Monday, 19 September 2016

Week 22 - Kuching, Borneo

The drive from Kuala Lumpur centre to the airport started off pleasantly, even though it was 6.15 in the morning, the city backdrop was illuminated against the dark sky and the intermittent lightening lit up the whole city. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the view 15 minutes into the hour long journey as the rain became so heavy you couldn’t even see the car infront! If I was driving I would of pulled over at the nearest rest point. It was crazy, most cars slowed down and drive carefully through the rain, it’s a shame one guy didn’t do the same, we saw his car, on fire, at the side of the road from hitting the barriers! I really hope that he’s ok.

Upon arrival at KLIA we were shocked by the size of the terminal, it has to be the biggest airport on our travels yet, it took us about 15 minutes to find the check in desk. Our flight to Borneo was the first one to be delayed, by a massive 40 minutes, and we were entertained in the departure lounge by 2 young children that wanted to play hide and seek and who can pull the funniest face. It was nice, albeit a little loud, to be back on a normal sized plane with lots of people, and this one even had TV’s in the seat backs! Shame I didn’t get to see the end of Horrible Bosses 2. The flight was quick, though turbulent at times, especially on the descent into Borneo, though the site was spectacular. You could see all the jungles and rivers, which then slowly gave way to neat housing estates and the small city of Kuching.

We took a taxi from the airport to our guesthouse, Marco Polo, where we were greeted by a local man, Sam, who took great care in telling us about his guesthouse and the surrounding area of Sarawak and the national parks. Sam also took the time to tell us about the history of Borneo and a new film which is being created called, The White Raja. Based on the life of Sir James Brooke, who came to Borneo in the 1840’s and became the King of Sarawak after trying to end piracy and head-hunting. It’s something, we were told, that the locals are happy about as they believe it will bring more tourism to Kuching. Sam is very into history and sharing stories of his life, he’s an intelligent man and when at school got 100% on his English test. A nervous time for Sam as they have to wait months for their papers to be marked in England before their results are posted on a wall at school, something which has now changed for the local children. Sam, like many other locals, also has an English birth certificate, something which he says confuses many other people when he shows it to them.

I instantly fell in love with the guesthouse and the owners, so much so that after seeing how much there is to see and do in the area that we instantly increased our stay from 3 nights to 8! Marco Polo is just like your Nana’s house, with comfy furnishings and dated wallpaper, Sam makes you feel at home and that’s his main aim for whilst your’e in his company. Something which I have missed whilst staying in other hotels. 

Our first evening was quiet, we had a nice meal and a small stroll around the city. Kuching, also known as cat city, is hot and like George Town filled with bright and beautiful old buildings and brilliant food of Chinese and Indian origin. The only difference, the many cat shrines and cafes, they just can’t get enough of the furry four legged creatures here. Though my night was spent thinking of orangutangs, and praying that we would be lucky enough to see at least one the next day.

Excitement and stomach ache woke me earlier than my alarm the next day, which was already set for early enough, 6.20 to be exact. Today was orangutang day and we first had to wait at the side of the road for a van, taxi or car to drive by and take us to the actual bus station for 1 ringgit each. We waited all of 30 seconds before a rusty old mini bus pulled up and took us on our way. When we arrived the K6 bus was already filled with Westerners, though we were able to find a tiny plastic seat to sit on and the air condition worked exceptionally well. Once on board a little old man came round with his reusable bag to collect your bus fair, 4 ringgit, and handed us a tiny paper ticket. I was secretly hoping that this little old man wouldn’t be our driver, but he was and he was surprisingly a very good driver even though his bus couldn’t go into third gear. Looking around the bus, I noticed most people were dressed for the occasion, walking in the jungle, with their boots, trainers and baggy trousers. However, the only other English people were like Malibu Barbie and Ken, it was fucking embarrassing! They were sat there in flip flops, summer dresses and tiny shorts…sorry guys you’re not off to the beach!

I had high hopes for Semenggoh Nature Reserve, expecting a wilder version of Chengdu, China where we went to see the pandas. I thought we’d be able to freely walk around the jungle and see the orangutangs in their natural habitat and not in cages, which you could, you just couldn’t walk-on your own. I was left somewhat disappointed. On arrival at Semmengoh you pay 10 ringgit per person at the gate for your ticket, and take a short 20 minute walk to the feeding platform. On the way you can see old walking trails and paths which have since been closed off and are looking a little worse for wear to be honest, which is a shame really as some of the walks looked really nice, (look at me, changing). The bus brought about 25 of us to the reserve which I thought was brilliant, but as we walked up the path hoards of other tourists sped past us in taxis and vans..the idiots had paid about 280 ringgit for a pointless guided tour. Note: if you come to Semmenggoh just do it on your own, the whole day will cost you about 20 ringgit.

As we waited for our guide to take us into the jungle, I grew more and more disappointed as loads of people kept appearing, it wasn’t just the people it was the noise. There are signs everywhere asking you to stay quiet as the orangutangs won’t come close, but these signs and the wardens requests were ignored. We were lucky enough to be at the front of the queue so got the first glimpse of, Anaku, a 10 year old orangutang, and he was beautiful. Not at all shy, he came climbing down the rope to eat the fruit laid out for him, and after a few attempts of smashing his coconut on the tree he soon hurried off back into the jungle to enjoy his fruit in peace. We waited a further hour with the guide calling for more to come down and eat, but the orangutangs weren’t having it, probably because of all the noise. But I am more than happy that I got to see one in the wild as it should be as there are only 26 left in this area of jungle, many others were moaning and the wardens rightly told them that they should go to the zoo if they don’t want to wait and they need a guarantee of seeing more than one. 

The fantastic thing about your 10 ringgit ticket is that it allows you to re-enter the jungle for the afternoons feeding, so if you didn’t get to see any in the morning or just can’t get enough, you’re welcome to go again. Though I imagine that the heat would be pretty unbearable at 3pm. We found one downside to getting the bus, the return timetable, it left us sitting at the side of the road for an hour, and we were sweating. I think they’re missing a trick not opening a cafe on the busy dual carriageway, there isn’t one inside the park and all that walking leaves people hungry. It would also make the afternoon feeding more accessible, as the journey from Kuching to Semenggoh takes one hour! 

WARNING! This next part may contain content some readers will find disturbing…..
So for 8 weeks now I’ve been suffering with diarrhoea, I’ve had 2 lots of antibiotics prescribed in Thailand, “good bacteria sachets” and about 300 Imodium tablets, which I swear I’m now immune too. At first it was manageable but now it’s become unbearable, I daren’t fart and I have to know where the closest loo is after each meal, combine that with headaches and dizziness and it’s just getting in the way of our trip. Poor Kyle has got constant earache. So after a chat with Sam and his wife, Jane, we were pointed in the direction of Asia Clinic, a modern and clean doctors surgery with English speaking doctors and nurses was ideal, just a few steps down the road. Upon entry I was asked to provide my name, date of birth and country of birth and asked to take a seat, less than 3 minutes later I was called in to the doctors surgery. He asked a few questions, tested my stomach and then asked me to provide a stool sample…that part was difficult. In 8 weeks I haven’t had a solid poo, and I was provided with a tiny sample pot, the doctors advice, “Just aim carefully”. Brilliant, cheers mate! Anyway, the sample is now on the way to the lab, when I get the results I’ll let you know what it is…I’m sure you’re all desperate to find out. In the meantime though I have been sent away with Doxycycline, more Imodium and some hydration sachets, as the doctor suspects its may be dysentery or salmonella, neither of which sound great if I’m honest. The whole appointment and waiting time took about 15 minutes and cost 180 ringgit which I think is brilliant service, at home I’d still be waiting for an appointment and I’d have to see at least 5 doctors before they considered sending off a sample! Stepping out of the doctors we were greeted by rain, so decided to have a lazy afternoon and watch Love Actually.

6 am the next morning we woke, showered, applied some deet and I took my antibiotic, an Imodium and hydration sachet….all before breakfast. Bad move. I took one bite of a banana and I swear that it didn’t even touch my stomach before I got a wet mouth, sweaty palms and a dizzy feeling. Turns out you shouldn’t take all that medication on an empty stomach, I was as sick as a dog. Who knew you could look like shit and ghastly pale with a tan! This meant that the trip to Bako National park was cancelled as I spent the day in bed sleeping, whilst Kyle read on the balcony. He’s turning into a right little bookworm, he even has a favourite author and series now, Clive Cussler and his Fargo Adventures.

September the 16th and Malaysia day, a public holiday for most throughout the country. Celebrated on the same date each year, Malaysia day commemorates the establishment of the Malaysian federation in 1963 and the joining together of Malaya, North Borneo and Sarawak to form Malaysia. We figured that Bako National park would be pretty busy given the public holiday, so instead took a trip to the Kuching river front and charted a boat, for 1 ringgit each, over the Sarawak river. The other side of the river could not be more different from the main part of Kuching, the houses are more traditional built in wood, with some brightly painted. There is more of a community feel than a city feel, and it is nice to walk amongst the locals who are keen to chat and find out where you are from. We also visited a huge golden mosque and Fort Margherita whilst there. Unfortunately, the fort was closed for repair, however two nice guys snuck us in so we could have a look at the cells and the old cannons. It was much better this way as we were the only people inside. 

We also passed an abandoned school, complete with classroom itineraries and childrens paintings on the wall. It was a sad site as the school was huge, and looked as though at least 1000 children could have been taught there. It left me wondering where the children went to school now, and why it had been closed? The boat driver was waiting when we returned, this time we waited until the boat was full for him to take us to the other side of the river, and paid our 1 ringgit fair once we disembarked. 

On the way back to the guesthouse we took an air con break inside a shopping mall, Kyle says it’s so hot here coz we’re really close to the equator, I think we actually sweat more than we did in Hue, Vietnam and that’s saying something. Whilst in the mall we noticed an OK looking hairdressers, and I was in desperate need of a hair cut, I could almost sit on it, so we braved it. To be fair to the guy he’s done an OK job, I swear it’s not completely even but I never have it down anyway. On the plus side Kyle’s hair looks good, and both cuts combined cost us 55 ringgit, you wouldn’t even get your hair washed for that at home! I will however, be finding a good salon in Australia for a proper cut and blow dry, I think it’s only fair seen as Kyle’s had 3 haircuts and a dozen massages. 

For tea that evening we went to Annie’s for some Kolo Mee, it was delicious. Everybody else must of thought so too, it was a very busy evening for Annie with both restaurant guests and take away orders. Kolo Mee is noodles slightly under cooked so they still have a little crunch, dipped in oil and soya, with crisp onions, minced pork and BBQ pork slices. At 3.50 ringgit a bowl, Kyle treat himself to two, followed by an egg custard….you can tell who hasn’t been ill on this trip!

I was buzzing the next morning, feeling better than I had in days we once again got up at 6am, ate, showered, covered ourselves in mosquito spray and headed to the bus stop….bound for Bako National Park. The bus was an old coach, with air con that worked a little too well, and the single journey took 45minutes, costing 3.50 ringgit. The bus drops you right outside the boat terminal, here you are asked to sign your details on a slip of paper and pay 30 ringgit each for your park entry fee (this is less for locals and children), you retain the slip of paper and your ticket until you arrive at the park. Next is the boat counter which will cost you another 20 ringgit per person for a return journey. After which you wait on the dock until there are enough people to fill the little boat…15 or more are needed, dependant on how tightly they want to squeeze you in, FYI life jackets are compulsory. 

The boat journey takes a further 30 minutes, you start off on a river with crocodile warnings along the bank, heading through mangroves and a little village. The river soon opens up into the sea and this is when the driver soon puts his foot down. Speeding by huge cliffs and rocks you arrive on the beach in no time, after a quick paddle to the shore and a walk along the beach you find yourself at the entrance to Bako National Park, we were lucky enough to be greeted by some wild pigs, fat, grey and hairy, with the longest noses I’ve ever seen on a pig. On entering the rangers station you hand over your slip of paper, and discuss which route you would like to take and then enter this into a book…not doing so can result in a fine. We wanted to do trail 6 which led to Bako stack and the beach, however the lady told us that we wouldn’t see any wildlife on this path so we opted for the white trail instead.
Before we set off we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a proboscis monkey in a tree outside the office, he didn’t have a care in the world staring down at us all from his perch. Apparently they’re classed as one of the ugliest animals on earth, I know a few humans that might find that statement a little offensive, the similarities between them and the monkey are so strong. We were the first ones out on the trail and bumped into a family of silver backed monkeys, they are so cute and tiny. We were lucky enough to a see a baby and a grandad, he had a huge beard and just stared up at us from the path. Next were more proboscis monkeys, and they were huge, I couldn’t believe how close we were able to get to them, we were less than 2 metres away and watching them move and eat made me start to believe that maybe we did evolve. 

The trail took us around rocks, up and down tree roots, across small streams and under a crowd of monkeys. It was brilliant, but so fucking hot, we were relieved to see the beach at the end of the trail. Unfortunately it didn’t look nice enough to swim in, so we had a climb around the rocks to see the lizards and fish hiding in the shadows. The walk back was hard work, I’m still not feeling 100% and tired easily, plus we had sweat that much Kyle’s grey trousers had turned black…it looked like he’d wet himself! We took our own food with us, and I was glad, the buffet at the canteen looked like it had been there for a month, so we sat and enjoyed our lunch under some shade watching the wild pigs trot by.

Before making our way home we got to see two snakes hiding in the trees, one of which we were told was very poisonous so we didn’t get too close to that one. Before departure you have to sign out of the park, this is to save some poor warden going to look for you. The boats back to the town are every hour and again won’t leave until they’re full, but I can’t see that ever being a problem. From the boat station you can also arrange to go to a different beach though this can be quite expensive at 100 ringgit each way. If heading to Bako park, I would recommend doing it on your own, the trips can prove quite expensive and the trails are marked clearly enough for you to not need a guide. Also go early, on our way out of the trail we saw nothing, all the loud groups of tourists had scared all the animals away. One word of warning though, when waiting for the bus people will come and offer you rides in their mini vans or taxis, just say no, despite what they tell you, the bus is on the way.

Whilst waiting for the bus we got chatting to a group of locals girls, asking where we from and offering to share their food with us. Waiting with us was a blonde haired, blue eyed german boy, I think the girls were quite taken with him, they didn’t leave him alone all the way back to Kuching. Whilst travelling around both Borneo and Malaysia I have noticed that you never see any farm animals in the fields, so it has left me wondering, where does the meat come from here? Feeling tired, achey, burnt and covered in 1 or 2 mosquito bites (probably the itchiest and biggest yet), we headed back to the hostel to wash change and stuff our face. Duck rice, crispy pork, noodles and wantons were on tonights menu, and again it did not disappoint. 

A cheeky lie in was on the agenda for the next morning, and a late journey back to Semenggoh was the plan. But once again the weather was against us, it was crazy hot and pissing down. So instead we did our laundry and sat on the balcony planning New Zealand travel routes and applying for Workaways both there and Hawaii. An evening stroll took us back to the waterfront, this time it was lined with stalls selling jewellery, magnets, key chains and t-shirts, live bands, food and drink stalls and plenty of locals catching up over a coffee or fresh juice. My favourite band was a local family, with the teenage daughter on lead vocals and guitar, they were brilliant. Further down the river there were many stalls selling bubbles surrounded by children chasing and trying to pop the bubbles and spraying each other with their water guns. A great way to entertain the children whilst the parents relaxed. 

It was nice and cool at the river, and we enjoyed watching the sun set behind the mosque, Kuching has fast become one of my favourite places. The locals are friendly, the food is amazing and I’ve felt safe and content in our little Borneo bubble. For tea we went to Entangen Cafe, specialising in local dishes, the lady who served us was a fountain of knowledge and recommend two dishes for us to try. Pans Babi or Bamboo Pork, is pork served in a kind of soup with vegetables and lemongrass, Kyle devoured it over rice and then drank what was left of the broth. Alongside this we had Paku Bellman, a vegetable found in the jungle and served in fish paste, unfortunately we weren’t a fan of this dish, the fish taste was too strong for us personally. But hey, if you never try, you never know, a wise Cambodian man once told me. This was followed with a small sample of Tuak, a local rice wine, this is traditional given when you enter someones house as a welcoming drink. The lady also told us that after 5.30pm the locals start to drink Tuak to help them sleep, a full bottle in fact. If i drank a full bottle I’d probably sleep for a week!

This morning we decided to chance another morning feed at Semenggoh, and boy am I glad we did. Before we even made it into the jungle we were greeted by 3 orangutangs! One sassy lady even walked right along the path and sat on the benches with us, she was very volumptuous compared to the one which we saw the other day! We once again saw Anaku and a very big companion, surprisingly they were nice to each other and shared bananas, even feeding one another at times. Before entering the jungle we were told there that had been two new arrivals in the past week but not to get our hopes up of seeing many more. Well we must have been beyond lucky, as soon as we entered the jungle one orangutang entered, followed by a mum and a week old baby…it was the cutest one by far. So cheeky climbing around and stealing it’s mums food, already learning how to swing from the trees and hang by it’s feet. A movement in the trees above caught everyones attention, and we were asked to be still and silent. A mother and her 3 day old baby were above us and judging on if it was safe to come down. The wardens have not yet been able to get a close look at the baby to determine the sex and the health, as it’s so important for the orangutangs to continue to breed in the wild we were ask to leave so they could continue their research. They were nice enough to let us get one sneaky picture though, and I hope that these two new additions are a positive sign of whats to come. 

Tonight we were planning on heading back to the riverside but it looks as though the weather may prevent that…were currently in the midst of another Borneo storm. You’ll be happy to know that for once I’ve already packed and I’m ready to go in the morning, after a quick trip to the doctors to see if they have my results. I have had the best time in both Borneo and Malaysia and will be sad to leave, although I am excited to see what Indonesia has to offer, especially now I’ve googled the wildlife!


Love Carrie xxx