Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The big OE - Day 1 Langkawi to Kuala Lumpur.

Hi to everyone,
The start of this blog is being written as we sit in Starbucks at Langkawi Airport waiting for our Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur. We still have two and a half hours to take-off time. This morning we were up early before dawn which isn't hard here with the ridiculous defacto daylight saving that exists in NW Malaysia. Finished last minute chores for leaving the boat - lowering the front awning to try and prevent rain water entering our 2 small round ports, turning off 4 seacocks which are laboriously accessed from the engine bilge and by delving into the storage spaces under the V-berth. All these jobs must be done at the last minute because once the seacocks are turned off you can't use the galley sink or the head.
Last night Lee and Richard of "Before" very kindly drove us to Mangoes for dinner as the boat was by then devoid of food. We had the usual gastronomic meal and we had a very pleasant and cordial time in the company of Richard and Lee.
Yesterday we made the annoying discovery that the pump (now 9 years old) which pumps the shower waste water overboard had started leaking directly into the bilge which at least has solved one issue for us. It explains the buildup of bilge water which had been worrying us because we couldn't find the cause. Hopefully we can get the necessary parts to fix the pump in Miami.
We've asked Paul Brennan who looks after boats in the RLYC marina during their owners' absences to also look after our old girl. Main thing is to flush the watermaker membrane with fresh water twice a week so we've left a list of instructions!
So much to do with leaving a boat for any length of time - emptying the fridge and freezer for one - and Jean always insists on spring cleaning which is good because it lessens the risk of mould growth. And we have sent our aircon away for servicing so we are relying on fans only to move air around. And it's the start of the wet season here now so dampness is definitely an issue. However, fortunately it's much cooler.
It rained heavily all last night which made for a damp start but at least the rain has stopped for now so we have been able to get off the boat and get a taxi to the airport in a relatively dry state.
We must make mention of the Moslem women in full black Burkhas. They are generally tourists from the Middle East (Saudi Arabia in particular) because the local Moslem women usually only wear headscarves, some of which are definite fashion statements and often they go with tight jeans and tops. So much for Moslem modesty! The other day when we were in Starbucks at the Jeti, there was a Moslem couple who it turned out were visiting from Saudi. He had shorts and a T-shirt while she was in a full Burkha. She had the most gorgeous eyelashes which indeed was the only part of her which was visible. While her husband was getting their coffee, Jean engaged her in conversation (as she does!) and said she was admiring her eyelashes! Were they real? Yes she said they were and we suppose that as that is the only feminine attribute she is allowed to show, she lavished some attention on them. She certainly wouldn't have talked to Jim and when her husband approached she withdrew from any contact with Jean as well. Still, she seemed cheerful enough and spoke excellent educated English. We simply cannot understand how otherwise intelligent women could allow themselves to be treated as second class persons and be virtually nonentities - as invisible as possible in their black Burkhas.
And we particularly notice young girls as young as 7 or so who are already wearing headscarves. It seems such an infringement of personal freedom but of course when they get them so young by the time they are young adults they are completely brainwashed and accept all this nonsense without question. One of the office staff in the marina was quite proud of the fact that her young daughter had just started wearing the headscarve as some sort of ritualistic religious passage.
Anyway, we had an uneventful flight to Kuala Lumpur. We landed at the Air Asia terminal and Jean was amazed at just how much had changed since she was last there a year ago on her way to Miami via Heathrow. Shops everywhere and many restaurants. Bought a new knee support at a Guardian pharmacy as Jean had left hers on the boat! Eventually found the Tune Hotel which is the only hotel within walking distance - it is owned by Air Asia. It's a budget hotel, very new and clean and comfortable. There was a reasonable restaurant so that's where we ate as we couldn't face searching out anything better. We'd packed 3 x 100ml. plastic bottles of Famous Grouse and finished those off in short order - then collapsed into bed after a very long day.
Day 2 - up early as we wanted to get to the Turkish Airlines checkin counter to get good seats. The flight was leaving at 1150. Mediocre breakfast at 0600 at the Tune Hotel restaurant (the Malaysians simply can't cook and routinely ruin good food in our opinion! And Malaysian eggs are tasteless - don't know what they feed or don't feed the chickens). Then we eventually found the train to the international terminal (KLIA). Getting directions in Malaysia anywhere together with confusing or non existent signage soon manages to alter one's mood for the worse. Then after all our efforts, we arrived at the checkin desks at 0800 only to find that they didn't open until an hour later! Managed to cool our heels and took it in turns to wander around. We changed most of the Ringgits we had left for 300 Turkish Lira. Then the counters opened but we couldn't get bulkhead or exit row seats as they are reserved for mothers with young children or very tall people. Still, as it turned out on the aircraft the legroom was not too bad. Had 2 very good fruit smoothies after we'd checked through immigration and security which was worryingly lax. We didn't have anything contentious but Jean contrasted it with Heathrow where they insisted on physically checking the bag contents. Malaysia really is a worry in that respect; terrorists would find it so easy to mount an attack there and the Malaysians wouldn't know what had hit them.
We took off on time and headed off on a NW heading. Before we left the ground we were given a Turkish Delight which was a nice touch. Saw Pangkor as we cleared the coast. The meal we were served (chicken for Jim and vegetarian Lasagna for Jean) was easily the best airline meal we'd had in many a long year. So far Turkish Airlines are very impressive.
This part of the blog is being written as we traverse the Arabian Sea just south of the Pakistani coast. Jean has found an empty 4 seat row so has pulled up the armrests and had a much needed sleep. Jim meanwhile has been staring out the window but unfortunately for most of the way across the Bay of Bengal and indeed as we crossed the Indian coast north of Chennai there was very thick cloud. We detoured to the south of the Nicobar Islands - not sure whether that was due to weather or Indian security - maybe a military exercise going on. India prohibits yachts from going there whereas the Andamans further north and also Indian owned are often visited. After a fitful sleep woke to find us over western India just south east of Pune and later Mumbai. Visibility had returned and it was possible to see how dry and arid the country looked. Earlier we had passed just south of Hyderabad and the country looked terrible. Unremitting aridity and brown as far as you could see. Made one feel very sad for the people living in that climate in which by recent accounts temperatures have exceeded 50 degrees C. For instance we noticed a smallish lake with an outlet to a substantially wide riverbed. The water from the outlet, such as it was, had dried to nothing in a very short distance. New Zealanders with their seemingly endless water supply should stop and reflect just how lucky they are. Didn't actually see Mumbai as we were too far south but what was noticeable (especially to those of a nautical frame of mind!) was quite a heavy surf on the west coast - but of course the SW monsoon is now in the beginning stage. One can only hope that eventually it will bring much needed rain to all those parched areas.
We have now just crossed the Pakistani coast west of Karachi and it is also parched beyond belief. No doubt it's "normal" in this part of the world but one can see many completely dried up rivers. Nowhere near as much evidence of habitation as was visible passing over India. Just looked out the window at where a substantial river has carved a gorge through a small range of hills and it is completely dry. How it is possible to exist there we cannot imagine.
It looks like we soon pass over Iran and Iraq (south of Afghanistan) so hopefully there aren't any trigger happy characters down there armed with anti aircraft missiles a la Ukraine. All being well, this blog and this stage of our journey will be finished from Istanbul.
Well, we safely arrived at Istanbul (Constantinople) half an hour late. This was due to us having to maintain a holding pattern over and around the city due to heavy traffic in and out of Ataturk Airport. It gave us great views of the city and the shores of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus which separates Asia from Europe, and on whose shores Gallipoli is situated. We had flown over Iran and then skirted the northern boundary of Iraq - no doubt due to security concerns. There must be much greater awareness of flying over war zones since the Malaysian airliner was shot down over Ukraine. Interesting to see the high altitude country in eastern Turkey with many snow capped mountains even now in early summer. There are many lakes in this region too, a couple of which are soda lakes with very high salinity and alkalinity.
Ataturk Airport was unremarkable except that there appear to be no foreign airlines operating there. All the aircraft are either the Turkish Government owned Turkish Airlines or its domestic subsidiaries. By the time we landed at 1800 local time after an almost 12 hour flight it was already midnight as far as our body clocks were concerned so we were feeling somewhat jaded! We had arranged a pickup from the airport which is on the European side of the Bosphorus and it was a half hour trip to the hotel (Golden Crown) on the Asian side. Very glad to get there and the room is a bit old and jaded (like us!!) but clean and comfortable. We walked a short distance up the road to have a meal at a local restaurant which was excellent and then came back to the hotel about 2100 when we fell into bed exhausted. Slept like logs.
Lotsaluv from us..........
Jim and Jean

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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Langkawi onwards and preparing for the big OE

Hi to all,
We hope that this finds everyone well and enjoying life.
Another blog is coming on; we feel it in our bones. Well, maybe that's not quite right; it's Jim's bones that feel it most!
Life in Langkawi carries on much as before - even to the extent that life is fairly mundane of late. The only newsworthy item is that we almost killed a motorcyclist, or rather he almost killed himself! It was dusk near Matsirat when he appeared on our left with no lights on a multi lane highway when we were doing close to 80 kph and then he drove right in front of us. We stood on the brakes in our little pedal car (a Malaysian built Proton) and fortunately the road was dry so we skidded more or less in a straight line. How we missed him we don't know but he then continued in front of us across the median strip, came off his bike and then stood up again. He was probably on P which is at least as much a serious problem here as it is in NZ. So, lucky that nothing was coming the other way otherwise he would have been dead. Anyway, when we saw that he had survived, we continued on our merry way because if you stop in these circumstances you get involved in endless arguments with the Police. As a foreigner you are automatically at fault and are subject to fines and repairs to the other vehicle. If you are a foreigner this is what happens, so it's far better to leave them if there's no obvious serious injury and get on with it, especially if they are blatantly at fault as in this case.
The acupuncture has stopped meantime as the doctor is in NZ at an acupuncture conference in Auckland. But Jean's knee is largely cured although she needs to maintain her exercise regime, which as anyone who knows her will atest, that's exactly what she's doing!
On the foodie front, we discovered a fish and chip restaurant (Scarborough's) the other day out at Tanjung Rhu. Excellent, right on the beach and a very good Chilean chardonnay to go with it. We met a very pleasant Malaysian couple there (Angela is of Chinese/Malay - Nyonya - descent and Leonard's ancestry is Indian). Angela is marketing manager for Bodyshop and based in Kuala Lumpur. Leonard is in the IT business. We had a great chat and hope to see them in KL in the future.
Mangoes with its ex yachtie owners (Michelle and Lutz) remains a firm favourite as well. Undoubtedly Mangoes is the best restaurant on Langkawi that we have been to. Mangoes would be the dearest but definitely worth every ringgit. Wine, entrees and excellent mains plus Michelle's incomparable Pavlova work out to around 140 ringgits for 2 and that's the equivalent of NZD51. In spite of that and needless to say, we don't go there every day. It's at least a 30 minute drive from the marina.
With Michelle being an Aussie, there has also been an on-going discussion about the origins of the Pavlova. However, we haven't got onto Phar Lap yet and we definitely won't mention underarm bowling!! But the All Blacks and the Black Caps of late - that's another matter.
We have been to a seafood restaurant, the Wonderland Food Store in Kuah several times now but of late it has disappointed. Especially the last 2 visits when Jean had definite signs of MSG poisoning in spite of reminding them every time we go there NOT to put MSG in the food! They get extremely busy and we think the communication between waiters and kitchen breaks down. We'll probably have to stand over them in the kitchen next time we go! If there's a next time. The Red Tomato in Cenang Beach is a bit pricey being on the tourist strip but for the most part has very good food. The mushrooms in warm olive oil with loads of fresh garlic and lots of bread to soak up the olive oil is to die for. The Goulash soup is pretty good too. These other restaurants are around 60 ringgits max. and that's equivalent to NZD18 for 2!! You wouldn't even get an entree for that in Auckland.
Yesterday we had the fun job of cleaning the bilge. This boat, being a long keel type, has a very deep bilge at the after end which means that you have to reach down quite a way and it is difficult to support one's upper body at times. On top of that we had to have the aircon off as the unit sits on top of one of the bilge hatches and of course it had to be moved out of the way. We were thankful when it was finished. It's not all beer and skittles and chardonnay in the cockpit - this cruising life!!
As this blog is being written, Jean is cleaning the galley. This involves a bottle brush down the sides of the stove and thorough cleaning of all the fiddly bits all around. She is hard to please (must be due to her earlier life as a nurse) so the operation is not a quick one.
Apart from all that, we are cleaning and generally preparing the boat for when we leave for 2 months at the end of this month. We have had a fairly long list but it is gradually getting whittled down. Not many sleeps now. Then it's off to Istanbul on May 30th. for 3 days, Miami until 6th. July then Medellin until 25th. July. We finally leave Miami on 2nd. August after a final 9 days in Miami. We go via Istanbul because that's the way Turkish Airlines goes to Miami where Jean will be joyously reunited with Perry, Tracie, Carter and Nash. And will be good to catch up with Tracie's Mum Lorraine and her stepfather, Alan. And she is looking forward to seeing the boys' Mexican nanny, Rosa again. Hola Rosa! Com esta? Medellin (City of the Eternal Spring) is on our list of possible places to settle and live in the future, so as it is only a 3 hour flight from Miami, we couldn't not go there. Our main criteria are good healthy climate (which rules out hot tropical places), affordable cost of living, and quality and affordable healthcare. Medellin is very near the Equator but being at 5,000 feet, it has a constant temperature in the mid 20's C all year round. There will be lots in future blogs about all this we can promise you!
Speaking of affordable health care, we were horrified at the cost of travel insurance to visit the USA. So far we have only visited countries with good but affordable health care and so have carried our own insurance. But a triple heart by-pass (not that we are planning one of those!)in the States is at least USD140,000, whereas in NZ it's USD70,000 and here in Malaysia USD11,000. No doubt even cheaper in India with arguably far better professional care than any of the other countries mentioned. But when visiting the States you cannot take the risk of having no insurance because the costs would be ruinous. So, we have it at an approximate cost of NZD29 per day. Even this is averaged down by the time we will be spending out of the States. Next year when we are 70 we will be economically uninsurable so this will be our last trip to Uncle Sam's place. Perry has suggested that we will have to meet in some half way house which is affordable such as Turkey, Portugal, Colombia, Ecuador, Malaysia, Thailand or Nicaragua! And when the boat is sold we will then be semi settled for approximately 3-6 month periods before deciding on a permanent home.
Life at the Royal Langkawi Yacht Club remains good. Apart from the odd annoying roll that sets up whenever one of the Penang or Satun (Thailand) or Perlis ferries goes past at 20 knots!! It is a great pity about the restaurant here (Charlie's) but as we've said before it is overpriced and the food at best only very mediocre. Anyway, we hire a car twice a week and then we can satisfy all our culinary expectations! Apart from that we cook on the boat and Malaysian smoked duck, NZ lamb loin chops and lamb shanks feature on the menu quite often. We save eating fish, squid and prawns for when we eat out as a rule. Veges are not the greatest. There is a daily market that we go to whenever we have the car but, although cheaper than Whangarei, it is nowhere near as good. And we can't give cheek to our favourite Kumara grower! Here there are some green fresh veges but they are local and don't appeal to Jim much! However, there are Chinese carrots, brocolli and garlic and a selection of frozen veges from Pok Bros. (our frozen food supplier). Brussels sprouts and leaf spinach from Belgium in the main - not to mention made in Italy pizzas at just under 14 ringgits (NZD5.10). Local sweet potatoes and the ordinary variety from Holland. Onions from China. Strawberries from the Cameron Highlands here in Malaysia and sometimes Korea. Much sweeter than the NZ equivalent. Fruit is reasonable, but nowhere near as plentiful, varied and with the quality of Thailand. There are Chilean grapes, Egyptian and Aussie oranges and Pakistani mandarins. No NZ apples or Kiwifruit that we've seen yet but some from France and a few Aussie apples. Anchor brand butter though but that's all in the way of dairy from downunder. Danish and Aussie cheeses and Swiss yoghurt. What is the matter with Fonterra??
We originally arrived up here in May 2014 when we hauled out with Popeye Marine at Krabi Boat Lagoon, so we've been here for 2 years. During that time we've been to Phuket and Phang Nga Bay. The only area around here that we still haven't seen is the west coast of southern Thailand as far as the Burmese border. All being well, we may do that early next year. Apart from that we have voyaged between Langkawi and Thailand (Krabi or Phuket) 4 times now so have got to know it tolerably well. But thoughts of long distance passage making are definitely very far from our minds now. Hence putting the old girl on the market. Having said that, if we do ship her from Phuket to Turkey next year, we will at some stage need to cover shortish distances in the Mediterranean that will necessarily involve some overnight sailing. Still, we can psyche ourselves into that when the time comes.
We are still trying to evaluate hauling out options for November but the yard here, although managed by a very knowledgeable and personable Aussie, simply doesn't give us any information. They promise but nothing happens. Doesn't bode well for future confidence. When we return we will be going to Penang to evaluate a yard there that we have reasonable hopes of. But at this stage we still cannot get into Straits Quay Marina because they still haven't dredged so we would either have to fly or go by ferry. Anyway, it's only 60 miles so no great hardship.
The problem with Langkawi seems to be that everyone has gone troppo and no-one wants to bestir themselves. We've already experienced this same problem at Rebak last year so we must be tigers for punishment. Maybe in Thailand they're a bit troppo as well because we have been having on-going issues with our fridge and freezer since they were both totally rebuilt in Phuket and then re-fitted back in Krabi. Nobody wants to take responsibility. Probably some banging of heads together could be in order. We can't haulout again at Krabi because of the still unresolved personnel issues around their engineering services so it looks like Satun in Thailand again or maybe Penang. Again, watch this space.
Well, that's it for now - thank goodness we hear you say!!
With lots of love and all best wishes from us..........
Jim and Jean

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