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

Getting to Permai Rainforest

First order of the day is to try and sync my iPhone with iTunes to finish the unlock so I can use this 50rm SIM card I bought. No dice. Nomad’s notebook doesn’t want to play with my iPhone.
Upstairs, the kids watch Nacho Libre in a little recreation area on the floor where we’re sleeping. This movie is funny as it is, but the subtitles made it even funnier. “Now I’m going into the wilderness maybe to die” became “Now I’m going to the Widness maybe today”. Asian DVD pirates are obviously on a tight budget for subtitle people.

We pack our gear to head off to Permai Rainforest Resort near Damai Beach where we will meet up with Mark and Deb and three of their kids who are flying over from KL today. It takes us about one hour to pack on average, although the longer we stay in one place, the longer it takes to pack. I’ve found so far that the best travel things I’ve brought are the stuff sacks, packing cubes, “S” hooks, snap lock bags, and inner sheet silk liners. I’m dubious about the Kathmandu travel pillows though – they take up heaps of space and don’t get used much. The other useless item so far is the reading book and travel light (the headlamp suffices). I know I’m carrying too much – only just able to fit it all into my 45L pack but I’m blaming it on the kids, certain that I would travel lighter if I didn’t have to be responsible for three other small people.
We toss our packs on our backs and check out of Nomad B&B, happy that we’d stayed there mainly because it is a totally chilled out place and very relaxing and we wander towards the market where allegedly a Petra Jaya bus can take us to our next destination Permai Rainforest at Santuobong north of Kuching on the coast near Damai. I say allegedly because no one would pick up the phone at head office. We get lots of looks walking along the waterfront mainly (I assume) because no-one walks around with a pack on their back with three kids also loaded to the hilt in the heat of Kuching. We track down the buses in the old part of town sandwiched in between two very rundown old galvanised iron, concrete block walled buildings housing hawkers selling their treats to travelers. I wander up to one of the bus drivers and find out which of the mini vans is going to Permai.

I negotiate a price. They want to charge 10rm per head but I say 5 for the kids because I know taxi is around 50-60rm and the bus should be much cheaper. When will they leave I ask? When they have enough passengers comes the answer.

We ask to dump our packs in the back and go get some lunch. No problem. We wander across the street and into the hawker store opposite the rusting and run down Electra House ( clearly nothing to do with Carmen). Wandering inside the hawker store I suddenly wonder if our bags will still be there and wish I’d at least photographed the license plate of the bus, but decide to give the benefit of the doubt and assume everything will be ok.

Being really hot after our waterfront walk with all our gear on our backs we made a bee line for the ice kacang (pronounced Kah-chahng) stall to cool down. Who says you can’t start a meal with dessert? This dish is a weird one for westerners to get their heads around. It’s a shaved ice dish flavored with corn, red beans, grass jelly, sago, green snot, and topped off with rose water syrup. You really should try this, but just don’t think too much while eating it. We order won ton soup and Sarawak’s unique laksa to chase down the ice kacang. All up lunch costs around 12 rm or the equivalent of a meat pie back home. The laksa is beautiful with a spicey twist that can’t be bought anywhere else in Malaysia but here.

On the way out, I notice some big freshly steamed char siew bao’s the soft pillowly white rice flour buns stuffed with sweet pork meat grabbing two and halve them since we’re pretty full already. We love these fresh steamed pork buns with their sweet savory fillings and fluffy doughy pastry but know well enough to blow before biting in.

Happily, we find the driver is still there wandering about, welcoming more passengers and on checking we find our bags safe and sound. He probably could have shut the back door so they weren’t so visible – or available for anyone to grab. I think overall Malaysia is a really safe place.

The bus has five or six muslim women in it now who have been doing their shopping but the driver is still waiting for more. I head over to the opposite hawker store and order Ais Teh Tarik – translated ice-pulled-tea. This is a delicious cooling and refreshing sweet tea drink. The tea is brewed in an enormous copper urn over a gas powered burner. Old aluminum jugs are used to pull out my serving and condensed milk is added. The tea is now “pulled” by drawing it from one jug to another, mixing, cooling and foaming it. Ice is added and it’s presented to me in a bag tied with raffia! How am I supposed to give this to the kids without them wearing it?

The driver crams a couple of blokes onto the back seat with the kids. They’re squashed. I tell him abbey needs to come up the front with me because who knows what sort of blokes they are and we’re on our way. A giant banner sticker on the windscreen prevents me seeing anything ahead. The driver being shorter can easily see under it. I resort to looking out the side and with no AC and all the windows down there’s a beautiful breeze with country air coming through. I start to feel sleepy. Abbey falls into a deep sleep on my shoulder. The boys are yelling hello at people on the roadside and various other things and cracking up laughing at their confusion. I’m too far away to yell at them, so just leave them to it.

We drive through Labuan kampung on the way. Many homes had flooded yards after last nights downpour and some abandoned houses are slowly decaying and merging with the jungle. I’m always intrigued about abandoned houses. Why did the people leave? Who owns it? I find out that one reason could be that they are believed haunted. But can’t they be unhaunted?

Some householders use their yard as a garbage dump with fresh garbage decorating older rotting offerings and skinny cats with short tails (run over? Bitten off by dogs?) retreat under cars as we zoom past. These cats are either lazy, dumb or slow to be so skinny as i could only imagine how many jungle rats are getting about feasting on freely available garbage.

I imagine up a national “clean up your yard and shoot a feral cat” annual campaign and think how cool that would be. I think that just because Aussies spend a lot of time and effort on our yards doesn’t make us better. Different cultures place importance on different things. Interestingly the kids observed that the poorest wooden-house-on-stilts inhabitants actually looked the happiest.

After an hour we arrive at the Permai Rainforest Resort after passing the Damai luxury resorts it’s the end of the road. Grabbing our packs we make our way along the wooden walkway across a short mangrove to reception where we are welcomed. Since our room isn’t ready and Mark and Deb haven’t flown in yet we dump our packs in the little lounge with coffee table and internet PC access, hit the slippery 2km jungle trail walk which takes around 1.5 hrs. We ascend upwards, winding our way under the canopy careful not to trip on the massive tree roots across the path. The boys swing on gnarly vines like Tarzan and we stop at a high waterfall at the halfway mark and soak it all in (we don’t fully relax as we’re on tiger leech watch).

Permai Resort is slightly old and run down. Blood spatters decorate the walls where suckees have exacted revenge on the suckers and swatted them. The odd bit of paint is flaking on our walls revealing what Oscar thinks is some kind of eggs but I guess termite shit. I imagine maintenance is a bitch in tropical places and keeping things like bathrooms dry and fresh smelling is impossible. 4 and 2 berth tree houses (not literally built into a tree but rather canopy height, stilt constructions) are available but fairly expensive. Instead, we have a nine berth cabin right up the back of the resort to share with the Ong family so it’ll be more fun this way (I’d forgotten we weren’t staying in a tree house and had wrongly promised the kids they would be up there and they were pumped!! Woops).

Mark and Deb are at the cafe/restaurant (the only eating place at Permai) overlooking the beach as we return wet, muddy and jungled. They were dropped off by local friends John and Hui Ping (pronounced weeping but she actually laughs a lot) who join us drinking coconut water out of green whole coconuts which have had their tops hacked off with a parang (local machete) and a straw inserted. We drink and enjoy the sea breeze and sound of the pounding waves below us as the kids hunt crabs below, then use a spoon to gouge out the soft white flesh.

The menu is really limited at Permai but the pineapple nasi goreng stole the show. We order another one. I also tried midin a local fried jungle fern freshly cut and cooked in what tastes like a belacan (pronounced bellahcharn) preserved shrimp paste – usually cooked outside because of the pungency of the odour. Yum.

On the way back to the cabin after dinner, the sun has dropped by 6.30pm and the kids don headlamps and hunt for hermit crabs pursuing a large one that ditches his shell in a desperate bid for freedom but he’s no match for 6 kids. Named Herman, he becomes The Herminator after latching onto lachies finger and breaking the skin. I conclude he is this way because the back end of the shell is busted open and no-one but no-one likes their ass flapping in the breeze (just ask anyone who has had major surgery and worn those gowns that don’t do up properly). Tomorrows mission; lounge around on the beach and find Herman something he can get his rear end into to calm him down.


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