Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo
Borneo, or in our case, Malaysian Borneo always has been one of those mystical destinations with stories of great adventures in tropical jungles, with amazing tribes, cultures and wildlife to experience and explore. I think everybody who decided to head off on this exploratory section of our adventure has been blown away to date. Full details and costs of this add on will be released on my return in November for people interested in doing this on the 2009 expedition.
Our flight across from mainland Malaysia from Johor Bahru to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak Province, went smoothly with a nice new plane carrying us across to our new adventure. The modern airport when we arrived was also a surprise. We had booked into small B&B for the night and having discussed it, the group had said that due to this being an exploratory trip they would be happy with dorm style accommodation. Borneo B&B is a funky spot but the dorms (with no aircon and very squeaky bunks) instantly converted everyone to the option that our normal style of shared twin rooms is the way to go, so after a night in dorms we all moved into twins with aircon the next day.
With a day to explore everybody soon ventured out to explore the town, walk the river front promenade, explore the Chinese temples and a stroll around the old court house.
Having done this we headed out to the Semenggoh Orang-utan Wildlife centre, this is a conservation area where 24 orang-utans have been relocated due to encroachment on their natural area or being formerly kept as pets. They all live wild in the +600 hectare area. We arrived at the daily feeding time where local fruits are put out on two raised platforms and then hopefully some orang-utans will come in for a snack. We were lucky enough to have 7 show up including a mother with a 3 month old baby, it was great to just stand quietly and watch them interact with each other. There is something very special about the experience. Definitely a must do if you come to this part of the world.
After another night in Kuching we started early as we headed for the first of the national parks we will visit while in Borneo, Bako National Park, the oldest national park in Borneo. To get out to the park involves a bus ride to a river port and then a ride of about 25 minutes in a speed boat to get to the park. Jen our water-phobic is getting quite relaxed now as think she has spent more time boating out to islands and national parks on this holiday than in her entire life.
Our boat off-loaded us on a stunning beach boxed in on either side by limestone cliffs covered by palms and lush jungle. As we wandered up towards reception all around us was just amazing scenery. After a warm welcome and a quick lunch in the restaurant we dumped our bags and set off on our first walk through the jungle. I have spent quite a bit of time in the Amazon and was expecting something similar in Borneo. Definitely the plant and animals were here as well, but the great thing was that everything was not trying to bite; this is really friendly jungle to explore. Our first walk took us along a trail where there is a good chance to see the Proboscis monkey one of the must sees while in Bako. On the walk we had no luck with the monkeys but was still a great walk with so much to see. The walk finally brought us out on another almost deserted beach only spoilt by a troop of lesser spotted Dutch folk. After exploring the beach a boat arrived and after a quick chat we had negotiated a boat ride back to the lodge. Jen though said she would rather walk if there was the option so she Michael and Alexa walked back.
On our arrival back we soon got ourselves comfortable only to be told that the Proboscis monkeys where just down the way, so off we dashed to go and see these strange monkeys with their massive red noses. We managed to get really close with a huge male walking right under our feet we stood on the raised walkway above the mangrove swamp.
Then it was down to catch the sunset off the beach, possibly the most stunning of the trip to date. On arrival back at the lodge we got everything ready for the night walk which headed off at eight. It’s amazing to see what the jungle has to offer as far as wildlife goes both during the day and at night, and finding an emerald pit viper and getting some great shots was the definite highlight of the night walk.
The next morning a couple of us headed of early on a 2 hour walk through some stunning jungle and open ground to one of the most stunning beaches I have seen to date. Imagine chilling on a deserted beach something like you would visualise “The Beach”. It’s a tough life and yet again we managed to get a boat to take us back to the lodge, this all via some stunning limestone rock formations. Sadly all too soon we had to hope on our boat back to the real world, Bako National Park was amazing.
On arrival back in Kuching we had the afternoon to prepare ourselves for our next adventure. The next section sees us jump on river boats and head up the Batang Rejang River which is the highway through the jungle to the interior. Our first day took us from Kuching via Sibu to Kapit, a journey of almost 300km along the river all done at some amazing speeds in the river ferries. We departed Kuching at 8.30 am and finally landed in Kapit at about 6.00pm so a long day, but the ferries are comfortable, air-conditioned and even showed DVDs (including WWF wrestling and karaoke music – a useful insight into Malaysian culture!). As we got closer to Kapit all along the river we could see long houses, though these are bit too close to civilization and so we plan to head further up the river to hopefully find a long house not too spoilt by the modern world.
Kapit is just a stop off point for us as we travel further into the interior to hopefully experience some longhouse hospitality about 150km above the Pelagus Rapids. Early the next morning we headed back down to the ferry landing to head up through the rapids to Belaga from where we would do our longhouse stays and jungle treks. We had read about the rapids that we would be going through and must say had not taken them too seriously, but on arrival at the ferry point the boats all had spare propellers strapped to the top of the coach house and looked a bit more battered and worse for wear. The next 2 hours were fantastic as we headed up the rapids, for those who stayed inside must have seemed a bit bumpy and must have interrupted the DVD from time to time, but sitting up on top of the roof flying up the rapids in a zig zag course was like white water rafting upstream in a power boat. The skill of the skipper and his knowledge of the river were impressive and definitely got the adrenalin glands pumping. Once through the rapids the river narrowed quite a lot with lots of islands and was stunning as we cruised up the river with regular longhouses scattered along the jungle clad river banks.
On our arrival in Belaga it had a real frontier town feel, with friendly locals pointing the way and we soon had moved into the Belaga Hotel which even had aircon. After a quick lunch we headed off to setup a guide and porters for our coming adventures into the jungle. The great thing about Belaga is it still has the feel of the old days where tourism is not that big and a jungle trip is still like arranging an expedition into uncharted territory. After meeting a couple of guides we finally settled on Mr Ham and his merry band to take us on a two day jungle trek and overnight camp
We set off at 10am the next morning, first in a long boat for a quick ride up to the rapids and then the trek started. Worth mentioning that this is no well cut tourist path through the jungle, this is a track that the local fishermen and hunters use. On our travels we had met up with Marc, an American and personal friend of Brad and Angelina (yep, that’s Pitt/Jolie). Was he in for a surprise for over the next couple of days as we undertook a true jungle trek, with no paved walkways or hand rails in sight! Over the months the group have become accustomed to third world travel and even to us the jungle trek was challenging but when you come to Borneo you expect it to be fairly rough and ready. A great quote sums up our next two days:
“An adventure is not an adventure when it is happening. Adventure is physical and emotional discomfort, recollected in tranquillity.” (Tim Cahill)
Our guides soon proved themselves well adapted to the jungle and they immediately dived into the bushes to cut us each our personal traditional walking stick which we soon really appreciated as the path and the slippery clay ground made the sticks essential. We followed the river bank for most of the next 4 hours with stunning jungle vegetation and all sorts of animals rustling in the bushes around us. Our walk finally brought us to a bay in the river with a nice sandy area where the guides had erected a simple shelter for us for the night. We would be sleeping out with just sleeping bag liners and mozzie nets to keep us safe for the night, unthinkable in somewhere like the Amazon but no problem in these jungles. Once we had all settled in some decided to take a quick dip in the river after confirming that there would not be any great chance of crocodiles, and others just relaxed and enjoyed the amazing surroundings. It is really special being deep in the jungle with nothing else but the little we had carried in with us.
Soon our guides set off to set fishing nets and a couple of lines to try and get some fish for dinner to add to the chicken and other basic supplies that they had brought along. Food proved to be very simple but filled the gap, but definitely for next year we will be doing the food ourselves as good food makes adventures like these.
All too soon it was dark, some gathered around the fires for a bit, but fairly early everybody had turned in for a good night’s sleep, though not before Marc had managed to nick his finger with his pen knife and so the drama began.
Early the next morning (well not really, it was about nine by the time everyone was up and about) we all got up for a bit to eat before packing up and heading off for our next jungle trek. The day’s trek would take us across the hills to another river for a visit to a longhouse from where we would return to Belaga. Challenging to say the least, but in retrospect everybody thought it was great, though at times as we scrambled along the path it was fairly challenging. Eventually we arrived at the longhouse and were offered green coconuts, and it was great to sip on the refreshing juice before eating the tender inner meat of the coconuts.
By now everybody was fairly manky (dirty, sweaty and covered in jungle mud), so was decided instead of staying to explore the longhouse we would return to the hotel have a shower and a late lunch and then return to explore the longhouse with suitable gifts.
A short boat ride took us back to the hotel and soon a refreshed group appeared ready to head back to the longhouse. Our presents of balloons and rice wine went down a treat and we had a good chance to wander through and get a feel for longhouse life.
After a night in comfortable beds the next morning we headed for Niah National Park in hired jeeps along the logging tracks. Niah was another great park with fantastic accommodation and “American friendly” jungle trekking, nice paths with handrails. The big attraction here is the caves and I will let the pictures explain (COMING SOON). The other great thing was we were able to barbeque again and a feast was had both nights making everybody think back to many of the nights we had cooked and enjoyed great food while we travelled with Penelope our faithful truck.
Miri was our next stop en-route to Brunei and provided us with the chance to celebrate our 6-month anniversary of being on the road!
The trip from Miri in Borneo to Brunei is fairly convoluted, and so after 6 buses, 2 taxis and a ferry, we arrived into Bandar Seri Begawan (or BSB as the locals refer to it), the capital of Brunei.
Fuelled by oil and petro dollars, the ruling monarchy is the longest hereditary monarchy still ruling in the world and the oil money has been spent well with great roads, nice housing and apparently a fairly high standard of living. The present Sultan was the richest man in the world before Mr Gates and company made fortunes out of the computer generation. A couple of hours wandering the Royal Regalia Museum gave a small idea of the wealth of this country (and also a useful insight into how imaginative or otherwise world leaders are when they visit bearing gifts). The sultan is said to have more than 2,000 luxury cars stored in one of his palaces, together with a couple of Black Hawk helicopters and some planes and boats – must be a tough life!
From here we head off on a ferry heading back to Malaysian Borneo, this time the Sabah Province, for more jungle adventure.
Sabah, Malaysian Borneo
of the two provinces is the more developed for tourism, but offers some amazing attractions. The highlight was the expedition into a jungle camp down one of the many rivers. Uncle Tans Jungle camp is by no means a luxury option but the wildlife and great guides make it a really special experience. Due to conditions a camera just does not do justice to what we saw. We even found a massive python on one of the night boat trips. Have left the pictures to tell the story below.