Saturday 21 November 2009

The end of an epic journey… and the next adventure!

We had one last night out in the funky city of KK which is so cool that Jen and Debbie are still there now catching their breaths from this epic journey and maybe recovering from our final night.

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A night to be remembered, we started with drinks on the deck with a sunset that played ball giving the appropriate end to this add-on-Odyssey. Next, a few doors down we sat down to dinner and then back to the loft for drinks and dancing on the balcony. Heading off to “Bed” which sounds sensible if it hadn’t been the name of the club just down the road…

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The topic for the evening was mostly dominated by the time gone past. Hard to comprehend everything we had been through we discussed the highs and the lows, the people and woes. What a trip!


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I’ll say again this has been an amazing adventure, made by the people and the places we visit. Good byes are hard at the end and must be said. Dehydration from deserts and altitude were replaced with tears that night as the final bell rung for the end of the biggest overland route in the world.

Thanks again to everybody, not just the Borneo bunch who joined us for the 21-day add-on.

Extra thanks to Robin who lent a hand packing the truck up in Melaka.

Cher and I are now holed up in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur finishing the final bits and getting the truck ready for shipping back to the UK where it will be made race ready for the next incredible trip from London to OZ.

We will be running the Africa trip next year. Back to our home country and familiar surrounding it’s bound to be another epic adventure to heart of the dark continent.

Friday 30 October 2009

Brunei & The Borneo Jungle

Our last night in dry Brunei, we hired a couple of the local water taxis to whizz us around the stilted villages. Being such a small country they use every available space, water or not, schools, hospitals and shops balance precariously on wooden and concrete legs as densely populated as any housing estate. The taxis all boast wooden construction with beefy outboards, a great improvement on the normality of the London Taxi as you bounce across the wakes from the other boats as the public transport systems swarms around. A few minutes downstream we caught an amazing view of the Sultan’s Palace. As the sun went down the light on the South East Asia’s biggest mosque dazzled the skyline, looking bizarre amongst all the wooden shanty houses.

From our brief stop in Brunei we bussed to KK (Kota Kinabalu for the longwinded tongues) it was a journey in itself. Check out of Brunei, check into Malaysia, drive for a bit, check out of Malaysia, check into Brunei, check out of Brunei, check into Malaysia, check into Saba Province...... two less pages in our passports we arrived in KK.

KK was a welcome change and a stunning sunset over the water set the scene for a wild night on the rather exclusive waterfront complex the tourists in this town call home. The next day was a bit of a blur for some who only squinted at the sunlight before returning to their darkened rooms. For those now poorer from the night before, a great seafood market is set up on the waterfront every evening serving some of the most reasonable and tasty fish we have found, tuna steaks for less than a dollar kept everybody happy.

But Borneo is largely about the jungle and the animals, and so after two nights in KK we headed back to the jungle and another orang-utan sanctuary in the little town of Sepilok. We caught the early morning flight from KK to Sandakan to catch the 10 am feeding. Our tickets granted us two feeding times with most folks coming back in the afternoon to watch these amazing human like primates.

Sepilok is also the jumping off point for one of the highlights of the trip to Borneo, a two night stay in a Jungle Camp deep within the Kinabatangan Jungle.

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Arriving at the jungle camp was a bit of a shock to the system, definitely no WIFI here we suspected as we checked into our rough and ready accommodation. Mattresses on the floor, up to 6 people in a hut with a mosquito net for each, no door, no windows, chicken mesh for ventilation. We headed down to the evening briefing and after being served coffee and crumpets began to think that maybe this would be OK.

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The briefing was great as a well spoken guide explained our program for the next 3 days and 2 nights. He also did a great job of explaining what we could expect to see and different times which may have raised the bar a bit but gave us all something to look forward to. Splitting into 2 teams, Scorpions and Tarantulas (sounds a bit like school camp) we headed off on our first night safari after a very tasty dinner.

Piling into boats we took off in opposite directions and into the jungle. 2 guides per boat, one armed with a spot light, did an amazing job of finding all manner of wildlife. Sleeping birds, water monitor lizards and some were even lucky enough to spot a Python eating a rodent.

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With our appetites whetted there were no complaints about the early morning call to go for another longer trip down the river, steaming coffee and tea with bread and jam made the 6 o’clock start to the day even bearable.

Again the two teams headed in different directions and with sightings on both side closely matched it was only the fantastic glimpse of the Unicorn by team Tarantula that put them in the lead by one....

This area just seems to teem with nature and with the local guide’s uncanny ability not only to spot the birds and beasts but rattle off the Latin names was amazing making for an interesting ride again. The photos will do it all justice.

Then a cooked breakfast and a bit of a break and chill time before heading once more into the jungle by boat and then by foot. Wearing rubber boots we trudged through the undergrowth with our guide explaining all kinds of interesting plants and bugs, some folks even got to handle a scorpion and we got to do a bit of scratch and sniff nature, a small millipede that when provoked smells just like marzipan! Christmas in the jungle anyone?

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We had a total of 7 jungle adventures at Uncle Tan’s as well as many very tasty meals, the guides were young but very knowledgeable, helpful and fun. On our last day after another boat safari where we managed to spot a wild orang-utan, we came back for a last breakfast of fried tasty stuff. Leaving the camp by boat with the staff playing the guitar and singing a not half bad rendition of James Blunt’s “Goodbye my friend” we were sorry to leave the jungle and crazy camp behind us.

From there we would be heading to the city of Sandakan.

Tuesday 20 October 2009

Borneo - Sarawak

Some folks just can’t get enough and so together with 8 of the expedition members we headed back into Malaysia to set off on a 3-week optional add-on to Malaysian Borneo and Brunei.  We arrived in Johor Bahru mid Deepavali (Festival of Lights to you and me) and this border town in peninsular Malaysia was in full swing!  We were staying in a budget hotel right near the middle of town; of questionable integrity the taxi driver informed us with a nod and a wink, this was the local knocking shop.  Nice.  But apart from booming music out in the street it was fine enough.

JB, as the locals call it, does have one redeeming feature and that is the amazing seafood. Heading down to the waterfront that evening we ate an incredible meal of fresh seafood, Debbie devoured two crabs which looked fantastic as did the rest of the food fresh and being well-priced it was a winner of a meal.

The next afternoon we shook off our strictly overland roots and caught a jet plane from JB to Kuching, the only city the world to boast a museum dedicated exclusively to cats. It is a quaint and quirky place and a great introduction to Borneo. Checking into our backpackers we met up for drinks and a chat in the restaurant next door, very cosmopolitan it all felt a bit out of place but was another great evening before heading into the rainforest we came here to see.

The next morning we piled into a minivan that would take us to the boat terminal as Bako National Park can only be accessed by speed boat. A great park and one of the few places in the world you can spot Proboscis monkeys in their natural habitat.

We had all been warned about the ever present Macaque Monkeys that call the park their home but the little critters were more than a handful. Ruling the roost by flashing their teeth they think nothing of stealing an unguarded drink as Jen found out to her horror as one stole her beer and downed it! Chips, chocolate or anything that even looked like food would be snatched from the unwary hand. The entertainment value was high too as they groomed and played around the hostels amongst the shouts of panic from the new arrivals not yet used to the antics of the local thieves. One actually jumped on Denis to grab his can of Seven Up; the shysters had no fear!

That evening we had a BBQ , roast lamb, veg, potatoes and salad as we watched the light disappear over the limestone cast and sea while keeping a wary eye out for the little robbing hands of the monkeys.

The jungle changes its face at night and we headed off on a guided night walk. Our guide was excellent first taking us to a tree and showing us a baby pit viper and then all manner of bugs, scorpions and other creatures only apparent to the well trained eye but easy to see once pointed out. An hour and a half later we returned to our accommodation, fed, watered and entertained.

All the parks in Borneo that we visit have very well developed walking trails, well mapped and marked, its easy if not sweaty to get around. One group took the “easy option” choosing a trail that promised to bring you out a secluded beach. At only 800 metres how hard could it be? The bit they failed to read is the expected time to the beach was an hour of hard slog. Proving a challenge the shortest walk available was likened to near death experience by some. More trekking, some of us did the round route over 5km while others took the easier options to explore the park. We were all very lucky to at some point see the famed proboscis monkey. Watching their human like ways can keep you entertained for hours as they swing around the trees, squabble and squawk, it’s a great thing to see.

Back on the boats we head back to Kuching, a longhouse visit is on the cards as an optional activity but we had no takers instead choosing to head off to the Semenggoh Orangutan Sanctuary for the first of several encounters with these majestic creatures that we are hoping to have during our time in Borneo.  We were in luck, with the alpha male turning up for a feed, and also mothers and babies.  Watching their human-like interactions is a great way to spend a morning or afternoon!

Kuching also provided a great opportunity to catch up on emails while exploring the town and enjoying the great food available, and a couple of folks even found time to go to the cinema and relax before the next adventure.

A full day of travel to Bintulu was an adventure in itself and early start we were dropped off at the ferry terminal pilling into the first class airconditioned upper deck we were treated to an hour of pop videos and then a thrilling episode of GI JOE, while skimming over the South China Sea.  We soon found ourselves back into the estuaries again and the boat began to roll a little bit less.  But more adventure awaited us as the boat's engines came to a stop mid river.  A smaller vessel resembling something out of the Jetsons pulled up alongside of us as we were instructed to swap boats.  Hair-raising to say the least, we managed the change in transport without incident.

Then onto a public bus for the last 3 hours and we arrived in Bintulu, then taxis to the hotel and we checked in and headed to the night market across the way for a yummy meal.

At 10am the next day we piled into taxis to head for the Similajau National Park for a bit of a walk.  Cher and I had been shopping the day before for a picnic.  Maybe choosing the 13km round trip was a bit ambitious but a gruelling 7-hour walk through the jungle punctuated by a rather lovely lunch on an isolated beach saw us all huffing and puffing as we waited on the taxi back to Bintulu.  A good warm up for other jungle treks to come.

Back in our minivan heading for Niah National Park we were in a for a bit of treat booking into private chalets with aircon and all we had another bbq on the first night, fish and sticky chicken wings went down a treat, topped of with a few duty free vodkas around the fire it was another enjoyable night.

The next day saw a lazy morning with breakfast from the canteen in the park and then leftovers from the BBQ for lunch. At 3 most of us met up to explore the incredible cave system that makes this park famous. The second largest cave mouth in the world, it leaves you lost for words as you enter its abyss. Famous for swiftlet nest harvesting, long poles hang from the ceilings of the the gigantic caverns, a good network of stairs allows you to explore nearly the entire cave, rather trying, although most of us were there until after dark when the swiftlets return and the bats depart in a flurry of activity.

The next morning we left for Miri to ready ourselves for the trip to Brunei, which we do tomorrow. So that’s all for now.