Thursday, 30 December 2010

Christmas in Singapore

Thursday 23 December: Accommodation in Singapore is expensive so I'm staying in a fan-cooled dorm at the wonderfully named Cosy Corner Backpacker's Hostel.
Friday 25: I buy myself a new camera as a Christmas present, the old one is held together with duck tape. After a simple lunch I find myself spending a small fortune in The Long bar in Raffles Hotel where, avoiding the bright pink Singapore Slings, I savour the draft Tiger beer, eating peanuts and littering the floor with their husks. This is the only place in strict Singapore where littering is actually encouraged. No littering, No gum chewing, No jaywalking, No graffiti - all these granny state restrictions make you want to spit, but of course, you can't do that either. That said, despite the cost, I do like Singapore for its cleanliness and order but could I live here, I'd rather not - it's a cross between Milton Keynes and Canary Wharf.

Monday 27: Having searched malls and precincts for a few days I finally buy myself a lap-top computer, a major expense on my budget. After all, this is what people do in Singapore - shopping, and gadgets here are tax free. Not so alcohol, so it's time to look for a duty free enclave to celebrate the New Year.
Photographs of Singapore.

Monday, 27 December 2010

The voyage to Malaysia

Friday 17 December: It's an early morning goodbye to the Bandas as I board the Pelni liner KM Ciremai for the six-day cruise westward to the port of Kijang on Bintan island, a short hop from Malaysia and Christmas. Arriving at Ambon at 3:00pm I jump ship to send Christmas e-mails and I'm lucky to get back on board just before she sails at 5:00pm (I was told 6:00pm). Three young lads don't quite make it ashore in time and have to throw their mobiles to catchers on the dock, plunge in and swim ashore. I just love it.
Saturday 18: My first-class cabin is comfortable and I have it all to myself. At noon we dock at Bau Bau on Sulawesi, this time in daylight. I would like to go ashore but dare not risk it - one hoot is an hour to departure, two is half an hour and three is ten minutes - I must remember this.
Sunday 19: At 6:00am Makassar too is in daylight and a tug shoves us into place. In the afternoon the ship's alarm sounds off. The crew go through the drill but all the passengers, except one, ignore it. My life jacket fits but the light and whistle are missing.

Monday 20: At midday we reach Surabaya on Java and as usual the porters are the first to scramble aboard, fighting and shoving to be first.
Tuesday 21: At lunchtime we arrive in Tanjung Priok, the port of Jakarta. It's a seven-hour stop over so I take the number 14 bus into the city centre for a chicken tikka lunch and an ice cold Bintang beer, yes! There is no alcohol on Pelni ships.
Wednesday 22: We finally arrive in Kijang just before midnight where I get a bemo or shared minibus to Tanjung Pinang, Bintan Island's main town and fast-ferry port for Malaysia.
Thursday 23: "Sorry Sir, all of today's ferries to Malaysia are full . . . "
Fortunately, a few seats are available on the fast two-hour ferry to Singapore, so that's where I'll spend Christmas. There are worse places in the world, but few more expensive.
Photos of the voyage to Singapore.

Friday, 24 December 2010

The Banda Islands

Thursday 9 December: An eight-hour cruise on the Pelni liner KM Lambela takes me to Ambon where I have a three-day wait to board the KM Ciremai bound for the remote volcanic Banda Islands.
Monday 13: Finally the Ciremai docks at Bandaneria, Banda's main port, and I head for the Dutch colonial style Delfika Guesthouse.
Tuesday 14: Very quiet, very colonial with a Dutch fort and, I'm told, great snorkeling but my foot's too painful to put on flippers so I give it a miss, pity.
Until the mid 19th century the Banda Islands were the world's only source of nutmeg and today nutmeg jam for breakfast is a real treat.
Friday 17: All too soon the Ciremai returns and I say goodbye to Bandaneria.
Photos of the Banda Islands.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Maluku Islands: Ternate and Tidore

Saturday 4 December: Today it's Christmas in Manado, well actually it's St Nikolas Day eve, but this is when local folk (Indonesia's a former Dutch colony) swap gifts and celebrate. So it's a public holiday with lots of carol singing and good will, cars decorated with merry spray-can slogans trailing ribbons of tinsel. Many people in the street say Hello Mister, shaking my hand and wishing me merry Christmas. This seems particularly strange in a Muslim country.
Monday 6: I'm told that there are no cabins on the ferry to Ternate, it's dormitory only. Okay, I can live with that. So, as I climb aboard the small KM Theodora, via three gangplanks and two other ships, I'm surprised to be offered a basic cabin on the upper deck. I take it, this may be a rough 16-hours, it's been stormy here for the last two days but I do need to get to Ternate to link myself in with onward monthly sailings of Pelni ships. Stranded for a month on a tropical island does have an appeal, but not if your visa has expired. The Theodora's a shallow-hulled rust tub with no litter bins - everything goes over the side. Worse still, there are no life-jackets - but I sleep soundly.
Tuesday 7: In the morning when I awake we can see the volcanic cones of both Ternate and the neighbouring island of Tidore. Together these two rival Sultanates were part of the original Spice Islands, growing, highly prized, nutmeg and other spices. The blue sea glistens in the morning sun like a Roman mosaic splashed with water, it's a slick of multicoloured plastic garbage swaying back and forth in the tide. Despite my guidebook's recommendation, apart from the impressive modern mosque jutting out into the sea and the views of Tidore, Ternate is a disappointment. My hotel's rules clearly state "No illegal goods - drugs, drinking alcohol, firearms or explosives". Not a beer in sight.
Photos of Ternate with views of Tidore.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Sailing to North Sulawesi

Saturday 27 November: Walking up the gangplank of Pelni's KM Tilongkabila at Lembar, Lombok's main harbour, I'm aware that she's already four-hours late, and she has only come from from nearby Bali. As darkness falls we head east, along Sambawn island, towards the port of Bima. This will be a long seven-day cruise, a voyage I do hope to enjoy.
The Tilongkabila (1994) is a German-built, 6,400 ton, 327 foot, vessel with capacity for 970 passengers: 14 first-class, 40 second-class and 916 in economy. First-class cabins are two-berth, second-class four-berth and economy has communal dorms - bench-like wooden platforms for beds, mattresses are extra. Initially there are only a few passengers and I have a two-berth cabin all to myself, this won't last.

Sunday 28: Pods of dolphins and small flying-fish are an entertaining diversion as the Tilongkabila sails past the Komodo and Rinca islands where their world-famous inhabitants, Komodo Dragons, attract tour groups and travellers alike. We reach Lubuan Bajo on Flores at dusk. This is where I originally intended leaving the ship in search of dragons. But, I stay on deck watching as sacks of red onions and throngs of heavily laden passengers bustle their way aboard. The Tilongkabila is now vastly overcrowded - this monthly crossing of the Flores Sea to Makassar on Sulawesi is popular. I've changed to second-class and now even this four-berth cabin is full.
Monday 29: It's a smooth overnight and sunny-day crossing with good food and a band playing at lunch-time, but I'm irritated. Despite signs to the contrary and litter bins every few yards the locals just chuck their rubbish anywhere, mostly non-biodegradable plastic and polystyrene, mostly overboard.
At dusk we tie-up at Makassar - the ship empties and, once again, the cabin is my own. I'm the only
westerner and the only cabin-class passenger aboard.
Tuesday 30: I start reading Paul Theroux's
Ghost Train To The Eastern Star (2008) which I've been saving for a long journey. It's a rerun of his earlier Great Railway Bazaar (1975) book journey, so he must be running out of ideas. I'm hoping it will help me plan my route back to Europe next year, but he makes most places sound so awful.
Patches of plastic rubbish litter the sparkling blue sea and at dusk we dock at
Bau Bau, a small port on Sulawesi's southeastern leg.
Wednesday 1 December:
Slowly port-hopping up the east coast of Sulawesi we reach Raka in the early hours and Kendari early in the bright morning. To my astonishment a crew-hand slings six large plastic bin-liners full of emptied litter-bins into the sea. They slowly disappear to small black dots in the ship's wake.
Thursday 2:
We dock at Kolondale during the night. Next morning more patches of plastic flotsam appear depressingly frequently but in the afternoon a large pod of about 40 dolphins follow the ship for a while. These cheer me up and in the early evening we dock at Luwuk.
Friday 3: We arrive at Gorontalo early in the morning and in the evening I disembark at Bitung. At 11:00pm it's a dark sprawling industrial port complex with no onward public transport. Ripped-off by an ojek motorcycle driver, who I'm too tired to argue with, I spend the night in an expensive hotel.
The cost of this full-board but alcohol-free, six-night, seven-day Pelni voyage is just over two-million Rupiahs (£142), it's above my daily budget, but only slightly.
Saturday 5: A very inexpensive local bus takes me to Manado, a comfortable everyday town with shopping malls, beer shops, restaurants, reasonable hotels and small vessels of differing shapes and sizes, many heading east to far-flung islands in the Maluku Sea.
Photos: Lombok to Manado

Monday, 6 December 2010

Gili Islands

Tuesday 23 November: My minibus or bemo drops me in Pemenang and a 'Lombok Ferrari' - horse and cart (76th mode of transport) bumps me along to Bangal beach where I buy a green public ferry ticket to Gili Trawangan. The ticket collector refuses the more expensive white 'open' tickets sold by travel agencies (they have not paid their bill) and chaos ensues among some very upset French tourists who are stranded but still refuse to pay again. The fare is 10,000 Rupiahs (about 80 pence). I wade and hobble aboard the crowded ferry, leaving the French behind, and soon we pull up on the soft white-sandy beach of Gili Trawangan, party island.
Wednesday 24: The island is beautiful but I'm immobile and spend most of my time in the hotel or in the nearest bar, a Rastafarian joint, which in addition to liqueur also sells magic mushrooms - "return trip to the moon, no transport necessary". Each night, shortly before I retire, a choir of barmen sing out a Bob Marley chorus:

" . . .No, woman, no cry . . . No, mushrooms, no fly . . . "

I don't think Bob would have minded.

Thursday 25: A day for decisions. First, to sail to north Sulawesi rather than going overland. I'll miss the island's sights but it will rest my foot. Secondly, to return to Britain from Australia across Asia rather than continuing to New Zealand or South America. My freighter passage to Freemantle, Perth has been pushed forward by the shipping company to mid-February so by the time I'd arrive in New Zealand the weather would be chilly. And finally, when I return home, I'll take a long walking holiday in Scotland and England. The British government's Open Space initiative gives me access to 1:50,000 scale Ordnance maps so, somewhat bizarrely, on a tropical island with an aching foot, I spend two-days planning detailed walking routes in Britain.
Friday 26: In Lombok I discovered that the singer Micheal Jackson is dead (June 2009!). No great loss, I know, but macabrely I search the net to find out who else has expired since I started travelling. Icons from my youth include poor old Norman Wisdom, easy rider Dennis Hopper, author DJ Salinger, musicians John Martyn and Mary Travers, and every boy's dream date
Farrah Fawcett, to name but a few. According to the wonderfully irreverent website Deathlist, Margaret Thatcher is still with us.
A few photos of Gili Trawangan.