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Malaysian Borneo

 (1794 km - 57 days)

 

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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, Malaysia

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 wrong again!!

 

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 your pick!

 

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 cat museum!

 

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 of town.

 

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 - 70km

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 help.

 

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 hole!

 

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) and tea.

 

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 - 100km

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 of food.

 

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 calm.

 

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 on-line again.

 

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 giggles.

 

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 in longhouses.

 

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 all.

 

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 tribal clothing.

 

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 - 30km

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 to spare.

 

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 good!

 

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 underway.

 

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….. fried rice…..again!

 

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 the top.

 

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 ass).

 

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 eccentric ladies.

 

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 that long.

 

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 – so weird!!

 

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 outside.

 

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 Miri.

 

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.

 

BRUNEI

 

9 August - Miri, Sarawak – Tutong, Brunei 121km

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 anyway.

 

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 - 55km

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.

 

SABAH

 

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 kilometres

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 kilometres

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 magnesium.

 

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 kilometres

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 kilometres

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 to KK.

 

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 tropics.

 

23 August - Telupid - JC resort – 80 kilometres

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

 I 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 of.

 

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).

 

The following 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 hang around.

 

29 August - Uncle Tan´s – Sandakan - 35km

 It 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 time!!

 

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 bunk!! 

 

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.

 

4 September

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!!

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