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Published: February 19th 2010
A week or so ago, we departed Sibu on the ferry and slowly made our way into the delta and eventually the South China Sea, on our way to Kuching. It’s a smallish town with a heap of character that has managed to retain much of its colonial architecture as it was spared the extensive bombing that much of northern Borneo was subjected to during WWII.
Back in the mid-19th century, the independently wealthy and dapper Englishman, James Brooke, just happened to dock his armed schooner at Kuching at a time of native unrest. Sensing an opportunity, he quickly managed to quell the rebellion and the previous landlord, the Sultan of Brunei, had little choice but to crown him the Raja of Sarawak. Britain concurred, knighted young James and for two more generations, the Brookes ruled their own little fiefdom in the Far East. As opposed to how most British colonial rulers treated their subjects, the Brookes apparently included many tribal leaders in their ruling council and for the most part, respected the local customs. Although, as they didn’t really have much of an army of their own, and the said locals had the habit of chopping the heads off
their enemies, this was probably really quite wise…
Now that we’ve moved further south, the days seem to consist of two general climatic periods - overcast and threatening to rain and bucketing, torrential downpours. Thankfully these two episodes seem to be fairly evenly split, so we have managed to get out and about without being completely washed away. We spent our few days here wandering around the town, visiting numerous museums, including the brilliant Natural History one which was like the museums of old used to be - a taxidermist’s dream of slightly dilapidated stuffed animals and obscure artifacts, like rhinoceros penises and the oldest South East Asian human skull that was nicked from Niah. And if they couldn’t fit everything into the display cases, then they were just sort of randomly scattered around - the odd massive turtle shunted under a desk with aged flippers poking out.
Kuching also houses a lovely Chinatown area of antiquated shopfronts and bustling eateries. We had timed our visit with the onset of Chinese New Year and despite the ever-present rain, we celebrated the arrival of the Year of the Tiger amid the locals, the fireworks and plenty of beer.
We had also decided to spend a few nights at the nearby Bako National Park, the oldest in Sarawak, perched on a peninsula just north of the city. After a beautiful boat ride along the coast we arrived, settled in and spent a couple of days wandering the numerous trails, clambering over tree roots and dodging the ever-present puddles. We’d also met a wonderful French couple, Jerome and Marilyn, who live in Singapore and had popped over for the weekend. Even better, they came laden with proscuitto and a wedge of some wonderfully gooey French cheese - made even gooier thanks to the intense heat. Needless to say, Jane and I readily and enthusiastically proceeded to barter them out of considerable chunks of the latter, as our fromage diet over the last month has consisted of the very occasional slice of processed Kraft singles…
Bako is also home to numerous species of primates and we spent the afternoons seeking out and watching the proboscis monkeys scuttling through the mangroves or feeding themselves high in the canopy, leaping from branch to branch. Oh, and the gangs of bloody macaques.
We had been warned before our arrival and previous experience
with these little buggers attested to their aggressive and thieving natures. We had slowly strolled along one of the boardwalks to sit and watch the sunset and imbibe in a beer or two, when Jane ripped open a pack of twisties. Suddenly, one silent figure with glowing eyes and determined intent scampered towards us.
“Never fear Jane. I’ve dealt with these blighters from Burma to Sumatra.”
Plan A. Simon pretends he is holding a rock and casts the imaginary projectile at the offending creature.
Macaque bears his fangs and hisses. Hmmm.
Plan B. Simon bears his fangs and hisses.
Macaque ups the ante, screeches and advances menacingly.
Simon and Jane wisely scuttle away, leaving said macaque to devour the one twistie that had been dropped and enjoys a lovely sunset.
From Bako we had decided to finish our stay at the wonderful Nanga Damai, a collection of four rooms perched halfway up Mount Santubong, nestled in the jungle and looking out over the South China Sea. Our last few days in Borneo have been spent doing very little - walking along the beach, swimming in the pool and eating sumptuous seafood. And so it is, after a wonderful month,
that we bid a huge terimah kasi to Borneo and all of the wonderful places we’ve been, things we’ve done and people we’ve met. See you all soon…
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