Thursday, March 24, 2011

How difficult can it be?

This week I discovered something that I definitely cannot do. I cannot drive a motorbike. I cannot even nearly drive a motorbike – even an automatic. Despite the fact that shy 14 year old girls in every country we have visited manage it with no problem, it was beyond me. We spent a couple of days on the island of Pangkor and, with our friends from Red Boomer II decided to hire motorbikes and drive around the island. Scott and the boys had explored the island this way before and he had proclaimed it a 'piece of cake' as Pangkor has few cars and is quiet. So Jane and I decided to have a go. We didn't exactly tell the lady hiring the bikes that we couldn't drive, but decided to go to a quiet lane round the corner and practice. How hard could it be? Well, both of us found ourselves unable to turn, wobbly and barely in control. It was when I was giggling on the dirt verge of the road, unable to go forward or turn, that the lady of the bike hire place came around the corner (evidently to check up on us, and who could blame her) and told us that she wouldn't hire her bikes to us if Jane and I were intending to drive them. It was rather embarrassing. We decided to apologise, concede defeat and be passengers - luckily our two mates who had planned to ride singly agreed to each carry a red-faced passenger.

In the event, we had a great day riding around. Scott was remarkably quiet about my failed motorbiking career but I'm sure it will come up again when I say, about some other subject, 'well, how hard can it be?'.

Our last couple of days in Penang gave me more chance to wander around the streets. I found a string of shops full of paper replicas of all sorts of material goods – clothes, jewellery, shoes of all kinds, speed boats, cars, deck chairs, laptops, TV's and much more. They were all printed with great detail and in bright colours on paper, which was folded and tabbed into shape and then sealed in plastic. I asked the Chinese lady running one shop what they were all for and she explained that they were gifts for the dead to take to the next life. Whilst I was there, a man came in and bought a set of emerald jewels and matching 'beaded' slippers, another bought a red sports car. The gifts would be burnt at the funeral and would provide luxuries for the deceased in the afterlife. I have my eye on quite a few luxury items for my next life, so will make sure my loved ones make a dash to Penang when the time comes.

In addition to shopping for the hereafter, there were rows of undertakers, clusters of engineering shops, more printers than I could count and the most wonderful stationers. I really like stationery shops – something about their neatness, perhaps – but these were in another league. There were narrow rows of floor to ceiling shelves filled with every kind of pencil and notebook imaginable – I got lost in there for a while.

The weather has changed since we left Thailand. It is still sticky, hot and humid ( don't think I've mentioned the heat lately – don't get me started) but is now also raining more, particularly in the afternoons. It is certainly the right time to head South, though we won't be reaching the equator for some time yet. At present, we are having a relaxing interlude in Admiral Marina at Port Dickson. The air conditioner is cranking away and the washing is up to date so we can enjoy the marina. It has 3 swimming pools, tennis courts, bikes to ride and a gym (guess where I've been hiding?) - and all for the cost of a $20 a day marina fee. We intended to stay two days but so far we've been here five. Nice to have a rest from our hectic travelling from time to time. We have our friends on the same dock so the kids run backwards and forwards – and so do we. Seth found a gecko egg in the bush and he and Scott have made a home for the gecko (let's hope it hatches) so the boys are inspecting the egg several times a day and reading up on geckos on the internet. Will happily accommodate the little guy if he hatches, as he can eat any mozzies that stray onto the boat. Will keep you posted on his progress.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stocking up and heading South

Our week or so in Langkawi was spent in the usual frantic, sweaty, expensive exercise of re-stocking the boat. We had to top up our stocks of tinned and dry food, bread flour, cleaning goods, meat, cheese, alcohol, fuel and the inevitable chocolate rations. In Langkawi, as in many places in this part of the world, the places to buy the above goodies are spread out across ten kilometres of streets and

laneways. People on boats talk to each other about where the essentials can be found – from hardware to Parmesan cheese – and pass on information about treasure troves. I was excited to find a bakers' wholesaler with a cool room full of wonderful flour and other delights. The owner was clearly a man who knew his farino and was very happy to be finding the best grain flour for me in his Aladdin's Cave. Bought bread is available, but is white and sweet – as you can imagine the boys love it!

A dinghy is only so big and once we have loaded ourselves up with that day's selection we have to get it back to the boat before everything melts. We stayed at a marina in Kuah for a couple of days so that at least once we got back to the boat the inside would be air-conditioned and we would be able to find places to put everything. Eventually, however, we were loaded up and the boat was full to the brim, with food hidden in every spare bit of space. Scott availed himself of the many duty-free chocolate shops to buy his own stash, which he has hidden for his own personal use. This is because he finds my careful doling out of treats miserly and he thinks, for some reason, that I am some kind of control freak. The nerve of the man. I am merely ensuring that in a couple of months' time there will still be some left to hand out when it is needed – just sensible planning, really. By the by – I have discovered his hiding place already but will keep that to myself for now.

Also at Langkawi we spent two days beached at Telaga, touching up the antifoul paint under the boat. For the uninitiated, this is the special paint under the water line that stops barnacles and other free-loaders making their home on our undersides. It was wearing a littler thin in places but we all worked to scrape and wash and paint and now Anui looks all tidy again.

We are with our friends on Red Boomer II and are currently in Penang. Scott and Captain Bill have been planning our route and itinerary through to East Malaysia and Borneo. We're planning to return to Australia together via Papua New Guinea, which sounds exciting. Before that, though, there are jungles and islands to explore.

Penang has grown on me this second visit. Its population are made up of three groups – Malay, Chinese and Indian – and all are evident in the streets of small shop-houses and local eating places. We are anchored off the town near the heritage Clan Jetties – a small Chinese village of wooden traditional houses built over the water. To get to shore we stand on the back of the boat and yell, and eventually an ancient Chinese gentleman will come out in his boat to ferry us in to the jetty. The streets are a wonderful mixture of colonial-style stucco buildings and Chinese architecture, with the usual eau-de-drains evident. There are traditional engravers and shoe-makers jumbled in with barbers and stationers – not serving the tourists, of which there are quite a few, but their local communities. I could spend days wandering about. I've also discovered some really very good coffee shops hidden away...

Aside from all the cultural outings, we've been getting on with school work and both Seth and Finn have been working really well. Sometimes things get a little strained, as must surely be normal when four spirited individuals are enclosed in a boat for hours (occasionally days) on end. Can you imagine that for your families? Yes, the best thing about this cruising life is that we are all together all the time, but guess what the worst thing is too?! When Scott sees my eyes glaze over or finds me quietly banging my head on the table, he takes the boys off somewhere or sends me off in the kayak for an hour. I try to do the same for him, but funnily enough he somehow seems to disappear with his guitar or with a book at regular intervals, presumably before the need to pull out his own fingernails comes upon him.

We've been glad to hear from our several good friends on Imagine, Pegasus and Anima III who were heading towards the Red Sea that their nightmare journey is at an end and they are in relatively safe haven of Egypt. Their regular emails told us so much about their terrifying passage through waters where every passing boat is a potential threat - real, not imagined. They saw boats covered with machine guns, found historically safe ports under siege, with no safe place to stop. Our hearts were with them every step of the way and with their families, who thankfully made the decision to get off the boat and fly in later. Even worse was the news of the yacht Quest, whose crew were captured and later shot and the Danish yacht Ing, whose crew, including three teenagers, are still being held by pirates. The region stalked by these (mainly Somalian) pirates is getting wider and cruising boats are having to change their routes or consider shipping their vessel in order to have a chance of safety. Something is going to have to be done about this region – a hard call. It would certainly put many people – us included – off a round the world trip under sail.

So all good wishes from the happy, perfectly calm and united Anui crew – all stocked up and heading South towards Pangkor and Melaka. More soon.

Our tracker is back up and working - you can see where we are by following this link: