Man of the Forest

He was close, real close. I couldn’t see him yet, but I could feel him, as if the boat were being sucked upriver and the water was flowing back into the jungle.*

INDO3076 (1024x683) The steamy mid-morning sun blazed as we set off for three days in search of a wild orang-utan, Indonesia’s “man of the forest.” Our klotok, the wooden river boat Lazuardi, cut swiftly through thick brown water that was cloudy with run-off from neighboring palm plantations. INDO3931 (1024x683)

Within minutes we left Kumai behind and turned into Tanjung Puting National Park. INDO3051 (1024x683)

At this time of year it can be hard to spot any orangutans. There is so much wild fruit in season that the apes can afford to shy away from the reserve in favor of a smorgasbord of fruit ripening across the forest. Durian, mangosteen, rambutan, bananas, you name it. Although we knew our chances for seeing an orangutan were lower, it was impossible to ignore an overwhelming sense of hope and curiosity as we maneuvered slowly upstream. Our first wildlife sighting was a medium-sized monitor lizard, about 6 feet long. At first we thought it was a crocodile until we got a better look at it.

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Next up, still a few kilometers outside the reserve area, we spotted some movement in the trees, followed by this incredible sight: INDO3085 (1024x681)

Wild orangutans! ??????????????

Our guide, Ami, was thrilled to catch a glimpse of orangutans outside the reserve, especially at this time of year. He told us that on his last tour they saw none, so we were a lucky group. IMG_5641 (1024x682) IMG_5671 (1024x682) IMG_5659 (1024x682) IMG_5689 (1024x684)

Aside from the occasional tour boat and local transport, we were alone traveling up the river. We stopped at the first camp and hiked 10 minutes into the forest to the scheduled afternoon feeding site. In the reserve, there are two scheduled feedings per day. Again, Ami and the rangers cautioned us not to get our hopes up given fruit season. The rangers deposited bananas from a couple of full backpacks on a platform and then we waited. We waited for over half an hour, and then finally some trees started shaking in the distance, then closer. It was even better than the wild sightings we had on the way in. This sweet mama and baby led the way: IMG_5764 (1024x669)

They scrambled up a tree out of the way as a large male approached. INDO3149 (1024x682) INDO3176 (1024x683)

Another male approached, but stopped and waited his turn. INDO3236 (1024x683)

This female joined the big fellow already on the platform. INDO3230 (1024x682)

At this point there were five or six orangutans in sight with a handful more approaching from high in the trees. INDO3274 (1024x679)

Mama and baby continued to wait and watch from about 30 feet up in the trees. IMG_5794 (1024x674)

Just about everywhere we looked, more orangutans were swinging in to join the party. INDO3431 (1024x682)INDO3414 (1024x682)INDO3472 (1024x668)INDO3290 (1024x681) (2)

Each kept his or her distance from the food until the more dominant ones finished and moved on. Then, one by one, each grabbed bananas and returned to the trees. The rangers brought one extremely large male his own stash of bananas and he sat quietly munching on the ground some distance from all the others. The largest orangutans like him live primarily on the ground.

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After a while, mama and baby got another chance to finish their meal. IMG_5736 (677x1024) IMG_5724 (681x1024) IMG_5729 (1024x683)

In total, thirteen orangutans joined us. The rangers said they hadn’t seen this many together for quite a while. Ami told us there must be a special connection between the spirits of the people and the orangutans for so many to gather at one time. Whatever the reason, we felt honored to be part of such a special day. INDO3486 (1024x682)

What is the best way to top off such an incredible orangutan encounter? With rainbows, of course.

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That evening we tied up at the side of the river near troops of long tailed macaques and proboscis monkeys swinging from the treetops.

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The next morning, we made our way upriver into the native black water. My photos do a poor job of capturing the overwhelming natural beauty that surrounded us.

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On our way to the next camp, we glimpsed another friend in the trees.

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There were a few more tourist boats at the second camp, but not many people. Ami told us that in the high season boats will raft up across the entire river, carrying hundreds of tourists to each feeding. We were thankful for our much more low key experience.

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We didn’t always see orangutans at the scheduled feedings, but we found plenty of other wildlife to entertain us. Butterflies were all around, plus ants, dragonflies and the occasional boar.

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Camp Leakey, established in 1971, was our final destination of the tour. The reserve contains both wild and semi-wild orangutans (rescued orphans).

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After almost two hours of waiting, thirty-two year old Tom, one of the largest males, made a quiet entrance from the forest. He moved slowly, methodically, carefully observing everyone and registering each of our faces as he climbed up for a snack.

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Looking into his expressive eyes, I kept imagining what he might be thinking, the man of the forest. Watching this distant cousin of ours, it’s no wonder that human and orangutan genomes are 97 percent identical. He was wild, but seemed so very human.

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As if he knew it was time for all of us to say goodbye, after fifteen minutes Tom stopped for one last look and retreated to the forest with the same quiet grace.

We spent a quiet day playing games and reading as we motored back to Kumai.

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Ami, our excellent guide, with the kids.

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The captain and first mate.

This experience with orangutans in Kalimantan ranks as one of the highlights of our entire journey on Sophie. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

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Kumai… we’re still only in Kumai… every time I think I’m gonna wake up in the jungle.*

* Adapted from Willard’s voice-overs in Apocalypse Now

Anchor Down

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Sophie dropped her anchor at Palau Mesanak at 10:00 AM this morning, covering the 300 miles from Semolina in 52 hours. We sailed most of last night under full jib and main at 6-8 knots, having great fun in the process. Our current position is 00.24.255N, 104.33.510E.

Mesanak is a lovely little island with a sheltered harbor with 15 big fish traps on stilts. One of them is pictured with Leo, above.

We will rest here until tomorrow morning, then make our way to Nongsa Point. More later.

North to the Dumplings

We raised anchor at Sembilan this morning after a lovely four day stay and have begun a 300 mile leg northward as we resume our journey to Singapore. Our next planned stop is at Pulau Mesanak in the Lingga Islands. We hope to arrive there on Monday, rest a day, and then head another 50 miles to Nongsa Point Marina on the northern tip of Pulau Batam. This will be our first visit to a marina since we were in Vanuatu last September! We will clear out of Indonesia at Nongsa Point, then cross a very busy 10 mile strait and enter Singapore.

We told Hazel that Singapore has a majority Chinese population, and she asked if that meant we would be able to buy dumplings there. Dumplings are her favorite food. We assume we will be able to buy her dumplings there every day if she would like us to do so. Needless to say she has become quite excited, and we are now undertaking what appears to be a dumpling cruise.

As part of our dumpling cruise, we will once again pass into the Northern Hemisphere sometime tomorrow. We will likely remain up north until we arrive in the Maldives about a year from now. It is going to feel good to be back on top again.

As usual, we are motoring along at 5 knots on one engine with little wind. The South China Sea is quite flat right now and surprisingly shallow, with depths ranging from 70 to 130 feet between here and Singapore. The charts also show shipwrecks on the ocean floor every ten miles in all directions. I assume most of these were ships sunk during World War II.

Our rest at Sembilan was just what the doctor ordered. We snorkeled the coral reef twice a day, played games, watched movies, conducted Sophie School, and cleaned the boat. We have all become big fans of Pandemic, a global strategy game where the players collaborate in an attempt to rid the world of disease. It’s kind of like Risk without the hatred or fistfights.

Last night we had a sunset fire on the beach where we cooked the last of the jars of German sausage along with balls of bread dough that we roasted over the open fire. We were able to provision at the market in Kumai before we left and have enough fruit and vegetables on board to get us to Singapore. And those dumplings…

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Sembilan

Sophie dropped anchor this morning right below Pulau Sembilan, which is adjacent to Pulau Nangka and 230 miles to the northeast of Kumai. Sembilan is a small, uninhabited island surrounded by a perfect beach and coral reefs. The island is beautiful, and we will likely spend 3 or 4 days here. Our location is 02.31.084S, 108.31.770E. According to the charts, we are now in the South China Sea. Viet Nam is less than 700 miles to the north, and we are 360 miles from Singapore. We’ve covered about 600 miles since we left Bali.

We had a bit of a scare on Sophie before we left Kumai. The morning before we left, we took on another 800 liters of diesel (by hand) and I then went about changing the fuel filters on the Yanmars and the oil and oil filters on the genset. While working on the genset, I noticed that all four screws that mount the genset to the marine plywood floor in the genset compartment were completely loose and rolling around the floor of the genset box. These are big screws, maybe 3 inches long and 3/8 of an inch wide. My immediate reaction was that someone obviously had started the process of stealing the genset, but I then remembered that we had locked the compartment while visiting the orangutans. It must have been vibration.

I tried to put the screws back in, but the mounting holes in the genset were no longer aligned with the screw holes in the floor. I tried sliding the genset, but it weighs 555 pounds and wouldn’t move. I thought about drilling new holes, but there isn’t enough space for me to easily do so. Leaving on a 230 mile passage with an unmounted 555 pound metal box right next to our marine electronics, propane tanks, and assorted bulkheads was definitely not an option.

When I started the genset, the internal startup torque would cause the box to hop about a half an inch. So I started and stopped the machine about 20 times and somehow aligned all of the holes back together and got the screws back in. I think it is secure enough to get us to Singapore given the current weather forecasts, and we will likely remount the machine once we get there.

After we got the genset sorted away, we had a lovely 2 night, one day passage from Kumai to Sembilan. On both nights we were able to turn the engines off and sail at 6-7 knots for most of the night on a beam reach under a full moon. It was like we were back in the Pacific trade winds and was easily the best sail we’ve had in our 5 months in Indonesia. Jenna couldn’t think of a better way to spend her birthday.

Before we arrived at the anchorage this morning, we saw that we were dragging a line of fishing buoys behind us. I was able to cut the line but there was still something under the hull. We stopped the boat, and I got to once again play underwater demolition man and cut the remaining line off our rudder stocks. There was no damage to the boat, but I did notice that Sophie had attracted a nice remora fish that was swimming right next to one of our keels.

There is no internet or phone access here, so we are reverting back to the SSB and Sailmail to post updates to the blog. Jenna has some spectacular photos of our excursions in Borneo and Bali, and we hope to be able to share them with all of you by the time we get to Singapore. In the meantime, we are looking forward to some nice reef snorkeling and Sophie school in this delightful, remote location.

Greetings from Kalimantan

We just completed an incredible adventure in Tanjung Puting National Park, Kalimantan, where we encountered both wild and semi-captive orangutans. INDO3855 (1024x683)

Upon returning to Sophie, we found batteries with a higher charge than before we left, and we managed to get fuel, fruit and veggies right away so we decided to pull up the anchor and head out for a two night 200-mile passage to a remote little tropical island called Nanjka, where we can swim and play on the beach for a week before island hopping north to Singapore. We expect to be off the grid for the next week so we’ll do a detailed post about the orangutans with more photos later. They were amazing.

Bali Belly

IMG_20150325_165611We left Bali a week ago and have made overnight stops at Lembongan, Gili Air (above), Kangean, and Bawean. We are heading north to Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) to hang out with orangutans. It is our next big adventure.

I would love to be able to tell you that we successfully made it out of Bali without encountering any problems, but I cannot. Unfortunately, one of us came down with “Bali Belly,” a local disease involving water-born parasites that can get inside your system and ruin your vacation. But it wasn’t me that picked up the hitchhikers, or Jenna, or Leo, or Hazel.

It was Sophie.

Our first sign of trouble occurred last Monday afternoon when we started up the engines and pulled the anchor in order to leave Bali and make the 12 mile trip over to Lembongan. The propellers felt like they were covered in seaweed or plastic and were not working well. Our anchor chain and anchor bridle, the 10 meter length of 1″ nylon rope we use to attach the point of each hull to the anchor chain, were covered in barnacles. And when I say covered, I mean COVERED.

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We had been anchored in Bali’s Serangan Harbor for three weeks, and the harbor has a reputation for fostering marine growth, but I had never seen our anchor chain encrusted with so many barnacles. We quickly raised the rest of the chain, and after alternating each engine in forward and reverse gear a few times, the propellers seemed to be working again. I assumed we had successfully knocked off whatever was hanging from them. I had no desire to dive under the boat in that harbor, whose muddy water flows from Bali’s primary landfill. Lembongan has much cleaner water, and I figured we could explore the problem when we got there.

I did so two hours later, and I was shocked with what I had found. The entire metal surface of both propellers and their saildrives (the device that looks like the bottom half of an outboard motor and connects the propellers to Sophie’s engines) were completely encrusted with barnacles. Each hull had over 1,000 barnacles growing on it as well, with one located about every 3-5 inches along the entire length our catamaran.

We had visited Lembongan three weeks earlier, and when I checked the boat at the time I saw that the propellers, saildrives, and hulls were completely free and clear of marine growth and barnacles. This didn’t surprise me, because we had hauled Sophie out of the water a year ago in New Zealand and had painted her hull with antifouling paint and her propellers and saildrives with PropSpeed, all with the goal of retarding this type of growth.

What happened during the three weeks in Serangan was a complete and catastrophic failure of our boat’s chemically-derived underwater immune system. Sophie had Boat Bali Belly, and she had it bad. It was time to go to work.

I grabbed my mask, snorkel, fins, and a plastic scraper, and then went to work on the propellers. I normally like to use plastic scrapers underwater in order to avoid damaging the hull or the antifouling, but I immediately broke the plastic scraper on the metal propeller while simultaneously cutting my hand on the saildrive barnacles while trying to steady myself. The barnacles clearly won Round 1.

I then had Jenna get me my Kevlar gloves (which I used to wear back in the days when we cruised in waters where people could actually catch fish)  along with a metal putty knife we had down in our bilge stores. The combination of these two tools worked much better, and after 2 hours of underwater aerobics I succeeded in getting both propellers and their saildrives completely clear of banacles. Round 2 went to me.

The next morning we fired up the engines, dropped our mooring line, and headed northeast to Gili Air, which is 50 miles away. Unfortunately, that 50 miles is through the Selat Lombok, the strait between Bali and Lombok that connects the Indian Ocean with the Java Sea. During this time of year it can have a 5-8 knot current flowing south, and we were initially making 2 knots of boat speed with both engines running at 2600 RPM against the current. We were following a course recommended by a local ferry captain that was published in the Noonsite cruising website, but that strategy clearly wasn’t succeeding, so we turned back to Bali and crept north along a countercurrent flowing right next to her eastern shore. We made it to Gili Air by late afternoon and picked up a mooring right off the beach. Hazel jumped into the water and continued to practice standing up on Leo’s surfboard – she has become obsessed – while I attacked the barnacles on the hulls with my 10 inch plastic scraper.

Fortunately, these barnacles would come off with a single scrape. I assume they had a difficult time establishing a strong purchase on Sophie’s antifouling paint. Unfortunately, Sophie has a lot of underwater surface to cover, and I spent another two hours clearing off the port hull. Also, I wasn’t wearing a shirt, and I realized later that night that every time I leaned my forearm against the hull, the barnacles would scratch my arm. The next morning I woke up to find red, cat-like scratches covering my arms and shoulders, scratches created by landfill-fueled super barnacles that had attacked our boat. Round 3 went to them as I bathed myself in Neosporin.

The next morning Hazel went back out for surfboard practice, and I went back out to finish the job. This time I was wearing Kevlar gloves AND a long-sleeved shirt. It took another three hours but I removed all of the barnacles from the starboard hull and even used a large screwdriver to auger out all of the throughhulls, the openings in Sophie’s hulls where seawater is pumped in and wastewater is pumped out. Sophie has a lot of throughhulls, but I go the job done. Hazel loved being on the surfboard when the high speed ferries carrying backpackers up from Bali passed right by us, throwing up a big wake with a nice break. I think Instagram has 100 new photos of a little elf in her stingray suit hanging 10 while tethered to a French-made mothership.

It was good to be back in the water.

Gili Air is a cute tourist island that is a mile across and has a ban on gas-powered cars and motorcycles. Instead there is a fleet of pony-drawn carts that haul freight and tourists around the island, and it reminded the kids of their visit to Michigan’s Mackinaw island last summer. Just imagine Mackinaw filled with surfers, surrounded by coral reefs, and blanketed with beachfront bars serving 2-for-1 happy hour cocktails for $4 to Russian backpacker tourists in bikinis. In other words, it was just like Michigan.

The 2 nights in Gili Air marked the end of our 2 months in tourist country, the first tourist area we had visited since Fiji last August. It was nice being in a place where we could see couples from China posing for wedding photographs on the beach at sunset …

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… along with ridiculously-named boats that pulled tourists on inflatable toys.

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I could have spent at least another week in Gili Air, but we had to leave the next day if we wanted to get to Kalimantan to see the orangutans and then to Singapore before our Indonesia visas expire on April 18th.

But our departure from Gili sparked a bit of a soulsearching conversation between me and Jenna: are we going too fast?

It seems that with every country we visit, we seem to be falling in love with it just as we rush out the door and head for the next country. This is happening right now with us in Indonesia. We love this place, and we are leaving in three weeks. Why aren’t we slowing down?

I don’t know the right answer. It’s been 2 years this month since we left San Diego. In our first year abroad, we visited six countries: French Polynesia, The Cook Islands, Niue, Tonga, Fiji, and New Zealand, where we spent 6 months. In our second year of travel, we visited five countries: Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia, where we have stayed for five months. This year also included a 6 week visit for all of us back to the US. For our third year, we plan to visit four countries on Sophie (Singapore, Maylasia, Thailand, and Sri Lanka) along with four countries via land (Viet Nam, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar.) We can envision doing five countries in the following year: Maldives, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mozambique, and South Africa. So over a four year period, that is averaging around 6 countries a year. On paper, that seems slow. When your are in the middle of doing it, it seems way too fast.

There is, however, one area where I will plead completely guilty when it comes to going too fast, and that is when it comes to shopping for groceries. The morning we left Bali, I was responsible for going to the store and doing our provisioning. Jenna had recently taken a Balinese cooking class with the kids and carefully prepared a shopping list of ingredients she wanted from the store that she could use in preparing the new recipes she had just learned. I confused her list with a list of everything we needed for 10 days of passage making. So we are week into our current trip and have a great supply of things like tumeric root and fresh shallots, but we are out of things like bread, fruit, meat, and juice.

I’ve been going through our larder as a result and realized I have a mustard problem. I grab a jar every time I go to the store. We now have a year’s supply on board.

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Fortunately I also discovered (in Bali, of all places!) the perfect passage-making food for boats going offshore: jars of German sausages.

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I never knew that these existed! The kiddies look at them as if they were jars of crack cocaine and have even volunteered to clean toilets if I promise to open up a jar.

In addition to mustard and sausages, we still have 30 meals of frozen fish left on board along with lots of pasta and rice and some remaining greens. So we should be able to make it to Kalimantan in 2 days without starving. We will be staying there in the port of Kumai, where there is supposed to be a good market and some grocery stores. We should be all set from a food perspective.

From a weather perspective, we are definitely in the transition period between monsoons. That means very light air, and now that we are away from big islands it seems we haven’t seen a rain shower or squall for a week.

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Jenna took this picture of a small cargo vessel yesterday. It passed our stern as it slowly chugged north from Java to Kalimantan. As you can see, the seas are like a mirror and there is no wind. Clearly we would prefer a nice 15 knot tradewind blowing behind us, but we are not complaining about covering ground in these conditions, either. We are averaging 5 knots while running just one engine at a time at 2000 RPMs. It helps that Sophie has a clean belly. :-)

We have another 180 miles to go before we see the orangutans. We hope we have enough fuel. We know we have enough mustard. The crew is in good spirits. Leo and Hazel are doing great in school and have even found the time to start memorizing lines from Gilligan’s Island. We know we are going too fast on our journey. We know there is so much more we want to see. We know we could (and increasingly think we will) spend a lifetime doing this. We know we are running out of time. And yes, we know how lucky we all are.

Leprechaun Attack!

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Earlier this week, Leo and Hazel spent an afternoon constructing a leprechaun trap out of Lego bricks. They built a chamber that was open on the top, filled it with all of their gold, and then positioned a flashlight to shine on the gold. They believed that the leprechauns would climb up the ramp, the ramp would then slip away, and the leprechauns would spend the night trapped in a Lego block prison.

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Their plan was a spectacular failure, because we all woke up on the morning of Saint Paddies Day to find an empty leprechaun trap, no gold, and a completely trashed boat. The leprechauns apparently grabbed the gold and then wrecked havoc on Sophie, overturning chairs, scattering schoolbooks, and dumping flour and spices everywhere in some sort of mischievous Gaelic frenzy.

The children think it is awesome that we still live in a world where we need to be careful about incurring the wrath of magical elves. The parents? Not so much.

Later that night we all went to an Irish bar in Sanur, The Wicked Parrot, to celebrate with green beer and mashed potatoes. The place was full, but none of the retired Ozzie tourists dared compete with Leo and Hazel in the dance contests, and they won all of the prizes.

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The local Indonesians who played in the Irish pub band thought they were pretty cool, though.

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We are still in Bali waiting for the Indonesia social visas for Jenna and the kiddies to be renewed. In all of our other ports, we’ve been able to renew visas with 2-3 visits to the Immigrasi office, but in Bali it takes 10 business days and the renewal has to be handled by a paid agent. We probably will not get their visas back until next week, and then we will head north to Kalimantan to visit the orangutans. This will be our last stop in Indonesia before we move on to Singapore.

Since I flew back to the US in January, I am traveling on a different type of Indonesia visa, the 30 day “Visa on Arrival”.  It can only be renewed once, and after the second 30 day period you have to leave the country in order to get a new visa. So yesterday I boarded a cheap flight to Singapore, spent 90 minutes at Changi Airport there, then returned to Bali on another flight.

There were a lot of stores selling purses at the airport there, and I think Jenna may need to up her handbag game when we spend time in that country. Especially since we will be staying at the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club, which seems a little more swank than some of the places we’ve been staying at since we left New Zealand a year ago.

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I was able to get a shot of Serangan Harbor as my flight gained altitude yesterday. Sophie is one of the dots to the right of the harbor.

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We did get a new neighbor yesterday, and I do believe this a private yacht. I could picture myself driving this back in Seattle if our unicorn ever comes in. We could install a zipline between the mast and the crow’s nest!

We’ve also spent some time over the last week exploring Bali. It’s been fun watching Hazel go around using her camera. She did a nice job framing the entrance of a typical family dwelling in the center of the Bali.

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The same family has lived here for 30 generations.

She also took some shots of their livestock and nailed, in my view, what it means to be a pig.

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She also got a nice shot of a temple on the west coast, where hundred of Asian tourists where taking more pictures of her than of the temple.

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From a cruising perspective, Bali represents a mixed bag to me. It has an incredibly interesting Hindu culture and history. It has excellent restaurants, water parks, and zip line rides. They sell cheap, delicious beer EVERYWHERE. It’s safe. The people here have a sweet and loving nature.

On the other hand, their are no quiet, secluded anchorages where you can swim off your boat. It is very crowded. You need to take a US$7 cab to go anywhere. The downtown area near Kuta is the most touristy place I’ve seen this side of Vegas.

I’m looking forward to being here for Balinese New Year this weekend, including the day of silence when EVERYTHING shuts down for 24 hours. And the night before we will watch the Ogoh Ogoh parades, where villages carry around giant paper maché statues of evil spirits, and then burn them on the beach.

After that, I’ll be quite ready to go offshore again. Time for the next adventure.