2012 in pictures

30 12 2012

A selection of what I thought were the best, or most interesting images from the year that was.

A year that took in a yacht delivery from Indo, working in Cairns, a few trips to Perth, a move to Melbourne and a new Canon S100.

ambon mast

View from up the mast while tied to the dock in Ambon, Indonesia onboard SY Kealoha.

IMG_0113

High-dynamic-range shot playing with my new camera at Mornington Peninsula, VIC.
(Appeared in Caravan World!) hahaha

Looking down on some winter trees at Daylesford, VIC

Looking down on some winter trees at Daylesford, VIC

Zipping through north-western Thailand near the Laos border while shooting manually on the G12. Tricky, hence the speedo.

Zipping through north-western Thailand near the Laos border while shooting manually on the G12. Tricky, hence the speedo.

Regurgitator playing Meredith Music Festival taken on a tilt-shift setting late afternoon

Regurgitator playing Meredith Music Festival taken on a tilt-shift setting late afternoon

Does this even need an explanation? Bliss.

Does this even need an explanation? Bliss.

Old Holden rusting peacefully by the side of the road in North Fitzroy, VIC.

Old Holden rusting peacefully by the side of the road in North Fitzroy, VIC.

Winding through the tree-lined corridors of Bright, northern Victoria. A highly-recommended activity.

Winding through the tree-lined corridors of Bright, northern Victoria. A highly-recommended activity.

One shot from an attempted foray into interior commercial photography.  I thought it looked alright.

One shot from an attempted foray into interior commercial photography. I thought it looked alright.

My favourite shot from the recent Melbourne Tweed Ride.

My favourite shot from the recent Melbourne Tweed Ride.

Bridge near my new home - Fairfield, VIC

Bridge near my new home – Fairfield, VIC

Just another frosty beverage. Must be the tropics. Thailand. HTC smartphone photo.

Just another frosty beverage. Must be the tropics. Thailand. HTC smartphone photo.

'Carn the Dockers! First game at the MCG on arrival in Melbourne.

‘Carn the Dockers! First game at the MCG on arrival in Melbourne.

Cape Schank lighthouse, Mornington, VIC.

Cape Schank lighthouse, Mornington, VIC.





Thailand to Indo by yacht.

1 04 2012

The alarm blasts me from sleep. Again.

Snooze? Better not, could be trouble.

Stumble to the bathroom, splash some cold water on my face in an attempt to come round. The water is warm, so now I am damp but still half-asleep.

Brush teeth? Screw it. Coffee? Better save it. Lifejacket? Sigh.

Grope for the doorway to face a star-filled tropical night.

Welcome to another sailing delivery…

Sails out. Let's roll.

I’ve written about deliveries before – horrendous puke-filled storm runs down the west coast of Europe and joyous reunions with old pals and old yachts on the Atlantic.

This one was a little different: a week sailing through some of the world’s busiest shipping lanes in burning equatorial heat, from Phuket to Bali with a bunch of people I barely knew.

And I figured the daily details of a big boat delivery might be kind of interesting. God knows, I’ve got time to write. And that’s probably what sets delivery trips apart from our regular life afloat: you may have a schedule to keep, but out on the ocean, there’s time aplenty.

Which way is Bali anyhow?

A rolling roster of watchkeepers ensure we don’t crash into nearby boats or pointy bits of rock, but when you’re not on watch, the time is yours.

Unless the generator shits the bed, or the watermaker filters need changing, or the main engine starts spraying a fine mist of diesel over everything; then, you gotta sort it out. But when the old girl is behaving, things are pretty chilled.

All our ropes are the same colour to make things more interesting for the crew.

This trip was scheduled during holidays for our regular captain and the chef, so we hired an elite team of sailor-types from around the world.  It was quite an eclectic collection of crew.

Dan: Kiwi – Delivery Captain and boss guy. Hunter, fisher, seasoned sailor, enthusiastic delegator of chores. Enforcer of fines.

Mark: English/ Phuket resident – local Yachtmaster examiner who had done this trip several times. The man to quiz with your tricky sailing questions. Loves bacon sandwiches at sunrise.

Matt: Cornish – First mate with a penchant for tattoos, surfing and country music. The only person I know who suits up for night watch in a dress shirt. Likes his shorts extra small.

Thomas: German/Australian/Phuket resident  – Matt’s surfing buddy and experienced local sailor. Hates vegetables and ‘alternative’ food. Enjoys meat with maple syrup.

Nicky: As above, Tom’s sister – Crew chef who speaks Norwegian, Thai, German and more. Likes to upset Tom by cooking healthy food. Good at backflips, too. The queen of clean.

Myself: Australian – Delivery crew. Amateur gadabout, sometime cook, talented avoider-of-work. Enjoys stirring up Matt and cooking vego food for carnivores.

Pretty expensive fishing boat.

After a few days of dodging giant ships between Thailand and Singapore we cleared out into the Big Blue proper – tiny Malaysian fishing villages, isolated reefs and crazy currents as we headed south of Kaliamantan.

Dan obliged his crew with a few stops for deep water swim sessions and as it was the first time crossing the equator for 4 of the crew, even King Neptune made an appearance.

Gettin' personal with the game reel

Sailors are a bloody superstitious bunch. I don’t know a single captain anywhere who will depart port on a Friday. No one could tell you why, but it’s just not done. I was once banned from whistling onboard. And so it goes with the Rites of Neptune.

I forget the reasons why, but anyone crossing the equator by boat for the first time is submitted to some serious abuse by those who have gone before. Expect rotten food, seawater, pain and probably fish guts. How this initiates you is unimportant, it just does.

Sail repairs en route with Smithy.

So we threw some food about, we caught some fish, we fixed a bunch of stuff, read books, enjoyed films, ate because we were bored, got deep and meaningful during late night watches and even did some sailing. Who would’ve thought?

Our route took us south from Thailand down the Malacca Straits, underneath Singapore and Kaliamantan then south-east through a handful of remote islands belonging to Malaysia.

Curious kids as we crossed into Indo

We popped out above Bali and witnessed a heart-stopping sunrise as dawn broke over Lombok before taking in Bali’s pretty east coast with the volcano beyond.

And then we were there. Job done.

Market near Ubud, Bali





Thirty hours in Koh Yao Noi

26 02 2012

Kho Yao Noi is 30 minutes by speedboat from Phuket, but barely touched. Where Phuket is brash and crowded, KYN is quiet, undeveloped and quite lovely.

It’s small and off the radar  – an island of dusty trails and rubber plantations but without epic beaches and that’s probably why the developers haven’t got their hooks in yet. Sounds promising, right?

Here’s a rundown.

0930 – Bang Rong Village

My friend Liz had generously lent me her scooter for the week, so as payback I was secretly having it serviced. Or trying to. It’s tough to explain in bad Thai that nothing specifically is wrong with your bike. A couple of helpful types had provided me a note in Thai script, so I presented this to the smiling mechanic and left him to it.

1015 – Speedboat to Kho Yao Noi

I bump into three Aussies on the boat. They’re staying in Patong – the asshole of southern Thailand. They’d been last year with their kids. And they were back. Why? It’s like Kuta. Most tourists don’t even realise that beyond their garish resort lies a diverse, beautiful island nation. Maybe they’ll never know. Some dude on the boat also had a squirrel in a cardboard box. He claimed it was not for dinner.

1115 – Coconut Corner

I’m met by Alex, a young German guy who manages the bungalows. The night before, he’d told me they were full, but to come along anyway and he’d find me a spot to stay. Can’t argue with that.

Turns out they did have room, in a wooden fan bungalow with cold water and a mosquito net  – the best accommodation in Thailand. Simple, comfortable, cheap. The huts are right on the (muddy) beach and Alex finds me a mountain bike.

roadside observer

1230 – Round the island.

I had heard KYN was perfect for cycling. One ring road circles the island with plenty of dirt diversions heading off to god-knows-where. But I only saw one cyclist, most tourists had scooters. I told myself I was having more fun. And it was good. After 20 minutes rolling through rubber tree plantations and admiring a few buffalo, I found a dirt road announcing ‘Had Yao Beach’. Sold.

1245 – Trail to Had Yao

The dirt track winds through shady rubber plantations, most of them deserted, with enough swooping cross-country sections to keep me sweaty.  I notice a lot of rubber trees are losing their leaves as if for winter, while others look bushy and healthy. Wonder about this for a while.

I also nearly run over a 6ft monitor lizard. Rolling along with my head in the clouds as usual, I hear a rapid ‘pom-pom-pom’  ahead of me and look up just in time to see a fucking mini-dinosaur thumping across the road.

shady trails thru the rubber trees

1330 – In the shade.

It’s one of those hazy SE Asian days without a breath of wind to blow the smog away. At least I think it’s smog. It’s not mist anyway. Luckily the unidentified smoky stuff forms a protective layer and the sun doesn’t seem too intense. For now. And for an island with rubbish beaches, this one ain’t bad, tucked away on the NE of the island with the limestone cliffs and karsts of Pha Nga Bay standing sentinel in the distance. There are just a few Thais here and one family of whiteys. I wonder briefly how five grownups travel around on two scooters.

rubber plantation

1415 – Ring road.

Gardens, all around.  There are decorative palms, tropical flowers, giant cycads and all sorts of fruit trees lining the roads. Plus my favourite — the sealing wax palm — with its bright red trunk. It’s damn impressive. It’s also damn hot. I’m beginning to realize it was a major error to attempt physical exercise after lunchtime in Thailand. There are a few big hills I slog up, feeling light-headed as I suck in the thick tropical air. KYN is predominantly a Muslim island, so I do pause briefly before taking my shirt off, but I figure the modesty rules mostly apply to women. Offer brief prayer to Allah that I am not a girl.

best palm ever? yes.

1500 – KYN ‘town’

The loose collection of restaurants, t-shirt stalls and bars near the centre of the island is referred to as town. I don’t care what it’s called – it has a 7-11. They keep those joints icy. I stumble through the door and embrace the air-conditioned chill.

1515 – Toothpaste aisle.

From the fridge I select my isotonic sports beverage – Pocari Sweat. It tastes salty, if not sweaty. I also search – in vain – for my favourite icecream, the passionfruit popsicle. These can be found in maybe one of every five 7-11s. That’s how good they are. I settle for a Rainbow PaddlePop and pay for my cold goods , before positioning myself in front of the aircon, in the dental hygiene aisle. Ponder why so many Thai toothpastes are flavoured with salt. No…really.

wicked gardens

1545 – A café.

While examining a map for new adventures, James – the yacht captain – phones me from Burma. Turns out they’ve found a pocket of mobile coverage. He needs me to book a crew apartment, rent a car and watch the boat while they get drunk on Sunday. Have a moan, then remember I’m still being paid. Whoops.

1620 – My beach

Sweaty and gross I head across the road opposite my hut for a swim. Looks shallow. It is also impossibly hot. Not warm, not tepid, the water is hot. It’s not even cold down deep as the tide is out and I only have two feet of water to work with.  Damn. My cold water shower  is – thankfully – cold.

1700 – Coconut Corner Restaurant

My week away from the boat is supposed to be for studying. So far it’s been equal parts wakeboarding, procrastinating and studying. I spread out my charts and books in the restaurant and hit it for at least 45 minutes. It looks like I am doing something important. I also decline the offer of a beer. Such dedication.

2000 – A darkened road.

My hosts are nice enough, by my restaurant looks dead boring. I grab the bike and seek more exciting dining options. It’s very dark. Except for some strobelights bobbing about. Fireflies! I have only ever seen these guys in rural Thailand. While trying to catch one to tie on my bike, the street lights come on. Weird. My dinner is not exciting. But I do see more fireflies – a big night out by KYN standards, I feel.

0715 – Ring road north. The next day.

Determined to reach the mythical Paradise Resort, I strike out early. A dirt road lies between me and my goal. It has giant hills. Make a quick stop in the CBD some cold noodles with curry sauce. Oh, for a crappy coffee with condensed milk…

0800 – Dirt trail with friends

Some background: I know about four people in Phuket. Incredibly, as I am pushing my bike up another insurmountable crest, one of them rides past. With her boyfriend. On a scooter. Going climbing. We spend the next 15 minutes leap-frogging each other – they overtake me on the steep inclines and I fly past on the descents. It’s good to know I can keep up with a scooter.

heading up The Mitt

0900 – The Mitt (a cliff with a name)

I don’t know how I feel about climbing. I tried an indoor wall once and it was balls, just an unpleasant waste of energy. But this outdoor stuff, in the jungle, looks…fun. Challenging.  Achievable? I watch Nikki and Amir for a while, they’re pretty good, but they also have two big bags full of gear. The last thing I need is another expensive hobby. Decide climbing is probably still a bit shit.

1000 – The road home

The ride back is tough. It’s hot now and I’ve run out of water. The hills seem steeper. Each time I get off the bike and slump across the handlebars, sweat pours off my face and bombs into the dust below. But I make it and Alex’s mother busts out a big plate of veges and rice for my late brunch. I may yet survive.

1230 – Boat trip

Some French girls travelling with their mother drape themselves across the bow of our longtail in their short dresses. The passengers are mainly Thai. I’m certainly no prude, but I do feel  embarrassed by how blasé so many backpackers are when it comes to cultural etiquette. Not really good form travelling from a Muslim island. Of course no one says anything – can’t offend the moneymakers.

Scooters, backpackers, bemused local - the quintessential Thai scene.

1330 – Bike shop

The mechanic presents me with my ‘serviced’ scooter. How much? No charge. What did you do? Nothing. Why not? Nothing was wrong with it. Okaaaay, then. Liz tells me she appreciates the gesture.





The Mae Hong Son Loop. Part 2.

24 12 2011

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do.....

One month on from piloting motorbikes through northern Thailand’s twisting mountain highways and the whole venture seems like a distant memory.

We’re in Phuket now, a weird sanitised version of SE Asia for package tourists and sex pests, and daily we find our minds drifting back to those 800kms of misty trails.

We didn’t know it at the time, but just six days touring that rugged green loop would prove to be among the finest adventures any of us would undertake in Thailand.

Enough certainly, to keep us smiling through long sweaty days detailing the yacht prior to Christmas.

Here are a few highlights:

Coffeecoffeecoffee:  A few years back, the Thais never seemed much into coffee. In 2011, the place was awash with the stuff, much to my glee. And decent, too.  Every hole-in-the-wall in Chiang Mai housed another bloke with an espresso machine. Even better, they were growing it in those same hills we were riding. The morning roadside coffee quickly became part of our motorcycle routine, not least because it gave us another chance to get off those wretched seats.

My local

The motorcycle as transport:  Apart from a pushbike (too slow, too many hills) there can be no better way to experience a country than from the back of a motorcycle. You can hear the kids laughing at you as you ride through another village, smell the sunflowers on the hill (as well as the truck belching diesel in front of you), you can feel every temperature change as you charge up another mountain through the cool morning fog. You can even flirt with girls sitting in the back of pick-up trucks. Unbeatable.

Do you accept magic beans?

Unscheduled detours: To prepare for this venture, we bought a large waterproof touring map of the north, Sadly, this was lost before lunch on the first day, so we resorted to IPhone photos of other people’s maps. This was a dual-edged sword – 1)much easier to carry; 2)much harder to read which led us to take some exciting detours. I was responsible for directing us to Mae Surin waterfall (“the best in Thailand!” I had been assured). This particular sideroad however, took us high into the mountains, above the clouds on a narrow ridge track that frequently turned from concrete into mud. Each time, Jodie would switch bikes onto my offroader for a bouncy stint, while James wrestled his Phantom through the muck. It did turn out to be a pretty rad waterfall though.

Not every bike is designed to go offroad. That's bullshit.

Later, nearer Chiang Mai, we found a fast-flowing river and an old crone renting inner tubes. No one else was riding the rapids, but this didn’t stop us paying the princely fee of 30Bt each for a few hours of nervous, hysterical laughter. It’s amazing to consider you can almost drown in two feet of water, but we did, and the Thais thought it was brilliant, until we almost took out their entire riverside bar.

Exotic eats: Given the proximity to Myanmar, food in the north is all about the Shan – a hilltribe living in exile on both sides of the border. They’re into things like fermented bean curd, weird fragrant herbs and baby fern salads. It’s awesome, healthy gear. We also chanced on a Yunnanese village where we hopped into some steamed pork belly with smoky exotic spices and young tea leaf salad on the shores of a pretty lake. Beats the old Pad Thai for a change.

Jodie with her beloved condiment quartet. And Beer Leo.

Pai: Three trips to Thailand = three trips to Pai. There’s gotta be something going on up there. A cute, artsy village on the side of a river surrounded by soaring hills? What’s not to like. Sure there are a helluva lot more tourists now and a nightly market selling the same Pai-radise t-shirts on every corner, but it still has neat galleries, kick-ass health food and cheap accommodation. I stayed in the same bamboo hut that I scored six years back, for the very reasonable price of $4. Inflation? Nil.

Pretty Pai paddy

Cave Lodge:Caving is a big deal in the north and there are few more qualified to drop you down a dark limestone hole than John Spies. An Aussie who moved there in the 70s, Spies runs Cave Lodge, a legendary hillside bungalow surrounded by pristine rivers, hidden tunnels and huge caverns full of batshit. He’s been responsible for mapping out the area’s archeologically-significant caves and is still finding new sites. Nearby he has discovered teak coffins more than 2000 years old, burial caves which pre-date the Thai civilization. Combine this with 30 years of hellraising on the border and well, he’s an interesting bloke to have a beer with.

James took this on the G12 at Soppong. It captures that hazy lazy late-arvo feel so perfectly.

 

Big bamboo near the border.

 





The Mae Hong Son Loop. Part 1.

7 11 2011

Once again I had found myself in Chiang Mai, this time waiting around for a yacht to arrive in Singapore.

Interestingly, half of Thailand had also fled north, told to leave Bangkok as floodwaters continued to rise. So low-season in the walled northern city was pretty damn busy.

“To the hills,” we cried.  To the north and west of Chiang Mai, mountain ranges hold Myanmar at bay. They looked like a giant amusement park to us part-time bikers.

Thailand’s refreshing tourism policy of look-after-your-damn-selves meant no one even questioned our ability or qualifications as we picked out powerful motorcycles. OK, maybe a 250cc Kawasaki isn’t termed powerful, but it was certainly dangerous enough.

This was no groundbreaking plan, mind. The Mae Hong Son loop is an established touring route through the north, renowned for its 1864 curves in just the first half of the trip. It sounded challenging bloody great.

As luck would have it, our timing for this venture could not have been better. A record wet season had left the entire country bursting with colour and life. But we never got rained on once.

cute little passenger

Rice shined greeny-gold as it ripened in mountain paddies. Jungle-covered limestone karsts loomed large over winding roads. Sprawling fields of Mexican sunflowers nodded their little yellow heads. Orchids lined every tree. Outrageous.

And the roads. The freakin’ roads.

Hairpin turns, long smooth straights, gently winding curves rising higher and higher into the mists.

I’m no biker, but this must be one of the world’s great rides. Every day it was “Whoa, that was a great road.”

When we met fellow riders at the frequent viewpoints, we would give a knowing nod and watch grown men on big bikes giggle like schoolgirls.

Over seven days we knocked out 820km, through Pai, Mae Hong Son, Mae Chem, Chom Thong and back to Chiang Mai.

And that feeling of seeing the open road ahead, winding up the throttle and leaning into it with the wind roaring in your ears still hasn’t left me.

I might be hooked.

plotting our route thru the hills.

 

sunflower hill

 

the inevitable bikshop visit. Out of there in 5 mins and no charge.

Important to have the right shoes for motorbiking. Not these then.