Merry Christmas and a Happy 2002 from Long Passages in Malaysia
This has been a fascinating year for us, with a few peeks into some of the exotic countries of the Far East – we’d like to share a few highlights.
Lunar New Year
It was a wonderful experience to witness this time of the year in Singapore! The streets were full of decorations, Chinatown sold a bewildering array of unusual food, (pressed duck that looked like road-kill preserved in wax) and lion dances were everywhere. At our marina a lion dance troupe performed the traditional dance where the lion sniffs around the building, finds offerings of lettuce over the front door and of oranges inside the lobby. After munching the oranges (and a few beers) the orange segments are laid out in a traditional Chinese pattern of Good Fortune.
We trained for 6 weeks for a trek to the Everest region of Nepal – good thing! This was a incredible experience from our arrival in Kathmandu to our final shopping spree at Bhakatapur.
Kathmandu is a fascinating city, alive with street hawkers, merchants with bright rugs, Internet cafes, and loads of backpackers. The streets are dirty, the water undrinkable, and the air is polluted but we loved it.
Lukla - the jump-off point for Mt. Everest climbs from Nepal. We arrived by Russian helicopter at an airstrip perched on a steep slope that seemed suicidal for normal aircraft. Sherpas and trekkers wander thru the stone streets and pick over souvenirs and used expedition gear looking for bargains while yaks carry heavy loads thru the town. Thus began 2 weeks of trekking and sleeping in 2-man tents.
Namche Bazaar - a trading crossroads between Nepal and Tibet, and we reached it huffing and puffing after a long day’s climb. Although it seems to be at the end of the world, satellite dishes grace a few buildings and Snickers bars can be had at US prices. From the hill above our lodge we had spectacular views of Mt. Everest!
Gokyo Ri – our destination for this trek, we set out at 0400 for the ‘assault’ on this 17,600’ peak and after 4 hours of plodding, we congratulated ourselves on a good day’s work as we celebrated Judi’s birthday. Cameras snapped views of Mt. Everest in the distance.
Tengboche Monastery – This is traditionally the place where Everest climbers rest and meditate before the big climb ahead. It was an awe-inspiring spot where backpackers mix with monks following 1000-year old traditions.Web-Site Development
With a little time on our hands, we decided to learn a little about the new technology and so we designed and built a web site. We hope to capture our memories as well as provide information to other cruisers and travelers. Three months of design and writing resulted inwww.longpassages.org and we hope that anyone with interest in any of the places we have traveled will visit it, and give us some feedback! We try to update a journal at least weekly, and more often when we are cruising.
After several months in the Chinese atmosphere of Singapore, we decided to see the real thing, and set off for a month in China. The country is developing very quickly and the people were warm and friendly.
Beijing is the mother of all tourist destinations! It has temples galore, palaces, a mausoleum where Chairman Mao rises each morning, and of course The Great Wall! McDonald’s and KFC flourish along side the many street vendors.
Xian – the site of the pottery soldiers, aka Terra Cotta Warriors that were unearthed in the late 70’s. The effort involved in making the soldiers and the underground buildings must have been amazing.
Yangtse – we took a 5-day cruise up the Yangtse river and marveled at the beauty of the gorges and the industry of the Chinese people as they build the largest dam in the world to pacify this great river. 1.5 M people will be moved from drab Mao-era buildings to modern high-rises as the water level rises 300’.
Leshan/Emeishan – we took trains and buses to visit several small cities and experienced a little Chinese culture, including Mah Jong lessons and afternoon at a tea-house while the men in blue Mao-suits chatted thru the afternoon.
Zhangjiajie is a nature area with steep karsts and peaks and stunning scenery. It provided an opportunity to practice our sign language since there were no English signs, and only 1 person at the hotel spoke our languge.
Guilin/Yangshuo – returning to the tourist areas frequented by Westerners, this was a welcome change. Guilin has many beautiful peaks along its river-front, and Yangshuo was a cute pack-packer destination with quaint cafes and flat terrain that was easy to see from our rental bikes.
Preparations to Cruise –
After 6 months of travel it was time to spruce up our trusty yacht to prepare for the trip north to Thailand. Some of the things we did included:
Replaced Galley counters – we removed the old Formica counter-tops and replaced them with Corian – much prettier and easy to clean.
Iridium – to take advantage of new technology we acquired an Iridium satellite telephone handset; good for checking email at sea as well as maintaining our web-site. It also will provide us with a line of communication in an emergency for a not-too-outrageous cost.
Sun Awnings – Judi sewed a new set to replace the ones that had served us well for 10 years (but blew apart in a squall while we were in Nepal).
Inmarsat C – another electronic gadget, this one to receive weather information and warnings. We bought it on eBay for a good price, but by the time the dust started to settle (it is not all down yet) it had delayed our departure by 2-3 weeks and is not up and running.
Early November we headed north, with a goal of reaching Thailand by December. We had not counted on the many places to see along the Malaysian coast nor on the friendliness of the people. We coast-hopped with friends on the 50’ schooner Voyager. Some of the places we have visited:
Pulau Pisang –a short hop from Singapore, this peaceful anchorage turned nasty at 1 AM when a storm came though with 30 knot winds and 3’ seas that threatened to dislodge our anchor.
Port Dickson is a comfortable marina/resort with a cool pool and nice pub for our sundowners. Lots of cruisers hang out there for a whole season.
Melaka – an hour’s drive south of Port Dickson, this is a town with a lot of history. Controlled at times by Portugal, Holland, and the UK it has memories of all of them. Quaint townhouses front the river while a crumbling cathedral overlooks the entire city. Antique shops sell all manner of Malaysian and Chinese goods.
Kuala Lampur – The capital of Malaysia is a modern city, similar to Singapore in many ways with shiny skyscrapers, modern hotels, wide avenues, and mega-malls. We stayed in Chinatown, a crowded enclave where you can buy the latest movie on DVD for $2, a ‘real-fake’ Rolex for $25 and Gucci bags for any price you want to pay. We visited a restored traditional Malaysian house on stilts and found the architecture to be marvelous. The Petronas Towers, by some measure the tallest in the wold, were a somber reminder of the events of September 11th. We returned to the boat by train, a commuter line that was cheap and comfortable.
Port Klang – for yachties this is a comfortable stop at the busiest port in Malaysia and a chance to sip cocktails on the veranda of the Royal Selangor Yacht Club. The strong currents in the anchorage and trash-filled water encouraged us to move on the next day.
Langkawi – a duty-free resort island with several wonderful anchorages, we have stayed far longer than planned. A cruising community has grown up here that stays year after year, venturing out to Thailand, the Maldives, Chagos, and the Andaman islands. We are currently tucked into the Rebak Marina Resort with a nice pool and the Hard Dock Café where dinner and a beer will set you back $2.50. The most exercise we get is strolling with the Hash House Harriers on their Friday run/beer blast.
Culture – Malaysia has a very multi-ethnic culture, with the majority being Muslims, and a good mix of Chinese, Indians, and a few Westerners. The people are warm and friendly and very honest – we do not fear for ourselves or our goods here. Pricing is fair, and you do not have to bargain for everything like we did in China. Since Islam is the state religion, much of the day is dedicated to the 5 prayer periods which are announced on the radio and via loudspeaker from the mosques round the country.
We had originally intended to move onto the Red Sea this year (just like last year), but with the uncertainty following the 11 September attacks and the many places still to see, we plan one more year in SE Asia. We will cruise the waters of Thailand, take an overland trip to Cambodia, and select from possible trips to Tibet, Myanmar, Borneo, Vietnam, and back to Nepal.
We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and the Best of a New Year in 2002. Anyone that is interested can follow what we are doing at www.longpassages.org and please write or email.
Bob & Judi