Monday, 15 January 2007

Melaka to the jungles of Borneo.

Melaka turned out to be a small, pleasant, relaxed city. It has a colourful history involving the Portuguese, Dutch and English. 2007 is the 50th anniversary of Malaysian independence from the English. Is there anywhere the tentacles of England's empire didn't reach?

The first night here I got hammered in a bar with three local medical students (warning - expensive beer here). We played pool but I kept winning - I was at that point where you've had just-the-right-amount-to-drink! Some Chinese lads challenged for a beer per game. I had a lucky run and won 5 in a row before losing - I was wrecked! It was a good laugh and put me at ease with the country which is a great place to visit - very friendly.

To sober up I sat at a 24hr coffee bar. These places have a very Arab feel about them. The lad who worked there finished at 0800 and said we can get more booze and drink it at his house. So off we went to meet his family over breakfast beers! His father wore one of those Muslim hats and prayed every now and then. It was quite an experience. Welcome to Islam - pissed!

I took a walk along the river with an ex-Royal Navy lad to see the Kampungs - traditional Malay villages with houses on stilts. As we approached the village, the riverbank was swarming with mud skippers, but more impressively, massive monitor lizards! These things are as big as a man with big fat bellies. They were perfectly at home sheltering underneath the houses and swimming in the dirty river. This was to an acoustic background of Islamic chanting from one of the many Mosques. These chants are broadcast through loudspeakers and happen regularly throughout the day - it was a first for me.

I took a bus to Kuala Lumpur (KL) the capital of Malaysia. I spent four nights here drinking and trying not to choke on traffic fumes. I visited the Batu caves - huge limestone caverns housing Hindu shrines. Soon there's a festival here where approximately one million people come and pierce metal hooks through their skin. I think this act proves their faithfulness - not too sure. The omnipresent Macaque monkeys need culling. I visited the Petronas Towers. I was too late to go up but it was enough to see these giants from the ground.

I was happy to board a plane and escape this sprawling metropolis. I was headed for Borneo and the adventures therein. I spent two nights in Kuching with flu (bloody KL AirCon). I still felt rough when I went to Bako National Park for the next four nights. Despite the illness, this place was mint (I'm running out of superlatives as I wax lyrical about these places). You can only get there by boat. It felt like we were approaching Jurassic Park as we crashed through the surf before finding calmer waters up a river. We passed crocodiles lazing on pipes before arriving at the Park HQ.

I saw among other things: Pitcher plants (the ones that eat insects), Silver Leaf Monkeys, Macaques, Bearded Pigs (you get these in the Bigg Market too), numerous Snakes (couldn't identify them), Bats, Rats, Squirrels, many multi-coloured birds and enough vegetation to keep David Bellamy occupied for years. Insects also like it here - they are here in their billions, big ones, little ones, biting ones and worst of all those mosquitoes - aaahhhh.

I enjoyed taking a dusk stroll through the mangrove swamps to watch the Proboscis Monkeys feeding. These monkeys have a massive red nose which adds a touch of comedy to life. On one occasion I didn't know where to look as one of the males started masturbating right in front of me and Chinese lass.

There are many hiking trails and I went on long treks everyday to waterfalls, secluded beaches and hill tops offering glorious views across the South China Sea. These hikes were exhausting. I did 11km one day but it felt like the equivalent of a 30km trek in the Lakes. The heat and humidity really take it out of you. The effort's worth it though as you find yourself enchanted and overwhelmed by this exotic wilderness.

These places are giving the name rain forest because it rains a lot. To say it rains a bit is like saying Simon Cowell is a bit gay. All the clothes I've been wearing stink. I've washed them but they don't dry properly and then you stink them out again within five minutes anyway. My hiking boots? Don't even try to imagine what they smell like.

I did a night-hike with two Swedish room mates. After listening to monkeys clambering across our roof and crashing back into the trees, we walked into the jungle, stopping occasionally to listen to the deafening night chorus. We stopped and switched the torches off. What happened next was magical. Many of the decaying leaves were luminescent and glowed in the blackness of the night. We didn't expect this - beautiful. A perfect backdrop for fire-flies doing their intoxicating night dance. 

All in all, these four nights in the jungle have been one of the greatest experiences of my life. Wow.

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