Brunei, Kota Kinabalu, Kuching, Malaysia, Miri, Sabah, Sarawak, Sibu

Hitchhiker’s Log: From Kuching to Kota Kinabalu… and beyond

DAY 1 (Kuching – Sibu)

Maarten, the vegetarian veterinarian, and i, the fantastik filosofa, we leave Kuching at 8:30 a.m. and have seven different drivers. Among them father&son duo, primary school teacher, cybercrime detective, gambling machine repairman… they all bring bring us a bit further on our way. It is interesting to note when the way people earn a living reflects their attitude and vice versa; for example, the detective kept talking about the dangers of hitchhiking.

In general, there is hardly anyone who doesn’t remind us that Sabah is very far and we should better take the bus. We smile and answer that we like to take it slow. Slow or not, in the evening we have covered around 400km with seven lifts. In Sibu we check in at Hai Ping Inn (RM 55/double) opposite the big market hall where we have dinner (mee goreng=fried noodles) and also breakfast (bananas, papaya, oatmeal).


DAY 2 (Sibu – Batu Niah)

Daisy makes a detour for us, yippie! She passes her own home to drop us a couple kilometers out of Sibu at a highway junction in the suburbs. This makes it so much easier for us to get a ride. Terima kasih, Daisy 🙂

   

Today we get six lifts and travel about 330km. We meet people from all walks of life, among them a palm oil plantation owner and a young truck driver transporting palm oil. When the latter drops us at a junction close to Batu Niah it is getting dark already.
   
   

A young truck driver after a long shift picks us up on his way to a rest area. We have dinner and check in at TTL Motel (RM85/double) and decide to go to Niah Caves the next day.

   

   

DAY 3 (Batu Niah – Miri)

   

Starting off with sharing a watermelon from the local market and some bananas

   

We are lucky to get a ride from an elderly man in a 4WD vehicle which seems to be oversized for him, at some times. Be that as it may, he decdes to bring us all the way to Niah National Park HQ. We are forever grateful for his token of generosity. 

   
NIAH CAVES

We register and leave all luggage at the infodesk with Stefanie. Then take our time to take in the amazing rock formations and huge caves. We find excavation sites and a lot of information in both museum and along the trail. Even with all the best apparatuses it is impossible to wrap up and capture what we encounter here with all our senses!

I smell the green moss, i see the swiftlets’ nests in the ceilings, i follow the waterdrops falling from stalactites 30m above my head, i smell the air laden with the stench of bat droppings, i see insects with 20cm long antennas and ants almost as big as my pinky toe (for real!), and every now and then i taste the sweat off my upper lip and feel the t-shirt sticking to my chest and back. It truly is an all-round envelopment in raw nature experienced with all the senses.

After we get back to the parking lot at the Park Headquarters, I ask two girls in a 4WD where they are going: Miri. And yes, we can join! No problem. Like that, this day turns out to be perfect yet again. Arriving in Miri we check in at Dillenia Guesthouse (RM30/dorm). Maarten and I have the entire house for ourselves 🙂

   

Considering the difference between eyes and tablet camera and the fact that we (Maarten & me) are taking in nature with all of our senses, I decide to make an exception to the rule and post no pictures of Niah Caves – it was sweaty and smelly. Sometimes we heard clicks of bats echolocating their way through the darkness. If you want to have a taste of what it looks like around the Niah Caves please refer to the photos you find in abundance online … you’ll be best served by watching these amazing high-quality pictures and i’ll be spared waiting for 5 minutes for an amateur picture to get uploaded.
   

   

DAY 4 (Miri)

   

Chill out in Miri.

   Nowhere to go.

     No one to be.

         Nothing to do.

            Nothink.

   

   

DAY 5 (Miri)

We check out Lambir Hills National Park today. When we come back it is already past 4 p.m. so we agree to spend a third night in Miri. Back at the guesthouse we meet two nice Australian women, two truly inspiring human beings. We share dinner with them and listen to each other. We talk about the state of the world, vegan living, letting go, we talk about permaculture, spirituality, time, communication, privilege… we lose track of time, and that’s always a good sign. The food is great, the mood is mellow, the vibe is groovy. We walk back to the hostel, listen to Mooji, and take rest.

   

LAMBIR FALLS

The National park is called Lambir Hills but in fact we don’t hike any hills but explore the rainforest and take a dip at several waterfalls. Yes it goes up & down and the trails are somewhat slippery at times, but it’s not real hiking what we do. More like having an afternoon walk with some take away picnic at the waterfall.

Maarten and our benefactor Eric who brought us from Miri to Lambir National Park

    

M & M @ Lambir Falls

   

Orang coklat just love to take pix with orang putih (white men). In the background, Latak Waterfall.

   

We walk another 2km and arrive at Pantu Waterfall. Here we meet three people from Brunei. We introduce ourselves and soon after that they start their return to Park Headquarters. Maarten has a short power nap at the waterfall while i dip in and save a hornet looking insect from drowning in the pool. After a couple of hours we are back at Park HQ and get a ride from the aforementioned Brunei homies. They drop us at Dillenia, our guesthouse and bid us farewell. Oh might as well stay a third night in Miri 🙂
    

   

DAY 6 (Miri – Brunei – Sipitang)

In the morning, after a workout, a shower and a big breakfast we hitch a ride to the border to Brunei.

   

Once we exit Malaysia it is quite easy to stop a car going to Bandar Seri Begawan (B.S.B.). John picks us up with his silver Proton. He is rather nervous, checks our passports (which, in the course of the day, will get stamped 10, yes, ten times) asks us several times if we have any drugs or guns (‘… no, only love and understanding…’) He wants to help but understandably he doesn’t want to get any trouble.

   

At the next border we bid farewell and are picked up immediately by a friendly family – they are heading to Limbang!

On the way there is not much to see, really.

   

BRUNEI. The biggest highlight is the the roads. They are in superb condition and could easily pass as a german Autobahn.

   

The happy family drops us at the market place in Limbang, a lovely little town at a river.

   

God knows we’re lonely souls

   

After working through a ton of mixed vegetables with plain rice at Kuali Coffeehouse (Purnama Hotel) I go over to a man on a scooter to ask for the best place to hitchhike. He gives us directions and expresses his doubts about our chances.

   

And if it looks like this baby you doin it right

   

We walk around the corner and stop there to try our luck. I enter a shop to get some cardboard and write the words “BOLEH TUMPANG” on it with a permanent marker while Maarten shows up on the road with his impermanent thumb. It takes about three or 4 minutes for my sign to be finished. At E a car stops, Maarten talks to the driver to find out that he’d go to Lawas but wants us to pay for it. Nah… Just when i start filling the final G another car pulls over. First i don’t recognise him: It’s the guy we met 10 minutes ago on his scooter! His name is Naim. He is willing to bring us to Lawas. And he apologizes that he cannot bring us any further… (u kidding me, right?) 

Naim says he goes there anyway to play tennis with some friends… but it all turns out differently. We start talking, he keeps driving, we pass borders, our conversations go way beyond the usual ‘Where are you from?’, ‘What’s your name?’, ‘What do you do for a living?’. We share stories & dreams & aspirations. We share views about education, religion, friends, travel and family and he decides to bring us a little further. He smiles and says it’s only two hours for him to drive back… (what?) It’s getting dark now. He goes on; there is no good spot here for us to hitch another ride. So he prefers to drive us another ten minutes.

We finally end up in Sipitang and agree that our meeting must be takdir (fate). Here he points out the beautiful sunset and helps us find a nice and affordable place to stay named Dhiya Esplanad (RM60/double). The least we can do is invite this saint to have dinner with us and of course, exchange contact details.

   

This is why I love to travel like that!
Encounters like these remind me how hitchhiking can be one of the best ways to connect with local people, make friends easily and come around cheaply.

   

   

DAY 7 (Sipitang – Kota Kinabalu – Kundasang)
   
   

Today a couple takes us for a ride out of town, then a family brings us a bit further. Next a woman who used to be a long-term traveller herself and is now working for the Ministry of Education is so kind and drives us to KK. At sunset we hitch a ride with a couple who get out of their way and pass their home to bring us all the way to Kampung Berungis. For this extra-route we are especially grateful because our being at this crossroads means that we have a chance to reach Kundasang. It is dark. We find a good spot where it is not dangerous to stand at the roadside. I take a flashlight and point it at my friend Maarten who has his headlamp activated and is holding our sign “BOLEH TAMPUNG”.

We are lucky!! After ten minutes a car passes us and comes back three minutes later; we get picked up by a young man called Mislan. He goes to Kundasang – our place is on the way, great! The car is a freaking fridge and the music deafeningly loud but no complaints. He brings us over 60kms straight to Halelujah Retreat Center.

It’s been a loooooong ride dude and worth it all along. Quite an adventure and super easy, innaway. It’s true what they say: Universe chimes in to help you once you set your mind on doing something. Desires fulfilled, we are tired & happy we made it. For a couple days we’re off the road again – Halelujah!

   

When we arrived yesterday evening this was all covered up in fog, looking mysterious and promising. The next morning we are very lucky because for a couple of hours the misty blanket has lifted to reveal Mount Kinabalu’s majestic peak.

  

   

A week has gone by.

   

We have travelled about 1,300km.

   

We haven’t paid a single ringgit for transportation.

   

We have made the acquaintance of at least 50 people.

   

We are humbled and inspired to emulate the generosity, hospitality and friendliness exemplified by Sarawakians and Sabahans.

   

Thank you thank you thank you.

   

Surprisingly we all fit into that minisculo vehiculo

   

A happy couple takes us much further than expected

   

In case you also think about hitchhiking in Malaysia, i highly recommend it! As two like-minded hitchhikers say, it truly is como abrir una caja de sorpresas. The less you expect the more you get. The hospitality and friendliness of the people here will render you speechless.

Before you embark on your journey though, it is a good idea to check this site which provides valuable info on hitchhiking in Malaysia.

There are some nice anecdotes and tips on Melissa’s inspiring blog here.

      

Some things turn out to be really useful as a hitchhiker:

  1. Sharing the experience with a buddy helps a lot; it is way easier to keep smiling when someone you know is nearby, and when you share travel stories time goes by faster, too
  2. Holding up a sign saying ‘Boleh tumpang’ helps
  3. Keeping in mind the next cities or towns in the direction you want to go to.
  4. Being prepared that people want to make your trip easier by dropping you off at a bus station because they are unfamiliar with the concept of hitchhiking
  5. Knowing some basic local speak, in this case Malay/Chinese will enable you to connect with your benefactors, get off the beaten tourist track and have a good laugh

   

Some phrases have helped us most to get a free ride in Sarawak and Sabah:

  • Tumpang = to have  lift
  • Boleh / Tidak boleh = Can / Cannot
  • Mana anda pergi = Where are you going?
  • Tolong = Please
  • Terima kasih (Sarawak) / Bon sikou (Sabah) = Thank you

   

You are bound to learn more phrases as you go. It’s such an easy and fun-to-learn language! Find out more about that (and other Malaysian qualities & quirks) in the next post. If you want to be notified, consider following my blog… someone told me it’s sexy 😉
 

   


       

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    Lundu, Sarawak

    Heaven of Borneo

    View from the campsite

       

    There is a small coastal town called Sematan in the northwest of Lundu. We take the local bus for RM4 which is currently less than 1€. We each have dua besar pinggu (=2 big plates) of food at Sematan. With full bellies we embark on a boat with a guy called Apek (110RM incl. return). At noon the three of us arrive at Tanjung Datu National Park.

    After a snack and a short siesta we climb up the short trail to the view point.

          

    My travel mates are Carla, a german dreaddy who just came from Down Under and Maarten, a belgian vegetarian veterinarian who came straight from India to the construction site at Lundu Beach Resort. I met them both at Lundu and I like’em. Maarten informs us that the last part of the road from Sematan to Teluk Melano (a quiet jungle village) is going to be built soon.

       

    Once the last stretch of tar will be plastered many visitors will be able to drive there; until then, Teluk Melano is only to be reached by boat – or on foot, thru the jungellll 😀 This means we gonna hike more or less untrodden trails… trails that might soon become pathways and roads.

       

    Ahhh… how we enjoy swimming in cystal-clear water and have a rest at the beach campsite near National Park HQ

       

    I had a good night’s sleep in the hammock… my friends too, well more or less; with a deafening BOnKk!! fruits crash like stones on the metal roof of their hut; sure enough, the squirrels have their fun with those bipeds down there below the trees.

        

    A real challenge for tree huggers

       

    Next morning we walk through the jungle on astonishingly beautiful trails and spot small geckos and big lizards, branchiating monkeys, huge colourful butterflies, a snake that scurries away into the thickets… it’s so amazing to walk through this (almost) pristine rainforest.

       

    Breathe. Just take this in for a moment. Breathe. Smell the ocean breeze. Breathe.

       

    Some friends also do walks during the night with flash lights to discover nocturnal creatures and savour a magnificent sunrise…

       

    After having spent two sunshiny days & nights under the stars in this national park it becomes perfectly clear why they call this place ‘Heaven of Borneo’.

       

    Before heading back to mainland (it feels so much like we been on an island!!) Before we return to Sematan by boat, we trek through the jungle with enough water, bags and hammock to Teluk Melano where all the boats are leaving from every morning. This means, in effect, hiking 3.7 kilometers up down up down, crossing rivers, passing beautiful beaches, spotting wild animals but no hornbills, sorry Maarten… eventually arriving soaking sweaty and happy to stay for a night at Fanorama Homestay.

       

    A super friendly family homestay in a small & quiet village. Helpful in every way. Since we were volunteers at Project Orangutan they charged us less than usual. Plus, they made sure we get a boat next morning. Terima kasih, Nur!

       

    All in all we stay 3 nights at Tanjung Datu and then, on Monday morning, we take a boat back to Sematan to start our hitchhiking trip towards Sabah.


       

    Hitchhiking back to Lundu is really a piece of cake. Cars even bother to stop and explain to us why they can’t take us right now. After two hours we are back in Lundu. We pack our backpacks and give essential instructions to the newly arrived supervisor. Get some goodies at the local market. Hitchhiking to Kuching takes us only another two hours. People are amazingly friendly and helpful. More about our hitchhiking adventures in the upcoming post. Stay tuned ^_^

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    Kuching, Lundu, Sarawak

    Exploring West Sarawak

    When we do not work…

    or play beach-volleyball…

    or enjoy the view…

    or chillout at the campfire…

        

       

    … we use our time to explore the surroundings.

       
    One fine day a carpenter from Scotland named Dave who volunteers at Matang Wildlife Centre (22km west of Kuching) comes to finish work on some doors, handles, locks etc. Konrad, Karla, Leon, Joy and me borrow his car and decide to hike for an hour to the most beautiful waterfall in this region. What is shown on the photos is a mere fraction of what there is to see; there are trails following the river up up up to more than ten waterfalls, each more beautiful than the previous, providing spectacular views over the entire rainforest with semingly endless variations of green. Indescribable.

       

    Refreshing pool at the end of the hike

       

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    Kuching, Sarawak

    Men of the forest

    Before Joy takes her leave from Kuching and flies to KL we rent a scooter for a day and visit Semenggoh Wildlife Centre  It is located about 20km south of Kuching-la. At 3 p.m. the orangutans get bananas, pineapples, coconuts and sweet potatoes. Some of them come out to get food. Others don’t. We are lucky to experience the effortless smooth movements of these amazing creatures.

       

    They branchiate (swing from branch to branch) and are many times stronger than human creatures.

    Cute baby orangutan clinging to mama

       

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    Lundu, Sarawak

    Workaway at Lundu

    View from our resort (construction is planned to be finished end of 2017)

    I wake up at sunrise today and walk a short distance along the beach to collect trash the tide has washed up on the shore. The air is still mild but it will become very very hot at around 8 a.m.

    We are still in Sarawak. We leave our base camp at Check-In Lodge in lovely Kuching to go to Bako National Park and Semenggoh Wildlife Centre to see orangutans.

    A mother with her baby in the forest of Borneo

    With the arrival of May we decide to try the online volunteer-platform workaway for the first time. We find a place near Lundu which is located 90km west of Kuching. Along with other volunteers from Italy, Germany, Belgium, Scotland, Great Britain, Canada etc. we tend the garden, sand and paint window frames, clean the beach, and care for Bonnie.

       

    Bonnie needs food, water, walks, regular showers, and pain killers for her left ear which got split in half during a fight with another bitch

    The project aims at supporting the conservation, protection and habitat preservation of endangered wildlife species. In other words, part of the revenue goes to Project Orangutan and other well-established projects in the area.

    Gardening is my chosen task; weeding and watering…

    … planting new seedlings, changing the landscape, designing nature

    Joy enjoys painting

    For about two weeks this is my homebase from which my friends and I explore the surrounding area: Beaches and Waterfalls, National Parks and Wildlife Centres. More about this in the upcoming posts. Today we leave Kuching in order to hitchhike to Sabah. Since I’ve heard from various sources that pirates are in the east of Sabah I am going to avoid these areas and skip scuba diving at Semporna (East Sabah). Anything too close to the Philippines just doesn’t seem safe at that moment in time.

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    Dhamma investigation, Kuching, Sarawak

    The donkey and the carrot

    ​”Those who hold training as the essence, or who hold virtue-and-vow, pure livelihood, celibacy, and service as the essence – this is one extreme. And those with such theories and such views as ‘There is no fault in sensual desires’ – this is the second extreme. Both these extremes cause the cemeteries to grow, and the cemeteries cause wrong views to grow. By not penetrating these two extremes some hold back and some go too far.”

    (Udāna 6.8)

       

    I remember a story. Ajahn Brahm told it in one of his dhamma talks, I think. It’s about a donkey with a carrot in front of his nose. He wants it. Goes after it. Starts running. Takes up speed. But the carrot only comes a little bit closer. In spite of all his efforts he can’t reach it. He runs faster and faster. Then, suddenly, the donkey stops. And the carrot goes off farther than it has ever been… only to turn and slowly but surely land between the donkey’s teeth.

    This is certainly a fine illustration of what wholesome effort means. To be immersed in dhamma can also mean to lose oneself, and that is not meant in a positive sense. Buddhism can become a hobby, even another ego strategy, and it can take over so that nothing is left of a person – i wonder if this is the goal  Isn’t the goal to become more acquainted with myself, more in touch with my body, more ok with my idiosyncrasies?

    In order to understand the role of buddhism in my life I take note of who i am without it  Same goes for money, sex, and power: you only know how powerful they are once you live without!

    Looking for guidance in the world and looking for a personal guru can be helpful if it leads me to let go of idols and ideals. Perhaps Buddha stories are sometimes ridiculous because of that: The listener needs to go beyond them. If they do not serve as an inspiration for practice wholeheartedly they are an incredible waste of time. At least that’s my point of view after having read Udana, Itivutaka, and Sutta Nipata, and Dhammapada. These texts are mainly addressing monks, not lay people. Sometimes it sounds impossible and not even close to how I think life is to be lived. Living a life of renunciation, giving up all worldly pleasures, living the holy life. For now I keep to those utterances which inspire me and let the other ones just be because i find they are quite discouraging at times. Why? Because they foster unrealistic expectations and make it hard to settle back into the moment.

       
    IDEAL

    The biggest obstacles to settling back are attachments to self-images and concepts of who we are and how we want to be.

    They complicate unnecessarily the very simple experience of what it is that’s happening.

    Often people on the spiritual path get trapped by an image.

    An image of what they think it means to be a yogi or a meditator or a spiritual person, creating for themselves that struggle of trying to live up to a certain preconceived way of action or behavior.

    Thank you, Joseph Goldstein!

       

    What can never be reached must by definition remain an ideal, a promise, a hope, an aspiration, a drive, a search for fulfilment. Now i realise what I’ve been doing: following a dream which keeps telling me to stop craving. Stop craving to end suffering. Relinquish all wanting. Practice renunciation. Observe the precepts. Work diligently. I’ve become so immersed in that quest, so idealistic and ambitious that i seem to have missed the point. What’s the point, then??

       

    The . point . is . to . be . happy !

       

    All that striving to be a good buddhist has led me to a rather stiff personality, as if i constantly walk on eggs in order not to hurt any being, and all the while hurting myself because i got a stick up my ass. I have become self-aware to the max. The time has come to regard Buddhism – and what its embrace has made me – from a different angle altogether; maybe it’s too early to make a revision but i am confident it is better than to stay inside a box. Yes, better be outside and look at it.

    Concepts like self-help, self-healing, self-esteem, successful personality etc. hit a nerve in Europe and America because of the cultural issue of self-perfection that pervades almost all areas of life today. So I take a closer look at the bookish buddhism i have adopted and turned into a personality trait. And i try to live a happy life instead of working on myself and getting all worked up in the process. The more I know my striving the less seriously i can take it.

    All that needs to be done is to take genuine dhamma, put it in fertile soil and let it ripen at its own pace. Letting it blossom instead of trying to figure out how to get the best out of me.

    Eventually, the raft has to be left behind…

       

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    Dhamma investigation, Kuching, Malaysia, Sarawak

    You are not your face  :-P

    Mischievous lil’ monkey is up to something

       


    To save the world, break the mirror!

    ​Since in her last fabulous post my queen/ travelmate/ girlfriend/ yogīni/ spiritual advisor Joy wrote about how she perceives me as a mirror I am reminded that i have not looked into one to check my body/face for weeks. So the philosophical me says hi and explores the relationship between full body awareness and absence of mirrors.

    Mirrors can contribute both to our well-being and to our ill-being. Not having seen how my face looks for others i am prone to get a different perspective on who/what i am. For instance, I fail to notice a bad hair day or a pimple above my eyebrow, and a piece of pakchoi between my teeth slips my attention as well. That’s what I have my beloved queen/ travelmate/… for. She points these things out to me. And she does so in a loving way. She helps me get rid of what part of the lunch got stuck in my beard. What would i do without her?

    Talking about the beard. Let’s face it. There is no concern about my hair because the ‘self for others’ has vanished. I remember Fidel Castro makes a point in Oliver Stone’s documentary ‘Comandante’ that he saves at least 15minutes every single day by not shaving 😉 Time is precious. Better not waste it in the bathroom. Only the essentials: soap the body, rinse with water, brush the teeth. That’s it. No big fuss about looks. It’s liberating. It feels wonderful because important needs are fulfilled: independence, clarity, and ease. Independence because i am no longer in a state of slavery, trying to make my face look attractive to others. Clarity because it is so obvious that skin-deep beauty is not what makes others want to spend time with me anyhow. Ease because how i feel inside the body becomes more apparent.

    If only people knew the advantages of living without a mirror or at least not looking into a mirror every day! I am certain they would be happier and less worried. They would not identify so much with the mask they’re wearing. Eventually, consequentially the world would be a much less artificial place to live in. It would be a place where masks (latin: persona) would not be mistaken for real and we could live life in a much more natural way. Nowadays, ‘natural’ is a trademark to render consumer goods more attractive instead of what it ought to be: a way of life.

       
    Lost Arts

    Since Joy mentioned in another post of her marvellous blog the art of looking, the filosofa in me awakens yet again to say salaam aleikum, peace be with you.

    I am thinking about Lost Arts. Joy remembers how pictures were taken with old-fashioned cameras. The number of pictures per film roll was limited and development of the photos took time.

    If you grow up nowadays you are probably equipped with  a cellie before you go to school. Taking pix is what you do. Check 1,2 and if you like it – spread, if not – delete. A matter of seconds. Children do not know about this process film rolls had to go through to develop.

    Another lost art might be the one of becoming familiar with oneself. Please forgive me if this sounds rude but the only thing most of us are familiar are our likes & dislikes. It starts at school when we fill in our classmate’s friendship book. I am… My favourite colour is… I like… But to be completely immersed, totally focused sothat we lose all sense of ‘me’? Taking pictures can have that effect if you are a professional photographer, and if you are, I’d be delighted to read about your experiences of flow during your work. If you’re not professional, what makes you unprofessional – is it just because you are not earning your livelihood with taking photos or you haven’t found a niche yet? Again, let me be blunt: if this is your only criterion you are giving money far too much credit in your life.

       

    Putting things in perspective

       

    As Pico Iyer states in a TEDx talk about the Art of Stillness it is really about how you perceive that makes the difference between a wonderful and an awful experience. I agree.

       

    Immersion

    Being totally immersed in a sunset, for example, there is no one there to say ‘I like it. I want it. I want to keep it.’ If you are fully present, there is only delight at the sight of it. Ayya Khema eloquently describes what happens “once the sunset is over and the delight has vanished… the ‘me’ returns, and with it the idea that ‘I’ should go looking for other sunsets because they bring such pleasure.” If you are mindful of what’s going on in your inner life you will be able to notice: It is not the quality of the sunset but “in fact it is the quality of our own immersion… that brings us delight.”

       

    Don’t look out there. Let it come to you. Everything is right here.

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