Mr Man tuktuked us to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight to Phnom Penh. Two hours to check in for a 45 minute flight. Legend has it that a woman named Penh found four images of the Buddha on the shores of the Mekong River and built a temple on the tallest hill in the area in which to keep them. The city that grew up around the hill became known as Phnom Penh or ‘Penhs Hill.’ The city sits at the confluence of four rivers: the Upper Mekong, the Lower Mekong, the Sap, and the Bassac. The Khmers call it Chatomuk, or four faces.
We had only the sketchiest outline of a plan. It kind of read something like; get settled in, reconnoiter the colonial French quarter, check out a possible Mekong River cruise, meditation session for M, avoid the very graphic torture museum but find the Killing Fields memorial and hit the National Museum. We call it winging it.
We found the Okay Boutique Hotel “with city view.”
It was okay but our view was not.
They eventually moved us to the ninth floor but couldn’t accommodate the extra two days we added just to make sure we were in compliance with the Malaysian “get lost” rules needed to renew our visas.
We decided to hit the ground running this time so after a long exploratory walk we found ourselves in the French quarter at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia featuring large photojournalist pictures on the walls and unsurpassed views across the Sap and Mekong Rivers.
Here, and really everywhere, Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, and the horrors of genocide were just below the surface. If it can happen here to these peaceful, kind people it can happen anywhere.
Marce had once again found several highly rated vegetarian restaurants all within walking distance of our hotel but, in a major miracle, she found a tiny hole in the wall eatery serving superb authentic Ethiopian cuisine, a particular favorite of ours.
Now about that city view. A move up to the ninth floor solved the view problem and that’s the Mekong River off in the distance. The Royal Palace is on the right. Definitely better.
Now I’m not the world’s most spiritual guy, but I get by. I confess that when I stepped through the intricately carved corner gatehouse at Angkor Wat I was …moved. I don’t think what’s left of my hair has lain down yet. As a statement of national pride and honor this is to Modern Cambodia as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, except that the Angkor site is substantially larger than all of modern Paris. One could go on and on but that’s not what you Dear Escapees came for is it? Today’s installment features a short story due to the fact that we’d noticed a path that led off into the forest and after some due diligence and prodigious research on Google Earth M. found several very old but smallish temples scattered in the woods.
We told Mr Man to have his tuktuk warmed up by 8:30 and we were going to the temples in the forest. Why, he asked? No one goes there. Marce showed him her red yarn blessing thingie around her wrist and he showed us his, which happened to also be red. I am Buddhist too, she said. He smiled and stepped down for first gear.
After Mr Man dropped us off in the forest we soon came upon a fairly modern small pagoda with a very large Buddha.
M stopped for a backup blessing but felt the man in orange was just phoning it in. No mention of a long life.
This guy was getting a serious blessing.
The Khmer architects actually didn’t know how to build an arch so they laid each stone with just a little overhang until they met at the middle. Gravity and close tolerances did the rest……..
…until it didn’t.
Turns out several centuries seems tolerable enough.
Malaysia, and for that matter most of Southeast Asia, is famous for bureaucratic, mind numbing visa regulations and wouldn’t you know it, ours are winding down to a precious few days. To reset our 90-day Malaysian visas we have to leave the country and because we are close to the end of our stay we have to get lost for at least seven days before re-entering.
Marce started the campaign with Vietnam as the goal. We soon found ourselves overwhelmed with possibilities and expanding projected budgets, worrisome with a refit of Escape Velocity staring us in the face. Turns out, Cambodia is just the ticket, specifically the temples of ancient, mysterious Angkor Wat.
Now, since leaving Cairns, Australia, I’ve been challenged with difficult money math as we made our way across Indonesia where 11,000 point something rupiah equals one USD. I found this impossible to deal with but, Marce said, If you move the decimal four places to the left you have an Aussie dollar and, feeling fat and sassy, 25 percent more buying power with the godalmighty USD! We could actually afford to live in this place.
Malaysian ringgits are a four to one proposition which I find within my comfort level, but now I need to come to grips with the Cambodian riel which exchanges at 4100 something riel to one USD. The advantage here is that Cambodia really is based on the USD so just for fun you’ve got dual simultaneous currencies. It’s messy and it inflates prices but Cambodians smile and just make it work.
First roadblock is an overnight stay at the Kuala Lumpur airport which is quite expensive and based on only a six hour stay! I was rather hoping for eight hours of sleep. Marce found a workaround but KL’s airport is so large that they feel the need to charge you for a train ride to the terminal where your hotel is located. They don’t even call it a hotel, but rather a “private resting place.”
After the shiny pants KL airport, the dusty cab ride through the Cambodian countryside served notice that this is primarily an agricultural society, but as we approached Siem Reap which is as close to Angkor Wat as you can stay, the tuktuks, motos, and taxis started to stack up into serious stop-and -go traffic. Our driver found our hotel down a dusty alley and we hopped out and entered the serene environs of The Moon Residence and Spa.
By late afternoon we were carefully picking our way around dusty broken sidewalks and dodging tuktuks and motos, while trying to bear in mind that Cambodia was once French and they drive on the right…well if they feel like it. After a bit of careful walking we found ourselves in the middle of a thriving town with the beautiful Siem Reap River running through it.
Marce had marked a list of top shelf vegetarian restaurants on the map and our search for a likely candidate led us down a colorful alleyway filled with little shops and eateries representing most of the cuisines of the world.
We ate amazing food while breathlessly excited by the prospect of tomorrow’s sunrise over Angkor Wat.
We don’t always go on the official rally tours. I don’t know, how many endless Indonesian speeches can you listen to before you just don’t care anymore? Sultans, governors, village officials, we’ve watched them all drone on and on, but sometimes the organizers get it right. The bus tour of Kumai promised to be one of the good ones, and besides there’s usually some descent swag. The problem is that once they have you on the bus, you’re on for the whole day until the final speech.
At 9:00 am as I motor toward the official rally dock I can already see the usual madness. Dignitaries at the podium, outrageously colorful “authentic costumes”on the dancers and the band, event facilitators desperately trying to hold a constantly evolving situation together.
After a mercifully short welcoming we are herded toward a couple of nice buses, but I can’t help noticing the six motorcycle Polisi, faces covered, with M4 assault weapons hanging from a shoulder mount. Most Indonesian authorities have extremely colorful uniforms. These guys are head to toe in black. I’m thinking this is just a bus load of bum sailors, what the hell is going on here? Turns out Indo TV has been shooting footage of us and as improbable as it seems, we are a very popular segment most every night on television! The ministry of tourism has pulled out all the stops and that kind of explains all the drone shots and taped interviews we’ve done. I breathe a heavy sigh of relief in the knowledge that when the hail of bullets start, Marce, who begged off with a recurrence of back pain, will be safe back on Escape Velocity wondering what is he up to now?
Right now the well armed motorcycle gentlemen in black are motioning for the bus driver to park over there and personally I think we should just do as they say. Turns out the first thing you see is a traditional long house of the Dayaknese Tribe.
These folks are the people that gave us the term Bogeyman due to their remarkable fierceness.
But first a rice wine welcome.
Things are looking up and, fortified, Yours Truly gives the eight foot blow pipe a go, firmly striking the target, all the while remembering not to suck.
More dancing where the bogeyman finally shows up, and a little more rice wine.
Next up, our armed motorcade pulls up to Astana Mangkubumi which features this cute and colorful little prince and princess.
I’ve noticed that these palaces are kind of empty and have a lot of stuff that looks like the Dutch just left it behind. After the buffet lunch we walk down to the Tujuh Putri Water Castle which is better known as the Princess’s Pool and rumor has it that if you dare to rub this filthy water on your skin you will become beautiful. I pass.
I was pretty excited about this next location at the Rainbow Village and when our armed entourage drops us off at their pier we are swamped with requests for selfies with the locals.
We stumble right into the middle of a Refuse Fashion Contest for all ages. Kinda cute and very creative.
Unfortunately it starts to rain as we clamber aboard the local watercraft called a Tuck-Tuck, a one lung diesel, hand cranked, with a tiny propeller at the end of a long shaft that is mostly out of the water. No neutral, no reverse, no transmission, but kinda fun.
Scenes like something on the Nile overwhelm us as we chug by. The view from the river is a bit less painted rainbow, let’s call it just unpainted wood.
The gents in black motion our bus to the car park for the Yellow Palace where the gala dinner will take place. The Sultan is a no-show due to the romancing of his mistress over in Jakarta, which suits me fine, so Yours Truly needn’t change into long pants out of respect. Strange place this Yellow Palace. Once again a kind of empty museum but with a ballroom and grounds where we end up listening to speeches in Indonesian and watching traditional dance. I’m no judge but this show seemed a cut above. I even meet Biruté Galdikas, one of Leakey’s Angels who still runs the Leakey Camp we’d just visited.
It’s well past cruisers’ midnight as the well protected bus pulls into the official rally dock. On the way to Catnip I pick up several stranded cruisers who find they have no way back to their boats so we all pile in bringing to an official end, the official tour.
Scuttlebutt has it that the Lombok Wildlife Park is barely hanging on after just reopening and could use our support. Like most people we have mixed feelings about zoos but we want to support Lombok in its rebuilding effort. Plus I’d heard that at certain times a day they bring out an orangutan for a kind of close encounter and knowing that we’ll be seeing orangutans in the wild in a few weeks I’m really excited about that.
We found the park to be in surprisingly good nick. Picture a stroll through a forest path surrounded by tall shade trees and periodically coming upon an exotic bird or animal.
It’s small and intimate but the variety of birds is remarkable and many seem to not be in cages. They just hang out on perches waiting for you to walk by.
At the appointed hour they brought out Hugo, spent a few minutes grooming him and there he sat waiting to meet new friends. Staff motioned for us to step onto his platform.
We soon learned that he his certain preferences. He doesn’t like hats on you, or shoes and he is quite facile at taking them off of you.
Another foible is that he’s very OCD about sitting position, likes his friends around in a circle with a particular pattern of legs and feet and he doesn’t take no for an answer. Aside from that he’s a happy jovial kind of bloke, likes to wrestle, not much of a ladies man, and when he holds you by the arm you can tell he’s feeling deep into your muscles, tissue, and tendons. He never stopped gently squeezing my arm, probing with his finger tips. Yes, it’s a little disconcerting but what a magical half hour we had with him, one on one, eye to eye, man to, and I have to say it, man of the forest.
The head animal keeper walked with us for a while and told us how the animals became very unsettled before the first tremors and when the quakes started they grew quite stressed and all the birds flew away. The keeper’s own house was “finished” when the big one hit and he moved his family into a tent in the park for safety and so he could be there full time to help calm and comfort the animals who he thought of as his extended family. Tears flowed down his cheeks as he told of his joy when the birds came back one by one, and although the park needed extensive repair the animals were less stressed with his family there.
The park has a calm peaceful atmosphere, like taking a magical walk under a canopy of shady trees, but at least for a while we could forget the struggle going on just over the hill in Medana Bay, and I’ll always remember being eye to eye with the man of the forest.
As visa runs go this one looked easy peasy. To navigate the circuitous path through Malaysian bureaucracy we’ll hire a car and driver to take us to Mataram, the capital of Lombok, about an hour and a half away.
We expect to see more evidence of earthquake damage, then up into the mountains for alto buena vista photos, to the west side of the island, where we are promised mechanics and boat parts, some local sights and the Immigration Office where, with any luck at all, we can dress up pretty like we own the joint and renew our visas.
Our driver arrived first thing in the morning and in company with the crew of Erie Spirit we were on our way.
“How is your family?”
“They’re ok, thank god.”
“And your house?”
“Finished.” It’s getting to be more than I can take.
Leaving Medana Bay we found more damage but in a more or less random hit or miss fashion.
In the mountains the only signs of the earthquakes were hastily patched road surfaces to bridge the gap where the roadway no longer matched the level of where it was before the quake. Disconcerting, but nowhere near the devastation of the quake zone.
Mark found a sympathetic mechanic who puzzled out how to repair the problem with his in-mast furler system.
This huge mosque had only slight damage, or is it just a maintenance problem?
Our driver found another temple featuring the ever popular Island Temple in a Large Lake motif.
Of course this would have been even nicer if they hadn’t followed us around asking for more money.
Turns out that before one enters the Immigration building of visa renewal, the guards insist on proper respectable traditional clothing.
The guards would not take no for an answer. Personally I feel that I haven’t got the legs for this kind of look anymore but what the hell. They insisted. I think of it as a when-in-Rome kind of thing.
All things considered the visa renewal went surprisingly smoothly.
The last stop on the way back home was a deli rumored to have blue cheese, unheard of in Indonesia, and our driver knew right away which place we were talking about. We were impressed right off the bat but as I wandered over to the deli counter, I bent over and could not believe my disbelieving eyes. I know it’s impossible but that looks like apple pie.
“Is that apple pie?”
“Why yes, that’s apple pie.”
“You couldn’t make it á la mode could you?”
“Why yes, we make all our ice cream right in house!”
I tell you, dear Escapees, it was a religious experience. I even think the second piece was better than the first.
You know how the way back home always seems to go quicker? This outing was no exception, tempered by what we knew was waiting for us back in Medana Bay, that feeling of impotence in the face of an overwhelming task while aware of the privilege of knowing we can sail away from this seemingly impossible situation.
As soon as we get back we’ll pitch in again at the school build. Kimi and Trevor and the rest of the core crew continue to put in long days and are starting to look the worse for wear. I don’t know how they do it.
With a profound sense of foreboding we stepped ashore in Medana Bay, Lombok. Evidence of earthquake stress waves were everywhere but I guess I expected much worse. Of course the marina is gone except for the small floating dock we’d just tied up to, but there were decent temporary structures that will make do. There were reports from the other cruisers that it’s pretty bad in town, a short hot walk from the marina, and that’s where we’re heading. Survival tents are a clue of what’s ahead.
As we walked, the closer to the town we got, the scope of the devastation got worse. Pretty bad hardly describes what has happened here.
A once thriving market place was almost erased.
It seems that many families are either afraid to live in their houses or their houses are rubble.
In every interaction the dialog is the same.
“How is your family?”
“They are ok, thank god.”
“And your house?”
At first we thought great, the reconstruction is going really well. Then it dawned on us. “Finished” means gone, obliterated.
People told us the initial disaster response from domestic and foreign aid agencies was quick and comprehensive with shelter, food, water, and medical assistance, but moving the rubble out of the way just so you can walk is a monumental, overwhelming task. I saw an old woman frozen in place, shoulders slumped, head hanging down, holding a small piece of concrete in the middle of a head-high pile of rubble, seemingly unable to decide what to do with it. The government has promised relief funds for rebuilding but, well you know, you apply and then you wait for the wheels of bureaucracy to turn. The people we talked to aren’t holding their breath.
The concrete block masonry construction techniques are pretty good in a cyclone but just don’t fare well in an earthquake.
We feel so inadequate and helpless with total devastation all around us. What can we do in just a few days?
This will be one of those loosey goosey kind of passages that depend on wind, weather, how many fishing nets and FADs we see, and how lucky we feel. Day hopping along the Flores coast, we are trying to avoid sailing at night because of these unmarked obstacles.
Fish Accumulation Devises (FADs) like these fairly elaborate unmarked models, are everywhere, even in deep blue water. Running into one of them would just ruin your day. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up from a book or chart only to see one of them close aboard as we glide by. After your heart rate slows down and you begin to trust your legs again, you go out on the side deck and scan the horizon. Nothing. Doesn’t mean there aren’t any. It just means you can’t see them. Our radar apparently can’t see them either. With this in mind, in addition to the constant threat of fishing nets, we set a course for a way station where with any luck at all we will find a safe harbor for the night.
Tomorrow’s goal is the fiords of Bajawa and as we approach the mouth of Teluk Damu, we run into old friends Erie Spirit and Il Sogno snorkeling the outer reef but we are keen to have the detoxification of Escape Velocity alone with nature, sans panga kids.
Later our friends came by for a spot of exploration and then we were alone with our thoughts.
After you’ve wound your way up into a river or fiord you find you’ve got to unwind your way back out, and that can take some time which meant that a stop near Toro Baso would mean the panga kids would be on us again, before we could even get the anchor down.
We’re running out of the apparently disappointing pencils and, whenever a rally has been through, the kids’ expectations are a little high. Cute as they are, they will not leave you alone. We have so much and they have so little but…there are limits. “My wife is sleeping” is fairly easy to pantomime but is no longer working. They could care less. I think I’ll switch to “my wife is praying,” which we’re told works better.
We’re off to a tiny island called Gilinodo for an overnight anchorage, and that should leave a short sail to Labuanbajo the following day.
We have a short sail today, and after a little tricky piloting between tiny islands, we have an easy harbor anchorage and splash down near some friends. We’ve been hard on it, sailing every day, and Labuhanbajo looks really promising but first a nap.
At the Sinvay Internet Cafe of Tifu I’d heard about a tour to a waterfall about one hour boat ride down the coast. The next morning Marce begged off needing executive time and I confess that I was still a little foggy due to general passage fatigue as I clambered into our friends’ tiny dinghy for a ride to the town jetty. The usual chaos was in full swing.
“What time did they say?”
“Have we changed time zones?”
“Always a possibility.”
“Maybe they meant 9 am, what time is it?”
“Well, where are they?”
“They’re on island time, they’ll get here.”
And so they did. Soon we clambered aboard a couple of long narrow, but colorful, open air outboards and hobby horsed out of Tifu harbor.
It was quite rough and when we arrived at the beach there was a lot of conversation and serious faces as they planned where to drop their anchors and then backed up to the beach to disgorge all the yachties. The boats in the surf were like bucking Broncos in the hands of the crews, while we jumped off the transom into the water.
Locals were there to welcome us to their beach with drums and dance. This is only the second time yachties ever visited this waterfall. Pure jaw-dropping unspoiled magic. I expect there to be a resort here soon.
Predictably the conditions worsened during our stay and we were soaked with saltwater spray by the time we rounded the rocks back to Tifu harbor. This was one for the books.
I know what you’re thinking. Wayne Newton, star of the Las Vegas strip featuring the highest voice in show business, seen here rendered in lifelike concrete, belting out a passionate rendition of his all time mega hit song “Danke Schön” is the spiritual leader of a tiny fishing village called Tifu on the Indonesian Island of Buru? Who knew? Well it certainly fooled Yours Truly.
Turns out that what we thought might be a nice overnight pit stop with a beautiful peaceful picturesque harbor was a totally isolated village with a darker history. This is where the Suharto’s government exiled dissidents and communists where they could do the least harm. That might explain why our charts had the baffling but apparently outdated restriction that it was illegal to approach closer than ten nautical miles off the Tifu coast. Do not rescue the political prisoners! It really is a gem of a harbor and in Yours Truly’s opinion, too good for communists! But what a contrast to the Spice Islands.
As near as I could tell, I didn’t find any communists but it’s still very isolated here in Tifu without cell service or internet, except when Hendrick cranks up the old generator to power up the Sinjay Internet cafe.
It’s haphazard but generally sometime around 8 am for about an hour and again near 6 pm. Of course we didn’t expect any internet or cell service at all so this was a positive development. When was the last time you saw a group of kids with no iPhones? It’s more of a meeting place than an internet cafe. Locals would gather to watch yachties desperately seeking current weather information and downloading email. Incredibly slow, it’s still the place to be in Tifu.
Turns out that Wayne didn’t make the cut and that cordless microphone is some sort of totem of authority that this missionary whose giant gray countenance guards the harbor, brought with him to pitch some flavor of Christianity or other to …well, communists. He’s big, he’s gray, and kinda stiff, but the people are friendly, happy, and incredibly welcoming, especially the kids. There are nations in this world that should take a lesson.