Sunday, October 05, 2014

Food foibles

As we travelled on our  motorcycle returning to Phuket (Thailand) from Malaysia, we stopped for lunch one day at a sidewalk eatery that once again reminded us that in this part of the world, you can have an international experience while sitting in one chair and observing your surroundings.

Our waiter, let's call him Zamir, was recently from Pakistan yet spoke good English and had a manner that in American would be considered pushy, but no doubt he considered it helpful. When we ventured towards the buffet counter, he adamantly said "No, no, sit here!" pointing us to a table with menus.

"But we just like to look at what we might want to order", Jordan said trying to ease Zamir's anxiety. But he enlightened us, "That's Malay food. You don't want it." We felt like saying, "Oh my mistake, I thought we were in Malaysia." We relented only because the menu had pictures.

As we perused the diverse selections of mostly Indian foods, Zamir peered at us with a drooped head and eyes wide as though he was looking over the top of invisible glasses. We're not familiar with this look. Was it to evoke a response? Like maybe, "I'm waiting!"

As diverse as the residents and foreigners are here, a westerner on a Thai licensed motorcycle seems to be a slight oddity. But not at this restaurant. We were just another colour on a palate of confluent cultures. The waiter was Pakistani who spoke English. The patrons we could see were a mix of at least 3 different ethnicities. Indian food, Malay food, Arabic calligraphic decorative inscriptions framed on the walls. And the name of the establishment was Danish Briyani Place. We can understand most of it, but Danish?

Lunch came and even though it wasn't even close to the pictures, it was delicious.

This reminds us of another interesting dining experience we had in Trang a while ago on the way down to Malaysia. We had a hankering for a familiar breakfast, and when we saw American Breakfast on the menu, we looked no further.

From previous experience, eggs can be served runny to raw. So Jordan wanted to make sure he got them well done. "Eggs, no runny", he said. This drew a blank stare as the waitress spoke as much English as the dead ducks hanging on display in the window.

No problem. This is when we use only the simplest, smallest English words and lots of pantomime. "Egg", he said, pointing to them on the menu, "Hard", as he rapped his knuckles on the granite countertop. More blank stares. At this point, he realized his pantomime repertoire for hard-cooked eggs was seriously limited so now he was stuck.

After a few moments of vacant eye to eye contact, the waitress finally flip-flopped her hands and Jordan immediately knew it was the best he was going to get and gave her the thumbs up and made a mental note to add her gesture to our repertoire.

Then it was on to the coffee. "Coffee with milk. Sugar on side", as he showed a package of sugar and put it beside the coffee cup. Blank stare. The coffee came with milk in it, but as they used sweetened condensed milk, the sugar on the side was a moot point.

Ah yes, food can be a peculiar challenge to make life more interesting!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Travelling to and fro

After seeing the hornbill birds on Pangkor Island (Malaysia) on our motorcycle trip from Phuket Island (Thailand) to Malaysia, we continued on our way to Penang Island (Malaysia) where we would get new 2-month Visitor's Visas for Thailand.

Along the way, we stopped periodically for a butt rest. During one of these rest stops, I severely burned the arch of my foot on the motorcycle muffler. Ow! The 2nd degree burn blistered so my aim was to keep the blister from breaking to prevent infection - that meant a lot of tip-toeing!

Crossing the bridge, we arrived at Penang Island on a Friday later in the day, and the Visa renewal department was closed. We were able to drop off our forms on Sunday with a promise of our Visas being ready on Monday. So to kill some time, it was another island motorcycle tour. The most enjoyable part of the Island ride was along a winding road that snaked through verdant hills and past cliff hanging vista points.

An unexpected interlude while waiting for our Visas was the arrival of our friends on Jabula who we had left a couple of days before down in Pangkor. They had decided to make their final jump off for their Indian Ocean passage from Georgetown (Penang Island). So we spent a genial last chance visit.

On Monday morning with renewed Visas in hand, we headed north to the mainland of Thailand. Palm oil plantations dominate the Malaysian landscape whereas Thailand's counterpart seems to be the forests of rubber trees. At least from the smell that wafted throughout the countryside as we travelled indicated that. Jordan said its unique scent could be described as pungent, but I thought it was just plain stinky!

The dripping fluid fills up black pots attached to rows and rows of stately trees, like maple trees drip their sap back in Canada. What's surprising is that this fluid is white, not black like we think of rubber.

Drip, drip, drip...

Once collected, it has a soft, rubbery feel. We stopped to check it out when we saw a pick-up truck parked with a rear cargo of the half-sphered product. We were informed that it naturally turns black, no dye is added.

Go ahead, touch it!

We deviated from a direct route home and took the ferry to the touristy Koh Samui, another island! The fare for the 1.5 hr ferry trip for us and the motorcycle was only the equivalent of $10 US - nothing compared to expensive Canadian ferries.

Looking back at Thailand mainland pinnacles

Our first night was in a rather nice resort right on a quiet beach where our first order of business was an inviting swim in the pool after the long hot day's ride. The highlight of the evening was the amazing sunset...

The next night, we took a budget beachside bungalow on a busier side of Koh Samui. The highlight there was a massage at beachside under the open-aired roof of what we would call a pagoda gazebo.

How divine

Of course, we did yet another pleasantly diverse motorcycle island tour. An unusual and popular photo op was that of Grandma and Grandpa Rocks where erosion formed distinct replicas of separate male and female genitalia.

Our final run back to Phuket Island was punctuated with rain that the mild temperature made it easy to endure.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Pangkor hornbills

Still on our motorcycle trip from Phuket (Thailand) to Malaysia to renew our Thai Visitor's Visas and meet up with our friends at Lumut of Marina Island, we decided to catch the 10-minute ferry from Marina Island to Pangkor Island.

Part of the draw for us to this Island was to see a daily feeding of wild hornbill birds on the seaside patio of a particular hotel. There are various species and these are the largest called Great Hornbills. They are not unlike the toucan (remember the mascot for Fruit Loops cereal?)

On arriving at the pier, we were immediately met by a young man who had scooters for rent, so we struck a deal and off we went. We had read the feeding time was around 17:30 to 19:00. Apparently the birds don't follow a rigid time schedule! So with time to kill, there was the whole Island to explore.

Pangkor Island's robust terrain is carpeted with lush tropical forests. We headed counterclockwise on the main narrow road that circled the Island.

Before leaving the condensed village that's squished between the shore and the steep hillsides, we came upon a shipyard. There, they were hand-building ocean-going ships of about 25 metres all out of heavy timbers and planking. You could easily picture yourself in a European shipyard of the 1600s.

Jordan was amazed at the huge planks of prized wood. Solid planks the size of a castle's dining room tabletop that could sit 30. What would these planks, rich in colour with a grain completely clear of knots, be worth back home in Canada? And where did they get such pristine timbers?

Beautiful timber

Continuing, the village scene soon drifted aft as we travelled a snaking road that climbed and clung to the sides of the vertical slopes where the forests disclosed where the prime timbers came from. Then the road eased to a pleasant drive past unspoiled beaches perfectly accented with large boulders as if placed by landscape architects.

We ended up early at the hotel where the hornbills would appear so we relaxed to soak up the setting. Soon, out of nowhere, a large hornbill swooped down as a special guest for dinner. First, she set on a tree branch to survey the safeness of the place, then finally flew down to the plate of cut-up papaya on a little table in the middle of the patio.

Free food!

We seemed to be the only persons interested and slowly crept closer to get a few snapshots...

Mrs. Hornbill was fine until she decided we were getting just a little bit too close and flew off into a high tree where she watched the 2 curious humans from her safe perch.

Soon thereafter, Mr. Hornbill came for the last of the meal. (Evidently a "he" as his bill was larger.) He delicately picked up each piece of fruit by the tip of his capacious bill and with a little backward flip, down it went, at the same time probably wondering what are these strange creatures looking at?

Feathered fruit flipper

The sky was turning an ominous charcoal and the faint rumbles were our cue to take flight back to the human jungle.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Visa and video!

Our 2-month Thailand Tourist Visa expires September 30th, at which time we would need to do 1 of 2 things. First, while remaining in Thailand, we could pay for a 1-month extension or secondly we could do a Visa run by leaving Thailand to get another 2-month Visa.

Normally, we would just do the first, but as our close sailing friends are in Malaysia for only a few days before leaving for South Africa, we chose to kill 2 birds with 1 stone and do a Visa run and have a visit. After all, we have wheels now that we bought a motorcycle and a road trip would be a welcomed interlude.

Off to Malaysia

We left on sunny September 22nd, willing to take whatever the rainy season gave us. The roads were great and the scenery amazing. The first part of our travels had us winding past tall pinnacles and mountainous cliffs that reached towards the sky. One could see patches of exposed raspy limestone as evidence of the formations' permanence and betrayed the soft tropical growth that cloaked them. Some were tall and skinny like solitary guards standing watch over the fertile planes at their feet while others were clustered in solidarity as though for protection in a group.

Unfortunately the rain came down in sheets and draped the formations in misty clouds. But even though partially obscured by the shroud of fog, it gave the scene an enchanting aura. However we're hoping on our return trip for better weather and photo ops.

The later part of our travel was past rather boring flat lands matching the monotony of the motorcycle's drone. We arrived just after dark on the 23rd at Marina Island in Malaysia, about 400 km south of the border, and met up with our friends on Jabula.

Bruce and Jeannie were furiously trying to get Jabula ready by Friday to go back in the water and start their passage across the Indian Ocean to South Africa. It's the correct time. Right now, the lights are green for a go but come November the lights will turn red for the sailor and green for the cyclones in certain areas of that passage.

Us with Bruce and Jeannie in their work clothes

We felt very honoured and special when later Bruce and Jeannie presented us with a video production entitled Living the Dream, which is exactly what we are doing! Much of the footage was done while Jeannie manned Jabula's helm, and Bruce, with an expert and steady hand, did the shots as Sea Turtle and Jabula sailed together through parts of exotic French Polynesia.

Included: sailing, swimming beneath a waterfall, watching dolphins jump, extracting pearls from oyster shells...

For a link to this treasured and copyrighted video, either click here or on Living the Dream under Other Links in the right-hand column.

Friday, September 19, 2014


We have posted a new entry for The Pea Green Book blog (link on far right of this page). Libertad was the latest host of Pea Green.

Also posted in our slideshow link at the far right are photos of our visit to the Galapagos.