Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 30, 2013

Indian Africa

Where will a vegetarian order themselves a bunny for lunch?

In Durban, South Africa of course.

bunny chowBunny Chow, Durban’s signature dish, is cheap, fast, and absolutely delicious.  You can order a half bunny or a quarter bunny.  But unless you are a professional eater I’d stick with the quarter bunny.  I can usually make two meals out of that.

The dish, Durban fast food,  is a half (or quarter) loaf of bread hollowed out and filled to overflowing with delectable spicy curry.  The hollowed out portion of the bread is put on top of the bunny or to the side.  The most common curries are bean, mutton, or chicken (though I recommend the veggie one if you can find it).

When I first heard of bunny chow I was skeptical.  Curry in Africa?  What was that going to be like?  I soon learned that Durban boasts the largest Indian population outside of India.  Gandhi  himself spent 20 years in South Africa, and many of his ideas got their start there.  And at least in part because of the large Indian population the food in Durban is delectable.

But why “bunny chow”?  It isn’t (always) vegetarian or anything like bunny food.  It isn’t made out  of bunnies.  Interestingly enough, few people knew the answer.  Finally a native Durbanite satisfied my curiosity.

When Indian workers ,called Banias, were imported to work in the sugarcane fields they brought their cuisine with them.  Heavily spiced curries are an Indian staple.  They couldn’t always find the traditional Indian bread; rotis, naan, or chapatti, but they could always find a loaf of bread at the store.  Bunny was a mispronunciation of “Bania,” and so the hollowed out bread filled with curry became known as bunny chow.

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Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 26, 2013

Point and Shoot Safari

I adore animals.  Having grown up watching nature shows, I, like many people

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first thought of safaris when I thought of Africa.  I envisioned lions in the Savannah, Leopards lolling in trees, herds of starkly striped zebras blending into shadowed grass.

Now I was actually in South Africa, but how could I afford a safari?  A number of the ARC owners had saved tens of thousands of dollars to go on posh safaris.

Looking on the internet even the less expensive ones seemed to cost thousands.  Though I longed to see animals in the wild that was too rich for my blood.

Then I heard.  The WARC South Africa tour was a day-long safari!

The buses left the marina a little after 7:00 am.  By 8:00, the WARC group was at the park.  The signs up around the park were fantastic.  An elephant pictured pushing over a truck, warnings not to get out of the jeeps… we were really going on a safari!

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We piled into 4 black and white camouflaged open-sided safari jeeps at the park gate.  The only African game park I had even heard of was Kruger, but that was a little too far.  Instead we were going to the nearby Imfolozi.

00001076George, the ranger driving our jeep, introduced himself.  He had been a ranger at Imfolozi for 15 years and loved it.  Not 20 meters past the gate he stopped the jeep beside a herd of impala.  Soaking up the thrill of seeing zoo animals in the wild we all snapped photos like mad.  These were Africa’s version of fast food.  Not only are they everywhere, he joked, but they’re fast.

00001522We only had to pull a few meters further before a massive giraffe appeared just to the left of the road.  The graceful brown and tan giant stopped munching the treetop and gazed at us through long lashes.  Giraffes were George’s favorite animal.  Not only were they beautiful but they were also the most docile, peaceful animals in the park.  These gentle giants weren’t afraid of people and posed for pictures like the models of the Savannah, never causing trouble.

The morning was incredible.  Animal were everywhere and so many seemed to stay close to the road. A wildebeest rubbed elbows with a small group of zebras.  George explained that these animals often grouped together.  It was a symbiotic relationship:  one had a good sense of smell and the other had excellent eyesight.  Together they were unstoppable.  We slowed as a Warthog scurried across the road, strained our eyes to glimpse a distant water buffalo, oooed and awwed over a small herd of young bull elephants, and marveled at the landscape.

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When I think safari, I think of the animals, but the surroundings were as beautiful as they were foreign.  Verdant hills rolled away into the distance dotted with copses of trees and bushes offered cover.  Tender new shoots of grass crowned and expansive grasslands.  Even a silver ribbon of river, complete with crocodiles, snaked its way between several of the hills.   This was Africa.  It didn’t let you forget it for a second.

Late in the morning George stopped the car to point out a white rhino; her calf nestled in the grass next to her grey tree trunk legs.  The guide explained to us that the difference between white and black rhino was not the color, but the shape of their mouths.  The “white” rhinos were grazers with wide shovel-like mouths meant for eating as much grass as possible.  They were called wide rhinos because their mouths were wider than the browsing black rhinos that preferred a steady diet of shrubbery.

00001550Our guide’s commentary was excellent and much appreciated and it was wonderful to see the animals in the wild but I wished we hadn’t been rushing through the park so quickly.  Stop for a minute, take some pictures, and then on to the next animal.  Unfortunately we only had a day to see everything and staying in one place to watch the animals’ be animals wasn’t on the agenda.

What was the big 5? I asked.  Being on a safari and not knowing I was almost embarrassed to ask.

Water buffalo, rhino, elephant, lion, and leopard.  George explained that these were the five most dangerous animals if you don’t take them down with one shot.  Leopards are normally quite mild-mannered, but when they are injured… watch out.

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By the end of the day we had seen 3 of the “Big 5.”  We hadn’t seen any big cats or predators of any kind.

The safari was amazing, but just enough to whet the appetite.  I  wanted more.

How could I do it on a budget?  How do you take a safari on a shoestring?

Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 23, 2013

South African Party Favors

Now everyone has done things they wouldn’t dream of doing sober under the influence of a drink or 10.  Sailors are a notoriously drunken lot and the WARC crew take that notoriety to a whole new level.  The WARC parties were a force to be reckoned with.

Umineko’s,  or “sea cat” in Japanese, motto was: have Karaoke Machine, will travel.”  Sato San, the cat’s ebullient skipper was a born showman.  The svelte man was a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert.  He had lived in Detroit for 20 years and easily made friends with all nationalities on the ARC.  It was impossible not to like the man who always had a joke ready and a story to share.   When he joined WARC in Australia he told everyone that Umineko had a karaoke machine on board and invited everyone to karaoke and “Hiroshima Pizza.”

Thus many a WARC party made fellow mariners wish there were some actual sea cats in heat around to drown out the drunken ARC members serenading the marinas.  After all, it is the universal rule that whatever pitch a singer may have at the start of the evening drains away as more pitchers are downed.   But drunken karaoke caterwauls were barely the tip of the iceberg.

Teeth were knocked out, trampolines, or netting stretched across the foredeck of most catamarans, were ripped, drunken gymnastics ensued, party-goers accidently fell in marinas… More hilarious anecdotes were forgotten at one WARC party than 100 landlubbers parties could begin to boast.  WARC parties were legendary.

They say WARC is a drinking club with a sailing problem for a reason.

Unlike some of the seasoned rum-soaked veterans, (the heiress to a Scotch maker who kept a library of whiskies and scotches on her boat was among this colorful cast of characters) I don’t tend to drink a lot.  I never have.  A glass or two of wine I nice and when I feel too tipsy I generally head for to bed.

The WARC upped my alcohol consumption.  Dramatically.  But still, I was quite a tame drunk, boring even.  Until South Africa, that is.

Zululand Yacht Club in Richards Bay, South Africa welcomed WARC with open arms.  Doing it right they presented every yacht with a bottle of sparkling wine when they arrived… a present for crossing the Indian Ocean.

Two days after Southern Cross and the last boats had docked Zululand combined a traditional Braai, or South African barbecue with the WARC awards ceremony.   Almost no one really took the “race” aspect of the WARC seriously, but that’s what each leg technically was a race.

This last lengthy leg of the Indian Ocean had been rough on everyone though, and Rally Control, the WARC staff, gave out all sorts of prize other than for just fastest boats.  Everyone was happy to be on land and celebrating together.  Alcohol flowed like water, the banquet tables (over-glorified picnic tables) were piled with South African fare.  An incredible dance troupe of high school kids.  With a now fluid, now jerky style of modern dance that was mesmerizing, the guys in NerdzZ Fam had some of the most impressive dance choreography I had seen in a long time.  It was even more impressive when I found out the guys were still in High School.

https://www.facebook.com/NerdsFam

There was the awards ceremony, traditional Zulu dancers, and the rest of the evening was erased from my memory.  Whether that was from alcohol or PTSD, no one can be really sure.

As Zululand promised, they were hosting a traditional braai.  Complete with traditional food, dances, and games, or rather game.  The “game” in question was called bokdrol spoek, in other words s**t spitting.

Kudu buck

Kudu buck

Nope, this is not merely a sport to get back at white colonists.  This isn’t something to make fun of tourists.  Spitting dried kudu droppings is actually a Zulu sport.  Kudus are massive antelope, almost twice the size of a deer with satellite-dish ears and the males boast beautiful spiral horns.  One buck is enough to feed a whole tribe, unfortunately they are elusive.

The sport developed from tribesman spitting the dried dung to curse the animals.  Still, when I heard about a kudu poo spitting contest I was appalled.  It sounded absolutely dreadful!  And it is.  Not a sport for a sober person.  But by the end of the night I was pretty far from sober and somehow something you wouldn’t dream of doing sober can sound like a good idea drunk.

According to witnesses it wasn’t quite as dreadful as it might have been.  The dried pellets were preceded by a shot of tequila.  Then the dung is held between the player’s teeth and spat as far as possible.  After spitting, the player is offered another shot of tequila to sterilize their mouth.  I suppose with enough alcohol even kudu poo can be hygienic.

I did not win.  The up side to this is that I wasn’t the only competitor.   The down side of this is that it is possible that there are pictures of me spitting poo somewhere in the world.

How drunk were you?

I was so drunk I was spitting s**t.

Damn.  That’s wasted.

We may have a new measure for intoxication here.

Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 19, 2013

The Death Knell of the Water Maker

We turned the tap on.  It coughed like a dying consumption patient twice, spitting out water  and then fell silent.  Strange that we’d used so much water in just four days, but it didn’t matter… we had another tank.

But wait… hadn’t we run the watermaker for 5 hours the day before? So our water-maker broke.  Now this is nothing new, watermakers on boats are constantly breaking.

Steve switched the tanks from the starboard tank to the port.

Nothing came out of the tap.  We were out of water.   Out of water with over 400 nautical miles to go.   No water.  My heart quickly relocated to somewhere below around my feet.

No need to panic, the captain’s girlfriend, or co-captain as she liked to be called, reassured us.  She had stored 20 gallons of water just in case something like this happened, 10 containers in the bilge in either hull.

But our relief was short-lived.  When we went to check for the water stores, only 6 gallons remained.  A former crew member had preferred bottled water to the filtered sea-water and had forgotten to replace the emptied containers.

We would have to go on strict water rations for the rest of the trip.  1 liter per person per day.  Reunion to Richards Bay, South Africa is not a short passage either, over 2-weeks for Southern Cross, one of the slower boats in the ARC.  We did have a good supply of boxed juice, but juice only goes so far to hydrate.  Especially when the salt air seems to suck moisture out of you.

Fortuitously I had filled my Nalgene water bottle right before our water tanks had dumped all of our water stores back into the Indian Ocean.   The days were as dry as the last passage had been wet.  I found myself wishing for another week of rain where everything was soaked with fresh water.  Alas, this was not to be.

The rationing wasn’t as bad as I had feared.  I gave up my liter for the first day because I had the full Nalgene and the captain went without coffee the first day (the crew insisted he have it the remainder of the trip.)

We had timed it almost perfectly.  The last day we had just cracked open our last gallon of water.  We would be fine so long as we made the window.

The Cape of Good Hope, is aptly named.  Every sailor going around the cape hopes a good deal that the wily Indian Ocean doesn’t sink their boat.   We had heard horror story after terrifying tale.  It is one of the most dangerous places to sail in the world.   We had to make that window and ram our way through the Agulhas current without getting swept too far south.  If we didn’t time it perfectly we would have to head back out to the ocean and wait until the window was right.

This isn’t fun under the best of circumstances… when you have a dwindling water supply these facts seem a lot more dire.

Many of the ARC boats were already docked at Zululand Yacht Club in Richards Bay.  That just left a few boats in the slower group.  One boat, At Last, had been at the tail end of the faster boats and tried to sneak in a little after the window closed.  After almost getting shaken to bits by an utterly confused sea the wind and current working against one another, their skipper had turned around and sailed back to wait it out.

The closer we got to the current, the worse the waves got.  One slammed over the boat, inside the cat it sounded as if we were in trench warfare as waves slammed against the hulls.  Cape Horn might not be the best place for cats, I thought, as a large wave rocked us up almost on one hull.  A monohull can list to one side, but if a wave tosses a catamaran violently enough it can flip over.  No one wanted that.

00000465Suddenly a huge wave violently shook us.  With a dull thump, oour last remaining water jug toppled off of the counter to smash open on the floor.  We watched in horror as the water supply leaked across the floor and scrambled to save some of it.

We had to get past the current.  We needed make it to Richards Bay.

At 3:35 in the morning, on my watch, the starboard engine alarm let out its high-pitched wail.  Immediately I turned it off.  Hopefully it hadn’t done any damage.  Hopefully we could get it going again… we needed both engines to make it on time.

To my enormous relief the captain had the part we needed and fixed the engine in less than half an hour.  We were back on track.

Three whales breached next to us waving their enormous flippers,  welcoming us to Africa as we approached Richards Bay.  We had made it past the Agulhas current.  As we docked at Zululand, I sprang off the boat, so grateful to be back on dry land I almost kissed the ground.

Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 16, 2013

In the Land of the Dodo

00001057It was not the stunning mountains with their spired-tops jutting up like to meet the periwinkle blue sky that made my heart beat faster as we sailed into Mauritius.  It was the high-rises that surrounded the built-up waterfront.  We were coming back to civilization.  Sailing into the posh marina after a two-week long water-logged passage was like a dream come true.  I would get my internet fix.

Now the ARC was divided into two distinct groups.  The affluent owners, and those crewing on the boats living more, shall we say, frugally.

Le Caudan Waterfront was definitely upscale.  Mauritius wanted to put its best foot forward and attract the “right type” of tourists.  In other words, Mauritius did not like backpackers.  There were no discount flights onto the little island, nor were there any hostels, or backpackers as the budget accommodations.

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Of course, this meant that shops and restaurants catered more to people traveling on an expense account.  Still, there were a few fun things to do around Mauritius for those on a budget.

With free entry, Mauritius’ dodo museum was worth every penny.  It was interesting to learn about the infamous overgrown pigeons.  But there wasn’t even a taxidermied specimen.  The last remaining one had been thrown out in 1775

 

 

Entry to the Blue Penny Museum was a little more pricey, not surprising as it boasted two stamps worth over 2,000,000 dollars.  The stamps had originally sold for 2 cents… how’s that for inflation!  The museum gave a good overview on the history of Mauritius, but the stamps were the real attraction

After seeing the tiny unexceptional slips of paper, why the tiny pieces of paper had sold for that high price remained a mystery.  That said, I did pay the 225 R (over $7) entry fee to see it.

But the island itself is the real reason to go to Mauritius.  Though it is possible

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to rent taxis to take you everywhere, they are by no means cheap.  Fortunately I was able to go on the ARC tour of the island, but for travelers, I would highly recommend renting a car.  It is well worth it.  A volcanic island, Mauritius’ verdant mountains, pristine beaches, and almost lunar landscape are truly spectacular.   The rum factories are also well worth a visit.  The

vanilla rum is not to be missed.

Still, Port Louis and especially the waterfront were a bit out of many of the crew members’ price range. So the  complimentary bottle of rum that the marina gave each boat set the mood for Mauritius to be a party port with parties on different boats almost every night.

Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 12, 2013

Living in Paradise

Toshi DirectionSouthern Cross sailed into a postcard.   Gleaming white ARC boats dotted the swimming pool blue water.   Tongues of the crystalline water lapped against blonde sands overhung by the coconut fronds that the atoll was named for.   Direction Island itself was so perfect it didn’t even look real.  This was the place Darwin had formed his theory about how atolls formed.  The atoll’s atoll.

After the week-long passage first thing was first, we had to go to the island to check in.  We splashed the dinghy and headed for shore to go check in with customs.

The sandy-haired man standing outside of the large tent smiled and us warmly and i

ntroduced himself as the customs officer.  He and his wife were camping out on Direction island, an uninhabited island less than half a kilometer across, to check us all in.  With an easy-going joking manner this customs officer was unlike any customs official I had ever met.  No wonder with a posting like this.

Yeah, he agreed in his Australian drawl.  It was beautiful in Cocos, but island paradise got boring after a week or so.  He and his wife had liked it when he was stationed on Christmas Island a lot more.  There wasn’t a whole lot to do here.

Between the two inhabited islands, Home Island and West Island there was a combined population of about 600.  Home Island, a short dinghy ride away, had the majority of people but it was a chiefly Malaysian population.  The inhabitants were strict Muslim.  The customs officer told us.  Not only it was a dry island, but it would be good for women to wear long skirts or pants and cover their heads to respect the culture.

West Island, the “European” Island was a little further away from Direction.  It would be better to take the ferry there.  As far as things to do on Direction Island… snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, and eating coconuts.  Basically all the things would expect from paradise.

Coconuts

coconuts

More people get killed every year by falling coconuts than by sharks.  Nevertheless I fearlessly traipsed through the coconut tree forest.  Coconut husks littered the ground.  The ARC had been busy, for days the first arrivals had been cracking coconuts open and eating the tender flesh.  Some practically had it down to an art form.

Much to my disappointment this variety of coconut was meaty and not even the young ones were filled with water.  Instead the nuts were filled with a thick white flesh.  Tasty, but I still preferred the variety filled with coconut water.

Sleeping with the Sharks

Swimming against the waves out to the rip took a little effort, but luckily the tide was low.  At high tide it the current was much stronger, Daniel told me.   There had even been a rope to help people get out as the bottom dropped away the sea life grew more interesting.  Purple-mouthed giant clams sat, their scalloped shells a few centimeters open, coral bommies sheltered whole schools of multicolored fish.  Time moved differently in this fairyland under the waves.

We froze, scarcely daring to breathe as a 5’ shark swam past.   We were in his world.  A sea turtle gracefully winged his way past us, turning our fear into wonder.  The water sped us past the ocean’s treasures and before we knew it we were out of the rip and swimming for shore.

Did I want to go again? Daniel wanted to know.

Of course I wanted to go!

We swam our way back to the rip and once again we were gazing that ever-changing world beneath the waves.   Our previous pass must have been rush hour, with schools of fish, the shark, and the turtle.  Somehow in just 15 minutes everything had gone quiet.  Then we swam over a large bolder with a bit of an overhang.

6 sharks were all hanging out on the bottom.  Not nurse sharks… just sharks.  Like an insect mesmerized by a praying mantis, I was mesmerized.  What could these sharks be doing?  Was it naptime?  With a thrill of fear we tiptoed away, swimming as quietly and smoothly as possible so as not to wake our friends.

Hermit Crab Tempura

hermit crab tempuraThe ARC uses sailing as an excuse for parties.  The fleet would take over marinas and party on the different boats.  Legs helped give your liver recover a bit.  Cocos was a bit different, we were anchored rather than in a marina.  Without a pier to stumble along from one boat to the other, we took over the beach congregating around two picnic tables under a thatched

Night after night we gathered to drink dark and stormies (rum, ginger beer, with a twist of lime) and munch on the local coconuts.   The dinghy ride there insured not everyone could drink as much as they normally would.  Nevertheless, every Cocos beach party was an event to be remembered, or forgotten depending on how much alcohol was consumed.

Our last night at Cocos, Sato San, Toshi San, and Mauri San brought Umineko’s deep fryer to the beach.  With an array of meats and vegetables spread across the picnic table Toshi San started frying everything in sight making the most delicious tempura I have ever tasted.

Umineko was famed for their culinary prowess.  Sato San’s okonomiyaki, or Hiroshima Pizza, as he liked to call it was one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.   I had never had one before Darwin, when Sato San offered to make Hiroshima Pizza.  I was a little dubious, but to my surprise and delight master chef Sato produced crepe-like pancakes surrounding bean sprouts, fish, egg, and all sorts of delicious sauces, fish powder, and all variety of ingredients that came together to form something magical.

direction island Toshi 2At first I was a little disappointed we wouldn’t be having okonomiyaki on the beach.  I had been craving it ever since the first bite, but Toshi San more than made up for it.

A week of lying in hammocks on the beach, parties, swimming to and from our boats in the warm Indian Ocean, snorkeling, and temura.  I suppose it could get boring as the customs officer said, and a week really was probably long enough, but there is no question: Cocos (Keeling) is island paradise.

Photos by Urano Toshikazu

Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 9, 2013

Ciao Down

We heard it on the 9:00 am roll call.  SV Ciao, a Swedish 45 yacht sailing with the WARC, had been struck something and were taking on water.

The Slovenian couple sailing Ciao had rejoined the WARC 2012 in Bali.  They had started their circumnavigation with WARC 2010 and taken a break to sail around New Zealand and that part of the world for a few years.

Now, on their first leg back with the ARC just 40 nautical miles from Cocos (Keeling) at around 5:30 am when something hit them.  Something submerged.

PAN PAN

PAN PAN

PAN PAN

Three ARC boats J’Sea, Spirit of Alcides, and Umineko picked up the PAN PAN distress call at 7:00 in the morning.  Ciao was taking on water.  It was a serious situation, but there was no immediate danger to the crew or boat.   The skipper thought he could staunch the water coming in.

Still, J’Sea helped their fellow ARC member to tow the wounded boat limp its way to the anchorage.  For hours it looked like the skipper had succeeded in keeping Ciao afloat.  That they would make it to Cocos.

By 10:30 the water had reached the floorboards.  The boat couldn’t be saved.

The bow of the boat was almost submerged when the skipper stepped up onto the life raft and joined his wife on the Spirit of Alcides.

Members of both Spirit of Alcides and Russian boat Royal Leopard videotaped it.  When I saw the footage it really hit me. As if all joy had been sucked out of the world I watched the loss silently fighting to hold my composure.  No one had been injured, the couple had been able to rescue everything they could carry with them, but it felt like someone died.  Someone did die: Ciao.  A boat may be a manmade object.  Just wood, fiberglass, steel, or concrete but every one of them has its own personality, a soul.

It was the best possible scenario.   The collision happened during daylight.  The seas weren’t rough.  There were boats around to assist.  There was enough time to save what items could be taken.  Above all no one was hurt.   But that does not lessen the impact.  The loss of a boat is terrible.  It is worse than losing a home.  Not only is the place where couple lived for years.  This place was their life.  It is where they lived, how they traveled, where they worked

Even still, anything can happen at sea.  Of course you can take precautions:  always having someone on watch, is standard, checking the radar, keeping an eye on the weather, the seas, and so on and so forth.  Unfortunately though having someone on watch is a safeguard against other ships; anything could be floating under the water.  No one knows what hit Ciao.  Something submerged.  It could have been a floating container that had fallen off of a container ship.  It might have been a whale or some enormous fish.  This may be the most likely scenario because the rudder was damaged rather than the front of the boat.  But still, what really struck SV Ciao remains a mystery.

This is a tragedy that could not have been avoided.  Freak accidents like this happen at sea.  Even with the most vigilant and experienced sailors, things can go wrong.   Many sailors may turn their nose up at those who sail with rallies and flotillas.  But the loss of SV Ciao is a prime example of why sailing with a flotilla makes sense.

There is safety in numbers and a support group nearby made all the difference for the crew.  Of course all vessels should carry an EPIRB and have their ditch-bag ready.   Having an EPIRB (Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon) helps rescuers locate a vessel and send help.  Still having help at hand is always a favorable alternative.  As much as I am in favor of doing things independently, in the case of sailing I’m starting to think rallies, or at least buddy-boating isn’t a bad way to go.

Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 5, 2013

Do You Want to Spend Christmas on Christmas Island?

Southern Cross had to stay in Bali an extra day for the captain, Steve, to get new pages in his passport.  A quick flight to another island and the pages were sorted.  Still, it put us behind.  It’s amazing how fast passports can fill up when you’re sailing around the world.

00001948The next scheduled stop was Cocos (Keeling), but as a last-minute change WARC announced a mini stop at Christmas Island, a small island en route to Cocos (Keeling).  It was just a pause to break up a long passage.  The cruising book didn’t have much good to say about Christmas:  few moorings, the trade winds could make the anchorage uncomfortable, not much to see other than an annual crab migration which wasn’t this time of year…

But then there was the song.

As soon as the WARC had announced the new stop the captain had started talking about the Leon Redbone song, Do you want to Spend Christmas on 

Christmas Island.   The grandfatherly man was surprised no one else was familiar with it.   Of course we knew it!  How could we not?   He didn’t have a copy on board so he made a half-hearted attempt  to sing it for us.  Still, no luck.  I’d never even heard of Christmas Island let alone a song about it.

And there it was:  we were a day behind, and few other boats weren’t even bothering to stop at the island.  But the question remained:  should we make the stop at Christmas Island or just continue directly to Cocos (Keeling)?

00000440After much debate Steve finally made the decision.   We were in the area; it was even on the way.  Why not see another place?  There were two islands called Christmas, was this the one in the song?  Some said yes, others said no.  But either way,  we’d stop by Christmas Island in honor of the song.

We set out early, but not early enough.   Coming in and leaving the harbor is

almost always the most nerve-wracking part of a passage, and this was no exception.  Leaving the marina was a nightmare.   Little motor bug-boats buzzed us, motorboats trailing parasailors came dangerously clothes-lining the mast.

Once we were clear of the traffic and genuinely underway the real fun began.

The new crew member man from the US had joined the crew in Bali.  He had sailed with the Captain before and was an excellent fisherman and had brought several hundred dollars of lures, reels, and fish-hunting equipment with him.  He wasn’t messing around.

We put two rods out and a few hours later the line whirred: we had a fish!

He didn’t bother with the spray bottle.  He grabbed a bottle of the cheapest alcohol we had and spewed it into the mouth of the unsuspecting mahi mahi.  With a sail-type ridge on the top of its profile, the silvery-rainbow fish struggled for another moment before going limp in the American’s hands.

I

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t was impressive, I had to admit.  Even if it was a mahi mahi.  Mahi mahi are prettier than they are tasty, the bland white flesh is fine for filler in flavorful stir fries, but I’d just as soon have seitan for my protein.  Still, it was the first fish that had been caught since I’d been aboard Southern Cross.  We had to do it up right.

Since we had just left port our fridge was well-stocked with fresh vegetables, so we made the most of our catch.  I made sushi rice and the new crew member rolled sushi with mango, avocado, and various other bites to celebrate our first catch on the first day out.

It was by no means our last.

Fair winds, clear skies, lots of fish, and smooth seas; the sail to Christmas Island was fantastic.  That first leg from Darwin to Bali may have been tedious, but Indian Ocean was looking better and better.

Posted by: adventuressetravels | April 2, 2013

Colossal Crabs of Christmas Island

00000449It was almost 2:00 am by the time we sailed into Flying Fish Cove, the safest anchorage in Christmas Island.  The captain hated anchoring in the dark, but we just couldn’t reach Christmas Island fast enough or slow down enough to reach it during daylight hours.

By the morning, almost all of the other boats were leaving.  Only a few boats remained in the anchorage: the German boat Juba and a large looked as if it were held together with duct tape and zip ties.  I didn’t have much time to examine it.  We had to dinghy to the pier to check-in.  The customs officer had made a special trip for the ARC and was only going to be there for another hour.

Near the pier we met Robyn and Hugh, an Australian couple from Perth who kept a second home on Christmas Island.  To be more accurate Perth was really their second home.  They stayed on Christmas Island as much of the year as they could.  The laid-back island had it all:  there was beautiful weather, always in the 70s or 80s, jungle, beach, razor-straight cliffs, and wonderful Chinese and Indian restaurants.  It even had its own golf course!

For an island with a population barely over 2,000, Christmas Island also boasts remarkable amenities.  This is at least partly due to Christmas Island’s main industry:  the Refugee and Immigration Detention Center.

Refugees

The name makes it sound much more intimidating than it actually is, in reality it is a place that helps naturalize all boat refugees who come to Australia before taking them to the mainland.  Thousands of refugees sail into Australia every year mainly from Sri Lanka or Afghanistan.

Neither our new friends, nor the customs officer who checked us into Christmas Island were pleased with Australia’s newest arrivals.  They explained that the refugees who arrived in Australia via boat were all granted asylum.

“I wouldn’t mind if they actually needed to seek asylum,” the customs officer told us, “but a lot of these people are middle class Sri Lankans who just want a better life here.”

Every day or two a new refugee boat arrives in Christmas Island and the detainment center springs into action.  When a refugee boat makes it to Australian waters the refugees were taken off of the boat, granted asylum, and their boat was taken out into the ocean and sunk.

The run-down boat I had seen that morning had been a boat that had arrived the day before and was scheduled to be sunk the next day.

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Though Christmas Island was a treasure trove of natural beauty with ideal weather, even Robin and Hugh’s friends wouldn’t come visit them on the island because the refugees gave the island such a bad reputation.  But there was a lot more to Christmas Island than the refugee detainment center and Hugh and Robyn eagerly took us on a tour.

Crabs

All that I knew about Christmas Island (which I’d only just learned) was about

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe Christmas Island Crab migration.  Every year at the start of rainy the island was a blanket of red as these crabs journey from their burrows to lay their eggs in the ocean.   During this time the already laid-back island slows to a crawl tiptoeing around the migration.  Roads close and indeed whole sections of the island are inaccessible.  After all, it’s a $5,000 fine for killing a crab on Christmas Island.

Not that you’d want to eat one anyway, the Christmas Island crabs were small and couldn’t have had more than a mouthful of meat in their entire body.  The robber crabs, on the other hand, now one of those might almost be worth the fine.

Robber crabs, also known as coconut crabs were Christmas Island’s other type of crab.  Hiking through the jungle Hugh and Robyn pointed out several of the

animals.  The football-sized examples were just babies, they explained.  They grew fast.  Robyn pulled out her phone to show a picture of one monstrosity raiding a garbage can.   The 3’ long crab crawling up the black garbage can looked photo-shopped.

Sanctuary

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Hugh pulled over to the side of the road to show us a young booby bird.  I took a picture, carefully edged a

little closer and took another.   I didn’t want to scare him.  Colossal Crabs of Christmas Island

“Just go right up to him,” Hugh told me.  “
They aren’t afraid.”  2/3 of Christmas Island was a national park so the animals were all-but tame.

We drove up to the top of a cliff where water sprayed through vents in the cliff with a resounding boom.  Mother boobies with their adolescent young sitting perched on the jagged brown rocks that littered the cliff top regarded us fearlessly.

00001956We searched all day and into the evening but did not see a single one of the 44 million Christmas Island crabs residing on the island.  I didn’t mind at all though.  Our tour of the island had been incredible.   I hope Robyn and Hugh’s friends change their mind and make it out for a visit.

Posted by: adventuressetravels | March 29, 2013

Carnivorous Deer and Murderous Monkeys

rice paddysAt every stop the World ARC  organized tours of the area, a snapshot of local culture and scenery.   Just a taste – enough to get the yachties out of the marina.  Still, even though it was just cursory glance at the countryside from a tour bus, and often the tour would often make strategic stops at tourist-priced shops, it was nice to see a little of the countries.

Bali: the exotic island paradise, I didn’t know a whole lot about it, but the whispers I’d heard all made it sound fascinating.  It was a spiritual place, gorgeous scenery; sure it was reputedly touristy, but hopefully not too terribly well-traveled.

The little bus rolled down the road past half-finished building, after building, like warts in the lush greenery of the breathtaking jungled-hills.  You really couldn’t tell that tourist dollars pouring into the country.  The entire place seemed to be a work-in progress.

Feathers on arched poles decorations penjor – long slender bamboo poles topped with woven coconut leaves bending their coconut fronds artistically on either side of the roadway.  The guide told us that these were Hindu religious offerings erected for the Nusa Dua  festival which had just finished.

Craft Villages

goldfish fountainOur first stops on the “tour” were as much marketing as tourism.  We visited Batubulan Stone carving village where we learned about the traditional Balinese stone carving,  Mas wood-carving village which carved intricate masks and dragons.  Finally we stopped off at Celuk jewelry-making village where we saw confections of silver and gold hammered into elaborate necklaces, earrings, or rings.

Though the stops were interesting, the craftsmen in the posh shops we visited were clearly putting on a show.  We did get to see how the wares were made, but the artisans knew they were selling to wealthy foreigners and priced their wares accordingly.

Obyek Wisata Gunung Kawi Sebatu Tegallalang Temple

steve and sarong statueOur next stop was a traditional temple.  Looking out the window, the verdant jungle vegetation suddenly parted to reveal  crumbling stone architecture an ancient stone temple.   Surrounded by lush vegetation, looking down on the temple was like stepping into an Indiana Jones movie.

The temple required that patrons cover their legs for decency.  In the sweltering tropical heat almost everyone on the ARC tour had shorts or short skirts.  In this egalitarian men and women alike were given sarong skirts to be decent in the holy place.  Even the statues wore sarong skirts.

We walked down stone steps to explore the temple grounds.  At each turn there was something new and startling.  Balinese  workers carried tubs of what appeared to be gravel balanced on their heads, men sat in the shade weaving  palm fronds, women created flower-shaped sweet offering to the gods.  In one cage stood 5 deer, each no larger than a golden retriever.  On closer inspection each animal had a dagger-sharp set of  canines protruding from its mouth.  Carnivorous deer?

fanged deerWell, the Chinese Water Deer, also known as the vampire deer is not actually carnivorous.  But I’m still not sure, I’ve seen the little fangs.   Despite the slightly unsettling cage of fanged deer to one side, the Hindu temple had an overwhelming sense of peace and harmony.  Coy swam languidly in fountains and ponds, as the yachties strolled the grounds examining intricately carved stone statues

Before I knew it our time at the temple was up.  I was not the only who grumbled that we could have stood for less time at the craft shops and more at the temple.

The World’s Most Expensive Coffee

LuwakOne of Bali’s most famous products is luwak coffee, and of course the tour took us to a luwak coffee farm.  The luwak, also known as the Asian palm civet  eats coffee fruit.  When the fruit has been digested, workers collect the little animals’ feces, thoroughly wash the beans, and make what is the most expensive coffee in the world.

I passed on trying a pricy cup of luwak coffee.  The animals looked miserable, huddled in little metal cages.  I don’t want to know how  luwak coffee was first discovered.  I can understand why it is so expensive:  you couldn’t pay me enough to be the guy who picks the digested beans out of the luwak poo.

Padangtegal Mandala Wisuta Wenara Wana Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary

“The monkey of this forest “Kera” or “Macaques” are free and wild animals, please refrain from touching or playing with them as they may react in an unpredictable manner.  Do not provide peanuts for the monkey as they are potential health risk…” read the sign at the entrance to the Monkey Sanctuary.

00000787_02The monkeys were wild.  The monkeys were disease-ridden.  Large warning signs at the entrance to the sanctuary stated in capital letters.  But did tourists listen?  Not a chance.  The monkeys seemed cute and friendly.  I watched aghast as veiled Balinese tourists and ARC members alike were holding monkeys.

The guide failed to mention that on the previous day’s tour one of the ARC skippers had been attacked and bitten twice before escaping the monkeys’ capricious wrath.  I, kept my distance from the animals,  which were too smart by half.  As much as I love animals being bitten by a monkey is not on my to-do list.

Though Bali is touristy and the locals have come to capitalize on this, tourism is a booming industry for good reason.  It is a stunning country rich in culture and tradition.  Thankfully tourism has not yet overwhelmed the island and  there is still wilderness in Bali.  Though far from untouched, the breathtaking mountains, active volcano of Mount Batur, ancient temples, and the yellow rice paddies are stunning and it remains a lovely place to visit.

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