After our rather taxing Himalayan mountain trek, we needed some time for R&R. We chose to stay a week in Pokhara, a fairly quiet tourist town in central Nepal where people leave to start their trek on the Annapurna circuit. Nothing that ambitious for us, though. We had some vague notions of day hikes or other activities, but soon after arriving, my leg got quite sore and it was all I could manage to limp out of the hotel room for meals. I don’t know if it was a delayed reaction to the Everest hike, or some other unknown injury, but it couldn’t be ignored.
As there were huge thunderstorms part of most days, we were only too happy to spend some time relaxing in our hotel and watching a little TV during the times we had power. The rest of the time, thank the gods for the Kindle. It was actually exciting for us to listen to the massive booming of the thunder and watch the rain from our window, knowing that we were safe and sound in civilization off of the mountain. After living a decade in San Diego, with no rain to mention, a good thunderstorm is actually entertainment for us. However, when the weather was clear you could see the Himalayas behind a beautiful lake in Pokhara, so altogether it was a pleasant place to spend a few days recuperating. Especially since the advertised 6 hour bus ride there actually takes 9 hours with the recent road construction.
Next, back to Kathmandu to catch a flight to Borneo, the third largest island in the world (after Greenland and New Guinea – I looked it up. Apparently they don’t consider Australia). Borneo is shared by Malaysia, Indonesia, and the tiny country of Brunei, the sultan of which is known for his massive wealth and cheeky behavior, including the occasional kidnapping for fun. For this trip we are only going to visit Malaysia, including the states of Sarawak and Sabah. It turns out flights are only about $10 more than buses for long trips, so we’re taking a few of those to get around.
Our first stop, after flying into Kuching, was to the jungle park of Bako. We took a bus to the coast and then a boat to the park as it is not connected by roads. The facilities were pretty meager, but it was a great place to hike around looking for wildlife. There were fierce looking bearded pigs wandering all around looking for scraps to eat, but they never caused any trouble, although one looked like it was about to charge Jen when she took its picture.
On our first day there Jen overheard a guide talking about some monkeys, so we followed him to a pair of proboscis monkeys eating leaves in a tree. They are quite amusing with their fat bellies and giant noses, but they appear to be quite gentle. Not something you see every day. In fact they are only found in Borneo and are on the endangered species list. We feel quite lucky to have seen them.
During the day saw a number of naughty macaque monkeys trying to break into cabins to steal food. Luckily, they weren’t aggressive towards us like the monkeys in India so my monkey rock stayed in my pocket. Jen also discovered a flying lemur sleeping in a tree. Turns out they are not actually lemurs and do not actually fly. Apparently the word lemur means spirit or ghost, which they sound like at night, and they have skin connecting their arms to their body which allows them to glide from tree to tree. Jen waited over an hour for him to wake up in the evening so we could watch him glide. At one point he stirred, yawned, looked at us, and went back to sleep. Oh well.
We took a nighttime walking tour to spot some nocturnal animals. The guides found us some large tarantulas, tiny frogs, some pretty amazing glow-in-the-dark mushrooms, and some huge stick bugs we never would have spotted on our own. Definitely worth the $2.50 extra cost.
Later that night we were awakened by a massive thunderstorm. The thunder was so loud it noticeably shook the cabin we were in a number of times. Maybe I’ve just never been in a rickety wood structure in a thunderstorm before, but I’ve never felt shaking like that from thunder. Impressive.
The following day we decided to go on a short day hike to look for more monkeys. They said it was only 5.7 kilometers, but after two hours we saw a sign indicating we were not yet half way done. Even after speeding up our pace we ended up hiking for 4 hours during the heat of the day, barely making it back before nightfall. As usual, we were ill prepared and didn’t have enough water or snacks, or even sunscreen. Slow learners, we are. At least it didn’t rain on us. The steep and slippery jungle trails were hard enough as it was. Jen’s Fitbit said we actually had done closer to 6 miles than 6 kilometers, so we aren’t completely to blame. And the worst part – not a single monkey spotted. Oh well, at least we got back safe. Tired and sore, we skipped the night tour that night.
The next day we had to take the boat back, but the ocean was angry that day. Despite the skipper’s best efforts we had a few big waves break over the bow and the boat started to list alarmingly. There was a park guide behind us in the boat and he started screaming, white faced, “Slow down! Slow down!” The skipper did slow, but by that time we were completely soaked to the skin. Luckily, we had put our rain covers on our bags so it was only us that got wet. At least it was hot out. And we didn’t sink.
Back in Kuching, we decided to visit a local orangutan sanctuary. The orangutans are fed twice a day, if they feel like showing up. The ones that visit have generally been re-introduced into the wild after being held in captivity or rescued from an otherwise miserable existence. As such, they are less afraid of humans and more willing to accept the handouts. We were lucky enough to see a big male show up for the feeding. He was pretty massive, but the park staff said he was only the third largest male in the area. They said he would run away if the biggest guy showed up, and he did appear to be looking around nervously from time to time as he enjoyed his bananas, oranges, and coconut. The biggest guy never appeared, and it was a win-win for all concerned.
Kuching reminds us of a very small Hong Kong as there is a large Chinese influence and lots of cheap, tasty street food to be had. Not so much for vegetarians, though, so we’ve been cheating a bit. Some popular dishes are kolo mee, a bowl of noodles with a half dozen small slices of honey roasted pork on top. Another good one is laksa, a noodle soup with a spicy coconut milk base topped with chicken, shrimp, and a bit of veg. Yum. In fact we’re going to Anthony Bourdain’s favorite laksa joint tomorrow.
A river runs along the side of town which is nice to stroll along to enjoy the views and some breeze. It’s generally in the low 90’s but with the high humidity we’re generally dripping when we spend any time outdoors. Although a generally quiet town, it is still very international as it is the main entry city to Borneo. The Chinese temples scattered throughout town are eye-catchingly colorful.
One day we visited the local museum and saw some exhibits on the local natives and their culture. There are still some native people living out in the jungle, but the majority of the population live in modern culture like the rest of us. So far, Malaysia is definitely more modern than India and Nepal. We’ve been enjoying the paved roads, air conditioning, and water (supposedly) clean enough to drink. So far we’re still using purification pills, but only out of an abundance of caution.
Back to the natives, they used to have long houses where the entire village lived in one long house built on stilts. They have a complex system of rules and rituals, many of which involve giving and keeping large clay jars of different designs and sizes. Apparently the jar you give to someone for accidentally killing their family member is only slightly larger and more decorated than the one you give someone to apologize for leaving their house without sitting down when invited to do so. Perplexing.
Also headhunting was a common practice, but not just to celebrate the warrior’s victory. Skulls were used for a number of different ceremonies, and even after the British established rule they could not eliminate the importance of the use of skulls. As such, the government kept a store of skulls that could be loaned out to the natives for ceremonies and later returned, eliminating the need to procure fresh skulls. Quite practical, in my opinion. I don’t know if we’ll have the opportunity of visiting any long houses, but I’ll let you know if we do.
Another day trip from Kuching was to Kubah National Park. We walked 9 miles through the lush green Borneo jungle to a lookout point and a waterfall for swimming. Delightful day. No monkeys, but a few nice shots below. Tomorrow we’re off to Miri by plane. All for now.