Prince Henry the Navigator at Sagres

Prince Henry the Navigator, or to give him his correct title Infante Dom Henrique, was born in Porto on March 4th 1394, the third son of King João of Portugal and Philippa of Lancaster (daughter of John of Gaunt).  I have always been fascinated by Henry’s role as sponsor and instigator of early Portuguese exploration so I was eager to explore the Sagres area of the Algarve which he made his home.

Cape St Vincente is a dramatic headland with vertical cliffs dropping to the Atlantic Ocean.  It was considered to be the most westerly point “of the whole inhabited world.”  Nearby menhirs date from neolithic times and a Roman pottery kiln has been found at Baleeira.  It is a barren windswept spot, apart from the imposing lighthouse and the swooping birds which include peregrine falcons, rock thrushes, storks and herons. 

Originally a Franciscan Monastery the Cape was named Cabo São Viçente after the body of the martyred St Vincent was brought ashore to be buried.  In 1587, while under Spanish rule, the area was plundered by Francis Drake and in 1797 Nelson defeated the Spanish Fleet in the second Battle of Cape St Vincent.  The lighthouse was built over the ruins of the Franciscan convent in 1846.

Three kilometres away is the Sagres peninsula where the Fortaleza de Sagres stands.  This natural promontory provided shelter for ships before they rounded Cape St Vincent.  At one time it was believed that Prince Henry established a school of navigation here to train sailors for their expeditions of discovery along the African coast, but this has largely been discredited by historians.

Certainly Henry established an estate, the Vila do Infante, in a village called Terçanabal and he employed skilled mapmakers as well as manufacturers of navigational instruments.  As Administrator General of the Order of Christ, a replacement for the crusading Templars in Portugal, he had access to considerable funds for the sponsorship of ships seeking new land, gold and slaves.

Islets of Martinhal at the entrance to Sagres harbour (modern day Baleeira)

After Henry’s older brother Pedro was killed in a skirmish with troops belonging to his young nephew King Alfonso V, the Infante decided to reside mainly in Sagres and it was here that he died in November 1460, leaving behind a legacy of adventuring sailors such as Bartolomeu Dias, who rounded the Cape of Good Hope and Vasco da Gama, who was the first European to reach India by sea.

Rosa dos Ventos (The compass rose)

Visiting the Fortress of Sagres today you enter through a tunnel where you are met with the sight of a vast stone compass rose (rosa dos ventos) 43 metres in diameter.  Most of the sixteenth century fortress was destroyed by a tidal wave resulting from the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 but one original turret remains.  The fortress provided defence against barbary pirates and other potential invaders along the coast.  It was restored in the mid 20th century. 

As the Portuguese found new places such as the island of Porto Santo, they left behind a series of padrões, stone crosses inscribed with the Portuguese coat of arms marking their claims.  There is a replica inside the fortress.  Also in the compound is the simple church of Nossa Senhora da Graça. Originally built in 1579, it is a plain white church with a stunning ornate altar and two small niched statues of St Vincent and St Francis which came from the monastery at Cape St Vincent.

Nossa Senhora da Graça

Beyond the fortress further batteries were built along the peninsula but now it is a nature lovers paradise with an abundance of wild flowers and birds.


A journey to Melaka from Singapore

In January 1967 my father drove us to Malacca for a short stay.  Here my mother describes it in her diary:-
Thursday January 5th 1967
Setting off from Tanglin at 7.15 in drizzly weather, we were glad that at the Causeway border they just gave a quick glance at our Singapore ID cards.  Almost as soon as we were on the mainland of Malaya, the pace was slower and the villages more colourful.  There were houses frequently dotted along the main road to Batu Pahat.  Each Malay house is built on stilts, with carved woodwork and on many, the steps are made up of patterned tiles.  Round every house, a patch has been cleared and planted with flowering shrubs and orchids.  The villages seem permeated with a green and friendly atmosphere.  At the roadside water buffalo are tied up and there are humped back cows and sweet little black and white goats.  There were many ducks waddling across the road at their own pace and areas where lots of chickens could be seen.

When we reached Ayer Hitam we had to turn towards the coast onto a smaller road to Batu Pahat.  Batu Pahat means chiselled stone, perhaps because of the nearby quarries but it is also known by its old name Bandar Penggaram which means town of salt makers.  The ferry was a small flat barge which was nudged across the river by an ancient motor boat.  Luckily it was a short distance as I kept wondering if there were crocodiles in the murky water.

At one point we saw a huge black and yellow striped snake stretched out right across the road where it had been run over.  We decided not to use the bushes but to keep on towards the Rest House at Muar before answering the call of nature.  Muar is probably named after Muara, the Malay name for wide open estuary but it was also given the name Bandar Maharani after Maharani Fatimah who attended the inauguration of the new town in 1887.  This time we had to queue for the ferry for two hours as each ferry could only take six cars or two lorries. 

Reaching the Malacca Rest House at 2 pm we were grateful that they were happy to give us lunch.  The climate in Malacca seems drier and hotter than Singapore in the daytime and cooler with the sea breeze in the evening.

Government Rest Houses were the places to stay for foreign visitors in the 1950s and 1960s as there were no modern hotels in most towns in Malaya.  My parents’ large bedroom with en-suite bathroom had an airy balcony.  My room out in an annexe was hot and stuffy with many cockroaches so I hid inside the mosquito nets over the bed!

After lunch we walked round the old town, going to the top of St Paul’s hill to see the view of the sea on one side and the town on the other.  Before dinner we walked along the seafront and the sunset was glorious.  As we sat in the bar with our friends in the evening a large rat ran across the floor and under the bar.  We told the barman but he just laughed.  Perhaps it was his pet.

Melaka was once a thriving port as it is at the narrowest part of the Malacca Strait and was always accessible.  The historic city centre was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2008.  It was named Melaka after a tree of that name by Parameswara, the last Sultan of Singapura, who had fled the island after it was invaded.  In Melaka he set up his new stronghold in 1402.  In 1511 it was conquered by the Portuguese but almost a hundred years later, the Dutch attacked the port and they ruled Melaka until 1798.  The city was ceded to the British as part of the Anglo-Dutch treaty in 1824 in exchange for Bencoolen in Sumatra.  In 1948 Malacca became part of the Federation of Malaya.

Friday January 6th 1967
Today we explored the busy streets.  They are very narrow which makes it difficult to drive a car especially if you meet a bullock cart.  Most of the shops are Chinese or Indian and prices are high due to the tax which we don’t pay in Singapore.
Bullock Cart
The Chinese temple, the oldest and most ornate in Malaya, was well worth the visit.  The gold work on the outside and colourful figures on the roof must be constantly repainted.  Along the eaves are many paintings depicting scenes from legends.  The temple is called Cheng Hoon Teng, Abode of the Green (Merciful) Clouds and is used for the worship of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.  It is 300 years old.  Nearby is a simple white mosque which gave us a good view of the town from the top of its tower.
Cheng Hoon Temple
The old Fort on St John’s Hill commanded the harbour and was a climb to reach in the intense heat.  We drove down to the old Portuguese settlement and the garden city.  The old part is picturesque with houses on stilts, ducks swimming in the ponds and goats and cattle about.  The garden city is made up of modern bungalows with gardens full of flowers.  We could see several teenagers enthusiastically playing badminton in their gardens.

Mum at St John's Fort
In the evening, as we sat in the open bar area, I saw an old Indian man walk in behind Jim.  He had a small spear through his tongue which he therefore had to stick out.  He touched Jim’s arm to beg for money which gave him quite a shock.

Saturday January 7th 1967
As members of the Tanglin Club in Singapore we were allowed to use the Malacca club.  Its swimming pool is about 7 miles out of the town right on the seashore.  The pool is filled with seawater and it was glorious sitting under the thatched sunshades looking out to sea, as the palm trees swayed in the breeze.  Most of the time we were the only people there apart from the barman and pool attendant.  Liz and I wandered along the shore where we saw a sand lizard and some wee fish jumping around on the surface of the water.

A modern photo of the Malacca Club
Our last evening at the Rest house has been very sociable, talking to a naval officer and his wife who were recently living in my home town (Helensburgh in Scotland).

Sunday January 8th 1967
We took the long road home to avoid the two ferries, so first we had to drive north towards Tampin, then east to Gemas.  From Segamat the road turned southwards.  The route was through jungle and palm and rubber plantations.  All the rubber trees are in straight rows from whatever angle you look at them and we could see the little cups attached to the trunks.  At one place, at the side of the road, we saw a dead cat, smaller than a leopard but similar in colouring.  There was also a dead lorus. 

The 216 mile journey was entirely through forest land and tiny villages.  We were pleased to arrive in Johore Bahru in time for the usual Sunday lunch of curried chicken and Gula Malacca.  This included a ginger kitten which jumped on Liz’s lap so that she could feed it with her chicken.  Lee Heng had tea at the ready when we arrived home and Sherry gave us a great welcome.
Betty Ware

Cambodia in 1969 #AngkorWat

Another instalment  from my mother's Far East diary:-

In March 1969, after a week’s holiday with Thai friends in Bangkok, my parents set out for a few days’ visit to Cambodia.  They found Phnom Penh, the capital, a contrasting mixture of wide boulevards and narrow grubby roads.  After a hot stuffy night in Hotel Sukalay they set out for Siem Reap so that they could see the twelfth century temples in the ancient capital of Angkor.

Tuesday March 11th 1969
We caught a cyclo-pousse to the centre of the city, where we were able to share a pick up taxi to take us to Siem Reap.  We were packed in tight with the locals in a Peugeot with 3 rows of seats.  Soon we were passing through flat, dry countryside sprinkled with wild lotus flowers.  The houses reminded us of those in Malaya as they are also on stilts, but they lack colour and have no plants in their yards.   We met strings of 4 to 6 bullock carts jammed full of clay pots and saw quite a few cows and water buffalos.  Occasionally there was a pony drawing a cart.

While we waited at Kampong Luong for a ferry across the river, we stopped at a food market where small children pestered us to buy drinks.   The long straight road continued with many dogs wandering in front of our taxi, so the driver constantly sounded his horn until we stopped at Kampong Thom for a cold drink.  We passed jeep style taxis, cyclo-pousses and buses.  As the rice had been harvested the fields were just dry stubble.  Reaching Siem Reap we changed into a motorcycle pousse for the last 7 km to the Auberge Royal des Temples.  The hotel is right opposite Angkor Wat, across the bridge over the “moat”.  There were a few buffalo in the water with ibises sitting on their backs.

Angkor Wat was dedicated to Vishnu when it was constructed in the 12th century.  Many of the carvings are of the beautiful “Apsaras” (Concubines who became goddesses) who hold you with their charm and serene smiles.  The carving on the stone walls is magnificent with so many details and a great many steps to climb!  The buddhas are in varying stages of decay, some having been broken while excavated.  Picture stories are told all along the cloisters.  Once each temple had a library, but all the books were left to rot.  We walked over to where a modern temple stood amongst many Stupas.  Here there was a procession of people under large round umbrellas.  Children were everywhere selling temple rubbings and ivory cow bells.

After dinner we returned to Angkor Wat which looked marvellous in floodlight.  Classical dancing was being performed on the esplanade, which was just the right setting, as the dancers emerged from the archway with the towering buildings outlined against the sky.  The dancers dress was similar to that of Thai dancers but the music completely different.  In their welcome dance they threw flowers at the audience.  Two young boys were dressed as monkey gods, one black and one white.  In their dance they fought in bare feet.  The farewell dance used fans which was a colourful finale.

Wednesday March 12th 1969

We rose early to catch the coach to visit Angkor Thom (Great City), the last capital of the Khymer empire.  There we viewed Bayon temple, the best we’ve seen.  The bas relief friezes depict scenes from the past showing the Khymers with their elongated ears (a sign of long life).  Also shown are battle scenes where the soldiers rode elephants and the king rode a horse.  There are carvings of dancers and fishing boats surrounded by crocodiles.  Bullock carts are depicted laden with women and chickens and other food supplies.  The original grey stone had been painted red but as this wore off, lichen and moss have coloured it yellow.  The towers bore large faces on all 4 sides.

Angkor Thom is surrounded by a wall 16 kilometres long with Bayon at its centre.  A Buddhist sanctuary, people believed the temples to be the home of the gods.  On each side of the gate entrance are 7 headed Naga sculptures.  Resembling cobra heads they represent the seven races and have a symbolic association with the seven colours of the rainbow.  As we passed under the arch, we heard a scuffle, a squeak and then plonk on the ground behind me was a long thin green snake with a bat in its mouth.  I was just focusing my camera to take a photo when it suddenly started moving nearer to me so I sloped off mighty quick!

Later we walked along elephant terrace, a long wall with carved elephants all along it.  In the past kings sat above while the dancers emerged from the houses opposite to perform for them.  Sometimes the dancers performed on ropes stretched between the houses which were three storey towers.

We walked through the woods until we reached the King’s Temple.  Golden Buddhas were known to have been here but were stolen, in time of war.  Further on, is the King’s swimming pool with terraced steps like an amphitheatre.  There is an adjoining children’s pool.  They are still excavating the terrace of the Leper King.  A replica of his statue is there while the original is in the museum at Phnom Penh.  In the afternoon we went to the Petit Circuit which shows how they found the temples with vines growing out of the ruins.  Rainforest trees with wide fin-like bases were everywhere.

Thursday March 13th 1969
We left Siem Reap before 7 am sharing a taxi to Phnom Penh with a student called Sebastian Tombs.  It started to rain which is almost unheard of at this time of year.  A lorry splashed so much mud on the windscreen that the driver, who was the same one who had driven us to Siem Reap, had to find a puddle to clean it off.  We enjoyed seeing an elephant working in a field and also a large, reddish, weasel like animal on the road with a pointed face and thick tail. (It might have been the rare yellow-bellied weasel)

We saw many priests in their saffron robes standing at the roadside with their bowls, waiting to be given food.  Local women carried flat baskets on their heads containing dried fish and smoked ducks which they were selling by the ferry.

Friday March 14th 1969 
This morning we saw more of Phnom Penh.  First port of call was the small fruit and flower market which seemed more expensive than Bangkok.  The railway station is clean and pleasant with a Stupa at the front containing the ashes of a Buddha.  Walking through the Chinese area we reached Wat Phnom at the top of a small hillock.  Next we saw Wat Botum Vaddei monastery with its many Stupas.  The museum was built of red sandstone and contained ancient jewellery as well as the original statue of the leper king.

The Royal Palace is similar in architecture to the King’s Palace in Bangkok.  The Coronation Hall contains two thrones for the king and Queen.  There are also gold coloured upholstered chairs in a circle for the Royal family to hold conferences.  The Sacred room contains the robes and head-dresses for ceremonies.  There are fabulous pieces of valuable jewellery which had belonged to Napoleon III including a huge diamond and many rubies and emeralds.

On a boulevard we saw the wreck of an American plane which had been shot down on the border of Vietnam.  We briefly saw the magnificent cathedral before heading for the airport.  We were home in Singapore by 11 pm where our dog, Sherry gave us a great welcome.

Four days later on March 18th 1969, US  B-52 bombers began attacking suspected camps in Cambodia for the first time.  Over the next few years the Khymer Rouge lead by Pol Pot fought a brutal civil war which he won in 1975.