Friday, April 9, 2010
I'm just going to say from the start, 6 days was not nearly enough time in Borneo. Beth, Jacq and I flew into a hole of a town called Miri without a plan and a purpose and from the start it was our downfall. It seemed everything we wanted to do involved booking way in advance, getting a permit or paying ridiculous airfares.
When we gave the name of the backpackers we had booked in Miri to our taxi driver he dropped us off outside a bustling pub with loud music blaring. Next door were some stairs. We went up the stairs to find a dingy backpackers infested with cats and we were greeted warmly by the Chinese proprietor with "Shoes off please!" After a late night trying to book the first flight out of Miri, we went to bed only to be kept up until 3am by the pumping music coming from the pub downstairs. Beth had to stuff her ears with toilet paper and all we could do was laugh because of the crazy situation.
So not a fantastic start. The next morning we also spent the whole day travelling - a flight to Kota Kinabalu and a nail-biting, gut-churning 6 hour drive to Sepilok. The roads were very windy and wet and our bus driver clearly was impatient, as he would overtake around bends, pretty much anywhere he wanted and tailgated and honked anyone that got in his way. He even overtook the bus that left for the same destination 30 minutes before us. We arrived in Sepilok to a beautiful oasis of a place hidden in the bush with friendly staff and massive dorms. We had a few much needed beers then fell asleep to the sound of jungle insects and animals coming through the mesh walls.
The next day we went down to the Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre where they rescue orphaned orang utans from the wild and raise them in the reserve until they set them free in the wild. They were gorgeous, and after feeding time one cheeky monkey dropped down onto the boardwalk right in front of us and stole someone's water bottle. The rangers had to lock all the buildings so he didn't go inside and trash the place. That afternoon we went to Sandakan for dinner on the bay before a very interesting taxi ride home with a driver who made us laugh, offended us then nearly killed us by overtaking at the wrong time. Crazy man.
The next day we reluctantly left our jungle haven to hop on another bus to Bilit where we had booked a tour for a 3 day cruise down the Kinabatangan River where a lot of cool animals hang out. Unfortunately this is because surrounding the jungle on all sides are evil money-making palm plantations that have confined the animals to the thin strips of jungle still standing by the river, which is great for snap-happy tourists like us, but sucks for the animals who would probably like to have their homes back. It makes me think humans are the worst animals of them all. But we did get to see some really unique wildlife such as proboscis monkeys (ugliest monkeys ever, they have pot bellies and massive noses), hornbills, a freshwater croc (when it slid into the water and disappeared right near our boat I thought we were all going to die like in that movie Rogue), a western tarsier (little possum-like nocturnal creature which looks a bit like a gremlin/furby; its head rotates 360 degrees which makes it look like something out of the Exorcist), and too many species of bird and macaques to mention. It was amazing. And every cruise on the river was all the more entertaining thanks to an old British couple who reminded me of Hyacinth and Richard Bucket from Keeping up Appearances. An example of the type of thing you could expect from these two - during a night hike, the woman grabbed a young guy she had just met and said "Come here, I need a tripod!" and rested her camera on his shoulder to take a photo of a sleeping bird. Thus she had her arms around his neck to keep the camera still. So Jacqui says "Oh, was she taking a photo? I thought she was getting a leech off his neck or something!" to which the woman's husband replied "She's the leech". Classic.
After the tour we eventually caught a bus back to Kota Kinabalu after a run-in with some crazy entrepeneurs at the bus stop who felt they were entitled to charge us extra for the bus because they "helped" us to catch it. Beth described the bus ride as "being stuck in a portaloo on wheels for 6 hours" because the bus had a toilet which emitted some pungent smells every time someone went. Then that night we went out for dinner at a Chinese place where Beth knocked a whole plate of bok choy on the ground. Considering we were the only whities in the place we were already getting funny looks, but you could imagine what it was like after that. Hilarious. Beth has been an endless source of amusement the whole trip because of her clumsiness. She's always bound to trip over her own feet or knock the runniest plate of food into her lap/the ground.
So now we're back in Johor Bahru. Tomorrow Beth leaves for Laos, and I leave for the Netherlands. I am sort of ready to leave Asia now... although I have been here for 3 months, frankly I am getting a little over rice and the delightful aroma you get every time you pass a dirty drain on the street. I will miss the cheap, delicious food and the friendly people and scenery. But Europe, bring it on.
Until next time,