Monday, December 5, 2011

The Final Word - 'Thanks'

The enormity of what Alaina and I have achieved this year is still slowly sinking in. Thousands of kilometres of paddling in extremely remote and dangerous waters, much of the time with little or no information about the local conditions, limited water and food, and just our own paddles to propel us forward.

We have had a truly incredible, life-changing experience. We've been attacked by sharks, and up close with massive crocodiles, dugongs, blue whales, manta rays, Komodo dragons, dolphins and thousands of turtles. We've eaten a spartan meal on the kitchen floor with the family of a fisherman and we've been served up fresh red emporer, and even cold beer, on remote and inaccessible islands. We have paddled through some of the world's most amazing waterways, over so many thousands of hectares of tropical reef, and through regions of indescribable beauty.

The support we have had from the readers of this blog has been fantastic, and it has encouraged us on the hardest days to know that so many people are following along, as part of this adventure, from all over the world. We have met beautiful and incredible people from so many different backgrounds, from betel nut chewing grannies, vegetable farmers, goat herders and so many fishermen, to the quirky characters of north Queensland, and our beautiful saviours, the Angels of Cooktown (Margs and Mausey).

None of this adventure would have been able to take place without the generous support of our sponsors and so it is with humble gratitude that I'd like to say thanks to the following organisations, who took a gamble to support our bold plans.

The Australian Geographic Society - Thanks for your financial support and for giving so many others the opportunity to know that tis adventure is taking place. We were honoured and proud to be associated with such a prestigious organisation during the Archipaddlo Expedition and we are so thankful for the way you unquestioningly offered your support, and your concern for our safety, even when our plans changed so drastically during the trip.

Sea To Summit - Thanks for generously supplying so much of the equipment for this expedition. On so many occasions we were amazed at how well the equipment performed, and lasted, when exposed to such extreme conditions for such an extended period of time. Of particular note were the Solution Gear Helion paddles which are beautifully designed, lightweight and even after being used so many times as gondola poles in shallow reefs, they proved to be tough, durable and reliable. Thanks for making and supplying gear that is built to last.

GME - It was your safety equipment that gave us the confidence to venture into remote and wild areas of QLD and Indonesia. We kept our GME Personal Locator Beacons attached to ourselves (via a lanyard to an 'emergency bag') at all times we were on the water, like a seatbelt in a car. Fortunately we never had to use this equipment but we would not have attempted such a bold challenge without the peace of mind of knowing that should we need it, we'd be able to call for a rescue.

Pacific Action Sails - One of the finest and most valuable pieces of equipment that came along for the ride was the beautiful red sails that were strapped to the bow of our boats. On the days when the wind blew in the right direction (not so often in Indonesia!) the sails gave us that extra bit of propulsion needed to relieve our desperately tired muscles. The Pacific Action Sails are beautifully designed, they showed almost no signs of wear even after 8 months in the beating tropical sun, and I find it hard to imagine ever getting in my kayak again without this beautiful sail strapped to the deck.

Cooper Anchors - Thanks for supplying such a practical anchor, purpose built for kayaks. The plastic anchor not only holds firm into the sea bed, it did not damage our boats or other gear in any way which was a huge bonus. Minimising the metal in our boats was very important as everything rusts and corrodes in such harsh conditions so this anchor was the perfect solution.

Buff Headgear - Trying to tame a wild head of dreadlocks in a 30 knot wind, while hanging onto a paddle would have been impossible without wearing my Buff Headwear. This innovative headwear kept us protected from the sun, the wind, and so many bad hair days. Such a simple article should be an essential ingredient in any serious adventure.

I know there are so many others who have helped to get us through this adventure. Villagers who helped haul our heavy kayaks up a steep beach, fisherman who offered us their catch, people who cooked us a meal and pointed us in the right direction. Thank you to everyone who helped us and encouraged us to make this adventure a success.

Lastly, it is our families that have been the foundation of support for our adventure and we simply could not have achieved any of this crazy dream without your unwavering support. Thanks especially to Ma and Pa for sharing a beautiful part of this adventure with us, and for accepting two stowaways onto Trivial Pursuit for a couple of weeks. Thanks Rob for all of your technical genius - there simply would not have been a blog, and most likely no adventure, without your patient help. Thanks Jan for looking after the puppies (and all the rest of our gear) and for preventing Rob from chopping them into little pieces. Thanks Dad for so many emails and blog comments along the way. And to Honi, Lucy, Mum, Adam and Iron, thanks for keeping us motivated when we needed to hear a happy voice from home.

Archipaddlo has been such an incredible journey but we are not sad it is finished. We have learnt so much about ourselves and the world around us and we will take this adventure with us, applying the lessons and carrying the memories for the rest of our lives.

I'm madly tapping away at a keyboard to organise many of the stories from this adventure into a book that will hopefully be available some time in mid 2012. I'll keep you posted…

Sunday, November 27, 2011


Two hundred and forty three days after we paddled away from Trinity Beach in Cairns, we waved goodbye to our kayaks from the dusty, hot tarmac of a deserted jetty at Benoa Harbour in Bali. The boats are on their way back to Australia, and the Archipaddlo journey has come to an end.

Five days on a big boat would seem to be a breeze after spending so many days in a kayak but at each stop along the way, and usually in the middle of the night, the crowd of passengers swelled. Every conceivable space on the boat was taken up with mattresses, sheets of cardboard and anything else people could sleep on. Limbs (hopefully still attached) could be seen hanging over the gunnels of the lifeboats while corridors and stairways were impassable. Crossing from our cabin to the dining hall, a distance of about 10 metres, was like walking through a minefield, and we did our best not to step on the pile of sleeping bodies, babies, bags of fruit, and everything else that had been piled in our way. Of course, being a foreigner meant that every eye was glued to us at all times and our every move was scrutinised in detail so we tucked ourselves away into our tiny cabin and hibernated for 5 days.

Overcrowded to the point of bursting, the hulking vessel Awu lived up to our expectations by arriving in Bali at 3am, 11 hours late, leaving us to wait on a shadeless bitumen at a deserted dock in the sprawling harbour for 7 hours until the freight company arrived to collect our kayaks. We waved off Trinity and Birubi in the back of a truck and hope that they somehow find their way back home.

Archipaddlo has been an incredible adventure. Lain and I began with a big dream and although we ended up on a slightly different track to the one we started on, we are so thrilled and proud to have achieved such a grand goal. This has been an unbelievable opportunity for the two of us to explore some incredible parts of the world, places that travellers normally don't visit, and to get there exactly as we wanted to. We have met so many beautiful people, seen, paddled and swum with so much incredible wildlife, explored untouched beaches, reefs and islands and learnt so much about ourselves in the process.

I would really like to thank you all for following the blog, it has been a lot of fun and a great experience for me to distill down some of our experiences into these short snippets along the way. I also enjoyed an excuse to play with expensive gadgets during the trip! Of course through the blog I have only been able to tell a few brief stories, and I feel that there is so much more to this story that I haven't been able to squeeze into the blogs.

My next adventure, therefore, is to take on a challenge that is just as daunting and as big a step outside my comfort zone as the adventure itself, to write a book about our travels. We still have a few months of travelling to go before there's Aussie soil between these toes again so a book won't be on the shelves before Christmas but I hope that some time during 2012 you'll be able to read the rest of the story and see what really went on in making Archipaddlo such a success.

Sometime later on I'll post again with more details of the release of this #1 Bestseller (well, here's hoping!).

Lain and I have now swapped kayaks for backpacks. There's volcanoes to climb, reefs to freedive, busses to catch, borders to cross and who knows what other adventures we'll have. Our kayaks may have left but that is no reason for us to slow down - the adventure of life continues…

Photos: 1. Juz and Lain, team Archipaddlo; 2. The deck of the Awu, just outside our cabin; 3. Our kayaks 'safely' stored on the deck of the Awu; 4. Two small kayaks, one big boat - the Awu at Benoa Harbour, Bali; 5. Swapping kayaks for backpacks, one adventure finishes while another begins.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The last paddle.

Tempted as Lain and I were to stay in the Alor region for the rest of time, it is a truly spectacular place, we paddled in to Kalabahi to meet the huge boat that was destined to carry us and our kayaks back to Bali. We both felt a huge sense of accomplishment and pride knowing that the Archipaddlo adventure was drawing to a close and we chatted along happily for the final paddle of our journey.

Having to spend three weeks in any one spot is normally a nightmare for Lain and I but we somehow managed to put up with the trauma inflicted upon us upon Pulau Kepa. Lovingly operated by a beautiful French family, La Petite Kepa is a friendly, extremely relaxed and welcoming 'homestay' on a tiny island dropped into some of the most rich and abundant coral reef systems on the planet. Anne, Cedric, Lila the eight year old, energetic bundle of joy as well as Anuk and all the beautiful locals who keep the place going made us so welcome and comfortable that we really found it hard to leave. Thanks to you all, I am pretty sure you will see these two adventurers again.

Expecting a certain level of inefficiency from Pelni, the boat company (it is operated by the government), given that the last boat was cancelled without warning, it was not a surprise to discover that our 7pm departure had been delayed. We arrived at the port just before sunset and the crowd of people to swarm our arrival had grown to easily 50 by the time we had slipped out kayaks up onto the boat ramp. We have learnt to work the crowd a little, answer the few key questions to a key member of the swarm and then let him retell the story to every newcomer who joins the zoo.

Seven o'clock slipped past, as did the next estimate of a 10pm departure. Even though we had previously paid for a ticket and the freight of our kayaks, we still did not actually have the required ticket, a situation that you would not see as normal unless you has spent many months travelling in Asia. When the boat finally appeared, some time after 11pm and we still had no way of proving our expensive purchase we wondered if we should have been worried. Nope, just as the last rope was thrown from the enormous vessel to the jetty a voice called to us from the crowd, and our tickets appeared - things always seem to work, they just don't work with logic.

A huge crane was lowered from the front deck, which itself is about 4 stories off the water and our kayaks were hoisted aloft, with not a care in the world for occupational health and safety. They will weather the four day journey to Bali nestled amongst fuel cans and other greasy containers strewn around the front of the deck.

Watching the flood of passengers and freight surge on and off the boat, a passenger liner of vast proportions, all at the same time up just one tiny gangway could only have been more exciting if there had been a herd of wild elephants involved. In true Indonesian style it seems that the sharper your elbows the faster you get to the front, and there is no concept of an orderly queue. For nearly two hours the fracas continued until an unfathomable number of people were crammed into the expansive, cockroach infested third class cabins. For once we have splurged on 'first class' accommodation, our own cosy cabin with a greatly reduced number of cockroaches.

Five weeks ago we left a backpack full of gear in Larantuka, our first stop on the voyage back to Bali. Even though I was the first person off the boat and I deftly manoeuvred my way through the swarm at the dock, I had to travel nearly 20 minutes on a motorbike to collect our bag. Despite the speeding motorbike, when my return journey to the port was coming to an end I heard three loud blasts from the boat, the signal that the liner was sailing. I ran for all I was worth and almost had to leap to catch the gangway before the boat peeled off the dock, much to the joy of my very relieved wife.

We may have finished the paddling but until our kayaks are safely on their way back to Australia, this adventure is far from over.

Pictures: 1. Lain and Lila at La Petite Kepa; 2. The last pack-up; 3. The final paddle; 4. Two small boats are lifted onto one big boat.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mola Mola

When I was a nipper one of the great joys of my life was being taken with wide eyes and an open mind to explore the dark and towering exhibits of the Queensland Museum. Nowadays housed in an appropriately huge and spacious gallery, the old museum of my youth was the slightly eerie and mysterious (to a five year old) grand, colourful brick building still nestled into Brisbane's inner suburbs. Hanging low from the ceiling (not far off the ground), about half way along the main hall, beside a giant globe of the earth that showed the rough topography of the main mountain ranges, hung the one exhibit that intrigued me more than any other, and the only one that I now have firm memories of. The creature was so strange, so obscure that it could easily have been an alien, or a cruel trick of taxidermy.

The Mola Mola (whose scientific name is also Mola mola) is perhaps more commonly known as it was in the QLD Museum, as the Sun Fish. This giant and very strange fish is the largest and heaviest of the world's bony fish, measuring in at up to 4.5m tip to tip and from 1000 to 2300kg and it is this very fish that Lain and I have been hoping to catch a glimpse of during our travels in Indonesia. 

It was with a great sense of joy, and a little childhood reminiscing,  that today I finally managed to tick this species off the painfully long 'list of things to see before I die'. What caught me by surprise was that this huge, flat, ungainly creature was not only capable of swimming in a straight line (it doesn't appear possible), but with enough speed to launch itself out of the water and breach as though it was giving us its best humpback impression. Over the months of paddling we have seen quite a few USO's (unidentified splashing objects) and after witnessing the splash of the sunfish from close range we realised that they have probably been swimming and splashing around us for much of the way. 

Our days have been recently spent paddling light, unloaded boats through the roaring currents of the Pantar Strait, circumnavigating islands, snorkelling steep coral walls, and just lapping up the incredible environment in this remote and beautiful place. 

There may now be a tick in the Mola Mola box but there are so many other unique and beautiful animals to track down - I suspect we might need another crazy adventure to some other far flung corner of the world to find even more wonders of this awe-inspiring planet. Mmmm…where to next?

Picture: The elusive Mola Mola or Sun Fish. (Not my piccy - cheers Google)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank You For The Music

Indonesian people love music and we often hear tunes from distant fishing boats or villages as the sound waves ripple out to us over the ocean. The problem is that there appears to be only one measurement of the quality of music in this culture, that being the decibel.

The adjective 'loud' cannot accurately describe the assault on the ears that is perpetrated by the enormous sound systems and huge blocks of speakers that each and every town uses to blare out ghastly tunes at inappropriate times. Generally the speakers belong to the mosques, and are used for the regular 'call to prayer', that starts as an alarm clock at 4:30am every day. While there is considerable religious significance to calling the prayer, to the untrained ear it sounds somewhat akin to a drunken yobbo slurring loudly into a karaoke microphone after having three teeth knocked out by a bouncer - the perfect alarm clock! For various (and regular) ceremonies the thunderously powerful mosque speakers continue after the call to prayer, to belt out a constant stream of 'music' at deafening volume and for hours on end.

At one point, our last camp on Flores before arriving in Larantuka, we snuck into a quiet and secluded beach about 1km away from the closest town for what we had hoped would be a restful sleep after a very long paddling day. As if to thwart our intentions however, shortly after we crawled into the tent, around about sunset, the music began. When I say 'music', imagine taking the most annoying pre-programmed beats from an old Casio keyboard (eg. the 'Samba' or the 'Waltz') and mixing them into hard-core techno, with some wailing voices in the background, or badly remixed snippets of crappy popular songs - Britney, Bieber and some J-Lo are the standards. This deafening disco continued in an unbroken stream, barely filtered by the surrounding mangroves, ALL night at top volume. We were already eating breakfast at 4:30am when the call to prayer finally put a stop to the din. Ah, the serenity.

To get around many towns the best value transportation is in a 'bemo'. These heavily panel beaten minivans, with uncomfortable 'troop-cartrier' style bench seats in the back are always driven by cool young guys who proudly attempt to blare out music that is no longer measured in decibels, but rather on the Richter scale! Inevitably, when we 'Buleh' (foreigners) board their dangerous, box-shaped, overcrowded missiles, the music is turned up to maximum, perhaps in an attempt to impress these two weary travellers. We are never impressed.

The peace and quiet of the most serene landscape can be broken at all hours by bad house music from any number of mobile phones. Busses should only be boarded by passengers wearing earplugs (I'm not kidding) and if there is a wedding in town be prepared to put up with the cacophony for at least three days on end.

I am sure that any music that is not to your own taste can grate on the ears, especially when played loud. When it is impossible to avoid such an intrusion it is hard not to get annoyed. But then, to find the roads less travelled and to experience the 'real' Indonesia is part of the reason we are here. If everything here was like it was back home there would be no reason to travel, and no new experiences to have. So, Indonesia, we can't hear you - turn it up!

Picture: Juz 'enjoying' the thumping tunes in the back of a pimped up Bemo.

Sunday, November 6, 2011


'Paradise' is a word that is all too often tossed around, I myself being guilty of using it as a somewhat simplified noun for attempting to describe some of the places we have visited during this Archipaddlo adventure. Perhaps the fantasy tropical island, dripping with lush rainforest and surrounded by a crystal ocean bursting with colourful life, does not really exist, but here in the Alor Islands it is hard to imagine much better. The pace of the Archipaddlo expedition has slowed just a little over the last week, allowing us a little time to make the most of one of the most amazing places we have ever had the good fortune to visit.

After a last minute change of plans we decided that instead of paddling a lap of the Alor and Solor archipelagoes we would instead head east on a one-way trip, finishing at the small port of Kalabahi on Alor Island. From there a large boat was scheduled to ferry us and our scratched and worn-out kayaks back to Bali in time for the kayaks' return trip to Oz. In true Indonesian style though, when we arrived in Kalabahi to book our tickets for the journey, we were informed that our boat was 'resting' and would not be sailing on its scheduled day, or any other day for the next two weeks. Although not quite prisoners, we have few options to escape this area and so we wait.

Having done our time waiting many hours in dusty airport terminals, smoky offices, cramped bus stations and smoggy hotel rooms it is perhaps a just reward for all our efforts that we can enjoy such an incredible playground with which to wait out our days, slowly crossing off the calendar until our boat arrives. Our two hammocks swing in the cooling breeze beneath the native-style grass hut with a commanding view over the rich coral shelf to the surging currents and volcanic islands of the Pantar Strait. If one must wait then one may as well do it in style.

Stripping our kayaks down to bare bones and paddling day trips rather than exhausting journeys with heavily loaded boats has been a refreshing change. We have leapt from our kayaks to swim within huge pods of inquisitive dolphins that dance and play with our silent kayaks. The almost electric pulses of the dolphins' chatter was so loud in the water that it felt like we had plugged a set of headphones into some wild underwater telephone exchange and turned up the volume. Vertical coral walls and wide shallow shelves drip with hundreds of life forms seemingly competing for space upon the rocks, corals and what ever other surface is available to grow on. Fish explode around us in schools so huge and numerous that it is impossible to see far in the crystal clear water. Armies of tuna and other pelagics froth the surface in energetic attacks on their fast-swimming prey. The water is literally teeming with colourful life - perhaps this is paradise after all.

Having had the opportunity to carefully appraise the identifying features of the various cetaceans currently singing away beneath the world's oceans I must admit to an error that I have previously posted on a blog. I wrongly suspected the enormous whale with which we had a close encounter recently to be a fin whale. After careful consideration I have revised this observation and will happily announce that it was in fact a blue whale with which we were sharing the water. There are several sub species of the blue whale (the largest animal ever to have lived on this planet) and the one we have now witnessed on several occasions (and tried to swim with once) is called a 'pygmy blue whale'. Just how a mammal that is over 20m in length can be considered a pygmy I have no idea but the sight of such a giant at close range is a joy that can only fuel our appreciation for the many beautiful wonders of nature.

And so we wait, our days spent somewhere between the hammocks and the coral wall. In some ways I would not be too disappointed if the next boat out of here is cancelled as well. This place is truly paradise.

Pictures: 1. Lain paddling with a pod of hundreds of dolphins; 2. Our 'native' hut on Kepa Island; 3. Lain snorkelling on one of the many coral drop-offs in this incredible paradise.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Risk and Reward

Getting off the couch, as Lain and I started planning Archipaddlo all those many months ago, we knew we were taking many risks, and the outcome, let alone the rewards, was uncertain. During our paddles in Indonesia we have had to take quite a few leaps of faith, big risks with uncertain outcomes, and in basically every case we have been rewarded handsomely.

Paddling close to a coastline is usually not so risky. If everything goes wrong you can just paddle (or swim) to the beach and even if you get smashed into shore by beating surf, the outcome would hopefully be positive. Indonesia, however, is an archipelago, and the coastlines don't all match up. Deep water, often over 1km deep within a few hundred metres of the shore, surges and swirls around causing roaring currents in often the most unpredictable places. Crossing between islands, or jumping across wide bays, where currents are at their strongest, places weary paddlers in the very real risk of being swept out to sea never to be seen or heard of again (well, we do have personal locator beacons so we should get found).

After a long day paddling along Gili Moyo off the coast of Sumbabwa we searched for a campsite but could find not a single decent tent site. It was late in the day and we were already tired but we took the risk to paddle an extra 10km to Pulau Satonda, across a wide strait. We paddled hard through the current for just under two hours, to slide up, exhausted, onto a rocky beach just as the sun set. To our surprise a few minutes later a brawny, bronzed Mexican paddled up to us on a stand-up paddle board. Ramon was a divemaster on a live-aboard dive boat anchored in the next bay and when he asked if we needed anything we politely declined. Ten minutes later however, Ramon returned in a dingy with an icy cold six pack of beer for us. We gladly accepted Ramon's kindness and enjoyed our reward as we watched the sun set over the rippling strait.

On a hot day in Flores we set ourselves a bold goal of paddling 50km or so to find the small town of Wodong that apparently had some tourist infrastructure. Desperate for supplies and food we paddled well out to sea past many towns including sprawling Maumere and another town which had a bustling market right on the waterfront. Headwinds rattled us, the heat was exhausting and we paddled past beach after beach of perfect campsites but we took the risk and pressed on. Turning into the tiny bay that according to our map, was supposed to be Wodong, we saw nothing but mangroves and collapsed on the beach, dejected that our efforts were not rewarded. Shortly afterwards I walked down the beach to discover that we had landed about 100m away from a perfect little resort with comfy cabins overlooking the water. Our risk was again rewarded and we spent an extra day recuperating in the comparative luxury of our cabin.

The Alor Strait, separating the islands of Lembata and Pantar is about as risky as any paddling we could hope to achieve in Indonesia. Roaring currents surge unpredictably through the straight and many local fishermen die here being swept north into an endless expanse of warm ocean. Crocodiles thrive in the mangroves and sharks teem in the rich, deep water where whales are unfortunately still hunted. Our first attempt crossing the strait, a 14km crossing to Pulau Lapang, resulted after just 15 minutes, in us being swept so far out to sea that it took nearly an hour to crawl back to the windswept coast of Pulau Lembata. It would have been easier to just aim for the coast of Pulau Pantar but we were determined to make our way to the smaller and more remote islands in the strait. We watched the currents for 24 hours until we felt we had a window of opportunity, and we raced across the strait in the nick of time. Pulau Lapang was an almost treeless and totally flat expanse of coarse, sharp, rocky limestone. One tiny beach hid beneath the shade of some fig and tamarind trees and we took the opportunity to rest here for a day. The real reward for our risky crossing was the treat that lay waiting for us underwater. The snorkelling here was not just the best we have seen in Indonesia, it was by far the best snorkelling either of us had ever seen. A vertical wall of coral, rich with colourful sponges, iridescent gorgonian fans and huge fish dropped into a deep blue abyss. Huge numbers of fish schooled around us as we duck dived repeatedly down into the depths. It was simply breathtaking. No wonder this area is renowned as having some of the best diving in the world.

Risk and reward. These are just a few of the so many rewards we have been fortunate to receive during our travels. The greatest reward though is simply being here and completing this adventure, a reward we could never have found had we not taken the risk to leave in the first place. Your rewards are there waiting, what are you willing to risk to get them?

Photo: Juz enjoying the rewards on offer on Pulau Lapang.