Thailand 2

I’m starting to like Thailand. Having a great day today helped. In the morning we took the dinghy up a river on Ko Tarutao, to see the Crocodile Cave. (They say there have been no crocs for many years.) You tie the dinghy to a jetty in the jungle and follow a short trail to the cave mouth. There you climb aboard a plastic raft, and pull yourself through the cave via a rope. 100+ meters into the darkness, you climb through knee deep muck onto dry (but very dark) land, and continue on into a large cavern. Interesting limestone formations; bats on the ceilings. I enjoyed it until the cavern, where the air stopped moving (there must have been a distant vent to allow air to move so deep in the tunnel, but the cavern must have been off that path). I began to feel very hot and dizzy, and was happy to turn back at that point.

Back at the entrance to the river we went ashore at the park facility to get a cold drink. We ate at an outdoor restaurant there the night before. Good stir fry and squid and rice and a beer for about $5 each. And we met a German guy who has been traveling around SE Asia alone for five years. Living simply. A Buddhist. Staying in a tent on the beach. Says he has lost faith in America, since George Bush’s reelection. He can’t believe Trump is taken seriously, but on the other hand he says no president can do much on his own (as the thwarting of Obama has shown), so it doesn’t make much difference. We didn’t hang out with him for long, but I felt some connection with him. He seemed to emerge from another world of simple solo traveling, smile, sip his hot water, and quietly retreat back to the night.

Back on the boat we got underway for Ko Bulan Le, about ten miles north. The breeze was directly on our nose, so we motored. But there was a breeze! So nice. And we needed to charge batteries and make fresh water anyway. We anchored and swam ashore to look around at a pretty beach and pleasant resort with a restaurant. Looked it up in Trip Advisor, and almost everybody loves the place, if you’re looking for a quiet remote idyllic island. Only complaint seemed to be some mosquitos. I did see one at the boat — the first I’ve seen since returning to the boat two weeks ago.

There is one other sailboat here, and it is incredibly small — my guess is 26 feet. I saw a long haired weathered graybeard ashore, snoozing in the shade on an inflatable kayak. Had to be the sailor! I chatted with him. He left Belgium 21 years ago, and is slowly working his way around the world! I told him we left the USA 14 months ago, to which he replied, “Zoom!” Another interesting spirit of simplicity, low impact, quiet. I asked if he was returning to Belgium, and he said, “Belgium is good for beer, mostly. No, I’m not going back.”

Tim made a delightful fish and mushroom curry dinner. It was pleasantly cool at sunset. The islands visible in the northern distance have a dramatic appearance, and raise my desire to explore further. And to make the day complete, I am SO happy I’m not aboard the tiny boat next to us, 21 years into a voyage with no end in sight!

 

Anchored off Ko Rawi at low tide
Anchored off Ko Rawi at low tide

 

Up the river in search of Crocodile Cave
Up the river in search of Crocodile Cave

 

On to the dock...
On to the dock…

 

Follow the trail...
Follow the trail…

 

To the mouth of the cave...
To the mouth of the cave…

 

To the blue plastic raft...
To the blue plastic raft…

 

And use the rope to pull yourself through the tunnel.
And use the rope to pull yourself through the tunnel.

 

Limestone formations
Limestone formations

 

Limestone formations
Limestone formations

 

Hey, Jesse, this looks like your kind of place to jump off of!
Hey, Jesse, this looks like your kind of place to jump off of!

 

Chris
Chris

 

A hint of islands to come
A hint of islands to come

 

21 years living aboard this boat? Not for me, but I admire those who can do it! Anchored off Ko Bulan Le and a nice resort.
21 years living aboard this boat? Not for me, but I admire those who can do it! Anchored off Ko Bulan Le and a nice resort.

 

Thailand (intro to)

I imagine that my view of Malaysia and Thailand so far is pretty skewed. In Malaysia I’ve only been to the city of Penang, and the touristy island of Langkawi. The latter is beautiful, and has nice amenities for the (mostly Chinese) tourists, but I don’t imagine it is representative of much of Malaysia. Before we could leave Malaysia, we had to wait to get our spinnaker sent by ferry from the sailmaker. (This sail was our Parasailor, which ripped again. This time it was the wing, and the local sailmaker couldn’t deal with it, so we had him simply remove the wing and fill in the slot. Not a Parasailor anymore.)

We decided rather than sit in the marina, we would go cruising for a couple days. We went to an anchorage known as The Hole in the Wall. The narrow entrance is between two bluffs, and then you can go a kilometer or so up the inlet (river?) and anchor between mangrove swamps. Eagles feed in there, and there are monkeys on the shore, and there is a little floating village. And, somewhat shockingly, dozens of “long tails” (small boats with noisy outboard motors that stick far out astern) carrying tourists around to see the sights. Still a cool place to visit.

Then back to the marina to collect our sail. Also to replace a chafed-through topping lift (line that holds the boom up, so it doesn’t crash down on the deck when the sail is lowered). We tried to clear out of Malaysia, but the harbormaster left work early; we had to wait until morning. By the time we went to the bakery, and topped up our fuel tanks via jerry cans at the gas station, and spent most of our remaining Ringgits on frozen foods, it was too late to make it to Ko Lipe in Thailand. So we anchored in a cove on the NW corner of Langkawi, and went to Lipe the next day. We’re not in any hurry.

Our introduction to Thailand was also touristy, but much more international than Malaysia. As soon as we cleared in we found an ATM and got a local SIM card and bought smoothies and had an early dinner at a beachfront restaurant. Then back to the boat to get out of the crowded harbor, and motor around to the quiet side of the island, where there was a nice anchorage with half a dozen boats.

Next day we motored (wind seems to be rare here during this, the NE monsoon/season) a few miles to a place reputed to have excellent snorkeling. It was okay, not great. But it was wonderful to spend some time in the water. It is almost intolerably hot. Even as I write at 9pm it is only comfortable below with a fan on, and only slightly more pleasant on deck. And on deck one is accosted by the brilliant lights of the plethora of squid-fishing boats around.

We grabbed a mooring off of a national park for the night. We wondered how well maintained it might be. The water was 80 feet deep and not very clear, so we had no way to inspect. No problem. But today we met a guy on another catamaran who grabbed a similar mooring, and during the night found themselves on the reef. They were lucky that all they lost was one propeller.

We had another engine problem. Our control unit began giving an alarm that it couldn’t shift the port engine in/out of gear. While on our mooring, once things cooled off a bit in the evening, we removed the shifter control cable and found that indeed it was nearly impossible to move the shifter lever. Tim had worked with a mechanic in Langkawi before I arrived, and he seemed to know his stuff, so we called him for a consultation, and we decided to go back to have him take a look. We didn’t bother to clear out of Thailand or into Malaysia. Unlikely that anyone would notice or care. The mechanic fixed us up, minor corrosion problem. Chris is beginning to understand the cruiser’s definition of cruising — fixing your boat in exotic places.

While Tim worked with the mechanic, Chris and I took a taxi to a supermarket and stocked up. We also stopped at a local place for breakfast — egg roti and fresh squeezed orange juice for a dollar!

Now we are back in Thailand. Doing a slow cruise north, to nowhere in particular. There are a couple islands we have read about that we would like to see, but it is so damned hot that it is hard to care about much. No wind. No desire to explore ashore. Not much desire to even eat. By mid-morning we start looking forward to sundown. Oh well, we have about 11 days until we head west across the Strait of Malacca to Sumatra. Maybe we will go to Phuket, where I believe Maggie and Blue Wind are located. Maybe we will just visit islands, hoping for a little more breeze.

 

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Materials for repairing cabin sole

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Telaga Marina, Langkawi, Malaysia

 

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Telaga Marina, and ferry that runs to Lipe, Thailand

 

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Hole in the Wall

 

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Hole in the Wall
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Chris (and Tim)

 

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Floating village at Hole in the Wall

 

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Chris gets first trip aloft to work on topping lift

 

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Ko Lipe, Thailand

 

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Ferries

 

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Unloading water off a longtail

 

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Dealing with midday heat

 

In Malaysia

Two days of airplanes to get from Boston to Penang, Malaysia, traveling with a spinnaker and various boat gear — 100 pounds of baggage. The airline’s maximum weight per bag was 23 kilos; the spinnaker was 22. The AirAsia hop from Singapore to Penang had a maximum total weight of 40 kilos; my total must have exceeded that slightly. But they accepted my payment for the 40 kilo maximum ($50 for a flight that only cost $68 for myself), no problem.

Chris joined me at the hotel/condo that I had booked at the marina in Penang. It was nice to start to get to know him; also nice to be in a condo with separate rooms and separate baths. The drawback was that the boat wasn’t there. Tim and crew had sailed on to Langkawi, a 3 hour ferry ride away. But we spent two days in Penang, as did Tim, getting our Indonesian visas. One plus was that I got to briefly meet Tim’s friend Randy. And even better I got to cross paths with Bob and Barb as they were about to head back home to Canada. Bob will be coming back to sail aboard Maggie to Mauritius. And then he will either go home to help care for his newborn granddaughter or he will join me from Mauritius to Brazil. He/I should know within a week.

We finally arrived at the boat in the evening. She looked a little sad. Lots of dirt on the outside, and in some areas inside. Stains on the deck and top sides. She has a crack in one of the pilothouse windows. She’s low on fuel (not a small task, carrying jerry cans and siphoning through a filter into our tanks). The port side cabin sole/floor has cracked, making for a spongy surface and the risk that it might give was completely. The person involved would only sink 5 or 6 inches, but might easily be injured. We need propane. Food stores are very low. One of the fuel transfer pumps isn’t working (again). The forward fuel gauge has broken irreparably.

But no worries. It’s been fun, despite withering heat, tackling some of these problems over the past two days. It brings to mind the cruiser’s definition of cruising: fixing your boat in exotic places! I’ve mostly been working on the cabin sole, epoxying in four supports to brace the damaged floor. It is satisfying that I get to use the skills I’ve learned in the building of my own boat (even though that boat isn’t finished after 23 years). It’s a very challenging task, however, due to inaccessibility. Fingers are crossed that it will work.

Having Chris aboard has been inspiring long/deep philosophical conversations. Last night over dinner (and beers) at a delightful Indian restaurant, we talked at great length about how privileged we are, and what responsibilities come with that. I don’t mean privileged to be living on a boat in Malaysia, but privileged to be white males growing up with means in North America, having opportunities open to only a very small percentage of human beings. We don’t have to struggle to feed ourselves or to keep our families safe. We have the luxury of time and comfort, from which we can choose the actions we take. Chris asserted that everyone has choices about how they want to live; whether they want to live within the norms of our society or live in some other way and/or place. Tim vehemently disagreed, asserting that most people have no such choice, because they are so exploited by our capitalist culture that their reality doesn’t extend past their next paycheck and car payment; forget dropping into some other place and culture. So Tim seems to believe we have a responsibility to take direct action to right wrongs (he’s quick to admit he isn’t now), while Chris seems to believe his responsibility lies in learning more about realms beyond what our brains readily perceive, and then look again at the question.

I found another difference of opinion between the two very interesting. Chris asserted that most people act like robots, being reactive to incoming stimuli, rather than making choices from a more aware state. He sees his current “job” to be to expand his awareness and grow personally beyond the robotic condition. Tim believes that if people act like robots it is because they have been treated like robots by our exploitative capitalist corporations, and he sees focusing on personal awareness as a narcissistic excuse for not doing something to improve the lot of the oppressed. Beyond this being a very entertaining conversation, it makes me wonder…do people have to grow in some spiritual sense to live a fulfilling life? Or do they only need an environment where they are valued and not worked to exhaustion?

From there we worked our way to the topic of denialism… How can people still watch professional football, Tim asks, when they know that a third of the players will suffer serious brain injury? Whatever the mechanism is that allows people to enjoy the football game, it is the same mechanism that has us ignore the oppression of the working class people of the world…

Tonight we had cocktails aboard Tahawus, and I expected some fireworks from Tim and Norm being in the same space. To my great surprise there was no fireworks when the subject of Bernie Sanders came up. While Norm doesn’t have the passion for Bernie that Tim has, he does think Bernie is the best of the available candidates. But since politics didn’t generate much heat, the conversation moved on to Islam, and the subjugation of women in Muslim culture. Here Chris asserted in essence that we Westerners should mostly keep our noses out of a culture that we don’t fully understand. That Western interventions, thinking we know what other cultures should do, have lead to terrible things (such as the destruction of most of the American Indian cultures, for example). So we should at least tread lightly, and not assume we have the answers. This led to the never-before-seen bonding of Tim and Norm jointly standing against a common enemy…uh…that is…fellow BPO rally member, citing examples of women being stoned, and being treated as whores if they don’t wear the required uniform, and having to walk four steps behind their men, and not being allowed to drive, and not being given access to education. Should we take some action about all this? Maybe we show off our Western culture as an example of what’s possible, and let others move toward it if they think it is an improvement? How do we reconcile the extreme examples of subjugation of Muslim women with the many happy and well educated women we met in Indonesia?

Oddly, perhaps, this conversation makes me think of the South Pacific Islanders, whether Marquesans or Tongans or Tuvaluans, where most of the people seem to be very happy, content with their lives. But now comes TV and the Internet, and young people longing to travel to Los Angeles so they can do some serious shopping! Sewing seeds of discontent, it seems. Is there a similar impact of Western society seeping into the Muslim world? Leading women to want equality and education sounds like a good thing. But are we also increasing the level of unhappiness? Maybe sewing seeds of discontent is a good thing, when big change is what’s needed…

Whether it is societal responsibilities or politics or religion, one member of our crew seems to go to the need for class revolution; the other goes to personal awareness. One says expand consciousness of the evils of the exploitation of the many by the few; the other says expand your personal consciousness to experience things beyond our limited/limiting minds. This is going to be a fun four months!

(My apologies to Tim and Chris for my inevitable inaccuracies in trying to describe their statements in my own words.)