Jesse and I made it home, of course. We were sight-seers in Singapore for three days…walked around the spectacular downtown…took in some of the ASEAN Para Games…ate some interesting food. Food was a big part of getting home. I ate pretty much constantly for the first week. I weighed myself for the first time in a year — I’ve lost 25 pounds!
It has been a year to remember for me! A year ago we were uncertain when (if?) we would be able to depart Key West. We started late, but caught the other Blue Planet Odyssey boats in the San Blas Islands…huts on stilts…dugout canoes…dinner at Nestor’s house. The multitude of ships as we approached the Panama Canal…touring the new canal under construction…transiting the Canal. The Galápagos…Kicker Rock…sea lions…tortoises…iguanas…penguins. Three thousand miles at sea to the Marquesas…awesome terrain…awesome culture…dances and drumming…my tattoo…manta rays. The Tuamotus…atolls…treacherous currents and passes…fabulous snorkeling. Tahiti and the Society Islands…with Hallie…anchoring between the coral and the mountains…enjoying the company of other boats, and learning that several would not be continuing. Niue…Tonga…Wallis…Tuvalu…joining Doina…meeting the Prime Minister…seeking climate justice and bananas. Our encounter with the tropical depression en route to Vanuatu…near naked men dancing…chiefs going for the next higher rank…kava. Australia…the Northern Territories…with Hallie and Jesse…rock art…crocodiles…many boat repairs. And then the amazing two months through Indonesia…welcoming people…wonderful guides…great food…dragons and orangutans…the volcano and the pirates (not)…Bali…dinner at Abdullah’s house…the solar powered desalination system that wasn’t working, that still irks me!
Thanks for joining me on the adventure, through this blog. Thanks for your many comments, whether posted here or passed to me directly. More to come in 2016 — Happy New Year!
My views about climate change have morphed as a result of my past year’s experiences. I’ve always thought that it is wrong to power our economic growth with fossil fuels. It is unsustainable, since there is a limited supply. And it is disrespectful toward our Planet Earth — burning burning burning without due regard for the pollution and the waste of precious resources.
But when the focus turned to climate change, I was ambivalent. The climate is always changing — why make such a big deal about it? Even though human activity is causing rapid changes that would not happen otherwise, my thought was that probably it is no more disruptive than the natural changes over, say, ten thousand years. Humans need to adjust to the changing environment. Our wasteful polluting greedy behavior will simply force more adjustment in the near term.
Over the past year I have had my eyes opened, and my heart. I have met some of the families that will be directly affected by sea level rise. I have seen the low-lying islands and experienced the people’s unique dancing and singing and drumming. I’ve been invited into some of their homes, and met their children. I’ve been touched by what will be lost in the “adjustment.” It has become personal for me, and thinking of the loss now brings me tears.
In the past year I have also become sensitive to the idea of climate JUSTICE. I get to have my big house and powerful car, to drive or fly hither and yon, to eat foods from around the planet, to own all sorts of appliances and electronic devices…and the hidden cost of my abundance includes the destruction of some small island nations. Places like Tuvalu, a beautiful place, a beautiful culture, and friendly people who are the ones who will have to “adjust” despite having done nothing to contribute to the rising ocean or the more frequent and more powerful cyclones that are coming.
My original assessment of relying on fossil fuels…unsustainable, polluting, wasteful, disrespectful…still holds. But I can no longer look at the climate “adjustment” we are forcing as merely tweaking the long-term / short-term knob, as though the people and cultures don’t matter. So now I add “unfair” to my assessment. Hugely unfair. Fundamentally unequivocally grossly wrong!
At the COP21 Climate Summit in Paris an agreement was signed yesterday. I think this is a tremendous achievement. To have 196 countries agree on ANYTHING is amazing, and where those countries have vastly different short term interests it is more amazing. Do the terms of the agreement go far enough to save Tuvalu? Will the terms of the agreement be honored by the nations that contribute most to the problem? So long as big corporations that respect nothing but profit are allowed to operate unfettered, is it possible to achieve goals that are (in the short term) unprofitable? In the United States, in particular, it seems we have much more work to do to restructure our capitalist system to reflect our values beyond just the dollar.
The Blue Planet Odyssey’s focus on climate change has not always been evident, but it is always there in the background. Mostly through our blogs and our contacts with students, we have tried to call attention to the issues. I don’t know what impact we have had. But the experience has certainly had a deep impact on ME!
I have never spent time with my dad like I have on this trip. That has easily been the biggest thing for me, and I knew it would be from the start. When he invited me to come join him for a segment of his trip around the world, of course the opportunity to travel and see more of the world excited me, but getting to participate in a big dream of his has been a thrill. This would have been a much different trip if I was crewing on another boat. I’ve grown up sailing with him during the summers at Indian Point, and though I wouldn’t label myself a sailor, he has passed on to me a love for the wind and the water. This time, instead of crisscrossing the bay with him or heading out to Sequin Island, I got to embark on a voyage alongside him.
The sailing aspect of the trip has been unlike any other experience. A few things about ocean sailing surprised me. For one, most of the sailboats I’ve been on before don’t even have an engine available; I did not expect to be motoring at all, really. The daysailing that I’ve done before is also filled with tacking and jibing, working through coastal waters filled with obstacles. Out on open water, however, we set a course and as long as the wind holds, we maintain that point of sail. Our last passage was the first time we tacked or jibed throughout my whole time aboard. Strange. The open water also presented my first cases of seasickness. All my years out on sailboats, I never remember feeling sick; I now realize that was probably due to short trips and relatively calm waters. The first week or so was definitely a struggle for me.
I did not expect for No Regrets to feel like as much of a home to me as it does now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for my bed and nightly hot showers, but I will miss life aboard. Tim’s interesting culinary concoctions from the galley, the excitement of late afternoon when the sweltering heat finally subsides, long discussions about anything and everything (you’d be surprised the random stuff that can come up when three guys are hiding from the sun in the cockpit, too hot to move). I also read and meditate much more often without the constant distractions of things like television. Television in particular is something I have NOT missed.
Getting to know Indonesia on land has gone beyond any expectation I had prior to arriving — to be honest, I had absolutely no idea what this country would be like. First and foremost, every place we have sailed into has greeted us with a warmth and kindness that I have never truly felt before. America’s attitude toward Islamic culture can be a little overwhelming at times, and to experience the love and beauty of a predominantly Islamic nation firsthand has been an amazing experience. The beauty of hearing a woman read, which is actually singing, the Quran was pretty amazing, and calls to prayer become interesting background sound to the day.
Being that I was pretty clueless about what to expect, I went through a bit of culture shock — I think we all did — especially in our initial port of Tual. We sailed in to the harbor late at night. In my mind I was expecting villages, but the lights of a city glimmered in the darkness. We anchored and finally got to sleep, exhausted from our five-day passage, only to be awakened by voices ringing out through several speakers along the coast; it was our first call to prayer. Though we didn’t know at the time, we had arrived on the eve of their New Year. It was a somewhat ominous feeling at first, but I have grown accustomed to prayers playing throughout the city, and come to appreciate them (as long as there aren’t four of them competing at once).
The sheer excitement by everyone, especially the children, of the arrival of the tourists was quite a shock as well. We were bombarded by people eager to say hello and take pictures with us, especially in Tual and Bau Bau. We are the “Bule”, which is what they call foreigners — well, white foreigners (nothing negative behind it at all). Though it may have been overwhelming at times, it was so much fun to be around that kind of excitement and happiness, and the spotlight isn’t so bad once in a while! There were no expectations — okay, maybe for photos, but it was fun — just smiles all around.
Another thing that came as a bit of a shock to me were the living conditions of many people in Indonesia. I have been around very low levels of poverty in Peru and the Dominican Republic, but I don’t think I could ever get used to seeing what many people in the world endure. I like to think I’m aware of things that go on in the world, but when I’m back in my comfortable home in the US, I am so distant from many harsh realities that they often aren’t completely real to me. Things we take completely for granted are often luxuries — toilets, 24-hour electricity, beds for everyone. We saw this up close when we were invited to dinner at someone’s home in Komodo, which was an amazing time spent connecting, learning about daily struggles, and eating some of the most amazing food that we have had. But even with daily struggles, the general attitude everywhere we have been is not a depressing one. The attitude of the people is inspiring, and I am leaving Indonesia with a renewed energy for my studies in mechanical engineering and renewable energy. There are many places that we visited that could benefit from simple, culturally appropriate technologies for their everyday tasks and issues. I hope to take my engineering knowledge and passion to help the world… Now, the next step is for me to start narrowing down exactly how I plan to do that.
I’ve made an active effort to open myself up as much as possible to opportunities that present themselves and the culture that surrounds me. One thing that has really helped me connect is learning the Indonesian language. The more I have learned, the more I feel I have been able to bond with local people and the culture on a much deeper level. Our guides have been pretty excited when I’ve started speaking “Bahasa Indonesia,” and getting closer with them has led to a multitude of opportunities. Most of the time their English is way beyond my Bahasa, so while they help me with sentence structure and new vocabulary, I would help with English idioms and phrases, which included “piece of cake”, “pedal to the metal”, “peace out” and “it is what it is” (which I was taught in Bahasa as well: Ini la adanya).
Jumping at opportunities, sometimes impulsively, has also allowed me to further close the gap between me and Indonesia. Two of these stand out most for me. One big chance I jumped at was renting motorbikes with Ruy and Daphne, a couple sailing with us, and going out with a couple of our guides, Ulhy and Sahur. I got to be out on the streets of Bau Bau, finding the order in the seemingly crazy traffic of the city. It can be pretty hectic, and many intersections don’t have traffic lights — first come, first serve — but for the most part, everyone follows the unwritten rules. I got a sort of extended tour, and they brought us out to see more of the country, ending with the most beautiful remote waterfall. I got to drive fast, too, as we ripped through the streets…sorry Mom! I also got the chance to see where Ulhy lives. It was amazing to visit the non-touristy side of the city and see how many people live.
The other very memorable opportunity I seized was participating in “Belipat”, the local form of stick fighting in East Belitung, our last stop before docking the boat in Nongsa. A welcome event was put on for the Bule. Six young men enter to intense drums, fanning out and beginning a warrior-like dance. They then break into two groups of three, kneeling on either side of the stage of sand, and in walks a man donned in all purple — the referee. Then the battle begins. Each fighter holds a stick, about four feet in length. He is only permitted to strike his opponent on the back, and the winner is the man with the least amount of marks on his back when the referee declares it is over. After two fights, they invited one of us up to do battle — I raised my hand. It was an intense experience, and I did fairly well with my blocks, but my hits did not land as well. In the end I was left with a pretty marked up back, but my pride was fairly intact, and it was by far one of the most fun experiences. I felt nothing but sheer competitiveness and adrenaline as we stared each other down; it was strongest and most raw connection to the culture that I had yet to feel.
I’m not quite sure how to conclude all of this. I’m still processing most of this trip as I sit in the cockpit of the boat writing this, with tonight being my last night in Indonesia. I expect returning to the US to be just as big of a culture shock as it was arriving into port in Tual. I’ve enjoyed this time with my dad an immense amount, and I’m going to miss that. Tim and I have bonded, too; I’m going to miss No Regrets. Indonesia has made a huge impact on me, and I will return here someday. But for now, on to the next adventure, I suppose.
Here are some of my favorite pix, some new, some you may have seen before.