Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Mauritius, UK and Reunion

Gosh, it has been a long time since we last did a blog update! We ended our last update with us leaving Rodrigues for Mauritius. We had a good sail, enough wind and not too bouncy. It was another fast crossing and we arrived in Port Louis, Mauritius within 2 days on 6 July. Clearing in was fairly painless and we then moved to the Caudan waterfront. This is a rectangular basin on the waterfront and is the only 'marina' for yachts with a reasonable draft.

This was where we were going to leave the boat while we visited the UK. It was not possible to book so it was a matter of finding a spot when you arrived. Our first berth was towards the exit of the basin and we got a lot of wash. The chafe on the wall destroyed 2 of our mooring lines and ripped our fender covers. We were eager to move further in before we left. Unfortunately, this meant we had no choice but to stay in the marina the whole time as if we left we would have lost our space. On the up side we were in the centre of town and within walking distance of supermarkets and the big central market.

We had 2 days touring the island with friends Ken and Iloo from Antares. The first day we went to the national park. Its pretty but due to the wet weather we could not do any walking, not that it was possible to find any of the trails! Instead we visited a rhumerie and had a very nice lunch. The second day the weather was even worse with torrential rain and it was very cold. We visited a tea factory and then found another rhumerie for a not so good lunch.

On a better day, we did hike in the hills behind Port Louis and also visited a traditional restaurant for lunch. Otherwise our time was spent working on the boat and getting ready for our trip home.

We flew to the UK on 27 July. It was a good flight with lots of movies to watch. Then we had a very hectic month visiting friends and family and spending time with the Grandchildren. In between this we were buying all the parts we needed for the boat!

After our return to Mauritius on 1 September we got the boat ready to leave for Reunion. This was a 1 day sail and we arrived in Reunion on 6 September. It was another fast sail with no dramas. There has been a foot and mouth outbreak in Rodrigues since we left so Reunion confiscated all meat, dairy products, fruit and veg. The staff came on the boat with shoe covers which they then disinfected before throwing away as they left, and then they disinfected their shoes. At no point did they disinfect our shoes or feet or even ask us if we had any hiking boots, completely illogical! At least we have not had our wine bonded as we did in Mauritius!

Our stay in Reunion got off to a good start with Ken and Iloo taking us out for lunch. Other cruisers gave us lots of information on walks on the island so we eagerly started planning our stay. Tourist information in town were very helpful booking accommodation for us and finding us a cheap hire car. We planned a weeks trip around the island after a few days in the marina sorting things out. This gave us time to go shopping and buy lots of French cheese and re-stock the freezer. The supermarket was very expensive, more expensive than the UK, so lots of things we just could not bring ourself to buy. Unfortunately, fruit and veg is one of the things that is expensive. Living on French bread, cheese and pate though not healthy is reasonable!

The island is dominated by 3 cirques which are old volcanoes. They are very picturesque with lots of mountains, waterfalls and valleys. Our first walk gave us views over the nearest cirque called Mafate. It was graded an easy walk but still involved climbing ladders! The following day we did a harder walk graded 'sportif'. It was 12km with lots of clambering and climbing over boulders.

Monday morning we set off on our trip. First stop was a drive up to a lookout over Mafate called La Maido. We got some wonderful views of the valley. Then we drove a forest road south down the west side of the island before climbing up an extremely windy road to Cilaos. We have never seen so many hairpin bends. Driving was hard work especially when the locals driving the other way think they are the only people on the road and drive as if they are on a rally track!

We were supposed to hike up Col De Taibat an 830m climb but when we got up the following morning it was raining and very grey so we had to abandon it. So we went back down all the hairpin bends and headed to Bourg Murat with a stop for a short walk. We were staying 2 nights in Bourg Murat so that we could hike to the caldera of Piton de la Fournaise, the only active volcano on the island. The volcano had decided to become very active just before our visit. It had an eruption on the north slope so the area was closed off. We did drive to the parking area and see the eruption at night which was quite spectacular.

With a day spare we found another hike. This one was 17km and was listed as taking 6 hours with 800m altitude gain. The start of the walk was on the Plain de Caffres through a lovely moss forest. Then we entered the forest de Bebour where the walk got harder. We spent 2 ½ hours climbing through the forest clambering over trees and rocks with very few markers and no signposts. We were just thinking we were lost when we found a sign for the next track. Thinking we couldn't climb any further the path then proceeded to go up and up. We were walking in the clouds most of the time and could see very little. Eventually, we did start to descend and just as we despaired completely, we got back to the car. It was such a relief. The walk had taken us 7 ½ hours with only a 15 minute break for lunch. We were covered in mud and very exhausted.

Having exhausted ourselves, the following day we just drove to Hellbourg which is in the cirque de Salazie. We were staying in gites which are like old fashioned British guest houses. We were at a 1000m and it was very cold but there was no heating so we sat in bed reading with our coats on!
We did a shorter walk in Salazie just 4 hours and then moved on to Grand Ilet. This was up in the clouds again and cold. There was a heater in the room but it wasn't put on until 6pm and was then turned off again overnight! The owner was a little old lady who served our food and then stood watching us with her hands folded until we had all tried the food and told her it was good.

Our next adventure was a 2 day hike into Mafate staying at Aurere. The hike had a lot of ups and downs. Having done lots of difficult climbs I (KB) managed to fall flat on my face over a tree root. This was about half way through the walk so we continued at a slower pace as my knees were very bruised. We arrived in Aurere at 12.30 and had lunch. We couldn't get into our gite until 3pm and my legs were staring to seize up so we decided to walk back while I could. The route back was supposed to be an easier route.

It started off that way with a pleasant walk through the forest and then a narrow path part way up an escarpment. Then there were steps and ladders to climb and then we started to descend to the river. After that the walk got worse. We were clambering over boulders along a river bed and crossed the river on stones multiple times. It was all up hill but we didn't seem to be getting anywhere. All around us there were huge cliffs and we could see no way out of the valley. It was getting late by this time and we were wondering if we would find the end of the trail by night fall. After 3 hours we did find the road and more importantly the car. We were both very exhausted (again!!) and very relieved. The walk had taken 8 hours, it was 18km and had a 1300m altitude change. The adrenaline had numbed the pain in my knees but once we stopped they seized up and I have spent 2 days hobbling around!

After a 2 hour drive with lots of hairpin bends again we arrived back at the boat. It was so nice to be home and to be warm again!

Our last adventure was today. On the recommendation of Jean and Matt from Superted we went on a microlight flight over the 3 cirques. We each had our own plane with just us and the pilot in each one. It was a great view and very exciting, really glad we did it.

Now we are getting the boat ready to leave for Madagascar on Thursday. This should take about 4 days to the northern tip and then we will slowly make our way down to Nosy Be where we will clear in.

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Sunday, July 3, 2016

In Rodrigues

We left Cocos Keeling on 29 May. As soon as we had exited the lagoon Mike had the fishing line in the water. Moments later the line was taken, ran off a lot of line and then broke! That was the end of the fishing for a few days! Not just because we had to spool new line but also because the sea was rough and we were not feeling great. The winds were then light'ish for a few days but then increased steadily to around 20 knots. We did manage to catch a nice Mahi Mahi before the winds got too bad.

The first 9 days we averaged 165 mile days which is a new record for us. This was with help from a knot of current but it was still a good speed. It was not a comfortable sail, the swells would come from all directions and when they hit the side of the boat it was as if we had been hit by a truck, with the noise and the way they knocked us sideways. Our worst day we had about 18 hours of winds well over 40 knots (we are not sure exactly what the wind was as we were too scared to look but the apparent wind was 40-45 knots). The swells built in size until some were at least 6 metres and the boat was over at some amazing angles. The noise was deafening the wind was howling through the rigging and the waves were breaking around the boat. For days after we arrived we still had ringing in our ears from the silence! We had the boat all closed up and just had to hold tight! One wave ripped our dodger on the side of the boat and another made it under our covers and filled the cockpit with a lot of water, if we had not had the wash boards in we would have had a very wet boat!

After 2 days of lighter winds we had an amazing sail on the last day covering 180 miles in a day. We did the 2000 mile passage in 12 ½ days, definitely a new record for Chapter Two. Lots of boats have arrived in Rodrigues with lots of damage so we did fair quite well. We have all agreed it was the worst passage we have ever done.

After the crossing Rodrigues was a welcome sight. The anchorage is in the turning basin for the supply ship and when a ship is not in we can also moor along the wharf which is where we were instructed to go on arrival. Our check in was very easy, the officials were incredibly helpful and friendly. It was also very easy as they were eager to go home as we had arrived at 4pm on a Friday afternoon!

We are anchored right in the middle of the main town Port Mathurin so it is an easy walk into town to go to the market or to buy fresh baguettes. It is a very laid back place and the locals are welcoming and friendly. There have also been quite a few boats here so it has been a very sociable stop. There are a number of marked trails on the island so we have managed to do a few hikes. 18 of us went on the first one which probably gave the locals a shock when we all piled on the bus. Our favourite walk which we have done twice is along the east coast. We get the local buses to and from the start and end points. The buses are very cheap and run all over the island playing loud reggae music as they go!

A few weeks ago we hired a motorbike along with friends on Jackie and Gary from Inspiration Lady and Iloo and Ken from Antares. Inspiration Lady we first met in Curacao in 2009 but have seen little of them since as they crossed the Pacific ahead of us. We were heading to the giant tortoise colony. Unfortunately, Gary and Jackie had an accident on the way and Jackie has spent a week in hospital with a deep gash on her leg. After seeing them both onto the ambulance, we continued to see the tortoises. They are from the Seychelles and Mauritius as all the ones from Rodrigues were wiped out by 19th century sailors. You can walk amongst them and stroke them. Some of the small children were also allowed to sit on their backs. There were also caves there which we had a tour around. They were very impressive with lots of stalagmites and stalactites.

There is a local bar called Madame Marcelles in the centre of town which has become our local. It looks a little intimidating from the outside as it is full of men having heavy drinking sessions after work but it is very friendly and they have not minded us women gate crashing their domain. The owner also cooks and serves the most wonderful pork. You can buy a plate of mixed pork and sausage to eat with your drink, a bit different to crisps. We have loved it and have also been having takeaway for our sandwiches!

We have really enjoyed our stay here and are very sad to leave. The only down side of being here is that each time a ship is due we all must leave the anchorage until it is moored and then we are allowed back in. So each week there is a procession of about 12 boats leaving the anchorage at 6.30am and then a rush to get back in and anchor first, as the anchorage is not very big for the number of boats. When the ship is due to leave 2 days later the whole thing gets repeated again. At the moment a ship seems to be visiting once a week so we are all getting very used to the routine.

Tomorrow we clear out in the morning and head to Mauritius. Its 350 miles and we are hoping to get there in 2-3 days. It will probably be another boisterous crossing!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

2016 So Far!

Where are we now?

We started our Indian Ocean crossing from Johor Bahru at the bottom of Malaysia just across the straits from Singapore. After clearing out we sailed/motored for 7 days through Indonesia. We didn't stop except for a few overnights and to take advantage of the currents. The route we and the weather chose for us involved going through channels with strong currents so we would anchor when the current was against us and then take advantage of it when it was going in the right direction. The currents gave us a huge assist and minimised our diesel usage. We had purchased extra diesel containers before we left to ensure we did not run short of fuel. We managed to fill our tank with them before we left Indonesia.

We had a 2 day rest at a lovely spot on the western tip of Java and then left for the 600 mile crossing to Cocos Keeling which is where we are now. After squalls and rough seas on the first day we had a great sail and did the trip in 4 days, a record for us! Unfortunately, both of us are feeling very out of practice at doing the long sails. It has been 2 years since we have sailed a significant distance in open seas.

Cocos is an atoll owned by the Australians. The anchorage is on the north east side of the atoll of Direction Island. The island is typical of the tropical islands of the Pacific with blue transparent water, soft sand and lots of coconut palms. We were escorted into the anchorage by a pod of Dolphins and had 5 black tip reef sharks around the boat before we had anchored. It was a lovely sight after the murky water of Malaysia.

There are 2 other islands here, Home Islands which has a Malaysian population and is a 2 mile wet dinghy ride and West Island which is 5 miles away across the lagoon and too far for our dinghy. We visited Home Island for provisions a few days ago and are still getting over the shock. We purchased 2 loaves of bread, a packet of rolls, a small bunch of bananas and a dozen eggs and the cost was $AUS46 (£30). Probably the most expensive shopping we have ever done.

There are 9 boats here at the moment including one which we have not seen since Samoa in 2012! We all met on the beach yesterday for a BBQ. Sounds idyllic but we were eaten alive by mosquitoes despite the deet! We are not allowed to remove anything from the boat here so all our rubbish must leave with us which is a good incentive not to stay too long. We will probably leave in a few days to do the 2000 mile trip to Rodrigues. With good winds this should take about 15 days.

Our exit from Malaysia was later than we anticipated. This was partly due to the wind as the trade winds were very late establishing themselves but mainly due to the boat. We had a lot of checks to do before we left as there are lots of things we have not used in the last year which inevitably led to us uncovering issues. Our main problem, once again, was the generator. It is only 2 years old but has a major problem with water in the oil. We could not get it tested properly in Malaysia so finally decided to leave with it broken. This means we cannot run our watermaker (which is also not working properly, but cannot be fixed until we have a generator!) so are being very careful with water. We can get water for doing washing on Direction Island and drinking water on Home Island so we should not run short.

We did have a good time in Pangkor, where we left the boat while we were travelling, meeting up with Sue and Stefan from Charlotte who are doing lots of work on their boat at the moment. We also said farewell to our Australian friends, Sharon and Lindsay on Songlines. Mike had a good birthday celebration with them and Sharon got him a lovely birthday cake.

Before leaving Malaysia we left the boat in Pangkor marina for 2 months and flew to India and Nepal.

Trekking In Nepal

We flew from Delhi to Kathmandu on 3 March. We flew with Indigo airlines and it is probably one of the the scariest flights we have had. The pilot seemed to drop really low to the mountains and then had to accelerate and climb to reach the runway. We touched down at the very start of the runway with a jolt as the plane was still accelerating! An exciting start to our trip!

Kathmandu was fairly quiet and unpolluted due to the fuel shortage and we had a pleasant stroll around the area near our hotel which was full of shops selling trekking gear. The following morning we had an early start to catch the coach to Pokhara. It was a long day as the traffic was very bad and the roads very narrow. The roads are single track with lots of hills and tight turns and only just wide enough for the trucks and coaches to pass. Pokhara is the town where many of the treks start so the town is fairly touristy in a low key way. It is pretty with a big lake and stunning mountain views.

We spent 5 days in Pokhara. We did a few hikes there to get into training and also purchased the gear we needed. We took most things we needed but had to buy a sleeping bag, walking poles and thick padded body warmers. The gear is supposedly North Face but is very cheap. We had decided to carry our own gear for the trek so spent time reducing the weight by leaving behind as much as we could at the hotel.

We were going to walk the Annapurna Circuit. A trek of about 220km with an altitude gain from 800m to 5416m down to 1200m and back up to 3200m before descending back to 800m. Probably totally mad given that we were both very unfit, we have never walked that distance before and certainly never done any trekking carrying 10/12kg on our back. Plus we are used to living at sea level and had never walked to that altitude before.

We had a 3 hour bus trip to the start of the trail at Besisahar. From here there was a choice of getting a bus or walking to Bulbhule. Being determined to walk the whole trail we walked. It was a very hot afternoon walk and certainly showed up how unfit we were. We stayed in Tea houses which is basic accommodation providing a room with a bed and blanket. The accommodation is either free or a few pounds as long as you eat there. The standard varied from outside toilets and maybe a tap somewhere with water to our own bathroom and in a few instances we even had a hot shower. We would get up at 6am and start walking around 7am. The views of the mountains are better in the morning plus some days we were walking for 9 hours so an early start was necessary.

Until we got to about 3000m the temperatures were pleasant though we got very hot on the climbs. There was very little flat terrain, we were always going up and down, usually up! Thankfully there were very few steps and it was mainly trails that wound their way up hill. The day we got to 3000m we had snow plus we had a 3 hour climb up a steep mountain with numerous switchbacks. The lodge at the top was a welcome sight. Unfortunately, the owner was very mean and would not light the fire. We were given a small brazier which 4 of us sat huddled around wearing thermals, hat, gloves etc. After that it was a very rare occasion when our thermals came off, it was way too cold. We had a hot shower at one lodge but the room was so cold that your whole body was steaming! We would sleep in clothes, our sleeping bag which was good to -5C plus a thick rug or blanket over us. None of the rooms were heated, most were wood or brick with lots of gaps around the windows. Most mornings the water in the pipes was frozen. It was definitely back to pre central heating days.

Due to the altitude we had a few acclimatisation days, one at 3500m and 2 at 4500m. The 2 at 4500m was mainly due to Mike spending one day in bed ill. Not with altitude sickness but with a terrible cold and hacking cough. At one stage we though we may have to descend without crossing the pass but he rallied and on day 13 we crossed Thorong La pass. This was a climb from 4500m to 5416m and then an endless descent to 3800m at Muktinath. It was very hard work walking at altitude, you have to walk incredibly slowly and your heart is just pounding in your ears. Still it was an amazing sense of achievement.

The walk down the western range was mainly across a moraine field. The weather at the top of the valley was very windy which was a bit disconcerting when you are walking on a track that is only a few feet wide with a vertical drop of about 1000m!

The latter part of the trek was around the Poon Hill area and involved climbing to 3200m again. Very hard work as most of the trail was steps. It was a lot more crowded than the rest of the trail which was incredibly quiet. The Poon hill trek goes through Rhododendron forests which were in full bloom though we had no view of the mountains from here due to the low cloud. Still, we had had some amazing views of the Annapurna mountain range earlier in our walk.

The whole trek took us 23 days and we think we walked about 250km. We both lost lots of weight despite eating like horses and were incredibly fit by the end. We were also feeling very virtuous as we did not drink any alcohol for the whole trek. Hopefully our livers appreciated it! We are really glad we did it but don't want to do it again!

Nepal was a lovely place, we can totally understand why people keep going back there. After India it was such a breath of fresh air and the people are lovely.

A Month In India

Originally we wanted to go to India for 2 months but due to visa restrictions had to cut our trip down to 1 month. This meant making decisions on which parts to visit and which to cut out. In hindsight we probably made the wrong decision as to where to spend our time. We did not particularly enjoy India and are glad that we were restricted to a month. By the end we were counting the days down to when we could leave.

We were travelling on a budget so were using trains and coaches plus tuk tuks to get around. To enjoy it you probably need to cut yourself off from the reality of the place and have your own private car and driver! In summary we found India to be over crowded, dirty and smelly. The smell of urine everywhere including on people was difficult to get out of your nostrils and the scale of the poverty was shocking. It was also a shock to see the caste system in operation and to see just how middle class Indians treat the lower classes.

If you ignore the surroundings there are some amazing sights to see and the food was wonderful. We started in Delhi. We landed late at night and the temperature was 9C which was quite a shock after leaving 35C in Malaysia. We had a few days in Delhi visiting the Red Fort and sorting out all our train tickets for the month. Then we flew to Khajuraho to see the erotic Hindu temples. The carvings are amazing and very well preserved but you definitely wouldn't want to try many of the positions at home!

Our next stop was Orccha and there was supposedly a local train that ran daily between the 2 cities. There were no classes on the train so it was a major free for all with people sitting everywhere including on our feet and on the roof. The journey should have been 5 hours but it took 9 and the train went somewhere else. We couldn't move the whole time and the smell was dreadful. Trying the toilet was not an option! We then had to get a taxi to our hotel which ended up being very basic but was one of the friendliest we stayed in. We recovered and had a pleasant day walking around the sights.

Next was Agra which despite being full of tourists was a very nice city to be in. We went to the Taj Mahal for sunrise and also visited the baby Taj and a number of tombs. The other sights in Agra are just as impressive as the Taj.

After Agra we went to Fatephur Sikri to see a fort and a mosque, stopping at Akbars tomb on the way. We then had a break from buildings and visited Kaledeo bird park. It was OK but without a good telescope you could not see anything. Continuing on the wildlife trail we next went to Ranthambhore to see Tigers. We did see a Tiger but the whole experience was not enjoyable. You get driven around very bumpy roads at high speed hardly stopping to see the wildlife until a tiger is spotted. Once you have seen the tiger they take the truck to a rest area and sit there until they can take you back to the hotel. We were with a lot of Indian tourists and they seem to treat it like a visit to the cinema. They never stop talking or eating crisps etc!

We then went to see a series of forts and palaces at Jodhpur, Jaipur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer. The fort at Jodhpur was very well done, this probably had the most in it to see and had an excellent audio guide. The places are all spread out across Rajasthan and we spent many hours on trains travelling between them.

We ended up back in Delhi with a short stop at Alwar. This is not a popular tourist spot and we understand why after going there!

The train to Delhi arrived in the north of the city and we then got the metro to our hotel in the south. The metro was very busy but I was practically the only woman in our carriage. India is very male dominated and you do not see women unless they are the upper middle class on holiday. Cleaning in hotels, laundries, ironing shops are all male jobs. It would not have been comfortable travelling as a single female.

We had one day back in Delhi and then flew to Nepal.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Sri Lanka and After

Our last update we were on our way to Penang to get our visas for India. Well, that didn't happen! We were informed that as we were only in Malaysia on a tourist visa we could not get a visa for India. Our only option was to get a 30 day e-visa which is what we have done.

Our new batteries arrived and were fitted relatively easily, thankfully. After a little sightseeing we headed  back north from Penang in preparation for our trip to Sri Lanka.

We flew to Sri Lanka on 24 November. It was a tedious journey. Air Asia changed the time of our flight from Kuala Lumpur so we had a 10 hour wait for our flight. This meant we arrived at Colombo at 10pm. The taxi had problems finding our hotel and ended up dropping us around the back which was a bit off putting as we had to practically step over sleeping bodies to get to the entrance. Once inside it was fine and when we explored the following morning we found it was very handy for the train and for sightseeing.

We left Colombo the same day by train and headed to the ancient city of Anuradapura. The train was OK except for the huge cockroach that was walking around our feet. Every time I moved my feet to avoid it the guy opposite took it as a sign that he could occupy all my leg room!  We hired bicycles to see Anuradapura so set off early to avoid the heat. When we got to the museum to buy our tickets we had to sit and wait for the ticket lady to eat her breakfast! We had a nice cycle through the countryside to see a number of Bagodas (big stupas). Most of the other buildings were just walls in ruins and were hidden in the trees.

Our next stop was a local bus ride to Polonnuwara which is another ancient city. This one was better preserved and a more compact site. Entry to both sites was $25 each which was a bit steep considering what there was to see. Another bus trip took us to Dambulla.  The buses are very cheap but going on them is quite an experience. They are usually crammed full. The seats are for 3 very small people and plastic so it gets very hot. The drivers are complete maniacs. They drive at full acceleration and then brake as hard as they can when they need to stop. The have 2 horns and could quite easily wear them both out in a day and they overtake whenever they want to. It doesn't matter if its a blind corner or if anything is coming the other way. Its best not to sit to near the front as the less you can see the better but at the back you get bounced out of your seat and can easily feel sick!

At Dambulla we visited a Buddhist cave temple and probably one of our highlights, Sigiriya. It cost $35 each to go to Sigiriya but it was one of the few places we didn't mind being charged a fortune as it was so amazing. Sigiriya is an ancient city that was built on the top of a 800m monolith. Not for those who suffer from vertigo! There are also amazing water gardens around the base of the rock and rock art part way up the vertical sides. Certainly worth a visit.

Our next stop was the previous capital, Kandy. Our hotel was slightly out of the city which was a good move as the whole place is full of traffic and very noisy. The roads only have 2 lanes but most of the time there is about 7 lines of traffic (mainly tuk tuks) all jostling for position! Our first day we went to the botanical gardens and the following day we had planned a hike in the Knuckles Range. We were aware there may be leeches so went prepared with long trousers tucked into our socks and velcro around the socks to stop anything getting down them. Our shirts were tucked into our trousers. The guides sprayed our boots and socks with a dettol and water solution and off we set.

The walk was down a wide road/track to a lookout point. The guides were soon showing us leeches and they were much smaller and thinner than we had envisaged. I (Karen) was walking with a pole and had a fright when a leech was suddenly on my hand having worked its was up the pole. Slightly later the guides were behind me and noticed my trousers and sock covered in blood. When we investigated 2 leeches had burrowed their way through my walking socks. They were sprayed with dettol to remove them. It spoilt the walk having  to keep looking at your feet to remove leeches. It was also a bit disappointing as it was no where near as long as we expected and the route back was the same way as that we had already walked.

We had a another day in Kandy and decided that this was too long a stay. Our hotel recommended a walk in a park overlooking the city. We were given a map and set off on a well signposted trail. The walk was circular but part way around the signposts disappeared. We took what looked like a wide track down the hill and started walking. We then discovered it was leech alley, they were everywhere. We walked quickly so as not to give them an opportunity to get on us and then had short stops to inspect each others legs. After about a mile the path just fizzled out and we had no choice but to run the gauntlet back. It was up hill but we were  practically running just to escape the leeches. We had no choice but to retrace our route the whole way making it a much longer walk than intended!

In the evening we went to see a Kandian dance show. We are not sure we ended up where we intended as we were charged a lot of money to see an am dram performance that didn't even last an hour. The area around the lake in Kandy is quite pretty but we never made it to see the Temple of the Tooth which is a very important Buddhist temple. We have just seen one to many Buddhas in our travels this year!

We had a luxurious (relatively) trip from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya on an air conditioned coach. It was slightly more expensive than the bus and we had to buy a seat for each of our bags but it was still cheap. The route was very scenic with lots of tea plantations and very hilly. Nuwara Eliya is called Little England as it has a British climate due to its altitude. True to its name it rained a lot and  was very cold. We had to ask for an extra blanket for our bed and we purchased thick woolly hats to wear.

We had a trip to Hortons Plains and Worlds End planned from Nuwara Eliya. We were collected at 5.30am so we had multiple layers of clothes on and our new hats. There is supposed to be lots of wildlife at Hortons Plains but you don't see it as there are too many people. It was a nice walk, again with bad signage but the view at Worlds End was lovely and clear. The reason for the early start is that the view clouds up as the sun rises and as it was the rainy season, it rains every afternoon.

Our exit from Nuwara Eliya was by train. The trip to Ella is a very scenic railway ride. In fact it is so popular that all we could get were 3rd class tickets which were fine. Nuwara Eliya station is memorable for one of the worst toilets of the holiday. In general the public toilets in Sri Lanka were pretty bad but the ones in Nuwara Eliya were horrible. I think the prize for the worst ones goes to Galle station though where the smell was so bad that I never even made it anywhere near the door!

In Ella we had chosen a small hotel which according to had amazing views. It did have the views but what we failed to realise was that to get to it we had to climb from the road up a series of steps followed by a track that was so steep that if it was a ski run it would be a black! By the time we got to the place we needed oxygen! And to top it all, a leech had got into my sandals and had a suck between my toes!  Each time we did the walk to and from the hotel one of us had a leech on us (most often Mike). It was difficult to feel relaxed as we always worried about the ones we hadn't found!

Despite the trials of the hotel we visited a tea factory which was very interesting and walked up Little Adams peak which has lovely views. Our stay in Ella also ended badly. The bus from Ella to Tissa (town near Yala NP) was full when it arrived at the stop. We were all shoe horned onto the bus with some people standing on the steps not even being able to get onto the bus properly. The driver made no concessions to the fact that we were all wet (from the heavy rain) sardines with nothing to hold onto and we were thrown around every time he slammed his breaks on and then re-accelerated. It is probably the closest we have both come to loosing it. Tempers get a bit short when you are enduring those conditions and then it's made worse by locals who have no concept of waiting and just push passed you. In fact, the locals just have no concept of personal space at all. We were charged quite a lot for this horrendous drive and then were kicked off in a town somewhere to change buses. A  relief as at least we got a seat on the next bus!

We had a full day booked in Yala NP starting at 4.30am (and we didn't get back until 7pm). We had an excellent guide and saw lots of amazing birds, Sloth bear, Elephant and a very distant Leopard. The roads in the park are definitely only for 4 wheel drive vehicles. Some of the roads were actually rivers due to the amount of rain. An excellent day and well worth the visit.

The following day we had an afternoon safari booked in Bundala which is quieter than Yala and supposedly better for birds. We saw very few birds (we saw much more in Yala) but did see lots of monkeys and Elephants. A second day at Yala would probably have been better but you never know.

Our last stop before we got back to Columbo was Galle. An extremely touristy old Portuguese fort town.  It is full of gem shops and expensive restaurants. Nice to see but not worth staying more than a day.

We didn't see much in Columbo other than the independence monument and the park. By this time we had ran out of steam and decided our stay in Sri Lanka had been about a week too long. We had eaten enough curry and rice and wanted our comfortable bed back.

Our memories of Sri Lanka are of an expensive place where prices for accommodation are at least double the price in other parts of Asia and the cost of food is the same as the UK (unless you live on curry and rice). They think their monuments are better than they are, otherwise why do they charge soooo much to get into them, and finally leeches. Against that the wildlife is amazing and Sigiriya verges on a Wonder of the World!

We returned to the boat just before Christmas. We spent Christmas day at Rebak resort. They provide a Christmas brunch with sparkling wine so we went along with friends Sharon and Lindsay off Songlines. We then met up with them again for New Year when a group of 10 of us went out for a meal in Kuah before seeing the New year in on Songlines.

Since then we have been working hard on the boat trying to do much needed internal varnishing. We are also staring to get the boat ready for its big trip across the Indian Ocean.

We are now in Pangkor where we are leaving the boat to fly to India tomorrow. We are staying 30 days in India and then fly to Kathmandu to hopefully walk the Annapurna circuit. This will probably be our last update until we return from Nepal in mid April.

Happy 2016 everyone.

Monday, November 2, 2015

It's Been A While!

We went back to the UK for 6 weeks from Mid July until the beginning of September. It was a hectic time visiting friends and family and spending time with our grandchildren. Jon (Mike's son) and Carrie were married towards the end of our stay which was a lovely day and then we looked after Alex (grandson) while they went on honeymoon! It seems that each time we return home it gets more tiring!

When we got back to the boat we spent time getting  over our jet lag and recovering our energy.  We left the marina and anchored in a lovely bay called Singar Besar which is perfect for the SW monsoon.  We had to give the boat a good clean as  most of the wood inside was covered in mold, a good indication of the amount of rain here while we were away. The rains are now decreasing and the winds are starting to blow from the East again marking the end of the SW monsoon which is good.

As normal we purchased lots of things for the boat while in the UK all of which constitute at least one job. The one thing we have realised over time is that there is no such thing as a small job. Thinking a job will be quick is the worst thing you can do as that guarantees it will take most of the day!

At the beginning of October we decided to head to Phuket to get some stainless steel replaced on the toe rail. We also needed to get the generator fixed as we had been unable to get it started since we returned to the boat.  We left from Telaga, at the the north end of Langkawi, ahead of what we thought was a squall. Unfortunately, it lasted longer than expected and was extremely violent so we had to abandon our trip and go back to the anchorage. The wind continued to blow strongly all night so it was definitely the right decision. After our false start, we left the next day and spent 3 days motoring to Phuket. We had a small sail the last day and also decided to fish at the same time. We managed to hook a tree!  While trying to slow the boat so that we didn't loose all our line we managed to get the line around the boat. Mike had to get in the water and sort the line out before it got caught around our prop so that was the end of the sailing and the fishing!

After clearing in to Phuket at Ao Chalong, we went to Boat Lagoon marina to get our jobs done. There is a very long entry channel to the marina which is supposed to be dredged to 2m. We entered with 2.5M of tide and got stuck on the bottom even though we only draw 1.5m!  So much for the dredged channel! We got our jobs started and then escaped from the marina on a nice high tide and went around to Yacht Haven at the the north end of Phuket.

Our metal work was sanded and polished rather than replaced and our generator head had to be removed and worked on. While we were waiting for them to be returned we sanded and painted the toe rail. It was hard work in the heat but at least the weather was good to us and it stayed dry until after the paint had dried. It took us 2 days and 9 tubes of silicon sealant to re-attach the stainless to the toe rail plus lots of paper towel!!

We anchored out side of the marina for a further week while we varnished the wood in the cockpit and then we headed back to Ao Chalong to clear out. The visibility has been very bad in Langkawi and Phuket from the forest fires in Indonesia. The airport in Langkawi has been closed a few times and schools have been closed as the air has been so bad. It seems to have cleared at the moment and hopefully the NE winds will blow it away.

We left Phuket and planned to make a few stops on our way back to Langkawi. The first stop was directly into the wind plus the wind direction and strength were excellent for a sail straight back to Langkawi so that is what we did. We had 12 hours excellent sailing but had to motor the next 12 hours whilst dodging all the fishing boats through the night.

We are now on our way to Penang to hopefully get our visas for India. We have also ordered new batteries for our house bank (the main battery bank that runs everything but the engine) which are being delivered to the marina. We are not looking forward to fitting 6 batteries. When we fitted the existing ones we were never sure how we got the last one in so getting them out could be interesting!

After Penang we head back to Langkawi to leave the boat again while we go to Sri Lanka for 3 weeks. We fly on 24 November and have an action packed 3 weeks planned. Then it will be back to Langkawi for Christmas with friends.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Holiday in Japan

After 2 weeks work in the boat we flew to Osaka, Japan. It was a long 7 hour flight on Air Asia without any movies! We spent the night in a hotel near the airport and then got the train to Kyoto the following day. The train was amazing, it arrived at the station, was cleaned (properly) and then magically all the seats changed direction so that they would all be facing forward. Far superior to UK trains.

Kyoto is lovely to walk around and the transport system is amazing and fortunately has announcements and signs in English! There are a wealth of temples and things to see so we had 7 days of full on sight seeing. Each day we visited a different suburb and where possible walked between temples and Zen gardens. One evening we went to see an open air 'Noh theatre' performance. We managed to stay for 2 parts of a 5 part performance. It is certainly an acquired taste!

By the end we had seen practically every temple worth visiting. We then got the Shinkansen train to Hakone. The Shinkansen is another amazing experience, they are so clean and so fast. The purpose of visiting Hakone was to see Mt Fuji. We got one glimpse from the lake but the cable car which gives the best view was closed due to seismic activity. The weather which had been amazing in Kyoto decided to rain so we left early the following day and headed to Tokyo.

We had 4 days in Tokyo. Out hotel was about 30 minutes out of the centre but it didn't matter as the transport links are so good. Again we visited a few of the suburbs and did a bit of walking. Unfortunately we had missed the Cherry blossom and the rhododendrons but did see a few azaleas and the start of the hydrangeas. Even so we loved the lovely greens everywhere.

We left Tokyo and flew via Kuala Lumpur to Yogyakarta in Java, Indonesia. We wanted to visit the temples of Borobudur and Prambanan which we had missed as we were sailing through Indonesia the previous year. Unfortunately Java was a bit too much of a shock to the system after Japan. Also we had got very travel weary and had perhaps tried to do too much at once. We did visit the temples but they did not have as much impact as we expected due to our recent visit to Angkot Wat. We used the remainder of the time to relax.

After flying back to Langkawi it was a few days before we finally re-launched the boat. Once the shopping was done we headed out of the marina to an anchorage. It was quite a shock sleeping on the boat in 35c with no air conditioning after spending months sleeping in air conditioned accommodation. We caught up with friends Sharon and Lindsay on 'Songlines' and our friend Nigel from the UK visited us for a week on his way back from NZ.

We headed back to the marina and got the boat ready to leave again. We flew to the UK on 15 July which is where we are now for 6 weeks. We have been getting to know our grandson' and are looking forward to Jon's wedding on 22 August.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

60 Days Travelling around SE Asia

We left the boat out of the water at Rebak marina and became land travellers for 2 months. Packing our rucksacks, we became backpackers or budget travellers! We started in Bangkok, Thailand, worked our way north to Chang Rai before crossing the border into Laos where we headed south down the Mekong for 2 days. We continued south to 4000 islands before crossing to Cambodia and Angkor Wat. Our stay in Cambodia was cut short by the Khmer New year celebrations which meant everything was either closed or very expensive. Our last country was Vietnam and we worked our way north from Saigon to Hanoi and then flew back to Malaysia.

The highlights were Kanchanaburi in Thailand. Visiting the museums and walking Hellfire pass was very moving. A 4km walk exhausted us in the heat, it is hard to imagine having to do hard labour for 18 hour a day with minimal water and meagre rations.  Ayuthaya, the old capital of Thailand was very interesting. It has lots of ancient Stupa which we enjoyed cycling around.
A big highlight was the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia. There are millions of tourists there and it was incredibly hot but still amazing to see. We had no idea that there was so many Wats or that they covered such a huge area. Angkor Wat itself and Angkor Thom are probably the best preserved but they all have something slightly different to see. We spent 3 days wandering around them.
In Laos our favourite place was Champasak and the 4000 Island group. The latter are down in the south of the country and are islands on the Mekong. We firstly stayed at Champasak so that we could visit the Khmer ruins of Wat Phu, not as big as Angkor but lovely and quiet but still impressive. Then we stayed on an Island called Don Khon. There is very little on the island other than a few waterfalls but we had a lovely bungalow with a balcony overlooking the Mekong. Very relaxing!!!

Vietnam was probably our favourite country and its difficult to think of highlights as there were so many. We enjoyed Saigon even though you did take your life in your hands just walking around. The traffic is manic with thousands of motorcycles. No one pays any attention to traffic lights or one way streets and if the road is too crowded the bikes just drive on the path. Motorbikes are used in SE Asia to transport anything and everything and can sometimes turn into wide loads. It is not unusual to see a family of 4 or 5 on one bike, women sitting side saddle. We even saw a woman feeding a baby as they were driving along and another putting on her make-up!

Hoi An was a lovely old town, interesting to walk around the shops and the local market. We had clothes made to order here at a very cheap price.  Sapa is close to the Chinese border and is known for its hiking and Hill tribes. We weren't originally going to visit Sapa but are very glad we did.  The hill sides are all terraced and covered with rice paddies and it is very pretty. The hill tribe women are friendly and some speak very good English. They are constantly trying to sell you things which can be a little tiresome but they are very nice about it. Even when we went walking they would follow us. We used to walk around saying 'not shopping' to get rid of them.

We planned our itinerary in advance and as much as possible we did everything  independently. We did do 3 organised tours. The first was in Thailand at Khao Yai NP which was good, we had a very enthusiastic guide. The first evening we visited Bat caves and watched millions of bats leave the cave for their nightly hunting. We all stood spaced out in a field and the bats passed us so close and so quickly. Lots of fun. The second day was a walk through the forest where we saw Greater Hornbills and a sleeping Crocodile.  Our second trip was to see the My Son ruins in Hoi An, Vietnam, a big disappointment after Angkor Wat and we had  the most annoying guide. Last but not least but definitely the worst was our tour of Halong Bay in Vietnam. Not only did we have a very annoying guide again but the whole trip is such a  big rip off.  The boat goes about 3 miles into the bay and then anchors with about 60 other boats all doing the same thing. The food was mediocre and our guide wanted us to go to the beach at 6am as we hadn't had time to do it the first day- no chance! The next day you motor the 3 miles back and other than a visit to a cave that is it. We decided we preferred Phang Nga Bay in Thailand.

One of the things we realised as we travelled was just how affected all the countries had been by war. As I mentioned above Kanchanaburi was very moving and the Japanese were very brutal to the soldiers but one thing we never hear about at home is just how many Asians also died building the railway. Around 100,000,although no one is sure of numbers.

In Laos we visited the COPE museum which makes prosthetic limbs for people injured by unexploded bombs.  Laos is still covered with millions of unexploded bombs and cluster bombs dropped by the US. Unfortunately the metal is precious to the villages so they dig them up. There are still lots of places you cannot visit because of  the danger of the bombs and you have to ensure you stay on the paths. Almost half the country is off limits!

The two most depressing and moving places we visited were the S21 prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and the War remnants museum in Saigon. The S21 prison is an old school that was used by the Khmer Rouge to hold and torture prisoners. It is exactly as it was during the war but with lots of photos. The Khmer Rouge documented everything so the photos are horrific. Prisoners were taken from here to  the killing fields to be killed except babies which were thrown against a tree. It was horrific to see just how cruel people can be to fellow human beings because they are told to. None of the Khmer leaders have been tried yet and you have to wonder why?

The Museum in Vietnam was a Vietnamese view of the war with the US.  Mostly it was pictures taken by US and Japanese journalists in the field. The worst part was the pictures of  the effects of Agent Orange which showed lots of severely deformed children. It is horrible to think that babies are still being born with defects due to the poison. There are probably no rights or wrongs of the war but using agent orange can only be wrong.

We really enjoyed our trip but we both realised that we are not good at being tourists. We hated being in crowds and we hated the fact that every time you go and see something it entails a buying opportunity. Asia is cheap to travel in but you have to be constantly on your guard against being ripped off. Being a tourist means they (usually the taxi drivers) can charge a ridiculous amount of money. In Laos any type of transport would drop you at the most inconvenient stop just so that you had to spend more money getting to where you wanted to go. In Vietnam agents would almost double the cost of train tickets so we learned to use the Vietnamese web site to book and saved a fortune. One of  our funniest incidents was on the train in Thailand, as soon as we were seated we were given a cup of fresh orange juice. The guy who served it walked away so we thought it was complimentary. After we had drank half he came back and asked us for a ridiculous amount of money, we refused to pay and gave him the drinks back! He wasn't  happy but serves him right!


We have been back in Langkawi for 2 weeks. We are staying in a B&B as we could not face staying on the boat without a  fridge and air conditioning in these temperatures. We have hired a moped to get to the ferry across to Rebak Island each day. We have been repairing the keel and doing other jobs we can only do while the boat is out of the water. We are finding the heat too much, Mike emerges from being down a hole on the boat looking as if he has just come out of the shower and both of us are struggling to drink enough to make up for  the fluids we are losing. Still, we are both loosing some of the weight we put on while away!

In a few days time we fly to Japan for 2 weeks and then on to Java to see Borobudur. Watch this Space!!!