Easy to say, “see you later” in Pidgin. Not so easy to do. But – who knows what the future holds.
The low has weakened, but widened. There seems to be a bit of a gap coming up weather wise. Reasonable wind for a short while, then a section of stronger stuff (25 kts) easing off (15/20 kts) as we head west. Our plans became the best laid of mice and men, you will see.
OK, decision made. We are leaving Egholo. But the memories will always stay with us.
Including watching youngsters at sunset shoot the tiny point break in their canoes. One on a home made board. Much laughter and lots of happy.
Lots of waving, and 0600hrs we are out of Egholo harbour. Already we can feel the breeze, a bit more than expected, and it’s only early.
By late morning we’re well down Blanche Channel heading S.E. along the eastern side of Rendova under heads’l and main. My first sail in a big cat – my experience has been in monohulls. And does this thing move! 60 ft of boat weighing less than my 13 tonne flybridge cat. The secret is in its construction – balsa cored kevlar. Even the lifeline stanchions are kevlar, and the sails. No wonder it performs well, with tall mast and large sail area. Headsail, drifter, two spinnakers to go with the main. The motion is SO different from a monohull.
We leave Tetepare to starboard and head for the exit past Vanganau from Blanche Channel, where we are farewelled by two Spinner dolphins, smaller than ours.
Away from land, we’re lifting to the ocean swell and the press of a breeze stronger than anticipated.
All overcast sky, squalls and storms well ahead and to port. Will they do the right thing and pass by us?
Of course not. By midday we are in storms, wind way too strong, seas rough. Brian takes the sensible decision to go back. … pics don’t do it justice!
That in itself is an experience, going about in this strength of wind. Brian, calm and purposeful, methodically turn us around, and we head back to Rendova. Easier motion, with wind three quarters astern.
We scoot along, touching 23 knots at one stage. Yes. Faster than I could push Scorpion with 2 x 315 hp diesels! 23 knots under sail. Exhilarating, if a little other-worldly. Skippering Drumbeat is more like driving Starship Enterprise. Immense bridge deck, instruments and screens everywhere. Sailing by instruments, a whole new experience. Noise is overpowering – sound of the wind, and the water slamming into the hulls.
We head back, this time along the western side of Rendova where Brian knows of an anchorage, although he’s not been into it before.
Not just an anchorage, this is a cyclone hole. Even more protected than Egholo, deep water, good holding bottom, jungle to the water, twists and turns to get in, after going around a long reef that lies right across the entrance. Raining steadily now, the calm water a blessing. No people, no canoes, we motor and anchor in 18m over sand, in behind Kenelo Point near Nusa Laeni.
I fillet a bunch of little fish from Egholo while Brian sets up the rain catching systems to replenish our tanks. This place is silent, primeval, as the vertical rain showers pattern the dark water and brooding jungle. Gives a whole new meaning to calm water. Wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex or something shove through the leaves.
We go to bed wondering what tomorrow’s weather will bring.
No swell. No waves. Deep clean anchorage almost completely encircled by jungle and coconuts. A couple of small villages. Fresh water creek in S.W. corner, the mandatory mud bank for crocodiles in the opposite corner. No crocs, though, and apart from a vague hint that one visits occasionally no apparent concern. Still, I didn’t stray far from Drumbeat when I slid in for a swim.
I’m pleased the weather’s looking crook, this is a lovely place, pretty good to be stuck in.
We’re right on track for the kids paddling to school from the village closest to us behind the stand of coconuts. Some as young as four. All with happy smiles and shy grins, brilliant flashes of white teeth.
The old ‘foot pump bailer’ hard at work in a leaky canoe – there’s a few like that…
A paddling woodcarver calls by for a bit of trade, introduces himself as Soga. Very switched on, good English. Mixed with pidgin. Brian is excellent at this = more providing a spectacle than hard bargaining. Seems to be enjoyed by both sides. A lot of long silences, while I wonder have they drifted off somewhere. But no, all calculations and tactics. Until loudly “OFF the table!!” indicates a deal has been reached.
The kids soon learn that one square of chocolate is a prize they can collect. No greedy kids, no shoving or trying to get more. Smiles and “tenkyu tumas.”
Today we’ve been invited to the Gnana’s village, scrupulously neat and clean. By the water woodworkers are carving canoes. Using a short handled adze with a wider and thinner blade than I’m used to. Shaping is done by eye, and we can see the expertise as he slices layers of timber. The finish is as smooth as any table, inside and out.
The canoe carvers are busy men. Canoes from 1.5m (for the littlies) to 7 or 8m are everywhere, taking the place of our cars, bikes, trains, buses. And clearly a lot of pride goes into the art/skill of carving a canoe, symmetrical and seaworthy.
Our pace has slowed to that of the islands. Nothing happens real fast. A wonderful life-style, so different from our lives in Australia.
Right now I can think of nowhere I’d rather be. A bit of sun’d be nice, and those showers can go elsewhere, but motoring down the Diamond Narrows between New Georgia and Kohinggo Island takes some beating.
The barge hauls off to somewhere else, and we’re passed by a local ferry as the narrows open up into a huge lagoon area dotted with islands and reefs.
The dull sky tries, but can’t hide the beauty. We pass a canoe with fishing detail – how many can they fit in one of those things? A lunch stop near the fishermen, and feeling pleased we have an enclosed cockpit and bridge deck as rain showers pass through.
We work southwards along the eastern side of Rendova Island, heading for an anchorage at Egholo. If a sailor wanted to design the perfect anchorage, this is what he’d come up with. Deep water, plenty of protection, reef across the front, friendly villagers, laughing kids. Heaven on a stick.
We drop anchor right where shown on the map. Not because of the map, but because the village chief met us in his canoe as we came through the narrows and guided us to that spot. Completely enclosed by jungle, except for the entrance – and a transverse reef guards that. The anchorage is watched over by a mountain shrouded in cloud. Misty rain falls on glassed off water. We mightn’t see the near full moon coming up due to cloud, but we’ll get a good night’s sleep on this calm water. How could we not nickname this delightful place “the egghole?”
The headman, Gnana, welcomes us to his village, and we become the centre of attention for the village kids in their canoes. Shy, polite and gentle, with flashing smiles they are born to canoes. Little ones 4 years old, even.
Overcast and rainy, the forecast is not excellent. 25kts ESE blowing harder outside, and weather seems to be deteriorating. We decide a few days here might be nice, as we close up for the night.
A break in the rain and it’s all kids and canoes.
Whoever said all good things must come to an end is probably correct, but I wish right now he wasn’t. I don’t want to leave Burma, and hope to return to this wonderful country.
From Heho and the fabulous Inle Lake, we fly to Yangon, founded in 1755, renamed Rangoon when the British annexed the country in 1885. Tree lined avenues, lakes and parks and a bustling city centre. A wealth of Victorian architecture, including the famous Strand Hotel, sister hotel to Singapore’s Raffles.
We visit the must-see Shwedagon Pagoda 2,500 years old, on Singuttara Hill, the most sacred Buddhist site in Burma and one of the wonders of the religious world. Complex geometry and many structures, up to 110m high, the lower stupa claims 8,688 solid gold bars, with another 13,153 in the upper part. The tip of the stupa claims 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies, many sapphires and other gems, 1,065 golden bells and at the very top a single 76 carat diamond. It’s like Burma kept the best pagoda for the last. For us, at any rate.
Looks like a job for Ocean’s 11!
We have lunch on Inya Lake, within 200 metres of Aug San Suu Kyi’s house where she spent 15 years under house arrest.
All too soon, it’s goodbye to fabulous Burma/Myanmar as we fly to Singapore and then home to our own Mandalay.
A short flight from Bagan puts us into Heho and we transfer to the fabulous Aureum Palace Hotel. This is a stand-out accommodation resort on the shore of Lake Inle. In the restaurant one young waiter learned that my name is John, and he became so excited, calling me “Johnny” because he was Johnny, too. He epitomized the friendliness of the people of Burma. The Aureum Palace would be my favourite Burma resort; if you go to Myanmar, you must stay there.
We spend a couple of days on the huge lake (116 km2) in high speed long-tails, visiting villages around the shore, marvelling at the floating gardens. These gardens are staked to the lake bottom, replenished continually by boat loads of vegetable matter hauled on those small boats then stacked on top of the garden beds when the previous crop is harvested. Inle provides the bulk of Burma’s tomatoes and many vegetable crops. Reminiscent of the floating island dwellers on Lake Titicaca.
Some 70,000 people live in these water villages. One small group still follow the ancient practice of rings (actually a long spiral) around the neck and legs of the women. We’re told that it’s not a beauty thing. It’s actually intended to make the women seem ugly to invading marauders. The practice has nearly died out. Fascinating.
The fishermen on their long-tail canoes use “leg paddling” to manoeuvre their canoes. The long paddle is held against the body, one leg wrapped around it propels the boat, leaving both arms free to handle their conical fish traps and other gear. Against the setting sun, they look like so many ballet dancers performing an elegant and ancient ritual. I hope this fishing system never dies out.
The lake is surprisingly shallow. Much of it is about 2m deep in the dry season, and crystal clear. Dense growth on the lake floor, in places reaching to the surface, provides a home for a large fish population, predominantly a species of carp. Boats zip around on it all day dragging rooster tails, people travelling, harvesting lake weed, fishing – a multitude of pursuits all based on this massive water resource.
Villages around the lake provide homes for craftsmen of all types. We watch silk weaving on handlooms, visit the ringed neck women, have lunch in a restaurant on stilts, see beaten silver ornaments. Surprise, surprise, we acquire a couple of paintings. They’re now on our kitchen wall, a constant reminder of a wonderful month in our lives.
At the end of another wonderful day we return to our rooms – yes, plural; our unit is probably as large as our own house – hoping that somehow we could stay here for a much longer. But as the man said, tempus fugit, and so must we, tomorrow, to Yangon our departure city.
Book, you say? What book? It’ll have to wait.