The hills are alive with the sound of monkeys...

Trip Start May 17, 2006
Trip End Jul 01, 2006

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Thursday, May 25, 2006

Here I am in Kuching (Cat City in Malay) at the CyberCity internet cafe, where apparently farting is a no-no, since there are at least 5 signs on the walls saying "no farting zone." I left Singapore on the 22nd and flew here to Malaysian Borneo's Sarawak province, of which Kuching is the capital. The flight was only 1.5 hours, but they fed us a full meal. Apparently Malaysia Airlines has something figured out that United and every other US airline can't.

An old man on the plane invited me to his family's longhouse for the Gawai Dayak festival, which occcurs surrounding June 1 (apparently it goes on for weeks). At this time of year, guests are welcomed for tuak (rice wine), traditional dances, and getting thrown into the river at the end of the night (all in good fun, of course). I probably can't visit that particular longhouse since I have to be in Sibu for a flight and it is quite far out of the way, but now I am really looking forward to visiting a longhouse on the Rejang River. The interesting part about this guy was that he works for KBR, subsidiary of Haliburton. Anyone who has seen the Frontline documentary about KBR delivering ice cream and lobster to the troops in Iraq for $40 a meal will know who KBR is. Here they are building pipelines at the Kuching airport to bring gas directly to the planes to refuel. David made up a new slogan for KBR: "KBR - we do whatever."

I got to my hotel in Kuching which was a nice change as it had AC and my own bathroom. I even got some heart-shaped orange chicken nuggets from room service. I only stayed overnight as I left early Tuesday morning to go to Bako National Park, the best national park on earth! OK, maybe that is a bit much, but it was awesome. I got there at 10 AM and could not check into my cabin until 2, so I went on the Jalan Lintang trail, a heinous hike of about 4 hours all up and down hill with roots and rocks all over the path (by the way, I did that in flip-flops). But I got to see a lot of interesting plants and bugs, heard a lot of birds, and made my first sighting of the Dutchman of Borneo in the wild, which is what the locals call probboscis monkeys as they have big noses, beer guts, and pink faces. She honked at me because I scared her when I came down the path. I saw the world's largest ants (1 inch long) and what I think were the world's smallest (barely able to be seen), some carnivorous pitcher plants, and some skinny trees with super-sharp spikes on them that looked like they were designed by the same guy that brought us the iron maiden. Luckily, no spiders. I think the snakes ate them. Basically there is something growing out of everything; trees out of rocks, plants and fungi out of trees, fungi out of bricks, etc.

When I got back I was really tired, so I sat around all day. I met a Canadian couple, a Dutch couple, a German couple, an Australian couple, and an English couple. They were all very nice, especially the English and Dutch ones. It rained like a bastard all night, which I guess makes sense in a rain forest.

The food was really good and cheap. Their national parks have accommodations that are not for profit and are really nice. I had a $12 room with my own bathroom, porch, and small kitchen area. The food was about $1 per meal, maybe $1.25 with soda or beer. We had fried rice, fried noodles, chicken and beef dishes, a lot of fish, and these bright green cakes made of sago and coconut that are my new favorite snack. Breakfast was funny. There were fried eggs, hotdogs, fries, fried rice, and baked beans. I still couldn't believe the prices. Can you imagine trying to get a cheap room or meal in Yosemite or Death Valley? There's no out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere tax here.

There were several bearded pigs roaming around the park who were really funny and not too afraid of people, but would tear off if you approached them. Unfortunately, the macaques did not. You have to lock your room and close your windows or they will break in and take whatever is not nailed down, including cameras, clothes, etc. One came to my screen and bared his teeth at me when I told him to beat it. Asshole monkeys.

Yesterday I took a boat ride to see some rock formations off the top of the peninsula the park is on. The interior of the park is jungle growing out of rocks and sand and there are mangroves and beaches on the coast, plus sea stacks and spits. After the boat ride I took the captain's photo. He was laughing and joking all the while we were on the boat, but when he prepared for me to take his photo he became very grave; he wanted to look very serious.

I went to the mangroves around 3:30 when the tides started going out and a family of Bornean Dutchmen came out to feed on the leaves of the mangrove trees. There was a dad, a few females, and some babies. One baby was really tiny and the mom had to carry him. They were all within 25 feet of me at a few points. The male made a really funny honking noise that I think I caught on video. In that area I also saw a kingfisher, woodpecker, and some random other birds I can't identify. Later I also saw an otter in the bay.

Anyway, the whole park ruled, everyone was really nice (everyone you walk past, even if they are really far away, yells hello or good morning to you, and the tiny kids follow you everywhere going "hello... hello... hello..."), and I wish I could have stayed longer.
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