“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.”
We arrived into Kota Kinabalu and found a cheap hotel which we were a bit surprised to discover was in the parking garage of “Asia City.” We spent some nights here planning our travel around Borneo and had plenty of opportunities to watch B-rate movies. Every night “Red Dawn” played, we must have “watched” it five times. I wouldn’t recommend doing this.
We flew south to Kuching and stayed in a little Chinese guesthouse that quickly felt like home, and it wasn’t in a parking garage -score. We indulged in egg banjos (sandwiches sold on the street for $1), admired all the cat statues around town (Kuching means cat) and walked along the riverfront. We could have gotten stuck here for a month, but hanging out in cities is not why you go to Borneo.
So we headed to Bako National Park to do some hiking and see wildlife (green pit vipers, lemurs, stick insects) and get harassed by monkeys. I did not take the posted warnings serious enough and had Macaques jumping on me trying to steal my plastic bag – they know food is usually inside. One morning, one jumped on our table and ran away with our bag of coffee and powdered milk. We saw the little devil on the roof covered in white powder, obviously the coffee was not to his refined tastes. Next we had a week at Mulu National Park which is known for an extensive cave system. So what did we do? We saw caves – lots and lots of caves. Including an adventure cave, which was as advertised – climbing up and down ropes, watching out for bats, snakes and spiders, and squeezing through small holes. We also did a canopy walk on some rickety little walkways that were a little scary for me, but overall pretty incredible. Ezra did a hike up to the pinnacles, which the park is known for, with our new friends Heinrich and Christofer. And we all did a hike to a gorge which basically meant wading upriver through rapids and floating back down. Best. Hike. Ever. Unfortunately I have no pictures to show for it.
Heinrich was the real deal, the closest I’ve ever met to a real traveling minstrel. He’d been hitching and walking around with his ukulele and living with aborigines for the past two years. He was only 20 but was grounded and humble about his experiences. Christofer was from Denmark and was smart, funny and compassionate. He was traveling and volunteering with his girlfriend and was also in his early twenties. I look back at my own youth and cringe a bit. He taught us about J-day in Denmark, which is basically a holiday that is centered around the debut of the holiday beer. This is a major event apparently and we spent hours talking about it. When I go to Denmark, which I fully intend to do after chatting with him, it will be for J-day!
And then there was Clara. The sweetest little girl we first met with her parents in Kuching and then showed up in Mulu. We took to each other right away and she would come up to us and tell us stories about her friends and ballet studio, giving us hugs and bits of food from her plate. We became friendly with her folks and they joked we were her new parents. I always find it inspiring to see families traveling with young kids. It was sad to say bye to the little darling. Our last week we wasted some days in a town called Miri and then headed back to Kota Kinabalu via bus and ferry through the Sultanate of Brunei. A Finnish couple (another awesome duo we met caving) warned us that a day there was plenty. When we arrived we found they were right. With alcohol illegal, we had only tea and coffee to lubricate our weary bones, and since we weren’t interested in shopping, and everything was closed on Friday…we heeded their advice and got out of town. Only about 24 hours in this little country, it might be a new record. I can honestly tell you almost nothing about Brunei. It has a beautiful mosque, a stilted water village, huge mud skippers and lots of shopping malls. That is all I can tell you. I’m sure its wonderful, but it also wasn’t cheap, so we needed to flee.