As I sit here atop this longboat watching the Malaysian-Indonesian men unwrap random parcels of cargo to drop off at small barely-villages along the way to our destination… I can’t help but think, man I am lucky.
This is a sight only few people in the world will ever get to see, really though. Traveling up the Pejang river through the heart of the Bornean Jungle to get from A to B; because here, of course, there are no roads, no maps and no signs.
kokl.lphoi9i9u8uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuukl.. – ok, so this was genuinely my reaction to being bitten by a spider-sized red-ant, and cracking my laptop screen. Fucker got me. And my screen.
Even now, just minutes into writing we seem to have pulled up to what appears to be a remote village. Here they have dropped off different kinds of fruit, clothing and some poorly kept chickens in boxes with holes for the heads to poke out. As you can see from the shot below, they are very excited to see the boat, and I think, me and my blonde compatriot…
Hello Asia, I’ve missed you
Being back in South East Asia is a welcomed break from my year long trip through Australia. Don’t get me wrong, Australia was a fantastic experience with a lot to be learned. Yet, I just can’t help but feel the experience is all too similar to being home with added scenery and wildlife. Burgers, chips, lots of westerners getting drunk and beach resorts dominated – while the beautiful side went almost unnoticed by the majority of visitors; lakes, waterfalls, canyons, gauges, mountains, any part of Australia which wasn’t the East coast essentially.
Though, being a welcomed break is somewhat of a contradicting statement. It was a break from the norm, from the western world, notable racism, media battering and all-round poisoning of the mind. That doesn’t mean it is a break though, it’s just a whole new type of world to get used to – and that can be just as difficult. In the past, I’d traveled ‘the majority’ of Thailand and a fair chunk of Indonesia. And that was easy, so to speak. Someone could always speak English or at the very least point you in a direction which would make the rest of your query become obvious. Not here though. Not in Borneo. Not once you’re so deep into the jungle that the only word agreeable is “boat”.
A disastrous start turned beautiful utopia
After what was in comparison a splendid few days in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, it went on to be a disastrous start to this part of the trip with bad luck seemingly destined to plague the journey. Within two days I’d contracted a fungal infection in my foot, which caused my middle toenail to expand, which caused huge inflammation and infection leaving me less than able to walk. All the while the creams and ‘medicine’ I’d received had caused my hands and feet to develop Dysotrosis; a rare form of eczema. If you include the fact that my body now weakened by both infection and anti-biotics lead me very close to the flu, you could say my first two weeks were less than desirable.
Big shout out to Franky, AKA Mama, who looked after and loved me.
Ensuring that this is not overly negative, I’d like to point out that aside my unfortunate circumstances everything was just lovely. The food, assuming you request every meal has no seafood (for those of you like me) is delicious, and comes in a wide variety. Noodles and rice make up the majority of dishes, but they come in different shapes, sizes and levels of spicy flavours – unlike the people – who are for the most part small, cute and delicate, they shine bronze and all greet you with a smile. Absolutely adorable. I want to hug all of them, especially since they usually give me the aforementioned food. The sights are wonderful, utopic, tall green forestation fill the landscapes with only rivers and clouds altering the view. Clouds being because the trees stretch far and high into the mountains, rivers because that’s how you get about haha.
The longhouses by the river
And finally, once in the jungle, the longhouses – where whole tribes live under one roof. That’s right. It seems we have arrived a few years too late. Many of the longhouses have since been rebuilt by the government in an attempt to modernise the country and improve the life of the locals; which is of course great for many reasons, I don’t have to explain that. However, you could tell from both communication with people and arriving that it’s a tradition many wish would stick. Longhouses traditionally are built of wood, many 100s of years old, and are only accessible by boat along this river. They are separated by tribe and not at all linked to one-another. They are led by a chief who often occupies the name of the longhouse and tribe, too. You’re meant to be invited in, but hotels have started offering tourist options to pay and that just doesn’t feel right to me; especially when the whole culture is about welcoming you in and trading gifts. We were prepared with gifts and ready to find one. Sadly, that opportunity passed us by this time. But we saw a few, and they looked… awesome.
Nevertheless, determined to continue and enjoy this mostly untouched utopia – the most immersive, Jurassic Park-like situation I have ever been in.
My girlfriend Johanna and I ventured into the unknown. The boat we’re on now is called the Bah Manis 2, it sails from Kapit to Belaga. We’d already figured out the previous night that the boat leaves at 9:30am, of course there’s one per day. And of course that means we arrive at 8:30am to safely secure a ticket. And of course it means that nobody helps, nobody can help because of the language barrier, and left waiting until 10:47 wondering if we’ll ever be able to get out of here. We did. Some guy informed me that the boat was late – feeeeee’eeeww, it hadn’t just left without us.
And so, I guess we’ll see what happens next…
Now writing from my flight Singapore > Perth
Arriving in Belaga
We were greeted by a rather rough-around-the-edges fellow who insisted we stay with him. Honestly, I thought it was awesome, I love those random situations you end up in. Yet, this time it turned out he had a guest house which he was trying to overcharge for – so we opted out.
There really wasn’t much in the town at all, it was very small. A few roads at best. Of course, here we were just stopping by in order to get our 4×4 jungle ride to the next destination – another of these one service a day situations, and it leaves at 7am, so continuing on without staying a night wasn’t an option; something we’d come to realise over the last few days making our way from small jungle towns, to smaller and smaller jungle towns.
We took our 4×4 ride, it was without a doubt the windiest road up and over and around mountains I’d ever been on. It took 4 hours and only got us back to a main road where the guy dropped us off and said “when a bus comes, run in the road and wave your hand. You can pay to get on and go to Miri, takes about 3 hours.”
To my surprise, it actually worked. No less than 10 minutes later a bus which looked about right was coming in the distance. So I ran out into the road waved my hands about, the bus pulled over, we got on, paid $2 and arrived in Miri a few hours later.
Arriving in Miri and staying with Dr Cham
Weeks back in Kuching a friendly doctor called Cham approached me at breakfast, mentioned he’d heard us talking about my foot infection and asked to take a look. He gave me some advice and had a general chat too. Nice guy.
Cham picked us up, took us straight back to his place and provided us with a bedroom of our own – awesome. There isn’t too much to tell about Miri really. It’s a vibrant city at night and pleasant in the day, there’s a bunch of cool stuff to do but isn’t really a place to be for too long.
Gunung Mulu, home of Deer Cave and well-over 3 million bats
Though, it’s how you get to Gunung Mulu National Park, a world heritage site. This means it has been declared by UNESCO not just a place which needs protection by the countries government. That, it is so important to the world that it needs to be protected further; in this case for both scientific research and biodiversity.
And I can honestly say, Mulu, as I will now to refer to it as… was simply one of the greatest experiences of my life. I direct you to read my post dedicated to it here: Mulu Post (coming soon).
After Mulu, I felt that my time in Borneo was up. While I was more than happy to continuing traveling in Borneo, we had limited time due to Johanna’s departure in just 8 days. The plan was to get a bus to Kota Kinabalu and dive. As a relatively new destination for the internet, the information and websites available to offer accurate information are far and few between. Only big companies show up on Google and it’s hard to really figure things out.
Because of this we hadn’t realised it wasn’t anywhere near, nor even close to the best diving areas at all. We just thought diving in Sabah, the state, meant it would be good. In fact we’d of had to go a further 14 hours to the opposite end of the state just to get to white sandy beaches and clear water. Feeling how I did about Mulu, and just not wanting to waste our last few days it seemed my brain was scanning for options.
By chance, we walked by a leaflet for Singapore. Honestly, I don’t know much about Singapore apart from that it’s meant to be a badass city. So, off we went to enjoy our last few days…