Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ho ho ho

Dearest Bloggees
Merry Christmas, incase any of you are still checking in to our Anui blog after these weeks of no news.

Seth and Finn in festive mood in their beloved tree house

I have been pondering over just how interesting our lives can be now that we are based back in NSW and now seeing anything exotic any longer. I have been encouraged by some of you saying that we should keep writing, so will do so, when there is something to tell.


You may have been wondering what it is like to stand still after moving for so long. It is like waking from a dream, rubbing our eyes and not quite knowing if we had made up the places and people we had seen. Anui is now tied up to the wharf at Kev and Paddy's place on the Clarence River, for a few weeks of relaxation and camping by the river. After that we will potter back to Yamba, at the river mouth, to get ready for school. I've already been back to work in sunny Tamworth and once I was in a room of kids' files it was hard ti remember that we'd ever been anywhere. We bought a new car over the phone, whilst stuck in bad weather at Tin Can Bay, and it is already doing some miles.

Whilst we are getting ready for Christmas - more modest than our usual ones, with our minds very much on the countries we have just left - we are remembering all the amazing things we have seen over the past two years and all the beautiful friennds we have made. This time last year we were in Thailand  partying with our cruising friends - Boomers, Pegasus, Imagine, Tin Soldier, Orono, Anima, Esprit (you know who you are!) and what  a time we had. This year will be way quieter and I can't imagine that the sky will be full of paper lanterns, but you never know.

Thinking of all our stationary and sailing friends and congratulations to Mark & Jane and kids and also to Jason & Amanda and the boys and Martin for having completed their circumnavigations. Wish you were on this side of the world, though!

To all of our friends, far and wide - we wish you a wonderful Christmas. We are very lucky to have each and every one of you in our lives.

With love, Scott, Sarah, Seth and Finn xx

PS Watch this space in January for news of our Ninigo Schools Project!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Heading South

Scott and Ole having to face the grim reality of phone plans

We're halfway home and still waiting for canoes to come paddling out to trade with us. It didn't happen in Cairns, Makay or the Whitsundays, sadly enough. We've joined the Christmas Convoy of yachts heading South, battling Southerlies and gathering together to compare stories on windswept beaches.

Basketball boy, playing with Seth and Finn in Louisiades


We've both been looking into work options and getting the last term's school work done in preparation for our return to Yamba and the very necessary gathering of family finances. Dull, but inevitable. The islands of the Queensland coast are rather bleak and dry; we found coconuts on Middle Percy but they were not sweet or tasty. We had fun updating our sign in the famous A-frame and walked up the dusty hill to catch the breeze at the top. Finn has a new pair of runners and so is keen to try them out on long walks so we've been able to bushwalk on Whitsunday Island, Brampton & Percy, so long as there is cake or chocolate to tempt Finn to the top.....

Seth having fun our last day in the Louisiades




Hope you enjoyed the wish list of our last blog - and perhaps it may have inspired you to start planning to visit some of our hot spots. It's hard to know what to do with a travel blog when the travel is (nearly) over. I said to Scott that I might use this blog as my own personal forum for my meanderings, fascinating you all for the months to come; he rolled his eyes and muttered something. So perhaps I might have to have a rethink.  

Koala having a doze, Magnetic Island

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Your own personal wish list

We're now in the Whitsundays, revisiting some favourite spots and waiting, inevitably, for the Southerlies to abate so that we can make some miles South.

Those of you that know me well will know that I like nothing more than a good list. So, I have made a list for our lovely friends on this blog – a list of places that we have loved over the past 18 months that you might like to look up and even try to see for yourselves. Nothing at all wrong with dreaming.

By the way, more messages, please. We love the ones that we get and it would be great to know who has been following us over the time we were away. Will keep the photos coming.

Where? Can you get there with no yacht? Why try?

Indonesia
Banda Islands - Yes, by Pelini cruise boats - Spices, steamy villages, volcano

Hoga, Wakitobi - Yes, to marine research centre - Beaches, diving, azure water

Komodo - Yes, via Bali and Labuan Bajo -  Komodo dragons!

Gili Aer -  Yes, via Bali - Beach holiday paradise

Kumai River -  Yes, google it! - Orangutans, staying on river boats

Padaido Islands -  No -  Idyllic, quiet, gentle people

Wayag, West Papua - Not easily, dive tours only - Pristine bays, deserted beaches

Malaysia 

Melaka - Yes, via Kuala Lumpur - Very cool town, fascinating

Penang - Yes, via Kuala Lumpur - Tiny Chinese shops, loaded with history

Langkawi - Yes, via Kuala Lumpur - Good holiday island & duty free!

Tioman Islands -  Yes, via Kuala Lumpur - Sparkling bays, great walks

Kuching, Borneo - Yes - Seriously lovely town, great carvings

Lankayan Island - Yes, google it! - Diving, beaches, turtles, hammocks

Kinabatangan River -  Yes, via Sandakan -  Elephants in the wild! River tours

Thailand

Phang Nga Bay - Yes, via Phuket - Amazing karst islands & hongs

Nai Harn, Phuket - Yes, easily - Relaxed beach with great massages

Railay, Krabi -  Yes, from Phuket/ Krabi -  Gorgeous beaches, rock climbing

Papua New Guinea

Ninigo Islands -  No - Best place on the trip – heaven

Kavieng, New Ireland -  Yes, via Port Morseby - Diving, surfing, great people

Kokopo & Rabaul - Yes, via Port Morseby - Diving, volcanoes (still smoking!)

Budibudi Islands - No - Untouched atoll, lovely people

Louisiade archipelago -  No -  Magical isolated islands 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Trying to avoid reality

The lovely Pauline, Bagaman

Well, where to start? We are back in Australia and already those azure PNG days are fading as the tasks of being back near home loom large. They are by no means gone, though. Papua New Guinea was the jewel in our 17 month voyage. It allowed us the privilege of entering the real lives of island people, without any of the trappings of tourism. There have been no shops, no restaurants, only the fair exchange of items through trading and the chance to make connections.

Beautiful billums for sale at the market in Kokopo
From Kokopo and Rabaul we headed South to Budibudi (known on the chart as the Lachlan Islands) where the trading began in earnest. Our three boats were surrounded by canoes from dawn til dusk, plying a few vegetables, coconuts, fresh crayfish, some carvings or the famous bagie (more of them in a minute). In exchange, we gave rice, sugar, noodles, clothing, fish line and hooks. The fresh produce was not plentiful, as these islands are mainly sand, with little good soil. The locals have to sail by canoe to the Woodlark Islands to grow vegetables, often being away for 6 months at a time. Scott picked up some carved paddles, which were in use until we traded for them! 

Sailing canoe at Budibudi
 
And the bagie. Bagie is the shell money traditionally and currently used in PNG. It is formed from shells gathered from the reef and then shaped by hand into small coral-coloured discs that are threaded onto rope along with decorative shells and seeds. Bagie are still used for purchasing brides, livestock (yes, I did find it hard to write that, but that's the way it is) and other items between the islands. Each length of bagie has a specific value. I traded for dozens of them, most of which I modified into long necklaces, but a couple of which we kept in their traditional form. Seth has a very cool bagie of his own, after a man came to trade and accidentally dropped his necklace into the water. Seth dived and found it and the man insisted on giving it to him – so kind, as the bagie are a very valuable item.


In Budibudi we were visited by the two chiefs, brothers Tau and William. The usual giving of gifts took place – as we went South the chiefs' expectations about how many gifts they should receive appeared to increase! We would present pretty bowls, cloths, soap & sugar for their wives and rope, fishing tackle and t-shirts for the chiefs. We took supplies into the school, including the requested medical kit to treat the children's tropical ulcers and skin infections. This didn't stop Chief William sending out a long shopping list of items just before we left – we politely declined.

Then it was the Louisiades, starting with Bagaman. More trading, more canoes; a constant stream of requests and negotiations. We picked up some lovely ebony carvings and of course the Bagie Queen was in her element. 
Our friends on Unicorn anchored at Budibudi
 

I should mention that, for those of you that don't know, the Louisiades are frequently visited by cruising yachts, especially since the Louisiade Rally from Cairns began four years ago. This rally is a great idea, with a group of yachts spending 6 weeks in the archipelago delivering useful items to these remote islands – water tanks, medical supplies, clothing, toys etc. The rally participants are willing to pay cash for the carvings and baskets and freely give many items of value. This is lovely of them and much appreciated, but we found that this made the experience of the Louisiades quite different to the other island groups. The local people were more inclined to come out to the boat just to ask for things – something we hadn't experienced much elsewhere – and to be quite focussed on cash, though this is of limited use to them.

Nevertheless, the region is beautiful and we loved it. From Bagaman we had a blissfully quiet week or so in anchorages too far away from a village to allow so many canoes to come by. We visited some villages to deliver gifts and show respect to the families whose waters we were staying in. If we'd caught any fish, we offered these too and these were happily whisked away. Some of these communities were desperately isolated and did not even have the means to collect water. They were reliant on the lagoon for fish and their gardens for taro, cassava and coconuts – any other items came to them by luck or chance. Health issues are not attended to; there are no medical services, women die in childbirth and children can easily become undernourished. We handed out sea-ulcer treatment – packs of antiseptic, alcohol wipes and clean bandages – but it is very little. Children learn to live on coconuts from infancy. As the need became more evident, the boat became lighter and lighter – we went through every cupboard for things that we could do without – clothes, plastic containers, sheets, towels, hats, ropes, tarps, buckets.

Trading for my beautiful bowl, Budibudi

We ended our Louisiade exploration in the Duchateau Islands, where we saw not a soul. We had a solid week's work on the boat to get ready for our return to Australia – our quarantine requirements are the most stringent in the world. We emptied and cleaned every drawer, cupboard and locker. We gave away all of our food that would be refused entry. Our only worry was that Gary would make an appearance, but luckily he stayed quiet and all was well.

So on 31 October we left PNG, reluctantly. As soon as we left the lagoon we were sailing and had a very speedy and wild ride home – 500 nautical miles in 50 hours! And now we are taking stock in Cairns prior to beginning our trip South. It feels very strange to be away from our beautiful islands and back in a busy town surrounded by pale people. Nobody hangs out of buses and cars to wave at us here – we are once again anonymous. It will take some getting used to.

Remember Ninigo? Our favourite of all island groups at the top of PNG. Well, I am working on some ideas as to how to benefit that community from Australia and am talking to the Education Department over there – I may be asking for some contributions from my friends, so watch this space. Education for their children is the best chance PNG has of going into the future – and books are the way there.... Don't throw your kids' story  and reference books away – I may be asking for them! 

A couple more days in Cairns and, weather permitting, we'll be heading South. Our blog entries will be less exciting from now on, but will keep them coming. Let us know if we're boring you!  


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The eagle has landed!

Well folks, we have arrived in Cairns! We left the Louisiades on 31 October and had a dream run of only 48 hours to cover the 500 mile crossing. We were flying! The boat being empty of food, drink (that beer was very heavy...) and practically empty of fuel worked in our favour. All safe and sound and somewhat in culture shock. Will add proper blog tomorrow.... Our phone numbers are the same as previously. Love, S S S F

Thursday, October 6, 2011

More raving about PNG

Seth diving on the Japanese tank, Duke of York islands
Scott and the kids of Urkuk, Duke of York islands

I am starting to write this sitting in an anchorage in the Duke of York islands near Rabaul in a small bay surrounded by villages. There are a few canoes of kids hanging around the boat and the morning has been the usual stream of trading – today for oranges, cooking bananas, shells, coconuts, papaya and green beans. 
Nemo and his dad living on wreck of Japanese tank
 
Scott and Finn went off in a local boat to see some Japanese bombs left over from WWII. This whole region is full of sunken wrecks and jungle-hidden relics from the last two wars. Poor Papua New Guinea was really hit hard. On this island, the locals had to go and hide out the years of WWII in caves, hiding their babies and disguising the smoke from their fires as best they could. If the Japanese saw the smoke, they would throw a grenade. It seems that when the Japanese eventually beat a retreat they jettisoned their planes and tanks and left them to become new reefs and for people like us to snorkel on. This week alone we have dived on two tanks, several boats and a plane. When I say 'we', those of you that know me will realise that I stay firmly on the top of the water, whilst Scott and Seth dive down to sit in the cockpit of the sunken craft and Finn bobs around talking through his snorkel. 
 
We had a good week in Kavieng, anchored off the resort opposite the town. Although we have been careful to research the areas we would visit in PNG, there is the always the potential for some security problems, especially near towns. Resorts seem to offer a little protection for visiting yachts, as they patrol their beach areas and keep an eye on yachts and dinghies. They are also useful for locals knowledge. Most of them are set up to cater for people coming to dive or surf and make arrangements with local communities to pay a fee to use their beaches and waterways. Apparently in surfing season (which starts in October) in Kavieng you are not allowed to surf unless you are booked in and have paid a 10 kina ($5) daily fee! Scott has been looking for a surf break but hasn't been lucky yet. He's not that keen on having to book, either!

We've been amazed at how expensive things are in PNG – at least 5 times the price of everywhere else we've been in the past 15 months. I suppose they are Australian prices – that is something we're going to have to adjust to (I wonder how we'll get on trying to trade at the check out of Coles??) - but they are must be crippling for local people. A jar of coffee is $16, a single tomato in the fresh market is 50c and even a coconut is $1. Local wages in the regional areas are very low (at the local copra plantation people get paid 60 kina a week) and transport between the islands, often used by those in paid work, is expensive. 
 
The people we meet are friendly and smiling. Many smiles are marred by betel nut-stained teeth. Betel nut is chewed everywhere by almost every man and woman, with streams of red juice being spat expertly on every side. The nut alone doesn't give the brief rush of euphoria. It is chewed with two other items - a portion of green mustard bean and a pinch of lime (as in an ingredient of cement, not the fruit!) - which turn the betel nut red and give a rush which lasts several minutes. Chewing is quite respectable, with the nuts being sold from small tables in neat rows on every corner. The resulting damage to teeth and gums is horrendous. That doesn't take the shine out of all the smiles, though - the people here are so lovely.
 
We've been warmly welcomed by the people of Duke of York, especially here at Mioko island. Yesterday Scott went to the local touch football final, attended by almost everyone on the island. The match eventually had to be abandoned due to intra-village arguing over the score, but that is apparently quite normal. Today we were invited to visit a lovely man and his wife (Mr and Mrs Iona Alipet) who are building homestay cottages on their part of the beach. They presented us with bags of fresh vegetables and then we talked the afternoon away. This afternoon I was visited by two canoes of young girls who had noticed my painted toenails and had raided their gardens for tomatoes and chillies to exchange for nail varnish! 
 
From this quiet spot we will head into Kokopo, the major town of East New Britain since the 1994 volcano that destroyed Rabaul. Rabaul sits, regularly covered in volcanic ash, beneath two still smoking volcanos – Rabalankaia and Tavarvur. Hopefully they won't get busy whilst we are visiting. From Kokopo we'll sail South towards the Louisiades, where we plan to have a couple of relaxing weeks before it's time to hit Cairns and bring us back home. This will be the last blog entry until then – will have plenty more to tell you so watch this space. Oh, the alternator died, again. Guess what we'll be doing in Kokopo?

Finn on his way to play soccer with the kids at Urkuk, Duke of York islands
(PS - yes, another alternator installed. I have been banned from using the oven. No more cakes for this boat. Ah well. Kokopo a really nice town and tomorrow we'll go to Rabaul to check out the volcano and the ash everywhere...)


Monday, September 5, 2011

The full story on Ninigo

At farewell party at the school
A few weeks since we were last able to get internet access but here we are in lovely Kavieng, a town on the tip of New Ireland in PNG. More of that later – first, we must tell you that we have found our favourite place on earth – Ninigo!
We went to the Ninigo island group straight from Jayapura, sailing 225 miles North East. Red Boomer were already there and came out at dawn to guide us over the reef into the lagoon. The water was crystal clear and turquoise, but that was only the start of Ninigo's charms. We anchored off the island of Mal and were greeted a while later by a gentleman named Thomas and his son Richard, who brought us fresh coconuts and the offer of any assistance we might need. Over the coming days, we spent a great deal of time with Thomas and his family and through him were introduced to the rest of the island.
Lovely kids at Lau PS
Mal was 'owned' by the Germans between the wars and was a coconut plantation. Coconuts still provide a source of income and food for the islanders and we ate many of them during our stay. When the Germans came to Mal, they bought the island with cigarettes from Thomas' grandfather – in the way that many powerful nations exploited indigenous peoples the world over. When the Germans left, the PNG government took ownership of Mal and its neighbouring islands, meaning that the traditional land-owners no longer legally own the land that has been theirs for generations.  Ninigo is very isolated, only receiving supplies by boat 2-3 times a year. Their nearest town is Lorengau, some 200 nautical miles away. Only a handful of people in Ninigo have outboard motors, with most travelling between the islands by traditional sailing canoe.  There is a primary school of 70 students, a clinic (well organised but low in supplies) and  a Government station (an HF radio and satellite phone). Mal also has an airstrip, which is occasionally used to collect critically ill people or to bring in Government officials. The local language is Seimat and we enjoyed learning some polite phrases from the delightful Seimat- English dictionary lent to us by our new friends.

Mal is a series of small villages dotted along the length of the horse-shoe shaped island and linked by walking tracks. It has excellent reef, full of fish and crays, which locals will catch if requested. The islanders have their own gardens where they grow papaya, oranges, pumpkins & bananas and community gardens of cassava and taro. Locals do not come to yachts to trade, being naturally reticent and unused to visiting boats but are very happy to trade any of their produce, as they are often without essential supplies such as rice, soap, sugar, flour, washing powder, fish hooks.
Visiting our friends at Puhipi village
Seth and Finn at Lau PS
The Ninigo people are very resourceful and will try to maintain and repair what they have, but are often using tools and equipment that are beyond repair. They are badly in need of many self-reliance aids, especially tools, 12V batteries, navigational aids, copper/ brass screws and nails. During our visit, Scott, Bill and Ole worked with the locals on a range of broken items – the satellite dish and phone, inverters, solar panels, DVD players, the community lawnmower and a series of outboard motors. Most electrical items have been damaged by salt, insects and sheer old age, but there was some success with the satellite dish and the lawn-mower, not to mention a stream of outboard motors that appeared from other islands as news spread. Our boat was visited by canoes with well-wrapped TV's in them. We were only too glad to help. Scott and I took a class at the school, with me reading stories (which we left with the school) and Scott being asked to talk about education, environmental sustainability and global warming! Education is taken very seriously in Ninigo, with the islanders recognising that their children will need to have every advantage if they are to make their way in the world and contribute to their island home. The teachers at the school are from Ninigo and are deeply invested in their islands' future.

Scott, Thomas, Richard, Ole and Joseph
The people of Mal - especially Thomas and his extended family at Puhipi and  Mollyna and Wesley at Piakahu - adopted us over the ten days we were there. They are people with strong values and a clear sense of community. Their children are happy, healthy and delightful company. We felt very much at home and in the last few days there was much talk of the merits of setting up a hut and going home, well, never really. Seth and Finn were in love with the various puppies they met and the idea of climbing trees for coconuts and playing soccer in the afternoons. I was drawn by the simplicity of the Ninigo life and the strong connections between people.

Visiting Mollyna at Piakahu
Normally we are cautious about inviting people back to the boat but this caution went out of the window in Ninigo. One Sunday, we invited two families to come to the boat for afternoon tea and had the honour of being visited by 40 people! Luckily we had all made plenty of cakes. The Anui water line was a bit low but we had a fantastic afternoon, with many jugs of cordial being made and much relaxed chat. We were given so much food in Ninigo – crayfish (eaten every day!), papayas and the sweetest pumpkins. The people have had very few yachts visit and so do not naturally ask for anything in return. We offered sugar, rice and soap and found these to be popular, though often we had to force our friends to take anything at all. There was a constant exchanging of gifts and food in thanks for favours and hospitality – on our last day Thomas' wife Elizabeth made me a basket, whilst Richard made Seth and Finn a toy sailing canoe (enthusiastically raced by the Ninigo children) and Thomas carved Seth a spear. 

Scott and Thomas
The school and community held a huge farewell party for us, with singing, canoe racing, speeches and a feast. It was an amazing day. We spent the next couple of afternoons with our new friends and there were tearful farewells on our last evening. The best place; the best people – never to be forgotten and hopefully one day revisited.

From Ninigo we sailed East to the Hermit Islands, which were lovely and also very friendly. The people there are much more used to being visited by yachts as they are on the route to Pulau and there was a constant stream of canoes coming to trade vegetables and fruit from their gardens, including the best pineapples.
Finn with Wesley and Mollyna

We moved on after 5 days on the longest leg of our PNG adventure – 360 nautical miles East to Kavieng. This took us four days as there were strong currents and head winds. Scott tried hard to sail whenever we could as we didn't have enough fuel to motor there and so it was a tiring few days of constant sail changes and tweaking. And now we sit off the Nusa Island Resort (look it up – beautiful) in Kavieng, with our afternoons spent relaxing in their sand-floored bar. Would trade it all to go back to Ninigo....

From here we will head down to Rabaul and then make our way South to the Louisiades. Will update this when we can. Australia is getting closer and we don't feel quite ready!   

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Call of the mosque and the joys of karaoke


Finn getting down to his school work
I am sitting on the boat at night in the small harbour at Jayapura where the lights of the bay spread up the hill. It is not quiet, though I would imagine that many locals will be sleeping. It is the last week of Ramadam and the largely Muslim population cannot eat or drink between 5am and 6pm. They get up at 4 in the morning to eat before their day of fasting begins. In every town in Indonesia and Malaysia that we have anchored in over the past year, the sounds of the mosque or 'masjid' have been our companions. Each mosque is surrounded by its own village, and each town has any number of mosques. Each of them has a number of loud-speakers fixed to the roof and the imam's call to prayer rings out every four hours through the day and night. There have been many nights when we've woken at four to this call and though Scott grumbles about being woken, I think that the sound of the mosque's song will be something that I will miss. When I am lying awake in the early hours, the sound is exotic and reminds me of how far from home we are. I have no religion of my own but I like the idea of people rising to devotion because they have been called – the people of the village going together to worship.


The other songs that come across the water at night are those of another kind of song. In each country that we've visited, karaoke is a serious business. Amateur Indonesian Aretha Franklins and Frank Sinatras gather at restaurants to sing. We've eaten in a few restaurants here in Jayapura and each of them has a karaoke stage set up, so we've had some interesting entertainment whilst we eat our noodles.
Having dinner at Mutti and Ridho's house


The past few days have been spent wandering around Jayapura looking for all the things that need to be bought for Papua New Guinea – new fishing line; rice, sugar, fishing hooks and soap for trading; LPG gas and 500 litres of diesel. I've spent literally hours in the depot at the post office waiting whilst the clerk sorts through his meticulous lists to see if our mail has arrived (it hasn't). Finn has proclaimed the town 'not too bad' as there has been very little pinching and grabbing and Scott, Captain Number 7, has allegedly been wolf-whistled by a bus load of girls. His only witness was his eldest son, who is prone to exaggeration, but has had his fair share of female attention over the past days....
Seth with our friends in Jayapura





We are checking the weather and waiting for the right day to head North East towards the Ninigo Islands, a couple of days' sailing. As we probably won't be able to buy fuel very easily in PNG as we'll be avoiding main towns, we have to conserve diesel so will have to – shock horror – even do some up-wind sailing where possible. Will hope to find internet at Kavieng in a couple of weeks' time.


I have dragged what feels like hundred of kilos of food onto the boat – sacks of potatoes and rice, watermelons, cabbages and a whole basket of onions and garlic. These have been bought from the local markets, which take place mostly at night. Today I had my hair cut at a salon run by a transvestite and staffed by an army of nice gay guys who made a fuss of me, gave me a great shoulder massage and were keen to practice their English – learnt entirely from listening to Radio Australia. They also pronounced that 'your husband is SO handsome!' I really need to get Scott out of Indonesia.


Jayapura's harbour is filthy and the sewer empties directly into it. Everyone throws their rubbish straight into the water and at low tide the bay is a mess of plastic bottles, every kind of discarded item and slimy stuff that we don't want to identify. The family that we have been befriended by live right on the water in the photo. Their house is spotless but they live with the filthy river splashing next to their walls and rubbish drifting against their makeshift walkway. They are part of the village community surrounding the mosque, with a maze of neat swept laneways overhung by baskets of flowers and drying washing. They are the kindest people, who have helped us in countless ways over the past week.
Waterfront living, Jayapura style


And so we leave Indonesia and head into a new country. Watch this space – and will be in touch as soon as we can. Remember you can track us on :
http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/tracker.php?ident=VJN2235




























Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Jayapura at last



Pulau Dawi, the Padaido Islands


As suspected, the opportunity to update our beloved blog have been few and far between. We are sending this from Jayapura, our last stop in Indonesian Papua before we head into PNG for the last two months of our trip. Jayapura looks like an interesting sort of town and we plan to spend a week here filling the boat with food to last us the next couple of months – plus plenty of items for trading in exchange for shellfish and bananas. 
 
Thankfully, we have been having a far better time over the past few weeks than when we wrote from Bitung and Sorong. Papua remains somewhat of a mystery to me, however – it feels nothing like Indonesia and yet is part of that country; its people as we have come East are uniquely Papuan and the link to the administering country seem weak. There are periods of huge civil unrest and instability and the 'free Papua' movement has an large international voice. In the islands where we have been spending our time over the last couple of weeks, however, the people are gentle and friendly and seem to continue their simple island lives without much in the way of external influence. But then what do I know? Here in Jayapura, it feels like Indonesia again, with many people having been encouraged to settle here from Sulawesi and Java. The people are SO friendly - every walk down the street requires several stops to chat and many handshakes - plus deft sidesteps to avoid the projectile spitting of betel nut. 
The sundowner tree, Dawi
 
So, when we last wrote we had arrived in Manokwari, where we spent 24 hours and had another sleepless night on anchor watch due to feeling uneasy about the attention the boats were drawing. The Lonely Planet described Manokwari as 'mellow' and described a few restaurants that suggested the presence of tourists and the possibility of a trip to shore. In the event, the town was the usual dusty mess of small shops and motorbikes and the locals stared at us like we had a few too many heads. The prolific use of betel nut may have had something to do with this...The Harbourmaster was only willing to let us stay overnight as Manokwari had not been listed on our cruising permit, and only allowed us to stay at all because the gear box on our port engine had finally given up the ghost earlier that afternoon. Oh the joys of boating. We were then running on one engine, therefore, meaning that we would be able to cover less miles until we managed to find somewhere to beach the boat and have access to the sail drive.
Refuelling - again!

We crossed the top of the Cenderawasih Bay to the island of Mios Num where we were glad to find an anchorage just off a palm-fringed beach. There were reefs to snorkel and even a perfect 4-5' right hand reef break, which Scott had a ball on and named 'Scott's Break', after we all agreed that it was unlikely that it had ever been surfed before. The locals came past in their canoes on their way between villages but nobody bothered us – we stayed a few days. Our friend on Unicorn went to have a look at the next bay and reported back that it was the perfect spot to beach the boat. An inspection by dinghy confirmed this and so last week we were able to go up at dawn on the high tide. Scott, Seth and I worked to replace the dog clutch in the gear box, install the new propeller and clean the hulls and by the time the tide came back in we were tired but all the work was done. A few local guys came by with their machetes to have a look and nod sagely at Scott working under the boat. We gave them a spark plug and a litre of engine oil and they were off into the bush. Later that night they came back to the boat to bring some cooked fish and 'bread' to trade. They watched whilst we tried the food. I hope I am not required to eat Papuan bread again. It was a mixture of dubious raw fish and a bready mixture made from palms. You can imagine. We were also offered their local moonshine made from nipah palms, but this we refused, having been warned that it smelt like paint stripper.

Seth and local guys at Mios Num
From Mios Num we went across the North of Pulau Sonorawa (also known as Yapen) and then up to the Padaido Islands South of Biak. They were heavenly and very hard to leave. We divided a week between the islands of Nusi and Dawi. In Dawi, we anchored in a lagoon surrounded by reef, next to the beautiful island. The small fishing village on the point of the island was deserted when we arrived but over the days its residents returned from the larger islands to the North and began their routine of fishing from their hand-dug canoes and sleeping the afternoons in their hammocks under the trees. The island is mainly inhabited by women and children; we didn't discover where the men were, but assumed them to be working elsewhere. As they got used to us, the women would come by for a chat but generally waved from the shore. We made sure to use the beach to the other end of the island, so as to not to invade their peace. Over the last couple of days, we were visited by a couple of the older women with their grandchildren, to trade shells with us in exchange for kids' clothes and some food and to ask for paracetamol for their headaches and back ache. Must remember to buy more in Jayapura. One little boy, Martin, who had been out with his grandmother, came back to the boat for the afternoon after watching the boys snorkelling and sat quietly on the back steps until we invited him on board. Seth replaced the rope on his very leaky canoe and he spent a few hours drawing with Seth and Finn and eating his way through whatever was put in front of him – anything that had sugar in it, anyway! He was a lovely little guy and when the sun had gone down he smiled and waved and was gone, stopping several times across the bay to bail his leaky canoe. 
 
One of our visitors at Pulau Dawi
After this week we will be largely blogless for the next two months. I'll get my sister to put a brief message on to let you know where we are and those of you who follow the tracker can see where we are from that. We plan to head out to the Hermit Islands and Kavieng in PNG, which sound heavenly and mean we can avoid the mainland completely. Then to the Louisiades and then home – more thoughts on that later. In the meantime, there are more toilet rolls to buy and the joys of eating a plate of nasi goreng that I haven't had to cook!Tonight we were the guests of a local family for dinner - fanastic food eaten on mats on the floor and such fine hospitality. 

Remember to track us on:
http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/tracker.php?ident=VJN2235 

Thanks for the comments by the way - we love getting them! Oh, and those of you in Aus will find more Anui adventures in the Multihull World magazine coming out in September and November and our friends in the US check out Bluewater Sailing also coming out next week! Plug over - more soon....

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Plodding through Papua

Finn and his protector, Gebe Island
A brief internet interlude in the town of Manokwari, at the top of the Cenderawasih Bay in Papua, before we are out of range again - so a quick hello to all our blog friends. Hmm, what to say about Papua? Well, it is not the kind of cruising ground that makes you want to buy a boat and head off into the blue. Coming here as a land-based tourist would probably be quite different, with the few people that come here mainly taking dive tours with everything organised for them. Coming here on our own boat brings some administrative challenges and we haven't felt comfortable to leave the boat unattended so that limits how much we are able to see. Papua certainly has a wealth of beautiful islands and the interior sounds fantastic and untouched by the Western world, but if it doesn't come with a good anchorage, we can't see it! We are still heading East and are optomistic that PNG should be far more fun than Moluku and Papua have thus far been. 
Boy and bird, North Moluku

Papua, as you will know, has seen its fair share of unrest and part of the outfall of this has been a lack of tourism - makes sense. Coming here on boats, we are the only tourists to be seen and whilst people are generally friendly, it really is unknown territory. Due to the problems that arise when we anchor near villages, we try to find places to stay that are isolated but inevitably word spreads and someone comes to find us and ask us to see the 'kepala desa' or village head. This is no problem if we want to stay a while but if we arrive at 4pm to eat and sleep and then leave again it is hard - we're going to be asked for money and it's going to take all our free time. In one location a few nights ago everyone but me - on all three boats I think - was in bed when a light shone into the boat and I went out to find six men - one with a rifle - on the back steps. They spoke no English; I could have used our Indonesian phrase book if it hadn't been stolen in the backpack with the alternator .... Scott got up and we tried to figure out what they wanted. The one wearing a hat saying 'Polisi' was apparently the local bobby and they wanted us to go to the  police station at the village some miles away. Right then, in the middle of the night. We managed to convey that we had kids sleeping, showed them our paperwork and were told to come at 8 in the morning - we weren't going anywhere in the dark in a canoe with six men and a gun, even if one of them did have a nice hat. At 5.30am we had our anchors up and were heading as far away as possible. 
Scott at the petrol station at Gebe

As I write, we are in Manokwari and I am standing anchor watch. After our Sorong experience we're just extra careful in towns - am sure that the locals are friendly and not bent on crime. When we went briefly to the town today the local people were very interested in us and there was a lot of smiling, with clear evidence of the local Papuans' liking for betel nut. 

You will have picked up by now that I am not really the adventurous type, unlike my never-give-up husband, who just gets on with what has to be done - and that is plenty. I look back longingly and Borneo and Thailand and the Southern areas of Indonesia where we never felt insecure and didn't have to lock the boat - ah well. Anyway, were Scott writing this he would give quite a different account. He says that we just have to make the best of it and get to the islands off PNG, where he will catch me all the crays I can eat.  I will be holding him to that. 

From here we head East to Jayapura. There are rumours of nice islands along the way. With a bit of luck, this rumour may be correct. Please be reminded that I do have a good imagination and am easily alarmed. I also like to tell a good tale. So don't worry about us out here - we are all fine and at least there are no head hunters. 


Remember you can track us via: 
http://www.pangolin.co.nz/yotreps/tracker.php?ident=VJN2235

Friday, July 29, 2011

Fixing stuff in West Papua

Local kids visiting by canoe at Tifore

Apart from the brief message posted by my lovely sister, we've been unable to add to this blog since we left Bitung three weeks ago. We are now sitting in Sorong, in West Papua. Yes, there is internet of sorts, but it is excruciatingly slow. Sorong has been, um,  interesting – more below.


I recall that when we entered Malaysia last year, we found it all rather tame and bland after Indonesia and I am now on the other side of that coin. After Malaysia, with its friendly people and relatively organised and occasionally prosperous towns, this part of Indonesia is the wild country. There were relatively few tourists in Sulawesi; there are absolutely none where we are now. It seems in some villages that we are almost the first Westerners to have set foot there. This does not always make for a comfortable experience.


Our first stop was the small island of Tifore, 70 miles from anywhere. A local fisherman was kind enough to guide us through the channel through the reef into a perfect lagoon, where we stayed for a couple of days. The village there was dominated by a large Church – some of the villages here are Christian, some Muslim; the two religions co-exist in towns but villages are either one or the other – and also had a school. The local kids immediately paddled out in their wooden out-riggers and hung around the back of the boat looking at us, giggling and smiling.
Anui anchored under the volcano at Ternate


And so it begins. It's always so hard to know exactly the right thing to do. We always smile, say hello, exchange a few words and then wait. If we are too friendly, they try to jump onto the boat and it would then be tricky to get them to leave without being outright rude. If it's kids, we hand out a few lollypops and they are happy; with adults it can be harder to know the best thing to do. Sometimes people are just curious and friendly – we are a novelty in their back-yard and they want to have a good long look – fair enough, I reckon. Some locals want to find out where we're from, try out a few words of English, perhaps trade some fish or bananas. Sometimes the people are obviously very poor, with their clothes in rags and their canoe patched and leaking. For those, we sometimes give a t-shirt or some food; these people have nothing to trade and generally do not ask for anything to be given.


The third category are the hardest. They come to Anui, bring their boat alongside, sometimes tie on to the side rail and then make it clear that they want to come on board. They are always small groups of men and they may or may not smile. Mostly these men do not look poor and their boats are motorised; their intentions are unclear. The difficult thing is to firmly state that they cannot put their foot onto the boat without being unnecessarily rude. Sometimes they come when I am on the boat with the kids and Scott is elsewhere – spear-fishing or ashore – and our friends with us will keep an eye and radio me if they see the boat there for a little while. It's great to have that back up and we are all glad that we chose to stick together through this region. All the types of onlookers are probably entirely harmless, but it's unsettling nevertheless. In the islands we have passed through lately, there is sometimes the request made to ask permission to anchor from the head man of the nearest village. This permission normally has a cash value – another dilemma. If we pay the high price asked initially, the yachts coming later will have to pay more. If we bargain it down to a smaller price, should we pay then? The money goes to one pocket and does not benefit the village.

This part of Indonesia was the centre of the riots and 'religious problems' of a decade ago, when Churches were burnt and 'revenge killings' took place in villages and towns. Such problems have not recurred but the region has, for us, an uneasy feeling. We do not feel entirely welcome. A man in the market at Ternate aggressively asked why I did not speak Indonesian better; the men coming close to the boat in their motorised canoes sometimes do not smile. Time to move on.


Since Ternate, we've covered some long miles but found a jewel worth all the hassles and long motoring hours. Wayag – a magnificent handful of limestone islands, peaked and green, rising smoothly from clear water. We found a small bay with our two boats of friends and didn't move for 5 days. Fishing, spear diving, kayaking, barbeques on the beach – it was heaven. And the best bit – Wayag is uninhabited and we saw not a soul.
Our lagoon at Wayag

In arriving at Sorong yesterday we had the usual list of jobs to do – finding spare parts, locating the market, getting the internet working. Most importantly, we have to buy a new alternator (ours finally died last week, curse it. I'm sure we must have accidentally run over a black cat somewhere). Scott managed to source one and will try tomorrow to get it to work. He is so clever. The old generator was, last night, sitting in the cockpit in a backpack waiting for Scott to take it to the auto-electrician's to match pulleys or something. This morning when we got up it was gone – someone had been on the boat during the night but thankfully that was all they stole. This is the first theft we've had and I bet they were really annoyed when they realised they had come away with only a broken piece of machinery. Nevertheless, tonight we are taking shifts with our friends at watching out over our three boats. The local police are patrolling the bay at intervals, thanks to a friend of a friend who is a policeman in Jayapura... they did offer to sit in the cockpit with their machine guns but we gently declined.
Sarah and Seth kayaking at Wayag


So, things in Indonesia continue to be challenging. Finn still refuses to go to town; Seth is thankfully more relaxed about it. Scott is getting some sleep before getting up to fix more stuff. And I am sitting at midnight in the cockpit with a cup of tea and the slowest internet connection in South East Asia, writing to our friends.