03.09.2009 - 09.09.2009 35 °C
So here we are in Sarawak, a state on the Island of Borneo. This wasn't somewhere we planned or ever intended to come to, but we are so glad that we came. We are staying the capital, Kuching, at the moment, which is a really nice place and a lot more developed than we thought it would be. We have a nice hostel (the "Nomad") near the river which cuts through the centre of what is quite a laid back, relaxing village. The weather here varies between very warm and hot, but the humidity is a real killer, we have really struggled just to walk around the town some days (hence the title of our blog!).
After spending a day settling into the city and having a look around the shops we went to visit a traditional tribal village community in the hills of Sarawak, close to the border of Kalimantan (the Indonesia part of Borneo). It was really picturesque and just we thought the jungles of Borneo would look like. In the village we stayed in the home of Mr Edward, a villager who began offering a "homestay" experience to tourists after he broke his back a few years ago. We stayed in his home, which is part of a Bidayuh tribal longhouse, which is basically an extended house made of bamboo and wood, which is split into different sections for different families. We were welcomed like part of the family and everyone was really friendly. After arriving on the first day we quickly changed and get ready for our jungle trek, this was possibly the hottest and sweatiest experience of our lives to date! The trek was mainly uphill in the sweltering jungle for about 2 and a half hours, but we finally reached a beautiful waterfall, which we cooled off in whilst the guides, Mr Edwards nephews, made us Bamboo chicken (we tried some of the juice, which was lovely!), bamboo rice (rice cooked and served in a Bamboo) which was lovely, sardines and some veggie stuff. It was a really nice spot and we spent an hour or so watching the butterflies, relaxing in the waterfall and drying our sweat soaked clothes for the journey back. Lisa got her first ever leech bite (can you see it? the leech was fortunately very small, but quite painful!) and Phil jost got eaten by Mozzies. We trekked back to the homestay for a well earned rest, a bath in the river and a lovely dinner which included some of the jungle ferns which the locals cook and which are lovely. The bath in the river was really nice as there were a lot of villagers there too, we met a Man Utd fan who invited me to play football later that evening, but unfortunately this coincided with dinnertime.
In the evening we tried on the local tribal costumes, had a display of traditional Bidayuh music, learned about the history of the Bidayuh tribe and had a blowpipe competition.
The Bidayuh people are traditionally farmers in the highlands of Borneo, who historically had tribal wars with the Iban tribe of river dwellers who, according to our potentially biased host, were intent on attacking the Bidayuh and taking thier land, however both tribes have a tradition of "headhunting", which basically involves killing members of the other tribe and taking their heads back to your villages to increase your, and your villages, prestige as a warrior. We were shown a number of skulls from the headhunting times together with machetes and most bizzarely of all a purpose made head carrying box, which had all apparently been used for their intended purpose in the past. We were plied with the local brew, tuak, or rice wine, which was surprisingly nice given that it was 30% alcohol. After a long night of storytelling we were challenged to a blow pipe competition by Mr Edward's nephews, but mercifully the electric went off just after we had started very poorly.
The next day offered little respite with a trek to the hot springs (which were far too hot, apparently you can cook eggs in there), and to a nice river where we swam and had tiny carp fish nibble the dead skin from our feet, which was quite a bizarre experience. Today there was just the two of us with the guide so we had bamboo fish, which is basically fish, water and herbs bunged into a Bamboo and cooked over a fire, it was lovely! In the evening we had more fantastic food (and quite possibly some of the fish which had been eating our dead skin earlier, I am not sure if this counts as cannibalism?!) and then went for a wander around the longhouse, where we were invited in by some of the villagers we met the day before, we shared rice whisky (a more distilled version of rice whine) with them and chatted about their lives in the village, they were really nice and friendly. The young kids are all quite westernised and a lot work in the city, they love football, and now that they have satellite TV they seem to spend most of their time watching EPL (or the Premiership) and the Champions League, which they get up for especially at 2.45 in the morning!
The day after we left the longhouse after receiving gifts of rice wine, bark tea (made of the bark of a tree and cures all sorts of ailments apparently) and a bamboo cup, none of which we will probably be allowed to take into NZ unfortunately! We then went straight to Bako National Park, quite a small area of mainly unspoilt jungle rainforest near the city of Kuching.
After getting off the rickety bus we then had to catch a boat as there are no roads into the park. At the jetty we were greeted by a reassuring sign warning us to beware of crocodiles, before we climbed into the rickety old boat. After about 20 minutes we reached the park, and as it was low tide we had to wade in through the sea and up the beach to check-in. We had heard a number of very negative comments about the accomodation here and the brashness of the thieving macaque monkeys, but we were happy to find that the accomodation was no worse, but no better, than we had expected and that the monkeys were not around. Our room was pretty smelly, there were a few holes in the walls and the windows wouldn't close, but apart from that it wasn't too bad, but certainly not the Sheraton!
After settling in we decided it was best to spend as little time as possible in our room, so we headed straight out on a 3 hour trek to a small beach called Telok Pandan Kecil. It was another incredibly hot and humid trek, but we were rewarded with access to a beatiful and almost deserted beach. We had a fantastic time messing about in the surf and enjoying the surroundings. On the journey back we spotted some Proboscis monkeys in the trees, they are really human-like in their actions, although their potbellies may have something to do with this familiarity. In the evening we went on a night trek, where we encountered some spiders, frogs, a scorpion, glow in the dark fungus and a 2m python.
The next day was another hard day of trekking through the jungle, before returning back to Kuching for a shower, aircon and some half-decent food. We are now back in the land of civilisation! We are staying in the city for the next few days before we head to Ho Chi Minh on Friday.