A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December
he 5am start today made it the equivalent of 8am AEST so going back to sleep wasn’t going to happen. I had walked Nani to her taxi and she asked me to photograph the drivers I.D in case she went missing. She either has a vivid imagination or an over active sense of caution.
It’s pouring rain which makes the shower drain in our lunch box sized room gurgle. Somehow the storm water downpipe and our shower drain are intimate in ways I’m sure are not healthy (something like brothers and sisters marrying). I pretend I like the gurgling like its a water feature as I lie on the hard mattress and wait for dawn.
The kids are awake around 6 so by 6.30 we can’t hold out any longer. We head down to the common room for the second B of the B&B. When we enter we rouse someone sleeping on the floor. It’s Chris the manager – now that’s commitment to the cause! He gets up and starts pulling out fruit, fresh bread, spreads, cups and plates. He laughs with the kids and teaches them to juggle while I toast their bread. After brekky he plays guitar while the kids play Jenga and scrabble on the floor. 16 Brisbane Grammar year 12 girls on an end of school trip with their minders appear. Time to clear out.
Chris makes Nomad B&B what it is. He’ll probably blow dart my aussie ass for saying this but oddly he reminds me of Rob Schneider and who doesn’t consider Rob a close friend? You can do eeet!
It’s not the most modern nor the cleanest of hostels but judging by former guests texta scrawls on the wall it’s one of the most popular. An Iban by birth Chris sports traditional tattoos by world famous Ernesto the Borneo Headhunter and his hand tapping method. He tees up an appointment for me to get a consultation for some inkwork on my shoulder.
A pet giant snakehead lurks in a fish tank in the common room. Ernesto had tried for 2 years to catch one before landing this one in a lake “somewhere” and repatriating it to become Nomad’s mascot. I ask if I can photograph it by inserting my waterproof camera. Chris says it bit the last person who tried. Snakehead have been described as the mafia of the waterways because they literally mug their prey without warning so I take a happy snap through the glass. The snakehead drifts towards me nonchalantly, eyeball swiveling as he sizes me up. He’s thinking he could take me.
A smaller fish swims around with him. This confuses me as snakehead are renowned for being aggressive and territorial. Chris explains it was put in there as food but it had refused to eat it. Normally it just inhales live fish so fast you can’t even see it happen, but it seems it’s taken this little guy under his wing and decided to befriend him. Chris said he did this with another fish once before. I ask what happened to it and he says the snakehead ate it after 2 months. Must have been a fishy falling out I guess.
I get to Celcom to buy a SIM card and am directed to a reseller because they didn’t have stock. The sun was merciless on our walk to the reseller. I break out the umbrella. After hacking a normal SIM down to a micro with some expert surgery involving a cutter and blade it’s slid into my iPhone. This is where things go pear shaped. We learn the phone is locked. This is after me calling Telstra last week to discuss using an overseas SIM. I jump on the resellers laptop and find a number for Telstra that can be dialed from overseas (not easy). I call and am on hold freaking out because I’m global roaming and I’ve heard the horror stories of the charges people have been extorted. Telstra ask for my IMEI and process the unlock (something they used to charge for) and tell me I will need to sync with iTunes after waiting anywhere from 5-72 hrs. Umm hello? I don’t have my Mac with me?!? Thank god I’ve sent the kids off to look around because this was starting to really stress me out. My head is starting to hurt. I pay for the celcom SIM wondering how the hell I’m going to sync to iTunes and take the kids to buy some sandals because when we arrived Oscar ripped his sandals apart.
We catch a taxi back to Nomad after lunch and on arriving Abbey says she’s lost her shoulder bag – I mean the shoulder bag Nani’s friend had lent her for the trip. You have to be kidding me! I round on her and say “so we have to spend another 24rm to go there and back to retrieve a bag with 10rm and a 6rm pair of socks in it? Huh?!” Then I read her the riot act. All I want is for you just to look after your own stuff!” I’m ticked. My head hurts. The taxi driver takes us back. We go upstairs to the hawker store and I make her ask the staff. No bag. I find the waitress who cleared our table. Nope. Now we’ve spent 24rm retrieving nothing. Hang on. Maybe she left it in the toilet.
We had been to the toilet earlier. A strange experience as there was a bloke sitting in front selling tickets. The boys walked straight past him. I stood and looked at what was going on. Half of the patrons paid, half just walked through. I decided to pay 20sen for Abbey. He gave me a blue ticket. Was there a ticket collector in there like at the movies? I ask for toilet paper when I see the little rolls in front of him. 10sen. I gave Abbey the TP and in she went. I then went in myself. Nobody collected my ticket. The urinal was an amazing baked on yellow color from decades of abuse and the smell might have been similar to the smelling salts they must give boxers who are partially KO’d because it really jolted me and cleared the sinuses. The boys reckoned the toilets were long drops and the floor was all wet in there and there were hoses lying in there for two purposes (use imagination). They thought it was amazing in an amusing “check this out!” kind of way. Fortunately my kids are used to gross stuff and have an appreciation for levels of grossness that deserves an award. What was amazing was that it was the only toilet we had been charged for and it was the worst! No wonder half the people didn’t pay – silent protest?
So we rush back to the box office of the toilet from hell and our ticket seller notices us and hands over the red shoulder bag. I make Abbey use all her money to pay the taxi driver. He must have pitied Abbey and gives me a 3rm discount.
I send the kids to the room to rest instructing them not to open the door for anyone. We decide on a line from their favorite movie Benchwarmers as my password for them to let me in. I wander over the road keen for some man-time to chill out and restore my zen. I knock on the door of the Borneo Head Hunter Tattoo Studio and Robinson lets me in.
I head upstairs to Ernesto’s dimly lit and smoky studio decorated with antique malay artifacts, statues and art. Neither Robinson nor Ernesto wear tops – just shorts. They have long hair and traditional Iban tattoos on their backs, chest and arms. Ernesto is playing a guitar. I meet another Aussie there who is psyching himself up to have a tattoo banged in with a stick the ancient tap tap method for which Ernesto is world famous for. He gets flown around the world by conventions who bring him out to demonstrate his craft. The Aussie from Melbourne teaches English in South Korea.
I start to chill out and we start to discuss what I want. I tell them my life changed after a difficult experience and that I had to fight to get to where I am today after experiencing severe depression. They discuss how Iban would symbolize this. Warriors used markings to commemorate significant events on their journeys. They say that the dragon represents my story of victory but I don’t want a dragon. Then they say the serpent has new life because it sheds its skin. I don’t want a serpent. I have second thoughts. We talk a bit more and they speak in Malay and Robinson starts drawing. I’m not sure what they’ve decided but I’m chilling so let it all happen. I flip through their albums and learn the significance of various patterns. I learn how the dragon is embedded in the pattern (unrecognizable if you don’t know what to look for). I ask if they can omit this element and they’re cool. I eventually find the style I’m looking for and Ernesto said that’s exactly the style they were working up for me. Bingo. It’s based loosely on a stylized crab prized because of its tough armor. The first draft is readied and held to my shoulder. But it’s not yet what I had imagined I wanted. I suggested some modifications and Ernesto and Robinson made some changes. It looks great. The consult has gone an hour and another Aussie arrives. he’s from Healesville but works in Singapore. I ask if his tap tap tats hurt much. He reckons its much better than machine and you bleed less so it heals faster.
It’s time to wrap up. The ESL teacher has waited an hour so i ask for a quote and we make a tentative date. they spread out a bamboo mat. I ask to watch a bit and he asks me to take a few happy snaps. Ernesto dips a long stick with a needle attached into the ink. Robinson seated on the other side stretches the Aussies skin and Ernesto starts tapping. I click a few off and it’s time to go.
After a good one hour man time my zen is restored and I cross the road to make sure the children haven’t become the contraband of a well oiled people trafficking operation and aren’t already en route to Thailand – one of Nani’s concerns about them being out of eyesight. They’re are still there and much password asking and giggling takes place. I doubt much rest took place.
With the kids still bouncy (remember that neither pooh, rabbit, or eeyore appreciated tigger’s bouncing) I had to take them out again despite needing zzz’s myself. I’m looking for shoes for Lachie that he can bash around jungle trails tomorrow. As we ready to head out the heavens open with a downpour and a few flashes of lightning. Everyone outside takes cover. We do too but ours is umbrella and waterproof jackets. We walk in the pelting rain that is so hard it penetrates my umbrella. We slosh through roads now running with water. The air is cooler now and much more pleasant. The kids are loving it. Isn’t it fun walking in the rain? Sometimes it’s good to be reminded to see things as a child.
After trying three or four shopping centers we find shoes. Our pants are soaked from the runoff but i didn’t buy quick dry for nothing. The kids don’t mind. Time to eat.
We ask shop staff and they point “down there” for some good makan. We eat chicken and mushroom handmade noodles and drink iced teh tarik. We finish this off with fried bananas. There were other fried things. We asked about them but language failed. A boy came over and tried to help but he couldn’t remember the English words for them either. I figured one was sweet potato and bought a few of the other small fried mysteries that were about chicken nugget size. The food comes with a plate of red sauce. The bananas were yummy but the sauce turned out to be sweet chilli so it was strange but we kept dipping. I bit into one of the nuggets and there was a nut inside it. A chewy fairly flavorless nut a bit like a chestnut but firmer. It wasn’t til I got to the end of it I detected a faint taste like durian then realized it was something like jack fruit and the seed wasn’t meant to be eaten. Duh. I informed the rest.
We decided to walk along the beautiful paved waterfront along the swollen Kuching river as the light faded. Small hawker stores dotted the banks selling drinks, ice creams, souvenirs and popcorn. Abbey says hi to a group of soldiers. Some say hi, others ignore her. She keeps going and I’m thinking “maybe not a good idea honey”. Then she starts marching alongside them (they weren’t marching).
We wend our way through the old part of town with its rustic old buildings, narrow streets and open drains buying pink and white sticky, soft chewy kway? Queh? The pink turtles steamed on a square of pandan leaf had yellow bean inside and the white golf ball looking ones had sweet shredded coconut.
I have succeeded in wearing out the kids. It was their best day of the trip so far they said. I’m wondering where on earth can I hook up to iTunes.