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Roaming Mole

Hi everyone

This is my last post ……….on this site

After many agonising weeks my new site is finally ready to launch.   Please join me there to follow the stories of this intrepid adventurer – the Roaming Mole.

This has been a tough learning curve so I really hope you like the new site – comments and feedback welcome.  If you have any good ideas on how to improve the site please let me know and I’ll attempt to implement them.

Thanks to Ged, Paul, Larry, Daryl and Debbie for all their help, advice and support through this very trying phase.

I hope these links work – otherwise it won’t be my last post.  Please subscribe to my new site to receive updates on new posts.

Here are the links to the new site and my first post.

Home

 

And this is my first post.

The Underground Story

 

 

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GOING HOME

“Home is the place where you are most thoroughly yourself, with no pretenses”. – V Moran

In total I spent just shy of 6 weeks (41days) back in the UK.  I was welcomed back with incredible warmth and generosity.  To say it was an amazing visit would be a huge understatement .  I am fortunate to have incredible friends who fed and housed me; lent me a car; made special plans to entertain me but most importantly provided emotional support whilst I transitioned from being part of a couple (the better part obviously) to singledom.

This is the ground I covered and what follows is a photo diary of my epic visit.

 

London – with Kate, Brett and Pip.

An opportunity to sort out my passport and visas but also to meet Pip, Brett and Kate’s 7 month cocker spaniel.  Don’t be fooled by how ordinary she looks because she’s probably the most gifted dog on the planet and any bad behaviour is only due to boredom and mental torpor.  She really needs full time tutoring to reach her full potential.  I was offered the job but really felt I couldn’t provide the intellectual stimulus she needed.  (I’m obviously not fit for the job because I believe I should have said “stimulii”).

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A Brutal run for Brett in Bordon, Hampshire.   I saw some old faces from my orienteering days – Liz and Colin Dickson , Colin Holcombe and Dave Rollins.  It was a lovely day, although the course appeared to be a little muddy,  and Kate and I enjoyed walking Pip and watching the action.   I haven’t been to Bordon in over 5 years and was shocked to see the Garrison no longer exists.   Instead it’s a huge, brand new housing estate.  New housing estates and extensive new building projects was a theme I saw repeated numerous times over of visit.

 

 

Suffolk.

Two short visits to see my Mum and Dad.  They’re both getting on a bit and my poor mum suffers from macular degeneration and requires eye injections every 6 weeks .  Unfortunately she’d had injections the day before these photos so her eyes were very sore.  They both suffer from various ailments but all things considered they’re doing incredibly well for their age.  Hopefully I’ve inherited those genes!

 

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Torquay with Mandy and Alex.

Since I last saw them Mandy has had 2 boys, Kaio and Rocco.  It was great to meet the little fellas and expand my baby experiences.  Mandy let me change Rocco’s nappy, I think she was a bit shocked that I wanted to.   So that was probably only the second nappy I’ve ever changed, does that make me an expert?  Aren’t they just the cutest?

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Scotland.

A week with Debs and Larry in Cupar.  This was our girlie day out in Edinburgh  with Jolanda, Jac, Debbie and Eve.  We went to see the most incredible show, Joseph , with Jaymi Hensley (from boyband Union) as lead.  He was brilliant.   I also got to see Eve’s halls of residence .  I couldn’t include a photo (too shocking) but remember Life of Grime with John Peel and you should have the right mental picture!

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There was time for some dog walks; beautiful scenery and an opportunity to meet Frankie.  Sadly he’s not as gifted as Pip but he’s a close second.  And a family gathering with both Eve and Leah taking time from their busy schedules to come home.  Whilst Eve has just started at university, Leah is just about to graduate .  Last time I was in Scotland I helped her move into her halls of residence in Dundee.  Doesn’t time fly and actually it’s a bit of a shocker;  four years at university has turned her from child to adult.

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Time with Jac.  Gosh we did so much.  She came to Wales and Scotland with me.  We  did a stopover to see my wonderful cousin Ann, in Caernarfon (sorry no photos).  We had a day out in Southampton with Fiona and Ali.  And just before I left we had a special celebration for her 50th birthday.

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Andover – time with Vik who is planning her own great adventure.

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Mike and Sorcha.  An Irish couple I first met in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and then again in India.  It was great to catch up with them although I’m not sure why we’ve all been Tangoed.

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St Andrews and a meeting of serendipity.   Katrina (who I first met in Afghanistan) lives in Glasgow but I passed her on the streets of St Andrews and we had coffee and a catch-up.

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I didn’t think it would happen but I was very fortunate to see Chris.

 

And there were other great moments that Sadly I failed to capture on film but that were equally rewarding.  Jac and George, Andrea and Louise,  Deborah and John , Ann my cousin, Karen Baker, Marion, Kasia, Gav and my brother Meirion.  It was a very busy and emotional few weeks.  Coming home made me realise how lucky I am to have such great and supportive friends and family.  I’m sure I wouldn’t be so resolute and excited about my future plans if I hadn’t spent this quality time back home.  Thank you all.   I also had the time to research and buy the extra gear I need for my solo cycling adventure.

And now to the plan.    A look forward to titillate your imagination:

1.  Trans Siberian railway from Moscow to Ulan Ude. (4500km).  Ulan Ude to Ulaanbaatar and Ulaanbaatar to Bejing.

2.  Ferry from Bejing to South Korea to fetch my trike and return to China.  Cycle China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

3.  Return to Mongolia to see its beauty in the summer and tour some of its highlights on a motorbike.

Now that I’ve written it down I’m committed!

And the postscript to this post is my visit to Plovdiv, Bulgaria the to see my brother Gwyn.  Plovdiv is the Cultural Capital of 2019.  It’s definitely worth a visit and I know a great Airbnb host if you want to go.

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A HAT-TRICK OF VISAS AND A NEW PASSPORT – ALL DONE IN 15 DAYS

A HAT-TRICK OF VISAS AND A NEW PASSPORT – ALL DONE IN 15 DAYS

CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND MONGOLIAN VISAS

My first step on English soil after 3 and a half years was on 20th February 2019.  I’d just endured an epic 48 hour journey from my workaway in Sungai Petani in Northern Malaysia to Kuala Lumpur to London Heathrow via Karachi.  I’d flown with PIA (Pakistan International Airlines), a mistake I plan never to repeat. Flying with PIA is as about as desirable as the bubonic plague.  The food was disgusting; the inflight entertainment was non-existent; and the service, since I was the only white female, was poor at best and non-existent at worst because every Pakistani man had to be dealt with before me.  The flight was full.  I saw only 4 other women and they were Pakistani.  Every man had a trolley loaded with bags and bundles.  They must all have been carrying at least 50 kg of luggage.  One guy asked if i’d take some of his bags because I only had a small bag.  Let me think – No?   It was nothing short of miraculous that we actually took off.  In short, a journey from hell.

 

I’d returned home because I was really missing my friends and family.   But I thought it was the perfect opportunity to get my Chinese visa. If you cast your minds back I’d left my trike in Seoul, South Korea at the end of September 2018 and unless I wanted to fly out of South Korea, the options were fairly limited.  In fact without a flight my options were (a). Ferry back to Japan. (b). Ferry into China.

I’ve never been to China and so option (b) seemed the most desirable and how hard can it be to get a Chinese visa?

 

      NEW PASSPORT

  1. Before I could start the visa process I needed a new passport.  I actually still had until June 2022 before my passport expired but with only 2 clear pages remaining it was almost useless.  And here I discovered my first conundrum. Typically a new passport takes several weeks to attain and without a new passport and its number I couldn’t start a visa application process because every visa requires a valid passport number.
  2. Mission 1.  Get a new passport as quickly as humanly possible.   And it can be done very quickly if the following steps are followed:
  3. Make an appointment at the passport office.  This can be done on-line. I had monitored appointment availability during the preceding weeks.  Why? I expected to be available for an appointment early on the 21st February but if there were any problems with my flights from Kuala Lumpur and I missed my appointment I would forfeit the fee (basically the cost of my new passport).  I couldn’t afford to  wait several days for an appointment once I was back.  However I’d seen that there was daily appointment availability even if only booking the day before. So I didn’t book until I landed in Heathrow.
  4.  Have a paper passport application form ready for completion.  Fortunately my friend Kate had picked up an application during the preceding week.  Since I landed at 1630hrs on 20th and my appointment was for 0845hrs on 21st I had no time to do it myself.  
  5.  Photographs.   I stopped at a photograph booth in Heathrow airport.   
  6.  I had everything I needed and I’d repeatedly checked online as to how to complete the application form correctly.   I was in some doubt as to whether I’d changed significantly since my old passport photo. If the change is deemed significant then the new photographs have to be certified (‘’this is a true likeness…..blah, blah”) and the certifier has to complete part of my form.  I thought I really hadn’t changed significantly but I couldn’t take the risk. Fortunately Kate was able to sign my photos and application. Again this is something you can’t afford to get wrong. If your application form is rejected, you forgo your fee.
  7. At 0830hrs on 21st February I was queuing at the passport office (just behind Victoria  Station,London). By 0900hrs my paperwork had been accepted. My new passport would be ready in 4 hours.  The cost:

           £77 for 10 year passport

           £10 to have the extended 50 page version

           £100 for express, 4 hour service.

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8.   Yes, when I made my appointment online I had paid £187.  This is  non-refundable. You can’t afford to get this wrong!  Four hours later I had a brand new passport and I hadn’t even been home 24hours.

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CHINESE 2 YEAR MULTI ENTRY TOURIST VISA

9.  In the weeks leading up to my UK flight I had visited various Chinese visa sites time and repeatedly tried to establish what I needed to get my visa. I wanted a 2 year multi entry tourist visa.  I knew I could use a visa company and pay dearly for the service, or I could try and do it myself. However, I needed to make an appointment at the Chinese visa application centre in order to submit my application in person and have my fingerprints recorded.      But in order to make an appointment I needed a completed online application. But I couldn’t complete the form.  I just didn’t know what was the correct approach and no matter where I looked for advice on the Internet I still couldn’t find the answer as to how to do it. Here were my problem areas:

a.  I didn’t have a passport number, date of issue and expiry date.

b.  I knew I needed proof that I was entering and exiting China but to justify a 2 year visa how long a period did I need to be in China?

c.   I needed an itinerary and proof of stay but it needed to match my stay in China and without the answer to (b) I couldn’t do (c).

10.   It was a frustrating problem but Kate had the solution.  I should visit the Chinese visa application centre whilst waiting for my new passport and see if I could find the answers.   Since it’s near St Paul’s Cathedral this seemed a great idea. In total I had to visit the Chinese visa centre 3 times and each time it was like a mad house; absolute bedlam.   Who knew Chinese visa acquisition was such a popular pursuit?   On my first visit I wandered around and then joined a queue. I had no idea why people were queuing but there’s nothing I love better than a good queue and I’d been deprived of this basic British pastime for 4 years.  Whilst I stood in the queue I was busy trying to assess its purpose: where it led, what paperwork other queuees were holding and eavesdropping on snippets of  conversation.  Then I noticed a lady moving down the queue, chatting to queuees and checking their paperwork. And eventually she got to me and solved all my problems.  Yes a 2 year multi entry visa was easily achievable but I must only show a 30 day (or less) visit into China, anything more is deemed suspicious. I needed a flight in and out of China (a flight not a ferry or a train) supporting this fictitious 30 day visit and an itinerary or hotel booking to match. OMG simple! I scurried away, delighted by my discovery and only a little disappointed to have lost my opportunity to queue.

11.  I picked up my new passport and returned to Kate’s house in Streatham Hill.  Having a base in London is a ‘’must” if you’re embarking on this process. Back at base it was time to  complete my online Chinese visa application. I had my new passport number, issue and expiry date. I needed a flight into and out of China.  But I knew I wasn’t ever going to use this flight. The reality was that I would enter China on the ferry from South Korea. I needed a fully refundable flight.  By 9am on 22nd I was sick of searching the Internet for such a product and having exhausted my patience I phoned British Airways. Ten minutes later I had booked a fully refundable return flight to Bejing from London.  Cost £2500. Yes £2500 – thank God for credit cards!! Once that was done I was able to make one hotel booking in Bejing for the same dates using booking.com. Within minutes my online application was complete and I had all the paperwork I needed but unfortunately there were no appointments available for several days.

12.  I returned to the visa application centre on 28th February.   Despite having an appointment time I had to queue to be issued an appointment number and then had to wait until it was called.  I then submitted my printed application form, my photograph, my new passport, my flight confirmation and my hotel booking confirmation.   My paperwork was checked and accepted. I was then issued another ticket and had to wait downstairs to pay for my visa. Cost £151 for a 2 year multi entry.  I had wanted the passport posted out to me but I only had sufficient cash for this service. The delivery service is £181. They don’t accept credit cards and my debit card was out of date.  Once I had paid I was given a ‘’pick-up receipt”.  My passport with my Chinese visa would be available on the 7th March – that’s just 4 full working days.

13.   It was at this point that I decided on a course of action that would require a lot more effort and expense.  Instead of flying back to South Korea as I’d originally intended, I’d take the Trans Siberian railway, across Russia into Mongolia and finish in Bejing.  From there I could take a ferry into South Korea.  I timidly suggested my new idea to Kate who was absolutely in favour of the idea. Afterall when in the future would I want/need to travel West to East, Europe to Asia and already have completed a third of the visa requirements.   This just goes to show there are  few actions more stupid than those decided on impulse. All I needed was a Mongolian and Russian visa. Again I searched visa companies but they actually charge a premium but still require the client to provide an awful lot of the paperwork and it’s producing the paperwork that’s the major obstacle .

 

MONGOLIAN ONE MONTH, SINGLE ENTRY TOURIST VISA

14.   I made my decision about the Trans Siberian railway on the 1st March.  I needed to be in London on the 7th March to pick up my passport with my Chinese visa.  I needed my passport in order to get more visas. So that’s 6 days to get my paperwork completed.  

15 .   To get a Mongolian visa you need to know when you’ll be there.   (Actually I discovered AFTER the event this isn’t entirely accurate.   There’s a 90 day window to enter).  Since I didn’t know how long I wanted to be in UK and didn’t know how long to spend on the Tran Siberian journey then how could I decide on the correct dates for my visa.

16.  I needed proof of entry and exit into Mongolia and British Airways don’t flying into Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.  I thought booking my BA Bejing flight was inspired. A British company with English speakers allowing minumum room for misunderstanding and a British phone number are very important considerations when you know you will cancel the flight.   Stupidly I didn’t even research BA flights so it was pretty entertaining when the booking assistant asked ‘’where?” and then denied all knowledge of the country and the city.   BA do not fly to Mongolia .

17.  I considered booking a flight with another airline but eventually decided to book rail tickets for that part of my journey.  I had read the advice of “seat 61” the Internet rail enthusiast / expert and since the international leg of this journey is considered the pinch point of this journey with only 2 trains a week, it seemed a sensible option.  I used ‘’RealRussia” to make this booking. Ulan Ude, Siberian Russia to Ulaanbaatar,  Mongolia (548km) to Bejing, China (1167km).  The cheapest tickets are 2nd class and cost £300. Once I had decided to make train reservations the remainder was simple.

I needed:  Proof of entry/exit

                    Hotel Booking (booking.com)

                    Proof of insurance

                     Application form

                     Photograph

                     Proof of payment

18.  On the 7th March I caught the train into London to pick up my passport from the Chinese visa centre.  I had decided that once I had my passport I’d head to Kensington and the Mongolian embassy and apply for that visa.  I had realised that I would need the express Mongolian visa which takes 4 hours and costs £60. The alternative was to wait several days for the standard service which would mean another trip into London.  Unfortunately because I wanted to avoid peak rail travel periods I wasn’t able to get to the Chinese Visa Centre until 0945am. Having queued and presented my visa receipt at the reception desk I was issued with a numbered ticket and went downstairs to wait for my number.  If you think picking up a passport with a Chinese visa will be quick, think again. I was there nearly an hour and was practically pulling my hair out with impatience.  Why the high level of impatience?   Well I needed to submit my paperwork by 1200hrs.   Once I had my passport I hightailed it to the Mongolian embassy in Kensington. In the basement of the Mongolian Embassy is a drab room with one lady dealing with visa applications.   There must be very little demand for Mongolian visas because it’s only open 3 days a week and there was only one other customer in the basement, waiting. (I think the 3 day week is during winter months and low demand because I googled it today ((April 2019)) and it’s open Monday -Friday).  I submitted my paperwork and was told it was fine and was issued a pink raffle ticket and told to come back in 30 minutes. Yup it didn’t even take 4 hours. This is an incredibly low tech system compared to the Chinese Visa Centre.  So by lunchtime on 7th March I had 2 visas done and only one left to do.  My Mongolian visa was issued on the 7th March and is valid until June.

 

     RUSSIAN ONE MONTH SINGLE ENTRY TOURIST VISA.

19.    I spent hours trying to figure out how to get my Russian visa.   The Russian visa application is online and must be submitted in person because finger prints are recorded. The Russian visa application is even more challenging than the Chinese application.   It has numerous sections requiring very detailed information and I was unable to find any tips online telling me which sections weren’t applicable to me, a tourist.  Fortunately it’s possible to save an incomplete visa application and return to it at a later date.  This is a godsend because I returned to this baffling form time and time again.  Three specific questions were causing me a huge headache:

a. Which countries have you visited over the last 10 years and when, with a from and to section.  Wow that’s probably 50 countries and with actual dates? No chance.

b. Have you served in the military? Have you served during any conflicts, if yes when and what was the name of the conflict.

c. Give your full itinerary.

20.  Besides my problems with the application form I also needed “visa support documents”, but this must be issued by a Russian agency.  Hotel and travel booking proof won’t work. I used an online company that issues this official document for about €15. I just needed to give my personal details,  dates of travel and 5 cities on my itinerary.   I had the document in less than 5 minutes .

21.  By the 7th March I had everything I needed for my Russian visa except a completed application form.  I had expected to spend the day of the 7th in the Chinese and Mongolian visa centres – see I do know how to have a great day out in London.  But instead I had the afternoon free. So I headed to the Russian visa centre planning to beg for their mercy and be offered a ‘’shortened Russian visa application for dummies” and that’s exactly what I got.  I took my numbered ticket and waited for about ten minutes. I showed the assistant my paperwork and that was all fine. I explained that I couldn’t remember which countries I’d visited over the last 10 years and she looked at my brand new passport and said ‘’no entry or exit stamps, so no details required”.   I mentioned armed conflicts and she said one month tourist visa just say No. And for the itinerary just copy the support document. So that was it – simple. She pointed to a row of computers and told me to finish my online application.  There’s an assistant who monitors the computers and she repeatedly came to my aid.  She’s clearly used to us “dummies” trying to complete these forms and she’s happy to speed us on our way and off her computers.  She then printed my application.   I think use of the computer and printer cost about £5.00 but in terms of the help I’d received it was priceless. I took another numbered ticket and waited awhile and then submitted my completed paperwork and had my fingerprints scanned. Then I paid £184 for my one month, single entry tourist express visa which included delivery to a home address.   Yes, a hefty £184. The standard service is about £107 but it requires 21 working days to process so I just didn’t have enough time. One week later my passport was delivered, brand new and with 3 visas. This certainly wasn’t a cheap process especially with 2 express visas required but if I had used a visa agent I think it would have cost an additional £300.

Note 1:  for my military colleagues out there both the Chinese and Russian visa applications ask about military service but as you can see it doesn’t preclude getting the visa.

Note 2.   In retrospect the process above seems stress free but in reality it was horrendous.   Now I’ve succeeded and know the answers it’s easy.   But before I had the answers I kept phoning the visa centres above and I spent hours asking Mr Google for advice.  Unfortunately Mr Google has never bothered to complete a Russian visa application so he was as useful as a chocolate fireguard!

 

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Why volunteer? It can be a truly unforgettable experience (possibly for the wrong reasons)

 

It certainly wasn’t an auspicious start.  I arrived at the project and everyone stared at me as if I was a 3 headed dwarf.  They hadn’t been expecting me. How odd considering all the emails, texts and phone calls I had sent to Predo, one of the project leaders.

This immediately played on my insecurities.   I’d already spent 2 days prevaricating about going to the project.  Not an unusual activity for me. For the last 4 years even with 20 workaways under my belt each new meeting makes me want to run for the hills.  The ‘’fight or flight” syndrome I guess. I should be used to it by now; the unfamiliar, new people, a new ‘home’, a new regime but alas not. It’s the fear of the unknown and each time I have to ignore that insistent voice in my head telling me not to bother and force myself forward.

 

Where am I?

I’m at Bakau Hijau (Green Mangroves) a project situated on the river Merbok about 17km from Sungai Petani in Northern Malaysia.   The purpose of the project is to demonstrate to the local community how a tourism business can be run in a manner which is environmentally friendly and sustainable.

There are several aspects to the Project:

  1. the oyster farm
  2. replanting of the mangrove forests, which are subject to deforestation because the trees are used for firewood, construction,  and charcoal production. Mangrove forests are one of the world’s most threatened tropical ecosystems with 35% already gone.
  3. Tourism: there are River cruises,  and accommodation available in the house boat
  4. finally there’s education.

 

How do I come to be here?

I don’t know if you remember Fran? He was the motorcycling Spanish guy I met on a workaway in India around this time last year.  He had some ‘must-see’ recommendations as well as 2 ‘unmissable’ workaway projects, the Mindfulness Project in Khon Kaen and this one.  Actually technically not here but on Palau Bidan island, the sister project, where the project community work off grid, are self-sufficient and protect and nurture the Island’s nature and ecosystems.  Due to time constraints I won’t be seeing Palau Bidan this time but it’s on my bucket list as I may well cycle through Malaysia in 2020.

 

How to volunteer.

I’ve been using workaway.info for the last 4 years but there are similar sites such as HelpX.net and WWOOF.net.  All charge a membership fee but have thousands of hosts all over the world. Most expect 5 hours of work a day for 5 days and then allow 2 days off.  The pay-off is free food and accommodation. In less developed countries a contribution may be required but usually it’s no more than $5 a day. I’m paying here as I did in Nepal and at the Mindfulness Project in Thailand.  Here the contribution is 20 Ringgit per day (£3.70). Of course there are charitable and animal/environmental conservation projects also available in most countries but often they charge a considerable fee. Jane, the Canadian nurse from my last Solarblue sailing post, did plan to assist a charity in Nepal but she was expected to pay $800 for 2 weeks of work.

 

A working day

Usually a working day and what’s required is clearly outlined by the host. I love this.  Structure! It’s not that I have OCD (do I?) but after 22 years in the Army I’m used to structure.  What am I supposed to achieve, how best can it be achieved and how long have I got to achieve it. Some hosts are very particular about exactly how the job should be done (just anal retentive really) but also this is their turf and they’ve done the job a thousand times, so they are the SME (Subject Matter Expert) and you’re a fool if you ignore this advice because in all probability the job will be a 100 times harder and you’ll alienate your host.  

Unfortunately Bakau Hijau was nothing like this.  There was a list of jobs written on the blackboard.   Sweeping and cleaning, washing up and watering the plants but it only amounted to about 30 minutes of work.  Initially Julia and Myer, 2 experienced volunteers, were there to guide the way. Unfortunately they left for a festival after 1 day and I was left with 2 Malay interns, Balie and Fikri, Maksu and her family and various other Malay visitors / contractors.   I was joined by a new German volunteer, Lily, and her 2 kids on my second day but she didn’t seem keen to do any work. So she didn’t. Perhaps it’s the Malay way or perhaps they are used to the Lily’s of the world but initially they would never ask me to do a job.  Instead I had to catch them working and offer to help, or guess what might be required. As the week progressed they grew less reticent and asked if I wanted to help but even then there were significant barriers to overcome. It might be too hot to work, too early in the day, too late in the day, lunchtime,  breakfast time or any other reasons why work couldn’t progress. Once work did start it was anything but plain sailing. Tools, equipment and know-how were in such short supply that tasks couldn’t be finished or took an inordinate amount of time to complete. Balie and Fikri were my compadres, my partners in crime.  Two young Malay interns here for 5 months. Oddly they’re both Marketing students and I was at a loss to see the connection between marketing and their work at the project.

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There were occasions when watching them work was hilarious but more often it was just frustrating. They were told what to do but not given any guidance on how to do it and without tools it was impossible to finish some tasks whilst others were just one huge bodge job.  I thought my DIY skills were limited but compared to these young lads I looked pretty knowledgeable but without tools we still struggled with most jobs. We had no drill, no screws, only a few nails, a watering hose that don’t reach the mangrove nursery and a watering can with a hole in the bottom.

Oysters

The oysters need to be cleaned periodically with a scraper to remove the barnacles.  These oysters are in the baskets for over a year before they’re large enough to eat so scraping them

allows continued healthy grow but also ensures that the barnacle growth isn’t so extensive that it’s impossible to shuck the oyster.  It’s also an opportunity to put them back in clean baskets. If the oysters are being sold they are scraped and scrubbed clean before they’re shucked.  Customers are charged 5 Ringgit per oyster, about £1.00. The project has a lab where baby oysters are made. One morning Matzu tipped out 12 baskets, about 120 oysters and then Balie, Julia and I sat there for about 4 hours scraping them clean of barnacles before returning them to the river in clean baskets.  We had several visitors come up the river by boat and stopped by to taste our oysters.

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Mangrove seeds

I was very excited by the idea of replanting mangrove forests but sadly during my short stay there wasn’t the opportunity.   Instead I became a very dedicated collector of mangrove seeds. Unfortunately no-one gave me specific guidance on how to maximise seed collection. These seeds fall from the mangrove trees and so it’s just a case of picking them up.  But at high tide there’s water everywhere and at low tide it’s all horrible sucking, stinky mud. I tried walking along the river bank at high tide, low tide and various levels in-between and kayaking at high and low tide.

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Over my brief stay I did collect and pot over 200 seeds but these seeds need to be potted and nurtured until they have have rooted and produced new green shoots. Unfortunately the mangrove nursery had been neglected and was probably suffering from insufficient watering so we threw away about 200 seeds which had died.  Very depressing.

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Doggie workaway and sailing the Solarblue – 21st Dec to 9th Feb

Friday 21st December

A flight back to Phuket and Diana kindly offers to pick me up and then it’s back to the doggie hotel.  Fortunately I remember all the dogs except the Christmas borders. It’s a full house with Bolle, Max, Minie, Flecky, Chiva, Katie and Perry, Paris and Archie.  

It’s great to be back and there’s plenty to do with so many dogs staying.

 

Thursday 27th December

Diana’s workaway, Thalang

Well it has been a busy time.  Besides the usual dog chores of grooming, washing, feeding and picking up dog poo,  there’s also been painting, Facebook postings, vaccinations to check and various other random jobs Diana wants completed.

We’ve also been out for some lovely meals.

  On Christmas Eve we went out with Gustee and Mai to a German restaurant and Christmas Day we went out with Gift and Kit (Diana’s Thai employees) to my favourite restaurant for a fabulous meal.

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And the dogs have had some great treats too.  Yummy Christmas dinner with duck mince and raw chicken feet – that’s for the dogs not me!

 

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There’s also been time for shit TV, Professional Masterchef, The Apprentice, Homeland and some movies. Sadly I’ve failed to follow my intended regime of yoga and meditation but I guess there’s always tomorrow?

 

Tuesday 1st January

Diana’s workaway, Thalang

Another year done.  And so much already pencilled in for 2019 – surfing, sailing, UK visit, China, Mongolia, Taiwan and Hong Kong.  Wow it tires me out just looking at the list and I’m its creator – perhaps I need something less ambitious. Last night Diana and I went to Layan Beach where we met Gustee and Mai.  We’d stopped to buy dinner en route so we had a beach picnic. My first ever beach picnic and particularly special because it was on New Year’s Eve. It was obviously a popular pastime because there were hundreds of others there,  mostly Thais, doing the same thing. And there were fireworks and Chinese lanterns to enhance the atmosphere. A great way to see in the New Year, 2019 here I come!

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Over the last few days I’ve continued to be busy, looking after all the dogs and posting promotional material on Facebook for Diana.   Word seems to be spreading because Diana’s had about 5 new potential doggie customers that she had to decline because of insufficient space.  

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And Little and Large – well Max and Minie.

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My new sleeping companion.  Poopy!  Better company than the last one and lets me have the remote .

 

Sadly over the next few days we’re losing a number of dogs; Archie, Katie and Perry, Max and Minie and Sugar and Pela. Gosh it’s going to be so quiet with so many leaving.

Despite being busy with all the dogs I did find time to publish my Mindfulness Project blog and edit some videos.  I was absolutely blown away by the response. I didn’t realise how many people actually read my inane ramblings but to receive such overwhelmingly positive and supportive comments was truly touching.  Thank you everyone. And whilst my planned yoga sessions and surfing exercises remain unfulfilled I have started meditating first thing in the morning and I’m currently using guided sessions with Joe Dispenza, which are pretty cool.

Tuesday 8th January

Diana’s workaway, Thalang

Today is my last day at Diana’s and tonight I fly to Penang and then tomorrow to Bali.  Many dogs have returned home over the last week but one of my favourites, Paris, is still here and I always make sure I set aside time to give her loads of cuddles.  

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We’ve also been joined by a travel dog, Jamie, who initially was terrified of everybody and everything but over only a few days has transformed into a waggy tailed mass of playfulness and affection.  Ahhh so sweet. She’s come from the Government pound so she isn’t used to the space, the big rooms or all the attention. At the pound other dogs bullied and attacked her but here they all get along well and if any dog misbehaves or is too aggressive Diana soon lets them know that such behaviour is unacceptable.   Watching Diana work with these packs and integrating new dogs has been very interesting. It’s taught me a lot on how to deal with bad behaviour in a dog and how to illicit the behaviour I want. We’ve also had a few unpleasant experiences in the last week. One of our short stay borders was poorly during his visit and subsequently died.  One of our travel dogs, Lisa, seems to have lost the interest of her owner who is now back in Germany so God knows how that will end and whether Lisa will fly to Germany as originally planned or end up in the local Government pound. We also had a beautiful young husky pup stay with us briefly but she appeared to have no strength in her rear end and legs and if she ran and jumped her rear end / legs would flop as they gave way.   It was painful to watch and we thought it was painfully obvious all was not well and yet her owners had never noticed anything wrong. Most peculiar.

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In addition to dog care I’ve had an epic run on shit TV, primarily BBC Iplayer. I have a SIM with unlimited data and a VPN so I’ve enjoyed a Luther rerun. Bloody fantastic. And then the occasional episode of First Dates. The bad news was my shit TV preoccupation meant I skipped a few dinner outings with Diana but my farewell meal at my most favourite restaurant was fantastic and just thinking about the spicy mango salad and soft shelled crabs we ate still makes my mouth water like crazy.  

What a feast!

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I will miss all the great food I’ve had in Phuket and having my own personal restaurant guide and translator.  Thank you Diana!

 

Wednesday 9th January

Last night I flew to Penang and slept in a coffin.  Actually they’re called capsules. I’d always steered clear of these concerned that I’d feel too claustrophobic to sleep but actually it was ace.  

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My own TV, reading lights, aircon and total privacy once I locked myself in. Today I head back to Penang Airport for my flight to Denpasar, Bali via Kuala Lumpur.  In Bali I’m staying at Kimasurf, Seminyak and I’m going to learn to surf. They even provide free airport transfers so once I’ve landed I just need some local currency and then it’s simply a case of finding my lift.  A period of low grade panic ensues as I walk up and down looking for someone holding the piece of paper with my name on it. My eyesight is such that it’s some time before I’m convinced that there definitely isn’t a sign and I’m happy to venture further from the arrivals Hall.  I feel a huge wave of relief when I finally spot my name. There’s only me and the driver and it’s gone 11pm when I’m finally shown to my 8 man dorm. Time to sleep before the surfing adventure begins.

 

Friday 18th January

Kimasurf, Bali

For the last 9 days I’ve been learning to surf.  

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For the first 3 days I was enrolled in surf school.  Surf school includes 3 lessons on the waves and one in the pool.  There were 3 other girls in surf school when I started but because they were on day 2 and I was on day 1 I had my own personal surf coach.  Initially I did really well and with 2 days of 1 on 1 tuition I was feeling really chuffed with my success. Unfortunately it seems my technique wasn’t actually that good and from day 3 onwards I really start to struggle.  Basically I can’t bring my front foot far enough forward and it gets stuck in various places (always the wrong place, facing the wrong way) and I constantly struggle to adjust it and invariably fall off the board. As a result I decide this sport is stupidly tough and exhausting.   After several days my problem is finally disagnosed by my surf coaches and now I simply need to learn a new ‘popping’ up technique but by this stage I’m so confused and so tired that joining each lesson is a huge motivational hurdle. I’ve also been joining the daily yoga sessions with Hanu, a Finnish guy.  I’ve done an Astanga session and several Hatha sessions and already I can see a significant improvement from my start point at the beginning of December. Unfortunately my new love affair with yoga is almost completely decimated after a Yin session. In theory it sounds like a slow paced, relaxing session where poses are held considerably longer than in the other disciplines to target the fascia and connective tissue.  The aim in yoga is to relax into each position so in each new pose we adopt I try to breathe deeply and relax and deepen the stretch. So far so good. It’s only when I need to move into the next pose that I discover I’m almost totally locked into this one and that unlocking myself is incredibly painful. Ninety minutes later and it’s over; the relief is immense but so is the pain. So much for a relaxing session. By the following morning my body feels as if I’ve been hit by a truck.  I head to the beach with my board but soon realise my body is too exhausted to do this class justice and I decide to head back for breakfast. Later I tell my instructors the problem and they suggest a massage. Off I go to seek some relief. But of course I’m a mass of sore and aching muscles and my 60 minute body massage is more pain than pleasure. I can’t believe this is a holiday pursuit, it feels more like a punishment camp!! Everything I do leads to pain and more pain.  But there’s been a brief reprieve some some sightseeing.

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Today is my last day here.   Tomorrow I’m leaving Bali and heading back to Krabi in Thailand for a 3 week sailing experience.   I’m really looking forward to it because I’m hoping it’ll be a doddle after this camp. But of course my last sailing adventure was a total disaster so perhaps I’m being over optimistic !

 

Sunday 20th January

I left Kimasurf yesterday at 9am but it has taken almost 36hours to reach Krabi.  Actually the 2 flights I needed from Denpasar to Kuala Lumpur and from KL to Penang were short but the connection times were dreadful – I don’t know what I was thinking when I chose these flights. I spent 10 hours at Kuala Lumpur airport  and then 5 hours in Penang before heading off for my 5.45am bus to Yat Hai. This journey includes the border crossing into Thailand where passing through Immigration takes several hours. From Yat Hai I have a few hours to wait until my Krabi bus and I’m told I’m at the wrong bus terminal.   I get a lift to the other bus terminal and again the ticket staff phone my bus company but they want to send me back to the first bus terminal. Arggghhh. Finally they tell me to walk down the road and wait outside the 7/11 and I’ll be picked up at 1pm. I have my doubts so I’m totally relieved when I do get picked up.  

Finally I arrive in Krabi. It’s been 36 hours with only a few hours sleep so I’m happy to be staying in a lovely hostel in town tonight.

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A hot shower, a fabulously comfortable bed and air conditioning.

Wednesday 23rd January

After a relaxing night at the hostel I’m in no rush to go anywhere.   I’ve spoken to my new skipper and he’s going to be busy today restocking the boat so there’s no rush.  Eventually I make my way to Krabi Marina, find the boat, Solarblue, and my 2 crewmates. They’re Ben (French) and Ann (French Canadian) from Montreal and they’ve already been on the boat for a week.  We chat for the next few hours over a beer. These guys are travelling for 6 months but their first stop was travelling by 4×4 pickup with rooftop tent in Botswana and Namibia. Their stories and experiences sound so great that this is definitely going on my bucket list.

Late afternoon I meet John (Australian) and Tassy (Thai), the skipper and his wife.  

They’ve been busy shopping for food and fuel and they’re pretty pooped so for a relaxing evening they take us to the nearby night market for dinner.  My first night aboard is uneventful but by 10am we’re catching the tide out of Krabi Marina and we actually sail to our first island, Koh Poda (so already this trip is outperforming the trimaran) . The winds are light but we set both the jib and main sail.  Tassy and Ann cook Pad Thai for lunch and once we’ve dropped anchor there’s time for snorkeling. For dinner I help Tassy prepare a green curry which is so simple to make yet so delicious. Only one day done and it’s already so different from my last ‘sailing’ trip.  This morning we were up and sailing by 6.30am because we have quite a long leg to Koh Lanta and the wind and tide aren’t going to be in our favour.

For the majority of this leg we set both main and jib and only need motoring back up at the end. We drop anchor in the bay and then Ann and Ben paddle us ashore in the kayak and we have a few beers on the beach.  My crew mates are fabulous company. Ann is hilarious because she pulls such animated faces when she’s telling a story and Ben sounds exactly like Fred from First Dates, the head of house, super sexy Frenchman.

 

Thursday 24th January

Last night’s mooring left us quite exposed and so there was a lot of boat movement and noise and we’re up by 5.30am to hit our dive site in Koh Ha on time.  Unfortunately we’ve managed to jam the main sail so no sailing for us this morning instead we have to motor. Koh Ha is a collection of 5 islands or 5 big rocks.  This is supposed to be a great dive site but whilst Ben and Ann wait for their dive boat I’m content to snorkel. It’s a little rough but the waters are incredibly clear and there’s so much to see: Angel fish, Clown Fish, Parrot and Puffer fish just to name a few!

Later we head to Maya Bay, location of The Beach (remember the film with Leonardo Decaprio?), and moor up for the night.  Unfortunately tourists are no longer allowed to set foot upon The Beach. We have another snorkeling session and then watch the sunset.  When we arrived this place was jammed with tourist boats but by 8pm we’ve got the place to ourselves. It’s a lovely peaceful night.

 

Friday 25th January

This morning it’s a nice relaxed start but eventually we move off before the Park Rangers grab us and make us buy a ticket.   We head to Koh Bida Nok where we have the most fantastic snorkeling: Moray eels, Black tip reef sharks, Angel fish and so many others.   The visibility is incredible. Later we sail along Koh Phraya Nak and John anchors so we can go and explore a popular bay and see Viking’s Cave.  

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John has spotted another popular dive site along this island so we head off for our last snorkeling session of the day.

 

Saturday 26th January

Today we head to Koh Poda.  Unfortunately John hasn’t been able to unjam the main sail so we’re only able to set the jib and use the motor for additional speed.  We snorkel and paddle round the island in search of beer. Unfortunately this island is now a park and drinking is banned but we find a party boat and they sell us a few cans on the proviso we hide it and take it back to our boat.

 In addition to finding beer we also see the double billed Toucan which apparently is very rare.

Sunday 27th January

Krabi Marina

Today we head back to Krabi Marina.   We have a change of crew. Ben and Ann are leaving and we’re getting two new crew members, Jane the Canadian and Oleg from the Ukraine.   

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I’m really going to miss Ben and Ann. We got on so well and had a great time learning to sail and exploring Thai Islands together.   They’re heading off to Nepal next and I’m sure they’ll have a great time.

Monday 28th to Saturday 9th February

So what an experience this turned out to be.  Oleg’s a free diver and enjoys diving down to 20metres just so he can stalk a scuba dive group and scare the bejesus out of them.

He had hundreds of extraordinary travel tales often involving police, alcohol or drugs and usually all 3.  When he’s not with his wife and kids, he travels with his special Ukrainian gang of male buddies.  Possibly they’re all suffering from some sort of mid life crisis hence all the trouble they get in.  Plus their holiday destinations seem to be chosen by searching where not to go and what not to do and then doing that.  For example: hiring a self drive car and driving hundreds of miles in Nicaragua along a mountain road without a guide (and speaking no Spanish) and then drinking copious quantities of vodka and wondering why the check posts were such an issue.

Then there’s Nurse Jane from Canada who appears to suffer from tourettes and likes a drink or 20 .  She’s also the least nurse like person I’ve ever met.  Any injury and she suggests it’s bathed in salt water whilst having a beer.  So perhaps you’re getting the picture: a crazy mix!

Together we explored the sea caves and Hongs (hollow lagoons in the centre of islands) and studied the strange Karst features created by the dissolution of limestone islands.

Our kayak paddling adventures were often emotional as we were sent off to explore caves for bats (Jane and I hate bats) or to find access to the Hongs along dark and claustrophobic tunnels.

In addition to the exploring, there was sailing, enjoying the incredible scenery and eating the fabulous meals cooked by Tassy.

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So this adventure finally came to an end.

Clearly a goodbye celebration was in order so we visited the Krabi night market to eat, drink and watch the entertainment.   The following day I headed off to Sungai Petani and despite having no bus tickets or any real plan I actually made it with a combination of bus rides and hitching.  Definitely thanks to Oleg getting me to the bus station.  Result.

Scooter ride to bus station

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I only had to wait ten minutes for the bus to Hat Yai.  But at Hat Yai I was reduced to full on panic when I lost my phone.  I’d left it at the ticket booth.  Walking through the Thai and Malay border at 6pm was a bit bizarre.  No-one else seemed to be doing it.  But just outside the Malay border and I got a lift.  It only took ten minutes and the lovely couple fed and watered me for the entire trip.

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Final note:

For those observant ones out there you might have noticed that Darren no longer features in my blog.  This is because we are no longer a couple/travelling companions.

 

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“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always” – The Mindfulness Project – 2-20th Dec

Sunday 2nd December

Yesterday we left Diana’s Dog Resort to spend our last few hours together at a hotel near the Airport.  Ah how poignant I hear you cry. Hardly!!! Daz’s right arm is now incredibly swollen, very painful and currently totally dysfunctional from Mocha’s bite (the extremely emotionally disturbed dog at Diana’s).  He also looks really rough (like shit actually) and just wants to sleep but he’s having hot and cold flushes and he can’t get comfortable with his painful arm so sleep is hard to come by. At 3am he’s up and off for his flight to Cambodia whilst I try to get more sleep before my flight to Khon Kaen.  

At 9.30am I’ve actually managed to book in for my flight. I’m already impressed that I’ve managed to get this far because this is the first time I’ve had to do anything on my own since January 2015. It sounds pathetic but actually it’s pretty scary!

I was more independent in the Army. Now I’m totally reliant on Daz because we’ve been together constantly for the last 4 years.  What makes it worse is that I’m off to “The Mindfulness Project” in Khon Kaen, a community of ‘’hippies”.

The Mindfulness Project is a radical new approach to a holistic life style. It adopts proven methods in the fields of meditation, yoga,  psychology, Permaculture, natural building, arts and combines them into a healing system to transform ourselves and the environment.
This amazing system has been scientifically researched by the University of Murcia, Spain and has shown amazing results! Sounds good huh?  Well let’s see.

This is a totally new experience for me and so beyond my comfort zone that it is almost impossible to describe.  And the problem with stepping out of my comfort zone, well it’s extremely uncomfortable. I’m already worried and on edge, and I’m not even there yet. I’m also doing it without Daz because he would rather stick hot needles in his eyes than indulge in such a “hippy, freaky, navel gazing exercise”.  I’ve also had to make special preparations because at the retreat only natural washing products are allowed (but I guess I should be grateful that the hippy volunteers actually wash!) and in a few days time we’re off on a pilgrimage so I’ve had to borrow a rucksack and other stuff from Diana.

At the airport it’s time for breakfast.   I feel like a condemned man waiting for his last meal. Wow surely I should be embracing this new opportunity not feeling like the sword of Damacles is hanging over my head!  Ummm if it were my last meal what would I have???? Subways it is then!!!

 

From the airport at Khon Kaen I catch a bus to the central bus station then grab a Songtaeu, which drops me on the main road by the turning  to the Project.

 

All that’s left is a 5km walk with my 18kg pack. I’m just preparing for the off when a guy, Taylor, from the project offers me a lift on his moped.  Excellent.

At the project there must be around 35 volunteers many of whom greet me over the next few hours.  Some want to hug – arghhhhhhh. All this hugging is offputting and all these names, I’m never going to remember who everyone is!  Most are heading to the cafe for the afternoon so I have time to organise my bedspace – at last a reprieve. At 6pm there’s the talking circle.  We all sit in a circle and our teacher, Christian, asks 2 questions. What was your happiest moment of the day and what do you love about yourself?  So that’s fun – speaking in front of 35 strangers. So everyday we will have a talking circle and there will always be 2 questions. The first is always ‘’what was the best/happiest moment of your day”, a trick to start focussing your mind on the positives and stop the relentless negative commentary in your head and the second, well I guess the 2nd question is usually designed to uncover those anxieties locked within.  

After the talking circle there’s guided meditation.   This is my first ever meditation session and for this session we’re paired off and have to stare into each other’s eyes, and then beyond the eyes into their soul/Heart.  The session lasts about 40:minutes and is so tough and discomforting for me but I want to try and do this shit and give my partner a committed experience. So I try my damnest to follow Christian’s instructions and after all I’ve followed orders for the majority of my life so basically I just do what comes easily whilst trying to push aside feelings of embarrassment and stupidity.  After this exercise we hug (and it’s a bloody long hug) and my partner seems moved by our session and I’m happy that it seemed to go well. All hugs here are very long. Apparently a 12 second hug induces the release of feel good pheromones. Really? Currently a short hug feels wrong and a really long hug just feels as wrong but for considerably longer. By 8.30pm we’re done and I can escape to bed.  

Monday 3rd December

Today starts at 5.30am when the gong is struck.  Yoga starts at 6am and is followed by meditation.  So this is my first yoga session and my first solitary but guided meditation.   

It’s followed by more hugging. Arghhhhh. All of this is conducted in silence.  We’re not allowed to talk until after breakfast. After breakfast work starts. There’s either gardening, kitchen chores or helping to build Poo Castle.  Poo Castle is the new shower and toilet block with a collection tank underneath.

Poo Castle, toilets, dorm, and showers. Almost 5* luxury!

 

 

 

The Poo Castle is made of mud. There are pits in which soil, rice husks and water are  mixed by foot, treading in the pit. Then we fill buckets with the mud and then the walls are plastered.

Many many hours later it’s time for our introductory brief and then lunch.   After lunch we gather to say farewell to 3 volunteers. Then more hugging. There have also been random hugfests throughout the day.   Everywhere I look people are hugging.

The talking circle tonight is a bit different.   It’s Marieta’s birthday so it’s pay Marieta a compliment or wish her something for the future and happiest moment of the day. After that there’s the teaching.  I’ve had a banging headache most of the day and by the time I get to bed I’m feeling nauseous so it’s been a tough day. Also I’m feeling distinctly uncomfortable amongst this crowd.  In fact this is a huge understatement. This is like my own personal hell. I reckon the average age is 25 and most are in or have just left education and of course they’re all backpacking.  Most are vegetarians and fairly used to yoga and / or meditation. To me they’re like some sort of alien species, totally scary and intimidating and I feel like I’ve been dropped into this environment with absolutely no idea as to how I’m going to break through the imaginery yet very real barriers between them and me.  Perhaps I should just leave but that is so weak and pathetic that of course it’s the very, very last thing I would allow.

Tuesday 4th December

Today’s 5am yoga is with Abbey and it’s physically tough.  This is followed by meditation which is also physically demanding.   Sitting in the cross legged Lotus position is bearable for about 30 seconds then the pain starts.  After 40 minutes I’m in serious pain. The yoga and meditation are both difficult for me. In yoga I don’t know any of the positions so I’m constantly trying to see what everyone does when they’re told to transit from the Barking Dog to the Dancing Bear.  Some positions are relatively easy for me whilst others are well beyond challenging – I currently have the flexibility of a breeze block and laugh inside when I see others practically fold themselves in half whilst I’m still trying to get my head anywhere vaguely close to my knees.  In meditation I find it hard to concentrate. It’s highly unlikely that my meditation is following the right path for the entire session but I think I have phases where it goes well and after all this is just about practice and refining the technique . Meditation also makes me feel vaguely nauseous, whether this is physical or emotional I don’t know.  Today I started to cry in meditation and it continued intermittently throughout meditation and breakfast – how embarrassing . Why am I crying – well I have absolutely no idea. However I think the crying proves to be the icebreaker and several people ask me if I’m OK and give me a hug – yes one of those really long hugs. Whilst this makes me cry more it does make me feel better and they tell me that crying here is normal.  The yoga, the meditation release trapped/suppressed emotion. Well wow isn’t this just going to be a bundle of laughs. By the time work starts I’ve settled down and I help with Poo Towers collecting water and mud for the plastering.

 

It’s actually a great day, a vast improvement on yesterday and I’m starting to get to know some people and chat. Earlier Abbey, Jeannie and Julia helped me through the emotional phase and at Poo Castle I discover Bruce and Damien are very funny.  And the talking circle is ‘’happiest moment and proudest achievement of the last 12 months.” There’s no teaching today but we watch a documentary ‘’Free the Mind” about how a deep breathing/meditation exercise affected autistic children and post Gulf war American vets with PTSD. The study was only over 7 days but the positive benefits were extreme. I’m beginning to think there might be something to this stuff.

Wednesday 5th December

Today yoga and meditation is taken by Taylor and he actually gives pointers for the total beginner – brillant.   He actually gives tips on finding a comfortable or more comfortable meditation position. Both sessions are excellent but oddly today the tears start in yoga and continue into meditation.   How bizarre. Oh well. I don’t question the reason for the tears, I don’t think there’s any point. I feel fine, not sad or unhappy so the tears are definitely a peculiarity. But if I cry I’ll get some hugs and I’m beginning to like the hugging.  Some people in particular are really great huggers and the hug is so comforting. After meditation I help to water the fruit trees and then its breakfast. The meals here are totally vegetarian. I haven’t had tea or coffee since I’ve been here and alcohol and drugs are banned.  Talk about clean living – my body doesn’t know what’s hit it!

Breakfast time. No eating until everyone is present and we’ve said Grace.

 

After breakfast we gather to discuss our imminent pilgrimage.  Christian and the project have close associations with the local temple and monks and they are organising a Dhammayatra.

Dhamma meaning virtue, righteousness, social duty, cosmic law and order
Yatra meaning pilgrimage to holy places

The Dhammayatra we are taking part in is a pilgrimage to raise awareness for peace, nature, and the plight of the Lampatao River Basin where the walk will take place. It will call in at various monasteries over its 100km route and take 8 days. We are joining for the last 3 days only.

So we need to pack and then we have a 4 hour Songtaeu trip to the start point.  The trip is really entertaining as I’m sharing with a great crowd; Bruce, Damien, Tess, Mila and Jeannie.  We finally arrive around 5pm, it’s taken much longer than anticipated.

We set up camp and a few of us have a quick dip in the river and then it’s time for prayers. First there’s chanting for about an hour.  Then a talk from the Pi Sal, I think he’s the Senior Monk here. After the talk our group gathers with Prat (Monk) Jok who translates the key points of the talk and tells us the programme for tomorrow. It’s very interesting that the Monks have given up all the material attachments of modern life and focus only on the moment.  The Pi Sal’s talk is always about the walk, why we’re walking and how to focus on the beauty and feelings from the walk and not to start daydreaming or allow that inner voice to start its unrelenting commentary on life.

Thursday 6th December

We’re up at 4am.  There’s some packing to do but there’s plenty of time to wander the area and see what’s cooking.  Breakfast won’t be until about 7.30am but there’s food available before then and it’s all free. I wander around drinking coffee and snacking on various treats.  

These fantastic people give up their time to support this walk. At 5am the chanting starts, then there’s the talk and our translation . Then breakfast which is just an incredible spread of food – magnificent.   We finally start walking at about 8.40am. Many of the monks are walking barefoot so Christian and some of the volunteers have decided to do the same. The monks walk in silence so again some of us do the same. We’re also encouraged to meditate during the walk, focusing on each footstep, the nature and the beauty around us.  To live in the moment and not worry about what is to come. During the day there are regular stops and there’s always food and drinks available. Lunch is another magnificent spread with plenty of choice.

The day is long but what a fantastic day. Many in the group have managed barefooted although poor Mila is in agony. So many local Thais have supported the walk offering up a smile, a wave, or snacks or drinks for the weary Walker.  We finish at 6.20pm having walked 24km.

 

Then once we set up camp it’s time for chanting and the talk from the Pi Sal.  We also need to wash and eat.

Friday 7th December

Today is much like yesterday but the distance is about 16km so it’s a much easier day.  I’ve settled in now and I’m enjoying this incredible experience on the walk and I’m connecting with some of the volunteers.  

 

 Definitely not with everyone but I’m pleased with the progress I have made. When connections are made they are somehow on a much deeper level than usual, revealing the deeper anxieties and pain that we all shut away.  

 

Saturday 8th December

The walk is over but we’re still up early for chanting and the talk.  After breakfast there’s a closing ceremony in the river and then it’s pack up time and we’re off back to the Project.

 

 

Monday 10th December

Yesterday was a rest day giving us time for some extra sleep, laundry and a chance to visit the nearby Volunteer Cafe for a delicious smoothie, lava cake and quiche.  Today I’m a little anxious because loads of people I have connected with have left or are just leaving. Jeannie, Bruce, Steve, Julia and Abbey will be gone! It’s very sad to see them leave but I need to move passed that sadness and focus on new possibilities.   It actually turns out to be a great day. I work in the garden with Damien and others, cutting wood and laying mulch around all the fruit trees.

 

Tuesday 11th December

Today is a really shit day.  I’m fine when I get up and both yoga and meditation go well  but something soon after meditation triggers my emotions and I cry intermittently throughout the day.  In the early days when I cried I actually felt OK but today I actually feel miserable. Eventually after a nap and an episode of Masterchef I feel steady enough to cope with the talking circle.   Instead of a teaching we watch a documentary about the greatest boxing match ever – Muhammad Ali v George Foreman – The Rumble in The Jungle Explained. Ali was the underdog and yet won the match.  Ali demonstrated his Warrior archetype as explained by Jung. Christian has already explained the 4 archetypes put forward by Jung; the King/Queen, The Warrior, the Magician and the Lover. It’s a great fight but watching Ali play to the audience is incredible – he’s larger than life.  An inspiration.

Friday 14th December

The last 3 days have been completely full on.  Wednesday morning we spent the morning at a High School in Khon Kaen.   We were expecting the kids to have a basic grasp of English but soon discovered they didn’t so it was incredibly challenging trying to interact, play games and teach them some English.   But we all persevered and had a great time but it was so exhausting.

Thursday we had to prepare a concrete base to the dome on the Poo Castle so there was a large group of us mixing cement.  

And today the children from Khon Kaen visited us at the project and we entertained them for the morning. But I cunningly selected kitchen duties to avoid the little blighters.

 

There’s also been a pizza party for Andrea’s birthday which was pretty wild despite the complete non-existence of alcohol.   We’ve also had some tough talking circles. One in particular ‘’if a fairy offered you a chance to relive your jchildhood, what would you change”. Wow what a question. Since my parents have rarely had a civil word to say to each other their entire marriage, (and since my eldest brother is 57 and I guess they must have been married over 77 years!!!), rarely laugh, never hug and constantly bicker then I guess I’m spoilt for choice.   Some here have had a truly horrific childhood and tonight many tears are shed.

Sunday 16th December

More fabulous people have left which I still find difficult but there are some great people here, Allegra, Lviv, Damien, Paja and many others.  Hugging has become the norm now and I love it. I’m still getting up early for yoga and meditation and just trying to learn as much as I can from this experience.   Yesterday we were up at 4.30am to do our chores before heading to the village monastery for meditation. First we chant, then we eat breakfast with the monks and then there’s a 2 hour teaching with Christian followed by meditation.   

Christian teaches us standing and walking meditation so at least that’s a break from the Lotus position, which I still find incredibly tough after only a short period. After meditation we’re finished for the day although there is an adhoc session of acro-yoga. I join in briefly but it’s so entertaining just to watch.

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Today we have a whole day off and most of the group head off to the reservoir.  The remainder of us plan to relax (Paja, Damien and Kavon) but instead it turns into a super intense session with deeply probing questions.   I thought talking circle with Christian was tough but this was way harder and goes on for most of the day; first at the project then over pad Thai at lunchtime in the village and then continues at the cafe over lava cake and smoothie.

 

 

In addition to the questioning Paja also uses her Oracle cards to ascertain our path in life and I actually believe in the results.

Wednesday 19th December

The last few days have been filled with the usual activities.  The project closes on 21st December and most people are leaving so there’s been laundry runs to get all the project stuff washed;  the mosquito nets are repaired and there’s a push to finish the Poo Castle. I help dig 2 trenches for the pipework. One to supply water to the Castle and one to remove the grey water.  There’s also the very dramatic head shaving event. Allegra and Lviv have almost dreamed of cutting off their hair and where better for such a dramatic event than the project.

Some people are staying after 21st. There’s a 10 day meditation phase starting on 28th December, Vipassana Meditation. My adopted children Paja, Clem and Damien are staying for this. Why do I have 3 adopted children?  Well the other day Paja realised I was the same age as her actual mother and since I’m old enough I volunteered to be her adoptive mother. So now I have 3 children, 2 French and one Czech. Today Allegra, Lviv and Will leave so another tough farewell.

Thursday 20th December

Today I leave.  I’ve made it. Eighteen days survived when I didn’t think I’d make 48 hours!  Not only survived but enjoyed. I’ve had such a great time here. I’ve laughed, I’ve made others laugh, I’ve cried and I’ve tried to embrace and consider the lessons I have learnt here.  I feel happier and more light hearted than I can ever remember feeling before. It has been a truly incredible experience possibly life changing but I won’t know that for definite until I get back to my other life.  I get up early for my last yoga and meditation session. And after breakfast there is the leaving circle. Those leaving have to sit in the centre of the circle whilst the remainder sit around them and send the leavers best wishes for the future.  Clearly I’ve participated in a number of these but today I’m in the centre and it is incredibly emotional. I cry through most of it. After, there’s a huge group hug and a short reprieve but then it’s individual hug time. There are so many here that have touched me deeply, and many who have already left, and saying goodbye is heart wrenching.  

I don’t know what it says about me, my past or this project that this is definitely the most emotional, heart wrenching goodbye I’ve ever experienced and after 52 years filled with so many goodbyes that’s pretty amazing or appalling depending on one’s point of view.

Finally Kavon and I are ready to go.   I bang the gong before leaving and my children and several others leave their work at the Poo Castle for one final farewell.  Wow this is tough.

I’m relieved when we finally drive away. In Khon Kaen we head to the monastery for a massage. Thank God I picked the 2 hour oil massage because even parts of this are so painful I consider vomiting.   How Kavon is coping with a Thai Massage I have no idea.

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After our massage it’s lunch and then a taxi to the airport. Kavon is flying to Bangkok whilst I have a night in an airport hotel. What luxury – a hot shower, double bed, clean sheets.  It’s a collection of delicious sensations. I was going to treat myself to an episode of Masterchef but instead I settle for 13 hours of sleep.

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Tomorrow I’ll fly back to Phuket and return to Diana’s Dog Hotel.

 

 

 

 

 

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Stormy seas, stormy relationships. Not a sailor’s life for me: Muara to Tanjung Pinang – 12th to 30th October

Friday 12th October / 13th October

Muara, Brunei

We complete another sailing leg and arrive in Muara.

 We anchor in the bay and Philip heads off to complete the Marina paperwork and immigration.   Two hours later he’s back and he’s failed the Immigration test because they need to see us all personally.   Whilst Phil’s away it’s been a mammoth task to organise movement of the crew from the trimaran to the yacht club.  It’s about 300m away and it’s really quite choppy and we only have the kayaks. There’s also now the additional element that we need to maintain an ‘’anchor’ watch.  This isn’t a mindless task of just staring at the anchor because of course it’s actually on the bottom of the harbour but listening to the anchor alarm to ensure we don’t drift from our original position.  This is a particular problem because the sea bed here is just silt and in the past Phil has failed to gain sufficient purchase with his anchor and it’s been dragged along when a squall hits. In order to perform ‘anchor’ watch one needs to be able to switch on the engine and take corrective action and out of 8 crew only 3 (me, Daz and Lars) have been taken through the engine start procedure by Phil!  

We leave Lars on watch and ferry everyone to the yacht club.  This is always a really unpleasant experience – we end up sitting in a wet kayak with waves lapping over the edge and those carrying laptops etc live in fear of capsize and wrecking their expensive equipment.  There’s also the added fun of getting 72 year old Ed off the boat and onto a kayak, nimble he ain’t! When Phil returns from Immigration there’s only Noli and Lars aboard the trimaran and the yacht club kindly arrange one car to take 4 of us and the Marina service dinghy to take the remainder to Immigration.   Book in complete and it’s time to plan our stay. We’re here for 2 nights and we’re anchored in a harbour 300m from shore which is 35km from the capital city of Brunei – Bandar Seri Begawan. Brian and Susan are planning to head into town to book into the Royal Brunei Hotel and we decide to join them. We manage to get a bus for B$1 into town and fortunately the Royal Brunei has vacancies so we book in.

 It’s already 7pm so we grab a quick shower and head out for food. After dinner we walk to Omer Ali Saifoddlen Mosque which looks really impressive illuminated under the night sky whilst sitting in its own moated lake.

Saturday morning we have a sightseeing itinerary planned and first stop is the waterfall park. Unfortunately on the walk there it becomes apparent that Brian isn’t well.  

We see the waterfall but then head back to the hotel and actually we don’t see Brian again until it’s time to leave. We think he has food poisoning. Susan, Daz and I visit the wet market and Kampong Ayer floating village in the river, well actually it’s a village on stilts and this was the first settlement in Brunei.  

The water village is a beautiful sight to see hundreds of houses seemingly floating on the river. To get there we take a sedate water taxi over the river then climb up onto the raised wooden walkways (rickety, rotten and unstable in places). We walk around and see lots of fast speed boats scooting around down below us and through the stils of the many bridges ala James Bond.  We decide to get in on the action so walk to the far side of the village and flag one of these bad boys down. We are soon hurtling along, inches from other boats and stilts wondering why we thought this would be fun!

Sightseeing done and since Brunei is ‘dry’, no alcohol for sale here, and one of our main hobbies is impossible we fall back on watching some TV and Homeland at the hotel.

 

Sunday 14th October

Passage from Brunei to Miri

Another Phil cluster plan.  Where do we need to be and when?  Originally it was 3pm on the trimaran but that was before Immigration denied entry without personal attendance.   Finally we receive notice that everyone else has booked out but Philip is waiting for us at Immigration. Fortunately,  well not for Brian, he’s so poorly that Susan doesn’t want to take an hour’s bus ride and instead has booked a taxi. Check out complete and back at the yacht club I manage to beg a lift from a motor boat so we avoid the kayaking phase.  

We set off and basically motor directly into a storm.  At the times visibility is almost nil and the trimaran’s motion is such that seasickness is taking its toll.  Brian and Shaun are already poorly, Noli and Jojo are curled up in the pilot house, both nauseous so we’re left with a reduced functioning crew.  The healthy component still take sea sickness tablets as a preventative measure. The seas are pretty rough and every port-hole leaks. Daz takes Brian’s shift with Susan from 10pm to midnight and then I join him for our 12-2am shift.  The wind has dropped and the seas are calmer but with the rain the visibility is still poor and as a result we almost motor into an oil rig. We only spot it as we pass it on our starboard side – Jesus it’s only 50m away! Another close call for the Daz and Hels dream machine.  If I were the rest of the crew I’d ban us from watch. We tell Phil about our near miss and he then decides he needs to remain on watch and cut back the speed.

Surprisingly we arrive unscathed, but possibly emotionally scarred, at Miri and anchor off the dock.  The plan is to remain here until Thursday but the leaving time is soon postponed when Philip checks the weather and realises there’s adverse weather conditions expected over the South China Sea / Sulu Sea.  We need to cross this sea to reach Singapore, our next destination. It is at this point we make a monumental discovery. We are actually going to sail this leg. OMG this is a completely shocking discovery and more worrying is that we are physically unable to motor this leg because it’s about 700nm and we can only carry sufficient fuel for 200nm.  I know you readers are wondering what the problem is – we all wanted to sail and now we’re going to! Well it’s the old adage ‘be careful what you wish for!’. It’s probably fair to say if a committee meeting were scheduled now we’d probably give a vote of no confidence to our intrepid leader. His adhoc management style, ‘drip feed’ information sharing and his lack of administrative research has left us frustrated at best and downright worried at worst.  Even worse he has some remarkable plans to replace the forestay and add a rolling jib to enable us to sail the next leg.

A new crew has been introduced at Miri. Sadly we say farewell to Ed, Lars, Jojo and Shaun and welcome our new crew mates Michel and Tatiana and Dion. Interestingly both Dion and Michel are experienced sailors and as such Philip seems more inclined to share his vision at least with them. There’s a lengthy discussion regarding the postponement of our departure from Miri.  Philip wants to leave Saturday but reassures us all that this delay won’t impact on the planned itinerary and the only deadline is to reach Kuala Lumpur by 30th October for Dion’s flight home and that’s easily achievable even with our stop over in Anambas and Singapore.

 

Monday 15th to Saturday 20th October

Miri, Philippines

In Miri having booked in to the Marina we all head to Immigration.   It’s just a shame we don’t actually have the address and end up at the wrong office.

Miri is the second largest city in Sarawak with a population of about 300,000.  It’s nickname is ‘’Oil Town’ and is the birthplace of the Malaysian petroleum industry as the city was founded in 1910 when the first oil well was drilled by Royal Dutch Shell. Miri is also the main tourist gateway to several National Parks and on Tuesday the old crew visit Lambir National Park. It’s a 40 minute taxi ride out, using ‘Simon’ the man who can get you anywhere so long as you don’t mind him talking on his phone at 80 decibels in Chinese whilst driving along!  (There’s a very large community of Chinese here, they even have their own schools.) At the park there are many jungle trails leading to several waterfalls. We’ve brought a picnic too. At Lumak waterfall we dump all our gear and go for a swim, blithely ignoring the ‘no swimming beyond this point’ sign and swimming under the waterfall. That is until we see a crocodile and all scarper from the water before realising it’s actually only a large monitor lizard!

Not fazed by this near miss some of us decide to check out more jungle trails and head to two more waterfalls.  The trails are steep, climbing up and down steep ridgelines and enclosed in humid thick jungle, so after about an hour and a half of slogging we are overjoyed to see a refreshing waterfall and pool we all immediately dive into. Suitably refreshed we head back just in time to meet up with Ed, Noli and Phil to return to Miri.

The remainder of the week is filled with various chores including fixing the generator,  replacing the stays, fixing a roller furling jib, refueling, refilling the water tanks etc. In the evenings we visit a couple of local nightspots and chat with other yachties from the marina about our calamitous boat, incapable Captain and the general fun we aren’t having. Those blue seas, white sandy beaches and snorkeling are still eluding us.

The tasks drag on and on.   Phil’s time appreciation is non-existent and hours are pissed away as we try manfully to complete a task, any task, while Phil seems determined to thwart us at every turn, sabotaging our initially open and then sneaky efforts to finish a job.  If this wasn’t bad enough the remaining crew is now in open, and in some cases, less open revolt. By Friday morning Dion has decided to leave. He only arrived Tuesday evening but he’s already decided that the trimaran is unsafe and Phil’s ‘fixes’ are akin to Heath Robinson or a Blue Peter model made with sticky-back plastic and empty washing up bottles.  So by Friday with still hours of chores left there are only 6 crew: me and Daz; Tatiana and Michel and Brian and Susan. Unfortunately Brian and Susan seem to have decided to opt out of all chores . We’re not exactly sure why but it’s very,very apparent that Susan finds Phil intolerable and thinks it highly unlikely that we’ll make it across the South China Sea without some catastrophic incident.  So that leaves only 4 of us prepared to even consider working with Phil and we discuss how to equally share the pain.

Sunday 21st October

By Friday evening we finally discover why Susan and Brian have been more elusive than the fairies at the bottom of my garden, they’re leaving too.  Friday night is their last night aboard and Saturday they leave whilst the last men standing head for Immigration. So that leaves only 4 crew, but at this point Michel and Tatiana are still oozing positivity but of course they haven’t endured Philip for more than 4 days; how little they know.  Of course we actually find Immigration as we know its address now and it’s even open at the weekend but of course they don’t actually need to see the crew – another fruitless time wasting exercise. There’s still time for last minute grocery shopping and boat chores before we finally hit the road, well high seas, at 1530hrs.  That’s another sweepstake win to Daz. We’ve invented a new game to keep us simpletons amused. The game: if Phil predicts an arrival time, departure time, time to complete a specific task etc we offer a time when it will ‘’actually” happen. We also have bets on when crew members will leave, drown and when the first catastrophic incident will occur – just kidding.  

We leave Miri and there’s about 700Nm ahead of us to reach Singapore.   We’re crossing the South China Sea from East to west but hoping to stop around half way at an Indonesian Island group, Kepulauan Anambas (actually 490NM) .  Here there may actually be snorkeling and white sandy beaches!. The intention is to stop at these islands ‘’under the radar” and not carry out the regulatory procedures.    Technically each stop requires a visit to the harbour master, customs and then immigration to check in and then a repeat to check out. We have already witnessed how what appears to be a relatively straightforward repetitive process sucks hours and hours from our lives when Philip is in charge!  The winds forecast until Sunday afternoon are really light so even with the jib and main sail flying we’re only achieving 2.5 knots. This drops to zero when the winds die completely in the early hours of Sunday morning. The seas are completely flat and we just drift. With 700Nm ahead we’re completely baffled by Phil’s sailing philosophy.   With only 4 crew we’re having to divide the night watch between us. We’ve divised a 2.5 hour watch system: 10pm – 12.30am, 12.30 – 3am and 3 – 5.30am. This means watches are shorter but every other night one couple has a double watch. When Daz and I finish our second watch at 0530am, Sunday, after 14 hours at sea we’ve managed a mammoth 35Nm.  This is super frustrating but at least we’re all still alive and well, but time will tell! Lol (PS, if anyone finds this message floating in a bottle then we didn’t make it!)

 

Monday 22nd October

Well what a surprise – we’ve been motoring since 5.30am Sunday morning.   The predicted winds are non existent and the sea is like a mill pond. Remember we ‘’had” to sail this leg because we had insufficient fuel to motor?  Well not an entirely accurate statement (actually another Phil-ism, in other words, complete bollocks). The 200NM fuel constraint he now reveals was based on motoring in adverse conditions, strong head wind and high seas.  The reality is that motoring is our only option if we want to reach Singapore in our own lifetime because there IS NO wind.

We stopped in the early afternoon, in the middle of nowhere, to swim in the beautiful clear azure waters and to cool down. It is relentlessly hot aboard and actually very, very boring.  Having enjoyed a short respite we’re soon underway again but see an approaching squall from the north. We close all the hatches and initially watch the squall approach. When it hits the boat and the torrential rain is such that even in the pilot house we’re getting drenched we disappear below and congregate in the galley, sheltering from the rain. Suddenly there’s an almighty crash above.  The catastrophic event predicted has occurred. The forestay, with insufficient anchorage, has collapsed and with it the main, boom and sail and associated lines have come crashing down onto the pilot house and deck!!! This forestay has been up 72 hours but there hasn’t been any wind to test it. This was the first, and obviously last, squall and it proved too much but thank God it happened whilst we were sheltering down below otherwise someone would be dead.  This is precisely what Brian, Susan and Dion predicted and actually most of the yachties at Miri. Philip seems remarkably sanguine about the entire event, commenting that it was inevitable given the short amount of time he’d spent ‘’fixing” this new forestay. Tatiana, however, is distraught, tearful and basically terrified. Without sails she believes we’re going to be stranded out at sea. Phil’s comment about fuel for only 200nm has made its mark on her too and she’s been nervous since we left Miri asking about safety lines, buoyancy aids, radios and contacting outside agencies in an emergency.  There is only one VHF radio and we’re only capable of contacting someone within line of sight. Philip thinks this is more than adequate since the trimaran is ‘’unsinkable’ and we have sufficient water and food to last for weeks. However we have no idea how this scenario fits into a medical emergency situation where immediate assistance / evacuation is an imperative and it’s not unusual not to see another boat for 5-6hours. For example if the mast or forestay had actually hit someone. We assume, as we do so often now, that Philip has excluded this scenario from his ‘rose tinted’ perspective of this sailing idyll.  After this epic event there’s a frenzy of activity whilst we endeavour to make the trimaran safe. We need to ensure there are no lines in the water that might foul the propeller and seize the engine; we definitely can’t afford engine problems now. We remove and secure the sail from the main mast and secure various broken bits strewn across our deck. Untieing all the lines and rigging is a nightmare. For me and Daz (I’m beginning to think we’re too stupid to think otherwise) this event breaks the hours of tedium and it’s exciting given the rain and winds from the squall which make moving around the deck quite challenging. At one point Daz dons his snorkeling mask so he can see through the stinging rain.  We should probably be wearing life jackets and have safety lines but where’s the fun in that? Once we’ve made everything safe we retire to the galley. Philip now has to reassure Tatiana that everything is fine. She’s been in the galley all this time and Michel has been trying to console her. Without sails we’re totally reliant on the engine and fuel and she’s convinced we don’t have enough to reach Singapore. I had expected Philip to head back to Miri, only 150NM, but no, we’re pushing on to the Kepulauan Anambas islands. Philip tells us we have more than enough fuel to make it if conditions remain the same! If we hit adverse weather conditions we will wait it out – we’re not entirely sure what this means or entails and no-one asks.  We no longer openly question such bizarre comments, knowing that none bear scrutiny of anyone with an iota of intelligence or common sense.

Tuesday 23rd October

Philip seems in his element; cleaning chrome and fixing holes in his deck.  Total of destruction apart from the obvious no masts, stays or sails: 2 holes in the deck, a davit snapped and lost to sea, sail gaff snapped in two, numerous cut ropes, mangled boom pin and gooseneck.  Surprisingly little if you think how bad it could have been. Philip seems content to potter around but unfortunately he’s donned his ‘’working underpants” for the day, baggy, stained and very unattractive but made worse when they no longer seem capable of restraining his right bollock (sorry testicle for the posh readers out there!).  Every time I lift my eyes, whatever direction I choose to risk, there’s that bollock! Arghhhhh! Tatiana has noticed his foul undergarments and the ‘freedom seeking bollock’ and she’s in hysterics. Since we’re playing cards in the pilot house and Daz and Michel have their backs to Phil, they’re fortunate and miss the spectacle, or testicle feature show!  I, however, feel violated!!! For the crew the monotony has returned but Michel and Tatiana no longer seem that happy with this epic adventure – well certainly not Tatiana who sees imminent disaster everywhere (Any ship on the horizon must be on a collision course and everyone should don life jackets!) Oh well only another 48 hours and we should be in Tarempa Town, Kepulauan Anambas islands.  Estimated arrival 6am, Thursday morning – let the betting begin!

 

Thursday 25th October

Daz and I have just done the split shift or ‘’watch” as it’s correctly termed.  The watches are tough. The tedious days are enervating but it’s too hot to sleep.  Ideally we would sleep in the cool of the night but of course we we have to be on ‘’watch”!  We’ve just spent our last watch altering course and cutting corners. Remember we have Open CPN – a mapping tool for sailors, although Philip uses it too, on a laptop on the navigation table.  There are waymarkers determined by our intrepid leader which show us our planned route. But boredom requires Daz and I to:

  1. find the shortest possible route to our destination and
  2. increase our speed.  

We’re having such fun we’re still on ‘’watch” at 6am. Then the killjoy Phil finally rouses from his slumber and without a single word to us reduces speed.  We only had 4nm left to our destination but now he’s back in charge it’ll take forever. So we go off ‘’watch” and it’ll be fair to say we’ve gone well beyond our tolerance for Philip.  Over the last few days he’s made numerous comments about skipping Singapore from our schedule. Visiting Singapore has been our sole motivation to persevere with this trip and during any discussion we’ve stressed to Philip that this is a ‘’must see”.  But as usual he has his own agenda and despite numerous questions asking why he needs to skip Singapore none of us are any the wiser. It’s completely baffling since there was a deadline but that was Dion’s flight out of Kuala Lumpur. Philip repeatedly mentions a new crew member who is joining us in Kuala Lumpur.   I can’t believe he intends to take on more passengers given recent events and I certainly don’t understand why a future crew member takes precedence over the wishes of the existing crew.

 

It takes over an hour to reach our anchor point and once ‘’parked” Philip gives us, the crew, 6 ‘priority’ chores to complete in his absence.   Then he and Noli paddle away.

 

Well point one: obviously there can’t be 6 priorities and he hasn’t bothered to prioritise his priorities.  One of the 6 is that the crew get some well needed sleep, so that alone undermines the other five. Ummmmmm conundrum, what should we do???

Point 2:  At 6am when Philip took over watch we were literally directly outside Tarempa harbour, Tarempa being the capital of the Anambas Islands. But we bypassed it in favour of a more remote anchor point.  Remember we were coming here to snorkel and refuel and we were planning to stay ‘’under the radar”? Well Philip has cobbled together the most intriguing plan ever and for those readers missing my subtle sarcastic overtones, this plan is just unbelievably stupid.  He and Noli are going back to Tarempa (now 4km away by land) and he plans to ask the authorities, not sure whether it’s customs or immigration, if it’s OK not to book in. So we all know if we have a plan to do something bad or just downright illegal we employ stealth and secrecy.  What we don’t ever do is ask the authority figure involved if this behaviour is acceptable eg if I want to drive a car without a driving licence, MOT, insurance and tax, I don’t pop in to my local police station to ask if that’s OK. So this plan is just unbelievably stupid! Can Philip be this stupid, yes I think he can. He also intends to walk so that’s an hour each way.  It would have made far more sense to anchor in Tarempa bay with close proximity to banks, customs, immigration and shops and also close proximity to his crew so it’s relatively easy to come back and keep us informed on progress. He estimates he’ll be gone 4.5 hours but actually he’s gone for 7.

As he paddles away Daz and I spend at least one whole nano second pondering his wise words and priorities.  Then we get the hell out of dodge. We can’t get in the other kayak fast enough and we’re practically tripping over each other in our eagerness to leave this boat.  

We paddle ashore whilst Tatiana and Michel, being the more responsible or more naive couple, remain. They’ve attached some import to Philip’s statement ‘’someone needs to ensure the trimaran doesn’t drift” and remain to fulfill another of Philip’s mindless tasks – the dreaded anchor watch. Once ashore we realise we’re in a small resort and there isn’t much here so we decide to head into Tarempa.   I tell Daz I’ll try to hitch a lift and within a minute a guy on a motorbike stops. I ask if he can give us a lift and he obviously decides we’re too fat to ride together and flags down the next moped. So I’m on one moped with a lady driver and Daz is on the other. The roads here are unbelievable, it’s not the road quality but the steepness of the hills, it’s almost as bad as a roller coster, no wonder he wasn’t prepared to carry two fat Europeans on his bike.   We’re dropped off about a kilometer outside Tarempa and realise we’re only just behind Philip. We start loitering to avoid discovery and we’re ambushed by a local, Hani. She works for the government and is responsible for promoting the Island’s image for tourism, one of the top revenue streams for this country after oil and gas and fishing. Her English is excellent and she says she can help us enjoy the area. (later we find out the man who gave us a lift was her boss, Mr Yunizar) However,  we’re on a mission so we continue into town. We need to know if we can get from Anambas to Singapore by any other means and if it’s affordable. We discover that it’s $1: 15000 Indonesian rupee, that there’s a ferry to Tanjung Pinang (454,000 Rupees per person) and the cheapest hotel room is 220,000 Rupees. We visit a restaurant to discuss a plan of action and then Philip and Noli walk in. He’s come in for breakfast and so far all he’s managed to achieve is getting local currency. There’s no urgency in Philip’s world, a contributing factor no doubt, to the endless hours it takes him to achieve anything.

Since he’s here I want to get our passports back and declare our hand but Daz refuses.  So we hitch back to Anambas resort, paddle out to the trimaran and start packing.

We tell Tatiana and Michel that we’ve had enough of Philip’s lies, of his repeated threat to skip Singapore but most of all we’ve had enough of this miserable experience.   There is absolutely no pleasure to be found in this ‘sailing’ experience. Tatiana and Michel feel much the same and are wondering how the night watch will be covered with only 2 of them. I think they’re very tempted to leave but they’ve already paid Phil $1200 and they’ve only been on the boat 9 days but you really can’t put a price on this experience.   We pack and paddle back to the shore and wait and wait some more. Noli turns up but no Philip. Eventually he turns up. He’s been gone 7 hours! He’s busy explaining the problems he’s encountered and finally when he pauses for breath, I interject with a request for our passports stating we’re leaving. He accuses us of a ‘’ruse” – pretending we wanted to go to Singapore when all along we were planning to abandon ship in the Anambas, miles from anywhere!  OMG the nerve of this guy who should be sued under the Trade Descriptions Act for the web of lies that is his website and should pay us to sail on his trimaran not misappropriate hundreds of pounds from his innocent but keen sailing audience. I really want to respond and tell him what we think of him and his boat but I refrain, pause, take a breath and repeat, “ can I have our passports please” and then I scarper. A quick handshake and hug to Noli and then we’re gone.  The relief is just incredible.

We manage to get a lift into town and find a hotel.  We find a restaurant to eat and then it’s time for bed.  Yes it’s still really esrly but remember we had the split watch last night so we’re shattered plus there’s the emotional drain of waiting for and finally dealing with Philip.

 

Friday 26th October

We’re still basking in the pleasure of being off the boat.  Now we have a toilet, a shower with hot water, air conditioning,  TV, beer and best of all no Philip, no engine noise and no night watches.  We head to a small outside restaurant for breakfast and there’s Hani. She invites us over and we have breakfast with her and her work colleague Firdaus.  We chat about our plans, should we rent a moped to explore the island or charter a boat to visit some of the other islands and snorkel. Hani has contacts for everything so she can help us arrange anything.  We’re ummming and ahhhing, unable to decide and then Hani says she’ll show us the island today. They ring their boss who agrees that this fits into her job description ‘’promotion of the island” and that’s the decision made.  Daz and I have Hani’s moped whilst Hani is pillion on Firdaus’. To be honest Daz and I are a bit taken aback by this generous offer but we’re excited to see what the island has to offer. We visit the Chinese Temple, a nursery school and a local handicraft workshop where they hand weave the songket ,  the traditional dress. A simple cotton songket takes a month to weave whilst those with an elaborate pattern take even longer. Hani wants us to dress up and takes photo after photo. We feel like we’re on a promotional photoshoot of. The Anambas but it’s really entertaining and Hani is a real social animal and is great fun to be around.

 

From there we scoot over some more big hills to the east of the island and a lovely waterfall. From the top it descends about 200 meters to the coast over seven granite steps. The views are breathtaking and we sit in the cascading waters for more promotional shots with Hani.

Sufficiently awed we descend to the coast and around to a lovely secluded beach, visiting en route the new government building which is still under construction. Hani and Firdaus leave us here to snorkel along  the coast and meet us in a harbour a little further along. So at long last we are on a white sandy beach and we’re going snorkelling, such a shame Philip never achieved this! The snorkelling is lovely, the waters are warm and there’s a huge variety of fish and the coral is beautiful.

There’s a torrential downpour as we end our snorkeling but we sit it out with Hani and Firdaus on the dilapidated pier.

After the rainstorm Hani and Firdaus need to go into the office to write a report on today’s activities but after a few hours rest we meet again and they take us to a beautiful,  remote beach on the west of the island. Unfortunately the rainclouds obscure the sunset but it’s still beautiful and along the pier there are boys with their father fishing for squid. They’ve already caught 2, but they’re just tiddlers, but then they get a bite from a monster squid – brillant.

To finish the day we stop in a tiny restaurant on the waterfront and have a coconut each. It’s not the hairy, rock hard affair we see in England. This is still green and the coconut water is almost tasteless but the coconut flesh is soft and can be scooped out easily with a spoon. It has a subtle taste of coconut – it’s surprisingly pleasant.

Saturday 27th October

Yesterday we asked Hani if she could arrange for us to charter a motorboat and she managed to negotiate an excellent rate so today we all gather, me and Daz, Hani, Arras – Hani’s boyfriend’s brother,  Firdaus and his son Sultan and our boat driver, Yadi. And off we go. We visit 3 islands during the day Penyali, Salat Ransang and Getak. Apart from an elderly couple living on the second island, we have these islands to ourselves.  A tropical paradise indeed, white Sands and turquoise seas. Hani has prepared lunch and a delicious marinade for the fish brought by Yadi. The fish is barbecued and is absolutely delicious. There’s Red Kerapu, Manyuk Bulat, Manyuk Cermin and Kerisi.  This is precisely the experience we expected Philip to deliver, not daily of course, but certainly occasionally. Why such a relatively simple task was beyond him I have no idea.

We end the day with a visit to the Airasuk Fisheries where there’s intensive farming of Napoleon fish and Marbled Kerapu both in huge demand from the Chinese.  A Napoleon fish fetches $100 per kg. Boats from Hong Kong come monthly to take the mature fish to the markets. The fish farm is actually rather smelly and there isn’t much water movement through the various net enclosures.   We later learn that this is the only successful fish farm here. Many others have tried but failed to farm these fish losing them to disease, stress, and poor water conditions. The locals won’t eat this fish saying the flavour is intensely fishy due to the restricted area, stagnant water and repetitive diet.

Our boat takes us passed Anambas resort and we are amused to see the trimaran is still there when we head out but gone by the time we return at 5.30pm.

 

Sunday 28th October

Today we’re out on another boat ride.  Our hotel, Sakura, is owned by a Chinese family.  Suefong is the mother and Axel the son. His English is excellent and yesterday he said we could join him in a boat trip to visit the island of Tenggaling, where they’re building a small exclusive holiday resort.  We load up the boat with provisions and some building supplies and off we go. We hit a huge rainstorm on our way but at the island the seas are blue and we snorkel and relax whilst Suefong and Axel check how the building project is going.  Apparently two more months and it’ll be finished but it looks a long way from finished to me!

Monday 29th October

 

This morning we get up early to go see a local Parade/Celebration at the small community civic centre. The girl guides, scouts and local cubs are all dressed up as well as some youngsters in traditional dress.  We watch as there is a ceremonial raising of the national flag by 3 soldiers in full white tropical rig.

After the ceremony Hani meets up with us, although she is working today she readily offered us her moped so we can explore more of the island.  We head over to the west of the island to the beach we visited before at sunset. Unfortunately after only 5 minutes of snorkeling we realise the choppiness is reducing visibility and we quit. It’s a shame as the area looks very nice. We decide to stop for another coconut but whilst were enjoying this a squall comes in and a deluge ensues. With the weather looking so poor we decide to call our sightseeing trip off and return to Tarempa.

 

Today we also get a message from Tatiana and Michel.  They’ve left the trimaran too but they took the Tanjung Pinang ferry on Saturday.   Then headed to Sumatra. Remember I said we were supposed to come to the Anambas under the radar?  Well it was particularly important to Tatiana and Michel that their presence was not declared because they had already arranged an extended 60 day, single entry Indonesian visa and planned to use this later in their trip.  Philip knew this but failed to keep their existence a secret and as a result their single entry visa was stamped so if they had then continued with Philip to Singapore or Malaysia their Indonesian visa would be finished and wasted.  Brian and Susan have also arrived in the islands on another sail boat, hopefully we might meet them before we leave tomorrow.

 

Tuesday 30th October

Well we must have been pooped from the past few days excitement and sightseeing as we didn’t surface for the rest of yesterday apart from a brief break for food in the evening but we do have two Fox movie channels so prising Daz out of our hotel room isn’t so easy.  This morning we are up early to catch our 7am ferry. We’ve had a fabulous break in the Anambas Islands and without a doubt this was due wholly to Hani and her generosity. She is a powerhouse of energy and we are awestruck that she took us under her wing and showed us around. Thank you Hani, and good luck with your job and life in the amazing Anambas Islands.

  We’re sitting on the ferry waiting to depart and we look up into her smiling face. She’s been looking for us to say goodbye and when we weren’t in our hotel came to the ferry, isn’t that an amazingly sweet gesture. We thank her again and hope one day our paths will cross again and we can repay her kindness. Our ferry sets off on time and after a couple of hours we stop at another island group. A horde of locals come on board walking up the aisles selling Nasi Goreng, drinks and fried vegetables of all shapes and sizes. It’s a cacophony of noise as they all hawk their wares. We buy some Nasi Goreng to feed us for the next leg of the trip, about another 7 hours to Tanjung Pinang,and spend the remainder of the crossing reading and dozing.

 

We arrive earlier than expected and once out of the domestic terminal we are hounded by taxi drivers for the 300 meter walk from the port to our hotel, ‘’No, really, we can see our hotel from here, we don’t need a lift from you, you or you!’ We dump our bags in our top floor room with uninspiring views over back alleys and the rest of town and go back down to the lobby. At last, good WiFi strength (only in the lobby) and we set about catching up on emails, banking and administrative tasks that have been building up. Daz pops out to the International Ferry terminal to buy our tickets for Singapore tomorrow then we take a walk along a park beside the waterfront and get a bite to eat. All this excitement is exhausting and by 8pm we are in bed, it’s another early start tomorrow to get breakfast,  get through Immigration and onto our 7am ferry for our next country, Singapore.

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A Life on the Ocean Wave – Philippines to Brunei : 28th Sept to 12th October.

Friday 28th September

Cebu, Philippines

So here we are in the Philippines sans trikes and the plan, if it comes to fruition, is to take a 6 month break from cycling .  There are a number of factors that led to this cunning plan but ultimately our desire to cycle through China was the driver. But for that we need a Chinese visa.  We had researched getting the visa from Seoul but even if successful that would have meant cycling in China during November and December and would have been highly restricted – possibly single entry for only 30 days and actually what we want is the flexibility of a multi entry visa so we can visit Mongolia,  Taiwan and Hong Kong.

I won’t detail the entire 6 month plan which is likely to change repeatedly but here’s phase 1, October and November, we’re on a 65ft trimaran, ‘Hot Buoys’ sailing from Puerto Princesa  to Phuket, Thailand. (www.hotbuoyssailing.com) For those wondering how this came about there are numerous sailing sites such as Findacrew, Crewbay, Crewseekers and probably many, many more designed to link crew with boats both sailing and motor.  In most cases a contribution is required. I created a profile and hoped someone would ask us to crew for them but the reality was that I trawled through hundreds of adverts, applied for many and received numerous rejections.   However I saw an advert on Findacrew and they said yes and the contribution is well within our budget.

In the early hours (3am) we flew out of Seoul to Manila then to Puerto Princesa  and then to Cebu. A 3 flight day and why??? Because we fxxked up and didn’t read the ‘Hot Buoys’ website properly and knew the boat was moored in Puerto Princesa so we booked a flight there but then realised that immigration required that all boat crew book out at Cebu.  So then we booked a flight there. And then everything changed and apparently it’s now possible to book out at Puerto Princesa. However by this point the stage was set and having landed in Cebu, 4pm on 28th we had until 2nd October to see Cebu Island.

With only a few days to see Cebu we decided to make the most of our time and despite being absolutely shattered to head to Oslob (140km) the same day.  Why Oslob -well we want to swim with whale sharks. The Oslob whale shark aggregation is not entirely natural. Itinerant sharks first began showing up around artisanal fishers who were collecting krill at night time, presumably for making shrimp paste.  Over time the fishers learned that they could hand feed the sharks with portions of their catch and eventually the fishers began retaining the catch from the night before and taking tourists out during the day and baiting whale sharks with krill.

We bought a local SIM card with data (900 pesos), withdrew cash 5000pesos = £74.81 and caught a local bus from the airport. On the bus Alan, a young Filipino, asked us where we were heading and warned us to be very careful and to trust no-one.  Oh dear that sounds very discouraging. Since our bus was heading into town and we needed another bus or taxi to reach the South terminal bus station he offered to share a taxi with us. And having taken his dire warning to heart – ‘trust no-one’ we immediately accept.  We arrive at the South Terminal at 5.45 pm. It’s already dark and the place is chaotic. There are tiny stalls on the streets selling snacks, sweets and cigarettes. There are street dogs everywhere. Initially it seems very much like India. We enter the bus station and see signs for Oslob.  At the very back of the bus station there are rows of chairs and all are occupied – this is the Oslob queue.

From the Internet we expect a bus every 30 minutes so it’s going to be a long wait. We take our seats – the only ‘whiteys’ in the entire bus station. We get a few curious glances but these quickly turn into kind smiles on eye contact – not so like India where I was repeatedly scrutinised by the ‘death stare’.  Every 5 minutes or so someone walks the aisles selling various snacks. There must be more buses than the Internet suggested because the queue quickly disappears as people are waved forward to a bus but then we discover this is the overflow area, there’s another queuing area in the actual bus terminal.

Apparently this queue is typical of Friday and Saturdays, had we arrived on another day there wouldn’t be a queue. Around 7.45pm we finally get a seat on an air-conditioned bus. It’s 200 pesos per person, that’s about £2.99.  

The seat controller had decided on our behalf that we didn’t want a bus without air-conditioning and had decided we needed a seat; at least a dozen people are called forward to stand in the aisle on each bus. Now we’re on our way we can find accommodation on Booking.com. We find a hotel near Oslob (750 pesos, £11) and get dropped right outside at 11.15pm. We sleep like the dead. In the morning we pack our bags but luckily the owner let’s us leave them there and she flags down a tricycle (motorbike with sidecar) and a 12km journey through Oslob and we’re at the whale shark area.

 I want breakfast but we’re told we don’t have time. It’s only 10.30am and I read that this is open from 6.30am to 12.30pm so I’m a bit annoyed that Daz won’t let me eat. We register, pay 1000pesos per person (£15) and watch the mayhem. There are people on the beach waiting for boats, people getting dressed and crowds listening to the brief. OK I’m going for a coffee and to find a locker.

We’re only gone 5 minutes and the place is now almost deserted – I have a momentary panic that we’ve missed our slot but it’s OK we’re pointed onto the beach and wait for our canoe with outriggers. Our boatman paddles us out and then we’re in the water but only within the outriggers and we watch the whale sharks feeding and swimming passed.  It’s incredible, they are monstrous beasts with huge mouths sucking in gallons of water and krill.

 

 

After this incredible experience we visit Tamalog Falls.  Time to catch a lift on the back of a motorbike .

Then the church in Oslob, the oldest church in Cebu.   

Mid afternoon we return to our hotel and flag down a bus to Bato.  Well we try to flag one down but fail miserably and need the help of our hotelier. 

Then we change for Allegre. We’ve booked a hotel here and we arrange to go to Kawasan Falls for canyoning.

 

Saturday 29th September

Cebu

We’re up at 6.40am and our canyoning guide, Ronauld, picks us up.  It’s 3s up on a motorbike but that’s common in the Philippines. He takes us up into the hills to Badian River. We leave the bike on the road then walk 20 minutes through the steamy jungle down into a deep gorge and our first sight of the river.

The waters are a creamy blue and deliciously refreshing after the jungle. Our guide soon has us wading and floating in the waters and we shortly arrive at our first jump. We’ve got life jackets on and a helmet. Time for me to screw up my courage and get my shaking legs to take 1 more step… into thin air! It’s about 3 meters but it takes me a moment to convince myself I can do it, and then I’m freefalling and a second later splashing down into a deep pool.  I climb back up for another go – I need to teach myself that I can jump and not to stand looking at the drop until my legs start shaking and I bottle it.

We continue down the canyon and there’s more jumps and even a slide. It’s a fantastic experience and Ronauld is great. It’s advertised as a 3 hour experience but we’re in the Gorge for 5 hours stopping at the Falls for a photo shoot and lunch. I even manage my biggest jump ever – 10 metres!

 

From Allegre we catch a bus to Moalboal. We’ve booked a really cheap hostel but there’s only a shared bathroom and there’s no running water except between 9pm and 5am when it’s possible to shower, but only with cold water. However we settle for a bucket wash.  We head to the beach and hire snorkeling masks because there’s supposed to be turtles and sardines here. We see huge shoals of sardines and some beautiful fish but no turtles.

There’s a thunderstorm coming in and soon the sea is really choppy and the visibility is really reduced so we decide we’ve had enough excitement for one day. In the evening we find a lovely restaurant and  chat to a group of youngsters from Canada and later a couple from Amsterdam.

We even meet a guy from Liverpool but he doesn’t want to talk to us but despite the obvious signals and comments ‘I’m thousands of miles from England and I still can’t avoid the English!’, Daz still persists in asking numerous questions which are either ignored or receive a monosyllabic response.  

 

Sunday 30th September

Cebu

Today we catch a bus back to Cebu,  2 actually as the first bus breaks down halfway to Cebu and we arrive in a torrential downpour.   We were planning to sightsee but instead head for our hotel. Later we head to a mall for dinner, waxing ( me not Daz) and a little retail therapy.  

The Filipinos are tiny and I need XXL -how embarrassing and that’s me at my thinnest. As for my attempt to buy a bikini, well it’s a disaster, there’s no way I can wear any of these in public without being reported for public indecency!

 

Monday 1st October

Cebu

It’s time to head back to Cebu Airport and our flight back to Puerto Princesa.   It’s been an adventurous few days and we love the Philippines and despite several warnings to take care and trust no-one everyone has been kind and helpful and most speak excellent English so travelling from place to place and arranging our excursions has been remarkably easy.  Having landed at Puerto Princesa we get a motorbike sidecar trip to Abanico Yacht Club, it’s like no Yacht Club we’ve ever seen before, just time for a quick beer and something to eat before the boat taxi takes us out to the trimaran.

Lars

Lift out to trimaran

On board there’s Philip, the skipper, Noli his husband, Susan and Brian from Seattle, Ed originally from the US but currently living in Manila and Lars from Switzerland.  Philip shows us the yacht and gives us some idea of what’s expected, the schedule and chores required before we set sail on Thursday.

Our cabin.

One of 2 toilets (this one is out of Order) and communal area

Tuesday 2nd to Thursday 4th October

Puerto Princesa

Over the next few days we prepare for our epic voyage (LOL).

Daz and I repair a hole in the trampoline .  Daz is in the kayak underneath to feed the needle back up.

There’s personal preparation –  shopping; snorkels and some 2nd hand clothing to swim in; haircuts and other niff naff and trivia.  Wednesday and Thursday is boat prep: scraping the keel, fitting the propeller, fetching fuel, drinking water and washing water; grocery shopping, cleaning and packing away provisions and for Brian, well he’s tasked with being ‘The Fixer’ and has to sort out the VHF radio, the depth gauges and the Open CPN navigator.  

 During these chores a couple of things become apparent :

  1. Usually a yacht has a small dinghy / inflatable to be used when achoring off shore.  This trimaran has a wooden dinghy which has an engine but no way to connect the fuel to the engine.  So its parked on the trimaran. Instead to reach land we have to paddle across in 1 of the 2 available kayaks. However with full jerry cans of water or full fuel containers it’s sometimes possible to use the service boat (essentially a water taxi provided by the yacht club).
  2. There isn’t a fresh water maker on board.
  3. There’s no fridge or freezer.
  4. The 2 showers don’t work.
  5. There are 2 toilets aboard but one is already broken.  The other breaks within a few hours. All toilet requirements are to be met by hanging the appropriate appendage over board.   For me and Susan this means leaning out against the davit. Paddling to use the yacht club’s toilet is optional. Brian and Philip fix the toilet but it’s out of bounds for 48 hours whilst the sealant sets.
  6. The yacht club is 400m away and in order to visit the yacht club or complete chores we must paddle one of the 2 kayaks ashore. We have five 20 litre water cans that need to be filled with washing water.  Daz and Lars paddle these across on the kayaks, fill them then paddle back. We take on board about 400 litres of water, you do the math, but that’s a lot of paddling!
  7. There’s no air conditioning aboard.
  8. Most of the equipment doesn’t work. There are 5 navigation aids but only one is accurate.  None of the LED displays can be read without a flash light. Only 1 VHF radio is functional.   2 solar panels don’t have a controller and therefore the batteries can be overcharged or the panels will drain battery power if left on at night.
  9. Philip may suggest a 7am briefing but if people are up they will be tasked with chores even before managing even a coffee let alone breakfast.  Also any time estimates are wildly inaccurate. If he says we’re leaving for immigration at 9am we actually leave at 0730hrs and if he says he’ll be in 2 hours, it’s usually closer to 5.
  10. Philip is hugely particular about some aspects aboard.  In fact I think he definitely has OCD and yet bizarrely so much aboard isn’t working.
  11. There’s a 10 point check required before the engine is switched on.  The ignition key is corroded into its slot and so bent it looks like it might snap off at any hint of too much pressure.
  12. The mast is only a third of its true height and between that and the lack of appropriate sails and sheets it’s actually impossible to sail this trimaran.

On Thursday Philip heads off to immigration to book everyone out but unfortunately some paperwork is incomplete so we’ll all have to visit immigration on Friday.

 

Friday 5th October

Due to the immigration problem yesterday we were unable to leave as planned but after we all visit immigration on Friday and Philip deals with customs we finally set sail Friday evening, 1745hrs.   Actually more bad news; we’re not actually equipped to sail and we’ll be motoring from place to place. So by Friday evening we’re all starting to question why we signed up for this ‘sailing’ adventure.   

Ed and Lars

Fortunately there’s a great bunch aboard and so far we’re having a good time but will it last???? Ed is the oldest in the gang at 72 and actually he’s a little unsteady on his feet but he has no interest in contributing to the chores.  He says the website says it’s optional and he’s happy to opt out and as this voyage continues I recognise the wisdom of his choice. Throughout the day he can be found in different parts of the boat but always horizontal, asleep and snoring!

 Having left Puerto Princesa we’re heading to Bala Bac Island. Philip estimates a sailing time of 36 hours so we’ll be sailing through both Friday and Saturday nights. A bizarre ‘watch’ system is devised: 10pm until 2am; 2 until 4 am and finally 4 until 6.30am.  

Daz and I take first watch and since we’re on auto pilot we just need to periodically check our course and also watch for other sea traffic and take evasive action if required. Philip sleeps in the pilot house during the night and is to be woken if there’s a problem.

 

Sunday 7th October

Bala Bac Island

We sail through Saturday and apart from a seeing a pod of dolphins and a few flying fish it’s pretty uneventful.