Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Jungles of Borneo

Sammy takes over the Tortuguita
My New Captain's Chair (for a few days)

We came to Borneo to see the Orangutans but had a really incredible time just going up the rivers to get there.  Our trip was organized by Herry Roustaman.  He came highly recommended by friends who had been here before and also in the cruising guides and literature.  He owns Harry's Yacht Service and really knows the cruising community.  He has been doing this for 18 years.  We had no idea what a find he was. 

Our lookout post on the African Queen

We were a little disappointed when we arrived and anchored in front of Kumai Town.  The smoke was awful and we thought it would really put a damper on our trip to see the Orangutans.  Booker had some real concerns and made a list for me.  I called Herry, asked and had answers to all our questions.  We discussed things.  I called Herry back and made the deal.  His guys would pick us up at 9 AM.  We would do a two day trip, and be back the following evening for a price of 2,000,000 ID Rupiah per person.  That's about $150 USD each.
Entrance to the Sekonyer River
We were in the northern part of the park (green area)

We were ready and waiting when the "African Queen" arrived (that's what we called her).  Herry arranged for Sammy (his real name is Samsel) to stay on Tortuguita while we were gone.  Not that there is any real theft or danger concerns, except for illegal logs being floated down the river which may hit the boat, but for $12/day, it helped me sleep better knowing Sammy was on the job. 

Once we boarded the African Queen, we were treated like royalty.  We had a crew of five.  Captain Iyur (called him Igor), First Officer Nurdin (call him Norton), our guide Pi'i (just called him 'P'), the assistant guide Giri (called him Gary), and the cook Sithi (called her Cynthy).  This was all for just the two of us.  Our own private boat with a crew of five.  I felt like the owner of a superyacht.  The coffee, tea, meals, and snacks were nonstop and great. We ate better than ever and our Balinesian cooking classes really helped us with what Cynthy was cooking.  The best thing for me was being on a boat for two days and never having to touch a thing.

Room with a view

Sungai Sekonyer Village Homestay Bungalows
We headed down the Kumai River and entered the Sekonyer River at the entrance to the Tajung Puting National Park.  We had the option to sleep on the African Queen, in a bungalow at a village, or at an eco-lodge.  We stopped at the village and eco-lodge to check them out before making our decision.  Even though staying at the eco-lodge supports a corporation while the village stay would support the local economy, we chose the Rimba Ecolodge ($75/night) because they had air conditioned rooms and it would be a relief to be out of the smoke.   It was a very nice place.
Rimba Ecolodge

African Queen's Engineering Department

Norton (left) and Igor (right) at the helm
Igor pushed the African Queen up some rivers where it looked like we would never get out.  He would spot a croc or monkeys and stop so we could get an up close and personal view from the safety of the boat.  We came back from Camp Leakey after dark and after a rain had washed lots of debris into the river.  Even though he had a long day, he worked like a champ getting us back to the Ecolodge using only a small light on the bow and a flashlight.  The Rimba Lodge let the African Queen stay on the dock connected to their shore power for the night.  The next day started at 6AM when a troop of Macaque monkeys were jumping the tin roof of our cabin.  We visited two ranger stations for Orangutan feeding and we ended up at Tortuguita after dark around 6 PM.

We couldn't have had a better trip.  It was great.  Thanks Herry for such a first class operation in such an outback place.  Thanks African Queen and crew.  What an amazing treat.

The Crew's Quarters

Cynthy in the Galley

Pushing up the Sekonyer  river

Getting deeper into the jungle

P and Gary watch for crocs with Booker

Got one, a freshwater croc.

It doesn't look like the boat will fit

Great food onboard the African Queen

Proboscis Monkeys at the side of the river

The 'African Queen'

Dave and Herry

Indonesia Burning

We came to Indonesia to mostly do two things.  See the Komodo Dragons, and see the Orangutans.  The town of Kumai on the island of Borneo is the place where you get access to the Tajung Puting National Park.  The last remaining sanctuary for orangutans on Borneo.  The other is on the island of Sumatra.

Heading up the Kumai River.  This is not fog but smoke.
During the night before our arrival, when playing 'spot the fishing boat' with our high beam light, the light just made the haze glow and the beam dissipated maybe 20 meters away.  It was like using your high beams in the fog.  You really couldn't illuminate anything except the air around you.  Thought, however, it was just fog on the water. 

It's pretty bad when you can't even see the mosque.
We arrived at the mouth of the Kumai River in the early morning.  It took us another 4 hours to travel the 15 miles to Kumai Town.  The tide was not helping.  As we progressed up the river, the smell of smoke got worse and worse.  At the town, the visibility was about a half mile.  It was like being downwind of a campfire but nowhere to go to escape it.  As the day progressed, the smoke lifted some but we were a little discouraged that this beautiful tropical river setting was obscured by a white haze.  We looked for dust masks on the boat from boatyard projects but didn't find any.  The smoke was so bad and we were discouraged that our trip to the park would be a bust.  This was a once in a lifetime experience for us and it was being ruined by burners.

The sun, almost obscured by the smoke

For 18 years, large pulp and paper and palm oil plantations have farmed the rich peatlands that run along the Sumatran coast of Indonesia and Borneo Island.   Every year, existing farmland is dried out and burned for the next season's crop and to clear surrounding forests for expansion. The fires are large and hard to control and dry, CO2-rich peatlands can burn for many weeks.
"Those big scale companies are also eager to expand their operations into the adjacent peatland," ...
"Whether they deliberately set the fire, or they can also ask people in the communities around their areas to burn the land, that's also a possibility. And then at the end, those burned areas are proposed as the expansion of their plantation." (2)

There were easily 20 barges in the Kumai River waiting to be stacked high with timber.

It's not just the smoke but the ash was everywhere
Former Indonesian strongman President Suharto distributed large tracts of forest to cement political relationships with army generals. Thus, logging expanded significantly in the 1980s, with logging roads providing access to remote lands for settlers and developers (1)

Even today, with a more progressive Indonesian government, lack of oversight has led to Singapore and Malaysia telling Indonesia to stop the burning.  Seven corporate executives have recently been arrested in Indonesia and Singapore has passed a law which allows it to fine companies that cause smoke pollution, even if they’re not Singapore-based.  (2)

Another barge waiting to be loaded with lumber
We awoke the day after our arrival to find the visibility at 1/4 mile.  We heard that all flights had been cancelled for the past two days.  We went on our trip to the park and the smoke was not as bad in the National Park.  It rained for 10 minutes and may have helped.  We stayed in the Rimba Ecolodge that night because it has air conditioning and we needed a 'breather'.  We heard planes landing on the second day of our trip and had hopes that things were clearing up.  We returned to the boat and planned to leave in the morning but we could barely see the trees on the shore just 30 meters away.  The smoke lifted by 10AM to about 1/2 mile and we were able to get down river where the fresh sea breeze would be a nice relief.  We anchored as far down the Kumai River as possible and thought we would be out of it.  Instead, ash has been falling on the boat all afternoon.

Should have bought some dust masks in Kumai.  Now there's a Free Market opportunity.

The sun setting into the smoke.

Our next stop, on the island of Belitung, was 250 miles away. When we arrived, we could already see the smoke getting worse.  There was some small burning around the village but since Belitung is not downwind of the burning in Borneo, but instead, downwind of the burning in Sumatra.  We knew is wasn't going to be good once the wind shifted offshore as it always does at night.  The smoke was so bad that night that we couldn't see the village and we could see whiffs of smoke coming through the boat.  I did not think it possible but it was worse than Kumai.   Everything on the boat smelled of smoke.  In the morning, the wind shifted and it cleared up.  We went to shore to explore and were going to stay another day to recover from our two day passage but figured why sit around and have to breathe this nonsense again.  So we left for Bangka Island at noon for an afternoon arrival the following day.
The Bangka anchorage is on the right side of this photo.  No way we wanted a repeat of Belitung.

As we approached Bangka, we really couldn't see the island but as we got close to the northeast tip anchorage, we could see fires burning along the coast and the anchorage was directly downwind of several plumes of smoke.  Neither of us wanted to go back into that so we decided to keep going to the next anchorage, 100 miles further on the southeast end of Lingga Island.   This anchorge is behind a small island on the upwind side of the larger Lingga.  We had good hope that 500 miles since Kumai, we finally would be able to get away from the smoke.  It turned out to be quite hazy but no smoke.  So far, so good.


Sunday, September 20, 2015

Coastal Indonesian Nights

Another constant threat, the Fish Trap.  That's a log attached to it.

The coasts of Indonesia are full of fisherman.  It seems like half of them are out at night.  There are the small net fisherman with the small blue and red flashing lights.  There are the bigger boats that are brightly lit with white light.  And, then there are the real small guys with a flashlight.  Of course, this last group doesn't want to use up valuable battery power so they will shine their light only at the last moment.  What if we're inside checking the charts.  Hopefully they would move but you never know.  We did find out that they can be seen on our Garmin Digital Radar at about 2-3 miles.  This is quite amazing since their boats are the size of a canoe, and the only metal onboard is a 5hp Honda engine directly coupled to a pipe with a propeller on it.   Good job Garmin.  We now have enough advance notice to know where to look for that flicker from a flashlight in the dark of night.

There is quite a bit of interisland barge traffic in Indonesia.  Toward Borneo, there is even more and the cargo is usually a mountain of timber about 30 ft high.  We have seen them and know the lights they display at night.  They actually seem to be one of the only type of boats out at night displaying the correct lighting.  During our first night out of Bali, after dodging fishing boats for most of the night, a tug was paralleling us to the north. We were sailing slow around 3.5 knots.  This guy kept getting closer and closer.  I know he has the right of way but don't know what his intentions are.  In most other countries, you give a call on the VHF and all works out.  In Indonesia, the VHF is a party line for all the bored fisherman.  The other problem is that they only speak Indonesian and you can't get a word in edgewise.

So we watch and watch and he gets closer and closer.  In the star lit sky, I can see the huge barge piled to the sky with wood.  There were no lights on the barge.  It looked like he would pass behind us, and I think he wanted to get to the other side of us and didn't understand why he just didn't turn and go there.  Then it looked like he wanted to pass in front of us.  No problem except the barge would pass behind us and the steel cable right through us.  I fired up both engines, floored it, and passed in front of him.  That was a very close and unnecessary call.  After all this, he loops back the way we came, back toward Bali.  So, he stalked us, just to try to kill us, couldn't, so he high tailed it away.  Just doesn't seem right but I have no other explanation.

Daytime photo of a Tug/Barge hauling timber
There does seem to be this game that quite a few boats play with us.  It's called "try to pass as close to the front of the yacht as possible".  I don't like this game.

Distance and Timing of Destinations

With good wind we can sail 150 miles conservatively in 24 hours.  50 miles can be covered in a normal daylight period and still arrive in good daylight to anchor.  The trip from Bali to Borneo is 450 miles.  The midway stop on the island of Bawean is 200 miles from Bali.  We had good hopes of making Bawean but the typical 10AM winds never appeared and instead came at 3PM.  They dropped off by 6PM so we were at a huge deficit that we could never speed up enough to gain it back. 

An option would be to stay out a second night and arrive in the morning.   But, in this situation, our arrival in Bawean would have been midnight and drifting around for another 6 hours didn't seem such a good use of time.  The next leg to Borneo from Bawean is 250 miles.  With good wind, this also is a difficult distance since it also gives us a middle of the night arrival.  We could also just drift around for 6 hours waiting for sunrise but by skipping Bawean and going straight to Borneo, the 2 half nights added together give us a full night of sailing and a morning arrival.  We also cut the trip by one day and covered the 450 miles in 3 days.

Another option available to afford a daytime arrival would be to leave in the middle of the night.  This however is only practical if the anchorage you are leaving had no hazards like coral and rocks that you could hit in the dark.   

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Balinesian Cooking Class

Veggie Lady at the Singaraja Market
The Lonely Planet Guide recommends a Balinesian cooking class as one of the things to do here in Lovina.  I called the restaurant, Warung Bambu, and they were able to take us the following day.   

The Bean, Chile, Shallot, Coconuts, and Garlic Lady
They picked us up at the beach at 8AM and we went to the Singaraja Market where our instructor, Adi, explained about the food and spices that we'll be using.  Of course, we picked up a few things for ourselves.

Adi, Niki, and Booker at Wok (pun intended)

Veggies needing to be chopped
We went to the restaurant and were given a list of meals that we could choose from.  When we arrived in Kupang, we were such novices.  What were all these strange names of things.  But now, we are not new to Indonesian food and know what we like.  From the list we chose:

Vegetable Spring Rolls (Lumpia Sayur)

Tofu stuffed with Vegetables (Tahu Isi)

Balinese Vegetable Curry (Kare Sayur)

Vegetables in Peanut Sauce (Gado-Gado)

Vegetables with Grated Coconut and Balinese Spices (Uraban)

Fried Noodles with Vegetables (Mie Goreng Sayur)

Mashing the ingredients to make Curry Paste (Bumbu)


Spring Rolls ready to get cooked

Peanut Sauce Curry with veggies (Gado-Gado)

Curry Paste almost ready
We were given a folder with the ingredient list for each dish.  We washed up, put on our hats and aprons and headed for the kitchen.  Niki was the chef helping us with the cooking.  She showed us how to chop the different vegetables and then we chopped piles of carrots, cabbage, beans, leeks, shallots, celery, chilis, garlic, pineapple, onions, tomatos, and cucumber.  All the cooking was done in coconut oil in a wok over propane.   
Making Coconut Milk from scratch

We made the Bumbu (Curry Paste) from scratch.  Actually, everything was made from scratch and made to order.  After we made all our dishes, we got to eat them in the restaurant and had plenty left over to take back to the boat.

Way too much food to eat

Rice in a banana leaf
The restaurant, Warung Bambu, is owned by a German lady, Beate Dotterweich.  This is the first place in Indonesia that we have seen that is doing recycling and composting.  The trash problem in Indonesia is huge and there is way too much plastic floating in the sea.  We would recommend the Warung Bambu for lunch or dinner even if you don't take the cooking class.

Our class folder

Spring Rolls (above) and Stuffed Tofu (below)
Our Instructor, Adi