Transit to travel: Brunei, Malaysia and back
March 15, 2015
The Borneo jungle is unlike anything I have encountered. It grows and takes over anything in it past, street signs, parking lots and vacant houses. Anything left unattended for too long will become part of the jungle again. Ants, Mosquitos, gnats, and flies will seek you out regardless of location and feast like an open buffet. All night I hear the familiar buzzing sound around my tent.
The weather is so humid that it is impossible for anything to completely dry and so warm that I only feel cool at night or under the vent of an air conditioner. It was two days to the Temburong rainforest, and during my quick stay I met a few members of the Iban (head hunter tribe) and was invited to an engagement party. Rice wine, whisky, and chicken cooked in freshly cut bamboo. followed by sweet sugary breads. My desire for intoxicants quickly overwhelmed my body and after a few hours I forcefully pedaled a speedy 20 km to catch the last boat back to Bandar Seri Begawan, where I met my NGO friends today to dive.
We spent the day diving; planting and measuring coral off the coast. Many areas were damaged by the recent El Nino where water temperatures reached a soaring 34 C. I am now enjoying a BBQ birthday party western style with Tequila, Cerveza’s and hickory smoked Catfish. Tomorrow I will venture back into the jungle and plan to kayak the main river Sungai Temburong to its source and camp for a few days.
And on to Malaysia
March 19, 2015
Today I depart from Bangar, Brunei and pedal to the Malaysia border. By nightfall I should be well into the country and near the capital city of Lawas, Sarawak. I will make my way toward Kota Kinabalu the capital city of Sabah where I hope to spend a few days exploring the 13,000 ft mountain overlooking the coast. From Malaysia I will cross into Kalimantan Indonesia in hope of finding a boat that will take me to Sulawesi.
March 22, 2015
A new moon always reminds me that there is still time. Our lives pass in cycles only to return to familiar ground again, and tonight it is just the beginning. I am not thinking that life is settled or determined. Or caught up in what has already taken place. I let go and move on.
Malaysia is a place where you can be yourself. No more legal restrictions on booze, prostitution, cross dressing and pork. The city streets of Kota Kinabalu, KK, are loud and noisy till dawn. With street vendors, bars and restaurants serving throughout the night. The city is a complete mix of Malaysians, Chinese and Indians, with the first and the later groups having a large percentage that are fundamental Muslims. Women and men in religious attire walking the streets with women in short skirts.
It is nice to be around so many Chinese again, and it makes me feel homesick from my family in Guangzhou. Last night I wandered about the city searching for the best southern cuisine of steamed pork buns, cooked lettuce and rice, only to be strayed away by deep friend handmade dumplings. I have found that many of the locals take me for Japanese, and as I pedal passed I am constantly greeted with “Konichiwa”.
I have found that there is very little bargaining to be done here, from vegetables and fruits in the markets to bicycle tires I am almost always given the local price. Tonight I squatted with some locals selling bananas and was given a bunch for free. The city is shockingly expensive compared to what I have encounter in the remote, I had been sustaining myself on close to $2 dollars a day, only to find myself paying $4 for a lunch once arriving.
I am still struggling with the heat and humidity, and I find myself feeling lethargic with relatively little appetite. This makes me reflect on my families pilgrimage to India in ’92 where after a few weeks of traveling we had lost our appetites for the local food and could only dream of eating the biggest burrito at our California neighborhood local Mexican restaurant Chico’s Tacos.
The Malay or rather Indian staple here is Roti a tortilla like bread that is made to order and served with a bowl of curry. Besides roti there are dishes of chicken, beef and sometimes vegetables that are usually cooked in the morning and left in the pan to be served at room temperature throughout the day.
A part of me feels so at home here eating with locals in small dive café’s and speaking Chinese. In some ways I don’t even want to acknowledge that a part of me is white.
Tomorrow I make my way down a long jungle road to the Malaysian/Indonesian border city of Tawau. The road is unpaved and full of logging trucks with few remote villages. It takes an automobile 9 hours to complete the drive so my guess is that it will take me close to 10 days to pedal there. Tomorrow I should be camping in the Crocker National park before heading into the unknown. Here is the route:
A sunny picture of rice fields
April 2, 2015
My friend from the Tarakan Indonesian Customs office (We officially became friends after my bags were searched thoroughly for drugs) Afterwards he bought me my first local meal of Gado Gado, Rice with peanut sauce and Sago chips. Welcome to Kalimantan, Indonesia The city roads give way to a dirt jungle path, winding through palm plantations and eucalyptus groves. Day 1 on the road to the Indonesian border. Leaving Kota Kinabalu
Bananas, Mangos, Coconuts!! It is 2 pm and I am a few km outside the city of Kota Kinabalu. The yelling of fruit vendors can be heard from all sides of the street, and I look out to see a row of stalls leading into the jungle. Fruits and vegetable of all types are being sold in large quantities and I contemplate filling my panniers before setting out. A few locals squatting on the corner selling durian catch my attention, and I stop to buy a bite of my fathers favorite fruit only to leave with half a kilo and two bunches of bananas. Yellow and ripe or green and firm bananas are by far one of the most difficult items to carry of a bicycle. These two bunches would be left to rot in my rear right pannier only to be discovered days later when fruit flies started flying out of the zipper.
The clouds slowly covered the blue humid skies as I prepared to again leave the busy metropolis and be alone in the jungle. In the last few days I had connected with a few solo travelers and felt like I had had enough human interaction to last me until reaching the next city, Tawau 500+ km away. The road suddenly started climbing and after hours of sweating in the humidity I met two brothers waiting near their over heated car. The interior was filled with flowering orchids and the two offered me cold water, beer and cigarettes. After another hour of pedaling I came to the only market in the village where I bought a dinner of bitter squash and rice. For the first time in months I used my sleeping bag and slept well in the cool evening breeze.
Malaysian’s are some of the friendliest and most hospitable people I have met. It seems that everywhere I go I am in the company of friends, and I had very little concern when camping in the wild. The eyes of the people from Sabah emote such kindness that I have no doubt many would give you the shirt off their backs, and they conduct themselves in a way that reflects an understanding that life is often taken too seriously. Every evening I was invited into the homes of kind strangers, where warm home cooked meals filled the tables and children played n the dirt of the front and back yard.
With the accommodation came the rain, and for the first time I wished I had brought a rain jacket. A hot day can quickly become rather cold when the rain begins to fall. Storms are quick and fierce with a down pour that quickly creates a flash flood. . Inside a tent the storm feels a lot like camping under a waterfall. Within minutes there will be nothing left that is dry and the humidity will stick around hours afterwards.
Shelter from the storm Shell Inc. Owns a large portion of jungle called Maliau Basin. They will not let you ride a bicycle on the roads, only oil burning transport allowed! They do cook a tasty fried rice breakfast
The land is full of natural resources, and as I pedaled through the jungle I watched as acres and acres of thick forest were being logged and burned away to make room for Palm plantations. There were many areas on the road to Tawau where Palm plantations were all that I could see. The African oil palm is planted on all the open land and within 3 years begins to produce a bundle of reddish like fruit called “sawit” in Malaysian. These bundles of “sawit” are then trucked to refining plants where they are processed into oil. Many of the locals who I stayed with were “sawit” farmers and on one lucky occasion I went to the processing factory.
A Stack of “sawit” at the oil factory.
(Saw-wheat) Fruit of the African oil palm, waiting to be processed into oil. Locals are paid $75 USD per ton delivered to the neighborhood factory. My friend and host Michael (from the Iban Jungle tribe) unloading his pickup truck on a hot day at the factory Close up of the reddish oily fruit from the African palm. Local Sawit factory, the fruit is steamed and refined into large tanks of oil which is then trucked to the port of Tawau or Kota Kinabalu for export. Malaysia is the largest exporter of Palm Oil. Port of Tawau
Tawau, is the entrance to Indonesia, and most of the city is filled with Indonesian immigrants and pirate like Malaysians fishing and selling commodities off the shore.
In my four days in the city I didn’t encounter any western foreigners and often felt like I was the representation of the western world. The restaurants were owned by the Malay and the shops were owned by the Chinese. Each evening the Pasar (Bazzar) took up the streets and fresh meat, vegetables, fruits and clothes were sold till midnight.
While staying with my hosts (a group of 4 dentists who worked at the nearby government hospital). I made the acquaintance of a very special, spiritual girl from Punjab India. Shortly after eye contact with Jas, I was overwhelmed with a sense of love and joy, and quickly learned that she is a devoted Sikh. Her family had been “brought” to Borneo during the first world war and since then had never gone back. Though her family had been in Borneo for 4 generations she was still a full-blooded Punjabi. Jas had a very impressive understanding of life, suffering and samsara, and we talked extensively about Eastern Philosophy, Mediation and Yoga. One morning I even went with her to the Sikh temple.
It is not often that I am able to have such a wonderful connection with people, but since leaving the US in February I have encountered more than a few individuals that have become truly special to me.
My spirits are high and I am beginning to feel an under lying current guided by love and such joy!
I am now in Tarakan, Indonesia and will begin pedaling again tomorrow, as I make m way south to Balikpapan and on to Sulawesi.