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New Year Up Date from Daemon

 

Well, this is more like it! Apart from a preponderance of giant kitsch cat statues (Kuching fancies itself as cat city) Kuching is a very attractive and interesting city. As many of you had picked up, we weren't quite so enthralled with what we had seen of Borneo as we may have been. This is mainly because of the destruction of most of the northern part during the war, and the consequent rebuilding of the cities hastily, and in an incredibly ugly and brutal concrete style, which paved the way for similar architecture to follow. Kuching however, has lots of lovely old colonial shophouses and warehouses around the town and an attractive waterfront along the river's edge where you can sit and stroll. It also has the old "white rajah" forts and colonial courthouses etc which are well-preserved. And as for the food! Yesterday for lunch I had roast pork noodles with a beer for NZ$3!

 

There is also a lot of interesting old curios here - the rest of Borneo had had a huge amount of ugly tourist crap, but there are some nice pieces here. Not necessarily genuine, but nice. We picked up an old parang, or headhunter sword, as our souvenir - not sure the sharp weapon on a boat thing is a good idea, but what the hell. Now as Bruce will tell you, a parang is not to be confused with a palang, which is a decorative penis insert employed by the local indigenous men in order to a) imitate the Sumatran rhino which has an appendage naturally embellished with one and B) excite the women. There was a display of them at the local museum, with a head and shoulders photo of a local guy above the exhibit. I presumed from the stunned expression on his face he had had one. Despite all my "...if you REALLY loved me..." comments, Bruce remains steadfast in his refusal to try this local custom. Wimp.

 

Anyway, despite wishing to spend more time here, the days are moving on, so today it is off to Johor Bahru, which should take us 4-5 days, and is not a trip I'm overly looking forward to, as the shipping traffic in the area is notoriously heavy. Oh well.

 

Anyway, we sign off, now as apparently there is a big croc on the riverbank I should take a look at. Nnnnm, OK, hope our anchor isn't snagged!

 

So, all of you have a great new year, and think of us on the high seas while you celebrate.

 

All the best,

Jill & Bruce

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Hi all,

Well, we've been travelling for a couple of weeks now and it seems

like ages! Our first stop was in Phnom Penh in Cambodia, which was a

complete cultyre shock. We went from steamy humid and regulated

Malaysia and Singapore into dry dusty and chaotic Cambodia. The tuktuk

(2 seater trailer with canopy towed by a scooter, seats up to 8 with

luggage) ride in from the airport aged me 10 years, as the Cambodian

traffic is the worst I have ever seen. The only road rule is that you

have right of way, and it is up to you when/how you choose to enforce

that. A 4 lane road will have anything up to 16 lanes operating on it,

with anything from pedestrians, ox carts, elephants, bikes,

motorcycles, tuktuks, cyclos (passenger vehicles like pedal-driven

wheelchairs), cars, SUVs, trucks and buses all going for it at high

speed. To make matters (more) interesting, which side of the road you

travel on depends on how you feel on any given day, so crossing the

road is an absolute nightmare. Bruce used to make mo do it before

coffee and I'd be standing on the side of the road looking at the

utter chaos and crying. After a few days you got to be able to stare

down cycles and motorbikes, but grabbing a tuktuk and heading to a

restaurant was usually the least fraught option. People had warned us

about the traffic in Saigon, but at least that has some reason - Phnom

Pehn is just madness. That being said, we absolutely loved that city -

it just bursts with life and good humour - I didn't stop smiling

(apart from crossing the road or being hounded by begging children)

all the time we were there.

 

One of my least-wanted-to-do trips was the whole genocide tourism

thing, visiting sites from Cambodia's civil war, but somehow you can't

avoid it. You can't walk for 30 seconds along the street without a

tuktuk driver shouting "Killing Fields? You go killing Fields?" at

you, so we yielded to the pressure and went to both the Killing Fields

and to S21, the detention and torture centre set in a secondary

school. I can't say it was enjoyable, but I am glad we did it.

 

(Bit of history - skip it if you are familiar with the woes of

Cambodia. During the years from 1974-1979 the Kmer Rouge government

killer a quarter of the population of the country - over 2 million

deaths. The main city of Phnom Penh was emptied out by force and all

the city dwellers forced to evacuate to the country to become rural

peasants (many starved to death) and all intellectuals, teachers,

doctors, engineers, lawyers, even people who wore glasses (and were

thus suspected of being intellectual) were killed along with there

families. This has had a major impact on the country today, as a whole

generation of people with the skills to run the infrastructure were

lost, so they are starting from the beginning again. We talked to some

expats who have been there for several years and they say the

improvements in the last couple of years have been amazing, but it is

still incredibly poor and lacks basic facilities.)

 

The Killing Fields are around 15k from PP and consist of several

excavated pits which were the mass graves of about 9000 people. There

is also a large memorial tower, with glass sides displaying the

clothes and bones of the people who died there, but you can still see

bones surfacing from the ground in some areas, and many places have

not yet been excavated. S21 or Tuol Sleng is where prisoners were held

and interrogated prior to being tortured and killed. It is a very

ordinary-looking school that has been retained as a museum to the

genocide of Cambodians. The rooms are arranged as they were found, and

the walls have photographs of the bodies found in them when the school

was liberated. There are several rooms with displays of thousands of

mug shots of people who were taken there and never got out (only 12

out of 17,000 survived), and the looks on their faces are just

gut-wrenching. It was horrific viewing, but the full shock didn't hit

me until later in the evening when I realised the true horror was how

ordinary the places were - they weren't dark evil paces, but just

everyday fields and schools, emphasising how it could happen anywhere.

I was uncomfortable initially about how the places were being

exploited for tourism, but talking to Cambodians they want people to

bear witness to their experiences to get a better understanding of

their country.

 

The next day we lightened up by visiting the Royal Palace and the

Silver Pagoda - so named because the floor of the pagoda has 5000

kilos of silver floor tiles! It also has a life size Buddha made from

90kg of gold with almost 10,000 diamonds on it. And outside people

live in abject poverty... We also went to Cambodian Cooking Class for

a day, which was excellent - we are now guns at spring rolls, banana

flower salad, fish amok (sort of a steamed curry) and sticky rice with

mango.

 

We then got the bus up to Siem Reap to visit the Ankor Wat temples.

The trip was not improved by spotting the tour bus that left an hour

prior to ours rolled down a bank and into a rice paddy! The roadside

cafes also left a bit to be desired - hmmmn, fried locusts or

tarantulas? Vats of "spare parts"? Um, I'll have a bunch of bananas,

please. (We did start to get into the local thing at a PP

bar/restaurant down the road from the hotel: the sort where the staff

panic when white folk arrive. We called it the "Dare Cafe" as we kept

daring each other to eat stuff on the menu. I dared Bruce to eat the

beef with giant red ant (only to be disappointed when the red ant was

a whimsical description of a whole chili) while I had frog, which was

BBQed and served with a dip of black peeper and salt dissolved in lime

juice - absolutely delicious! By tacit agreement we avoided things

like "Spare Parts with Pickled Vegetable", "Appendix with Fried Rice"

"Steamed Brain of Pig" and the tantalising"Interesting Beef Paste".)

 

Siem Reap was a great little party town which enjoyed immensely, and

the temples were mind-blowing. We had no idea of the scales of the

place and spent 3 full days hoofing it around there and still didn't

see it all. The ring round around the temples is 23km! From there it

was back to PP, where we caught a ferry down the Mekong to Chau Doc in

Vietnam.

 

We spent a few days on the Mekong, one day hiring a small sampan and

boatman and spending 8 hours cruising the river and canals and

visiting the floating markets. From there we headed to Saigon, and

spent time wandering in the city, fighting off persistent cyclo

drivers and sunglass sellers and visiting the Reunification Palace and

the War Remnants Museum (formerly known as "The House for Displaying

War Crimes of American Imperialism and the Puppet Government of South

Vietnam"). Vietnam is a communist country (although you wouldn't know

it from the rampant capitalism of the streets) and there are red

banners emblazoned with the hammer & sickle everywhere, as well as

lots of Uncle Ho propaganda murals. (We dined to the accompaniment of

a Communist Party rally, complete with martial music near the town

square here in Dalat the other night.)

 

We then did the 8 hour bus trip (with the woman behind me puking for 7

hours) from Saigon up to Dalat in the Central Highlands where we are

now. Dalat is famous for its cartel of motorcycle guides called the

Easy Riders who take you for trips around the countryside on the back

of their bikes. being nonconformists, we elected to go with the

anticartel cartel called the Free Riders, and hopped on the back of

bikes with Tien ("Terry") and Chau ("Joe") and spent the day on the

back of motorbikes visiting coffee and flower farms, silk factories,

rice wine producers, pagodas, waterfalls and other local sights. They

tried to tempt us into a longer trip, but although we had enjoyed the

day, I have to confess the scenery of Vietnam is pretty blah. What

wasn't killed by US defoliation during the "American War of

Aggression", as it's known in these parts, has been comprehensively

dealt to by slash and burn farming, so the landscape consists of dusty

fields and scrubby trees, with a constant parade of ugly concrete

shophouses continuously lining the side of the road. Not somewhere we

wanted to linger. Tomorrow it is the night bus to Hoi An, which

purports to be historic, but we shall see! At least the food here is

excellent and very cheap - huge meals of several dishes for $5 for 2

of us!

 

Well, that's about it from us,

Cheers,

Jill & Bruce

PS: Facebook people - sorry, can't update - Vietnam seems to have

blocked access to the site.

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Update from Yacht Daemon

 

Well, we made it to Hoi An, but foolishly I delegated the bus ticket

buying to Bruce as I had reached the "rip people's throat out" stage

of culture shock and needed to hide for a while away from motorcycles

running over my feet. Bruce arrived back with tickets, for seats 9 &

10. I commented that they sounded close to the back of the bus and I

hoped our bed wasn't one of the quadruples across the back seat. Bruce

looked perplexed and said "But they don't have beds, just seats.".

Miscommunication - I had expected to pay the extra $2 for soft sleeper

tourist bus seats, while Bruce went to his favourite local bus company

and booked sit up, Vietnamese arse-sized seats on a 15 hour trip

through the mountains, dropping us 10km from the centre of Hoi An

instead of at the hotel door. I was not impressed, especially when we

boarded the bus and saw the number of sick bags provided. Sure enough,

half an hour into the trip about 5 people were away. Then the babies

started screaming, the egregious mobile phone rings started up... it

was a long night.

 

However, after Dalat (the Palmerston North of Vietnam) Hoi an proved

to be the Parnell of Vietnam, touristy and historic, but also very

pleasant, It escaped bombing during the war and is now a World

Heritage site, with lots of old buildings, bridges etc. It is also

famous for tailors and cobblers, so i succumbed and had some boots and

shoes custom made, as well as some tops and pants, at ridiculously

cheap prices.

 

So, tomorrow we taxi to Dalat, then get the reunification Express

train to Hue, where we get royal tombs for a few days before flying to

Hano for Tet, the local New Year holiday, which is bigger than Ben Hur

in these parts. The streets are currently decorated in Chinese

lanterns and the whole place looks just amazing. Hanoi should be great

for it.

 

Well, time for bed!

 

Love,

Jill & Bruce

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Hi all,

Well we finally made it out of Vietnam without me killing a local,

although I did come close a few times. There is a saying that to

travel in the north you need a sense of humour and that is pretty much

spot on. Life wasn't improved by me managing to catch a stomach bug in

Hue, which will now always be known to me as "Huuueeeeey!". Despite

that, it is a very pretty city and I wish I had seen more of it. The

train trip to Hue from Danang was another classic - train an hour and

a half late, then took 4 hours to go 100km! Floor awash with rubbish &

vomit etc etc - we flew to Hanoi after that. Hanoi was fun, but very

cold, down in the low teens, which came as bit of a shock.

 

We had a great time wandering around the old quarter dodging traffic

and we did the visit to see Ho Chi Minh lying in his mausoleum - very

bizarre. We did a 3 day trip cruising on a junk in Halong Bay, which

was a welcome but of luxury, even if we froze. (see

www.oriental-sails.com). Being Vietnam, it wasn't the cruise we had

booked, which didn't have enough passengers to run, so we were

arbitrarily transferred to this one and not told until we were on the

bus on the highway to Halong. It was fine though, food was excellent

and the scenery stunning. We even braved the elements to go kayaking.

 

From Hanoi we flew in to Luang Prabang in Laos (after a near divorce

when Bruce suggested taking the 30 hour bus there) where we are at

present. When we arrived we thought we had gone deaf, as the silence

was tremendous after the tumult of Hanoi*, where everyone drives with

one hand on the horn and foot flat on the accelerator. No one was

driving over our feet on the footpath or screaming "You buy! You buy!"

every time they saw an approaching walking white ATM. You'd have to

try hard to be run over here.

 

Today is temple visiting day, tomorrow we head down the Mekong to

visit some caves full of retired Buddha statues, then it is off to

spend 2 days learning how to be elephant mahouts (drivers), a skill

you never know when you'll need.

 

Well, I'll sign off now before I go nuts - the keyboard I am using to

type this has all the letters worn off, so I'm getting a headache

trying to touch-type!

 

Cheers,

Jill & Bruce

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Hi all,

Well, we survived our elephant training experience, which, while being

huge fun, was bit of a joke as the elephants knew exactly where they

were supposed to go, as they do the route 4 times a day. This was

handy, as my mispronunciation of "go right" in Lao may have had them

wondering "Why is she shouting "bird flu! bird flu!" at me - I always

go right here!". We got to ride on their necks and take them into the

river to bathe them, which caused a disturbing loosening of bowels

(mainly but not exclusively) on the elephants part, and I can tell you

that you don't want to fall into that lot!

 

After a few more days in relaxed Luang Prabang we bussed down to Vang

Vieng (no-one threw up, a first for a bus trip) backpacker capital of

the universe. Whereas LP is a tasteful World Heritage middle-class

wealthy tour place, VV is young backpacker central, based around

getting drunk and stoned. Cafes make Amsterdam look repressed: the

"Happy Menu"s offer ganja (joint, bag, pizza, garlic bread, cookie or

shake), magic mushrooms (shake, omelette, pizza, bag) and opium

(joint, tea, coffee or bag). Another feature of the cafes and

restaurants is that they all have TVs playing a particular show, so

you pledge your allegiance to "Friends", "Family Guy" or "The

Simpsons". The most popular pastime is tubing down the river to town

(through some spectacular limestone scenery) stopping at bars on the

way. Tubing, for the uninitiated, is floating slowly along on a

tractor tyre. There are about 40 bars on the first couple of miles of

river, sporting a multitude of alcohol & drug offering, buckets of

cocktails, free whiskey shots, water slides. trapezes and zip lines

out on to the river. We had seen many backpackers sporting crutches

and bandages, and wondered why until we went tubing ourselves.

Fortunately we were early in the day (11am) and most of the bars

weren't open, but Bruce still managed to try the trapeze and zip line

at one bar (with me in the background shouting "Just don't expect me

to change your nappies for the rest of your life!"). The sights that

were hauled back to town in tuktuks later in the evening were not

pretty!

 

After a few days it all got too much, so this morning we shipped out

to the capital, Vientiane, where we'll stay in out US$20 per night

luxury room (has been around US$8 recently) which would cost a couple

of hundred dollars in NZ, until we fly to Kuala Lumpur and back to the

boat. I'm about ready to be back as well. Vientiane suffers from the

extremes of rich and poor we have seen in the other capitals: maimed

beggars (landmines left over from the US bombardment in the 70s) and

Lexus SUVs and Bentleys with tinted windows belonging to corrupt

officials, and it is all getting a bit overwhelming.

 

Well, that's it from us,

Love,

Jill & Bruce

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Update from Jill and Bruce

 

Having a Coron-ary..... which is a short break in Coron while I get my last assignments for my Semester One papers completed. Coron is a lovely wee town on the island of Busuanga in the Calamian Group, north of Palawan. (N 11"59.7" E120'11.8") It is predominantly a dive place, but there aren't many tourists here, and none of the retired alcoholic sex tourists so prevalent in Puerto Galera and Sabang: much nicer altogether! The town is quite amazing - whole neighbourhoods of it are built on stilts over the water, which solves the wastewater plumbing, but means we don't swim! They have taken a leaf from Hollywood's book and installed a large "CORON" sign on top of the hill, where it is quite at home with a giant illuminated cross (so tall it has its own red aircraft warning light) and half a dozen very unscenic cellphone towers. We won't even mention the over-water bar with about a dozen giant mermaids supporting the roof. We had dinner out at one of the dive places when we first arrived - NZ25 for 4 beers, a coke and 2 three course meals (mains were marlin & chili crab) - hardly worth cooking! You did need to turn a deaf ear to the rat fights behind the woven palm wall panels though. The market is great for veges, but Bruce came back pale, shaken and vegetarian after visiting the meat section yesterday. It either looked at him (chickens in cages, squealing pig trussed on pole) or looked as if it had been involved in a chainsaw massacre, and the market stalls are all out in the open, no refrigeration, doors, screens etc. He has been waxing lyrical about lentils ever since!

 

The trip down was great, the weather was sunny, but we didn't get enough wind to sail, however that meant we could spend a couple of days

anchored at Apo Reef, a deserted reef between Mindoro and Palawan, snorkeling & relaxing and avoiding the onmipresent roosters that populate this cock-fight-mad country - the peace was bliss! Co-ordinates were N12'14.9, E120'28.7 - quite weird to be anchored in the middle of nowhere, just an island in the distance. Great snorkeling though.

 

After Coron it is off big game hunting! One of the islands was made into a game reserve, with tigers, giraffes etc imported from Africa (they had to get rid of the tigers - they ate everything else) as well as local wildlife, such as bearcats. Apparently, although it was set up as a National park, originally one of the Marcos sons used it as a big game shooting reserve. Could be fun.

 

Had a great disappointment the other day - lashed out and had a girl's day out at the spa in Sabang (the vile sex-tourism/dive resort near Puerto Galera) with one of the other yacht women for 4 hours of massage, salt & coffee scrubs and a pedicure- bliss! Despite my joy at having fabulous feet after years of skanky battered calloused yacht-person feet, I found most of my tan had disappeared in the scrubs - I now suspect it may have been accumulated dirt. The horror! Now I know why we have navy or charcoal sheets (and yes, they were that colour originally!). Working on new colouration as I write!

 

Well, that's about it from us,

Cheers,

Jill & Bruce

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