Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Plans are written in the sand at low tide - Malaysia - Living in Lockdown During the Covid-19 Crisis

As many of you know our family is currently in Port Dickson, Malaysia.

Mid-way though March, the marina/resort informed us that Malaysia would be implementing a Restricted Movement Order that took effect on March 18-31 to try and curb the COVID-19 outbreak. This would also include the resort/marina facilities closing during this period.

Luckily, we were informed early enough so that we could plan a trip for provisions and water. On the Monday (March 16), Shaun and I headed down the road with a rental car to pickup groceries to last us for 2 weeks. We were able to grab a good assortment of items to get us through.

The following day, Shaun went to the Immigration office in the nearby town of Seramban, which is 30 minutes away.  We needed to find out about extending our Malaysian social visitor's visa which, would expire April 8th. The officer handed him 4 extension forms and suggested he return April 1 to maximize the 60 day extension.

Normally, to renew a visa and receive a fresh 90 days, we need to leave Malaysia for 24 hours and then re-enter and have a new stamp put into our passport. As long as you are not working in Malaysia, the authorities are fine with you doing this and supporting their economy. Our boat neighbor Andy has been here 5 years, going back and forth to Singapore as required. The plan was to  venture inland to the various neighboring countries and time our travel with the need to reset our Malaysian visas. We had it all planned out....or so we thought. Once the virus started wreaking havoc, the whole country shut down, including the border and the immigration offices. The rules were changing rapidly and there was a distinct possibility that we would be required to leave the country.

At this point, we had to consider our options. Potentially over stay our visas and wait out the virus then, renew/extend or fly back to Canada. After initially looking at affordable travel options, we determined that returning to Canada would entail, three airports, three planes and finally the 14 days of self quarantine. We discussed our options at length, including the girls in the conversations to figure out which solution best fit our family. We all concluded that, for our family's health and well-being, it was best to stay put in Port Dickson, Malaysia. The resort/marina complex Element is moored in is extremely isolated and with only a few people living on their vessels. We were safe, healthy, had plenty of food and water, unlimited high speed wifi and power. The girls were also able to continue working through their distance education school year uninterrupted.

We later read in a news article and heard from other foreigners, that all social visitor visas were automatically being extended until the MCO ended. We breathed a sigh of relief and continued on with our daily lives, while we watched news updates online and hoped that the world would get a handle on the virus.

Fast forward eight weeks, and our social visitor's visas have expired......

We have had several extensions of the Movement Control Order (MCO) since mid March, however on May 4th the MCO was reduced to a Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), a slightly more relaxed version of the MCO, allowing more essential businesses to open and the 10pm curfew being lifted. Travel across district lines is still prohibited and controlled by police and military checkpoints. So, no traveling to Kuala Lumpur for us. Our daily life was bumping along pretty much unchanged until, I started reading some conflicting news about social visitor visa holders being denied extensions while others were being extended. Including a married couple, where one personal was a Malaysian citizen and the partner not. On May 13th, the immigration offices re-opened and they were requesting that people use an online system to create an appointment. I attempted to create an appointment multiple times without success so, Shaun and I decided to take the chance of a long lineup and drive the 30 minutes to visit the immigration office. When we arrived, we were in luck, officials were setup with desks outside, there was no line up and we were able to speak to two immigration officers immediately.

After they looked at our passports and realized that we held expired visitor visas, we were told that we have to leave Malaysia by June 3 and only return, once the borders re-open. Only citizens and diplomats may enter Malaysia at this time. Citizens returning to Malaysia have a forced quarantine at a hotel for 14 days at a cost of $50 CAD per day. The big question is, how long until the border re-opens? As we were sitting in the car, a bit shell stocked, we started to wonder where the officers got the June 3rd exit date? After contemplating, we later came to the conclusion that it is 30 days after the original MCO ended (which was May 4) and the CMCO took effect.

We have always known that there was a possibility that we could be forced to leave. Now, it is staring us in the face. It is scary having to leave our floating home for an undetermined amount of time and even scarier having to travel internationally with Covid-19 floating around.

We have decided to focus on the positives, it is not worth the energy to become bitter and Malaysia has been a great place to stay thus far.

Silver linings:

A place to live. Three weeks ago we received notice that our tenant was moving out at the end of May due to her loss of employment, so our apartment will be empty. We contemplated going to stay with Shaun's parents in Saskatoon, however with an unknown timeline, not to mention in the case of an extended stay, Saskatoon is frigid during winter, so we decided against this option.

We have a support network. A friend that lives in the same complex has agreed to supervise the move of our belongings into the apartment that we have arranged through a mover.

We can be nourished during our 14 day quarantine. We can purchase groceries online and arrange for delivery to our door, once we arrive.

We are together. Most importantly, we will be together. Paige and Shaun were originally supposed to be touring various universities in Canada when the first wave of the virus hit and travel became restricted.

There is a saying amongst sailors, "Plans are written in the sand at low tide." Our plans may be changing but, we will continue to move forward together and look forward to setting sail once more...

Follow our video adventures on our YouTube channel: Video adventures of s/v Element

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Saturday, October 12, 2019


October 12 - 16

We arrived into Kumai, Borneo on October 12, after motoring for hours in shallow waters (5 meters). Shallow sailing always makes me feel uneasy, even though I know in my mind that our draft (depth underwater) can handle it. It felt strange to be so shallow for so long.

We anchored in the river near a group of rally boats. The river water is muddy and uninviting, definitely no bucket showers here. Across the river in the town of Kumai, we were hearing all sorts of bird calls. My first thought was, “Wow, I can’t wait to check out all the birds”. We found out later, that the sounds are just a recording, to attract swallows to the bird hotels. These particular swallows, make a nest that the Chinese use in soups, called bird nest soup. They pay a pretty penny per kilo for the nests. The Indonesians keep building more and more hotels to cash in on this "delicacy.

bird hotel
The main reason for our visit to Borneo, was to explore Tanjung Puting National Park aboard a local riverboat. This is where thousands (upwards of 6,000) of Orangutang's and other endemic creatures are living free in their natural habitat. This national park is a saving grace for so many animals that live in Borneo. It was created as a result of their habitat being destroyed by the palm oil industry.

With the palm oil industry rampaging in Borneo, the animals that live in the lowland rain forests are being decimated, and the indigenous peoples are losing their traditional way of life. I am very grateful for the national park and their initiatives. That being said, the Indonesian government really needs to take more of an interest in maintaining, renewing and caring for the park and its inhabitants. The palm oil industry is a very lucrative business. The locals are being paid well to clear their lands in preparation for palm oil plantations. Sadly, these "land preparations" are being done in a way that harms the local animals and encroaches on the indigenous peoples way of life. 

Before arriving in Kumai, Shaun had researched the various companies that offer the riverboat tours. He settled on a company called, Orangutang Applause. This company had over 600 positive reviews on Trip Advisor. We soon found out why.

On October 13 at 10:00 am, Dessy arrived at Element to introduce herself to us, and to discuss our tour. We finalized our payment, were introduced to all of the people that would be taking part, as well as the fellow that would be staying on Element during the evenings we would be away. We gradually loaded our gear on to the riverboat (Kelotok, named so, because it makes a tok, tok, tok sound), climbed aboard, and started our 3 day/2 night adventure.

Our guide Alan, is a soft spoken, 28 year old fellow from, Kumai. Alan is following in his families footsteps by being a park guide. Along the way, he was very knowledgable about the history, flora, and fauna of the area. He also, regaled us with stories from his childhood. He reminisced about when everyone in town, had an exotic pet in a cage, from Sun Bears, Orangutang, to Salt Water Crocodiles. He and his friends used to pay a small fee to see the creatures in these peoples homes. 

Throughout our journey, he showed us games that he once played as a child. One such game, was to take small ants, and put them on an Emperor Ant’s nest, wait and watch until the larger ant emerged. Another game he played was with a plant. This plant is a soft spiky green plant. Pieces can be broken off, and replaced else wear (kind of like a natural Lego). The object of the game is to find the piece the other person has “moved”. Jordan enjoyed trying to stump Alan.

On our first day, we headed up the river at a leisurely pace, past the first village named, Sakalaji. Along the way, Alan shared that, in the mid 90's the national park stopped accepting captive orangutans because of disease and competition. Captive Orangutan’s are being released in other locations in Borneo, to give them a chance to live free. He also explained that each evening, young and teenage Orangutang’s make a nest in a tree to sleep in.

As we reached the second part of the river, Alan shed light on the naming of the river. It is named, Sekonyer (named after a Dutch pirate ship) but, the local people could not pronounce the name so it became known as Sekonyer. 

Our aim on this day, was to arrive at the first camp in time for the afternoon Orangutang feeding. Upon arrival, we made our way along rickety board walks (in desperate need of repair), through the woods to an area with a raised platform. This is where the park rangers set out the food for the Orangutans.

statue where the park begins
signs indicating the direction the river will take
our first wild Orangutan 
meal time aboard

the first village
first feeding station dock
medicinal trees (the locals believe in holistic treatments to ailments)
Proboscus monkeys
lone Orangutan
After out first feeding station, we walked back to our boat, and were taken to our first overnight spot, the firefly trees. This was a big highlight for me. I was awestruck, and It felt like we were in Neverland, watching pixies fly amongst the trees. It was a magical experience. The girls were able to capture some flies in a jar to watch them up close before releasing them back to nature.

Day 2 began with, the haunting calls of Gibbons. The beauty and serenity along the river is breathtaking. We had an early start because, we needed to get to camp 2 for the 9:00 am feeding. As mentioned near the beginning of this blog post, the board walks are in terrible disrepair. As we were walking along the boardwalk, on our way to the feeding station, Paige spotted a wild Pitcher Plant. We had only ever seen this type of plant online or in a book. In getting a closer look, she stepped closer to the edge of the dilapidated board walk, the board seesawed and she fell a meter and a half in a bellyflop. She was shocked, bruised, and scrapped but, otherwise unharmed. It could have been so much worse. (Later on our night walk one of the guides found a green pit viper sleeping, very near to where she had fallen. She is extremely lucky). Jordan, Alan and I continued on to the feeding station while Shaun and Paige went back to the boat to clean up, and asses the damage. 

the pitcher plant
the Pit Viper that we saw later that evening
As we were walking along, I happened to notice a large bug that I thought Paige would love to see. Alan offered to pick it up and bring it back for Paige to see later. It turned out to be a giant Pill Millipede. As we were waiting for the feeding to begin, Paige turned up with Shaun, and was able to sketch this cool creature.


munching away
Praying Mantis
Pitcher Plants
Tarantula hole
Later in the day, we motored up the river to the third camp called, Camp Leaky. This is where German/Canadian/Indonesian professor Mary Berute M. F. Galdikas started working in 1971. At the junction in the river leading to the camp, we saw where the gold mining polluted river met up with the clean river water. This pollution has caused problems for the people that rely on the river for drinking water, and for fishing. It is a shame that the mining company doesn't take an active roll in minimizing the pollution. 
milky white polluted river meeting the clean river

During our visit at Camp Leaky, the information centre was great to see. Being able to see some of the Orangutan's lineage was exciting.

my hand in comparison to an adult orangutan
family trees
One of my favourite residents near Camp Leaky is, Bob the Gibbon. He is such a character. He has to be quick to sneak food during the feeding times as his relationship with the Orangutan's is a little bit rocky. He has to sneak down and grab as much food as possible before they arrive. It is quite the sight.


drinking cow's milk as an experiment to see if it helped with their bone density

Proboscis Monkeys
After our Camp Leaky experience, we headed back to camp 2 for our night walk. We made sure to be extra careful this time, so that there were no accidents. Our night guide was able to point out a variety of night creatures from frogs to sleeping birds.

sleeping bird
spider of some sort
Pit Viper close to the spot where Paige fell
Ball Python
On our third and final day, we went to plant native trees at the reforestation camp. Ladan, has lived alone at this camp for 17 years. He showed us all of the different trees, explained their names and purposes, and we each got to choose one. He gave us a plaque to write our name, country of origin, tree name, and date planted. He then took us to the area that he had prepared for the replanting. Small acts turn into something big.

our chosen plants

Below are random pictures taken during our visit.

a Storm Stork
local transportation
my view
a fishing village
a quiet river

ants on a mission
On the third and final day, we were dropped back to Element. The crew wanted to come aboard for selfies/group pictures. It was a wonderful and eye opening experience. I highly recommend a visit!

This is a list of animals that we saw while visiting Borneo: Long tailed Macaques, Hornbills, Proboscus monkey, Orangutan, Black Throated Babbler, Squirrels , Silver Leaf monkey, Fire Flies (known to the locals as "fingernail spirits), small Monitor that can swim, King Fisher, small fresh water Crocodile, Crows, tons of Swallows , Storm Stork (only 500 left in the world), Toilet Paper Butterfly, Armadillidae Pill Bug Millipede, Girdled Gecko, green Skink, Praying Mantis, black and red Broadbill, Pied Fantail, Bob the Gibbon, Wasps, Tarantula, frogs, countless spiders, Shaun's evil black spider, huge moth, Green Pit Viper (coiled where Paige fell off the wall), Python, 4 birds sleeping (the first was a big ball of yellow fluff, the others were just sitting in the open on branches), Stick Bug

Follow our video adventures on our YouTube channel: Video adventures of s/v Element

Follow us on Instagram: Element Instagram photos