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October 31, 2005

On the River - update from Kenny

DAY: ?
LOCATION: River Hari, Sumatra

Made it on to and into the river at last. We'd arrived up at Jebus, on the Hari River, last night and started packing the boats with the earnest intention of getting out of town and having a few hours of paddling before setting up camp. But, we hadn't really factored in the whole Monsoon thing. Just when all our stuff was out on a jetty (actually someone's toilet jetty) the heavens opened for about 3 hours solid and we had to retreat to some kind Indonesian's veranda before sleeping in the local police station with the kayaks moored up outside.

This morning myself and Phil had our first taste of kayaking: paddling downstream in the wide, slow moving river in the double - perfect. Not too tiring, not too hot - just watching the world go by from the comfort our new heavily laden home: a few monkeys, couple of herons, a few fishermen, kids washing and the sounds of villages back in the forest. Don't know what Jason has been moaning about all these years. It only got a liitle tricky when Phil got a few jumping spiders in his cockpit from the trees overhead and then when a paddle drifted off when we stopped to stretch our legs. After a tense, eye straining mile or so, it was spotted over 2 miles downstream.

Now made camp and heading for the coast tomorrow.


Posted at 1:51 PM | Comments (1)

October 29, 2005

Eve of the final push to Singapore - from Phil

LOCATION: Jambi, Sumatra

I’ve just recovered from a nasty bug of some sort. Felt quite awful for a couple of days, but under the watchfully eye of Jason and Kenny I have now recovered. It’s never fun being sick when you’re away from home.

Shopping Day.
We headed to the supermarket and loaded up with supplies to the value of 1,300,000 (Indonesian Rupiah). Interesting to be spending such large number. Kenny commented that it was like being a bunch of tycoons, casually exchanging riches. But at the current exchange rate it all works out to a bit more than US$100.

The kayaks are ready to go, epoxy set and sanded. The Hotel manager showed us to some soft drink factory to get bulk water for the Ortleib water bladders. The locals crowded around, finding our antics quite amusing. Hauled the water back to our room, which was promptly flooded by one of the bladders that we hadn’t sealed correctly. The laptop got a bit wet but, I’m writing on it now so we figure it survived.


Kenny and Jason spent about two hours walking around town trying to find a bag of rice that was less than 10 kilos. Impossible. They finally convinced a restaurant to put some in a bag for them. Jason’s language skills saving the day once again.

That’s about it. Jason’s heading off early on the bike and Kenny and I will load the kayaks into the truck along with all the gear and supplies (it’ll be stunning if we get it all into the kayaks) and will catch up with Jason somewhere along the road to Tanjung to get some video and photos of the intrepid explorer in action. We’ll unload in Tanjung, stow everything in/on/around the kayaks and head off down the river Hari. Should be about two days to the coast and then we’ll be island hoping to Singapore. Kenny and I will bail out at Batan and catch a ferry to Singapore so as to film Jasons arrival. All things being equal. To quote Kenny: “Of course, it could all go horribly wrong.”

Right-o you lot, catch you later.


Posted at 6:17 PM

October 27, 2005

New and Old faces - update from Phil

LOCATION: Jambi, Sumatra

Well this is an experience! Met up with Kenny in Singapore and we flew to Jakarta, where Jason and Yous the pick-up driver met us. Then:

Q. what’s worse than a 30 hour flight?
A. The same in a car in Indo.

Still, it’s been amazing to see the country fly by, people waving and pointing at the kayaks.

Jason - Kenny - Phil (L-R)

My impressions of Jambi? Can’t really describe it all, it’s hot but not unbearable. I went out and took some photos today. Hard to not take too many, everyone wants their picture taken. There’s not too many folks like Jason, Kenny and I here – not at all a tourist centre, and I ended up leading a little parade of kids through the alleyways. Quite an eye opener this trip, seeing such poor living conditions – homes that are stilts above open sewers. But the people you meet have these huge grins and are so gracious and welcoming. I’m sure it ain’t all a barrel of laughs for them but the sense of family and community was so strong.

Oops getting a bit hippy-ish! I’ll try to be a more cynical old fart from here on in.

Had a visit from the local fuzz at the hotel. Spent about 15 mins trying to figure out what he wanted, Kenny showed up, talked for a couple of minutes then abandoned me to figure out a way to get rid of the cop. Turns out he wanted us to hire him as a guide – his family has boats. Tried to gleen some info about the river from him but the few tid-bits I did get contradicted other info Jason had already found out. Nice chap, just trying to make an extra buck.
Alright then, I’ve hogged it for too long. Catch everyone later.
Thanks to all who have made this trip possible, and a special hello to Angel – love you buddy.


** Thanks to Phil and Kenny for making it out to document these last couple of weeks for the documentary series and expedition photo archives.**

A kiwi (New Zealander), Phil recently worked with Kenny on the feature film 'Devil You Know' shot on the US east coast. He lives and works in New York City.

Posted at 3:50 PM | Comments (1)

October 23, 2005

In Jambi

LOCATION: Jambi, Sumatra

In Jambi safe. Began throwing up last night though - hope it's just dehydration from some long, and very HOT, recent days biking. Later today I need to find a vehicle and drive the 1200 kms back to Jakarta to pick up Kenny, and newcomer kiwi Phil (who will paddle the double with Kenny to Batam) arriving in the morning of the 25th, then the kayaks from the marina Anyer, and back to Jambi.


OK, feeling squiffy, have to get horizontal again. More later...

Oh, by the way I've removed the annoying typekey thingy for comments - it was turning out to be too much of a debacle.


Posted at 3:43 AM | Comments (3)

October 20, 2005

Bikes, Bandits 'n Steel

LOCATION: Palembang, Sumatra

Sorry for the absence in updates these past few days - internet cafes have been few and far between since leaving Anyer where at least I had the computer plus satphone setup. I also wanted to mention that the comments function on this blog had to be changed on account of spammers using it for advertising. So if you can be bothered to register for a 'typekey', it would be great to still get feedback from genuine visitors.

Currently in Palembang, 2-days from reaching Jambi.


Since this leg of the expedition started back in June from Dili we've experienced subtle but persistant theft - a pair of shorts drying on a bush here, a wristwatch left on a kayak there - but always very discreet and something we only discovered after the event. Certainly nothing major and never involving aggression. Not until yesterday however, when I was attacked and very nearly robbed of everything on the road to Palembang by two guys on a motorcycle.

First off, I'm fine and all the gear is OK. It happened on an isolated stretch of road about 200kms south of here, at around 4pm. I was dead tired having already pedaled 160kms since 5 that morning, and was looking at another 50 to a town where there was reputedly a hotel.

A motorcycle came alongside, as they often do, with two young guys who started asking the usual inquisitive questions that we've been asked a thousand times before - 'Where are you going, where are you from?' etc. However, being so tired and still having far to go I told them I was too tired to engage in a coffee table discussion and needed to concentrate on biking, not least because the road was in an atrocious condition with huge potholes big enough to swallow both myself and the bike. Unwittingly I'd cut straight to the chase of their real intentions, which was to relieve me of my money + gear.

In the blink of an eye the passenger threw out a hand, grabbing onto the strap holding the video camera around my neck, and tried to pull me off the bike. As we were still traveling at speed, and therefore relatively stable, I managed to keep upright. Both pushbike and motorbike were now locked together as we sped down the road at 25+kph, and a desperate struggle ensued: myself holding onto the camera with one hand and steering with the other; the motorcycle bandit repeatedly pulling on the strap so violently that on the 4th or 5th pull I pitched over the handlbars and headplanted into the asphalt.

The act of coming off the bike also had the effect of pulling the guy off the back of the motorbike. First to get to his feet he continued to pull at the camera with all his force, dragging me down the road after him - self hanging onto the thing like a ruggerball in a scrum!

By this time his mate had stopped, disembarked from the motorbike also and was advancing towards us. I saw out of the corner of my eye that he was unsheathing a large machete, and I wondered (as you do in these situations - bizarre thoughts) if this was intended for me or the camera strap? At any rate, I felt pretty defenseless at this point and envisioned having everything taken, including wallet/passport/money etc, and would perhaps be lucky to get away without being seriously hurt physically.

It was at this point that a bus hove into view from behind and the two realised they were in full view of a truckload of witnesses, and giving the camera one last tug, jumped back on the bike and fled, pursued by the bus driver that seemed to clock the situation.

Unfortunately the internet cafe I'm in is closing and I'm about to be booted out. So apologies for how badly this is written, without any editing, but I'll fill in the gaps when I get to Jambi in 2-days time. I will mention however before signing off that I visited the hardware store shortly after the attack and I'm now packing steel - a 16 inch 'parang' - that should make any more wannabe banditos think twice before having a go.


Posted at 1:27 PM | Comments (2)

October 16, 2005

Selat Sunda crossed OK

Left Anyer marina this morning at first light (5am) with the intention of cranking out the crossing to Sumatra before the wind picked up from the SW. Being my first solo crossing of a selat I was quite nervous, to the point of feeling sick as I paddled away from land towards Sangiang Island, 8 Nms away.

This section to the northern tip of Sangiang went so well with the tide still in my favour that I decided to forge ahead with the second half, even though I had provisioned for an overnight on Sangiang.

The second half didn't go so well.

As soon as I rounded the northern tip at 8am the wind picked up to 4-5 and white caps with good sized breaking waves started appearing. By this time it was too late to go back though. I was thanking my lucky stars that I'd put an extra three 10L Ortlieb water-bags on board to make the kayak more stable. With a total of 80 litres for ballast she never even flinched when the big waves crashed over us. What a fantastic little boat the Solstice is.

But the main problem I encountered, or rather didn't encounter, was the change in tide to a southerly drift which, after being told by everyone at the marina that it would kick in after high tide at 6.30am, never materialized. My route planning around the north of the island depended on this. So for the remainder of the 16 mile crossing I found myself beating back into the wind and current, and it wasn't long before I realised that all my upper-body fitness from 3-weeks of non-paddling had largely disappeared and I was getting tired very quickly. All the callouses on my hands built up over months of paddling from Dili to Java had disappeared also so my fingers hurt like anything!

Soon I was too far north to keep to my original heading and now into the ferry traffic lanes connecting Java and Sumatra. Being a relatively deep and wide selat compared to some of the others we've crossed, many large cargo ships and oil tankers use it to cross from one side of the archipelago to the other. So in addition to the east-west ferry traffic, I found myself dodging north-south traffic also. All in all a very stressful 4 and a half hours of paddling to get to the other side!

But it's over. And any selat crossing one walks away from is a good one.

Leaving tomorrow morning on the bike for Lampung, Sumatra, and onto Jambi over the next 10-days to meet up with our man Kenny around the 26th.

Posted at 3:10 PM

October 15, 2005

Eve of Selat Sunda Xing

Chris got away fine on the Pelni ferry from Jakarta to Batam. It was the usual scrum getting on with half of Indonesia elbowing their way up the gangplank with us, but at least he got away without a major hitch.

I finally got my passport back yesterday afternoon from the south Jakarta immigration office. They made me do two more laps of the office for final stamps, then a last hurrah trip down the street for a photocopy of my passport (which they already had three copies of). I guess once they reckon there's no more money to be squeezed out of someone they finally give in and give you your passport back. I sure will miss the old place. I've spent so much of my life there it was starting to feel like home.

Today I'm back in Anyer where the kayaks were shipped to from Bali. I was thinking about heading out in the afternoon across Selat Sunda, to take advantage of the relatively slight current before the full moon in just a few days changes that. But the wind kicked up to force 4-5 before midday, so instead I spent the day getting the single kayak ready with food and drinking water enough for 48 hours. It's only 15 miles across, a day's paddle, but I haven't paddled for 3 weeks so I have no idea how out of condition I am for that kind of activity, plus the wind may come up early again, so I'm provisioning for spending the night on Sangiang island - half way across.

This is a fascinating area steeped in history from the days of the spice trade and the harbours and trade centres that were set up by the Dutch VOC nearby at Banten and Jakatra (now Jakarta). Then there's the nearby legacy of the one of the most destructive events in recorded history: the explosion of Krakatoa volcano.

My day was spent working under a delightful 40-metre lighthouse built by Queen Wilhelmina of Holland in 1885 as a memorial to the 36,417 people that were killed, mainly from the gigantic tidal waves that, as in Banda Aceh in Dec 2004, erased entire regions off the map.

At 5.45am on August 27th, 1883, after 200 years of inactivity, Krakatoa's northern volcano of Perpuatan erupted. The tsunami wave that was created crashed into the town of Anyer here and completely razed it. At 10am the same morning the main explosion tore the entire island of Krakatoa apart, tremors being heard as far as the English Channel and off the coast of Alaska. One single tsunami as tall as a seven-story building raced outwards towards the coasts of Java and Sumatra traveling at 700 kph. Three hundred towns and villages were simply erased. The government gunboat 'Berouw' was lifted from the middle of Teluk Betung and carried 3km inland, before being deposited on a hill 10m above sealevel. The same waves reached south Africa in less than 3 hours and scuttled ships in Auckland harbour.

The aftermath impacted the rest of the world for years afterwards. Fine ash particles circling the globe lowered atmospheric temperatures by as much as 5 degree celcius in some areas. In July 1884, well over a year after the eruption, bones and skulls were washed ashore in Zanzibar in East Africa; they had been carried across the Indian Ocean on pumice stone rafts.

Posted at 3:03 PM

October 13, 2005

Back in Jakarta

LOCATION: Jakarta, Java

I was last here in April sorting out our visas. Things were chaotic then and judging by the number of hours recently spent stuck in traffic traveling around Indonesia's biggest city things haven't changed.


I submitted my application for a 3rd visa renewal on Monday. The immigration office in south Jakarta is a ramshackle building in a rundown part of town that you'd have to think twice about walking around in the day let alone after dark. Once inside the belly of the beast, with rows and rows of brown-uniformed clerks sitting at desks in lines up to 10 deep like something from Orwell's '1984', one is subject to a human pinball experience: that of getting bounced from one counter window to another; a rubber stamp here, a signature there. Each time a clerk proudly executing his or her duty by gracing one's application form with yet another blue stamp.

Just as I was thinking I'd get my passport back the same day plus extension I was told to come back on Wednesday. On Wednesday I was directed 10km across town to another office for another series of stamps. Still not passport though - 'Come back on Thursday'. Today (thurs) I was directed back across town to the original office, where I was sure I'd get my passport back, only to be told to.....come back tomorrow. Indonesians have a word for this that roughly translates to rubber time. I any getting to know the meaning of this word quite well.

Local people have told me they're just giving me the 'run-around' until I part with more cash. But coming from a culture where bribing is almost non-existant, it's not something I altogether find easy to engineer with any degree of subtlelty.


One good thing has come out of the whole deal though. Today I got to drive my own taxi around Jakarta.

The taxi that I got into to get to the immigration office (for the umpteenth time) was skippered by a driver that had not the slightest idea of how to drive or where he was going. Even after consulting my map (he might as well have been looking at the stars) and having it turned the right way up for him at least three times, we still continued happily bunny-hopping along in 5th gear and in totally the wrong direction. I then asked if I could drive which he obligingly agree to!

I wonder if I'd get the same response asking a London taxi driver or New York cabbie if I could drive? Maybe not.

Posted at 3:13 PM

October 11, 2005

On the mend + Jakarta Logisitics

LOCATION: Anyer, Java

Chris and I rolled into the marina in the far west Javanese town of Anyer on Sunday, completing the Java-by-bike section. April unfortunately missed out and went straight to Jakarta from Bogor. Tonight she's actually flying to Singapore and then back to the US tomorrow. She's still on the Cipro (as is Chris who seems to be %100 better) and is about 85% better. She'll hopefully give Dr Sharon Kessler a call when she gets back and get some advice from a tropical disease specialist colleague of hers.

Chris is also heading out of the field here shortly, taking a ferry to the island of Batam this Friday and then hopping across to Singapore to catch his flight on the 17th. He'll be a day over his visa expiry, incurring a $20 US penalty by Indonesian immigration. But this is still cheaper than buying a flight from Jakarta to Singapore to get out earlier.

So I'll be on my Ronnie Todd here pretty shortly, at least until Kenny catches up in Jambi around the 25th to film the final section kayaking to Singapore for the documentary series. I plan to leave here Thursday once I get my passport back from immigration tomorrow pm. With a day to prep the single I'll make the dash across Selat Sunda Friday to Sumatra, then bike the 660 miles to Jambi before Kenny arrives. If all goes according to plan this leg of the expedition will wrap up in Singapore around the 16th Nov.

Feeling pretty travel weary right now. Tired of complicated logistics, Indonesian bureacracy and just the chaos, noise, grime and confusion of West Java and in particular Jakarta. Both Chris and I are finding ourselves on pretty short fuses at the moment. It's time to step away from all this and regroup. Not long now...

Another bomb went off last night in Jakarta, not far from where we are staying. Seems like there are a lot of bombs in Indonesia at the moment...

Posted at 4:19 PM

October 7, 2005

Plague in Town

LOCATION: Bogor, Java

The plague has hit expedition camp with both Chris and April laid out horizontal the past 48 hours, possibly with the same illness.

The visit to the local doctor here in Bogor by April and I the day before yesterday proved inconclusive, not least because we couldn't communicate properly with the Doctor due to language problems, and the examination had to be supervised by a female nurse which added a further layer of complexity.


It also turned out that they didn't have the equipment to test her blood for classic Dengue Fever anyway, instead making just a visual inspection of the blood vessels in her arm for evidence of the more serious, and potentially fatal, hemorrhagic version, which we at least now know she doesn't have.


But with Chris coming down with similar symptoms, those of chronic diarrhea, fever and muscle and joint fatigue, it lends weight to the theory that this is perhaps an intestinal infection (that Chris has now caught off April) rather than Dengue. But nothing seemed any clearer this morning and seeing as April has had this on and off for the past 9-days, it was time for another approach.


This morning I decided to phone our 'on-call' expedition doc Sharon Kessler in Pueblo, Colorado for advice. I first made her acquaintance remotely (via satphone) on the Pacific ocean with what turned out to be blood poisoning from infected salt sores (which she diagnosed from 8,000 miles away - not bad!). So it was fitting that her expertise in remote patient care be employed again, and ironically her advice, as on the Pacific all those years ago, was to put both April and Chris on the broad spectrum antibiotic 'Cipro' that our friends Johnny and Julie Andron kindly bought on the cheap in Mexico earlier this year.


A real downer of a way for both April and Chris to end their respective trips. But it is what it is, and I suppose we have to be thankful of small mercies that no one got sick in any of the really remote areas of Indonesia we've been traveling through these past 5-months.

Chris will try biking with me to the west coast of Java tomorrow, but having been unable to hold anything in for so long he may not have the energy to make the last 160kms by Sunday evening. April has decided wisely to retire to Jakarta tomorrow rather than risk further dehydration, and spend her last few days resting up and getting packed ready for her flight to Singapore Tuesday evening.

Posted at 12:31 PM | Comments (3)

October 5, 2005

Bogor in the Rain

LOCATION: Bogor, Java

We spoke to Craig Huddleston (who has been hugely helpful assisting with kayak storage in Bali and onward shipping) this morning and were relieved to hear that not only were his family all safe after the bombs at Jimbaran Beach on Bali (they live just a stone's throw from where they went off), but the local neighbourhood has pretty much got back on it's feet already. I don't know how much this is fighting talk from Craig, but I do find it refreshing to hear of people just getting on with life as normal and not giving the terrorists the attention, both at the individual and mass media level, that they seek with their revolting actions and unfortunately so often end up getting...


Anyway! We're in Bogor, in the rain, on the first day of Ramadhan, so it's been a killer finding a beer around here the past 24 hours. This is the first day of a month of fasting for Muslims here in Indonesia (I assume all over the world?), and it's even bad form to be seen eating in public. So April and I found ourselves sneaking into the local botanical gardens this afternoon (first started by Sir Stamford Raffles who took up residence here in 1811) to snaffle bananas out of sight behind the stand of giant bamboo.


April has had a relapse of her illness, prompting a second trip to the hospital this morning. Having pulled off some info from the internet I was getting concerned she was showing all the symptoms of Dengue Fever (fever, headache, aching joints and muscles), but the doctor dispelled this possibility with a test, so it looks like a recurrent stomach infection. Lots of rest and fluids are the key we hope.


Before leaving Cilacap we had a chance to check out the old Dutch fort there (promised my father I'd put something about the Dutch presence here!). Overlooking the sea, 'Bendeng Pendem', as its now called, was built between 1863 and 1875 to defend the deep water harbour against the English and Portuguese. Though rather neglected and overgrown, the exterior of the fort is in a good state of repair compared to most on the island of Java, with fortifications, barrack-rooms and even the former surgery intact. There is even a tunnel leading out the sea that was unfortunately flooded while were there preventing further exploration.



Having had a day off today to recover from an exhausting climb over the mountain just to the east of Bogor (haven't got the map in front of me for the name), we set off tomorrow for the final 2-days to 'Anyer' on the NW coast where this leg of the bike trip will end. The kayaks are being trucked from Jimbaran Beach as we speak, and we hope will coincide with our arrival sometime on Saturday. The cost of a dedicated truck plus driver ended up being $600 USD, a third more than was originally quoted due to diesel and petrol prices having soared 100% on October first. It is such a large amount of the remaining budget for this leg of the expedition that I was seriously considering renting a car and getting them myself. But the week that this would take, plus the stress of driving on Indonesian roads and the risk of someone driving into the back of the kayaks loaded on the roof of the hirecare, had me revert to plan A.


We'll then back-track to Jakarta on Sunday, ready for to hit the immigration office first thing on Monday morning for my third visa renewal and for Chris and April to prepare themselves for their respective journeys back home on Tuesday.

Posted at 12:52 PM

October 1, 2005

Bombs in Bali + Mick's boat Reach

LOCATION: Cilacap, Java

Just read the news about the bombs in Bali, at least one at the tiny community of Jimbaran Beach where we were based less than 2-weeks ago. Hope our friends the Huddlestons are OK? Doesn't seem to be a lot of news about it yet but it sounds like one of the bombs went off at the seafood restaurant area just a few feet from where we were staying. Hard to believe, not least because the majority of people we saw eating there were local Indonesians rather than tourists.

Today we biked to the coastal town of Cilacap in search of Mick Bird's oars. Mick found himself having to make an emergency landfall here in the summer of 2001 while rowing his boat 'Reach' from Thursday Island, Australia to Madagascar off the coast of E. Africa. But without a cruising permit he lost everything to the local harbour police.

Being a Saturday I thought perhaps all the relevant harbour offices would be closed. They were. But when I asked the security at the harbour entrance if they knew of anything about Mick Bird's boat they seemed to know exactly what I was talking about.

There then followed a wild goose chase around town in search of an outboard motor mechanic who was supposedly the man to speak to about this. When finally we were sitting in the front room of his house with chickens and small children running around our feet, I explained the situation; that I was a friend of Mick's and that we were looking for the oars from his boat 'Reach'. A few minutes elapsed after which the paddle from a dugout canoe was produced. "No, I need the original" I said. There was another pause, during which someone was again despatched into the local neighbourhood.

At this time I thought it helpful, to avoid any more confusion, to draw a picture, which I did of a stick figure of Mick rowing Reach and of one of his oars, with the figure of '3 metres' beside it. The mechanic in turn took the pencil from my hand and drew a picture of a saucepan of rice with a fire underneath it.

"Oh, so they're being used to stir large pots of rice?" I offered with rising hope.

He stabbed his finger at the fire underneath. It was then that the realization dawned that they'd been chopped up for firewood.

"Well, is there anything left of the boat, for a memento?" I asked.

"No. An old man is using the cabin as a chair. He is very old so we don't want to disturb him."

Clearly there was nothing to be salvaged, even with a $100 reward for an original set of oars up for grabs. Sorry Mick. Guess the old girl is up in the big boat yard in the sky.

Posted at 2:20 PM | Comments (5)