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.
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.
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.