A mum, dad and their three kids from Tasmania, go on an epic adventure in Borneo for 3 weeks in December
It was a 5.30 start this morning and a huge day of fishing getting home around 9.30pm but I can’t sleep. Together with Christmas presents and Nani’s relentless shopping she will be flying Tiger Airways to KL where we will rejoin and fly through to Melbourne on AirAsia. There are two things I’m panicking about. One is that I’d asked Nani to call Tiger and book a check-in bag for Abbey (Tiger don’t allow this to be done online whereas AirAsia does) for all the extra stuff we’ve accumulated. I find out she hasn’t done it and she wants me to sort it out. She says she couldn’t get to a phone all day today. Hmmm. The second thing I’m really worried about is that I discover that there are in fact two airports in Kuala Lumpur about twenty kilometers apart and I heard that Tiger flies into KLIA whereas AirAsia will depart from LCCT. This means Nani will have to virtually run through KLIA customs (people hurrying through customs is not a good look), get a taxi and whip over to LCCT to catch our international flight out, with no time to spare.
I call a friend in Singapore who works for Tiger and he’s going to see if he can fix something with the baggage, but given that their call centre doesn’t open til 9am tomorrow, and Nani’s flight is 10, it looks slim. On the plus side, he assures me Tiger does fly into LCCT. I’m relieved. I can sleep now, but the taxing day hasn’t done any favors to my chest infection and I double over whenever I cough.
We eat a huge breakfast before saying farewell to Mark and Deb and their wonderful family. Jonathan doesn’t come down to stay goodbye to the boys because he’s a bit teary. I tell Ong Jia Chen the miniature whirlwind that if he eats and sleeps well, I’ll see him again one day when he’s bigger (time doesn’t mean much to four year olds). I tell him that he doesn’t need his mum to feed him anymore.
At KL Sentral buses seem to leave every two to three minutes (basically as soon as they’re full) and only costs some paltry 6RM for adults and half that for kids for the 75 minute trip to LCCT. On the way we pass the Malaysian Sepang Moto GP circuit. We bump into a flustered Nani at the airport after first spotting Abbey. She has had a drama trying to check in her luggage at the wrong terminal. Thinking she could save time by scanning her bags (an operation performed before baggage check-in) while waiting for us she has had an altercation with a bunch of what she describes as Arab men. Apparently they accused her of cutting the queue and made her get to the back, whilst ushering their mates in front of her. The irony is, she was at domestic, and we were flying international and there’s no need to scan bags prior to check in. I find out that an announcement was made on the Tiger flight to wish Abbey a happy 7th birthday and the captain personally met her.
On AirAsia, Abbey lets the flight attendants know it’s her birthday following on from the success she had on the Tiger flight from Singapore. A group of the flight attendants come down and sing happy birthday to her, and one re-sings it in Korean. They present her with a cute little AirAsia bear. Abbey of course is delighted.
Ahead of where I sit, I notice some beautiful marketing from tourism Malaysia on the bulkhead. It’s a huge poster covering most of the space available. A gorgeous looking Asian couple runs down a white tropical beach. Her yellow sun dress flies in the breeze with a full head of jet black flowing hair behind. He is in a white cotton shirt and knee length khaki shorts. Laughing with gay abandonment they run bare footed, hand in hand toward… the camera I suppose. In the corner written in white script, are the words;
Tranquil Nature. With her tranquil waters and clear blue skies, it is the perfect place for that getaway you deserve. Watch the sun rise and set with your loved one, or spend the day frolicking on the beach with your family and friends. It’s not what you do, it’s where you do it. Malaysia. Truly Asia.
I like the award winning Truly Asia campaign and will really miss Malaysia, but there should have been a postscript saying PS – the sun is friggen hot and will sneak up on you and belt the life out of you if you don’t hide in the middle of the day. Sweat will pour off you and you will dehydrate. Any frolicking in the midday sun without a hat or umbrella will be punished by severe sunstroke and heat rash culminating in a visit to hospital involving a drip.
As you can guess, I still feel hot after yesterday’s fishing adventure.
Later, on touch down just after midnight Disney’s Happy Birthday Princess plays over the PA and Abbey proudly and loudly announces that she’s in fact the birthday girl, just in case anyone around us had forgotten. Whilst taxiing toward the terminal, an announcement regarding Australian border security makes no mention of drugs and the death penalty that we’re used to hearing, instead the message is all about animals and plants. I love that about Australia. Let’s protect the great outdoors – our native flora, fauna, agriculture and aquaculture. We don’t give a shit about druggies and we’re definitely too laid back to kill people anyway. I recall that India recently sentenced someone to the death penalty but all their hangmen had gotten old and given up, and they had to track one down and resurrect him from his retirement to bump off a particularly nasty criminal.
We reflect on our travels as we exit Melbourne airport. It’s 1.15am and the air is beautiful and cool. There’s a three hour drive ahead to dad’s farm in western Victoria but no-one is bothered. We consider making up a bunch of Borneo 2011 t-shirts for the Ongs and ourselves as a memento of an epic adventure. We decide we wouldn’t have changed much about our holiday but after backpacking for a month with my family I have wondered a few things though ;
Why is it that when kids take the last biscuit they hand you back the empty packet?
Don’t you love how your kids hand you back your iPhone and the screen looks like they used it to eat takeaway food off of?
Should there be a word for when your spouse takes your iPhone and doesn’t hand it back until the battery is in the red?
We’re invited to dinner with the Hi (prounounced Hee) family. Driving past the botanic gardens and national orchid garden with its 1000 species on the way there I really wish I could go in. We’re obviously in the upper end of town because all the homes here are gated and free standing. As we pull into the driveway I notice three Mercedes and an in-ground pool. Mr and Mrs Hi have been bestowed the prestigious titles of Datok and Dating which I think are a bit like Lord and Lady and reserved for people who have made a bucket-load of money. They must be wondering what happened to us when we arrived looking bedraggled and exhausted from travel and our colds (there should be another name for this in the tropics). Lachie falls asleep on their couch. Dinner at a restaurant at the six story shopping mall Great World City though, was sensational. The highlights being the shark fin and crab soup, along with roast pork and roast duck. Still in need of rest, I make an excuse to leave early to take the kids back to Pearls Centre and their beds leaving Nani to enjoy the company who all communicate in Foo Chow. There’s only so much nodding and smiling one can do when one doesn’t speak the lingo no matter how appreciative of their generosity.
Christmas is a laid back affair which I love. We had decided to celebrate with Nani’s side of the family on Christmas Eve because we were intending to catch up with my side Christmas Day, but sadly they felt it best with our coughs and colds, to not expose my elderly grandmother so we won’t be seeing them this trip (one of my main reasons for going to Singapore). John has booked the function room at his River Valley Rd condo alongside the three pools, sauna, spa and downstairs from the gym. Luxury. Honey baked ham with scored fat and a little clove in each square made by the scoring glistens invitingly. The turkey tastes smoked and while a little dry is very tasty. This complimented by hainan chicken, satay and topped off with trifle (yes trifle!) makes for an east meets west fusion Christmas dinner.
The kids after being inspired by The Karate Kid were doing the usual moves on each other and having a wrestle, but were all being told by well-meaning adults to either stop it or be careful. I told one mum that as long as our kids don’t bleed or break bones we didn’t mind them bashing each other up a little – it’s all part of growing up isn’t it? It appears this behavior is off limits to Singaporean kids and she replies she didn’t fancy a trip to the hospital tonight. One child was even told to be careful sitting on a fitness ball. It was annoying that the kids couldn’t really be kids and I end up telling Nani that the next person who says “Be careful!” was going to get it. The words were barely out and a shortish lady with a brown top and short hair (looking somewhat Filipino) said to one of the kids “Be careful!” I mutter into her ear that I have to shoot the brown-bloused lady now. Apparently rough housing is not the Singaporean way but the way I figure it you can mend broken bones and stitch up cuts, but raising kids to be afraid of getting hurt is something much harder to fix.
I’m trying to book this train to Kuala Lumpur for boxing day and not having much luck. I’ve registered online with the Malaysian transport website KTM Berhad and it’s telling me that there are five seats available, but when I jump through all the online hoops, the final step tells me they don’t accept online bookings less that 48 hours before the journey. WHAT?!?! I finally find a phone number that someone will answer and they tell me there’s no seats left. But there are online I say. They repeat that there aren’t any. I say well what about tonight? Can I book the night train? She says that she can’t sell me tickets, but there are berths available if I just rock up at Woodlands Checkpoint in Singapore (about 45 minutes away) I should be able to get on. I’m thinking, so I’m supposed to get two boys and their packs to Woodlands by 11pm tonight and maybe, hopefully, possibly get a ticket? I’m starting to get frustrated. I have been so looking forward to going cross country to Kuala Lumpur off the bitumen and through the country side by train due to some nostalgic idealism that train travel would somehow be quaint and going clickety clack rolling through the Malaysia would be a great segue to the fishing day that we’d planned there. Brother in law John confirmed my thoughts. I would have to coach it instead. I conceded that it was still better than flying. Yes it is only and hour and fifteen by plane, but it seems so surgical and artificial. Ground travel gives time to absorb, to think and reflect. To really leave one place and arrive in another.
While all this is going on, it’s Christmas day and where else would Nani be than shopping? She puts in a five hour effort today. Looking for what and buying what is anyone’s guess. I suppose she figures that she’ll make hay while the sun shines – not many people get to shop on Christmas Day after all. I wonder how things would go down if I went fishing on Christmas Day, but I don’t dare to find out. Call me under-the-thumb – call me whatever you like, but experiments like these are best left to either the more daring, the more stupid or both. She has been saying that she doesn’t know how she will cope coming home to Tasmania because she’s gotten so used to being able to buy whatever she wants to eat, whenever she wants it.
Nani regales her horrified family with tales of how dangerous it was to visit Bako National Park and warned them against being there. She said the boat she traveled on was virtually un-seaworthy. She mentions how it got so bad the boatman ordered her pack off and life jacket on and how the waves were so big her small boat almost capsized. She claims that tour guides don’t book people to Bako during monsoon because it’s so dangerous – and that’s just getting there. Once there she claims the jetty is crumbling and she almost fell through. Crazy monkeys with fangs like “this” (demonstrating on her own face with a couple of index fingers how big the incisors are) and poisonous vipers hanging from every tree not to mention the sting rays. She goes on to tell the spell bound audience that “no-one goes to Sandakan” (not sure how she knows this) and claims that the men on every street corner with dark skin who stared at her until she was out of sight were in fact pirates. At what point pirates jump ship to sit on street corners and leer at Chinese girls is anyone’s guess, but there you have it. I’m annoyed and interject claiming that they’re great places to go and not to listen to her. I had booked the itinerary after much reading and discussing with other travelers and had good reason to be in those places. She switches to mandarin and finishes the story in a language I don’t understand. I resign to being misrepresented but also with some satisfaction that no-one would listen to Nani tell stories about the good times she had shopping at ViVo, Ion, Far East Plaza or Great World City mega malls. At least I’d given her tales to tell – and tales that grow taller with the passage of time.
Being our last night Ik Hui has really bent over backwards to try and check off a couple of things I’d mentioned we’d like to do whilst in Singapore so we’re off to the luxury Marina Bay Sands to watch the water show Wonder Full. On Singapore’s famous waterfront a couple of times each night is an amazing celebration of life using light projection, multimedia, sound, lasers, sprays and jets of water. Sitting together on the steps we are wowed by the display together with a few hundred others in the warm night air. The back drop of Singapore city was equally picturesque. I watch as our children jump up to try and grab illuminated bubbles floating past and failed to make them sit down. There is something about bubbles that are magnetic to children isn’t there? After the show, people were slow to leave. While it was crowded, it seems that the beauty and wonder of the show somehow united our humanity and we were connected by a common experience and the emotion generated.
Singapore may be a place geared entirely around making money the most efficiently as possible. Its benevolent oligarchy has ensured that anyone who gets an education and works hard has the opportunity to be wealthy, live in a condo and employ a maid. In the little spare time that families have, the two national past times of eating out (which can be done incredibly cheaply) and shopping in the latest and greatest malls are pursued with passion but it’s the constant kaching-kaching of Asia’s cash register that actually allows them to put on amazing free displays like the one we just saw and develop one of the world’s most beautiful waterfronts – just because they can.
After the show we slowly walk to Cold Rock for an ice-cream (the one where you choose the flavor and lollies you’d like smashed into it) and wander past Fendi, Armani, Ralph Lauren and Louis Vuitton. I wish I could tell you that these were people we met on the way but I can’t. Chrome and glass and the polished tiles refract and reflect light coming from every direction in this luxury shopping area. At some point, Nani can resist no more and walks into Tiffany & Co for a quick look. I don’t understand why. Bemused, I try and shout through the closing bullet proof glass doors as she darts in that I’d already got her a Tiffany ring but she appears not to hear. I had visited a diamond mine in the Northern Territory of Australia a few years earlier and bought a champagne diamond. Together we trawled the Tiffany website and selected a beautiful white gold diamond ring, printed the design off and sent it all to my aunty in Singapore a jeweler who had it made to size and sent it back. All this to replace the original diamond engagement ring I’d bought Nani after proposing. She lost this one within ten months of being married – it’s loss presumably contributed to by the fact that she considered it more a grain of sand than the “rock” she was hoping for. But the replacement – this counts as a Tiffany ring doesn’t it? Evidently not, because Nani says one day she wants to get something from Tiffany in that little blue box. I wonder to myself if those boxes can be bought on Ebay.
We repeat the night safari with Nani but the girls don’t go this time so it’s just Mark and his boy jonathan, Lachie, Oscar and I. We are assigned two guides for 45rm so i get the chance to have a really good talk to one heading down the lintang trail in search of adventure. The mafia have retreated to their favored tree to sleep in pairs cuddled up together like fur pom poms in an almost defoliated tree. The guide tells me the proboscis never sleep in the same tree twice to avoid predators which makes it a challenge finding them each day. He say he can tell the species apart by the broken foliage trickling from the canopy in the distance even before he sees the animal.
Tonight we see frogs, and the lone kingfisher again, and stick insects. We find a pool and the guide pulls out some boiled rice and sprinkles some in. Native catfish make a feeding frenzy in our torchlight.
Oscar has decided to skip wearing socks tonight claiming all his were wet and now his feet have blisters. I try and wipe them off with a wet one. His feet is full of sand so he has obviously sanded his skin. Theres not much I can do except bandaid the worst of them and try and do his laces up better to stop the rubbing. He is the pits when it comes to lacing up properly and when we look at him he nearly always has at least one shoe partly unlaced and no amount of reminding or lecturing him has any effect.
Nani provided some entertainment on this walk. Earlier I showed her the viper in the tree near our cabin and she exclaimed “fuck!” and covered her mouth. Having known her for 20 years I can offer the translation as “fuck that’s the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen! fuck why am I here? Fuck I can’t believe I’m staying in a place where so many things want to eat or kill me! fuck, my children are here and they could get seriously hurt! Aaarghhh!”. So she was pretty amped up even before the night walk and then I noticed it. A spider on her shoulder. This after we’d already been wowing over a tarantula in its nest. I told her to keep still that she had an arachnid on her and she froze in a cardiac arrest type stillness while I got mark to photograph it for posterity then flicked it off as gently as possible (the guides were watching).
At one point I flick off my headlamp, sneak up behind and grab her ass – a favorite trick of mine. She jumps and lets out a muffled yelp. Down the trail further she suddenly jumped and starting saying “ouch! Ouch!” and grabbing her ankle, brushing it. The guide says keep moving. She’s standing on a convoy of fire ants. I guess most people have the same reaction – to stop and try and deal with it, but moving forward at least prevents you from being swarmed. The guide cheerfully says it will only hurt (itch was his word) for a half hour and that camphor will help. I feel a bit sorry for Nani now and I let her know I have some back at the cabin. She is right out of her comfort zone and I try and reassure her that since she was born in Sibu just north of here, this is in her blood, but deep down I know she’s an amazon of the concrete jungle.
Later I get swarmed by a giant moth the size of a sparrow. It tries to have sex with my headlamp. I want to check it out but can’t focus that close so I switch off and it goes over to Mark. I tell Nani and she has another mild heart attack. Moths are her feared sworn enemy. When she was a child her mother told her some bullshit story about moth wing dust being able to blind eyes instilling a fear in her I have not been able to put a dent in over the last two decades of trying. She covers her head with her hands to try and protect herself.
The guide asks us to switch off lights. He turns on his UV and a scorpion sitting outside its nasty looking burrow glows in the dark. He offers it the tiny stick he has carried all night. After noticing his stick and the cicada on the end of it I has wondered about this. The scorpion latched on and the guide is trying to lift it out of the undergrowth. There is a tussle which the scorpion manages to win by tearing off the cicada and hunkering down its burrow to enjoy its meal. He won’t be lifted up for tourists to photograph tonight. That would make it one all over the last two nights.
The boys are up early this morning hunting the comical Proboscis monkey and watching the mafia trying to drain a stray soft-drink can. I had a bad dream about a uni professor making me do an assignment in the nude and woke up at 4am. Things are not good in the sleep department.
At breakfast as we overlook the beach, boats start rolling in bringing the days’ tourists. It dumps the first lot on the beach. I’m keen to see a loud fat American get dropped off in the water for my own humor. The next load draws near and I take off across the beach to get some happy snaps of the beach landings Bako style. The next load is a family from Selanggor. The dad tells me he studied business admin at RMIT in Melbourne.
The mosquitos are a bit feral here. They bite through clothes and gaps in repellant. I hate mosquitos and whenever I see them or think about them I feel itchy. I try not to scratch.
As the tide pushes up Proboscis troupes generally make their way inland. A troupe is swinging wildly through the canopy, crashing through foliage smashing branches as leaves flutter like confetti to the forest floor. We watch them launch themselves onto the roof of our cabin and they pound the roof with their hands banging the tin loudly. They’re either having fun or the dominant males are asserting themselves with a show of intimidation.
Back at the cafe a few Poms arrive having stayed at Marco Polo hostel in Kuching which they rated. They had been to Mulu and said they couldn’t get over the smell of the pillows in the hostel which took two days to shake. Thankfully we booked the longhouse. One of them takes a banana from his daypack, placing it down to zip up when one of the mafia spies it and comes down and like lightning it’s up the rafters eating it flat out. I’m laughing and tell him he’s busted for feeding the monkeys. The thief consumes the banana stuffing it into the loose skin under its chin which now looks like two testicles but it isn’t done yet. It moves to the exit stairwell to cut off the poms retreat because it saw he had three left. It sits there menacing him until I threaten it with a 2 liter bottle. Plotting, it slinks along behind the Pom who tells it to fuck off ever so politely.
We head out for one of the many possible jungle walks and Abbey tells me someone was stung by a sting ray on the beach and got stretchered away. She asks if I believe her and I say yes. When we get to the office to grab a map, a malay tourist in a shitload of pain is doubled up in a wooden chair with one of the guides sponging his leg. I get closer to inspect the wound. He looks like he’s been shot in the foot. He’s sucking air through his teeth and exhaling in groans, eyes tightly shut. I offer to irrigate the wound with a large syringe but the guides are boiling water to put his foot in a bucket of warm water. Rays have venomous slime on a razor sharp barb which causes amazing pain. I ask if they have given him pain killer and they say yes but give him more. I take a couple of snaps and we’re on our way.
Spider leaf monkeys move through low shrubs pulling the newer leaves and and busily chew on them. A nocturnal flying loris is trying to sleep but he’s chosen the wrong spot right next to the path outside chalet 7 and can only get 40 winks in between tourist arriving to point and use flash photography. I point him out to the kids, take a couple of flash assisted pics and we head down the Pacu trail.
Afterward I hit the travelers wall. It’s a combination of early mornings and possible reaction to the heat. Whatever, I’m buggered. I feel sleepy, slightly nauseous with the beginnings of a headache. I tell Lachie to buy the other two some lunch. Abbey returns to complain that Lachie is mimicking her. I hate whining so I make her miss out on lunch and she sobs uncontrollably on the bed next to me ’til her eyes are puffy and face red. It’s about this time her mother arrives from Kuching who gives her some food.
Abbey sings a song to get to sleep; “when I was young I used to smoke whoa ho ho then I had a stroke. My health is out there, out there somewhere…” to the tune of a Bruno Mars song. I don’t know why she sings these things.
After breakfast and a swim in the cold mountain stream fed pool it’s time to farewell Permai Rainforest Resort. Truth be told it isn’t really a resort because it just doesn’t have any resort facilities. There is a cafe with very limited menu and half is westernized food. There is kayak hire on the small beach but and high ropes courses but that’s about it. The cabins are fairly run down but that’s to be expected given it is 20 years old.
In its favor is its footprint and that it’s a good jumping off point to climb Mt Santuobong, and visit the cultural village. It was probably before it’s time in eco development because aside from the foundations of each cabin no forest has been cleared. Even the pathways wind awkwardly around existing trees. It’s very quiet and you feel totally immersed in the rainforest and it’s sounds. We saw a troupe of different monkeys today who threw branches at us as a warning and a beautiful black striped squirrel. Five star travelers wouldn’t like it, but I loved it and so did the kids. Huge discounts for staying during the week.
AJ the minivan guy came to pick us up to drive us to the dock from where boats depart for Bako. Even though i was tired and not in the mood for talking I quickly found out he’s more than just a bus driver. He is from the bidduyuh people who still live a simple village life around two and a half hours from Kuching by 4wd close to the border with Indonesia. His people wear the brass rings on the arms and ankles during ceremonial times and live a simple life tapping rubber, selling fruit and a little palm oil. Instead of clearing the forest he tells me they plant desirable trees inside the forest. He is passionately against clear felling and talks of how unnatural it is to have proboscis monkeys and orang utan living together but it happens because palm oil plantation and clear felling forces them into tiny strips of native land. Married to an Iban he tells of the ancient custom of taking heads in preparation for planting new ground. If the planting fails another head has to be taken. He says some heads were taken in 2003 in Indonesia. His grandfather is 90.
At the launching point for Bako we tee up two boatmen as the park can only be reached by sea. There are crocodile warning signs at the jetty but the croc skull near the registration desk drove home the point a little better. Im impressed by the skill of the men in their 12 foot wooden boats as we head out to sea. We pass wooden structures built free standing in the water used to net fish. The ferrymen dodge the waves and gun the engine to cross the next one before it peaks. The boat slams into the trough and the kids squeal. Partly with excitement but i can tell they’re a bit worried.
We arrive at Bako’s jetty having timed our arrival for high tide. Arriving at low tide involves being dropped on the beach in waist high water – something we wanted to avoid with a heavy pack on. As the song says we don’t pay the ferryman until he gets us to the other side and definitely not until we get his number – unless you prearrange pick up you can’t get out.
We toss our gear into the pretty rough Semi-detached B cabin. One side the boys sleep in the other Abbey and I. There is no hot water for showers. And the tap on the boys sink is non existent. Good way to save on water I guess. There is no toilet paper and the ball float in the open cistern doesn’t work so I manually fill the cistern and pull a rusty wire to flush it.
We are warned of a few dangers namely falling coconuts, pit vipers and bad ass macaques who act like the local mafia. Apparently it’s the one you don’t see that does the damage (pinching food, phones, drinks and general stand-over tactics).
We sit at the cafe trying to find some shade and water and are amazed to see the elusive Proboscis monkeys swinging across the path so i dash down and sneak up for a photo. These monkeys are a tan orange color and fairly solidly built. One of the guides says their bum looks like a woman in a G String. As the name suggests, these monkeys which are only readily seen in two places in East Malaysia have a huge nose. The smaller ones have pointy pink Pinocchio noses and have obviously told a few lies but the big males end up with a pink Fred Flintstone phallic honker and this apparently really gets the girls.
The bearded pig is akin to the circus bearded lady – its ugly but you can’t look away. Even the sows had pretty impressive wiry Abe Lincoln beards going on, each one followed about by a handful of small coffee colored striped piglets. I tell the kids not to upset the piglets as that is the only thing that would make a sow a danger.
Laundry has been a disaster for me. I still can’t dry anything and the clothes go musty and stink overnight. I make the kids re-wash their clothes in buckets with mushy soap found in the bathroom but I help with the wringing because they’re not strong enough. We hang them outside wondering if the mafia steal clothes as well. One sniffs Abbeys shoe and makes to grab my T Shirt so I scare him off.
We lie down under the fans and sleep in the hottest part of the day. I’m over undies as they’re impossible to dry plus i’ve run out so I’ve decided to go native and sleep in the buff. It seems the proper thing to do.
After tea we gather a dozen of us for the Night Safari. Guides direct us down the path – a dozen head lamps strobing the night sky. The kids are particularly annoying when they fully blind you. We stop at the mangroves and turn off all lights and out of the dark emerge the blinking lights of fireflies in a tree. We are mesmerized. Each fire fly going about his own business but collectively they Christmas decorate the whole tree. I wanted to stay longer but we were moving again this time down the beach.
In my left ear the sound of the jungle, cicadas and crickets and in my right ear the south china sea breaking on the gently sloping beach sounding a little irritable due to the increasing wind which tells me rain is approaching.
The guide stops and searches a particular tree until his light illuminates a particularly venomous green pit viper coiled on a branch. He explains it is hunting and we can get closer for a photo but not too close. How far can it strike I ask. “About half” he says. Half it’s length? Half a metre he answers. I move in fairly unconcerned and take some snaps. I’m wary of snakes but not scared.
We continue on, and are swallowed by the jungle and become immersed in it and the blackness. Sound seems amplified and an orchestra of insects and frogs play for us. We stop again and turn off lights. Something glows on the ground ahead, and under the slippery boardwalk. Bio luminescent tiny white fungi light up on the forest floor.
At the first spits no-one reacts but I haven’t experienced a shower here that remained a few spits so I haul out the umbrella for Abbey and goretex jacket for me. The boys get drenched because they didn’t bring theirs. I figure they’re old enough to think ahead or experience the consequences. The guides take us to a cave in which we shelter. Inside they scan around and mention that they often see black cobra in here at night. I look around too.
As the rain lightens it fools us into emerging to make a dash back to the cabins and redoubles its efforts. Water is running down the muddy tree root tangled trail and deep puddles are appearing which is a bitch because for the first day in the last four, I managed to dry my shoes. Frog calls swelled as we trudged back heads down rain running off my jacket soaking my pants. The guides kept their eyes out and despite the downpour stopped and using a stick, picked up a five inch long scorpion. I’m not sure if it was just the light of the guides torch or whether it really was green and purple in color.
The jungle experience was surreal for me. The stillness, darkness, the sheer volume of the chirping, whirring, piercing frequencies were all strange and new. To feel like I was not just in it, but inside the jungle and hunting for nightlife was exciting as it always is when I go spotlight shooting vermin in Australia.
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 Kinibalu. 2 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.
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.