Saturday, November 13, 2010

November 13, 2010 - Singapore

After 4-1/2 years in the Southern Hemisphere, the boat crossed the Equator with a gleeful cheer from Ellen around 6:00 am, about 75 miles south of Singapore. Tom was asleep, after a long night with a misbehaving autopilot. We pulled into a harbor in Indonesia’s Riau Islands for a crossing party with boats from Australia, the UK and Switzerland.
While we loved Indonesia, we can’t say it’s much of a destination for sailing. We had more wind than we expected and it wasn’t much. The only relief from the beastly, ghastly heat was the movement created by the engine moving the boat, and to a small extent, nightfall. After sailing the entire Pacific Ocean rarely spotting another vessel or debris, it was a shock to get used to continuous ship and small boat traffic, not to mention the plastic garbage.
Singapore! From our luxurious country club life at Raffles Marina on the western edge of the island, to the quiet subway that puts us to sleep, the glitzy architecture, the lush landscaping, the brightly painted housing projects radiating out from the extensive transit lines, the go-go economic bubble, the opportunities to eat and shop til you drop, the heady mix of Indian and Malay culture accenting this predominantly Chinese city - Singapore feels like it’s straight from a textbook on how to be a world class city. While it lacks charm, it’s clean, well-organized and impressive in its Disneyland meets New York/utopia meets the big city way. If this is the Asian economic tiger, it is truly formidable.
Locals complain about the restrictions on freedom – and there are many besides no gum chewing. It feels a bit like George Orwell’s 1984. It’s often subtle. This year Singapore’s first two casinos opened. (One - with the "spaceship" on top - is pictured above.) Singaporeans must pay an entry fee of $100 per person per day just to enter the casino. Show your foreign passport, and you get in for free.
For three weeks, it’s been a good place to catch up on the world, work on the boat, provision, take in the sights, visit old friends, and beat the heat in the air conditioning and the swimming pool. Onto Malaysia.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Mt. Merapi, Java, Indonesia

Wondering if we were close to any of the recent disaster areas in Indonesia? No to the Sumatra tsunami. Yes to Mt. Merapi, where these pictures were taken. We visited the mountain twice in September, when we were in Solo, Java with Amy. Tom climbed to the summit in 1976.
The mountain is about an hour from Solo – you can see it from the outskirts of town on a clear day. The car trip up the south slope took us by densely cultivated fields of tobacco, peanuts, tomatoes, papayas, chilis, thriving in the volcanic soil. The area was rural but heavily populated, no doubt due to the rich soil, and has been for a very long time. (Prambanan, a site of ancient temples, lies at the base of Merapi).
There was a small village where the paved road up the mountain ended. It was cool and rainy and we enjoyed a cup of the local specialty, ginger coffee. We looked around the devastated area. The size of the river of mud that had scoured the area during the last eruption in 2006 was incomprehensible.
You can’t say they weren’t prepared. There were warning sirens all over the place, dams, and a big concrete underground bunker. Our guide told us Merapi was one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world and the next eruption could come any time.
The evergreen forest above the mudflows was steep and beautiful. There were a pair of orange flip-flops laying by a path into the woods. I wondered what they were doing there. I first noticed their owner, the woman in the photo, when I heard a rustle – the bundle of grass she was carrying down the mountain to feed her livestock. I watched her descend slowly but surefootedly, barefoot. She was pleased to have her picture taken and excited to see herself in the display screen. She chortled with glee when I gave her a bunch of small change as a thank-you.
I wondered then, amazed, what kind of a life has she led, an hour away from big cities? I wonder now, where is she? How is she doing?

14 Oct. 2010 - Belitung, Indonesia

This island, off southern Sumatra in the South China Sea, turned out to be a most pleasant surprise. Belitung is full of tin mines (BHP Billiton, the mining conglomerate, was named after this island), but seeks to become “the next Bali.” Without even a mention in the 2010 Lonely Planet, and nothing that we would consider a resort hotel, they have a long way to go.
Maybe sometime we will be able to say “we were there when it was nothing.” The fundamentals are there. Beautiful beaches. Clean water (unusual in Indonesia). Friendly people. Two hours by air from Jakarta or Singapore. And local government that is willing to throw a lot of money and energy into the development of tourism.
Our last Rally stop, we were treated to gala meals, bus tours, bike tours, live music and dance morning, noon and night. By this point we had learned that even veiled Muslim ladies love to bump and grind to the local pop music and joined in at every opportunity. We also came to appreciate that one of the critical skills required of an Indonesian official is the ability to sing well. The most honored people get up on the stage and perform karaoke – beautifully – and then invite the honored guests to do the same. Great fun.

7 Oct. 2010 - Kumai, Kalimantan, Borneo, Indonesia

Above, on the Kumai kelotok with Ken and Christine of S/V Code Zero from Airlie Beach, Australia
Left, Kalimantan orangutan

Borneo!!!! Who would have thought we would motor 60 miles up a big, brown river on the south coast of Borneo to a place where we could observe orangutans in the wild? Tanjung Puting National Park is the site of a reserve established in the 70s by a Leakey protégé. The animals, many of them captives or dislocated by deforestation, flock to feeding stations for handouts of bananas and cassava root. From the huge, intimidating adult males to the tiny babes in arms, they put on quite a show, especially when they crash through the jungle, swinging from tree to tree.
Travelling through the dense jungle from the dusty little river port of Kumai was at least half the fun. We chose an overnight on an open air houseboat. The crew of four provided three hot Chinese meals a day, nonstop information in English, and reminders about the need for protective gear – mosquito repellent, sunscreen, water, and socks and shoes to ward off the leeches.