10 July 2013 - Cape Town, South Africa
My bankcard finally arrived and it was time
to pack up and continue my journey. Erika was kind enough to
take me to the airport. It was a long day, as she picked me up
at 11h00, the flight was only at 13h30, and although it seemed
like a long time, there was just about enough time to have my
bag wrapped and pay the R2 000 overweight charge. R2 000!!! And
that was only for five kilograms!!!
I was also told that they could only book me
through to Kuala Lumpur, as the flight from Kuala Lumpur to
Kuching was on another airline. Although I understand where they
are coming from, it still feels like a rip-off to me.
Finally, I boarded the plane and we were off
to Dubai. I was fairly surprised to see Mark and Marieda on the
same flight, on their way to Phuket. I thought I will still see
them again at Dubai airport, but it is such a large and busy
airport that I never even caught a glimpse of them. I headed in
the direction of Terminal 2, which was way on the other side; I
even had to catch a train there. Soon enough, it was time for me
to board the flight to Kuala Lumpur.
11 July - Kuala Lumpur – Kuching, Sarawak,
Once in Kuala Lumpur, I dutifully went to the
baggage claim area as told, and waited and waited, but there was
no sign of my luggage - I only found out later that the baggage
was actually booked through to Kuching from the start!!! Bummer
……by that time I had missed the flight to Kuching and was forced
to buy a new ticket!! What an expensive trip it turned out in
the end. Finally, I arrived in Kuching, Sarawak, Borneo, caught
a taxi into town, found a room, and although I was dead-tired I
could not fall asleep at all!!! My days and nights were all
12 July - Kuching
Beds Guesthouse, where I stayed, was situated
in China Town and everything was therefore close by. I found a
bike shop just up the road to put my bike back together again.
They were so kind that they offered to come and collect it from
the guesthouse (it’s rather difficult to carry a bike in a
box!). I also found myself a water-heater (to make a quick cup
of coffee) and a pair of sandals. In most places, one is
required to remove one’s shoes before entering, so flip-flops or
sandals are by far the easiest thing to wear. I subsequently
discovered that I forgot to bring my laptop charger, but that
had to wait ‘till tomorrow.
Kuching turned out to be rather nice - I
really like China Town and it was a short walk down to the
waterfront with its boardwalk and food stalls.
Just down the road from where I stayed was
the first day of the annual food fair. Smoke hung heavily over
the area as over two hundred stall owners fried, grilled and
steamed their respective delicacies. I ate fried round balls,
things on sticks, dumplings and something rapped in
leaves...…whatever they were, they were delicious. From Chinese
to Malay to Indian – there was something for everyone. And if
you really can’t make up your mind, there was also a wide array
of local and international delicacies – even hamburgers!!! Take
13 July - Kuching
My lack of sleep finally caught up with me as
I only woke at 11h00. A quick shower and I were ready to hit the
narrow alleys of China Town again. I walked and I walked, past
rows and rows of Chinese shop houses, mostly built in the 1920’s
and 30’s. I also walked through the Indian quarters, where the
streets are lined with shops; mostly textiles, jewellery and
food stalls. How can I not mention the cats of Kuching?? I saw
at least four roundabouts with cat statues and there is even a
At least I found a charger for my laptop and
a USB modem and a SIM card, for the times when the internet is
not available. That evening I again went down to the food fair
for some nibbles (I just could not stay away).
14 June - Kutching
I thought of leaving today but there was
still a lot to see and do, so I stayed another day and took the
bus to Bako National Park. What a pleasure it turned out to be!
Once at the park, one gets a boat which takes you to the actual
park headquarters. I teamed up with another couple as the price
for the boat ride is per boat, and not per person, so it was
cheaper to share a boat and it is always nice to have company.
The boat took us past the legendary “Cobra”;
a rock sticking out in the ocean resembling a cobra. Then we
were dropped at one of the idyllic beaches from where we took a
walk back to the park head entrance. Not only was the scenery
fantastic but there were interesting looking monkeys along the
way and even a bush pig or two. The boat picked us up at 16h00;
all in all, it was a fantastic day! I was starving by the time I
got back and the easiest was to go back to the food fair for
some more interesting food.
15 June - Kuching
It was really time to get going but I
realized that I will need a visa for Brunei and therefore had to
pop into the Brunei Consulate. I, however, discovered that it
takes three days and believe that one can get a transit visa at
the border, so I hope this is the case. I took the bus to
Semenggoh Nature Reserve, about a forty five minute bus ride out
The park is home to Orang-utans. Twenty years
ago, eleven Orang-utans were rescued after being orphaned or
held in captivity. The programme was rather successful and the
surrounding forest now has a thriving population of healthy
adolescent and young adults, who are breeding in the wild. I
managed to spot a few, which was great.
Back at the hotel it was normal hostel life -
people were watching TV, some were making food, and others were
just sitting around. I sat and chatted to some of the other
travellers and then it was time to retreat to my rather small
little room. (At least the air-con was icy cold).
16 July - Kutching to Serian Ranchan pools -
It was finally time to pack up and see what
the rest of Borneo held. It was (as can be expected) boiling hot
as I cycled down the road, past numerous small villages. I
stopped at a motorcycle repair shop, looking for a spanner to
change my mirror to the right side of the bike, as here in
Borneo one drives on the left hand side of the road. The people
are incredibly friendly and the guy at the shop was eager to
My second stop was at a small store for a
drink. The lady (who spoke English) was very interested in my
travels. As I was ready to leave she came running out of the
shop with a packet of biscuits - how sweet of her. Just past the
village of Serian, I found a lovely recreational area with a
fantastic swimming hole. I was quick to book into a bungalow as
no camping was available and I was not going to miss that swim
At around 20h00 I took a walk to the
restaurant and sat chatting to the owners for a while. It was
still 28°C and just perfect for sitting outside (albeit a few
nasty flying insects). I ordered Nasi Goreng (spicy fried rice)
Soon, the thunder and lightning started and
the rain came pouring down. Fortunately, they had Wi-Fi in the
restaurant and I sat surfing the internet, waiting for the rain
to stop, so I could walk back to my chalet.
17 July - Serian Ranchan pools – Selepong -
I woke, had coffee and a bit of cereal, which
I mixed with milo due to a lack of milk. By the time I had the
bike loaded it was already after 9h30. It was a boiling hot day,
with the sun beating down relentlessly. I encountered some
rather steep hills and even had to push the bike up one (shows
just how unfit I have become!!). I stopped at each and every
little shop along the way to top up with water, and soon it was
nearly five o’clock.
I was afraid I was not going to make it to
Sri Aman before sunset, and as soon as I spotted a
friendly-looking school with big grounds, I pulled in and asked
if I could camp in their yard. I did not have any food with me,
except for the biscuits the friendly lady along the road gave me
yesterday. There was also no shop nearby so the biscuits had to
do for supper. I was far too tired to look for food.
I just pitched my tent and went to sleep; all
stinky and sweaty. Fortunately, I still had some drinking water,
as I discovered they had no water in their taps…… bummer. It
soon started bucketing down and the rain continued throughout
the night; at least my tent is waterproof!!!
18 July - Selepong – Sri Aman - 30km
I woke rather early, as soon as the cars
started arriving, dropping kids off. I packed up my still wet
tent in view of the usual spectators, waved them good-bye and
cycled the short distance to Sri Aman. I thought of having
breakfast along the way but did not feel hungry, so I continued
on. There is really no reason to go to Sri Aman, but I took a
room and at least had a good shower, and plate after plate of
Mee Goreng (fried noodles).
Sri Aman is located on the Batang Upar River
and is famous for the benak, or tidal bore. The tidal bore comes
in from the river mouth and fills up the river very rapidly in
the course of about ten minutes. I believe that the wave crest
at Sri Aman can get up to two to three metres high.
At around six o’clock the heavens opened up
again and I was happy to have a room where I could watch the
rain through the window!! I waited for the rain to subside and
then went across the road to the riverfront, and had yet another
plate of Nasi Goreng Kampung (Village Style Fried Rice). It was
huge and came with fried rice with an egg on top, a piece of
chicken and some small dried fishes (only about five centimetres
long and less than a centimetre wide), as well as a small bowl
of soup. Needless to say, I could not even finish half.
19 July - Sri Aman –Betong - 81km
I was on the road early, and although I
encountered two mountains, the road was much more level than the
previous days. I also had the luxury of a cloud cover, so the
going was much easier. I took my time and was not, at first,
going to turn down to Betong, so I went past the turnoff. About
ten kilometres later there was another turnoff, so I changed my
mind and turned down to Betong to see what was there.
I was surprised as it was a bit larger than I
had expected, with at least three hotels, various shops, and a
large and modern sports field. I found myself a room and then
went exploring. Of course I was being stared at to no end, as
I'm sure no foreigners ever come here.
It appeared that there were more Muslim
residents than Chinese, if one can judge by the food available.
Seeing that it is the month of Ramadan, most of the small
restaurants were closed during the day. Later in the day the
food market opened, selling all kinds of lovely sweet stuff and
mostly curry chicken and curry fish – very Malay!!
20 July - Betong – Serikei - 128km
Early morning I was back on the road,
together with the trucks carting their loads to the Palm Oil
Mills. The forest is slowly making way for more and more palm
oil plantations. As I cycled down the road I could hear monkeys
in the dense forest, but I seldom saw them.
Again, it was very hot and the road seemed
increasingly hillier as the day progressed. I had the option to
turn down to Saratok, which would have made it a nice short day.
The map, however, indicated a small nature park a bit further
down the road, so I decided to go there instead. The Sebangkoi
Nature Park and Resort turned out to be rather disappointing and
dilapidated, so I filled up with water and continued.
I was dead tired by the time I got to Sarikei
and was happy to find myself a room, have a shower and a plate
Even by Malaysian standards, Sarawak has an
extraordinary mix of peoples: the largest ethnic group is
neither Chinese (26%) nor Malay (21%), but the Iban (29%), (the
fiercest head-hunters in Borneo). The food is therefore just as
varied - in most towns one can find Malay, Chinese and Indian
food, as well as a wide selection of local ethnic dishes.
Sarikei seemed more Chinese, as most of the food stalls were
selling Chinese food, and I had a big plate of Chinese noodles
and a bowl of soup….just what the doctor ordered!!
21 June - Sarikei
I decided to stay in Sarikei for the day, as
I felt tired and could do with a day of lazing around. There was
not much to do in Sarikei, but it was still an interesting and
typical Sarawakian town, with many old Chinese shop houses from
the 1930’s. The town is known for the growing of pineapples and
pepper, with the result that there is a huge statue of a
pineapple in the centre of town.
Sarikei is located on the Rajang River, near
where the river empties into the South China Sea, and one can
get a boat from here to either Kuching or Sibu…..tempting!! The
riverfront is also the coolest place to be at sunset, and just
about everyone gathers there for a chat and a snack. I followed
suite and grabbed a bite to eat while watching the sunset. I was
surprised at the size of the ships coming upstream - I did not
think the river to be that deep.
22 July - Sarikei – Sibu - 70km
A second look at the map revealed a shortcut
to Sibu, instead of a hundred odd kilometres it only turned out
to be about sixty five or seventy kilometres. The road was
surprisingly flat so I got to Sibu very early in the day. It was
a surprisingly modern city along the mighty Rajang River.
From Sibu the Rajang River runs for about 560
kilometres into the heart of Sarawak. It is a busy river, with
loads of cargo ships loading and offloading containers at the
harbour, and at the passenger terminal passenger boats lay three
deep, waiting to ferry their passengers up the river.
Just down the road was the rather impressive
Tua Pek Kong Chinese temple. The dragon-adorned temple consists
of a seven storey pagoda, with murals depicting the signs of the
Chinese zodiac. A large, golden bowl was filled with incense
sticks and outside the smoke of huge joss-sticks filled the air.
Devotees lit candles and incense sticks and placed offerings of
fruits and flowers - it had such a wonderful air of peace and
Later that evening I took a walk to the night
market for a bite to eat, got myself some roti and curry sauce,
and spent the evening watching TV.
23 June - Sibu
I stayed in Sibu for another day as my plan
was to take a trip upriver to Kapit, a three hour boat ride
away. Before I could leave, I needed to draw money but was told
that the bank was off-line, so the day came and went with me
going no-where – it was only after 12h00 that the bank came
There was, however, plenty of interest in
town and I wandered through the large covered market, where just
about anything was on sale. All kinds of fish, from catfish to
shrimps, were displayed in orderly piles, and in-between flowers
and spices, strange looking shellfish and crabs could be bought
by the kilo. Live chickens were neatly wrapped in newspaper (the
poor things!). Slaughtered ducks lay rather ungracefully right
next to where I wanted to have a bite to eat! I forgot about the
snack and continued walking.
From there I took to the narrow lanes of
Chinatown, past many a hardware and motorcycle store in search
of a bicycle shop, but with no luck. Every now and again I had
to sit down at one of the sidewalk cafés for a cup of green tea,
just to get out of the sun. I hadn’t seen any Westerners since
leaving Kuching, so I stuck out like a sore thumb, being much
taller, lighter of skin and with curly hair on top of that…there
was no hiding! People stared openly and never seemed to take
their eyes off me in all the time I sat in those cafés. I'm sure
they knew my every move!
As I strolled down the backstreets on my way
to the night market, shop owners curiously peeped out of their
doors to see what stranger is in their midst, and from time to
time one could hear: “Hello, how are you?” followed by endless
24 July - Sibu to Selangau - 80km
Early morning the river was already a hive of
activity; barges were heading downstream with their logs, and
longboats were ferrying people to and from their villages. I,
however, followed the road and headed past colourful Chinese
temples and many a small village, some where people still live
Originally, most of these were built from
timber, but nowadays they use wood as well as bricks. Common to
most of these is that they are built raised off the ground on
stilts and are divided into a more or less public area in front
(like a veranda) and a row of private, single-room, living
quarters lined along the other side, each with a single door for
each family. The cooking area is often away from the main
building. I stopped at most of these villages to fill up with
water or to have a glass of the very popular iced Milo.
All in all, it was a relatively short day to
Selangau. Selangau is a small town on the Pan Borneo Highway. I
understand that the original village was located near the
estuary of Sungai Selangau, but when the Pan Borneo Highway was
completed along this stretch in the 1960's, the people moved to
set up a new settlement along the highway. It is a tiny village
with just a few shops, a gas station and a small market.
Once again I felt like the circus had come to
town when I cycled in, but people were so friendly and helpful;
they quickly pointed me to the local Inn where I could find a
room. I had a plate of Mee Goring and spent the afternoon in the
comfort of my air-conditioned room.
At sunset villagers congregated at the river,
kids swam, grown-ups fished, and then there was me taking
pictures… ha-ha. In the process I met the local English teacher
- we had a chat and he informed me that there is a similar type
village, about eighty kilometres away. This was great
information as the next town, Bintulu, looked one hundred and
forty five kilometres from Selangau, a wee bit far for one day.
That evening I had a meal of rice and sour
pork at one of the sidewalk eateries, which I washed down with
some sweet tea. Then it was back to my room at the City Inn,
which turned out to be a kind of a brothel, complete with side
effects and all.
25 July - Selangau – Tatau - 85km
It was yet another fantastic day on the road.
Thanks to a thin cloud cover, I had some slight relieve from the
fierce rays of the sun. Past large logging farms and small
villages, where people went on with their daily business in a
slow and relaxing way…..even the village dogs were too lethargic
to give chase.
Sadly, I also noticed a fair amount of air
pollution. Oil palm companies and logging farms have long used
fire to clear the forest and other land ahead of cultivation.
Most of these fires are said to be from oil palm plantations.
This year’s fires are thought to be particularly bad because of
the very dry conditions. Although it is illegal for companies to
start forest- or land fires, several companies still appear to
use this method.
I kind of dragged my feet a bit, as I knew it
wasn't far to Tatau, and when the rain came I took shelter at a
bus stop. The rain did not last very long and soon I was on my
way again. At first I did not know what to make of Tatau. I
cycled across a large bridge into the town and could only see a
few houses on stilts, but fortunately there was more to the
village a bit further on. As I am moving further away from the
cities, the less English is spoken, and as the main spoken
language in the village is Iban, I had a little difficulty in
getting a room and food.
26 July - Tatau - Bintulu - 60km
I kind of overslept and only woke at 08h30.
Not a disaster, but lately I like to get on the road a bit
earlier due to the heat. I packed up, and had a breakfast of
eggs and toast in the restaurant downstairs. The breakfast
turned out to be quite interesting as the bread was green and
came with jam. The coffee was rather sweet as the tendency is to
put condensed milk in the tea and coffee.
The road continued to be hilly, with loads of
trucks hauling logs to the harbour in Bintulu. I even spotted a
man in a loincloth, not something one sees around here anymore.
Once in Bintulu, I had to first check at a few hotels before
finding a room. The price seemed a bit higher in Bintulu than
elsewhere, but I eventually found a room at the Queens Inn for a
reasonable price. Not only was it close to the night market, but
also right on the riverfront. I carried my bike and bags up the
steep stairs and settled in. I felt a bit nauseous, maybe from
the heat, so stayed indoors until sunset.
I did not feel like food but eventually took
a stroll to the night market where I picked up some noodles,
just in case I got hungry. I sat at the promenade, watching the
ships and barges carrying logs downriver. Logging is big
business and it is not until you see the millions of logs
stacked by the side of the river, ready to be collected and
shipped somewhere else, that you truly realize the scale of it
27 July - Bintulu
I went downstairs for a cup of coffee (kopi
as they say here) and sat watching life go by. I got so
comfortable that I decided to stay an extra day. I did my
laundry, then went to the local market, looking for a few things
I may need along the way. I found a rather interesting thing: a
small pot that one can plug into a wall plug for cooking small
amounts of food. At RM13 it was cheap and also very light. It
looked a bit flimsy and I’m not sure if it will last very long,
but I was keen to try it out. I once again encountered a
colourful display of exotic tropical produce and interesting
What a fascinating world it is - Sarawak is
home to approximately forty ethnicities, each with its own
language and customs. The markets are therefore rather
interesting and one can find a wide variety of produce,
including Malay, Chinese, Indian and local ethnic specialties.
I’m not sure if I will, however, eat Sago worms (the larvae of
the giant Capricorn beetle). It is said to be high in protein
and a delicacy in this part of the world.
I found the traditional costume of the Iban
women especially interesting. The traditional clothes of the
Iban are called "ngepan Iban". It includes colourfully
decorated, silver headgear, vibrant collar - made of beads and
threads - woven skirt, silver belt, silver corset, silver
bangles/bracelets are known as "Tumpa” pronounce as tumpo (of
which I bought a whole set!!), anklets and silver purse.
As the mullah called the people to prayer, I
set off in the direction of the night market in search of
something to eat. I took a different route through the
residential area and had to smile at the familiar chanting of
the kids, “What's your name, what's your name?” coming from the
dimly lit entrances of their homes. I cheat a bit as I reply
with any easy name that comes to mind, and I can hear them
repeating it amongst themselves. So sweet.
28 July - Bintulu - Similajau National Park
It turned out to be another interesting day.
Instead of following the main road I turned off onto the coastal
road. I don’t know what it is with men, always exposing
themselves to absolute strangers!! This, by the way, only
happens when I cycle on my own; not once yet has it happened
when I cycle with someone, be it man or woman. What a loser!!
Just down the road I saw a sign for the
Similajau National Park. It was only ten kilometres down the
road, so not too far in case there was nothing. In the process I
nearly cycled over a snake, sunning itself on the tarmac. It,
however, spotted me first and quickly slithered into the
roadside bushes and I, fortunately, missed it with centimetres
I was quite surprised at the park, as it
turned out to be rather nice with chalets and two hostel
buildings at reasonable prices. There were not many people and I
had a whole four-bed dorm to myself. So off I went for a quick
swim in the lukewarm waters of the South China Sea.
Refreshed, I took a walk along the trail
leading through the forest. It was a stunning walk with not a
soul in site, just the occasional chirping of a bird or
something stirring in the dense undergrowth. There are few
things I enjoy as much as a walk in a forest. On a thick bed of
leaves and with the smell of the soil in my nose, I continued on
through the lovely forest, until hunger pangs made me turn back.
At the canteen I had a bowl of noodle soup, and man, was it
Back at the hostel I teamed up with three
other ladies and we rented a boat to take us upriver that night,
to look for crocodiles. We didn’t find any but it was a magical
time on the river, dead quiet and pitch dark with only the
fireflies for light.....amazing!!
29 July - Similajau National Park Niah
National Park - 130km
I was uhming and ahhing whether to stay in
the park for another day or not, but when I woke to a half
overcast sky, the decision was made for me. On my map it looked
quite far to Niah, with no kampungs indicating where I could
find water. I therefore loaded up with as much water as I
thought I would need for the day, had breakfast at the canteen
with the other ladies, and so it was 09h30 before I got
There was, as indicated, not much happening
along the road but vast areas of oil palm plantations. About
halfway there were at least some food stalls and not much
further down the road another set of stalls. I stopped at both
to fill my bottles. The kilometre boards miraculously
disappeared, and with my odometer not working I had no idea how
far I still had to go. I refrained from asking anyone, as
normally they have little idea of kilometres and only know the
distance measured in time, by moto or bus. As few of them cycle
they have no idea how long it will take by bicycle, and they
either think you’re superman or moving at a snail’s pace.
I, again, nearly went over a snake and only
spotted it when it raised its head in anger for coming between
it and its destination. I lifted my legs as high as I could and
let out a loud shriek, at which the snake made a U-turn and
headed in the opposite direction. I even saw a monitor lizard in
the road, who was feasting on some road kill. I, unfortunately,
also saw him get run over by a truck. He was so interested in
his easy meal that he never saw the truck coming and, too late,
ran in the wrong direction….poor thing.
Towards the end the road dragged on a bit and
I was happy to reach Niah, just to discover that the park is not
there, as indicated on my map, but another fifteen kilometres
further down the road, bummer!! Nothing to do but put your head
down and get it over and done with. The park looked lovely but
it was too late to look around so I had a quick shower and
headed to the canteen for a well-earned meal of, wait for it…..
30 July - Niah National Park
I could feel yesterday’s distance in my legs
and had a slow start to the day. After breakfast I set off
across the river and along the path to the Niah cave. The cave
was at the end of a beautiful four kilometre path through the
forest. The Niah Cave Complex is an enormous and beautiful set
of caves - the site includes the discovery of the 'Deep Skull',
a human skull dated to approximately 42,000 years ago, making it
the oldest modern humans outside of Africa.
First up was Traders Cave. This is also the
cave where nest-collectors gathered to sell their harvest. Today
the caves are still used by nest-collectors (for bird nest
soup). Thin poles snake up from the cave floor to the ceiling…
unfortunately, they were not collecting at the time I was there.
Next was the aptly named Great Cave. This
cave measures two hundred and fifty metres across at the mouth
and sixty metres at its greatest height. The trail disappears
down into the bottom of the cave in pitch darkness. When the sun
hits certain overhead vents in the cave, some dramatic light
beams can be seen. For many thousands of years the caves were
used as burial grounds. Interestingly enough, they were buried
in boat-shaped coffins.
Strategically positioned bamboo poles, and
ladders made from ironwood (belian), are evidence of the bird’s
nest-collectors, local people who have practised this dangerous
occupation for generations. The half a million Swiftlets that
live in the cave make their nests purely from their own salivary
secretions, and when the nests are cleaned and cooked they
produce the famous bird’s nest soup, which is as highly regarded
in Chinese cuisine as caviar is in the West.
Collecting the nests from the cave ceiling is
a dangerous job, and fatalities are not uncommon, but the price
of raw bird’s nests is so high (over US$1,000 per kilo for the
best quality) that the risks seem worthwhile. Obviously, such a
valuable commodity is a magnet for poachers, and over-harvesting
is a constant worry. Therefore, the caves are constantly
monitored by park management to deter illegal collectors.
31 July - Naih Nas Park
First thing this morning I did the laundry
and while doing so the power was cut-off, resulting in no
water!!!! I fortunately found an outside tap that was still
spewing out water. I rinsed my clothes and then set off on the
Bukit Kasut Trail.
At first the going was easy, as the trail
stuck quite close to the river and passed through a peat swamp
forest, making things rather soggy, but easy-going. There were
plenty of wild orchids and bizarre mushrooms along the way, so
it was a nice, easy walk. Once I reached the foot of Bukit Kasur,
I encountered a long wooden staircase leading up the mountain
which was also no problem, but then it was a steep scramble to
It started bucketing down and I was like a
monkey, swinging from branch to branch in the slippery and wet
conditions, trying my very best not to go tumbling down the
mountain. In the process of trying to find a secure handhold in
order to pull myself up and over the slippery rocks, I, not
once, but twice, got bitten by a spider. (At least they were not
poisonous, as you can tell by this report.) Close to the top I
came upon some ladders which made the going a bit easier. At
least the last stretch to the top had a rope to which I could
cling! Once at the top there is supposed to be a beautiful view,
but as it was raining I did not see a thing and quickly, but
carefully, climbed back down the slippery path (mostly on my
1 August - Niah National Park to Miri - 85km
With most activities in the park done and
dusted I headed east toward Miri. The road was flat(ish) and it
was again very hot (at least I can do hot; it seems it’s the
cold that gets me down). I picked up a bit of a tail wind and
the last section was flush along the coast…l like, I like.
Once I reached the oil rich city of Miri I
was surprised, and even a bit taken aback, by how modern the
city was. I passed large mansions and modern high-rise
buildings, in stark contrast with the rest of Sarawak. I headed
straight to the old part where I felt more at home.
2 August - Miri
I spent most of the day wondering the streets
of Miri, keeping an eye out for a bicycle computer and a
lightweight tripod or gorilla pod. At the end of the day I came
home with all sorts of things, except what I was looking for. I
was once again uhming and ahhing about whether to go to Mulu or
not. I wanted to take the boat there but that seemed far more
expensive than flying.
That evening I bumped into Monica and Silvia
again (not difficult, as we stand out head and shoulders above
the rest) they invited me for supper at one of the local seafood
restaurants, where we continued to consume more beer than food.
It was a great evening, spent in the company of two wonderfully
3 August - Miri
Seeing that I have not made my mind up, as
yet, whether to go to Mulu or not, I stayed another day. I
eventually bought the bicycle computer, had my bag sewn up at
the market, and checked the internet for flights to Mulu. At
seems that fate had decided for me, as the first flight I could
find was on the 10th and I was not going to hang around Miri for
I again took to the streets, looking for a
gorilla pod, as by now I have convinced myself that it will be
the best for my purpose. I saw some real nice, light-weight
tripods, but my biggest concern is not the weight, but whether I
will actually take the trouble to take it out, unfold it, mount
the camera and eventually take the shot!
That evening I sat at one of the pavement
cafes, enjoying a beer and some food while listening to the
mosque calling people to prayer. It is reaching the end of
Ramadan and people are shopping like crazy, after sunset
firecrackers are shot at random, and the restaurants are filled
to the brim.
Once again today I had the experience of
someone asking me about my trip. After explaining roughly the
where, when and how, they turned around and said: “I don’t
believe you.” To be quite frank, I don’t care whether they
believe me or not!! This is not the first time it has happened –
4 August - Miri to the border and back - 60km
It left Miri at 08h00, which is rather early
for me, but I did not know whether it was going to be a long day
or not. I cycled the thirty kilometres to the Brunei border,
passing large and busy rivers. People in conical hats worked the
fields and soon I reached the border crossing.
I was, however, told that they could not
issue a transit visa, and that I will have to go back to Kuching
to get a visa there. I knew I could get one at the border but
there is no arguing with an immigration official. So tail
between the legs I headed back to Miri, found the cheapest room
I could, left my bike and bags in their store room, and took the
night bus to Kuching.
It was a rather long fourteen hour bus ride
and not the most comfortable rides out. Although the seats were
comfy, the road was so bumpy that from time to time I thought I
was going to hop right out of my seat.
5 August - Kuching
The bus arrived in Kuching at 09h00. I wasted
no time and took a taxi straight to the Brunei Consulate. I
filled in the forms, paid the RM45 and was told that I could
collect after 14h00 on the 7th. Well, at least that seemed to
have gone smoothly.
I took a walk to Chinatown and to Beds
Guesthouse, where I stayed previously. It was just around the
corner so there was no need for another taxi.
That evening I took a sunset boat ride on the
river which turned out to be very pleasant. On the way back to
my abode, I picked up some Chinese food from the many
restaurants and as expected it was excellent.
6 August - Kuching
I have, by now, done almost everything in
Kuching. The only thing left to do was to go to the cultural
village, about a forty five minute drive by shuttle. At first I
was not so keen, as these things are normally so fake, but I
went anyway. I was quite surprised as it was not what I
expected and I really enjoyed the dance show; I tried to take
some pictures but haven’t yet worked out how to take action
shots in limited light.
There were also some show longhouses with not
much happening, except that inside it was so much cooler than
On my return I wondered through the busy
markets. The following day was a public holiday (the end of
Ramadan) so the bazaars were rather busy as people were shopping
for food, clothes and gifts. Many stalls were selling the very
popular “Lemang" (Glutinous rice cooked with coconut milk in
bamboo over an open fire), a favourite at this time.
7 August - Kuching
At 14h00 I picked up my passport from the
Brunei Consulate and was ready to take the night bus back to
The following day was Hari Raya Aidilfitri,
the day that marks the end of Ramadan. It is considered one of
the two most important celebrations for Muslims. Many Muslims
(and even non-Muslims) return to their family homes (balik
kampong) for a couple of days at this time of year, and the bus
was therefore packed. We shaked, rattled and rolled through the
night and only arrived in Miri at 09h30 the following morning.
8 August - Miri
I went straight to the Inn where I left the
bike and was happy to see that everything was still as I left
it. I paid for one more night, as I felt quite sleepy and did
not feel like saddling up for what I expected will be a long day
on the road. It was baking hot again and I was happy for an
air-con room. At the end of the day I took a walk and found some
backstreet eatery where I ate with the locals.
9 August - Miri, Sarawak – Tutong, Brunei
As I ventured further east, I soon crossed
the border into tiny Brunei, and I mean TINY, as it is no more
than one hundred and fifty kilometres from the border to where I
plan on getting the ferry to Sabah.
Brunei is quite interesting. Firstly, it's a
Sultanate and a very conservative one, as well. It is a rather
wealthy country and home to one of the richest men in the world,
the Sultan of Brunei, worth a cool US$22 billion, all thanks to
the discovery of oil. Education and Healthcare is free, houses,
cars and even pilgrimages to Mecca are subsidized, and taxation
on personal income is unheard of.
This all means that there are plenty of fancy
and fast cars on the road. The problem is that not all owners of
fast cars know how to drive. Add alcohol to that combination and
it becomes real dangerous on the road. Brunei is a dry country
but, judging by all the empty beer cans next to the road, they
don’t all adhere to that rule.
All day long a threatening storm loomed just
ahead of me, but besides a few drops every now and again,
nothing come of it. I pulled into Seria (the first town along
the way), drew some money and headed off again. I reached Tulong
at around 16h00 and thought it a good place to overnight. The
only hotel in town was hellishly expensive, but I took a room
It is the second day of Hari Raya Aidilfitri
and all business were firmly shut, except for one small
supermarket. I therefore had to dig into my emergency supplies
for food. They do come in handy from time to time!!
10 August - Tutong – Bandar Seri Begavan -
As I said, it is not a big country and I soon
arrived in Bandar Seri Begawan (or just Bandar), the capital of
Brunei. Along the way I stopped to buy a cold drink and when I
wanted to pay, the owner told me that was already paid for!!
Another customer paid for it!! It is not every day that a
stranger pays for your purchase.
As soon as I arrived I jumped on a water taxi
to Kampong Ayers, which is situated just across the river. These
boats are also known as coffins, due to their shape and speed!!
Not so long ago Kampong Ayer was all there was to Bandar. The
entire village consists of houses on stilts and stretches about
eight kilometres along the Brunei River. It is said to be the
largest of its kind in the world, with approximately 30,000
residents. Self-contained, the village is equipped with schools,
police stations, clinics, a fire brigade and mosques. The houses
are connected by a complex web of walkways and bridges; needless
to say, I had some fun walking around.
Once back on the mainland, I took a walk to
the Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Mosque. The Mosque was built in
1958, and it features a golden dome and, I understand, an
interior of Italian marble walls, carpeting and an elevator. It,
apparently, also has tunnels, which are used by the Sultan on
journeys through the town. The forty four metre minaret makes it
the tallest building in town and don’t try to outdo it!!!
Apparently, the Islamic Bank of Brunei's building originally
exceeded this height, and consequently had to have its top
storey removed, by order of the Sultan.
Later that evening I once again jumped aboard
one of the coffins to get a view of the Sultan’s Residence. I
thought one could maybe get a pic, but the view was not such
that it was possible. It is, however, quite a building with one
thousand seven hundred and eighty eight rooms, and is bigger
than either Buckingham Palace or the Vatican. He apparently also
owns two Boeings and five thousand cars!! (That is not a typing
error - it is really five thousand cars!!)
10 -11 August - Bandar – Muara, Brunei –
ferry to Pulau Lubuan – Kuala Penyu, Sabah - 75km
I kind of knew that it was a short ride to
Muara, where I expected to get a ferry to Lawas. I took my time
and cycled the short distance to the ferry terminal at Muara.
Once there, I discovered that ferries only run to one
destination, being that of Pulau Lubuan. From there one can get
ferries or motorboats to various other locations.
The ferry was at 13h00, so it was not too
long a wait at the port. Once inside the ferry, it reminded me a
bit of a submarine, and as soon as we were underway I hoped that
it could provide the same functions, as the seas were rough and
the boat rolled valiantly from side to side. I found the ferry a
bit claustrophobic as it is a tubular, cigar-shaped contraption
which is fully enclosed. It must have been a fast ferry, as an
hour or so later we arrived at Pulau Lubuan.
From Lubuan I could see the mainland and
decided to take a motorboat to the tiny village of Menumbok.
With the bike strapped onto the roof we sped across the open
seas at breakneck speed. I clawed on for dear life and could
only hope that I would not see the bike floating behind us.
Relieved I arrived in Menumbok - my bike and
I still in tacked. I saddled up and cycled the forty odd
kilometres to the next village of Kuala Penyu. I was pleased
with my decision as this is such a remote part of the country
that I'm sure no one ever comes this way. There would also not
be any reason for anyone to venture out here, as it is kind of a
dead end. In fact, it was so remote I even stumbled upon the
place where the first “Survivor” series was made.
12 August - Kuala Penyu
I woke to pouring rain, so nothing much came
of my plans to visit Tiger Island or the wetland reserve. I
waited to see what the weather was going to do as the morning
wore on. Instead, I decided to do my laundry and hang around
this small village for the day.
I took a walk to the river, where some
restaurants were located, and had a bowl of noodle soup and
sweet tea with the locals and the restaurant cats. I nearly
caused a riot as people crowed to have a look at this foreign
woman in their midst….. LOL!!! Needless to say, I felt a bit
uncomfortable, eating my noodle soup with, what felt like, the
whole town watching.
13 August - Kuala Penyu – Beaufort – 40
Shortly after leaving I reached the small
town of Beaufort. I needed to go to a Bank and with such an
English sounding name I was curious to see what it was all
about. There was not much to see in Beaufort; it was just a
typical jungle town, except for the fact that it has a railway
station. The town also still has several rows of blue,
two-storey, wooden shop houses, which gives it a rustic feel.
Notorious for its annual flooding, the town is also known for
its stilted shops and houses.
I found a room and lazed around for the rest
of the day. I wanted to go to the wetland reserve, but it proved
a bit problematic getting there and back. The railway line
intrigued me and I wanted to take the train to the end of the
line and back, just to see what it is like.
14 August - Beaufort – Kota Kinabalu – 98
None of my plans came to anything, as every
time I asked someone I got a different answer, so I packed up
and cycled to Kota Kinabalu. It was a fairly easy day on the
road - the biggest problem being the busy and narrow road.
Halfway there a large mountain range loomed
ahead and, once again, I realized that I should never become too
blasé!! Fortunately, nothing come of the mountains as the road
seemed to follow a kind of a valley, a beautiful ride past a
lush green countryside, interesting people, and small villages
and riverside settlements. I got into a kind of rhythm; the
wheels spun easily, making a soft, whirring sound on the tarmac
and the kilometres flew by. I pedalled past women carrying
baskets strapped to their backs, past roadside Durian stalls and
scrawny looking dogs, too timid to give chase.
Most interestingly, I cycled past custom
built concrete birds' nest factories. I read somewhere that
“edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal
products consumed by humans.” The nests are used in Chinese
cooking, mostly for bird's nest soup. Made of interwoven strands
of saliva they are high in calcium, iron, potassium, and
Finally, I reached the big and modern city of
Kota Kinabalu, or just KK as it is known to the locals.
15 August - Kota Kinabalu
I had a slow start to the morning as I had a
windowless room (one of my pet hates), but then I couldn’t argue
with the price. I had nothing planned for the day, but to walk
around and see what Kota Kinabalu was all about. There was not
much of interest in the town except for the interesting
waterfront with its fishing boats, markets and food stalls. It
was blazing hot again, so there was not much in the way of
walking around. Again, the Bank did not want to dispense any
money due to my Bank being off-line…… arrrggghhh!!!
That night I did not go down to the local
night market, as is my usual habit, but instead sought out the
tourist lane where they played western music, had a large screen
TV, sold beer and pizzas. Strangely enough, most of the patrons
were locals!! How ironic: the tourists were down at the local
night market and the locals were at the tourist spot! I got my
share of ear-splitting music, pricy beers and bad food, and
headed back to my room, having had my fill of Western culture,
for the time being.
16/17 August - Kota Kinabalu
Early morning I took a boat the nearby
islands. Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park consists of five
islands just off the coast of downtown Kota Kinabalu. I only had
time to go to three of the islands, and what a blast! I
snorkelled until my fingers and toes were wrinkled - what a
pleasure. The water was lukewarm and crystal clear, the fish
colourful and plentiful….. What more could I ask for?? There are
times that I truly think I´m happiest when in the water. Too
soon it was time to go back and if I knew there was camping on
the islands, I sure would have brought my tent.
I stayed in Kota Kinabalu one more day. There
is not much to see in town as most of KK was destroyed by World
War II bombs, and except for the waterfront markets there are
only the parks that are of any interest.
18 August - Kota Kinabalu – Kota Belud – 75
I picked up my laundry, had a Chinese bun and
coffee, and headed out of town. Just outside Tuaran I came upon
an upside down house!! I had to stop and look at this bizarre
building! Inside everything was also upside down; tables,
chairs, beds…everything was hanging from the ceiling. The
designer did not forget about the outside, and even the car was
hanging from the carport roof.
From Tuaran the road became extremely
mountainous. It was intensely hot and soon I was drenched in
sweat, moving at a snail's pace up the mountain. I was rather
happy to see a stall selling ice cold sugarcane juice,
especially after traveling under the blazing sun for a good few
hours. As if that was not good enough, I found that another
traveller had already paid for my drink which was waiting for me
on the counter!! How awesome it that?? I gulped it down and was
set and ready to tackle a few more hills.
19 August - Kota Belud – Poropok View – 45
Overnight I changed my mind and decided to
cycle over the mountains past Mt. Kinabalu National Park. I
encountered rather steep hills, such that I had to push the
bicycle from time to time. It is not that it was that high, but
rather due to the steep gradient. The uphill went on and on and
on, kilometre after kilometre, with no end in sight.
Eventually, a friendly man stopped and
offered me some water and informed me that it was another seven
kilometres to the top!! Soon afterwards, another good Samaritan
stopped and offered me a ride. I seriously considered the offer
but in the end continued up the mountain, huffing and puffing.
To the top of the hill only meant to the
junction of the main road from KK. From there it was much better
and, although still uphill and slow going, it was easier than
where I came from. Soon after joining the main road, and just as
I thought I could go no further, I came upon a small settlement
selling handicrafts and snacks. I asked if I could camp for the
night and they were more than happy to oblige. They quickly
pointed me to a covered area which even had electricity, a tap,
and toilets close by. I was happy for the cover, as it rained
all night. I also understood that I was not the first one to
camp there and that three other cyclists had already camped
there on previous occasions.
20 -21 August - Poropok View – Mt. Kinabalue
Nas Park – 16 kilometres
I was told that it would be another seven
kilometres uphill and then the road levels out all the way to
the park. How wrong they were!! I nearly had a sense of humour
failure, as the road just kept going up and up and up!!
I eventually reached the park and found that
accommodation in the parks had been handed over to a resort
company and prices had increased dramatically. It was much
better to stay outside the park gate, at one of the homestays. I
found a room for RM35 right outside the gate, and was happy that
I was done with the uphill for the day. I rinsed my sweaty
clothes and had a bite to eat at the next-door restaurant. The
weather took a turn for the worse and I was happy to be in a
room and not busy walking up the mountain.
The storm dissipated during the night and I
woke to clear skies and with a view of Mt. Kinabalu, dominating
the skyline, rising to 4101m AMSL. I had my usual noodle soup
for breakfast and set off into the park on one of the many
trails. I soon met up with Lucia (from Spain but living in
Mozambique) and the two of us continued the walk together. It
was a pleasant walk with some rather unusual plants. We just
had enough time for lunch before Lucia had to catch the bus back
22 August - Mt. Kinabalue Nas Park – Telupid
– 115 kilometres
I flew the twenty kilometres downhill to
Ranau. All I needed was a red suit and I could’ve been
superwomen!! I swept past small settlements, clinging
precariously to the mountainside; each house with its own piece
of land, forming an interesting patchwork of lines and colours.
The jagged peaks of Mt. Kinabalu slowly disappeared in the
distance. And that was the end of the downhill.
Soon the road started snaking up yet another
mountain, and it continued in that vein for the rest of the day.
There is not much one can do but put your head down and get it
over and done with. The heat was intense and water was my
biggest problem - I stopped at each and every conceivable
watering hole to fill my bottles and rehydrate myself.
In the meantime, and for no apparent reason,
I had my eye set on Telupid, about one hundred and twenty
kilometres from Mt. Kinabalue. Determined, I tackled hill after
hill and the kilometres to Telupid became less and less. When
the signboard announced the last four kilometres to Telupid, my
mood lifted….. I was nearly there! At the same time a huge hill
came into view……bloody hell…. Fortunately, so did a sign for the
Golden Star Hotel!! Just there and then I decided to tackle the
hill in the morning.
It was an interesting find, as the hotel
looked fairly new and nearly everything worked. The air-con was
icy cold, the shower nice and warm, and the bed firm!! Heaven!!
The downstairs restaurant appeared fairly popular for a place in
the middle of nowhere.
That evening I sat on the veranda, had a beer
and a huge plate of fried rice, while watching the large trucks
battling up the hill in the rain. I had the distinct feeling
that the staff had to draw straws to see who was going to serve
the foreigner. There was a lot of giggling and then one shyly
appeared, asking what I would like to eat by pointing her
fingers to her mouth!! I crawled into bed and listened to the
rain pouring down; it rained like it can only rain in the
23 August - Telupid - JC resort – 80
I can’t say that I was refreshed and well
rested as I climbed the first hill of the day. I felt lethargic
and my legs tired. No sooner was I out of the mountains and I
was into the hills. Up and down the hills I went, past oil palm
plantation after oil palm plantation, all in the scorching heat
of the day. It was an exhausting day - not only was it hilly but
I had to keep my eyes glued to my rear-view mirror for trucks
coming up behind me. Often I had to shoot off the road as there
was not enough space for me and two trucks. The kilometres past
especially slowly and somehow, every time I past a sign board,
the phrase “another one down, another one down” popped into my
head!! It drove me bonkers; no matter how hard I tried I could
not get rid of it…………… “Another one down, another one down”!!!
Then came the biggest surprise of the day!
Into view came a line of traffic disappearing over the hill and
into the distance, and they were not moving at all!! At first I
thought it’s due to the road works (of which there were plenty).
I tried my best to weave through the traffic but there was very
little space; trenches were dug along the side of the road and
the bit of road that was left was hardly wide enough for two
cars, let alone two trucks and me.
I pulled off at a roadside stall and was
quickly informed of an accident further ahead, and rooms and a
restaurant five hundred metres down the road. How lucky can one
be!!! ….”Another one down, another one down!”
24/25 August - JC
Resort – Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre - 30km
The traffic was no
better on this day and the road was physically and mentally
tiring - I was off the road more than on it. Trucks kept flying
by in both directions, making cycling rather difficult. Thirty
kilometres down the road I got to the Sepilok Orang-Utan Centre
turn-off, and was relieved to get off the main road.
Just down the road
were various types of accommodation, one being the popular Uncle
Tan´s. I needed no second invitation and off-loaded my bike, and
soon I was swinging in a hammock under the trees - I was
exhausted!! The room was quite expensive but the price included
three meals; a good thing, as there was no shops close by.
The following day
I went to visit the Orang-Utan Centre and really just lazed
around, doing as little as possible. Uncle Tan´s is a wonderful
place to do just that - it has a wonderful setting in the
jungle, and there is plenty of open space to walk or just to
swing in a hammock.
26/28 August - The
Kinabatang River Trip
gave the bike a rest and travelled up the Kinabatangan River by
boat to see what is left of the famous rainforest. The
Kinabatangan River is the longest river in Sabah, starting high
in the Crocker Range and flowing five hundred and sixty
kilometres down to the Sulu Sea, on the East coast of Sabah.
First, it was a mini-bus ride to the river, and then an hour or
so by boat to the jungle camp.
By late afternoon
we took a boat ride down river in search of some wildlife, and
saw plenty of monkeys as they settled down on treetops for the
night. There was also the odd crocodile and monitor lizard. The
place was teaming with birdlife, including eagles, owls,
hornbills, kingfishers, and many others I don’t know the names
The jungle camp
was rather interesting, and consisted of half-open structures
with mattresses on the floor and much needed mosquito nets. At
night it was fairly noisy - monkeys, frogs and loads of other
sounds I could not identify. The toiles were miles away and not
a place I wanted to go to in the dark.
Early morning we
were at it again, in search of the elusive Orang-Utans. We did
not find any but saw loads of birds again, some crocodiles and
plenty of monkeys. We returned for a late breakfast and then
went on a walk in the jungle. It was once again fascinating as
we walked through the forest, finding tiny insects and
interesting plants. That evening we again went in search of some
wildlife, and although there was not much along the river banks,
it was a pleasant trip. After supper we donned the Wellies and
set off into the swampy wetlands, and found many interesting
insects and birds (the birds were mostly fast asleep).
morning we took another boat ride; this time we did see the
Orang-Utan, calmly going about its business while we stared in
awe. After breakfast it was time to head back to civilization
and I was very pleased that I went.
I stayed one more
night at Uncle Tan´s, as it was the most convenient place to
29 August - Uncle
Tan´s – Sandakan - 35km
was time I continued my journey and I followed the rather busy
road into Sandakan. The road lead past the water village of
Kampung Buli Sim-Sim, the water village around which Sandakan
expanded in the nineteenth century. It was a fascinating world
and they found me as interesting as I found them. “Farang,
farang,” the little ones shouted and ran for their lives!!! (Farang
being the Thai word for someone of European ancestry, no matter
where they may come from.)
Once in Sandakan I
asked around for information on the ferry to the Philippines,
but no one could tell for certain when and where it leaves from.
In the end I cycled all the way to the ferry port, and once
there was told that the ferry only leaves on Tuesdays (which
would only be on the 3rd!!) I so wished that it would be the
following day, but there was not much I could do but wait the
five days. I cycled back into the city and found a room at the
Sandakan Backpackers. I had no idea how I was going to pass the
Little did I know
there was a festival in town. “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” Hari
Kemerdekaan is a national holiday, commemorating the
independence of Malaysia from British colonial rule in 1957. It
was a busy and colourful day; food stalls, balloons, jumping
castles and parades were all over town. People were out enjoying
the festivities and it was hardly possible to walk in the
streets. The waterfront area was packed with people, sipping
noodle soup and drinking tea. I did not feel so bad taking
photos, as a thousand pictures must have been taken of me!!
The following day
the Independence Day celebrations were still in full swing. I
had enough of the crowds and headed off to Kampung Buli Sim-Sim.
The water village is well-organized and it was fun walking
around on the wooden walkways between the houses. Kids came
running up, wanting their picture taken, and every now and again
I could hear: “Welcome to Sim-Sim,” coming from inside the
wooden houses. I quite liked that and felt rather at home,
despite being obviously foreign. The Sunday market was once
again an interesting place, selling anything from clothing to
food and pets.
The following day
I bought my ferry ticket, and had to buy a return ticket as the
Philippines want to see an onward ticket, may it be by boat or
plane. It turned out to be a bit of a pricey affair, but there
is not much one can do about it.
3 September -
Sandakn, Sabah, Malaysia - Zamboanga City, Mindanao, Philippines
- By ferry
At last the 3rd
arrived, and although the ticket stated the departure time at
16h00, I was told to be at the port at 18h00. I packed up and
left Sandakan Backpackers, which felt like home by that time.
Just before leaving it started bucketing down, and the last
thing in the world I felt like doing was cycling the short eight
kilometres to the ferry in the rain. Fortunately, as rain goes
in the tropics, the rain came down hard and quick, and by the
time I was ready to leave, it was all over.
Once at the port
it was a madhouse of people, trucks, busses and minivans,
picking passengers up or dropping them off for the next trip.
Once my bike and I was on the ferry I had time to explore, and
found double bunk beds on the deck (better than sleeping on the
floor). I found my spot, being no. 317, and that was only on
Deck 1!! People kept pouring onto the ferry and it was no
wonder that two or more people had the same number for one
It was after 22h00
when we finally departed. The tiny canteen was jam-packed,
trying to serve all the passengers; it was hardly worth the wait
to buy something. The bunks were rather close to one another and
it was a noisy night under blazing, florescent lights. I
eventually fell asleep to the snoring, phlegm-coughing, burping
and farting of the other passengers.
I woke rather
early to more chattering, coughing, farting, burping and radio’s
playing - each to their own tune. Our vessel was moving at a
snail’s pace, and I understood from the other passengers that
there was some or other problem with the engine. As I was the
only foreigner aboard, I had my fair share of attention!! They
had no shame in coming to have a look and some gathered at my
bunk, staring openly (no picking your nose discretely!!). At the
same time it made it rather social, and the ladies on both sides
of me took it upon themselves to take care of me and tell the
onlookers when it was time to go… ha-ha. This was a really good
thing, as there was always someone to watch your stuff while you
were not there.
The hours came and
went, and in the end the sun started sinking below the horizon,
and still there was no land in sight. I sat on the deck,
watching the Moslems perform their evening prayers to the
soothing sounds of the (impromptu?) mullah. It was calming and
peaceful against the rich colours of the setting sun.
We reached the
port of Zamboanga City at around 9.00 p.m. but it was 11.00 p.m.
by the time I got off the ferry. The going was particularly
slow, as not only did everyone want to get off first, but one
had to take a bus to the immigration office. While waiting to
get off, one had to be particularly alert as small kids hopped
on-board, scavenging for whatever was going - might it be
unattended luggage or some leftover food. They were like
monkeys, climbing up and down the side of the ferry; it was
quite amazing to watch them operate - they were as quick as
lightning, and even the on-board security had no chance of
catching them!!! They were under and over the sleeping bunks
without the guards even seeing them.
Eventually, I was
off the boat and at the immigration building. The queue was
snaking from the one end of the building to the other. People
were pushing and chafing (not sure where they wanted to go, as
no pushing or chafing was going to get them to the front any
sooner!). It was stuffy and hot inside the building, and the
perspiration was running down our faces; people were fanning
themselves with their passports (not that it helped, at all).
By the time I got
out of there it was fairly late to go in search of a hotel.
There was nothing I could do about it and, in the dark, I cycled
off. In the light of my headlamp I followed the deserted
streets, with just a few homeless people for company. The first
two hotels were full, and the third too expensive. The fourth
was more my style, and so it was 1.30 a.m. by the time I was in
the room….what a day!!