orangutan babies clung to their mothers as they swung with so much strength through the tops of the trees. They tentatively made their way to the sweet potato, coconut and bananas, The mother deftly peeled the bananas and made her way through a high proportion of the goodies as she hung with one arm on a woody vine, always watching and ready to scale the tree if motivated. Her baby looked around with glistening eyes, not one to miss any eating opportunities, helped himself to his mums milk. The wild Orangutan remained at a distance and did not eat from the food. She did wee on us from height, but thankfully no one was showered on! Our guides told us that the Orangutans look for shelter when it rains, so it was a low turnout of Orangutans today. 

Back to the klotok for guitars, ukeleles, singsongs with the boat staff and banana fritters. As the afternoon rolled into evening, we were gifted with a most spectacular sunset, lighting the clouds with a pink belly. Our guide expertly picked a tranquil river location for dinner, lit by fireflies. Magic! With vats of deet applied, we relaxed with wine to listen to the sound of the marshy forest as the nocturnal insects and animals came to life. 

After a nights sleep under a mosquito net, we woke to the idyllic sounds of the bilge pump. Next was the hooting gibbon, heralding the new day. With first light at 5am, it was going to be an early start for us! We set off up the river, heading deeper and deeper into the jungle. After 2 hours we turned down a different fork in the river and the water clarity cleared up. The brown dirt is from silica mining which pollutes the entire river for kilometres. The river bank vegetation had changed and now high trees lined the banks. The river opening became so narrow our klotok was pushing branches aside to forge through. We were going to Camp Leakey, where the Orangutan rehabilitation first began in 1971.

Our guide took us for a walk in the jungle, we walked through dense vegetation with trees covering the sky, but the jungle floor was still hot and muggy. There were some gaps in the tree coverage where shards of light would shoot to the jungle floor as we clambered over mud, fallen trees and soft leafy carpets. Thankfully our deet was sweat and rain proof and the mozzies were deterred by our chemical haze, that didn't deter the fire ants though, but swift walking left them in our tracks! Due to the humidity, the moisture in the air settled on trees and the jungle floor, I was amazed at how wet everything was and just touching the tree trunks left you with a wet hand. 

On the walk to the feeding area, we came across Peta a female Orangutan with her 8 month old baby. She decided we needed help making our way there and grabbed the hands of two of our group. It started off very sweet and friendly, but then she decided they should carry her and she lifted her feet off the ground. After a while 70kgs of her became a bit heavy and so she was passed around the group. Hugh got to hold her hand with our friend Bill, never seen two bigger grins!

The feeding was eventful with about 20 Orangutans coming along to get some dinner. The dominant male came too, so that scared off some males who were lurking around for a feed. You could hear the Orangutans before you could see them, climbing to the tops of trees and bending them down with their weight to the next tree to swing their way across the forest roof. There is one dominant male who has many female partners in the 'manor' and the dominant female also keeps the women in order. There were a couple of scuffles and the dominant male ensured that he had his post meal coitus. The Orangutans are such amazing animals, being strong and incredibly vulnerable at the same time. 

After some evening entertainment from male Probiscus monkeys (dutch monkey) unsuccessfully attempting to persuade their female companions down from their high branch to engage in some copulation, by barking at them, we relaxed to  another night on the river to the soundtrack of the birds, cicadas and monkeys. What an amazing experience!