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Just before I left Kota Kinabalu to go to Bali, I enjoyed a day at the beach of Pulau Sapi. This lovely island is located in the north of KK. It can be reached by boat within 20 minutes.

   

In the evening I was lucky to meet an extraordinary man. His name is Huang Poh Lo. You might have heard of him. Be sure to check out his website (and facebook page if you’re into that)

   

He greeted me and I sat down to talk with him. We ended up talking for two or more hours. He taught himself Chinese and over the last two decades became a professional calligrapher and photographer.

   


   

   

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Sabah

This is fucking Borneo, man

   … or as Mr. Stanton would say: “Welcome to the jungle!

   

Peaceful people at a peaceful place


Where to begin? It’s been a while since I posted something. A lot has happened. A lot.

   

   
I volunteered on Kudat Peninsula, Sabah, to be precise: at the Tip of Borneo. For a couple of weeks I help the local workers to build a traditional longhouse. One afternoon we take down an old shower block (which is going to be reconstructed over the upcoming weeks) and spot some centipedes. Mosquitoes are having their breakfast, lunch, and dinner on my back. It’s a nuisance. Smoking eggtrays, DEET spray, full body armor make it bearable.

   

The Longhouse which will be covered with more than 1,000 pieces of atap (coconut leave tiles) stringed together. The old communal area in the background is still intact at this point.

  

After a couple of days I get used to the intense heat, too. Another day we devote ourselves fully to the destruction of the adjacent communal area (also to be renewed and extended throughout the following weeks/months). While Ken, one of the locals, removes a floor plank, a centipede crawls away and tries to hide under some bamboo walls. Ken puts on a glove, finds and takes the centipede, and cuts off its teeth (buka gigi=open teeth) to feed it to his lizard at home.

   

   

One evening we go for a swim in the ocean. Lightning strikes in the distance. A gigantic water sprout forms, sucking up ocean water. Clouds kilometres high. Along with giant monitor lizards, snakes, centipedes, sandflies (those lil’ suckers!), mosquitoes, red ants, spiders, falling coconuts, rats and cockroaches, time and time again we agree: “This is fuckin’ Borneo, man!”

   
Being a volunteer at Tampat Do Aman (meaning: Place of Peace) I work about five hourse a day. Together with Maarten (Belgium), Alex (Germany) and Feyra (Canada) I build chairs and benches for the interior of the longhouse. In the afternoon we chill at the beach. I wrote feedback on the workaway website. Here is an excerpt:

   

We burned the old wood right next to us. Some planks and poles were set aside to be recycled later on when wereconstructed (and extended) the buildings. Later two other volunteers joined in. Teamspirit was sempurna – perfect πŸ™‚

HEAT was a constant companion throughout the three weeks I worked as a volunteer. But oooohh, how refreshing is a cool open air shower afterwards!

In the spare time I had time to … explore the Rungus museum and read anthropological research papers … chill at the beach, catch some waves, play volleyball, go snorkeling … walk to the Tip of Borneo or hang out with the guests … watch the stars, wildlife etc.

Painting, sawing, hammering. Working hard, together we made 15 chairs. Apart from that, with the help of some professional locals, I saw a traditional longhouse take shape; the foundation, the floor, the shelves, walls, roof… and being inquisitive, I also learned some more Malay and Rungus speak.

   
   


   

As much as I liked to work here, as much as I enjoyed being here for a while I am also happy to leave again. I come to notice that every little thing that I like – if I do it long enough, a month, a year, a decade, it gets boring and tedious. Thus, it is what I bring to a situation that makes a difference between boredom and excitement: it is my attitude of interest and enthusiasm. Whenever i get stuck somewhere in my life, it is usually because I find no purpose or cannot connect with my feelings that come up in a particular situation.

   

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Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, Sabah

Malaysian musings

For those of you who know me personally, it comes as no surprise; y’all know i have become a full-blooded language geek over the years. Having said that, I feel like banging the drums for Malay speak. It’s easy to learn because most Malays I have met speak English, more or less, and are willing to help. Another advantage is that they simply adopt many words and write them just the way they are pronounced.

Some examples – i won’t give translations as it’s pretty easy to figure out the meaning: Kaunter, Bas Stesen, Lori, Imigresen, Restoran, Kari, Teh, Jem, Coklat, Sup, Kompleks, Sekolah, Kolej, Buku, Insurans, Ambulans, Kastam… I remember having a great laugh with Joy when we saw ‘EPAL’ written on a computer store at Teluk Cempedak and even more so when on the waterfront of Kuching we spotted a sign promoting Aiskrim πŸ™‚

   

Something else.

Many Malay people have a jealous eye towards Singapore and its economic development while they turn a blind eye to how restrictive societies can become when money is valued higher than happiness or equated with one another and when standard of living is mistaken as quality of life. I meet people in Malaysia who are eager to live in a modern, industrialized country. It seems they want to imitate Western countries. How can they avoid to repeat the mistakes that have been made by others throughout the last centuries?

Can you imagine a European radio-broadcasting reminder telling you to stop at red lights? That is what’s happening here. While hitchhiking through Sarawak I listen to the radio repeating three times how important it is to follow the rules and to remember the three words: “Stop.At.Red!” Forgive me for saying this, I know car accidents happen on a daily basis. I am neither condoning nor encouraging anyone to ignore red lights, of course. The main reason I choose this example is that according to my experience Malay drivers are one of the most considerate and slow car drivers I have ever met in my life. Another reason I mention this particular incident is that I am reminded of the way governments in Africa try to impose a certain behaviour or adopt a model of society that works for some role-model ‘developed country’ without having the faintest idea of how to implement change. They try to influence collective conscience (Durkheim) and obviously, they are trying to do so with a sledgehammer mentality. The gap between the government and the populace is simply too big. The majority only talks about ‘the economy is good/bad’ and how strong/weak their currency is compared to Singapore/Brunei/Europe etc.

Who would be willing and able to build bridges? It is much easier to complain about corrupt politicians on the one side and to impose draconic penalties on the other.

   
Something else.

There are several things i absolutely love about Malay people. One is the aforementioned cruising attitude. Another is the fact that they have small gestures of daily life which show their ability to give and receive freely. E.g. that they never hand over and never receive money singlehandedly. Instead, with the fingers of the other hand they touch the giving/receiving upper or lower arm. Like that, a payment always has a wholehearted appeal. Same goes for greeting a person. After a handshake the hand goes straight to the chest area indicating that you are a welcome guest in her/his heart.

Another thing that catches my attention is how easy it is to smile at other people around here. In 9.5 out of 10 times an honest, sometimes shy sometimes beaming smile is the response. At least the places I go to the people seem to be one happy bunch. Also, if something is said that could rub someone the wrong way they are not easily offended. Most of the time a joke is made out of it. Social lubrication in the form of open smiling faces really works well here. In case it doesn’t work a cigarette is offered to blow off some steam – a modern peace pipe, one might say.

Last but not least, it is the country I feel most at home in Southeast Asia. Hitherto, I have been to Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia including Sarawak and Sabah. Part of it is the ease with which you can hitch a ride here. People are even willing to make a detour in order to bring you to remote places or to avoid getting you into potentially dangerous areas. They’re interested in how you live life, make appreciative comments about your style, buy you drinks, invite you to stay for a night at their crib etc.

I remember hitchhiking with Maarten. We had breakfast in Sipitang – where we had been brought by a young man who had had to drive back to his own house later on for ‘only’ (sic!) two hours – we ordered some mee soup and roti canai, and we sat down at a table with a muslim man. When we were almost finished he said that our meal is covered. We don’t need to pay, he has already taken care of that. ‘Terima kasih!’, our daily chorus.

Most certainly encounters like these serve as a great inspiration and motivation to develop generosity wherever i go. Giving, in any way whatsoever, makes you feel good, makes you feel wealthy, makes you feel happy. Try it. Come and see for yourself! Ehi passiko πŸ™‚

   

Bhikkhus, if beings knew, as I know, the result of giving & sharing, they would not eat without having given, nor would theyballow the stain of meanness to obsess them and take root in their minds. Even if it were their last morsel, their last mouthful, they would not eat without having shared it, if there were someone to share it with…

Itivuttaka 26

   

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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 πŸ™‚

   

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 πŸ™‚

   

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 πŸ™‚
    

   

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 πŸ˜‰
 

   


       

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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 πŸ˜€ 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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