16 June 2019 – Visit to the Kerala Kathakali Centre
We took a rare evening out to visit the Kerala (State of) Kathakali Centre on Fort Kochi Island. During a few hours, we saw two different cultural things at this Centre, first was a demonstration of the ancient martial arts of Kerala, Kalarippayatu. Kalaripayattu (sometimes thankfully shortened as Kalari) is an Indian martial art and fighting system that originated in Kerala and was practiced by warriors of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It is considered by some to be the oldest martial art still in existence, with its origin dating back to the 3rd century BC.
Where are the strings, one wonders?
This guy was spinning around with this very dangerous flexible blade sword.
These two guys were attacking one unarmed man – and they had knives!
Diane went down into their gym and got up close with them.
Our “main man” at the marina, our tuk-tuk driver and problem-solver —- Nazar —- is a Master of Kalari, having trained extensively in his younger days. This form of martial arts is not only ancient but its still quite popular.
The next thing we were introduced to was Kathakali, showcasing the ancient ritual plays of Hindu temples and various dance forms that are believed to have been gradually developed in Kerala from as early as the 2nd Century until the end of the 16th Century. Many of its characteristics are very much older than its literature, as they are a continuation of older traditions, but these did not crystallize until the 17th Century when the Rajah of Kottarakkara, a small principality in central Travancore, wrote plays based on the Hindu epic “Ramayana” in sanskritized Malayam (the local language), which could be understood by ordinary people. Before this, the stories were enacted in pure Sanskrit, which was known only to the well educated.
From that point onwards, Kathakali emerged as an individual style of dance-drama into a “people’s theatre”. The plays were performed by the Rajah’s own company of actors, not only in temples and courts, but from village to village and house to house – and became very popular. The feudal chieftains of Malabar (as the area was then called) began to vie with one another in their efforts to produce the best Kathakali troupes and this competition contributed to the rapid development of the art in a very short period. After watching it, my own assessment is that it seems to be a combination of theatre, ballet, opera (but there are very few words spoken) and maybe a bit of pantomime.
Before the performance started, we observed the two principal actors applying their makeup. It looked like a tedious process, particularly when you have to put on your own makeup.
We went to this theatre with Varghese, who was obviously hyped up to see the performance. It was very dark in the theatre and the use of flash photography was discouraged. Varghese joked that he had to smile showcasing his bright white teeth so that we could see him!
This is a good photo that shows what Kathakali looks like “in action”. There are two principal actors in this performance, with a drummer and a “singer” or “story-teller” in the background. None of this is in English, by the way.
You can get an idea of what’s happening in the story by watching the facial expressions of the actors. They don’t do much talking anyway.
On the ride home, I was hungry for some street food, particularly fried banana – which I’ve learned is usually available in a bakery. I soon realized that like Tandoori chicken (which is only available in the evening), fried banana is only available in the afternoon and not the evening. In the end we had to settle for some vegetable samosas and chocolate treats, which I usually enjoy.
This photo is something completely off topic, but I’ve been meaning to talk about it. Lots of women ride side-saddle on scooters and motorbikes, not as the driver – but as the passenger. Sometimes there is only one female passenger, sometimes the whole family. My point is, that there are lots of side-saddle passenger riders and I find it unusual. There are also lots of women driving scooters and motorbikes.
There was a story in the newspaper a few weeks ago about a woman who had a bad accident because her sarong became entwined with the rear wheel, something to be careful of.
The total length of the Indian coast line is approximately 7500 km, and with many inland rivers and lakes as well. You might think there are plenty of opportunities for recreational water sports, but this is not true, at least not from what we’ve seen. The use of the water ways seems to be mostly dominated by the tourist industry and not by the locals (except for fishing and industry of course). In fact, India does not have many marinas or all weather anchorages either. The International Marina in Kochi (where we are staying) is the Headquarters of the Kerala Watersport & Sailing Organization (KWSO). This Organization was founded 10 years ago and teaches locals how to handle a small powerboat or sailboat. Since inception, over 200 people have received a certificate to operate a powerboat and another 300 to operate a sailboat. A few days ago, another powerboat course was successfully completed and the participants (all local) received their certificates. Many officials came to the ceremony and promised their future support for the organization. We were very fortunate in that all cruisers in the marina were invited to attend, witness the ceremony and meet many of the students and staff. (Photos and some of the text – courtesy of Peter on SV Kokomo). We talked with one young man who was excited because he’s going to Halifax Nova Scotia in a few months to enrol in College level merchant marine courses. Amongst the dignitaries was a retired Chief Court Justice (who took the course this year) and a retired Navy Commando turned movie producer.
Since installing our second portable A/C unit in the boat, we’ve noticed that they are both sucking a lot of air. If the hatches are all closed, this air has to come from somewhere. One such entrance is the air intake to the engine room. In order to prevent the unauthorized entry of mosquitoes, we covered this intake with fine curtain sheer material (a mosquito net of sorts). This is what it looks like after a couple of weeks. I suppose this is an indicator of the air quality, although you wouldn’t know it, from day to day.
Another Ramadan has come to a close. Nazar paid us a visit at the marina and he was all spiffed up and was even sporting a fancy ring on one of this fingers!
When we were out and about one day, I saw 5 Muslim boys waking together on their way to school. For fun, I called out MOHAMMED – and naturally all 5 of them turned around. Maybe they were all named Mohammed?
Today we walked and took the ferry over to the “mainland”. Its an alternative to taking an Uber or tuk-tuk. This is what the ferry dock, and ferry looks like.
Sadly, there is nothing unusual about the amount of garbage or debris, this is India. The ferry was on time, and dirt cheap, 10 rupees (about 20 CDN cents per person, each way). I even got to drive the ferry.
Along the way, we always talk with many people on the street. They are curious to know where we come from, why we’re in India, when we will leave. Many of them want to take selfies with us. This is a Hindu family, or least part of one.
It started to pour down rain, after all, this is the rainy season. The forecast for the next week, or next 30 days – is rain, cloud, wind – repeat. The daytime temperature has dropped from 36C to only 28C. I feel like putting on a sweater.
This is obviously a very new bus, it has windows or at least shutters!
This was our destination, the Airtel shop – our mobile phone network service provider. Our phone plans were expiring today.
We recharged our phones with exactly the same plan as when we arrived. We each have our own unblocked iPhone 6 and we use Airtel SIM cards on pay-as-you go plans. Each phone network service cost 484 rupees for 84 days service, including daily 1.5GB data, unlimited national calls (in India) and 100 SMS per day. That works out to about $ 3.23 CDN per month, per phone. Its hard to beat these kind of prices! In Canada, it would be 20X as much.
While standing outside, waiting for the shop to open at 10am, I noticed some sparks from the wires above our heads. Then I looked up. All throughout SE Asia, I have noticed the rapid proliferation and untidy, confusion of telecommunication wires. However, this was the first time I’d noticed this similar treatment with electrical utility wires. The transmission lines are actually wrapped (yes, just wire wrapped) with cables feeding down to street-level consumers. Do these lines then feed into meters? I doubt it.
Does this impact on the reliability of the electrical grid? You bet. In the marina, the power goes out (Monday to Friday) 5 or 6 times per day. Thankfully, the resort has a huge generator which comes on a few seconds later. On weekends the power is much more reliable.
I didn’t take this photo, but it is very representative of traffic here in India. I don’t think either of us will be driving in this country.
Nearly every day, we see something different from our own culture. One afternoon, we noticed small fishing boats moving with the current flowing past the marina. We watched a group of fishermen in round boats (yes, round and built of bamboo, not plastic) pulling in a net.
There are several women working in these boats, and at least one of the women has an infant next to her chest as she works.
The marina staff told us that these people are gypsies, living a nomadic lifestyle. They make camp everyday on a shoreline, and then break camp and move somewhere else. Their boats are called a Parisal (english name is Coracle), a traditional round boat found in South India. Apparently, these little round boats are an effective fishing vessel because they hardly disturb the water or the fish, and they can be easily maneuvered with one arm, while the other arm tends to the net. The paddle is used towards the front of the coracle, pulling the boat forward, with the paddler facing in the direction of travel. (Photos courtesy of Peter on SV Kokomo)
About 2.5 hours drive North of Kochi lies the city of Thrissur, still in the state of Kerala. We went there for a day trip to visit the zoo. Started in the year 1885, the Thrissur Zoo and Museum covers an area of approximately 13.5 acres. The zoo houses a wide variety of animals, reptiles, and birds. I’m not a fan of zoos, I have to say, because its concerning to see caged animals, particularly animals that we have often seen in the wild. I suppose the most interesting to me was the opportunity to see a Bengal Tiger, yes it was confined to a cage, but at least the zoo visitors were safe.
Here you can see that they take security seriously.
This is a large water buffalo of some kind. It had an unusual name.
This resting but very alert jaguar is a beautiful animal.
A purpose built building houses the reptilian collection of King Cobras, Cobras, Python, Kraits, Vipers and Rat Snakes. This is an Indian Rock Python.
The Art Museum located in the zoo has a good collection of wood-carvings, metal sculptures, Kathakali figures, ancient jewellery etc. It also has some historical items like swords, jewellery, rocks, stuffed butterflies, etc.
I’ve been to the doctor for my 6 week post surgery knee checkup. He pronounced me “healed” and fit to do “as much as I can”. I’ve got good flexibility and I’m still working on building strength and endurance.
This is a custom “barnacle scraper” that I had a local welder make up for me using SS 316. For 10 years I’ve been scraping the hull and cleaning things off using production made drywall and putty scrapers, but they always rust and break after a few months of use. Lets see how this one makes out. It is definitely “heavy duty” compared to what I can buy in a store.
Our friend and driver Varghese has told us that many Indian expatriates go to the Gulf countries (Kuwait, UAE, Oman, Saudi Arabia etc) for a decade or more of work. If they work hard and save, many of them invest in affluent properties on their return – an 8 bedroom house with only 4 people living in it. We’ve seen many. Maybe this is one example?
Our boat is docked at the outer edge of the Kochi International Marina docks. Since our boat is pretty heavy, we don’t suffer much from the wake of passing boats, and we have never complained about the wake. However, we have complained a lot about the nuisance of passing tourist boats. Many have passed within only a metre or two of our docked boat, while travelling at 3-5 knots of speed. This is reckless and unsafe. The boats are jam packed with tourists and loud music is playing. If we happen to be on deck, they yell and holler at us and are desperate to take a few photos of “white people on a yacht”. These actions, we have viewed to be dangerous and rude – and we have been very vocal about it. When on the back deck, Diane has used the water hose to spray the boat Captain and even the guests – but they keep coming back for more! The latest action on our part has been to pay for and install three large signs warning boats to stay at least 20m away and not to take photos – in both English and the local language of Malayalam. The next step will be to bring in the news media.
We finally had a real tourist outing. In one of our many trips to the dentist, the doctor or the mall – we came across Varghese, who drives for Uber. Varghese spent nearly 20 years working for the Catholic Church in Dubai. As a result of that experience, Varghese speaks very good English, at least English that we can understand. He also takes people out on private tours, and turns off his Uber-meter. Together with Peter and Donna on SV KOKOMO, we took a day trip to the Athirappilly and Vazhachal Water Falls, managed by the Kerala Forest and Wildlife Department – and finished at the Hill Palace just on the outskirts of Kochi. The total driving distance was just under 200 km, but it took us out of the city and into the back areas, where there was lots of unspoilt jungle with monkeys and other wild animals.
At the Athirappilly Water Falls, the ground was uneven and challenging for me to walk on, but I trudged along, determined to get some mileage in and see some of the Indian wilderness.
I promised Varghese that I would immortalize his image on my blog, so here he is together with Peter.
Much to my surprise, up there in the hills I found this police station just for tourists.
Our next visit was to the Hill Palace at Tripunithura (just outside of Kochi). It was the imperial administrative office and official residence of the Cochin Maharaja. Built in 1865, the palace complex consists of 49 buildings in the traditional architectural style, spreading across 54 acres – although I have to admit, I only covered a fraction of this territory.
The complex has an archaeological museum, a heritage museum, a deer park, a pre-historic park and even a children’s park – although I didn’t see it, and nobody could take photos of it anyway because they confiscate your camera and cell phone at the entrance.
Presently, the palace has been converted into a museum by The Kerala State Archaeology Department and is open to the public for a small admission fee. My impression of the Hill Palace is that it a little worn and tired looking, basically in need of a paint job – although this photo certainly makes it appear to be in very fine condition.
While in the grocery store yesterday, I came across this display of cricket bats, pretty much dominating the sports section. There was no baseball or ice hockey gear in sight.
It has been nearly 7 weeks since we arrived in India, how time flies! This is a typical sunrise at the marina. The water is quiet and there are only a few boats on the docks.
At the 3 week point, as planned, I embarked on my Total Knee Replacement surgery, addressing an injury that came up about 1.5 years ago. Although I was able to walk, sometimes for 10km or more in a day, over the past year I was often in great pain and the bone-on-bone grating was just getting worse. Rather than fly back to Canada for the surgery, I decided to have it done here in India, at a fraction of the cost. The planned recovery would be done entirely in our home, our boat. The surgery was done by Dr Bibu George at Aster MedCity Hospital (a large, private care facility right here in Kochi). This is the Johnson and Johnson artificial joint that was selected for the job.
As I write this blog, I am now 26 days post surgery. Three days after the surgery, I walked out of the hospital with a cane, not a walker, and not crutches – a cane. We stayed in the Marina House hotel (part of the Bolghatty Resort Complex) for the first 4 nights and then moved back onto the boat. I have been walking unaided since day 7, when we moved back onto the boat and I ditched the cane. The staples and bandage were removed on day 15, and I was permitted to resume my daily swimming pool “activity” from day 18. The pool has made a noticeable difference in my recovery, but of course – so has my daily self-paced physiotherapy. On discharge from the hospital, I was given an exercise sheet to follow, and I do the necessary exercises nearly every two hours through the day. At first, when walking, it felt like I was walking on a prosthetic leg, and I realize now that this was because my thigh quadriceps had been cut/altered with the surgery and I had to relearn how to walk and build those muscles up again. Every day its getting better, but I’m still not walking more than about 1.5 km. I’m sure this will gradually increase over time – as will my flexibility.
We are still going to the market, at least once every week. Last week we bought a fresh chicken from this man. When I say fresh, I mean the bag was still warm when I picked it up (and not from cooking).
I also bought fresh mutton from this man. He told me that he only operates his shop in the mornings. Its actually his father’s shop, but his father is off wandering about India right now. He tends to save up money for 6 months and then leaves to go travelling for 6 months – and then returns to repeat the pattern.
We had to buy some rice a few weeks ago, and although this is a fuzzy photo, it does illustrate the variety and volume of rice available at this one shop.
I took this photo of Nazar one day, he was a bit sad because his Tuk-Tuk had to go in for extensive and expensive repairs. His Tuk-Tuk is his way of making a living, and he needs it back on the road.
Here, Nazar’s Tuk-Tuk is in the shopping getting the full treatment.
His little grand daughter helps to cheer him up.
On another day, after his repairs were made, Nazar took us to the “Indian Cafe” near the court house for lunch. The food was Indian, of course, and of good quality and low price (they are all cheap, unless you eat where the tourists go).
This food server was even dressed in a uniform to suit the establishment.
We’ve had a bit of bother with the local tour boat operators and some of the fishermen. These tour boat operators are coming closer and closer to our boat. They are loaded up with tourists (sometimes on two decks) and pass by often only a meter or two from our hull. I’m afraid that one day, one careless Captain is going to scratch/dent the side of our hull – and then there will be hell to pay! We’ve written to the Port Captain, the Marina Manager, the Resort Manager, everyone but the English language newspaper (not yet) and there are signs of improvement, but in our opinion – it is still a risky business. Not only are these boats passing unnecessarily too close to us, but it is a gross violation of our privacy. These people are leering and taking photos and they are so close I could reach out and slap them! Diane has taken to sitting on the back deck, with the water hose in hand – ready to give a soaking to any boats the pass too close — and she has soaked several, with cameras and mobile phones in hand! This is a photo I took of some jack-ass fishermen, two minutes after they accidentally bumped into our hull, twice, at 8 o’clock in the morning. What the hell? The river is flat calm, 300m wide, with not another boat in sight. Why in hell are they bumping into our boat? I sure gave them a piece of my mind.
Next week, we’ve arranged for our very first day tour, a bonafide tourist trip that will take us out of Kochi, away from the boat, away from the market and the mall – if only for a day. I’m looking forward to it!
We made landfall in India on 17 March, arriving at about 7pm, just at dusk. Immigration works 24/7, so while we were still anchoring, they were “hovering” with a borrowed boat, ready to pass us a clipboard to fill out. After anchoring, they came aboard and did the initial Immigration processing. We completed this step the next day when we went ashore and had our first tuk-tuk ride with Nazar.
Unfortunately, Customs doesn’t work on Sundays, so we had to wait until Monday afternoon for them to come aboard, and then Port Control gave us permission to move from the Customs/Quarantine anchorage on to the Kochi International Marina at Bolgatty Island about 4nm away. We had to do this at “high” tide (only a maximum of 3 feet in this area). At the marina, we got on the end of a T-dock and secured the boat, although we do seem to sometimes lay on the bottom for a couple of hours every day when the tide is low.
Gabriele and Mariona hung on with us for a week after arriving in India, first to help with the cleaning and tidying up – but next to do some real maintenance. I gave them a contract to take apart and grease all the winches! It put money in their pocket and relieved me of one of my boat maintenance jobs, a job well done.
On one Sunday afternoon, a local driver/guide (Nazar) invited us (and 3 other cruisers) to his home for lunch. It was an interesting excursion, first taking an Uber, then a ferry and then finally a tuk-tuk to his home. Nazar and his family don’t have much in the way of material assets, but they are certainly blessed with family and friends. Nazar has been very helpful driving us around and demonstrating his local knowledge. It was a special time to be welcomed into their home together with their children and grandchildren.
We bid farewell to our crew on 26 March. We hope they will come back to join us for the next leg, the passage through the Red Sea all the way to the Med and Cyprus.
We have been busy getting things organized on the boat. The first challenge was getting the A/C working well enough. The external temperature fluctuates between a high of 36C in the daytime to a low of 27C at night. Also, the humidity fluctuates between 85% and 65%. Its the humidity that causes us to sweat so much, and makes sleeping uncomfortable. We setup our portable A/C unit in the aft cabin, as usual, and bought a second portable unit for the main cabin. With both A/C units running and our water heater or battery charger operating (both are just temporary loads put on for an hour or so in the morning), we are at the maximum of 16A @ 240V. So far, it is working OK, although the shore power often shuts off during the day for a few minutes at a time. It does produce a lot of water, probably 60 litres per day that has to be frequently emptied. We just haven’t yet figured out how we can actually leave the boat overnight with these A/C units on.
Oh, and our aft cabin unit had to have the compressor replaced due to overheating. It cost about $160 CDN to have the compressor replaced and re-gassed, and it seems to be working fine now.
We’ve been getting fresh fruit and vegetables at a local market, and sometimes go to the big glitzy shopping market, the LuLu Mall. We buy the packaged goods at the LuLu Mall, but definitely buy the local fruit and vegetables at the market. This is a sampling of what the local market looks like. The fresh produce is amazing and cheap.
The grapes, red and green – are especially good.
These local guys wanted to practice their English and they asked if they could take a photo of me with them – so I countered by taking their photo!
Ah, I’m 62 years old now, and I’ve finally seen first-hand the Indian “bobble-head”. Within the first day, I was talking with a local and his head was shaking back and forth, it looked like NO, NO WAY – but it was the “Indian Bobble-Head” in action. What he was really indicating was yes, he was considering what I was saying and agreed. Without a doubt however, the head wobble is the one universal gesture that unites all Indians. Cultural and language barriers miraculously dissolve with a wobble!
The traffic on the streets in Cochin / Kochi is something to behold. There are bikes, scooters, motorbikes, tuk-tuks (passenger and cargo), trucks, buses, cars etc. I’m amazed to see Mercedes and BMW with no scratches! People are honking their horns constantly and looking for any edge to get ahead.
These little kids don’t look too stressed about it. I think they keep off the streets.
This is a view (from shore side) as you enter the marina property.
This is a view as you walk through the building and see the docks and our boat at the end.
This is one of the thousands of “Chinese” fishing nets in the interior “back” waters. Apparently they lower them in the evening and then harvest fish and shrimp at night. It works.
Since arrival, I’ve been seeing thousands of Royal Enfield bikes on the streets and several dealers. Some look brand new, although in the same styling from 40 years ago. As it turns out, Royal Enfield is an Indian motorcycle manufacturing brand with the tag of “the oldest global motorcycle brand in continuous production” – manufactured in factories in Chennai in India. Licensed from Royal Enfield by the indigenous Indian Madras Motors, it is now a subsidiary of Eicher Motors Limited, an Indian automaker. The company makes the Royal Enfield Bullet, and many other single-cylinder motorcycles. First produced in 1901, Royal Enfield is the oldest motorcycle brand in the world still in production, yes, even before Harley Davidson, with the Bullet model enjoying the longest motorcycle production run of all time. This is just one of many in use.
Our expectation of India was that we thought it would be hot, crowded, noisy, dirty and smelly. Well, it is all that – and more, and in a good way. We look forward to exploring this country further in the months to come.
We arrived safely in India after a 9.5 day, 1280nm passage. Before setting out from Sabang, Sumatra Indonesia, we topped up with 270 litres of Indonesian diesel (very dark, although surprisingly clean) and hoisted our Code Zero light air sail on a flexible furler. This is what it looked like on a beam reach.
This is what it looked like on a downwind run, with the boom on the opposite side.
We bought this sail and furler 3 years ago (from Far East Sails in Hong Kong – while we were in Fiji), but never really had an opportunity to try it. In summary, I can say that we do like this sail, very much. Its easy to deploy and mostly easy to put away. But, you have to be careful not to leave it up in high winds (greater than 16 knots), or it can be a bugger to furl properly.
Our crew Gabriele and Mariona did a sterling job. As time passed, they assumed more and more responsibility and learned more about our boat and its systems. They did all their shifts, and called if there were any problems. We are really hoping that they will come back to join us for the next leg in January 2020, from Kochi to Cyprus through the Red Sea.
Its not always a hard time, is it?
Gabriele was very eager to fish, from Day 1. After 10 years of cruising, I hate to admit it but I have become lazy when it comes to fishing. You won’t catch fish if you don’t put out a line! I showed Gabriel our fishing gear and he took over. Over the 9 day passage, he caught two tuna and one Mahi-Mahi (dolphin fish) – usually at about 5pm. Here’s a good practical photo of me reaching down (its a long way) to try and snag a tuna with our gaff. It can be a little challenging when the boat is rocking back and forth.
The tuna were relatively easy to bring in, but they still took work. Here are shots of tuna numbers 1 and 2. There was lots of blood with the second tuna.
This Mahi-Mahi was a real fighter. Gabriele played with him on the line for 15 minutes to try and tire him out. We even let the sails out a bit to try and slow down. It took both of us to haul him in. He changed colour from green to silver in about two minutes once on deck.
Gabriele caught all the fish – and Gabriele and Mariona cleaned all the fish. A couple of hours later, they were busy in the galley and made incredibly fresh sushi and ceviche (a seafood dish typically made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with chilli or other seasonings). Wow, that was good — its goes without saying that we all ate the fish.
As we were sailing very close to the shoreline of Sri Lanka (about 10nm), we could barely make out the island features (low profile and haze) but there were plenty of fishermen, and many came out to great us and ask for water, smokes, beer, wine etc.
This is something new to me. I took a photograph of our OpenCPN Chartplotter AIS target. Its a commercial ship called SELINA and the destination says “ARMED GUARDS ONBOARD”. I know that many ships in these waters have armed guards, but putting this in the AIS information box is new to me.
This is a new source of frustration for me. I bought a new Garmin GPS chartplotter when in Indonesia 1.5 years ago, and its under “2 year warranty”. The GPS date shows July 1999. That’s bizarre and no doubt will be a pain in the ass to get sorted out.
As we were approaching the 500 foot shelf of Indian waters, we came across about 60 fishing boats in open water at least 20nm from shore. Each boat had about 30 men onboard and they were all hand-line fishing. The boats were not at anchor but using their motors to stay in a fixed position. It was much more crowded than the photo shows, and challenging to safely pass between them.
We sailed for nearly all of this passage, 80% of the time under full sail, on every point of sail from dead down wind to this close reach.
Now, we’ve been dockside in Kochi India for a week – and we’re still eating frozen fish cooked on the BBQ and in the rice cooker. We’re busy with boat jobs, and installed a second air conditioning unit in the main cabin to help keep the heat and humidity down. Its working. With the next blog, I’ll talk about India.
We have safely made landfall in Cochin India – so I can now post about our experience in Sabang. We sailed from Niharn Bay Phuket Thailand to Sabang Indonesia (220nm) primarily to break the trip up to Cochin India (reducing it to 1280nm). What I didn’t count on was the weakening winds and a sinking feeling that we were getting trapped in Sabang. So, after 11 days in Sabang, we finally took the risk and sailed out in low winds.
Our trip from Thailand to Sabang was calm but a total motor-sail as we were rushing to get in before nightfall. It was about 205nm and that can be tough to do in 36 hours, particularly with contrary currents. What we were pleased to see were dolphins, we haven’t seen dolphins in several years! We came across several pods.
Although our sails were up, there wasn’t much wind. This was the first time we’d used our mainsail since we had it made for us by Au Wei in Pangkor Malaysia last year.
On arrival, we tied up to one of the many heavy duty moorings that have been conveniently placed for us in deep water by the Indonesian government. Normally we’re suspicious of moorings, but the winds were light so we took the chance. The ball looks steel but its encased in plastic so it didn’t scratch the hull. Although at night when the wind was light, it did knock against the hull. Clearances were straightforward but lengthy. Thirty minutes after arrival, I was ferrying out 13 Government officials, 4 or 5 at a time, from Quarantine / Immigration / Customs / Harbour Master. It was worse than Cuba! All paperwork was completed on the boat and then the next morning again on paper and on the computer. Indonesia is a very bureaucratic place.
Getting diesel was problematic and slightly dramatic. The Captain of the local Coast Guard boat (Andy) told us that selling subsidized diesel to foreigners was illegal. However, he could help us out by tying his boat (about the same size as ours) to ours and pumping directly from his tanks to ours – at a cost of about $1 USD per litre. Excuse me? Doesn’t that sound like corruption? In the end, I dismissed his offer because I thought it was difficult to know how much diesel was moved, impossible to filter due to the high pump speed, might scratch our boat – and was supporting corruption. I found somebody with a tuk-tuk (motorbike with a sidecar) and jerry cans and moved 270 litres, filtering it – at a lower cost, and without involving any corruption. The local rate was about 60 cents per litre, and I paid about $1 CDN per litre. It wasn’t about cost though, it was about not supporting corruption. I didn’t want to make this post until we were in another country in case it was discussed.
We also took an island tour one day, and saw the inland lake and water reservoir. The island, on the whole, is quite clean compared to most of Indonesia. However, when it rained, there was still a fair bit of garbage that washed off the streets into the water (where we’re moored). Nonetheless, we were able to swim and wash in the refreshing salt water every afternoon.
We also visited the local volcano, which although not actually ERUPTING, it is pretty hot and smells strongly of sulphur. As we walked over the surface, there were many vent holes discharging the hot foul gas.
Much to my surprise, there was a government funded project underway to install a geothermal electrical plant, just a short distance away. I would have loved to have had a tour here, but connections are required. I hope they are successful.
There weren’t any monkeys near the volcano, but elsewhere, plenty.
Here is an example of wasted government money. Somebody had the bright idea to built a marina, way out in the boonies about 6 years ago. Nobody ever stayed here. The electrical and water were never connected. The road in is unfinished. The building are being taken back by the jungle, and the locals are stealing whatever they can of value (like the dock cleats). Somebody made a pile of money, in their back pocket, when this was built. IF we brought our boat here, its too shallow, too remote and too close to the mangrove swamps to be of any interest. Its a flop.
We had many nice lookouts as we spent the day driving around the island. Here are Gabriele and Mariona with Diane at one scenic view.
One night we went out for dinner at Casa Nemo, a resort built by a Swiss man and his local Indonesian wife. It was a beautiful setting and we had pleasant conversation with Peter and his wife Donna on SV Kokomo.
We will think back fondly of this place in years to come. One think we’ll remember is the 0515 prayer chant (which sometimes can go on for more than an hour) and the four competing mosques in the downtown area! The cacophony of “Allah Akbar” was sometimes relentless and always annoyingly LOUD. I am one of the most accepting people on the planet when it comes to freedom of worship and religion, and have lived for many years in Muslim countries. BUT, this place was truly “over the top”. I’ll also remember the shoreside ladder where you had to climb down to get to the dock (at the city centre where you have to access Quarantine, Immigration, Customs and the Harbour Master). The top two rungs of this ladder were apparently missing for two years, nobody gave a shit about fixing it. I paid two local guys to go out and get me two ladder rungs from the wood mill – and I screwed them on with Canadian Robertson screws, and wrote the word CANADA on each rung. Maybe future cruisers will see this and think about how they too can make a difference…..
18 February 2019 – Yacht Haven Marina, Phuket, Thailand
Big news – our generator is fixed, or so we think ……
First, let me talk about the Volvo. While dockside, making repairs to the generator and waiting for parts to arrive, I decided to talk to the local Volvo mechanic about oil pressure and the life of our Volvo. Well, the engine is now 20 years old but has about 2650 hours on it. It could last to 6,000 or more hours, but age is a factor. Parts are also getting difficult to source as this engine is obsolete. What is good about it though is that it has none of the fancy bells and whistles (or sensitive crap that can shut it down) that the modern engines have. I like this engine, but over the years, the oil pressure has been slowly weakening. The mechanic suggested that rather than an expensive refit, which is not needed for any other reason – its time to start using STP or Slick 50, or one of the many oil additives that are designed for older engines. So, this is what we’ve decided to start doing, use an oil additive when changing oil.
While looking over our engine, he noticed that the heat exchanger had leaked a little salt water and proposed to remove it and make repairs. While doing that, he then noticed that the oil cooler was leaking oil, and that had to be repaired as well. So, over the past few weeks, we’ve had both of these things looked at, and we’re happy to have done it here in Phuket. This is the reconditioned heat exchanger, it looks like new.
Our ONAN 6KW generator has been repaired, and we’re undergoing testing to verify its reliability. We had the slip rings and end bearing changed, as well as the Voltage Regulator – both parts came from North America. Damien at Electrical Marine (Northern Lights dealer) did the work and had his technicians remove the stator and rotor. Both components were bench tested and found to be in good condition. Despite installation of these new parts, the generator was still reluctant to produce sufficient AC voltage a few days ago. I have been “flashing” it for about a year, as I’ve read that these generators tend to lose their residual magnetism over time, although that’s not true of all generators. Flashing it involves injecting 12V into the F1/F2 field coil at startup, just for a few seconds. Over the past two years, I’ve probably done this fives times. However, when the generator quit two months ago, flashing it didn’t help, it was DOA – probably because the Voltage Regulator was burned out. Damien discovered that there is a circuit path described with a dashed line in one of the ONAN detailed diagrams – that wasn’t actually fitted. This circuit, if fitted, would provide a “flash” of 12V directly to the field coil from the starter relay – every time the generator is started. Damien discovered that this circuit is sometimes described in both ONAN and Northern Lights literature – perhaps to provide the necessary boost when the machine gets older. He fitted the two wires and single diode – and presto, it WORKS. When starting, I have to make sure that I hold the switch down just a second or two longer after the diesel has started, in order to have enough boost to start the AC portion of the machine. Wow, this is progress! We are now dockside for a few more days to verify this is working properly and to check on reliability. A lot of people will probably have their eyes glazing over by now, but this description is mostly for Jimmie Thom and a few other techies out there who love this stuff.
We are now seriously planning for our departure, both from dock and from Thailand (clear out at Ao Chalong). We’ll soon take on two crewmembers, Gabriele De Rota (Italian, age 27) and Mariona Gil De Biedma-Galofre (Spanish, age 29). Here is Mariona on the left and Garbirele on the right.
They are currently on another boat and have been looking for passage “out of SE Asia”. Our plan is to sail to Sabang Indonesia (North Sumatra) (about 220nm), stay for “about a week” and then head on to Cochin India (about 1280nm). Both voyages are weather dependent, and we’re starting to look at the weather now. We think we have about 6 weeks left in the NE monsoon. The winds might be light but at least it is very unlikely there will be storms.
We had two of Diane’s cousins (and their wives) come to Thailand to visit us. This was the first visit to Thailand for Ron/Brenda Toonders and Larry/Sharon Toonders. Since our boat had the generator tore up (again) and the engine was out of commission (heat exchanger and oil cooler out for repair) – we had long ago decided to meet them in Bangkok for four days and then in Chiang Mai for 3 days. With four people visiting, we couldn’t really accommodate them on our boat anyway, its just too many people.
I was in Thailand on a 4 week holiday way back in December 1990, 28 years ago – so I had seen many of the touristic things in this country before it became overrun with tourists, particularly Russians and Chinese. Nonetheless, we didn’t want to restrict our view of Thailand to just Phuket, so we committed ourselves to this holiday within a holiday. Diane booked the group AirBnB’s for both Bangkok and Chiang Mai, and I booked our flights. They were noticeably cheap – and we had a great time.
On the first day, we spent quite a bit of time at the Grand Palace, together with nearly every other tourist in Thailand. The Toonders were real troopers, despite the 12 hour jet lag.
Sunday is clearly not a good day to visit the Grand Palace – which is free for locals. Temple pants are “in order” every day as both the men and the women need to cover their knees and shoulders. If you’re not wearing them “on entry” then you can buy them at the entrance – although it is much cheaper if you thought of this beforehand.
The number of tourists at the Grand Palace was just staggering, or maybe strangling would be a better description. Our trip to get there involved a tuk-tuk, then a river bus, and then a bit of walking.
The Grand Palace itself is a complex of buildings in the heart of Bangkok and has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782. It is made up of numerous buildings, halls, pavilions set around open lawns, gardens and courtyards. Its asymmetry and eclectic styles are due to its organic development, with additions and rebuilding being made by successive reigning kings.
The Grand Palace is currently partially open to the public as a museum, but it remains a working palace, with several royal offices still situated inside. There are no government offices on site as the monarchy has no official role in the government.
After seeing the Grand Palace, we went to see the “solid gold” Buddha, another popular attraction but apparently with far less tourists. This Gold Buddha is a Maravijaya Attitude seated Buddharupa statue, with a weight of 5.5 tonnes (5,500 kilograms) of solid gold. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok. At one point in its history the statue was covered with a layer of stucco and coloured glass to conceal its true value, and it remained in this condition for almost 200 years, ending up at what was then a pagoda of minor significance. During relocation of the statue in 1955, the plaster was chipped off and the gold revealed. At US$1,400 per troy ounce, the gold in the statue (18 karat) is estimated to be worth 250 million dollars.
We also saw an incredibly large reclining Buddha on the same site.
On Day 2, we went to see the Mahanakhon Skywalk, which was actually only a few hundred metres walk from our AirBnB. The building was very futuristic, and apparently very stable.
I thought the price was quite high, but since they offered me a substantial seniors discount, I couldn’t turn it down. In fact, the whole visit was quite memorable and worthwhile – and offered incredible vistas of the sprawling city of Bangkok. Since it was 78 floor up, and 314 metre high – there weren’t very many tourists. The toughest part was the exit at the bottom. We had to work our way through about 30 minutes worth of gift shops!
Yes, we are standing on some sort of transparent polycarbonate glass. We had to remove loose items from our pockets and wear slippers to prevent the glass from being scratched.
Late in the afternoon, we stopped in to visit a massage parlour only a hundred metres from our AirBnB. All the windows were blacked out and there was a large empty car parking lot in front. We thought we’d give it a try for some leg and back massages. As we walked in, the women behind the counter started waving their arms frantically and saying “sexy massage – no women allowed”. Ah, so now I get it, this was one of those places where Bangkok has earned its reputation as a steaming sex pot! No problem, we walked out and walked right into another place just across the street where we all had our therapeutic (but not sexy) massages.
On Day 3, we took a walk through a local park and then went looking for another temple, this one called Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn – on the banks of the Chao Phraya River that snakes its way through the centre of Bangkok. The Temple of Dawn is amongst the best known tourist attractions in Bangkok and has existed since the seventeenth century.
I figured it should more likely have been called the Temple of the Nearly Dead because my feet and knees were killing me after following Larry on this never ending route march of a thousand turns zig-zagging across the city of Bangkok!
The architecture and design was just breathtaking. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Only one comes to mind when I look up these stairs …..
I found this “split” statue pretty interesting, a mixture of the old and new culture.
In areas where there has been substantial growth, the aerial communications wires in Thailand are a sight to behold, Somebody has a legend for all those wires? Alternatively, the power lines seem much more straightforward, but these communication lines are really jumbled. This is a pretty normal sight.
From the car park there are two ways to reach the temple. The first is a 309 step pretty vertical climb up the mountain. The stairs are flanked by huge Naga creatures. The Naga is an underwater creature from Buddhist mythology in the form of a large snake.
If you don’t feel like climbing, there is also a cable car to take you up in comfort. For the record, we took the cable car UP and the stairs DOWN.
Here’s something we learned by hiring a real guide. Certain events in the Life of the Buddha are thought to have occurred on certain days. The Buddha images representing these events, are thus also associated with the days on which they occurred. Consequently, people who were born on a certain day of the week may be most interested in the Buddha Image corresponding to that day (like when commissioning a Buddha image). These statues had collection plates in front of them, so that you can make your donation to the appropriate statue.
We also went to see the 8 Meter High straw sculptures of King Kong “and others” at Huay Tung Tao Lake. The construction of these sculptures has used straw left over from rice harvesting, with steel serving as the internal structure. The King Kong family is complete with father, mother, and child sculptures. The latest sculpture, which is the biggest of the three, has steps and a platform where visitors can go up and take pictures from the inside of King Kong – or stand in the grip of his hand.
At this little park/tourist attraction, they also had little huts that you could rent for 400 baht ($18 CDN) per night, based on double occupancy. It was very rudimentary accommodations, but there was an electrical plug-in, a light bulb and even two USB plug-ins. No thanks.
We also went to the Bai Orchid And Butterfly Farm – which was mostly about the tourist trap gift shop. However, they had probably the BEST buffet lunch that we’ve had in a long time. The choices and freshness were something to behold. Personally, I’m always a fan of the buffet – largely because I can see and smell what I’m putting on my plate! But, here are a couple of photos of a butterfly and some orchids – who wants to talk about the buffet?
In the afternoon, we went to the Bua Tong Sticky Waterfalls. Located about an hour and a half drive north of Chiang Mai’s Old City. These waterfalls are not only impressive and gorgeous, but a special natural feature allows you to climb directly up the rocks into the oncoming cascading water. The path is not slippery and slimy as you would expect. The Sticky Waterfalls get their name from a mineral deposit that is incredibly grippy. In fact, the rocks feel like a hardened sponge. They are callous and even slightly prickly to the touch but surprisingly give a bit under pressure. Since no algae or slime adheres to the rocks, they are the perfect ground to climb up the waterfall. It is impressively steep in some places, but with the aid of the limestone deposits on the stones, even Ron felt like Spider-Man!
When I was in Chiang Mai 28 years ago, elephants were working for a living. They were used in the logging industry and elsewhere. I paid to ride an elephant and learned about these amazing creatures. Nowadays, elephants are very protected and mostly live in a sheltered environment. I’m not certain if there are really any elephants in “the wild” in Thailand. There is clearly no work for them anymore. Consequently, there are hardly any places where you can ride an elephant, but if you’re lucky – you’ll find an elephant sanctuary where you can feed and wash these creatures. Here it is, proof positive that “shit rolls downhill”.
We got pretty close to several of these elephants.
We first fed them whole bananas, initially one at a time but the elephants wanted us to “load up their trunk” where they would pitch them in 6 at a time. Sharon shows good technique with one banana at a time, popping it right into this guys mouth.
Ron tests just how strong that trunk is.
Then we went back to the “kitchen” and prepared sugar cane (chopping them up) into pieces for the elephants to eat.
I can’t recall the name of this place, but it was pretty special. They outfitted us in special shirts that more resembled a Mexican poncho than anything I’d seen in Thailand – but at least they were clean.
After lunch, we took one elephant over to the mud pit and had a bit of fun slathering the mud on the elephant and each other. I noticed a few turds popping out of the elephant’s butt but his handler promptly scooped them up and tossed them out of the mud pit. After all, what tourists would want to be in a mud pit with fresh, still steaming turds?
After the mud pit came the refreshing dip in the cold mountain stream. Our group then used the opportunity to clean not only the elephant but ourselves as well. It was all in good fun for the elephant and tourists.
After Chiang Mai, we all flew back to Phuket where the four Toonders went on to the next phase of their holiday with the beaches, malls and tourist traps of Phuket. Diane and I returned to our own bed, where we made some progress with boat repairs and have started to plan for our exit from Thailand.