Sunday, July 31, 2011

Flying high, sailing low



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Arrival in Kupang Indonesia

We are now in Kupang on the island of Timor and will be here for a few days before moving on.
Our last night of sail was a little stressful as suddenly the winds rose to 18knots—where had that been when we needed it!!
We were trying to reach the channel entrance at dawn meaning we could only go 4.5knots. At one stage I had only about 1/8 of the jib up compromising steering. In the open ocean this is not a problem but when you are surrounded by 20 boats all having the same trouble it was quite the night. We were once again in a city of navigational sail boat lights.
Dawn broke and we were all on schedule with no one having collided with anyone else and we made our way up to Kupang anchorage.
As we dropped anchor we immediately were aware we were in Asia, the noise of bemos, motor scooters and horns honking was loud even from the boat.
Shortly afterwards several small boats arrived at our boat—customs??
It turned out that we had customs and quarantine officers, there seemed to be quite a few of each and we also had attracted the large local television and newspaper contingent. All in all there were 15 people who all piled out of the boats onto ours.
It was total chaos, everyone was moving around, not only taking the TV film and official news paper pictures but they all appeared to have their own digital cameras and wanted to photograph everything. I was standing in the cockpit and one person would stand beside me and his friend would photograph us and then the friend would stand beside me and we would be photographed also. It seemed pretty funny to us but in retrospect is only what we do to them whenever we travel—our lifestyle seems as exotic to them as theirs does to us.
We were interviewed and were quick to say how happy we were to be here and looked forward to explore their interesting country. Too bad we don’t have a TV as I think we were the only boat boarded and it would have been fun to see.
As this was going on Ken was filling out forms and stamping all copies---many, many of these with our newly purchased boat stamp. We had been warned that they love stamps and to impress we should have one—good advice.
Meanwhile customs was wandering with me looking in various cupboards for any contraband items we may have. We were asked, as we had been warned, whether we had whisky and wine and although the boat was groaning with the weight of what we had left Australia with I said only one bottle. They will ask for a “gift” if they think you have enough.
There are actually no limitations on what you bring into Indonesia—that includes meat and fruit and vegetables from Australia so we will have enough fresh food for a while.
The health lady inspected a container we have with antibiotics but all in all it was all very cursory and easy.
They seemed in no hurry to leave and chatted happily to us but eventually the boats came back and picked them up and they all left.
Whew—we had been warned that if anyone is on your boat in Indonesia always be aware of where they are and what they are doing—well that rule was quickly broken!!
We launched the dingy and took it to the beach where for $4 a day they will haul it up for you, watch it all day launching it as many times as you want. There were a lot of “boat boys” who obviously wait for this opportunity every year—with approximately 60-80 dingys a day they can make a lot in the few days we are here. They also took our garbage which they quickly assessed to see what they may be able to use—plastic bottles are in high demand. We always made sure we had one or two and then no-one asked us for money. Sadly as we look around our boat we suspect a lot of it goes back into the sea.
Now was the entrance into the “customs hall”. We thought they had done everything except our passports on the boat but it turned out that we had to sit at 6 different stations all manned with officials who took yet more copies from us and gave us yet more copies. They expressed disappointment when we said we had left our boat stamp on the boat—we had not realised that there was so much more to do!! It was all very efficient and pleasant and we left with many copies of various documents we will need to have when we check out.
Next was to purchase telephone and internet SIM cards, they were set up for us to do that. The internet stick has transformed our lives and is a far cry from trying to pirate signals along the coast of Mexico. We are still not sure if they will stand the test on the smaller islands.
I needed to get Indonesian money from an ATM and was told that it was too far to walk so jumped on to the back of a motor scooter and was taken to get the money---definitely Asia!!!! It turned out, as has been our experience previously, the scooter took me to the one he knew many kilometres away whereas there was one only 5 minutes walk away. We are only able to take out the equivalent of $175 at a time and it will cost $12 each time in bank fees.
We had a beer and lunch to celebrate our arrival--$4 for a large beer and $2 50 for a regular one. Grilled prawns for $5—all is good in Kupang!!
The town consists of a main street where they sell almost everything. Motor cycles and brightly decorated bemos—the local equivalent of a bus—barrel down the street with horns blaring. The bemos seat up to 10 people and cost about 2 cents and you need the correct change. Once again we have problems keeping enough small denominations. The market for fruit and vegs was a long bemo ride away but we had enough from Australia and did not need to go.
We are anchored beside the mosque and at 5 30pm the “call for prayer” wailing began—Indonesia has the largest number of Muslims in the world and we had been warned we would be hearing this 5 times a day. It was quite exotic and fitting but not sure how we will feel about the 5am one!!
They are not fundamentalists; the women wear head coverings but complement them with “skinny” jeans.
The local bar at the beach where we landed the dinghy became the general hang out for yachties. Local sellers quickly arrived to try and sell us pearls, weavings and carvings. We are only here for a few days and they are very aware that they need to take advantage of the short window of opportunity.
We were able to fill our jerry cans with diesel for 80c a litre and bought water for $2 for 20 litres. Margaret was charged $20 for a load of laundry so we will definitely be doing our own!!
The highlight of the next day was a visit to the night market with Margaret and Will and had delicious street food—we ordered prawns and squid which were both done in a huge wok and done in a tasty spicy sauce. Will also ordered what he thought was one sate chicken stick each as well. When it arrived it was four plates with 7 sticks each—wow we ended up giving half to the 3 men who were sitting at our table. They were swimming in peanut sauce; obviously peanuts are cheaper than the chicken. I tried a fruit shake but it turned out to be a little fruit and a whole lot of condensed milk. I had asked for no ice as I was not sure of the purity of the ice making it even more sickly sweet. As a crowning touch it was topped with chocolate condensed milk—hmm didn’t know that that existed.
We did the tourist thing and took a tour starting where they milk the sap of a palm tree, much the same as the maple tree. They get a very sugary sap which they either use to make candy or distil to liquor.
Next was where the traditional Sasando musical instrument is made. The local guru of this is a 75 year old man who has 6 sons who have all joined the family business. The instrument sounds very much like a harp and is quite lovely. One son, a very cute good looking young man actually won “Asia’s got talent” and deservedly so. They are very proud of him and we were shown U tube clips---Ditron Pah— for anyone who has the time or interest to do a search –quite impressive!! We loved these and did buy a small version which actually can be played for $40.
Next stop was to a very mediocre museum and then lunch.
They laid out a huge number of dishes on our table. We picked food from a lot of the plates only to find we had been charged by the plate. Many of our plates had hardly been touched but we had to pay for any we had sampled yet another expensive—by local standards—lesson.
Next stop was a forge where they make a lot of knives, great for Ken who bought 2 knives for $5 each.
The final stop was to visit the monkey caves where dozens of monkeys await visitors who bring bananas and peanuts for them. They were very cute and quickly ran away to consume any food they had managed to acquire before another monkey would take it from them.
Later that night was the Governors banquet with some lovely dancing followed by an excellent meal and great music for dancing. We had a lot of fun dancing with the multitudes of children who seemed to belong to locals attending.
The following night was the Mayors banquet which followed a similar format. The local people are very friendly and we are now getting used to them carrying cell phones—as all third world people do—and posing with us taking photos as much as we are of them. This is a new phenomenon for us in our travels but I am sure it is going to be the way of the future. Unlike South Americans who felt violated if you photograph them Asians love having theirs taken and will pose readily.
The last night was spent having a barbecue on “Further” with 30 other sailors and 17 nationalities—typical of the mix of the rally participants.
Our first impressions of Indonesia are of a lovely happy friendly people who will do anything to help you but, as most Asians, are quick to take advantage of any business opportunities.
Our first impressions of being in a rally are also favourable as a lot of work has been done to set up events and the welcome we were offered.
Today we leave for the island of Alor, our next destination today, an overnight trip of 140NM.
Although Kupang has been fun it will be nice to go to somewhere more remote, which is really what most of us seek as we travel.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Darwin and on to Indonesia

Darwin—what a beautiful city it has become.
It was hit by the devastating cyclone Tracy Xmas Eve 1994 which flattened the city killing a large number of people. There had been a population of 48,000 which diminished immediately after the cyclone and has now grown to over 90,000.
We had left for our overland trip to England from Darwin in January 1994 making the tragedy very real for us.
It had been a rough, ramshackle, tropical frontier town, the centre for mineral exploration and administrative capital for the Government of the Northern Territory. We loved the casual wildness of it which allowed us to enjoy Yellowknife in Canada despite the climate extremities of both cities.
Darwin today, lacking the rough, tough atmosphere is still very laid back and casual and we loved our short time there.
We anchored off the lovely Fanny Bay with about half of the 110 rally boats. This had also been a hang-out for us in the past where we used to stay in the gracious, colonial Fanny Bay hotel which sadly was destroyed in the cyclone.
After our arrival we started the frantic hustle to get everything done in the 10 days before we leave.
Going to shore requires a long dingy ride, the sea bed is very flat and the tides huge so to avoid sitting on the bottom at low tide we had to anchor a long way out. Upon arrival at the beach you had to make sure the dingy was well up the boat ramp, this meant that if you came in at low tide you had to drag it up a huge distance. We spent the time cursing our heavy dingy as we dragged but praising it as we carried the huge loads needed to equip our boat for Indonesia.
First was to visit Australian customs to advise that we would be leaving and the Indonesian embassy to apply for our tourist visas.
I then spent several hours over the next two days at Telstra, the inefficient telephone/internet provider of Australia. We have one computer with windows 7 and one would think that by now Telstra would have figured out how to connect it. The local store recommended that I book an appointment with a “tech”. I neither had the time to come back yet again nor was prepared to pay for the service which, as I felt they were already charging an exorbitant amount for so I persevered. After spending more than 1 hour on their phone with the “tech” I found out that I had not been given the correct installation programme in the first place!!!!!! I am sure they never would have told me that it was their error and would still have charged me. We had spent an hour in line in the Telstra store in Mackay just to purchase their internet stick so I really have nothing good to say about them!!! Once again, a sad state of a monopoly our “first world” countries seem to have allowed.
There was a great yacht club ashore which had an open air bar and restaurant—don’t forget we are now in the tropics and daytime temperatures are 30C and night time 24C –where most of the yachties hung out renewing old friendships. They had held mail for us and various packages awaited us. Huge meals—the Australian “club” way—and cheap beer.
We ferried in and out most times with Atlantia, using their smaller dingy for light loads and all of us hauling our big one for heavy loads making it easier.
The chandlery ashore was able to fix our new connector, attaching our 3 computers to our sat phone which means we will once again have our ocens email offshore. They also diagnosed the issue we had had with our SSB, which is only a connection. Darwin, the home of the Flying Doctor radio still has SSB experts which sadly are few and far between in most other places.
Ken tracked down the fan belts we needed and arranged to buy yet two more batteries. We had thought we could save money in NZ by just replacing the six house batteries but of course by now our starter ones have gone and once again the money saving plan came back to bite us.
We ordered the huge amount of alcohol which seems to be par for the course for an Indonesian departure. Indonesia, having the largest Muslim population in the world is dry—apart from beer. The rally organisers have done a deal with the local duty free store and you can order as much as you want for ridiculously low prices. One litre bottles of Gordons Gin is $12 if you buy a case of 12!!! Rum is 18 as was vodka and Bristol Cream $23. We all got together ordered many cases of all of the above!!! We ended up with 8 bottles of gin, 4 rum, 6 vodka, 2 Jamiesons and 2 Baileys!! Timing was great for us as we have depleted large amounts of Warren’s (my brother’s) home made alcohol we had left Wellington with 4 months ago.
The other strange rule in this odd country of odd bureaucratic rules is that if you purchase more than $300 worth of goods to export within a month of leaving they will refund you the 10% GST. Wine however, for some strange reason they will refund another tax which actually means they refund you 25%. This meant that of course we all bought over $300 of wine and yielded a further saving of 20% from Woolworths liquor store by buying more than 6 bottles. We are now fully stocked in the liquor department!!
The only hurdle to this is yet another strange rule to try and curb the alcohol abuse in the aboriginal community. They require ID which they scan with every purchase. Ken tried to buy a bottle of wine one day but had forgotten to bring his wallet so only had the $10 with him. They refused to sell it to him—I then had to go back alone—they will not sell it to you if you are even with someone with no ID!!!! I had my NZ drivers licence with me which after perusing carefully they accepted. They actually require an Australian drivers licence or passport but all of our passports were in the Indonesian embassy awaiting our visas!!
There were many strange stories coming out of this, Atlantia who had photocopies of their passports and British licences were refused even though another cruiser had a British licence accepted. One Canadian licence was accepted and another refused and one cruiser showed his Nuie licence—a colourful decorative one which we all got there for $10. Upon asking him what continent Nuie was on, he replied that it was a Pacific Island. The girl opted for Europe as the continent where you would find Nuie and it was accepted!!
We took our 200 litres of jerry cans aboard Atlantia and sailed further up the harbour with them to refuel. They have yet another odd rule for getting duty free fuel. There is only one wharf which will charge the duty free rate but they were limiting the number of boats they would fill. Fortunately we had sailed so much since leaving NZ we only needed to fill the jerry cans and Atlantia had managed to get a filling appointment. When we were there it was obvious they were not busy it was sheer laziness that they would not fill more boats!!!
The alternative is to pay the duty and rather than refund your credit card as they will with other purchases, this time they will send an Australian cheque to your home address for the refund amount. I am not sure who they hire to make up all of these strange rules!!!
We shared a car rental with Atlantia for a couple of days so we could buy everything and get it back to the boat.
Ken, trying to fill our propane tanks encountered yet another problem. Our tanks are too big—they are 35lb rather than the standard 20lb barbecue tanks!! Finally after being refused at three places a young boy, perhaps not knowing better (??) agreed to fill them. Not sure of the logic but this place seems to defy logic!!
We bought large amounts of groceries, the last place before Singapore for many items. No meat or dairy products available before then. Also ordered meat to be vacuum packed from the local butcher.
Our other frustration was getting Indonesian money which we had been recommended to do. Upon arrival at the bank they informed us that they had run out but would have more tomorrow. When we returned we got the equivalent of $200 each but they had run out again, there would be more tomorrow. We checked in many times the next day and were told the plane had arrived and it would be there any time, the following day, Friday, would be a holiday and then Saturday we leave. Although the girl had assured us she would call us the minute it got in we never did hear from her so will have to suffer the Indonesian ATM’s which only allow $150 at a time and charge an exorbitant withdrawal fee. The rally had left Darwin at this time for many years one would have assumed they would plan for this!!
We found time to go to the botanical gardens which is a wonderful legacy of a former resident who became mayor, after the cyclone. He decided to “green” the city as it was being rebuilt and it is thanks to him that there are so many parks and trees.
Went to the arts and crafts market where we both bought great cowboy style hats made from recycled truck canvas—photo to come later!!
We took a trip to the Esplanade where we sat on the wharf enjoying our last meal of fish and chips—yummy!!
We visited the excellent museum which housed the records of the cyclone, an impressive aboriginal exhibition and a great area where a lot of actual boats with local history were displayed.
The Indonesian embassy put on a welcoming cultural evening which was lovely.
A highlight for me was a trip to Kakadu with Atlantia in our rental car.
Kakadu is the National Park made after the discovery of the uranium in the area in the early 70’s.
We had spent several dry seasons and one wet season there at that time discovering Koongarra, a viable uranium deposit in our first season.
It was an amazing time in our lives where we drove the rough 4 hour 4 wheel drive road to Darwin once a month to replenish groceries. The road was only open in the dry season and did involve fording whatever water was left from “the wet”.
We set up camp in the bush by knocking down small trees with our bull bars to make our “roads” to the prospects and our camps.
We were on the Flying Doctor radio service and would drive the 1 hour to our friends at Jabiru, which was a more established exploration camp at that time to share happy evenings with them.
We had many encounters with wildlife and fortunately none with the crocodiles which at that time were recovering from almost being exterminated by hunting. Unfortunately they have been protected since and many horror stories abound.
There were a lot of water buffalo at that time. I actually took a photo of Tony being “treed” by one before driving it off with our truck the Toyota long wheel base. They have cleared them from the park as they are not native, they are Asian. This is a little sad as they added flavour to the region.
There still are the massive ant hills and billabongs teeming with birds. Green ants are still in the branches and brought back memories of hundreds of them dropping down your shirt as you brushed by a bush, all of them biting at once. It would create great mirth by those watching as they had all had the experience.
I did buy a pottery mug at the museum shop which had been cleverly painted with green ants—only to be appreciated by one who knows”.
We discovered the cave paintings at Nourlangie Rock—at that time there was no road there and the original aboriginals from that area had all died out. The only aboriginals near us were up on the escarpment at Arnhemland. We would see them as they hitchhiked to get liquor.
Now as we drove the 2 hours to Jabiru from Darwin on the paved highway it hard to feel the sense of adventure which we had felt.
We only had one day and the park is huge so did not have time for more than a cursory trip.
We revisited Noulangie Rock and I was heartened by the map at the “car park” (how times have changed!!) showing the Koongarra mining lease—not sure who owns the lease now as it is within the park boundaries. They carefully excluded Jabiru from the park so it is able to be mined. The amount of uranium found in the area is so much that it will be many years before it will be an issue.
We did get to a billabong teeming with birds and pandanus palms and got to listen to the never ending sound of the dove which always brings me back to a previous time.
Ken and I had overnighted here in 1999 and had found the location of the old Jim Jim store and motel where we had lived for one dry season.
As we crossed the Margaret River we saw a croc which was still there when we drove back. Margaret and I decided to walk over to get a photo but felt nervous as we walked the bank peering through the bush. When we discovered he was no longer in the water we beat a hasty retreat.
We lucked out by spotting several Jabiru’s, a stork common to the area.
The one thing that the highway has done is offer a more panoramic view which is very different from the old dusty dirt track winding through the bush.
The region is where they filmed the northern scenes in the movie Crocodile Dundee.
Finally on Saturday morning as we stowed the bikes and the last of the vast amounts of food and drink aboard we were ready for the 11 am start of the rally.
Everyone had their sails up and perhaps fortunately there was only 5 knots of wind as the 110 boats were at the start line. There was a festive air with local boats dodging through the fleet wishing us well.—farewell Darwin and thanks for the hospitality!!
We elected to stay back in the pack as we are not expecting a lot of wind and want to conserve fuel best as we can. Diesel is cheap in Indonesia but dirty and since the Bali bombings it cannot be transported in jerry cans and involves someone coming out to your boat with a fuel drum, to be avoided!!
Most of the boats are going to Kupang as we are, and a smaller amount going to Saumlaki. This second choice would involve a longer journey and as we have come so far we elected to do the shorter route. We will all meet up at Komodo.
The sail as expected had winds in the day—did several lovely spinnaker runs. At night it dropped and we were forced to motor sail.
The first night was freaky when I woke up to do a watch we were surrounded by navigation lights. As we had the motor going we left out radar on and kept the same speed as the fleet in the hole we had found ourselves in.
As each day passed the fleet spread out, some electing to motor faster and make the trip in 3 days. It is 470 miles the last 30 miles from Kupang you need to transit a narrow channel and we are hoping to arrive at dawn on the 4th day as the Indonesians are not known to have good navigational aids.
We are sailing now with our spinnaker, our 3rd day with several boats sharing our strategy.
One small Australian monohull beside us is rolling all over the place with the following winds and seas and once again we are thankful for our stable Cop Out.!! We have just asked them to photograph our boat with the spinnaker flying as we have only ever had one when Kristen was in the dingy in the Gulf Islands as we tried to fill the sail with almost no wind. This will be legitimate—as long as they stayed horizontal long enough to take it!!! If it is at an angle it is because they were, not us!!
We look forward to our arrival in the morning and to continue a new chapter in our cruising life.