Adventures

I have created this blog with the hopes that you, my friend, will follow me as I sail around the world (figuratively or literally, not sure yet) with my parents on their Contest 48. Whereas I hope to keep you updated with exciting adventures of exotic ports and epic waves, keep in mind that cruising - that is, traveling by boat in a leisurely fashion - tends to be filled with days of intense boredom, punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Please keep this in mind as you read these entries, for this platform will be just as much an attempt for me to maintain my sanity (and connection to the California-based world), as entertainment and reassurance for you. And so, follow me as I sail the world.

P.S. All material on this blog, words and photos alike, are copyrighted by me. Copyright 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018. If you decide that this material is worth re-publishing, please give me credit and lots and lots of money.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thank You


How does one begin to thank somebody for life?  How does one thank somebody for a lifestyle so incredible, so full of adventure and leisure that dreams pale in comparison?  How do I convey my thanks, the fact that I am so incredibly grateful for all the opportunities I have had these past three years (not to mention my life)?  I guess it would start something like, "Dear Mom and Dad, thanks for everything."

I don't want to get all mushy on you.  But sitting alone in my hotel room in Kuala Lumpur the night before I fly home after an epic three year journey across the Pacific Ocean, it's hard not to get a bit sentimental.  I mean, really.  This adventure has far surpassed all expectations I ever possessed.  I never though -- in my wildest dreams -- that I would swim with humpback whales, surf Cloudbreak, drink kava with a Fijian chief, dive with sharks, stand on the rim of an active volcano, crew on a super yacht, shake hands with Kelly Slater, hold hands with an orangutan, become a local in Sydney, meet some of the coolest people in the world, be treated like a rockstar... the list goes on and on.

But really, the thing I am most grateful for is the lessons I have learned, both personal and worldly.  One of the most important things I have leaned is how to communicate better -- be it with the closest people in my life or somebody so different to me that I might as well be from another planet.  I have learned just how far a smile, or a nod, or a slight bow can go with somebody with whom I share no common language or culture.  I have also learned not to be quite so self-conscious.  If a whole village comes out to watch us dance then I had better well get up and dance, even if I look like a total kook.  I know they are not laughing at me, they are laughing with me (I hope?).  It is human nature to be endeared to people who put themselves in awkward situations for others' entertainment or to respect another culture, and endearment goes a long way.  I have learned to eat some really weird food, but have also learned to put my foot down when I've had too much, which can be hard to do with an entire village watching.  

I have learned how to navigate through an atoll, I have learned how to say hello in 12 different languages, have learned how to entertain myself for 19 days at sea,  how to identify tropical plants and husk a coconut, have studied the coastline of the entire eastern side of Australia (Melboune to Cape York) and have sailed nearly 20,000 nautical miles of open ocean.

However, the most important lesson I learned -- and will forever be learning -- is the importance of respect.  Respect for people of all ages, genders, religions, sexual orientation and beliefs; respect for the ocean and the absolute power of nature; respect for fishes of all shapes and sizes, from clown fish to tiger sharks; respect for poverty and respect for wealth, respect for ailments and respect for health; respect for women's bodies -- particularly my own, and most recently, respect for my home.

I started writing this post in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, but have since traveled about 8,000 miles and arrived home in San Diego yesterday evening.  What a trip.  It is good to be home.  I can't wait to spend time with friends and family, reconnect and share memories.  Aside from the fact that it is ridiculously freezing (particularly after three years in the tropics), California is beautiful and I am lucky to call it home.  

And although I am home, I do not intend for the adventure to stop.  I am and will always be salty -- and will do my best to continue to entertain you with stories of whatever crosses my mind.  Which brings me to my last point: I want to thank you, my faithful reader, for following my blog all these years and supporting me through high times and low.  It's been quite a trip, made all the more sweet because I've gotten to share it with you.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Bangkok

Bangkok. The name alone suggests debauchery, intrigue, erotica and exotica.  And true to its name, Bangkok is filled with dark alleys filtering into bright and busy streets lined with food stalls selling roasted chicken and pad thai.  Inhaling the occasional cloud of chilli oil might sear your nose and throat -- an unintentional pepper spray attack.  Yes, Bangkok is the Thailand that I had envisioned for so many years. This isn't to say that the azure waters and sheer limestone cliffs of the south are not just as much Thailand, but I guess I wanted I see her nitty gritty side. And I did. But first, let us return to the paradise of Phi Phi.

After recovering from the stomach bug which put me out for a few days, I was finally able to start my advanced open water dive course. Whereas I am glad I did it, I have decided that PADI is nothing more than a brilliant pyramid scheme. You could have 1,000 dives and yet, if you have not paid the $300 to do the course, you are not an "advanced" diver.  Regardless of my feelings towards PADI, I was stoked to get back under water. Phi Phi doesn't hold a candle to what I saw in Indo (there I go whinging again) but I really enjoyed the dives. Our "Fish ID" dive was the best - we saw an octopus running along the reef as well as a big morey eel swimming around. The night dive was also cool. 

But perhaps the best part of being in Phi Phi was when Emma finally showed up. We were supposed to rendezvous in Phuket but neither of us had heard great things so Emma decided to meet me there. She, Kyle and I spent the next three days getting into all sorts of trouble - from fire limbo and fire jump rope to snorkel trips to "The Beach" to eating and drinking copious amounts. Yes, we had fun. And we could have stayed in Phi Phi a long time, had Emma quit her job and I blown off my flight home.   Neither of us really wanted to do this (although we seriously considered it) and so we hopped on the train to Bangkok.

One thing about Southeast Asia is that land travel is cheap, easy and comfortable.  Emma and I were able to take a ferry, a bus and a train to Bangkok for 1,400 baht each -- about $40.  I have grown quite fond of sleeper trains over the past few weeks because they are a clean and comfortable way to travel overnight.  Sure, the train is swaying and clacking and whatnot, but it is a piece of cake compared with trying to sleep on the boat during a passage.  

After a restful night sleep, we arrived in Bangkok the next afternoon.  Having no idea where to go we took the guide book's advice, and headed to Banglamphu.  Of course it is the most touristy part of Bangkok, but it also has the widest range of accommodation and lots of sights nearby.   After getting our room sorted and freshening up, Emma and I set out to see the town.  We didn't get very far as we had to try food from various stalls all the way down the street.  I must say I was disappointed with the food in Thailand.  I know this was my fault -- I stuck to the touristy parts rather than seek out the offtrack culinary gems -- but in the two weeks I was in Thailand I never ate a meal that blew me away.  Sure everything was good, everything was cheap, but I can't pick out one meal that stood above the rest.  I guess I will have to go back.

It just so happened that Emma and I arrived in Bangkok on the full moon festival of Loi Krathong.  We walked down to the river where thousands of people were setting tiny boats made of banana leaves adrift, adorned with a candle and incense.  We bought one and set it out into the river, ensuring a prosperous and lucky year.  The most magical aspect of the evening was the lanterns -- hundreds of homemade lanterns like mini hot air balloons floated in the sky -- like shooting stars hung in midair.  The mix of the chaos of the city and the serenity of the lanterns floating in the night sky was enough to give me the chills on a warm evening.

The next day Emma and I set out to see the city.  We were nabbed by a friendly tuk-tuk driver who offered to take us around the city to see the sights for a very cheap price, so long as we agreed to stop at his friends' shops along the way.  We agreed, and along with seeing the tallest Buddha in the world we also got to see many shops selling trinkets.   Neither of us minded blowing off the tailor who was in cahoots with our driver because we were having too much fun being carted around by tuk-tuk.  Finally, our driver got fed up with us and dropped us off at the Grand Palace before zooming off.  

Of course he could have told us that the Grand Palace was closed that afternoon, but never mind, so we walked around until we came across a ferry building.  We hopped on a ferry having no idea where it was going, but it was cheap and a good way to see the city.  Somehow we ended up at Siam Paragon, a massive shopping mall that hosts both a Rolls Royce and a Lamborghini dealership.  You know, just in case you are in the market.  I don't like driving in flip-flops so I didn't ask to go for a test drive, but next time I'll wear my driving shoes.  Emma couldn't be bothered and so we moved on.

That night we went out in Silom with friends we met over dinner.  Silom is known for gay clubs, strip clubs and a night market where you can buy remarkably cheap Prada and Gucci handbags.  We stayed out until the wee hours of the morning shopping, drinking and dancing, but steered well clear of the strip clubs.  Men standing outside the clubs offered a menu of the things we could see inside while whispering "ping pong?" but they were a little too seedy for my taste.  

And then came the dreaded day that Emma went home.  I spent the day moping around but was cheered up by the friends we had met the previous night.  They invited me out with them again which I decided was better than hanging out in my hostel room alone, so I took them up on the offer.  We ended up having a rather debaucherous night which I will refrain from describing here.  It will make a good story to tell you over a beer.  

The next day I left Bangkok (alone) and made my way back to Pangkor via a 24 hour train ride followed by a three hour bus.  Mom and Dad met me at the bus station and took me to dinner before going back to the boat.  The boat has been hauled out of the water and living "on the hard" really sucks, so I can't say I was sad to have missed it.  I spent two nights on the boat and packed up three years worth of stuff in 12 hours.  Of course this was more difficult than I had anticipated -- how am I to pack two surfboards, a guitar, ukulele, clothes, souvenirs, dive gear and so much more?!  Oh the woes of being a pack rat...

Somehow I managed to stuff most of my belongings into five bags and then again managed to stuff them all on the bus.  We are now in Kuala Lumpur, enjoying the sights for a day before flying back to California.  What an amazing trip it's been.  But the adventure won't stop here.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thailand Tourist

I've been in Thailand for over a week now -- but I don't really think I've seen Thailand -- unless you count boozy backpacker bars and tours filled with westerners.  Don't get me wrong, it's been awesome, but something tells me that in order to see the real Thailand you have to venture off the beaten path, which I have yet to do.  But even the beaten path in Thailand is a trip. 

After spending a few days in Krabi Kyle and I took a longtail boat to the Railay peninsula. We were recommended by friends to stay in Ton Sai, a tiny beach village nestled among sheer limestone cliffs and frequented by rock climbers.  Ton Sai has a much more rustic, hippie vibe than the flashier Railay beaches, which suited us. I found us accommodation at Chill Out bar and bungalows for 300 baht per night (about $10). 

Ton Sai was a fun spot. Good food, good people, good vibes... It kind of reminded me of the surf scene on the Bukit peninsula in Bali, except with climbers. And I felt like the kook, the odd one out, because I don't climb. However, when in Rome.. so Kyle and I signed up for a "Deep Water Soloing" climbing tour. 

The day of the tour a group of us piled into a longtail boat and headed out into the bay dotted with tiny islands with massive limestone faces soaring straight up from the water. We soon came up on Poto island, where ladders from the base of rocks dangled into the water. The boats anchored and our guides lit up spliffs while they waited for us to get ready. 

I watched as the first crew was ferried by kayak over to the ladders. Deep water soloing is rock climbing on rocks over without ropes, so when you fall you fall into water. No problem, right?  Only thing is, it's not hard to climb up 10 meters, but jumping off a 10 meter cliff into water is, well, a bit scary. 

I stuck to the lower shelves, reminding myself once again how much I dislike heights and how hard climbing is. Over and over, I watched really good climbers who had never deep water soloed before, easily climb up 25 or 30 meters, before looking down and realising, "oh, shit, how do I get off this thing?"  Quite entertaining, really. Our guides were amazing, climbing higher and faster than anybody else, only to do a backflip off a tiny ledge into the water. They make me believe that Thai ninjas might still exist. 

The tour wasn't all climbing -- we went to a beautiful beach for lunch, went kayaking and snorkelling -- all the things that I generally laugh at people for paying heaps of money to do when I am on the boat (Rutea). Fortunately Thailand is cheap and laid back and the whole travel by land gives me a different perspective on things. 

Take for example, Chill Out bar. Chill Out is a great place to chill, have drinks, meet people and party. It is not, however, a good place to sleep. After two nights of bands playing until 5 AM we had to change venues because I could not sleep. And I need sleep.  We had a great time in Ton Sai and learned a good lesson: don't shit where you eat -- don't party where you sleep, and were well prepared to head to the island of Ko Phi Phi.  

Phi Phi is known for three things: partying, diving, and where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. I (obviously) was most interested in diving, and with dive shops lining the streets, figured it would be a good place to get my advanced certification.  Upon arrival we, along with the hundreds of other tourists getting off the ferry, were inundated by people trying to get us to go to their hotels. Kyle and I decided to take our chances and set off alone, walking to the far end of town. We found a nice (relatively) quiet guesthouse to stay at. After getting settled we set off to see the town and to check out dive shops. 

My first impression: Phi Phi -- where Thailand meets Disneyland. Shops selling trinkets and clothes, dive dive dive shops, restaurants, bars.. And a loose party atmosphere. But I hadn't seen anything yet. 

In the evening, after finally choosing a dive shop to do my course with (, Kyle and I went for another cruise around town. I didn't want I party because started my course at 7 the next morning, and because I had a bad rumble in my belly. Regardless, I was fully entertained by what we found.

Has anybody really written about what the night life in Phi Phi is like? Because it is kind of insane. The bars, of which there are tons, are packed. Vendors on the street sells buckets of vodka and red bull or whatever else you could want. A man with a monkey will let you hold it and take pictures for a few baht. Want a massage? No problem. Weed? Ask at the bar. I am sure you could get harder drugs if you were looking. 

At one bar there is a Thai boxing ring where they encourage drunk people to get up and beat the crap out of each other. After all, each contender gets a free bucket of drink, and if that is not incentive then I don't know what is.  The entertainment and gimmicks go on and on. And that is just the bars. 

If one manages to find their way through the shit show and down to the beach, they will find a full on rave scene. The bars pump out techno from huge amps while Thai boys spin fire. A massive jump rope is lit on fire and people are encouraged to jump in it, and the same with a ring of fire. People swim in the water and run down the beach naked. Anything goes. It's like Las Vegas, except they don't have to worry about law suits. 

Around midnight, just as the party was picking up, Kyle and I headed back to our room. I was looking forward to a nice quiet night sleep -- my first in about a week. Except that at 3 AM I awoke to find that the rumble in my stomach had turned into full on warfare and, sparing you the intimate details, I was very sick for the next 12 hours. Food poisoning? GI issues? Stomach flu? I'll never know, but it really sucked. 

Fortunately the people at Aquanaut dive are super relaxed and I was able to postpone my course a few days so I can fully recover. 

This brings us up to date. The weather is hot and beautiful but I am keeping an eye on the massive cyclone that just hit the Philippines and is headed toward Vietnam and north Thailand.  If anything, we might see some rain and wind -- a minor inconvenience. My heart goes out to all the people who lost family, friends, homes and livelihoods in the Philippines and elsewhere. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Singapore Sling to Maitai


Singapore feels like a long time ago now -- especially after 36 hours of traveling and two countries later -- but I'll recollect as best I can. 

We crossed from Indonesia to Singapore in rather uneventful fashion, with the crossing of the Malacca Straits quick and painless. Immigration was the easiest I have experienced -- a customs boat came up along side us and we dropped our passport and papers in their fishing net to be stamped and processed. After a few minutes the documents were returned and we continued on to the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club. 

Oh the joys of being back in a marina!  The last marina Rutea was docked at was in Darwin, and it felt extremely luxurious to be able to get to and from the boat without getting wet and salty, never mind the air conditioned gym, infinity pool and wifi. 

Kyle and I ventured into town the first afternoon we arrived. My first impression of Singapore was, "wow, this would be a really fun city if I had a lot of money."  As we walked down Orchard Rd we noticed store after designer store. Somebody should tell them that when there is Prada on every street corner it isn't impressive anymore -- not to mention Gucci, Versace, Rolex, LV, Armani to name a few -- all of which were packed with shoppers. 

Fortunately shopping really isn't my thing, but I love eating so the next night the four of us headed to Little India for dinner. Nobody told us that Sunday nights every Indian man in Singapore converges on Little India to walk the streets and meet up with friends, and we were baffled and amazed at the amount of people on the streets -- but only men. 

We had a delicious and reasonably priced dinner at Lagnaa, and then walked the streets around the neighbourhood. I've never been to India but I can only imagine the people-packed streets lined with shops selling everything from clothes to cellphones to spices must be something like the real thing. People seemed to be in a festive mood because it was the start of Deepawali, the Hindu celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, and the streets were lit up like Christmas. (Is that a PC comparison?)  Regardless, it was refreshing to see a part of Singapore that wasn't totally polished. 

Because we had so much fun in Little India, Kyle and I decided to check out the Arab quarter the next night. While it was not as convincing as Little India, we had a nice time smoking a hookah on the sidewalk and watching the street scenes. As for food, I refused to dish out $10 for a plate of hummus, and the cheap food we got was unremarkable. I heard from other (wealthier) people that the food was great. You get what you pay for. 

Chinatown was another highlight of Singapore. It rivals that of San Francisco or any other in the world. It was really the Chinese who established Singapore as a trading outpost in the eighteenth century, and those influences can be seen throughout the city. In fact, due to the international history of Singapore, there are four national languages: English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil. 

Right then. We spent a week in Singapore. In that time I decided that I would get off the boat with Kyle, and spend my last few weeks in Asia backpacking around with him. Whereas I wanted the closure of sailing all the way to where the boat will be berthed for the next few months in Malaysia, it is a 300 mile slog through the Straits and frankly, I'd rather go play in Thailand. 

Which is exactly what I am doing now. On Sunday Kyle and I took a taxi to the Singapore MRT, took two light rail trains to the Malay border, hopped on a train to Kuala Lumpur, from there took an overnight sleeper train to Hat Yai, Thailand, and from there took a six hour bus ride to Krabi. Sure, we could have hopped on a two hour flight, but even 36 hours of land travel is much faster than sailing.  And it was actually pretty fun. 

From what I've seen so far, Thailand is awesome. The food is amazing and cheap, accommodations and backpackers plentiful and the alcohol runs freely. I already had my first (and last) encounter with Chang beer -- the bottle with the cool elephants on it -- and urge you to avoid it at all costs. 

And so, for the next few weeks I will be enjoying my last bit of traveling for a while (maybe?). If you have any suggestions or helpful advice (like not to drink Chang beer), please let me know

Friday, November 1, 2013

End of Indo


This is my third attempt to write in the past week.  I've had writer's block -- or rather, writer's traffic jam -- whatever it is the words don't seem to pour out on the page like they have in the past.  Perhaps this is because we are now in the bustling, entertaining and slightly overwhelming city of Singapore, or perhaps this is because I can't find the right words to convey my gratitude for and awe of Indonesia.  

Sail Indonesia is over.  Sayanara, sampai jumpa, hasta luego and see you later Indo.  It was rad.  I have been thinking about how I want to sum up my three months in Indonesia -- best, worst and funniest; top ten; favorite places and the people I met -- but really, in an act of laziness (not to be confused with apathy) I will let my previous posts speak for me.  

I will say this: Sail Indonesia was an incredible experience highlighted by overwhelming gratitude, enthusiasm, and curiosity from local Indonesians we met, and I felt undeserving of all the luxury and expense lavished upon us from day one.  But really, Sail Indo did itself no favors, because by the time we reached Bintan it was hard to impress us.  After seeing 12,000 dancers dance in your honor, do you really care about ten or twenty dancers doing a traditional dance?  Maybe not so much.  And after being fed fried bananas by a cute girl of marriageable age, why would I want to feed myself -- even if the food is good?

Ok, now I am just being a brat.  But I hope you get the idea.  I do, however, feel the need to give a shout out to every amazing person who made my Indo experience so incredibly special.  In Saumlaki we were greeted by Desi and Grace who patiently took hours of their time to teach us how to say "terima kasih" (thank you).  They were my first friends in Indonesia.  Their colleague Boby invited us to our first party in the country.

In Wakatobi our steadfast guides not only treated us royally but also invited us into their homes.  Cayu, Dian and Sesi were great guides -- taking us to their school and to meet their families -- and we will be friends forever.  Aldi was there too.  We also had a special dinner at Ade's house (and Cayu drove me there -- my first scooter ride!).

Buton was outrageous because we were not only treated like royalty but like rockstars as well.  My best friends from Buton were Tati, Tika and Salam, the three guides who helped me and Kyle to fit in a little bit better.  They also protected us from the mobs who wanted pictures taken with us.  Tika and Salam sent us gifts after we left the island via another boat, which was very sweet, although they shouldn't have.  At Sagori island Ralf and Adi were excellent tour guides and we had interesting conversations trying to understand one another's culture.  In Bintan we had a great time with Zul, who came out to the boat and took beautiful pictures of Rutea.  

I also have to give a massive thank you to Sam, the organizer of Sail Indonesia, who made the whole thing possible.  He took on the daunting task of organizing 80 boats to sail two different routes through Indonesia, which is like trying to herd cats through a fun house.  Regardless, he put up with whingey yachties and all the challenges that Indo can throw in the mix with a smile and a dry, witty comment to follow.

These were the people who made the Eastern route so special.  I thank each and every one of you for your genuine friendship and wish you the absolute best.  I hope that you come visit me in the U.S. someday.  

As you might be able to tell, I fully endorse Sail Indonesia.  Sure, you could cruise Indonesia on your own, but even with 13,000 islands it is tricky to find good anchorages -- let alone pick which islands to visit.  Sail Indo takes care of everything, including parties, tours, safety and making sure you get a full on Indonesian experience.  And while I found Indo to be some of the trickiest navigation that we have encountered, the diversity -- both geographically and demographically -- is worthy of a lifetime of exploration.  

I love Indonesia.  From epic surf to cheeky oragnutans to incredible underwater scenery, Indo has it all.  I can't wait to go back.  Someday.