Posts Tagged ‘Malaysia’
I just finished a one hour journey from the island of Mabul to the mainland in a bathtub. Well, it might not have actually been a bathtub, but it really wasn’t much bigger. The engine was big (for the boat) and we went like a rocket. The sky was unbelievably vast and layered and colourful as the sun went down to our left.
So why was I in a bathtub? Well, I’ve spent the last two nights on the wonderful island of Mabul, and hour from Semporna by boat or bathtub. The island is small – maybe a kilometre across, but it does have a population of locals. It turns out they’re ethnically Filipino and speak Sulok or Suluk, and are almost all Muslim, at least in principle. They live in elevated wooden houses – some out over the water, and some elevated on land. They are very fruitful, like the Malays in their kampungs; there are kids everywhere! Lovely little black-haired and chocolate-skinned little tykes. They pass their days playing games like hide n’ seek or tossing coins, or swimming (who could resist jumping off one’s front porch?), or sometimes running errands or taking care of younger ones. They LOVE having their pictures taken and yell “looks! looks!” afterwards, but I have to disappoint them since I’m shooting film, not digital. They likely consider me a Luddite.
I stayed in great, simple guest house over the water. For Rm50 a day ($17), I got lodgings and three squares, which were quite tasty: rice and chicken or fish. Dinner usually had a veg, too – eggplant and green beans last night. I spent a lot of time just relaxing, watching life go by on the water, and reading, or grabbing my cameras for a stroll around the village. “Hello!” “Looks! Looks!”
Oh yes, back to the bathtub. So, I had made arrangements yesterday to be picked up at 9am on the dock for a day of snorkeling, but the boat never showed up. I like the island, though, so I didn’t cringe at the idea of spending another day there. Plus there was great snorkeling off the dock and I had all the gear with me. At the end of the day, I waited for the boat to swing by and pick me up, but it never came. I could see the island where it would sail from on my left, and Samporna was off to my right. But no boat came to the guest house to get me. Apparently this isn’t the first time it has happened. So the co-owner of the place went and got a motor and put it on his bathtub-sized boat. The other owner assured me that it was quite new and not to worry. The motor seemed to be missing its propeller, so that was located and off we went. The trip, as mentioned, was gorgeous. Flying fish leaped out of the water, birds dove to the water, giant frigate birds flew overhead, and the sky itself was wonderful to look at.
I’m here in Semporna for another day, then I head to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow evening. On friday morning I’ll meet Jeremy in the airport (he’s flying out from Kuching), and we’ll head to Siem Reap in Cambodia. I’ll be there for the next week for the Angkor Photography Festival, then I’ll fly back to Vancouver to impress everyone with my tan.
I just got in from three dives out on Palau Sipadan, a stunning little nub that sticks straight up form the deep, deep ocean. There are coral and sand plateaus, then walls full of the most amazing sea life. We saw many turtles, white-tipped sharks, nemos, a lion fish, a morey eel, a trigger fish that bit my fin, and many others. There were times that you’d look around and there would be literally thousands of gorgeous fish swimming in all directions around you. It seemed that there were more fish than water! And the coral is gorgeous – wonderful multi-coloured fans and mushrooms, hard and soft stuff. We also watched the turtles parked in cleaning stations, getting a good going-over by fish.
I got a bit panicked during my first dive – not used to the regulator, mask fogging up, etc. By the second and certainly by the third things were well in hand. I felt much more relaxed and just drifted along the wall, stopping to look when things got interesting. My last dive was 46 minutes, and I still had a lot of air in my tank.
Tomorrow we head out to Sipadan again, and I’ve decided to spend the next two nights on a tiny island called Mabul, not far from Sipadan. There is a local population there and two resorts, but not much to do, which is fine with me! I’ve got some good books. The place I’ll be staying, described as fine but basic, costs RM50 a day, or about $17, and that includes meals! The dive boat will swing by and pick me up in the morning.
Many folks here live in stilt houses over the water, some really far from land (shallow spots?). Kids love to swim here, so every evening the waterfront is full of young ‘uns leaping into the water. Great fish market here in Semporna, too. Lots to photograph!
After our morning with Ritchie the orangutan, we wandered around the centre of Kuching a bit, waiting for some very heavy rain to stop (it is the monsoon, after all), and then heading to the coast to visit a couple of kampungs (villages). The first (Santubong) was chock-a-block with kids – wonderful little Malay boys and girls who were playing baseball/cricket like games with sticks, balls, and running around. Several young girls followed me around, no doubt tickled by my proboscis-monkey like appearance. “Hello!” “Take my peektcha!” Jeremy says that the Some boys showed us their weelie skills riding up and down the street. Malays tend to be rather fruitful when it comes to having children, hence their substantial numbers.
We also stopped for coffee in a chinese coffee shop/dry goods store in the kampung. The clientele could best be describe as indolent, or simply asleep. Even a cat on a chair was fast asleep, upside down. Of course, I photographed the occasion. The store was a wonderful collection of many dusty objects and food items. There was a poster on the wall of a bed broken in half. According for Jeremy, it was for aphrodisiacs.
Down the road is kampung Buntal, which again has many young sprouts. Three boys followed us on a walk along the beach: “Hello!” “Today is Monday Tuesday Friday!” The kampung is known for its seafood restaurants and of course we had to partake. We sat on a large outdoor patio overlooking the water and watching white storks fly overhead in the dusk and assemble on some fishing weirs offshore. For dinner we ate young ferns cooked in wine sauce and ginger, steamed pomfret and curried razorback clams. Yum!
On the way home, we stopped for four durians which are now in the back of the car. Shortly we will drive to Jeremy’s aunt and uncle’s place to partake. Still not sure if I like durian. I guess I’ll find out.
Jeremy and I just got back from the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehabilitation centre, about 10kms outside of Kuching. It’s a place where they help rescued orangutans reintegrated into the wild. It’s a very large forest preserve with 22 orangutans living wild, 10 of whom have been born in the centre. We arrived before 9 and with a gaggle of other folks stood in a viewing area in the forest overlooking a feeding platform about 100m away where a warden was calling the orangutans by name to come and eat a bucket of fruit. We stood for 1/2 hour enjoying the beautiful empty forest before we heard that there was an orangutan out near the car park, so we all trooped out and watched this stunning fellow emerge from the trees. He was a male named Ritchie with huge cheeks (dominant males get them), long reddish orange hair, enormous hands, and feet like hands, with opposable toes. He was about 100kgs and lovely. He ambled across a small river and up onto a feeding platform where he devoured a pile of papayas and bananas, then climbed up a tree holding a coconut with his foot (!), which he crunched into and enjoyed.
His name is Ritchie.
I just got back from three wonderful days at Bako National Park on the coast about 1.5 hours from Kuching by bus and boat. It’s a wonderful jungly (be-jungled?) environment with lovely natural sandstone formations like those on the Gulf Islands. It’s only accessible by boat, and they provide affordable dorm accommodations and meals, so you only really have to show up with a small pack and an interest in seeing the place.
I went on a number of wonderful treks. The most epic was yesterday: I started at 8am and hiked up from the beach area out of the mangroves through thick, damp jungle. The sweat instantly pours off your body as you climb. Soon, it opened up and was on sandier and clay ground, with vistas in all directions. I stayed in the open, then would drop into thicker jungle, walking on roots past large, incredibly tall trees, and spikey palms. There was great life at the micro-scale: tens of thousands of ants marching very purposefully along branches, onto palm fronds, across roots – going somewhere on their ant super-highways. There were large caterpillars, and amphora-shaped little plants full of water. After some time, I came to a series of large sandstone pools of cool, tannic water with waterfalls between them. I slipped in for a glorious solo soak in the morning light.
From there I dropped down to a beach, all lined with sandstone sculptures, and sat for some time looking out on a small bay. I enjoyed watching the mudskippers as well, little creatures that have front legs, tails and bulgy eyes. They skim over the top of the water, swim and walk on land. No doubt out ancient ancestors looked like this.
I climbed steeply up from the beach and back to the pools for more cooling-off, then continued on a long circuit where I didn’t see a soul. I climbed over a small mountain, splashed through swampy areas, and got very, very thirsty as I didn’t bring enough water. Lesson learned – when you’re pouring with sweat constantly, it’s a good idea to bring some refreshment. I didn’t see a soul for this whole portion of the hike to the back of Bako’s beyond. The trails are very well-marked, and there are signs at every junction, so I didn’t worry about getting lost. My feet got kind of wrecked by the end of it, however. I was wearing teva-like sandals, and my feet got wet, and sand got in, and you can imagine the sandpaper-like effect. I now have tender areas of missing skin all over my feet.
Nonetheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the hike. It’s an environment unlike any I’ve ever seen.
Back at the lodge I went on a 1.5 night hike led by a ranger. We saw a wild pig, a pit viper, beautiful little tree frogs, a sleeping red kingfisher, catfish in the streams, and a gorgeous little owl. Turning out our lights, the blackness was complete – except for amazing luminescent mushrooms. The sound of the insects and the frogs was almost dizzying. On the beach we saw fiddler crabs and hermit crabs, and in the mangroves, the most amazing display of fireflies in a tree.
One of the highlights, something I saw on the first and last day, were the proboscis monkeys: wonderful, elegant and regal with white pants and tails, and delightful big red noses on the males, who were about 1/2 the size of person. They honk. I loved the honking. And they leap from tree to tree high in the canopy like it really isn’t a problem.
For some reason, there’s a pair of Fischer cross-country skis on the wall above my head in this internet cafe. Given that the yearly range of temperatures varies by 1 degree, I find their presence very suprising.
I’ve spent the last few days pounding the pavement around Kuching with and without Jeremy. The weather continues to be most hot and humid, but no rain for two days. The arcades that run along the street are life-savers, providing shade (and sometimes shelter if it rains). The small shopfronts selling medicine, food, or manufacturing things like tin ware and wooden furniture remind me a lot of Hong Kong back in the day. As I mentioned, much of Kuching has that older feel to it. It’s less prosperous and modern than Hong Kong, and still has those smells and wafts of air, and the vibrant street social life that Honkers used to in the 1970s.
The eating continues apace with Jeremy leading me to some amazing places. The restaurants are quite interesting, particularly the ‘coffee shops’, where one proprietor owns the space and ofter serves hot and cold drinks, and spots for small cooking stations are leased to individual proprietors who specialize in noodles, rice dishes or congee. All are open-air, too, on one or two sides. The food is excellent. This morning we started the day with Kuching laksa – noodles, prawns, chicken and chilis in a curry coconut broth. Last night there was a big street market near Jeremy’s house and the hotel. We had a terrific Malay meal of fried noodles (mee), soup, satay and shaved-ice drinks.
For lunch today we ate in Jeremy’s aunt’s noodle place. His aunt and uncle wake up every morning at 4am to make the broth, and apparently the place is wall-to-wall with customers starting first thing.
The woman next to me is eating a dollop of soft ice cream in a white hamburger bun.
So, tomorrow I’ll be heading to Bako National Park on the coast. It’s apparently an amazing preserve full of eroded sandstone geological formations, beautiful beaches, rivers to swim in, monkeys, jungle, and more. I’ve booked a room in a lodge for about $12 a night, and there’s a canteen to provide cheap meals.
After that I’ll probably head to the east coast of Sabah for some snorkeling and beach time. Hopefully Jeremy will be able to make it, but it depends on how things go with his family. His brother will be back in town by then, so that should help. I may just go by myself if need be, but he really wants to come. He’s definitely on board for Cambodia on the 24th, though.
It just rained several bucket-loads, but the sun is now out, promising a thick, muggy day, which is par for the course here. I touched down yesterday at lunch time after a relatively uneventful journey from Honkers to Bangkok (changes airlines in the brand new huge airport) to KLL. I spent the night in KL. Turns out they have a new terminal – LCC (low-cost carriers) for budget airlines. I was totally perplexed when I got off the plane into a small, ordinary terminal, nothing like the flash KLIA. Turns out that’s 20kms away around the other side of the airport. So much for my airport hotel plans. Fortunately there was another one not too far away, but it was very basic (but new).
Jeremy met me at the airport and we promptly went for lunch – Malay food: nasi lemak, randang and curried beans, and ‘pulled tea’ which is like chai. We did a driving tour of the town afterwards. It’s pleasant – great arcaded shops on twisting streets, colonial buildings, outdoor restaurants and markets, and a mix of Malays and various Chinese groups, plus a few Indians thrown in. I’m staying in a hotel very close to Jeremy’s house. I was going to stay with him, but things have taken a complex and tragic turn. His family has just found out that his aunt likely has terminal pancreatic cancer. Right now his mom is fighting cancer herself (although her prognosis is good). Jeremy will likely have to be around Kuching for all of next week to support his family, so our travel plans will have to be adjusted. There is lots to do around here – orangutan preserves, crododile farms, river cruises, and so on – so I can keep busy here, but I may take off myself to Sabah, the next state over, by myself. Jeremy should have a better sense of things after monday. I really want to try and make it to Sabah as the snorkeling is world-famous and the seafood is apparently great. I’ll keep you posted. Jeremy should be free after this week, and we’re still on for Cambodia.
After I showered in the hotel, we went for a long walk from one end of the city to the other. It was very sticky, but I enjoyed the atmosphere a lot. The sights and smells actually reminded me of old Hong Kong when it had some soul. There is a lot of socializing and public life. The layout and architecture are very attractive. I hope that I can capture it on film.
We had noodles, loh baht and icy bean jelly dessert in an outdoor chinese food market. Mmmm. I was back at the hotel at 9pm and promptly fell into bed. I had my first sound sleep of the trip, out like a light until 7am. Jer wandered over an met me at around half-past, and we went to roti chennai at the local Indian place.