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Exploring the Mentawais: Playgrounds

We’d made it to Sikakap, one of the main towns of the Mentawai island chain. We now headed further north to Tua Pejat on the north of Sipura, where the fast ferry docks. As usual, it was time to extend visas – but instead of the 15-hour sail to Padang, Marco took the fast ferry (3 hours) and got an agent to do the extension for us there. This was so much easier, and avoided more night sailing (yay!).

 

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Seeing Dad off

 

 

The anchorage at Tua Pejat is really protected – in a little inlet passed the ferry terminal. We were a little nervous at one point as the inlet gets quite shallow, but then deepens and widens again, providing a big calm 15m-deep anchorage bordered by mangroves. The town itself was really quiet when we arrived, as it coincided with the last week of Ramadan. Fortunately, we found one warung that was open and could gorge on some protein again – delicious coconut-spiced chicken and beef rendang. The boys realised to their detriment that they shouldn’t eat the beans – most things that look like beans are actually chillis!

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Beautiful calm anchorage

 

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Celebrating our arrival in Tua Pejat

 

Tua Pejat also holds the title of being the only place that we’ve had anything stolen from us in Indonesia. Nothing serious, fortunately – just some little kids that distracted the boys whilst surreptitiously helping themselves to some chocolates in our nearby packet of shopping. Unfortunately for them, we spotted them numerous times after that – and Marco gave them a stern talking to. Some Indonesian adults heard what was going on and joined Marco in reprimanding them. Stealing is really frowned upon in Indo – there is generally a real respect for property (and life), something that has really impressed us. We’ve pulled our dinghy up in front of (materially) poor villages, with our outboard, fuel tank, oars etc left in – and the villagers have been so protective of our stuff, even chasing their kids away from the dinghy. I think it would be a sense of shame for them if something went missing in their village.

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The calm waters provided a great place for some skurfing

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Once Marco was back from Padang, armed with a box of imported food (Weetbix, cheese, cream, butter etc), we were keen to head off and explore. The Mentawais is a chain of about 70 islands, with numerous surf breaks all over the place. We weren’t keen on moving around too much, so headed to Playgrounds, a group of small islands about 15nm to the north, between Sipura and Siberut.

 

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Our anchorage with all the nearby waves

 

Playgrounds was so named due to the abundance of waves in one spot, from gnarly barrels (like “Kandui” and “Rifles”) to gentler breaks (like “Four Bobs” and “Karangbat”). The anchorage is right in the middle of it all, and is surprisingly calm and protected. Charter boats come and go, but we were alone a lot of the time. We were anchored right next to gorgeous “Snake Island”, deserted apart from hundreds of sea kraits. Sea kraits are extremely poisonous but not aggressive, and there are hardly any recorded deaths from a bite (maybe “recorded” is the key word here?). Apparently they go on land during the day and sleep in the undergrowth by the trees – so we just stayed on the beach when going ashore. Fortunately we didn’t see one – just lots of evidence of them!

 

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Our picture-perfect anchorage – with Rifles behind

 

 

The boys surfed a myriad of waves. Their favourite was probably “Four Bobs” – a fun right-hander right in the front of the floating deck. “A-Frames” was just south of our boat, and peeled around the southern side of Snake Island. It had a perfect peak, but the wall fizzled out a bit. “Karangbat” was also nearby and was often less crowded than “Four Bobs”.

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A-Frames
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Josh styling on Four Bobs
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Noah top-turning at Four Bobs

There are 2 resorts on Karangmajet island – Kandui Resort and Kandui Villas. We were hoping to be able to get lunch at one of them, but unfortunately they only cater for resort guests – so it was up to mom’s cooking and dwindling vegetable supply the whole time. Marco paddled over to some fishermen one afternoon and managed to buy some fresh fish, so we had a protein boost again.

The guys at Kandui Resort were very friendly though, and we got to know them and the guests quite well. There were a number of families from the US staying there at the time, which was great for everyone – the boys had other kids to surf with, and I had some moms to SUP, walk and chat with. There was a sundowner deck strategically moored right in front of “Four Bobs”, and I spent most late afternoons there chatting to the guests and watching the boys surf. One evening we were visited by a sea krait which slithered up onto the deck, right by my feet (obviously). I did the usual girl-thing (screamed and stood on a chair), whilst the guys gently prodded it and picked it up by the tail to throw it back in the sea.

 

Karangmajet encloses a large lagoon on the eastern side, and it’s quite interesting to explore on the dinghy. It is bordered by mangroves, and has numerous little inlets and hidden waterways. We meandered through them to Kandui Villas and went for a walk on the beach on the northern side of the island, where the Kandui wave is. The beach was dotted with dead tree trunks and fallen palms – not sure whether it was damage from a big storm or just the general wear-and-tear of the island.

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Exploring the mangroves
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Beautiful reflections
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Northern side of Karangmajet

For a change of scenery, we went for a short walk through the jungle and up Tsunami Hill. We were interested to learn that many of the trees around us were clove trees. The cloves themselves were still green and not ready for harvesting, but if you crushed the leaves they let off a delicious clovey scent. It’s crazy to think how many battles were fought and how many people killed for these spices! Right at the top we stumbled upon a wooden cottage being built by a friendly Frenchman (Sasha) and a small team of Indos. He was building a little getaway where he could surf, spearfish and escape – and it offered lovely views over the jungle and mangroves down below.

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View from Sasha’s cottage
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Looking down into one of the inlets in the mangroves
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Cloves!

Marco surfed a lot of the more mellow waves with the boys, but also had a few more challenging sessions. Kandui is a really fast hollow barrelling wave with a shallow inside section, and he had some heart-pumping rides. We were sitting watching from the dinghy (along with some boats from the resorts), so had a front-row seat of the action. Unfortunately I didn’t have my big lens with me, so couldn’t get decent footage.

 

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Marco getting barrelled at Kandui

 

Sasha picked Marco up a couple mornings (at 5:30am, in the dark!!) and they headed off to Hideaways, a great wave a 20 minute dinghy-ride away. They had it to themselves until a charter boat pulled in with lots of very enthusiastic surfers fresh off the plane.

I had good social times with the ladies from the resort. They would SUP over to our boat and we’d then head off to Snake Island for a walk, snorkel and general chat whilst wallowing in the turquoise shallows. Unfortunately the snorkelling wasn’t very good – there were quite a few fish, but the reef was pretty dead and looked like it was covered with a beige furry growth. Marco and I also enjoyed a few late evening walks on the island – and saw some spectacular sunsets.

 

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Snake Island walk

 

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Dramatic cloudscapes from Snake Island

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The weather was quite unpredictable during the 10 days we were in Playgrounds. The general prediction was for south-easterly winds, but we encountered numerous squalls out of the north-west, the worst reaching 30 knots. Our anchor had “dug in like an Alabama tick”, but we still spent many nights up watching our co-ordinates and monitoring our position – something I really don’t enjoy! Dragging anchor wouldn’t have been fun, due to the big surf breaks on all sides.

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Stormclouds a-gathering
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Rainsqualls out at sea

Playgrounds was a great place to relax and just have fun after all that sailing we’d done to get here. We would have liked to be able to stock up on veges or grab a bite to eat somewhere, and internet would have been helpful (for weather checks and keeping in touch), but we all enjoyed our time and were keen to come back. For now, we had to head back to Tua Pejat to meet Alex and Xan who were going to be joining us for 10 days. To say the boys were excited is a complete understatement!

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The Big Crossing: Bali to Mentawais

It was time to start the big crossing to the Mentawais – 1 100 nautical miles across the south of Java and north along the south western coast of Sumatra. First we needed to extend our visas – again. We thought we’d do the extension in Bali, giving us enough time to get to Padang on Sumatra for the next extension. Unfortunately the Bali immigration officials seem to have gotten onto the tourist band wagon, and charge an “expediting fee” (aka bribe) to get the extension done in 3 days. Given the numerous upcoming public and Hindu holidays, we would’ve had to wait 2 weeks to get ours – so reluctantly paid more so we could set off as planned.

Whilst waiting for our visas, we got into the rhythm of Jimbaran, where we were anchored. There is a real energy here – with brightly coloured fishing boats coming and going, fish being offloaded and hauled to the bustling market, and (mainly Javanese) street vendors selling interesting and delicious food. I discovered Rujak Lontong – rice cakes, crunchy greens, cucumber, tofu and bean sprouts, all mixed together in a delicious creamy spicy peanut sauce. Amazing!

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Colourful Jimbaran
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My favourite food van
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Rujak Lontong

The boys enjoyed watching the constant stream of aeroplanes, and got a closer view when they surfed “Airport Rights”. They also played with some of the local kids – Josh enjoyed beach soccer games, and Noah was fascinated by their homemade kites (and promptly made his own on the boat). Marco sourced a couple of spare parts and gave the boat (and particularly the engines) a thorough once-over. He also chased up Julia, a lady who was making a cover for our dinghy. She did great work in the end, but was rather difficult to make arrangements with, and required a lot of patience on his side.

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Plane-spotting

 

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Waiting in the line-up at “Airport Rights”

 

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Our completed dinghy cover – with Julia and her team

With visas in hand, we were ready for the big crossing. We had tried to find some extra crew but nothing quite worked out, so it left Marco and I to share the night watches. There are not many safe anchorages along the way, but we planned to stop at those we knew of to rest and recover:

·        Leg 1: 1 day to Grajagan (50nm)

·        Leg 2: 3 days and nights to Cilacap (320nm)

·        Leg 3: 3 days and 2 nights to Panaitan (260nm)

·        Leg 4: 2 days and 2 nights to Enggano (200nm)

·        Leg 5: 2 days and 2 nights to Sikakap, Mentawais (250nm)

Map

First stop: Grajagan, where we’d been before with Matt and Jade. The sail coincided with Marco’s birthday, and we celebrated en route with presents (including new boat towels!) and boat-made cupcakes (using half a block of our precious butter). We even caught a birthday-fish in a similar area to where we caught that lovely big mahi-mahi – but this one wasn’t quite as impressive.

Marco was able to enjoy a birthday surf at G-Land just before sunset, and woke up to a humungous swell (8-10 foot) pounding down the reef the following morning. It wasn’t possible to get onto land as the waves were closing out across the channels, but the boys managed to get a surf at 20-20. The following day was my birthday, and the boys had gathered a range of thoughtfully chosen goodies from Bali. We unfortunately weren’t able to get to a surf camp for lunch due to the thundering waves, but Marco did get us onto a beach where we played beach bats, swam and enjoyed a change of scenery.

 

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My turn to be spoilt

 

Leg 2: Grajagan to Cilacap. There wasn’t much wind, so we motored / motor-sailed most of the way. We were glad to be leaving at full moon, so had good visibility at night. We passed a number of fish-attracting-devices (basically big buoys/drums drifting out in the open sea), and narrowly missed an unlit unmanned wooden fishing boat that was tied to one of them. We could see the lights of a couple of fishing boats on the horizon, and hoped and prayed that they would all be lit so we could avoid them. I really battled to stay awake that first night, and the hours just dragged by. The second night was much better – probably as I’d slept during the day, and also decided to be proactive and do things during my watch, rather than sitting and staring at the chartplotter. I dug out a whole lot of worship music and sang under the starry night, which was amazing. I also finished “Anne of Green Gables” on Josh’s Kindle, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

 

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Sunrise coffee

 

After our planned 3 days and nights we arrived at Cilacap. It’s quite an industrial town with oil refineries and cement factories, and is centrally situated on the south coast of Java. We approached the beaconed channel and were dwarfed by many anchored tankers and container ships. In true Indo fashion, we had to skirt around fishermen with their nets out right in the middle of the channel – and then followed the leading lights in to a surprisingly beautiful anchorage.

 

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Tankers and dolphins at our arrival in Cilacap

 

 

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Impressive tug-boats in Cilacap

 

The anchorage was right next to an island covered by virgin rainforest, away from the busyness of the working harbour. This island is apparently the site of a number of maximum security prisons, and is where the infamous “Bali 9” were executed. You’d never think it, as it looks like an unspoilt national park! It was wonderful to be able to rest and recover, without constantly being on alert and watching the horizon.

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Anchorage between the 8 and 10 port beacons
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Beautiful unspoilt island

Marco and the boys took the dinghy with our empty jerry cans and went to fill up on fuel. The place they were directed to was tricky to get to on low tide, and the boys had to jump out into the shallows at the end. Marco said they were horrified to find themselves knee-deep in black sludge! The place was disgusting – full of rubbish, oil and fuel, but that didn’t stop curious children from wading out to meet them. They got fuel at a ridiculously low price, loaded the dinghy and rushed back – straight into the shower.

The next day Marco and I braved the sludge again as we needed to stock up on fresh fruit and veg. We tied up next to another boat, and clambered across to avoid the filth. It was rather interesting for me to get down off this high wooden boat, and the villagers all stood watching as I hesitatingly slid down a make-shift bamboo support and onto a rickety chair. We found a driver who took us to some lovely markets, where we even found oyster mushrooms! Fully loaded we headed back, the villagers watched me do my boat-clambering trick in reverse, and off we went.

Feeling rejuvenated, we were ready for Leg 3 – across the western half of Java to Panaitan Island. All was going well, until we caught a massive fish … which turned out to be a shark (probably a black-tip reef shark). It was pretty tired out by the time we reeled him in, so Marco was able to dislodge the hook and release him. I’m not superstitious at all, but that shark seemed to be a bad omen (compared to dolphins, that seem to bring blessing).

Not long after that, we decided to put the main sail up. As usual, I was at the helm and Marco was at the mast winching the sail up. I turned into wind, and battled a little to hold my course. Noticing that I was actually in neutral, I went into gear and accelerated … bad move. We had fishing lines off the back, and I’d unknowingly motored over them – and accelerating just sealed the deal and wrapped them tightly around both propellers! The lines snapped and then the penny dropped. #%^@*!

As you can imagine, I was not very popular. Also, as Murphy would have it, the sun was just setting. Marco jumped overboard with a snorkel whilst I held our emergency light underwater, pointed down at the props. He pulled off what he could, but there were many metres of line tightly wrapped around the shaft and right under the propellers. He managed to get enough off the port prop to enable it to turn, but with a lot of resistance. The starboard prop was a mess. We couldn’t do much more until morning, but needed to get as far away from land as possible. We were 8nm off shore, but prefer to be 25nm offshore at night – and didn’t want to drift into land now that we had no engines to get us out of trouble. Thankfully the wind picked up and we were able to sail out to sea, and make some progress in our intended direction.

The next morning we heaved-to, and Marco scuba-dived under the props to attempt to remove the remaining fishing line. He loosened the props from the shaft – which is a 3-step process, involving loosening a safety bolt with a spanner, then loosening the fittings with an allen-key, and then using a ratchet to loosen the actual prop. Now imagine doing all of this whilst under the water, with big swells coming through so you can’t stay in position, and having to be ultra-careful so as not to drop a tool or any part of the propeller. It looked almost impossible – and the tension of watching made me feel totally nauseas. Marco was amazing. He managed to do it all on about 60% of a tank of air, and got enough line off so that the props could spin freely. There was still a tiny bit that he couldn’t get out, but it didn’t seem to impede the props and he felt that we could use the engines when necessary.

The rest of the crossing to Panaitan was painfully slow. There was very little wind, a 2-3 knot current running against us, and we didn’t really want to use our engines. We ended up sailing at 2-3 knots a lot of the time, and took 4 days and 3 nights to make the crossing. It was long, boring and tiring, but uneventful – thank God.

Panaitan was a welcome paradise after our ordeal at sea. It’s a crescent shaped island that’s part of the Ujung Kulon National Park, with a number of beautiful anchorages and many epic surf spots (including the famous “One Palm Point”). Our anchorage was picture perfect – in a large sandy patch with turquoise sea and a lush jungle in front of us. It was also steamy and hot – so we immediately dived into the sea for a refreshing swim and to wash off the stress of the journey. After catching up on some sleep during the day, we took the dinghy to the beach in the late afternoon and were amazed at the huge trees with low spreading branches covered in ferns, mosses and creepers. This was more like the Indo jungle I’d been expecting all along!

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Stunning Panaitan
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Boys returning from One Palm Point
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Gorgeous jungle beach

 

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Mom’s happy!

 

The following day we took the dinghy to a stunning white beach further along the island, where a couple of fishermen came up to meet us. They seem to be the only people that periodically visit the island (and the odd surf charter) – and confirmed that there really are saltwater crocodiles in the area. They all wade in the shallows to catch fish though, and laughed when we asked if the salties are dangerous to humans. Apparently these ones only eat fish! Later on they gave us 3 fish, which we braaied on the beach – perfect. We strung up some hammocks and spent the afternoon relaxing in paradise – until my hammock strap snapped and I tumbled down onto a piece of bamboo, coccyx first. No boat injury after the thousands of miled we’ve sailed – but a sprained foot from tripping on a pavement in Labuan Bajo and a bruised coccyx from a hammock in Panaitan, how’s that!?

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Blessed by fish
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Exploring the beach and amazing trees
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The dodgy-hammock
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Fish-braai time!

The boys found a couple good waves to surf. The first was fast and hollow, and Josh got the hang of grabbing his rail and almost pulling into the barrel. The second was right near our boat – and was pretty heavy. The boys were out there for hours, and Marco said they handled themselves really well. The swell was too small for One Palm Point, but the potential was evident – Marco reckons it’d be amazing when it’s working.

Marco did a thorough check of the propellers in the lovely calm water, and felt they were working pretty much perfectly. He replaced the belt for the starboard salt-water pump (which always seems to come loose), and did another all-round check of the engines. We would have loved to stay at Panaitan longer, as it’s definitely one of the most pristine places we’ve been to, but had to get going.

 

Next leg: to Enggano, the southern-most island off the west coast of Sumatra. We were hoping the current would ease as we left Java, but no such luck. We fought it the whole way to Enggano, and this, together with light wind, made our progress very slow. We started noticing the build-up of clouds each afternoon, and encountered a couple of rain squalls – typical of the equatorial region which we were now entering. Our radar started becoming really useful at night as it picked up patches of rain and we were able to get the genoa in and close up the boat before the rain and stronger winds hit.

By this time we were all longing to get to the anchorage, get off the boat and explore the island. Imagine our disappointment when we came into the anchorage – it was rolly, windy (marvellous, the wind finally picked up) and onshore, with a gnarly reef about 100m away. It really didn’t feel very safe, as we’d have little time to react if the anchor started dragging. We monitored the situation during the morning whilst resting and relaxing on board, and then headed to land for the afternoon. We found a little rumah makan near the ferry terminal that had a delicious range of dishes, including beef – what a treat! Marco chatted to the owner and he managed to organise 2 rather dilapidated motorbikes for us. On we jumped and headed off into the interior.

The villages were amazingly cute! Tiny little wooden cottages with ornate doors and windows, like dolls houses, with bright green manicured lawns in front and rows of potted plants on the patios. Very unlike any other village we’d seen in Indo, they seemed to take an extra pride in their homes, and there was significantly less litter around. It was such a delight riding through the countryside, which was lush and a mix of jungle and farmland. Unfortunately Marco’s bike died a quiet death, and we ended up trying to fix it with a friendly brick-maker from the nearby village. It was getting late and we needed to get back to the boat before sunset, so left the bike there and all climbed on mine. We looked like a true Indonesian family – 4 people squashed onto one bike, Josh squeezed behind the handle bars, next Marco controlling the bike, then me with my legs held outwards so as not to touch the exhaust, and then Noah hanging on the back for dear life! I would have loved a photo of that scene!

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Definitely not the cutest house on Enggano – but the only one I have a picture of!
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Motorbike blues

The night at the anchorage was horrible, as we kept waking to check our position and monitor if we were dragging. Our drag alarm went off just before sunrise, but we were actually still secure. Either way, we decided to up anchor and use the strong wind to get to the Mentawais. I would have loved to explore Enggano more – the little we saw was amazing, but we’d need a better anchorage.

Finally we could hoist the sails and get some speed. It seemed like the current disappeared north of Enggano, so we averaged 6 knots with the genoa up. However, now we had another stress to worry about – electrical storms. The sky was constantly flashing and flickering, lighting up ominous looking clouds, and it was quite spectacular to see. Being in a yacht with a huge lightning conductor reaching up into the sky does make one rather nervous though. A lightning strike could fry all our electrical equipment – including navigation, autopilot, depth sounder, and possibly engines and batteries. At worst it could blow a hole in the boat, or shock us if we’re holding anything metal (like the tiller). We put rubber-soled shoes on and tried to stay away from anything metal. We had our paper charts out on the table and manually plotted our position every half hour, and also put our waypoints into our handheld GPS as a backup. Most of the lightning was quite distant, but we did sail closer to a couple of storms and saw bolts hitting the ocean in front of us.

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Stormy skies dwarfing the big ferry
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Traditional chartplotting as a back-up

The wind died after the first day and we ended up motoring the rest of the way. Thankfully our engines seemed to be in perfect working order, and we arrived at Sikakap soon after sunrise after our planned 2 days and 2 nights. Sikakap is on the south of Pagai Utara, on the narrow channel that separates Pagai Selatan and Pagai Utara. It was wonderful to gently motor into the calm protected channel and know that we were finally in the Mentawais!

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Sikakap town
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Peaceful calm anchorage

What an ordeal! I can honestly say that I do not enjoy sailing for days and weeks on end – especially with the stress of electrical storms and entangled propellers. The endlessness of it gets to me – we go pretty much at a fast-walking pace, and time becomes a neverending mundane blur. We really felt that we deserved a Bintang in Sikakap that evening, and are so looking forward to being at anchor at a beautiful spot near a perfect wave – and staying there for weeks on end!

Cruising with Matt and Jade

After 1 month of boat work in Bali, and with a thumbs up from Marco, we were finally ready to cruise again. We were thrilled to hear that our friend Matt and his lovely new wife, Jade, were keen to join us on the boat. They were in Nusa Lembongan (on their honeymoon!), and we decided to sail across the Lombok Strait (again) to meet them (and hopefully confirm that all boat systems were running smoothly again).

After the previous eventful crossing to Nusa Lembongan, we did our homework and got some information about the best tide and route for the crossing. We were advised to head north along the Bali coastline, and cross to the island at the narrowest part of the channel. We hit very strong tumultuous currents as we left Serangan, and by the time we had the main sail up we had been sucked south of Benoa by the current! Here we go again! However, we slowly made progress north and after a couple of miles the current eased, and we maintained a decent 5-6 knots for most of the trip.

We had decided to pick up a mooring at Nusa Lembongan rather than anchor, but were chased off the first 2 moorings we chose. The Cruising Guide says that moorings are for rent on a first-come-first-served basis, but the tourist operators seem to claim certain moorings and it’s not really clear who has the rights to them. In the end we decided to anchor, and Marco swam around with a snorkel looking for the perfect sandy patch amongst the rocks and reef. I had the job of manoeuvring the boat to where he was – although each time I got there we’d all drifted in the current and had to start all over again!

Leaving Matt and Jade to enjoy the last of their “alone time”, we spent the next day making water. As usual, there were some issues to sort out as the watermaker had been packed away and stored during our 3 months in South Africa. Fortunately they weren’t insurmountable (impellers and squashed hoses), and we were able to fill our tanks with lovely clean water again. We cleaned up the boat as best we could, prepared the “honeymoon suite” (Noah’s cabin) and then jumped into the dinghy at sunset to meet the lovebirds for supper.

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Welcome aboard lovebirds!

We were keen to enjoy and explore Nusa Lembongan a bit, since our previous visit had been pretty disastrous. Matt and Jade were the perfect tourguides, having spent a week on the island already, and we decided to hire scooters and go exploring with them. First stop was Devil’s Tear – a dramatic rocky cliff-face where the waves smash and rebound in a frothing spray from the depths below. It was pretty wild – and a number of unsuspecting tourists were almost swept off the rocks. No railing to keep the tourists back – one has to rely on good old common sense here. We had to chuckle at the number of flip-flops that were bobbing in the sea below, and then understood the ingenuity of the lady selling shoes at a stall on the way out.

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It looks calm doesn’t it …
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… until a wave smashes in …
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… and the thundering rebounding spray

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Next we headed off to Nusa Ceningan – a smaller island next to Nusa Lembongan, connected by a long yellow (narrow) bridge. You have to keep your cool and look straight ahead when passing an oncoming motorbike on the bridge! There are lots of beautiful warungs along the beach, but we headed up into the hills to Matt and Jade’s favourite spot, and feasted on delicious burgers. We even tried the black rice pudding with coconut cream and mango.

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Lunch spot on Nusa Ceningan

Feeling satisfied, we headed further upwards, reaching a high point where we could see Nusa Penida and the narrow channel between the 2 islands with a fierce current running in between. Nusa Penida is very undeveloped and pristine, as the Balinese believe it’s where the evil spirits live. It was a good place to relax, enjoy a fresh coconut and swing out over the channel.

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Viewpoint – looking out towards Nusa Penida

We also enjoyed time on the water at Lembongan. Marco and Matt paddled out to Shipwrecks, but I think the most fun was had when everyone surfed together at Playgrounds. Jade was whooping on every wave, Matt was glowing with pride, the boys were styling, Marco was powering through on a SUP, and I paddled nearby on a SUP (away from the waves) – with a beautiful sunset in the background.

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Back from a fun surf

After all that fun it was time to leave Nusa Lembongan, and introduce Matt and Jade to sailing. We decided to head for Jimbaran Bay, as this would reduce the distance to Grajagan. We sped down the Lombok Strait (for the last time, hooray!), and rounded the southern point of Bali. We had a fair amount of wind, so could switch off the engines and enjoy the peace and quiet of being out in the sea. The swells were pretty big, and Jade, Josh and I felt a little queasy at times, but it was a pleasant sail overall. It was interesting seeing the cliffs of Uluwatu from the sea, and trying to identify places we’d been to in Bingin and Belangan. The wind picked up as we neared Jimbaran, and we sped into the large anchorage with a couple hours of light to spare.

Jimbaran Bay is filled with colourful fishing boats – different to those we’d seen at any of the previous Indonesian islands. Most of them come from Java (called Slerek), have large tapered points at both ends, lots of flags and sometimes even an ornate “chair” high up on a pole (presumably for spotting fish). We anchored amongst the fishing boats, and then jumped into the dinghy for the renowned “ikan bakar” (fish braai) that is offered all along the Jimbaran beachfront.

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Javanese Slerek
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Some of our neighbours

The dinghy beach landing was not that easy, as the swells push into the bay and dump on the beach. Marco sussed out the least dumpy spot, timed it well and delivered us to the beach in style. We picked the nearest warung, sat at our candlelit table on the sand and relished a cold beer. The food was rather average and overpriced, but the setting was wonderful. There was even entertainment – a Chinese marching band in bright yellow suits, with rather militaristic drumming and strange operatic yodelling. Probably the most bizarre beachfront entertainment we’d ever seen!

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Ikan bakar
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Beachside entertainment?

Our exit from the beach wasn’t quite as stylish as our entrance. Being dark by this time, we couldn’t see the dumpers until they were right on us – and unfortunately Jade and I had already climbed into the dinghy when we were swamped by a breaking wave. The trip back was spent bailing water in sopping clothing and debating who’s idea it was to get into the dinghy in the first place! Luckily all our valuables/electronic devices were in Ziploc bags and drybags, so nothing too serious.

The next morning we caught a water-taxi to the jetty (much safer) and checked out the Jimbarin fish market. It’s pretty impressive – so much fish, including massive mahi-mahi, dorado, tuna, barracuda etc. We spotted a huge marlin the following day – it must have been about 2m long! I was impressed at how hygienic the market was too –  everything on ice and hardly any flies.

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Negotiating the jetty’s stairs
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Jimbaran fish market

Unfortunately we couldn’t buy any as we had to get Marco to the dentist. He had cracked a tooth (or filling) whilst eating popcorn, and had made an appointment at a dentist in Kuta. The dental practice was very professional, run by a German and a team of local dentists. The main dentist examined Marco and then organised one of the local dentists to do the filling. The procedure was efficient and professional, and only cost about $70! Marco was thrilled (albeit numb).

With medical complaints seen to, we could now leave for Grajagan. Grajagan is situated on the south-eastern point of Java, in the Alas Purwo National Park. It is most famous for G-Land, a fantastic left-hander that thunders down the point, rated as one of the top ten waves in the world. Grajagan is 55 nautical miles from Jimbaran, and we expected the crossing to take about 10-12 hours. We had good east-south-easterly winds and were able to sail most of the way. The swells were quite big, hitting us on the port beam, and we spent most of the day lounging around, trying to keep any queasiness at bay.

That is, until we caught a fish – and not just any fish, the first fish we have caught in Indonesia and the biggest fish we have caught to date – a 15-20kg 1.3m mahi-mahi! We put it down to the blessing of having Matt and Jade on board. I was so glad that Matt was there to help land the beast, as it flapped around viciously and was quite a battle to subdue. The rest of the journey was spent cutting up the fish. Everyone had their preferred cutting style – Marco was into thick steaks (cross-sections chopped right through the spine), I asked for fillets (which are quite tricky to cut properly), and Matt tried out a fancy-schmancy butterflied-fillet method that turned out to be brilliant!

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Our massive mahi-mahi
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Matt teaching Noah his fancy filleting method

With our fridge and freezer full, we rounded the headland and entered Grajagan bay – and the boys all started frothing at the sight of perfect barrels roaring down the point. The anchorage was spectacular – a beautiful virginal forest headland, big sandy beaches and a huge bay with no other boats to be seen. Marco, Matt and Noah paddled out for an epic sunset surf and we then all tucked into a feast of pan-fried mahi-mahi, rice and vegetables, washed down with some rather “interesting” red wine we found in Bali.

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The dream sight

The next day we went to explore the land. It took us a while to figure out where to land the dinghy, as the coastline is dominated by pounding waves, but we spotted a small channel between 2 waves that could be crossed at high tide. First stop was the ranger’s station. He had visited our boat earlier that morning whilst the guys were surfing, and it seemed that we had to pay an anchoring/surfing fee. He agreed to only charge for the 2 main surfers ($30 per day), but we still thought it was pretty steep given the lack of any facilities, and the comparative price of accommodation in Bali. Matt and Jade went to check out some of the surf camps, and we went in the opposite direction – into the jungle. It’s so cool amongst the trees and clumps of bamboo, and the ground was damp and smelt of leaves and earth. Unfortunately we couldn’t spend too long exploring as the tide was receding and we needed to get through the channel before the reef was exposed, but I was keen to go back to explore further.

I had my opportunity the following day, when I walked 2-3km along the jungle track, ending up at Tiger Tracks, an intermediate wave where the boys were surfing. The track followed the coastline, and I passed a number of rudimentary structures set up near the beach with a lone fisherman gazing at the sea. They were always friendly and keen for chat, amazed at how we were actually from Africa (not black!) and lived on a boat. I didn’t spot any animals, apart from the odd cheeky monkey who would gaze longingly at my backpack.

Tiger Tracks is at a stunning part of the bay – out of the wind, with crystal blue water and a beautiful white beach, fringed with low-branching trees. We suggested to Matt and Jade that we spend a day there – and they were keen. They had gone exploring around the point to the southern part of the headland, and were disappointed to find that it was wild, rocky and more barren. We packed a picnic and spent a wonderful day at Tiger Tracks, swimming, surfing, taking photos and relaxing in the shade. Noah and Josh wouldn’t get out the water, and really got the hang of the wave. Jade caught the “wave of her life”– so was super-stoked. I was thrilled to finally have my camera on land so I could capture some of the beauty!

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Paradise

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Tiger Tracks
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Feeling the stoke

On our last day we headed to one of the surf camps (Bobby’s) for lunch. We met up with some people Matt knew from Hawaii and enjoyed substantial burgers. Noah and Josh played pool and table tennis, and enjoyed watching the staff chase the monkeys away with their catties/stuffed leopard.

We spent a total of 4 days in Grajagan, and had such a good time. Finally, this is what we do all the boat-work for! We were particularly blessed to be able to share it with such an awesome couple. They were so enthusiastic, never complained and were game for everything. We filled our tummies with mahi-mahi (Jade and I even tried out a beer-batter recipe and did pretty well at it), spent many evenings laughing over board games, had more serious discussions about marriage, life and God, and joked about the crazy things that pop up in boat-life (like blocked toilets and disgusting towels). Spending time together on a boat creates a bond that takes much longer to develop on land – thank you for sharing part of your honeymoon with us guys!

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So great to finally have some female company!
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The dudes

We were a little apprehensive about the return sail to Jimbarin as it was into wind – the first time that we were planning to sail against the tradewinds. Fortunately the wind was moderate and the swell small, so was not unpleasant at all. The crossing took about 10 hours and we anchored right near our previous spot, just in time to see the Javanese Slerek fishing boats heading off to fish for the night.

Boat Repairs: Life in Serangan and Sanur

Due to a combination of unfortunate events, we now found ourself back in Bali and anchored in Serangan. We had lost our starboard propeller, and needed to decide on a plan of action. Marco wanted to inspect the propeller and check what was missing – and also check that the shaft and other bits and pieces it attaches to were still working. We really had 2 options – either haul the boat out at the haul-out facility in Benoa, or beach it in Serangan. Going to Benoa would involve being towed (again), and higher costs. We weren’t sure if the total costs of the whole operation would exceed our insurance excess, so didn’t want to clock up a fortune if we could help it. We thought we’d explore the Serangan option, seeing as it was close by and was an option used by many western boats.

So off we went to Warung Sunrice (not “sunrise”) to meet Made, one of the “agents” who organises beaching. Overly a leisurely lunch (giving new meaning to the term “slow food”), we got to examine crocheted turtles, woven anklets, shells and numerous other trinkets collected by “Mary make nice” – one of the most insistent ladies we’ve come across in Bali. Incidentally, she earned her nickname by giving Marco an unexpected neck massage during lunch, and repeating “Mary make nice … Mary make nice …”. Unfortunately her massaging fees were double that of proper studios in Sanur – so although Mary might make nice, Mary don’t make nice price!

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Mary making nice (photo by Josh)

Anyway, back to Made. He seemed likeable enough and said he could organise a team of guys to help us get onto the beach, secure the boat and sandbag the keels if necessary. They would also antifoul the boat whilst Marco worked on the engines. After some discussion it was agreed – for a price about a fifth of the cost in Benoa.

Coincidentally we also met a yachtsman (Mick) from Australia in Warung Sunrice. He had just lost a propeller and had recently ordered the exact propeller we needed! Unfortunately, he had decided on our brand (Kiwiprop) as he’d heard they don’t fall off – and so he wasn’t thrilled to hear about our experience!

Just before the next spring tide we made our way through the bay towards the sandbars. The moorings and boats seem to get closer and closer together the further in you go – and Marco wasn’t keen to try and weave a 7m wide catamaran between them all with only 1 engine. We followed a course just on the outside of the moorings (which we’d been told was possible) – and had a couple of heart-stopping episodes when the depth dropped from 7m to 1m without warning (our draft is around 1.1m). We actually thought we were stuck at one stage, but Made’s team of guys were wading around the boat and managed to dislodge us and guide us onto the sandbar where the boat was to sit. Unfortunately the tides weren’t quite high enough to get our keels out of the water, so over the next couple of days they edged us forward with each rising tide, until we were sitting high and pretty at new moon.

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Slowly edging onto the sandbar

Serangan is a pretty gross place. It’s a big estuary that could be quite beautiful, but in reality is polluted and full of rubbish. A lot of boat work happens in here, and all the waste, chemicals and pollutants just flow into the lagoon. Add plastic and general litter into the mix, and you get a bit of a dump. Not a place that we wanted to live in – so we headed off to nearby Sanur to find a nicer place to stay whilst the boat work happened.

As usual, the Lonely Planet was on the mark. I had honed in on “Yulia Homestay” – which was supposed to be a lush little oasis in the heart of Sanur, and great value for money. Although their website said they had no availability, we took a chance and paid them a visit. They were so welcoming, had an airconditioned room available, and were more than happy to bring in an extra bed so we could all fit in one room. Wonderful!

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I love the rooftops of Bali – view from our room
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Comfy airconditioned room

And so began our life for the next 4 weeks – the boys and I spending our days at Yulia, whilst Marco travelled to Serangan every morning to work on the boat. The day would start with a delicious breakfast tray brought to our balcony – piled high with colourful fresh fruit (including buah naga – dragonfruit, my favourite) and toast, butter and jam. Marco would then trudge off to his hired scooter for a day in the saltmines, and generally meet us back in Sanur for supper.

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Good morning!

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Off to Serangan

The boys and I were pretty busy though. Yulia had fast Wifi, which made it possible for me to work. This was really great, as I was able to recoup the boat costs and pay for the extra expenses that we were now incurring – all in a beautiful environment. We were surrounded by a lush garden and constant birdsong, as the owner of Yulia keeps numerous birds and enters them in bird singing competitions (which are apparently big in Bali).

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Not a bad view from the “office”
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Green everywhere!
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Filled with birdsong – unfortunately many in cages

There was also a wonderful swimming pool, which provided refreshment and breaks in between work and school. The boys did get lots of school done – finished their first Afrikaans workbook, learned about sound energy in Science, studied mollusks in our Sea Creatures topic, finished “The Broken Spear” (a novel set in the times of the Great Trek), did lots of Maths (of course), amongst other things. They have also taken to documenting all the funny little episodes/characters we meet – Noah in 3-frame comics, and Josh in a journal.

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My little monkeys
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Loving the pool at Yulia
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Josh writing his memoirs

Every lunchtime we’d head out in search of food. Luckily for us, Yulia was situated right next to Warung Little Bird, which became our all-time favourite eating spot in Sanur (which is saying something, since we ate out for 4 weeks!). It’s run by a group of young guys who all share the cooking, serving, jamming and joking – and make an awesome range of fast, fresh, healthy dishes whilst they’re at it! Noah discovered the Mie Kuah, a chicken-noodle soup packed with crunchy vegetables (which was particularly nourishing when I picked up a slight cold). Josh alternated between the Nasi Goreng and beef burger, whereas I tried out a range of their dishes and was never disappointed (their Cah Kangkung was amazing and packed with fresh garlic). Best of all, the average meal cost $3-$4! It was also a great supper-spot, often with live music – and we’d often meet Marco there and try and cheer him up after his day of slog.

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Some of the fun guys at the warung
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Great live music and vibes

Yes, Marco was slogging it out in the heat and grime of Serangan. He spent a lot of time inspecting and testing the starboard prop-shaft. Luckily, it seemed like the shaft was fine and we therefore just needed a new propeller sent from New Zealand. He spent many hours at DHL and Customs trying to get information about how best to import the part into Indonesia – all with varying answers and suggestions. In the meantime, Made’s team were antifouling the boat – but Marco needed to be involved, making sure they first cleaned and prepared the boat properly, applied the correct number of layers, supported the boat adequately etc. He also removed and replaced the rubber diaphragms that fit over the saildrives, and started investigating possible causes as to why the starboard engine had overheated.

Luckily, the team he worked with were really great. They spent a lot of time laughing and joking together, often teasing Marco when he’d “lose his cool” when something went wrong. It’s amazing – in Indonesia, no-one raises their voices or goes “bos” when there’s a problem, they just laugh about it and carry on. Quite an example to us! Marco also made friends with a Russian guy (Alex) who was working on the boat next door. He was really knowledgeable and helpful, and nice for Marco to have someone to bounce ideas off.

The propeller arrived in Denpasar about 4 days after being sent from New Zealand – pretty impressive really. The trick was to get it released by Customs. Apparently they are not supposed to charge anything if the item is going to be installed on a visiting yacht – but the process is a bit of a nightmare. You can either go through a whole hassle of filling in a variety of forms, dropping them off at the relevant parties and getting Customs to inspect your boat (for a fee), or you pay an upfront amount and then claim it back (ja right). After feedback from Mick (our propeller-less fellow yachtie), we went the latter route and just wrote the amount off. He had started the process of trying to claim the money back – and had almost spent more in fees than the amount he was due. So we ended up paying a 25% import duty – we figured it was the cost of sanity.

Marco could now fit the propeller! Seems easy enough – but the thread where the bolts go in was caked with scale and scum. This meant hours of painstaking and careful cleaning – whilst wallowing in the dirty water with his head at an inhuman angle. Anyway, eventually it was done, the propeller was fitted, secured and tested – perfect! Now to sort out the overheating problem.

Marco was able to take the odd weekend day off, which meant a bit of surfing. Sindu Reef at Sanur was the boys’ favourite, although turned onshore if they arrived too late. We hired a car and spent a day in Uluwatu, after spending 1.5 hours in the horrendous traffic to get there. The waves were huge and powerful – too powerful for the boys, and too big for Marco’s 6’6, but still good for him to be out there. I decided that I really didn’t like Uluwatu much after all – too touristy, too many pushy ladies trying to sell you sarongs and massages, no free toilets and not much for non-surfers to do.

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Pumping Ulu’s

We then went on a bit of a road-trip to Belangan, which is probably only 10km away from Uluwatu as the crow flies, but 1 hour away through the windy dirt tracks. Belangan is a tucked-away bay with big gnarly waves, backed by a tall cliff covered in brides, grooms and wedding photographers, and a smattering of ramshackled warungs on the beach. It was too late to surf, but we enjoyed a meal at one of the warungs served by a chatty waiter – who as it turned out, was one of the crew from the ill-fated Concordia! He didn’t want to set foot on a boat again – and we couldn’t really blame him!

 

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Belangan beach

One exciting event was that we experienced our first earthquake! Ok, it thankfully wasn’t a major one – measured 5.5, with the epicentre in the sea north of Bali. It was 6pm and I was just finishing off a report for work when everything started vibrating – sort of like when a big engine is idling. I immediately thought “earthquake”. It lasted about 10s and was over – but was documented later on the internet, and confirmed by people all over Bali. Just a reminder that we are in the Ring of Fire!

Sanur was becoming a bit like our “backyard”. It’s touristy, but still fairly laid back. There do seem to be an unusually large number of old overweight western men – generally wearing a “Bintang” vest, and with a young Balinese girlfriend in tow. Many of them seemed to enjoy having an English-speaking white lady to speak to (at the pool / warung), and I seemed to be the sounding board for their many aches and pains (and sometimes vast knowledge of natural health remedies). The main street is full of restaurants – from small warungs to fancy 5-star places, and the beachfront is lined with big hotels and “vendors”. What we enjoyed though, is that there are gems hidden all over the place – you just have to know where to look. Great value warungs with more authentic food, genuine shop owners who see you as more than a dollar-sign, sweet massage-therapists who don’t force themselves on you, awesome wooden carvings and bright clothes and sarongs. The trouble starts when you show interest – we got quite good at quickly checking things out, and then scurrying away before the shop-owner came to “sell” it to us. Noah really hated being hassled by the “looking looking” ladies, and discovered that if he spoke a different language they tended to leave him alone. His favourite line was “die volgende bladsy” – obviously something I say a lot in our Afrikaans lessons!

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Exploring the neighbourhood by bike – and ending up at Warung Kecil
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I loved this nasi campur at Warung Pengkula

One of my favourite spots was Ganesha Bookshop (which was also right next to Yulia Homestay). It has a great selection of books on Indonesian culture, food, travel memoirs, history etc, as well as general English novels. I had to control myself each time I went in, and could have blown the family fortune there!

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Just a couple of the books I bought

Marco had been struggling to get to the bottom of the overheating problem, and had also noticed that the flow of water coming out of the engine cooling system was much reduced on the starboard side. He had checked all the pipes, replaced filters and oil and done what he could, but eventually asked a mechanic to help him get to the bottom of it. The guy was really knowledgeable and found that the pipes inside the heat exchanger were caked with scale. After cleaning these (which is fiddly and requires special instruments), the water intake reverted to normal. They took the boat out for a spin to test and strain the engines – no overheating, no smoking! Verdict: problem solved!

It was a joyous day when Marco phoned to tell me the good news. He was positive and upbeat – which was awesome after 4 weeks of setbacks and slog. What an ordeal it has all been – especially for Marco. I lost count of the number of times he’d wanted to sell (or sink) the boat, or the number of evenings he’d come back filthy and demoralised. My prayers were for perseverance and guidance – and I’m thrilled that it seems like all systems are go (for now anyway). Alex (his Russian friend) had a birthday bash on his boat on that same day – and Marco got to celebrate our success with all those who helped work on the boat … and a bit of Russian vodka too.

So now, we’re looking forward and planning for our next voyage. The boys have been so patient, understanding and flexible through all these changes in plans – so we thought we’d take them out for a day of crazy kitsch fun. Bring on the Bali Waterbom!

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Sea Trial to Nusa Lembongan

We were ready – toilets were in working order (well, 2 out of 3), tanks were filled and food and water on board. Our plan was to sail across to Nusa Lembongan, an island about 15nm off the eastern coast of Bali, and test our engines, sails, winch, water-maker and other important parts of the boat. It’s quite a popular island to visit, with some good surf breaks, and we were looking forward to a couple days of rest and relaxation before the longer voyage to Java.

Map

Just before we left we realised our windspeed indicator wasn’t working. In fact, it wasn’t there at all! It’s a little rotating set of “paddles” that rotate in the wind at the top of the mast (called an anemometer), and convey information about wind speed down to a panel at the helm station. It wasn’t critical for this voyage, but was something we needed to get before heading off across Java.

Anemometer

We retraced our path out of the Benoa Marina, and felt a very slight jerk on the starboard engine when we reversed at one point.  It seemed to be working fine though, nothing appeared entangled in the propeller so we didn’t give it too much thought. We motored out of the Benoa channel, again dodging the speedboats and banana boat riders and hoping the parasailers wouldn’t end up wrapped around our mast. We were again amazed at how a buoyed channel into a fairly major port could be so overrun with watersports. Into the Lombok Strait we went on a calm sunny day.

The wind was gentle, reaching 10-15 knots at most, and we were able to hoist the foresails and main sail to test them out and inspect them. Marco was satisfied with the state of the sails, blocks, lines etc – yay!

The engines sounded good at this stage, although Marco thought there seemed to be a little more smoke coming from the starboard engine. I was at the helm, making sure we stayed on course and looking out for boats and debris in the water. It slowly dawned on me that things were not adding up. Our boat was heading straight towards Nusa Lembongan – but the chart plotter showed us heading parallel to the island. How could this be!? I thought the charts might be out, but then double-checked on Google Earth (which we had overlaying OpenCPN at the time, with our AIS connected) and this confirmed that we were heading parallel to the island! Hello – the island was right in front of me, how could we be heading along it!?

Then the penny dropped – the currents! We knew all about the strong currents in the Lombok Strait, and had gone to great pains to make sure they wouldn’t be a problem when we crossed to Bali from Lombok, but we hadn’t really considered them for this trip given that it was such a short distance. We were caught in a fierce current – and although we were pointing at the island, our trajectory was actually sideways – and at this rate we’d miss the island completely!

What we needed was more power. Marco rev’d up the engines to try and make headway, and we changed our bearing to the sea south of the island. This seemed to work for a while – until our starboard engine had enough, overheated and we had to shut it down. Just marvellous – caught in the Lombok Strait in huge currents and 1 engine. We hoisted the sails (again) to try and get some more forward momentum, and spent about an hour fighting against the currents and seemingly heading into the deep blue sea. The boys didn’t know what we were doing – they were sitting at the bow and hadn’t been privy to our confusion and lightbulb moment, so kept giving us confused glances and gesticulating towards the island to the north.

After making headway at maybe 1 knot, we eventually moved into gentler currents and our heading miraculously turned towards Nusa Lembongan on the chartplotter. I was really pleased to make it into the anchorage. So much for a “quick” sail to the island!

Anchoring was not as easy at we’d thought. There were mooring buoys in all the best places, and coral heads scattered around. The current was also still pretty strong in the anchorage, and it wasn’t that easy to move around to find a good spot with one engine. We eventually tied up to a mooring and thought we’d reassess the next day. Whew – what an ordeal!

The boys wanted to get into the water and check out the surf spots, and I was keen to check out the island. Marco dropped me off in the dinghy and then took the boys out to Lacerations (which was fairly small and luckily didn’t live up to its name). They had a great time, but had to stop when the tide went out and the lacerating ability of the reef became evident!

I enjoyed walking the path along the main beach. The southern part is where the fancier hotels are located. I was happy to discover that they are still quaint and built in a local style (no high-rises, thank goodness!). I chose to head north towards the local village, passing numerous homestays and warungs and soaking up the vibe of the place. It’s definitely touristy but is beautiful. I found a funky little café and enjoyed a cold Bintang, watching the shopfronts illuminate in an orange glow as the sun set, with Gunung Agung as a majestic backdrop.

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Walking the beach path
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My sundowner view
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Everything glows at sunset

The next day was not very exciting. Marco decided to tackle the starboard engine. He thought that the impeller may have been worn, so had to take the whole saltwater pump out (which is another of his favourite fiddly jobs). He was disappointed to see that the impeller looked in good nick, but changed it anyway. He also tightened up the belts and gave the engine a general once-over and fine-tuning. It seemed to run well when he tested it, and we thought the return journey would give us another chance to test it fully.

The boys and I got down to some schooling – made sense to get this done being stuck on the boat for the day. We were totally amazed to see the transformation of the bay during the day – from quiet, peaceful solitude by night, to crazy tourist waterpark by day! Each morning, these huge fast-boats would arrive from Bali, bouncing to cheesy tunes and jam-packed with very excited tourists (mainly from China, apparently). The boats would moor next to these huge floating pontoons, complete with their own waterslide and restaurant – like a floating theme park. Out poured the tourists – and they’d spend the day slipping down slides, flipping on banana boats and oohing at the underwater life from the glass-bottomed submarine. 6 hours later, off they’d go – with a tiny percentage having actually set foot on Nusa Lembongan. They really did seem to have fun though, judging from the constant screams of delight we heard. A lot more fun than Marco in the engine-room, that’s for sure!

The boys were able to get out for a surf in the afternoon, and I went for another walk on the island – this time to the south, to Mushroom Bay. I found a little path that headed up the cliff and ended up between villages and farmlands. Luckily Google Maps was able to steer me towards a road that then led down to the main beach, with some lovely clifftop views along the way.

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Clifftop views

We all met up for dinner at the little café I found the day before – called Bunga Bungalows (or something similar). The Thai Green chicken curry was amazing, and we even shared a pizza to start. Awesome décor, glowing lighting, and a fun end to a rather boring day.

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Relaxing after a day of slog – Josh’s seat is a giant clam shell
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Our favourite cafe by night

Our dinghy ride back to the boat wasn’t quite so easy though. As usual, we left the beach at low tide (thanks Murphy) so had to row pretty far to get beyond the coral and rocks. Not being all that familiar with the bay, we ended up heading too far north, and only realised this when we heard and spotted breakers in front of us, and a beautiful coral reef under us. There wasn’t supposed to be an offshore reef between the beach and the boat!? After much debating, arguing, explaining and gesticulating, we thought we’d figured out where we were (well, Joshua and I reached a consensus). We then “took the reins” and rowed us to where we thought the channel should be, which thankfully was correct. Seems we need a chartplotter on the dinghy too! In our defense, the boat was moored really far away from the beach, and there was no moon that night.

The following day we decided to find a mooring a little closer in and out of the strong currents. We set off early before the carnival arrived – I was at the helm, and was surprised to find it particularly hard to steer. In my mind I put it down to strong currents. We got to the new mooring, but I battled to get the boat in the right place for Marco to pick the mooring up (and I’m not usually THAT bad a driver). After much frustration he took over at the helm, and confirmed that something was wrong with the steerage – in fact, there seemed to be little thrust coming from the starboard engine. We did manage to manoeuvre the boat and pick up the mooring, and then Marco dived down to check the propeller … to find that the propeller had GONE!

How on earth does a propeller just disappear!? We were flabbergasted. We hadn’t hit anything, it just dropped off by itself! Later on, we read that it is not uncommon, as propellers can work themselves loose, especially in reverse. The slight jerk we felt in Benoa could have been a loosening of the propeller – and it may have finally dropped off when we reversed in the anchorage. Marco and Noah took the dinghy and retraced our path between the 2 moorings looking for a propeller on the sea floor, to no avail. This sea trial was turning into a real headache!

In the meantime, the big boats were pulling in and we were asked to move to another mooring. The guys who owned the mooring were very friendly and helpful though, and came on board to help us pick up the next mooring, given our one-engine predicament. Now what!? We didn’t really want to cross the Lombok Strait with only one engine, but knew we had to get back to sort things out. We alerted our insurance company, and Marco set about organising for us to be towed back.

One thing about Indonesians is that they are always ready to make a plan. Marco spoke to the captain of one of the big party-boats, who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone … who could tow us back the next day (for a price, of course). They wanted to leave early as the currents would apparently be most in our favour then (one never really knows with the unpredictable Lombok Strait), so we were up at sunrise. The boat was fairly small, but had 4 powerful engines. We attached long ropes to our main beam (nicely protected with our ever-handy loose carpets and dirty “lappies” that drive me crazy) and they were fastened to big cleats at the back of the towing boat. Before we knew it we were off, racing across the Lombok Strait at 10-12 knots. The current was definitely with us, and we made it across in about 1 hour! Who knows, we could have maybe crossed with one engine after all.

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The quick way across the Strait!

They had agreed to tow us to Serangan rather than Benoa – the officialdom of Benoa seemed to put them off, and I was hoping that these guys knew the Serangan channel well. I’d entered waypoints into our chartplotter, and was relieved to see that they followed them to a T – but without any visible navigation equipment. We found a mooring buoy in Serangan, sorted out payment with the guys and they were off back to Nusa Lembongan for breakfast. How’s that for a quick buck! After assessing the bay, we decided to anchor a little further out nearer the surf and away from the traffic. With the anchor down, and we could finally breathe a sigh of relief. Sea trial complete – verdict: failure.

Marco was not in good spirits. Since we’d arrived back in Bali, it’d been one problem after another, and it’s hard to keep feeling positive and energetic when there’s always something new to beat you down. I believe that things always happen for a reason, even though it may not be apparent to us at the time. Maybe we were meant to stay in Bali, maybe we weren’t meant to head to Java just yet, maybe dealing with these problems now would prevent an even bigger problem in future, who knows. All we can do is commit it all to God and trust that he will lead us on our journey, and give us the strength and perseverance to get through the trials and difficulties, and hopefully learn and develop through them too.

Either way, we’re now back in Bali with a couple obstacles to overcome. I’m really thankful it’s Bali we’re “stranded” in though, as it’s a place I’ve really come to love …

Back to the Boat – Bogged down in Bali

After a good 3-month break it was time to head back to the boat for Part 2 of our Indonesian adventure. Our plan is to sail from Bali, cross (the north/south) Java and get to the Mentawaii, Telos and Banyak Islands off the western coast of Sumatra.

Made, the Marina Manager, had been looking after the boat whilst we were away – starting engines, checking power, sending us pictures etc. We were therefore pretty sure that the boat was still there and in a reasonable condition – and it indeed it was, at first glance. The volcanic ash had left it pretty dirty and the relentless heat had melted a solid cake of lontar (which oozed onto the galley floor), but the engines were working, the batteries were charged and everything was intact inside.

After 3 months of rain, Bali is sweltering in its humidity. The marina is especially hot, as the large super-yachts block the breeze – and we really struggled to adjust to the intense heat. I was basically dripping with sweat all day long. My favourite part of the day was in the evening after supper, when I’d shower and wash off the day’s sweat and grime, put on dry pyjamas and climb into bed – with the fan blowing straight onto me. I think our 12V Caframo fans would top the list as the most essential items required on board in Indonesia!

We slowly started the process of unlocking and re-opening valves, stop-cocks, fitting the engine onto the dinghy, etc. That’s when we found that to our dismay all 3 heads (toilets) were not working – the motors weren’t even making a sound! What are the chances that all 3 wouldn’t work? Marco enthusiastically (not!) took the motor of 1 of them out – which is not an easy job, working at uncomfortable angles in tight places, with your head about 5cm from the toilet bowl, in a cramped steamy space. Once he had it out, he tested it on a spare battery – and hey presto, it worked! He then tested the voltage of the wires at the toilet – and the voltage was sufficient … so it led to the mind-boggling question of why the motor wouldn’t work at the toilet. After checking circuits, isolating the positive and negative wires and doing various other tests, we still couldn’t figure it out – the wiring seemed fine.

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Living the dream

Eventually Marco asked 2 Phillipino guys working on the neighbouring super-yacht for their opinion. The one maintains the heads of the super-yacht, so has a fair bit of experience – and he reckoned a worn impeller could reduce the voltage at the end of a long wire to a level that was insufficient to run the pump. They took the impeller out and it was pretty worn – and after replacing it the pump ran!

However, the head was not sucking water into the bowl, only discharging it. We thought the inlet pipe may be blocked, so flushed fresh water through from the outside – to no avail. It turns out that the pump is reversible – and in this case, black had to be wired to red and red to black. That took us a while to figure out – not at all irritating!

Anyway, the head is now working – but pulls water quicker than it discharges it. That’ll have to do for now. Marco repeated the same procedure on the main head, and that now works like a bomb. We have no more impellers, so will have to live with 2 heads until we get a new part. Whew – crappy job over!

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Luckily the marina has toilets – but a bucket was required in emergencies!

The next headache came when we took our dinghy out for a spin. There appeared to be a slow leak around the front valve – which could get worse over time. Our dinghy is so essential – it’s like our “car” that gets us from the mothership (or “house”) to land, to surf, to anywhere! We had to get it fixed. It seemed like the PVC was delaminating around the valve, and it was essential that we found the right PVC glue – as using substandard stuff would just make a mess and could make the leak worse. Marco tracked down various useful guys and managed to find the correct glue (pretty expensive, made up of 2 parts). We then got a guy who repairs dinghies for a living to do our repair – he glued the various layers together, and added another patch for safety. So far so good.

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Dinghy repair in process

We also got an electrically-minded guy in to look at our spare fridge (that had stopped working back in the Komodo islands). He deduced that there was something wrong with the fan – so we obtained and installed a new one, and voila – another fridge in action!

In the meantime, we were trying to get the boat ready for a sea trial. We stocked up on food at Lotte Mart and Carrefour, 2 enormous supermarkets in the Denpasar area. In Indonesia, they really do things in extremes – most shops are tiny little general dealers, but then you find these gigantic supermarkets that dwarf any supermarket I’ve ever been in! There was an entire area devoted to slip-slops (thongs) – in every shape, colour, pattern and size imaginable. I didn’t need any, but did find it quite hard to resist given the complete abundance! To Noah’s dismay we couldn’t find Weetbix, and the range of cereals appeared limited to Cornflakes and some junky chocolate-bites. We did find oats and muesli though – and even raisins!

I took our sticky boat bedding to a nearby laundry collection point – and it returned 3 days later smelling and feeling wonderful. It’s amazing how salt eventually seems to permeate everything on the boat.

Marco organised for diesel to be delivered to the boat. There are officially 2 prices for diesel in Indo – one for locals, one for foreigners. Getting someone to bring it to you gets you closer to the local price – with a margin for transport, profit etc. Unfortunately our 20L jerry cans returned with only 18L in each one. The diesel-guy told us that measurements in Indo aren’t the same as in Australia – which was quite funny actually, but we then used an Indonesian bottle to show him the shortfall. He swore that the petrol station did the “ripping-off”. Marco wasn’t convinced, and persuaded him to refund us for the litres “lost” (after mentioning the police …). We then decided to fill our own petrol jerry cans – and the petrol attendant filled them meticulously, all measured electronically by the pump, and charged us the local price – 65 Australian cents (R 6.50) per litre! We really get ripped off in the west!

I did a little cooking on the boat, but it was generally too hot to think about working over a hot stove. We ate a lot of lunches at the marina – they make a great nasi goreng (vegetable fried rice) with egg and chicken. Our favourite dinner place was Warung Jawa Moro Seneng, situated in Sanur, about 20 minutes away by taxi. The taxis near the marina are quite ramshackled bemos (vans), but the drivers were always friendly and more than happy to sit and wait for us to eat before driving us back again.

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Boys enjoying the night vibes from the taxi

Warung Jawa specialises in HOT Javanese food. There’s a huge selection of pre-made dishes – you just pick and choose what you feel like and they give you a tag with the price. We didn’t hold back – and I think the most expensive plate was $ 2.90 (probably averaged around $2.25).

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Warung Jawa Moro Seneng
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Josh loved the chicken and baked eggs
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My choice of dishes – including beef rendang

The Warung had a shop connected to it, and I found good quality fruit, veges and eggs here too. We stocked up on dragonfruit (buah naga – great for morning smoothies), which are such a luminous pink that they must be a superfood. 

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Bucketloads of produce
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Shocking pink dragonfruit
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Delicious morning smoothies

The boys spent most of their day at the marina restaurant – sitting in front of the huge fan doing school and recording the details of each aeroplane that came in to land nearby. It’s amazing how many planes arrive in Bali – Noah worked out that one arrives approximately every 4 minutes! Tourism is definitely booming here.

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Lunch break

We were also constantly entertained by the happenings around us. Every day, massive boats would fill up with Chinese tourists and head off to Nusa Lembongan – with karaoke music blaring, and the DJ/MC revving it up on the microphone. The marina seemed to be a favourite spot for wedding footage – and we enjoyed watching the beautifully ornate brides pose in front of boats, run down the walkways, and even lie down whilst drones captured them from overhead. Eat your heart out Tali Babes!

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Scarlet bride

We were also around on Tumpek Landep – the day when the Balinese Hindus give thanks for metal and metal items. A ceremony was held at the marina, and various offerings were placed in front of boats (which I think counted as “metal items”). Buses were decorated with woven-leaf items and flowers, and everyone was dressed in their ceremony-attire.

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Tumpek Landep ceremony
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Offerings laid out near the boats

Although the frequency of rain was reducing, there were still odd thunderstorms in the afternoon. The one evening we heard thunder rumbling softly in the distance, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a lightening bolt cracked down right next to us. In all my years growing up in stormy Johannesburg, I’ve never experienced such a powerful lightening strike. Thank God our boat and all the electrics appeared unscathed. The next day we heard that it struck a catamaran about 50m away from us – every single electrical item had to be replaced, and they weren’t insured. How things can change so quickly!

So, after about week after arriving in Bali, and after much slog, sweat and stress, we were ready to leave. We planned to go to Nusa Lembongan – an island about 15nm away, to test everything properly before heading across Java. Little did we know the trials that we would still have to face …

The Adventurous Route Home

Now that we had Noah’s Ark safely tucked into the Benoa Marina, we started looking for flights – and managed to find some reasonably priced flights from Singapore to South Africa leaving in just over a week’s time. This would give us time to prepare the boat for our departure, and get to Singapore. We were all very excited to be going home, to connect with family and friends and enjoy some land-time again before returning to continue our journey in the dry season.

There was only one problem – the erupting Gunung Agung. The winds had shifted, blowing the ash cloud towards southern-Bali and forcing the closure of Denpasar airport. How were we going to get to Singapore?

We decided to wait and reassess the situation after a couple of day. It sounds crazy – but we all worked 4 solid days to get the boat ready. The water-maker had to be pickled (so that bacteria don’t grow in the membranes), the outboards had to be securely stowed, toilets had to be flushed with fresh water, all the stainless and moving parts needed to be oiled, bilges cleaned, food given away and cupboards cleaned (to prevent insects from breeding), everything locked away … as well as a whole lot of admin. Marco also organised that Made would come aboard and start the engines once a week in our absence – so had to take him through the boat and explain the procedure, as well as problems to check for.

During this time, a cyclone was developing in the sea south of Java, bringing lots of rain and unusual wind patterns to Bali – blowing the ash cloud south west and closer to Denpasar airport. We even noticed that the rain droplets on the boat were slightly grey. Denpasar airport remained closed, and there was a growing backlog of people trying to leave Bali. After 2 days we suddenly heard the roar of jet engines and spotted the first plane coming in to land. The winds had shifted, blowing the ash cloud south east and opening a weather window for planes to fly in and out. We had to chuckle at some of the overseas news headlines: “Qantas sends Boeing 747 to rescue stranded tourists” – as if they were in a war-zone and their lives were in danger! Tens of thousands of Balinese were in makeshift shelters and their homes and livelihood were in danger, but shame, those poor tourists who had to spend a little longer in this beautiful island. I think it’s a healthy reminder that we’re not actually in control of everything!

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Planes constantly zoomed overhead once flights resumed from Denpasar

Anyway, with all the chaos and uncertainty at Denpasar airport we decided to take a more adventurous route to Singapore – which involved driving to the north-west of Bali, catching the ferry across to Java, driving to Surabaya and flying from Surabaya to Singapore. This would give us a chance to see more of Bali, and even a bit of Java – and I thought this would be more pleasant than fighting frustrated crowds in Denpasar.

Map

I managed to get Marco to whittle the surf luggage down to 1 board bag (with 3 boards in it) and 1 bag full of wetsuits, leashes and other surfing paraphernalia. Marco and I only had our old travelling backpacks from yesteryear on the boat – no space for hard suitcases! We didn’t have a big enough bag for the boys, so used a cheapie Transkei-trek bag for them, and piled their schoolbooks into a Bintang box. Together with hand luggage and computers, we were still pretty loaded – but thought we’d just manage carrying everything up and down stairs, on and off ferries, to and from airports etc in one go.

After finally sorting everything on the boat, we were picked up by our driver for the trip to the north-west of Bali. I had found a little B&B set up in the hills in Negara, only about 100 kms from the marina, but a 4-hour drive away due to the winding single-lane roads, and array of trucks, scooters and cars that meandered along them. It was a pleasant drive, becoming greener and more picturesque the further north we went. Big mountains provided the backdrop for vast rice paddies and coconut palm forests, with the ocean flanking us on the left. We stopped for lunch at Medewi – a known surf spot, and where a surfing competition was coincidentally being held. The swell was pretty small at the time, but Marco reckoned it was a beautiful long wave that would have been perfect for the boys.

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Beautiful countryside of NW Bali

The north-west of Bali is the least commercial, least touristy part of Bali – the locals say it’s how the whole of Bali used to be. It definitely felt like we were getting a glimpse of authentic village life as we turned off the main road and headed towards our B&B. We wove our way up and down village lanes, eventually finding a little track between rice paddies that ended at Uma Sari Resort.

It was a little haven in the most stunning setting. Our room looked out onto green hills and villages stretching out towards the ocean, and Java was just faintly visible in the distance. We had our own private pool – which we made use of immediately. The boys stayed at pool to relax for the afternoon, while I took myself off for a walk around the neighbourhood, armed with my camera.

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A great place to spend the afternoon

I really enjoyed taking in the scenery, chatting to a couple of the friendly village kids, and admiring the ornate architecture and statues I came across. I narrowly missed stepping on a snake – a thin one wriggling right on the path in the front of me. I somehow hovered over it, endured the inevitable adrenalin rush that comes with encountering a snake, and vowed to wear sturdier shoes on every future walk. I also came across a collection of traditional marimba-like instruments set out in rows under a makeshift shelter at the top of a rice paddy. Perhaps they get together and play music here in the rice fields? What a wonderful place to play. I felt a little inspired and tried out a couple of notes on the unusual looking instruments.

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Such inviting tracks – how could I not follow them
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Friendly Ibu guarding the rice paddy
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Peaceful lanes up in the hills above Negara
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Balinese “marimbas”

The owners of Uma Sari cooked us a delicious dinner of chicken curry and fish kebabs, with various soups and salads on the side. We left the next morning, and organised a driver to take us the last 30 km to Gilimanuk, where we caught the ferry to Java. Java and Bali are quite far apart in the south, but are almost touching in the north – with the ferry ports only a few nautical miles apart. The ferry crossing took about 45 minutes – most of which was spent waiting for our turn to dock in Java. The wait was particularly painful for the boys as we were subjected to endless videos of cheesy 80s B-Grade love songs. Luckily the words were on the screen too, so we could all sing along while Noah cringed in his seat.

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Leaving Bali – heading for Java

Josh got some dirty looks when he carried his Bintang box down the stairs and off the ferry – little did they know that he was lugging his schoolbooks, not carrying his parents’ stash of beer around! We all trundled off the ferry at Banyuwangi in Java, and now had to find a driver to take us to Surabaya. There are buses, but we were sick of lugging our bits and pieces from place to place, and were happy to pay extra to have a little more comfort and to take the more direct route. As always, Marco rose to the challenge – this time organising for us to be driven by a policeman. He was actually on duty – but when he heard what we needed, promptly took off his uniform, donned his plain clothes and agreed to drive us the 300 km to Surabaya!

Whew, what a looong journey that was! As in Bali (and probably most of Indonesia), the roads are pretty narrow and pass through numerous villages, wind around mountains and are used by an assortment of vehicles and people. It took us 9 hours to get to Surabaya. Big respect to our driver, as it was 9 hours of total concentration on his part. People drive pretty slowly in Indo (probably an average of 40-60km/h), but need to be completely focussed the entire time. Cars suddenly brake in front of you, pull in from the side, and overtake anywhere; animals and people wander near or into the road; trucks park right next to (or in) the road etc – and drivers just calmly anticipate and move in total sync with each other, it’s amazing! Hooters are used to warn others of an approach – and I have never seen any aggression or road rage, nor any accidents! There was probably little risk of our driver falling asleep with all the activity around him, but he must have been exhausted from 9 hours of sheer concentration! I did check his eyes in the rearview mirror now and then, and could see he was totally awake and focussed. Not only did he drive us there safely, but immediately left to drive the return journey back to his wife and child. Incredible!

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Intense Java driving

We stopped for a late lunch at a roadside warung, and enjoyed the hearty, spicy fare on offer. During our drive I’d been Googling some places to stay fairly close to Surabaya airport. Due to it being a big city (the second biggest in Indonesia), there weren’t any cute B&Bs – rather big non-descript hotels. The Lonely Planet did mention a rather grand, colonial hotel called Hotel Majapahit, describing it as a “memorable place to stay, exuding class and heritage”. I wasn’t sure that we’d be exuding class and heritage after the long road trip, but I was keen on collecting memories – so we called them. Delightfully we discovered that they weren’t that much more expensive than the other hotels, and were still cheaper than the budget airport hotels in Brisbane. We still had a day to kill in Surabaya and it sounded like a wonderful place to relax and rest before starting our flights – so decision made!

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So many yummy dishes to sample
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Whew, pretty spicy mom!

We must have looked a little funny arriving at this grand hotel at 8pm, in crumpled clothes from our long car journey, loading the fancy golden luggage trolley with our Transkei-trek bag, old backpacks and Bintang box, but the hotel staff were welcoming and friendly, bringing us hot towels to dab our tired faces and welcome drinks to whet our parched throats. We had been upgraded to a Heritage Suite, with a separate lounge area adjacent to the bedroom. It was very luxurious and tasteful, with a real old world charm. I had a lovely long hot bath while the boys went for a late night jacuzzi in the spa (as you do).

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I say, having very civilized conversations in our suite
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The Majapahit all lit up at night

Breakfast was one of those grand buffets, which the boys have not had the pleasure of experiencing very often. They thoroughly enjoyed sampling a bit of everything, including every flavour of yoghurt, most of the cereals, a full cooked breakfast, pancakes and baked goods. Marco delved into some of the local specialities – which included curries, stirfries and sushi (for breakfast?)

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What a grand breakfast!
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The baked goodies, mmm

After breakfast we wandered around the hotel, and learned a bit about its history. It is actually a significant landmark in Surabaya, having been built in 1910 by the Dutch Sarkies brothers (the same people who built the various Raffles hotels). During the Second World War, parts of Indonesia were occupied by Japan – and the hotel was made the Japanese headquarters in East Java. After the war, the Dutch took occupation of Indonesia again and set up their administrative headquarters in the hotel. Meanwhile, the independence movement had been growing among the Indonesians who were tired of colonial rule. When the Dutch raised their flag on the hotel’s roof all hell broke loose, and Indonesian civilians stormed the hotel. It is said that they clambered up the flag pole and ripped the blue stripe off the Dutch flag, leaving only the red and white stripes – which has since become the Indonesian national flag. Soon thereafter Indonesia gained its independence, and various agreements were signed at the hotel.

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The hotel’s previous facade – with the iconic flagpole above
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Fooling around on the hotel lawns

We spent the day relaxing after our long trip. The boys enjoyed swimming in the huge pool, and I unfortunately spent the whole day in bed. I seem to have picked up a tummy bug somewhere along our journey (the first so far!), and felt drained and listless. Amazingly, I slept the entire day and can confidently say that the hotel has wonderfully comfortable beds! Later on the boys went to the nearby mall to upgrade our Transkei-trek bag and Bintang box, and then went for supper at one of the hotel’s restaurants, whilst I kept sleeping into the night. It’s a pity I couldn’t fully appreciate and enjoy the elegant surroundings and facilities, but was glad that I had such a pleasant place to rest in. I’m not sure what impression the hotel staff had of me – Marco and the boys were out and about whilst I was hiding away in the hotel room with the “Do not disturb” sign on the door all day, and when we vacated they would have found a very rumpled bed and empty Bintang box.

The next morning we woke at 4am to get the taxi to the airport for our flight to Singapore. I really felt my worst as I woke up – and kind of reached my low point lying on the bathroom floor retching into the toilet. All I could think about was how I was going to make the 3 flights, and all the queueing and standing that would inevitably be part of it.

Miraculously that was my lowest point, and I slowly improved throughout the rest of the journey. The airline counters were all empty and we could check-in immediately. There were no queues at immigration or security, we never had our luggage or body cavities searched, everything worked like clockwork! Marco and the boys did all the carrying and admin, leaving me to rest whenever possible. In Singapore I even felt like food, and enjoyed some delicious chicken soup (it’s good for the soul!). The Singapore airport is so jacked, and we found some lounger-style chairs where I dozed for hours. The boys were so excited for the Singapore-Dubai leg aboard the Emirates A380 – the biggest passenger plane in the world, and by then I had perked up enough to feel their excitement too. They all passed out during our horrible 3-hour layover in Dubai (from 1am-4am), and I was rested enough by then to watch over my sleeping chickens. 1 more flight, Dubai to Cape Town and we were finally home!

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Rehydrating with delicious chicken soup

What an adventure to get home – but so many wonderful sights and lovely people along the way! With Noah’s Ark safely resting in Benoa, we can now enjoy time with family and friends before continuing our journey after the rains in 2018.

Finding Shelter for the Wet Season

Living on a boat in Indo in the rainy season isn’t that much fun. It’s unpleasant to sail due to poor visibility, stormy conditions and frequent rainsqualls and thunderstorms. It’s also not that exciting being at anchor, as it’s difficult to get out and explore, and quite humid and stuffy on board with all the hatches closed. We were keen to leave our boat somewhere safe, and spend some time on land – possibly a combination of South Africa, Australia and Bali – and then continue our voyage once the rains had stopped.

Our little jaunt to Bali had helped us decide on a safe place to leave the boat. Although the marina in Benoa was expensive (for what you get), we felt that it was a far safer option than leaving the boat on a swing mooring – especially after all the dragging incidents! Now all we had to do was sail to Benoa and tuck Noah’s Ark in, safe and sound.

Sailing from Lombok to Bali isn’t a piece of cake though, due to the tumultuous Lombok Strait which needs to be crossed. We had already encountered the fierce currents and whirlpools in the Strait when rounding the south-western tip of Lombok, and decided that careful planning would be necessary to make the crossing relatively pleasant and doable within daylight hours. A fellow cruiser had encountered strong north-setting currents and taken 15 hours to complete the 45 mile journey!

We wanted a combination of neap tides, light winds, small swell and no thunderstorms – factors that did not align very often at this time of the year. Fortunately, one such day was predicted (with thunderstorms predicted later in the afternoon though) and we made plans to leave from Bangko-Bangko (Desert Point) early that morning. We would sail from Gili Gede to Bangko-Bangko the afternoon before, to cut an hour out of the journey. Plan A was to sail west towards Padangbai, then hug the Bali coastline down to Benoa. If progress was slow, Plan B was to anchor in Padangbai overnight (if possible) and head south the following day. Plan C was to anchor in Nusa Lembongan – an island between Bali and Lombok, not an ideal anchorage due to being exposed to the prevailing winds at this time of the year.

Map

We left Gili Gede, our home for the past month, and wove our way through the Gilis towards the Bangko-Bangko, where we anchored for the night. The afternoon thunderclouds had built up and Bali was hidden from view. We woke up at first light and then realised that we’d neglected to consider a fifth factor … Gunung Agung! This mighty volcano in the north-east of Bali had been rumbling and threatening to erupt for a few months now, but seismic activity had been reducing in recent days. We had just recently sailed past it in the ferry to and from Bali, and although it stood proud and tall above the clouds, it looked tranquil and unthreatening. The sight that greeted us now couldn’t have been more different. An ominous cloud of dense grey smoke was rising out the top, almost obscuring half the volcano, and had formed a dense bank of smoky clouds from one side of the horizon to the other. This was no little “puff of smoke” or “letting off of steam” – this was clearly a full-scale eruption!

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The sight that greeted us at first light
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Sky filled with ash-cloud
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Close-up of the crater

Now we were in a quandry – should we sail on, which meant initially heading straight for the volcano, or should we turn around? Turning back would mean more waiting, possibly for weeks or months, but sailing on could be disastrous! Could there be a tsunami if there were earthquakes? Would the marina be covered in ash? I had no strong feelings and left the decision to Marco – he felt we should continue. We could always turn around if we felt conditions were becoming dangerous.

So off we sailed, or motored rather, as there was very little wind to speak of. The currents were negligible too, and we glided across the silvery glassy water in an almost surreal dream-like state. It was weird and slightly unsettling – so peaceful, but heading towards such a powerful cataclysmic force! Suddenly in the distance we spotted figures jumping out of the water – hundreds of them, breaking the silvery gleam of the water with their dark bodies. Dolphins! I’ve never seen that many dolphins together – there were literally hundreds of them, covering a huge area around us. Some of them joined us at the bow for a while, before returning to their mates. It was such a special sight, especially in Indonesia where we hadn’t seen such prolific sea-life, and I took it as a sign that our journey onwards was being guided and blessed.

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Silvery calm seas

Our journey was truly blessed! We hardly noticed any counter-currents, and the sea was as flat as a lake. We zoomed across in no time, and turned to head south towards Benoa, finally heading away from the continually erupting volcano. The entire trip took us about 8 hours, and was one of the smoothest crossings we’ve ever had! So much for the treacherous Lombok Strait!

The channel to Benoa Harbour is well buoyed, but was a little difficult to navigate for a more unusual reason. The channel had become a parasailing playground, and was full of screaming, whooping, mostly-Chinese tourists hurtling around behind powerful speedboats that continually cut in front of our path. We took our time and eventually made our way through the maze of parachutes, and arrived at the marina entrance.

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Parasailing playground

Made, the Marina Manager, was there to greet us and direct us towards our berth. The boys and I busied ourselves with tying the fenders on, and completely forgot that we needed to tie the lines on too! It was Josh who finally pointed this out and there was a mad scramble to get the lines on before we reached the berth. See what happens when you’re away from a marina for 6 months!

Marco spent quite some time tying and retying all the mooring lines. The marina is a little grotty, with rubbish floating past on the high tide, but the walkways and cleats seem solid enough, and it’s perfectly positioned in a very calm inlet. Our berth is very convenient – close to the amenities (restaurant, showers, toilets), right in front of the 24-hour security guard and next to where the Police moor their boats. 2 superyachts are moored nearby, as well as a number of other western yachts. People come and go, and yachts are being cleaned, maintained and fixed. There are also some charter boats that dock nearby, with music pumping and tourists singing. All in all, we feel that the Ark will be safe here, and that there are enough eyes on her to spot any potential problems. Most importantly, she will be covered under our insurance policy whilst we are away.

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Safely tucked into our berth at the Marina

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It seems we made the right decision to leave Lombok, as the north-westerly winds initially blew the ash cloud from the volcano across to Lombok, rather than to southern Bali. The skies around the marina were clear and sunny, whereas Lombok airport had to be closed due to ash. Now that we’d finally found a shelter for our boat, we could focus on our trip. Where to go, and how to get there? With Gunung Agung still furiously erupting, just getting anywhere would be quite an adventure …

Bali – Uluwatu and Bingin

We left magical Ubud heading south towards the Bingin peninsula, the place which put Bali on the surfing map in the 1970s. We hired a lovely driver who took us round to a number of homestays and small resorts in the area, and we on Three Monkeys in Uluwatu. What sold it to us was the huge pool and sunny gardens, and also the proximity to the surf. The boys spent so much time in the pool that Josh ended up with bright red fingertips – from pulling himself out of the pool repeatedly (rather than a weird infectious disease, thank goodness).

Map

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Three Monkeys Villas

The Uluwatu surf break was within walking distance, and we headed in that direction with boards in hand. It’s quite an impressive walk down the cliff-face to the beach – with steps winding down amongst restaurants and ding-repair shops perched precariously on the edge, ending in a massive cave where the sea rushes in at high tide. The boys paddled out and I found a good viewpoint at a restaurant higher up, and settled down with my camera and Bintang (purchased from a rather rude restaurant-owner).

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Walk down to the beach
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Ready to surf Uluwatu!

The wave wasn’t working properly and was pretty big and messy – but there were some sections that looked good, and the boys headed in that direction. As Murphy would have it, a new swell pulled in while they were out, with daunting freak sets that loomed out of nowhere and broke right on the line-up. Poor Josh got pummeled by one and got washed down towards the beach. He came in soon after that, but was quite proud to have survived Uluwatu. Noah made it his aim to sit in the “sweet-spot” – that being the spot where the big sets wouldn’t catch him, but also meant he was so far out that he had no chance of catching any waves at all. He managed to dodge the sets and came in unscathed. Meanwhile Marco had the time of his life, only coming in when a storm approached and lightning was crackling in the sky above us.

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I survived Uluwatu!
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Big sets and storm approaching

What a storm it was, a total tropical torrential downpour! It absolutely bucketed down for over an hour, and the stairs winding up the cliff-face became a series of rapids and waterfalls which we had to negotiate to get back to our chalet.

The next day we hired motorbikes and went to explore the peninsula. We avoided Padang-Padang, which charged a fee for parking as well as a fee to enter the beach (commercial = avoid!), and explored Impossibles and Bingin. Bingin is a charming area with a maze of lanes winding through the jungle, and cute villas tucked away between villages and temples. Although there are many resorts and homestays in the area, it felt less commercial and more authentic than Uluwatu.

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Exploring the lanes of Bingin
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I love these doors!

In our exploration we stumbled upon Temple Lodge, which I had read about but which had unfortunately been fully booked whilst we were there. We decided to check it out, just out of interest. What an amazing work of art the place is – with lush colourful gardens, cobbled pathways and ornate doorways leading to interesting nooks, and a variety of suites each with their own character and feel. To our surprise, we found that the owner was the brother of the owner of Utopia Lodge which we had visited way back in Rote, an Italian-South African nogal! We got chatting to him and he offered us a room in their “Annex”, slightly up the road from the resort but also as interesting and unique as the other rooms. I couldn’t wait to stay in this beautiful place!

Back in Uluwatu we relaxed by the pool and tried out some of the nearby restaurants. The Station served great burgers, and Outside Corner Organic Café had a great vibe – complete with table tennis and pool table, much to the boys’ excitement! Overall, Uluwatu is pleasant and the cliffs and beaches are stunning, but the people and facilities are definitely geared to the influx of surfers and tourists, and in my opinion, not half as quaint and authentic as Ubud. Although Ubud is touristy, it attracts those more interested in exploring the culture of Bali – whereas Uluwatu tends to attract surfers and party-goers, who (as Marco will freely admit) are often more interested in self-gratification than exploring and discovering a different culture.

When we arrived to stay at the Temple Lodge in Bingin we found we’d been “upgraded” to one of their prime suites, the Gecko Suite overlooking the ocean. What a treat! Every part of it was a work of art – from the antique double door leading into the main bedroom, to the huge wooden “day-bed” draped with comfy throws and cushions – the perfect place to read and laze during the day. The bathroom was sculpted out of concrete, with pebbles leading to an open-air volcanic rock shower with panoramic views of the ocean.

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Stunning main bedroom in the Gecko Suite
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The wonderful “day-bed”
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The artsy shower

Another bonus was that it was perched on the clifftops above Bingin surf-break. The boys could walk down the winding stairs by themselves, whilst we could keep an eye on them from our room high above. The surf was small, manageable and uncrowded, and they had great fun in the water. I treated myself to a massage at the Lodge – an hour of complete bliss for $16! Marco went for a “surfer’s massage” the following day.

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Off to surf Bingin
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Waves peeling far below
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Fun in the pool in between surfs
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Delicious healthy food at the Temple Lodge!

At sunset Bingin beach becomes an informal restaurant. Tables and chairs are laid out at the water’s edge, the fires are lit and the smell of braaied fish fills the air. We enjoyed a delicious meal of fish and roasted mielies with rice and veges on the side, in a casual candlelit atmosphere. The walk up the hundreds of stairs afterwards was a little more difficult on such a full stomach!

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Bingin beach braai

After a glorious 10 days it was time to leave Bali and get back to Noah’s Ark. We organised a driver to take us to Padangbai and caught the slow ferry back to Lombok, with the mighty Gunung Agung standing tall as we sailed away. A thought crossed my mind – “Imagine if it erupted now”. Little did I know how close we had come – and that it would indeed erupt the following day, throwing many people’s lives into disarray!

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On the ferry to Lombok

We were welcomed by the smiling faces of Junaidi and Lan, who took us up to Mataram for yet another visa extension, and then back to Gili Gede where Noah’s Ark was floating safe and sound (hooray!).

Bali had been an unexpected treasure. I really didn’t expect to enjoy it so much – I really thought it would be overdone, westernised and full of brash, drunk tourists. There are probably areas like that, but I was pleasantly surprised at how strongly the Balinese have held onto their culture, architecture and way of life. I was also surprised at the mix of westerners that travel and have settled there. I expected most to be Australian, but we encountered people from all over, including many from Italy, South America and even South Africa. It’s a place I definitely want to return to and explore further – and I now understand the allure and charm that has captivated people for decades.

Bali – Ubud

After about a month at Gili Gede, and still no solution in sight regarding where to leave the boat, we were all getting a bit edgy. We needed a change of scenery. I was really keen to visit Bali, and we figured it’d be a good idea to check out the Bali Marina and the moorings in Serangan, rather than rely on hearsay from other cruisers. So it was decided – we’d leave the boat on the mooring at Gili Gede, and spend a week or so in Bali. We felt the boat should be safe for that length of time, and our water maker membranes could probably last just about that long without bacteria growth.

Map

I’d been reading up on Bali, and Ubud just spoke to me. I’m not sure why – probably because it’s inland, surrounded by lush rice paddies and is supposed to be the cultural centre of Bali. I’d seen enough beaches and surfers for a while – time to indulge in some arts and culture! I spent many frustrating hours trawling the net trying to find the perfect place to stay, which was difficult given the short notice. I’d almost given up hope – but eventually found a gorgeous little bamboo cottage in the middle of a rice paddy (called Firefly Bamboo Eco Cottage). Perfect!

Preparing to leave the boat was time consuming, as there was so much to do – secure and stow everything properly, make water one last time, sort out food and fridges, pack surfboards and clothes, etc. Our friend Lan from Gili Gede, came to fetch us early in the morning in his boat. As we were about to leave, Marco discovered that the bilge pumps in the engine rooms weren’t working – pretty important things! It took a while for him to figure out why – but turned out to be a blown fuse and loose wire, which were easily fixed.  Leaving a boat is worse than trying to leave the house with small babies!

Eventually we were off, and Junaidi was waiting with the car to take us to Lembar, the nearby port on Lombok from where the big public ferries leave. We bought the tickets (around $4 each) and could walk straight onto the docked ferry, which departed about 30 minutes later.

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All aboard

The trip was comfortable and pleasant. Once we’d declined the many offers of fruit, fried rice, snacks, bottled water, t-shirts and sarongs, we were free to relax. The sea was calm (although we noticed some strong currents), and we sat outside on the deck to enjoy the breeze. 4 hours later we arrived at Padangbai, with the mighty Gunung Agung rearing up out of the clouds ahead of us. It had been rumbling and threatening to erupt for a couple months already – but still docile (for now). We disembarked, dodging the scooters, trucks and bemos that poured out of the ferry, and trying not to inhale all the exhaust fumes that had collected in the basement level.

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The mighty Gunung Agung rising above the clouds as we enter Padangbai

It didn’t take long to organise transport to Ubud. We were soon hurtling through the streets of Bali with Wayan at the wheel – the first of many Wayans that we would meet during our stay. (Wayan, Made, Nyoman and Ketut are names typically given to firstborn, second, third and fourth-born children, respectively). We whizzed through numerous little villages, past Hindu temples, shrines, statues and palaces, and along streets framed by tall curved bamboo poles which had been adorned with baskets, flowers and dried leaves. This was nothing like the other Indonesian islands we’d visited! It was bustling and beautiful and almost magical.

We later learned that these bamboo poles are called penjors, and that they are placed outside Hindu homes during the festival of Galungan and Kuningan. Our visit had coincided with this festival, and we were treated to beautifully decorated streets.

Our cottage was so hidden away that our driver couldn’t find it – and we were met by one of the staff (Ketut this time) who escorted us to a tiny non-descript footpath that led off the main road. Over a small rise, and there we were – in a sea of green rice paddies, with our little cottage tucked away in the distance. So close to town, but it felt like miles away! A little canal bubbled next to the footpath, as if edging us forward. We walked about 500m, passed through an elaborately carved doorway and were there.

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There it is!
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Through the doorway …

The cottage was everything I hoped it would be – gorgeous, artistic and a complete change from the boat! It was entirely made of bamboo, with bamboo mats for walls and an intricately woven roof with tall peaks at either end. It reminded me of those crazy goblin-shoes, called winklepickers. The boys were keen to swim, so we ambled off to the pool and lounge area where we spent the afternoon lazing on the oversized couches and chatting to the friendly staff.

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Art everywhere
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View out the bathroom window

I woke up early the next morning as I wanted to take some photos. It was so beautiful to walk in the rice paddies just after sunrise – the air was fresh and cool, the roosters were crowing and the Hindu morning prayers were just audible in the distance. The land is so fertile, and I came across many trees laden with fruit. One of the resident cats joined me and was constantly on the lookout for mice, which I’m sure are plentiful in the rice fields. As I returned, the landowners were placing their morning offerings in the various shrines dotted around the paddies. It was all such a beautiful, peaceful scene.

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Wakey-wakey

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My morning company
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Early morning offerings
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A feast for the ants, bees and birds

Breakfast was brought to us on our patio, and we chatted to Pandai, the owner of the land whilst he was checking the progress of his rice paddies. I studied the ever-reliable Lonely Planet and put together some Ubud plans – generally involving a walk and lunch.

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Breakfast time
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Pandai
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Gusman, one of the Firefly staff off to the temple on Kuningan

Just walking through Ubud was a treat. There are so many unusual and exotic things that catch one’s eye – like the shop selling myriads of pots of all colours and shapes, or the massive statue (of Indra, apparently) at the top end of the main street, the black and white checked cloths and umbrellas draped around trees and statues, or the locals on motorbikes, all dressed in their Kuningan finery on the way to the temples. The town is pretty busy, but once we turned off the main road and meandered up our chosen walking track it was quiet and peaceful again. We did the popular Campuan Ridge walk, which took us past a number of interesting temples and to a smaller village in the hills, where we enjoyed lunch with another gorgeous view.

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Amazing temple at the start of the Campuan Ridge walk
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Time for a rest – it’s hard work walking in 100% humidity!
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My favourite pot shop

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One of the amazing temples in town

 

We were unfortunately not able to stay in our cute cottage for more than 2 nights (as it was previously booked), so needed to find alternative accommodation. Gusman, who worked at Firefly, offered us a house just across the rice paddy (for about a tenth of the price – bonus). It looked like a temple with its ornate terracotta and grey coloured pillars and elaborately carved wooden doors and shutters. Marco and I stayed upstairs, with a spectacular view across the rice paddies, and the boys had their own room downstairs.

Ubud is known to be the foodie-capital of Bali, and I was keen to explore this side of life. I booked myself into Paon Bali Cooking School to learn some Balinese flavours and techniques. It was such a worthwhile experience, I can’t recommend it highly enough! It started off with a market visit, where the more unusual fruits, vegetables and spices were shown to us. I was familiar with quite a few of these, having shopped for food at Indonesian markets for the past 4 months, but it was quite new for many of those on the course. We were then taken into a rice paddy and the whole procedure of growing and harvesting rice was explained, which was pretty interesting and relevant given that one is often surrounded by rice in Bali!

It was then off to the kitchen. Puspa, the Balinese lady who runs the school, is the doyen who rules her kitchen with charisma and flair. Together with her efficient team, the school runs very professionally, but still with a personal and light-hearted atmosphere. There are long demonstration tables, separate cooking stations and big communal dining tables overlooking the jungle. We were completely involved in preparing, cooking and eating every dish – and received a copy of the recipes afterwards. Such good value – 5 hours and so much information, for $35!

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Puspa – Queen of the Kitchen
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Fresh ingredients all waiting to be prepared

So what did we make?

1)      Clear mushroom and vegetable soup – Such delicious flavours of lemongrass and ginger coming through.

2)      Gado-gado – A traditional Indonesian dish meaning “mix-mix”. A mix of various vegetables, leaves, sprouts and tofu covered with a peanut sauce.

3)      Chicken sate – Skewers of minced chicken roasted over coconut embers, covered in a peanut sauce.

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“Braai-ing the chicken sate”

4)      Chicken curry – This was my favourite, based on one of the most important things to master in Balinese cooking, Bumbu Kuning (yellow sauce). Shallots, garlic, 3 types of ginger/galangal, fresh turmeric, candle nuts, chillis, coriander seeds, nutmeg and shrimp paste are all pounded together in a huge pestle and mortar. The resulting paste is then fried in coconut oil, and lemongrass, salam leaves and palm (lontar) syrup added. It ends up as a very fragrant brownish curry paste that is used as a base for various Indonesian dishes. I have made it since the course, and I must admit it was delicious!

5)      Steamed fish in banana leaves – Fresh tuna spiced up with Bumbu Kuning (amongst other things), wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. Divine!

6)      Bean and coconut crunchy salad – So unusual with coarsely grated coconut.

7)      Deep-fried tempeh in sweet soya sauce – Really more-ish. A lot of people on the course hadn’t tasted tempeh and raved about it. We already enjoy tempeh, but I hadn’t deep fried it before, and really enjoyed the crispiness.

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Deep fried tempeh

8)      Banana and coconut cream pudding – So simple but so delicious. Definitely on my list given the number of ever-ripening bananas we always seem to have on the boat.

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Our delicious plate of food

After all this inspiration I had to buy myself a traditional Indonesian pestle and mortar. They are flatter and bigger than the Jamie Oliver one I already had, and made of volcanic stone. The Ubud Market was the place to go – and I found the perfect one for $15.

One of our missions in Bali was to check out the marina at Benoa Harbour, so Marco and Josh set off on a motorbike to do just that – Josh in charge of navigation, thanks to Google Maps. It was quite a journey – travelling the 30kms took about 1½ hours each way, as the roads are narrow, winding and congested. To top it all off, Marco’s phone dropped out his pocket and into the water whilst he was at the marina, so they had to navigate back without Google Maps! The good news was that the marina seemed like a good option, albeit expensive. The other good news was that they made it back before the rain.

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Off to Benoa Harbour

Meanwhile Noah and I had been exploring a bit more of Ubud. We ended up at Warung Bernadette at lunchtime – known for the best Rendang in town. It was the best Rendang we’ve eaten in Indonesia thus far – such tender beef and intense flavours! The bad news is that we didn’t make it back before the torrential rain. Stormwater drains are pretty rare, so the streets become raging rivers. Noah and I waited it out under the awning of a nearby toko and enjoyed watching the motorbikes that continued unabated – the drivers just whip out big colourful ponchos and carry on.

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Amazing Rendang at Warung Bernadette

The one other thing I wanted to do in Ubud was see a traditional Balinese dance performance. Performances are held every night in various temples and stages throughout the town, and I picked one that had a mix of Legong, Kecak and Barong (different styles). I can only describe the dancing and music as … bizarre. It’s so different to anything I’d ever seen, and portrays stories and myths that are so foreign to Westerners. The music is played by a gamelan orchestra – one of the main instruments is called a bangso, and is kind of like an elaborately adorned xylophone played with a big metal hammer. The keys are all tuned into a slightly discordant chord (to my ear, anyway) – and the musicians hammer away in a frenetic rhythm that I think would eventually drive me crazy.

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The gamelan orchestra

The women dancers are beautiful and so interesting to watch. Their movements are so unusual, and involve elaborate twisting hand and finger movements, almost-impossible neck movements and big staring darting eyes. The men are even crazier – slow stork-like steps, and then a sudden flurry of jerks and stamping. One of the characters depicted was Juak, who has a frightening mask with bulging eyes and super-long fingernails. It was really interesting to get a glimpse into an ancient culture that is so different and foreign to me – but I’m not sure I’ll be incorporating any of these dance steps into my collection of dance moves.

After 4 wonderful days it was time to leave Ubud and head to southern Bali. It had been a breath of fresh air, a total change of culture, of lifestyle and scenery. I’m so glad that Ubud “caught my eye”, and it’s a place I’d definitely like to come back to one day.