12 August, 2008


One thing that needed to be dealt with before the rally finally split up was the petanque contest. Now you see some time ago off Tioman Island an international was held and the kiwis, us that is, Tom and I off Matariki, kicked butt. The aussie contingent found some lame excuse to call that null and void and decided a rematch was to be held, while Tom is away. Now I won’t bring up underarm, but what can you say. The Aussie official, self-appointed seemed a little biased perhaps. Still holding all titles what can one do. Well done Sal. With new team member Marlene, we still came a credible second though.

Left Miri, with the seahorse guarding the way, and had a great sail up the coast to Kaula Lait, (I think) Brunei.

Brunei is a small independent state like Singapore. Very like singers actually with their currency interchangeable, and very wealthy thanks to oil in Brunei’s case. Still sinking wells up the coast. Amazing operation. They take this barge/ship thing out and then jack it up on stilts and away they go. Some time later the cash register is ringing again.

Now I haven’t taken you through the process of checking in and Brunei was a good example. First, find were to go. Fortunately others have been before and you usually have some idea of the location of the various offices. Here, like singers, they have set up a one stop shop which is great. Then any one of many options may be run into. Here, first people in uniform we met said “Go to customs first.” Gave them the clearance from the last country, OK that was easy. Next immigration. No sir, go to port authority first. OK, up the stairs. No they say go to immigration first. Down the stairs to immigration. Now this office has about six people all sitting around doing not much. “Oh, they said that ? OK, fill out this form, plus crew list, plus cargo manifest”. But we don’t have cargo, Oh,ummmm. Fill out this form then. Now go to port authority and get them to sign this then come back. OK up the stairs, can you sign this please. Sorry that man is out at the moment, tell immigration we will sign it later. Back down the stairs. Oh, OK, umm……..OK they fill out the rest of their bits, in triplicate of course, then, back up stairs. Man is back, signs, back to immigration, yep they’re happy. Now take all this back to port authority. OK. Sorry the man is not here and I can’t find him ?? Waiting, waiting…… he comes back takes his copy of the paperwork and just two short hours from walking in we walk out (Backchat and I) and find a well-deserved coffee. Now they aren’t all this bad, but pretty similar. Paper shufflers rule and all consider their bit vital. God save us from bureaucrats !!

So here I am in Brunei for a couple of days so I can get another three months on the passport when I go back to Malaysia, just a short boat trip to Labuan Island about 10 miles away. Heath is back home visiting her sick mum. Anchored off the yacht club, which is very welcoming with showers, washing machine and a good restaurant. They had a club picnic on Saturday which we got invited to.

Mostly ex-pats working here and it is like their social club. Happened to arrive when Brunei was having their big dragon boat festival, right beside us so we have had a great vantage point.

Serious stuff here with about 15 boats in each race and at the end, they have an all in covering about a mile. Hard work. They also had small speed boat contests and water taxi races etc etc. Big party on the beach, loads of food stalls and fireworks on the Saturday night. As I said, got my passport stamped and off to Labuan today, another duty free port so time to stock up the booze cabinet again. Can’t work out why, but Malaysia has three duty free islands, Langkawi, Tioman and Labuan. Maybe they had a raffle and these islands won?? It sure is a big money spinner for them. Till next time

04 August, 2008

Borneo rocks

Very odd things happening with the font ?????

So the rally is now over and we have to make our own plans. Since the last blog we have probably had the highlights of the entire trip through asia, with the odd low point, like crossing the south china sea for four days and nights. Parts where OK, when we had no wind and were motoring in smooth seas, then the wind kept getting up with 40 knots, rain, biggish sloopy seas, yuk. It really is total crap. At least we weren't alone in our turmoil with two others crossing about the same time breaking gear on the way. At least all we had was our headsail weather strip ripping apart which is now fixed.

We stopped at two islands on the west side before crossing over. Redang and Perhentian. Both really great. Beautiful Islands with clear water, diving, snorkeling, sand like talc and really friendly people. Managed to dive and swim with a turtle at Perhentian Island with my hand on his back for about 50m. It is starting to get developed big time at places like Redang with big resorts etc but is still a nice mix of old and new.

So after the crap crossing we arrived in the Santubong river near the city of Kuching. First walk in the Kampong, or village, was greeted with cleared roadsides and believe it or not…..rubbish bins at every house. Now this is a first for Malaysia. It's a real mix of west and east values, the best from both we think. Kuching is a lovely city, maybe the size of Hamilton, with a river running through it. Like all Malaysian cities the commercial area is mostly a china town or little India with two storey shop houses being the mainstay of trade. It also had the best and cheapest carvings, masks, drums etc we have seen so far, not to mention antiques. Like to buy an old Portuguese cannon ?

But, the main event and one of the main reasons to be here was the Rainforest World Music Festival. It was just awesome. Max of about 9000 per day for three days. During the day they had "workshops", which meant getting people of similar instruments from different parts of the world, from different groups together, talking and showing off their own stuff then jamming. What a treat. Drums where needless to say very popular, then violins playing with Greek and Japanese strings, guitars with lutes and other ethnic strings, and on and on. Then at night the groups from different parts of the world played. The hits where probably a group just formed, Akasa, with a guitar maestro from KL ex Aus, a sitar player and two tabla players, playing a fusion of blues, western and eastern traditional. Sounds weird but what a fantastic result.

Then a group from Poland plying Celtic with such passion and flare they probably stole the show. Indian group playing bollywood, Portuguese group playing like madmen. Ah so much. Great setting at the rainforest park around a big lake and with cheap, great food and beers for about NZ$3.20. Just to add to the occasion it was run with a craft show with great local art and craft. The weaving was far more delicate and fine than anything I've seen. Then of course being in the rainforest, it rained. Each night for about an hour, turning the mosh pit to a mud pit.

No one seemed to mind though as it is about 30 degrees and some great mud fights where had. It's also a bit of a rendezvous for any yachties within a couple hundred miles so we knew lots of people there and spent most of our time with a couple from Aussy, Ian and Christine, ex Rhodesia that we meet in Penang a while ago.

If you want a holiday with a difference, this would be it. But book early, all accom is booked out by about March and it gets more well known every year.

After that we spent another week in Kuching on a hired motor bike so had a real good look around then headed off. First stop was an island just out of the Santubong river where we were. Forgot the name but this is where the turtles come and do that egg laying thing. Crawl up the beach, at night, dig a big pit, drop in about 70-100 eggs and the cover it all up again. And it was turtle laying season. It's all national park so you aren't allowed out when they come up the beach and dig the hole 'cause they would bugger off, but after that you go out with your torch and have a nosey round. We saw a big green turtle, about 2.5 m burying it stash. Poor bugger, takes over an hour of very hard work to cover the eggs, what a great thing to see.

Time to move along though as the next and last rally stop was at Miri.

The trip up was a bit harrowing. We stopped in a river fro one night and it was a continuous flow of bits of old trees and logs coming down. The river bank was completely covered in old logs, teak, just rotting. Out at sea at night sailing up we heard a couple of huge bangs as we would run into logs floating at sea. Either washed down rivers or fallen off barges which are continuously taking logs to the mills, acres of them. The rainforest disappears as we speak to be replaced by palm oil trees. Billions of them.

Anyway, now in Miri and while here a few of us managed to get an invite to the local hash house harriers and as they said they had a walking group, I was in. Well, I don’t know about NZ harriers but this was no walk like I had been on. We are talking fairly serious Borneo jungle, wading through creeks and swamp, up and down steep muddy banks, through the vines and teak forest. Didn’t pay to think about the leech's and snakes they have here. Still about 120 people where on the “run” so it couldn't’t be too bad. Bit of advice though, when you are next asked to go into the jungle, don’t were your old crocs, those plastic shoes all yachties live in. A really memorable experience though. And, they are not called the drinking club with a running problem for nothing. Massive meal and free beer all night for NZ$14. Great club, great people,e great hangover !!

At each of the rally stops we do a local tour. Here we drove pout to the Niah Caves. Took the coast road out past HUGE mansions along the way. There is a lot of very serious money in the country. Anyway the caves where awesome. About 2 kms worth in the hill with heights from about 2m to 80m. They harvest guano from the floor, bird shit to you and me, and birds nests from the roofs for birds nest soup. They have poles coming straight down from the roof of the caves, only in the really high bits, and these they climb up. No safety ropes nothing, straight up and yes they lose people now and then. What we couldn't work out was how they got the poles hanging from the top in the first place? Also in the caves is an excavation from the 70’s were they found a n old skull, as in 38 000 years old. This was twice as old as homo sapien was supposed to be there so they got very excited. Just above the town here is the first well put down by some upstart company in the early 20’s which continued producing for Shell right up till 72. There are now hundreds of wells in the South China Sea and as you sail at night you can almost always see at least one flare burning in the distance.

Now if you want any expensive medical work done. Think of coming here. While at Kuching I decided to get an MRI on my back. Yes sir, how about at 4 today. No OK, Monday lunch suit. So in I go get the MRI, see the doc again. She says I should see the ortho doc and you can see him now, I’ll take you up. So, two visits to doc, one MRI, one specialist, Scottish trained, all in one day off the street NZ$360. Unreal.