Thursday, December 2, 2010

Putting The Miles On Seacomber

Singapore to Bali

It was a pretty morning in Singapore, the city I hate, and I was happy to be leaving in 24 hours after working my hindquarters off for 6 months. I had the crew on board. The provisions were stored, the boat was in tip top shape and we were about to have a meeting regarding our departure the following day. Then Megan got the call. Her mother had been killed in a car accident. 24 hours later we were on a plane to Oklahoma. A week later I was back in Singapore with the same crew (Sam and Kelli) minus Megan.

Kelli and the masked Indo

Sam the Texan

It was a fairly easy ride to Borneo, but once we turned south the winds grew stronger, the seas stood up tall and things got ugly. Seacomber would power up to 5 knots, stuff a wave that would bring a biblical flood all the way back to the doghouse and her speed would drop to 2 knots. Lather rinse repeat. For 4 days. It was horrible. 

The humans survived but some systems on the boat drowned. The temp gauges, the generator, the shore power connection, an assortment of fuses, and my crew’s wanderlust for continuing on to Sulawesi all became causalities of what I will forever remember as “the submarine ride to Bali”. I was on my beloved Balinese island for only 10 days. I had to get the boat fixed, find new crew, and provision for months in the wilderness. Seacomber’s owners; my new bosses, were flying halfway around the world to meet me on a given date in a place I’d never been. The starter pistol had sounded and I was late off the blocks with a sore ankle.

Public Appreciation


Cornelius fixed the boat, Kelly did my shopping, and Misha kindly helped with all the rest. I hired Asis and Aso, two Indo sailors to crew to Palopo, my first landfall on the island of Sulawesi. Then I met Scott and Babs as they walked the dock at the marina. Scott is a professional chef and Babs works harder than anyone you’ve ever met and smiles the whole time. I’ve never eaten better food and I’ve never been so pleased with crew. If you want a great work ethic with a sense of humour (I put the “u” in there on purpose), draft the English. They gave me constant flashbacks of Suzi Roberts, that hard working culinary firebrand who looks great in a bikini (Megan ok’d this sentence. I pay my respects.)

Scott and I

Sulawesi, Here We Come
Scott, Aso, Asis, Babs

I love going to sea with the Brits on the fourth of July. We averaged about 3 knots up the Lombok Straight as we fought that fierce current all day. It got better as we made the turn east over the top of Lombok. Our first anchorage was Medang Island. It hovers over the big island of Sumbawa and is swaddled in plastic because the Indos love to throw everything into the sea. That’s when I began to build the list of the 5 rules. These became the mandates that Asis and Aso were to adhere to during our time together:

1. Bules (Pronounced “boolays”; their word for whites. It translates as, “albinos”) like very cold beer.

2. Bules don’t like it when you throw plastic in the ocean.

3. Bules don’t like it when you touch your ass. Use toilet paper!

4. Bules can die without air conditioning.

5. Bob doesn’t like it when you waste his rags.

I made them memorize the rules and would have them repeat them at random times just by calling out the number. This is how you win the hearts and minds of the native people. That, and paying them huge amounts in cash.

Aso stayed with us only until our first landfall on the island of Sulawesi. Asis remained with us for another 30 days, until after Gordon & Celia departed. Scott and Babs kept Asis company while Seacomber was anchored up a river and Megan and I got off the boat to meet Gordon & Celia in Tana Toraja for 5 days.

Tana Toraja

The call to prayer beats the roosters in this inland part of central Sulawesi. Although the Muslims are only 5% of the populace in this area, they never miss a chance to disrupt one’s sleep. It’s overwhelmingly Christian, which is an anomaly for Indonesia, because it holds the distinction of having the world’s largest Islamic population. Though these people are Christian in majority and in base principles, there are still the lingering animist rites that the blood lust culture of Tana Toraja has wholeheartedly embraced . Here’s how it works: Your loved one dies, you embalm them, and wait up to 10 years for everyone to save the money they will need to buy cows and pigs to torture and kill for the funeral.

During the funeral, all the sacrifices from each family are noted in a book when they are presented for slaughter. When you attend someone elses funeral, you had better match or “one up” the offering in that book. Here’s the result: Perpetual poverty driven by these traditions that keep them in debt and unable to educate their children. They are so obsessed with death that they forget about life. Their focus becomes a death cult. Those debts that need to be repaid plus the funerals for their own loved ones cripple not only their futures but those of their children. Here’s the walk away statement: “Sure am glad I saw it. Even gladder it isn’t my culture.”

Life with the Boss

There isn’t much I can tell you. That doesn’t mean they aren’t interesting people, on the contrary, they are 2 of the most interesting people with the most astonishing stories you’ve ever heard, I just can’t tell you anything about them because they’ve asked me to respect their privacy. I can tell you that for all the wealth they must control, they are 2 of the most “down to earth” people one could ever meet. Celia cooks and cleans constantly, and Gordon climbs right into the engine room with me. They both insist on doing their night watches and are more sensitive to conserving water than even I am.

There was no wind. Each day we awoke early, motored until just before sunset, anchored Seacomber, and ate wonderful meals with delicious wine on the expansive poop deck. We discovered some beautiful anchorages and ended our time together in Manado, which is on the extreme northern tip of Sulawesi. It’s known for its diving. Take a gander:

Megan is so hot she needs a sea fan
I have no idea what this interesting thing is
Mostly the critters are very small
5 Years Gone

As I write this it is Dec 1 2010. I sailed away from San Diego aboard Barraveigh on Dec 1 2005. 5 years on the water, let’s add it up: 2 boats, 2 girlfriends, countless crew, 19 countries, 18,000 miles, lots of injuries, 1 reconstructive surgery, zero tattoos, improved language and accent skills, and only 3 Reuben sandwiches. At the end of every year I ask myself, “Are you getting closer to being the guy you always wanted to be?”

I’m getting there.

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Barraveigh For Sale

Changing of Vessels

When it came time to choose the name for this website I reasoned that the only constant would be the ship I was sailing. Crew would change, locations would change, I would change, but not the vehicle. Little did I know how wrong I would be.

People say you make your own luck, and I believe it to a point, however, if you want an example of standing in the right place at the right time, this is it:

I was at Bali Marina doing some work on the exterior of Barraveigh when I saw an unusual sailboat come into view. They were approaching the dock so I walked over to take a line and give them a hand. It wasn’t pure altruism; I was interested in getting a closer look at the poop deck and that davit deploying system for their tender. I shook a few hands and was asked if I would be around Bali and the marina for a few more months. When I answered in the affirmative it secured my dinner and drink invite for later that evening. We laughed, and swapped sailing stories. Gordon, the owner, asked me to come around the next day to talk about watching over his yacht Seacomber while she was at the marina in Bali.

From Bali To Singapore

I managed her care for 4 months and was then asked to help him move the boat to Singapore for a refit. Along the way, he asked if I would oversee the refit. The money he was offering was interesting and he sweetened the deal a few days later by proposing that I should become Seacomber’s full time captain and move aboard permanently.

1. I make Seacomber my home for the next 10 years and finish my circumnavigation on her.
2. I get a salary, the use of the boat when he and his wife are not aboard, and a sizable bonus when it’s all over.
3. Gordon gets consistency, a well maintained vessel and an adventure partner who is always ready to explore the unusual parts of the world.

The Betrayal

Now it’s time for me to announce my heartbreak – I need to sell Barraveigh. She saved my life and opened windows on the world that I never could have even imagined. She kept me warm, cooled me off, gave me shelter from the worst of the weather and will forever hold large real estate in my heart. We sailed more than halfway around the world together. This has honestly been one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

But she wasn’t built to sit on a mooring ball. She’s a lady with the spirit to voyage far and wide. If you, or anyone you know, are interested in owning a proven world cruiser with all the extras, she’s resting in paradise, just waiting for her next cohort in adventure. You don’t need to fight your way across the Pacific. You don’t need to set her up for ocean crossings. You don’t need to provision her with all the spare parts – I’ve already done all of these things for you. Just come to Bali and take the reins of a beautiful yacht and the mooring ball will even convey with the purchase. Please send your friends to and have them click on the right hand side where it says, "Barraveigh Yacht Spec".

A Few Words About Seacomber

Gordon built her 30 years ago in Cape Town, South Africa. She is based on a Bruce Roberts 55 design and tops out at 57 feet of length. She’s made of steel, with 3 headsails and a large main. The propulsion diesel is a Ford Lehman with 135 horsepower. That proved to be enough to push her through 10 foot seas and 25 knot winds on our nose, day after day on my recent trip from Singapore to Bali. Ya gotta love a steel, heavy displacement hull and a strong diesel engine.

She’s a “go-everywhere” boat with 3 freezers, a fridge, a 12kw genset, four solar panels, a water maker, a dive compressor, air conditioning, a washing machine with dryer, great nav gear and 3 autopilots, a couple of flat screen tvs, a real vice on a real tool bench with a real drill press (you need to be a long haul sailor to appreciate these last 3). And lastly, she even has a bread maker and an espresso machine. Do you hate me yet?

I’ll Give You Something To Hate

When I floated my plan to change boats to a subset of friends, only one said I would regret it. His point was simply this, “why be a slave to a job, and a master, and a system heavy boat, when you already fired your master, freed yourself from slavery and sailed off in your own boat?” All his points are very valid and the only answer I can honestly respond with is this; I am a whore.

I picked the lock, and walked right out of my own cell. I stamped my own release forms and slipped the dock lines for my own complete autonomy. I had it made. I have been preaching the benefits of choosing life over work for the last 5 years and now I have broken my own advice. Well sorta . . .

I Sleep At Night

Here’s why I can still look at myself in the mirror: I took a job doing what I would have done anyway and the pluses heavily outweigh the minuses. Yes – I lose some freedom, but I gain some too. Life, and the art of sailing, are balancing acts. Over my years on the sea, I’ve learned the meaning of compromise and patience. I think I can make this work to everyone’s betterment, but thank you Geoff for making me confront the devil in the decision.

And I Thought College Would Be The Highlight Of My Life

Ok – start drooling. Here are some photos of Seacomber, but don’t forget to help me sell Barraveigh by telling everyone you know, to tell everyone they know, about the little boat that could.

Captain Lucky!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Singapore – One Man’s Opinion

I waited until I departed Singaporean waters to file this dispatch. I have few kind things to say about it. Here are the few kind things now:

1. It’s clean

2. It’s safe

3. The Indian food is fantastic

4. Clarke Quay is a smashing hit

Having said that, unless one needs their boat repaired or conducts business in the Asian financial sector – I see no reason to go there. “Clean and safe” is tantamount to living in a coffin. I didn’t sign up for “clean and safe”. Give me weird and risky.

“Statistical Snapshot” or “Old Money vs. The New Rich”

Now pay attention, this says a lot: It’s a city, it’s an island, and it’s a nation. Singapore, or Singapura - English translation: Lion City – 42% of the population is comprised of foreigners. They are an international shipping hub at the bottle neck of the Malacca Strait (Stamford Raffles had foresight). They’ve only been independent from Malaysia since 1965 . . . and they are rich . . .

Show me the Money!

Wealth is relative. Are you rich or are you poor? It depends on who you are standing next to. Singapore is surrounded on all sides by poverty stricken Southeast Asia. There is a water spectacle in the heart of the city, and it’s called the “Fountain of Wealth”. It trumpets its title of “World’s Largest Fountain”. Singapore is proud of its economic status amongst the poor nations of Asia and it has no problem rubbing their noses in it. No one likes a show off.

I haven’t lived in the first world for almost 5 years but Singapore qualifies in every way. It has infrastructure, real roads, mass transit, and sadly, very little corruption. The problem with the first world is that it’s not economically feasible to bribe officials. I miss that. Here’s my story:

In Bali when I had a traffic infraction and the cop would pull me over - I would bribe him the equivalent of $5. It happened more than once. In the States that would have cost me a day in traffic school, $200, and maybe points off my license with an increase in my insurance costs. Sometimes corruption can be a good thing.

Apparently when you sail into Singapore and try to fly out the rules for the captain are different than the rules for the crew. Megan glided right through immigration while I was yanked to the side. I had to take a taxi to the immigration pier and was then told by the official that I needed to go back to the boat and get my crew list. I had 40 minutes before my flight lifted off. No problem. I know how to handle this. I pulled out my wad of money and turned on the charm. That got me nowhere. Then I peeled off a stack of bills and turned into the Ugly American. “I’m going to be on that plane. Let’s settle this now.” Nope. Not a chance. I’m lucky I didn’t end up in the brig. At that point I realized that I need to stop criticizing corruption and just admit that it works for the rich. Their wealth has greatly eliminated corruption. I suppose you can put that in the “good column”.

They may be rich but . . .

. . . Rest easy, they’ll never rule the world. There is a lubrication of commerce that the western world has realized that the Asian sector hasn’t even recognized yet. I must have called at least 30 businesses while I was there and not one of them answered with the name of the company, just “hello”. If you ask for someone and they aren’t there – their colleague will tell you to call back. Can you imagine that happening in the Western world? You would be fired immediately. The West is very adept at removing friction from business. Even as advanced as these Singaporeans are, they just haven’t figured out how to eliminate the hassle. I purchased thousands of dollars in new batteries and they wouldn’t take my credit card over the phone. The sales rep actually drove to the marina to pick me up and drive me to his office. It took them 5 seconds to swipe the card and we were back in the car and returning to the marina. I also found it easier to buy other items in the States and Australia, have them flown in, pay duty, and they were still cheaper and faster than buying the same items locally. Not to mention the customer service I received abroad vs. the comedy worthy exchanges I experienced with the Chinese overlords of Singapore, lah (they end every sentence with “lah”. Don’t ask).


Just because you know the phonetic letters doesn’t mean you speak English. I was listening to a Singaporean slaughter English and I thought, “Listen to what you are doing to my language.” Then I realized it wasn’t my language. My sentiment must be what a BBC Englishman feels when listening to an American or an Australian speak English. I now recognize that and here’s my public apology: “Sorry”. When I speak English to a non-native speaker, I slow down and I over enunciate. They won’t. The Singaporeans think they speak English. They don’t. They speak a hybrid pigeon English buttered with a thick coat of strong Mandarin inflection. It’s made even more frustrating by the speed at which they rattle it off their tongue. They either refuse to speak slower or can’t. I thought the Melanesian’s (Fiji not included) were handicapping their children by teaching them pigeon instead of proper English and it holds true for Singapore as well.

Clark Quay

I never professed to be a civil engineer but as far as city planning goes, I think Singapore might have one of the best planned spaces in any metropolitan area when it comes to the example of Clark Quay. I thought I should put this paragraph at this juncture since I’m about to have my passport revoked for being an intolerant ugly American. I may not like Singapore but I do recognize something worth emulating when I see it. Sure, it’s soulless and much too expensive but they’ve earned their kudos for building the perfect wallet drainer.

“Why So Long In Singapore Bob”?

One year ago I met a man on the dock at Bali Marina. His name is Gordon and he owns a gorgeous sailboat named Seacomber. He asked me if I would look after her while he was away. That lasted 4 months. He asked if I would help him sail her to Singapore for a refit. Yes again. During our trip north he asked if I would consider overseeing the refit. He more than doubled my pay and I agreed. Shortly after, he asked if I would consider moving aboard permanently as captain.

After much thought, I agreed.

Barraveigh is now for sale and I will continue around the world on the sailing vessel Seacomber. The details will be in the next dispatch. . .

Stay tuned,

Captain Bobby

I would like to dedicate this dispatch to 2 people and a dog who made my time in Singapore bearable. Hock Keng - "CAN", Megan - My lovely Megan, and the Iggy dog - he and a cold beer at the end of the day made all the work worth it. His owners are pretty cool too.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sandy Coit-Woodall

Megan, my live aboard girlfriend, turned 24 on May 24th. On May 25th her mother was killed when a kid ran a stop sign and crashed into the driver’s side of her car. If you’ve ever witnessed someone receive the news that their loved one has just been killed, you know it isn’t something you can ever forget. It’s too painful to describe the scene and I have too much respect for that family to have them read it here.

We booked flights and cried the 27 hours to Oklahoma City. Drinking fountains and country accents are the first things I noticed upon arriving in the country of my birth. South East Asia, my home for the last 10 months, was now the other side of the world. We drove the 1 ½ hours to their 160 acre rural home. I’d seen pictures of it. I’d met Sandy in Singapore. I was unprepared for how hard this would hit me, and I was the most removed of all the people who paid their respects over the next 4 days. She left behind Scott; her adoring husband, 2 daughters – Megan and McKensey, and 2 brothers – Marty and Michael, Richard Coit - the father of her children, as well as many other family members and friends. The whole county sent flowers and the church was packed.

I formed a theory: country folk deal with death better than city people. They are surrounded by it with their horses, cows, goats, strays, coyotes and numerous cats & dogs. I was amazed at the strength I witnessed within these people. They had an outer structure of community and an inner framework of pragmatism that propped them up when I would have been constantly sobbing in my brother’s arms. I just don’t possess their tools. And then there’s my Megan. She cried a thousand tears but she usually had a dull sweet smile on those lips and those electric blue eyes remained clear and strong. As the elder daughter, she exhibited grace and assumed her new role as matriarch of the clan with confidence. She’s her mother’s daughter.

Their friends and neighbors brought food daily and the house was base camp for the mourners who congregated. The sadness of plans never to happen was mixed with the sounds of kids playing. It seems impossible to recognize at times like this but life does goes on. Tears will dry. Serenity will gradually gain footing. But it’s going to be a long painful summer for Sandy’s family.

How can we help? Just be there for them. Let them know they aren’t alone. Sit with them, buy them ice cream, ask if you can help wash that thick haired corgi dog, give them a shoulder to cry on, be a good listener, and suggest activities that free their minds from the pain of their loss.

The plan Megan & I worked out is as follows – She’ll be staying in OK through the summer. She’ll then return to me in Manado on the northern tip of Suluwesi (Indo) in Aug. We’ll continue our romance for 6 weeks and then she’ll return to spend Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years with her family. Late Jan she’ll be rejoining me indefinitely. O what happy days those will be.

I’ll be thinking of you constantly Megan. All my love,


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Cambodia Part 2 - I Love Those Elephants!

Pack a bag, it's Pachyderm time

A miserable bus ride makes for an even more joyful arrival. We disembarked in a red dirt town that had one main street that looked just like Carson City 1887. Sem Monorem is the capital of the Modulkiri province. This is the wild eastern frontier that borders Vietnam. We came for the elephants.

Our elephant’s name was Nam Koon, but we called him Mr. Baggy Pajamas. He’s a working elephant. That means he hauls lumber in the jungle until some tourists show up in this godforsaken dustbowl of a town and cough up the money to rent him. Here’s what I learned about elephants: 1.) They are extremely graceful. They can maneuver their enormous bodies through the tightest openings in the jungle flooring. 2.) They are incredibly strong. The elephant’s owner is Chranh. When he says “Mai Pai”, MBP renders useless whatever obstacle is in our way. He rips it out by grasping it with his trunk, shoves it out of the way using his head as a bulldozer, or crushes it beneath his feet. 3.) MBP loves Nature Valley Granola bars. When we ran out, he roared like Tarzan and peed his pajamas in rage. I’m guessing his message was something along the lines of, “That was the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Don’t you dare tell me you ran out!” 4.) An elephant eats 23 hours a day and sleeps for only 1.

I'll Take "Pronouncable Vowels" for $600 Alex

At this point you need to know that the Cambodian’s have their own alphabet. It looks nothing like ours. I can’t even begin to understand it. Further – they make sounds that my nasal passages won’t permit. Given enough time I can learn anything, but remember – I’m a “weeker” now.

Changrom was the man I spoke to on the phone when I called from Phnom Penh. He wasn’t the lowest price but his English was better than the others I spoke to. I told him I’d agree to his price ($120 for 2 people for 2 days with food & hammocks included. They use US currency) if he accompanied us the whole time. He did. He walked behind MBP for 2 days. As an added bonus, Phnong or Flak (we were never sure what his name was); who is the elephant owner’s 9 year old son, tagged along on foot for those 2 days as well. That kid never spoke to us. I don’t think he even spoke to his dad. I did hear him singing to himself once, so I know he isn’t mute. They belong to one of the minority clans of people called the Phnong. Wait – now that I see it in print - I thought that was the kid’s name. No one really speaks English and they just give you the quickest & easiest response to any question. Damn it! I actually thought we were communicating. Guess not. Talk about being an ugly American – Not only did I call that kid by the wrong name for 2 days, but because I can’t really differentiate their “ch” sound from their “tr” sound, I changed his dad’s name from “Chranh” to “Jurong” (it’s the mall closest to us in Singapore. Someone should just cane me now). It gets worse – I got tired of guessing whether it was “Changrom” or “Chamrong” or “Trangrum” or whatever the “walk behind guys” name was, so I renamed him Ron. “You will now be called Ron”. He was fine with that.
Time To Feed

We stopped for lunch and Chranh anchored the elephant. Just like me, he uses 3/8 inch chain and drops it right off the big boys shoulder in the same way I use my bow roller. He ties one end to his ankle and the other to a tree. Getting off and on the elephant necessitates finding a fallen tree to climb. Mr. Baggy Pajamas won’t hoist you onto his back with his trunk even if you offer to pay extra.

We ate beside a river and snoozed in the shade while the elephant ate everything in his radius. We climbed back in our box and pushed on. His lumbering motion takes some getting used to, so we rearranged our nest and settled in for the trail ride. I’m not sure if we were lost, if Chranh likes to blaze trails, or if the jungle just grows back that quickly, but MBP had to smash our way through the lower canopy. He was very “passenger conscious” and exercised courtesy in not ducking a branch and wiping us clean off his back, which is exactly what I would have done if 3 humans were riding on me. Occasionally the owner would reward him by allowing him to stop and annihilate some banana trees. Chranh says he likes bamboo leaves and banana tree stalks the best. Those do seem to be his favorites when he can’t get Nature Valley Granola bars.

Hammock With Mozzie Netting

We stopped to make camp for the night by a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole. The men cooked and the silent kid with the mystery name washed all the dishes. As the sun dipped lower, Chranh prepared MBP for the night. He “hobbles” the elephant by putting a figure eight device made of rattan around his front 2 feet. MBP then just shuffles around breaking and eating everything green, and it’s all green. First thing he does is rip the top off the bamboo branch and use it as a fly swatter on his flanks and underside. He then discards the self flagellating device and gets to work stripping the leaves. I pick up the swatter and smote his flies for him. We have a relationship.

Here's the video: Swatting Mr. Baggy Pajamas

I awoke in my hammock a couple times throughout the night due to the ferocious cracking of giant tree limbs. I smiled as I remembered where I was, and then drifted back to sleep happily dreaming of a hungry pachyderm. If only I had more granola bars.

They tracked him the next morning by following the drag mark the chain leaves on the jungle floor. Before we saddled up, the owner bathed him in the swimming hole. Here’s the video of MBP getting a bath. The photos are of a different elephant with some French girls that we met on the bank of a river. Damn tourists are everywhere.

Here's the video: Elephant Bath
GoodBye to MBP

We returned to MBP’s dusty village of round houses that looked like Navajo Hogan. We said our goodbyes as we stared one last time into that giant eye. The overnight elephant trek was a brass ring experience that’s better than any circus you could ever go to. I highly recommend it.

Before we left Sem Monorem we spoke to an ex-pat who told us how horrible it is to ride the elephants. After listening to his reasoning I’m sure he’s right. You should never ride an elephant. I cannot recommend it. We kept our mouths shut and asked about worse criminals. I wanted to know about the murderers who live amongst him and how they live with what they did in the 1970’s. His answer was brief and stark, “They survived by learning to lie, cheat and steal. They still do.” We abused an elephant and tortured the names of our guests. In the history of Cambodian offences – we’re practically civic heroes.

In Conclusion

As I read what I have written here, and in the previous dispatch about Cambodia, I think I am coming to the conclusion that it might be one of those places on earth that will break ones heart, while compelling one to marvel at the resilience of the human spirit. I won the lottery at birth in so many ways, and these people have been on the losing end of history for most of their lives, but they persevere. What else can they do? They struggle and suffer but they hold out hope that the future will improve. And it looks like it is improving.

From the red dirt of Cambodia to the sterile austerity of Singapore – It’s good to be back on a sailboat, even if it is parked in a boat yard.

Next Dispatch: Singapore – One Man’s Opinion

Capt Bob

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Cambodia Part 1

I Travel By Plane Now

Flying into Cambodia we saw only swamps and rice paddies. And let’s be honest – rice paddies are just cultivated swamps.

Life in a hostel is a bit different than life on a sailboat. All the feral backpackers have kennel cough. We under packed our bags and over packed our itinerary and ran around like 2 week tourists, which was exactly what we had become. Ah – “weekers”: Those working stiffs who think they are going to “do” a country in 14 days. I’ve frowned at them for 4 years, and now I had become one of them. It’s the antithesis of what I signed up for when I bought a boat, sold my car, and graduated from my previous life. Don’t tell my fellow yachties.

I have always said that when I go to Vietnam I’m going to pick a fight with someone just so I can say, “I fought in Nam”. Well, we never made it out of Cambodia, but I did get beat up by a blind man. Now, before you think I’m a complete sissy, please note that it was an over aggressive massage and that I had volunteered. It’s charity, and the massage wasn’t all that bad. This country has more handicapped people than any other place I’ve ever been. We can blame the landmines for that.

And Now, For A Short History Of The Misery That Is Cambodia:

I’m glad I went to Cambodia. I’m even gladder I wasn’t born in Cambodia. These people have had a ghastly existence for 3 decades. From 1970 to 1975 the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot’s guerilla forces) fought Lon Nol’s (that palindrome usurper of power) government in a civil war. In 1975 Pol Pot took Phnom Penh and thus control of the whole country. He emptied the cities and sent the inhabitants into slave labor death camps. He killed as many as 1.7 million (the estimates range from 1 to 2 million. I think 1.7 might be the most accurate) of his own people in the next 3 years. If you spoke another language or wore glasses or had an education you would be tortured and killed. In 1979 the nightmare subsided when the Vietnamese invaded and pushed Pol Pot into Thailand. The fighting didn’t end until 1999 when the last of the Khmer Rouge communist guerillas defected to the government forces. Pol Pot died in 1998 of old age.

In those 30 years of carnage it is estimated that as many as 10 million mines were laid. That doesn’t even take into account the amount of unexploded ordinance that is still in the ground from the half a million tons of bombs the US dropped on them during the Vietnam War. Cambodia is one of the most heavily mined places in the world, and not surprisingly, has one of the highest disability rates. There are 40,000 amputees living in the country and at least another 40,000 have been killed by the mines. Every month, another 30 people step on a mine. That figure was 300 a month, back in 1996. It’s getting better, but one should be very careful about where they wander off the trail. It makes relieving oneself behind a tree a terrifying prospect. A man once asked a social worker what percentage of Cambodians suffer from post-traumatic-stress-disorder. “Stupid question – it’s 100%”

Before their protracted civil wars commenced, the French used to run the show. So just like Vanuatu – they have delicious baguettes and 2 hour lunches. It’s fun to hate the French, but everywhere they go they do improve the gastronomic abilities of a locale (that was for you Sabine).

And even though Cambodia expelled the French and spent years as a communist regime they are now, of course, a capitalistic society. One might even say “they have embraced capitalism with a vengeance”. If you ever doubt the power of capitalism, please note that there is a Diary Queen in the Phnom Penh airport. A Butterfinger Oreo Blizzard is going to trump Mao’s little red book every time.

I don’t know if we can contribute this next anecdote to the French. My hunch is it’s based on abject poverty: We saw a happy Chihuahua prancing around a parking lot as we drove past in the tuktuk and made a mental note to drop by on our way back to the hotel so that we could pet that little dog. When we arrived I approached the tallest man (almost always the decision maker), and said, “There was a nice little dog here earlier and we would like to pet it”. He leaned closer and in a hushed, but knowing tone said, “Oh, you want to eat that dog.” “NO! NO! Just pet. Only pet. Please mister, don’t cook that dog.”

I did eat crocodile and snake. Reptiles now fear me. When you see beef on the menu – just know that it’s water buffalo. I never saw a moo cow the whole time I was there. Their food is delicious. I am in love with their “dry” curry. We took a cooking class in Battambang and it was a very worthwhile affair. Our translator had only lost one sibling to Pol Pot’s murder factories. That was considered “very lucky”. The depressing stories of these people continually surface.

But It Wasn’t All Bad.
Remember, we’re tourists; we scratch the surface until it gets uncomfortable, and then we go for an ice cream. The first highlight of our trip were the temples of Angkor Wat. They look like giant sand drip castles. We bribed a crooked cop $5 and had the inner sanctum of the largest temple to ourselves for about 20 minutes. It’s impressive on a scale that rivals the pyramids of Egypt. Better get their fast though, because like the Galapagos Islands – this high level of tourism can’t continue unabated.

Most of the structures were built about 800+ years ago but some are over 1,000 years old. Every surface is carved. The amount of detail is just stunning. Angkor Wat was a city of over 1,000,000 people when London had 50,000.

It seemed to me that the only 3 subjects worth snapping a shutter at were the dead and disabled, the ancient temples, and the bright orange robes of the monks. We had our own monk assigned to us as we entered Phnom Penh. That’s not really true – it just felt like it. Sary is a calm young man who accompanied us and explained the Buddhist teaching in fairly accomplished English. I think he broke a few rules by eating fruit after 12 noon, and casting his eyes towards Megan, but we’ll forgive him since he lives in the big city. Besides, who can go that many hours without eating? He simplified the Dharma into 3 pillars: 1). Do wholesome things, 2.) Don’t do unwholesome things, 3.) Purify your mind.

And I Used To Live In Phoenix

It was so oppressively hot that I bought a shirt made of gauze. I’ll be lucky if it survives one washing. That first blast of cold air when you open the door to your air conditioned hotel room after 8 hours in the dusty, parched heat of Cambodia is a magnificent feeling. It’s frosty and it punches you in the chest as it sears your lungs. Delicious.

We gave up the delights of our climate controlled hotel room for an overnight elephant trek. But first we had to get there. It was an 8 hour drive (each way) on a horrible road, with the ever honking bus drivers, and the vomiting ladies in the seat behind me. Screaming children and their stinking diapers didn’t help much and the high volume headache inducing music is so intolerable that we nearly made an eardrum pact; you perforate mine and I’ll perforate yours. But it was all worth it.

Next Dispatch – Cambodia Part 2 / The Elephant Trek

Your man on point,

Captain Bob


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