Sailing: the fine art of getting wet and becoming ill while slowly going nowhere at great expense.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Return to Turkey

The weather in Istanbul was a bit of a shock to the system after spending four months in the tropics and summertime in Australia.  But it was so nice to be back in this beautiful city, despite the cold and thick fog.

Our main purpose for staying two nights in Istanbul was to go to the Australian Consulate to replace my passport which had received some water damage in Sumatra.  The Consulate is in a big tower block near the new football stadium and the Dolmanbahce Palace in Kabataş.  We knew the area so it was easy negotiating the excellent public transport to get there from our hotel near the Otogar (bus station).  The consular officials were very helpful and I should have a replacement passport in a week or so.  Our business with the Consulate only took about half an hour so we had all day to explore the city. 

We walked up the hill to Taksim Square and down the famous and wonderful pedestrian street, Istiklal Cadesi.  This is a wide boulevard stretches about 1.5 km from Taksim Square to the Galata Tower.  It is lined with funky upmarket shops, pubs,bars and eateries.  On a weekend nearly 3 million people walk along this street every day.  Sadly in March last year a suicide bomber killed 4 people and injured 36 on this street.  There were no signs of any such horror a year later but the street was not as crowded as when we were last here in the middle of the summer.
Galata Tower
I found myself just smiling as I was walking along.  I had forgotten just how nice Turkey is.  The sights and sounds were bliss.  We stopped for a glass of çay and it was pure pleasure.  It was good to be back in Turkey.
Display of pomegranates and citris
Turkish tea - the best
Bizarre sight of South Americans buskers dressed as North American Indians playing pan pipes in Turkey
When we had stayed in Istanbul in 2014, I had missed going to the Hagia Sophia as I was sick that day.  So here was my opportunity.  What a difference the tourist sites were in chilly early March compared to a few years ago in mid-summer.  There were no queues and no crowds.  The Hagia Sophia is undergoing renovation still so half of the main hall is covered in scaffolding.  This cathedral/mosque/museum is 1400 years old and looking a bit scruffy around the edges (mind you at only 62 years old I’m looking a bit scruffy too).
The ablution block outside Hagia Sophia - note the Byzantium column, Ottaman rotunda and the fog
Marble doorway into the main hall
Ceiling with Christian and Islamic symbols
Huge candles and ornate doorway
It was a quick visit to Istanbul but I will be back in a few weeks to pick up my new passport.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Sarawak: The Land of Brooke

James Brooke
Ever since I first found out about James Brooke 25 years ago through Bob’s course in Asian Studies and the book Flashman’s Lady, I have been fascinated by the history of Sarawak.  Imagine a young British adventurer sailing into the wilds of Borneo full of head hunters and pirates in 1839, who has the chutzpah to negotiate with the Sultan of Brunei that in exchange for suppressing the warring tribes and pirates in the area, who were causing the Sultan no end of angst, he would be granted the kingdom of Sarawak.  That's what happened and for over 100 years Brooke and his family ruled as the White Rajahs of Sarawak.

By all accounts Brooke was quite a progressive ruler.  He did not follow the usual path of the colonist at the time.  He practiced a collaborative ruling style, brought a market economy, social, civil and education services to the region while steadfastly maintaining local customs and protecting the indigenous people from being exploited by Western interest.  His first principle of rule as the White Rajah was that Sarawak was the heritage of the Sarawak people which as Rajah he held in trust for them.
Fort Margarita built by Raja Charles Brooke
Brookes ship: The Royalist, a 142-ton topsail schooner
Today Kuching is a vibrant, modern, multi-cultural city full of funky cafes, street art and a beautiful waterfront.  Kuching means 'cat' in Malay so there are lots of cat themes throughout the city, including a cat museum which we didn't go to.
The state parliament building.  A bit OTT and I wonder it is the best use of tax payers money but the locals seem proud of it.
Street art and cafes
Evening view of the Sarawak River
The head hunters are gone.  The only heads now are displayed in museums.  The numerous indigenous people such as the Dayaks, Ibans, Orang Ulu and Melanau, now live 21st Century lives wearing blue jeans and t-shirts and having mobile phones, satellite TV, and four wheel drive cars.  Many still live in their distinctive style of communal building, the long house, but these houses are no longer of grass and thatch but sturdy brick and concrete with all the mod cons.  Just as the rainforest reminded us of our home in Australia (previous post), the traditional long houses reminded us of our house in Bellingen.
Heads displayed in the traditional way in an Iban house
Traditional long house
Our house in Bellingen
Modern long house
The tribes are known for their textiles, bead work and wood carving.  There were lots of examples in the tourist souvenir shops and in the museums.

Sarawak Museum
Wood carvings

Bead work
Iban mask
We realise that next time we visit Sarawak we will need to go up the rivers to the less populated areas to see some of the vestiges of the traditional lifestyle.  The cities are lovely and modern but far removed from the age of Brooke.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Kuching: Orangutans and Orchids

The Semenggoh Nature Reserve is only about a 40 minute drive outside Kuching.  As we approached the area it was surrounded by suburbia and I began to fear inside the nature reserve would be very sad. But the reserve was 650 hectares of a rainforest oasis.  Sadly these oases are really the only places where these magnificent creatures can survive anymore.  We saw 4 of the 21 orangutans living on the  reserve.  They are still basically wild but need supplemental  feeding in between seasons.  21 orangutans require more than 650 hectares (interestingly this area is just double the size of our co-op property in Bellingen - perhaps the co-op should raise a few orangutans.....?)  
Shades of Shamballa and Dorrigo National Park 

The first orangutan we saw was very close to the entrance. The grand old man of the group, Richie, 38 years old, came for a feed and stayed for about 20 minutes, then with a semi-disdainful backward look at us clothed and nosy primates, took a final big piece of fruit and sauntered away.  He was much bigger and hairier than I expected from pictures and even my zoo visits.

Old man Richie
We then were ushered through some lovely but wet and muddy rainforest (it rained every day in Kuching except this one) to another feeding area nestled in thick jungle.  At this feeding area the keepers called to the animals for about a half hour. After waiting patiently and the onlooking crowds growing, an 18 year old male, Annuar, came for a feed.
About 15 minutes later, we saw some trees swaying in the distance and 12 year old Salina and her 4 month old baby came through the jungle for some fruit on the platform.  It was amazing to see them swinging through the tree tops and then be able to see them from about 30 - 50 m away.  It was magic.
Mum and Bub
Swinging through the trees
4 month old baby
Another day we went to the northern side of the Sarawak River to Fort Margarita (next post) and the Orchid Gardens.  On the map the garden looked to be only 100 metres away from the fort.  We couldn’t see any direct route but decided to walk over some fields to the gardens.  The fields turned out to be squishy swamp and we had to turn back and take the much longer road route.  The walk though was well worth it.  There were acres of orchids of every imaginable colour and shape.  After about 5 minutes Bob had seen enough and sat on a bench while I went all around the pathways taking hundreds of photos.