My last few days in the Philippines were spent recuperating from my coral infection and getting into a steamy love affair. With little time to myself my thoughts drifted finally broken by saying “goodbye” and hopping on the plane to the Islamic country of Brunei.
The airport security departing Manila was sex segregated and I couldn’t figure out why there were so many women standing in the men’s section. Then I heard one women speak and I realized that I was standing in a group of transvestites known as “ladyboys” in S.E Asia.
The Bruneian airport was quiet, cold and extremely clean. I was on the last flight of the evening and wandered around slowly making my way toward the luggage carousel. Tired from the night before I inquired about taking a taxi to my guest house only to learn that it would cost $30 Brunei ($20 USD) to go 8 km. Something that would probably cost close to a dollar in the Philippines.
I pedaled a quick 8 km on a smooth tarmac road completely foreign to the roads of the Philippines. A developed country with left-handed traffic made me feel like I was back in Japan. I passed a large mosque and heard, for the first time in close to 6 months, the “Azan”(Muslim call prayer).
Bruneians are a mix of several different cultures with the majority being Malaysians, followed by Chinese, Indonesians, and Indians. All day I heard Malay, Mandarin and English spoken throughout the city. Governed by Sharia Islamic law and a Sultan who plays the role of an absolute monarch don’t let this developed urban country fool you, the penalty for drug offenses is death, and convicted adulterers are stoned!
The Brunei capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, (B.S.B),has a strange feel. In some ways it is like being back in Istanbul where there is a noticeable diversity between traditional Islamists and the general population. Shopping malls are filled will Asian women in headscarves, Muslim men with beards and shalvars and pop culture Chinese, Malays and Indonesians. Alcohol is completely banned in the country, including in hotel. It can be brought in from neighboring countries but only in very small quantities.
Yesterday, while looking for youth hostel, I ran into an NGO group giving a presentation on coral growth in the warm Brunei waters. I quickly became friends with several of the members and after telling them about my journey, as well as my recent diving experience they invited me to join their diving expedition next weekend! In the meantime I am going to give my infection another day of rest before heading to the rainforest. Today while trying to find the tourist information office I befriended a women who takes tourists to the nearby Temburong rainforest. In exchange for helping her put the finishing touches on a jungle house, her family will transport me on a small river boat deep into the rainforest where I will camp and journey to the canopy.