The view from the top of Koh Phi Phi, an island in north west Thailand, of course does not tell the whole story. Even at the lower elevations it is quite a nice island. I cannot believe the number of people who take ferry boats from the mainland to inundate the island each day. On Phi Phi, there are backpacker rooms and very expensive resorts to stay
in. For the most part, I would say it is quite the party town. It is not my favorite place for a vacation though. My top pick would go to Playa Conchal on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is a Malia operated hotel meaning, the freestanding bungalows are very nice and very expensive. There are less expensive places, on the beach, to stay in the area. But at Playa Conchal they have the largest swimming pool in central and south America. You can swim from oasis to oasis for yet another pina colada. Plus, Mt. Arenal, an active volcano is a good day trip from Playa Conchal, horseback riding on the beach, rain forest trips and great bill fishing off the white beach. Eastern Fiji, cruising on a big old wooden tourist sailboat is another top pick. Fiji has waterfalls, clear water on the reefs, the nicest natives in all the Pacific. Paradisio in the Dominican Republic is a great spot. It is an all inclusive and very importantly they have the beach toys, wind surfers, Hobi-cats etc. on the beach at no extra charge and lots of entertainment at night. Club Me does a good job. Club Med “Columbus Isle” which is actually the island of San Salvador in the Bahamas, where Columbus first landed. They have more than beach toys, SCUBA in clear water, sailboat races, entertainment in the evenings a lot of activities included in the price. Who wants to go on an expensive vacation and just lay on a beach? There needs to be options. Club Med in the Turks & Caicos, which is in the southeastern Bahamas, is another good one. If someone from the U.S. really wanted to go on vacation to Thailand, I would suggest the island of Koh Chang (Island Elephant) in the Gulf of Thailand. The ocean water is not clear for snorkeling but good for swimming. On land they have the tourist elephants, at least 4 waterfalls, one of which you will most likely have to yourself via motorcycle and trips to nearby islands, the party scene or the more quiet out of the way places to stay.
“Rebecca, QUICK, I need another flare from the hanging locker!”
The jib alone was just barely pulling Brick House southward at a pace slower than a lame lamb, but there was no hurry, we were saving diesel fuel. The south west coast of Vietnam was 100 miles to our east and the coast of Thailand, 125 miles to the west. Here at the southern edge of the Gulf of Thailand, the hundreds of traditional wood fishing boats have thinned to a very few.
From several miles away I monitored our approach to a group of three anchored, fishing boats. Depending on the type of fishing they do, some boats anchor during the day and fish at night.
With the slight wind out of the north west, I adjusted the Monitor self steering to sail a safe quarter mile off their sterns, so to pass the boats on our starboard.
As Brick house slipped by, I could see that the 65 foot long mother ship had the two smaller fishing boats tied by lines, streaming off its stern.
But soon there was a puff of black smoke from the mother ship and the boats began to move in a counter clockwise circle. This soon put them on a perfect broadside collision course with Brick House.
There were at least four fishermen on the forward deck of the mother ship who were watching closely as our tracks converged. There were no friendly smiles or hand waves. Shining my high intensity green laser at the people on deck and at the wheelhouse did nothing to persuade them to change their course.
The mother ship was straining from its tow causing it to list hard to starboard as it struggled to turn into us and narrow the distance. In the fluid maneuvering, they had now set up an approach to bring their port to come along our starboard side.
One towed boat was actually attached to a long line fastened forward of their port midship and, possibly because its rudder was turned, was being thrown out to the side like a water skier in a turn. If they continued what looked like a docking maneuver, or if Brick House slowed down, that tow line would soon rake into our backstay creating all sorts of havoc.
Quickly, I hit the starter key on our diesel and throttled up. This lamb suddenly shed its sheepish coat. Certainly these guys were out to cause us harm. It was a very serious chase in slow motion like a conch after a sea urchin.
Because of the drag of their tow, we held our slim distance, but then very slowly we pulled further ahead. This gave me time to have Rebecca hand me an expired parachute flare. With our boat on autopilot, I pressed my legs against the stern rail for support.
Aiming the parachute flare, I pulled the safety pin and let the hammer mechanism fly. Nothing; the expired flare was a total dud. I dropped it into the ocean to insure it did not decide to ignite unexpectedly.
We had one more flare close at hand. Quickly the end caps were unwrapped, I then aimed toward the boat which was following behind and pulled the trigger.
There was a loud kabang, that rung Rebecca’s ears and sent our ships cat flying to shake in a dark bunk. An eight foot diameter explosion of gray smoke obscured the stern of Brick House. The recoil was not much in my left hand but the disappointment was great. Holding the flare slightly higher than horizontal, the drop rate was so great, the flare only went 50 feet before boring into the sea. It needed to fly an additional 100 feet to hit where I hoped. But the effect put a smile on my face. The pirates on the foredeck went running to the wheelhouse and, at the same moment, all forward movement of the fishing boat stopped.
I would loved to have fired another flare landing it with greater accuracy but our supply is very limited, plus, what if they decided to ignore the warning, drop the drag of their tows and come after us again? We had to think ammo conservation.
We continued to quickly motor sail south. Rebecca kept a binocular watch on the fishing boats. It was a relief to see them circle into the wind and reanchor as they had been a short time before.
And all was back to normal.
There is a superstition among fishermen in S.E. Asian countries that a fishing boat can wipe away bad fishing luck by passing close across the bow of another moving vessel. Cruising sailboats become an easy mark for this dangerous maneuver. To dissuade boats I shine a powerful green laser light at the wheelhouse. Four out of four fishing boats hit with my laser made an abrupt turn, figuring it would be better luck to pass astern of our sailboat.
When the pirate mother ship picked up anchor and maneuvered in our direction, it became obvious they could not reach us in time to pass across our bow so I assumed they would turn to cross our stern. All my innocent misunderstandings of their true intentions allowed the tense situation to suddenly develop. As they tried to come alongside, it was immediately more important to avoid a collision.
With that problem solved, the priority became protecting ourselves and stopping the pirates in their pursuit. If we had a gun on board, a couple of shots across their deck or into the wheelhouse would certainly have scared them away. If these pirates were able to gain a proximity so close they would then board our boat, that becomes quite a
different level of anxiety and heightened defense on our part.
The Gulf of Thailand is not known to be a “pirate” area. In hindsight, these were fishermen who became pirates of opportunity and did not appear armed. If someone in our situation decided to wound or kill these unarmed pirates, while they were still on their own boat and someone was left in condition enough to tell what happened, there could be serious consequences awaiting the cruiser in their next port.
It is not unusual for victims in many countries to then become the criminal for defending themselves with excessive force. Plus, it is highly illegal to possess firearms in many countries.
In our situation, what if I had burned their boat or harmed these pirates with my flares and they were able to claim to officials they were simply having mechanical problems with their steering, or they wanted to sell us fish? I do not want to deal with corrupt foreign court systems and predatory lawyers. Our goal was to stop the piracy without causing further problems for ourselves. We could ratchet up our defense as needed. Hopefully these pirates have gone away learning that not all sailboats are easy targets.
There are known pirate areas like the waters between the south eastern Philippines and the north east coast of Borneo. If a high speed powerboat full of men, in dark T-shirts with the word “Police” across the chest, approaches a cruising boat in this area, a cruisers best option is to immediately cut loose with rocket propelled grenades.
Waiting for clarity in these waters can prove disastrous as it has for the crew of commercial shipping and cruisers. This past November, a German couple were attacked on their sailboat. The wife was killed and the husband who was held for ransom was then beheaded. Such attacks have become a pattern. Obviously, most cruisers find it prudent to steer wide of known pirate areas.
Using a yacht’s distress signaling equipment, like flares, to ward off the bad guys, has proven effective for a number of world roaming cruisers. Twelve gauge, pistol-fired flares like the orange colored Orion flare launcher will fly 90 meters with the proper trajectory. These flares will burn underwater so if one should land on the deck of a boat, it cannot be easily extinguished.
Parachute flares launched from a tube can fly 300 meters. In a defensive situation, the first flare launched should have a trajectory of 45 degrees for ranging purposes.
The expired handheld flares used in our pirate encounter expired on February 1996. So far, we have a 50 percent failure rate with that vintage. In a tense situation, to pull the pin on a flare being gripped in your hand, only to have nothing happen, is a real “Oh sh..” moment.
It seemed a good idea to have the ship’s life raft inspected prior to setting off from Los Angeles in 2003 to cruise the world. When the present owners purchased their sailboat in 2001, it came with an Avon 6-person life raft, mounted in a hard canister on the back deck.
At the inspection station, the stainless steel retaining straps were released and the top of the hard canister removed. When opened, it was discovered to be a Pandora’s Box. The Avon raft was sitting in a mass of black muck, incubated from water that had somehow intruded into the canister. The putrid raft was rolled out on the inspection floor and inflated. To every ones surprise, it grew into a life raft and retained air. Since mildew, algae, along with extreme heat, can degrade the fabric of a life raft, the most prudent thing to do would be to replace it. The owners were so impressed with the toughness of this Avon, they decided to replace it with a new 4 Person Avon.
The new 4 Person Avon, in a canister, was purchased and mounted on deck in 2003. Five years later, the raft was inspected and repacked in October 2008 by USA Services, Inc., a certified Avon repacker, in Norfolk, VA.. The owners were not present for the repacking. In February 2013, the raft was shipped overland from Whangerei, New Zealand to Wilco Marine Services in Auckland, another certified Avon repacker. At Wilco Marine Services, the raft owners were again not present for the repacking but it was inspected, vacuum bagged, repacked and again took its place on the deck of the owners boat.
On 26 January 2017 the now 14 year old life raft was taken to an inspection station in Penang, Malaysia. At this licensed station, but not certified by Avon, the vacuum bag was removed and the raft was rolled out on the floor, then inflated. The raft was quickly losing air. It only took a minute before the inspectors spray bottle, of diluted hair shampoo, was squirting the surfaces around the most common leak area, the inflate nozzle. But no bubbles developed. Moving around the life raft, both upper and lower chambers were wetted. This left a startling trail of large bubbles, little bubble and lines of small white bubbles. At this point, even the inflated canopy support, which gets its air from the upper chamber, was wilting. Nearly all the corner seams of both upper and lower chambers were leaking. Clearly, some of the long streaks of foaming bubbles were leaks at the folded areas when the raft was last packed. It was a catastrophic failure which fortunately happened in an inspection station and not in a terrible situation at sea.
According to Practical Sailor magazine “Avon was acquired by French competitor Zodiac in 1998. Zodiac stopped making Avon liferafts in 2004”
Information still on the Avon website recommends their rafts should be brought in for “servicing within 3 years of date of manufacture then every 3 years. Boats that operate for hire or sail in tropical waters remain subject to an annual inspection.”
An annual inspection for a life raft on a long range cruising boat is simply not physically or economically practical. It makes sense, for marine use, a life raft should to be exceedingly reliable even if specified and used for near shore use.
No tests were done to determine exactly why the raft so thoroughly failed. However, it was the inspector’s opinion that the best material for life raft construction is neoprene, coated on both sides with urethane. The Avon’s literature says their rafts are constructed with “the unique Avon butyl fabric”. This material, Avon likes to link to the aviation industry. Even if aviation life rafts use this material for construction, aviation standards do not require the ruggedness and durability that is set for the marine industry.
Avon used several manufacturers around the world and it was not determined from which plant this raft came from. During the failed servicing, the inspector pointed to the terrible looking glued joins and said heat sealing is far superior.
In the world of life raft repacking, there is a debate about how to best protect a large deflated object which has been severely compressed into a small capsule or set in a soft valise. The question arises with vacuuming bagging. Vacuum bagging a raft may give added protection from moisture but adds additional compression on the folded creases which could cause porosity in those areas with resultant air loss. However, according to the old Avon literature, “All Avon Ocean and Coastline life rafts are now vacuum sealed in special plastic envelope, before being packed in a valise or canister.” So the vacuum packing of the raft when serviced in New Zealand was the manufacturer’s preference to which, the owners had complied. Additionally, if a severely compressed life raft is sitting on deck in a tropical sun, temperatures of 160 degrees can be reached, further affecting the already stressed material. But one would think life raft manufacturers understand this and use that certainty as a component of their construction, the same as an architect specifies proper building materials to stand against U.V., wind loading and temperature changes. (See the February 2013 issue of Practical Sailor, “Life Raft Inspection an Inside Look”) If a life raft manufacturer thought sun shining on a deck mounted life raft to be a significant problem, then a sun cover would be suggested. In any case, the owners always had a sun cover shielding the raft.
Attempting to reach Avon, the raft owner tried sending an email to them at firstname.lastname@example.org which is listed on an Avon website. The raft owners received the following automated response: “Due to the amount of spam received, we will not read your e-mail. If you want to get in touch with us, please contact us through our website contact form.” Others who tried this site were directed to a German language site which had nothing to do with life rafts.
On the www.avonmarine.com website, the raft owner found a contact form under the “Find a Dealer” link, and tried several times to send a message using that form, but kept getting the following: “Failed to send your message. Please try later or contact the administrator by another method.”
Certainly the raft owners would like feed back from Zodiac/Avon now known as Zodiac Nautic. But it gets even more confusing as there is another brand of “Zodiac” liferafts owned by SurvivetechZodiac. Over the years operations have been spun off, bought and sold or acquired by other companies.
Avon literature on the internet states the 4 Person Avon life raft is guaranteed for 12 years. But a guarantee term is not considered an expiration date. A reasonable person would expect this raft to be serviceable for many years past the guarantee date. This is a wake up call for the owners of all life rafts to take nothing for granted.
The raft was purchased on March 12, 2003 and the cost was $2,922.75.
Raft serial #AVBOA983L203
As a postscript. When this Avon raft was manufactured, Zodiac had contracted the manufacture of Avon liferafts to several companies in different countries. Apparently the quality assurance was not consistent. Working through a liferaft dealer, the raft owner was able to get a response from Zodiac and Zodiac was willing to sell the owners a new raft at cost. When the owners agreed to this proposal and tried to arrange shipment of the raft, they lost all communication with their contact at Zodiac. In the end, they bought a Lalizas raft.
Some of this information was used in Practical Sailor articles March 8, 2017 and Features April 2017 Issue
For our friends on the west coast of Malaysia, we stopped for the night at Pulau Bidan, 14 miles north of Penang (Lat 05 44′.6N Lon 100 17′.4E). In the morning we woke up to a fisherman anchored across our anchor and with a fish line draped along our hull with a float about to tangle in our rudder or prop. Of course this is the often used ploy to say we caused the anchoring problem and now we owe the fisherman money. In no uncertain terms I told him to move, which he did and then we were able to leave. The strange thing is, an hour later when we were about 7 miles on our way to Langkawi, he showed up along side us well out to sea. He motored along, motioning with his arms like we needed to give him something. I won’t bore you with the whole story but after 45 minutes, I tired of him and his unsafe maneuvers across our bow and off our stern so I fired a flare into the sky. That pretty much solved the problem for a while…..but he came close again. When I started taking pictures with my telephoto lens, that seemed to have the best effect and he disappeared for good heading back to Bidan. He burned up a lot of gasoline for nothing. I am attaching some pictures in case someone in Penang keeps track of these things. The Red Bull insignia on the side of his boat is distinctive.
After arriving in Langkawi, we made a report to the Marine Police. They were very interested in the situation and it seems they are not fully aware that this sort of thing is common place against peaceful cruisers. More cruisers need to take pictures and make a report. The big learning point from this experience is to take pictures early on and from all angles. I should have taken a picture of the bow of the fishing boat where the registration numbers are for Malaysian boats. Without such definite evidence, the police can do little. We have one cruising friend here in the marina at Langkawi who has dealt 3 times with this sort of thing. He has never paid anything but they keep trying.
I remember seeing these images on “Believe It Or Not” or maybe an “In Search Of” sort of TV show. But that seemed to be in some far away TV land place, yet now, we stumbled right into the middle of it
Thaipusam is a key Hindu ceremony that is held each year during the full moon in the tenth month of the Hindu calendar. In 2017 it was held over the 7,8,9th of February. In 2018 it well be held in January.
“The word Thaipusam is a combination of the name of the month, Thai, January/February, and the name of a star, Pusam. This particular star is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility, love and devotion; as well as of divine strength and power, gave Murugan, the universal granter of wishes a “spear” so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman.” The motive
of the Thaipusam festival is to pray to Murugan to receive his grace so that bad traits are destroyed or favors granted or to make penance for transgressions.
Thaipusam takes place in several cities in Malaysia but the second largest celebration is in Penang. From the city streets in Penang, it is 4 miles to Waterfall Temple located on a mountainside outside the city.
First, along the route, stacks of shelled brown coconuts are donated by families or civic groups so the crowds can break them on the pavement. The broken coconut symbolizes the breaking of ones bad ego to reveal purity inside. But by far, most onlookers have a great romp of smashing as many coconuts as are available onto the street and send the coconut water and shards flying. It makes a tremendous mess but the organizers come soon behind with sweepers to shove the shards aside. This makes way for the gold and silver chariots. The golden chariot is pulled by 2 small water buffalo. The smaller silver chariot is pulled by people. These chariots carry dignitaries. After they pass, front end loaders and dump trucks follow to clean up the masses of coconuts shards along the side of the street.
Hindus, throughout the day and year, seem to always be burning incense and leaving plates of offerings to the gods, whether in designated offering spots outside their home or on the sidewalks. On this day, they hand the offerings to the attendants of the chariots where the offering is tipped off the plate into the chariot and the plate is returned to the donor.
Devotees will make the 4 mile pilgrimage walking barefoot on the black pavement. Water trucks move along the route to help cool the surface but in the 90 degree weather, the surfaces quickly dry and heat up again. Asphalt can become 40 to 60 degrees hotter than the air temperature. This is only part of the burden met by the devotees.
“On the month leading up to the pilgrimage, the devotee will have mainly subsisted on a heavily
restricted diet and then completely fast on the last few days before the pilgrimage; naturally, these extremes demand of very high level of mental and physical fortitude.”
The most basic devotee will carry on his head, a pewter or silver pot of milk, a symbol of purity and virtue. Holding a pot of milk on ones head for a nonstop 4 mile march, then trekking up countless concrete steps to the
temple, is no easy feat. Other devotees will become far more extreme in their efforts.
A Kavadis, literally “sacrifice at every step”, is a large, heavy, contraption extending out from the shoulders and towering over the head. Some Kavadis rest on pads on the shoulders and around the waist. Other devotees take the excessive discomfort by attaching the Kavadis with countless spears threaded into the outer layer of skin to spread the load. Since there is exposed skin left,
why not dangle shells, beads, or any other sort of decoration from tiny hooks piercing the skin of the chest, back, arms, cheeks, forehead. The mouth and tongue is an impressive piercing spot leaving little opportunity for a devotee to drink or eat along the marching route. Some devotees prefer to just bite down on a spear rather than piercing it through their cheeks.
Of course, the most notable devotees are those who
harness themselves with many hooks on their backs then have reins held by an attendant. The devotee must lean forward to make progress literally pulling the skin away from their back.
The small temples along the route often have booths where they hand out sweet fruit drinks in small paper cups. Closer to the temple, large vats of noodles with tofu, among other vegetarian meals or snacks, are ladled into plastic containers and handed to the crowds. Otherwise, there are plenty of food stalls where the crowd can pay for traditional food and souvenirs, all lining the streets leading to the base of the temple hill.
The third day of celebrations is anticlimactic. The gold and silver chariots return to their home temple in the city and the cleanup of trash begins.
It is amazing how trash was strewn around the grounds of the sacred temple. Paper cups and all sorts of plastic containers were trampled underfoot and blew in the breeze. People just dropped their trash wherever. This was not all their fault as the temple organizers provided very few trash cans around the grounds. By the end of the second day, the temple grounds were a trash pit. Any other festival, during this time of the Chinese New Year, was well organized with plenty of trash cans and a detail of workers always working through the celebration picking what little trash was
littered. There is a lot of cultural diversity in Malaysia butsadly, at times, the diversity has stark differences.
This is the original, unedited, article which appeared in the January issue of Ocean Navigator. But here we can post far more pictures than can appear in a Magazine. Sorry if the images seem a bit fuzzy. We had to resize them to small in order to upload them with this slow internet. Plus, how I lay out the post on Word Press is not always how it appears when opened on the internet……
What do people living on sailboats do all day? There are plenty of days when a cruiser has to dream up a new day’s exploration and make something happen.
We had been anchored on the south east side of the Thailand tourist island of Koh Chang (Island Elephant), in the Gulf of Thailand. This is a desolate coast, no roads, and only a few fishing boats passing by. All the tourists and activity are over the high mountains and rain forest, to be found on the west coasts. In fact here on the south east side, we are the only cruising boat and have not seen another sailboat for weeks, in this part of Thailand.
Today, for something to do, we decided to see where this local stream originated. The expats we asked who live scattered around on Koh Chang could not imagine the cove we described to them. Apparently, no westerner had explored this indention of the coastline and especially the stream.
We had been using the fresh mountain water to fill our water tanks and to do our laundry and getting a good rinse in the quick current. This stream also has a long swimming hole, shaded by trees, just inland from where the stream collides with the ocean salt water. But where did all this fresh water come from and most importantly, was there a waterfall with a swimming pool at the bottom? We stuffed our back
packs with trekking food and jungle supplies then set out on our mission of discovery.
The stream was wide and shallow. Our feet dragged and trudged as they fought with each step through the current. This trek called for special footing; closed toed sandals which protect the feet but let the water and sand flush out. There was no way of knowing if our adventure would end within an hour or run into trouble and take all night. We certainly needed to be back before dark since we had no flashlights and there was no moon and the sky was clouded more often with the monsoons than the stars.
The going was slow and wet and often difficult especially when slippery rocks tried to trip our footing. If we stumbled and got soaked, it was a pleasure to have the sweat of a jungle swept away and wet clothes act as a clinging
air-conditioner. At times, we marched to the bank and stepped out of the current. It seemed, spinning a machete to clear a path across land, would be faster than the water route. In the areas along shore, where the
jungle was less dense and the ground more level, the machete whacked in constant motion like a gas powered weed-whacker which followed the lead of a branch held in my other hand. This bushy ended branch was constantly bobbing high and low and side to side to clear cobwebs and send jungle spiders scurrying. Still there were invisible strands that were left to wrap around my face and to spit out of my mouth. All the noise helped to alert long thin green snakes, fatter brown snakes, pythons, vipers, cobras, and scorpions, that something much bigger and heavier than they are, is coming through. Politely I offered the point position to Rebecca but her words of wisdom were “There are times it is best to be a follower, at least 10 feet behind!” Fortunately the serpents in the jungle are equally afraid of us as we of them. We have seen more snakes flattened on the paved roads and at times trying to commit suicide under the tires of our rented motor scooter, than in the jungle.
Surprisingly, there were few mosquitoes or flying insects to bother us. But just in case, we had carried high concentrate DEET repellent and a small bottle of acetone. Acetone (finger nail polish remover) is very effective for stopping the itch of insect bites and for making those slimy strings of Velcro known as leaches drop from our skin. Once a leach takes hold, they are very difficult to scrape off with a finger nail and in doing so, they can leave a divot in the skin. With acetone, we get revenge. So far, in this part of the jungle, there were no signs of wild pigs, deer or monkeys, so there were no leaches. Possibly this lack of fresh blood also explains why we were hardly bothered by mosquitoes or biting gnats. Life in the jungle, during the day seemed sparse. At night however, anchored on our boat ¼ mile offshore, the jungle was fully alive with the full range of sounds of a construction site, buzzing, whirring, banging, screeching, chipping, hammering. Certainly, in the jungle, they all come out at night!
We bushwhacked on, sometimes wading in to cross the stream again when the bank we were on became too steep and the opposite side looked flatter and more promising. At times, a land route was too difficult so the only option was to climb the stream through rapids and hope the ascent around a corner did not become unmanageable. I could not imagine doing this exploring in Alaska or Colorado, where even in mid summer the snowmelt water would freeze up ones hands and body within a few steps.
But we pressed on. An hour and a half of trekking quickly passed when we finally climbed to what we hoped to discover, not just a waterfall but a double waterfall. It is certainly no Niagara Falls but it was our own fun discovery complete with a pool at its bottom. No other tourist has seen this waterfall and certainly very few natives to this island have been to this remote spot.
Our legs had lost much of their spring so we took a long break and a swim. Eventually, we forced movement upon ourselves and continued the climb upwards.
There was room for problems in all this remote wandering. Rocks were slippery, ankles and legs could get twisted; a damaged body could not call for a helicopter rescue; this was not America, a hiker would have to find his own way out. And that, of course, is part of the challenge.
The waterfall and adjoining rock face was too steep and slippery to climb so we moved down stream a bit then up the embankment. I hacked our way inland to circle around the waterfall and back to the stream. This was thick jungle. If one were to take a little stumble on the rocky terrain, you had to be careful which tree you reached out to for support. The wrong prop could
give a hiker a handful of impalement on long spikes. But there are other vines and vegetation which are a little less impaling but equally biting, and are always trying to scratch bare arms and legs. I now go jungle bushwhacking wearing a pair of gloves. Large toenail clippers are part of our jungle gear. They are used like surgical tweezers. Some of those bush spines, broken off in the skin, are like grabbing a sea urchin; the spines are brittle and easily break when they are pulled so they need to be dug out.
The stream lead us to a torrent of water funneled into a narrow chute of vertical gray basalt. It was impassable. Once again it was back to hacking a trail up the mountain and circle back to the stream. Stepping in a hidden mass of large red ants, which swarmed my sandled feet, sent me into a wild Indian hopping whoop. These ants hurt and leave terrible itching welts. Then there was the log to go under. It would have been natural to have wrapped a forearm on top of the log and swung under but fortunately I saw the long line of tiny red ants and warned Rebecca. Their bite is not nearly as stinging as the larger ants but still is a terrible irritant that even the acetone has trouble controlling.
Soon the stream widened out again and we could climb up through the flow. Along the way, little capillaries of water trickled down the hill sides from the left and some from the right as we worked our way higher into a clearer sky far less shadowed by trees and vines. Our legs would not lift and move as easily as in the beginning of this adventure and we began to wonder how much more we should push this situation. The sun was well over the mountains and there were no more shadows. It was becoming a risk of taking too long and being caught in the jungle after dark. It was a gamble, but we pressed on. With each step closer to the 1,200’ summit, the main artery of the stream faded to one little gurgling of water sprouting magically from rocks. Just a little higher up, the small ravine was a dry bed which obviously in the past had carried torrents of water with a tropical downpour. But this was the end of the stream, the source of our adventure. We could turn around and race the fading light.
Certainly it is easier going down than up a mountain. We slipped, skidded and braked and splashed down the middle of the stream making good time and were able to retrace our jungle trail around the narrow vertical chute. Working down to the waterfall, Tarzan like vines and a bent over sapling of hard wood were our ropes to ease down the rock face saving the
long land route. What had taken over 3½ hours going up, took an hour and a half to return. Our muscles were rubbery, we were wet and our feet hurt but it was a fun day of adventure we will remember for many years to come.
The New Year’s celebration on the streets of Providence, Rhode Island and in Boston, called First Night, was always a bitter cold affair in subfreezing temperatures. Inside a restaurant or bar, where fingers and bodies could thaw was a much better place to be, especially if you had a view to the fireworks. One degree, fifteen minutes, 75 miles, north of the equator in Singapore, the place is made for outdoor, nighttime celebrations.
Tripods were set up very early along the water to save a spot.
Thousands of people payed to fill the tiers of the outdoor stadium to watch a long list of musicians who looked much better on the Jumbotron. Standing off to the side of the stadium, we could just see the speck of a human on stage but could easily see the on screen person.
We settled for free grab seats at the band-shell to watch very good bar bands. As it got dark, every hour on the hour there were teaser fireworks shot from the floating platform in the middle of Marina Bay. As the evening progressed it became far more difficult to walk around the public areas and thread through the crowds. On the hour, Rebecca and I took turns guarding our seats at the band-shell so the other could duck around the corner to see the short burst of fireworks. But near midnight, we gave up our seats to thread into the crowd and find a spot with a clear view to the fireworks. By this time, there was hardly a place to stand along the waterfront but I was able to work my way into some manicured shrubs and hug a tree and use a branch to steady the camera.
The main show lasted only 8 minutes but it was an intense, nonstop fireworks. a display accented with colored laser lights, that we will never forget. And the best part, we were in shorts and thin shirts.
Singapore is not that big of an island especially when you consider it is a country unto itself. It has no natural resources, except people, and people with good management skills. It is amazing how a place like this can work, especially when we consider a country like Cambodia which has a lot of varied natural resources but will never be anything more than a grimy place to stay away from.
We are living on the far north end of the island. It takes a bus 20 minutes to get us to the train station. The train takes 25 minutes to get into downtown. At 11:00 in the morning the train is easy. Any earlier or well afternoon, it is crowded with hardly any room to stand. There are a lot of busses, a lot of trains and it is cheap so getting around the island is fairly easy once you learn the routs.
Tis the season so the colored lights are full on….and in Singapore, we hear and see Merry Christmas everywhere.
At Gardens By The Bay, we listened to Christmas carols at the bandstand. We continued to sit on the grass to catch the spectacular light show. Then we mozied over to the waterfront and listened to the symphony. No Strauss or Bach, but some good upbeat MoTown and other pop songs that few people under 50 would recognize…but it had everyone moving their feet. Then we strolled over to one of the main city streets where there is a decoration competition amongst the big stores. We finally got home after midnight. Tired.
So you can pay $15 to ride the tourist elevator to the 57th floor rooftop bar. But locals, like us, know to ride the hotel guest elevator to the same elevation for free. There, we walked into the very open aired bar/disco, and found a vacant table overlooking the city. Our waitress was very personable. Eventually I asked her if she thought tourists were nuts for paying $11 for a bottle of water or a can of soda, items which cost no more than $2 on the street. A mixed drink will cost $30. Her response was “that is nothing” then showed us a drink menu, the Champaign page. Regular Dom Perignon was the cheapest at $650, Cristal and some others went up to $2,500 a bottle. “But who pays this?” I asked. She responded, “Oh, the Chinese. They really like to impress each other with their wealth.” She told us of one Chinese woman who celebrated her 23rd birthday and spent $30,000 and gave a $1,000 tip. But the next day she realized she over spent and wanted the tip back! At this same bar, the table we were sitting at was free, for now. At 10PM there becomes a $150 charge, but the table seats up to 8.
There is no charge for standing at the little chest high tables. On New Year Eve, the same sitting table charge is $2,500. But 57 floors up is a great place to watch the fireworks show over the water centerpiece of the city called Marina Bay. Even now, over the weekends, there is lots going on around Marina Bay. Live music performances, light shows…. We couldn’t have picked a better city for the holidays.
Remember when the ACLU, American Civil Liberties Union, was all a flutter because a few municipalities had plans to install police cameras on city streets? “It is a violation of privacy and civil rights!” “Big Brother, Orwellian!!” Certainly the criminals in America would agree.
In two weeks in Singapore, I have not seen one police car or policeman on the city streets, bus or subway terminals. So I had to wonder just how safe is Singapore? Whether a cab driver or a commuter on the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit, or subway), when I mention my curiosity, they always respond “It is very safe in Singapore. There is hardly any crime here.” Yet Singapore is the second most densely populated country in the world. There are miles and miles of government owned high rise public housing that are clean and well maintained. No one gets stabbed or assaulted in the stair wells. As part of his response, one cab driver pointed out another closed circuit TV along the roadway. “The police are there.” So I ask, “What if the police see something happen on their CCTV, how fast can they get there?” “They will be there in two minutes if not faster. Plus there are plain clothes policemen always patrolling.” And few drivers speed on the streets of Singapore. There are speed cams everywhere and within 3 days a speeder will receive a ticket in the mail. If you become distracted and leave your backpack on a bus stop bench, it will still be there hours later when you return. People have told us this has happened to them. If someone does have a transgression of the law, along with a bit of jail time they get a certain number of strokes with a cane. No time out in a corner here. Singapore is one of the largest, safest, cleanest most pleasant and modern cities we have ever been to.
People who work in restaurants in the U.S. and complain about not making big bucks an hour might want to consider what can happen. It is not unusual in restaurants in Singapore to be handed an electronic menu on which you do your own ordering.
Here is one for PETA. This is a typical alleyway in Singapore. There are no slippery, grungy, perpetually wet spots on the ground, no spilled food, no trash, even the outside of the dumpsters are clean. How can a city rat survive in an environment like this?
This is not a LED image on an electric treadmill in a nice air-conditioned gym, like we had at an upscale marina a year ago. Cruising on a sailboat, we do far more sitting on our butts than exerting ourselves. In some ways this is not a healthy lifestyle. We are very out of shape. Now, we are hung up in a basic marina, i.e. “low rent”, at Tioman, Malaysia, a tourist island. We can’t plug our air-conditioner into the shore power as it will burn up the primitive wiring on the dock. Our little 12 volt cabin fans whirr all day and night on the high setting. Still it is sweat dripping uncomfortable.
We are here waiting, for what might be days or weeks, for new boat parts to arrive from America. So rather than a pleasant gym with a plug in the wall rotating rubber mat, I have a real paved road to tread up in the morning before it gets too hot. But in this real world, there are monkeys in the jungle trees and geckos on the guard rails and hawks gliding overhead, sometimes with something large in their talons. What keeps the jungle so green is the daily rain, which can happen at any time. To get drenched in the rain is cooling and welcome in this land of sweat soaked t-shirts, shorts and sandals. Those clothes have to get rinsed out every day so the rain is helpful in many ways.
For a bit of a daily workout, it is an uphill grade from the marina to a turnoff which winds up and over the mountain. At that
turnoff, the grade greatly increases, which would be a maximum setting on an electric treadmill. This paved exercise road is used by a couple other sailing friends to help stay in shape. A vehicle on this road never leaves first gear on the way to the top of the island where the elevation is 1,750’. It is a steep first gear, brake pad heating, down grade to the other side. Although traffic is infrequent, around tight bends, motor cycles and cars lay on the horn to warn of their approach with the hope to avoid a head on collision and as a
warning for a walker to hug a tree. On these long hot tramps, you can’t sit and take a break for too long as the tiny red ants will find you but the mosquitoes always arrive first. No matter how many you splat against your skin, there are soon plenty of replacements. You can’t find that motivation to keep moving in an air-conditioned gym.
Who knows how many miles long the winding road is but as the mynah bird flies, it is 3.3 miles to the village on the other side. Each day I make sure to pass my previous days mark on the uphill road and just today made my destination at the summit. That was 1.5 hours up. Now to do it with no rest breaks.
The other morning, as I was treading my way up, a European man with a broad smile, and about my own age, jogged down. He must have turned around at the bottom, from where I had come, because we passed again as I had turned around and was on my decent. Geez, he is a tourist and had come all the way from the east shore village and does this each morning of his vacation. That same distance would take me all day, if I could make it at all. At least seeing him is motivation and is evidence I might survive if I keep pushing myself.
In any case, being stuck on this tourist island is getting me off my lazy butt. It would be better if our repair parts don’t show up too soon.
With a sharp machete, it is easy to whack open a green coconut and eat the soft interior of white meat. In Thailand, only the green coconut meat is used for cooking. In most of the Pacific, it is the firm meat from the brown coconut that is grated for food. Many people think the water from the green coconut is better for drinking than that from the brown. The water from the brown nut is thicker and oiler. But none of it tastes in the least like coconut. In fact, there is little flavor unless the nut is too young and green then the murky liquid tastes bitter.
When a brown coconut falls from a tree, it is ready to eat. To make sure it is not too old and deteriorating on the inside, shake the nut. If you can hear the water inside, you are usually good to go. If the nut is just sprouting a green shoot upwards and a few roots are coming out the bottom, it is usable but the inside will have uto, which is a white fibrous mass often called an “apple”. The uto can be scooped out and thrown away or eaten. It is a bit sweet and rich but does not taste like coconut or like an apple!
Traditionally, South Pacific natives would use a pointed shaft of hardwood set firmly in the ground to pry away the husk of the coconut. Modern technology gives natives nice steel spikes. Going in from a 90 degree angle, the nut is rolled on the spike to pry the husk away, starting on the wide stem end. For a cruiser, with the coconut resting on the ground, the pointy edge of an ax will work to pry away the husk. For us novices using an ax, it is easier to first perforate two lines longitudinally on the coconut about two inches apart. Then go back to the area of the coconut at the largest end, the stem, and begin prying away a small part of the husk. The ax is not used as a chopping tool but a pry tool to remove the husk. No matter what method is used, once a part of the husk is pried away from the nut, the rest of the husk removal becomes easier. Whatever method is used, a native can open a coconut in about 20 seconds. A Pelangi, (white person) will take 4 minutes.
Once the nut is free from the husk, notice there are 3 eyes on one end. One eye will be softer than the others. If you can push you finger into it, the nut is most likely rotten. There should be no strong odor. This happens sometimes when buying a husked nut at a native market and the nut has sat around for a few days. Husked coconuts last only about 3 days before turning. Normally a sharp pointed knife can be used to carve out a hole in the softer eye and drain the liquid for drinking. I simply put a 3/8 inch bit in my drill and save dulling my knives.
Running, equidistant between each eye, is a hard longitudinal line. Take a machete or hammer and give a solid whack to that line in the middle of the nut. Most often the nut will split perfectly in half. If it only cracks, pry the nut open with the tip of the machete.
Traditionally, natives used a serrated clam or other shell to grate out the white meat of the nut. Now, there are galvanized graters attached to long, flat, wood arms. The person doing the work sits on the wood arm and grates out the white meat over a bowl or basket.
It is surprising how much cream can be wrung from grated coconut. The fibrous strands from the husk are extremely strong and are traditionally used to wring the cream from the grated coconut. Now cheese cloth or even an old t-shirt is an easier option for cream squeezing. In the islands, nothing goes to waste. The left over white meat goes to the pigs, chickens and goats. Just split a brown coconut in half and throw it on the ground and all the animals, including the cats and dogs will attack it. Everyone loves coconut. And now, with the fresh cream squeezed from the coconut, you are ready to make a great Pina Colada!