Published: March 7th 2012February 3rd 2012
You have to have it when you visit Sarawak. A noodle soup with a lot of chillies and lime flavour.
The longest journey of our lives so far - Tongatapu-Auckland(overnight in airport)-Melbourne(re-routed)-Singapore(stayed for one day/night)-Kuching - ended with minds and bodies intact and all bags present and correct, remarkably enough. A new country (Malaysia), a new landmass (Borneo), a new (old) hemisphere (northern, just) was the reward for over thirty hours in planes and airports.
Kuching means cat; it's the capital of Sawarak, Malaysia's largest state. There's even a large statue of cats in the city centre. But there are no more cats here than anywhere else we have been. There is an abundance of places to eat, however, something that we sorely missed in sleepy Tonga.
Sarawak Laksa is a morning favourite, a spicy noodle soup with prawns and chicken. It's up to you to mix the paste with the juice from a calamansi (like a minature lime). Each cafe has its own version of the tasty dish, and will sometimes sell it in the afternoon and evenings.
The improbably named Des took us to such a cafe in the north of Kuching, on our way to the jungle village of Mongkos, via the 'jungle market' town of Serian. Des has both Chinese and Iban heritage, Iban
being one of the local indigenous peoples in this part of Borneo. He is writing a potentially endless Ph.D about the local tribes and their way of life. He took us to a few different longhouses, where we generally given copious amounts of fruit and strangely drinkable rice wine, or politely left to wander around by ourselves.
Structurally and, seemingly, socially, the longhouses remain as they have done for generations. But other aspects have changed. Not so long ago, the government decided that there had been at least one longhouse fire too many, and replaced the previously ubiquitous oil lamps with electric lighting. With that, came televisions and stereos. So those looking to find purely traditional longhouse lives today will have to look harder than we did. But they might not enjoy as much fruit or rice wine as us, or as much entertainment from the dances of the village children, two nights in a row!
Paradoxically, the most untouched part of Sarawak that we saw was less than one hour's bus ride from Kuching, through unmemorable miles of light industry. Bako national park occupies a small peninsula with a scarcely believable variety of ecosystems. We walked for
hours through beaches; mangrove forests; steep rainforests; swampy plateaus and rocky grassland. For much of this time, we were keeping an eye out for proboscis monkeys, which are unique to Borneo. When we finally saw one, it was close to the park HQ and cafe. We should have learned from our time hunting dragons in Komodo.
There are more photos below