DownUnder2Borneo

A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December

Monthly Archives: April 2011

Jungle Creeepy Crawlies

Apparently the bats in Deer Cave at Gunung Mulu create tons of turds every day (remember Jim Carrey saying “guano” in Ace Ventura?) upon which feast a moving floor of cockroaches, which sets up a whole food chain. Yummy. But I’m not scared of cockies, although apparently Nani was traumatized as a younker when she was little by the nuclear ones in SE Asia, that fly and are the size of a large mouse. But I’m not worried about them. They don’t bite.

I hiked the Cradle Mountain trail as a teenager and an enduring memory is a of one bloke sticking his head out of his tent on awakening and seeing a giant leech (it had swollen after feeding all night) stuck on his mouth. We broke it to him gently.

Leeches don’t hurt, in fact you usually never know they’re there until you find blood running down your leg because they’ve dropped off after drinking their fill. I took my fishing waders off in January to find my left pant leg soaked in blood. It continued to bleed for hours afterward and I looked like I’d been shot. I don’t mind being eaten, but for me, I get these blisters of exudate (clear yellow fluid) forming around the bites which take days to weeks to heal.

Malaysia has three varieties of the critters, including the Tiger Leech (the name is not inspiring me) and get this, the Kinabalu Giant Red leech. I’m fairly confident I don’t really want to get intimate with this one either.

Apparently to remove them, a Malaysian leech farmer (you can get 20 bucks a kilo for these parasites) advises “Push the anterior sucker aside using your fingernail and then do the same with the posterior sucker to remove it. Try not to let the leech reattach itself.” This breaks the suction and encourages the pest to remove it’s 300 or so teeth.

The enduring ideas of burning them off or just pulling them off aren’t great because they leave their teeth embedded in your flesh which then causes infection. I’m happy with the number of teeth in my body, and would like to keep it that way. My goal is to keep them off in the first place.

Bugger the leech socks, I reckon I’ll just get too hot in them and panty hose is gay (it’s Borneo not a Mardi Gras). So here’s some tricks I’ll try. One traveler reckons the Orang Asli use tobacco juice so that could be good, and if that fails, I could just make some rolly’s smoke it and burn the little bastards off for revenge. Elsewhere it seems insect repellent makes you less tasty (have you ever got this stuff in your mouth accidentally?), so maybe the recipe below will double against my other hated critter.

The mosquito. Or mozzie if you’re aussie. I absolutely hate em. Was out gardening on Friday night and there they are surrounding my hand and eating me. Then there’s the itch you try not to scratch, then you scratch it while you’re asleep, now you’ve got a sore, and in the jungle you’ve got infection and on it goes. We’ll be mostly using long sleeves and long pants, but I’ll be well armed because I read that they laugh at DEET (the king of repellents) as do the sandflies (which I hate even more) who smell DEET and think “Booyah! This one comes with topping!”

Apparently Uncle Tans have some homebrew stuff that really works when it comes to pesky needle nozed whiners and I wonder if it’s the same as this particular traveler recommends;

Take 70 per cent baby oil and 30 per cent Dettol, mix and smear on your body for the ultimate insect repellent. The sandflies stick to the baby oil and die, and the mozzies simply hate the smell of disinfectant. It worked a treat for me in Australia and New Zealand, and it beats paying a fortune for normal sprays. It’s more effective, too.

I reckon I might get one of those Mozzie Clicker’s too. At least if you do get bitten there’s an alternative to scratching. You can just shock yourself. Could get quite exciting and would certainly be useful for pranking gullible yanks or swedes if I happen to bump into some.

The only other critters I hope not to piss off is some kind of millipede that shoots out poison, some vipers, and maybe a croc in the Kinabatangan river where we’re staying in a jungle camp. If I don’t get mugged and dragged into the bushes by giant leeches and mosquitoes I’ll be a happy jungle trekker.

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I don’t often get stung on Ebay

I’m an online warrior. I love the idea of shopping in my undies. Don’t get too many visuals (especially don’t get any ones involving Y fronts).

I buy stuff from the US, the UK, Hong Kong and of course domestically and being of Scottish/Asian descent, I’m frugal (ok I’m a tightarse), so I love a bargain – which is where eBay enters my life and seduces me into her… hang on a sec, where was I?

Oh yeah, I won an auction on a Macpac Clipper travel pack size S for Nani and cleverly posted my bid in the last six seconds, and hey presto, I won! For $31 it was a steal. Then I had to arrange a courier for pickup because the guy on the other end didn’t want to mail it, so I landed it for $55. Not bad for a Macpac – and the guy’s description said, and I quote “no damage or repairs.”

Then I check it all out today…. and, I find the frame guides in the shoulder straps that hold the foam in have perished, cracked and fallen out. A buckle is missing because it ran off with the shoulder strap like the dish and the spoon. Remote Equipment Repairs in Melbourne who do Macpac repairs, have quoted me $75+14 PH to replace them.

I’ve messaged the guy… he’s got a 100% rating with 98 sales…. I hope he comes up with something, because he’s about to go to 99% rating.

It’s not often I get caught with my pants down. Serves me right for shopping in my undies I guess.

Postscript:
When I complained to the seller and indicated that this would reflect negatively he basically refunded the entire amount and said “Good Luck with your travels”.  So for me, the world is a good place again!

Travel Insurance and Procrastination

When Nani mentioned that I’d better buy insurance, I felt that inward groan you feel when you’re faced with something you definitely don’t want to do, but know you definitely have to. Like going to the dentist. In my mind I said “Why do I have to buy it? Why don’t you?” but then I don’t like tempting fate and having never been a victim of domestic violence, I’d like to keep that record intact for a while longer.

I know she’s right, so I can’t fight it. But I can procrastinate. A kind of of silent protest. A sit in if you like.

It’s just I hate comparing policies and wading through voluminous words put together by legal eagles paid obscene amounts to turn normal English into some kind of Englishese sub-dialect comprising words rarely used of more than four syllables and as little punctuation as possible. They probably get bonuses for constructing whole paragraphs out of one sentence through the devious use of colons, dashes, semi colons, parenthesis and commas.

So I turn to cousin Roger who’s a professional couch surfer overseas and a bit of a maven. In his spare time he works as a patent attorney (more or less to support his couch surfing habit). From his borrowed couch in Hernhut he messaged me that he is using Southern Cross which has flashing gifs on the website about some five star rating or something.

I just pumped our details in the “Get Quote” section and it came up with $188 for the family, but who knows what that covers?? Do I really want to read the fine print – aka schedule of benefits? *shudder*

On the other hand, my virtual “friends” at Indie Travel Podcast (I say that because when you listen to people podcast enough, you feel like you know them) rate World Nomads who want me to donate $212 to their cause and I have to add high value items separately (they want an extra $45 to insure my iPhone).

And on it goes… A solo female traveler I know of whose email address is minxymail@apopularemailsite.com recommends QBE. I insure my motorbike with QBE – maybe minxy is onto something… I wonder if they’ll give me a discount for being a good customer so far? What does minxy mean? So many questions. Too many options. Procrastination really is the best for now.

Everyone loves scoring cheap flights

Short arms and long pockets. That would be me! If I can save a buck, I will. And cheap flights are always great to just pounce on if you know what you’re doing and have time to wait.

When I booked our international legs via AirAsia, I didn’t book our domestic legs to get to Melbourne for the flight to KL because I thought I might hold out for a sale. The advice I got was the $69 fare from Tasmania was probably as low as it was going to get for that time of year, so I was somewhat resigned to paying it – until today.

Today, I got an email from my friends at Travel Zoo which I subscribe to (free). They send out a weekly deals email, where they scan airfares, accommodation and packages to see what’s cheap and send it out. On the second line, the words screamed “$30 & up — Ends Tonight: Fares Cut Around Australia“. I hastily clicked the link, and selected Jetstar and Virgin to compare, and lo and behold, fares came down from $69 to $39 available for November. So I booked our flights out of Tasmania, but not back because the January ones aren’t on sale and remember I’m cheap and I’m going to hold out to see if I can get a similar sale.

I nearly got stung on payment when I selected to pay with Visa. Some tiny tiny fine print materialized (no pop up box) to add $28 to the booking. Horrified, I looked at the other options, and hit PayPal. Using that, there was no charge so I just saved even more. I feel so happy. All up that’s nearly a $180 saving just by holding out, waiting for a sale, and subscribing to a good free weekly newsletter.

Oh and by the way, I subscribe to Jetstar’s newsletters and there was no peep from them about this sale.

Also a bit a trivia for you. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the cheapest days to fly. The cheapest tickets can be bought at 3pm on Tuesdays, and the optimum window for booking tickets is between 3 months to 14 days out from travel when the heaviest discounting takes place. I found that out by subscribing to the free newsletter from FareCompare.com

And just in case you think cheap flights are a myth, this might actually confirm it. And it’s hilarious.

Our itinerary ideas

Well here is the rough draft after much reading, surfing the net, reading forums, asking for advice and listening to podcasts.
At this stage there’s not much that we’re doing that requires us to lock in early, now that we’ve decided against climbing Mt Kinibalu so we can be fairly flexible.

1. Kuching 8 NIGHTS. Nani has a wedding dinner to attend here so we can’t shorten the time here in Sarawak. Having said that, it’s not hard to fill it in. We’ll visit Semmenggoh NP to check out the orang utan rehabilitation. We’ll do this in Sepilok as well, but at Semmenggoh apparently you get closer and on the odd occasion not many turn up so we’re hedging our bets between the two centres. The Sarawak cultural village and museum will be touristy but no doubt be really educational and I love learning new stuff.

Bako NP is an amazing place from all reports with loads of walks and it’s a great place to see the Proboscis monkeys early morning and evening. Apparently they’re quite shy so the kids will have to be in stealth mode. Because there’s so many walks there, and it’s a bit hard to get to (bus and boat) I reckon we’ll stay at least one or two nights in the park, although the accommodation is a bit sketchy from reviews. I’d suggest booking early rather than late, as it starting to book out months in advance.

Tattoos. I’m thinking seriously about getting some tribal ink in Kuching. International award winning Iban tattooist Ernesto Kalum (Borneo headhunter) is there, who’s recognised globally as being a leading tribal tattooist who also uses the traditional method. That’s the needle on the stick and bang with another stick method. I’m fairly sure the traditional method sounds a bit…. slow and maybe more painful than the machine, but the emails I’ve had from his offsider suggests it heals faster than machine – but I might just stick to what I know.

When I’m freshly inked I think we’ll check out the Santubong area north of Kuching and climb the mountain, do some walks, visit the fishing village nearby, grab a couple of kayaks and maybe stay in the Permai tree house for a night with the kids. How cool would that be?

Optionally (because we’ve got around eight nights in Kuching while waiting for a wedding dinner) is to head to Serian for a day trip where apparently there are some really nice waterfalls there.

2. Mulu. 3 NIGHTS.  We’ll fly from Kuching to Mulu and stay at the Gunung Mulu NP for a few nights while we visit the famed caves there, dig around in the batshit and watch them fly out at night, look for carnivorous plants that might eat one or two of the kids and millipedes as big as your foot. I might even take the 10 year old and hike the Pinnacles which is a three day two night jungle trek with the last part hoisting yourself up rope ladders, which sounds like a great challenge.

3. Sandakan. 4 NIGHTS.  We’ll then fly to Sandakan via KK and check out Sepilok Orang Utan rehab centre and then check in to Uncle Tan’s jungle camp. Apparently spartan but it’s on the Kinibatangan River which is the most densely populated wildlife place in East Malaysia so our chances of seeing elephants, orang utan, and proboscis monkeys will be great.

I’m really keen to do the historic walk in Sandakan and visit the war memorial and tell the kids about the 1400 aussie diggers that were killed on the death marches there by the Japanese in World War II. Only six, who escaped and were looked after by villagers survived. I’m going to pay my respects. Agnes Keith house will be fascinating too. She was an American author, who along with her husband and toddler, survived the brief occupation in a prison camp in Kuching and wrote about her experiences living in Sabah.

4. Mt Kinibalu2 NIGHTS. I don’t like the idea of flying everywhere. It’s disjointed from the landscape and gives a false sense of distance and time, so from Sandakan to KK we’ll go by coach. That way we can slow things down, and be forced to wait, watch, anticipate, rest, talk and think about what we’re doing. It will give us a perspective perhaps on the 250km march to Ranau that the diggers did through the jungle, some in barefeet. Stopping at Mt Kinibalu NP we’ll stay from a couple of nights and do some of the great walks in the area and get a good view of SE Asia’s highest peak.

5. Poring Hot Springs 1 NIGHT. After hopefully covering a few kilometers at Mt Kinibalu , we’ll head across to Poring Hot Springs nearby and soak in them and do some walks there and relax for a night. I think the kids will really like it here and we’ll probably stay outside of the park. There are some nice waterfalls to visit as well.

6. Kota Kinibalu 2 NIGHTS.  After that we’ll finish up in Kota Kinibalu, the capital of Sabah (it used to be Sandakan before it was bombed to oblivion by the Japanese), where I’m dying to try the Filipino night market barbeque and visit the  Tunku Abdul Rahman chain of islands to snorkel, swim and relax on the beaches before jumping on a plane and heading back to KL via Singapore.
      
We really want to be able to relax and take our time to absorb culture and a sense of place as we move through East Malaysia, so we will consciously resist the sense of “I’ve got to see as much as I can because we’ve spent so much to get here” which can easily suck you in. The harder you push with kids, the less enjoyable things are.

7. Singapore

We’ve got relatives in Singapore and since we’re in the area, we thought we’d stop over there on the way back to KL for several nights. I’m not keen on this leg of the trip because I’m not a fan of the concrete jungle, but I’ve drawn up a bit of an itinerary that will hopefully be relaxing and enjoyable with the kids whilst steering clear of Orchard Rd and avoiding affluenza like the plague.

Any thoughts about our itinerary? Anything we could cut out or should maybe add in? I’m still agonizing about booking internal flights because I’m really not sure how long to stay in each place. Once again – a victim of procrastination.

Borneo or East Malaysia? The autopsy of an argument.

Nani just slammed me for calling it Borneo. She reckons only ignorant westerners (aka white people) call it Borneo. Apparently she’s only ever heard it called East Malaysia. There’s Malaysia and East Malaysia she assures me.

Well hang on there honey, I think it’s actually called Borneo. Borneo being the name of the entire island made up of two East Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, the kingdom of Brunei and Indonesian Kalimantan. It’s the third largest island in the world. Even Lonely Planet call it Borneo, see this book here? I’m waving exhibit A at her.

Things get heated. She says she doesn’t care what the whole world says. She says no-one over there calls it Borneo, and she’s never heard of it called Borneo.

Let me back up a bit to give you some context. You see, Nani was born over there. There’s this little pokey place called Sibu in Sarawak to which a whole bunch of Foochow dialect Chinese people lobbed over in 1902 and started to make a shit load of money. So having emigrated from China, and starting from the ground up, they’re pretty proud of their achievements. She has a bunch of relatives over there, and according to her, no-one ever uses the word Borneo.

Maybe I hit a nerve when I called her a Borneo girl. I think she heard “jungle girl” and maybe pushed back just a little hard. Whatever. I’m up in arms now. Did you know that it wasn’t even part of the Malaysian federation until the early 70’s after you were born?! Before that, the whole place was known as Borneo because the whole show was run by the British North Borneo Company since the 1800’s. (I’m really emphasising the world Borneo now).

Now she’s all like “I’m not listening to you any more. You listen to me. I don’t care what you say. If you go over there and say ‘Borneo‘ to any of my relatives, they’re going to look at you like you’re stupid ‘Ang Moh’, so you listen to me, because I know what I’m talking about!”

Note – Ang Moh is a nice name that Chinese use for westerners. Okay I lie. It literally means “red haired devil” and it’s never used in a nice context. Like you never hear anyone say “Wow! What a cute Ang Moh”, or “Gee I think that Ang Moh would make a great son-in-law” – something that never passed my late father in law’s lips, let alone cross his mind.

I gave in at that stage. Instead opting for the more subversive plan of just dropping the word “Borneo” into various conversations all casual-like to try and see if I can inoculate her against whatever baggage, cultural aversion, or weird word association she’s suffering from. Obviously these are tactics only honed through an enduring marriage and are tried and tested. When she utters the word Borneo in any context, I’ll be sure to let you know.

Borneo

Had to have the last say…

I need a pack!

Today, I’m looking for a pack. I’ve done lots of reading, read reviews, listened to podcasts and tried packs on at my local Kathmandu and Mountain Designs but they don’t seem to have the sizes I’m after, so still no joy yet.

I already have an old 65L Macpac Cascade that’s a tough top loader with an excellent harness that I use for wilderness hiking, but it’s too big for backpacking travel since I won’t be carrying any bedding, shelter or cooking gear.

I’ve decided I need something around the 50-55L mark. If I was traveling alone or as a couple I think I’d go down to the 45-50L mark and travel light but I’m going to carry extra because trips with kids can go pear-shaped without the extras which either relate to comfort or safety. Size does matter when backpacking because we will need to be able to throw our packs into the back of a taxi, shove them under tables, on our laps in a mini van, lockers in a hostel and the age old inevitable problem of “you fill what you have” comes into play too.

I bought Nani a Macpac travel pack off Ebay for $30 (a steal) which is on its way from Sydney (I hope). For the boys, I’ve decided on the Osprey Ace 48 which is probably too large for travel, but hopefully I’ll be able to tighten them up and compress a little to make them a bit smaller. The reason I’m looking at that one for them, is it’s a hiking pack, made for youth and we’ll be able to use it for overnight, or two night hiking trips in the future – and it should last them quite a number of years.

But like Bono from U2, for me I still haven’t found what I’m looking for – although I am narrowing it down.

I’ve decided I need a front loading travel pack because I don’t want to have to empty my backpack at a bus terminal to get something at the bottom. It needs lockable zips, a couple of haul handles, a built in rain cover if possible, a good fitting harness system and a detachable day pack. I know some people hate these, but I’ll need to carry one anyway, and it might as well attach to the outside, than take up space on the inside. I also need for the straps to be concealed so they don’t snag on conveyor belts in transit. Obviously price point is a big consideration too, which sort of rules out One Planet who make brilliant packs, and anything new from Macpac or Berghaus etc.

I’ve not tried these two on my back fully loaded yet, but they look like they fit the bill although one is more expensive than the other (but the great thing is, I have time on my side to wait for specials – and winters coming when these things just don’t sell well so hopefully retailers discount big in the next few months). Both Osprey and Deuter are excellent brands.

The Osprey Farpoint 55 looks the most likely at this stage. At $189 with a detachable 10L daypack on top of the 55L main pack, it’s a good price (the free shipping doesn’t hurt either). Two sizes of harness are offered in 420 denier fabric, it comes in at 1.78kg, so not too heavy. It’s rated for 15kg so that about fits the bill (it’s all I’ve booked for our luggage limit). Not much in the way of reviews because I think it’s fairly new.

The other contender at this stage is Deuter Quantum 55+10. The nice thing is, it has integrated hydration and possibly a better internal frame . The downside is, it weighs nearly twice as much (3kg) and costs $273. A good review on LengthyTravel.com was done on this one.

Our family

Nani and I have three kids, Lachie 10, Oscar 8 and Abbey 6. We’ve been married for about umm 18 years (I hope I don’t get that wrong or I’ll be in trouble). My math isn’t that good these days. We moved from Melbourne to the island of Tasmania in ’95 to work here for three to five years…. we’re still here (like I said, my math isn’t great). The lifestyle and pristine outdoors here is amazing.

We love camping, hiking, geocaching, kayaking, photography, fishing, and hunting (the last two are more my deal than Nani’s), but the kids seem to love it all. I grew up in the country on a farm so the outdoors is in my blood.

Nani grew up in Singapore, so she’s a little more conservative. Usually when I suggest something, she’ll ask if it’s dangerous or not. I just suggested I climb The Pinnacles at Mulu with Lachie and that was the first thing  she wanted to know. To her credit though, she still lets him go, on the basis that the less she knows, the less worried she’ll be.

I’ve got this thing about life being an adventure. It’s the best metaphor I can think of. An adventure doesn’t necessarily have a destination, there’s always ups and downs, unforeseen things happen. There are tough times and good times. So for me, life and adventure is inseparable and I’m always looking for it.

The kids have all been brought up to be adventurous too. After watching Man Vs Wild, the boys decided to eat some insects and grubs. That was pretty funny. Two Christmases ago, we killed our own turkey on Xmas eve and ate it. The kids helped pluck it. Check out some of our crazy clips.

We limit their screen time (games, PC’s, TV) and get them outdoors as much as possible. On a recent hike up Mt Roland (16km return) we encountered a snake which had reared its head when Lachie nearly stepped on it. We all gathered around to check it out. The kids really aren’t frightened of anything much.

A few weeks ago, Lachie and I climbed Mt Ossa which is Tasmania’s highest peak. It was an awesome hike and a great climb, with the summit nearly covered in snow.

So now you know us, follow our journey to and through Borneo!

Our latest adventure near the summit of Mt Ossa. Lachie and I hiked a 30km round trip through World Heritage Cradle Mountain National Park.

We’re booked to Borneo!

So Nani gets invited by a couple of relatives to this wedding in East Malaysia in December and my inbox announces that AirAsia has a sale. The stars align and we pull the trigger. Now the AirAsia sale is like half price and begins at 3pm. It’s one of those sales, that you know as soon as it begins, the site is going to lock up. But I’ve been doing my research.

I pre-register as a customer the day before. I quit work early and arrive home at 2.45 pm. I’ve pulled up the site and by 2.59pm I’m hitting refresh trying to find those lucky seats. I feel like Charlie and the Chocolate factory stripping wrappers off Wonka bars.

Then my worst fears become reality – the site locks up. It’s not refreshing, my wonka bars aren’t shelling.

But then, a lightbulb moment. What if I try the mobile site? I quickly download the iPhone app, and start over. Amazingly, it works. I find out later that the mobile site, is a different site. No hitches, no glitches. We’re booked to arrive in Kuching via KL on Thursday December 1st – plenty of time to settle in, dust off the jetlag and get ready for the wedding.

Nani comes home to celebratory noises, flips open her netbook and says “Oh SHIT! The wedding is ON the Thursday! And the wedding is in Sibu NOT Kuching!”

This is the part where my brain goes into overload (so many questions and comments to make, all are unhelpful) and I decide to withdraw and do some cave-time. It’s like algebra and calculus had a love child which has just done a number on me. Doesn’t compute. Oh well, it’s her problem. For me and the kids, we’re headed for Kuching!