Friday, 30 November 2007

Kayaking the Tasman Sea.

Caption: Justin Jones and James Castrission leaving Australia on their attempt to kayak across the Tasman Sea a few weeks back.

With co-paddlers, Paul Caffyn has twice attempted to kayak across the Tasman Sea from Tasmania to New Zealand but has been thwarted on both occasions by the Tasmanian authorities and bad weather. (Cackle TV website)

In 1988 I joined Paul Caffyn in an attempt to be the first kayakers to paddle the Tasman Sea. After two hours into the trip, we had to return to shore for adjustments to the front cockpit I was sitting in. The rudder cables were cutting into my knees.

Once on shore we were served a summons by the Tasmanian Police and forbidden to make another attempt on the Tasman Sea.

So I am following with great interest the current attempt by two kayakers to cross the Tasman Sea. In today's paper I read the following:

Equipment failures and the "gnawing" elements have hampered a trans-Tasman paddle with fears two Australians face certain danger as they get closer to New Zealand.

Justin Jones, 24, and James Castrission, 25, have been forced to dump overboard the bilge pump from the cabin of their custom-designed double kayak after it stopped working.

Their electric desalination pump also broke, requiring them to use a manual version to produce up to 10 litres of filtered drinking water a day.

The effort takes two hours from their paddling regimen, which can last up to 15 hours each day.

The pair departed 18 days ago on their 2,200km adventure and hope to be the first Australians to complete a tran-Tasman paddle by reaching New Zealand by Christmas.

The pair have just reached the halfway point of their journey and posted their most recent audio message on their website.

I have been thinking a lot about the guts and commitment it takes just to prepare, train and get on the water. For our attempt in 1988 I remember doing a double crossing of the Cook Strait, a another 70 km crossing of the same strait from Paraparaumu, paddling past Kapiti, Brothers Islands, and Cape Kaomaru to reach the South Island at Cape Jackson. I also did a lot of night paddling to get accustomed to reading the sea in the dark. Paul and I did a few trips together but little preparation in the kayak we started out in, as it was stored in Tasmania after his unsuccessful the previous year. Paul was worried that if we were seen practicing in Tasmania the Police would become supiscious and arrest us, which finally happened.

I have a sad photograh in my current dairy under an entry on February 14 this year of Vicky McAuley, the wife of Andrew McAuley, kneeling and weeping by her husband's kayak that was found about 80 km off Milford Sound, without him. His body was never found.

This is a reminder of the seriousness of such a journey and my thoughts and prayers are with Justine and James out on the Tasman, Hang in there guys, you can do it.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Alone, sick and happy

I sit on my bed in Jakarta on the 19th floor and watch clouds building up. Jakarta sprawls beneath me. I have been sick the last three days but last night was so weak, that I have taken a day off work. I usually feel guilty doing that but today I don’t. I am reading Jon Krakauer’s book, Into the Wild.

It was given to me on Sunday by Bernard, who works as a forester with GTZ. Ann, his pretty Vietnamese wife bubbles with enthusiasm. They are a delightful couple, so natural. Bernard is close to nature. His books exude an intensity of trees, plants, insects and ecosystems, as well as raunchy adventure stories that feed our sense of being the gladiator or the spectator at the Coliseum.

It seems I was destined to be sick as I needed to read this book. Having been to the South and North poles, scaled the heights of the Andes, Tienshans and the Himalayas, I have been living in a comfort zone. It is three years since I spent quality time alone in the wilderness. Between 19 and 22, I spent virtually all my time in the wilderness including 13 months with 3 other people alone in a remote part of Antarctica. One week in every four I would be on fire watch alone from 9 pm to 7a.m. This was the best time in my life. For after ten months, I found a friend. First I had to get to know my biggest enemy, myself, and then befriend and appreciate him. I also realised that a man without a woman, is a man without vanity. I read Thoreau. Walt Whitman, William McGonagal and books of the great polar explorers.

I remember doing winter and spring journeys in -50 oC with Gary Lewis and shudder at the risks we took in Antarctica.. Twenty one and not a care in the world. I planned an expedition to Greenland that winter and charted my life ahead of me. I can identify with Chris McCandless who gives his savings to charity, abandons his car and hitchhikes to Alaska and walks into the wilderness to be alone and figure out the meaning of existence. Four months later his decomposed body is found by a hunter……

On July 2, 1992 McCandlas finished reading Tolstoy’s “Family Happiness,” having marked several passages that moved him.
"I have lived through much and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet, secluded life in the country with the possibility of being useful to people..." to who it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; and then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books, music, love for one’s neighbour – such is my idea of happiness.. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps - what more can the heart of a man desire ?

Monday, 26 November 2007

Road Map of the Roman Empire - the Silk Road

The Tabula Peutingeriana is one of the Austrian National Library's greatest treasures.

Some months ago I wrote some articles with maps and photos on my travels along the Silk Road in Central Asia. Recently I discovered a magnificent story on the BBC website with a photo of a parchment scroll with a road map of the Roman Empire.

The parchment scroll, made in the Middle Ages, is the only surviving copy of a road map from the late Roman Empire.

The document, which is almost seven metres long, shows the network of main Roman roads from Spain to India.

It is normally never shown to the public. The parchment is extremely fragile, and reacts badly to daylight.

But it has been on display for one day to celebrate its inclusion in Unesco's Memory of the World Register.

Practical guide

At first sight, it looks very unlike a modern map.

Every so often there is a pictogram of a building to show you that there was a hotel or a spa where you could stay

Andreas Fingernagel
Austrian National Library

Both the landmass and the seas have been stretched and flattened. The Mediterranean has been reduced to a thin strip of water, more like a river than a sea.

Instead of being oriented from north to south, the map, which is only 34 centimetres wide, works from west to east.

But despite its unfamiliar appearance, the director of the Department of Manuscripts, Autographs and Closed Collections at the Austrian National Library, Andreas Fingernagel, says it is an intensely practical document, more like a plan of the London Underground than a map.

"The red lines are the main roads. Every so often there is a little hook along the red lines which represents a rest stop - and the distance between hooks was one day's travel."

"Every so often there is a pictogram of a building to show you that there was a hotel or a spa where you could stay," he said.

"It was meant for the civil servants of the late Roman Empire, for couriers and travellers," he added.

Some of the buildings have large courtyards - a sign of more luxurious accommodation.

Clue to ancient world

At the centre of the Tabula Peutingeriana is Rome. The city, represented by a crowned figure on a throne, has numerous roads leading to and from the metropolis. Some, such as the Via Appia and the Via Aurelia, still exist today.

The Tabula Peutingeriana scroll dates from the late 12th or the early 13th century and was made in Southern Germany or Austria.

But Mr Fingernagel says it is very different from other medieval maps and is clearly a copy of a much earlier document, dating back to the 5th century.

"In maps from the 12th or 13th century, Jerusalem, not Rome, was in the centre," he said.

"The interests of map makers in the Middle Ages were quite different. They don't show roads or rest stations, instead they show the holy places of Christianity."

And the map contains other details which indicate the original probably dates back to the 5th century, including the city of Aquileia, which was destroyed in 452 by the Huns.

The scroll was named after one of its earlier owners, the Renaissance German humanist Konrad Peutinger.

Later it was obtained by the Imperial Library in Vienna - now the Austrian National Library.

"It's unique," said Mr Fingernagel. "It's the only map of the ancient world - although it's a copy - that gives us an impression of how things used to be."

The Tabula Peutingeriana was included in the Unesco Memory of the World Register this year, and was on limited view in Vienna on 26 November 2007.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Celebrating 100 postings

Today I am told that this is my 100th posting on my blog. To celebrate I would like to be true to the sub-title on my blog: wayfarer


The painting displayed above is by Owen Merton,(near Motueka) the father of Thomas Merton. Owen was a great artist, born in Christchurch New Zealand and married Ruth Calvert Jenkins, an American art student in London in 1914. His son, Thomas was born in Prades in the Pyrenees-Orientales France. Thomas Merton wrote more than 50 books, 2000 poems, and a countless number of essays, reviews, and lectures that have been recorded and published.

Man instinctively regards himself as a wanderer and wayfarer, and it is sesond nature for him to go on pilgrimage in search of a privileged and holy place, a source and centre of in dedefectible life. This hope is built into his psychology, and whether he acts it out or simply dreams it, his heart seeks to return to a mythical source, a place of "origin," the "home" where the ancestors came from, the mountain where the ancient fathers were in direct communication with heaven, the place of the creation of the world, paradise itself, with its sacred tree of life, thus wrote Thomas Merton.

So who was Thomas Merton ? (January 31, 1915- December 10, 1968) Often described as an American Trappist monk and author, born in Prades in the Pyrenees-Orientales departement of France.

Merton was educated in the United States and France before attending Oakham School in England. As mentioned earlier, his father was an artist from New Zealand and his mother, a Quaker, was from the United States. His mother died when he was six and his father when he was sixteen. After a disastrous first year at Cambridge University, during which time he fathered an illegitimate child, Merton moved to the United States to live with his grandparents. He proceeded to take his bachelor's and master's degrees at Columbia, where he made the acquaintance of a group of artists and writers who would remain his friends for life.

Merton converted to Catholicism in his early twenties during the period he was writing his master's thesis on William Blake. His desire to enter the Franciscans being thwarted, he taught at St. Bonaventure's College, in Olean, New York and, following a retreat at the Trappist (Cistercian of the Strict Observance) Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky during Easter 1941, he came to a crisis with call up looming and was finally accepted as a choir novice (with the intention of becoming a priest) at Gethsemani on December 10th, 1941.

During his long years at Gethsemani (where he was encouraged to write) Merton changed from the passionately inward-looking young monk of his most famous book, the autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain, to a contemplative writer and poet who became well known for his dialogue with other faiths and his stand on non-violence during the race riots and Vietnam War of the 1960s, and finally achieved the solitude he had long desired in a hermitage in 1965. During these years he had many battles with his abbot about not being allowed out of the monastery, balanced by his international reputation and huge correspondence with many well-known figures of the day.

A new abbot allowed him the freedom to undertake a tour of Asia at the end of 1968, during which he memorably met the Dalai Lama in India. He also made a visit to Polonnaruwa (in what was then Ceylon), where he had a religious experience while viewing enormous statues of the Buddha. There is speculation that Merton wished to remain in Asia as a hermit. However, he died in Bangkok on 10th December 1968, having touched a badly-grounded electric fan while stepping out of his bath. His body was flown back to Gethsemani where he is buried. Since his death, his influence has continued to grow and he is considered by many to be a twentieth century American mystic.

Merton put a ban on publishing much of his work until 25 years after his death. After that time his diaries were published

But why has this man influenced me ? First his father was born in Christchurch, New Zealand where I have my family home and his paintings ptovide me with a sense of belonging, the place where I started my pilgrimage in 1968. His son, Thomas has helped me understand the spiritual journey many of us are still on, and he has helped me understand the lives of the great mystics.

Merton’s spiritual journey within became the subject of tens of tracts and books on meditation and contemplation, social justice and ecumenism that have guided believers ever since. His books still sell, and commentators who write on his writings continue to sell, as well. For example, James Finley’s Merton’s Palace of Nowhere deals with Merton’s understanding of spiritual self-identity. Merton’s whole spirituality, Finley says, pivots in the question of human identity, his message is that “we are one with God.”

Toward the end of his life Merton grew increasingly interested in bringing people together, both in the communal sense, and in bridging obvious differences, such as race and religion. He studied Eastern religions and became enamored of the philosophies of Buddhism. On a trip to the Far East he met several times with the Dalai Lama as he prepared to give a presentation geared for bringing together East and West in a major world conference. A few hours before he was to speak, Merton died by being accidentally electrocuted in his bathtub in the hotel in Bangkok where he was staying. He was 53 years old.

Another Merton associate at the monastery at Gethsemane, writes that whatever Merton was doing, whether talking or writing on prayer, monastic life, liturgy, the psalms or on civil rights, peace and war, nuclear disarmament or ancient cultures, “he was expressing the fullness of the nature of contemplation. For contemplation for Merton was not simply one aspect of life, still less some esoteric phenomenon attainable by only a few in life. For him, contemplation was the fundamental reality in life. It was what made life real and alive. It was what makes us to be truly human.”

I hope this might inspire some of you to read Thomas Merton and to enjoy the art of his father, Owen.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

"I sent you forth my brightest world, now it's nearly gone"

Caption: Vietnam red cross volunteers

"I sent you forth my brightest world, now it's nearly gone"

This story was posted on Alertnet today.
As we come close to the start of UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, Bob McKerrow, Head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent’s Indonesia delegation reflects on where the world’s oldest and largest humanitarian organisation has come from in terms of championing environmental issues.

McKerrow is one of the longest-serving IFRC delegates and has also published three books inspired by nature. He has climbed and trekked extensively in New Zealand, Europe, Peru, Antarctica, Borneo, East Africa, Nepal, India, Central Asia and has also been on expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.

In 1972, the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in Stockholm, and for the first time united the representatives of multiple governments in discussion relating to the state of the global environment. This conference led directly the creation of government environment agencies and the UN Environment Program

Henrik Beer, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (from 1960-82) participated in the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, and was deeply moved and somewhat traumatised by predictions of the earth slowly destroying itself. He left inspired and determined to get the Red Cross movement involved in environmental programmes in order to stop the environmental degradation that he believed was worsening the plight of vulnerable people.

In 1972-73 the phrase “Climate Change” had not been coined, but Henrik Beer’s vision changed the way Red Cross societies thought and acted, as they started getting into environmental programmes which set the foundation for an easy understanding of the later, and insidious onset of Global Warming.

Inspired and driven by Henrik Beer, national Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies started getting involved in environmental programmes. Environmental concerns found their way to the highest levels of governments and the international community. Slowly Henrik encouraged Red Cross societies such as Ethiopia - suffering from drought in 73-74 - to plant trees and get the youth involved. He had similar messages for flood-stricken Nepal and India. He was passionate about reforestation, he understood overgrazing and the need to protect our mountain lands and water catchments. In 1975 when I went to Nepal as a disaster preparedness delegate, he reminded me of the need to plant trees and make the young aware of the need to care for the environment.

In 1981, when I was working in India on a huge cyclone preparedness programme, Henrik Beer made his last field visit as secretary general. before retiring. We were building 233 cyclone shelters and part of the programme was an integrated disaster preparedness programme where young volunteers planted trees to protect the coastline and shelters. They also kept drainage canals from being blocked. Henrik was thrilled to see the Indian volunteers active with environmental programmes. Today, planting trees for protection along cyclone prone coastlines would be described as a good example of a climate change programme.

Henrik Beer started his tenure as secretary general in 1960. Just two years later the publication of “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson highlighted to the impact of chemicals on the natural environment. In 1967 the Torrey Canyon oil tanker went aground off the southwest coast of England, and in 1969 oil spilled from an offshore well in California's Santa Barbara Channel. In 1971 the conclusion of a law suit in Japan drew international attention to the effects of decades of mercury poisoning on the people of Minamata.

At the same time, emerging scientific research threw the spotlight on existing and hypothetical threats to the environment and humanity. Among them were Paul R. Ehrlich, whose book “The Population Bomb”, published 1968, revived concerns about the impact of population growth. Biologist Barry Commoner generated a debate about growth, affluence and "flawed technology." Additionally, an association of scientists and political leaders known as the Club of Rome published their report The Limits to Growth in 1972, and drew attention to the growing pressure on natural resources from human activities. Meanwhile, nuclear proliferation and photos of Earth from space emphasized the consequences of technological accomplishments, as well as Earth's truly small place in the universe.

Henrik Beer was a voracious reader and kept abreast of world affairs and especially topics related to humanity and environment. I was fortunate in coming to Geneva in early 1975 as a young desk officer and met him on many occasions. Henrik spoke with conviction and passion about the environment.

His words, spoken over three decades ago, could have been written yesterday as a rallying call for all civil society and government organisations to come together and safeguard our future:

“Can the agencies and the many INGOs each treat the world network of organizations as an administrative problem when it clearly represents an unstudied social problem? Is it not an unexplored global network of resources — of which the governmental and business worlds are an integral part -- which has not yet been effectively related to the peace/population/food/development/education/environment crisis precisely because the functional relationship of all the parts to the social whole is repeatedly and systematically ignored in organizational decisions? It is no longer useful to concentrate on the problems of one "independent" organization or group of organizations (as though each operated as an autonomous frontier outpost surrounded by uncharted terrain). Nor is it useful to. focus on a single geographical region or subject area -- it is now essential to look at the problems of the network of interdependent organizations and their inter- related concerns.”

.The interest in environmental issues is reflected not only in the wide body of literature and debate, but also by the rock songs of that period.

Mama Nature said
"It's murder what you've done"
I sent you forth my brightest world
Now it's nearly gone

Mama Nature said
"I can't believe it's true"
I gave you life and food for thought
Look what did you do

You're killing my rivers
Drowning my baby streams
Day by day by day by day
I hear them scream

Mama Nature said
"You're guilty of this crime"
Now it's not just a matter of fact
But just a matter of time

Mama Nature Said, by Thin Lizzy, 1973

Monday, 19 November 2007

McKerrow family and the Globe in Dumfries

Isn't it odd how literary genius and licensed premises oft, like freedom and whisky, gang t'gither? The Old Boars Head (Ben Johnson) and The Mermaid (Shakespeare) spring to mind. In Dumfries, the Globe Inn, in the High Street will always be associated with Robert Burns. It is one of the country's oldest hostelries, established in 1610. Robert Burns frequented the Globe firstly from Ellisland Farm, whilst he was building the farmhouse, and subsequently when he moved into the town of Dumfries.

One of my relatives owns the Globe Inn and I hope to visit soon for some freebees and a yarn.

Dumfries in Burns' time was economically, and socially, more significant than it is today; in 1752 it was described as the 'Scottish Liverpool' with more American tobacco trade than Glasgow. Its importance as a west coast port was emphasized by the fact that an estimated 21,000 people from all over

The McKerrow family have owned the Globe since 1937, both Matthew and George becoming Burns Federation Presidents. Many still remember Jack and "Ma Broon" who had a long association with the Globe. In those days, like many other pubs of the day the back room of the Globe was very much a male working class drinking den, devoid of creature comforts but complete with a piano, of sorts, and a set of drums with every encouragement to the clientele to provide their own entertainment. Ma would rule her fiefdom and put up with no nonsense. If someone, to whom she did not take to, opened the sliding door of the snug he was politely told - "Nae laddie, your place is next door".

The present landlady, Maureen McKerrow, George's daughter-in-law, has seen, over the last 29 years much of the High Street demolished, and rebuilt, around the Globe. The building was after all originally open to the High Street, the horses being stabled in what is now the lounge bar. Some things never change for in 1945, Matthew McKerrow noted that a sum had been set aside to pay for the re-roofing of the property when such work was possible (there was a lack of building materials at the time) and one imagines that the roof will need constant repair to this day. Some things do change ... He also put down that "the property should not be sold to a foreigner"! Nowadays overseas visitors are especially welcome, hopefully to receive the same warmth of hospitality experienced by the Bard.

Friday, 16 November 2007

Reflections on Gujarat earthquake

6 March 2001

The last 35 days have been the toughest of my life. More difficult than the North Pole expedition of 1986, tougher than any mountain I've climbed. The first 5 days I had no sleep and since then for the last 30 days I've survived with a handful of hours every night. God knows how I've kept it up. Finally I am having this weekend off after having spent the last 14 days in Bhuj and Bachau. The dust, the dirt and stench of decomposing bodies permeates every pore of your body. People speak of a death toll of over 100,000 now which I can readily believe.

Running and coordinating a team of over 150 foreign delegates, supervising a 350 bed hospital plus two other field hospitals, getting vital relief goods out to over a million of the worst affected people, organising pycho-social counselling teams, orthopaedics centres for those 2000 or more children who lost limbs has been a momentous challenge. We now have a team of highly trained professionals from 21 countries working together with the Indian Red Cross.

Phil Goff, our Minister of Foreign Affairs arrived last night and is travelling today with the NZ High Commissioner and a top level mission from NZ, from Delhi to Bhuj on our plane (which we have chartered for the first 3 months) to see our operation. As I desperately need some time to myself I have sent my deputy, Alan Bradbury, another NZ'er with them to show them round. I'll have dinner with them when they get back

I reflect on some of those harrowing days.
In a narrow street behind a school in Bhuj town, a crowd of people wait anxiously for the arrival of an Indian Red Cross truck. It might not sound much but this truck will bring enough tents to provide shelter for a minimum of 2,300 people.

This distribution of tents is the second one of the day by the Indian Red Cross in Bhuj and the supply cannot meet the demand. Wherever one looks in the town, there is rubble. Bhuj has suffered terribly from the earthquake that hit western India two weeks ago. A town with a population of more than 150,000 people, it had one of the highest official death tolls with a minimum of 6,000 people killed while the number of injured was put at more than 60,000.

Among those waiting slightly apart is a woman holding a baby in a bundle. Hina Chanchal's husband is among the crowd of men surrounding Indian Red Cross officials to see if they are on the list of people who will be given tents.

Like all the others there, Hina lost her home in the earthquake. Although none of her family was killed, she saw the teenage daughter of a neighbour die after being trapped under the debris for several hours. She too had a narrow escape after having to run back inside the house to get her baby.

"It is almost as if God had put a protective corridor around me," she says. "Everyone in front of me and behind me had debris falling on them. I and my baby seemed to have a clear escape route."

Now she and her family of 8 that includes her mother and sister, live by the side of a street. The nights are cold in Gujarat at this time of the year and with each passing day spent living in the open, their desperation at their plight increases.

The sad tragedy is that there are so many people just like Hina. The crowd at the distribution point are vociferous and jostle each other but a small contingent of policemen keep them in check. The earthquake has left hundreds of thousands of people homeless. And all of them have their own desperate story.

One man, a welder who had his own business, no longer has a home or a business. After making sure his family won't have to sleep under the stars in a tent sent by the French Red Cross, he will leave them to search for work in a town 40 kilometres away.

The loss of everything that one has worked so hard for is difficult to take. But amidst the despair, there is a happy smile.

"The Red Cross is doing a fantastic job, keep up the good work," says Vijay Kantilal Mandalia as he leaves the area, carrying a tent in his arms.

He too has lost his building supplies business as well as his home.

"We were happy before, we had achieved something. Now we have nothing and are living on a road. Whatever possessions survived the earthquake, didn't survive the looters. The clothes I am wearing, I have borrowed, even the shoes," he says. "What shall we do? I just don't know."

Nevertheless he is relieved he has a tent. "I knew before the earthquake of the work of the Red Cross. I knew I could go to them for help," he says. "We don't need food, just shelter. Nobody else has given us shelter - until now."

The Indian Red Cross has so far distributed more than 67,300 blankets, 4,200 tents and 6,100 tarpaulins sent from donor Red Cross and Red Crescent societies. With the International Federation targeting 300,000 in its appeal for Gujarat's earthquake victims, the emergency relief operation is set to continue for a few months still.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Simeulue from the air

Simeulue Island from the air. I visited this remote and beautiful island of Indonesia last week in the course of my work. See previous article and photos.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Visit to Simeulue Island

Photo captions: Above: One of our 6300 shelters on Simeulue island.
Below: Map of Simeulue Island near the star.

Last week I visited the remote Indonesian island of Simeulue, situated off the west coast of Aceh province.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have supported the Indonesian Red Cross to build 6300 transitional shelters on the island which has a population of 80,000 people. This has been a huge undertaking using ships, barges, landing crafts and trucks, where there are roads. I went there on an inspection visit, and to attend the opening of the new airport at Bandara Lasikin, and for the opening of a Japanese Red Cross (JRC) sponsored hospital in the capital Sinabang, the opening of a JRC primary health care centre and housing project completion ceremony at Kampung Aie. This ceremony which was held in a JRC community centre and attended by a huge number of village people, marked the completion of 1062 houses and three community centres in Simeulue and Meulaboh. A Red Cross festival was running for a week in the Kampung to provide the beneficiary communities with the opportunity to learn more about the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement.

Now a little about this fascinating island. Simeulue was close to the epicenter of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, but loss of life was surprisingly low, mainly as the people are familiar with earthquakes and tsunamis in this seismically active region and so knew to leave the coast after the earthquake. Local folklore has it that a huge earthquake and tsunami hit Simeulue in 1907, killing many of its inhabitants. Many died when people rushed to the beach when they saw the water recede, exposing the coral and fish. They went to collect the fish not realising that the water would come back with a vengeance. Those who survived told the story of the 1907 semong, the local word for tsunami, to their children. It is largely because of this oral history that many in Simeulue say that they instinctively knew what to do when the December 26th 2004 earthquake and tsunami struck. Simeulue rose at least 6 feet on the eastern coast, during the March 28th 2005 earthquake, leaving the flat top of its coral reefs above high tide level and dry and dead. On the west coast, the land was submerged, seawater flooding fields and settlements.

I will write more about Simeulue when I find time.