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Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Hard To Say Goodbye

Lat. 01deg. 42.90 North, Lon. 110deg 19.6 East.

Crystal Blues departed the Tulai River at 06.30am last Friday, bound for Kuching. At 06.00am that morning three of our best friends came aboard (by canoe) to say goodbye. It was a very sad departure. Despite the early hour there were lots of people on the shore to wave us farewell. Our connection to these families is so very strong, and we didn't really want to leave ... but the world beckons. We heard later that they stayed by the river for 30 minutes after we departed - it was sad to leave, and we are blessed to know these folk.

Over the past few weeks we've been very well looked after - both Jampie and Graman delivered fresh (live) river prawns (huge!) and the supply of local rice, vegetables and Tuak was constant. Many nights we had dinner in the longhouse, guests of the extended family, enjoying local produce, fish and delicacies. One day we planted about 1.5 acres of rice (padi) with Jampi and his extended family, up to our ankles and knees in mud all day. I thought I was doing well until one woman passed me planting more than three for every one I managed ... and then young Jabu (13 years) passed me going at a similar rate. Very frustrating... and my lower back still hasn't recovered.

As usual, Ley has hosted school onboard from 3.00pm each day, with varying numbers of students across a wide range of ages. English comprehension and spoken English were the main topics, with mathematics a close second.

Last Sunday we hosted our closest family friends to an "Aussie BBQ" on board Crystal Blues. We roasted local pork and emptied our freezer of sausages and Australian beef. Lots of salads, focaccia, ice cold beer etc - you get the picture, Ley cooked up a storm ! Despite the lack of rice (these folks eat lots at every meal) the party went well. The deck was littered with bodies, and true to Aussie form around 3.00pm the kids hit the river for some serious swimming. We built a monster "Tarzan" swing using the spinnaker pole and some long line ... the kids swung, splashed and swam all afternoon.

The Iban people have many traditional crafts, and they've been generous to us with many locally made gifts. During our last visit we realised how good they were with flat strands of napa palm, bamboo and other fibers. For this visit we brought reels of coloured ribbon for them to use. Almost immediately the longhouse women went into serious production mode. On Thursday morning we were invaded by a party of 12 women, who stayed all morning. They platted and weaved miriad trinkets and decorations - animals, gifts, abstract forms, crabs, chickens, incredible shapes and colours. A pangolin tail in green ribbon ... a rooster in red ribbon, a multi-coloured Kriss ... all wonderful parting gifts for us.

The tides in the river have been quite big, up to 5.0 metres, with the padi fields along the river flooded to a depth of about 250mm. at the highest tides. All of that water needs to go somewhere, so the river flow is very fast on the outgoing tide. One day our stern anchor let go mid-tide, and we were carried downstream into the trees on the edge of the river. No damage, but it took a while to extricate ourselves, and the deck had completely disappeared under a carpet of leaves, branches, insects, beetles, ants and miscellaneous creatures. Did I mention the ants ? The tree we invaded must have contained a nest - it took two full cans of spray to stop the deck from crawling, and another two cans of surface spray over the next 24 hours to complete the pacification. Six hours to clean the deck up - even the bimini top was camouflaged with branches. We were asleep when the anchor started to drag, but were fortunately woken by our friends on the river bank, calling the Australian "Coooeee" that we'd taught them on our first visit. By the time we got the engine going we were in the trees. When we did finally retrieve the stern anchor I discovered that we had not laid out enough scope on the line - my own fault entirely. Won't make that mistake again.

Those big tides really empty the river out, leaving sloped banks of soft oozy mud under a canopy of trees. To our surprise the local boys have learned to "hang ten" on old planks, literally surfing the mud slopes on any piece of timber large enough to hold them. Is it surfing or skiing ? The rides are short and the wipe-outs are messy, but they have a lot of fun.

Our friends Judy & Brian Scott from Brisbane flew into Kuching on Saturday evening, and we were able to spend a couple of days with them enjoying the sights and fantastic tastes of Kuching. We'll be here for another few days before clearing customs and immigration, bound for Singapore.