Saturday, 22 December 2012

Nepal treks: Posts updated (plus new posts)


For those interested...
Posts in October/November (2012) concerning our treks in Nepal have been updated, and posts added. Several photos from these treks are posted (including a short panoramic clip of Gosainkund area).  All photos (!) are posted on Flickr (see links to the right).

Monday, 17 December 2012

Back home in Vancouver

Jericho Beach Webcam shot of English Bay

Cloudy,  cold, and drizzly with wet snow flakes (but not sticking) -- must be Vancouver in December.  The local mountains are full of snow. 

Quite the change for us. 

On the positive side: the air is clean (and brisk), the sidewalks clean and uncrowded (especially with this weather), and water from the tap cold and drinkable. And it's home.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Winding down in Asia...

Our final two weeks in Asia were in Thailand. 
Although food in Bali was pretty good, we were looking forward to delicious Thai food.  

We were not disappointed!

We first hopped on a bus from the Bangkok airport east to Rayong and Ban Chang (both east of Bangkok) to visit friends. (Brent was a fellow crew member with us on the "interesting" sail from Vancouver down to San Francisco on SV Sapphire in September.) Not much for tourists in the area, but we enjoyed our visit. 

Brent and Kob (in Ban Chang, Thailand)

We then went to our favourite beach town Hua Hin, and spent a relaxing 8 days at our usual hotel (Hotel Jed Pee Nong). To get there, we first took a shared mini van from Ban Chang to Bangkok's Victory Monument, then hopped on another mini van to Hua Hin. Those familiar with mini van transport in Thailand will know how damn fast these vans like to travel (140 km/h is not unusual) and how hair raising they can be. About 6 hours later, we arrived in Hua Hin.

After the lack of tourists in eastern Thailand, the large number of tourists (most, it seemed, from Scandinavian countries) was a change. The town was decked out for Christmas.

Hua Hin Market Village Mall: Decked out for Christmas

After 8 days, we headed back to the Bangkok area, opting to take the brand-new luxury (big) bus between Hua Hin and Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport -- staying nearby in the Lat Krabang area. We like this area: besides being 5 minutes from the airport, and a good, reliable and cheap hotel favourite -- Thong Ta Resort -- the area if filled with places to eat, drink as well as night markets etc. It also has easy and fast transport into Bangkok by the "Airport Link/City Line" rapid train: take a songthaew (7 THB) or a taxi (40-70 THB) to Lat Krabang Station ("Sataannee Lat Krabang" in Thai).

On our last full day, we spent a tiring day shopping in the MBK Shopping Centre in Bangkok -- Michelle was less tired, thanks to 2 hours in the spa.... 
 
MBK shopping ...

while Michelle goes to the spa...


Sadly, our trip comes to its end today, as we head home Vancouver. It sure will feel cold to us -- we've become so used to 30+ degrees (Celsius!) we don't even sweat now.


Last dinner in Thailand



Last "Leo"...


Michelle is not a happy camper going home to rain and grey skies. David is more optimistic -- thinking of skiing, as well as getting back to Pelagia (oh, and all the work to do on her...).

Monday, 3 December 2012

Last days in Bali: Monkeys, motorcycle riding & hard lessons about "kopi poo poo" (luwak coffee)

Our last two nights in Bali were spent in Ubud. This is a town with multiple personalities. On the one hand (the interesting hand), it is the cultural centre of Bali (dance, music, carving, etc) and is fascinating. But, on the other hand, it is also overhyped, overpriced, and filled with "fashionable" tourists, especially women of a certain age riding 1-speed Dutch-style bicycles (think  "Eat, Pray, Love"). Really! But $250/night hotels!? And why would you go Starbucks in Bali (and pay over $4 for burnt coffee -- indeed, why ever go to a Starbucks?) when great "kopi Bali" is available everywhere for <$1. Still, Ubud is well worth a visit and one can still find many well-priced hotels  (we paid $45/night, which seemed high to us) and restaurants. 

View from our villa outside of Ubud

We stayed in a beautiful villa (out in the rice fields) that was a little too far out of town. So we rented another motor scooter. First stop, the monkey forest (temple). Michelle had to get her monkey fix!

So, how's your day going?

Enough talk ... just give me the damn banana!

Talk about getting the monkey off your back! And swimming monkeys too (but these monkeys don't need a shearling coat like Darwin, the Toronto Ikea monkey )

More monkey pictures on FLICKR:

After the monkeys, we headed off for a long drive up towards Penelokan and Mt Batur. Must have driven past at least 153 (ok, we lost count) wood carving and other art shops (we even saw newly carved "thunderbird" totem poles -- Balinese? Hmmmm, was there a land bridge between Bali and British Columbia before the last ice age?) Nearing the crater rim, we had to do a quick U-turn because we were warned of (and could see up ahead) a police roadcheck. Bali police are notorious for handing out on-the-spot "fines" -- gee,  no receipt -- to locals and tourists,  even when nothing illegal committed; see:  http://www.travelforum.org/bali-lombok/police.html


Asian Palm Civet
So we headed down and decided to stop and check out a luwak coffee place that we had visited in 2011 (but did not buy the expensive stuff back then). 

For those who don't know, kopi luwak (or poo poo coffee)  is made from the beans that civet cats (luwak, in Bahasa Indonesia)  have passed through their digestive system (that's right, they eat the tasty coffee fruit and shit out the undigestable coffee bean). Thus, coffee poo poo, the most expensive coffee in the world. Fashionable thanks to the movie "The Bucket List" (which we've never seen) .    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak





Hard lesson #1: we paid a lot for 250 gm (>$50), even after bargaining, only later to find it in a local store for 1/3rd the price we paid! 


Hard lesson #2,  however,  was much worse.  Later,  after purchasing our luwak coffee,  we discovered the dirty truth about this brown gold: assuming it really is luwak coffee (some say as much as 50% is fake), production of luwak coffee is usually the result of significant abuse of the animals: 

From a recent article in The Guardian:
The civets are taken from the wild and have to endure horrific conditions. They fight to stay together but they are separated and have to bear a very poor diet in very small cages. There is a high mortality rate and for some species of civet, there's a real conservation risk. It's spiralling out of control. But there's not much public awareness of how it's actually made. People need to be aware that tens of thousands of civets are being kept in these conditions. It would put people off their coffee if they knew.  http://m.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/nov/19/civet-coffee-abuse-campaigners

This is terrible, and to think we actually bought some!  Stupid of us  -- learned too late! All we can do now is to try to make people aware of this -- hence this blog post.

DON'T BUY LUWAK COFFEE!
(unless you know for certain it is from beans collected in the wild)



A SAD FAREWELL TO BALI. . .

On a lighter note. . . . We are now in Thailand. 

We were sad to leave Bali. The people are wonderful, the island beautiful, and the costs are low. We especially loved our time in Lovina.

Oh yes, the regular coffee in Bali ("kopi Bali") is great, cheap, and NOT made from luwak shit.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Bali to Lombok and back to Bali



Off to Lombok by fast boat (from Amed, Bali). A rough and gas/exhaust-fumed event, but short – 1.5 hours as opposed to 4 hours by regular (cheap) ferry. We did, however, opt for the slow ferry back to Bali and while slower it was much more comfortable in the VIP air-conditioned section (and much cheaper: $9 vs $40-$50).  

In the "VIP" section of slow ferry (an extra $1.50 each!)


Lombok is a beautiful island -- white sand beaches, big palms, and azure waters. We stayed in Senggigi -- a small resort town midway between Bagsal (near Gili Islands) and Mataram. We stayed in the Sunset House, which was a lovely small hotel right on the beach. Although more expensive than we were used to, the food was excellent and the room nice (best bed of the trip so far). More importantly, the people were so nice and friendly. The restaurant staff were all young and they liked to practise their English with us. This led to a small altercation on the first day when a young waitress referred to David as "Papa," which is an honorific in Lombok, and David immediately responded: "I'm not your papa!" This led to a little upset followed by many apologies from David. Once straightened out we were humourously referred to as “Papa David” and “Mama Meeschel” – EVERY time they saw us!.

One of the Gillis (small islands off Lombok)
 
Beach in front of our Senggigi (Lombok) hotel
A "cidomo" -- horse & cart taxi common on Lombok (they're fast!)
Our time on Lombok was relaxing. We even rented a motorcycle ($5 per day), David, fancying himself as Dennis Hopper, and spent a hot morning touring. We had planned to fly from Lombok to Surabaya and then to Kalimantan to see the orangutans but, due to logistics and not being able to get confirmed flights (while in Sanur, we also tried to book a ferry to Kalimantan, to no avail), we decided to give the forest fellows a miss this time. Instead, we will make a donation to one of the Rehab Centres, which in the long run will be more useful to our friends (which according to research may only have a mere 40 years of existence left if something isn't done to save their habitat). Perhaps, we will pay them a visit sailing on Pelagia in future.

OK, not quite Dennis Hopper...

We are now back in Lovina, Bali at Villa Jaya, our second home, relaxing and eating well, mirroring Rasi, the hotel mascot. Rasi hates the papparazi, but David surreptitiously captured her on film.  Michelle caught a bad cold and re-hurt her ankle, but these are now well on the mend.

Rasi (hates being photographed and is afraid of thunder)


We head to Ubud (Bali) tomorrow for two days, then fly back to Thailand December 2nd (from Bali to Bangkok – we changed our flights).


We have a few photos of Bali & Lombok on FLICKR:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sv-pelagia/sets/72157632100719941/

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Bali is beautiful (and HOT!)

Dance in Bali
Bali rice terraces
After a couple nights in Thailand (great food!), we headed to Bali. First, to a lovely new-to-us small hotel in Sanur. We enjoyed its pool and the excellent Balinese food of restaurants nearby. We didn't specifically go for the beach -- luckily, as the beach at Sanur never seemed to be deeper than just below the knees!

Entrance to our Sanur bungalow
Pool at Sanur hotel
 Sanur was a little too busy for us, plus our hotel had some negatives (too much smoking by the European owners...; an exceptionally busy street we had to cross -- literally taking chances with our lives -- to get to restaurants etc)...


so we decided to head to north Bali to our 2011 favourite "Villa Jaya" in Lovina.
That's where we are now. Wonderful place.

Pool at Villa Jaya

Villa Jaya, Lovina


We will be here for a few more days. Trying to decide on next destination. It's all good :-)

P.S. Temperatures are 32 degrees C (in the shade)


We have a few photos of Bali & Lombok on FLICKR:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/sv-pelagia/sets/72157632100719941/

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Trail to Gosainkund: Panoramic Himalayan views

Views on the trail to Gosainkund are among the best of any trek we have done (although lodges were among the worst...).


Here is a brief video of the panorama high above Laurebina Yak (>4026m*), where we could see mountains of the Annapurna, Manaslu, Ganesh, Tibetan and Langtang Himalaya as we panned the camera.

video




Gosainkund (4321m)



At top of Laurebina Pass (4600 m)

Looking back up to Laurebina Pass (pass is notch on the left) from Tharepati


A couple days later, in Helambu on the other side of the Laurebina Pass, we had superb views of Langtang, Dorje Lapka and the Jugal Himal, Gauri Shankar and, finally, the mountains of the Khumbu  (including Everest and Makalu).


View from Tharepati (3700m) in Helambu

Helambu view of Khumbu Himal


* Many trekkers simply don't take the risks of AMS (acute mountain sickness) seriously; nevertheless, most of these are lucky and do OK. But many ruin their trek, and, each year, a few die. 

For those wondering, we had no symptoms of AMS on our trek. To be sure, we were out-of-breath at times, but this is normal. We have trekked many times -- this is our 11th (!) trek --  and are careful about our daily altitude gain. Even supposedly "mild" AMS symptoms make you feel pretty miserable, so why ruin your trek? This means we sometimes take a day or so longer than others. But we personally have seen many people mildly and some even seriously ill from AMS, and know of trekkers who have died. On this particular trek this year (Gosainkund), we came across two persons suffering AMS (one so serious he was passed out and was being carried down) -- in both cases they had come up in the opposite direction and had gone too fast.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Nepal 2012: Our two treks (route maps)


Below are maps of our two treks:

Trek #1: Short Annapurna "Panorama"


Trek #2: Langtang to Gosainkund to Helambu
 
Photos of these treks are posted on FLICKR (see "Photo Sets" links on upper right)


ARE WE CRAZY?

Heading up to Gosainkund

Sometimes we wondered!

We are now back in Kathmandu, after completing the 15-day (plus 1 travel day) Langtang --> Gosainkund --> Helambu --> Kathmandu trek. 57 years of age, carrying our own packs -- we had many days of reasonably strenuous trekking. Bedtime was 630pm, or, on a late night, we stayed up to 7pm :-)

video


We prefer to trek independently without guide or porter (on teahouse treks such as this, guides really are not needed -- despite what Nepalis say). *

Yes, we often called ourselves "crazy" (among other stronger terms), but we feel a true sense of accomplishment (on this 11th, and perhaps last, trek).

On our last morning of trekking, we chanced upon two young Israeli trekkers, who stopped us and asked (in a nice way): "Excuse us for us asking, but how old are you two? 57!? We only hope, but doubt, that we have the ability to do what you are doing when we reach 57!"

That's how we feel. Then we got down and off that g-d trail and back to Kathmandu! 
End of trek (Sundrijal)

Photos of our Langtang-Gosainkund-Helambu trek are posted on FLICKR:


We head off to Thailand November 7th, then to Bali on November 9th.



* This is not to say we do not like guides. Indeed, we have done several enjoyable treks with guides, including the previous two treks with guide (and friend) Dorjee. Nevertheless, on "teahouse" treks where, usually, routes are clearly marked and lodge staff easy to communicate with, we prefer the freedom of being independent.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Back from 6-day "warm-up" trek, heading out now for 14-16 days trek

Sitting down for tea at Chomrong

We had a good "warm-up" trek in the middle hills of Annapurna. A few quite tough days, a couple moderate half-days, and a "rest day". But it was real hot trekking (30 deg C).

We have posted pictures on FLICKR:

We head up to Langtang area tomorrow, planning a 15-day trek Langtang then Gosainkund, then down to Helambu down to the Kathmandu valley. Odd, we've been so many times to Nepal, but never to Langtang.

More later.
David & Michelle

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Escape from Kathmandu (now in Pokhara)

Two nights in noisy smoggy chaotic Kathmandu was too much for us (and to think, it is our 10th time here). The air pollution is just way too much. But is was our neighbour's dog that howled all night that did us in!
We are now in quiet peaceful clean-air Pokhara. Seems like an oasis.
Will likely start trek #1 (a short one first) tomorrow.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Dismasted!

A new type of powerboat?
On purpose!

We brought Pelagia up the Fraser River to Steveston to pull the mast. It has been at least 20 years since she has had new rigging, so we figured it was time, especially given our plans to go offshore next year.  (Sorry for the over-dramatic headline....)

A little nerve-wracking at first, but all went well (and easy) thanks to Paul and Gus at Ocean Rigging (plus an experienced & careful crane operator).



About to lift...

Liftoff! The mast is out!



Now, please be gentle...!

And to think, folks back in central and eastern Canada have to do this every year -- yikes!


After this, we motored over to Port Graves/Artaban, and spent a night at anchor. But it just isn't the same without the rig and sails. Normally, even when we motor, we always have the hope of sailing. Not so today. How do powerboaters put up with all that boring engine running? We motored back home to the Rowing Club the next day.

[Of course, there was no wind on the way TO Steveston, when we could have and wanted to sail; but on the way over to Artaban from Steveston, there was a good SE wind, but we had no mast to sail!]

Mastless at Artaban...

We leave soon for a 2+ month trip to Asia -- so we plan to put it all back together in January. New standing rigging; tri-colour/anchor light; spreader lights; trysail track; and a new winch or two.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

THE OFFSHORE PASSAGE GALLEY – MICHELLE’S THOUGHTS


Having done two passages on two different boats (SV Berkana and SV Sapphire)  -- in which considerable time was spent in the galley --  I’ve learned the importance of a well-laid-out galley to both the mental/physical health and safety of the crew and also the enjoyment of the passage.  There is nothing more nerve-racking than trying to pour a hot (!) cup of coffee as the mug is sliding back and forth on a slippery surface or more irritating than trying to sleep while improperly stored provisions are banging back and forth in cupboards.  Then there is the balancing act of trying to cook when the wind is blowing hard, you are heeled 25 degrees, and the boat is bashing on the waves, and the only thing saving you from taking flight is a well-placed galley belt.  

On my first passage -- 23 days from Hawaii on SV Berkana -- I learned from skipper Jim the importance of safely storing provisions so they wouldn’t tumble out of cupboards or bang incessantly, and to have a map of where the goods are stored so you could easily find them when needed.  I also learned from Barb (skipper Jim’s partner) the importance of meal planning and how to provision for a 20+ day passage (which actually meant buying enough provisions for half more the number of days, or 30+ days).  I found that planning a menu of tasty, hearty meals that could be eaten out of a bowl was the best and often the only way to go given the weather conditions.  If some of these meals could be prepared (and frozen) prior to the passage, this makes life in the galley more trouble-free, especially during the first few days of the trip when you are trying to get your sea legs.  Also, catching two tuna over the course of the passage certainly made the meal planning (seared steaks, chowder, ceviche) significantly easier for me.

Somewhat mistakenly, I came to believe/expect that all boats were like SV Berkana and came with well-appointed safe galleys with non-skid surfaces and safety belts to prevent you from going ass-over-tea-kettle in those rough seas.  So when it came to my second offshore passage – 8 days (5 nights offshore) to San Francisco on SV Sapphire – I was quite surprised to see that not everyone was as fastidious about galley appointment and safety or storage of provisions as Jim had been and had taught me to be. To be fair, although designed as an offshore boat, SV Sapphire is a liveaboard boat and it was only planned to make a “short” offshore passage (the skipper was moving to San Francisco). Part of the issue with galley safety on Sapphire had to do with the galley’s layout. The storage of pots/pans, spices/condiments, etc were located directly above and behind the stove which meant that when cooking you often found yourself having to reach across a hot stove for spices or another pot.  This was extremely precarious at times when the weather was bad.  However, easy things like putting down a simple non-skid surface so that dishes wouldn’t take flight, or the installation of a proper safety belt, would have made my life easier in the galley.  Unfortunately, these were not present, giving us a difficult time with sliding mugs, bowls and pots. Add to this, the various provisions (especially canned goods) and plates etc were stored such that they moved around, making for a considerable racket while crew tried to sleep.

For the San Francisco passage, I took on the responsibility for meal planning, preparation, and making the shopping list of provisions.  I made my galley life significantly easier by preparing five days of frozen dinners – (i) smoked salmon pasta, (ii) beef chilli, (iii) beef stew, (iv) pesto pasta, and (v) a chipotle ground turkey and bean chilli – for the “offshore” portion of the trip.  These meals could be readily thawed and heated up without too much fuss and served along with a salad or freshly baked biscuits (Bisquick is my friend).  Like the other two crew and skipper, I stood my watches but found it tiring given that the end of my watches often coincided with meal preparation so I had less time to rest.

In winding up, here are my few simple tips for those planning a passage (especially, those of you who are responsible for the galley):

  • There should only be one crew member primarily responsible for the galley.  That does not mean that the other crew members cannot assume some galley responsibilities, like cooking.
  • Make sure your provisions are properly stored so they do not shift.  You may want to put down some non-skid in the cupboards to stop tins from moving during the passage.
  • Make a map of where the provisions are stored so you can get to them easily when you need them.
  • Advance meal planning and preparation can significantly reduce your stress level during the passage.
  • Provision for 1 ½ times the number of days of the passage.
  • Plan hearty one-bowl meals than can be cooked and served in all conditions.  You may want to make extra for warming up for lunch the next day.
  • Ensure you have a non-skid surface in the galley to prevent dishes from flying.
  • Ensure you have a well-placed safety belt. 


Some additional comments from David:
  • In addition to non-skid (e.g., Scoot-Guard), it helps if the galley countertops have some method of dividing them into smaller sections. This helps keep cups etc in place.
  • The gimballed stove is your friend (and essential!) -- place pots, cups etc on it while the boat is rockin'. (It helps to have a flat section on the stovetop  -- e.g., a griddle or partial cover -- for cups etc.)
  • Consider stable places for cups/mugs in the cockpit too.
  • Michelle made extra large batches of the pre-frozen meals; the leftovers were left in the pot on the gimballed stove and provided a quick & easy meal (breakfast/lunch) the next day.
  • Pelagia has most of Michelle's suggestions; we are working on the others for next year's passages.

[There are many books providing good advice as to galley arrangements -- for example, books by the Pardey's and Beth Leonard's Voyager's Handbook, among others.]

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Backpack in Garibaldi Provincial Park (B.C.)


Elfin Lakes, Diamond Head, Garibaldi Provincial Park


No better way to clear our brains from the challenges of our offshore crewing to San Francisco than to slap on the backpacks and head out for a couple of nights into the mountains.

Mt. Garibaldi & The Gargoyles
Mid week in September, the campground and trails were practically empty. A little frost in the night, but not a cold sleep. Very warm during the day.

On the 2nd day, we tried to day hike towards Mamquam Lake, but the trail became dicey, and the bridge over Ring Creek was out and the creek too full to easily cross. So we turned around, and then hiked up to the Saddle, and then up to the Gargoyles, and closer to Mt. Garibaldi. Great views! We went back down to our camp, weary but happy with our hiking.


Really!! -- I made it! (to the Gargoyles)




Clear heads!  Squinting in the bright B.C. sun.

The Elfin campground was in poor shape. But we soon learned from the rangers that this campground will be decommissioned; they are building a beautiful campground next to the lakes (and next to the Elfin Shelter), all with fantastic views. There were several workmen, rangers, and many helicopter sorties, all working on the facilities. We felt better about paying our $20/night camping fees.


Garibaldi Provincial Park (Diamond Head area)

We walked down to our car after 3 days/2 nights. A good backpack. This is good preparation for our coming treks in Nepal in October.

On the walk down -- view down to Squamish and Howe Sound